One of the greatest pieces of evidence that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that Christianity is true, and the Bible is the Word of God, is what happens in a person’s life when they come to know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. A changed life is a tremendous, powerful testimony for the reality of the Christian faith. In that light I would like to be very personal with you today and share my journey from skepticism to faith, from rejection to acceptance, from a denier to one who accepts. And so let me try to bring in my background and all and to point out the process that I went through to come to know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and what happened.
Watch Josh McDowell's story on these three videos
In the Bible it says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone be in Christ they will become a new creature and old things will pass away and all things will become new.” I believe when the apostle Paul wrote that verse, that he was describing what happened in my life.
A number of years ago my life was like a lot of people today in your country, my country, all over the world. It was described by the philosopher Thomas Aquinas, when Aquinas said, “There is within every soul, within every person a restless thirst for happiness and meaning.” That described my life. I truly wanted to be happy. I wanted to be one of the happiest people in the world. And I can’t see anything wrong with that if my happiness is not at the expense of someone else. But equal to being happy, I wanted the answers to three questions. I struggled to answer these three questions. The first one, who am I? Who am I as a person? Number two, why am I here? Number three, where am I going? You know most people will not ask themselves those three questions because they’re afraid of the answers.
Then equal to that, the answers to those three questions, I wanted to be free. I wanted to be the freest individual in the whole world. Now freedom to me is not going out and doing what you want to do, any idiot could do that! That is why we have police. True freedom, to me, is to have the capacity or the character to do what you know you ought to do. You are truly not free until you can do what you know you ought to morally do. So I started looking for answers. Now where I was brought up in the state of Michigan, a lot of people had religion. It was a boring place to live but I thought well, maybe religion is the answer to these questions and that happiness and that freedom. So I started to go to church and I went to church, morning, afternoon, and evening. But I think I must have found the wrong church. In spite of what the pastor said, I still believed in God. And here was my problem, I felt worse in church than I did out of church. Being on the farm, we were brought up to be quite practical, so when something didn’t work, you threw it out. So I went and threw out religion because I did not think in any way it affected my life. I turned my back on the church, or at least that church.
Then I thought, well, maybe education is the answer. I live in a very educated country and I figured coming from the farm where the cream will rise to the top of the milk, the cream must be the educated. So I enrolled in the university. Let me tell you, what a disappointment to enroll in any university in the world in order to find truth. I was by far one of the most unpopular students with the faculty in the first university I attended. I use to go to my faculty’s offices and wait for hours because I had so many questions. In fact, I think when a lot of my faculty saw me coming, they would turn the lights off, pull the shades and lock the door and wait out the storm. One of the reasons they did that, they could not answer the questions that I had about life. Do you know what I found? I found that my professors could teach me how to make a better living, but they couldn’t teach me how to live better.
I thought, well maybe prestige is the answer – being known; finding a cause, giving your life to it. I ran for various political offices in the university, got elected. And it was neat, knowing everyone, spending their money to do what I wanted to do. But there was one problem. After all of this, I would wake up every Monday morning the same individual. Usually with a headache because of the night before, and almost every Monday morning my attitude was, well here goes another five days. I felt I had to endure a “Monday through Friday”. Happiness evolved around three nights a week; Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The cycle would then start all over again.
At about that time I was very fortunate, even though I did not realize it then. In and around the university, I saw a small group of people. There were not very many. There were eight students and two professors, one of sociology and one of history. There was something different about their lives. For example, they seemed to know where they were going. They seemed to have direction in their life, and that is so unusual in many students in the world today. But more than that, they had something that I admire in people. They seemed to have convictions. I don’t know about you, but I enjoy being around people who have convictions. I don’t care if they agree with me or not. I have learned that there is a certain dynamic in a person’s life that has deep convictions.
