Unusual Mercies upon an Ungrateful Hypocrite
There are some gifts of God that nearly everyone gets, at one time or another. Blessings like rain, sunshine, eyesight, and music are enjoyed by most of mankind. These universal gifts are not insignificant in any way, but there is no need for me to make special mention of them here. Rather, I will focus my story around the more unusual gifts God has given specifically to me – things that a large portion of mankind may not have been blessed with.
We do not normally like to think that God would give differing amounts of blessings to different people, seemingly at random. Of course we expect in general that “good” people will receive more blessings than “bad” people will, but we shy away from the idea that God would also give or withhold blessings for reasons other than a person’s behavior, solely at His discretion. And yet our experience shows us that bad things happen to good people and we wonder why.
For God to give differing amounts of blessings to two people of equal morality would, we think, make Him unfair. It would, except for one thing: the Day of Judgment. This is the day, at the end of time, when God will decide what punishment or reward each person will get. He will base this decision not strictly on what a person has done, but on what they have done compared with how many special blessings or advantages He gave them during their life on earth.
For men of otherwise equal morality, a rich man will receive fewer rewards than a poor man, a sick man will receive more than a healthy man, an American will be judged more strictly than an Afghani.
So, as I share these instances of God’s unique goodness to me, it is not with the thought of “Look how much luckier I am than you – God likes me better” but with a sense of heightened responsibility to not squander the many benefits that God has heaped upon me.
To start with, I was born in America. Whatever you may think of the U.S., at present it is still one of the most free, safe, prosperous, generous, and healthy places to live. I had absolutely no control over my birthplace, yet this factor alone automatically gave me a higher life expectancy, electricity, cleaner water, more adequate food, more extensive educational and vocational opportunities, and freedom of conscience and expression. Less than 5% of the world’s population lives in America.
Second, I was born to parents who were both already passionate about Jesus. Since they had both come to Jesus only a few years before my birth and well into their adult lives, their relationship with Jesus was (and still is) very important to them. In many American homes in which I could have been born, Christianity is only “skin deep” and children born into these homes develop an antagonistic attitude towards Jesus because of their parents’ hypocrisy. My parents are far from perfect, but at least they’re not hypocrites. I have literally been exposed to church, the Bible, and prayer for my entire life.
Speaking of the Bible, that is yet another blessing. There are still many peoples around the world who do yet not have God’s message to man translated into their own language. What would have happened to me had I been forced to rely solely on traditions handed down over generations and my own intellect, I don’t know.
When I was a little over a year old, I was hospitalized for diarrhea. Despite the efforts of the medical community, my condition did not improve. Then two leaders from our church came and prayed for me, and I was healed. I returned home without ever getting a definite diagnosis.
At age 5, my parents took me out of Christian school and began to homeschool me. This was in 1983, just at the beginning of the homeschool movement. In those early days, homeschooling was viewed with suspicion by the government and even by the church. There was no curriculum geared specifically for homeschools, and we did not know anyone else in the Phoenix area who homeschooled. I have always been proud to have parents who were among the pioneers in homeschooling.
As I look back, I think the primary way that homeschooling changed my life was by reducing the role of peer pressure in my life. Children somehow innately begin automatically establishing cliques when put in a group. These social struggles can leave lasting scars. I can still clearly recall the compelling desire I felt to be accepted by the rest of my class at the Christian school, even at ages 3 and 4. There was always some bar to clear to be accepted. My crayon picture needed to be as good as the one the kid next to me drew. I needed to be able to run as fast as the other kids. My sticker book needed to have as many scratch and sniff, puffy, reflective, and fuzzy stickers as the other kids’ books. I needed a good collection of Hot Wheels. These sound like such trivial things now, but at that age, they were very serious issues to me.
I am not very athletic, and during my teen years I had really bad acne, so I would guess that had I remained in Christian school I would have eventually been spun off into fellowship with the other misfits—and possibly gotten into trouble.
How I Rebelled Against a Loving God
When I was three I deliberately stole a paperclip from school. When my parents found out they made me take it back the next day and ask forgiveness. My mother used this incident as a springboard to share the gospel with me – that stealing was a sin, that the punishment for sin was hell, and that Jesus’ death on the cross could be applied to my sin “account” to get me forgiveness from God if I would accept it. And I did accept it.
