Many who know me would say I have been a Christian my whole life. Since I was thirteen, I've had a certain affection for Jesus. A friend of mine once told me I needed to ask Jesus into my heart, and I did - many times. I watched all the religious movies. I knew many Bible stories. Even read the Bible and had some of it memorized. I used my allowance money to buy Christian music and posters, I went to youth group, and I wore Christian t-shirts to high school.
But to my amazement, God opened my eyes to a truth that had me seriously take stock and ask myself some hard questions. For most of my life, I was not regenerate. I wasn't granted the repentance leading me to a knowledge of the truth in 2 Timothy 2:25 until 2011.
Don't get me wrong; I knew about repentance. It was spoken of in certain circles. It was generally taught that if one accepted Jesus into their heart, that's all it took as far as repentance was concerned. That was the definition of repentance as I had understood it for years - accepting Christ into your heart and generally being sorry for your sins. It was a "change of one's mind", yet never once did I hear that repentance was a change of one's life.
However, what I didn't know, and what the Lord has only recently made clear to me, is that I had no idea there are two different roads of "repentance". The first is worldly sorrow which leads to death, and the second is godly sorrow which leads to life. Only one repentance is true.
Godly sorrow, on the other hand, is having the Spirit unveil to you exactly how wretched you are before a holy God. It is humbling, a stripping down to the bare bones of who you really are, realizing you have no righteousness of which to speak, and that all your deeds are evil. It is being shown how your life does not align with Scripture, and overhauling your entire existence to obey Christ's commandments. It is having your affections changed, to hate the things God hates, and to love the things God loves. It's coming to a realization that you want to be holy as He is holy, regardless of the cost. It is throwing away anything this life has to offer for Christ and Him crucified. This world and it's trinkets no longer hold any sway over you, and you find them all to be as cardboard, smoke and mirrors, or ash in your mouth. The sins you used to love now revolt your spirit. You recoil from sin as if from a hot stove. If you should stumble into sin, you weep, not because you have violated your personal morality, but because you've sinned against Almighty God Himself. Anything that grieves Him now grieves you. You see yourself as the "chiefest of all sinners" (1 Timothy 1:15). Therefore you beg Him with a tearful plea to create in you a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within you. Christ has rightly become the object of every ounce of your loyalty and affection.
In other words, godly repentance is putting away your sins (Ephesians 4:31, Colossians 3:8, James 1:21, 1 Peter 2:1) and becoming a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), having new affections by the power of His Spirit (Psalm 45:7, Philippians 4:8), while conforming into His image (Romans 8:29) by walking as He walked (1 John 2:6).
Let me be very clear - worldly sorrow is very deceiving. Many who read this might scoff and think, "That's not me, I'm obviously a believer." I'm still reeling from what God has revealed to me. But let me outline for you why I believe I was never truly converted in the first place.
I cussed. I drank, not overly so, but I have been roaring drunk a few times in my life. I had sex before marriage. I rarely read the Bible. I certainly never studied it. If I prayed, it was for material things, or for my own personal advantage. I would get angry when God didn't "follow through". I pursued fame and fortune in the romance novel industry more than I pursued Christ. I compromised myself and wrote erotic fiction. I never cared about making disciples. I never taught my children about Christ. I didn't care about church. I didn't think I needed to learn anything about theology. I made excuses for the smut I would write, justifying it because it was popular. I honestly believed my books wouldn't be so blessed if God didn't honor them. I frequently prayed for God to advance my erotic stories. I had no problem with writing "Jesus" or "Christ" as cuss words. No problem with open-door sex scenes. No problem with slang and erotic jargon for body parts. No problem with lude jokes or crude words.
The list goes on and on and on.
Folks, if you haven't read my testimony about "returning to Christ", I highly suggest you do. However, reading the above paragraph and truly taking inventory for the first time about the fruit of godliness in my life, I can trace back my true, godly repentance to this moment in 2011: Saying No to the World and Yes to Jesus - My Testimony.
Please note, however, that I no longer believe I have "rededicated my life to Christ" but that this was the moment I became a true believer.
What happened to me? Giving you the short version, I decided to read the book of Acts one day because I'd never read that book. I was bored, so why not? After finishing it, I wept, knowing the utter bankruptcy of my "belief" when held up in comparison to the bold, courageous, and marvelous faith of the Apostles. You could argue, "But those were the APOSTLES!", however, even ordinary members of the first century church put my faith to shame.
