Testimony / Apologetic

 

 But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works. Psalm 73:28 ESV

 

This is about my journey from nonbeliever to believer; it is my testimony and my Christian apologetic (defense). Becoming a Christian has been an intense experience, as I know each believer’s testimony often shows. The outcome is that I rest solidly in a belief in Biblical Christianity, not as one of many beautiful paths, which lead to God, but as Jesus stated: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6).

 

I grew up in a family, which embraces New Age theologies. As a young adolescence, and throughout my teens, and as an adult in my twenties and thirties, I studied a lot of New Age oriented books. The main emphasis was that eventually, after many lifetimes (reincarnation), each of us can attain perfection or divinity, through our own personal spiritual power.

 

I’d label my past personal belief system as “Esoteric Gnostic Christianity”.  Esoteric because it was all about secret or hidden knowledge (revealed to only the spiritually mature) and Gnostic because the belief is that knowledge is hidden in your own sub-conscious; it just needs to be spiritually unlocked through processes or methods in order for it to be assessable. New Age beliefs are very occult oriented, and rich with supernatural experiences (which, unfortunately, then lend credence to its validity). New Agers borrow ideas from different belief systems, oftentimes, redefining and morphing them to fit. I was attracted to Christianity but with a New Age bent, interpreting everything Christian through a New Age lens. New Agers believe that true Christianity was hijacked by organized Christian religion, because it is power hungry and wants to deny mankind’s “true identity”, which is we are all divine. New Agers believe that it was never the intent of Jesus to claim that he was God or to claim that he is the only Savior of mankind. They believe that organized Christian religion has made that all up. New Agers will even call themselves “Christian”. To differentiate though, they are not defining Christian as a Bible-believing Evangelical Christian.

 

Throughout my life, the Holy Spirit journeyed with me, and as he opened my mind (2 Corinthians 4:4), He exposed to me the fallacy of my spiritual thinking.  It was a slow process in that I was 48 years old when I finally accepted the Jesus of the Bible, and not as I had previously redefined him. It has been an awesome and painful experience, and I recognize now that prior to becoming a Christian, I have led people that I love astray through my pride, arrogance and hardheadedness.  The process from lies to His truth, began as God opened my eyes to Truths of his character and his plan. As I stated, it was a slow process. One of the turning points was in realizing that the many, many New Age books I had read, which criticized Christianity and Jesus, were very biased, basing their hypothesis and research on very flimsy data, misinterpreted data, or no data at all.

 

Through a lot of legitimate study (books by actual Bible scholars and by actual historians), I came to the realization that the Bible has immense integrity, and that these writings have more integrity than most historic accounts. I also came to realize that God could actually be speaking to us through the Bible.  Not knowing my belief system or the journey I was traveling, a Christian acquaintance mentioned in passing to me a New Testament (NT) bible verse: 2 Timothy 4:3,4 ESV

 

“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”

 

This is my life verse. At the time of my hearing it, I began to wonder if it was describing me. Was I a person who had wandered off into myths? Much like Jacob (in the Old Testament/Hebrew scripture book, Genesis 32:24-30), I wrestled with God. I would not leave God alone and over a period of about 3-years, I continually demanded that He show me his Truth, stipulating that I didn’t care where it might take me and what it might reveal to me.

 

Towards the end of the 3-years, it was at His urging, that I suspended the belief in reincarnation. This was the hardest thing for me to do, because it was my worldview, the way I viewed everything.  I basically replied, “I don’t know how to do that, God, but okay, I will stop believing in reincarnation”. I submitted, and over a short period of time, God patiently worked with me, cleaning out all the lies I had trusted in. No longer was my salvation dependent on my own works to raise myself to perfection. (Click here for my article ‘One Life to Live – Against Reincarnation’.) At one point, I realized that everything I had believed in was false and that Christianity was true. I was not relieved or happy about this. I recall thinking, “Crap! It’s true!”. After a lifetime of thinking that Christians were idiots, I now realized that I had a choice: was I going to accept what I had detested but now realized was true?  What else can you do when faced with a reality bigger than you’ve ever encountered? God was present and active and wooing me fiercely! I surrendered and He worked out in me the process of not being ashamed of Him to the other New Agers I knew and respected. He became my Rock and my fortress.

