As far back as I can remember, Christianity has always been a part of my life. I grew up in a small, traditional, Southern Baptist church, was active in youth group, and even attended a small Baptist college. Around the age of 7, I “accepted” Jesus as my Savior and was baptized. Looking back, I don’t remember much about this experience. I certainly didn’t understand the gravity of sin except that I knew I did not want to go to hell. Counting the cost and true repentance were not part of my childhood “decision,” but I also grew up in a tradition where people believed and taught that repeating “the sinner’s prayer” would most assuredly save someone, especially if one prayed sincerely.
Despite the fact that my life may have looked religious, my soul was far from God and I didn’t even know it. Nonetheless, I seldom doubted my salvation because I knew I had prayed to receive Jesus and I sincerely believed that that was the way to salvation. If I did experience doubts, I would just pray again. A “deceived deceiver,” that’s who I was: pretending to be something I wasn’t, living a double life, and under the delusion that all was well with my soul. I could play the part of the model Christian or delight in the evils of the world – it just depended on where I was and who I was with.
My habitual, heinous sins only really bothered me if they got me in trouble. Granted, I sometimes felt guilty about my behavior, but I would ignore the authority of my conscience and the written commands of God and would purposefully pursue sin ever while tightly clutching to my “sinner’s prayer” as my get-out-of-hell-free card. Sure, I prayed when I needed something and sometimes would even ask God to forgive me and help me to live better. But my sorrow over sin was worldly and not godly; I was distraught that my behavior didn’t line up with the Christian image I was trying to maintain, not that my grievous sins were a direct assault on God.
When I was 27 years old, I met my husband, Jeremy. Even though we both expressed a desire for a Christian home, I now know that you can have “Christian” desires without the desire for Christ Himself. But God, being rich in mercy, brought my husband under conviction and repentance in the tenth year of our marriage. Jeremy immediately and suddenly surrendered his life to God’s leading and call to preach.
As my husband began to submit to the Lord, he also began to lead our family spiritually. Our conversations started to change and I often thought the level of his commitment to Christ and Scripture was a bit too radical. The idea of complete surrender to God was a frightening thought. During this time, we found a more doctrinally-sound church and I began to listen to expository, biblical preaching centered around the truth of Scripture, the preeminence of Christ and the holiness of God. I began hearing words I’d never heard or understood before – words such as atonement, justification, propitiation, sanctification, and regeneration. Although I resisted at first, I slowly came to realize that my understanding of salvation and the gospel were shallow and even unbiblical.
At some point during the past six or seven years, God opened my eyes to the beauty of His gospel. He showed me how detestable my sin really was. God showed me that my behaviors and even my “good intentions” or “good works” were evil because the motives that produced them were evil and sinful (self-serving), and no matter how hard I would try to conform to the religious image of the “Model Christian,” my real problem was that on my own, I would never be able to conform to the image of Christ.
My attempts to be “good” flowed out of selfish and self-righteous motives, not out of a grateful heart that longed to please and obey my Father. God gave me a godly sorrow for all my sins, not only my past sins, but even the stubborn sins that still often plague my heart: pride, selfishness, and ingratitude. I came to understand the truth about salvation: That I am only saved because of Christ’s finished work on the cross and it is by His work alone.
I began to meditate on this truth: the entirety of my own, actual sins was placed on Christ as he voluntarily endured the wrath of God in my stead while he hung on the cross. The reality that God chose me for Himself before the foundations of the world and that He sent his Son to ransom me became a source of great joy and thanksgiving. When I came to understand that His act of grace and mercy was not because of anything I had done, nor was it because of his foreknowledge of any future actions or “decision” on my part and that I had done nothing to deserve or merit salvation, I stood in awe of my Redeemer! Salvation is completely, entirely and wholly a work of God. He shall receive ALL the glory for the salvation of his people!
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Jesus Christ has ransomed and redeemed me – I BELONG to Him. I didn’t “decide” to be a Christian – Christ bought my life. There is nothing about my life that belongs to me, but ALL to Him I owe!
As I spend time with God in prayer and in His Word, He continues to show me the glorious beauty of the gospel. There was a specific instance during this past presidential election when I had been having discussions with several Christian friends who just didn’t see things the same way I did. I couldn’t understand how they could justify supporting the “lesser” of two evils when I believed that supporting neither candidate was obviously the “holier” choice. Didn’t they trust in the sovereignty of God? How can we have the same Holy Spirit guiding our lives and yet have such different convictions, I wondered? I even began to contemplate that perhaps they weren’t truly saved. Maybe they were just pretend Christians. As I thought about these things, a question popped into my mind: Well, Charla, how do you know YOU are saved?
So, I thought about it for a while. Well, I know I’m not saved by a prayer, of course. And then I began to go through all the reasons why I knew I was truly saved. I began to justify myself before God: “I am saved because I know it is a work you have done. I believe what your word says. I know I am a sinner. I know Jesus lived a sinless life. I know He was my substitute. I know He died for my sins. I believe He was raised on the third day. I even understand the doctrines of grace, such as total depravity, unconditional election, and limited atonement.”
And as I began to unload all my incredible theological wisdom before God, I felt an emptiness in my spirit as if all of these reasons were just not enough. There was simply – “No.” Immediately, I became desperate and undone. I thought to myself, “No? No? Then I have nothing. What can I say? How can I know for sure that I am saved?” And it was at that moment that I saw with my spiritual eyes – Christ crucified: Christ hanging on the cross for ME, Christ spilling out his blood for ME, Christ drinking the cup of God’s wrath for ME, Christ giving his life for ME. Christ. Only Christ. He is why I am saved. He is my assurance. My faith rests entirely on Christ and what He accomplished on the cross. In that moment, the gospel was so clear and so glorious that I literally covered my mouth with my hand and gasped.
God has truly done a miraculous work in my life. He has given me a desire to know Him, a desire to follow Him, and a desire to love Him. I am not who I once was. I truly am a new creation! I am being sanctified as the Holy Spirit convicts me daily of that residual sin that is still at war in my flesh and by His grace, He helps me to crucify my flesh, pick up my cross and follow Him. Even though I’m not sure when the exact moment of regeneration took place in my spirit, I can always look to the finished work of Christ on the cross. That day is the most significant date of my salvation! Recently, I came under the conviction that I should follow Christ in believer’s baptism and so a few months ago, I was baptized by my pastor (who happens to also be my husband). God is so, so good. What a gracious, merciful Savior!
Ladies, God is still at work in the hearts and lives of His people, including yours! Would you like to share a testimony of how God saved you, how He has blessed you, convicted you, taught you something from His Word, brought you out from under false doctrine, placed you in a good church or done something otherwise awesome in your life? Private/direct message me on social media, e-mail me (MichelleLesley1@yahoo.com), or comment below. Your testimony can be as brief as a few sentences or as long as 1500 words. Let’s encourage one another with God’s work in our lives!