How I Became a Christian and How God Became My Greatest Treasure
A testimony of how God has been working throughout my life
I wanted to take some time to reflect on how God has transformed and shaped me throughout my life, and what better way to do that then writing my testimony. I have not updated my written testimony since I was baptized in 2018, but God has certainly been working in my life since then. May this be my praise and thanksgiving to Him for the amazing grace He has shown me!
I was born in Southern California and raised in a loving Christian household. My parents were both believers and I grew up going to a small Chinese church with them every weekend. Growing up, I was a typical church kid. I would never cause any trouble at church and would always be on my best behavior in Sunday school or children’s worship. At school, I was a diligent student, quietly doing my assignments and excelling in my classes. However, in reality, I had a bad temper, was quick to anger and frustration, and complained often, but I would only show that side of me to my family in the privacy of our home. In public, I hid my sinfulness well and acted as meek as a lamb.
I enjoyed going to church throughout my childhood. I became friends with a couple of boys who were around my age and we would run around after church playing tag, basketball, or other games that we came up with. Although I was at church because of my parents and friends, I did not mind learning about God and accepted what I was taught as truth. As far as I can remember, I never had any real doubts about Christianity, such as whether God was real, whether I was truly a sinner, or whether Jesus really died and rose again. I feel like I have always accepted these things to be true, at least in my mind, perhaps because I have heard the gospel countless times and been in a Christian environment from such a young age. Of course, it is very different to believe in something with only your mind and to believe in it with your heart. And although I believed the gospel to be true in my mind, I did not genuinely care about God and what He did for me on the cross in my heart. But praise and thanks be to God that He did not allow me to stay this way!
I began to take my faith more seriously in middle and high school through my church’s youth fellowship, which I was involved in until I left for college. Pastor Alex, who was my small group leader in my early years of youth group, played an important role in the development of my faith during this time. He would question and challenge my faith, pushing me to think deeply about what I claimed to believe and what it truly meant to me. Why was I at church? Why did I want to believe in God and be a Christian? Is it only because that is what my parents believe so I should believe it as well? Is it only because I want to go to heaven instead of hell? Although helpful in hindsight, I was quite discouraged and daunted by these questions at the time (it also didn’t help that Pastor Alex was far from the gentlest person in the world, at least back then, and I was very intimidated by him). On one occasion, Pastor Alex asked me how I was different from the demons, who also believe that there is one true God (James 2:19) and that Jesus is the Son of God (Mark 5:7), but do not follow God and are certainly not going to heaven. I could not answer him and was nearly brought to tears.
As I reflected on these questions, I realized that I did not think or care much about God. I would go to church, learn about God, and believe what I was taught, but only because of my Christian upbringing and environment. My faith was the faith of my parents and friends, not my own. This pushed me to intentionally seek God and think about what my faith truly meant to me. After hearing a sermon at a youth retreat, I was deeply convicted of my sinfulness and how I could never stand before God the way I am without Jesus. I prayed a prayer of repentance and accepted Jesus Christ into my heart as my Lord and Savior. Praise God!
Although I consider this event as the moment I was saved and became a Christian, I would not be surprised if God told me that I was not truly a Christian at this point. Looking back, the way I desire God, treasure God, think of God, and prioritize God in my life now is so radically different from when I was first saved that sometimes I cannot help but wonder if I was truly saved back then (ultimately, it doesn’t matter, but it is interesting). At the very least, I was immature in my faith and love for God, which I suppose is unsurprising for a new believer. I did see some gradual changes in my life after putting my faith in Jesus. I remember I had a sinful habit of cursing and that was one of the first sins I turned away from. I also became more convicted of my sins, such as my anger, pride, and lust, and I would try my best to cut them out of my life.
However, God was not my greatest treasure in life. In high school, my greatest goal and desire was to be accepted into a prestigious college. I believed that if I studied hard and went to a distinguished college, I could further my education and find an excellent job after college. Then, I could make a nice living, purchase a nice house and car, have a nice family, and live a comfortable lifestyle. And ultimately, the reason I wanted all of this was so that I could be happy. I firmly believed that achieving this dream, the American dream, would satisfy me and make me happy. Of course, I would continue to grow in my faith and serve my local church as a faithful Christian, but I would not allow it to interfere with my goals in life. This worldview was my motivation and driving force in life throughout high school.
I studied very hard and took as many AP classes as I could in high school. When I was not studying, I was playing video games on my computer. All of this was at the expense of my personal time with God. I neglected reading God’s Word or praying when I was in high school and almost never spent time with God outside of church. During this time, I struggled with anxiety because of the pressure I placed on myself. I desperately wanted to get into a prestigious college, live up to my reputation as one of the “smart kids”, and continue following my dream. I maintained a high GPA and scored well on the SAT. When it was time to apply to colleges, I decided to major in computer science because I knew that it is a good field with many stable and high-paying jobs. Although not my first choice, I ended up going to UCSD as a computer science major.