 

I’ve been a Christian for over 10 years, and I am still amazed that it happened at all. I’ve had a 180 degree turn from my previous thinking. I do not think the same way and I am not the same person. The only way I can express it is that God revealed himself to me.  The light went on and it has established a heart-connection in me which I previously did not know. I have always loved God and strove to express that but this goes way beyond that, and now years later, that zeal for Him has not slackened, and I am more and more amazed by who He is.

 

Please trust me when I state that I was happy and content in my previous belief system.  I just wanted to know God better and I enjoy reading and I am suspicious by nature, questioning motives and agendas of writers (it just took me a really long time to apply that to my New Age reading!).

The following are some of the “realizations” I had, which eventually led to my worldview change:

  • From believing that everything is relative to recognizing that there are moral absolutes, which are not Relative or based on man’s perception in his context of time and space.
  • From believing in a cozy, cosmic, “anything goes” God to a realization that God’s nature is holy.
  • Realizing that no one I know or have heard of can maintain a “perfect” state on our own; it is basically a state we cannot maintain because we can’t comprehend it on an unselfish, “holy” level, because mankind’s ultimate tendency is to be selfish.
  • Realizing that mankind is not evolving to any level of maturity with any permanency: we gain ground and eventually that ground is lost.
  • From believing in a spiritually evolving world ripe for utopia, to the realization that this world is not right, and that it is broken for some reason.
  • From believing that there is no sin and no evil (it was all relative, remember?) to the realization that there is more than just a lack or absence of good in this world and that there is a very personal, vindictive evil.
  • Recognizing, yes, God loves us, but his love will not override our free choice decisions; we can remove ourselves from his care, etc. by our actions, decisions, etc.
  • Recognizing that we are not divine. Only God is God and no matter how many lifetimes I could live, there is nothing in me that could even hope to attain his state by my own accomplishments. There was not going to be a spiritual evolution through my own works (which my previous belief system believes is necessary in order for a soul to leave the seemingly endless cycle of birth, death, birth, death, etc.)

And, so to expound on these points:

Moral absolutes – I believe that God manifests Himself in Laws.  There is an imprint of order in our universe, whether it is the law of gravity, the law of Natural order, etc. and each “set” of laws has its own ramifications (you step off a building and you “meet” the law of gravity, whether you like it or not!) and the creator of the universe expresses himself through order, which is law.

 

God is Holy – Our God is the author of Law but the attribute, which is most mentioned about Him in the Scriptures (Old and New Testaments) is God’s holiness. It is this characteristic that is so much a part of him that it is impossible for him to lay his Holiness aside and like refined silver, when it is melted to separate & remove any impurities, his holiness cannot “tolerate” impurities. This is a perfect analogy for God’s inability to “tolerate” sin: Impurities cannot exist in refined silver; refined silver is physically separate from impurities and they cannot mix.

1 John 3:4 4: “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. Sin separates us from God.”

 

Sin is our betrayal and treachery against a holy God. Mankind, unlike other animals, has a sense of right and wrong.  In the Bible, the Hebrew and Greek words translated “sin” as either 1) a transgression which is defined: “to step across” or “to go beyond a set boundary or limit” (these would involve a willfulness on our part) or 2) as defined: “to miss the mark” and this would represent our “inherited” aspect of sin.  Every man sins.  And man, in our present state cannot tolerate his Holiness.

 

In the Old Testament, there are many stories about our inability to be in his holy presence.   Jewish priests prepared ritually so that they would not die when they approached God when he was in the Hebrew tabernacle (which was the only place his Holiness would dwell on earth once he had established his law in his “chosen” people, Israel).

 

Our lack of perfection – Man may try with all his might to be pure or holy but it isn’t possible.  I want to be good but my nature will always have a tendency to be selfish.  Man, to the best of his ability will never be holy.  You have a bad day or aren’t quite on your game and our tendency is to look after ourselves often at the expense of other people.

