I was raised in a Presbyterian church, and can't remember a time when I didn't love the Lord and understand at least the rudiments of the gospel. I was taught the gospel from a Reformed perspective and did not encounter an Arminian perspective until I was about eleven or twelve years old. At that time school friends hearing my testimony decided I must not be a Christian, because I could not point to a time when I made "the decision" or prayed "the sinner's prayer." My profession of reliance upon the saving work of Jesus Christ and my continuing relationship with Him was apparently not sufficient. I was presented with many "gospel" tracts by these well-meaning friends that encouraged me to pray this prayer, or that one, in order to "get saved."
I loved the Lord and wanted to please Him. I read the tracts over and over. I prayed this prayer--and then that one. What had been a simple child-like faith in the work of God was being shaken. Which was the right prayer? Did I say it sincerely enough? I don't feel any different. Did it take? Should I try again?
Suddenly there was a requirement on me, and I was afraid I would not live up to it. In one respect my assessment was correct. That is, if there was some aspect of salvation that relied upon me, there would be great, great danger (perhaps certain danger) that I, in my weakness, would mess it up.
After weeks of inner struggle, I expressed my concerns to my pastor, who was teaching my Sunday School class at the time. He gently and patiently helped me out. I asked him what I should do to be born again. "The same thing you did to be born the first time," he said. "Nothing."
"But if I can't do anything, how can I be sure I am saved?"
"What do you believe about Jesus Christ?" he asked.
I explained that I believed He was God incarnate, that He had taken my sins upon Himself and died on the cross to take the punishment my sins deserved so I could be right with God.
"Okay, then what did He do?"
"He rose from the dead and ascended in heaven."
"Do you really think all that is true?"
"Jesus said that you cannot see those things unless you are born again." Then he read me John 3:3. "If you believe those things, and you rely upon the things Christ has done to save you, rather than on things you have done, then you have saving faith; and to have saving faith, you must have been born again."
I was so relieved! I was back to the simple faith I had always enjoyed, but now with even greater understanding and with greater appreciation for the grace of God. I knew that my salvation depended upon His faithfulness, rather than mine. As He always does, God used this difficulty for good and strengthened my faith through it.
It would be many years before I understood the Doctrines of Grace as fully as I do now, (and I hope to understand them even better as time goes on). It would be many years before I could sit down with a Bible and winsomely defend and explain those doctrines to someone who didn't understand them. It would be many years before I heard such words as"Arminianism," or "semi-Pelagianism." Yet my childish feet were set on solid ground with a child-like faith in the works of God to save me from my sin. I would never be persuaded again to consider exchanging the gospel of Christ for the works of my flesh.
This is why I love the Doctrines of Grace. My reliance, my focus, and my love are set on God, and I am confident that no one--not even I--can snatch me out of His hand.