One year ago, on August 31st, 2006, I was very startled to see an
email pop up in my inbox from a person I knew long ago and far away, Jim Pierce!
I had not heard from Jim in approximately seventeen years. Back then, I had
watched helplessly as this young man turned into a hardened atheist. Now
his letter was telling me about the mire of sin he had sunk into in the
intervening years. His main reason for writing, however, was to joyfully
share with me how God had rescued him in his most desperate hour! Though Jim
had left God, God had never abandoned Jim. Being finally brought to his
knees by the Law, he was raised to new life by the Gospel of Jesus Christ! This
is Jim’s story…
- Greta Olsoe
By Jim Pierce
17"When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' 20So he got up and went to his father. "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21"The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.
22"But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate. Luke 15:17-24 (NIV)
“When he came to his senses…” the scripture goes. For some that takes much longer than it does for others, but I know this -- the grace of the Almighty was extended to me and the convicting power of the Holy Spirit was applied like a salve on my blind eyes, opening them to see my dark stony heart and the sin miring me down! I was sinking in a pit with no ability to rescue myself and I didn’t see my sin, but one day the “lights” turned on, I saw the wretchedness I was wallowing in and I came to my senses. My journey to God has been a long one and I can’t say that I was trying to find him; if anything I was running as far away as I could. The following is my story -- a testimony to the far reaching hand of the Lord.
It isn’t like I grew up with no knowledge of the Bible. My mother was a very religious person and took my siblings and me to church every Sunday and Wednesday. We lived in a very poor part of town. My father was a military man and, as it is today, the pay wasn’t terribly good back then! I can remember being taken to a one room church house. The church was an Assembly of God mission and the pastor was a humble man. I can remember him preaching fire and brimstone, singing, praying, and talking some in tongues. I never did see any snakes, so I am happy to report my mother wasn’t that kind of “holy roller”! This was in 1972; I was eight years old.
I remember my mother being happy in our little mission, but she met someone who seemed to have an authoritative grasp of the scripture and he preached that the Holy Trinity was a lie, that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit were all one person. He also told her that she needed to be baptized in the name of Jesus only. I was too young to remember what finally persuaded my mother to leave the little Assembly of God mission, but she left and took my brother and me with her to the United Pentecostal Church in Auburn, Washington in 1974. It is in the United Pentecostal Church that I would learn everything I knew about the Bible, but sadly I never knew the word of God! I would pray, speak in tongues, and fervently testify of my belief in the one true God, but I know now I never knew him. Oddly, it was when I became an ordained minister of the United Pentecostal Church, at the young age of twenty-one, that I began to feel strong pangs of doubt about my faith. I felt that I needed to know that I had truth! Thus began my journey in the search for truth.
I hadn’t attended college. Preachers in my church discouraged “worldly associations” and a college education was frowned on by some, and scorned by others. Thankfully, my young wife was college educated and she encouraged me to go to college. I was still a minister and thought it only right to at least get some sort of formal education, so I began taking a Koine Greek class at a local bible college. Learning “biblical” Greek only seemed to inflame my doubts about my doctrines! I became confused and put in a letter of resignation from the ministry. I didn’t believe I was fit for pastoral duties at the church where I was an assistant pastor at twenty three years of age.
After resigning from the ministry at the United Pentecostal Church I began attending different churches. Nothing seemed to really satisfy me about the churches I attended. I wanted to know truth, but the leadership of the churches I went to wanted to teach things like prosperity, and self motivation. These pastors seemed afraid of doctrine and more inclined towards “doctrines” about making money.
I had been an avid listener of Christian radio and enjoyed listening to the late Dr. Walter Martin. Indeed, I would write letters to him and his staff debating the doctrine of the Trinity, testing my beliefs in Oneness Pentecostalism. Eventually, I assented to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity as a matter of fact. My wife and I began to attend a local Western Conference Baptist church where I asked to be rebaptised, having confessed my sins to the “new” God I had intellectually recognized. Don’t get me wrong, dear reader; I went through the motions of being a Christian. I prayed, I read the Bible, I moderated my dress and I didn’t swear. I tried to follow the Ten Commandments, but all in all I had simply brought myself to an idea of God under the power of my own intellect. I had yet to experience the weight of sin in my life. I was still blinded to my need of the grace of God to lift me out of the quicksand I was sinking in. And sink deeper I would!