 

Our inherent nature is selfish. I believe that this is our tendency because of the fall, which took place in the garden of Eden. To paraphrase an exegesis about Genesis 2:15-17, God has told Adam not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because he would surely die if he did. God has set a legitimate boundary. The Hebrew language is the original language of the Old Testament, and it is a very rich language. At times, our language can’t fully translate its meanings or nuances. Throughout the Genesis 2 passage is the understanding that Adam, (as the first representative for mankind) was given a stewardship authority over God’s new creation, but to properly display that, it was created to be under what God defines as good and evil. Mankind has stewardship authority over creation and God is mankind’s steward and authority. Mankind is limited in his perceptions; God is not. He is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. The boundary regarding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was proper because only God can determine good and evil; only God has the proper over-encompassing knowledge of everything and only God cannot be tempted by evil, while mankind can. Therefore, for mankind to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was to pridefully act upon the beliefs that:

1) God is not good because He is withholding something we determine is good for us,

2) mankind can redefine what constitutes good and what constitutes evil,

3) mankind knows better than their Creator, and therefore is a better “god” than God,

4) mankind can remove God from His throne and place ourselves there instead, and

5) it is truth that mankind cannot trust their Creator.

This disbelief in the Truth in our Creator is mankind’s fall and it is all rooted in pride; we think we know better. We believe we determine what is right (good) and what is wrong (evil), but our determinations are almost always self-serving.

 

This world is broken and there is a vindictive evil – In the garden of Eden, and after we decided to trust in our own concepts of what was good and we sought to have all knowledge, Man became separated from not only relationship with God but also his (Man’s) own essence.  While Adam was made in God’s image, the Old Testament/Hebrew scriptures state that Adam’s son (and all of us since) was made in Adam’s image.  Sin is oftentimes a choice but sin is also a “contagious “condition.  To take this further and what a lot of people do not believe in (me included for most of my life) is that there is a personification of evil.  In the Garden story, Adam and Eve are led by Satan, a fallen angel, and they suffer the consequences of their free choice/will.   Mankind’s inclination or nature is now drawn toward and influenced by Satan as an adopted “father”.  We all recognize that it takes work to be good and hardly any not to be.  We recognize the need for law but it is outside of our ability to perfectly abide by law.

 

The scriptures and tradition describe Satan as a created being who became very jealous of God’s love for us, also created beings, so he does his utmost to keep us separated from that love and his greatest achievement is when a person dies without a repentive heart which recognizes God’s ultimate love, through sacrifice for us.  (A state of repentance means you have a sincere regret and a contrite heart, with a willingness to change your mind and actions, as you turn to God.) As humans, we not only battle now with our sin nature but also with this personified evil.

 

Christians believe that the damage done to our spirit by our lawlessness cannot be flushed out simply by repenting.  And wrongs must be righted; this is something we know intuitively.  Christians believe that the Law of Moses (which include the Ten Commandments) cannot override our impulse to be lawless because the fall created a fundamental change in mankind.  As mankind inherits different attributes, etc. from his ancestors, we as mankind as a whole, inherited Adam’s condition: it is a state of being but through Christ in us (1 Colossians 1:27), we have the ability to choose God over evil and no longer does God have to confine himself to a tent tabernacle: he has the Christian believer as his “holy temple” and God then can have relationship with us. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”)

 

God loves us, but we have free choice – And most profound to me is that even though we cannot fully comprehend him, he craves relationship with us because God loves us: The story of the prodigal son is a great example of God’s desire to show his love to us in the role of a father.

 

In that story which is in chapter 15 of the Gospel of Luke in the New Testament, the father, a wealthy landowner, does not stop his younger son from leaving and then squandering his inheritance in a foreign land, only to find his self destitute, taking care of swine, an animal that was considered unclean to his people.  When the son recognizes that he has pridefully and selfishly abandoned the ways of his father, he returns, repentive, to ask forgiveness.  He has a change of heart towards the way of his father.  And when his father sees him, he doesn’t wait for his son’s approach so that his son can scrape and grovel at his feet.  The father instead sees his son in the distance and RUNS to his son, in great joy.  My study bible expresses it this way: The father has been watching for the son, and as he approaches the father casts aside all behavioral conventions of this time as running was considered too undignified for an older person, especially a wealthy landowner.  He literally “fell upon the neck of his son” in his joy. (ESV Study Bible)

 

This is an illustration which Jesus used to show us how much God loves us and is ready to embrace us when we turn or repent to him.  The story of the Prodigal son is about every one of us.  God’s love is never in doubt as any good “parent’s” love is never in doubt for their child.  What people forget is that while a parent may love a child, unless he keeps the child captive, that child will suffer the consequences of his own actions.  That said, his Love is a call for us to respond and by our free choice, we respond in acceptance or in rejection.

