Baptism has nothing to do with salvation

SPIRITUAL MYTH #6 “Baptism has nothing to do with salvation”

baptismYou often hear it said in evangelical circles, “Once you give your life to Christ, you need to be baptized as the first act of obedience.  However, baptism has nothing to do with your salvation.  You are saved simply by placing your faith in Jesus Christ and repeating the sinner’s prayer.”

I think that’s a partial myth that needs to be debunked.

There are actually two sides of the mythical coin associated with the ordinance of baptism.  One is that baptism in and of itself saves you.  Parents tell their children, “Of course you are a Christian, we had you baptized shortly after you were born”.  The implication is that infant baptism, performed against your will, was sufficient to forgive your sins and guarantee you eternal life in heaven.

Some treat immersion as an adult in much the same way.  They will say, “Of course I’m saved.  At age twelve, I was baptized by immersion at the end of a new member class.”  Again the idea is conveyed that baptism alone makes a person a Christian.  This misconception is termed, “Baptismal regeneration” in theological circles.

Ephesians 2:8-9 clearly teaches that salvation is granted to those who choose to place their trust in Jesus’ atoning death on the cross and not their own goodness.  “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast.” John 3:16, Romans 3:28, Romans 10:9, Hebrews 11:1 all make it very clear – the first step of obedience is to place our faith in Christ.

The other side of the coin is the very popular misconception that since we are saved by grace through faith, baptism has nothing to do with salvation.  Baptism is just an act of obedience.  We trust Christ then, sometime later, we are immersed in water as a symbol of what happened to us when we were saved.

But the ordinance of baptism is more than an act of obedience.  It’s more than a symbol or, “an outward sign of an inward grace.”  Baptism was originally intended to be a means of receiving Christ’s grace.  It’s a God-given benchmark that testifies to the fact that we are beginning a new life in Christ.

When Jesus healed people, He often requested an act of obedience as a test of faith.  “Go show yourselves to the priests”.   “Go wash in the pool of Siloam”.   “Stretch forth your hand”.   When the needy persons obeyed, they were healed.   Their efforts didn’t heal them, Jesus did.  But their step of faith was when they were made whole.

In New Testament times when needy sinners put their faith in Christ they were not commanded to repeat the sinner’s prayer, raise their hand or sign a card, although those responses can be helpful.  Those who believed in Jesus were instructed to repent of sin and be baptized.  And they responded by doing so as soon as possible.

It’s not a myth that we’re saved by faith in Christ.  It’s a myth that we receive salvation by just repeating the sinner’s prayer.  Read through the conversion stories in the book of Acts and ask two questions: (1) What was required of those who wanted to accept Christ as Savior? (2) When did they respond to Him by being baptized?  Here are a few examples:

Acts 2- Those who believed the first gospel message were told to, “… repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins”.  Three thousand people were baptized that very day. (Acts 2:38-40)

Acts 8 – When the Treasurer of Ethiopia believed that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah he requested that the evangelist Philip baptize him immediately, in a pond along the road he was traveling.

Acts 16 – The Philippian Jailer was told to, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved”. Then he and his family were baptized in the wee hours of that D7K_3325-1981462688-Omorning.

Acts 22 – Three days after Saul of Tarsus had been humbled by Jesus’ appearance to him outside Damascus, Ananias asked him, “And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.” (Acts 22:16)

Someone may protest, “Are you saying that a person can’t be saved without being baptized?”  What about the thief on the cross? He was saved and Jesus said nothing to him about being baptized.”  Yes, but he was still living in the Old Testament dispensation – the blood atonement and bodily resurrection hadn’t yet been completed.  Jesus, God in the flesh, promised the dying thief he would be in paradise when he requested it.

“Well, what about a dying soldier who makes a death-bed confession?  What about a person who is physically unable to be baptized?  Won’t they be saved if they just put their faith in Christ?”