We all know the old saying “That sword cuts both ways!” and we apply the saying to situations in our lives where we want to do something, but know that it could backfire on us, causing more trouble than good. My fervent desire to understand “truth” was good, but I had no idea what sword I was swinging in my battle and I was cut on the back swing! I had been what I considered a “good Christian” . I joined a local apologetics organization as their Oneness Pentecostal expert. I spoke in churches and before groups about the dangers of “Sabellianism”. (The heresy of the Oneness doctrine goes all the way back in church history to its third century founder, Sabellius. He taught that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were not persons, but simply three aspects of God, thereby saying that the Father was the Son and the Son was the Holy Spirit, etc.). However, I wasn’t saved. I had merely given intellectual assent to his nature. In sum, I was a philosophical “Christian” doing things I thought would save me from hell. Sure, I was the “go to guy” when it came to doctrinal facts, but I was oblivious to my sinful nature! I had not come face to face with the utter hopelessness of life without the grace of God! I didn’t recognize my broken condition, because I thought that following the rules, my little play book of doctrines, was all that I needed in order to find myself in heaven one day! I treated salvation like a logical formula, like a syllogism! As long as I had a valid form down pat, I must be saved! Notice the reliance upon works?
My thirst for knowledge and facts drove me away from the Bible. I met a fellow who was sort of a mystic. He was an agnostic for sure and we shared similar backgrounds in Oneness Pentecostalism. He was able to convince me that I didn’t know God because I didn’t have facts to prove the existence of God without a shadow of doubt! The same rigorous style of argumentation that I used to persuade Oneness Pentecostals of their errors was now being wielded against me by this man! The sword was cutting on the back swing! Over time I was convinced that I believed an ancient mythology and I dropped Christianity altogether in 1988. I tried Buddhism, Taoism, and even Native American religions, but quickly declared them all unreasonable and decided I was an atheist. After all, I could never know there was a god of any kind (agnosticism) and I could prove through logical reason, at least I thought so, that there was no god at all (hard atheism)! I set out with my new found rationalism and began to judge the world according to reason. I had become my very own “ubermensch”! Who needs god but the weak?! Who needs religion but those poor people who believe they have souls in need of salvation?! The dogmatic utterance of Friedrich Nietzsche, that religion is the opiate of the masses, became my motto.
It was during this time that a pastor’s wife in a Lutheran Brethren Church took up the bold task of reaching out to me and preaching the gospel. I had known her when I was a “Christian”, and even delivered a talk about the Oneness Pentecostals to a small group of eager listeners in her home. She was valiant in her efforts, but alas she was no match for a freshly hardened heart. Yet, God does work through the faithful and she said something I know today was from the Holy Spirit. It was a seed so strong it could only have come from God, since it pierced through my stony heart of pride and buried itself so deep within that I couldn’t reach it with my rationalism. What was this spiritual seed that could pierce a hard heart and grow over many, many years? She said that one day I would find myself in such a quandary over my sins that I would need the forgiveness that could only come through God. Of course I laughed at what I thought was nonsense! Even as an atheist I was leading a good life. I didn’t steal, cheat, or lie, and I gave to charitable causes. I was a “good” person and I did it all out of selfishness, since I wanted to prove to myself that I could be called “good” based upon actions that earned such an ascription! Wasn’t I taught by the Pentecostals that there was a “formula” for salvation and all I had to do was follow it? Wasn’t I taught by the prosperity preachers that I could make myself better by acting a certain “godly” way and thereby get rich? Did not society teach me that I am what I do? If you do good acts, then you must be good! Do bad actions and you are a bad person! So, I wasn’t terribly concerned about the ramblings of a pastor’s wife about needing salvation from sins! I had the formula for a good life: my works make me who I am. Boy, oh boy, was I on my way to being crushed by the law! All it would take was one thing in my life so insidious, something that would make me feel so helpless, that I would cry out to the God I denied existed! It would take years, but it would happen!
The Bible says that the LORD is faithful and his love for us lasts forever (Psalm 100). The Bible also tells me that all are sinners and are justified by the power of God’s grace (Romans 3: 22-26). It is the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives that brings us face to face with sin. God is patient and loving and he will hunt us down and find us even if we don’t believe in him! Make no mistake about it: God knows what is within our hearts and his saving grace is greater than any sin we can commit!
