If you are like many people in our world today, when you hear about church and religion, you might think immediately of all the hypocrites and showmanship that is often associated with these. Many people have no time for ‘religious’ things, because after all, it’s all just a farce! Or, is it? I have to confess that for the first eleven years of my life, I was nothing but a religious hypocrite. But all that changed when I met God for real!
I was born into a Christian home on June 1, 1978. This is one of the greatest blessings that has ever been given to me. I had the privilege of being raised on Godly principles taught in the Bible. Many children grow up today in broken homes, having little real relationship with their parents, and are very confused and unprepared for the future. I am so glad that from a very early age my parents taught me the Bible, and always had me in Sunday School and Church to hear the Word of God.
However, as wonderful as this great blessing was, I actually took it very much for granted. “I gradually became familiar with church and religion, because that was all that I had ever known.” I gradually became familiar with church and religion, because that was all that I had ever known. As I grew up in church, I heard the truth that when a person dies without Jesus Christ as their Savior, they go to a place called hell. This obviously scared me very much as a young child, so I naturally wanted to ‘get saved’ so I could go to heaven. (Note: salvation, saved and born again are Biblical terms referring to the forgiveness of sins by God and the rescue of a person from the power and penalty of that sin. This is God’s requirement for everlasting life.)
As a five year old boy, I prayed the sinner’s prayer one morning after Sunday School. However, I did not understand the true nature of how my sin had greatly offended God, and was simply praying a prayer to escape the fires of hell. God’s Word is clear that true salvation is rooted in understanding the seriousness of having broken God’s law, and therefore, turning from that sin with a great abhorrence for it. This had never happened to me. I was simply playing the game of religion that many people play.
I continued to go to church, because that was required of me by my parents. I experienced no assurance that I was truly on my way to heaven, and remember several times that I prayed another sinner’s prayer, just in case I hadn’t been saved when I was five. I continued in this state of hypocritical, empty religion for several years.
When I was ten years old, my dad accepted the call to pastor a church in Pennsylvania. We were living in Illinois at the time, and began making plans to move half way across America. As a child, this was a time of significant change, as I was leaving all my friends and familiar surroundings for a place that I had never been. However, this also became a critical turning point in my life. It was at this juncture in my life that I was jarred into reality, and an understanding of some of life’s lessons began to dawn on my soul.
Along with this forced maturity, came a better understanding of what God was trying to show me about my horrible sin nature, and my need for a Savior! I had always thought that I was a pretty good kid. After all, I went to church, memorized the Bible, prayed, etc. “But, I also knew that deep down inside, I had a rotten rebellious heart of pride and wicked imaginations.” But, I also knew that deep down inside, I had a rotten rebellious heart of pride and wicked imaginations. I could play the game of religion on the outside, but I had never been made a new person on the inside!
After we moved to Pennsylvania, I continued to hear the preaching of the Word of God every week in church. But it was different now than it had ever been before. The preaching about sin began to bother me, because I knew that I was a wicked sinner on the inside. I began to get scared because I was beginning to realize that I was not saved, and was going to go to hell the moment that I died! The Lord was showing me my true condition before Him, with verses like Isaiah 64:6, which says, “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” I tried to dismiss these thoughts, but they continued to trouble my soul.
Finally, one night as I slipped into bed, everything began to come together. As I was thinking about my awful sinful heart, and my eternal destiny of hell, I began to pray to the Lord. I remember feeling so burdened with the weight of my sin. But, I didn’t want to just pray another sinner’s prayer. I wanted to be at peace with God.
As I began to confess my sinfulness to the Lord, I began to cry, as for the very first time I sensed in an overpowering way that it was my sin that had put Jesus Christ on the cross. The more that I thought about it, the more I began to weep. I told the Lord that I knew that I did not deserve to go to heaven, but begged Him to have mercy on me and to save me and change me. I remember, as if it were yesterday, the peace that flooded my soul and the great burden that seemed to roll from my back. I knew that God had heard my prayer, and that in spite of my wickedness, He had delivered me from my sin! I was so excited that I ran downstairs to tell my parents what had just happened.
Lest you think that what I just described was merely some emotional childhood experience, I can attest to the fact today that God’s grace and working in my life has only gotten stronger as the years have passed! “I have experienced the wonderful peace that God says a person can have, of knowing that heaven is my eternal home.” I have experienced the wonderful peace that God says a person can have, of knowing that heaven is my eternal home. God has given me an appetite for true spiritual things, such as reading the Word of God, praying, and telling others about my Savior.
I certainly have many more areas that have yet to be changed, but I am glad to see God slowly changing me and making me into a new creature from the inside out. Going to church is no longer some religious duty that I must do because of my parents, or even because that is how I was raised. It is rather done now out of a heart of true devotion to God for saving me and giving me a reason to live!
Friend, you may think that religion is only a bunch of hypocrisy, and that you don’t have time for it, but I ask you to think again. There certainly are plenty of religious hypocrites; I was one myself! You may think that your religion is good enough already, but God is not interested in just any kind of religion. God is interested in pure religion that starts with a life changing relationship with Jesus Christ!