From Head to Heart

“And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3)

This statement by the Lord Jesus begins in a very profound manner: “And this is eternal life.” To complete such a statement requires comprehensive truth. If the statement had started with “this is included in eternal life,” many non-comprehensive matters could be used to finish the statement. After all, we could certainly argue that forgiveness of sins is included in eternal life. Escaping hell and securing heaven are also included in eternal life. Likewise, meaning and purpose for living are included in eternal life. Additionally, we find spiritual gifts and spiritual fruit in eternal life. Of course, fellowship in the body of Christ and new understanding of the Scriptures are included. Nevertheless, none of these individually, nor all of these collectively, are sufficient to complete the statement: “And this is eternal life.”

To finish that profound beginning, we need to add an all-encompassing truth. We must speak of the full dimensions of eternal life. What is large enough to complete that majestic opening? Only the one reality of knowing God would be adequate: “that they may know You.” Yes, knowing God is what eternal life is all about. It is only through meeting the Lord that forgiveness is found. It is only by being in Christ that we escape hell and secure heaven. Then, it is only through getting acquainted with the Lord that meaning and purpose for our lives are made real to us. Also, it is only through a growing intimacy of trust in Christ that spiritual gifts and spiritual fruit can properly mature. Furthermore, it is only through an increasing acquaintanceship with the Lord that Christian fellowship and biblical insight are appropriately developed.

These truths certainly concur with those prophetic words of old that promised a new covenant of grace to replace the old covenant of law. “I will make a new covenant…not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers…But this is the covenant that I will make…I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people…they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them” (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Hebrews 8:11 applies these words to followers of Christ. “All shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them.” The new covenant provides a growing, intimate acquaintanceship for all who will walk in its terms of grace.

A good friend of mine has said to me repeatedly, “I hope one day you get God out of your head and into your heart.” Naturally, I’ve argued again and again that I already have God in my heart. Then I think about many of the decisions I make. How I decide (basically, how I rationalize) that the rules don’t apply to me. I decide to do something because it suits my situation. I feel justified because of how I’ve been treated, or because others have been able to “get away with it.” On the surface, it seems like nothing more than survival. But when I consider my behavior from a Christian worldview, I realize what I’ve done is unacceptable.

Consider, for example, writing a check. This is a normal everyday practice for millions of Americans. For me, I’m ashamed to admit, I’ve written many checks hoping to cover them “in time,” justifying my decision because I needed medicine or food, or the rent was due. As you can imagine, each time I do that, I increase the odds that I will not be able to cover every check. When I reflect on that behavior now, I think of two of the Ten Commandments. We are not supposed to steal, and we are not to bear false witness. Isn’t writing a bad check breaking both Commandments? Is this proper Christian behavior?

Psalm 119:10-11 says, “With all my heart I have sought You; Do not let me wander from Your commandments. Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You.” (NASB) A pastor friend of mine, who comes from a lineage of pastors, said he memorized Scripture growing up in order to aid in standing against the wiles of the devil. It is certainly not a fool-proof solution to sin (we are, after all, finite, fallible, easily tempted), but he is able to consistently avoid sexual immorality, such as pornography, has remained a virgin until marriage, and in the two years I’ve known him I have never heard him utter a curse word or use the Lord’s name in vain.

What I’ve come to understand is that although I have God in my heart, I have not given Him every room. It’s funny, but I see some of this as sinful pride. Like I’m saying I am too far gone even for Christ to save. Thankfully, I don’t fully believe this, and it’s only been a passing thought here and there. It is truly a slap in the face of Christ to tell Him what He did on the cross was enough for everyone in the entire world but me. When I get the sense that I’m acting as though I believe this, I repent of it immediately. There could be no greater propitiation for my sin. There is no other solution. The entire Creation has been groaning since the Fall as a result of sin entering the world. Obviously, nothing else could rectify the problem but the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.

 

A Day I’d Like to Forget

December 28, 1979. A day I’d like to forget. The state trooper asked me if I’d like to call anyone. He asked me this at the conclusion of a three-hour interrogation. I’d been accused of a serious crime. A felony. Something I denied repeatedly during the first two hours of questioning. Somewhere around the beginning of the third hour, I felt my defenses shifting. The “wall” started to crumble. No doubt the trooper could see it happening. I was sweating. I could not stop trembling. And I was about to start crying. I ultimately confessed to burglary and arson that day. I was sentenced to three years in state prison as part of a plea agreement.

I could not believe I was in this situation a mere eighteen months after graduating from high school. I was a good student. Loved high school. I was involved in a lot of extracurricular activities, including drama, AV, photography, yearbook, radio broadcasting and the debate team. I played on the high school tennis team. One of my more favorite projects involved local history. I loved to write, had a flare for photography, and was fairly comfortable with public speaking. I came from a Christian family, and had accepted Christ as my Savior when I was thirteen.

How in the world did I end up abusing alcohol and drugs? Where did this obsession come from? I drank alcoholically from the very first drink, finishing my first-ever case of beer by myself in two days. Marijuana became my best friend. I smoked so much weed that I had trouble distinguishing reality from fantasy. Somehow, I convinced my family doctor that I needed Valium to combat severe anxiety. I came to find that mixing alcohol, pot, and Valium leads to impulsive behavior and a complete lack of care for God, parents and the law.

I have not had a drink or a “hit” of marijuana since 2008. Unfortunately, I struggled with an addiction to narcotic pain medication for several years after that. It took being entirely honest with myself that I was an addict as well as an alcoholic in order to get clean. I started attending NA meetings in addition to AA meetings. Through improving my relationship with Jesus, I was able to stop obsessing over getting high on oxycodone to escape severe back pain. Truly, I was using the medication to escape everything. Not just physical pain, but spiritual unrest, anxiety, depression, feelings of personal failure, and a past history I’d just as soon forget. I had a lot of shame and guilt. I felt truly lost.

Today, I see my past history not as a liability, but as an asset. It is only through experiencing what I did that I’m able to reach out and help others who are wrestling with the demons of addiction and mental illness. After much prayer, and speaking with my pastor and several Christian friends, I was able to hear God’s call on my life. I have returned to college to complete my undergraduate degree in psychology in order to prepare for a career in addictions counseling. I will be working primarily with teenagers and young adults. As much as I’d like to forget December 28, 1979, it is a part of my past that has led to me finding my purpose. What a joy it is to get out of bed each day and be grateful for life. To love being clean and sober. To understand why I’m here.

“The two most important days in your life are the day you were born, and the day you find out why.” (Mark Twain)