When I was very young, until I was seven years old, my parents took me to church. After that, I would occasionally go with some neighbors. When I was about 18 or 19 years of age, I was starting to wonder what religion was all about. At the same time, my girlfriend was urging me to get to know God. This drove me back to the church that I had grown up in. I attended several Sundays to hear what the pastor had to say.
The people in the church seemed very cold, and no one spoke to me in those weeks that I attended. I decided one Sunday to stay after church and talk to the pastor about having a relationship with God. He assured me that all I needed to do was to pray and ask God into my heart. I told him I did not know how to do that. The pastor said I should just repeat what he said. He began to pray and I repeated what he said. To this day I cannot even remember what I prayed at that time. After we finished praying, he told me that was all that was necessary to be saved.
I left the church that day thinking I had settled matters with God. I felt I could get on with my life with that behind me. This also satisfied my girlfriend and her parents’ desire for me to know God. I sincerely thought that I was now “okay with God.” But, I was sincerely wrong. Something very important was missing. But, it would be some years before I would realize it and have a genuine relationship with God.
About two years later, I married my girlfriend. I can remember men from her church coming to our door from time to time wanting to talk to us about spiritual things and asking why we didn’t come to church. I wanted nothing to do with them. I would hide and send my wife outside to talk to them. After two rocky years of marriage, we moved away from our hometown so I could get some additional schooling.
The Lord started to get my attention when we had our first child. I remember being in the delivery room watching the birth of our son. I was overwhelmed with awe at how this little child had lived and grown in my wife, and had been born with all its tiny features intact, and in working order. I realized that only God could make something this amazing come about.
“All this new responsibility started me thinking more seriously about life.” All this new responsibility started me thinking more seriously about life. When our son was about six months old, I finally agreed with my wife that we should find a church and take him to Sunday school. At the time, I rationalized that this was for my son. I felt no need for church. I had already done my business with God. We visited the kind of church I was raised in, and the kind of church my wife was raised in. We even started to visit different denominations of churches that we were familiar with. None seemed to meet our needs. They all seemed to be filled with older people and were very boring.
One day, my wife saw an advertisement in the newspaper for a week of evangelistic meetings at the Lehigh Valley Baptist Church. The church was not very far from our home, so we went that Sunday. The moment that I entered the church, I realized that something was different. The people seemed happy to be there, and were very friendly. One thing that really hit me was that the man who was preaching seemed so confident that he had a relationship with God, and that he was going to Heaven.
I had thought that no one could know for sure, in this life, where they were going to spend eternity. You worked hard, treated people fairly, helped people out, and hopefully, when you got there, your good would outweigh your bad and you would get into Heaven. Then the preacher said something that really grabbed my attention. “He said that a person can know for sure right now whether he would spend eternity in Heaven or Hell.” He said that a person can know for sure right now whether he would spend eternity in Heaven or Hell. And he said he would prove it from the Bible. I did believe that the Bible was the Word of God, so I listened carefully. The preacher read First John chapter 5 verse 13, “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” I couldn’t believe it! The Bible said that? This greatly troubled my soul, because I did not know for sure where I would spend eternity. But here was God saying in the Bible that we can know.
After the service, there was an invitation to go forward and learn more about how we can gain an eternity with God. I can remember having an intense desire to walk to the front and talk to the pastor. My hands gripped the pew tightly. My heart was pounding. I broke out in a sweat. But, I resisted going forward that day. The rest of that day and the following day, I could not get the thought out of my mind that the Bible actually says you can know for sure about your eternity. We were invited back on the following night, Monday. My wife went, but I did not.
Tuesday night, I decided to go back and hear more of what this preacher had to say. The preacher was still talking on this subject of salvation. (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 a person to have everlasting life.) He was again preaching about how a person can know for sure whether or not they are going to Heaven. Needless to say, he had my full attention.
He said that when a person truly gets saved, his life will definitely change. One verse he used had a big impact on me. It was Second Corinthians chapter 5 verse 17, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” I knew that when I prayed with that pastor several years back, nothing had changed at all in my life. In fact, it had gotten worse. The realization hit me at this time that I had never truly been saved. When the invitation came that night I had the same intense desire to go and talk to the pastor and settle things with God. I did not hesitate this time. I went right down front. I told the pastor that if he could show me that what the guest preacher was saying was really in the Bible, I would believe it.
That night I talked with a man in a side room. He patiently took me from verse to verse. As he did, I knew that I was a sinner like God’s Word says. I realized that my good works were not able to get me into Heaven. There was nothing I could do on my own. God has only one way to Heaven. That way is by accepting Christ’s payment for our sin on the cross. I realized the hopelessness of my standing before God. I then bowed my head, and with a broken heart about my spiritual condition, I asked the Lord to forgive me of my sins, to cleanse me and come into my heart and be my Savior. I didn’t need someone to tell me what to say. “I just poured out my heart to God.” I just poured out my heart to God.
That was on March 15, 1983, when I was 23 years of age. I remember the feeling of a burden being lifted from me. As we left the room that night, I was greeted by a member of the congregation who asked me what had happened. I replied, “I just got saved.” I don’t think that it really sank in until about a week later. When I looked back on the week that had passed, I realized that the desires of my heart and my outlook on life were drastically different. My attitude toward my wife and son changed. They were no longer a burden, but a blessing from the Lord. My outlook on my schooling was totally changed. The language that came out of my mouth changed. The Lord removed the desire for drinking and drugs. I became very sensitive to my sin and as soon as it would occur, I would stop and confess it. Most of all I remember reading the Word of God, and it came alive and made sense to me. I could understand it, where I never could before. My whole perspective on life was changed.
Even my friends saw a difference and asked me what had happened. I was so excited. I just had to tell them how the Lord changed my life. They thought that I had lost my mind, and they no longer wanted to be associated so closely with me. Praise the Lord, he truly did change me just as it says in Second Corinthians chapter 5 verse 17. Old things did pass away and all things became new, because he gave me a new desire and a new song in my heart. He saved me and changed me. Glory to God! I have that assurance that the preacher talked about in First John chapter 5 verse 13. I know that I am saved, and I will spend eternity in Heaven with my Lord. I can remember feeling angry that no one told me this in the church where I grew up. Why didn’t someone tell me sooner?
My friend, do you know for sure where you will spend eternity? God’s Word says you can know, and God cannot lie. If you are not sure, please consider what I have said. It’s true, it’s real and it’s wonderful! I know, because I have experienced it! Don’t miss eternity in Heaven!