BY DAVID ELIAS
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MATTHEW BRAGUE
God’s Living Word
During my senior year of high school, God changed my heart and mind in a mighty way that I do not fully understand. He ignited an intense desire in me to seek truth and understanding—to seek Him. This thirst was so strong that I often spent the entire night pondering life and the meaning He gives to it. For weeks my spirit growled in hunger. I desperately longed to grow in knowledge and understanding of our Creator and His creation. My entire being craved truth: not an opinion, not a theory, and especially not what popular culture teaches. Rather, I yearned for the objective truth of the matter. In this divinely-initiated quest for truth, I was magnetized towards God’s living Word that supernaturally pierced my heart, directly corresponded to the complexities of my mind, and remained consistent with the legitimate experiences I, and countless other children of God, encounter.
During this time, the Bible turned from disinteresting and unpalatable to sweet and irresistible. My perception of God changed from trying to swallow head knowledge and pretend like I loved Him, to true love and passion for Him. In reaction to this radical change of heart and mind, I spent several days attempting to trace back to the single variable that catapulted me into this beautiful pursuit of God. One of my greatest motivations to do so came from my longing to share this life-changing epiphany with those I love: my family, my friends, and my teachers. I told myself that if I understood what had happened and why it had happened, I could prescribe something for my loved ones to do so that they might enjoy this experience with me. However, taking a deeper look into the history of my personal transformation, I find absolutely no independently performed action that brought me to where I currently am. My current state is not a product of my church attendance, human discipline, or good deeds. It is a product of external, supernatural intervention. It is a product of God’s loving pursuit to restore the beautiful fellowship between me, His creation, and Him, the Creator.
In the same way that oil cannot mix with water, God cannot tolerate sin. Sin is any behavior that is out of line with God’s perfect will and design. Just as the intense fire in a crucible burns away imperfections from metal, imperfect sin cannot dwell with God. In order for me to enter into a relationship with Him, I needed to be cleansed of my sin. Out of God’s love, He sent His one and only Son, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, to die on behalf of my sins so that I might be cleansed and enter into God’s marvelous will of an intimate fellowship with Him. This cleansing process, through the blood of Jesus Christ, has brought me the greatest joy of my life. I have been delivered from the power of sin that blinded me for far too long.
Just as a man blind from birth cannot fully experience the spectrum of colors until he is unblinded, the oppression of sin made me blind to truth in a manner that I could not understand until after my eyes were opened by the power of Christ. In Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, prisoners in a cave are chained in such a way that they can only face one wall. Never having turned from this position, the prisoners’ entire world is what they see on the wall—shadows of distant objects moving behind them. One day, a prisoner’s chains suddenly come loose, allowing him to escape. Leaving the cave, the prisoner sees the world for what it truly is. His transition from only having seen shadows to seeing the real world is difficult, but his eventual realization sparks enthusiasm within him to go back to his friends in prison and tell them what he has seen. After doing so, the prisoner’s friends react in disbelief and fear, rebuking him and trying to kill him as he urges them to leave the cave. Just as this prisoner’s eyes were opened to truth, God has opened my eyes. He broke the chains of sin in my life, allowing me to leave the depths of darkness and enter into His light. I am now aflame with enthusiasm to share what He has done and where He has brought me. My deliverance from the power of sin brought me healing from a condition that I was not aware of: spiritual blindness. My recently opened eyes now gaze at God and His creation in awe of His glory. For I was once blind and deaf, but now I see and hear.
Under the blindness of sin, I used to read and listen to the Word of God as if it were a cute, motivational book. I would listen to sermons and deeply desire application of such morality in my life, but I never succeeded in doing so. I attended every church service, but they brought no change in my life. I tried my hardest to not sin, but I could not resist the temptations of my flesh with the willpower of the same flesh that craved the sin. I perceived Christianity as a burdensome commitment to give up my freedom of enjoying the world for an elusive moral standing and admission into an imaginary place called heaven. I perceived the Bible as a rulebook and formulated a list of what I could and couldn’t do. I tried justifying my favorite sins so that I wouldn’t have to give them up. I was quick to point a finger at someone who did something on the don’t do list, yet never pointed that same finger back towards me. This lifestyle, fueled by self-righteousness, was full of frustration, shame, and guilt. I was trapped in the powerful bondage of sin, which caused psychological damage and separated me from the perfect will of God in my life.
