Testimony

Filed Under Val's Testimony 

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embellishment

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It’s odd, sometimes, how an off-hand comment made by someone can make you think.

A friend made a strange comment to me one day many years ago on a Geology field trip. We were sitting on the small, rounded platform-like area very near the top of the Mule’s Ear Diatreme in San Juan County, Utah. (It was a difficult climb up and a downright dangerous and scary descent!)

That comment got me started on a spiritual quest that eventually led to an investigation of topics and issues that I had previously dismissed as being of no concern of mine.

I was an uneducated country bumpkin from the backwoods of Eastern Ontario. My companion was a PhD candidate; a graduate of Oxford University.

Sitting on top of that spectacular peak, after discussing many things the topic of conversation turned to my engagement to a young man whom I loved very much, but knew in my heart I could not marry.

I told my friend that I was very distressed because I knew I could not marry my fiance because of our religious differences, but as yet, I hadn’t figured out a way to tell him or to break the engagement.

My fiance was a devout Catholic. I was devoutly nothing.

Although I had been raised in a church-going family and attended church on a regular basis, I professed no belief in any religious system or thought. As far as I was concerned, religion was nothing more than empty, meaningless, rituals and traditions.

In order to marry a Catholic, in those days I had to sign a paper promising to raise any children born into that marriage in the Catholic church. I could not do that. Not because it was a Catholic church. But because at that time I could not make any promises that would affect an unborn child’s choice regarding any church, religion or any matter pertaining to personal choice and belief.

So my friend, as gently as possible said: I will pray for you, Val.

That was the odd comment that shook me to the depths of my being.

No one I knew had ever offered to pray for me. Everyone I knew said their prayers in church—or read them from whatever source was being used at the time the prayer was being offered.

Of course, when someone offers to pray for you, you naturally assume that they are praying to God. I thought it rather odd that an Oxford scholar would believe in God, and more so, that he believed that God would answer his prayer.

That Oxford Scholar DID believe in God. And God DID answer his prayer.

That kind and gentle comment changed my life.

It was that comment that sparked my interest in learning more about the teachings of different faiths and world religions. I wanted to know what my fiance, my Oxford friend and others believed and why they believed what they did.

Religion and politics are subjects that can really get our dander up.

In my search for God, truth and the meaning of life, it didn’t take me long to get my dander up. Or find myself wading deeper and deeper into hot water. As I soon found out, truth is a very controversial matter!

As I sought to learn more about world religions in general, and the Christian religion in particular, I was doing quite nicely in the Christian religion until I got to the “born again” business.

I quickly discovered that being “born again” is a contentious topic. It was a contentious topic when Jesus walked the earth; it remains a contentious topic to this day.

It is a topic that divides those who claim to be born again from those who do not.

It divides those who take the words of Jesus as being the truth, from those who do not.

It divides those who say that they believe the Bible is the word of God; but who deny that they need to be “born again” from those who do.

Yet, the Bible clearly states that Jesus said: Except a man be born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God.

When I first encountered those words I became quite angry.

I became angry because I knew that I was certainly NOT born again. Nor did I want to be. Nor did I think I had to be.

I was angry because I didn’t like being told that I had to be or do anything in order to get to heaven. I was angry because if God was a loving God, why wouldn’t let me into heaven regardless of whether or not I was born again? I was angry because this was one of the stupidest things I’d ever heard. What did this ‘born again’ business have to do with God and His ‘so-called’ love, anyway!

My first reaction to hearing this statement was to say: The nerve!

Who does this Jesus guy think that he is and what gives him the right to tell me how I can or cannot get into heaven, if heaven even exists, that is?

Having to be ‘born again’ smacks of religious fundamentalism. It reeks of a narrow-minded view that presents the God of the Bible as being more of a God wrath and judgement than as a God of love and mercy.

He is both, as I subsequently discovered. But at that point of time, I couldn’t have cared less. I was only interested in the love and mercy part.

Since this “born again” business had me riled and would not leave me alone, I knew that I had to come to terms with Jesus’ strange and unsettling dictum.

If you had questioned me about who I thought Jesus was at that point in my life, I would have said that I believed he was a good guy—a teacher from way-back times who did a lot of good, and who lived and died a pretty amazing life. He was the guy who was born at Christmas and who died at Easter. He was the ‘holy roller’ who started the church.

I did not believe the Bible was the word of God, nor did I believe that Jesus was God incarnate. I certainly did not believe everything Jesus said; not that I knew much of anything that he actually did or did not say. As for the Bible, I could recite the Lord’s prayer; I knew about the ten commandments and perhaps the story of Jonah and the Whale, but not much else.

