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by Dr. C. L. Cagan

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord's Day Evening, January 4, 2015

“For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me...O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:9-11, 24-25).

Everywhere you see people who think they are experts on religion. In your college, in your high school, in the coffee shops, and on the street – people think they know all about religion. They seldom go to church – or not at all. They only read a little of the Bible – or not at all. But they’ll tell you what God is like, what will happen after they die, and how to go to Heaven, if there is one. They’d never talk like that about science or math – but about God and Heaven, they know everything!

And in every school, there’s someone who just doesn’t believe. I was one of them. I wasn't a Christian. But I was changed from an enemy of religion to a Christian – preaching the God I had resisted and the Christ I had rejected. That took a miracle – the miracle of conversion. Jesus said, “Except ye be shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

You may think, “I’m not like you were.” Your life isn’t the same as mine was. But yet – the way I became a Christian is essentially the same for everyone who is converted. The details may be different, but the main points will be quite similar in nearly all cases. Nearly everyone will go through the same stages I did. Your path will be the same as mine. First, you live without thinking much about God. Second, you think about God, but you wrestle with your sin and struggle against Jesus. Third, you may trust Jesus Himself. If you trust Jesus and become a Christian, you will go through the same stages that I did. This evening I’m going to tell you how it happened to me.

I. First, what happened for twenty-one years.

I was in the first stage – not interested, not awakened – for twenty-one years. I didn’t grow up in a Christian home. I didn’t go to church until I was 21 years old. I didn’t read the Bible. The only religious words I heard were when people were cussing. I thought I was just fine. The Apostle Paul spoke of that time in his life when he said, “I was alive without the law once” (Romans 7:9). He lived without really seeing how God’s law applied to him. He thought he was all right, and so did I.

I went on with my ambitions, pushing hard for my selfish goals. I wanted to be an intellectual “big shot” and make scientific discoveries. I wanted to be important. And I wanted to make a lot of money. I was covetous. The Bible speaks of “covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). The Greek word translated “covetousness” means “a desire to have a bad sense...greediness” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words). That was me. I worked my way through college at UCLA. I took a job, then two jobs, then three jobs. I sold my notes on math and science classes. I wrote study guides and made lots of money when they were sold in the campus bookstore. I wanted to make a million dollars by the time I was thirty. “I was alive without the law,” without God, thinking I was fine.

You can be religious and still be like I was. Paul said he was “alive without the law once.” He was religious. He had a strict upbringing as a Jewish boy in Israel. He went to synagogue. He studied the Bible. He said prayers. But he didn’t know God in a real way. And he wasn’t aware of his sin. He thought he was fine the way he was.

Years I spent in vanity and pride,
Caring not my Lord was crucified,
Knowing not it was for me He died on Calvary.
   (“At Calvary” by William R. Newell, 1868-1956).

Are you like that? Maybe you never went to church, the way I was. Maybe you did go a few times. Or maybe you’ve gone to church all your life, like Paul. But you don’t think seriously about God or about how you can have your sin pardoned. You are “alive without the law” in a false sense of security. Will you go on like that all your life until you die and wake up in Hell? I almost did – until God stepped in. And that takes us to the next point.

II. Second, what happened for two years.

When I was 21 years old, God made Himself real to me. I won’t go into the details, but when I had a test I couldn’t pass, I prayed for the first time in my life. God helped me to pass the test. Much more, during that test He was present with me.

From then on, I knew that God was real, that Jesus was real, and that I needed to trust Jesus or be lost forever. God showed me that I had been resisting Him all my life. I had chosen sin and selfishness instead of Christ. I had no peace. I had no rest. It was like what happened to Paul. He wrote that,

“The law had said, Thou shalt not covet...When the commandment came, sin revived, and I died... For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew [killed] me” (Romans 7:7, 9, 11).

Paul lived a religious life and thought he was all right. But he was covetous. He was greedy and selfish. God showed him that. Then Paul knew he was a sinner. He knew he could not stand before God, because he had broken God’s law. And one day he saw that he had sinned by rejecting Jesus. Jesus said to him, “Why persecutest thou me?” (Acts 9:4). Paul’s conscience bothered him. Jesus said, “It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks [of your conscience]” (Acts 9:5). Paul had been so wrong. He had sinned against his God and rejected his Saviour.

