Truth be known, I have always struggled with giving my testimony. All the times I have given it, in the back of my mind, it has never really made sense. I was never comfortable with it, but I really didn’t know why. I was supposedly “saved” and baptized at age 7. Growing up in church, I knew all the right answers. The two components of genuine conversion are faith in Christ (not just in Him but in His Person and sufficient atonement), and repentance of sins. Did I have faith in Christ? Yes, I did – just like I had faith in Santa Clause. He was real to me too. My faith in Jesus, like my faith in Santa, was immature and childish. There is a big difference between a child-like faith and a childish faith. A child-like faith (“Whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it at all” Mark 10:15) is one that acknowledges absolute helplessness and inability before God. Just as a child is completely unable to physically care for and provide for himself; i.e. a child cannot pay a mortgage, get a job, put food on the table, etc., so are we completely unable from a spiritual standpoint to provide for ourselves. And as far as repentance goes, exactly how does a 7 year old repent? How does a child that young show genuine repentance? From what does he repent? The only commandment children are given in Scripture is to obey their parents. I dare say that as I grew older I disobeyed my Dad and Mom more, not less.
Fast forwarding, at age 16 I went to see Nora Lam and R.W. Shambach in hopes of being healed of my Cerebral Palsy. This is what began my interest in the Word-Faith movement. This should have been a warning sign in and of itself for a couple of reasons. One, the very fact that I went to see faith healers showed a real lack of spiritual discernment and maturity – at best. One cannot be spiritually mature and lack discernment at the same time. Spiritual (and biblical) discernment and maturity go hand in hand; they are two sides of the same coin. This is a quote from Tim Challies in his book entitled The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment :
Finally, just as a lack of discernment is a mark of spiritual immaturity, the presence of discernment is a sure mark of maturity. Again, the author of Hebrews warns, “Solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to discern between good and evil” (Heb. 5:14). Christians who are mature are those who have exercised discernment and have learned how to distinguish good from evil. Spiritual maturity is closely tied to discernment. You cannot have one without the other. There are no Christians who are mature but undiscerning. (pg. 5)
So, I certainly lacked discernment. Another reason is that by going to see faith healers, I was, in effect, telling God that I was not satisfied with my life. I wanted to be healed of my CP and did not see it for what it was – something which, in His sovereignty, God gave me. I was seeking supposed gifts and not the Giver. Granted, I was only 16. Nonetheless, my attitude was essentially one of selfishness and was not indicative of one who had truly experienced God’s regeneration. Even if only 16, had I been regenerate, I would not have been seeking healing from charlatans.
Through my remaining years of high school and first couple of years of college, I was not at all walking with Christ. I was far more concerned with what my friends thought of me than what Christ did. There was little if any reading of Scripture and little interest in the things of God. My last couple of years of college I started attending church regularly. I began to again have an interest in Scripture but, in hindsight, even that was superficial. My interest in it was largely based on my experiences with the faith healers back in high school. I enrolled at seminary genuinely thinking it was what I was supposed to do. I definitely had an interest in God and His Word but it was more of an intellectual one. Was emotion involved? Yes. But it was misplaced. I did not know it at the time, but it was.
I went to seminary, earned two degrees, and wrote my thesis on the Word-Faith movement. Then, in 2004, I began doing the seminars I’m doing now. I felt (and still do) very passionately about the issue I was addressing, but my passion was misplaced. When I would go to the Benny Hinn, Ken Copeland, Duplantis, etc., etc. meetings I grieved – I genuinely grieved. However, in hindsight, I now see that my grieving was misplaced. I grieved primarily because I saw the poor and the desperate and the sick being abused and exploited. My heart broke when I saw the hundreds and hundreds of people at these meetings who were far more sick, far more desperate, far more crippled than I had ever thought of being. I knew that these people were being exploited. I knew that these prosperity preachers were exploiting them for personal financial gain and it both broke my heart and angered me. I did grieve. However, my grieving should have been first and foremost that God’s Name and His Word were being maligned and twisted. I should have been broken over God’s reputation far more so than the people themselves.