As I started college, I continued to hold on to the same worldview and goals that I had in high school. I applied for summer programs and internships, went to different networking events, worked on computer science projects, and studied hard in my classes. But as I pushed myself to do these things, I realized that I was dissatisfied and unhappy with my life. The truth was that I did not enjoy what I was doing, but merely wanted to achieve the American dream of having a stable income and living a comfortable life. This realization was the cause of much anxiety and self-doubt in my life. I was stuck between a rock and a hard place. I had very little interest or passion in computer science, so all of my efforts toward bettering my career opportunities were forced, draining, and unsatisfying. At the same time, my goal in life was to have a successful career and the comfortable lifestyle it entailed, and how could I achieve that unless I pushed myself to excel in computer science? Although faced with this constant tension, I pushed forward because I did not know what else to do and felt as if I had no other option.
But God had a plan for me and my life took a different turn in my second year at UCSD. I began reading Christian books while I was under lockdown at home because of the Covid-19 pandemic. One of the first books I read was Knowing God by J. I. Packer. Through this book, I gained a deeper understanding of the attributes of God and was filled with a sense of awe and wonder at God and who He is. My heart was stirred and awakened to God’s glory by paragraphs like this:
What matters supremely, therefore, is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it — the fact that he knows me. I am graven on the palms of his hands. I am never out of his mind. All my knowledge of him depends on his sustained initiative in knowing me. I know him because he first knew me, and continues to know me. He knows me as a friend, one who loves me; and there is not a moment when his eye is off me, or his attention distracted from me, and no moment, therefore, when his care falters.
This is momentous knowledge. There is unspeakable comfort — the sort of comfort that energizes, be it said, not enervates — in knowing that God is constantly taking knowledge of me in love and watching over me for my good. There is tremendous relief in knowing that his love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench his determination to bless me.
There is, certainly, great cause for humility in the thought that he sees all the twisted things about me that my fellow humans do not see (and am I glad!), and that he sees more corruption in me than that which I see in myself (which, in all conscience, is enough). There is, however, equally great incentive to worship and love God in the thought that, for some unfathomable reason, he wants me as his friend, and desires to be my friend, and has given his Son to die for me in order to realize this purpose.
God knows me and cares for me despite how sinful I am. God knew me and sent His son to die for me before I even wanted to know Him. God will continue to know me forever and ever, and will never let me go because I am His and graven on the palms of His hands. God loves me and there is not a moment when He is not watching over me and working for my good. God loves me despite knowing every sin I have committed and will commit in my lifetime. Oh, how amazing it is to be known and loved by God!
During this time, I was also introduced to Calvinism and the doctrines of grace by Pastor John Piper. I learned that regeneration precedes faith and that we are saved completely by grace alone through faith. Before we are regenerated, we are spiritually dead in our sin (Ephesians 2:1-5) and blind to the truth and beauty of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:14, 2 Corinthians 4:3–4). Until the Spirit gives us a new heart, we cannot have faith in Christ. When I looked in the Bible to see if this was true, I was confronted with overwhelming evidence in support of Calvinism. In fact, it seemed to be consistently supported throughout Scripture, not merely by a couple of verses. As I meditated on the doctrines of grace, God opened my heart and, for the first time, I was truly amazed at my salvation.
I could have been raised in a non-Christian family and never became a Christian. I could have been raised in a Christian family and turned away from God as so many people raised in Christian families do. I could have been raised in the Middle East with no access to the gospel and went through life never hearing about Jesus Christ. There are countless lives I could have lived that result in me not believing in Jesus and going to hell. So why was I presented with the gospel and willing to believe in Jesus?
I think about my high school friend whom I have known since elementary school. We are both Chinese. We both grew up in Rancho Cucamonga. We both went to the same school system. We are both from middle-class families. We both played the same video games. The reason we became friends so easily is because we are so similar. Yet I was raised in a Christian household and he was not. I grew up going to church and hearing the gospel, and he did not. I was willing to accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior, and he was not (hopefully in the future). Why? We could have easily switched places. He could have been raised in a Christian household instead of me. He could have grown up going to church and hearing the gospel instead of me. He could have accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior instead of me.
If I stood before God and He asked me, “Why did you believe in me when your friend did not? Why did you believe in me when there are so many people in similar situations as you who did not?” how would I answer Him? Would I say, “It is because I am a better person,” or “It is because I am more intelligent,” or “It is because I am more spiritual”?
