THE LOVE OF JESUS TO AN ATHEIST
by Dr. Christopher Cagan
Director of Education at the Fundamentalist Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
P. O. Box 15308, Los Angeles, CA 90015
I was not raised in a Christian home. In fact, I did not go to any church
for the first twenty-one years of my life. My father was Jewish and my mother
was not, but we didn't believe in any religion. We were atheists. My family
observed the outward form of Christmas and gave presents, but I didn't know what
Christmas really meant. My family observed the outward form of Easter and
painted eggs, but I didn't know the true meaning of Easter. I was almost as
ignorant of the Bible as a person living on a desert island five hundred years
Instead, I was living my life day by day, year by year, just like everyone
else I knew. I didn't think there was any life after death. I thought Jesus
Christ was just a man who had lived a long time ago and had nothing to do with
me today. I firmly believed the Bible was full of errors, although I had not
read the Bible, because that is what I thought intelligent people were supposed
to believe. I thought that religion was something for a few old people without
an education who needed something to believe in. It certainly wasn't for me
because I was intellectual and up-to-date, and had learned from books that we
had evolved from lower forms of life. I laughed at the few Christians who tried
to witness to me. I thought Bible Christianity was something that happened in a
run-down shack on the wrong side of the tracks where people who hadn't been to
college listened to a man hollering about Hell. Christianity was not something
for intelligent people to believe, I thought.
Most of all, I believed in myself. I read a lot of books since my parents
were wise enough not to let me watch very much television. I did well in school,
especially in mathematics and science. I read everything I could get my hands
on, including a lot of science fiction. Someday, people were going to figure
everything out and go flying to every star and galaxy and build something really
great. And I had plans almost as big for myself. I spent eighteen years waiting
for my big chance. After finishing high school, I moved from Northern California
to Los Angeles to go to college. At UCLA, I got a Bachelor's, Master's, and
Doctor's degree in mathematics. The big buildings of Los Angeles represented
hope and opportunity for me. I was going to be a great mathematician. I was
going to be a great businessman. I was going to be rich and important.
I worked very hard to reach these goals. Most people I knew at college
partied as often as they could. I experimented with the sins of the world, but
never moved my eyes away from my great goal of success. I was hoping to make a
million dollars before I was thirty years old. Still haven't done it yet at 47,
but I found the Saviour!
At UCLA, I was soon taking five and six classes every quarter. After the
first year I had to support myself and work my way through college. Soon I had a
job. Then I had two jobs, and then three jobs. I became a teaching assistant in
the mathematics department. I wrote study guides in mathematics and chemistry
that were sold at UCLA for twenty years. I put every royalty check in the bank
and dreamed of the day when I'd be rich and important.
But I was always unhappy and unfulfilled. Although my life was beginning to
go well, it really wasn't good at all. I was very lonely and very unhappy. Most
people would say I was successful. I was hoping to put enough money in the bank
to live off the interest while I started more projects. But I still wondered
what my life was all about.
When I was 21 years old, I met some evangelicals. They were nice to me. But
I still refused to believe in Jesus. I thought I was too smart for all that.
Besides, I had my own plans. I wanted to build a big career. Jesus was not for
me. I didn't want Him to interfere with my own plans for my life.
In the fall of 1974, I was taking a very difficult class in mathematical
engineering at UCLA. It was probably the hardest class I had ever taken. I was
used to easy success in every math class, but this class was different. I did
poorly on the midterm exam, which had never happened to me before. I tried to
study and understand the material, but I just couldn't grasp it. I started to
fall apart as the final exam approached.
I spent the night before the exam in a motel trying to study. But I just
couldn't do it. I couldn't understand the material, though I stayed up well into
the morning hours. I was also troubled about what my life meant and whether
Jesus was real. People had told me about God, Jesus, and the Bible. I had
rejected everything I heard, but was that right? Or was I the worst fool of all?
I tossed and turned that night without sleep. I thought of my own
selfishness and how I had opposed God in deliberate unbelief and rejected the
love of Jesus Christ. About 4:00 that morning, in despair, I said out loud,
"God forgive me." I didn't understand what it all meant, but I felt
some relief after saying that, and then went to sleep.
That morning I woke up at 6:00 convinced I would fail the test that day. I
studied listlessly for about an hour and then went to the university, explaining
to myself that it would only be one failure and I could go on somehow. At 8:00 I
went into the classroom and the teacher passed out the examination. I looked
down at it knowing that I could only fail.
Suddenly I was aware of God's presence. I hadn't asked for His help with the
test. I had never experienced God before. But now I knew that the Christian God
of the Bible was real. There was no doubt of that at all! I felt a deep sense of
God's holiness. No one else noticed what happened to me. But I have never
doubted that this experience was real. More than 25 years later, I can remember
that day with photographic clearness.