As I began doing my seminars, doors opened for me everywhere. I was going all across the country and around the world. I was receiving literally thousands of emails from all around the world from people who told me that they were being helped by this ministry. That encouraged me. It truly did. However, it also served to pacify a guilty conscience over my sin and doubts about my salvation. Yes, I had doubts. Severe doubts. Many were the nights that I would go back to my hotel room after preaching somewhere and lay awake worried that if I were to die I would go to Hell. I didn’t know why nor did I know what to do about it. I tried to allay my doubts with the apparent success of the ministry. I thought, ‘Well, I must be saved – look at how God is blessing my ministry.’ The truth is, He was blessing the ministry; but not because of me, in spite of me. God was blessing the ministry because I happened to be teaching the truth. The information I presented in my seminar was, for the most part, biblically accurate (I say for the most part because there were areas in my theology that were loose and areas in which I had no real conviction but do now). People were being helped but that was solely due to the content of the material, it had absolutely nothing to do with me.
I also tried to alleviate my doubts by getting something that has been a mainstay in my life very confused. I can honestly say that I have never really been bitter about my handicap. Though there have been difficult times to be sure (Truth be known it has probably been harder on my family than on me), I have never been bitter about it. I’ve always been handicapped. I’ve never known anything different. Being crippled is normal for me. For almost all of my life I have confused this lack of bitterness for God’s sufficient grace (2 Cor. 12:9).
Around 2007 I came across Ray Comfort’s ministry Way of the Master. I am so thankful for his ministry and enthusiastically recommend it. Comfort, as many of you know, emphasizes the preaching of the Law of God, the 10 Commandments, to bring about a knowledge and awareness of sin. When we break the laws of God there is a penalty to be paid. Unlike breaking laws here on earth, however, where the penalties are temporal, the penalty for breaking God’s laws is eternal because He is eternal. It is only when we understand that we deserve the wrath of God that the mercy of God really makes sense. The righteous wrath of God makes His mercy precious. This made sense to me. It clicked. Up until then, my paradigm for presenting the Gospel was basically, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” This is what I was raised hearing and heard it even in seminary. So, the approach of Ray Comfort, which is the biblical approach, did make sense to me. It even fit in nicely with the nature of my seminar and I began incorporating it into my preaching and teaching. Comfort emphasizes the two components of salvation, namely, faith in Christ and repentance of sin. This, however, is where I had a huge, huge lack of understanding; not with faith in Christ, but in repentance.
I knew that repentance meant to turn from sin. However, I also knew that salvation was not of works. I knew that there is nothing that we can do to ever possibly earn God’s favor or forgiveness (Eph. 2:8,9; Isaiah 64:6). Compared to God’s holiness, our feeble “good works” are not only worthless before Him, but also an insult to Him. We cannot do anything to earn our salvation. I understood that. However, when we present the Gospel we tell people to do something, to repent. Repentance, in part, means that we either stop doing what we are but should not be, or begin doing what we should be doing but have not been. Repentance therefore, is, in fact, doing something. It seemed to me to be an enormous contradiction. I did not understand how we can, on the one hand, preach that one cannot do anything to earn his or her salvation and then, on the other hand, turn around and preach (in the very same message) that in order to be saved, one has to do something! It was a massive, massive contradiction that I simply could not rectify. For the life of me I could not figure it out.
So, here I was, Justin Peters – an evangelist with two earned seminary degrees, known by many around the world, and widely regarded to be the foremost authority on Word-Faith, one of the most egregious and widespread heresies in the world today…and I doubted my own salvation. There was a huge component of the Gospel, repentance, that I did not understand. I did not know what to do. I did not know to whom I could go. After all, I was “Justin Peters.” I was supposed to have all the answers. But I didn’t. I was a white-washed tomb.
