I consider “testimony” to mean a recounting of any time in my life in which I can identify where God’s story has intersected with my own. I therefore have many “testimonies,” because God has made Himself known to me by intersecting the story of my life in many different places, times, and ways. Here is one such story.
I’ve been aware of the concept of a loving God since before I can remember. Growing up in a Christian family provided me with a foundation of faith on which I have been building and remodeling ever since. But being raised in this environment has also meant that I have no understanding of what it is like to live without the awareness of a God who loves me. I believe it is because of this fact that I have struggled to comprehend the reality and depth of God’s grace – the character quality of God through which He gives me gifts of life which I cannot earn.
As long as I can remember, I have been taught, and have believed, that what the Bible says is true: mankind has strayed from God’s design for His creation, and that none of us, by our own power or choosing, can live up to the perfect standard that His design demands. But I have also believed, since living up to that standard is a requirement for “salvation” (spending eternity in fellowship with God rather than in separation from everything good,) that He has provided a way to cover our imperfections. That way is grace.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. -Ephesians 2:8-9
I have always lived a relatively tame lifestyle- not really believing that I was “saved” because of that lifestyle (the above passage asserts that I am not saved by “works”) but, to some degree, feeling obligated to continue in that lifestyle because I have been “saved.” So I grew up knowing, and maybe even believing, many of the spiritual truths that comprise my faith, but without an understanding of grace, I lived few of them out.
Neo, someday you will learn, just as I did, that there is a difference between knowing the path, and walking the path. -Morpheus, The Matrix
Without an understanding of grace, I had no comprehension of God’s love. The word "love" was so over-used, and yet under-emphasized in my church that it ceased to have any meaning for me. I didn’t understand the depth of God’s love, because I had never lived outside of it. John 3:16, that great Bible verse that is the very keystone of the faith of many, became cliché to me: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
It didn’t mean much to me that God had given His son for me, because I never knew what life was like without that gift. The reality of His love was as mundane and factual as breathing to me: I’ve never been unable to breathe, and I therefore have very little appreciation for the value of breath. In the same way, I’ve never not known about the love and grace of God, so I have no idea what it would be like to live without it. I’ve never had the spiritual equivalent of asthma.
I went to college in this way… not having any reference for life without God’s love…not understanding the significance of His grace… but still feeling obligated to live a “good” life because I knew I was saved from the prospect of eternal separation from that love (whatever that meant!) I looked for ways to reinforce the convictions I held. I sought validation for my beliefs. I tried to be better at the lifestyle that was itself becoming the object of my faith.
When I thought I knew all the answers, God began to show me how little I knew.
When I thought there was a “system of salvation” that I could understand, God showed me that He cannot be confined by the human mind.
When I thought that my lifestyle defined my commitment to Christ, He introduced me to non-Christians living a more godly life than I ever had, or probably ever would.
I began to wonder why I was “saved”, and they, at least as far as I could tell, were not.
And so God began to reveal to me the depth of His love through an increasing understanding of His sovereignty and grace.
I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. -Isaiah 65:1
The sovereignty of God (His right and power to define all reality) has been one of the most difficult concepts for me to understand. I think this is because in order to understand God’s sovereignty, I truly have to embrace the reality that it is not my own lifestyle which has saved me. There is nothing I can do to influence the fact that God has chosen to love me as one of His children.
It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. -Romans 9:16
I did nothing to save myself (that is, to secure my salvation.) I can do nothing to earn it. I cannot pay for it. God chose to save me not because of who I am, but because He wanted to. It was His sovereign choice.
It is even harder to understand when I look around and see people who are so much more worthy of this gift (in the eyes of the world) and realize that many of them may never know the love of God.
Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. -Romans 9:18
It’s a mystery… a paradox that I will never fully understand. A loving God… a God who is described as “merciful”… choosing who will be saved, and who will not. This does not seem like a hopeful concept… and yet, understanding it has done much to show me how unworthy I am. And once I began to understand my own unworthiness, I began to start to comprehend the depth of God’s love. John 3:16 began to have meaning to me. His love grew from being mundane to being the source of true joy for me!
Now I can understand why so many born-again Christians, fresh from a life without the knowledge of the love of Christ, are so struck by His love, and passionate about sharing it with others. Their asthma has been relieved! They have seen the full depth and measure of God’s love, and I am only now beginning to look over that ledge.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!
That used to be cliché too. Understanding what I have been saved from, and something of how I have been saved from it… but not understanding why God chose to save me, has made it a sweet sound after all. And even though He has the sovereignty to choose who will be saved and who will not, I know that He will shower this amazing grace upon anyone who seeks it. After all, the same Bible that recognizes His sovereignty also declares Him to be the God who “is patient… not wanting anyone to perish” (2 Peter 3:9) and “who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (I Timothy 2:4)
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. -Matthew 7:7-8