My Testimony - How I Learned The Truth
Until age 42, I was spoon feed by preachers and religious individuals in reference to how to become a Christian and live a Christian life. When I was young, I went to church services with my parents, but it had no meaning. I went to church services because my momma told me I had to go. When I became a teenager, I pretty much stopped going to church services. Throughout my high school years and early twenties, I did about everything bad you could imagine, short of going to jail... and I consider myself extremely fortunate... blessed to be alive. Although I generally meant well, I certainly did not do well. I married my lovely wife, Angie, at age 22. Unfortunately, we seldom attended church services much right after we married. We started working and hanging out with some religious friends in our late twenties because we wanted to know more about God, the Bible, church, and how to live a Christian life. We started attending a Presbyterian Church where her boss and a co-worker/friend attended. Angie always left things up to me, so I was the one that would study and learn what we needed to know, and she would pretty much follow my lead. I had no problem with this and started reading the Bible, but I never studied the Bible that close if the truth is to be known. When I read the Bible, I skimmed through it, occasionally studying some passages. The Bible always seemed to be confusing for me to understand for the most part. I basically just listened to what others told me and trusted them, which I learned much later in life to be a colossal mistake and tantamount to playing Russian roulette with my soul.
After attending church services for a while, Angie and I eventually did what men taught us and prayed a prayer (the sinner's prayer as most people call it) to accept Christ into our life as our Lord and Savior. We felt like we were saved and were taught that there was no way for us to lose our salvation... that was that, and we were supposedly saved, just like that. We became members of the Presbyterian Church we were attending, and both of us had a little water sprinkled on our heads to express our desire to be a part of that church. I was given a handbook and told that I needed to study, understand, and believe the Presbyterian doctrine. As best I could, I studied them to an extent and accepted what the Presbyterians taught. For several years afterward, we continued to trust what we were being preached and taught. We never thought it was necessary to verify anything we were being taught. After all, the people teaching us seemed to be very sincere, and they are/were well respected, so why question their wisdom and knowledge of the Bible?
For several years we continued to attend the Presbyterian Church. In my late thirties, we moved to another city and began to attend church services less and less, and before age forty, we had all but stopped going to church services. After a couple of years of missing church services, several friends started encouraging us that we needed to be in a church somewhere... it didn't seem to matter where we just needed to go to church. We felt like they were probably right, so we started attending a local Baptist Church and later moved to another Baptist Church. Although the Baptist churches appeared to be a little different from what we had been accustomed to (Baptist vs. Presbyterian), it did not seem to be that dramatic. Of course, we did not fully understand the Baptist doctrine, nor did we ever fully understand the Presbyterian doctrine. As I write this, I realize there is a significant difference between the two, both being unscriptural, but that is a topic of another study.
After several months of attending the Baptist Church, I did begin to question some of the preaching and teaching. This was not because I was learning a difference between Baptist and Presbyterian, but rather because I was more interested in learning more of the truth. We were training for a sharing program, and I wanted to make sure I shared the truth with others. I had decided it was time to get serious about being a Christian and living for God. At that time, the main focus was the sinner's prayer. While I was not that familiar with the term "sinner's prayer" being used so frequently as I was hearing it now, I had a good idea what it was because Angie and I had prayed a similar prayer years earlier, and I knew I had heard it mentioned by a few others in past years. I started asking questions about the sinner's prayer, but I was not getting what I thought to be straight answers. I felt like certain people should be able to show me passages for what they were preaching and teaching. I tried to find scriptural support for the sinner's prayer for several weeks, and I simply could not find it. Sure, I had various preachers give me a few passages, but in order to get those passages to support praying for salvation, I would have to twist them around or take them out of context. I was getting frustrated because it was becoming apparent that this sinner's prayer was not (and it still is not) scriptural, yet many preachers were preaching it. I kept trying to figure it out and kept searching for answers. I prayed to God for Him to help me understand what I was supposed to understand... whatever that would be.
During this time, a friend of ours, Rhonda, who I also work with, knew I was asking many questions and advised me her son-in-law, Jason, was attending preaching school. She said that Jason would be visiting within the next few days and would be more than happy to sit down with me any time and answer my questions. Jason is not a member of any denomination, so I was hesitant at first. I had read a few emails he had sent to Rhonda, and I was not in total agreement with his thinking, but I decided I would at least hear him out. I have always been a reasonably open-minded person anyway. I tried to prepare for our meeting, but I did not know what to expect or how to prepare. I gathered up a little material, though, and prepared as best I knew how for his visit.