There was something else that probably caught my attention more than anything. It is something you find everywhere. You find it in every university, every country, every community, it is called love. In this situation (the university) I saw a different dimension of it. Here was a group of students and professors who not only loved each other (you will find that everywhere), but here is the difference: they loved and cared for people outside their group. Now the way I was brought up, that was weird and I wanted it. So I made friends with them. After several weeks (about two or three) we were sitting around the table in the Student Union at the university. Two of the professors were there, one of their wives, and six of those students. I wish you could have been there because it was kind of funny. We started talking and pretty soon the conversation started to get to God. Well, let’s face it; if you are an insecure student or professor, business man or woman, and the conversation gets to God, you have to put on the big front. Look, every university, every faculty, every high school, every corporation, every community has what I call, “the big mouth.” You know the person who says, “oh Christianity – ha! That’s for the weaklies not the intellectuals.” You know what I found to be true? Literally in every country; the bigger the mouth, the greater the vacuum. No really, the bigger the front an individual puts on, usually the greater the emptiness on the inside.
I was putting on that front but they were irritating me. I looked over at this young lady and oh, she was a good-looking woman. I use to think all Christians were ugly. I did. I figured if you could not make it anywhere else in the world, you became a Christian. She was really cute and that kind of threw me a little bit. This was my problem. I wanted what they had. I didn’t want them to know it. But all the time, they knew it. I did what you would do; I kind of leaned back in my chair and I tried to act totally disinterested. I looked over at the young lady. In a rather flippant way I just said, “Hey, tell me, what changed your lives? Why are you so different than the other students, the leaders, the professors on campus?” I couldn’t believe it. She looked me back eye-to-eye with a little smile. She said two words I never thought I would hear in the university as part of the answer. She just looked back at me and said, “Jesus Christ.” I said, “Oh do not give me that garbage.” I said, “I’m fed up with religion, the church, the Bible. Don’t give me that garbage about religion.” All I know is that she had a lot of courage or a lot of convictions. In fact, on the farm we use to call it guts. She shot me back eye-to-eye and she did not even smile this time. She said, “Mister, I did not tell you religion. I told you the person of Jesus Christ.”
Well I felt bad because I had really been rude, so I apologized. I said, “Please forgive me for my attitude.” But then I just had to add, “But I am sick and tired of religion and religious people. I don’t want anything to do with it.” Then I couldn’t believe it. Right there in the university, these students and professors challenged me as a pre-law student. Now get this: to intellectually use my mind to examine the claims of Jesus Christ as God’s Son. Now I thought that was a joke to do that intellectually. Do you know what I believed? I believed that Christians had two brains, one was lost and the other was out looking for it. I really believed that if a Christian had a brain, it would die in isolation. You kind of took your brains and shelved them and then ran on vacuum when you followed Christ. But they just kept challenging me over and over and over. In fact, they simply irritated me. Have you ever had someone challenge you in something so much that you get mad about it? That is what happened to me. I got so irritated I wanted to silence them. So I accepted their challenge but I did not do it to prove anything. I did it to refute them.
In fact, the whole background and the reason for writing my first book, Evidence That Demands a Verdict;was to write a book to make an intellectual joke of Christianity – to refute those students and professors who I had encountered in the university. I thought that would be easy. I left the university. I traveled throughout the United States, England, and the Middle East. I gathered evidence to write the book.
I was sitting in a library in London, England. It was a late Friday afternoon around 6:00 or 6:30, and something happened that never happened to me before. It was like a voice spoke to me. Now I don’t normally hear voices, but it was like a voice spoke to me. It said, “Josh, you don’t have a leg to stand on.” I immediately suppressed it. Do you know what was interesting? Almost every single day after that, I heard the voice. The more I examined the evidence, the more it took me to the opposite conclusion of what I wanted to reach. And that is, the Bible is the very word of God and Jesus Christ is His Son, and He was raised from the dead on the third day. What my mind told me that was true, I had finally arrived at that conclusion, but my will was way over here. I had quite a conflict between my mind and my will. I found out that Jesus Christ makes a direct challenge to each individual to personally place their trust in Him as Savior and Lord, to accept His forgiveness, to invite Him into their life and to live out through Him. My mind told me that was true and my will was way over here.
