I got a clear picture of this transformation process pretty early in my Christian experience. My dad was brought up in a strong, moral, “culturally Christian” home, but he was not a Christian. He grew up during the Depression, his father died when he was thirteen, and either by his mother’s permission or by lying about his age, he went off to fight in the south Pacific when he was under eighteen. I knew he lived with the nightmares of killing hundreds in Guam and Iwo Jima and feeling deeply guilty about surviving the war, but like a lot of ex-Marines, he stuffed his feelings and coped with the help of three packs a day and plenty of alcohol. But he was a committed father, and I learned to appreciate what he had overcome in life.
Over the years, Dad drank more and more to escape and became increasingly absent. By the time I hit high school, my mom gave him an ultimatum—his alcohol or his family. Dad chose well; he went even further than her ultimatum and quit drinking and smoking. But he still didn’t understand his guilt or deal with his issues. He didn’t realize he couldn’t solve his problems on his own.
I eventually left for college, and one by one, my family members became Christians. I had seen how different my sister’s life was after accepting Christ, and thanks to her influence and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, I was introduced to Jesus. The bricklayer who discipled me had been trained by The Navigators. I began to read the Bible voraciously, and God began to change my desires. Nobody told me what I needed to do or not do to be a good Christian. I just read the Bible morning and evening and was around a group of loving, authentic people who were living out the gospel. I saw God change them and experienced Him changing me.
I returned home after my freshman year to find that God was working in the rest of my family. Dad was restless, and one day he asked, “Chip, what has happened to you? You’re different. You have a peace in your life I’ve never seen before.”
“Well, Dad, I asked Christ to come into my life about a year ago.”
I had been reluctant to tell my parents because it was all so new to me. So I was astonished when Dad said, “Son, whatever you have, I think I need it.”
I had never tried to put my faith into words for someone else. I managed to say, “Dad, all I know is that I started reading the Bible, and I prayed a prayer, and then a lot of things started changing inside me.”
So that’s where Dad started. As a good Marine, he did it the right way—up at 5:30 every morning to read the Bible for an hour. For three months, he read the four gospels. It took him a while to realize these were four overlapping biographies of Jesus. But he kept at it. He didn’t know it, but a big change was coming because life-change always begins with the truth. It isn’t just an experience, an activity, an event, church attendance, being a good person, or occasionally praying. It’s rooted in truth.
After about three months of reading the Gospels, Dad said he still felt like he was on the outside looking in. “How do I get in?” he asked.
“I don’t know, Dad. Just keep reading.” I could see the spiritual hunger in his eyes.
There was so much he couldn’t put into words, so he just nodded and said, “Okay.”
After about three more months, he expanded into the rest of the New Testament. One day he said, “I still don’t know what it’s all about, but somewhere at the heart of this whole deal is faith. It just keeps coming up.” He had hit upon the central theme of the New Testament. His discovery would transform him from a religious, churchgoing unbeliever to a child of God.
I know a lot of people who have been Christians for years who still don’t understand that. They are still trying to clean up the outside with “oughts” and “shoulds” without their inner lives matching their claims. The seed of faith is just sitting there unplanted, uncultivated, untapped for its potential. They are still living lives of duty rather than delight.
God’s greatest desire for us is that we would believe in the One who was sent (John 6:29; 17:20–23). That’s what Dad discovered in the Gospels, and that became the turning point in his life because he acted on it. He later told me that during this time of searching, he walked by his dresser and saw a “Four Spiritual Laws” tract on it. He sat down and read through it, and the lights came on. He realized what it meant to have faith and place his trust in Christ’s work on the cross and His resurrection. So with no fanfare, he closed his bedroom door, got down on his knees, and prayed the prayer printed in the back of that booklet. He admitted his sinfulness and realized that even the horrors he had been through during the war could be forgiven because of Christ’s work on the cross. After six months of searching, he asked Jesus into his life. He acted on the truth he had received.
All of the principles we have discussed in this chapter were at work in my father’s life. His transformation began with the truth, he acted on the truth, and he discovered that grace was both a gift and a responsibility as other Christians, particularly in our own family, demonstrated God’s grace to him. My dad’s life changed dramatically. He took the Bible seriously and within months found a solid Bible-teaching church and plugged in. Before long, my mom and dad were hosting a small group in their home, writing checks to fulfill the Great Commission, taking a course to learn to share their faith, and counseling people who, like themselves, were religious but didn’t have a personal relationship with Christ.
Ingram, Chip. 2021. Yes! You Really Can Change: What to Do When You’re Spiritually Stuck. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.
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