A Personal Testimony

By John Roden

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My parents were divorced when I was quite young, and my mother had a mental condition which required hospitalization. My dad was far away at the time, so consequently I was raised by my great-grandparents in Mississippi. They were Bible-believing Christians, so I grew up in an atmosphere where the Bible was read, prayer was recited verbally while on our knees, and radio preachers were heard daily. I attended a local Baptist church from childhood, and after repeated urgings from the pulpit to "come forward to be saved," I made a profession of faith and was baptized when I was 11 years old. I became "religious" for awhile, tried to live a better life, "turned over a new leaf," and made an effort not to tell lies, engage in petty theft, or "talk back" to Grandma. That didn't last long, and by the time I was 12 or 13, I was back to doing the same old sins, and new ones I had learned. I still attended church and Sunday school occasionally, but after church I could be seen away from home smoking a cigar, and thinking I was "somebody come." When an opportunity arose to "shop-lift" an item from a local store or from someone else's home, I would do that, hoping not to get caught.

My grandfather passed away when I was 16 years old, and arrangements were made for Grandma to move to Tennessee to live with one of her daughters. Since my mother was in a mental institution at the time, my dad--who had remarried and was living in California--came and picked me up, and I was relocated to live with him and my stepmother in the big city of San Francisco. This happened in the middle of my junior year of high school. It was quite a change for a "country boy" to be uprooted from a small town in Mississippi to attend a high school which had more students than my hometown had residents! However, it didn't take long for me to learn the ways of teenagers in the big city, and I was soon drinking and smoking, dancing to rock and roll music, and "partying hard."

The summer I graduated from high school my dad decided to move to Louisiana where he and one of his brothers went into the printing business together. At this time my mother was living with my grandmother and my aunt and uncle in Tennessee, so I spent the summer after graduation with them. They were professing Christians, so I began to attend church with them. After a few Sundays attending church, my conscience troubled me to the point that I made another profession of faith and was baptized again, reformed my life, and poured my stash of whiskey and vodka down the toilet. This reformation lasted a few years, but eventually faded away and I was back to ungodly and worldly living, even worse than before.

I learned the printing trade with the help of my dad, and worked in newspapers and print shops in various places in the South and in California. I was working in Sacramento, CA when I was drafted into the Army, and sent to Ft. Gordon, GA for basic training. After basic, I volunteered for Airborne, completed jump school at Ft. Benning, GA, and was then stationed at Ft. Bragg, NC. My life as an Army paratrooper after hours and on weekends was spent in heavy drinking, bar-hopping in Fayetteville, and partying and carousing. God sent me a few close calls with death during this period of my life, but sadly my heart was so hardened that I did not heed them. There was a car accident and a fire in the barracks, both of which could have easily taken my life and sent me into eternity as a lost sinner. Praise God for His mercy and long-suffering in preserving my life before He saved me!

After being discharged from the 82d Airborne Division in Fort Bragg, NC in 1965, I moved to Washington, DC, went to work as a printer at the Washington Post, and continued the same ungodly lifestyle. It was about this time that I met the girl who would soon become my wife, and it was the first of a series of events which brought real change to my life. (I've often said that other than salvation in Christ, the best thing that ever happened to me was meeting and marrying Loretta!) Shortly after marriage, I believe the Lord began to deal with me in mercy and grace, bringing conviction of sin, and an earnest desire to be truly saved. I refer to this experience as Holy Spirit conviction, which eventually led to true salvation.

I used the term, "Hell-deserving sinner" in referring to myself because this is the truth which the Lord showed me under Holy Spirit conviction (John 16:7-11; Acts 2:37) before He saved me, and as He dealt with me in grace and mercy for salvation. It was in the Spring of 1967 that the Holy Spirit was pleased to awaken me to the fact that I was a lost, guilty, Hell-deserving sinner (2 Corinthians 4:3-4; Romans 3:19), condemned by the holy Law of God (Galatians 3:10), and under the sentence of death and the wrath of a holy, sin-avenging God (Romans 5:12; Ezekiel 18:4; Romans 1:18; John 3:36). The Law of God requires perfect love to God and man (Matthew 22:35-40), but the truth is, I had really only loved myself supremely. He showed me from His Word that though I had made several religious professions in earlier years as a young person and as a teenager, I was in reality a rebel against Him (Lamentations 1:18), a hypocrite (Job 8:13), and an enemy (Romans 8:7) of the great, sovereign God Who had created me and Who was sustaining my life moment by moment. With the very breath He had been giving me, I had been using it to blaspheme His holy name and the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

It was through the preaching of faithful servants of Christ I was shown by the Holy Spirit (He made it a living reality to my own heart) that I was a totally depraved lost sinner, before the eyes and under the scrutiny of a sovereign, all-seeing God Who had always known, in minute detail, my every wicked thought and every evil deed (Psalm 139:1-12). I was shown, by the enlightening power of the Holy Spirit, that He had always witnessed the ill-will, envy, jealousy, and hatred I sometimes bore in my heart toward others, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:15-17), the covetousness (Exodus 20:17), the vain-glory (Galatians 5:26; Philippians 2:3), all the lies I had ever told (Revelation. 21:8), and all the acts of deceit, theft, drunkenness, and lusts of the flesh which I had ever committed (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