 

In 2 Peter 3:9, (New Testament), states, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentence.” It means that God desires that everyone be saved.  It is our decision whether we are or not. Mankind cannot initiate it, only God can offer it, but only you can accept that gift.

 

God loves each of us but our free choice can open the door to that love or through our free choice, we can walk away from it.

God is a gentleman; as illustrated in the Gospel of Matthew 7:7, you are probably familiar with the verse: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”, well, God will not force himself but he is there in an instant when we want him. Matthew 7:8 states: “For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”  And the reason He acts this way towards us is expressed so clearly in the Gospel of John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes (replaces their pride by placing their faith) in him should not perish but have eternal life.

 

Although God expresses his love for us in many ways, this world does not show that full expression because it is a fallen and broken world. The current conditions evident in this world are not God’s will: disease, poverty, heartache, death are not God’s will for any of us but this world is evidence of Man’s brokenness and of his departure from God’s perfect, holy plan.  Thankfully, in this world, we can still see and feel residues of some of God’s goodness: love, beauty, etc.  Can you imagine how it was supposed to be? (Well, when a Christian, we have His promise that he will restore us and the world!)

 

The bible is God’s written story, his Word, of his progressive revelation to Mankind.  There is the record of his forming the world and declaring it “Good” and there is the record of Man’s fall and the rest is the unfolding of his plan of redemption: a way back to his “garden” and perfect relationship with him.

In the Old Testament/Hebrew scriptures, God gives Man the law so that we could better know his nature, he chooses and fellowships with a people from whom his King, the Messiah (his anointed savior), would come and finally, God offers us his gift of deliverance through this Messiah, his son, Jesus Christ.

 

This is the Gospel, which Jesus brought the world and it is basic Christianity: Jesus, the very essence of God, in a plan known and progressively revealed in the Bible, was born of a virgin in paradoxically poor circumstances, revealed himself as first the expected Messiah and then as God incarnate.  Many times, in the New Testament, the religious of his own religion, stooped to pick up rocks in order to stone him.  It wasn’t because he claimed to be the Messiah.  There were many claimers in the first and even second centuries and many Jews died backing their favorites.  They wanted to stone him because what he was saying was outrageous and blasphemous: He was claiming to be God. Jesus Christ, the very essence of God the father, gave his perfect life to right the wrong mankind played out in the garden. Only God can right mankind’s wrong.

 

If you are embarking on your own spiritual journey, I encourage you to read the Gospel of John in the New Testament part of the Bible; you may already be very familiar with it.  In Chapter 6, after major miracles (the feeding of 5000 people and his walking on water) Jesus makes radical and seemingly absurd claims about himself and many among the Jews are disgruntled, even to the point where most of his followers, state (verse 60): “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” And many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.”

 

The Gospel, which is that Jesus is our only Savior, is a hard message and it is only through faith that one is able to accept it.  I know that it is difficult for people to comprehend how Jesus is the only son of God and God, part of the Trinity.  Esoteric Gnostic Christianity insists that Jesus is only an archetype and not a savior at all, but only an example. But the idea of Esotericism is terrible and hopeless, because at its root, it is the concept that God is basically a trickster who gave a secret message to a few elite souls because he is not powerful enough or sovereign enough to be able to trust it to all the rest of mankind.

 

And yes, in a way, Jesus is our example but first you have to allow him to become your Savior. He “justifies” you through your faith in Jesus, who he is and what he has done, and next, He can become your example on how to live a Christian, holy life. This is called the “sanctification” process which trains us to be more like him.  I can tell you it is a painful, humbling experience but one I would not trade for the world because it is through it that you truly feel God’s fellowship and presence.
“But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim; because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” Romans 10:8-11 ESV

 

Again, God does not want anyone to perish. He wants all to draw close to him, and not suffer the consequences of their sin which separates us from him and everything we recognize as Good. Wherever you are at spiritually, whether safely in His hand, or still distant, may God draw you closer to him; may you feel his loving, holy presence.

 

Thank you for giving me this opportunity as I attempted to state a case for this belief system. This was my process and He woos each person differently, as He tailors it to each distinct personality. After all, He knows each of us by name.

(If you are interested, click here for a more detailed testimony in my New Age series.)

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