Testimony: From Condemnation to Restoration
By Elisabeth Hayes
I was raised in a church in which I was taught the Bible. Academically speaking, I was well-educated on the Bible. I knew the facts and events, and could even quote Scripture from memory. However, I was surrounded by family members who did not apply biblical principles in the home and I grew up very confused about God and the gospel.
Once I reached college, I was frustrated with my unsuccessful attempts at survival in life. I knew something had to be missing. I was tired of constantly feeling defeated. I was attending a Christian college and participated in church, but it felt like I was just going through the motions – not an authentic walk with Christ. I questioned whether I was really saved, and a friend encouraged me to settle it once for all and I prayed a prayer. But underlying the truth of the gospel was the idea that I needed to “perform” by holding to a set of rules and standards. Although I prayed and made a spiritual commitment to live rightly, this religion taught me that my salvation was dependent on me by praying a prayer and maintaining a set of rules. Striving for perfection and legalistic demands, I lived a performance life, dependent on my own willpower and strength to fight sin. However, this only increased my life of defeat as I found I could not meet the standards and so frequently failed to perfectly follow all the rules. Condemnation, shame, guilt, and fear were my constant companions. Eventually, I had had enough. I just couldn’t do it. I gave up on church and God and fell into bitterness, resentment, idolatry, and depression.
Then July of 2016, I hit rock bottom. In part due to my own sin and poor choices, friends had deserted me, I had no home, no place to go, no job, and no will to live. Although from a human standpoint, the physical circumstances of my situation were far from desirable, that is not what was troubling me the most. I knew I needed something far more important than my physical needs. I was so confused. I wanted truth, but did not know where or how to find it. I couldn’t find it in my previous church experiences and religious background, so I couldn’t turn there. But God in His sovereignty had placed me in a Galatians Bible study. The book of Galatians was written in response to men who were distorting the gospel by adding to it — much like the legalistic system I was involved in during college and afterwards. I learned for the first time what GRACE was and the portrait of the Christian life lived in the power of the Spirit. I became convicted by the Holy Spirit of my own sin and how I had been trying to grow spiritually in my own strength. I listened to Pastor Ritch’s sermon on Romans 8:1 which reads, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” In his sermon, Pastor Ritch described the state of man. Every person, in his natural state, is bound in sin and rebellion against God and are deserving of His wrath; condemned to death and eternal separation from God. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” However, there is hope as Ephesians 2:4-5 says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by GRACE you have been saved.” I began to understand for the first time the truth in this: that I am powerless to free myself and God in His mercy provided a Savior, Jesus Christ. The perfect and completely innocent One, Jesus, died to save the hopelessly guilty and rose again victoriously defeating sin and death.
Because of the work of Christ, freedom from condemnation is now possible. However, this freedom from condemnation is only for those who are in Christ, those who believe Him. Pastor Ritch, in his sermon, asked the question, “Where are you? Are you sure you are in Christ?” That hit me like a thunderclap. “Was I?” I did some serious soul searching and I began to tremble as I questioned if I was really in Christ. I began to realize that since my “spiritual commitment” in college when I thought I was living for God, I was actually living for a religion, but in the name of God. I had been looking to religion and my own self-effort and works to solve my problems and rescue me from a life defeated by sin. I had attempted a behavior change as I strived to live up to religious standards, but this was all merely external. Looking down at the heart level, I was blind and in bondage. I saw myself for who I really was: a sinner, condemned because of my sin, and unable to do anything about it.
I cried out to Him then, in true repentance, and proclaimed Him as my Lord and Savior. There is true freedom in Christ. “Oh how great the love the Father has bestowed on us!” I committed my life to Him and to live for Him alone. Now, by God’s great grace and mercy, I am redeemed! Instead of a head knowledge, I now have a heart knowledge and transformation. Instead of going to church to “check a box,” I go because I want to. If I could, I would be at church all the time. Instead of participating in church activities out of duty or because it’s expected, I long to worship and to serve. My heart’s desire is to serve the Lord; not only at church, but in whatever He places in my hand to do as an act of worship and obedience to Him. Instead of studying God’s Word as an academic exercise, I crave it! I so hunger to be fed from His Word. Instead of shutting others out and keeping a “safe” distance, I have a desire to fellowship with my brothers and sisters in Christ and to minister to others. God has been teaching me to love others as He loves; even those who have hurt me. He has changed me to see my life and circumstances through His perspective. I have been disciplined by Him, bringing me to repentance and greater joy. All these things and more are nothing that I have done, but are evidences of the work of the Holy Spirit in me. Because of the Spirit’s indwelling presence, I have a constant and true Helper in the process of sanctification. It cannot be manufactured, but rather is a gift from God.
There is no greater joy to me than this truth: Because of the righteousness that Christ imparted to me, I can stand before God blameless. Our God is awesome! Only He can perform the miracle of a transformed heart. Once I was blind, but now I see! Once I was bound, but now I’m free! To God alone be the glory!