We certainly hope so.  We can only trust God’s grace is sufficient in those instances.  But the assurance of salvation is promised to those who demonstrate their faith by repenting of sin and being baptized into Christ.  Dr. Jack Cottrell, Cincinnati Christian University professor, points out, “Baptism is not the first step a convert takes as a Christian; it is the last step the sinner takes to become a Christian.”

If you were trained to instruct converts to receive Christ by repeating the sinner’s prayer but they refused to repeat the prayer, would you conclude they are saved?  You would probably have doubts about the legitimacy of their faith.  Jesus promised, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16)

God offers the free gift of salvation through the atoning death of His Son on the cross.  A believer’s response is repentance and baptism.  To refuse to obey is evidence of insufficient faith.  James said, “… faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:17)

Simon Peter taught that just as the flood waters buoyed up Noah’s ark and saved his family, “…this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also- not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God.  It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ…” (1 Peter 3:21)

Dr. Beauford Bryant, Milligan college professor, often said, “Baptism is a tomb and a womb.  A tomb where, by faith, we die with Christ and a womb where we’re born again into His Kingdom.”

“Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:3-5)

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Meet Jesus

meetingHave you personally met Jesus? Do you know of someone who needs to meet Jesus? This is one of the most fascinating accounts of someone meeting Jesus for the very first time. He is introduced to Jesus by a follower of Jesus named Phillip. God intervenes in Phillip’s plans by sending an angel to communicate his instructions to Phillip. Let’s pick up with Acts 8:26-29

“Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road-the desert road– (Desert means uninhabited, not dry barren sand.)  that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, (So this man would have been a black man, a highly influential, wealthy black man) an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

So Phillip ran up alongside the chariot. Can you imagine how you would have felt as you are reading a scroll riding through this totally desolate area and a man comes running up alongside of you. He is reading from an OT scroll of the book of Isaiah. That, in itself, gives you an indication of the importance and wealth of this man. How many people in those days do you suppose had a copy of Isaiah or any O. T. book, for that much? All the copying would have been done very meticulously by hand. It would have been extremely valuable and very rare. Let’s pick up on the conversation.

Acts 8:30-34 “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. (That’s a good question to start with.) “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture: (Actually from Isaiah 53) “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.”  The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?”

There is both a note of anguish and frustration in the pleas of the Ethiopian. “Would you please explain who this scripture is talking about?”

So verse 35 states, Phillip began at that very passage of scripture and told him the good news about JESUS. He introduced him to Jesus. So let’s take a moment and go to the same chapter and meet Jesus just like he did. For some of you this might be for the very first time. There couldn’t be a better place in the O. T. to meet Jesus

Isaiah 53 begins with, vs. 1-2 “Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?  He, (that is Jesus), grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”

1. The first thing we discover about Jesus is that he had NO BEAUTY.

He, the Messiah, the Chosen One, the Savior of the world, was just an ordinary child and person from all appearances. There was nothing about His looks that made Him stand out or appear to be special. He was not one of the “beautiful” people of his day. He didn’t win the Jewish Idol contest because of His looks or special talents. He was not a celeb. There was nothing about Him that deserved neither special attention nor abusive treatment. Yet that was exactly what he got.

Isaiah continues in verse 3, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

2. He was also DESPISED AND REJECTED

He was despised and rejected for no justifiable reason. He had done absolutely nothing wrong to deserve such treatment. The Bible actually says that. Literally, He never sinned. He never disobeyed the Father. He was morally and spiritually perfect. It’s not that He was never tempted to do so. He was tempted in the exact same ways we are yet He never gave in.

Now, let’s pause right there for a minute. What He was is the exact opposite of what man is like. Man is tempted and man gives in. Not just some or many or most, but all of us, all people from the beginning in the garden. The Bible clearly says, “all have sinned.” And sin brings with it a punishment. When there is disobedience there is a punishment due because, you see, God is a just God. He is fare and when He tells us not to sin or else we will have a price to pay, He must stick to his promise.

In fact, the price or punishment for sin is death. Not physical death. Everyone will die physically. But spiritual death. The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death.” Death is eternal separation from God in a place called hell. Everyone sins and all of us are deserving of and face that future.