I believed that all religions led to God and that I was at liberty to pick and choose whatever I wanted to believe, or not believe, from any of them.

And I most certainly believed that if God was a loving, caring God, he would never punish anyone, especially not me.

However, I remained puzzled, and oddly enough, concerned about this ‘born-again’ business. I was determined to find out more. Mainly because I wanted to put this piece of nonsense to rest for once and for all.

Thus began my intellectual quest to discover more about God and the Bible.

Because I can only answer for myself, I’m sharing this story of how I came to my understanding and personal experience of what it means to be born again.

So here goes:

I started with the statement that had upset me.

That statement was made by Jesus when he answered Nichodemus in reply to the question Nichodemus had just asked him, which was:

How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?

Jesus answered Nichodemus by saying:

Truthfully, I say to you, except a man be born again,he cannot see the Kingdom of God. (John 3:3)

He completed his answer to Nichodemus by saying:

That which is born of the flesh is flesh; that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. John 3:1-10)

I had thus far in my 25 years or so of living managed to conclude that I had indeed been born of the flesh.

But born of the spirit?

Aren’t we born of the spirit at the same time we are born in the flesh?

What did it mean to be ‘born of the spirit’ anyway.

Before I ever started thinking about believing in Jesus or being born of the spirit, I realized that I had to come to grips with what the Bible said about Jesus and his resurrection.

Because the resurrection of Jesus is what gives Jesus the authority to state that one must be born again in order to see the kingdom of God.

Surprisingly, I discovered that the Bible clearly states that if Jesus were not raised from the dead, Christians believe a lie, and are quite a sorry lot.

I’m referring to an excerpt from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians where he says:

Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?

But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen.

And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.

Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up, if in fact, the dead do not rise. 1 Corinthians 15: 1-58

Having celebrated Easter in my early years with the arrival of the Easter Bunny, and in my later years as a much-welcomed long weekend, I was a bit disconcerted to be reminded that it was at Easter that Jesus purportedly was raised from the dead.

Since I wasn’t there when this was supposed to have happened, I set it on the back burner for the time being. I decided to look into this matter at a later date to see if there was any historical or other evidence for this preposterous claim. (There is, as I was astonished to discover.)

Moving right along, I then discovered that the Bible tells me that I am a sinner.

Oddly enough, that didn’t upset me as much as the born again or resurrection business. I knew that I had done some things in my life that weren’t exactly nice.

The statement: “…for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” is pretty straight forward. I didn’t have a problem with that. All I had to do was look at myself in the mirror to see that this statement was right on the money.

Then I got to the part that said:

“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

Not wanting to deceive myself, I grudgingly admitted that I knew I had sinned. Lots. And against many people—my parents, family and friends included. And God. I did and said things that I knew were wrong and still went ahead and did them anyway. And enjoyed myself in the process.

So I had been taken to court and found guilty. And that by my own admission!

Having included myself in the “all” as in “all have sinned,” I was not too happy with the recompense I was destined to received.

The Bible, which at this point I was starting to strongly dislike, states quite clearly that the wages of sin is death. (Wages: A fitting return; a recompense.)

I asked: How could a loving and kind God condemn anyone to death, especially me? And especially for the small ‘little’ sins that I had committed. That’s not love; that’s spite!

Then I discovered that God doesn’t condemn me to death.

Sin does.

The Bible clearly states:

For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Let me get this straight:

The wages of sin is death. But God wants to give me the gift of eternal life instead of death?

Hello. What’s going on here anyway?

Finding out that I deserved the death penalty for what I thought of as my petty offences was not exactly a joyful experience for me. In fact, I was downright angry! Very, very angry at God for being so harsh. Where’s the love, the kindness, the forgiveness in all of this?

At this point I still had quite a limited concept of God—the God of the Bible that I was earnestly seeking to know and understand.

My concept of God was that he was a big old guy with an enormous gray beard who lived in the sky somewhere above the clouds who gave blessings and gifts to his followers and lumps of coal to his enemies.

I had no concept of his holiness, his perfection, his justice, his mercy or his love. Neither could I conceive of his wrath. The Bible has a lot to say about the wrath of God, which I found quite surprising. God abhors of all things evil, ugly, unrighteous, or dishonorable. In other words, sin. He hates sin because sin is what separates us from Him. God’s standard is perfection.

And it is sin (and the perpetrators of sin) against which God’s wrath is directed.

But I was beginning to understand. I was beginning to understand that God is a just God.

And that justice demands retribution.

