Wednesday, March 9, 2011
A Testimony of God's Grace in My Life
Grace is one of my favorite biblical words because of the depth it reveals. It was just an ordinary word for me from way back then. But the word became of utmost importance to me when God enabled me to understand what He did in the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ for sinners like me.
Search for Peace and Acceptance
I grew up in a "dysfunctional" and nominal Roman Catholic family from the province of Capiz in the Philippines. My father was an alcoholic and a habitual gambler. My mother, though religious and outwardly good, was a notorious nagger. She drove my father crazy most of the time. I was both a victim of and a witness to their frequent quarrels. This made us siblings feel ashamed of ourselves and our family as well. Two of my older brothers married as early as eighteen just to get out early of my parents' authority.
Early in my life I longed for peace and love which obviously I have not experienced from my family. As a result I have tried to be good and intelligent so I can be accepted and loved. I have performed well in trying to please others except my family. I became rebellious to my parents. I learned to disobey and dishonor them by not heeding their advices and not being good to them. I told myself that I don't want to be like them and not to do the same mistakes they have done to us their children.
Yet I noticed that the same things I hated in them were gradually being developed in me. I learned to smoke and drink hard liquors early in high school. Later I became addicted to gambling, too. Unknown to my parents, I stole money from our cash box. I used them to satisfy my gambling and impulsive-buying habits.
I also became critical with other people. Outwardly I looked nice and good. I was a hypocrite. I was one of the best students in school. I always top my religion subjects in high school and know a good number of facts from the Bible and the Roman Catholic Church. Yet others did not know the evil I was trying to hide with my outward behavior. They did not see the pain and guilt I was trying to bury with my good performance and behavior.
I tried to look for ways to be at peace with others and to be acceptable. I thought serving God in the church would help. I thought being in the church could get rid of the evil I have inside. So I joined the church choir. I served as one of the altar boys that assists the parish priest during the mass. I became very religious. Like many young people I tried to be more knowledgeable. I thought knowing a lot of things would make me a better person.
Still I did not get what I longed for. Even though many of my friends seemed to have admired me and have told me a lot of good things about me still it did not matter. I also started reading the Bible so I would look more religious but the words were too deep and the teachings were quite strange for me to understand at that time. It did not help me at all and I got very frustrated. So I gave up trying hard.
In God's appointed time, He sent some people to explain to me the gospel of His Son Jesus Christ. The first person God used to share with me the gospel was Mr. Samuel Colinco, a Baptist minister from Bacolod City. He was a high school teacher. We were roommates at the National Secondary School Press Conference (NSSPC) back in 1986 in Iloilo Province. I was a third-year high school student and a delegate at the conference. He used a gospel tract in presenting to me some important ingredients of the gospel and had me read Bible passages that supported them. Of course I did not understand everything he said because they were new to me. Two words stuck into my mind though after that encounter. The words were born-again and grace. But grace was more pressing to me. After the conference we parted ways but left me with several literature. None of those I really cared to read at all.
When I entered college in Manila, my brother became instrumental in helping me understand more about grace. He was a member of a growing Pentecostal church then and he cared to bring me to their Sunday afternoon meetings to listen to their Bible teacher. Providentially, the Lord used those meetings to increase my understanding of the concepts of grace and born-again or regeneration.
The Beginning Work of God's Grace
Through my brief encounter with the Baptist minister and through the help of my brother and the people in their church, God brought home His salvation message to me. I had seen my own selfishness and pride. Then as they explained to me the reason why Jesus had to die at the cross, I was also being convicted of my hatred against and rebelliousness toward my parents. The Holy Spirit enabled me to understand that Jesus' death is a sacrificial and substitutionary death in behalf of guilty sinners like me.
I understood that God saw the wickedness of humanity, including my hatred and rebelliousness, and He was so displeased. His wrath was upon sinners, including me. But because sinful man is totally hopeless and helpless in saving himself from the wrath of God, God Himself, in His divine mercy, took the initiative to save man from sin and its eternal consequences. God sent His Only Son and offered Him as a substitute for sinners. As a substitute, He not only obeyed God's law perfectly, He also bore the sins of many and paid the just penalty of their sins in His cruel death at the cross of Calvary. Thus, in Christ’s perfect obedience and sacrificial death, man's salvation was achieved for God’s wrath against sin was satisfied and man's guilt has been taken away.
