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After All the Altar Calls

In his testimony in CT magazine, Johnathan Bailey tells how he went from repeatedly “getting saved,” to eternal life in Christ.

Jonathan grew up as a pastor’s kid. His father pastored a nondenominational, charismatic church. He and his brother had BB gun shootouts in the vacant sanctuary and learned how to do donuts using the youth pastor’s car before he could legally drive. When he got older, he threw himself into the behind-the-scenes work of the youth group. Jonathan insisted on working the sound booth, because it allowed him to avoid worshiping and watch others worship instead. Jonathan writes:

As a teenager, I was pretty sure I believed God existed, but without firsthand experience of him, “Christianity,” went in one ear and out the other. I knew facts and Bible verses but there was my arch nemesis: the altar call. I had never experienced any long-lasting change after raising my hand and repeating a prayer, so over time, I came to loathe phrases such as “walk the aisle,” and “repeat after me.” Each attempt at getting saved seemed to take life rather than give it.

At the age of 22, he became a summer camp counselor along with one of his best friends. On the final night of camp, the sermon ended with an altar call. Jonathan saw his friend walk forward. But more shocking than that was the later evidence that something had really happened to him that night. His friend stopped drinking and partying, he began to read the Bible and Christian books voraciously, and attending church. He seemed to want to know God, be like him, and he had joy.

Jonathan says,

This was the opposite of what I had experienced growing up. The cycle usually went something like this: get saved in a burst of emotion, commit to Jesus for a few days or weeks, then let the devotion fade away.

But my friend grew month after month. His commitment and love for God were unwavering. The thought seized me: “Change is possible. It’s actually possible.” It gave me hope that Christianity could bring real change in my life.

One morning, an honest prayer began to spill out of me: “God, I don’t love you. But I want to.” Then one night everything changed. I was in a deep sleep, when suddenly my eyes opened. I was feeling confused about why I was awake at 5 a.m. I lay silently in the dark for a few seconds. Then I heard something in my mind, distinct and clear. It was like no other thought I had had. I heard these words: “Get up, pick up your Bible, and sit down at your desk.”

I got up and found my Bible, which had been collecting dust under a lamp on my nightstand. I picked a random spot. I looked down to see the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 22, verse 37. I read: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Like the destruction of a great dam, the flood waters of God’s love crashed into me. In that moment, my secondhand spirituality became firsthand. My knowing about God was replaced with knowing God, and like my friend’s experience, the change was permanent.

That doesn’t mean faith has been easy, but it has been the most thrilling adventure of my life. Battling habits of pride, anger, lust, and gluttony has become an adventure. Through the joy and the pain, Jesus has shared his eternal life with me, filling and freeing me.

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