Also around the year 2007 I slowly began to run in more theologically reformed circles. In other words, I found myself increasingly going to churches which held to the Doctrines of Grace. The Doctrines of Grace essentially hold that we, as sinners, are totally depraved, meaning that we are completely dead in sins (Eph. 2:5; Rom. 3:9-18; 8:7) and, therefore, completely unable in and of ourselves in our fallen state to come to God on our own. There is no “decision” we can make for Christ. We cannot “accept” Him unless we are first quickened by His Spirit. God has predestined, or elected, those whom He wishes to save. God has given to the Son an elect group of people as a love gift (“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me,” John 6:37). Those who are saved are “chosen in Him before the foundation of the world” and “in love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself according to the kind intention of His will” (Eph. 1:4,5). I was running in these circles more and more and was, slowly and very begrudgingly, beginning to make an intellectual ascent to the Doctrines of Grace. I say that I was begrudgingly making an intellectual ascent because even though I could see that the Bible certainly did seem to teach election and I had no biblical arguments against it (I really only had emotional arguments not grounded in Scripture), I did not like the doctrine of election. Inside I rebelled against it. It didn’t seem fair to me. But, I could not argue against the fact that the Bible does teach it.
I continued to hold onto the decision I made as a 7 year old boy as the assurance I was saved. It did not make sense to me but it was pretty much all I had; that and the apparent “success” of my ministry and lack of bitterness regarding my handicap. As the years went on I was essentially preaching the right Gospel and preached it convincingly, but, looking back, the vigor with which I preached was as much to convince myself of my salvation as it was to convince others their need for the same. It was not that I was ever behind the pulpit thinking to myself, ‘I don’t believe this stuff but I’m going to preach it anyway.’ I did believe it on an intellectual level but I did not truly understand it.
Kathy and I began dating and, in God’s providence, we got married. The whole time we were dating, however, we had no real fellowship around the Word unless it involved Word-Faith. My interest in the Bible, I’m ashamed to say, largely began and ended with this one issue. It was a big issue to be sure, and still is, but my discernment was limited to it. I had blinders on and was blinded myself. Looking back, it is solely by God’s grace, providence, and sovereign will that we got married.
Then, in January of 2011, shortly after we moved to Oklahoma, through various life events and circumstances God, in His sovereign grace, broke me. He absolutely shattered me. I have always had a sorrow over my sins but not a true godly sorrow. I had a guilty conscience to be sure, but did not have a true, gut-wrenching godly sorrow. I had never genuinely wept over my sin until then. This is something else I did not understand. There is a distinction between a guilty conscience and a godly sorrow. The Bible teaches this.
I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anythingthrough us. 10 For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. 2 Cor. 7:9-10
There are two kinds of sorrow over sin. One is a guilty conscience, or, a worldly sorrow, which is what I had. It is real sorrow, but not the right sorrow. The worldly sorrow leads only to death. In other words, it produces a burdened conscience but does not lead to new life in Christ. Then there is a godly sorrow that does lead to new life in Christ because it is not only grounded in the Person of Christ but also given by the Person of Christ. It produces a repentance without regret leading to genuine salvation. God gave me this in January of 2011. I was completely overwhelmed, broken. Sin hurts us and it hurts others, as did mine. Greatly. My sin was first and foremost, though, against God. His Person. After all that He has done for me both in this life and long ago on the cross, my sin is against Him. He is so beautiful, so merciful, so gracious, and so kind in not giving me His wrath which I deserve. This is when I was genuinely saved.
I did not understand at first what had happened. But as time went on I noticed significant changes in me and my life. Kathy noticed them too. For one thing, my priorities changed. I used to be wrapped around the gears with politics and current events. I used to watch Fox News for hours on end nearly every night. I spent more time watching the news and worrying over it than I did in reading and studying Scripture. I’m not that way anymore. It’s not that I don’t still keep up with current events because I do. I still have an interest and I still care, it’s just no longer my passion. That is not where the power is anyway. We could turn the entire country into Mayberry but without the Gospel, all we will have is a nicer place from which to go to Hell. The Gospel is the true power of God and is the only thing that can truly change men’s hearts.
