Most people’s testimony starts with a date. Possibly a time. Likely a location. Sometimes a person. Mine starts in much the same way.
Late November of 1996, in Granite City, IL, my aunt led me to the Lord. Quite dramatically my life changed.
I stopped drinking, sleeping around and started going to church. I eventually met my wife, got a job, created children, bought a home and spent a lot of time at church: whether in worship, teaching Sunday school or acting in church-sponsored dramas.
I was what you might call a typical Christian. But something was wrong. Very wrong.
Destroying My Family
Throughout the first ten years of my so called Christian walk, I obsessed about one thing–and one thing only.
Becoming a world famous writer.
Much to the disappointment of my wife, this ambition took first place to everything else–my marriage, children, work and even church.
To give you an example of what this drive did to me, I quite often found myself thinking that I would have to sacrifice my children for this ambition–and that it was quite natural to do that. That this was a necessary part of becoming a world famous writer–neglect your wife and children for the sake of art.
Naturally I thought and worried about the tragedy my children would grow up to be if this came true–but I’d have to live with that. It’s the price I’d have to pay to become that world class writer.
As I said, I was driven, single-mindedly, by one thing. And it wasn’t Christ.
Woefully Detached and Rebellious
But that didn’t concern me. Should have. Just like the “check engine” light in your car, it was a warning that something was off. A warning that I wasn’t the person I said I was.
But I didn’t care.
Yes, I prayed the sinners prayer. Made a decision to accept Christ. Believed he died for my sins–even to the point that I agreed that I was a sinner and that confessing Christ as my Savior would get me a ticket into heaven.
Don’t get me wrong–my mind bought into everything. But my heart was woefully detached and rebellious. I was, in a word, not a true Christian.
How do I know this? On November 30, 2007, I got my clock cleaned in an awful way.
The Day My World Collapsed
November 30, 2007, is the date that my wife discovered–quite innocently–that I had been unfaithful to her. Not physically, but emotionally.
Her world fell apart. As well as mine. In the heat of that day she said she wanted a divorce. I collapsed, overwhelmed by the reality of what was happening.
My father’s marriage ended in divorce. His father’s first marriage ended in divorce. As a product of a divorce–I vowed never to divorce.
But something so stupid, so silly as flirting with a woman who wasn’t my wife, was about to pull my world out from under me.
What It Really Means to Be a Christian
On that day I begged my wife for mercy and in that begging I promised to give up everything that didn’t contribute to our marriage. Among other things, that meant I had to:
- Abandon my membership in the local writer’s guild.
- End dozens of relationships with secular writers.
- Quit a publication that I helped start and even ran.
- Lay down my ambition to become a world-famous writer.
Naturally, I wallowed in a pit of anxiety as I struggled to find out who I really was.
Only gradually, over time, did it dawn on me that this is exactly what Christ meant when he said, “If you want to follow me, deny yourself and take up your cross, and come after me.”
What I was experiencing was the very renunciation of life that is required to become a biblical Christian. But the most startling realization came in the months following November 30.
11 Biblical Tests of Genuine Salvation
During that time after November 30 while I read the Bible, listened to Ray Comfort, John Piper and John MacArthur and learned the basics of Christianity, I realized that for the last ten years I’d been deceived in thinking that I was a Christian.
How do I know I was deceived?
In the ten years that I thought I was a Christian, eleven things could be said about me–eleven things 1 John identifies as the difference between a true and false Christian:
1. Rarely, if ever, during that ten years, did I experience a close relationship with God.
2. I was insensitive to sin in my life. I managed to look quite pious and Christian on the outside while brewing with hypocrisy and unrighteousness on the inside.
3. Rarely, if ever, did I obey God’s commands. 1 John 2:4 says anyone who calls himself a Christian but habitually disobeys God is a liar.
4. Rather than rejecting it, I embraced this evil world. This evil world held the trophy I wanted–a reputation for being a world class writer.
5. I didn’t despise the sin in my flesh or long for Jesus’ return. In fact, I despised and even doubted Jesus’ return.
6. Sin did not decrease in my life, but continued and in some occasions even increased. The one who practices sin is of the devil.
7. I hated fellowship with Christians. They annoyed me, irritated me. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer.
8. I rarely experienced answered prayer. Why? I hardly prayed…I didn’t know what to pray for…and when I did pray, it usually involved half-hearted, unbiblical, self-centered requests. A sure formula for failure when praying.
9. For most of the fruits of the Holy Spirit Paul describes in Galatians, I could say I lacked. For the rest, they were grossly underdeveloped.
10. Didn’t know the difference between spiritual truth and error. I sorely missed the skill of separating divine truth from error.
11. And lastly, I rarely suffered persecution as a Christian. Frankly, I was ashamed of being a Christian, all to win man’s approval.
In summary, the trajectory of my Christian life during those ten years resembled a sinking line drive.
What My Life Looks Like Now
Naturally, you’re probably wondering how I’m fairing this side of November 30, 2007. Right?
Well, let me say this: there’s a gargantuan difference in my life.
- I crave alone time with God. Get up at 4:30 in the morning to read my Bible. And think about and talk with God constantly throughout the day.
- Not that I don’t ever sin–but now when I do sin, I’m horrified.
- My heartbeat is to obey God. To gear my life around his Word and His work. I don’t always do what He says, but when I don’t do it, I can hardly sleep at night.
- I hate the evil in this world. And when I am tempted, like I often am, I grieve over that temptation.
- My heart burns for the return of my Lord.
- The sin in my life has taken a nose dive. And I’m more aware of the smaller sins that I typically brushed off as inconsequential.
- I love the great Christian men in my life. I long to be with them. To study with them. To witness with them. And I despair over my weaker brothers.
- I’ve got a better eye for what God wants me to pray for. And I’ve got a passion to pray for other people. Something you would’ve never seen two years ago.
- My Bible study is expanding and I’m making inroads with people when sharing my faith that where never there before. Made possible by the Holy Spirit.
- I’m acutely aware of spiritual error–in myself and others.
- And finally–from flat-out rejection to more subtle accusations of stupidity–I’m suffering for Christ.
Let me close with this–anytime someone tells me they are a Christian, I’m skeptical. Especially if they base their confidence in salvation on a date and a decision.
So let me challenge you with this: examine yourself to see whether you are in the faith–something Paul urges all of us to do. And if you pass these tests, 1 John 5:13 says, “you may know that you have eternal life.”
Listen. There’s no reason for you to spend your spiritual experience deluded or in the dumps. Yet thousands of Christians do.
Please, don’t be one of them.
Disclaimer: Deeply indebted to John MacArthur’s tiny book Is It Real? for the eleven biblical tests of true salvation.
**Part of the Curmudgeon’s Guide to Sharing Your Faith series.**