I looked down at the test. Why, it was so easy! As I looked at each
question, the solution came immediately in my mind as clearly and simply as if I
had been asked to add two plus three. I started writing as fast as I could. I
knew that the answers had to be right. There was no possibility of doubt or
unbelief that morning.
Very quickly I had answered all the questions but one. I started to sneak a
peek at what the person next to me was doing, but I stopped myself and
remembered that God was holy.
This examination was three hours long. In less than an hour I had written
out all the questions but that one! I knew the solutions were right. I thought
about walking out right then, but instead I looked over the work very quickly
and then turned it in to the teacher. I knew I had passed the test. God had
helped me do what I myself could never have done. In fact, I received the
highest score in the class, and answered every question correctly but one!
Now I had more important things to think about than mathematics. I was aware
of God. From that day onward, I knew beyond the possibility of doubt that the
God of the Bible was real. Sometimes evangelicals have told me that this was the
day of my conversion. But it wasn't. Indeed, I had undergone a religious
experience. I had felt the Holy Spirit! I knew that God was real. But I was
still lost. It was two more years before I was converted. Believing that God was
real, experiencing a blessing from Him in my life, and feeling the Holy Spirit,
didn't save my soul. And I knew it. There are millions of other people like I
was, who have had an encounter with God, but are still unconverted and going to
Knowing that God was real convinced me that I had been wrong all these
years. I had lived as an atheist, and had opposed and rejected Him. I was lost
and going to Hell. And I knew it.
My experience was real. But I hadn't trusted Jesus. I hadn't turned from my
sin to the Saviour. I hadn't thought of Jesus at all, only of God. I hadn't come
to Jesus for the forgiveness of my sins. In fact, I was still wrestling with God
about my sins and my own life plan. All this went on for two more years before I
For the next two years, I knew that God was real. He had awakened me to the
truth of His existence. It followed that Jesus was the Saviour and the Bible was
true. Before being awakened, I had once said in conversation, "If there is
a God, He has to be the most important thing in the world." But I still
didn't submit to His Son, Jesus. I wrestled in sleepless nights for two more
years. I knew that I was supposed to go to church without being told. So I went
to a new-evangelical church where the pastor gave a pleasant little talk that
didn't have anything to do with me, and I didn't go back there. I read the Bible
on my own. In fact I read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation more than a year
before I was saved. Two verses spoke to me: "And the world passeth away,
and the lust thereof; but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever"
(I John 2:17). That has become my life verse. The other verse was "Riches
profit not in the day of wrath" (Proverbs 11:4). I knew that my career
plans would not profit me when I met God in the day of wrath!
I was invited to Dr. John MacArthur's church in the San Fernando Valley, and
went there. He gave a Bible exposition, but I wasn't converted. I went back
there on my own for several months and learned a lot of details about the Bible
and ancient history. I learned about circumcision and the city of Corinth. I
learned about ancient cultures and religions. But the preaching did not move me
toward salvation. Dr. MacArthur's invitations were like this, "There's a
room over there if you want to go into it." I never went into that room.
Instead I went out and had lunch.
The fault wasn't completely Dr. MacArthur's. It was also mine. I didn't
really want to become a real Christian. I didn't want Jesus. My plans were
incompatible with His. I still wanted to be a great thinker and writer, and also
become rich and important, and enjoy as much pleasure as I could - at the same
time as I was reading the Bible and going to church. Many times I wrestled
against God while I was alone. I resisted and grieved His Holy Spirit many
times. By God's mercy and grace, He didn't give up on me as He certainly had the
right to do.
Can a person spend two years going through a religious and moral wrestling
match like I did? Can a person go to church, read the Bible, grudgingly reform
himself here and there, and yet all the time be lost, resisting God's grace? I
have come to believe that this experience is quite common for people before they
become converted, just as the seeking man in Pilgrim's Progress passed
through many experiences before he was converted. The "instant potato"
kind of conversion that many evangelicals have today is usually no conversion at
all, but is usually a false conversion. Thank God I was ignorant of that sort of
salvation. For me, it was Jesus and conversion - or sin and Hell. There was no
halfway playground in my thinking.
I stopped going to hear Dr. MacArthur. Later, I was invited to a
Presbyterian church in Los Angeles and went there for over a year on my own. I
almost lost my soul to reprobation there, for the pastor was a liberal and
didn't believe the Bible. I remember him saying from the pulpit, "If
someone asks you, 'Are you saved?' tell him, 'That's none of your
business.'" I remember thinking, "That couldn't be right. Why is he
saying that?" The minister was a lost liberal. And I was still a lost
visitor at his church.
Gradually I started cleaning up my life. That church and that pastor didn't
help me in this. But God spoke to my conscience and I knew that I was a sinner.
