I’d been in South Carolina for five days when it happened.
My mom and her friend Sandy* had driven up from Florida to attend a ladies’ retreat, which had been entertaining, and then we attended a Revival that week at Sandy’s father’s church. That week, the evangelist preached several “salvation” messages (a message focused on delivering the gospel and an eventual call to the altar to pray the Sinner’s Prayer), leading up to Thursday night. That night, he read A Physicians’ View of the Crucifixion of Christ. It was bloodthirsty, and violent, and terrifying. I’d never heard anything like it.
Jesus did all of that . . . for me? I remember thinking, shocked and horrified at the brutalities he had suffered.
I was five years old the first time I encountered the idea of “Jesus coming into your heart.” I was in Sunday school, a few days before Halloween, and I remember the Sunday school teacher turning all of the lights off, and lighting a large pumpkin-scented candle. He described the ancient rites of the Druids, how they would travel from house to house, and the parents would surrender their children for the sacrifice. The druids would lay the little girl on a table, cut her skin off, and burn it over a candle lit in a pumpkin. He said they did this to bring the evil spirits into every home– it was part of the deal the Druids had negotiated to keep the demons away the rest of the year.
But, he said, that didn’t actually work. The only thing that can keep demons away is Jesus. Demons will never bother you if you ask Jesus into your heart to protect you.
I went home, silent. I stayed quiet all day. I didn’t know what to do. How did you ask Jesus to come into your heart? Did you just have to say it? Did you have to burn a candle? Was there a certain way you had to sit, or stand, or kneel?
Halloween came, and I was desperate, terrified. I lay in bed, positive that the shadows would come alive and devour me.
Jesus, please come into my heart. Please. I don’t want the demons to take me away. Please don’t let them get me. Jesus, please, I remember praying for hours that night.
I was seven the first time I saw a baptism. I connected the dots and realized that if you’d “prayed to ask Jesus to come into your heart,” then you were supposed to get baptized. I asked my mother, she said we’d talk to someone at church. The lady we talked to took me into another room, away from my mother, and asked me if I’d ever asked Jesus into my heart. I said yes.
She didn’t exactly believe me, if the inquisition that followed was any indication. I didn’t understand what she was talking about. Had I repented? Did I know what hell was? I was bewildered, and then frustrated. The end result was that I didn’t get baptized– until a year later, when I found out what the “answers” to those questions were.
So, in South Carolina, when I was eleven, I realized something. I had never really understood any of the answers. I knew how to say the words– I could list off the Roman’s Road with ease, but I’d had no idea what any of it meant. Jesus had died for me. Me. My sin. Mine alone.
I knew that what logically followed a revelation like that was “getting saved,” so I decided I’d go down for the altar call I knew was coming in about twenty minutes. Then I stopped- what if the Rapture happens before then? People who knew they were supposed to get saved before the Rapture happens will be given over to a “reprobate mind.” I couldn’t let that happen.
I led myself through the Roman’s Road, right there in the pew, and prayed the Sinner’s Prayer I knew by heart.
A dozen years later I was re-examining everything I ever thought I knew. What does it mean to be a Christian? What is this whole “getting saved” business? What’s Arminianism? What is Calvinism– actually, and not what I’d been told Calvinism was by Arminians. Wait– Molinism? That’s interesting.
Hold on, ignore all of that.
What does the Bible say the gospel is?
And, I realized, that, in the Bible, it’s fairly simple. You’re a sinner. God loves you. Jesus is God’s son. He was crucified, and here’s the kicker– he defeated death. He took your sin.
That’s it. It’s really not that complicated. I decided to forget all of the labels, and all of the methods, and all of the processes. I didn’t care any more if I had free will or was predestined, because it’s all the same in the end anyway– at least, when it comes to this. I didn’t care if I had a “lightbulb moment” that I could turn to in moments of “doubting my salvation.” I didn’t need it. I didn’t need a Sinner’s Prayer, or an altar call, or for someone to “declare” me a child of God. I just was. I just am.
*all names changed