The Holy Spirit was probing my heart, shining the light of truth into it, and causing me to take an honest look at myself, as I really appeared before God, and in doing so He was showing me the truthfulness of Jeremiah 17:9-10, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings." Further, He set the sins of my youth and childhood before me in such a way (by recalling from memory) that I became thoroughly convinced that I was a sinner not only by practice but by birth: "The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies" (Psalm 58:3); "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me" (Psalm 51:5). All of my so-called righteousness, which I thought I had, was swept away and utterly demolished in the light of a passage of Scripture which the Lord brought to bear upon my heart with power, Isaiah 64:6, "But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away."

I continued in this state of utter hopelessness and despair for some time, thinking that it was not possible that a holy God could love such a sinner as I, and knowing that I justly deserved the condemnation that rested upon me. I truly expected to be cut off and sent to Hell at any moment, and knew that it was only by the mercy and longsuffering of God that I was still out of Hell at the age of 27. I grieved over how I had treated the God who had been so good and merciful to me, in spite of the fact that I had so greatly dishonored Him by my hypocritical behavior and life. However, a glimmer of hope began to rise in my heart one evening as I listened to a message by tape (which is also in print and on this Website) entitled "The Love and Wrath of Christ," and the Lord began to show me His tender mercy and grace toward sinners, as revealed in the Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. I had heard the Gospel all my life, and had thought I had believed it, but that evening, the light of the glorious Gospel of God truly shone into my heart for the first time (2 Corinthians 4:6), as it was made known to me by the Holy Spirit that the Triune God loved sinners, and that the Second Person of the Trinity, the eternal Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, had actually come to this earth, was born of a virgin, was clothed in our nature, in human flesh (John 1:1-3,14), in order to become our Substitute (2 Corinthians 5:21), voluntarily offering Himself as a Sacrifice unto God the Father for sin (1 Peter 2:24; John 10:17-18; Mark 10:45), shedding His own precious blood on Calvary's Cross in behalf of sinners like me!

Though I did not have assurance of salvation at that moment, I began to revel and rejoice in the marvelous grace of God--and how He had made a way for guilty sinners such as I to be reconciled to God through the blood of His Cross (1 Corinthians 5:19-21)! What wisdom then appeared to me in Christ crucified for sinners (1 Corinthians 1:18-24). What a glory in Christ crucified, buried and risen there appeared to me in those hours, as my attention was drawn as by a magnet to the blessed Lord Who was born of a virgin, made under the Law, obeyed it perfectly in order to provide a perfect righteousness for sinners (Galatians 4:4-5; Romans 3:21-22; 5:19), and then bore its penalty as the Sinner's Substitute (Galatians 3:10-13)! Oh, He offered a Perfect Satisfaction in our behalf to the offended justice of God, as the holy and just wrath of God against sinners fell upon Him, and was fully satisfied by His Substitutionary Blood Atonement in our behalf (1 Peter 3:18)! As I reveled in these truths, the Lord put this cry in my heart, "God be merciful to me a sinner!" (Luke 18:13)--on the basis of Who the Lord Jesus is, and what He had done in behalf of guilty sinners.

It was not until the next evening that the Lord Jesus chose to reveal Himself to me as my own personal Lord and Saviour. As I read and meditated upon Romans 5:6-10, the Lord took these words and made them personal to my own heart:

"For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life."

What joy began to flow into my heart, and what rejoicing filled my soul, as He made Himself known to me as the One who loved this poor sinner, and showed me that all that He has done for lost sinners, He had done for me! I know that He died for others also, but at that moment, for the first time in my life, it was personal! The love of the Lord Jesus Christ for me personally filled my soul with gladness and joy, and I was enabled to just rest in Him, marveling that God could love such a sinner as I am (1 John 4:9-11)! From that moment on, the Lord Jesus has been a precious Lord and Saviour to this poor sinner (1 Peter 2:7)!--and though I have surely failed Him many times since in not being the Christian I ought to have been (1 John 1:7-10; James 5:16), it is my sincere desire, as I am enabled by the GRACE of God (Philippians 2:12-13), to daily bow to His gracious Lordship over me (Romans 14:9), in repentance forsaking my sins (Isaiah 55:6-7; Acts 11:18; 20:21), and seeking to obey and serve Him all the rest of the days of my life (John 14:15)--until that Day comes when I shall behold Him in glory, and fall at His pierced feet in adoration and worship and praise forevermore to the One Who died for me! With regard to that Day, which every true believer longs for and eagerly anticipates, 1 John 3:2-3 has special significance:

"Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure."

