But Friday didn't bring the delinquency I expected. Out of nowhere, I woke up with a deep peace and an empowered desire to follow God, leaving behind anything that would hinder that pursuit. I had tried it before, and I thought I knew what I was getting myself into. As I poured a few bottles of liquor down the drain, I thought aloud, "If this is just another season of piety, I'm really wasting some good booze."
As it turns out, it wasn't a season. It was a new life. Some call it "conversion," turning from one thing to another. Others (including Jesus in John 3) call it "born again," referring to a spiritual birth. Still others describe it as "becoming a Christian," "giving your life to Jesus," or "accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior." Whatever it was, it started that night in Little 202, even without my understanding what was going on. I wouldn't claim today that I understand it either, but ten years down the road, I can at least put some words to the experience that has shaped the last decade of my life.
Most of all I know it had to do with giving up. I had tried so many times to be "good enough" for God and fallen flat on my face again and again. It just seemed that I didn't have enough self-control. The reason this time was different was that I stopped trying. I spent all week bemoaning to God that I wasn't good enough and never could be. That's where He stepped in.
Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law, we become conscious of sin. But now, a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known, to which the law and the prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ. Romans 3:20-24
For the first time I realized that Jesus thought of me on the cross, and that if I had been the only person ever to exist, He still would have done it. That central act of Christianity became personal for me. That's what "faith in Jesus" and "believe" are about. I didn't believe the Bible was true, I didn't care about Christian political "hot topics," and I sure didn't know much about righteousness, but I knew that Jesus's death saved me. That was enough.
He forgave me, despite all I had done and the depths of sin in my heart. He filled me with His Spirit and empowered me to do the good I wanted to do but never could sustain. In the end, it was true that I wasn't able to live up to His standards on my own, but living in His strength, I felt a new power for holy living. Paul said it this way: "For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace" (Romans 6:14)
My experience was about surrender more than anything else. Honestly, it hinged on excessive drinking, as trite as that may sound. But the essence of my surrender was a lot deeper than that, and the results blew the top off my life. All of the sudden that "God feeling" that I had experienced before, His presence in a tangible way, was everywhere and all the time. My prayers were answered. I was filled with a new joy. My life had purpose.
I really expected it to go away after a month or so, but that milestone passed a long time ago. Somewhere along the way, I realized that it wasn't a season. It's a life. I still sense His presence here in the jungles of Peru and know that He will not leave me today, tomorrow, or ever. He answers my prayers. He fills me with joy. My life has purpose in Him. This is the first ten years of eternity.
But now that you have been set free from sin, and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:22-23