I became a Christian at the age of four while living in seminary student family housing. I still believe all of the core doctrines I learned as a child. I led Bible studies in high school and I was on the student leadership team of a college campus ministry. That’s a fairly unremarkable testimony, right? I certainly thought it was. I didn’t like to share my testimony when asked because I didn’t think it was worth sharing. I didn’t think I had any of those things in my story that would make people say, “Wow! Praise God!” I didn’t think I had much to my testimony that made God look really good. God always looks really glorious and mighty when he saves the thief on the cross or knocks a persecutor off his donkey and makes him an Apostle. Those are the stories worth telling and re-telling. How hard is it to save a four year old? I may have had the core doctrines down from a young age, but I clearly lacked understanding.
Though I had been a Christian since I was four, there were major aspects of the Gospel that I had yet to grasp. First, I had to see that dead is dead. The four year old, on his own, is just as dead in his sin and rebellion against God as the hard living forty year old with a lifetime of bad choices behind him. When you can’t remember a day when you weren’t a Christian, you sometimes fall into the sin of believing that you almost became a Christian on your own. Like you were almost there and God just gave you a little hand to get you over. Not true, not even a little. As Christians, all of us were dead in the sins and trespasses in which we once walked and we all desperately needed the “But God” of Ephesians 2:4 to give us life.
Second, God’s glory is without qualifiers. He does not appear more glorious in saving one person than he does in saving another. He is simply and purely and completely glorious. It was not easier, nor harder, for God to save me as a child than it was for him to save anyone else. God sending his Son to die on a cross in the place of sinners and raising Him from the dead so that a person may have life and spend eternity with God is always glorious. How God chooses to call someone to repentance is always amazing and we should stand in awe of the myriad ways in which he does it.
Third, the Christian’s identity is not primarily in who he or she was before Christ. The title says it all. A Christian’s identity is in Christ. Who we were before Christ, how he called us to repentance, and how we turned and trusted Christ matter only in so far as those things may be used by God to reveal his glory.
I used to think that last part was true only for those with what I considered to be remarkable testimonies. Then, two years ago I was on a short-term missions trip in Ecuador. We had a team member become frighteningly ill and we had to get to a hospital. As a few of us sped down the Pan-American Highway in the middle of the night, through the legendary twists and turns, the team member’s condition only worsened. The person we were racing to save was about ten years younger than me and recently baptized. I asked God what I should say. I desperately wanted to say something that might encourage all of us.
It was then that I realized that I had been a Christian for nearly 30 years, much longer than this sick team member and even far longer than almost all the others in the cab of the truck. So I told them that in nearly 30 years of being in Christ, I had only ever known God to be good, to be faithful, to be trustworthy. I told them of his faithfulness even when I had been unfaithful, his mercy in all the moments I deserved wrath. I believe that was the first time I realized how grateful I was to be able to look back so far into my life and testify to God’s goodness and mercy over a lifetime. I realized just how remarkable an “unremarkable” testimony can be when it is used to point to Jesus.