(I'm currently working on my testimony but keeping it published. Please excuse the wordiness and any errors. I'm trying to shorten it, and it keeps getting longer because I just love writing about Jesus).
Only One Way
I grew up in the Lutheran church and used to be a self-professing, nominal Christian. I used to believe in a god of my own imagination. In college, I stopped going to church and came to my own conclusion that there were many paths to God and that Jesus was just one of them. I thought every religion had its own unique path that led to the same God. I thought it was based on what region of the world one was born in. For me, I happened to be born in the United States where Christianity was more prevalent than in other parts of the world. And so I thought Jesus was simply a path to God that I happened to be born into. I had no idea that Jesus was the Path, and the Truth, and the Only Way to God (John 14:6) and the One True God (1 John 5:7). Scripture makes it clear that Jesus Christ is God, and there is no other (John 1:1-3, Isaiah 45:5-6). By His grace, now I believe in Jesus. Now I know He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords (Rev 19:16), and He is my Savior.
Blinded By Pride & Ignorance
Without realizing it at the time, I trusted in my own human reasoning about who God was, and I trusted in my own self-perceived goodness for eternal life. My own pride blinded me. I held my own personal definitions of love, faith in Jesus, God's grace, and spirituality. I prided myself on being open-minded and being able to think for myself. I considered myself a "non-judgmental Christian," when I had no idea what it even meant to be a Christian. I prided myself on being kind. I thought kindness was never declaring any absolutes that might contradict someone else's perspective. I thought kindness was never disapproving of anyone's behavior or pointing out faults of any kind. I thought kindness was never having any unfavorable opinion about anything or anyone who might've been in error. I thought truth was relative and everyone was right in their own ways, even if someone was clearly wrong. I thought kindness was encouraging everyone to do what was right in his/her own eyes. And now I know that is exactly what God forbids (Deut 12:8, Judges 17:6; 21-25).
I self-righteously believed I was going to heaven simply because I believed in God’s existence, and I figured the “good” I did outweighed the bad, according to my own standards. I also thought I was going to heaven because I thought being baptized as an infant meant I had received the Holy Spirit. I also considered myself very spiritual and talked about God a lot (the god of my own imagination). I always had a hard time saying the name Jesus or Lord, and I didn't know why. It bothered me that saying Jesus' name made me feel so uncomfortable. Now I love to confess Jesus Christ as Lord by the Holy Spirit who lives in me.
The type of love I had was not a Scriptural love rooted in truth but a worldly love rooted in self. I thought I was being loving and non-judgmental when I was really being proud, undiscerning, and self-seeking. Scripture says that true love abounds in real knowledge and is discerning (Phil 1:9). True love carefully examines everything to distinguish between right and wrong (1 Thess 5:21-22). True love is sincere in that it hates and abstains from evil and holds fast to what is good (Rom 12:9, 1 Thess 5:21-22). True love does not delight in wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth (1 Corinth 13:6). Furthermore, true love is not mere emotion or empty sentimentalism but is secured in the truth of Scripture and governed by it. Love is not an abstraction but an action (1 Corinth 13:4-7). True love is not self-seeking but selfless (1 Corinth 13:5) True love is always equally yoked with divine truth. Love and truth are inseparable and equally dependent on the other to exist. Love without truth is hypocritical and has no character, and truth without love is brutal and has no power. If we try to detach either one from its mate, we lose both virtues.
That Ain't Jesus Calling
I prayed to the god of my own imagination on a daily basis and religiously read those heretical jesus calling books by Sarah Young. I am sorry to everyone I gave those jesus calling books to. If you have one, please throw it away. Don't even donate it. That series of books depicts a false jesus who sounds more like a new-age guru or a boyfriend. The author never addresses sin, the need for repentance, or God's judgment and wrath. The saving message of the gospel is never presented, and they are nothing more than self-help books at best. Scriptures are attached only to give the illusion of Christianity. This false jesus only got me to focus more on myself instead of fixing my eyes on the real Jesus. The Jesus of Scripture never tells me to focus on myself, trust in myself or follow my heart, nor does He ever command me to love myself. Rather He tells me that if I want to be His disciple, I must deny myself and pick up my cross and follow Him (Mat 10:38, 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 14:27, 9:23-27). The real Jesus commands me to love Him with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love my neighbor as myself (Mat 22:37-39, Mark 12:30-31). The real Jesus says to believe in Him because He is the truth (John 13:19, 14:1, 14:6, 6:35, 11:25) The jc books are centered around self and getting something from Jesus rather than getting Jesus Himself.
