The Bible says that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:4-5 NKJV). My name is Lien,* and up until just a few years ago, this verse made no sense to me as a young Chinese atheist.
Growing up in China without God
I grew up in Beijing, one of the biggest and busiest cities in the world. I had seen people going into temples and giving money to idols, wishing for good fortune. I had grown tired of people saying, “Be good” so that we could come back in the next life with good fortune. I had also heard about western religions from movies and books. These left me with the general impression that only good people can go to Heaven. I considered religion to be nothing more than a man-created tool to manage society and to advocate for morality. At the time, I did not consider the more important question, namely, what is morality derived from?
I also thought that religious people were bribing their way into Heaven by giving money to the poor people, doing good works and, in some cases, not eating meat or getting married. This kind of thinking never made sense to me. None of my family members were religious and so I did not grow up believing that there was a God.
Wondering about eternity
I do remember one time when I was very young asking my mother, “What is it like after people die? Do we still know what is going on around us? Will we wake up somewhere else?” From what I recall, my mother said it would just be like sleeping forever. I remember being really scared and not very satisfied with that answer.
As the Bible says, God had put “eternity” in my heart. (Ecclesiastes 3:11 NKJV)
Getting to know Christians for the first time
At the end of August, 2008, I came to Minnesota to attend college. Shortly after, a group of students from a local church approached me with an invitation to attend what they called an “international dinner” event. I was told that they were just some Christians who wanted to invite the international students from the college to local homes in order to get know us. So I began attending different events hosted in various homes.
In the beginning, the dinners just included some volleyball, good food, and great casual conversations. Later on, I met with another student named Ambi* from India who explained to me the good news of the gospel by using a diagram to explain the meaning of John 3:16. For the first time in my life, I learned that Jesus Christ is actually the Son of God who had to die on the cross in our place in order to pay for our sins.
Because of my atheistic background, I had no previous scriptural background knowledge about who God is, why there must be a penalty or payment for sin or that, as an unbelieving sinner, I was bound for Hell.
Worldviews collide: Creation vs Evolution
I remember being invited to a Bible study after an international dinner, but I refused because I wanted to go back to school to either watch a movie or hang out with friends. It was not until we had a heated discussion on evolution versus creation at a Christmas party that I started thinking seriously about the biblical teaching I had been hearing at the dinners. As a biology major, I came into school having learned evolution as if it were fact. I had tried to make sense out of everything based on the assumption that everything came into existence through evolution. In college classes, I remember having doubts as I heard my professors explain evolution. But during that heated discussion, I felt that I had to defend evolution and atheism because that was the basis of my worldview. That night, however, I heard another view expressed—creationism. In my heart, I had to admit that it made a lot of sense.
Throughout my whole life, I had suppressed the knowledge of God’s existence, but now I could no longer do so. I was without excuse (Romans 1:18-20)
By This Name—connecting the dots
During that first winter break from college, those involved in the international dinners began a new study of a book called By This Name. This book gave a chronology and summation of the key events of the Bible, as well as an explanation of its message about Jesus Christ and how he came to provide salvation for mankind. That is when I finally connected the dots of those scattered Bible stories I had gathered over the years, resolving much of my confusion. I finally understood that because God is holy and Heaven is pure and because everyone is born as a sinner with a sin nature, we all fall short of God’s holy standard to go to Heaven (Romans 3:23).
It made total sense!
Yet, I also learned the good news. I learned that God graciously sent His Son Jesus Christ to die in order to pay for our sins because His righteousness and justice required that the penalty for sin be met. (Romans 3:24-26; 6:23). Christianity was not about being a good person to buy our way into Heaven but it was about trusting in Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross.
The Lord also used several other Bible verses to bring me to the knowledge of the truth: Romans 5:8; 1 Corinthians 15:34; Ephesians 2:8-9. I realized that true biblical Christianity stood out from all the religions I had heard of and it actually made total sense! God’s saving grace is unique!
But I asked myself, “Can I put my faith in Christ? I do not really know Him.” I still had mental struggles and many questions.
Befriended by the local church
At this time a girl named Samantha* befriended me and personally invited me to Friday night gatherings of believers from her church. I loved the singing and the peace I always felt coming out of there. God also used the time of voluntary, group prayer to reach me. One particular night, I listened as people prayed about various things. Everything that needed prayer was covered. It moved me that they not only remembered each other’s requests as they prayed, but that they also talked to God as their heavenly Father, with real care and thought. I sensed a great unity among this group of believers in Christ. I saw great love between husbands and wives, between parents and kids, and even with new people that they had just met. In the world in which we live with so many divorces, rebellious kids and betrayals between friends, this group of believers was unique to me. One might see individuals but it is rare to see a whole group of people like that. That’s where I saw Jesus Christ manifested in the lives of believers and that was when Jesus Christ became real to me.
“Do you believe?”
One night after a gathering, just before I was planning to return home to China for the summer, I went to my friend Samantha’s house. That night, her dad Bob* asked me a number of important questions:
“Who is Jesus Christ?”
I said, “According to the Bible, He is the Son of God.”
He asked, “What did He do?”
I replied, “He died on a cross and paid for our sin.”
He continued with his next question: “What do you have to do to go to Heaven?”
I said, “A person has to believe in Jesus Christ and what He did for us.”
He had still another question, “Can you do anything to lose that salvation?”
I responded, “No.”
Then he said, “Do you believe all this?” I paused and thought that was a good question because I didn’t know if I just knew all the right answers or if I actually believed them for myself.
One thing I’ve come to know and appreciate about Bob is that he never gives up. So he asked me about five more times. I realized that if I had already believed that there is a God and that the Bible is God’s Word, then whatever is said in the Bible about Jesus Christ must be truth. I just need to make a logical decision to believe it for myself. I realized that I could spend my whole life gathering more evidence, but if I didn’t make a personal decision to put my faith in Jesus Christ, I would be just another person going to Hell with the full knowledge of how to get to Heaven.
So that night, I gladly chose to put my faith in Jesus Christ and became a child of God (John 1:12). I know I can never lose that salvation and the love from my heavenly Father (John 10:28-29).
Now I know
Now I know why I went to college in Minnesota of all the places on earth. God loved me and wanted me to come to the knowledge of the truth. He had a plan to bring me 6,000 miles to where He knew I would hear the gospel of Christ, believe it and be saved forever. “Look to Me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.” (Isaiah 45:22 NKJV)
I praise the Lord for His grace, His Son Jesus Christ, and for the faithful testimony of the dear people at church.
“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.” (1 Timothy 2:3-6 NKJV)
(*Names changed or omitted as per GoodSeed policy.)