There is one way, however, to avoid that consequence. Are you ready for it? Live a perfect life. That’s right, never sin. Obey God perfectly from birth till death. Does anyone qualify? Has anyone lived the perfect life to this point yet? There is one though, who does. His name is Jesus, the Messiah, the Chosen One, the Savior. Though perfect, He offered Himself as a Savior by taking man’s punishment for him.

Isaiah continues in Vs 4-6 “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.  We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

3.  He was PIERCED FOR OUR TRANSGRESSIONS

We are guilty. We face a punishment. We deserve to die. We have earned eternal separation from God in hell. Yet Jesus says, “I will take your place. I will pay your price for you because it is impossible for you to pay it. I will meet My Father’s requirements of a perfect sacrifice on your behalf. I will die so that you won’t have to die. You won’t have to face eternal separation from My Father.”

Can you hear Phillip say to that man of immense royalty, “This is what Jesus did for you.”? And can you also hear him say to you, “This is what Jesus did for you too?”  

4. He did it to bring PEACE AND HEALING. Verse five says, “The punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

I know, you are thinking, “How does punishment bring peace?” He took our punishment for us so that we could be at peace with God. He met God’s requirement of a perfect sacrifice on our behalf so that there need not be anything that stands between us and God. He did all this so that we could be reconciled with God. You see, sin alienates, it separates, it makes one at odds, it destroys harmony. But Jesus took our place so that our relationship with God could be brought back together, made one again, so that we could know His peace.

And be heals. How do wounds heal? Well, in the same way. He took our punishment so that with His wounds God’s requirement of a perfect sacrifice could be met and our broken relationship with Him could be healed. He was hurt so that we don’t have to keep on hurting. Being at odds with God hurts. He took the hurt for us.

No sooner had this man from Ethiopia heard this than his heart just overflows with excitement. “This is what I want. This is the explanation I have been looking for. This is the answer I have been needing all along. What’s keeping me from being baptized?” That’s what he actually said. Back in Acts we read, (Acts 8:35-37) “Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. Like we have just done. As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?”

Phillip had been telling the Ethiopian about Jesus. So where did the man get the idea that baptism was something he needed to consider? What in the world does baptism have to do with the message of Jesus from the book of Isaiah? Maybe Phillip had given a summary of Jesus’ life and ministry that included an account of Jesus’ baptism by John. More likely he had mentioned some of Jesus teachings on the subject of baptism. Or maybe he told him about the beginning of the church and how that 3000 were baptized. We don’t know exactly what he said but we do know that he taught him the urgency of being baptized and that no response to Christ is complete without baptism.

So, this elated man sees this pond of water and says, “Hey, let’s get on with it. I’m ready. What are we waiting for?”

So what did he do? Acts 8:38-39 “And he gave orders to stop the chariot. (Driver, would you pull over in that parking spot.) Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, (Certainly a picture of baptism by immersion) the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.”

“He went on his way rejoicing.” He had met Jesus. He had come to know about Jesus for the first time. Jesus was the answer he was looking for. Jesus offered him everything he needed for life and eternity. Even though he was already wealthy he found in Jesus something wealth could never provide, a peace filled, healthy relationship with the God of the universe. And he willingly accepted what He offered and surrendered. And as a result he had something to be joyful about. He had a joy that would last him forever.

So, there seems to be only one thing left for me to do and that is to ask the question, is there anyone reading that that is ready to do as this man from Ethiopia did? You have heard the message of Jesus, maybe for the very first time, perhaps numerous times. But have you made a personal response to Him yet. Have you accepted Him as the one who paid your price for you, your Forgiver and Savior? Have you acknowledged your faith in Him and made a determination to turn from sin and to the father. And have you said, “Here is water, why shouldn’t I be baptized?”

If not, why not?

 

 

 

 

Lots of witnessing going on!

Jesus instructs His followers, at the very beginning of the Book of Acts in the New Testament, to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8). A witness is someone who tells the good news about Jesus and his love or shares how Jesus and His love have changed your life forever. At New Venture Christian Church we have devoted ourselves to studying the teachings of Acts during the fall of 2012 in a series we have called “Witnesses”.