And that’s what God showed me. He had protected me and helped me. Jesus died for my sin. He shed His Blood to wash my sin away. But I had rejected Him. I had rejected my God. I had rejected my Saviour. What a gigantic crime!

How can a man stand up and rebel against God? How can someone refuse the love of Jesus? There’s no good reason. But that’s what I did. The Bible says, “The carnal mind [the unconverted mind] is enmity against God” (Romans 8:7). It “just is.” In my heart I was the enemy of God, and that came out in my life. Everyone is like that until he’s converted. Paul was religious, but in his heart he was the enemy of God. That came out in his life, in his covetousness and his hatred for Jesus. And you are against God in your heart. You don’t like to say it, but inside you are the enemy of God. The Bible says, “We have turned every one to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). You have turned to your own way. You put your own plans ahead of God’s commands. You’re selfish. You commit all kinds of sins. You are against God just as I was.

You may ask, “Why didn’t you turn to Jesus if you knew He was real? Why didn’t you trust Him then?” There’s no good reason. But that’s what I did. Yes, I started going to church and reading the Bible. God showed me from the Book of Proverbs, “Riches profit not in the day of wrath” (Proverbs 11:4). Money would do me no good when I faced God’s judgment. And God showed me,

“There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Proverbs 16:25).

I thought I was going in the right way, but it was really the way of death!

By God’s Word at last my sin I learned;
Then I trembled at the law I’d spurned,
Till my guilty soul imploring turned to Calvary.

I thought about the sinful things I had done. I thought about the choices I had made. More than that, I thought of my wicked nature – how I was selfish and rebellious down to the core. I deserved to go to Hell. I thought about my sin over and over for two years. But I still held on to my selfishness, ambition and greed. I didn’t want Jesus to be in control of my life. I didn’t want Him to change my plans. I fought against Jesus for two years. I pushed Him away. In my heart and mind I said, “No, no, no.”

Are you really any different? You don’t like to say it, but you refuse to trust Jesus. You don’t want Him to have control of your life. You say good things about Him, but you have your own plans. You don’t want Him to control you. In fact, you don’t want Jesus at all.

Some of you claim to be saved when you’re not. Some of you want a feeling of assurance and not Jesus Himself. Some trust doctrinal facts, but not Jesus Himself. All of you who are unconverted have “turned every one to [your] own way.” You don’t want Jesus Himself.

I went on fighting for two years. Soon God would have withdrawn Himself from me and I would live out my time until I died and went to Hell. But thank God, He brought me to Christ. It happened in just a second, the most important time of my life.

III. Third, what happened in a second.

I trusted Jesus and was saved in just a second. The Apostle Paul was saved in just a second. The Bible says that “immediately” the scales of blindness and unbelief were removed from him (Acts 9:17, 18). Until then – without that second – he was miserable. He wrote, “O wretched [miserable] man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24). But he found Christ! He wrote, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:25).

That’s the way it is with everyone who is converted. There’s a time when a person’s condition changes from lost to saved, from death to life, from condemned to forgiven, from unbelief to trust in Christ. There is no middle ground. There is no “working your way to it.” There is no “part-trust.” It’s yes or no. There is a moment when a person trusts Jesus and passes from death to life – or he is never saved at all.

That’s what happened to me. One Friday at UCLA I saw a sign announcing a Christian meeting. God spoke to me, and I knew I should go there. That night I went and heard a Gospel sermon on the Blood atonement of Christ. I went again and again to those meetings. One night, in February 1977, at the end of the sermon, the preacher led me in a prayer. During that time I trusted Christ. I wasn’t saved because I said a prayer. The prayer really had nothing to do with it. But it was then that I trusted Christ. In just a moment, I crossed over and came to Christ. God drew me to His Son. It was so simple, and yet so deep. I didn’t feel anything at all. My “feeling” was that I came to Jesus, and that was enough – more than enough. Jesus was there for me. I trusted Him. In that second, I knew I was coming to Christ. I knew I was being brought to Christ by God.

Everything before, even my “good deeds,” like going to church and stopping some of my sins, had been just filthy rags, dirty clothes, in the sight of God. Everything before was a refusal of Christ, avoiding Him, ducking away. But no more! I came over to Jesus Christ. No more running away! Instead, I trusted Him! Yes, there was a life to live. There would be trials and challenges, good times and bad. But I trusted Jesus! It happened in just a moment, almost 38 years ago. That act of trust was the most important thing that happened in my life, or ever will happen.

