The night I was born again I found that I was in a brand new place, a place I had never before experienced. Everything had changed; I was literally in a new life, a new realm, that I learned later was the kingdom of God. After the night of my new birth, I walked in the sweetest fellowship with Jesus day by day. I felt so comfortable with Him in those days, and I knew He loved me. I knew it because He showed me by leading me daily in where I was to go, what I was to do, what I was to say, etc. I was happy, content, and felt at home in His kingdom.
However, it wasn’t long before I started asking my pastor and others questions concerning things in the church that didn’t correspond with the Bible. Unable to answer my questions, my pastor began telling me I had to die to self. I was very naive and believed it was impossible for a man of God to lead anyone in a wrong direction. So when he said I was so bad that I had to die to my self, I believed him. I tried and tried, and before long found that I had lost my fellowship with Jesus, and had become miserable because I couldn’t die to my self; I didn’t know how and I could find nothing in the Bible to help me.
I started talking to other ministers and almost without exception they told me I either needed to die to self, or be sanctified. I felt as if I was dealing with my step-father again. He had made me feel that I should apologize to people for breathing the same air they breathed, and the church made me feel I was not worth God’s mercy and grace. They made me feel that I had to go farther and get rid of my self because I was so bad.
What they didn’t understand was that I had already reached the place they felt I should go, a place of complete submission to Jesus, free of sin, and doing the will of God. I walked this way in the first two or three years of my Christian life. But apparently it wasn’t supposed to happen the way it did; I was supposed to be born again first, and later down the line I was supposed to die to self and be sanctified, and then walk in humble obedience to Jesus. That was the Church of God way, and I had done it backwards.
As I’ve said, I believed men of God were men of God, and that God wouldn’t let one of His men lead anyone down a wrong road, so I continued trying to die to self and praying to be sanctified, all the while racked with guilt for not being able to accomplish it. Thank God that after walking in a state of constant guilt for years, always longing for the walk with Jesus I previously had, Jesus began separating me to Himself. During this time He taught me the truths of His Gospel and I learned that I had been crucified with Him and raised into newness of life when I was born again.
When He showed me this, I thought, ‘Of course, that explains why I was able to walk with Him in the heavenly places He had taken me to back then.’ The old me had already been crucified with Him, and the new me had been sanctified through faith in Him, and set apart to God by the Holy Spirit. I had been saved by grace through faith and was walking in the will of God in my early Christian years. I felt so stupid to learn I had given that up to follow doctrines of men. After this experience, I was never led astray again, for I had the privilege of learning from Jesus, and not from man.
It may be worth adding that during all these years I was battling PTSD and Major Depressive Disorder. During my first few years of being a Christian and walking with Jesus, these ailments didn’t bother me at all. When I began trying to die to self and become sanctified, the symptoms came roaring back, growing worse year after year. This was debilitating, to say the least. In addition to that, I had been taught since I was three years old that I was worthless, and should apologize for being here. Hence, I had no self-confidence and always deferred to others.
Dear friends, I cannot stress enough the importance of being careful when we counsel people about God and His kingdom. Words alone can destroy a life, especially when repeating false doctrines. It is equally important to remember that it matters not where, nor by whom, we have been taught, for we are not to follow men; we are to follow Jesus, and the Scriptures testify of Him. Therefore, all must be verified by the Scriptures.
Jon David Banks, God’s most unworthy servant