As we wrapped up the series on “Witnesses” and moved into the month of December we have “witnessed” five people baptized into Christ in December alone. That alone is cause for tremendous rejoicing. But the excitement doesn’t stop there. It is even more thrilling to see all five of these people baptized by the one person in their life that has had the strongest influence on their coming to Christ. That means I, as the church Pastor, have not baptized any of the five. That is exciting.

So, I am delighted to leave you with pictures of the five baptisms in December. They are;

Miranda Harmon, baptized by her dad, Chris Harmon

Jenny Wightman, baptized by her neighbor and friend, Tasha Blake

Andrew Szabo, baptized by his friend and KidVenture Director, Misti Binns

Holly Cooper, baptized by her former cheerleading coach and friend, Margie Kelly

Britney Cooper baptized by her sister Holly Cooper right after being baptized by Margie.

There’s a whole lot of witnessing going on. All I can say is keep it up.

Chris baptizing Minah IMG_1232 IMG_1238

 

holly, britney

Celebrations in Baptism, 6/24/2012

Sunday, June 24, was a tremendous day of celebration for Chris and Nereida Glascock and Brent Wolfe as they followed Jesus in baptism for the forgiveness of their sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Each took the step to bury the old self-driven life in baptism and to come forth a new person and life in Christ Jesus. Pictures say it better than words.

When does a person receive the Holy Spirit?

There is perhaps no more discussed and debated subject among Christians today than exactly when does the Holy Spirit actually come to dwell in the life and person of a Christ Follower. Brilliant scholars have addressed the issue exhaustively. But does it take brilliance to find the answer?

The first two verses in the second chapter of Acts say, “they” (the disciples) “were all together in one place,” and that all of a sudden, a sound came from heaven that was like a mighty rushing wind.” The text says it: “filled the entire house where they were sitting.”

Imagine this scene with me. Jesus Christ, the one you have spent the last three years following, the one you have dedicated your life to, just ascended to heaven. You saw it with your own eyes. You and the people who have become as close as your own family are all gathered in Jerusalem in someone’s house waiting. You know that something is coming because Jesus told you about it. He said wait, but you don’t know exactly what (or in this case who) you are waiting for. Maybe you are getting tired of wondering how many more days before something (what, you have no idea) happens.

Suddenly, a sound fills the entire house. And then tongues of fire appear and come to rest on each person present. And then it happens. Verse four reads, “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.”

Now, these are the same disciples who were dedicated to following Jesus, no matter what, but scattered as soon as Jesus was arrested. And they were gathered together, no doubt confused about how they should proceed now that Jesus has ascended. Yet when the HS descended and indwelt them, a radical change occurred. From that point on, none of these disciples were ever the same. The book of Acts is a testament to that fact. We read of Stephen, the first martyr. We see Peter, a changed, courageous man. We see Paul, formerly Saul; go from killing Christ followers to becoming one and showing many others how to do so too. They were not longer timid or confused; they were bold and inspired and began to declare and live the gospel of Jesus Christ through the power of the HS. Think about what a huge moment this had to have been in the lives of these disciples.

A huge crowd of people had gathered, some estimates of over a million. Peter preached a powerful sermon, and as they heard his words, they were “cut to the heart “and asked how they should respond. Peter answered, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the HS. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord your God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:38-39) The text says that on that day around 3000 people were baptized into God’s kingdom and received the gift of the HS.

I think it is needless for us to debate about when the Holy Spirit becomes a part of someone’s life. Some think it is when a person raises their hand at the end of a service when the preacher says raise your hand if you would like to receive Christ and repeat after me this prayer? Or is it when someone gets baptized? Or when someone chooses to surrender their life fully to Jesus and actually develops a personal relationship with Him? Or could it be at a charismatic church service when they are instructed to come forward to “receive the Spirit?”