How about you, my dear friend? Has the Lord ever opened your own heart, brought you face to face with your own wickedness and sinfulness, shown you that you are a fallen son or daughter of Adam (Romans 5:12-19), a lost sinner both by birth and by practice? Has the true and living God, the God Who reveals Himself in the Holy Scriptures, revealed Himself to you in His true character, as a holy, sin-hating, sin-avenging God, Who according to His glorious justice and holiness, shall punish every sin you've ever committed, either in you throughout eternity in the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:11-15), or in the Person of a Substitute, the Lord Jesus Christ, Who took the sinner's place before Him on Calvary's Cross over 2,000 years ago (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24, 3:18)? Has the Lord granted you true repentance (Acts 11:18, 5:31; 2 Cor. 7:9-11; Luke 13:3; Acts 20:21), so that you acknowledged and admitted the truth about yourself as a lost, guilty sinner before a Holy God (2 Timothy 2:25)? And then can you say that the crucified, buried, risen, exalted, and glorified Lord Jesus Christ has been revealed to you as your own personal Lord and Saviour--the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Matthew 16:15-17; Galatians 1:15-16)? Do you know Him (1 John 5:20; John 17:3), and as a result of knowing Him, is He now truly precious to you (1 Peter 2:7), my friend? I hope so! If not, I would urge you to seek Him with all your heart (Deuteronomy 4:29; Isaiah 55:6-7)!

Some Biblical Observations and Conclusions

As I think and meditate about those events described above that took place over 50 years ago, I believe that I can now draw some Biblical conclusions and observations, after having been taught more of the sovereign grace of God, and His method of dealing with and saving sinners.

Total Depravity

1. It is a great blessing and mercy from God to be taught the truth of total depravity experimentally. We may study this doctrine, and learn it intellectually, but only the Holy Spirit of God can apply it to the heart and make it personal! One may even be proud that he understands the doctrine as it is set forth in the Scriptures, and debate it with others, arguing strongly for total depravity and human inability. But it is an humbling truth when we learn it personally, and know that we are totally depraved and lost and undone before God!

2. The saints of God throughout history have been taught this doctrine experimentally by the Lord. Here are some examples:

DAVID said in Psalm 51:5, "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me."

ISAIAH said, when God appeared to him in the glory of His holiness, "Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts" (Isaiah 6:5).

JOB said in speaking to God, "I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth Thee. Wherefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:5-6).

PAUL THE APOSTLE said in Rom. 7:18, "I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing." Further, he said in 1 Timothy 1:15, "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to SAVE SINNERS, OF WHOM I AM CHIEF." Note that that last phrase is in the present tense.

JONATHAN EDWARDS, the preacher and theologian who was so greatly used of God in the "Great Awakening" of the 1700's in Colonial America--after many years of walking with God--wrote these words: "When I look into my heart and take a view of its wickedness, it looks like an abyss infinitely deeper than Hell. And it appears to me that, were it not for FREE GRACE, exalted and raised up to the infinite height of all the fulness of the great Jehovah, and the arm of His grace stretched forth in all the majesty of His power, and in all the glory of His sovereignty, I should appear sunk down in my sins below Hell itself. It is affecting to think how ignorant I was when a young Christian, of the bottomless depths of wickedness, pride, hypocrisy, and filth left in my heart."


Unconditional Election and Irresistible Grace

The Bible clearly teaches Unconditional Election in such passages as Acts 13:48, Romans 8:28-30, 9:11-15, John 15:16, and Ephesians 1:3-12. However, when God saved me in 1967, I was not instructed in this truth, but learned it later, while reading Arthur Pink's book, "The Sovereignty of God." How does one know that he has been elected, or chosen of God unto salvation?

We may know our election of God if we have received an effectual call through the irresistible grace of God, according to 1 Thessalonians 1:4-6:

"Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God. For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake. And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost."

In the Spring of 1967, I received an effectual call from God that, in the final analysis, I was unable to resist. I attempted to resist it (1 Corinthians 2:14), just as Saul of Tarsus attempted to resist the pricking of his own heart by the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:5). But it was through the message of the Gospel, preached and delivered in the power of the Holy Spirit, that the Lord opened my heart (Acts 16:14), showing me that I was a lost sinner (2 Corinthians 4:3-4), and by shining the light of truth into my darkened heart (Ephesians 4:18), revealed to me the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6)--the glory of the crucified, buried, risen and exalted Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:18-31; Philippians 2:5-11). According to the passage quoted above, what I was then experiencing was the Gospel coming to me not in word only, but in power and much assurance! At that time, at the age of 27, I was not aware of it, but now I know, from the teaching of God's Holy Word, that what I was then experiencing was God's effectual, irresistible call, the third link of an unbreakable chain of sovereign grace which contains 5 links, according to Romans 8:28-30:

"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow [1], he also did predestinate [2] to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called [3]: and whom he called, them he also justified [4]: and whom he justified, them he also glorified [5]."

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