In that moment, God pulled back the curtain and made me come face-to-face with my idolatry and sin. I needed to make a choice - my sins? Or my God? I wrestled with Him on this issue, I won't lie. While my testimony linked above has a "dialogue" between myself and God, please know I never heard God's audible voice. These convictions were raining down on me, confronting me every time I opened Scripture.
"Do you love Me?"
The question our Lord asked Peter plagued me. Over and over again, Christ asked me this same question, and I knew in my heart of hearts that if I truly loved Him, I needed to be obedient and lay down my sin. I knew it would be hard and it would be painful, embarrassing, and quite possibly I'd face a backlash. But how much did I really love Jesus? O, brethren, with my whole heart! That was the moment I turned from all that vile wickedness, retired from writing lude romance, and decided to live my life solely for Him and His glory alone.
What fruit did my heart bear afterward? More than a mere affection, I now ADORED Christ. His name alone was enough to overflow my heart with a depth of love I had never known before. My affection had turned into a flaming fire. Christ had become my Treasure (Luke 12:34). I had a deep desire to see Him glorified, not just in the world, but in my life. I wanted to make disciples and advance His Kingdom to the ends of the earth. I began studying the Bible and finding how much I loved to read it and unlock its secrets by taking my own notes within the margins. I fell in love with theology and couldn't get enough of Charles Spurgeon, the Puritans, and others who have written of God's great glory, beauty, and majesty. I had a heart for the Lord's people. I loved attending church. I stopped cussing. I retired from writing filth. I decided now to write only for Jesus and help others see His great glory, beauty, and majesty. I had a deep desire to obey Christ, despite what others might say. Friends and family noticed a definite change in me, some thinking it for the better, while others murmured it being for the worse. Holiness and righteousness became my delight, while ludeness and crudeness repelled me.
Now, while my conversion happened in 2011, I didn't know it until recently. I had been happily skipping through life thinking I had rededicated myself to Jesus. How is that possible? Well, God reveals things in His time. In an effort to know more Scripture, I decided to try and memorize the book of 1 John. While reciting these verses over and over to cement them in my head, they sunk deeper and deeper into my heart. It didn't take long at all for the Spirit to show me the truth of it.
Like a lightbulb going off, I knew I was not a true Christian until 2011. I had not been obedient to His Word. I had been openly and brazenly walking in darkness. There was no fruit of godliness in my life, no sanctification, no resembling Christ. No one would have known I was a Christian if I didn't say, "I know Him!" But there is 1 John 2:4, condemning my own words by my own actions.
Don't get me wrong, we are not saved by our works, but on the finished work of Christ alone. However, our conversion is proven by our works (James 2:20), and by the fruit in our hearts (Romans 6:21-22).
Oh, my sweet brethren in Christ, examine yourselves to see if you are truly in the faith! (2 Corinthians 13:5) What kind of fruit is your heart producing? Do you have a worldly sorrow that leads to death? Or a godly sorrow that leads to true repentance and life everlasting?
The moment I realized (and was blown away by) the fact that I have not been a Christian for most of my life, I knew I had to be obedient to Christ in all things. 1 John 2:5 says - "But whoso keepeth His commandments, in him verily is the love of God perfected; hereby know we that we are in Him." When I was sixteen years old, I made the decision to be baptized. It had been my own choice, but I hadn't understood that Christianity is much more than merely "making a decision", the Christian life is about a heart change that leads to a life change which points straight to Jesus.
Knowing that, I decided to love Jesus and be obedient to Him by getting baptized now, this time as an true believer. Hallelujah! \O/ Why didn't God reveal all this to me sooner? That's a good question, but I don't think I would have accepted it any sooner in my life. Up until a few weeks ago, I would have told you I had rededicated my life to Him. But God makes everything beautiful in His time, and I trust that He gave me this testimony of repentance and obedience at this time to reach someone in His name and for His glory.
Praise the Lord! Let us all repent unto the Lord with a godly repentance that leads to life, and make glorifying the majesty and beauty of our Lord Jesus Christ the sole focus and the greatest purpose for which we live.
Amen and amen!