Over the course of the two-and-a-half years that I have been Pastor at Caerwent, by God’s grace I am seeing spiritual-growth in many of the believers. I have also seen the spiritual conversion of some, including two young women: Isabelle and Dixie. It was my pleasure and honour to baptise Isabelle in July and Dixie in September. When I arrived at Caerwent, I assumed that they were both Christians, as did everyone else, including their parents. I think it’s fair to say that even Isabelle and Dixie were unsure as to whether they were Christians or not.
Many Christians find it difficult to tell others that they are in-fact Christians because of the fear of being rejected by their friends, co-workers and family members. But for Isabelle and Dixie, having been brought up in a Christian family and educated at a Christian school, it was the opposite. Being surrounded by Christians, it was difficult for them to admit that they were not Christians for the fear of letting others down. Being a Christian, for them, was something that everyone around them wanted for them. It was expected of them. Everyone around them seemed to be Christians, so to admit that they were not would be very difficult, they thought.
What happened? I will let them tell you. Below are their stories as they wrote them:
I have been raised in a Christian home. Since I can remember we have gone to church and my sisters and I have attended Sunday school and for eight years of my education, I attended a Christian school. I always said I was a Christian – sometimes, I think it’s easier to admit to being a Christian in a group of non-Christians than it is to admit being a non-Christian in a circle of Christians. I think I was afraid of being the “target” of people’s attention; that everyone would be constantly trying to get me to believe and it’s not that I did not want to but I didn’t want to be at the centre of attention – the only non-believer in what was sometimes a completely Christian group. I always knew I needed to be saved, however, what I had was only theological knowledge; I knew that Jesus died to save sinners and I knew that I was a sinner however I don’t think I saw the full extent of my sin and how that separated me from God. I didn’t believe in Jesus as my saviour.
In August last year, Dixie, Lilia and I went to the EMW camp in Bala, North Wales – the one Libby is a leader at. Before going, with the knowledge that I really needed to be saved, I prayed asking that by the end of the week-long camp I would be a Christian. We arrived at the camp on Saturday and by the time I went to bed on Monday 6th August – only two days later – I had been saved.
We had these dorm studies where the people from your dorm and one of the camp leaders would gather to study the Bible. That year, the camp’s theme for the dorm studies was The Identity of Christ. At one point in that first dorm study, we discussed what Jesus feared about dying upon the cross. We discussed the pain of being crucified and the fact that in that moment Jesus would have all the sins of the world put upon him. Our dorm leader then made this point: what Jesus really feared, above all else, was knowing that God, his Father, would turn His face from Him. My mind’s image of that struck me and I realised the extent of my sin because it was me that caused God the Father to turn His face away from His Son. Thus, that evening I confessed my sins asking God to forgive me and I was saved. I finally really saw my sin and how, as I said before, it separated me from God. It was my sin that put Jesus on the cross but I also saw Jesus’ great love in his dying for me even though it would cause His Father to reject Him. With that act of love Jesus made a way for the punishment for my sins to be removed.
In October, I will begin studying at Lancaster University. There are a lot of temptations facing a person in university but I believe the new experience of not being surrounded solely by Christians will give me an opportunity to grow in my faith as it will be a different context to what I’ve experienced before. I no longer have to pretend to be a Christian by trying to live a ‘good life’. God is pleased with me because of what Jesus has done. I am not accepted because of any goodness of mine, but because of Christ’s sacrifice.
As many of you will know I was born and raised in a Christian home, I’ve always come to Church, attended Sunday School and even went to a Christian school from the age of 5 to 16. As a result, practically everyone I knew was a Christian – apart from me. But as Isabelle said in her testimony “it is easier to say you’re a Christian in a group of non-Christians than to say you are a non-Christian in a group of Christian,” – so I just pretended to be a Christian to fit in.
From the age of about 11 to 16, whenever there was any drama or arguments within school my name was always somehow in the middle of it. Out of me and my two sisters, I was always the one who usually was getting into the most trouble, whether it be for causing arguments, getting involved in arguments in school or not revising for my GCSEs. In the end, I just got used to it and didn’t really care anymore. The first few times I would cry and feel bad that I let down my parents but later I just became too laid back and didn’t really bother making an effort anymore. I then began pulling sickies as I didn’t want to come to church because when I came I would go home feeling bad and knowing that I needed to change the way I was acting because it wasn’t glorifying God but I didn’t want to change. Obviously my parents caught on very quickly and those sickies ended straight away. So I went and then came home telling myself I needed to change but then Monday came and I went straight back to being my old self.
From about Year 9 to 11 I was still getting in trouble and my actions in no way were glorifying to God, but unlike before, this time I began to realise I had to change and I wanted to and I knew I couldn’t change by anything I had done but only through Jesus’ sacrificing himself, but why would Jesus die for someone like me? But I gave up on trying to change as I guess I didn’t think Jesus dying on the cross was enough to take away my sin. So I would go into school and I would tell myself “Right, you just need to focus on your work and just stay out of drama or gossip,” and I would for about an hour and then I gave up again. So this went on for those three years and then at the end of year 11 I got my GCSE results and decided to move for Sixth Form to Bassaleg School, which is not a Christian school at all. So I went into Bassaleg with the mindset that maybe if I tell people I’m a Christian it will somehow make me feel like I am. So that’s what I did, all my friends knew I was, my Religious Studies teacher knew I was and even I thought I was just because I had convinced all these other people I was.
