tonight at cru i had the opportunity to share my testimony. and really, even though it has me in it, it’s not actually my story. it’s a tiny part of God’s huge story. it’s been a humbling and encouraging process for me to think through it all, and so i wanted to share it with all of you.
i grew up in a christian home. we went to church every sunday, prayed before meals, my mom led becca and i in morning devotions before school. you probably know i have three sisters. my early years were filled with laughter and love. my parents led, disciplined, and loved us well, and my childhood is one of my greatest blessings and best memories.
when i was nine, God gave me an unusual moment of clarity in heart and mind. i saw that i was living in sin, completely disobedient to how God wanted me to live, and that because of this fact, a punishment had to be given. He showed me that the only person who could take this punishment besides me was Jesus. so that day i trusted in Jesus to take the punishment in my place and decided to live a life of obedience to God. it was totally a God thing, because my nine-year-old brain couldn’t perfectly understand all of that, and yet i really did that day. looking back, i can see God starting to pursue me even at that early age.
but christianity soon became more of a status thing for me instead of a relationship with God. see, i was a pretty good kid. i made good grades, had good friends, i was mature for my age, showed leadership, all that. and i thought i was hot stuff. my faith just became one more thing that i could be proud of. i would pray out loud, go to church to try and take notes, read the bible when people were watching. and i would even look down on other kids who just weren’t as good as i was. i looked down on some people because they weren’t christians, and i looked down at other christians because, well, they just weren’t as good as i was. i was totally wrapped up in myself and how awesome i thought i was. pride was everywhere.
and then i fell into something i couldn’t be proud of. i started watching pornography in the fourth grade. i came back to it pretty consistently over the next few years, more for the forbidden aspect than the sex and lust. i knew i wasn’t supposed to, and it was a thrill. then i hit middle school, and it became all about the sen and lust aspects.
and i was obsessed.
no joke. over the next few years, even into high school, it became a vicious cycle of porn, sexual desires, and lust. over and over and over. at the same time, though, i was still trying to keep up this external appearance of the perfect christian guy. i still went to church, tried to read my bible if i had time and wanted to, and was involved in a bible study too. but i couldn’t pretend when it was just me. i knew that what i was doing was wrong.
soon it began to feel like this double life. on the outside everyone thought i was good and had it together… i even lied to all my high school friends, telling them that i’d never looked at porn, never wanted to. i just wanted to be sure that they saw this perfect person. but on the inside i was feeling so trapped by this sin. i tried to stop, but i was always drawn back to it. i would ask for forgiveness, but i knew that i’d just be back at it the next day, so it seemed inevitable. and over all of this, i felt like God was just looking down on me with this frown on His face, disappointed and frustrated with me for not being a good enough christian.
one night, sometime my sophomore year, it just became too much. i was in my room and i felt completely exhausted—physically, mentally, and spiritually. i realized that nothing i was doing was working. in desperation, i cried out to God for help. and He gave me another moment of clarity. i saw that i’d forgotten. forgotten that the Jesus i’d put my trust in when i was nine was the same Jesus who had the power to help me resist these temptations for sin i was feeling. that i had been right: there was nothing i could do it was all God.
i’m convinced God changed my brain chemistry that night. for a straight month, i didn’t desire to look at porn. i wasn’t even tempted. but even better was that i knew that when that temptation returned (which it did), i was able to resist it with the power that Jesus had given me. it was one of the most freeing feelings i’d ever experienced.
i wish i could say that from then on, i was a perfect christian. but the fact is that even though i was no longer struggling with my addiction to porn, my pride was in full force. i would look back on that night and just congratulate myself for how well i’d handled it. i mean, wow… i’d called out to God. i bet not that many people would have done that. i was just a really good christian, i thought. these really were the kinds of things running through my head.
over the next few years, i took even more pride in the things i was doing. senior year i led a middle school bible study and was involved in my church. last year as a freshman i got involved with cru right away, started going to church, and joined a bible study. i was stacking all these things up, looking at them, and thinking about how happy God must be with me. i mean, just look at all the awesome christian things i was doing! slowly, though, i realized that even though i was doing all this good stuff, i wasn’t really desiring God. that just because i was going to church and everything didn’t mean i wanted to get to know God more or spend time with Him.
and just like that, i was back where i’d been before.
what the heck? i thought. i’ve been a christian for ten years! why am i not over this? but it didn’t matter what i tried or how much i wanted it. i still didn’t desire God. and i began to hate myself again. my outward appearance was, as before, different from what was going on inside. God, i figured, must be really annoyed at this point. i felt like He was looking down at me and saying, i thought we’d covered this already, brad. why haven’t you overcome this sin yet? that weight fell down on my shoulders again. i was in this constant state of despair, of hopelessness. i felt lost.
but even throughout this whole ordeal, God was still right behind me, working through the people in my life. i was talking with my bible study leader, eric, and we were going through the book living the cross centered life together. the book had brought up two things: condemnation and legalism. i had no idea what they were, but eric explained them. when he told me that legalism was just doing things in order to get God’s approval and love, i realized that was exactly what i’d been doing.
i realized i’d been in a constant state of building all the good things in my life up (bible study, church, cru) in order to make God happy with me. i’d go two weeks of daily reading in my Bible, for example, and i’d think man, God must be really happy with me now. but then i’d miss a day, and i’d have to start all over, with God’s disappointed face staring down at me. that’s what it felt like, at least.
then we talked about condemnation, which is feeling like God’s angry or disappointed in us for past sins even though we’ve already been forgiven. and i was like whoa! that is exactly what’s happening!
insert another awesome moment of clarity. God showed me that what i’d been doing—building the good things up in order to please Him and feeling guilt when i couldn’t—was pointless. i don’t have to have a perfect christian life because jesus did that for me. when God looks at me, He doesn’t see all this sin that i deal with. he sees perfection, because when i trusted in jesus when i was nine, that was what i recieved. i got Jesus’ perfection. in fact, there is literally nothing i can do and nothing i don’t do that will ever make God more or less happy in me.
so even though today i still sometimes fall into a mindset that i need to be building things up to make God happy with me, even though i still have a superiority complex and sometimes look down on people who don’t take notes like i do in church, i can be confident that God’s love is still waiting for me.
and really, that’s what it’s all about. God has pursued me my entire life, and actually delights in me, not because of what i do, but because of what Jesus has already done. because of what Jesus did before i even existed.
that is crazy. and it’s available to all of us! we don’t have to know a certain amount about jesus or know some bible verses. we don’t have to be regular churchgoers in order to start a relationship with jesus. all we have to do is just say yes.