Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. ~ Psalm 51:12
One of my earliest memories is my “labor to enter into rest”. (Heb. 4:11)
I had heard our pastor, Bro. Glenn Riggs, preach about “calling out to God” and “praying and asking Jesus into your heart”, so I did those things. I was only five years old. I phrased my prayer the best I could, but nothing happened. The preacher said “You’ll know when Jesus saves you!” I didn’t “know”. The preacher said, “It’s not a feeling, it’s faith.” But what exactly was faith? My parents and brother and sister were all “saved”. I wanted to be, too. At age six, I went to my teacher in my Christian school, after two of my friends did, on a Wednesday and said I didn’t know if I would go to Heaven when I died. (Perhaps you had to talk to someone to make salvation official?) And if my friends could do it, why not I? It was October 10, 1984 – my mother’s birthday. I was wearing a Hawaiian style button-up shirt. The short sleeves were gathered in one place on the outside of the sleeve. I sat with Mrs. Parson in what had been my Kindergarten classroom. I was now a mature first grader. I squinted my eyes at her big, burgundy Bible, which was underlined and well-worn, straining to understand, seeking for that which I had been missing. I prayed the words. I left the room, hoping that this time, it had worked. I got baptized (despite my immense fear of water and crowds) soon thereafter. Life went on. I did not feel any different, but I recalled “it’s not a feeling, it’s faith.” Okay. *deep breath* Faith.
I made a second profession of salvation about two years later. The date is fuzzy on that one, but I do recall that it was the summertime. I went forward with a massive influx of other kids from our children’s church. Children’s church was a large production of songs, puppets, preaching and games. We met in the gym. There was no air conditioning in the gym. I had been doubting my salvation, so I went forward seeking answers. But I must admit that finding answers was secondary. I mainly went forward because I knew if I did, I’d get to go into the auditorium – or “big church” as I called it – where there was air conditioning. So around age eight, I filed in with several other boys and girls who had “professed Christ as their Savior” and stood at the front of big church. I smiled at my parents, who were probably very surprised to see me in the line, and I soaked up the blessed air conditioning. I felt my wet bangs turn cold against my forehead, and my Sunday dress gradually loosen from where the sweat had glued it to my skin. I felt the frigid air go up my sleeves, down my back and up the folds of my dress. I didn’t know if I was going to Heaven – despite a worker showing me the plan of salvation and praying with me – but I felt the air conditioning, which had to be the next best thing. I went to big church on a Sunday morning a few weeks later and got baptized. Again.
I continued to privately grapple with salvation for years. I went soul-winning with my church. I wore the right clothes. I sang in children’s choir. I went to every youth activity. I tried to quit talking so much. I read my Bible sporadically and prayed even more sporadically. I looked good on the outside, but I was a disaster on the inside. I was doing all I could do. I had prayed the words, I had tried to understand. Every time doubt sprang up in my mind, I pushed it down by trying to behave better. “You’re doubting this because you haven’t been reading your Bible every day. Just do better,” I would tell myself. I would start a read-through-your-Bible-in-a-year schedule. I would make a prayer list. I would just work harder. Surely, if I did all of that, I would know I was saved.
On the morning of June 12, 1993, as I was reading Ezra chapter one, the Lord quickened me. He said, almost audibly, “You don’t understand any of this because you are not born-again.” WHAT? What was this? I felt a huge sin burden upon my back, a feeling I had never had before. It was as if every sin I had ever committed was flashing before my eyes. I was not a Christian, and no amount of work or prayers would make me one. What a startling revelation. I sought out my friend’s mother, with whom I was staying, and told her I needed to be saved. But this time, I didn’t need anyone to show me verses, or to tell me what to say or do – I knew! As soon as my sinful condition was revealed, I cried out to God for mercy and He gloriously saved me.
SAVED, by His pow’r devine,
SAVED, to new life sublime,
Life now is sweet and my joy is complete
For I’m SAVED! SAVED! SAVED!
This song describes that moment in my life, the moment in which I was a lost sinner one second, and a born-again child of God the next. You see, you DO know if you’re saved. There is a “feeling”. It’s a feeling of sin, of despair, of hopelessness, of embarrassment before a Holy God, followed by a feeling of relief, overwhelming joy and indescribable happiness.
Years later, as a twenty-something married woman, I heard myself praying the words of Psalm 51:12, “Restore unto me the joy of my salvation”. I was going through a time of depression, which by nature I am prone to do. Shortly thereafter, I read the words of that Psalm and noticed that I had misquoted it – it’s not “the joy of MY salvation”, it says, “The joy of THY salvation.” This started an avalanche of thoughts tumbling through my brain. Was salvation not man’s choice? Was it of God and God alone? I’m sure that to those of you who caught on to this ages ago, this sounds silly. But I really thought that I had something to do with salvation! I thought I had to make a choice, to decide to be saved, but I had tried that. It didn’t work. And while calling out to Christ certainly is part of salvation, it’s not all of it. Christ awakened me to my sin without my consent. My pastor back then would have called this “the conviction of the Holy Spirit”, some call it “the quickening of the Spirit”. Whatever you call it, it was missing from my first two professions of faith. The first two times, I was essentially trying to save myself. I thought that my desire or decision to be saved would supply the final ingredient to salvation. Christ did His part, now I must do mine. I was believing that salvation was Christ plus my belief. In reality, it is Christ plus nothing.
Salvation is through Christ alone.
I went forward in the auditorium – not to please my flesh with air conditioning – but because I had been brought into the fold by the strong arms of the Good Shepherd. I was baptized for the third – and final – time on July 30, 1993. My parents were not surprised. They sat on their pew that Sunday morning silently rejoicing that their struggling little lamb had finally made it home.