I was blessed with a wonderful family growing up. My parents were faithful to teach my brothers and me how we should live according to God's Word. Being part of a faithful church was also a huge part of our lives.
We moved to the Atlanta area when I was 5. For several years, we attended First Baptist Church Atlanta. Charles Stanley was then and is still a preacher that is used much by God. After the sermons, Pastor Stanley would give an "invitation" to any who wanted to go to heaven to pray with him to "accept Jesus Christ as their Savior" walk down the aisle to the front of the church, and talk with someone about being a Christian.
Prayed the prayer. Walked the aisle.
One night, I decided that I wanted to go to Heaven -- I didn't want to go to Hell! Hell sounded terrible to me. So, I decided to pray the prayer with Pastor Stanley. Then, I walked down the aisle to talk to someone about being a Christian.
At that young age, I knew that a true Christian would love God's Word, His people, singing His praises, would love to do the right thing, and would hate sin. I tried to do those things, but I knew I was forcing myself -- a born-again Christian wouldn't have to force themselves to do those things. I didn't have the changed heart that I knew I should have.
For months, I would pray "the sinner's prayer" with whoever invited me to -- usually at the end of the sermons. I never felt a change in my heart, but I figured that, since the pastor told me that I'd be saved if I prayed to God to save me, I must be saved -- my doubt must be from Satan.
Through elementary and middle school, I believed that I was a Christian, but I started to see things in my life in high school that were concerning to me. As a family, we continued to worship with faithful churches. I also continued to read the Bible. I didn't enjoy reading God's Word, but I knew that it was important and that I needed to read His Word often.
One afternoon when I was 15 I was reading Hebrews chapter 12 and came upon verse 6.
“For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.”
— Hebrews 12:6 KJV
My heart dropped when I read that verse. I knew that I had sin in my life. I was doing things that I knew were wrong and had many wrong thoughts and wrong attitudes. I knew that many things that I thought and did were wrong. I felt guilty for them, but I didn't hate them like I knew I should. I also didn't feel God's chastening in my life. I knew that, if God wasn't chastening me for my sin, then He didn't love me.
I was terrified
I knew that I wasn't a Christian like I thought I was. The next couple of years were frightening years for me. I knew that I would go to hell if I died in my current spiritual state. I turned to God's Word and asked several pastors what I needed to do to be saved. One pastor told me that I needed to pray and tell God that my life is a glove. He said that I needed to ask God to fill my life like a hand fills a glove.
As I read the Bible and listened to sermons, though, I started to realize that the "sinner's prayer” wasn’t what saved sinners. For 10 years, I was deceived in thinking that praying a prayer and walking an aisle had saved me from my sins. At 5-years old, I didn’t really understand the message and reasons behind praying to God with the pastor. The act of saying the words of a prayer with a pastor cannot deliver a sinner from the wrath of God. God's Word tells us, though, that sinners are saved by His grace through faith in Him.
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.”
— Ephesians 2:8-9 KJV
Ephesians 2:8-9 is clear if we have eyes that see and ears that hear: we are not saved by our works, and the faith through which we are saved is from God -- we can't muster up the faith ourselves! We can't DO anything to be saved. God's Word also says that our good works (righteous works) are as filthy rags in God's eyes.
“But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.”
— Isaiah 64:6 KJV
If I had the opportunity to ask Charles Stanley about the “sinner's prayer,” I’m sure that he would say that it’s not the prayer that saves us or the act of walking down the aisle to the front of the church that saves a sinner. Paul, in 1 Cor. 2:14, tells us that spiritual things cannot be understood by men and women who have not been quickened, made alive, by the Holy Spirit. Men and women who mean well can often, in an effort to make the things of God clear to the unsaved, put a twist on scripture that is unscriptural.
Pastor Jeff Pollard of Mount Zion Bible Church in Pensacola often says, "Our bad religion is usually the last to leave us." My bad religion had clouded my mind as I read God's infallible Word, and, if it weren't for God's mercy on me, my bad religion would've followed me to Hell.
Peace with the Maker of Heaven and Earth
In the summer of 1997, in the mountains of the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania, the Lord made my blind eyes to see and gave my dying soul life. There he showed me that salvation was all of Him. I needed not only to repent of my sins -- I needed also to repent of my "good works." I remember vividly when the burden of sin was lifted, and I knew that I was finally at peace with my Creator. Death was no longer terrifying to me because I knew that I would live eternally with God in Heaven.
I can now completely identify with John Newton, the man who penned Amazing Grace. I once was lost, but now I'm found. I once was blind, but now I see. God's amazing grace saved a wretch like me. His amazing grace can save you too.
Are you born-again? If so, how did God save you? If not, has God been working in your life to show you that you need His saving grace? Share your answers in the comments below, on Twitter, or Google Plus.