Many who claim to be Christians subscribe to a form of this distorted truth called comfortable Christianity—a term coined by Caleb Seifu in his book Comfortable Christianity.1 I was one of them. Although I claimed to be a Christian, I was still a slave to the power and bondage of sin. Thus, the issue at hand was salvation. As Scripture indicates, there are three essential steps to salvation: recognition of sin, realization of human powerlessness over sin, and complete reliance on Jesus Christ to provide salvation from sin. In my own case, as a comfortable Christian, I acknowledged sin but endlessly tried to use my own human willpower to overcome it. I was focused on symptoms rather than the root of the issue. For years, I was stuck in the paradoxical cycle of attempting to use my flesh to overcome the sinful desires of my flesh. I was just like Augustine, who when writing about himself before he became a Christian, confessed:
“With what scourges of rebuke did I not lash my soul to make it follow me, as I was struggling to go after You? Yet it drew back. It refused… it resisted in sullen disquiet, fearing the cutting off of that habit by which it was being wasted to death, as if that were death itself.”2
Through the grace of God, I had the realization that I could not overcome the powerful cycle of sin without external intervention and support. This quickly turned into a complete surrender and reliance on Jesus Christ to bring any true change in my life. Surrendering to Jesus, I turned to prayer and reading His Word during times that I faced temptation. This was very difficult, given that I had years of reinforced psychological networks that supported sin and immediate gratification. God’s divine Spirit supported me through this tough period of change. After several weeks, God had completely changed my heart. Rather than run towards sin, He built a habit within me to run away from it.
Today, being delivered from the bondage of sin, God has given me a great gift—a grand restoration of old. I have been cleansed from sins that I thought would be the death of me and have entered a continual process of repentance and sanctification. Repenting to God, I confess my sins to Him and begin to forsake my old ways. He has recovered my curious mind and intellect that I remember having as a child. As if reuniting with an old friend, I am filled with great joy and thanks for this unexpected blessing that God has granted me. Rather than be given something new, God polished an existing gift that sin corroded. Like a child, I can now get lost in thought and creativity—fully immersed in the beautiful mind God gave me. This restoration brings me a joy that I cannot fully describe. Praise God for the change He has brought into my life! It was only through deliverance from the bondage of sin that my potential has been restored. This process of sanctification has grown me into a deeper understanding of the gospel—that Jesus is the sinner’s means of reconciliation with God. If it were not for the blood of Christ, a gift from God, we would all remain guilty sinners from birth to death. The one and only true God loves us so much that He sent His Son to die for us. Jesus paid the price we owed for our sins: death. I personally testify to this being true and observable in my life.
A Mere Glimpse
Each day, I learn new things about God through His Word whether via song, reading, or conversation. My finite brain will never fully understand Him, granting me the opportunity to spend a lifetime learning new, unique characteristics about Him and His kingdom– each realization bringing me immense joy. When the Spirit of God’s Word combines with the enthusiasm of understanding, an indescribable eureka moment is born, further encouraging me to seek God on a continuously deeper level. This journey to seek God is one of a lifetime. My understanding of Him will forever grow and my testimony will expand. Where I am now is surely not the end, but rather the beginning.
As previously stated, I sought an explanation to the radical change in my life so that I may extend this blessing to others. My testimony leads back to no deed that I did, but rather to supernatural intervention by the chain-breaking blood of Jesus Christ. God has already provided a means for our salvation. All we must do is accept the life-changing gift through recognition of sin, realization of human powerlessness over sin, and complete reliance on Jesus Christ to provide salvation from sin. Looking both into my own heart, and into the heart of humankind historically, sin’s prevalence and destructive powers are obvious. But our Creator, God, loves us so much that He sent a life-raft to our rescue. I pray that, like I did, you grab it, and share in the blessings to which I, David Tessema Elias, do confidently testify.
“Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand?” Job 26:14 (ESV)