Shannon is a first-year staffer and attended UCLA GOC for 4 years as a student. She can’t wait to meet everyone and hopes that people aren’t shy and come talk to her about what God is doing in their lives at UCLA, post-college plans, sports, Disneyland, etc.!
Both my parents attended UCLA which is when they started attending Grace Community Church and have been attending ever since. Growing up at Grace, I grew up on strong, biblical teaching. My parents faithfully took me to Sunday school, signed me up for Cubbies/Awana and enrolled me in Christian schools. I had all the Scripture memorization badges, was the first one to raise my hand to answer questions at Sunday school, had good grades, was obedient to those over me and was overall a good kid. And it is at this point in my testimony if you had asked me a while ago that I would have said that I prayed the prayer and accepted Christ as my Savior when I was 5 years old and my small understanding at that point grew and expanded as I grew older. But after re-examining my childhood years and comparing that to what I know now about how a life that is committed to Christ looks like, I don’t believe I had a genuine love and understanding of the Gospel and was saved until my last year in high school.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe in Ephesians 2 that we are saved by grace alone and not through works, but I also believe in Matthew 7 where Jesus says you will know them by their fruit and that good trees produce good fruit; in my younger years, I clearly was not producing good fruit. I claimed I loved and knew Christ but I didn’t have a love for what He loved and following Him in obedience with how I carried out my life.
The first area I saw a lack of fruit was in my lack of love for the church. It’s clear in Scripture how much Christ loves His “bride” the church (Eph. 5:25-27) and as someone who claims to love Christ, it is natural that I love the church as well. When I was younger, I often would make excuses to try and get out of going to church on Sundays. During Jr. High in particular, I was so persistent in not wanting to go to big service that my parents decided my dad would take me off campus during that time to have our own personal bible study. Through my attitude and actions, I showed that being part of the church and fulfilling Christ’s call to serve and learn alongside fellow believers was not a priority for me.
Secondly, I lacked a passion and craving to read Scripture and deepen my relationship with the Lord. I didn’t have like it says in 1 Peter 2 a craving like a newborn baby to be nourished and fed by the pure milk of the Word. When my leaders would ask if I had my quiet time with the Lord I would confidently say I did because I had had bible class five times that week – which showed a complete lack of understanding of what personal time with the Lord is and what it was meant for.
Lastly, and this is the area where people who knew me back then see the most external change, I lacked a love for people. Jesus says in John 13 that people will know you are my disciples “if you love one another” and that was not evident in my life. I was very inwardly focused. I had my set group of friends and I didn’t venture outside of that because either my large fear of man or I just didn’t really care that much and preferred to stay within my comfort circle. I was very judgmental, quick to correct people, held grudges, didn’t like to share and never thought seriously about evangelism – all things which do not characterize a genuine believer. As a believer now, I’m always encouraged when people say that they think I’m generous or good at reaching out to newcomers and non-believers because that so clearly was not the case in my earlier years that it always reminds and points me back to the transformative power of God’s grace and work in my life.
In light of all this bad fruit, I actually think the point at which I was saved was my senior year of high school at the Resolved Conference (a conference Grace Church used to throw where preachers taught on one topic for the weekend). The topic that year was the cross and CJ Mahaney taught through Mark 15 in a sermon entitled “Cry from the Cross” (which you all should listen to if you have a chance https://www.gracechurch.org/Sermons/840 ).
In that sermon, he gave such a clear and vivid description of what happened that day at Calvary that I think it’s then that I clearly understood what happened on the cross and understood my role in causing that to take place. He explained how Christ’s suffering on the cross was not so much about the physical pain, but about the immense emotional and spiritual pain – a pain no person in all of human history has or ever will experience. On that cross, Christ, the most undeserving of everyone, experienced the pain of separation from His heavenly father and the pain of having the full, just wrath of God meant for all sinners poured out onto Himself (Rom. 5:6-10). On that cross He cried the scream of the damned, the scream we were meant to scream “my God, my God why have you forsaken me.” And it was because He screamed, I was saved from screaming this scream for an eternity in Hell, because He screamed I was given the free gift of salvation and eternal life. So I think that’s when everything clicked.
I remember tears streaming down my face after the sermon and we sang the Getty’s song “Power of the Cross” and the words hit me square on – “Oh to see MY name written in the wounds, for through your suffering I am free” and “ev’ry bitter thought, ev’ry evil deed crowing your blood stained brow” – it was me, my name that put him on the cross it was “ev’ry bitter thought” I had ever had and “ev’ry evil deed” I had ever committed that demanded He, unjustly, stay up on that cross and take on that immense, unimaginable suffering for me a wretched sinner.
So it was at that conference during my senior year of high school when I believe the Lord opened my eyes to the Truth and I finally got it. Because Christ was now in me, I was able to bear good fruit like I wasn’t before. I now have a desire and find joy in obeying and learning more about my Savior through spending time in His word and prayer, in going to church and in loving others – not because those things are what save me but because of the love I have for my Savior who saved me from my sin and gave me life (Rom. 6).