However, in the Christmas of year 12, so nearly two years ago, one of my friends sent some very racist texts to a couple of my Asian and black friends. And of course I was angry with him but I was even madder when I found out the head of sixth form let him off the hook because they believed “he didn’t really mean what he said as he’s been struggling recently with his sexual identity.” So I struggled to forgive him, everyone else did but I didn’t. And then one day he turns around to me and says “Wow for someone who says they are a Christian I thought you would have forgiven me by now, isn’t that one of your rules or something?” and from that point, I built a wall between myself and Christianity. I was afraid of being watched and judged for my actions. So from then on whenever someone would say to me “Oh yeah you’re a Christian aren’t you?” I would say “Oh no my family are but I’m not, I just go along with it to keep everyone happy.” So this went on for the next six months until we went to the camp Libby is a leader at for the first time.
I really didn’t want to go on this camp and at the time I thought it was just because I didn’t want to leave home but now looking back I think I was afraid that I would end up feeling guilty for my actions all week and I just wanted to avoid that. The theme of the talks during that week was having an identity crisis and I began to realise that I myself had an identity crisis in that I knew I needed to believe and trust God but I still wanted to live life how I pleased. The chaplain who was taking the talks for that week used the Parable of the Lost Son as an example saying how God is willing to sacrifice himself for us no matter what sins we have committed and that really spoke to me. I had disobeyed God again and again and I questioned how I could possibly be forgiven and how was Jesus being crucified enough? I hated reading my bible, praying, coming to church so why would God love me? But then I experienced an identity change as I came to realise that just as my parents still loved me even though I was and probably still am frustrating at times, in the same way, God the Father still loves me despite my sin. Not only that but I came to the realisation that no good work I did or will do will ever make me worthy of God’s forgiveness and that the only way to God is through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.
So, even though I don’t remember a specific time or date in those weeks after camp I became a Christian. Since then I’ve sinned thousands of times, I’ve questioned and doubted God and I’ve struggled to watch Grandad with cancer which makes me angry at times with God for allowing it to happen. So I’m not perfect but I now know that God still loves me as He sent his only Son to die for me. So even though I continue to struggle with sin I know that I have been adopted into God’s family through His grace. As it says in 1 Peter 2 verse 24, “and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we may die to sin and live to righteousness.”
What is this change?
It is quite clear that something profound has taken place in Isabelle and Dixie’s lives. Something has changed! But what is this change? There are many ways to describe the change that has occurred; they have become Christians; they have been born-again; they have become new creations in Christ; they have passed from darkness to light; they have been saved; they have been regenerated; they have bridged the gap between damnation and salvation; they have been converted. However, this conversion is not a choice that they made on their own, rather, its the result of an irresistible calling. They did not go looking for God, instead, God revealed himself to them. God, by his grace, has written their names in the Book of Life not because they are good, but because he is good.
Both Isabelle and Dixie would say that they did not simply decide to take another path in life. They would say that it is God’s doing—that they have been found by him. God put them on the right path. Dixie explains, “…no good work I did or will do will ever make me worthy of God’s forgiveness and that the only way to God is through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.” She knows that she cannot earn her forgiveness. Likewise, Isabelle says, “It was my sin that put Jesus on the cross but I also saw Jesus’ great love in his dying for me even though it would cause His Father to reject Him. With that act of love Jesus made a way for the punishment for my sins to be removed.” It is by Christ’s merits that we are saved, not our own.
Thus, it is not that they have chosen to live good or better lives. They were already very good in the eyes of those around them and it seemed to everyone that they were already Christians. By their actions, they were exemplary examples of how to behave, speak and conduct themselves. However, the Christian life is not about ‘do’s and don’ts’. It’s not about living a good life in the hopes that God will allow us into Heaven. An inward change must take place which is initiated by God himself. We cannot reach God’s standards, therefore, God came to us in the person of Jesus Christ. It is only Christ who can earn our forgiveness, it is only the Holy Spirit who can open our minds to understand and our hearts to receive his Gospel, and it is only the Father who can pardon us from the destruction that awaits us in Hell. Isabelle and Dixie have been snatched from a future of everlasting darkness and transferred into the kingdom of God for a future of everlasting glory.
So, our response to their stories should not be, “Oh well done you two, we’re so proud of you” because they did not achieve this. Rather, they have received it. We do not rejoice in their works, but in the works of Christ who on their behalf kept the law of God and endured his wrath. We rejoice with them because God has done a work in them and for them. We rejoice with them because they will be kept until the second coming of Christ. Isabelle and Dixie have been adopted into the family of God simply because he loves and delights in them.
Written by: Isabelle Ramos, Dixie Ramos, and Pastor Gwydion Emlyn