Sample Chapter from Stepping into the Light: You're a Christian, what now?
CHAPTER 2. Seeing the Light, Accepting the Gift
God commendeth [demonstrates] His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.—Romans 5:8
And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.—Acts 2:21
Salvation: Is It Free?
One of the most powerful facts of Christian faith I encountered as a new believer is that my salvation is free to me, but it cost God everything. I only had to accept in my heart the Savior and His gift in order to be saved. This is the one matchless miracle and, as a born-again believer, I must hold on to it day by day. I must continually build my faith through praise, prayer, Bible study, and giving thanks to God. The temptation is to try to earn God’s love, but He already loves me, and all of us, so much that He sacrificed everything for us.
By stepping out on faith, by believing that Jesus Christ is my Lord (Master) and Savior, I was rescued from sin and death. Until I gave my own life to Christ, I heard this, but I didn’t get it. Once I opened my heart to His love, I understood or at least accepted it simply as fact.
Another fact I had to grasp is that though saved, we will still sin and die. But one of the blessed assurances a new Christian can count on, even if not understanding all of the theology behind it is that when we allow Him in, Jesus now reconciles us to (justifies us with) God the Father, through the substitution of His blood for ours. We will die some day in the physical sense, but once saved, our spirits live eternally with Christ, who existed before time and will exist after the end of time. His gift of forgiveness obliterates the curse inherent in our sinful nature (see Romans 8:1). His assurance of eternal heaven instead of hell takes the sting out of death (see 1 Corinthians 15:55).
Salvation is free for us, because Christ paid the price. The wages of sin is death (Genesis 2:17; Romans 6:23), and Christ died in our place. He gave His life freely. He suffered, bled, died, was buried, went to hell (Ephesians 4:8-9; Revelation 1:18), and rose again because He loves us, not because we deserve it. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). This is grace—a gift for no reason other than the giver’s desire to give.
We all deserve to die and go to hell (see Romans 3:23). I do and you do. Jesus did not lay down His life because He deems us too good for hell. He gave His life exactly because we deserve death and damnation, but He loves us too much to let us go without giving all He has to prevent our loss.
God can’t stop us from going to hell, though, if we choose that destination. Though He gave us salvation for free, He also furnished us with free will (Luke 18:18-24; Ezekiel 3:11).
What Do I Have to Do to Get Salvation?
What do you have to do to get salvation? Claim it.
Let’s say radio station WHVN in your hometown puts on a contest. Whoever is the seventh caller after a certain song airs gets to come to the radio station and pick up two free tickets to a Yolanda Adams concert. You hear the designated song. You call. You’re caller number seven. You win. What do you have to do to get your seat at the concert? If you just show up at the entertainment center door and demand “Let me in,” do you think the ushers will comply? No way. No ticket, no entrance.
What if you explain that WHVN awarded you free tickets? The most polite response you might receive would be, “So, where are those free tickets?” You get the idea. Yes, your admission is free (paid for by someone else), but you still will not be admitted if you don’t claim and accept your ticket.
Jesus has purchased a ticket to heaven for every human being, but no one will be saved without accepting Him as their Lord and Savior, asking His forgiveness for their past sins, and repenting (Mark 1:15; Luke 13:5).
Why Did Christ Die for Me?
No matter how good I may have come across to the world before I submitted to Christ, I was too lost and too weak to reconcile myself to Father God. Also, I looked like nothing of value to the enemy, Satan, because I had already fallen into his camp, whether I knew it or not. In this state, Christ took pity on me (Ezekiel 16:4-6). Christ loves each of us more than we can even imagine loving another. His love surpasses any other gift for which we hope; His love is perfect as He is perfect.
“There is no such thing as God,” I had spouted for years. Yet He loved me.
I found casual comfort in crystal therapy, sought life-changing answers in secular self-help books, but rejected God-worship as a crutch for the weak. Yet He loved me. Thank God, my hard head, which shut me off from Him for so long, also prevented me from falling for any of the dozen or more Eastern and other non-Christian faiths with which I flirted from time to time.
When I used His name as a curse, He loved me.
My using the Sabbath (Sunday or Saturday, take your pick) as a day to celebrate me and my needs did not stop God from seeing me as His child, prodigal though I was.
When I mocked my parents openly and refused in my heart to forgive even one of their parental missteps, my Lord valued me and knew one day I’d open my eyes and realize that my mother and father deserve honor just for bringing me into His presence. The other ways in which they both have blessed me throughout my life are just extra reasons to cherish them.
I have known several people who spawned enough hate in my soul to make me think about killing, and in 1 John 3:15 we discover that the thought is tantamount to the deed. Yet when murder infected my mind, my Father in heaven still held a vision of me coming clean through the blood of His Son.
Gleefully, I broke every one of the Ten Commandments. Nonetheless, God wanted my fellowship or companionship even though He has no need of it. God embodies love and He can’t do anything but love us, despite our constantly disappointing Him. He does not want to lose even one of us, but He refuses to hold on to any one of us against our will. This is perfect love.
The Creator could have made us totally obedient to him, but He did not, because obedience without desire means nothing. God wants us to love Him of our own free will, solely because He is who He is.
Christ our Shepherd will leave everything to round up one lost sheep (Matthew 18:12). He stopped at nothing, not even giving His own life, in order to bring you and me into His embrace. In that enormous embrace is safety, assurance and, ironically, real freedom. This is salvation.
