Meet Emma, our youngest daughter. She’s in her final year at Waimea College. Next year she’ll be heading off to study Health Science at Otago University. That means she’ll be with us only a few more months. How quickly the past seventeen years have slipped by! And yet what a wonderful outcome. This fun-loving, lively little girl of mine has matured into a beautiful young woman who is thoughtful, intelligent and wise; caring, gentle and conscientious – yet at the same time adventurous, spirited and full of life. Emma is highly respected in her school, her youth ministry and by her peers. She’s the kind of daughter that makes her parents swell with pride.
Last Sunday Emma was baptized at our church. She gave a wonderful testimony about how she came to see her need for Jesus and make the life-changing decision of putting him first in her life. People often assume that if you grow up in a Christian home where God and his Word are a regular part of everyday life and conversation, committing to follow Jesus is an easy thing. It’s no big deal. And it certainly doesn’t require as much of God’s power to save you as it does a murderer or a drug-addict.
But that’s simply not true.
The Bible tells me sin is sin, whether it is clothed with nice Christian morals and carries a bible or wears a prostitute’s skirt. Because of Adam, we all enter the world spiritually dead. None of us (actually and truly) seeks for God nor are we consistently and inherently good (Romans 3:11-12). I know that may sound offensive to some who are reading this. You likely consider yourself to be a good person. And there are plenty of people you can think of who are a lot worse. Compared to Hitler you look like a saint. But compare yourself to a Holy God and I might confuse you with Lord Voldemort.
It took just the same amount of God’s grace to save Emma, who’s been a sweet little girl since birth and has kept out of trouble (for the most part) as it has me, who spent most of his teenage years eagerly looking for it. Her conversion might have been less dramatic, but it was equally miraculous and spectacular. The angels rejoiced with the same energy when she repented as when I did. Jesus bore her sin with the same pain and agony as he did mine. The ground is level at the foot of the cross
These things became all the more real to me, as I sat there on the front row, listening to her testimony. I was filled a mixture of emotion – joy, thankfulness, pride, gratitude, wonder (at the power of the gospel) and delight. Here is the sum and substance of what she said:
I spent much of my childhood reading the bible with my parents, going to Sunday school, and learning more and more about God. I knew the story of Jesus’ birth and death inside out, but never really understood the importance of it and what it meant for me – that I was a sinner and I needed a saviour. Instead, I fell for the common belief that simply going to church and reading my bible would cut it. I thought that I was doing just fine the way I was. It wasn’t until I got a little older that I began to deeply think about life and death, and the path that I was walking in. I started to suffer a lot of anxiety, terrified that I would never be good enough for Jesus, and never make it to heaven. I found it very difficult to place all my fears upon him, to surrender control over my life. This resulted many months spent in alternating moods of ‘I can do everything myself’ and ‘I will never be good enough and my life is doomed’. I wanted so badly to be free, but just couldn’t see a way out. I had no idea if I was a Christian or not because I just couldn’t really believe that asking Christ for forgiveness and surrendering my life to him was all that I had to do – I expected instant changes in myself and was surprised and disappointed when I found myself sinning again and again.
It was during one such period of anxious depression when I was 15 or so that Mum brought me a bible verse that really helped me; In John 10:27, it says, “My sheep listen to voice. I know them, and they follow me. I will give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my father has given them to me and he is more powerful than anything else. No one can snatch them from the Fathers hand”. This is an incredibly freeing verse and I am so grateful that she enabled me to find it – it is one that I will always treasure in my heart.
From then on things improved; something about that verse was immensely freeing to me. I’m not saying that I never worried about my faith ever again, because time and time again my anxious nature takes a hold of me, and I still struggle with the idea that I by myself will never be perfect in this world. But instead of seeing that as another chain, I am learning to see it as a freedom- I can never be perfect, but I don’t have to be, because Jesus lived a perfect life for me, and when I stand before the father, he will see me “wrapped in a robe of righteousness”, instead of covered in my own sin.
It is a wonderful thing that Jesus died on that cross for me, I am standing here before you all to show that I have chosen to follow him for the rest of my life. I know that I will make countless mistakes, but Jesus has promised to never leave me, to guide me, and to teach me his ways.
Well done Emma. We’re with you all the way.