Jason and I met together and talked for several hours. I voiced my concerns with some of what he had mentioned in his emails, and he listened. We talked a little more about our lives, and then I asked him to share his thoughts with me or something to that effect. Jason had a Bible software program (www.e-sword.net) on a laptop computer, an Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, a Greek Lexicon, Thayer's and Strong's Greek dictionaries (all of this on his laptop), and a regular handheld King James Version Bible. He begins showing me passages in his Bible and gives me definitions of some of the Greek words from the Manuscript references. I kept interrupting him, trying to refute what he was saying, but I could not give any scriptural support for my arguments. I was simply telling him things I was taught over the years, but I could not point him to any passages that truly supported what I was claiming. It all boils down to the fact that I did not know as much as I thought I did. I found out I knew very little about the truth of the Bible. He kept showing me passages that I had no idea were in the Bible. All I can say is I must have been reading right over them for all these years, and I certainly do not remember any preacher preaching or teaching what I was reading. I could not bring myself to believe what all these passages were saying. It was not making much sense because it was so simple, although it certainly was not what the majority of the people I was associated with were teaching. However, I finally put my stubbornness and hard-headedness aside and began to put a few of these passages together. I realized they were not that complicated to understand after all. All I needed to do was read and absorb them. I then started asking questions, and he would point to passages for the answers. There was minimal commentary; for the most part, it was the Word of God being read.
I quickly realized that I had never truly studied the Scriptures as I should have. I was questioning much of what I had been taught for many years. I even doubted my salvation. However, I was excited that I was beginning to better understand a few biblical principles for once in my life. I believe I was hearing the Word of God the way it was intended to be heard, literally and truthfully. I was so intrigued that I wanted to hear more. I wanted to study these passages more and more. I believe the most important thing I learned, though, was that if I really wanted to go to heaven, I better start seriously studying the Word of God... otherwise, I was headed for condemnation. Reality was sinking in, to say the least.
This meeting with Jason and other specific events caused me to realize that it was time for me to get down to some serious Bible study. I needed to understand on my own what it was that God required of me to be saved (without any doubt) and what it was that I needed to do to please Him. I started looking closer at the Scriptures and was seeing more and more passages that I had not given any attention to in the past. When I combined them with passages, I knew... I began to understand more. I was learning that it is true that we must study ALL of the Word of God.
I was reading some of the passages that Jason had pointed out to a preacher one time, and he tried to tell me (in so many words) that they did not mean what I was actually reading. He asked me if I was going to believe in a one-year preaching school student over a preacher who had already finished school and had several years of preaching experience. I told that preacher that I was simply reading the Bible and only wanted to know the truth. He insisted that I was taking sides with Jason and even became hostile towards me. I believe this preacher felt this way because he could not explain away these passages, nor could he point out Scripture that would refute what Jason had taught me and what I was reading from the Bible. He could not even give me Scripture for what he believes. Instead, he chose to try and humiliate and intimidate me. You see, the point is this... I do not want to believe in Jason; I do not want to believe in that preacher; I do not even want to believe in a preacher that has ten years of schooling or one that has 40 years of preaching. I want to believe in God's Word. It was becoming apparent that if I had continued to do nothing more than trust in a preacher (man), I would have never learned the truth.
I started studying with a different intent than ever before. By no means have I become a scholar or theologian, but I certainly do not believe we have to be one to understand God's way, the truth. I have definitely learned what it takes to be saved. After learning exactly what God commands of us to be saved, I followed those instructions. I am now saved, not because I prayed a prayer, not because I "feel" like I am saved, but because I obeyed the gospel and followed the instructions God's Word gives us on what we must do to be saved. Am I now a perfect man without sin... hardly so. I must persevere to the end. With God's help through His Word, I can do it if I choose to. I am still learning more each day, and I am on a mission to learn as much as I can possibly learn... a mission that I hope will not end until I go to be with the Lord.
Please join me in these studies to learn more about the truth and exactly what a person must do to be saved.
God bless you!