I’m trying to turn my life around, but it just doesn’t feel like when I was first saved
Thank you so much for taking my question.
Many years ago, when I was about 18 years old, I was saved. My life was completely changed at that moment, and I remember how for weeks following, I would go outside at night by myself and look up in the sky and contemplate God, in awe of Him and His creation. I began attending church; loved going to every service that I could, weekends and weekdays, and felt so pure and clean; and I loved all the people there. I soaked up the messages from the preacher.
After a few months, I started dating a girl who actually approached me. She was very sweet, and we began seeing each other. We fell into sexual sin, and in shame, I ran from her, from God and the church. I fell into a deep depression, and never returned to that church. I slowly began to spend time with people I worked with who were not saved and fell into many sinful habits, such as returning to smoking (which I did before I was saved) and drinking. I continued to read the Bible occasionally and even watched weekend sermons on television. I never denounced God, I continued to believe, but I stayed away from the church, at first out of shame, and then I certainly lived the life of a sinner.
As the years passed, I married a wonderful Catholic girl, who believed in Christ. However, I continued to sin and live life the way an unsaved person would. Over the years I have continued to feel convicted of my horrible life, although there were certainly times when I didn't think about God much.
At a time of personal calamity, I finally vowed to God to repent, which I have. I have turned from all my sins that I knowingly was committing. I began an earnest study of God's word, as my chief concern is the salvation of my family, and I want to have a good grounding in the word to be able to answer any questions they may have. I have not returned to any church; however, I intend to seek out a church. It is just difficult to find one that preaches the truth.
I must say that it has been different. It has not been like when I was first saved. I didn't know what to expect after repenting, but it isn't like when I was saved. I don't really have a desire to return to the sins I was committing (thank almighty God), but sometimes I find myself blurting out swear words when I get angry or frustrated with myself or some situation, as I used to before I was saved. It bothers me that perhaps God didn't really forgive me, that my heart remains unchanged, and that I am still lost. I remember how pure I felt when I was saved, how I genuinely felt so free of sin. I suppose I was hoping it would be like that again.
I have tended to dig into studies regarding backsliding, and the more I have studied, the more I begin to wonder if God has truly taken me back. I wonder if, perhaps, I had sinned too long, and God will no longer forgive me. I read about Esau's inability to find a place of repentance, about sinning "willfully" (which I certainly did for many years after being saved) and there being no more sacrifice for sins. I read about the children of God with Moses and the golden calf, and how those who sinned were destroyed, and on and on. I know God is a God of mercy, but I also believe in His absolute purity and holiness, and after looking up time after time, differing opinions and interpretations regarding the theology of these different texts, I find so many differing opinions, and it also seems to me that so many say to "just ask and He will forgive," as if God will too easily forgive. Perhaps that is just me condemning myself. But I must tell you, I fear His wrath and His punishment. I recognize the shame that I have brought to Jesus, how much damage I have done to those who knew me, and the blood that is no doubt on my hands because of my turning back. This has caused absolute terror and agony in my soul. I live in constant fear that God may have rejected me.
But I think that, at least as far as I can tell from what the Scriptures say if the Holy Spirit has completely forsaken me, then I would no longer desire the things of God. And I absolutely do! I still believe, I can see how evil this world is, how lost it is, I am still in awe of Almighty God, and I know that the Lord Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation. I don't want to sin against God, and I wish salvation for my family. It breaks my heart that anyone might go to hell. I wish I could tell the whole world these things!
Could a person feel these things but still be lost eternally because of his terrible backsliding? Knowing how I have ruined my testimony leaves me stuck in this place where I feel as if I cannot witness. I have no right because I am a hypocrite who has trodden Christ underfoot. I know that I have sinned so terribly against God. I hate what I have done, and wish so much that I could go back and change everything, but, of course, I can't. Is it possible that God would not forgive someone, even if they were sincerely repentant?
I hope you can find time to answer this. I know you are busy. It is just so burdensome, and my heart truly aches. Thank you so much.
Your basic questions are ones that many people ask, so I would like you to start by reading: Are You Unforgivable? This will allow me to focus on those aspects of your letter that have not already been addressed.
I find it interesting that you fear you are being a hypocrite by talking to others about salvation from sin when you lived a life given over to sin for so many years. "Hypocrite" is someone putting on an act; that is, someone who talks and acts one way while believing something different. But isn't what you are doing now hypocrisy? At least at some level, you believe you can be saved after returning to God; yet, you avoid talking to others about that salvation. Isn't that the very message that people need to hear?
If I were to pinpoint the core problem, it is that your early faith was more emotional than intellectual. You rode an emotional storm that you called "salvation," but that storm dissipated when temptation reared its ugly head. It isn't surprising because emotions change. They are fickle. "He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, But he who walks wisely will be delivered" (Proverbs 28:26). Your early walk was not by wisdom, so you had no anchor when the desire of your body led you astray. Rather, you established that you did what felt right at the moment, and in that moment of weakness sex felt right, so you left the truth.
"Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell -- and great was its fall" (Matthew 7:24-27).
You tried to found your faith on emotion and it shifted like sand.
Now that you are older, you see the need to found your faith on the rock of wisdom. Of course, it doesn't feel like the emotional storm of youth, but that storm of emotion didn't give you the perseverance that you needed. "Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him" (James 1:12).
Thus, in all your learning, I would invite you to study whether you've been obedient to God, leading to salvation. See: What Must I Do to be Saved? If you find there are things lacking that God has commanded, then the best answer is to make corrections right now.
If you would like a suggestion for a church near you that teaches the plain and simple Gospel message, let me know what town you live near and I'll try to locate one for you.