Yes, 1 July 2002 is when I was reborn – aged 40 in terms of my physical presence on this planet, and having been going to church for over 12 years and thinking of myself as a Christian, I finally got to the point of actually getting what Jesus died for. It’s amazing (and extremely sad, from where I’m looking) that it’s so very possible to go to church for years and not actually hear the gospel – sometimes because it isn’t actually preached and sometimes because our ears are blocked and we just don’t hear it. In my case I think it was a mixture of the two – the church where I started my faith journey didn’t really spell it out, and the pastor there sprinkled me with water and declared me a baptized Christian without me understanding Jesus 101: that he’s the saviour of mankind, that he died on the cross as atonement for our sin because we’re all sinners in need of salvation.
When I look back to that time, I see a young woman who was impressed by the kindness of Jesus and thought Christianity was about living his way, imitating him, trying to be more kind and honest and loving – and for over 12 years I tried, and failed badly, and blamed myself and felt like a fraud and wondered when someone would find me out…
Actually, my non-Christian work colleagues kinda did. They, unlike my church friends, saw me in my day to day life and knew that I was no advert for Jesus… They saw my bad temper, my foul mouth, my drunkenness and my sexual promiscuity, and some of them even knew when I had an abortion and I know some of what they said behind my back, because a friend told me…
There was a part of me that was really committed to following Jesus, a part of me that loved God and wanted to serve him – but part of my life I kept out of his jurisdiction. There was a gradual process where every now and again God would get through to me about something else in my life that needed to change, but it was still mainly me trying to live the Christian life, as though it’s possible to do it without, as Jesus put it, being born again.
Then we get to 2002, when God challenged me about yet another thing. Two things actually, closely related to each other: back in 1989 I came to England for very much the wrong reasons, running away from heavy debts that I didn’t see how I could ever begin to repay. I was desperate, and did what I thought I had to do in order to survive – escaping to a different country, trying to build a life here, and using a pretend marriage to a British citizen so that I could get a visa that would allow me to stay here and work legally. The thing that happened suddenly in 2002? I was talking to a new friend, telling her a bit of my life story, and I heard myself. I heard myself tell her that I got a visa to stay here by fraudulent means, and that I’m a Christian – and I knew those two things didn’t add up.
So I had to go back home to Israel, and then I had to sort out the debts I’d left behind. At that point I still thought I was just doing what I should do as a Christian. I didn’t know what was coming…
I was living with my mum and attending a Messianic fellowship in a town nearby (Messianic = Jewish people who follow Jesus, the Messiah) and getting good, solid biblical teaching. There were a couple of Bible passages that kinda leapt at me off the page and got me thinking that there’s something missing, that I wasn’t quite there yet… And then there was that evening – I’d done the whole archeological dig of looking up who I owed money to and repaying, and that afternoon I’d done the really scary thing: having located my ex employer from before I’d left the country, I sent him a letter telling him that I’d stolen money from his company and God had shown me the error of my ways and I wanted to repay him. It was terrifying, because I didn’t really know this guy (he was the big boss and I was just a lowly bookkeeper’s assistant) and had no idea how he would react – would he go to the police? would I end up in prison? but I’d done it because I knew it was what I had to do. So I sat there in my mum’s spare room and talked to Jesus. I said: I’ve done it! He said: There’s one thing you haven’t done yet. What, I asked. The answer came: You haven’t given your life to me yet.
Now I’d heard some Christians use that expression but I’d never understood what they meant. In the churches I’d been part of for most of those 12 years, they didn’t talk like that – they didn’t talk about giving your life to Jesus, they didn’t talk about being born again, they didn’t talk about being saved, they just talked about becoming a Christian. And according to the pastor in that first church I attended, back in 1990 when he sprinkled water on me he reckoned I was now a Christian… So when I saw those prayers at the end of some Christian paperbacks – the bits where it says if you’ve read this and you want to become a Christian then pray this prayer – I had always ignored them because I’d been told that I already was a Christian…
But that evening, I heard Jesus say this and it just suddenly all made perfect sense. The penny (or shekel) finally dropped! I’d been getting better and better biblical teaching over the years, and bits of truth were trickling into my mind over time, and finally I got it: I understood that I’m a sinner (like the rest of mankind) and that Jesus died on the cross so that through his sacrifice I could be forgiven. It’s not about me trying to live the way he told us to… no, it’s about putting my faith in his perfect once-and-for-all sacrifice so that I get treated by God as if I’m a holy and righteous person, because Jesus lived a perfectly holy and righteous life!
So I fished out one of those paperbacks and prayed the prayer like someone drowning who’s grabbing the lifeboat because wow, I knew I needed rescuing and I knew Jesus is the only one who can! And then I pestered the pastor at my fellowship to baptize me quickly, because I was just so desperate to get that done! And since then – oh wow, life’s been so different… You see, when you’re born again through faith in Jesus you get the Holy Spirit living in you, teaching you and guiding you and changing you from the inside, so it’s no longer me trying to somehow manufacture goodness and kindness and a loving attitude towards people who annoy me… It’s God doing the work! My attitudes have been changing, not by sheer effort on my part but by God himself.
But the wonderful thing is knowing that I don’t have to change in order to become good enough for God – he loved me before I even knew he exists, he sent his Son to die for me and he drew me in, bit by bit, and he will never let me go.
And if you’re reading this and you haven’t done it yet – come on in, entry is free to anyone! Jesus has done it all for us, he died on the cross so that anyone who believes in him should have eternal life, forgiveness of all our sins and a wonderfully intimate relationship with a loving God. It’s not about following rules and rituals – it’s about accepting that we can’t live up to God’s standards, not matter how hard we might try, but God has provided the rescue for us. By faith, you can have it too.
P.S. Some loose ends I should tidy up since I opened them here:
I’m back in England now and I’m married for real. I’ve got a new visa which I got by totally honest means this time – I even told them at the Consulate about the previous one. God is faithful!