Slowly, I understood these doctrines and through the effectual power of the Holy Spirit I was enabled to see this work of Jesus Christ as the Good News, bearing God’s powerful message of salvation to those who believe. I was led to confess my sins and to cry out to God for forgiveness and mercy. I was also enabled to put my trust in the work of Jesus Christ for my salvation from sin and its horrifying eternal punishment.
Eventually, the grace of God became apparent to me. I understood that God’s grace is something that He gives to an undeserving sinner on account of his relationship with Jesus Christ by faith. Grace is a divine favor given to someone who deserves otherwise. This grace cannot be earned. Not by any good works, but is received by faith alone in Jesus Christ, the One whom God has highly favored.
So this saving grace can only be received by putting one’s trust in the person and works of Christ, the Son of God who became the Lamb of God. There’s no other way grace can be accepted apart from faith in God’s beloved Son. I did believe in Christ and made a profession of faith in His saving work. And I still do by the grace of God.
The Continuing Work of Grace for Sinners Like Me
Since then, the peace that I have been longing for came as a result of the knowledge of God’s grace in Christ. The prophet Isaiah's words in chapter 53 verse 5 became meaningful to me. It says, "But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed." There is a lot of comfort that comes from the knowledge that God will not take my sins against me anymore; all because somebody has taken my stead and paid for the penalty of all my sins. That’s really amazing! That’s grace. It gripped me from the inside out.
Now I know that God, by His grace, has been working in my life. Now I know that the reason why I believed (and continue to believe) in Christ is all because of His effectual grace. In His goodness and mercy, He regenerated me. He gave me new life. I learned that since birth I was dead, not in physical sense but in spiritual sense, which means, I have been separated from Him and without hope for future blessings.
Apart from God's enabling I cannot come to Him for mercy and I cannot truly repent from my sin because I simply do not have the ability and will to do so. My response in faith in Christ's finished work of redemption and my repentance from sin was a result of His work of grace prepared for me even before the foundation of the world and is the work of the Holy Spirit in me.
Now, by faith in Jesus, His mercy and forgiveness are in my life. I have learned that His grace led me and keeps on leading me to repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. This grace that saved me in the first place is the same grace that is now at work in me, keeping me from falling back to my old life. Thank God! I pray that God will continually give me the power to do good and to live a holy life. I realize that at the time of my spiritual birth the Holy Spirit started to live in me. He gives the will to desire and the power to do what is good and pleasing to God.
God's Grace Enables Obedience and Grants Real Peace
There are several things worth mentioning here that have changed in my life as a result of the grace I received from God. The hate I had toward my parents was replaced by understanding and desire to love and care for them. Instead of blaming them I have learned to forgive my parents. Instead of rebellion I have learned to respect and honor them from the heart. I started to seek to please them and still seek to be pleasing to other people. The most amazing change I have noticed especially is my motivation in doing good. Unlike before, I am compelled to be good and to do what is right to others because I want to express the love God has given me in Christ.
The inner peace continues to reign in my heart as God enables me to understand His patience, forgiveness and mercy toward me in and through Christ. His love becomes clearer as I read the Bible this time. Now I love listening to Biblical preaching and reading good Christian literature.
Yes, I still see the remaining sin within me. I daily struggle with my sinful habits, especially with covetousness and lustful thoughts. I fall oftentimes if not for the grace of God working in my life and giving me the strength to stand against the onslaught of the flesh. God's grace empowers me to obey Him and to resist the sinful desires that daily wage battle against me. I know that in Christ He has bestowed me everything I need for life and godliness through the knowledge of my God and Savior Jesus Christ.
I thank Him for breaking through my life. If not for His undeserving mercy and grace I am still living in my sin and still looking for peace and love from other sources. If not for His abounding grace I am still working my way to Him. I thank God for giving the Lord Jesus for sinners like me. In Him, through the working of the Holy Spirit I am saved and being transformed into His likeness, patiently waiting for that day that He has promised when I can be with Him throughout eternity. All by His sovereign, free grace. All for His honor and glory!