Last month marked my 39th spiritual birthday. On January 24, 1976, I walked down the aisle in the auditorium of a large Baptist church in Chattanooga, Tennessee, during a revival meeting. I “went forward” to receive Jesus Christ as my Savior. I don’t remember the guest preacher’s name and I don’t remember his sermon, but I do remember the host pastor meeting me at the front and sharing with me the good news from John 1:12 – “Yet to all who received Him (Jesus), to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.”
That evening was not my first exposure to the gospel of Jesus Christ—not by a long shot! I was raised in a gospel-saturated environment: home, school, and church. Years prior to that January evening I had memorized many Bible verses, verses which reveal Jesus Christ and His work for the salvation of sinful humans: Jesus is truly God in the flesh, He lived a sinless life of complete obedience to the Father, He died in payment for the sins of humanity, God raised Him from the dead and offers forgiveness to all who believe in Christ.
And that evening was not the first time I felt my need to receive Christ. God’s Holy Spirit had been talking to me about Jesus for some years. All throughout my teen years, in the quiet of my private thoughts and in public church gatherings, the Holy Spirit had been convicting me—exposing my sin and impressing upon me my need to turn in faith to Jesus.
Given that history, I rather believe that my conversion took place when I let go of the pew in front of me and stepped out into the aisle to walk to the front. That was the turning point. I already knew the gospel message. I truly felt my need of salvation, my desperate need to be forgiven by God: my guilt was heavy. Stepping out was the response of my will to the call of God. It was repentance. It was faith. It was receiving Christ. And, yes, I did pray “the sinner’s prayer” with the pastor, but he himself made it clear that night that praying a prayer did not bring about salvation. As John 1:12 states, he pointed out, becoming a child of God happens through faith, through receiving Christ.
My journey with Jesus these 39 years has been marked by twists and turns, high points and low points, failures and victories, and surely, through it all, the sustaining grace and merciful faithfulness of our Lord.
One thing that has emerged for me in recent years is the need to persevere. To endure. To never abandon Jesus. To hold fast the confession of our faith to the very end.
I have felt this need to endure through two influences: personal awareness and holy Scripture. As my awareness of the harsh difficulties of life has deepened over the years, I have felt the drag on faith, the insidious, gnawing resistance to believing in Jesus. The world opposes Christ and Satan marshals his efforts against the people of Christ. Life is a journey accompanied by deep personal pain in a world where atrocities shatter Pollyanna perspectives.
Along with this deepening personal awareness, God’s Word repeatedly calls the people of Jesus to endure to the end. Preaching through the New Testament book of Hebrews a few years ago powerfully impacted me with the need to persevere. My “Body Building” sermon series last summer was based on this very premise: that if we are to endure, we need to be actively engaged with one another as members of the Body of Christ. If we function as “Lone Rangers” in our faith journey we are sitting ducks for Satan’s attacks. And now our current series from Revelation 1-3, “Renovation,” hammers home the same theme: Be faithful unto death.
The risen Lord Jesus Christ can strengthen us to endure. He Himself did. The Word of God gives us the very promises of God upon which we can confidently stand. The Holy Spirit of God comes alongside to help us. And so, through Christ, God graciously resources us to endure.