Why Get Baptized?
Once I was saved, there remained another step—baptism. I figured I’d get around to it at some point after I figured out its exact significance.
Here we come to Claiborne Street Missionary Baptist Church and Reverend Robert W. Finney. To make a long story short, Jae and I met Reverend Finney one Saturday afternoon. He invited us to Claiborne Street, we stopped in the next day, and we knew inside of ten minutes that this was the type of church we had been hungering for—small enough that we could really come to know the entire church family. The congregation exuded the informal intimacy of natural kin. Two or three Sundays later, we headed up front when the minister said, “The doors of the church are open.” I had no idea what that meant. We said we wanted to join the church, and Reverend Finney responded with, “That’s wonderful. We will baptize you next week.”
I thought, “Say what?” But I just smiled.
We went out of town the following week, but we were baptized two weeks after asking to join Claiborne Street. During those two weeks I wrestled with my next step, because when you join yourself to Christ, you separate yourself from some other things. Baptism, I finally concluded, is a way of standing up in front of God and man and saying “Jesus saved my soul, and I want to thank Him publicly for His grace and mercy.” It’s not a prerequisite for entry to heaven, but Jesus commanded that new believers be baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). Once I accepted His blood sacrifice on my behalf, my next step was to obey this simple directive to show the world that I am His property.
Baptism also marked a private passage for me. February 4, 2001 became the day I walked out of Egypt and through the Red Sea, on my way to the Promised Land. I wondered if this action would separate me from my parents and brothers. But I realized that I wanted to live sanctified and die saved, and I could not risk that for anyone else’s sake. I am responsible for my own soul. I stepped toward the light.
After being baptized, maybe I should have simply beamed with satisfaction, but I kept thinking, “What comes next?” Here’s what comes next—what I didn’t know at the time of my baptism: once you say yes to Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior and are baptized, you have officially enlisted in the army of the Lord.
What Price, Christian Soldiering?
As I studied God’s Word and heard many preachers describe spiritual warfare, I hoped I wouldn’t need to fight—wasn’t it enough that I had been saved? I found that that’s like joining the United States Army and then asking why you can’t loll in front of the barracks and take in the scenery while your fellow recruits sweat their way through boot camp. Uncle Sam wouldn’t be too pleased with you, to put it gently. Well, you’re doing the same thing when you join the body of Christ—His church—and don’t participate. Father God won’t be too pleased.
Not long ago, I picked up an interesting book on the subject of spiritual warfare, called “Pigs in the Parlor.” In the third chapter, the author states something to the effect that it does Christians no good to ignore the existence of demons, because this only allows Satan and his forces to work undetected and unhindered in the world. As Christians, we must fight evil.
Make no mistake about it; every person alive belongs either to the army of the Lord or the army of Satan. Spiritual warfare fills the pages of the Bible because it is the central fact of life on earth. Whether you know it or not, whether you believe it or not, you are a part of it. If you are not on one side you are on the other. Neutrality is not an option in this war. Would you have survived, curled up in a rocking chair in the midst of the Civil War Battle of Nashville, or perched on top of a fence at Appomattox? I don’t suppose so.
I learned one step at a time that, though I had enlisted at no cost, God wants active service from all enlistees. Transforming from raw recruit to war-ready soldier would require training and sacrifice.
How did I become a Christian soldier? First, I decided I not only wanted Christ on my side, I wanted to be on His side. Second, I read the available training manual—in this case the Bible—and as many supporting texts as practical, a prerequisite for undertaking any unfamiliar endeavor. I studied the Bible for clues to my enemy’s character, his modes of attack, and my proper responses. I learned that the enemy, Satan, is already checkmated in the war (read it in Revelation) and that in any battle or skirmish he wages he can be vanquished by the Word of God. Hebrews 4:12 assured me, “For the Word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”
In John 10:10, Jesus says, “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”
But reading is only the groundwork for field training. What I read I needed to believe. What I came to believe I had to be pushed to put into practice. Facing my husband’s colon cancer, attacks on my own body, crippling social and financial fears, as well as feelings of inadequacy for ministry, I studied God’s Word and questioned it. I prayed for both understanding and the wisdom to use His Word in every aspect of my life. As my understanding grew, my trust increased, until I surrendered to Christ’s desire to not only minister to me, but to also minister to others through me.
As we move through this book, I will touch on my personal battles in more detail, but here I will say that the greatest gift I received through surrender to God was the ability to let go. I found out how to carry my baggage to the crucified Messiah one piece at a time and leave it at His feet rather than half-heartedly showing it to Him and dragging it back into my life.
On September 16, 2001, I clearly heard God’s call on my life. I learned—and I cannot emphasize strongly enough my surprise—that I would be a minister of the Lord. I stiffened in apprehension, tears welling in my eyes at the news, but the Holy Spirit told me I needn’t cry because I would be allotted time to prepare myself to serve. God’s messages often come with the admonition not to be afraid, because God knows that hearing from Him can be scary.
I held the news inside me for many weeks, trying to talk myself out of supernatural reality into some false natural explanation for what I “thought” I had heard from the Lord. But the more I tried to squirm away, the more I knew I had been not only bought with the blood of Jesus but caught by voice of the Holy Spirit. I had no choice but to step into the light.