I was recently asked by one of the elders of our church to give my testimony as part of one of our Sunday evening worship services in July 2010. I thought I would post what I wrote and shared with my church family.
I was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1975. My parents were both Catholic and raised my brother and me to be the same. I attended a Catholic elementary school for first through eighth grade. My parents were married very young and they didn’t have a good relationship. My Father had a terrible temper and treated my Mom badly, including physical abuse. They fought a lot and I can remember hiding in my room whenever they argued and being very afraid that my Dad would turn on me in anger. When I was 8, after my parents had separated and reconciled one time, they finally decided to divorce.
By the time I entered high school, my Dad was remarried and stable. I moved in with my Dad and Stepmom and began regularly attending an evangelical church. I was sitting under sound teaching and the Bible began to make sense to me and I knew what it said was true. I knew I was a sinner that needed a Savior. I am not sure exactly when I became a Christian but it was early in my ninth grade year of High School. I was baptized about a year later. I had a hunger and desire for God’s word and developed regular devotional times, was active in youth group and service to the church body even as a young person. I met Mike when I was 19 at my best friend’s wedding. He was the best man for his twin brother and I was the maid of honor. We developed a friendship which grew stronger and we were married shortly after.
Over the years, unbeknownst to me, I slowly slipped into a performance relationship with the Lord. About 2 years ago, the Lord brought me to despair over besetting sin in my life. I was frustrated and struggling even to the point that I doubted my faith. I wondered why things were so difficult and often questioned why I seemed to have no love for God. I can remember sitting on my bed in despair and saying to myself “I’ve got to be missing something”. I figured that I just wasn’t trying hard enough to overcome my sin, I wasn’t serving enough, or I was doing something wrong and God was displeased with me.
In early Spring of 2008, I purchased a book by Elyse Fitzpatrick called “Because He Loves Me” The Holy Spirit used it to completely change my life and correct a huge area of un-Biblical thinking that had been affecting my view of God and my relationship with Him.
I realized that I was living as though I didn’t need Jesus anymore after being saved. I had thought the pursuit of holiness and progressive sanctification was all about me and my own effort. When things seemed to be going well for me-I was obeying, serving, didn’t miss devotional times and had regular prayer I was tempted to be self-righteous and prideful and believed God would bless me and be pleased with me. When things in my walk weren’t going so well; I was stuck in sin, not reading my Bible, etc., I was bogged down in despair and guilt feelings overwhelmed me. I wondered how displeased God must be with me and what I needed to do to make up for it or I lived in fear of Him punishing me. I really don’t believe I had any joy in the Lord and I certainly didn’t have a love for Him. I was probably more afraid of Him than anything else and everything I did was out of duty or because I knew I had to or punishment was coming! This is what I mean when I say I was living in a “performance relationship” with the Lord and the standard was MY own performance and most often my LACK of it.
As I read “Because He Loves Me”, the Lord revealed to me the errors in my thinking. He showed me that I was living as if Christianity was a self improvement program and that I had forgotten the good of the Gospel. He showed me that I need the Gospel just as much now in my Christian life as I did to get saved in the first place. Now I am seeking and asking the Lord to help me apply the Gospel to everyday situations in life. For example, I recently took my 4 children to piano lessons. It is about a 30 minute drive one way to our piano teacher’s home. Upon arriving, one of my children informed me that they had forgotten their piano books. My first reaction was anger and self-righteousness. I had thoughts like “I drove all this way and you can’t even remember your books? Don’t you see the sacrifice I am making? Now what are we going to say to your teacher?” I was ready to yell and complain. Then the Holy Spirit began to convict me. Much of my anger was rooted in not wanting to be embarrassed in front of the piano teacher-I didn’t want to look like an irresponsible Mom and ruin my so called “reputation”. I didn’t want to extend grace because my child was making me look bad. Even after apologizing profusely for the mistake; I still wanted to hold it against them. To borrow the phrase from Jerry Bridges, I began, by God’s grace, to “preach the Gospel to myself”. The Gospel tells me that I don’t deserve a good reputation, only Christ does, yet He was willing to give that up for me. The Gospel reminds me that my sin murdered the Son of God, yet because of His sacrifice, I have been forgiven. When I think about all that Christ gave up for me, all that I have been forgiven, and that He lived a perfectly sinless life in my place, whatever is tempting me to sin all of a sudden seems a lot less attractive. With the Lord’s help, in this particular situation, I was able to turn from my sin, talk to my children about the good of the Gospel and ask forgiveness right away.
I wish I could say that I did this perfectly every day, the truth is that I don’t, and I am still learning and really feel that I’ve only scratched the surface of the depths of the Gospel. Even in my failures and sin though, I am learning to be thankful. My sin reminds me of my desperate, moment by moment need of Him. Instead of hours or days of self recrimination and guilt after failure, I am learning that I can come to Him in faith, knowing that His Son has paid the penalty for my sin. I have no fear of Him and know there is no wrath left for me because Christ bore it all on the cross. My heart and affections are warmed and my love for Him grows as I remember all He has done and His great love for me, despite my continual failure. This gives me the courage and motivation to get up and fight besetting sin again. I am learning to look to Jesus and His perfect work instead of staying focused on myself.
After all these years, I am realizing that God doesn’t want duty driven, outward obedience. He wants my heart, He wants my love, and He wants a relationship. Now I can honestly say I want that too and I am so thankful for His mercy and grace. He could have left me stuck and miserable in the way I had been thinking but He didn’t.
I’d like to close by reading Ephesians 2:6-7: “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” It’s ALL HIM!!!