How I came to be saved and still working out my salvation.
My Testimony – Pastor Juan M. Pérez
In 1984, I sat in that auditorium in Irving, Texas, listening to David Wilkerson preaching. The assistant pastor of a local church who would regularly come to my Television Studio to make TV shows had invited me to the meeting. He had been asking me for some time, and this time I decided to go to a “church” meeting with him. Lydia and I separated several months before, and we were going through a divorce. I was an addict hooked on cocaine and had realized that I needed help. I didn’t know where to turn to for it. When Lydia and I separated for the fifth or sixth time (I no longer kept count), I ended up with both my sons. At the event, I had my youngest on my lap, and his older brother was sitting next to me.
I remember that there were hundreds of, if not over a thousand, people in the auditorium. The preacher came up to the pulpit and began preaching. As he did, I wondered what the heck I was doing there. I kept thinking of the predicament I now found myself in. I was not listening to the speaker; it mostly sounded like just noise all around me. By the time I went to that meeting, I had been questioning myself and my value. I had come to believe that it would be better for everyone around me if I just died. I had caused too much pain and injury to everyone around me, especially my wife and kids.
Even though much of what the preacher was saying sounded like a droning rumble, I did hear something. David Wilkerson said, “Give God a chance to prove to you that He can do what He says He can do.
“That statement caught my attention, “Give God a chance?” I said to myself.
“God doesn’t need chances,” I argued within me, “I am the one who needs a chance.” I recognized I was at the end of my life. Even though I was only 33 years old, I knew it was time for me to end. Up to that moment, who I was a terrible, rotten, selfish, egotistic, and mean person. I loved only myself, and I had proven it with my decision in life.
“NO, I am the one who needs a chance,” I said again, arguing within me, “I am the one who needs a second chance, and I don’t even deserve it.”
Tears began creating trails down my cheeks. The pastor who had invited me was so enthralled with the speaker that he did not notice my reactions.
I raised my face to the ceiling and prayed, “I don’t know if You exist or not, but if you can change me, you can have me. But, if you can’t change me, then don’t mess with me.”
After that night, the pastor recommended that I visit a small church that reached out to the Spanish-speaking community, not realizing that I most spoke English. The pastor and people of that small church were welcoming and kind, so I decided to make that my home church. I didn’t know enough to consider that I could look around and search for another place to go. During my first church meeting, the people sang and praised God, danced, lifted their hands, and some began making noises with their mouths, to the point that it unnerved me.
“Are they going to expect me to do all those things too?” I worried to myself.
I knew nothing about attending church nor whatever they would expect of me. Each Sunday, Tuesday, and Friday, I showed up to the meetings and began to learn what it meant to belong to God. I bought my first Bible just because the pastor said I would need one. At the time, all I saw was a big book packed with hundreds of chapters and thousands of verses.
“I hope the pastor is not expecting me to memorize this!” I worried to myself.
At each meeting, I saw that the pastor had a pattern he followed. He would begin with testimonies (where different people would stand and share something that God had done in their life during the prior week). After this, he would make announcements of future events or things we needed to know. “Worship and praise” followed, which I came to learn meant singing songs. The next part was collecting money from people and then wrapping things up with a 45 to a one-hour sermon or teaching from the Bible. At the time, I wondered why people had to pay to go to church.
The pastor’s sermons were what I found most interesting. I wondered how he could get an hour’s worth of speaking from a simple verse. I would follow along with him as he read from the Scriptures, and then I would consider what he has said. I paid careful attention to the context and teaching that he seemed to have no problem getting from the passages he covered. I had long ago fallen in love with the English language. I excelled in all my classes in college, especially any course related to reading or writing per se. So, now that I found myself faced with this book that supposedly had the words that God had inspired men to write, and I knew I had to get to know it.
The pastor did his best in working with me. I was slowly changing but not truly aware of any change. I noticed in myself that I grew more interested in how you could get so much out of what seemed so few verses or passages. During one of those church meetings, the pastor mentioned some books he used to help him study: Strongs Concordance, Vines Topical Commentary, Naves Topical Bible, a Hebrew-Greek Lexicon, and more. I immediately went out and bought one of each of these books. I did not know how to use them, but I was determined to learn how.
