One of the greatest blessings of my life as a young man was the influence of an amazing student pastor and an incredible student ministry. Pastor Filipe from Echo and I were a part of the same student group as teenagers. We used to have these incredible retreats, and on Saturday night of the retreat you always knew there would be an amazing time of worship. I remember getting excited as the time for the retreat grew nearer. The worship music was just two guitars, a bongo drum, and a bunch of out-of-tune high school students singing at the top of their lungs. We really learned to sing and worship as loudly as we could and with as much sincerity as we could muster up. We meant the words we were singing as much as we could understand and mean anything at 15, 16, and 17 years old.
One of my favorite songs from that time was super simple. It contained this line, “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.” So simple. A prayer of commitment. A moment of decision. My eyes fixed on Him. My life is His.
I’ve been singing these words in my heart the best I know how for over 25 years. I am so grateful for all the people along the way who have influenced my life and loved me to Jesus. My mom and dad both imperfectly faced their own battles along the way, but I can say confidently at 38 they both loved me to Jesus. My mom came to faith out of the brokenness of an alcoholic household. My dad grew up with a lot of wounds from his parents, but they both decided to follow Jesus and resolved to do their best to help me do the same.
I had a whole host of mentors and people who poured into me along the way. Mike Bonser, Rusty Gailey, Dr. Stan Parker, Erik Shamblin, John Worcester, Rick Burge, and Steve Stroope are just a few of them. What troubles me is the ones who are not mentioned here. Sadly, somewhere along the way, they decided to turn back. The journey got too hard, the suffering too great, and they threw in the towel on loving and following Jesus. Not all of us will finish the race well. It’s kind of sad to think about, isn’t it?
Peter gives us a part of the mindset that we need to embrace if we are going to keep running the race. He says that we need to be “ready to suffer.” It’s kind of like when we pick up the weights in the gym. The pain never feels good in the moment, but the future payoff makes it worth it. The transformation coming tomorrow makes us willing to bear up under the pain and grind it out for another round of curls and push-ups today.
When Peter says, “you are finished with sin,” he isn’t saying that you won’t ever sin again. He is helping us frame our lives through the reality that the power of sin and death no longer has to be our story. Our past really can stay in the past.
The more you experience this new life in Jesus, the less you want that old life. Sometimes you get a taste of it for a day or two. You gossip with some co-workers, you roll around in bitterness for a little while, you stay up late watching the kind of movies you stopped watching a few years ago. They just don’t taste as good anymore. One of my good friends told me the Holy Spirit really impressed upon Him that he needed to completely stop smoking pot. One night, when he got together with some old high school buddies, he tried it again for the first time in a few years. He said it was like the fun of the sin was gone for him.
Don’t get me wrong, I think we could all singe our consciences and go off the deep end. But when you go back to sin after walking with Jesus, sometimes you vehemently want to say to yourself, “I’m done. I’m so done with that!”
Why? You’re made new. The Holy Spirit lives in you now, and He is giving you new desires. He is changing you from the inside out and making you anxious to do His will.
Here’s the tough news. Your readiness to suffer for Him will eventually become your readiness to do His will. The more willing you are to endure hardship, the more you will eventually want to do what’s right. Over time, it will be less and less because you have to, and more and more because you get to. It will be more of a song you sing, “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.”
Friend, He is forming you and shaping you. You and I both have a long way to go, but for today let’s give Him some praise for how far He’s brought us. Some of you are living today not as a slave to the pursuit of your own desires, but as a servant anxious to do the master’s will. Praise God!
As we wrap up things today, let’s arm ourselves for battle. Let’s do war on the message in our culture that tells us we should pursue comfort and ease of life. Let’s continue to become the kind of people who place a high priority on character over comfort and joyfully sing His praises in the midst of our hardships.
I have decided to follow Jesus, come hell, come high water, NO TURNING BACK!