The church today has reduced the gospel and biblical conversion down into a “raise your hand” and “pray this prayer” formula. We have created a trap called “religion” for many youth and children who live in bondage for years. That was my story.
This past Sunday was a rare week for me as a pastor. I was able to sit on the front row as a member of the congregation while Dr. Robert Smith Jr. from Beeson Divinity School preached the Word. This is a healthy thing for all pastors at times. This past weekend provided me some time to think about my own conversion. Dr. Smith stated in his sermon, “Amazing Grace once caused us to cry, but now it puts us to sleep.” As I thought about his statement, it caused me to think back on my own salvation in order to have a fresh reminder of how God changed my life through His Son Jesus Christ. Do you remember how the Lord saved you?
The Trap Caught Me
As a boy, I was confused about many things in life. My parents were going through a nasty divorce and my sister and I were caught right in the middle of a very ugly dug-of-war contest between family members that we loved. One of the stable things in my life during those days was the presence of my Pawpaw who took me to church each Sunday. I recall sitting in church one week and after witnessing some friends go forward at the conclusion of a service, I walked forward and talked with the pastor. I recall him asking me to kneel down and repeat a prayer. After we stood up, he pronounced me a Christian before the entire congregation. I was six years old. The trap of religion had caught me. Not only was I confused about life, now I was confused about eternal life.
The Conviction Consumed Me
After some time had passed, my sister and I went to live with my Dad. I recall my Dad and step-mom placing a high priority upon church attendance. At this point, we were now going to a different church than my Pawpaw and as it turned out, it was a church that my family had been a member of for years dating back to the early 1900’s. As we joined the church, the pastor and a counselor asked us about our salvation. I told them the story about praying a prayer with a pastor while attending church with my Pawpaw. By this point, I was using the term “saved” since I had learned it over the previous 12 months. They instructed me about baptism and set a date. I recall getting into the baptistry with the pastor, Dr. Tom Atwood. After baptizing me, he leaned up on the baptistry and said, “Though millions have come, there is still room for one. There is room at the cross for you.”
After my baptism, I was presented with a “Survival Kit” which was a popular tool used by the SBC churches years ago. I recall reading through the material several times as a boy before it was finally tossed. Through the years as I continued to grow up in the church, I remember being under great conviction of sin and feeling that my soul was in a state of desperation while hearing the gospel preached. This would continue for years. In fact, on one occasion I remember going forward at the conclusion of a service and asking for someone to counsel with me. The counselor was unable to help me, because I insisted that I was saved because I had prayed a prayer as a boy. The only thing I could imagine was that the devil was causing me to doubt my salvation. I was stuck in a deadly trap of religion on a fast track to hell. I was miserable.
The Lord Saved Me
Over time, the state of my inward misery would become less intense. The more I conformed to my Dad’s rules at home, the easier life became for me as a teenager. The more I was involved in church related activities, the more I could try to mask my need for salvation. Although I thought it was merely the devil causing me to doubt, I truly needed to repent and trust Jesus Christ for salvation. What happened to me at six years of age was not genuine salvation. As I look back on that event in my life, I am firmly convinced that the pastor didn’t have any perverted intentions. He was simply using a technique that he had learned and unfortunately it turned into a religious trap for me.
Through high school, I remember walking a line where I tried to be good at home and in the presence of my church friends, but around my friends at school I was displaying different desires and attitude. My sinful desires blossomed in areas of alcohol consumption and lies to my parents. At school I confessed Jesus Christ as my Savior, but I was a hypocrite. I was eventually found out when I was caught drinking on a school trip with my Cross Country team. It was at this point in time that I really started to question the validity of my conversion, but once again, I was made to believe that the devil was causing me to doubt my salvation.
After graduation, I attended college and kept busy with work and school. I was very involved in the church and was starting to teach in the youth group of our church. This period of my life was perhaps the most stable period of my life spiritually. Anything I could do to become more involved at the church – I was moving forward. One day I went into my pastors’ office and said, “I think the Lord is calling me to preach.” After we talked for a few weeks, he gave me a date to preach my first sermon on a Wednesday night. It was 4 months away and I had plenty of time to prepare.
This was a stable period of time in my spiritual life. I recall having periodical doubts, but nothing as intense as it had been a few years earlier in my early teen years. After graduating college, I was working for a printing company in Atlanta (Graphic Response). I was hired by the owner, a member of our church, to be a pre-press assistant, to work on website projects, and to write gospel tracts for his business to print. It was during this time that God was setting me up and I had no idea.
On June 24th 2002, I went to work like any ordinary day. I was scheduled to work on the design of a gospel tract on this particular day. As I worked, I was listening to a preacher on the Internet. All of the sudden – God captivated me with His gospel and caused a holy sense of fear to settle in on my soul. It was during that sermon that God supernaturally awakened me to the reality that I was a lost church member. For the first time in my life, my conviction was real and apparent that it was not the devil – but worse – it was God who was troubling my soul. At that moment in time, I didn’t seem to care what people thought of me or about anything else regarding social pressures. I knew that I was guilty and that I needed God to save me. I needed to repent. Although I had understood the component parts of the gospel as a longtime church member, I had never truly been saved. When I was six years old, the issue of sin and Jesus Christ taking my place on the cross was not truly understood. On this day in June of 2002 – the Lord delivered me from my sins. It was a miracle. My eyes had been opened. It was a divine work of God. What had happened to Lydia in Acts 16:14 had occurred in my life.
I recall leaving my desk and finding my boss in his office. I was an emotional wreck. He thought someone had died, and I guess he was right. The old Josh had died and was raised to walk in newness of life in Jesus Christ. I had been born again and I wanted him to know. He rejoiced with me. I remember leaving the office and making several phone calls. I called Kari (we were not married at this point) and informed her. She was shocked. I then called my parents and told them – they were shocked and a bit confused. I remember confessing what the Lord had done in my life to our church. I was saved out of the trap of religion. I was the teacher of the college and career class and I had preached my first sermon in the pulpit on a Wednesday evening only 12 days earlier. Although this might have been a shock to the church – I was liberated by the gospel of Jesus Christ. A.W. Pink once said, “Regeneration consists in a radical change of heart, for there is implanted a new disposition as the foundation of all holy exercises; the mind being renovated, the affections elevated, and the will emancipated from the bondage of sin.”
Months passed as I grew in my walk with the Lord, prayed, and became content in the business world. I had married a wonderful Christian lady and we were preparing to build our lives together. However, that content feeling eventually faded away. I struggled with preaching since I had been converted after announcing a calling to preach, but no matter how I tried to suppress that in my life, I was unable to contain the desire to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. I started preaching in jails, nursing homes, and anywhere I could get an invitation. After several months, I met with my boss and planned a transition away from the printing company as I prepared to leave for seminary. Eventually we moved to Louisville for The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. That was the beginning of my journey as a pastor!
Now that I am serving as the pastor of the church where Kari and I grew up as children, when I see people from school in the community I am anxious to tell them of the transformation that Jesus Christ made in my life. I was saved out of the trap of religion. What about you? Are you still caught in a trap? Turn to Jesus Christ and He will set you free!
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.
Pastor Josh Buice