I have always had a passion for evangelism. As a child I wanted to be sure everyone I met would be going to heaven. I made some friends, and lots of enemies, throughout my school years. I found there aren’t many people who like to be told that they may be going to Hell.
It wasn’t until my senior year in high school that I took a course on “how to” share the gospel. It was the late 70’s and as part of our training we would go to the local mall and ask shoppers if they wanted to discuss salvation. I was thrilled to have a “plan” of salvation to pull from in order to make myself clear. However, we weren’t too successful – most people wanted to shop (duh) – and I never seemed to be able to fully explain my relationship with Jesus. I knew I loved Him, and I would tell you that He loved me, but I wasn’t so sure He would accept me.
After college and a couple of years of teaching, my husband and I moved to England. He had just completed his Master’s and was looking forward to seminary when one of his professors (Dr. G.) asked Gary to be his research assistant for a book he was writing on John Wesley. John Wesley’s archives are housed in the John Ryland Library in the heart of Manchester, England. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, and for two poor college kids, we were beyond excited.
Without resources or the means to live for a year overseas, we had to get jobs ASAP or go home sooner than anticipated. Dr. G took it upon himself to find us jobs and an affordable flat. He spent every day researching for his book at the library. It just so happened (is anything happenstance with God?), across the street from the library was a Christian bookstore and tea room. After a couple of months frequencing the place, and knowing he had two kids coming from across the pond, Dr. G approached the owner to inquire about the availability of jobs.
In the meantime, we had taken the summer to save as much as possible. Gary and I moved in with my parents and found summer jobs. He worked as a highly-educated gas station attendant, and I went to work for Taco Bell. We put every penny in the bank and worked to sell our “assets” (a new car and a VCR). Finally the day arrived and we boarded the plane for Manchester.
We had been warned of the rigamarole we might endure going through customs. We were quite anxious to be flying for the first time, and were unsure of how the questioning would go. We had four big boxes, two student visas, and a desire to stay for the whole school year. After the questioning, the customs officer stamped our passports that we could enter the country, but could NOT work. I was devastated and sure we would be going home soon. However, my husband, the eternal optimist, said, “God got us this far, He will take care of us. Don’t worry.” (His standard advice for all things concerning Michelle.)
As usual, Gary was right. Dr. G. had found the perfect flat and had secured us interviews at the bookstore. Now this wasn’t just any bookstore. It was the only Christian bookstore in all of England. And it wasn’t just a bookstore – it was a charity and a mission. The pay was lower than what one could make living on the dole (welfare). It was considered volunteer work and did not have any connection with England’s economy. We could honestly work and make just enough to sustain ourselves, with the part-time job as Dr. G’s assistant. I worked in the bookstore and Gary helped set up a computer inventory system. We were able to work alongside the British people and learn about their customs. But the incredible part was how God had been “winnowing the path” for me to learn the truth about Him.
In the denomination we attended, we were encouraged to read books that reflected their doctrine. Having grown up under their teaching, we had no clue we were following a doctrine that could not be substantiated by scripture. It was more traditional and experiencial, than scriptural. Our faith had been based upon what we had been told, not what we had studied in the Word. Now, here I was surrounded by books that our church may not have approved, and theologians I had never read. I had been involved in a bible-based study for the first time that summer. I was given tools for study I had never before learned. All of this worked together to stimulate in me the desire to feed mysef – to study in-depth for the first time – not to be spoon-fed by others’ teachings.
In the bookstore, one book title intrigued me above all else, Once Saved Always Saved, by R.T. Kendall. I had been taught to believe this doctrine was heretical. To buy the book and read it could be an act of betrayal. But, my faith had been challenged so much by the people and books around me, I decided to take the bait. As I started reading, I used all of the arguments I had learned to refute the author’s premise; yet, he kept using scripture and was really getting under my skin.
Finally, one Sunday when I was down with the flu, I stayed home from church. I had noticed lots of references to the Gospel of John in Kendall’s book, so I read it straight through. God had me right where He wanted me. He spoke so clearly through His Word about His love for ME, and His choosing ME, and how He will never lose ME. I was overwhelmed by His love – I was amazed by His grace! I was secure in Him, alone, and had no more questions about my salvation.
Was my salvation here today and gone tomorrow? Could I do anything to cause Him to reject me? Had He paid it all, or was something lacking that I needed to do to keep myself in His love? Could I make Him love me more by being good? These were the questions I had struggled with because of wrong teaching in my youth, and not standing on the Word of God, alone, for answers.
Do you have these questions? Have you thought that you must do something to earn your salvation, or to keep your salvation? Nothing you do is good enough to gain eternal life. I don’t have to clean up my act before coming to the Lord, or be good for Him to accept me. My righteousness is filthy rags. My good works are not good enough to satisfy His desire for holiness. Only Jesus, only trusting in Jesus’ work on the cross for your salvation, is enough.