My Testimony - "After 25 years of following Jesus"
by Bob Coker, 1998
"For I determined not to know any thing among you,
except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Cor. 2:2)
Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses. (Acts 13:39)
However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace. (Acts 20:24 )
This is a story about how I left the clamor of religion and found the wonderful life with Christ. I would like to relate how I came to understand the gospel of grace.
When I first began to share my faith, in the early 1970's, I did not realize ALL of God's messengers are given to us to show us the depth of his Love for us. If you think salvation was an act of love well, like the old boy said, "You ain't seen nothing yet!"
Rather than turning eyes to Him, I would point sinners to their filth, their old nature, religious duties, and dead doctrines that can never save. I was one who called myself a Christian who relied on the law and brag about my relationship to God; I thought I knew his will and approved of what was superior because after all, I was instructed by the law; I was convinced that I was a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants. Yes, I led many people in the sinners prayer and held countless bible studies for years in our home. But you know something it was because of me and my shallow relationship with Christ through the law and not the power of grace that caused me to be more than I really was. Today, I believe that I did more harm than good. I began to question myself, if I taught others, did I not teach myself? I was so busy about the "Kingdom" business, I missed the King.
I would put the Christian emphasis on the "doing", not on what had been "DONE". To teach anything else is to be guilty of leaving your first love. I did just that without even knowing it..
Like some of the "religious" world, I failed to share the love of Christ. I would grabbed John 14:15, which says, "If you love me, keep my commandments", and tried to teach people how to obey rather than what to BELIEVE. "Surely, if we do what Jesus taught we would be a "good" Christian. Right? Didn't Jesus say, "He that believes on the Son has life"? So, why do we teach "DO" instead of "BELIEVE"? Exhortations such as, purify the heart by not sinning, not getting angry, not lying, or not lusting would come with the disclaimer of, "No, we can't keep the law perfectly, but we must try to keep the law". I would say, "It is our Christian duty to try." Nowhere in the New Testament does that doctrine ring true. Jesus said, "Only believe." John 6:28-29 Then they asked him, "What must we do to do the works God requires?" Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent." Where was the power, I thought?
Let me ask you a question, "When did God start accepting anything short of perfect holiness?" Do we really believe being on our best behavior will please God? Is this how we measure our relationship with our God? He did not say, I will accept you if you are REALLY try and are good. To believe this, is not to understand the utter seriousness and depravity of sin. God cannot and will not look upon sin. He is perfect and he demands perfection.
I would like to relate a short story about something I had heard on the radio one Sunday morning. I was driving to church and I head a pastor say, "Don't plan on going to heaven unless you are 100% perfect!" It stopped me right in tracks. I thought to my self, "Does this guy really know what he is saying?" Today, I can understand what he was saying. Today, I know that I am 100% perfect in the eyes of God. Although, from the time I heard this man saying that I had to be 100% perfect, I did not come to understand its meaning 25 years later. I began to understand the grace message in a more defined light.
I became a Christian in 1971. I had attended a Methodist church as a child. I suppose that seed of faith had been planted in me somewhere along the line, but I could not say when or where. Church really did not mean a great deal to me in those years. After becoming a Christian, I started attending the First Assemble of God in Peoria, Illinois. A few years later, we moved to Canton, Illinois and so, I found an Assembly of God denomination and set my roots there.
Yet, it wasn't until 1994 did I begin to learned what the Gospel's real meaning was all about. The Gospel that Jesus talked about was not really the Gospel as I understood. God had to take me out of main line religion to show me the depth of his grace and the power of the Gospel. Don't get me wrong, I have been a Christian since 1971.
I believed that then and still do today. Jesus is the Way, Truth and the Life. But what I began to learn was the power of the grace of God.
Like most Christians, we have all gone though life changing revelations. Changes like getting saved or some major spiritual event. Well, I had one in 1994. You see, it was in then that the church I had been attending started to fall apart from the inside out. It was that year that God began to teach me about grace. I was a person who had a passion to lead the lost to Christ. I was rather bold and it came naturally for me to lead Bible studies and share my faith with whomever. The non-denominational fellowship we were attending was as legalist as they come, but at the time I did was not aware of it. I didn't even know at the time what legalism was. At this time, I believe that legalism was for Christians who wanted to live by the law and not by the saving grace of Jesus. Well, that was partly correct. Since my discovery of how to walk in the resurrection life of the Cross, I now know most of the modern day church is very legalistic and does not even realize it.
Things started to fall apart - for the good!
In the spring of 1994, my wife and I were under a lot of strain and financial pressure. My wife, Sheila was diagnosed with breast cancer and our youngest daughter, age 17 had become pregnant. One night after our weekly Bible study, I decided to walk down to one of the church elders, who did not live far from our home and perhaps draw a little spiritual strength from his fellowship. As I walked up to his home, I as that there were several cars parked out front. Many I recognized. I saw the Pastor, and rest of the elders cars all parked in front. They were having an elders meeting. "What a wonderful idea, I'll have them all pray for me." I thought to my self.