So I cleaned up my life and decided to become a Christian after all. I heard the
liberal preacher every Sunday, not knowing that I should go to a better church.
I read the Bible and prayed. I made a commitment to give financially to the
church, at the highest level they had proposed - and kept it. Finally, early in
1977, I thought I had better do something to become a Christian. I had seen the
minister put a drop of water on a baby's head. After a year of attending this
church, I filled out a little card saying I wanted to be "baptized." I
thought that would complete the process of making me a Christian. I couldn't
think of anything else to do. After two or three months, I got a letter in the
mail in reply to the card. That pastor didn't follow up on me very well! But
thank God he didn't, or I might have joined that church unconverted. I might
still be there today.
In the meantime, God had stepped in again. One Friday night at UCLA I was
walking alone through the student union building when my eyes fell upon a sign
announcing a Christian meeting. Somehow I knew that I was supposed to go to that
meeting, and so I did.
The service was led by an evangelist who believed and preached the Bible. He
preached gospel salvation through the shed Blood of Jesus. He made it clear to
everyone that we needed to come to Jesus and trust Him and be converted. But I
still fought against Jesus. I didn't want to come to Him. I didn't want Him,
since He was greater and higher than I. I was too proud.
But I knew that what the evangelist was preaching was the truth from the
Bible. I came to understand that I had heard two religious alternatives. In the
liberal church, you became a Christian by cleaning up your life, being good,
going to church, giving money, and finally being baptized. That was what I had
signed up to do, but it wasn't doing me any good. It had left me just the way I
The new message I heard from the evangelist was this: I was a sinner who had
broken God's laws and deserved to go to Hell. Jesus in His love had come to die
a bloody death for me on the cross. If I trusted Him, Jesus would forgive my
sins and save my soul once and for all. I only had to trust Him in a single act,
and He would perform all the saving work.
The preacher presented the gospel more clearly than anyone I've heard except
my current pastor and associate, Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr. In every service the
young evangelist I heard at college always spoke on one or more aspects of
salvation, especially the atonement. He explained the blood sacrifices of the
Old Testament and the greater Blood sacrifice of Jesus in the New Testament.
When a person gave a false hope of getting to Heaven, he told that person he was
going to Hell. That preacher called everyone to a conversion through Jesus
I went back again and again to the evangelistic meetings, knowing that I had
to trust Jesus Christ. Finally one Friday night I came to the meeting thinking,
"I must either trust Jesus tonight, or forget about being a Christian and
go back to my old life." Then I began thinking, "I'm going to trust
I listened earnestly to the gospel message. Once again the preacher spoke of
Jesus Christ, His love, and His atoning sacrifice for me. I listened carefully,
because I had decided to trust Jesus Christ that night. At the end of the
sermon, the evangelist led me in what is called the sinner's prayer.
Now, saying the words of this prayer never saved anyone, and many
people have been saved without saying any prayer at all. But I was led in this
prayer, and during that prayer I trusted Jesus once and for all.
I can remember, down to the exact couple of seconds, when I trusted Jesus.
It was while I was praying - it was as though I was immediately facing Jesus.
No, I didn't see a picture or a vision or anything like that. But I was
definitely in the presence of Jesus, and He was definitely available to me. He
had bled and died for me. He wanted to forgive me and receive me. I knew that if
I would come to Him, His Blood atonement would forgive my sins.
For so long, and so many times, I had turned Him away, though He was there
for me and loved me and offered me His salvation. But right then, at that
moment, I knew that the time had come for me to trust Jesus. I knew that I must
come to Jesus or turn away from Him. At that moment, in just a few seconds, I
came to Jesus. I was no longer a Christ-rejecting, self-trusting unbeliever. I
had come to Jesus. I had believed on Him. It was as simple as that.
In that short time, in that simple act of trust which is so easy and yet so
profound, I crossed over to Jesus in the most important thing that can happen to
anyone - conversion. I had been running away all my life, but I stopped running
away from Jesus and instead came directly and immediately to Him. Jesus forgave
me and gave me a new life.
I have now been a Christian for 24 years. I have lived 47 years on earth, 23
of them lost and 24 of them saved. Many things have happened to me during my 24
years as a Christian. On the night of my conversion I didn't know everything
that would happen to me. But I did know that conversion had to be real, and that
it was real.
I am glad to be a serious Christian. That's the only real kind of Christian
there is anyway. After I trusted Jesus, I sought to be a part of a strong and
serious Christian church. That's why I became a member and deacon at the
Fundamentalist Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles. I am honored to have Dr. R. L.
Hymers, Jr. as my pastor, and to work with him in our church.
Most of all, I am grateful to Jesus. Though I had not loved Him, He loved
me, a selfish and unbelieving sinner, and gave Himself to pay for my sins on the
cross of Calvary. There is nothing greater in science, in life, or anywhere,
than Jesus Christ.