I cannot remember my first time to church. My parents were dedicated Christians and determined to make a Christian out of me. They were poor country people unable to pay hospital costs, so I was born at home and taken to church the next Sunday.
Everybody said I was “a good kid,” but I knew I was a sinner. No preacher had to tell me; I knew my heart was full of mischief and wicked imaginations. When I was twelve I prayed a prayer, joined a Baptist church and was baptized. I sincerely wanted to be saved, but I knew that my religious experience down front in the church was a sham and didn’t change a thing in my lost heart.
Yet, now I was regarded by all as a “Christian” and tried my best to act like I thought one should. The next 16 months were miserable. I knew I was still lost and on my way to eternal hell, but I didn’t want anybody to find out. During those months I drove myself to be as good as I could possibly be. Time and again I confessed to God every sin I thought I had, and begged Him to save me. In my heart things got progressively worse. I was more and more convicted, miserable and fearful that I would die and go to hell. Every sermon cut me to the core. My sins glared to me. But, I didn’t dare let-on to anyone.
On Wednesday night, October 11, 1954 I was in a church service with my parents. A converted Jew preached a message that he titled Five Minutes Past Midnight. He dealt with the reality of where your soul will be five minutes after you die without Jesus Christ. He dealt with sham religion and the fact that God knows where every heart really is. He knows who is really saved and who is lost. That night that preacher preached about how foolish it is to hide behind a false profession. He urged lost sinners to come in their hearts to Jesus Christ in simple faith, trusting Him and Him alone to save them upon the strength of His death, burial and resurrection. He preached that nothing short of the shed blood of Jesus Christ can take away sins and give eternal life. I knew he was talking to me.
I barely slept that Wednesday night. The next day at school I could not concentrate on school work. I rode the school bus to our country home and said the usual Hello to my stay-home mother. Outwardly I looked as calm as could be. Inside I was a wreck. I told mom that I was going out to the barn. She didn’t see me slip my little Bible under my arm.
I went past the barn into thick woods. I sat down on a little hill and read John 3. No one was there except God and me. In my heart I knew I was lost. I also knew that He wanted to save me. I thought to myself, “God, why don’t you save me? Time and again I have prayed to you and begged you to save me. I have tried to be as good as I can possibly be. I have been baptized and joined the church. I want to be saved and you want to save me. What’s wrong?”
I just sat there on the ground, totally helpless, at the end of myself. I remember thinking to myself, “God, I can’t do it. If you don’t save me, I’m going to hell. Right here and now I give up on myself and trust you.” In my heart I could truthfully say, “From this moment forth it’s all up to you. My only hope for heaven is you. I know that you died, was buried and rose for me. I know you shed your blood for me. I trust you.” I knew that if He didn’t get me to heaven, I wouldn’t make it. I didn’t confess a sin, pray a prayer, make a promise or hold on to anything I was, had done or ever would do. I simply saw myself as a lost, hell-bound sinner deserving of eternal damnation. I saw Jesus Christ as the Savior and Him alone as capable of saving me. At that moment I simply trusted Him and Him alone to save me. I gave up completely on myself and entrusted my all to Him.
It is hard to describe the relief that I suddenly felt. It was all up to Him. All along before this moment I had thought in terms of what I could do. I was baptized. I joined the church. I tried to live right. I prayed and prayed and prayed. I confessed every sin I could remember. I worked as hard as I could for God and tried to live right. And I was sincere. All along it had been what “I” could do. At that moment, it was no longer up to me; it was now all up to Him. My hope was no longer resting in myself, in anything I had ever done, was or would ever be. My hope was resting in Jesus Christ and in Him alone.
God saved me that day when I trusted Him. That’s the day I finally got to the end of myself, gave up on me and quit thinking that somehow, some day I could help God save my soul. I realized that if I was ever to make it to heaven, He would have to get me there. I knew that He could because He was the God of heaven who had come in person to this earth where He took my sins to the cross and paid my death penalty once and for all. That Thursday afternoon right out there in those woods He saved my soul and I realized first-hand the reality of Ephesians 2:8-9 which says, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”