Yet another conversation foreshadowed the crisis to come occurred when I was also quite young, probably somewhere between age three and five. I remember asking Mom, “If someone offends someone else, and he asks God’s forgiveness but doesn’t ask the other person’s forgiveness, will he still go to heaven?” Mom’s reply was that they would still go to heaven but would not get as many rewards there. I remember feeling relief, and that I could care less about rewards as long as I got into heaven.
So it is obvious looking back that my small mind had grasped salvation basically as a fire insurance policy. I wanted to do minimum necessary to go to heaven and avoid hell.
God could have left me in that state, but I am so thankful He did not. Yet He waited several years, until I was 11. The years between 3 and 11 were more or less very fun, pleasurable years for me. I lived for the moment, spending my time playing or studying, both of which I enjoyed. (Since I was not going to win any acclaim for my athletics, I discovered that I could earn approval by being smart. So I usually loved to study.) Despite the obvious self-centeredness of those years, God did use them to instill in me a clear sense of what was right and wrong, thanks to my parents’ persistent and frequent teaching from the Bible.
The Awakening of My Conscience
When I was about 11, my conscience was suddenly awakened. Things that I had done in the past, which had never bothered me before now, began troubling me. I am not aware of any external reasons for this awakening – no probing sermons, no one especially bad act that triggered my conscience.
Initially I remembered just one bad thing I had done. After feeling terribly guilty for a day or two I finally worked up courage, confessed it to my parents, and felt a wonderful relief. But within just a couple days I remembered another sin I had committed. Again I wrestled with my conscience and again I finally worked up my courage to confess it. Once more, my conscience quickly recalled another past sin. I can’t remember how many times this cycle repeated itself—3 or 4 times perhaps—but I did not enjoy this confession stuff at all. It was humbling. And I chose to believe a lie, the lie that there was no sense confessing my sins because if I did there would always be another one pop up from my subconscious. I began subtlely to believe that God was reminding me of these sins simply to make me miserable, not for any good reason.
So I began “saving up” sins that needed to be confessed, and only confessed them when I had to, in order to avoid lying. (Periodically, my parents would ask, in one way or another, whether I had any sins I needed to confess.) Each time I confessed, I would feel a temporary relief from the guilt – but within a day or two, I would remember another sin and start “storing up” again.
I should add that these sins that I was recalling were not what humanity would normally consider heinous – they mainly consisted of lying or treating someone rudely. Yet God’s word is clear, “If you go to the altar to present an offering, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there at the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” The size of the offense is not what determines whether we should ask forgiveness of the person we’ve offended.
Sometime after my twelfth birthday I crossed another milepost in my rebellion. Now, when my parents asked if I had anything to confess. I would say no, even though I know very well that I did. This was just a natural progression of my sin. It is impossible to maintain a “status quo” with a sin. Either it is conquering you, bite by bite, or you are conquering it. It is never content to just sit down in the corner of your heart and relax.
How I Excused Myself
I was rather miserable in this condition, although it is surprising in retrospect that I was not more miserable. The voice of conscience, though loud and incessant at first, can be dulled by ignoring it or by trying to redefine the line between right and wrong.
I knew that refusing to ask forgiveness was wrong but I reasoned, “This is the only area in which I am doing wrong. The rest of my heart still belongs to God. Look at all the areas where I am doing right! I obey my parents, have wholesome friends, don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t mess around with girls, don’t listen to rock music, etc.” I called this my theory of segmentalization. (Yes, even then I had a name for this idea. My brain works strange sometimes.) I visualized my heart as a “pie” of which most slices belonged to God and one did not. Thus I sought to minimize my sin of rebellion. What was really going on, although I refused to admit it, was that I was sitting on the throne of my heart. I was willing to obey God only as long as it didn’t cause me pain. Many of God’s laws are easy to keep, even for a non-Christian. (For example, “don’t murder” is not a command that most of us have a problem with very often!)
I was essentially telling God, “I am in charge of my life. I will listen to your advice and accept your blessings, but I am going to do what I want to do.” That is a crazy attitude for anyone to have toward God. After all, He created us, keeps us alive, and judges whether we should go to heaven or hell after we die. To shake one’s fist in a face that big is a sign of spiritual senility. But that’s what I did.
So I went on with life, trying to appear a dedicated Christian. At that time we were attending a Pentecostal church and I would raise my hands (partway – I never did get enough guts to raise them all the way) when the other people did. When another young fellow wore a suit to church one Sunday, making him appear godlier than I (in my mind), I started wearing a suit every Sunday. I got baptized. When we visited non-Pentecostal churches I usually found it even easier to fool the people. At our Pentecostal church I was frequently afraid that God was going to speak to someone else and reveal the “real” me. This never happened, though. In retrospect, I think it was because God knew that if He exposed me publicly, my repentance might not be heartfelt. I might have confessed that “batch” of sins only to start “saving” them again.
