As a child, I loved the idea of following Jesus. As a teenager, I tried to tell people about Jesus. As a college student, I studied to become a missionary. As a private school teacher, I passionately taught the gospel. As a pastor’s wife, I discipled women. And I worked really hard at being godly.
All this time spent loving, trying, studying, teaching, discipling, and working — I wasn’t a Christian. I thought I was saved. But I wasn’t.
The road to salvation began when my husband and I pursued a serious partnership with a missions agency. After the missionary orientation, we were tasked with several assignments before deciding on a specific mission field. The very first assignment drastically changed my life.
Rough Start to Eager Ambitions
Getting involved in the local church was our initial endeavor, so we set up a meeting with the pastor of our church. This meeting did not go as anticipated. Instead of high fives and hugs to commence our ministry partnership, I left in tears. The pastor simply asked me to explain the gospel, and while I knew the message well, my words portrayed otherwise. I felt like a failure. It was embarrassing. Really embarrassing. But God used this catastrophe in communication to begin chipping away at my hard heart.
“It was humbling to admit after years of evangelism, missions trips, and ministry that I was not a Christian.”
I knew I should get over this humbling conversation, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t right. Communicating the gospel ceased being the issue; there was a deeper insufficiency lurking in my soul. I realized that I feared death. Actually, I feared hell. And yet when I was most honest with myself, I wasn’t sure my sin deserved hell. But I kept my thoughts pretty quiet and I kept doing my Christian thing.
These internal thoughts got much louder when my husband took a job in ministry. Now I was doing my Christian thing as the wife of a pastor. I looked very Christian on the outside, but under the spiritual busyness, I was questioning my salvation.
Then, one glorious spring evening, the missing puzzle piece fell into place.
Day of Reckoning
It was a Good Friday service, back in 2007, when I realized I was a sinner.
I rendered lip service to the doctrine of sin for as long as I can remember; but on that evening, knowledge of humanity’s sinfulness transformed into a personal and intimate brokenness over my sin.
To be clear, I felt bad about sin my whole life, seemingly more than most. But this childhood conviction stemmed from external influences — good biblical teaching, parents who taught me right and wrong, and even the Spirit who graciously convicts unsaved people (John 16:8). Still, I was never convicted to the core by the indwelling Spirit of God (Ezekiel 36:26–27).
But on Good Friday, I became fully aware that my disgusting sin made me an enemy of God. My sin earned me eternal separation from my Maker and my sin nailed Jesus to the cross. When I started owning my guilt, the good news of Jesus Christ became far more than facts.
After years of looking like a Christian, talking like a Christian, and doing ministry as a “Christian,” I finally saw my desperate need for a Savior. And only then, did God save me.
‘Good Girls’ Need the Gospel
It can be a tricky thing growing up in the church. Some of us “church kids” develop an attraction towards good and godly things (rightfully so), making us think we are closer to God than we are. Add some Bible knowledge and a developing appetite to “do what’s right,” and you have a recipe for an unsaved “Christian.” In other words, it’s easy to fly under the radar with lots of Jesus talk and attempts at godliness — all the while fooling yourself and others. Being a “good girl” sure fooled me.
“Our Christianity may just be a collage of Jesus-sy stuff painted over an unsaved soul.”
Of course, there are no “good girls” according to God’s standards; which is precisely the truth I failed to comprehend. In fact, Jesus told a story to people like me:
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:10–14)
Like the Pharisee, those who think they’re “good” are so busy comparing themselves to others that they don’t see their wretchedness before God. They may do godly things, they may seem spiritually ambitious, but they are not saved. Just like I had, they have a Pharisaic, unregenerate heart.
Then there are those who cry out to God, recognizing their desperate need for his mercy. There are those who stand humbly before God begging for forgiveness. There are those who realize they were never “good,” but they cling to a perfectly good Savior. They have a redeemed soul; they are the justified (Luke 18:14).
Pro-Jesus Isn’t Enough
We may look the part, but unless our hearts cry out, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” it’s all a ruse. It’s an illusion that often fools even the so-called “godly person.”
Sadly, many people will stand before God thinking they are fine because they have a good Christian resume (Matthew 7:21–23). But Christian ministry doesn’t guarantee salvation, being pro-Jesus doesn’t mean you’re a Christian, even conviction of sin and attempts at obedience do not ensure you are saved.
People jump on the bandwagon of Christianity (and Christian ministry) for all kinds of reasons while missing the point altogether. We need an inner transformation in which we desire Jesus more than anything else because we recognize we need him more than everything else (Matthew 13:44–46). Otherwise, our Christianity may just be a collage of Jesus-sy stuff painted over an unsaved soul.
Painful, Glorious Joy
It was humbling to admit after years of evangelism, missions trips, and various ministry endeavors that I was not a Christian. But nothing was better than realizing a Savior died for me. I had to swallow my pride, but I gained eternal life. I had to acknowledge my “spiritual experiences” were simply experiences, but I gained forgiveness of sin. It was painful to concede I was a fake, but it was pure joy to become a child of God.
“It was painful to concede I was a fake, but it was pure joy to become a child of God!”
If you realize you’re a “godly person” following something other than Jesus, don’t bury your concerns. Bury your pride. Admit you desperately need the good news of the gospel. Humble yourself like the tax collector, and beg for God’s forgiveness. And trust that Jesus took care of the wrath you deserved. Turn from your spiritual experiences, and turn to Jesus in genuine repentance and faith (Acts 20:21).
Eternity hangs in the balance; don’t let “godliness” fool you.