This is part of my story of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.
Catholic or Presbyterian?
My grandad identified as Roman Catholic. This created a sense of duty within the family. This sense of duty meant that I was christened into the Catholic Church as a baby and that as a family we attended church at Christmas time.
Other church attendance as a child had more to do with not having anything else to do on a Sunday morning than it did a desire to learn about the faith that those who took me espoused to. When my grandad died, I used to go to a Presbyterian church with my nana, and thought at that time that there might be something to the idea of there being a God.
At age 11, I attended a Christian camp, where I think I heard the gospel, and had the promise of a Bible in the post.
By the time I was a full-fledged teenager, my attitude toward church and God had become hostile. I became a self-confessed atheist, and at one time claimed to be a Satanist. This was reflected mostly in my taste of music but also meant I outwardly persecuted groups of Christians at my high-school.
The darkness of my CD collection was a reflection of the darkness that started to consume my life with the onset of puberty. By that stage, my parents were separated and I started to exhibit the symptoms of depression.
Anger Turned Inward
Someone once referred to depression as anger turned inward. I was an angry young man – at my parents, at school bullies, at my lot in life – and sadly, when not expressing it towards Christians and the church, I turned that anger inward. I expressed it outwardly through binge eating and the use of solvents to get high. It got to a head when, at 16, I made a weak attempt to kill myself.
It was around this time that I also started using real drugs. As a 17 year old, I was getting stoned as often as I could – including when I went to my polytechnic course, and work. The combination of depression and drugs was a potentially lethal combination and in November 2002, I started putting a suicide plan in place.
Depression and drugs had a negative impact on my studies, and as a result, I wasn’t doing very well, even though it seemed I was inherently “bright” and could have done well if I had only applied myself. Sadly, my education was the strongest stone in a very weak foundation – I started to see just how crumbly that stone was, and the hope I had originally placed gave way to reality – that I was barely present in class, had made minimal effort to complete course work, and was unprepared for the exams.
Then something happened. Though I had had exposure to church and Christian things, I am not sure I ever really prayed. But as I walked to my exam with the suicide plan dominant in my thinking, I prayed to a God I wasn’t sure I believed in (and had at times swore did not exist). In that moment of prayer, I asked for help for the impending exam. By God’s grace, I did well in the exam and ended up passing that course.
I knew at this point that God had saved me from the irreversible consequences of my depression.
At this stage, I felt like I was in trouble – not because I had a deep sense of my sin, but because I had been helped and so thought I had better find out about this God who had been my helper. I started going along to a church that I knew a friend went to – but found it dissatisfying, the message shallow, and the people there unrealistic in their expectations of me.
I sought out a Bible and started to read it, and it started to make sense – even though I had no real guidance of how to read it. Over time, I began to get a sense of who God was, and the nature of sin, though I thought it acceptable to deliberately engage in sinful behaviour and ask God for forgiveness after the fact. More and more, I felt the guilt and conviction of sin, and my need for something more than just asking for forgiveness as the remedy.
This of necessity pointed me to and pushed me toward the Bible’s central figure – Jesus Christ.
Looking Back at God’s Grace
The years between first picking up a Bible for myself now have been helpful in understanding just what God was doing as I began to identify as a Christian. My growth in knowing the Bible’s message as well as its divine author have helped me to understand the nature of the salvation I began to experience in those early days.
As much as my battle with depression, drugs, and a broken family were undesirable, that’s not primarily what God saved me from. I’ve come to realise that as I have grown in my understanding of who God is.
The Bible repeatedly testifies to the holiness of God. This holiness denotes the fact that God is transcendent, and that He stands above and apart from the whole of creation. This means He is greater than anything in all of creation. Greater, better, more powerful, wiser, more knowledgeable than anything in the universe. His holiness also speaks to the reality of His purity – that unlike me, unlike everyone around me, God is sinless, is free from and incapable of evil (thoughts, words, deeds). This God is perfect, without error, fault, or flaw. In His character was a standard of perfection that was infinitely greater and better than any concept I could ever have ever have had of perfection.
This holiness points to another Biblical concept – that of God’s glory. God is glorious. It means He has an incomparable sense of wealth, worth, and heaviness. It means He has a perfect reputation and perfect honour, and an importance that is utterly without equal. He is the God of perfect splendour, majesty, beauty, attractiveness, and exquisiteness.
As awesome as I have come to appreciate that being, it presents a problem.
In Isaiah 42:8 God speaks and says, “I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other…”
The nature of sin is that in my sin, I was seeking to live apart from God. I was seeking to not only not give God the glory He alone is worthy of – but I was seeking to glorify myself, to take what belongs exclusively to God and take it to myself. The problem with that is expressed in Nahum 1:2 which says, “The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD is avenging and wrathful; the LORD takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies.” Because God is jealous for His glory, He takes vengeance on those who seek to rob Him of it.
This made me His enemy. And toward His enemies, God would take vengeance and pour out His wrath. This means that as I was, in my sin, I deserved God’s wrath, His curse – I deserved to be cut off from all the goodness of God – not just in this life, but in the one to come. This means, that because of my sin, I deserved to die – not just physically, not just once, but eternally, in what the Bible calls the Lake of Fire, the second death, that is, Hell.
There have been many times in my life as a Christian where I have been profoundly aware of my sin and what my sin means in relation to God. While there is usually a sense of guilt and shame, there’s good news that addresses that guilt and shame.
The Gospel of God’s Grace
The good news is captured in summary form in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” The reality of this good news is that while my sin was great, Christ actually died for my sins. In His dying, He died the death that I deserved, a death in which He faced the jealousy, wrath, and justice of a Holy God due to those who would seek to rob Him of His glory.
Though He died physically and was buried, He did not stay dead – rather, He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. This Christ, who is Jesus Christ, was dead and buried, but rose again, and even now, lives forever.
Through my faith in Him, I am united to Him and to everything that He has done – in both His death for sin, and His rising again – so that I am said to have been risen with Him, and have the same kind of life that He has – and this is what the Bible calls eternal life. Sure, for now it doesn’t seem much, but one of the most wonderful things is that I am no longer an enemy of God – rather, I get to call God my Father, I get to know and enjoy Him – I get to know and enjoy the most beautiful, glorious, holy God there has ever been, and will ever be. And if I die physically, that won’t end – it will continue in heaven – and will actually be a lot better than anything I have experienced in my life as a Christian.
He Loves Me
In the years I have spent as a Christian, I have come to learn that even though God is Holy and Jealous for His glory, He also loves me with an everlasting love and that He demonstrates that love towards me in the death of the Lord Jesus Christ.
He also loves me in that He has given me the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of God – to make me alive to all the wonderful truth of who God is and what God has done to bring me into a right relationship with Him. He has given me faith in a God I was at one time certain didn’t exist, and at other times not sure cared. This is God’s grace.