I do not want to give you the impression that I was entirely content in my sins. The guilt and fear of exposure were oppressive at times. I made a serious study of various teachings about the infilling of the Holy Spirit and sanctification . I studied the Bible regularly. What I was really looking for was some way of taking the humiliation out of confession. I hoped to find the magic spiritual “button” which would automatically take away my pride and make me desire and enjoy confession.
How God Tried to Bring Me to Repentance
God gave me many opportunities to repent. Many sermons convicted me, but I would harden my heart; certain Scripture verses would scare me, but I found ways to reinterpret them or at least throw up enough confusing arguments in my mind that I could try to ignore them. For example, Psalm 66:18 clearly says, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear my prayer.” I wanted very much to believe that God was still able to hear my prayers. To be cut off from His hearing was a frightening thought. So I thought of arguments to weaken the message of this verse.
When I was 15, Dad took me to a 2-week youth meeting. While we were there a revival spontaneously broke out, in a way that I have never seen before or since. I found out that I was not the only fake. Many young people (I’d say at least 200 of the 600 who were there) called home during those two weeks to confess secret sins to their parents. This was not the result of any psychological manipulation. The revival started when one young person testified of how he’d just been brought by God to the point of repentance and confession. His testimony brought others under conviction, who later got up and gave testimony about their own repentance. At some times there would be a long line of kids waiting to share what God had done in their heart in the past couple days, and a line just as long of kids waiting to use a telephone to call their parents to confess sins. Thus God gave me another chance to repent, but I again hardened my heart. He had made it even easier for me by allowing my father to come to the conference with me (most of the kids came by themselves) so that I didn’t even need to make a phone call. Dad even asked me a couple times if there was anything I needed to confess, and I said no. That gives you some idea of how determined I was not to endure the pain of confession.
God attempted to use health problems to get me to repent. During most of the 7 years of my rebellion, I had terrible acne. When I was 18, I worked as an assistant teacher in a weeklong kids program similar to a Vacation Bible School. I really outdid myself putting on a good front. The Bible warns teachers that they will be judged by a higher standard . A couple weeks later, I got a really bad case of chicken pox that left more scars than all of the acne. So I have always felt that this was God’s way of saying, “Children are very important to me and I don’t want a fake like you instructing them.”
As the years went by I gradually grew weaker and weaker spiritually. My ability to resist temptation was low. I never got into pictorial pornography, but I began to dabble in what I would call written pornography, and my lusts sucked me deeper and deeper into it, when for no observable reason I simply did not go any further down into that pit. I praise God that He somehow preserved me from yielding any further to my lusts, stopping me while I was still at a relatively minor level. I went just far enough to feel the incredible downward pull of lust. I am thankful that we do not watch TV and did not have the Internet at that time. If there is someone in your house whom you are not positive is absolutely committed to the Lord, be very cautious about allowing these two potential sources of pornography into your home. Even if everyone is seriously following the Lord, be very cautious. We usually do not watch television except for Christian videos, and we are very cautious and use a filter on the Internet.
My Last Idea for a Painless Escape
So, as time went on, I gradually became increasingly accustomed to being a hypocrite and less intent on escaping my sins. Then a few months before my eighteenth birthday, there was what I regard as another divine intervention. For some reason, I was smitten with a substantially greater desire to escape from my life of sin – a renewed agitation of my conscience. But I still was not about to repent.
I secretly began to pray for deliverance for myself every day for 30 minutes – still believing that my prayers might make it through to God, and that there was some formula that would anesthetize me to the humiliation of repentance.
Initially this strategy seemed to work. I developed a plan for escaping my hypocrisy. I made a list of all of the people I could think of that I had wronged. I prioritized them in order from the hardest to the easiest to go back to. My parents were the hardest ones on my list, since my fake life would be the greatest surprise to them. I decided to start with the easiest and work my way up the list, ending with my parents. My theory was that after asking forgiveness once, it would make it easier to ask forgiveness of the next person, and I could step my way up the list, gaining courage with each confession. I gave this theory a name too: incrementalization.
I started with the easiest one. It was really hard, but I managed to do it. However, I did not feel any sense of relief afterward. And I did not feel any more courageous about tackling the next one.
