Truth That Matters

"What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?" - Jesus Christ

Johnny's testimony

I was born in 1979. My parents were disciples of Jesus Christ, and so I grew up learning the Bible. I was aware of other belief systems such as Hinduism and Atheism at a young age. I also knew that these worldviews are not mutually compatible, but I did not give much thought to it. I used to have a vague belief in my head that the Bible is correct and that Jehovah, the God of the Bible, is the true God.

When I was 15, I thought that:

  • There are some lousy things in life: disease, having to study/work for a living, etc.
  • There are a lot of good things in life, the principal ones being fame/reputation, money and sex.

I decided that I would choose the path of hard work and academic excellence to give me the good things in life I wanted. I hoped that my experience of life would see me encounter more good than bad.

There was a problem with my strategy: coming up in life was not going to be easy, at least in India. Only the top few percent of students in India get access to good university education and there is a lot of competition for those top few positions. I turned to God for help. I tried to use God for my purposes. I wanted him to help me study well in high school and university so that I could enjoy the good life. I started reading my Bible and praying to Him regularly. I prayed hard that He would enable me to get admission to one of the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT), the best engineering institutes in India.

When I was 17, I completed high school and cleared my entrance exam for admission to IIT. I joined IIT-Bombay, located at Mumbai. I was thrilled. Here was I, on my way to academic (and presumably, professional) excellence, and God seemed to be helping me!

When I was near the end of my second year of engineering, my feelings were very different. I was doing well. Not only was I at one of the best places to study in Asia, I was topping my class. But the euphoria that I expected to feel as a result was absent. It seemed that life was a pathetic investment - the fruits, or the good things of life, didn't match up to the travail needed to achieve it. I began to feel depressed, even suicidal. This forced me to give a hard look at life:

  • What is the meaning of life? What on earth am I here for?!
  • Am I condemned to live a life that I don't consider worth living, or is there something external that can infuse meaning into my life?
  • There is a tendency (at least in India) to equate intelligence (or good academic performance) with morality - the "good" guys study well. Indian society also tends to be proud of its "family values", "ethics", etc. However, life in the hostel (dormitory/fraternity) brings out people's true colors. What I saw was UTTER MORAL DEPRAVITY. I wondered: if education fails so miserably to instill character in people, can anything (or anyone) else genuinely transform people?
  • I saw students so insecure, they were ready to do anything just to be accepted by their peers. Strangely enough, professors weren't any better. There were many of them so mortified by their perception that students did not respect them, or that their fields of specialization weren't "hot" fields any more, that I felt pity for them - and these were some of the most highly esteemed people in India. I wondered: as human beings, is there any way we can be ourselves, or do we have to keep putting on facades, pretending to have it all together, doing things for others' approval, etc?

I also thought about how I needed to relate to God. At that time, my perception of God was as follows: I understood the message of the Bible - that God was holy and we people are sinners, that Jesus Christ, in shedding his blood and dying paid the penalty for our sins, and so we could get forgiveness for our sins and be redeemed [set free from the guilt and condemnation of sin] by believing in him. I had a mental assent to the teachings of the Bible and so I thought that God would forgive me and let me into heaven.

However, I wasn't experiencing the peace, joy and righteousness that the Bible said would characterize those who belong to Him (see Romans 14:17). So I thought I'd probably missed something somewhere.

At any rate, my questions prompted me to seek God. I took more interest in spending time with God alone and in church. Around that time, the pastor of the church that I was attending (the Church at Powai, Mumbai) did a series of sermons on Philippians 3:3-14. In this chapter, Paul the apostle writes about how he had so many things going for him - pure Jewish lineage, an excellent education, and great discipline and fervor in doing all the right rituals in Judaism, that supposedly made a person pure and holy. Then Paul goes on to say:

"But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss because of Christ. But no, rather, I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the Law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith;" - Philippians 3:7-9

It slowly sunk in. All I had given God was a mental assent to who He was and what His Son Jesus Christ had done for the human race. My  pursuit of happiness was the "main thing" in my life, and He was just an after-thought, to be consulted if I wanted something. I now realized that Jehovah, the God of the Bible, does not accept anyone on such terms. If I wanted to belong to Him, and avail of His gift of salvation (escape from the consequences of sin), then I'd have to receive Him on his terms. What does he expect of me? He made that clear in Philippians 3:3-14 and elsewhere in the Bible.

I had to repent - turnaround from my sinful lifestyle, stop living for myself and start living for Him. I had to not just mentally assent to the message of the Bible, but believe it in my heart and make my life a response to it. He had to be the "main thing" in my life. I was to live life guided and directed by Him, and not my own desires. I took the decision to receive Jesus Christ as my LORD and savior.

The results were stunning. Suicidal depression turned to "joy unspeakable". Mundane, cheap living was replaced by "righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost". Meaninglessness was replaced by meaningfulness and purpose! I found that all the questions that I grappled with earlier have their answer in God and His Son Jesus Christ!

The refrain of a song by Graham Kendrick captures how I felt shortly after surrendering my life to Jesus Christ:

Knowing You, Jesus, Knowing You
There is no greater thing
You're my all, you're the best
You're my joy, my righteousness
And I love you Lord

I looked at my earlier life and was reminded of King Solomon (who ruled Israel 971-931 BC), one of the richest kings ever. He had it all - wealth, entertainment, beautiful surroundings, women, a hassle free life [in terms of war, political unrest, etc] - all the things that people crave after. He wondered what was the best way to live, and experimented with different things - the study of science, building projects, cultural advancement, hedonism - and was forced to conclude that it was all "vanity and vexation of spirit" (see Ecclesiastes 1:1 onwards in the Bible). What are the answers to the questions I was struggling with?

  • What on earth am I here for?! For Him! He created me to worship and serve Him! I found true joy in that!
  • How can life be made worthwhile? By turning it over to Him! The Creator is the One who knows what's the best thing to do with His creation!
  • How can people be morally transformed?! By surrendering to Jesus Christ. The Bible says that God gives  His Spirit to dwell in those who surrender to Him. He imparts a new nature to us - a spiritual nature that is genuinely good, unlike our natural nature, that is incorrigibly sinful. When we surrender to Him, He begins a process of sanctification - making us like Jesus Christ. Instead of trying to work on my intrinsic fleshly nature, I submit to His Spirit, working in me. Thus, I am genuinely transformed. My morality is no longer a facade, but something genuine.
  • What about acceptance and dignity? The Bible says that when I decided to surrender to Him, God accepted me in His beloved Son Jesus Christ [Ephesians 1:6, and it really felt that way!]. In the Bible, David calls God the One who lifts up his head (Psalm 3:3). My dignity lies in the fact that God accepts me [not because I was so acceptable, but it was possible for a holy God to accept unacceptable people because of the sacrifice that Jesus accomplished when he died] - I don't have to worry about other people accepting me! I don't need to do anything to please anyone! I am free to be me - all that God intended for me to be!
  • What about the ephemeral nature of life? Well, Jesus Christ rose again from the dead - this means He is powerful enough to impart eternal life to those who come to Him. Disciples of Jesus Christ will never meet for the last time, because they'll all spend eternity with Him!!

Today, I have to eat, sleep, work, travel and earn my living like anyone else - but that's not what I'm passionate about. I'm passionate about Jehovah, and His Son Jesus Christ. I am His child, His worshiper and His servant! I'm eager to tell others about Him, because He's given me eternal life - nothing could be more valuable than that.

The song writer William Cowper penned these words in the 18th century, that have become my motto in life:

E'er since by faith I saw
The healing streams thy flowing wounds supply
Redeeming love has been my theme
And shall be till I die