In Christ Alone
I used to call myself Roman Catholic, but in truth I was more of a pluralistic drifter, noncommitally attracted to anything that seemed interesting, from atheism and agnosticism to horoscopes and Chinese numerology. I tried on beliefs and morals like clothes on a rack, keeping what suited me and discarding whatever was inconvenient or unappealing to my ever-changing sensibilities. God was little more to me than an idea, a philosophical abstraction.
That began to change at the Days With The Lord spiritual retreat in Ateneo High School. In three days of prayer, seminars, and nighttime spiritual excursions, I came to know God in a deeply personal sense. Jesus became more to me than just an eccentric historical figure who had started a church; at Days, Jesus was "Kuya Jess," a friend and brother, who lived not only long ago in Israel, but here and now, active and present in our lives. Suddenly, God was more than just some sort of abstract energy; he cared for us intimately as loving Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Long after the Days "high" faded, I served God in singing, and I knew he loved me, and I loved him; but I could not always get a firm grasp on that love, and my spiritual life was still less than perfect.
Things got better in college. It was my girlfriend at the time who first introduced me to an old, yet somehow new, concept: the Bible, the Word of God, which tells us all we need to know about Him. So I got down and read, seriously read the Bible, and as I studied, I realized how little I actually knew about God. Things I had always taken for granted suddenly leaped out at me, and I reconquered whole new territories in faith and doctrine.
We’ve all learned about original sin in grade school Religion class, or Sunday School, as the case may be with others ("With Adam’s fall, we sinned all"), that we are all born with an inherent tendency towards sin. Paul, the author of Romans, puts it in a harsher way as he quotes from the Psalms: "There is no one who does good, not even one." (Romans 3.12) All of us are sinners. Even those who have lived good lives cannot claim never to have done something wrong. Jesus himself said that just the thought of lust is adultery (Matthew 5.28), and simpy being angry with a brother will subject one to judgement as though it were murder. (Matthew 5.22)
All this time, I had thought that the path to salvation was simply a matter of living the best life I could, and following God’s Law. But I can’t follow God’s law the way he wants me to; if I try, I must do it perfectly! "All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of Law.’ Clearly, no one is justified before God by the law, because ‘The righteous will live by faith.‘" (Galatians 3.10-11) My life, then, has been stained by sin, because I have not followed God’s law absolutely. With that stain on my soul, how then could I be justified before God? How can anyone be justified before God, if no one is perfectly sinless, and "the wages of sin is death"? (Romans 6.23) You can’t save yourself by following the Law, because any effort to do so will inevitably fall short.
That was how I realized why Jesus is "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1.29) Jesus sacrificed himself on our behalf, dying for our sins, even though he himself, God-as-man, had lived a perfectly sinless life. And so he was offered up as a sacrifice for sin that no other human could possibly make, because God demands an offering "without defect." (Leviticus 1.13, 1.10, 3.1, etc.)
The pattern set in Old Testament times called for an animal’s blood to be shed on the altar as a sacrifice for sins. The Book of Hebrews says, "How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!" (Hebrews 9.14) Jesus carried the burden of all our sins up to the cross and died with them (Matthew 27.32-54). Better still, he did not remain dead, but rose again (Matthew 28), showing that he had conquered death!
By Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are saved from our sins and gain eternal life. This salvation is freely available to all people who repent of their sins and put their faith entirely in Jesus. "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 Christ Jesus." (Romans 3.21-24)
In 1995, after several months of fervent prayer and intense study, I prayed to God, repented of my sins, and accepted Jesus into my heart as my Lord and Savior.
Since then, my life has changed. Soon after I received Christ, many of my goals and dreams fell into place, and my spiritual angst disappeared. I’ve become a happier, more peaceful person, and my life has a clarity and focus that was never there before. There’s a reason they call it becoming "born-again," and never once have I had reason to regret my faith.
The story doesn’t end there. I continue to pray and study, dialogue with other people about faith, and share Jesus with them. I have found God, and I am at peace with him, trusting him in all things and loving him with all my heart, mind, and soul. My faith in God is an adventure that is constantly unfolding but is never final, because God is so boundless in nature, so rich in meaning, so infinite in love, that He will never end. He is Jesus, my brother, teacher, protector, savior, and friend; who has done everything to save me, even die, and for whom I would do anything in return.
For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. – John 6.40