I was still married to the same loving wife who had followed me on my journey. She never became an atheist as I did; neither did she become an agnostic. We didn’t talk much about spiritual matters. However, I also had two growing children by this time and they did have questions about life in general; you know, the “big questions” such as “Is there a god?” and “How did we get here?” Looking at my children I couldn’t honestly tell them what to believe. I was having doubts about my atheism, since I was beginning to feel out of control. My sins were starting to feel heavy; they were becoming a burden to me. How could that be? Wasn’t I an ubermensch, a law unto myself? No. I found myself talking to my children about things like “faith” and the possibility there is a higher power than us all. The knocking at my door was faintly heard, but the Holy Spirit was working on that seed planted in my heart years earlier. God was there! Where was I?
In 1997 a great change took place in my heart. I was watching a sci-fi movie called “Contact”. It is about an atheistic scientist who discovers alien intelligence and a device to take her to another galaxy in the far reaches of space. In her struggle to become the person who gets to go on the trip to this other world she constantly runs into her lack of faith, and others questioning that lack of faith. Anyway, as the movie progresses she finally gets to travel to this other world. While in space she sees beautiful nebulae and with tears in her eyes says, “I never knew”. At once she saw her hubris in thinking she could know even the mysteries of the universe through empiricism! I began to get tears in my eyes, too. I had never felt the way that I did at that movie. Who was I to deny that I was a creation of the divine? What if my intellect was the product of some god’s intervention in the universe? What if I was wrong and there was a higher power, a creator and sustainer of all? I had asked all these sorts of questions before and was able to provide intellectual answers to them, but this time was different. I could provide rational explanations to be sure, but they didn’t satisfy me deep down inside. What was that? Deep down inside! Where was I going? I was now even thinking I had a soul! From that moment on I decided there had to be faith in the world. Faith in what I didn’t know, but I knew in my heart that I didn’t have all the answers and that to get through life I would need some sort of faith!
God was with me in every step I took, patiently hunting down my soul. God never left my side and jealously protected me from eternal damnation! I have so much to be thankful for! I thank you Lord, for you are indeed my Savior and my Redeemer! You took my black heart of sin into your hands and washed it clean because of the sacrifice of the One who died to save us all! Praise God! I am still a sinner but the grace of God is greater than my sins!
I had been struggling with alcohol abuse for years now. I was drinking heavily to numb myself, to what I didn’t know at the time, but numb I wanted to be! I did know that I was in dire need spiritually. I was now seeing that I had a hole in my heart so large and deep that there was nothing I could humanly do to fill it up. There is still nothing that I can do to fill up that space. If I could do something then I would, that is my nature. God must have created circumstances such that I would see that chasm in my soul. In fact he did. “The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:20,21 NIV) God brought the law to show us just how morally corrupt we are by our very nature. If we could save ourselves by observing a set of rules, then we wouldn’t need the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross! “For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law.” (Galatians 3:21 NIV) The Good Shepherd was knocking at my door! Could I open the door?
I was in the shower washing one day after a night of heavy drinking. I felt such deep despair and utter hopelessness about my condition. I couldn’t control myself. I was being embattled by my own alcohol abuse and there was nothing I could do and I found myself praying a short prayer: “God, if you are really here by my side I am needing you now more than at any time in my life. I was dead in sin and I needed God to raise me! You know, he did just that! God is true to his word! It is wonderful to know that God has provided grace for our salvation!
The short prayer I prayed in the shower was my call for help and it came. My heart was softened by God for salvation and one night I found myself accepting the invitation of Jesus and I repented of my sins, asked to receive the grace of God, and then prayed the Apostles creed.
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
The above is a very condensed version of my testimony, but I have touched upon points that I find considerably important as to why I am where I am at today. What I know is that the grace of God is powerful. God broke me upon the law to show me that I am wholly incapable of saving my own soul through any type of works. No amount of praying the Apostles Creed can make me better before God. No amount of confessing what a sinner I am can make me better before God. God showed me what a terrible sinner I am and just how much I need him in my life. God gave his grace to me! I follow Jesus not out of fear or condemnation. I follow Jesus because he was there for me when I needed him most in my life. I am compelled to follow Jesus because he kept his promise. He died for my sins and rose the third day to conquer the death that comes because of our sinful nature. He set me free from my bonds and asked that I walk with him. How can I say no to such love? I can’t. So I repent and follow my Lord and surrender to his grace daily. I do not deserve salvation, but he deserves my worship.
“8But what does it say? ‘The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,’ that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: 9That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. 11As the Scripture says, ‘Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame’”. (Romans 9:8-11 NIV)