A Genuine and Lasting Faith

A Genuine and Lasting Faith

A Genuine and Lasting Faith

“I don’t smoke; I don’t chew; don’t hang out with folks who do.” This was a common saying while growing up—it describes my life before I was a Christian. I was raised in a Christian family, attended a conservative church, had friends who stayed out of trouble, and was known as a “goody-two-shoes” around school. You have likely heard testimonies from people about their past and the terrible sins they had committed before they became Christians. I wasn’t one of those people. My occasional transgressions, while sins, were laughable to my non-Christian friends.

My reputation as a good kid got carried over to church. I remember responding to invitations to pray at the altar for salvation although it was more about wanting the approval of the adults than a desire to repent. Approval was what I got, leading to more efforts to impress others that I was a Christian. I sang in the choir. I served on the youth group council. I excelled in Bible quizzing. I never missed summer church camp. From all outward appearances, I was a Christian. That changed when I was 16.

The year I turned 16, I was invited to apply to attend a major youth event to be held in Estes Park, Colorado. To be selected, one had to be interviewed by youth group leaders from churches other than one’s own, quote a long, memorized Scripture passage, and give a testimony of being a Christian. The first two I did with confidence. The third shouldn’t have given me a problem since I knew how to walk and talk like a Christian. However, I think it was the first time someone had actually asked me if I was a Christian, and I didn’t know what to say. I wrote a testimony the interviewers expected to hear. It was a lie and, for some reason, it bothered me more than any other lie I had ever told. Still, it worked and I was on my way to Colorado.

What an experience the 1970 Nazarene International Institute was! I should have been overjoyed to be in the company of over 2,000 young Christians. Instead, I was overwhelmed with guilt. I didn’t belong in this group of believers. My grief came to a head at one of the evening services. The speaker spoke on the topic of “A Phony Christian.” Every word was a knife to my heart. At the invitation to come forward to pray a prayer of repentance, I stood up despite my conviction that I would be the only one to go forward. To my surprise, I couldn’t reach the front because so many others were responding like me.

Not able to reach the front, I just sat down and cried and prayed. I confessed my sins. I received God’s forgiveness. For the first time, I opened my heart and life to the lordship of Christ. For the first time, my inner being matched what my outward behavior had been trying to fake. I was no longer trying to be a Christian. I was a Christian.

An adult counselor came to where I was sitting and waited until I lifted my head. I’m sure he was praying, too. I confessed the lie that allowed me to come, but he pointed out that I wasn’t alone. His obvious observation was profound, and I have thought about that over the last 50 years. I suspect there are more like me among church youth groups than there are of those with stories of a sordid past. These young people are flying under the radar and are not the obvious candidates for a direct conversation about their relationship with God.

Make no assumptions: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). This includes young people who may have the outward appearance of being a Christian without the inner transformation that comes with confession, repentance, and God’s forgiveness. A simple question, like “are you really a Christian?” might have been all it took to turn my fake testimony into my now genuine and lasting faith in Christ.

Stephen Dillman grew up in the Church of the Nazarene. He served in various churches and districts as associate pastor, lead pastor, district superintendent, and as director of church relations at Eastern Nazarene College. Stephen and his wife, Glenda, have two children and four grandchildren.