We can easily spend all our time fixating on the many answers offered and miss the simplicity of Peter’s message. Just listen to what the Bible says, if not you will allow all the opinions and voices to lead you to a great deal of confusion. The people were cut to their hearts and asked, what do we need to do? Peter said; don’t miss this, one more time. “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Peter then adds, in case you don’t get who I am speaking to let me make it clear, “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord your God calls to himself.”

 Question? Is this your response to the Word? Is it clear to you that you’re supposed to repent, be baptized and receive the HS? If so, have you done it? If not, what’s keeping you from doing it today?

Why do we sometimes feel that we need to debate this endlessly, running through every possible hypothetical situation and answering every theological question first? Why not simply respond to the truth we have heard and then work through our questions from there?

(For more in-depth discussion on the work of the Holy Spirit I recommend Francis Chan’s book, “Forgotten God.”)

James’ Story

Let me paint you a picture of how disgusting sin is and what it does. My best affections for you will have to be put aside because I want you to know God’s truth and how much he really loves you and me. Truly, I was probably the most despicable person I know.

I was born and raised in Richmond, VA. I thought I had a normal upbringing.

My grandfather was very strict. My grandmother talked like a human warning sign. Every word she said was in a harsh, violent and loud tone of voice as if fear would demand obedience. And you know what? For me, it did.

I didn’t get the privilege of doing family activities like eating dinner at a dining table. I wanted to go out and be with friends, but usually the answer was no. My grandparents were so strict that I often times felt like I needed to tiptoe around the house so they couldn’t hear me. I didn’t hate them, but I was afraid. You’ll probably ask, at this point, where my parents were all this time. They worked 6 days a week, 13 hours a day. I couldn’t blame them for anything. They worked all the time and put food on our table. At the end of the week, we’d go to church.

All my mother ever wanted was a good Christian family. She wanted a family. My father, on the other hand, decided he would coast through raising us up. He didn’t teach me much of anything. So, I never really knew what it was like to have a loving father. It wasn’t that my father wasn’t physically there or putting food on the table. It’s that he wasn’t emotionally or spiritually there. My grandfather had my brother and me doing high school level math and other subjects when I was in kindergarten. If I got a question or problem wrong, he would beat us. Who was I to question them? They’re my grandparents, right? When I look back at it now, I ask “Why would my parents allow this?” And then I asked my mother, and she wept because she never even knew. She worked too long and or family never gave her a break so that she could love her kids.

My brother is a very quick-tempered, bitter man today because of what Hebrews 12:15 says: “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.” He fell victim to the root of bitterness just like I did.

So, this for me was a normal childhood. I had a soft spot for mothers, was confused about fathers, and grandparents at first glance seemed very mean looking. Just kidding about the grandparents. I only meant my own.

I grew up in Presbyterian church. I couldn’t understand what the Pastors were trying to tell me. I never tried to either. Church, for me, was having fun with my friends and trying to be good, but receiving the Word meant, simply, making sure I didn’t fall asleep during the sermon. I mastered the art of coming 90% close to falling asleep during every sermon without going all the way. I think, nowadays, that the reason I loved youth group so much because I just got to be around my friends.

I honestly can’t remember any sermons, yet I went to church every Sunday until high school. That’s a problem especially when you’re like me and claim to be a Christian growing up. But going to church didn’t make me any more Christian than sleeping in a garage will make me a car. I knew Jesus, but I didn’t KNOW Jesus. In my confusion, I figured I’m a Christian because no one told me I wasn’t, and I figured I’ll just be a good person and everything will be okay.

By the time I was in high school, I had enough of church. I was determined for such a long time to try to be nice with people and try to be active in my youth group, but things weren’t going my way. I was so selfish and I wish someone had called me out on it. But no one did, so I turned to the world to go get my way.

I was a pretty good student. I attended my classes and had a lot of respect for my teachers. I wanted to do well academically and eventually find a college to go to. I studied and worked very hard in my junior and senior year and eventually landed a scholarship to an art school in Arlington, Virginia.

