Editor’s note: This is the final post in a series by a house church pastor reflecting on the gospel and its impact on the Chinese people. The material was originally presented at the China Partnership annual conference in January 2015.
Dear pastors and dear colleagues, I am grateful for being able to share here God’s work in China, how the great power of his gospel is working in each soul and in his church. For this we can give thanks together and be encouraged. At the same time, I am grateful for your sacrifice and faithful service in the gospel for the souls of China, and to you all I offer my deep gratitude.
There was a particular church in Beijing. The head pastor of the church was led to Christ in the 1990s by a Korean-American missionary, and for a time grew under the discipleship of the missionary. Later this brother gave his life to evangelism. The church was founded in 2007. Ever since the beginning, it focused on spreading a genuine gospel and helping those who already considered themselves believers to more clearly understand the gospel. For those who have already experienced the power of the gospel, the church also placed great emphasis on the importance of living an obedient and missional life. From the beginning until now, the church grew from ten people to about five hundred people. Through the years, there have already been seven brothers who were inspired by the gospel to devote themselves to ministry, and some have already finished or are receiving theological training and serving in pastoral ministries on the front line. Below is the testimony of one of the brothers about his growth in the gospel. He spoke of three stages in his course of coming to faith.
1. From an Atheist to a “Godly Person”
In the first stage of my religious belief, on the one hand I denied there was a god, but on the other hand, I had conflicting sympathy and respect for Christianity. I acknowledged that the Christian religion had certain positive effects in human civilization’s self-discipline, morality, lifestyle, and goodness. At the time, in my own reading, I began to consider some of the tragedies in history. Also, through some literary works that exposed the evil of humanity, I discovered that I too was just as abominable. I agreed that I was a sinner. Therefore, I needed a religion.
But while on the one hand I acknowledged that I was a sinner, on the other hand I was still very prideful, thinking that because I had this realization, I was much wiser and nobler than other lowly people. At that point, I neither realized that sin is an offense toward God, nor did I believe that Jesus really rose from the dead. I only appreciated and liked Christians because of my interactions with them and their testimonies. I wanted to be with them, to be “happy” and “noble” like them.
In March of 2004, I prayed the believer’s prayer. Very soon I joined a baptism class, and was baptized in June of the same year. But in reality, I lied during my catechumen exams, because at that time I still did not believe in God, nor did I believe that Jesus rose from the dead. I even thought that all believers must have lied when they answered these questions. “How is this possible? This is only the residue of stupidity from religion’s early days.”
But very soon, I discovered that although many people in church were really just like me, some serious believers in church always solemnly affirm their faith. Therefore, I began reading books like The Song of a Wanderer, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, and Mere Christianity. Finally I was convinced by the arguments from the verses surrounding Romans 1:18-20. From an atheist, I was transformed into a Christian; from an agnostic to a “Godly person,” who was taught to believe that God existed.
This is the first stage in my experience of understanding the gospel. In fact, I did not really believe in Jesus at that time. I only thought: if God is real, then I can simply accept all that the Bible teaches as a package, there is no need for dispute. Anyhow these things really did happen, I believed it all. At the time, I felt very strongly that I really believed and I also began to enthusiastically tell other people that there is a God. I invited people to church. I thought that was spreading “the gospel.”
2. From “God Loves Me” to Sensing “God’s Wrath”
Would You Pray With Us Today?
My self-evaluation was this: I was a mistreated but kind-hearted person. I had received too much unjust and ruthless treatment in this world. I had been searching for the truth in the world, but was not able to find any. Finally, I discovered the love of God. I thought that if I return to him, he would open wide his arms to hold me tightly and wipe away all my tears.
When I became a “Godly person,” that was my understanding of what the Bible says when it talks about God’s love. Therefore, I loved some parts of the Bible, such as “…for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). I thought that was the love of God. I would tell other people, I am hanging out with “Brother Jesus.” My belief was that this “Elder Brother” would watch over me; this was God’s love.
When I first realized that sin is an offense against God, it was also connected to the Epistle to the Romans. At that time, the pastor at church was preaching on Romans 1-3. Verse 1:18 clearly stated, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” This was the Bible’s description of me: I was not someone who seeks after God. I was aware of God in my heart, since creation undeniably confirms his existence, and I knew there was a God, but in reality I acted according to my own desires, thoughts, and lusts. I suppressed the known truth, did not worship God as the true God. I was someone “…who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth;” I was “ungodly and unrighteous.”
