Elkana is a sophomore studying applied math and enjoys making good use of her swipes on other people. She also enjoys journaling, studying Cantonese, and observing the world around her in her free time.
I remember hearing the Parable of the Lost Sheep in church for the first time as a young child, and having difficulty understanding it. As it tells of a shepherd leaving his 99 sheep to seek out his single lost sheep, I, considering myself righteous, didn’t understand why it affirmed that there would be “more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7). I believed I had always known God, and didn’t think I had sinned apart from occasionally lying or disobeying parents or adults, so I didn’t understand my need for true repentance because my sin separated me from God.
By the grace of God, I grew up under the teaching of my God-fearing parents and a church; my parents sought to raise me to love God, and at the same time, I was often aware of their sin. I saw them at times aim to glorify Him and at other times sin in ways that hurt those around them, and I would wonder at their hypocrisy and use it as reason to discount their teaching, but God allowed me to gradually understand the gospel and that they were sinners redeemed solely by His grace.
Although I’m not sure when I was saved, I know that God was faithful to allow me to learn more about Him and recognize more of my sin over time. Through my family and church, I was continually exposed to the gospel. I memorized verses and as I was taught, I believed that God was holy, man was sinful, but God sent His one and only son Jesus Christ to die on the cross for our sins so that we could have eternal life. Especially through attending Christian youth camps throughout middle school and high school, I learned about the the value and joy of reading the Bible and praying to foster my relationship with God, but my motivation and discipline to do so would often come and go.
I struggled with with confessing sin to God, since my sins didn’t seem like very big offenses. I resisted submitting to Him in obeying the Great Commission through sharing the gospel verbally and being baptized because I didn’t know what to say in either situation, and was shy and afraid of man and of public speaking. As Oswald Chambers claims, “The disposition of sin is not immorality and wrong-doing, but the disposition of self-realization—I am my own god. This disposition may work out in decorous morality or in indecorous immorality, but it has the one basis, my claim to my right to myself,” outwardly, I lived in decorous morality, but in my sin I was in rebellion against God.
Conceiving myself to be my own god, I thought of myself as having innate talents for which I was deserving of recognition and honor, and lusted after being glorified by man. When I consistently received good grades and the praise of others for my academic achievements, I delighted in the praise and desired to be further exalted. I was aware that pride was bad because I sometimes hurt those around me by judging them on the basis of their academic abilities and claiming that I was better than them, but I didn’t really understand it as sin against God.
During my junior year of high school, seemingly out of the blue, my English teacher began displaying my work to her classes and praised me publicly, emphatically, and repeatedly in excess, and in turn, my peers praised and expressed admiration for me as well. I felt as if one of my greatest desires had finally been fulfilled — I finally received the apparent acknowledgment and love of not only some, but most of those who I came in contact with. I relished the praise I received and thanked God for the glory He had given me, because in its unexpectedness and excess I knew at least in part that it couldn’t have resulted from what I had done, and that I was undeserving of it. But at the same time, I felt unsettled because sometimes I felt like I was exalted as a god. Moreover, despite considering myself blessed and more satisfied with life, I became more fearful and insecure, because my self-worth became more reliant on the praise that I received from others that would fluctuate with each day and so quickly came and left. God demonstrated to me that human praise would never be enough to satisfy me because it was based on the shallow and empty foundation of my performance, which I couldn’t control.
At the end of that year, we were assigned to give a speech titled “This I Believe,” and though the most obvious topic to speak on was my Christian faith, I resisted until the Holy Spirit convicted me through Romans 1:16. The verse, which I had memorized years before at church, exposed the hypocrisy of my life — I had been trying to live both for myself and for God, but in this situation, the two clearly conflicted. Though I had thought I honored God in thanking Him for His blessings, recognizing that only He was unchanging and dependable, and bringing to Him my requests and fears, I never outwardly acknowledged Him for what He had given me and even identified myself as a Christian because I was afraid of others’ opinions. If I really believed the gospel was “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes,” how could I be ashamed of it to the point of suppressing it? While knowing the truth, I dethroned and maligned God in my thoughts and actions. I “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25) and though the realization didn’t come all at once, I finally understood that my greatest sin was not against any other person, but against God; I had sinned since the beginning of my life in not acknowledging God for creating me, sustaining me, saving me, and giving me all the blessings that I had.
Though I did consequently give a speech on being a Christian, I continued to wrestle with being obedient to God and fully submitting my life to Him. Going into the next year, I expected my teacher and peers to treat me differently based on my profession of being a Christian rather than amending my actions to no longer live for myself, but for Christ; I fell into similar patterns of idolizing others’ praise and approval, but this time, my conscience felt a greater burden as I recognized the opportunities I had to acknowledge God. I also continued to resist the command to be baptized. Despite having repeatedly heard and understood that it was a command written in the Bible, I deceived myself into believing that there was no urgency to because it was not a requisite for salvation. But God, gently and graciously through the faithful preaching of His Word, allowed my stubborn, willful heart to understand that He sent His son to die for my sins to make me His own and purchase my obedience. According to His mercy, He has allowed me to taste the sweetness of communion with Him in prayer, to find joy in knowing Him through His Word, to be exhorted by others to pursue holiness, and to desire to obey Him whose law is perfect. Over time I have only realized more that my inclination to sin pervades seemingly everything that I do, and I echo Paul’s lament, “I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:22-24). But I also rejoice with him, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 7:25-8:2).