However, after hearing a really strong sermon that seemed to be talking directly to me, I forced myself to do # 2. When I dialed the phone number of the person I had hurt, it felt like I was driving nails into my heart. It was that hard. My mouth was really dry and my heart was beating wildly. After I completed that confession, I felt very drained. There was no sense of joy or freedom. I had no courage to take on # 3, and that killed the theory of incrementalization.
Two Crucial Questions: “Lordship” and Losing Salvation
I continued to stubbornly pray for the next year for a new “formula” for escape from my guilt – which never came. Finally I faced the fact that all of my prayers had not done a bit of good. God helped me to be honest with myself. I finally admitted that Psalms 66:18 meant what it said, and that the only prayer God was willing to listen to from my mouth was a prayer of repentance. I found the world a scarier place without the comfort of prayer. Yet still this was not enough to move me. I continued to “pray” during family devotions twice a day as usual, to keep up my good appearances with my parents.
I converted my secret half hour or daily prayer into a half hour of trying to think about my situation to see if I could find an easy way out.
At the heart of my struggle was whether I was going to hell. For some strange reason, even though I was not scared of God’s judgments on me in this life, I was very much afraid of His wrath in eternity. If I could stay a hypocrite and still make it to heaven, I was willing to endure the punishments on earth. It is a very sad state for any person to be in, to be so hard headed that hell is the only remaining motivation that works. If I had somehow been able to ease my fear of hell, I think I probably would be well on my way towards going there. If the prospect of spending eternity in conscious torment had not moved me, nothing would have.
I tried not to believe that I was going to hell, and I had succeeded for 7 years. I based my belief around my childhood acceptance of Jesus as my sin-bearer. Of course, this brings up two subjects which are controversial in many church circles: whether or not a Christian can lose his salvation if he falls into sin, and whether we must accept Jesus as sin-bearer and master to be saved, or merely as sin-bearer.
The first of these arguments boils down to minor issues. One camp would probably say that I had lost my salvation by persisting in known sin. The other camp would say that people who are truly saved do not continue in a known sin and therefore I had never truly become a Christian. Either way, what matters is whether we are saved now, not whether we were before. If you’re trying to get as close to God as you possibly can, you don’t need to worry about losing your salvation. If you are doing things you know are wrong, are not actively trying to change, and hoping that God’ll just forgive you anyway, you are in danger of hell fire.
The second argument, whether we must accept Jesus as Lord (master) to be saved, is more serious. To accept Him as Lord means that He becomes our ultimate authority. We step off the throne of our heart and He sits down there. We give up the “right” to make our own decisions. It does not mean that we instantly become perfect – it takes time to learn to listen for His voice, time to unlearn bad habits, and time to expose sins that we weren’t even aware of. It simply means that the main focus of our willpower is finding out and carrying out God’s will. It is the direction we are moving, not where we are, that matters most.
Those who believe that we can be saved without accepting Jesus as Lord argue that surrendering to Jesus is a “work”, and we all agree that we are saved from hell not by any good work that we have done but by faith in the death of Jesus in our place as payment for our sins. However, I don’t see how surrendering can honestly be called “work”. It is continuing to fight against God that is work. Surrender does not mean we have to conquer any bad habits before coming to Christ, it simply means giving up the fight, and being willing to change. That is not work, that’s relaxation!
If I had had to ask forgiveness of everybody I had wronged before I could come to God, I never would have escaped from my rebellion. That would have been a works-based deliverance.
At the time, I actually did not understand this as clearly as I do now. But in the days after I realized praying was futile and began trying to face the truth, God graciously convinced me that I was on my way to hell. The argument He used can be outlined as follows:
1. If you repeatedly refuse to do something you know God wants you to do, you do not really believe that God’s commands are for your own good.
2. If you do not believe that God’s commands are for your own good, you don’t really believe that God loves you. You think He’s a tyrant.
3. If you don’t believe that God loves you, you can’t really believe that Jesus died for your sins (because His death is undeniable proof of His love).
4. If you don’t believe that Jesus died for your sins, you are going to hell.
In this argument, I am using “believe” in the true Biblical sense, not just in the sense of mental assent. The difference between the two is the difference between “believing” that a chair will support your weight and actually sitting in it.
God Delivers Me!
I took a couple days to think this logic over, hoping to find a loophole. I could not. Therefore, I arrived at the exceedingly difficult conclusion that I was on my way to hell.
