Many years ago, the late Dr. Billy Graham was on an airplane. He was sitting behind a drunken man who was flirting with the flight attendants, using profanity and making a fool of himself. When someone pointed out to him that Billy Graham was seated directly behind him, the man got up, turned around, stuck out his hand, and said: “Put her there, Dr. Graham. I’m so glad to meet you. I’m one of your converts.”
As a minister, I’ve had similar experiences. Recently, however, I had something to happen that was just the opposite.
I pulled my car up to an old country store to get some gasoline on my way to work in Raleigh. This man, who was at the same pump as me, warmly and enthusiastically greeted me. He asked how I was doing these days. It was obvious that he knew me, but I didn’t recognize him.
Then, with excitement in his voice, he started talking (almost non-stop) about all the marvelous things God was doing in his life. His face was radiant with joy. He told me that he never knew life could be so good. I still didn’t recognize him. He wasn’t anyone that I knew, I thought. But there was something about his voice that sounded familiar. As I continued to listen intensely to his story – a story about him coming to himself – turning away from his former life while also turning to God – it came to me. This was Gregg.
Gregg was someone I had introduced to Christ many years ago. At that time, he had been deep into drugs and alcohol. His life was a wreck. He made a profession of faith, was baptized and joined the church where I was the pastor during those days. Sadly, sometime after that, his marriage fell apart, and Gregg got tripped up and started looking for solace in the wrong places. He suffered serious addiction issues for several years. He was almost killed in a terrible automobile accident. He would also end up in prison for a while. He was in a very dark place for a long time. That was the Gregg I knew.
But the person talking to me today was not the same man. Gregg had really met Christ, fully surrendered his life to him, and experienced victory over his addictions. Someone has since told me that he has gone back to the church and attends regularly.
Nowadays, Gregg looks robust and healthy and has a countenance I can’t explain outside of experiencing something totally life-changing. He’s a new man inside, and it’s showing on the outside. I could tell just by our short conversation that he had a completely different outlook on life, and it was demonstrated in his life’s choices.
The Scriptures say, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor. 5:17).
In his book, “Peace with God,” Dr. Graham clarified the difference between someone who professes the faith and someone who actually possesses the faith. “There is a vast difference between intellectual belief and the total conversion that saves the soul,” wrote Dr. Graham.
Seventeenth-century writers Francois Fenelon and Jeanne Guyon said it this way, “O when the heart is gained, how easily is all the rest corrected! This is why God, above all things, requires the heart.”
Have you truly given your heart to God? Have you turned away from your sins and turned to Christ for forgiveness? Salvation isn’t just applying for fire insurance from hell. That’s what some people do when they pray a certain little prayer, get baptized, and join the church. They think they are covered. It’s not that any of these things are bad; it’s just that there is so much more to it.
Genuine salvation of the soul recognizes that before God, you are a wretched sinner who desperately needs to be transformed by the power of Christ. If you want heaven without opening your life to God for change, if you want heaven without conversion, if you want heaven while hanging onto your sins, you’ll never enter the kingdom of God.
This is not to say that people are saved by their good works. Nevertheless, if you genuinely come to Christ in repentance and experience the grace of God through faith, good works will follow. You will be changed and never be the same again. You will leave the way of darkness and characteristically walk in the light. It will show on your face. People will hear it in the way you talk. It will be seen in your whole life’s direction. You will be different. Maybe it won’t be so evident all at once, but it will surely surface that you are brand new.
Have you indeed given your heart to God? Does it show? Has the power of Christ to save from sin been revealed in you?
If not, perhaps it’s prudent to reassess your profession of faith and do what Gregg did, really give your heart to God.