Every time I was around those Christians, the conflict used to go just like this. Have you ever been around happy people and you are miserable? Does that irritate you? That is what happened to me. Finally, I returned to the United States, back to the university and I could not get to sleep. I would go to bed at ten o’clock at night and I couldn’t get to sleep until four o’clock in the morning. I believe one of the reasons was, for the first time in my life I knew. Now I had done this before but this was the first time that I knew that I was being intellectually dishonest, and that bothered me. Finally, I knew I had to get it off my mind, so I put it to the test and I became a Christian. You say how do you know? I was there. It changed my life. I got alone with a friend of mine by the name of Jerry, and I prayed four things that literally transformed my life, and my relationship with the living creator, God.
The first thing I prayed was “Thank you for dying on the cross for me.” One of the most humbling thoughts I’ve ever had in my life is when I realized, through reading the scriptures, that if I were the only person alive, Jesus still would have died for me. That’s what brought me to Christ. Second I said, “I confess that I’m a sinner.” The Bible says, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Now what that means is this: I knew there were things in my life that were incompatible with a holy, just, righteous God, and God says if I confess, He will forgive it and remove it. So I said, “Forgive me and cleanse me.” Third, I said, “Right now,” and I did not know a whole lot, but I said, “Right now I place my trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord.” The Bible says, “But to as many as received Him, to them gave you the right to become a child of God.” I said, “Right now I receive you as my Savior and Lord. I accept your forgiveness, come into my life. Change me from the inside out. Forgive me.” The last thing that I prayed was, it was rather simple, I just said, “Thank you for coming into my life.” And nothing happened. There was not any bolt of lightening. I did not rush out and sprout wings or anything else. Well something did happen. Right after I made that decision, I felt like I was going to vomit, I felt sick to my stomach. I think for two reasons. One, I was afraid that I had made an emotional decision I would later regret intellectually. More than that, I was afraid of what my friends would say. You see, I didn’t have the faith to understand that most of my friends would end up coming to Christ. But somebody among all of my friends had to take that first step and that was me.
I want to just share with you one area that changed in my life after I came to the point where the Holy Spirit led me to place my trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord. It’s an area that is not easy for me to share because there was a lot of deep pain in it. But I want to put into context what I am going to share this way and I want you to understand this. Jesus has dealt with the pain of the memory, but I still have the memory of the pain. Does that make sense to you? The pain that I experienced, Christ has dealt with and is still dealing with it in my life. But I hope I will always have the memory of the pain. Do you know why? It’s a constant reminder of how great my God is, and how He forgives and He heals and He cleanses.
This is in the area that I want to share of hatred or bitterness – resentment. I had a lot of hate in my life but there was one man that I hated more than anyone else in the whole world and I hated his guts. I can remember when I was 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 years old, lying awake at night in bed plotting this man’s death. How I could kill him without being caught by the police. That man I hated so much was my father. Because growing up in a little tiny town, to me, he was the town drunk. I hardly ever knew him sober until I was twenty years old. I would go to high school and my friends would make jokes about my father downtown in the gutter making a fool of himself. You see, they did not think it bothered me. Because I am like some of you, I would laugh with them on the outside but oh, let me tell you, every time they told a joke about my dad, it hurt on the inside. But I never let anyone know. That was my secret.
I would go out in the barn and I would see my mother where we lived on the farm. I would see her lying in the gutter in the manure behind the cows where my father had taken a milk hose and beaten her so bloody that she could not get up and walk, and all she could do was roll out of the manure onto the cement sidewalk behind the cows. And I was 8, 9, 10, 11 years old and I remember standing there just swearing that when I am strong enough, I’m going to kill him.