And now you have heard my testimony. Most people think a “testimony” is a person’s life story. But a life story without trusting Christ is no testimony at all! My testimony is about the second when I trusted Christ. That is my salvation testimony!

Do I base my eternal destiny on that moment? In a sense – but I trust not in the moment or the story of it, not what I said or thought or felt, but Jesus Himself, Whom I trusted at that moment! All of our salvation, all the answers we need before God, are found in Jesus. The Bible says,

“Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption” (I Corinthians 1:30).

Without Jesus, you have nothing but your sin. With Jesus, you have everything. Again, the Bible says,

“We [the Christians] have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins” (I John 2:1-2).

Jesus died on the Cross to pay for your sin. He shed His Blood to wash your sin away. He is the propitiation, the payment, that satisfies God so He can pardon your sin. Jesus is our advocate, our attorney, with God. If you trust Him, Jesus stands before God and speaks as your attorney. Jesus says, “Yes, he is a sinner, but I paid for his sins with my Blood and they are gone.” Because of Jesus, I am pardoned forever in God’s sight. Jesus is my advocate! Jesus IS my testimony!

Why am I talking so much about that one second? Why am I spending so much time on it? Because that’s the only thing that matters! Without that second, in which I trusted Jesus, I would be lost, and so are you. But with that trust in Jesus, the Christian is saved for all eternity! That moment is more important than all of life before or after.

Trusting Jesus is a divine event, not just a human one. In the moment of trusting Jesus, my sins were forgiven, I was right with God, and the Holy Spirit came to dwell with me. That’s why that one second is more important than all the years of a life story before it – and all the years after it. There is more depth and truth and value in a moment of trusting Jesus than in a long life without it. Yes, it takes a short time. But that second is bigger on the inside than the whole life outside of it.

It may seem strange that the inside of that short time is bigger than all of life outside of it. But that’s when you meet Christ! Whatever you feel or don’t feel, that’s an encounter with the infinite and almighty God – that’s where you meet Him. Inside that moment is bigger than everything on the outside!

It may seem like a paradox, a contradiction, but that’s the way it is with God. The British author C. S. Lewis wrote a story (The Last Battle) where some children from England visit another world called Narnia. There the children and a Narnian named Tirian go in through the door of a stable. When they go through that door they find themselves in Heaven! Tirian says, “It seems, then, that the stable seen from within [inside] and the stable seen from without [outside] are two different places.” The answer comes, “Yes, its inside is bigger than its outside.” And another answer comes, “In our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.” Of course that speaks of Jesus Christ, when the Son of God incarnate (in the flesh) was born on the first Christmas. In that humble stable lay God the Son Himself.

Jesus lived without sin for over thirty years. He died a horrible death on the Cross, not for any sin of His own, but as a payment for yours. He shed His Blood to wash your sin away. He rose physically from the dead to give you life. In His death and resurrection there is eternal life. That was a cosmic and eternal act of sin-payment, for me and for you. It’s bigger than the whole universe. It’s bigger on the inside than all of the outside!

Jesus died for you, a sinner, an enemy of God, deserving punishment. This is a great marvel, but God is marvelous. In the Incarnation, God the Son came down from Heaven and became a man. He was born as a baby. On the Cross, God the Son died for you and took all your sin. He died “the just for the unjust” (I Peter 3:18), to bring you to God. He “bare our sins in his own body on the tree [the Cross]” (I Peter 2:24). Jesus died for you. If you trust Him, your sins will be pardoned. May you trust Him soon! Amen. Dr. Chan, please come and lead us in prayer.

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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Mr. Abel Prudhomme: Romans 7:7-11, 24-25.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“At Calvary” (by William R. Newell, 1868-1956).



by Dr. C. L. Cagan

“For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me...O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:9-11, 24-25).

(Matthew 18:3)

I.   First, what happened for twenty-one years, Romans 7:9;
Colossians 3:5.

II.  Second, what happened for two years, Romans 7:7, 9, 11;
Acts 9:4, 5; Romans 8:7; Isaiah 53:6; Proverbs 11:4; 16:25.

III. Third, what happened in a second, Acts 9:17, 18; Romans 7:24, 25;
I Corinthians 1:30; I John 2:1, 2; I Peter 3:18; 2:24.