Thursday, December 15, 2005

from slave to son

"Therefore, you are no longer a slave, but a son ..."
- Galatians 4:7

Before I trusted Jesus as my Savior, I didn't know God. I grew up under fanatical Islamic and knew that He existed; but I saw Him dimly, hidden behind dark veils of mystery and wrath.

God both inspired and frightened me. I had been taught that He was just and that on the Day of Reckoning my life would be judged. On that day, I'd been warned, a book containing my deeds would be opened. The Koran affirmed this: "Every man's actions have we hung around his neck, and on the last day shall be laid out before him a wide-open book." (Sura 17:13) Since childhood, I'd imagined invisible scribes recording my every action into that book. I dreaded the day on which it would be opened.

I was afraid of the future and frustrated by the present. I had been taught to work for my salvation, but I had also been taught that I might not be saved. Likewise, though God was merciful and sometimes forgave my sins, one couldn't be too presumptuous. My fate and my forgiveness depended upon His will. "Allah sendeth whom He will astray, and guideth whom He will", says the Koran (Sura 14:4, 16:93, 74:31). I felt like a slave to a faraway Master. Indeed, slavery is the ideal of Islam according to the Koran: "There is none in the heavens and the earth but cometh unto the Beneficent as a slave." (Sura 19:93)

Like a slave, I followed my Master out of fear, but I never knew if my efforts would change my destiny. All of life's events -- whether big or small, good or bad -- were attributed to God's will. Thus, I reasoned, obeying the Islamic laws seemed unimportant if my every move had already been ordained. I grew fatalistic and further alienated from God.

But Islam was all I had ever known, and so it was the road on which I traveled for more than 30 years.
Then, my route changed. First it changed geographically, when I came to Athens; and then it changed altogether when I learned about the God of the Bible.

My first lesson came in Omonia, at Helping Hands. There, I listened to a video about Jesus, attended Bible classes and was introduced to an entirely different God than the God I'd known before.

I learned that some similarities exist between the God of the Koran and the God of Christianity. For example, both Islam and Christianity teach that God is the only God, and that He alone is powerful, wise and just. And, like the God of the Koran, the God of the Bible desires that men serve and obey only Him.

But the similarities end there. The Bible teacher said that while God demands that my sins be punished, He sent His holy Son, Jesus Christ, to take my punishment. I read the Injil, with its wonderful and almost unbelievable news of Jesus' salvation. "But God demonstrates His love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Jesus Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we will be saved from the wrath of God through Him." (Romans 5:8,9)

Saved from the God's wrath? The wrath that I'd feared all of my life? It was too good to be true, and amazing in its implications. For if Jesus died for my sins, then I was a sinner who needed salvation. If Jesus died on the cross and rose from the grave, then He was the holy Son of God, because only God could rise from the dead. And -- best of all -- if Jesus saved me, then I did not have to try to save myself. As the Scriptures say: "For it is by grace that you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, and not of works, lest any man should boast." (Ephesians 2:8,9)

I saw the Jesus film many times. I was amazed at His miracles and moved to see Him suffer the most disgraceful punishment on the cross for me. Here was the holy Son of God, without sin yet dying to pay for my sins. Before becoming a Christian, I believed in Jesus as a prophet. But once I began to listen to the teachers, read the Bible, and ask God for understanding, the truth became clear: Jesus is the only Savior.

I also learned that God doesn't want slaves -- He wants sons. Slaves are driven by fear and their lives depend on the whim of their master. The best that a slave can hope for is survival. So it was with my relationship to God before I learned more about Him in the Bible.

I learned that God loves like a Father. He loved us so much that He sent Jesus. When a man believes in Jesus as his Savior, he has access to God as his Father and he is called a "son of God." (Ephesians 1:5). I learned that God thinks about me constantly, as a father thinks about his son. (Psalm 139:17,18) The Bible says, "I will be a father to you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty." (2 Corinthians 6:18) God grieves when his children grieve and rejoices when they rejoice. When His children sin, God doesn't condemn them; He is compassionate and gracious, and He always forgives them, when they ask (I John 1:9, Psalm 103:8, Psalm 103:10-13).

As God's son, I can tell Him all of my problems and concerns. He listens and cares. He knows me and has engraved my name upon his hand (Isaiah 49:16). He even knows how many hairs are on my head! (Luke 12:7) "Cast all your anxieties on him,' says the Injil, "Because He cares for you." (I Peter 5:7). As a son asks his father for necessities and even blessings, I can ask my Father God to supply my needs. "How much more will your Father who is in Heaven give good things to those who ask Him." (Matt. 7:11)

I learned about the Holy Trinity, too - God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit -- how each is holy and how they work together in a Christian's life. I learned that when a man believes in Jesus as his Savior, God's Holy Spirit comes into his life, giving him faith, hope, love, joy and peace. I also learned that if a man believes in Jesus as his Savior, he will live in Heaven with Him forever. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whoever believes in Him will not die, but will have eternal life." (John 3:16)

Soon, I believed in Jesus and asked him to save me. Since then, God has given me a new life. Knowing that God loves me, that Jesus saved me from my sins, and that God's Holy Spirit lives within me has replaced my old fear and pessimism with peace and optimism. He has given me mercy and compassion for people, even for my enemies. I have joy for the present and hope for the future. I am no longer a slave, but a son of the living God.

Now I am not afraid to face the Day of Reckoning. By believing that Jesus saved me, my name is now written in another book: the Book of Life (Mal. 3:16-18, Daniel 12:1). The other book, the one I was so afraid of confronting on the Day of Reckoning, no longer frightens me because my every wrong deed has been pardoned by Jesus. My debt has been paid by His death and resurrection. "Rejoice that your names are recorded in Heaven," says the Injil. (Luke 10:20).

I rejoice that my name is written there. Your name will appear in one of those books, too. Which book will you choose?

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