We would have friends over and my dad would be drunk. If you have an alcoholic parent or a drug-related parent, you know what I was experiencing. You know the shame that goes through you when your friends see your parent that way. And so before our friends would get over there, I would grab my dad around the neck and I would pull him out to the barn and I would throw him into the pen where the cows would have their calves. I would take the car out of the garage and park it behind the barn so no one could see it. Then we would leave the garage doors open and tell everyone that my dad had to go away on an important appointment. I would go out to the barn and I would prop him up against the boards and then I would stick his arms through the boards. Then I would tie it from one arm to the other arm. I would put a rope around his neck and pull his head all the way over the top board and then I would tie the rope around his feet so if he shuffled his feet to get loose he would choke himself because of what he had done to my family. One of my sisters committed suicide. My oldest brother, imagine this, sued my parents for everything that they had in a court of law. My other brother ran away from home. I despised my dad.
Two months before I graduated from high school, I came home from a date. It was about midnight on a Saturday and I heard my mother crying. I remember running into her bedroom yelling, “Mom what’s wrong, what’s wrong?” She sat up in bed and said, “Son your father has broken my heart.” And then she reached down and put her arms around me and pulled me to her and said, “Son I have lost the will to live. All I want to do is live until you graduate then I just want to die.” Let me tell you, as a kid, that was hard to hear.
Do you know what happened? Do you know the irony? Two months later I graduated from high school. Sixty one days later and the next Friday, the 13th, my mother up and died. Don’t tell me you cannot die of a broken heart. My mother did. My father broke it and I hated him for it. After I made that decision to place my trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord, to accept His forgiveness and love, I can only say that the love of God through Jesus Christ came into my life, took that hatred, and turned it upside down. I found myself looking my father right in the eyes and saying, “Dad, I love you. I love you.” Well that shook me up because I didn’t want to love my dad. Even as a brand new Christian, I chose, by an act of my will, to hate my father. Do you know why? Because I didn’t want to give up that satisfaction or the joy of hating the man who had killed my mother and destroyed my family.
Oh, men and women, you need to realize there is a certain joy or satisfaction in harboring hated or bitterness, and I didn’t want to give that up. But I found myself saying to the man that I chose to hate, I love you. Now some people laugh at this. I couldn’t put it together in my life. I wasn’t used to that. I never had the strength to do something like that.
About six months later, I was in a serious car accident at the university. My legs, arm and neck were in traction. I was taken home and my father came into my room, and he was very sober because when they called him he was drunk, and he thought I was dying. And I will never forget when he walked back and forth at my bed. All of a sudden, while I lay all tied in bed and strapped in with the cables, he just leaned over me and blurted out, “How can you love a father such as I?” Lying there in bed like this I said, “Dad, six months ago I despised you. I hated everything that you stood for.” Then I shared with him my conclusions about the Bible. Why I believe it’s true, about Jesus as the Son of God. And I said, “Dad, all I know is that I asked Jesus to forgive me. I invited Him into my life. As a result, I found the capacity to love and accept you, and other people.” Right there my father said to me, “Son, if God can do in my life what I have seen him do in yours, I want to give Him the opportunity.” You talk about joy. Most people do not have this much joy in a lifetime. And I had it in one moment. Right there my father prayed with me. He prayed a very simple prayer, he said, “God, if you are God, and Jesus is your Son. If He died on the cross for me, and if He can forgive me for what I’ve done to my family, If He can do in my life, what I’ve seen Him do in the life of my son, I want to invite Him into my life. I trust Him as Savior and Lord. I accept His forgiveness.”
Well, my life was changed basically in six months to a year or year-and-a-half. The life of my father was changed right before my eyes. It was like somebody reached down and turned on a light bulb. He only touched alcohol once after that. He got it to his lips and that was it. Fourteen months later he died because three-fourths of his stomach and many of his inner organs had been destroyed. But as a result of his decision, scores of people in that little tiny town and surrounding areas where I was born came to know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord because of the changed life of the town drunk.
I’ve come to one conclusion. Christianity is not a religion. Religion is men and women trying to work their way to God through good works and religious ritual to please God to be accepted. That’s not Christianity – that is religion. Christianity is God coming to us. “For God so loved the world He gave His only begotten Son.” It’s God coming to us through His Son Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for your sins and my sins to be buried, raised again on the third day through the power of the Father and then to offer us a free gift of salvation.
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