Of course not! Those responses would be the epitome of pride and self-glorification (yet, logically, that is how people who believe in free will must respond)! The only answer I can give to God is, “It is because of your amazing grace!” It is by His grace that I was loved, chosen, and predestined before the foundation of the world to be adopted into the family of God through Jesus (Ephesians 1:4–6). It is by His grace that Jesus died for me on the cross, paying the price of my sins and purchasing me with His blood (Mark 10:45, Revelation 5:9). It is by His grace that I was raised in a Christian family and able to hear the gospel. It is by His grace that through the hearing of the gospel I was called from death to life (Ephesians 2:5), I was born again (John 3:3, 5–6), and light was created in my heart (2 Corinthians 4:6). It is by His grace that I was granted faith and repentance so that I may be justified and a child of God (Romans 8:30, 2 Timothy 2:25). It is by His grace that I persevered in my faith and continued to believe in Him until the very end (John 6:37–40). So truly, it is “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9)
These were a few of my thoughts as I meditated on the doctrines of grace. The more I thought about it, the more I was filled with awe and wonder at what God has done for me on the cross, in my life, and in my heart in order for me to become a Christian. Using the words of Packer and the doctrines of grace, God revealed more of His glory to me and gave me a desire to know and love Him more deeply. I began reading more Christian books and started reading the Bible and praying more consistently.
The most important book I decided to read was Desiring God by John Piper. It is still the book that has had the most influence and impact on my life (besides the Bible, of course). The thesis of the book is that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” Piper explains from Scripture that our display of God’s glory and our joy in Him are intimately connected, which is why God commands us to do all to His glory (1 Corinthians 10:31), but also to delight in Him (Psalm 37:4). Thus, the duty of every Christian is to pursue their greatest joy in God, or, in other words, to be a Christian Hedonist, based on the following five convictions:
1. The longing to be happy is a universal human experience, and it is good, not sinful.
2. We should never try to deny or resist our longing to be happy, as though it were a bad impulse. Instead, we should seek to intensify this longing and nourish it with whatever will provide the deepest and most enduring satisfaction.
3. The deepest and most enduring happiness is found only in God. Not from God, but in God.
4. The happiness we find in God reaches its consummation when it is shared with others in the manifold ways of love.
5. To the extent that we try to abandon the pursuit of our own pleasure, we fail to honor God and love people. Or to put it positively: The pursuit of pleasure is a necessary part of all worship and virtue. That is: The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.
Desiring God changed my entire worldview and the way I viewed my faith and my purpose in life. I realized that by making the American dream my greatest goal in life, I was not only dishonoring God by placing something above Him (which is bad enough!), but I was also pursuing something that ultimately would never satisfy me. For God is the only thing that can satisfy me. His presence is where I find fullness of joy and His right hand is where I find pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11). He is the bread of life and the living water that when I eat and drink from I will never hunger or thirst again (John 6:35). I realized that if I truly wanted to be satisfied, I should delight myself in God and pursue my greatest joy in Him (Psalm 37:4). And only by delighting myself in God and pursuing my greatest joy in Him can I truly glorify Him as what He ought to be glorified as: the all-satisfying treasure that is more precious than anything else in the world.
The eyes of my heart were opened to these truths by the grace of God. It was all so clear to me now. The reason why I was so unhappy and unsatisfied pursuing the American dream was because it would never satisfy me. And is not that the testimony of so many wealthy people who have everything they ever wanted in life, yet are still depressed and purposeless? But what is the testimony of Jesus, Paul, the early church, and countless missionaries? Jesus endured the cross for the joy that was set before Him (Hebrews 12:2). Paul was sorrowful, yet always rejoicing (2 Corinthians 6:10). The early church was in extreme poverty, yet had abundance of joy (2 Corinthians 8:2). Countless missionaries, such as David Livingstone and Hudson Taylor, left everything they had for Jesus and in the end said, “I never made a sacrifice,” because of their joy in God. All of these people went through so much suffering and persecution, yet had such deep and lasting joy.
I want that kind of happiness. I desire that kind of joy and satisfaction. Isn’t that why I became consumed by the American dream in the first place? I was seeking happiness in worldly success and material comfort when my quest for happiness was already complete in Christ. Through this discovery, I was set free from the American dream, and glorifying God by pursuing my greatest joy and satisfaction in Him became my purpose in life. From then on, God became my fullest and most lasting pleasure, and although I still lose sight of this and fall into sin, I could confidently say that God is my greatest treasure. Praise God!
I know this was a bit long, so thank you, reader, for bearing with me. I have received so much grace from being able to sit, reflect, and write about how God has been working throughout my life. It is truly amazing to see how far He has brought me by His grace and I am so thankful for all that He has done for me.