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Joel BelzVoices Joel Belz

What God has done for me

Reflecting on my story of salvation

“Don’t you think,” a longtime friend asked me recently, “that your WORLD readers would be interested in having you tell them how you first became a believer? You regularly tell those stories about other people. Why not about you?”

My friend’s suggestion reminded me of a Saturday night some 70 years ago. I was just 10 years old (or so) when Dad loaded half a dozen of the kids from our church into our ’48 Ford to go to a Youth for Christ rally. The speaker was a convicted—then converted—bank embezzler. On the ride home, Dad told us how glad he was that we could all hear this man’s story about God’s power to straighten out a crooked life. But Dad also hoped none of us would think we had to do something as bad as robbing a bank before we considered stories about God’s mercy good enough to share with others.

Dad told us that night, and many other times as well, that everything we did that was wrong—even the little stuff—needed to be confessed to God. At first, that scared me. It reminded me of the toy I had stolen from my best friend Wendell. It made me think of the lie I had told my teacher about my homework. I thought of the smart-aleck insult I had directed at my mother just the week before. How could I possibly remember all the wrong things I had done?

God’s plan of salvation made sense to me. But God’s goodness to me went even further.

“But if you confess your sins,” Dad told us, “God will forgive your sins.” And for those who do that, and who keep doing it sincerely and consistently, God promises to welcome them to live with Him for all eternity. He can do that, not because we somehow earned it as a reward, but because Jesus died to pay the entire penalty of our sin.

God has every right and prerogative, of course, to establish and enforce those standards simply because He is the Creator of this universe and the ultimate designer of every detail of the universe’s operation.

I was blessed, beyond measure, to grow up in a home where such a worldview was persistently, consistently, and attractively taught. So God’s plan of salvation made sense to me, even as a youngster. But God’s goodness to me went even further. He put me also in a tiny church and in a tiny school that reinforced the things I learned at home.

That integration didn’t come through some artificial curriculum, but through the powerful impact of three truth-telling agents.

The first was the Bible itself. Daily reading and Bible classes were assumed. We took notes on the sermons we heard. And we memorized Scripture—so that all these years later, 20 or more entire Psalms are still stashed away in my increasingly Parkinson’s-wobbly memory.

The second potent influences were the historic confessions of the Church. Weekly memorization of the Westminster Shorter Catechism gave me an organized cabinet for stashing away the Biblical truth I was also learning. If you ever need a pattern for efficient writing, for example, take a look at the answer to Question No. 9: “What is God’s work of creation?”

The third truth-enforcer is a late-in-life surprise: my trusty hymnbook, which my wife Carol Esther and I keep right next to our kitchen table. Here you will sing the glories of God’s creation; confess the terror of mankind’s fall; explore the redemption of His people; trace the wandering of God’s fickle sojourners; remind yourself of the marvel of Jesus’ incarnation, His death, and His resurrection. And because you’re singing and not merely reciting it, you’re memorizing long stretches of unforgettably basic Biblical truth. There’s no better teaching tool.

So that’s how I became a believer in Jesus. Just as it is for every sinner, mine is a story of what God has done for me—not what I have done for Him.