As I shared the pressure and the struggle of Bible study, work and family, I found my self flat on the floor, crying with my face in the carpet. Now here is where my thinking began to change. Here is where God began to open my understanding of Grace, but only with question. The answers would all come later. As I wept, I heard the self appointed elder, say this to me, "And when did all this happen to you? When did all this trouble begin in you life?" I hope I can convey what went on in my spirit in a millionth of a second as I considered these question. Here I was, laying on the floor, crying in front of my peers and then I hear, "WHEN DID ALL THIS HAPPEN?" Was he asking me when did this happen, as to ask me, DID ALL THIS HAPPEN BECAUSE OF YOU AND YOUR SIN?!" Yep, he was. I thought to my self, all this happened at the Garden of Eden with the first Adam. I imagined my self saying, Do you really think I brought on my wife's cancer and my daughter's out of wedlock child? Are you saying that I was to blame in some part of this? Was God paying me back for all my sin? Wow! I had to get out of there. I think the worst part of the whole evening was, they were all in agreement. I knew this was not the voice of my Lord.
Not long after the night of me humbling my self for help. There came another. Only this one was not me coming to them, it was the elders coming to me. I remember someone once saying, "24 ELDERS AROUND THE THRONE! IF THERE ARE ELDERS IN HEAVEN, I AIN'T GOING!" I think I understand what he was trying to say.
About two weeks later, at night, the Elders and the Pastor summoned my wife and me for a meeting. I will never forget that night as long as I live. At this time, my wife was able to get out of bed from her surgery. She was in much pain and I was very confused as to why the meeting had been called. The head elder, the self appointed head elder had a legal pad with sever charges recorded which he wanted to bring up in the presence of the church leadership. These were charges brought against me and my wife for how we had lead our Bible study and some of the things I had been teaching. One of the most difficult things to understand is that one of the elders sat in my Bible study for 2 years and had heard everything that had been taught. When I was able to ask one of the Elders if I had taught anything in line with the accusations, he just looked at me and shook his head and said, "No.", but he did not come to our defense either. He and I were very good friends. How shallow our friendship must have been. Charge after charge was read off with no real evidence or anything to support the accusations. All was hear say and something someone had said completely out of context. I think they did the same thing to Jesus one Spring night in Jerusalem, 2000 years ago.
I remember saying how much I wanted to be like Christ. I want to know Him in all his power and life. Have you ever prayed for such thing? After the evening of Night Court and I had some time to think about all that was said and much of what was not said, I heard God speak to my heart. He reminded me of the pray I prayed. He asked me a question. He asked, "Remember how you wanted to be like Jesus?" Of course I did. He then began to explain how many have the change to experience his love, his compassion and his wisdom, but few really want to learn about his sufferings. God explained how it was up to me to decided if I wanted to be like Christ in his sufferings. For me to experience this wonderful experience is almost too deep to write about it. God said that Jesus was betrayed, and so will you. He told me Jesus was denied by his friends, and so will you. He told me that Jesus was rejected by his closest friends, and so will you. I think after agreeing to willing to walk this path was only by His grace. I am sure of it. I can now see how some chose to not accept this lesson and harbor bitterness and become very defensive. To suffer at the hand of a loved one who has falsely accused you is among the deepest of hurts.
As most of what was going on, the understanding was growing in my heart. I told a friend whom I had not seen for several years and was a brother in the Lord, what had happened. He said something that has stuck with me to this day. After I told him all that had happened at the hands of my friends, I fully expected him to be stunned with amazement. To my surprise, he slowly turned his head towards me and asked me a question. He said, "Bob, who first drew blood on the Savior brow? Was it the tax collectors and prostitutes or the religious?" My friend had been this way before me. It was little wonder why he was not amazed. He was learning how to live in the grace of God too.
Six years later, I was completely understood and all because God had opened up the eyes of the pastor and the elders to the amazing gospel of grace.
God's Grace Began to Flow - 1994
God was surly doing something in our midst. My wife had left the fellowship we had attended since 1983 before I came to the same conclusion to do the same. When I did decide to leave, I was teaching a Bible study, you know, the same one I had been used to teach for almost 30 years. But by this time I was not needed to teach it if I was not going to attend the church. I had decided to leave the fellowship and keep having our Bible study. Well, that worked for about 4 weeks. There came a knock at the door and guess who was there, Right! Two church elders. We sat on our deck and I proceeded to listen to them. They asked me if I had left the church, to which I said, "No, I am the church!" I think they were looking for another answer. During our conversation that evening, one of the elders looked at me and said, "Bob, we have been praying for you and your family. We believe that there is a DARK CLOUD over your home." Now had this been another time, I might have been comforted by these ridiculous words.