Until college, I’d never been to a party, tasted alcohol, smoked a cigarette or done drugs. I figured that made me a pretty good kid. However, I was also socially awkward. Having moved to a new city, I didn’t know anyone and so I decided I’d force myself out of my comfort zone and get to know people and learn how to be social. This took a couple years, but I made some friends. I still kept to myself most of the time, however, and I also prided myself for never having tasted alcohol or done drugs. I did, however, have my first drink of whiskey at age 22.

Everything seemed great on the outside, but on the inside I was really giving in to some of the worst temptations our Bible talks about. Our Bible calls giving into temptations ‘sinning’. It’s a disease that lives in all of us and causes us to fall short of the glory of God. Sometimes, we look at this ‘sin’ in our lives and we put them on a chart and say “these are little ones I have that aren’t that big of a deal” and “these are definitely a lot bigger, but as long as I hide them nobody will know…”

So, let me paint that picture of my sins. And I’m doing this because you really need to know how much God really loves us, so much to save the terrible, despicable person that I was.

I remember myself at my worst, mostly in recent years.

When I was 19, I’d slept with a woman for the first time causing her to cheat on her boyfriend and after I told her that I didn’t love her she painfully acted as if it was her fault. And I stood there and did nothing. This has happened at least 2 more times, once to a single mother.

In my early 20’s, I felt so much anxiety, depression, and bitterness growing all on top of this crazy sense of entitlement as if the world owed me something. I was so full of myself, I didn’t even stop to think of my mother’s needs when she was in the first stages of her separation from my father. She worked in her own store in Blackwell for over 20 years and has been robbed at gunpoint 6 times. Instead of seeing that she’d be okay by helping her at her store, I allowed her to work there by herself and went on acting like everything would be just fine because I wanted to chase money more than I wanted to look after my dysfunctional family.

At 24, I found a new church to start going to. Everything about it was cool. I thought it changed my life, but really I know now it was just my ‘drug’ to make everything I was doing seem okay. As long as I was going to church and participating in outreach, it could balance out all the evil thoughts and deeds I committed. I just wanted to be in the limelight and allow everyone to look at me as if I was someone important and special. I remember even getting on that stage and sharing a testimony about forgiveness and having people come to me and tell me how much of a blessing I was. But I was just one big lie. And I was being a big lie in front of God and his people.

I even ended up working at that same church by age 25. I wanted to be with the coolest looking good guys. That is until it started not working out for me. I didn’t want to help other people. I just wanted selfish gain. I wanted to be in charge. I even got baptized there because other people were doing it and I figured it would be ‘cool’ for me to do it, too, and say I got baptized. Anytime I prayed, it was only because I needed a miracle and not because I wanted Jesus.

I left that church after working there only 5 months. I couldn’t take how much good I had to do and just wanted to do bad. I started drinking more heavily and made plenty of drinking buddies, too. Soon, I had my own posse of friends I could drink several nights a week with and go to strip clubs and throw away money and tell the whole world I was finally living the good life.

That is until one day I made a friend in someone I became so infatuated with. I wanted everything this person had. Everything about this person just seemed so good. This person was so in love with Jesus, it was sickening. I wanted to fill my void so much with the love this person had for Jesus, but the sin in me just kept rejecting it and rejecting it.

As I’d sit on my couch alone at night opening my 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th can of beer I’d be angry and sick and then laughing to myself like I was going crazy or something. The only advice I’d get about life were from other friends who were on their 13th, 14th, 15th, and 16th can of beer. I looked at my life and realized I had become the king of my own drunken, lawless land. Filthy, full of wickedness, and going down a long road straight to hell.

Finally, I thought to myself that I would start calling the good Christian friends I used to have and get some good Christian advice. I knew this was what I needed, but unfortunately none of them were available. Everyone had moved. I know now that God had closed all the doors and put me in a woodshed with just me and Him, but at the time all I could think was “I’m all alone.”

Getting deeper and deeper into my disgusting little world, I thought about my whole life and asked myself “In five years, do I want to be a sicker, older version of myself today? Or do I want to be someone I never dreamed I could be?”