After reading the Bible more, I realized that I was someone who resisted God and lived under God’s wrath. Therefore, I realized that the Bible not only spoke of the “sun ris[ing] on the evil,” it also talked about “render[ing] to each one according to his works.” Moreover, there is a real and miserable hell. When I really sensed that God hated sin, and that I really was a sinner, my ending was eternal death. I was detestable because I was a sinner, but at the same time I was pitiful because the ending is so tragic. I could only wail: How can I be saved? Do I have an escape?
3. From “Godly Person” to “Christian”
From listening to sermons, I learned from very early on that Jesus sacrificed his life for me. Other than depending on him, I could see no other way out. Therefore, I began to sense and acknowledge that as our mediator, Jesus’ death is the only solution to the sin of mankind. But I still had some doubt: is this real? Sometimes I would say, “I am not going to think about it anymore.” I would say in an evasive and superstitious way, “I surrender to Jesus.” But there was still no peace in my heart.
My doubts mainly came from two aspects: one was the truthfulness of Jesus rising from the dead; the other was that I had noticed not many people at church preached about the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ. This fact was not the center of many Christian books or the church’s lively worship meetings. I had experienced the prosperity gospel and the charismatic movement at church. I knew of marriage counseling and children’s education that were centered on the family, and evangelistic activities and church formations that were centered on the church. These themes occupied the majority of space and content of the church. The speakers on these topics should all have known about Jesus’ atonement on the cross (at least I hope that was the case), but I did not hear much about Jesus’ substitutionary atonement in the content of their preaching. Therefore I would ask, what is the main purpose of the Bible?
In 2009, I once again had another opportunity to objectively focus on the Bible. Confronted by the Bible, I slowly began to affirm the Bible’s reliability, the truthfulness of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, the authenticity of eternal life, and the love of Christ as he laid down his life for me! I turned from a “Godly person” to a Christian. Only this is true confession. In my past experience, God was playing “hide and seek” with me and I often asked “why” in life. But on the cross, God clearly demonstrated to me that “God showed his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Every time I fixed my eyes on Jesus on the cross, or consider God’s Bible, I became both fearful and grateful. In this faith, what I experienced was a love that made me “fearful,” an amazing grace. Through reading the Bible and studying theology, I understood the meaning of justification; I also understood that through the works of the word and the Spirit, I am united in Christ through faith.
But I could not understand why God’s grace would fall on me! I was such a broken person: evil, weak, shameless, fake, and detestable. But the majestic Lord shed his blood for me. This could only happen according to God’s own decree. When I did not know him, while I was still resisting him, despising his grace, and often betraying him, he had already planned to sacrifice his only beloved Son for me. Through Jesus I was reconciled to God. I was totally overwhelmed by this love.
Thereafter my growth was a demonstration of God’s love taking root in my life. I was transformed from someone who was cold, selfish, self-centered, and who only shared the gospel because he was commanded, into someone who holds Jesus’ temperament and vision, who has mercy on lost souls, and who is willing and eager to spread the gospel. I would say in my heart, “Lord, if this person is someone I can share salvation with, even though I am tired, even though my circumstance is not good, even though there is still a lot of weakness in my character, even though I cannot accept myself; but you are my Lord, for you I am willing to try one more time, tell him the gospel of you sacrificing your life for us sinners.”
Through these ministries, my understanding of the gospel went from comprehension and apologetics to preaching and growing through my preaching. At the same time, I discovered that in the midst of my biggest growth and kindest acts, there is pride, deception, and pretense. I can only be justified through faith in Jesus Christ. I meditate more often on the cross of Jesus Christ. Through the cross, I experience the depth of my offense toward God, the evil and magnitude of my sin. I also experience God’s love for me. I am motivated by this love, and I am willing to live more and more for the Lord. I feel that I am a sinner who has received special kindness from God.
Wang Jianguo is the collective pseudonym for a group of Chinese house church pastors writing and thinking critically about issues related to the spread of Christianity in their nation. They are committed to preaching a grace-centered gospel, developing resources for the church, and loving China’s urban centers.