This article was first published in the Feb-Mar 2007 issue of Asian Beacon (Vol 39 No 1). Republished with permission.
By Robert Tan
But if that is what it takes to save you, God will allow it to happen. Strong words. Yes. To God, my spiritual salvation is more important than losing a limb or an arm or even an eye. “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul?” we are told in the scriptures. 1)Matthew 16:26 & Mark 8:36
Calamity did strike me!
I was religious even as a primary school boy. When I was in Standard 6, I was praying to the Taoist gods using joss sticks. When I was in Form one, I attended a Buddhist temple. I would follow the priest going around the reclining Buddha, reciting from a given book. I badly wanted to earn my salvation to heaven. But what jolted me to reality of things was the death of my younger brother. He was admitted to the General Hospital in Penang early one morning complaining of a stomach ache. I wanted to visit with my mother later that day but she would not hear of it, fearing that I would have to donate blood to replace what was given to my brother. I would gladly have donated my blood if it could help him. My regret was that I was not insistent enough in what I wanted to do. But I wanted to obey my mother very much. She had brought us up almost single-handedly. The next morning, I woke up to see my mother crying beside my bed. She did not have to explain to me what had happened. I understood. So it was to the mortuary that I went to with my mother to reclaim the body. I held my brother’s hand. It was cold. I had never touched a corpse before. I was too late to even say goodbye. That was my first encounter with death.
The death, to me so untimely, of my younger brother changed everything. It made me question my earlier belief. There was no comfort in my heart. There was no peace, no hope. Only a void which was not filled. I was troubled as to why it had to happen. He was only twelve. Even the grave he was buried in had no tombstone. Only a stick that bore his name, Tan Cheng Hock. Being poor, I thought religion would comfort me. Then I thought being religious would help me overcome the grief in my heart. But it did not. I could not understand my brother’s death. I could find no comfort. I had so many questions, but I had no one to turn to for the answers.
All that changed when I met Christ at the cross.
I was in Form Two. A classmate invited me to an evangelistic rally one day. I had no idea why I went. Maybe I wanted to please and oblige my friend. But I have a lot to thank him for inviting me. It was during the rally that I heard the name of Jesus Christ for the first time in my life. It was so compelling to me that I had to respond to the invitation to repent and believe. “For in the Gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from the first to last….” Rom 1: 17 [NIV] When I met Christ at the cross, then and only then, did I know that all I had been praying to earlier would not bring an ounce of righteousness in God’s sight. In fact, by praying to idols, I had sinned against God. On looking back, I realised that the gospel did two essential things to me: it introduced me to Christ and it established me in Christ.
Would I have acted differently if my younger brother had not died? I didn’t know then. I don’t know now. Did God cause him to die? Absolutely not! He died of an illness. His was a physical illness.
But I was in greater danger of dying from a terminal spiritual illness. I was “dead in my sin” [Eph 2:1]
In the gospel I found God’s way for life. The gospel is from God. It is by faith that I can receive a righteousness that is from God. No amount of chanting or incantation of holy words could cleanse me of my sins. I finally realised I was now on the right path because I knew the message was from God to me. All I had to do was to accept the gift of righteousness in Christ.
When I believed that Christ died for me on the cross,
and that He paid my penalty and took my judgment, God released His power towards me. He enabled me to live a Christian life. He empowered me to be transformed to be like His Son, slowly but surely.
I find the God of my salvation too awesome to fathom. The gospel shown to me was so simple yet so radical. Now many years on, I realise just how believing the good news has changed my life. The gospel eliminates the barrier of sin that separated me from God. I have forgiveness.It confers on me citizenship in heaven. I have eternal life.The gospel brings me into God’s family as a son and heir. I have adoption.Last but not least, the gospel changes the orientation of my life from self-effort to rest and dependence on God. I am given grace for every situation in life.
What I was taught before I became a Christian, was that I had to work for my salvation. I had to do charity to earn merit to go to heaven. Yet the good that I had done as a younger boy wasn’t even good enough for me. I knew I hated my father even as a child. I couldn’t forgive him for abandoning my mother, leaving her to bring up the family. I had to struggle to pay my school fees. They were always in arrears, even though it was only RM5 per month.
So what charity could I do? But when I found forgiveness at the cross, I also found strength to forgive my father. Maybe a better way to express it would be I found strength to love him again. Not straight away with open arms, but gradually until there wasn’t even an ounce of bitterness left. Otherwise I would not have the grace to write what I am writing now. The gospel was radical. It dealt with my inner or root problems – unforgiveness and hatred in my heart.
When I found forgiveness, I also learned to forgive.
I also learned to accept the death of my younger brother. I may not have all the answers to my questions regarding his death, but I know that “all things work together for the good of all those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.”2)Romans 8:28
With so great a salvation, I can only say, “Who is like you, O God?” The God I believe in is awesome in every way. Come, taste and see for yourself.