The Discovery of the Internet -
I suppose the inter net really got started, for the common household in 1992. It was not until 1994 that I began my walk out of religion and in to the power of the gospel. Not long after, I found that there was something in the Bible I had never been taught. After my decision to leave organized church, I remember asking God, a question. I asked him, "God, who will be my teacher? I have learned so much form my brother. How will I find such rich fellowship if I don't attend church?" I can honestly say, I hared him laugh and say, "Bob, "teacher" is one of my names." As if I did not already know that.
Late that year, I was learning how to surf the World Wide Web. What a play ground! The Internet was a great place for information junkies like me. I remember searching on two words. I put in the words, "law and grace". At the time I thought I knew what I was looking for. The book my wife had purchased had really opened up my understanding, but I wanted to know more. I would find all kinds of examples where people would discuss the topic of Law and Grace. I could see the subtle differences in each side of the arguments. One would say there is a find line between Law and Grace, while the other would say, "Oh NO, the fine line you allude to is as vast as the two sides of the Grand Canyon!" Then he would back it up with some of the same things I was beginning to learn.
One day, while doing my search for Law and Grace, I found a rather nice fellow who had something to say about the subject. His article was very rich and the spirit of it was very loving and not matter-of-fact, but informative and from a heart who knew what he was teaching. I decided to email the author and ask if I could ask them some questions. I will never forget the feeling as I read his reply. He was extremely humble. It came across as if he would live very much to help, not that he had all the answers, but as if he would love to help if he could. I could feel the love in his words before he wrote one reply.
I don't remember my first question, but I felt very safe discussing my need. He began by showing me what I would send him where it did not line up with the Bible. I would search the web and when I would find and article or story or some teaching, I'd send it to him. He would break apart every paragraph. He would very thoughtfully lead me to the Word and make me look for the answers. Seldom, if ever were we personal. I was on a mission and he was there to help me. I remember asking one time, after many emails, "Where do you go to church?" He simply wrote back and said, "Where ever two or more are gathered, there am I in your midst." I understood.
I wish I could have met this guy in person, but I had not way of knowing where he was and besides I was too interested in learning what he had to say. He could have been anywhere in the world for all I knew. I guess I never thought to ask. We had been corresponding for just over a year. I was learning so much. The Lord would teach me and Joe would confirm it. It was rally God who led this man to me for such a time as it was.
There is much to my story, more than I can go into here and now, but I must tell you, briefly about my daughter, Candy Ann Angel. It will help you understand the miracle of how I came to understand grace. You see, Candy was put up for adoption in 1971. Although, I had never seen here or knew her name, at the time, I did know her mother gave birth to her in Texas. I think I prayed for that little girl for 24 years. Never knowing who she was or where she lived. In 1995, through God and God alone, we did find each other. What a miracle. It was several months until Candy and I decided it was time for me to visit her in her home town of Nacogdoches, Texas. We spent the week end visiting, playing with her dogs and seeing the sites. There is really not much in Nacogdoches. It is a small community in East Texas. Candy asked if I would like to take a ride and see the college. I agreed and got in the car. It was raining and we could not get out of the car. When she turned into the campus, it was like every other college I had ever been to. She drove up to a small rest parking lot in front of a lake. There were beautiful pine trees on all sides and everything was dripping from the rain.
As I look up at one of the buildings, I saw something. I remember seeing great big red letters of the college. You know the college initials. They said, "S F A S University." I just stared at the big red letters and began to think to my self, "Where have I seen these letters before?" All of a sudden it hit me! Those letters are in the email address of Joe. You know,JoeGaut@sfas.edu. The guy who I had been emailing for over a year, part of his email address was on one of the college buildings. I looked at Candy and said, "Take me back to your home I have to look something up."
I ran into the house, grabbed the phone book and looked for the "G's", and what do you know, there was his name, Joseph Gaut, Nacogdoches. I was stunned! I could not believe the man who had been so helpful, who demonstrated such kindness to a total stranger lived in the same city as my long lost daughter. I don't know about you, but this really spoke to me. Did I call him, I sure did. He said in a Texas accent, "How long will you be here? Would you like to drop over? I told him I had to catch a plane in two hours and with the drive there would be no time. A year later, on a subsequence visit to my daughter, Joe and I had lunch. We have become good friends over the years and still discuss our relationship with God.
The scriptures began to open in a way I had not considered before. I saw the righteousness of God. I saw the justifier of filthy sinners! The more the Gospel unfolded, the more faith and love I could gave away to others. I was becoming a more loving person. I stopped condemning others; both Saints and Sinners. I must admit, it was the strangest thing, the more I realized God's love for me and how he did not judge me, the more I began to pass that same love on to everyone around me.