My early memories of those times are of me using the books, searching for meanings to words that caught my attention in the verses I would read. I found it fascinating that though I had what seemed to be a clear understanding of the words in English, sometimes the lesson I learned from the passage seemed to say something slightly different. Though that bothered me, I kept hearing the pastor’s comments in my head.
“The Bible is without error, and everything it teaches is truth.”
His words only served to motivate me to work harder at studying the Bible so that I could understand it better.
Back before the age of Google and Bible software programs, I would spend weeks just studying one idea, concept, or point of interest. If this was the Word of God in book form, then I wanted to know what God wanted me to know. I knew I could not find that out in any manner but to study the Bible. I would pick specific issues I was struggling with, and I would find every verse in the Bible that had that word in it or spoke about it or even alluded to it in some manner. Afterward, I would sort through the verses, eliminate those that did not apply to the topic, and focused on the remaining. Then I sorted those verses again, but this time into categories. This process helped me to separate them into groups which would be more manageable for me. Then I would study each verse in one group until I finished with them and then went on to the next group. I learned that grouping verses together would give me a clearer understanding of the teaching intended than just one versus a time. By the time I would finish with all the groups of verses, I had a complete thought, a clearer picture, a better appreciation of what God wanted me to understand.
As time went on and technology improved, I got hold of my first computer; I was ecstatic. I fell in love with computers instantly. I recognized the possibilities they implied, especially for my need to study the Bible. One of the first improvements was a word-processing program named WordPerfect. Similar to Microsoft Word, it allows you to create pages of typewritten documents. I needed that to do better at studying the Bible. Whereas I used to write out long pages of verses and passages from the Scriptures, I could now type them into a machine that would save them for future use, and I could edit them over and over as needed. Even so, it would take me weeks at a time, most often, to prepare just one teaching or sermon.
But God is merciful, and Bible software came on to the scene. I found a program named WordSearch (later replaced by a better program called Logos) that made my life so much easier to study the Bible. Whereas it would take me weeks to prepare a lesson, I could now do it in days. I spent many hours, days, and weeks learning these software programs to use them well. I was doing this for my Lord, my God, and He deserved all the time I could give to improve my skills at learning His Word. But, I still wanted more. I wanted to understand His Word better. Then I heard about Hermeneutics and Homiletics.
The pastor was happy to give me lessons in these fields. As any pastor or teacher, he will also be content with sharing all he knows if he finds a willing student. On the other hand, I was like a giant dry sponge dropped into the ocean, I sucked up all the knowledge he could give, and I demanded more. I had questions about everything. I challenged some of the answers he gave. I contemplated other possible (and maybe probable) practical lessons that I could glean from those Scriptures. And then Google came along.
Even though Google is used to search for and find terrible things like pornography, criminal things, and so forth, I used it to study my Bible at a higher level. I could type in a topic (like Justification or hatred), or I could enter a sentence (like “What does the Bible say about ‘Love’”), and I would get hundreds, if not thousands, of links to search. The possibilities seemed endless and exciting to me.
I did not come to Christ as someone who knew God personally or as someone who wanted to accept Jesus as their Savior. I asked God to change me, and He showed me how that change would happen. I was not aware of that revelation initially, but I began to catch on as I studied the Bible. The more I learned, the more I changed.
The Study of the Bible, in and of itself, was a pleasurable process for me. But that did not change me. It was what I learned as I studied that changed me. It changed me as I applied those lessons in my personal life. I began to see that what God showed me through the Scriptures made differences in my life through my decisions, choices, and actions. The more I saw that change progress in me, the more I believed in Him. Somewhere along the path of studying the Bible, I came to acknowledge Jesus Christ as my Savior, just as I had already accepted God as my Lord. I could now see that they were the same. I prayed to God to change me that September night in 1984, but I got save along the way as I studied the Word of God.
I am still “working out my salvation” day by day. I continue in my study of the Bible because I know that I have to “hide His Word in my heart, that I may not sin against Him.” Romans 1:16 (NASB95) “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes… .”