My Christian Testimony

When did I accept Christ?

Like many people in the United States, I grew up in a Christian home. Both of my parents were strong believers; so it naturally followed that I would adopt Christianity as my faith. But for every person who grows up in a Christian home, there’s always some point in their lives where they make the decision to follow Christ on a personal level, a point where you take ownership of your faith rather than simply relying on the faith of your parents. For me, that came during middle school.

At the time, I was going to a private Christian school, which means that every Wednesday, there is a chapel service. Like most chapels, at the end, the speaker would offer an invitation to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. In my limited understanding of what that meant, I said yes in my mind – every single time. From my upbringing, I understood that I was a sinner (Romans 3:23), in need of forgiveness, and that Christ was the only one who could provide that forgiveness (Romans 6:23). One day, though, during one of the chapels, the question popped in my head, “Why do you keep saying ‘yes’ all the time? Did he not already save you?” After pondering that thought for a while, I made the decision to not respond to the sinner’s prayer. I felt a little awkward not doing it, half expecting lightning to strike me for my insolence. But instead, a little measure of God’s peace came over me, and I slowly gained assurance of my salvation in Christ. I didn’t realize this at the time, but what I was learning to do was trust in God and in His character. He promised me eternal life if I had faith in Him and the work of Jesus on the cross (John 3:16). I was learning to trust in that promise. I repeated this process several times in the weeks following, and each time, I grew in the assurance of my salvation and the trust I had in God’s character.

Around that same time, there was a special chapel where we had a band come and play worship music for us. At the end, they presented the gospel message. I don’t remember exactly what they said, but when they gave the altar call, they asked people to come to the front rather than simply pray a prayer in their mind. I wasn’t the first person to stand and go to the front, but I felt a strong compulsion to do so, wanting to declare the faith I had to my peers. I remember on my way up there, one of the students seemed to challenge me, saying something to the effect of, “Are you really accepting Christ?” I simply responded, “Yes,” and found my way up to the front. After that, they encouraged us to write down in our Bibles the date if we had accepted the Lord. For me, that day was November 14, 2001. Since then, I have never looked back.

My “Thorn in the Flesh” Since Accepting Christ

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
(2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

Within a year of that, I began to struggle with what has since become my “thorn in the flesh” so to speak, something that I never wanted but God has allowed me to struggle with nonetheless – same-sex attractions. Most teenagers have it hard enough going through puberty and the changes that it brings to your body and psyche. But imagine that, instead of developing feelings for the opposite sex like everyone else, you inexplicably develop attractions for the same sex. You feel ashamed. You know what God’s Word says about homosexuality (Romans 1:24-29). You grew up in a Christian home, go to a Christian school, and have recently become a Christian yourself. “How in the world could this happen? What did I do to deserve this? Why, God, won’t you take this away?” These thoughts buzz around in your mind like pestering flies that won’t leave no matter how many times you swat at them. Depression sinks in, and fear says that if anyone were to find out about this, your life would be over. I remember the loneliness I felt those first few years. No one knew what I was struggling with. How could they? I was the good Christian, straight-A student that any parent would have wanted. I wasn’t about to give up that image.

Thankfully, though, God is sovereign over my life and not me. In high school, God brought a man named Monty Sharp into my life. He is the director of Student Venture (the high school branch of Campus Crusade for Christ) for Temecula Valley. He discipled me and became one of the most influential people in my life. He, in many ways, exemplified everything I wanted to be – godly, smart, loving, and strong – in a word: Christ-like. Eventually, I worked up the courage to tell him what I was going through, and I remember him smiling and responding, “Was that so hard?” That was the first time I remember receiving unconditional love as a direct response to my struggle, a love that did not condone my sin (1 Corinthians 13:6) but instead wanted to lift me out of it, the same kind of love only God can show. It was the love exemplified by Jesus when the woman caught in adultery is brought before him in the book of John.

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
(John 8:3-11)

Jesus’ response to the woman, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more,” is the same response he has given to me in my life. He gave me the forgiveness that only He can provide, and that forgiveness grants me freedom from my sins and struggles (See Romans 8 & Galatians 5). Freedom does not mean to no longer struggle with temptations or trials but means to have the freedom to serve God with an undivided heart. It has been that unconditional love and grace only found in Jesus Christ that has made me the man of God I am today.

My Identity in Christ

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
(1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

I am a sinner saved by grace. My salvation is based solely on the grace of God and His work on the cross (Ephesians 2:8-10), not on my good works. My identity in Christ, now, is as his son (Galatians 4:4-7). Through the Spirit’s sanctifying work, my desire is to be more Christ-like in every respect of my character and to serve Him all the days of my life. Day after day, God meets me where I am at so I can live a life wholly dedicated to him, free to serve Him in whatever capacity He desires for my life.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Neal Hardin