It was at this time that I had another revelation; it was the understanding of acceptance. You see, I understood that Love begins with acceptance. It was little wonder why I could not love others with the Love of Christ that I had been taught all my Christian life. How can you love until you first accept the person? I always wanted to love people, but not until they were a little cleaner. God, says, I love you just the way you are. It is the grace of God, the power of his grace that led me to accept others just the way they were. The opinions and passing judgments on others was not for me anymore. I really began to like it. Living the Christian life was becoming fun. His new commandments (1Jo 2:4) The man who says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. And I now know that His command is to love one another. By God's grace and power of that grace, I was able to obey from my heart, not my flesh. (I Pet 1:22) Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. Christ is all and he was in me and I am now in Him.
My wife is not what you would call an "avid reader" of books. But one day, she brought home a book and laid it on the table and said that she felt that God had told her to buy it. The name of the book was called, "Grace Plus Nothing".
The real gospel taught by the Spirit, frees us from the law of sin and death. Keeping the commandments taught by Jesus CANNOT be obeyed apart from the preaching of the cross.
If I preach, "Don't be full of pride." Will this message cause you to love Christ more? It may cause you love your show of meekness and despise others who lack the same religious convections you have. Yet, the preaching of the cross is the Wisdom of God whereby we LOVE His Son NOT by what we do, but by what the Spirit making known what Christ has done for us.
"We love him, because he first loved us." This love is the gift of God springing out of a new heart. It is NOT produced in any way by our keeping the law of the old covenant. "For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love." It doesn't matter how religious or rebellious you appear. God is ONLY accepting faith in His Son for it is by grace (God's ability) through faith alone that we love God, "...and the law is not of faith" (Gal 3:12). What is of faith?
The Gospel! Yes, believing God executed holy vengeance upon His only Beloved for my sake is what the Gospel demands of every sinner and gives to all God's elect. It is by this grace that I serve God acceptably, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and endeavor to put on love which is the bond of maturity. This is the new covenant. This is the Gospel.
Don't let my glorying in the liberty wherewith Christ has made me free ignite false accusations of lawlessness; for though He has freed believers from the law that condemns He has bound our hearts unto Himself by chords of love. He is our Master, our All, our Life. Yet, He constrains me not by works, but by love; not by the law where I have knowledge of my sins, but by grace where I have the knowledge of His love for me which redeemed and liberated me from bondage to sin.
I am a new man with a new law whereby I "serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter (Rom 7:6)." God promises in the new covenant that the power of His Grace and our
knowledge of Grace shine "Teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lust, we should live soberly, righteously, and Godly, in this present world (Titus 2:11-12)."
Reader, you too must be dead to the old covenant by the body of Christ lest God smite you with the eternal curse. You must stop all thoughts of self-justification, self-sanctification, or self-glorification. If you do ANYTHING to get right with God or stay right with God, Christ
shall profit you nothing (Gal 2:21/Gal 5:3-4).
You may read this and consider that you never try to please God in your own strength. Let me list a few common areas of failure. If the reason you do any of the following because of what someone else may think, you are putting your faith in works.
ยทAttending Sunday night church
ยทWorshiping when you don't feel like it.
ยทRaising your hands.
ยทNot listening to certain kind of music
ยทNot watching certain kinds of videos
ยทGoing into certain kinds of establishments.
ยทWearing certain kinds of clothing.
ยท... and the list goes on and on.
Likewise, if the reason you do any of the following because of what God may think, you are putting your faith in works.
Beloved, it is a personal salvation. We must enter into this REST. The rest provided for us at the cross of Calvary. Consider how many times you condemn yourself for not being what you think you should be. It does not matter what "you think". It matters what "God thinks". How will we know what God thinks if we don't know him.
It is easy to have made God a liar because you believe not "that God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that has the Son has life: and he that has not the Son of God has not life (I John 5:10-11)."
It doesn't matter what name you call it? (Calvinistic, Baptist, Sovereign Grace, or Reformed) or how many times your preacher says "Christ" in a sermon; if the message is not Christ and Him crucified it is not the Gospel, and you are being led to look away from the Lamb of God unto your own misery. You are being led to look away from the Lamb of God to your own works.
We are determined to know nothing among you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified. We believe the Gospel is the Power of God unto salvation from start to finish. The Gospel sanctifies babes in Christ as well as fathers in the faith. The Gospel convicts of sin as we see Christ the Blessed giver of life is crucified at the hands of sinners; He is crucified according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God because there is no other way for Him to be holy and forgive such enemies.
The Gospel conforms us into the image of Christ as "we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord (II Cor 3:17-18.)" The Gospel is enough; The Gospel is Christ; The Gospel, by the grace of God, will ALWAYS be our message to you. The Only Gospel.