By Mike (Tsung-Tsun) Lii
I didn’t grow up in a professing Christian home. When I was an elementary student, our family attended church once or twice a year, not necessarily on Easter or Christmas. During my middle school years, I was taken more regularly to a Taiwanese-speaking Presbyterian church, which should have increased my Bible knowledge. But, due to the language barrier, it did not.
By the time I was a junior in high school, what was the extent of my knowledge of the Bible and Jesus? From my limited exposure, I regarded the Bible as a special book but did not realize it was God’s inerrant word. I also believed that Jesus was a special person, and I remembered, from my childhood, the stories of Jesus feeding the 5,000 and walking on water. But I did not know that Jesus was God who had come as a human.
I also did not understand the significance of Christmas. I had no idea that the Christ in Christmas was Jesus Christ, since the Christ in Christmas is pronounced differently from the Christ in Jesus Christ. Christmas was a great time of getting toys, taking a break from school, and watching holiday specials on TV. When I was six or seven, I wrote a wish list for Santa. But when none of my wishes were realized–even though I thought I had been pretty good that year–I knew Santa was just make-believe.
I also had no idea of the significance of Easter. It was fun to dye eggs and get candy, especially sugar-coated marshmallow Peeps. I did not even know why crosses were so prevalent on church buildings or around people’s necks. I was Biblically and theologically ignorant in many basic areas.
I began attending a high school church fellowship on Friday nights during my junior year. I had been attending for about a month when, after the fellowship, one night, the counselor asked to speak to three other guys and me.
The counselor—who was giving me rides to and from the fellowship—asked, “If we got into a car accident on the drive home, would you know for sure that you would go to heaven?”
I replied, “I hope so, because I hope I have done more good than bad.” My theology of salvation was based on what I had seen on TV and in the movies. The counselor proceeded to tell me that no one deserved to go to heaven because all had sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). I had no issue with this since I knew I was not perfect and had done wrong in the past.
The counselor then told me about Jesus’ death on the cross and showed me Romans 6:23, Ephesians 2:8-9, and John 3:16. He emphasized that we are saved, not by any works like baptism or going to church, but just by believing in Jesus for salvation. Ephesians 2:8-9 really struck a chord with me:
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.
It was then that I understood and believed that I would be with Jesus forever when I died–solely as a free gift–because Jesus had promised eternal life to everyone who believes in Him. Nothing else I needed to do to earn or keep it. Nothing I did or failed to do would result in my losing it. I remember thinking, “Wow! This really is good news. Why did no one else tell me about this before, in all my past visits to church?”
At that moment, if you had quizzed me on my theological understanding, I would have failed miserably. Regarding the Bible, I would have told you that it was a special book and that the stories about Jesus walking on water and feeding the 5,000 were true, as well as the verses the counselor had shown me (Romans 3:23 and 6:23, Ephesians 2:8-9, and John 3:16), but I would have told you that I didn’t know whether the Bible was word-for-word true and completely without error.
Regarding Jesus’ deity, I would have told you that Jesus was the literal Son of God the Father, since John 3:16 describes Jesus as God’s Son. I knew and believed that Jesus was a special Person because He walked on water and fed the 5,000 from a little boy’s meal, which no ordinary human could do. However, I had no concept of Jesus’ deity as a member of the Trinity and had never heard about the Holy Spirit.
I recall the counselor’s telling me about and emphasizing Jesus’ death on the cross. He may have mentioned Jesus’ rising from the dead, and I just missed it. Regardless, at that point I still hadn’t understood that Jesus rose from the dead after dying on the cross. That night I did understand the significance of Good Friday, but I still did not understand the significance of Easter/Resurrection Sunday.
However, my childhood belief in two of Jesus’ signs: (1) His feeding of the 5,000 (John 6:1-14) and (2) His walking on water (John 6:16-21), had the intended effect spoken of in John 20:30-31:
And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these [signs] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.1
Because of believing that Jesus miraculously accomplished these two signs, I believed that Jesus was a special Person who could fulfill His promise to give everlasting life to anyone who believes in Him for that life. Those two signs were enough for me to believe that Jesus’ promise in John 3:16 is true:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
That night, I believed in Jesus for everlasting life, and I knew for sure that when I died, I would be with Jesus forever, independent of any good works that I did or didn’t do in the future.
Of course, my knowledge of Jesus increased rapidly in the coming weeks and months because I wanted to know more about the One who had given me eternal life as a free gift. I quickly learned the significance of Easter: that Jesus who died on the cross for me came back alive from the grave. The same Jesus, whom I had believed was the literal Son of God, is actually God who came in the flesh, created the universe, existed for all time, and is a member of the Trinity. I learned that the Bible–which I already thought of as a special book that contains the truth of the message of eternal life–was more than that. Every word of the Bible was true and inerrant.
Although I didn’t know a whole lot about Jesus and the Bible, and though I had some serious deficiencies in my theological understanding, I knew enough to believe in Jesus’ guarantee of everlasting life to all who believe in Him for that life. As Jesus has promised in John 6:47:
Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life.
Thank You, Lord, for Your Word. Thank You, Lord, for the Holy Spirit’s use of Jesus’ signs in a child’s life to lead him to believe in Jesus for everlasting life.
Mike Lii is a finance attorney. He and his wife, Letitia, a member of the GES board, and their son, Payton, live in Dallas and serve at several Free Grace churches. Mike and Letitia also run the Zane Hodges Library online (zanehodges.org).
1 To believe that “Jesus is the Christ” is to believe that He gives resurrection and eternal life to every believer in Him. See John 11:25-27.