A just, loving God must punish sin. It would not be fair to the victim who was wronged by sin if he did not.

God is also a merciful God.

Because God cares for you and me he does not want us to be separated from Him because of sin.

God is a loving God. He loved me enough to die for me and take the wages of my sin upon himself.

I wanted to know more. My intellectual quest for God had awakened a deep emotional and spiritual hunger within me that needed satisfaction.

I no longer wanted to know about God. I wanted to know God.

You know, people don’t come to God because they want to be born again, or because they want to escape from eternal damnation, or because they intellectually assent to the message and doctrines of the Bible.

People come to God because they are hungry. They hunger for things that man-made religions or false religions can’t supply. They have a spiritual hunger deep in their soul that earthly things cannot fill. They come to God because God calls them to him. (Revelation 22:17)

I was hungry. I longed to be close to God. I wanted to understand what Jesus was all about; I wanted the peace that passes understanding. Most of all, I didn’t want to be separated from God by anything or anyone.

Having had enough of my own wretched ways and lifestyle, I reached a turning point where I knew I wanted to change, but I didn’t know how.

In retrospect, I can see that God had never given up on me, even though I had given up on him. God never gives up on anyone no matter how far, how fast or how foolishly they run from him.

It was through the example of the friend I mentioned above that I both saw and learned that there was a different way to live. And to think. And to act. That friend was a born again Christian, the first I had ever met. I thought he was a bit of a nutcase at first. However, I saw that he had something I didn’t. And definitely something my rowdy friends did not have, either. So I watched him carefully and tried to learn his secret.

I learned his secret by gradually coming to know the God of the Bible through actually reading the Bible for myself (not an easy task) and through attending Bible study groups where my numerous questions were both understood and answered. I started to ‘hang-out’ with other born-again people.

I also started attending services at a church where the pastor was a godly, born-again Christian.

I learned that by the sins I had committed, and by the sin of Adam imparted to me by virtue of my human birth, I was spiritually separated from a Holy God who tolerates nothing that tarnishes his perfect Glory.

Sin had defiled me. My sin was and is a contamination that can not be removed by any human power, resource or endeavor. Sin is pollution. It is a filthy defilement that prevented me from entering the presence of a pure, holy and just God.

I did not want to be separated from God because of my sin. Nor did I have anything to make recompense to him for the things I had done wrong.

In other words, I had a debt I couldn’t pay!

That was when I started to understand the significance of the death and resurrection of Jesus. That was also when I began to understand God’s mercy.

When I saw how Jesus who was himself without sin took my sin upon himself and nailed it to the cross and died in my place to fulfill the requirements of the law; I was truly humbled.

I saw how much God loved me. I saw how much God loved the world and everyone in it. God’s love and forgiveness humbled me and touched the hard spot in my heart that was blacker than a lump of coal.

So I came to Jesus with my heart in my hands and did the only thing I could do. I offered it to him. I told him I was sorry for my sins. I asked him for forgiveness. I asked him for cleansing. I thanked him for dying in my place on the cross; for taking the wrath of God upon himself so that I might be spared the wages I deserved.

I willingly, knowingly and penitently opened my heart to Jesus’ saving grace and power and asked for forgiveness.

Scripture states:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Jesus is a gentleman.

He never forces himself on anyone.

The Book of Revelation states:

Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. Revelation 3:201

That day, I answered Jesus’ gentle but persistent knock on the door of my heart and humbly asked him to come in to my heart. I asked him to forgive me and cleanse me from the defilement of sin. I invited him to come in and dwell in my heart as my Lord and Saviour, and as he promised he would, Jesus came into my heart. Not only that, he sealed my heart with his Holy Spirit for the day of redemption and for all eternity.

And that is how I was born again.

That was how I received the gift of eternal life rather than the death sentence I deserved.

My spirit, which had been dead in sin, was now born again of the spirit. The Holy Spirit of God.

I received the gift of eternal life from Jesus (Immanuel- God with us) that is his, and his alone to give, by virtue of his death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. (Romans 5: 1-20)

Being born again was, and ever will be, the most joyful experience of my life!

There have been many more joyful experiences and certainly lots of very trying experiences since I gave my heart to the Lord, but He is with me every step of the way—and for that I am grateful.

All these many years later, I am still learning the implications of what all of this means!

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Reference:

1Revelation 3:20

My use of this passage is a common misquote of that verse of scripture. However, at the time, I did perceive that Jesus was calling me to come to him. And so I did.

Here is a more detail account of Rev. 3:20

On Whose Door is christ Knocking