This past Sunday I had the great privilege of baptizing Dante Gates. Here is the powerful testimony that he gave out our church. I should have just let him preach!
I grew up in a Christian home, with a mom and grandparents who taught me about God and took me to church. When I was 4 years old I came to my mom to let her know that I had asked Jesus into my heart. For most of my life I believed this was when I became a Christian, although I now doubt I truly became a Christian that day. My life up to just before I graduated high school can be summarized by simply saying that most people who knew me would likely describe me as a “good” person and that this was something I also believed myself. However in terms of a relationship with God or love for him, there was nothing to speak of. The period of time after I graduated high school bears a particular spiritual significance. I was growing increasingly angry and bitter over the circumstances that surrounded my relationships with my mom and my step dad and my father. As these frustrations came to a climax I clearly remember thinking these words aloud to myself in my head “I've done things God's way and it has got me nowhere. From now on I'll be doing things my way.” At that point I made a clear decision to live my life however I wanted.
I should note however that in truth I hadn't been doing things God's way at all, I merely lived my life with the appearance of such. In fact since 7th grade I had begun to emerge myself in an array of sins – some public, some not. My language and humor were vulgar and crass (remember Christ said we will be judged for every careless word – Matthew 12:36). I was completely taken over by lust and I was lying to my mom and step dad on a regular basis. Most importantly my anger was not only focused on my mom and step dad, but I began to consciously focus my anger on God. Having fully believed in God and His sovereignty I blamed Him for the circumstances of my life that I was dissatisfied with. Even though I believed in Him I certainly did not love Him. In fact I hated Him (“Even the demons believe and shudder” James 2:19). What I hated most about God was His authority that contradicted the way I wanted to live my life. I tried my hardest not to believe in Him and therefore be “free” to live my life as if He did not exist.
To give a snapshot of what my life looked like at this time it was incredibly angry, reckless, rebellious, blasphemous and vulgar. I indulged in whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. I had absolutely no peace. I was depressed. I couldn't sleep without being drunk or high. I was regularly stealing money from the boss that I worked for at the time. I would regularly drive under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. Then one day unexpectedly, and most definitely without my invitation, in the midst of living a life full of all the qualities I just described God just “showed up.” His Spirit was upon me and I was moved to both fully and honestly confess my sin to God and ask for forgiveness as well as call my mom and tell her all that had been going on so as to make myself accountable to someone. I don't have time to say all that God has continued to do in my life since, but I think it is sufficient to say that from this moment forward things have never the same. I could no longer sinful pleasures like I used to (though I struggled for a year and a half to finally give up many of my old habits) and I had come to realize my lack of love for God and experienced real conviction and sorrow for failure to live for him and by His grace the power to repent over my sin.
I'd like to finish with sharing a couple of verses. 1 Corinthians 15:10 “By the grace of God I am what I am.” This verse summarizes everything that I've shared. Any transformation, any change, any fruit of godliness you've seen in my life is by God's grace. To be clear, God's intervention in my life to save me and call me to live according to his ways was not something I expected and definitely something that I invited. If it were up to me I would still be running from Him as hard and fast as I could. I knew the option to turn to Him was there but I wanted nothing to do with it. The change that has happened in my life is nothing short of miraculous.
I am being baptized today to publicly declare before you all the words of Titus 3:3-7 as they apply to me. “[I was] once foolish, disobedient, led astray, [a slave] to various passions and pleasures, passing [my] days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating others. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved [me], not because of works done by [me] in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing and regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on [me] richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace [I] might become [an heir] according to the hope of eternal life.”
I stand here to acknowledge publicly that my life is not my own (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) and by God's grace I have committed to live for Christ and His kingdom. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”