Also, Kathy and I began having real and meaningful fellowship around the Word of God where we had had basically none before. My eyes were opened to many more of the beautiful doctrines in God’s Word in which I had previously had little interest. Some theological issues over which I had preferences but no real conviction have now become settled convictions. I’ve also noticed that when I attend Word-Faith meetings and conferences now that my grieving has changed. My grieving is no longer centered around the people who are being exploited, but rather over God’s Name and Word being sullied and distorted. Now, don’t get me wrong, I do still have compassion for those who are truly sick and desperate – I do. What I am saying is that that is not what grieves me the most. At some level we have to recognize that these false teachers are in and of themselves part of God’s judgment. Most people want teachers who tickle their ears (2 Tim. 4:3-4) and God is giving them what they want. The most loving thing we could ever do for these people is to tell them the truth.
Something else that has changed is that the massive contradiction in my mind between a salvation not of works and the need to repent has been resolved. What I never understood is that people can’t repent. Not on their own. Genuine repentance is in and of itself a gift. It is granted.
17 Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” 18 When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.” Acts 11:17-18
30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. 31He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. Acts 5:30-31.
24 The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth. 2 Tim. 2:24-25
This is what I never could understand before. I had read these verses but my eyes were blinded to the truth of them. I could not see their power and gloriousness. This was the answer! There is no contradiction at all between repentance and salvation being not of works. Because repentance is not a work – it is a gift! God gives His elect genuine repentance. Related to this, repentance, though it includes a holy life, it is not in and of itself a cessation of sin. Let me share with you a thought I had some months after I was converted: Let’s create a hypothetical man who is an alcoholic and a pathological liar, put him into a helicopter and fly him out 100 miles into the Pacific Ocean and drop him off on a deserted island leaving him nothing but a supply of bread and fresh water. Well, he stops getting drunk because he has no alcohol and he stops lying because he’s got no one to whom to talk. He “stops” sinning. It does not mean he has repented. Why? Because his heart hasn’t been changed. The cessation of sin in and of itself is not genuine repentance. Apart from God granting repentance, all we can do is simply try to turn over a new leaf – like a glorified version of a New Year’s resolution. But like New Year’s resolutions, man made efforts toward repentance don’t last. That’s why we have so many “backsliders” in the church. People are trying to do what they simply cannot do until God grants it to them. Genuine repentance can only come from a changed heart and only God can give that to us. I’ve often heard people speak of feeling like a weight has been lifted off of their shoulders since they were saved. I never really knew what they meant – not experientially anyway. I do now. It is a beautiful thing when God opens your eyes to a wondrous truth of His word.
Gone with the contradiction that used to vex me is the fear that used to grip me of going to Hell. I used to be terrified of this. I didn’t understand why. I knew there was something badly wrong but I also had no idea of what to do about it. Now, though, that fear is gone. I no longer lose sleep over worrying about my eternal destination. I do not say this to sound arrogant – not at all. It’s just that now I know (by head knowledge, now heart knowledge and experience) that my salvation has absolutely nothing to do with me. Nothing. No efforts of self-change, no decision I’ve made. Nothing. The reason I was never comfortable with my salvation is that I was relying on a “decision” I made as a little boy. But, salvation is not us making a decision. It is God’s decision to save us. Here are just a few of the many texts that teach this:
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1:12
This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. John 6:39
And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.” John 6:44
When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. Acts 13:48
What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. Romans 9:15-16
In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures. James 1:18
I do not claim or even to pretend to understand everything there is to understand about election. This doctrine does not, as some claim, absolve people of responsibility before God. God’s sovereignty and man’s accountability are both taught in Scripture and both are true. Charles Spurgeon said once, “As well might a gnat seek to drink in the ocean, so might a finite creature seek to comprehend the eternal God.” I don’t fully understand it, but I do believe it. This great doctrine against which I used to rebel and hate, I now embrace and it is beautiful to me. It is glorious. It is glorious because it is the most God-glorifying doctrine. Through the doctrine of election God gets all of the glory for our salvation. We can take absolutely no credit whatsoever.