Could I be a loving father? Even find a good wife and be a loving husband to her? Could I do what it takes to restore relationships with my family? To finally be able to give my mother the Bible Studies she told me she prayed we’d have together. To finally be able to start a real relationship with my brother. To forgive my father for leaving my mother and even have a relationship with him?

I looked at all these things and I decided one lonely night on September 4th, 2011, and I got down on my knees at my bedside and cried out loudly to God and prayed as loud as I could “God! I can’t do this alone anymore! Why?! Why do I have to feel this way?! I don’t want this anymore! I need you!! I need you!!”

And that night came and went. But, that night, God said “James, I love you. I love you so much. You turned your back on me for all those years. You cursed my name. Through your actions and your sin, you told me you didn’t want anything to do with me. You hurt my children, too. So many times, I called out to you but you wouldn’t answer. What did I do to deserve this from you, James? But, now you’ve called out to me and I’m here for you, James, like the loving father you never had. I love you so much and I want you to be my child. Welcome home.”

With the many awful things I’ve done in my life, I knew I absolutely deserved the hell God tells us we deserve for our evil ways. But God, being a loving and gracious God, thought little me should be saved. How gracious is our God? That when I cried out to him, he was there.

That night, my life changed. I repented from my old ways and literally my life turned completely around. The things I used to want: money, sex, alcohol, selfish gain. These were all literally replaced by my new love for God, love for his word, and wanting to live for God’s will for my life. I truly don’t feel the same. A veil was lifted from my eyes, as if I was blinded before, but now I can finally see. The Bible, His Living Word, has become truly real and alive to me. It’s hard to explain. Imagine passing out and a doctor puts the paddles to your chest and zaps you back to life. That’s the feeling. When I seek something with all my heart from God, he has ALWAYS answered my prayer through his Word, the Bible. God’s also given me a real purpose in serving his will for my life. My prayer life is amazing not because I pray everyday but because I’m literally praying all the time by just talking to God.

God has taught me how to live in relationship with my family, friends, and others all around me. Jesus in me has taught me to be slow to anger, to stop being anxious, and always do my best to treat those around me how a loving family member would.

God has shown me that all the doubts, worries, anxiety, and uncertainties that I had were never from him but from Satan. This is a huge problem in our society. A lot of us are becoming lost in our thoughts thinking we will never make it, we will always fail, we will never be loved, we should just kill ourselves. The last of those led my friend to suicide this past week. She loved Jesus so much and with all the problems in her life, Satan finally convinced her to kill herself. And he’s laughing. Do you see why I hate sin so much?

When Satan claims one of our own, I look at it now as a personal attack to my family. Here’s the truth: God has shown me that he wants me to have joy in the Lord and peace. He LOVES ME like a loving Father loves his child. JESUS LOVES ME and wants a relationship with ME and YOU. That love isn’t just something we feel or say, but that it’s something we do through sacrificing our own lives, like Jesus did for us on the cross, for the sake of the ones we love. But Satan is really real and we need to build each other up together to shield ourselves from his attacks.

New Venture is my new family and because God has shown me grace and how he loves me, I feel a sense of duty to love my new family and be there for them and try to be as good of a servant as I can be. I’ve joined two Bible studies and never want to miss a gathering or event. I want to keep building my character because in 2 Peter it tells us that if we build our character, it makes us more effective and productive in our knowledge of Jesus Christ.

I, like all of us, was dead in my sins. I deserved to die for my sin. And because of my sin, there was nothing I could do to connect myself to God because he cannot be where sin is. He’s too holy and good. But how awesome is it that he loves us so much that he sent his son Jesus (his son!) to die for me and you. He loves you so much, he wants you and me to spend eternity with him in heaven. Before I get there, I want to do what God calls us to do and bring a little bit of heaven down to earth. God has put a big desire in my heart to serve through New Venture. And through New Venture, I personally believe we can change the hearts of our community and really bring Steve’s vision full circle by changing Midlothian. How? By doing it together for Jesus.

Now, I can’t wait to be baptized because my Bible tells me to be baptized and wash away my sins. All the wickedness I ever did and will ever do will all be washed away