As I have already shared, fear of hell was the only fear strong enough to move me, but even it did not move me instantly. Knowing that if I surrendered to God the very first thing I would need to do would be confess my hypocrisy to my parents, I deliberately waited to surrender until after they had gone to bed, so that I could wait until morning to talk to them.
Thus it was that just a few days before I turned nineteen, at 9:06 PM on September 16, 1996 (I looked at the clock – wouldn’t you?) I surrendered control of my life to Jesus. I felt absolutely nothing emotionally. No bright lights or bells ringing. But I knew from what the Bible says that God had accepted my surrender and saved me.
If I were God, I probably would not have accepted a surrender like mine. I probably would have said, “Hey Daniel, what makes you think you can surrender at any time you want and instantly receive my forgiveness? For almost 7 years you’ve played games with the truth I’ve given you in the Bible, pretended to be a dedicated follower of Mine, rebelled against My laws when you don’t happen to like them. And even now the only reason you’re surrendering is not because you love Me but because you’re afraid of hell.”
But God isn’t that way. Right now He is eager to forgive all who come to Him in repentance. He forgives without reservation.
There will come a time for each of us when it is too late to be forgiven, when we die or when Jesus comes back, whichever comes first. Fortunately for me, that time did not come before 9:06 PM on September 16, 1996. If it had, I would have gone to hell. That was a dangerous game of Russian roulette I played! I hope that if you are not presently fully surrendered to Jesus’ authority in your life, you will step off the throne immediately. God was kind enough to wait 7 years for me, but there is no guarantee that He will wait any longer for you. We are all just a heartbeat and a breath away from death.
The Man I Almost Was
The Bible tells a sad story about a man named Saul. God specifically picked Saul out of all the people of Israel to be their first king. His reign started with God’s blessing. But somewhere along the road, Saul decided to switch from being a king to a King. He wanted to be the ultimate authority for his life instead of remaining under God’s authority. For the most part, he still obeyed God – but like me, he only obeyed when God’s plan agreed with his own.
God warned Saul several times but still he did not listen. So God told him, “I am going to give the kingdom to someone else who will obey Me.”
Over time, Saul figured out who this replacement was going to be, a young fellow named David who seemed to succeed at everything he did, the way Saul had when he was younger. But rather than turning the kingdom over to David like a gentleman, Saul repeatedly tried to kill him.
God sent an enemy army against Israel. Saul mustered the forces of Israel and desperately tried to get God to give him some battle strategies. Of course, God wouldn’t answer him because the only prayer God was willing to hear from Saul’s mouth was a prayer of repentance. Finally Saul went to a witch to get advice. She contacted a spirit which told him, “You are going to die in battle tomorrow.” This scared Saul almost out of his wits, but it did not scare him enough to repent.
The next day, he was seriously injured in battle and the enemy was closing in on him. Even then he could have repented, asked God to forgive him, and asked for help. And who knows, God might have miraculously gotten him out of there. Or at worst he would have died at peace with God.
Instead, however, Saul chose to commit suicide.
What a tragic end to a promising life! Saul could have regained God’s blessing on his life. All he had to do was resign from being king and let David take over.
I praise God that my life is no longer on the same course as Saul’s. And if you are still calling the shots in any area of your life, I beg you to step down from the throne right now. It will never be any easier to surrender than it is right now. The longer you wait the harder it gets. And some day, perhaps even today, it will be forever too late.
As you would expect, I did not sleep very good the night after I surrendered. When my parents got up the next morning, I immediately confessed my sins of hypocrisy to them and received their forgiveness. It was hard, but not as hard as asking forgiveness under my “incrementalization” theory the year before.
Over the next several months, as God brought people that I’d hurt to mind and helped me locate their phone numbers, I was able to gain a clear conscience. God gave me the strength I needed for each call. Most brought a wonderful sense of relief and joy afterward.
Since that time, my life has not been without suffering and sin. But God has been faithful. When I suffer, He gives me a better picture of His power and love. When I sin, He points it out to me. Sometimes I am still slow to acknowledge that what I am doing is wrong, but once I do, He gives me the strength to change.
One thing that I have found of enormous help in conquering sinful habits is accountability. I don’t believe that one needs to confess every single sin to anyone but God. Sins that hurt others should be confessed to them. But habitual sins should be confessed to one or more “accountability partners”. The Bible says, “Confess your faults to one another, and pray for each other, that you may be healed.” In my own life, I find that accountability gives me the extra boost I need to conquer certain habits that willpower alone can’t conquer.
I would also like to say that surrender is a daily decision. There are constant temptations to get back on the throne.