I became a Christian through reading the Bible.
We were given copies of the New Testament by the Gideons and were challenged to read them every day. Being the obedient schoolboy that I was, I took up the challenge and began to read every day. However, for various reasons, I did not want my friends to know, so I kept my Bible reading secret.
As a result, when I came across verses like ‘whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven’ (Matt 10:33), I was struck and knew that I was not actually right with God.
To cut a long story short, I did eventually become more public with my faith. However, I also became what you might call a ‘legalist’. I had a very strange understanding of the Christian life and what behaviour pleased God.
For example, we had been on a family holiday to Mexico, and I had picked up a little clay smiling ‘sun’ that I hung on my wall.
I remember one day looking at it and thinking, ‘that’s an idol’. I grabbed a hammer and took the unsuspecting sun out the back of our house and smashed it.
I also had a large collection of soul music. In fact, I am confident that I had the most extensive collection of Motown music in Northern Ireland (where I grew up) at the time. I concluded that this was ungodly and was holding me back as a Christian, so I sold my collection (it breaks my heart even to write this!).
I also thought that I should read the Bible and pray three times a day. That was not a bad thing in itself, but if I missed one of my quiet times, I would feel guilty that I had somehow sinned against God.
Effectively, I was trying to establish my righteousness before God by my own piety.
Thankfully, although I was reading the Bible for the wrong reasons, I was being exposed to it and I remember reading Luke’s account of the crucifixion. I was struck by Jesus’ interaction with the criminal crucified next to him who turns to Jesus and asks him to ‘remember me when you come into your kingdom’ (23:42). Jesus replies with the wonderful words of assurance, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise’.
I remember being deeply affected by the fact that this man had done nothing to contribute to his salvation—he had not had a quiet time three times a day, etc.
The truth that it was Jesus’ death on the cross that secured this criminal’s salvation and so could secure mine flooded my heart. Again, in his kindness, God had spoken to me through his word and called me from error. Legalism was still a struggle, but the Lord slowly directed my heart away from my own works as the basis of my relationship with him onto the Lord Jesus and his death and resurrection.
When I was still a young Christian, I adopted another unhelpful approach to the Christian life.
I started pursuing experiences of God as an assurance of his love. Perhaps it was connected to my legalism, but I struggled to believe that God accepted me. I was also looking for a magic bullet to unlock my Christian life.
One weekend I decided to fast for two days thinking that would bring me closer to God. However, I got to the end of the first day and gave in and ate a massive steak.
I also started going to a church that focused on experience. At the end of every service, there would be a time of ministry where people were prayed over.
The pastor would apply pressure to your forehead. Some people would fall over. I really wanted to have that kind of experience but knew that if it were real, I would not be able to stop myself. I never fell over, but I remember each Sunday night feeling like a time of real spiritual breakthrough.
However, I would inevitably wake up the next day feeling the same. Again, God rescued me from my error through his word. I moved to a church where the Bible was taught faithfully week by week.
God’s word gave me a foundation and rootedness in my Christian life that meant I began to look away from my experience and to the Lord Jesus for my assurance.
It is not that the Christian life is meant to be one void of experience—not at all. It is meant to be one of peace (e.g., Isa 26:3) and joy (e.g., 2 Cor 7:4)—even inexpressible joy (1 Pet 1:8). But the mountain-top experiences were not where I was going to find the proof of God’s love.
In some ways, I was falling into the same error that the Colossian church was. They were Christians but they were being drawn away from Christ to find their security in ecstatic angel worship or asceticism (Col 2:18). However, Paul reminded them ‘just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness’ (Col 2:6–7)
The way to grow as a Christian is the same as the way to become a Christian.
You were taught Christ, continue to trust in him. That is what I needed to hear. For me, as I read God’s word every day (or nearly!) and as I sit under it in sermons, God calls me to continue to trust in his Son.
I am thankful that the Lord graciously led me to the point of understanding that the Bible, which points me to Christ, is the place where I can find security and stability in my Christian life.
I now have the privilege of being a teacher of God’s word at College and it is a joy to be involved in that same work of continuing to call people to keep looking to Christ as he is revealed in the word of God.