There is a man who is part of one of the Summit’s prison campuses and has been in prison for 14 years. All signs point to him being innocent, set up by others in power to take the fall for some shady dealings. When he was convicted, he lost everything—his livelihood, his life savings, his reputation, his wife. His story is heartbreaking.
“Still, I thank God for this,” he has shared. “Because before this happened, I thought I was God. So, God let this happen to show me I was not God, and in here, in prison, I found him. And I wouldn’t trade what I’ve found in God for all the freedom and all the riches in the world.”
Like this man, can you look back at your life and see how God wrote your story?
The Apostle Paul recognized God’s pursuit of and provision for him, even when he had made a living out of persecuting the church. Then, after he became a Christian, he was able to communicate how Jesus had transformed his life, and his witness is one of the most profound in Christian history.
In his letter to the Galatians, one of the ways Paul defended the gospel was by pointing to three ways he experienced Jesus in his personal life. While you probably haven’t seen a visible manifestation of the resurrected Jesus like Paul did, if you’ve really met Jesus, these things will be true of you, too.
1. “I see how God pursued me.”
When Paul talks about his conversion, he talks as if God was the one acting, and he, Paul, is the one being acted upon: “But when God, who from my mother’s womb set me apart and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me” (Galatians 1:15-16 CSB).
Someone who has had a genuine experience with Jesus usually feels less like it was a decision that he made and more like something that happened to him, less something that he took up and more something that took him up.
Every person I know who has walked with Jesus has admitted that when they look back, they recognize that God was the one at work in their salvation. They see how God was putting people into their lives, questions in their heart, and sometimes even painful experiences in their path—all to draw them to himself.
When you have a real experience with Jesus, you feel that it’s less something you took up and more something that took you up.
The gospel gives you lenses to see that throughout your life God has been preparing you—through your gifts and experiences and even through your sins and failures—to be his vessel of grace to others.
2. “God became even more real to me when I was alone.”
After Paul met Jesus, he didn’t spend time with anyone. Instead, he went off into the desert alone. But during that time, Jesus worked profoundly in his life.
Sometimes being surrounded by excited Christians all the time can keep you from realizing that you have never really had your own experience with him; you are only sharing in the excitement of others. But you can’t piggyback off of someone else’s experience with God.
Many people have been exposed to the gospel but not really penetrated by it. And one of the evidences of that is they don’t meet with him in private. They don’t have an active prayer life or spend time daily reading his Word, gleaning his promises and gaining insight into his will.
As a friend of mine says, being around a lot of excited Christians doesn’t mean you have an experience with God any more than sticking your head in the oven means you’re a biscuit. Beware of being surrounded by the gospel but not filled with it.
3. “God took away my hate and fear.”
When you don’t know God, you are filled with all kinds of insecurities and fears.
Before Christ, for example, Paul had always been in constant competition with others, driven by pride to show that he was superior. You can see that when he says, “I advanced in Judaism beyond many contemporaries among my people” (Galatians 1:14). Paul was the Jew of the Jews, and that desire to prove himself made him constantly jealous of and hateful toward others.
Pride, you see, is inherently competitive. To pride, it doesn’t matter that you’re smart; just that you’re smarter than him. To pride, it doesn’t matter that you’re beautiful; just that you’re more beautiful than her. Pride comes out of insecurity: You have to demonstrate that you are something so that you are considered worthy of love and acceptance.
By contrast, the gospel gives you security. It teaches you that you are not saved by how good you are but because of what Jesus did in your place. And in Christ, you have the absolute approval of the only one whose opinion matters.
That gives a security the world can’t even imitate. You become as sure of heaven as Jesus Christ is, because his record has become yours. The beautiful thing about it is that rather than making you proud, this security makes you humble. You didn’t do anything to set yourself apart, so you have no reason to boast. You no longer see others as rivals, but as needy sinners—just like you.
When you meet the true God, your hate and your fear begin to evaporate. They may not disappear immediately, but the Spirit of Christ in your heart won’t rest until your spirit echoes his. Then, when people encounter your story, instead of being turned off by your self-righteousness, they will confess that only God could have worked such a miraculous transformation. And they will glorify God because of you (Galatians 1:24).