In closing, let me say that I know that this testimony is likely a shock to you. I can certainly understand why. I did not immediately realize what was happening myself. Some of you might know that at the beginning of 2011 I cleared my calendar. Initially I thought it was for a time of spiritual restoration, but it was not at all. It was for my conversion. I did not understand what was happening. However, as the months went by and there was more distance in the proverbial rearview mirror, I began to realize what had really happened – that I had just been genuinely saved. Upon this realization, I shared this with a number of men for whom I have a great deal of respect. They were very encouraging. I’ve spoken with a man who pastored for years before he was converted. He went through much the same thing as have I. He was very understanding and affirming. This has happened to many others as well. Maybe God will use my testimony, at least in part, to help others realize that they are not truly saved.
For those who have known me or known of me for years, I want to sincerely apologize to you and ask your forgiveness. It was not that I did not want to be who I professed to be and who I thought that I was at one time. I just didn’t know how. I didn’t want to have the doubts. I didn’t want to not have genuine repentance. It was that I did not understand it because it had not yet been granted, and yet, I was still responsible and accountable. Please forgive me.
There will likely be those who would like to take my testimony as an occasion to charge me with having been a religious hypocrite. That is fair. I will not argue. Some may take my testimony as an opportunity to somehow legitimize the Word-Faith preachers. This, however, cannot be done. Even as a false convert, I was still teaching, for the most part anyway, the Truth. God still honors His Truth regardless of the vessel.
In a number of venues since 2012, both domestic and international, I have shared my testimony. I knew that many would be surprised, to be sure, but wondered if many might also react with anger or judgment. It has been a beautiful thing to see people’s reactions to my testimony. Almost without exception it has been received very well and very lovingly. Many have told me that they went through much the same experience. I have spoken with several other men who were also converted as preachers. The responses I have received have been encouraging beyond words.
The truth of what I taught stands on its own – it was never dependent upon me. In 2012 I began preaching and teaching again but so much has changed. I still feel passionately about the subject I am addressing, Word-Faith, even more so – much more so, in fact. What is different, though, is that it is no longer my sole focus and God has made my motivations much, much more biblically aligned – more vertical. Another difference in my life is that my preaching has changed. What used to be preferences are now convictions. I still have all of the head knowledge I had before but now it has truly dropped down into my heart. I told my wife not long ago that before my genuine conversion I had pockets of truth but I never could seem to connect the dots. By God’s grace, those dots are connecting. My preaching and teaching has become much broader as well. I have far more unction than I used to have because it is now coming from the right place. All of this having been said, however, it is not that I have “arrived.” Not by any means. I am growing, by God’s grace. My marriage to Kathy has never been better and we enjoy deep, meaningful fellowship around the Word which before we had not had. I have never been more grateful for God’s grace and mercy than I am now. He is far more beautiful and far more precious to me than He has ever been before. I trust that God will continue to use me in the ministry to which He has entrusted me and Kathy, but I think it will be broader than before.
In light of what God has done in my life, I was re-baptized and re-ordained in March and July, respectively, of 2013 at First Baptist Church in Texico, New Mexico. These actions were the right, necessary, and God-honoring things to do. Both of these services were very meaningful to both me and my wife. My baptism was special because right after I was baptized, I had the privilege to re-baptize my wife.
If reading my testimony has given you pause about your own, that could be a good thing. Scripture teaches us to examine ourselves to see whether we are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5). My testimony is not intended to make you doubt your salvation unnecessarily – not at all. Taking spiritual inventory, however, is a good thing for all of us to do. You might want to ask yourself some of these questions: Do I believe that Jesus is the Son of God and the only provision for my sin (John 8:24)? Do I have a love for the Person of Christ which is marked by obedience to His commands (John 14:15; 2 John 1:6)? Do I have a hatred of my sin and godly sorrow over it (2 Corinthians 7:9-10)? Do I have a love and hunger for the Word of God (Psalm 119; 1 Peter 2:1-3)? Do I have a love for the brethren (Hebrews 13:1)? Is there an increasing pattern of holiness in my life (1 Peter 1:15-17)? Is my life characterized by unrepentant sin (1 Corinthians 6:9-11) or am I walking in Christ and in newness of life (Colossians 2:6-7; Romans 6:4-6)?
The Christian life is not about perfection, it is about direction. If you would like more information or help in this, I would commend to you Saved Without a Doubt by John MacArthur.