By: Barry Wallace
What you're about to read is an honest and personal account of a series of events that permanently altered the course of my life. It began with my unexpected discovery that I had a bad heart--not the organ that pumps life-giving blood through my veins, but that place deep inside where all my thoughts and motives originate. Here's how it happened.
I grew up in church and believed in God. I knew I wasn't perfect but felt in my heart that I was basically a decent person. I would later find that the Bible describes the condition of every heart (yours and mine) as deceitful (Jer 17:9). There I was, living it up (so I thought), unaware that I was deader than a door-nail in my sin (Eph 2:1); utterly lost, yet certain I knew exactly where I was going. My own heart was deceiving me. I wonder--could your heart be deceiving you, too?
Curiously, though, my perspective began to change. I had always known evil existed, but I understood it to be something menacing and remote. Hitler, for example, was an evil man. Imagine my shock when I discovered in my own heart (of all places!) a seemingly inexhaustible fountain of evil. I suddenly saw everything in a different light. Even the good I tried to do seemed tainted by selfish motives, or pride, or some other defect. Now sometimes I'm a slow learner, but it didn't take me long to realize I had a problem--a BIG problem. It was God.
I know it's not too popular to talk about God's anger. We prefer a god who's always lenient, overlooking our faults. To our own detriment, most of us never bother to find out for ourselves what the Bible really says about God. It's surprising to many people, for instance, how much Jesus talked about hell. For example, He said, "Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both body and soul in hell" (Matt 10:28). That's hard. We'd really rather not have anything to do with a God like that. So we ignore Him, or try to soften His image a bit. However, He won't change or go away.
So, I feared God. I knew He was angered by my sin, and rightly so (Rom 1:18-20). Where once I had excused my shortcomings, I now had to shut my mouth (Rom 3:19). Desperate for answers, I prayed and read my Bible. What (or rather Who) I encountered there changed my life. My sin had separated me from God--which is what sin does (Isa 59:2)--and I was unable to bridge the gulf between us. I was helpless (Rom 5:6) and hopeless (Eph 2:12). I needed a rescuer--someone to save me--and God had sent One (Jn 3:16).
It was Jesus, crucified and risen, that I encountered in the pages of Scripture and on my knees. He saved me, not because of anything good I had done, but because of His mercy (Titus 3:5). What I deserved was death (Rom 6:23), and I knew it. Nevertheless, in a stunning display of love, Jesus died in my place (Rom 5:8; Isa 53:5-6)--the sinless One taking the sinner's punishment! Because of that one incredible sacrifice, God forgave me, as He does anyone who turns from sin and trusts Christ (Acts 3:19; Rom 3:23-24; 10:9-11). Amazing! It still brings me to my knees in grateful adoration.
I have just one regret. Far too often, I've failed to live my life in a way pleasing to the One who loved me enough to die for me. Without exception, though, I've found the Scripture to be true: "If you hide your sins, you will not succeed. If you confess and reject them, you will receive mercy" (Prov 28:13).
I've written this for a number of reasons. One of the most basic is because I care about you. I want you to know the truth because Jesus said the truth will make you free (Jn 8:32). Telling the truth could cost me a friendship--maybe yours--and that's something I don't want to lose. But I've come to the conclusion that I wouldn't be much of a friend to you if I didn't tell you what I've found. I am, as someone has said, a little like the beggar telling other beggars where he's found food.
Still, it's a disturbing thing, this truth that frees. It disturbs our distorted views of God and ourselves, of heaven and hell. It disturbs our false sense of security, that confidence we misplace in unreliable things--our selves, our possessions, family, friends, even our religion. It reduces us to nothing and then, through Christ alone, freely offers us everything.
It eliminates every pathway to God but one: "I am the way, the truth and the life," Jesus said. "No one comes to the Father except through me" (Jn 14:6)
"Enter through the narrow gate," He said on another occasion. "For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it" (Matt 7:13-14).
Stop and look around. Which road are you on? It's essential that you know.
If you've read this far, you've probably formed an opinion about what I've written. You may think I'm crazy, or that you've never heard anything so ridiculous. Maybe you think it's okay for me to believe what I want, but it's definitely not for you. The real issue, however, is whether what either one of us believes is true or not. Believing you're on a plane for New York when your flight is actually bound for Los Angeles won't get you where you want to go, no matter how sincerely you believe it. Please don't stake your eternal destination on something you haven't even honestly investigated. Find out for yourself what the Bible says.
On the other hand, you may find yourself deeply stirred by what you've just read--drawn, not so much to my words as to the words of Christ. Though profoundly disturbing, they ring true to you. I, or the person who gave this to you, would be happy to talk with you further. Or better yet, call out to the Lord. He's nearer than you think, waiting to be gracious.
Don't let your own bad heart fool you like mine did me. "Not all those who say I am their Lord will enter the kingdom of Heaven," Jesus warned. "The only people who will enter the kingdom of Heaven are the ones who do what my Father in Heaven wants" (Matt 7:21). Those who follow Christ will find peace, freedom, and fullness of life unimaginable by others. What you lose is nothing--no, less than nothing--- compared to what you gain.
The Scriptures give us only two alternatives:
"This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life!" (Deut 30:19)
"Christ died for all so that those who live would no longer live for themselves. He died for them and was raised from the dead so that they would live for Him" (2 Cor 5:15).
There are the choices: life or death, blessings or curses, living for yourself or living for Christ. Which have you chosen?