Emily is a 4th year Phy Sci major who likes human bio and talking to people. A few of her hobbies include cafe hopping, being in awe of God’s created nature and being a foodie.
Like many, I grew up in the Christian church and was taught the basic foundations of Christianity – namely, the Bible is true, and Jesus Christ came down from heaven to die on a cross for your sins. Likewise, the same Bible stories, games, and memory verse competitions were super fun, so my curiosity to understand who Jesus Christ was grew. That is…until I realized that all of my questions were answered with, “read the Bible and pray”. How lame was that? You mean to tell me that all of life can be summed up in those five words? Reluctantly, I continued going to church throughout middle school because I knew it was somehow the right thing to do. Though reluctant, my heart was still sure that there was more to God than church on Sunday mornings and youth group on Friday evenings. Around 7th grade, I attended my first major Christian conferences where I, for the very first time, saw people who were radically different than anyone I had ever seen. Their faces were lit with smiles, their worship full of raised hands, hearts full of sorrow yet full of joy. Now, THIS is what I’ve been looking for. My mind left those conferences full of questions – what is so different about these Christians? How can they be so full of emotion for the Lord? What key am I missing? In middle school, one of my older brothers was attending UCLA GOC and brought home a MacArthur study bible for me. With that, he also gave me MacArthur’s sermon on Matthew 7:21. It reads,
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'”
I’ll be completely honest. When I first read this passage, I almost shut my Bible and threw it to the wall. How in the world does God preach a message of salvation and grace to all who call Him, yet so definitively draw a line that says not all who do will enter into His majesty? I was immediately filled with disbelief and doubt. A cloud of questions drew me into a large study of Scripture. Praise God, He allowed my theology to grow and my understanding of Christ increased. But unfortunately, my desire to learn faded when filling my mind with knowledge did not satisfy. I was caught in a state of confusion, thinking that knowledge of the Lord would lead to some sort of answer, and a better understanding of Him. To an extent, it did. But I never reached an answer. Soon, and subtly, God used my high school experience to let me be captivated by worldly joy and satisfaction, only to bring me down on my knees and show me that it was really worth nothing.
Everyone says that entering into middle school is when you first see people you knew in elementary school change into another person. For me, it was high school. Throughout high school, I hung out with a group of friends who became my source of joy, and my rock, despite my knowing Jesus. They were the ones I called up in the middle of the night to go do nothing at Target, who I jumped off cliffs with, who laughed and cried with me about all things, who I studied day and night with to be the top of our class. But they were also the ones who caused me to say things about that boy or girl in the corner and make the whole class agree, who slandered whoever opposed our opinions; friends who went to buy weed, who hosted the BYOB parties, who became that one group that people wanted to be close with, and other things I don’t need to mention. High school was also the time that I experienced the most physical and emotional suffering. During this time, I understood enough of the gospel to see that it was good. With that knowledge, I loved my friends so much that I tried to evangelize to them for 4 years, only to find that I was using it as an excuse to remain comfortable with them and not confront the blatant sins in front of me. To no surprise, they rejected the gospel. Not only that, but these very friends that I thought fulfilled my joy and needs, in a moment’s notice turned their backs on me, with words now slandering my own name, and persecuted me when I did not reject the name of Christ. In a brief moment, I went from having the best of friends, to feeling entirely alone. I don’t know how to describe the betrayal and utter depravity I felt, when I actually realized that sinful people will not satisfy. But the Lord knew I would keep looking for joy elsewhere. At this time, a good friend was diagnosed with leukemia my sophomore year, and was sick in the hospital for more than a few months. But we were hopeful that he would come back healthy and cheery as his usual self. Praise God, he was able to. But shortly after, his cancer relapsed and a few months later, the Lord took him home. To clarify, death was no stranger to me – this was my 4th encounter with death, and I myself was going through health problems. Familiar as I was, death does not make sense to a sinner who cannot comprehend the goodness of God. This accumulation of pain, betrayal and suffering showed me that I could no longer deal with the lifestyle or worldly perspective I was living with. I was left at a fork in the road; I needed to choose which master to follow.
Praise God! Because He showed me the abounding sin of this world, and caused me to cry out to Him when I tried time and time again to reconcile myself with the Lord, to confess and cry day and night over my sinful soul. My friend’s death was the last straw, where He showed me that I had absolutely no control over my own sin or the sin of this world. Knowledge of the Lord did not satisfy because I was not created just to read and know about Him as the Pharisees did, but to know Him personally through the trials I would face for Him. People did not satisfy because only the Lord was steadfast and faithful. My own acts of righteousness did not satisfy because I was a sinner stained with blood trying to be pure as snow, and only a holy and blameless God can wash me clean. Worldly joy did not satisfy because this world is fading quicker than a mist, while His love can overflow my heart with an unfading joy. This was how the Lord made me truly realize the beauty of the gospel: I am a sinner, who is wretched to the point of disgust, but Jesus Christ is God who became man to die on a cross, and was resurrected to give me the free gift of grace; I am no longer a slave to sin, but am free to fight against it. I will stand before God pure and blameless on that day. I then made it clear that for me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. There is no greater joy that will satisfy me, because I am fully satisfied in knowing Christ himself. It’s not to say that sin does not appeal anymore, but that the love of the Lord and His righteousness is far more worthy of my praise. What a journey; in turning my heart of stone into a heart of flesh, no longer blind to the things of heaven. What overflowing grace! This is the gospel, this is the good news.