Intellectual Assent Versus Saving Faith
I intellectually and even positively agreed with the claims of the gospel. I believed the historical facts that Jesus came and lived on this earth and died on the cross for my sins. I intellectually believed that He rose from the dead and that He was seen by over 500 eyewitnesses. I didn't doubt any of those things took place. Intellectually, I realized I was a sinner in need of forgiveness, and I falsely thought I already had been forgiven by Jesus dying on the cross. But in reality, I was void of true faith and spiritually dead. I was still in my sins, thinking I was on my way to heaven. That's the most tragic lie of them all: to think one is heaven-bound when one is really hell-bound.
I superficially knew I was a sinner, but I wasn’t sorry for my sins. At times, I did have a heavy conscience when doing something wrong, but I wasn't contrite or repentant. I never thought that I was offending the Holy God of the universe and grieving Him. Whenever I sinned I simply thought "Well God understands my heart. He is merciful and loving isn't He? Anyways, He made me this way. I can't help it. I'm only human. Other people do much worse than that, Or, everyone does that!) Those were just more lies I believed. I justified myself in my own mind and saw my sins as no big deal, especially in comparison to culture, society, and others who were “worse than me.” I judged myself by the world's standards and by my own, instead of by God's perfect standards (The 10 Commandments). That's the only way how we can see how short we fall is when we look at ourselves in the light of Scripture. The Law is there to help us see how sinful we really are. The Law was never meant to save us but to show us our disease so that we cry out for the Cure. The Law is there to point us to the only One who can save us from our sins, Jesus.
Self-righteously, I still viewed myself as a “good” person despite living in open and secret sin. I thought “saved by grace” meant I could live however wanted since I thought I was already forgiven by Jesus on the cross. Clearly, I didn't understand the gospel message. I didn't understand God's mercy and saving grace and how His divine grace works in the heart and life of a true believer. His grace is not given so that we may live however we please. God's grace is given so that we may walk in a manner that is worthy of the gospel (Eph 4:1, Col 1:10, Phil 1:27, 1 Thess 4:1-2). To believe in Jesus is incredibly transformative. The truth changes you. The truth sets you free, but only when you truly believe it and continue abiding in Jesus (John 8:31-32).
To sum it up, I trusted in my own mind and reasoning for eternal life, rather than opening the Scriptures and trusting in God’s written Word and believing in who Jesus truly is as the Son of God (and the only way to the Father, John 14:6) and the magnitude of what He did for me through His life, death, and resurrection. I had head knowledge of Jesus but not heart knowledge of Him, which fell epically short of true saving faith.
Once I was Blind
I was living in sin, worldly-minded, blinded by my own pride, and willfully ignorant of the Scriptures. I was deceived and self-deceived. But God had mercy on me. It was October 2020, and it was right after I drew my first butterfly for my Mom. Apparently it was God's appointed time for me to hear His call and respond in faith. God granted me genuine repentance and drew me to open the Scriptures. It was through God's Word by the Holy Spirit that He gifted me with my faith to believe in Jesus. All the gospel seeds that had been planted in my youth by my parents and my church, finally grew into saving faith at the age of 33. The moment I came across this Scripture is the moment I remember I first believed. Jesus said to him, I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me (John 14:6). When I read that, the veil suddenly dropped from my eyes, and I saw the light of the gospel. I'll never forget reading that verse for the first time. Looking back, I know that was the biggest turning point of my entire existence. I was born again (John 3:3). So faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). Once I was blind, but now I see. And it was all by God's grace. I didn't choose Jesus, rather He chose me (John 15:16, Eph 1:4-5, Eph 2:8-9, 2 Tim 1:9, John 6:44, Rom 8:28-30, 9:16, Mat 22:14, Acts 13:48).). All I bring to my salvation is my sin that has been forgiven in Christ. He gets all the glory. Once I was blind, but now I see.
Once I was Lost
My life has been transformed by the gospel. Like a caterpillar to a butterfly, I am a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). Now I repent of my sins with a contrite heart, and I follow after the real Jesus, the biblical Jesus. I seek to obey God’s Word through faith, not because I can earn His favor or earn my way to heaven by anything I do. For I am saved by grace through faith alone (Eph 2:8-9). But it’s because I trust who Jesus is as my Lord and what Jesus has already accomplished for me as my Savior. God Himself paid for my sins on the cross and rose again that I may have eternal life. I trust Him. I trust His character and His authority. I trust His goodness, His promises, His warnings, and His commands. I believe in God The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit - The Trinity - The One True God. I no longer live for myself, but by His grace, I live a joyful, thankful, and obedient life for the One who died for me and rose again - so that I may have eternal life in Him. Although I will still stumble and sin in this life, it’s God’s grace that will keep me from ever falling away from Him. It's God's grace that keeps me walking in fellowship with Him until I see the day of eternity and will live and reign with Him forever. I know that for how great of a sinner I am, Christ is a greater Savior. (Inspired by a quote from John Newton). Once I was lost, but now I am found. Once