Editor’s Note: Josh McDowell is a popular author and speaker. As a young man, he considered himself an agnostic and believed that Christianity was worthless. However, after intellectually examining the claims of Jesus Christ, he discovered compelling evidence for the reliability of the Christian faith.
My opinion was that most Christians had two brains: one was lost and the other was looking for it.
Thomas Aquinas wrote: “There is within every soul a thirst for happiness and meaning.”
I wanted to be happy. There’s nothing wrong with that. I also wanted to find meaning in life. I wanted answers to the questions: Who am I? Why in the world am I here? Where am I going?
More than that, I wanted to be free. Freedom to me was not going out and doing what I wanted to do. Freedom was having the power to do what I knew I ought to do … but didn’t have the power to do.
Searching for life’s meaning
So I started looking for answers. It seemed that almost everyone was into some sort of religion, so I did the obvious thing and took off for church.
I must have found the wrong church, though. Some of you know what I mean: I felt worse inside the church than I did outside.
I’ve always been very practical, and when one thing doesn’t work, I chuck it. So I chucked religion. The only thing I had ever gotten out of religion was the change I took out of the offering plate to buy a milkshake. And that’s about all many people ever gain from “religion.”
I began to wonder if prestige was the answer. So in college I ran for freshman class president and got elected. It was neat knowing everyone on campus, having everyone say, “Hi, Josh,” making the decisions, spending the university’s money and the students’ money to get the speakers I wanted. It was great, but it wore off like everything else I had tried.
I was like a boat out in the ocean being tossed back and forth by the waves, the circumstances. And I couldn’t find anyone who could tell me how to live differently or give me the strength to do it.
Then I began to notice people who seemed to be riding above the circumstances of university life. One important thing I noticed was that they seemed to possess an inner, constant source of joy—a state of mind not dependent on their surroundings. They were disgustingly happy. They had something I didn’t have … and I wanted it.
As I began purposely to spend more time with these people, we ended up sitting around a table in the student union one afternoon. Finally, I leaned back in my chair and said, “Tell me, have you always been this way, or has something changed your lives? Why are you so different from the other students, the leaders on campus, the professors? Why?”
One student looked me straight in the eye—with a little smile—and said two words I never thought I’d hear as part of any solution in a university. She said, “Jesus Christ.”
I said, “Oh, for heaven’s sake, don’t give me that garbage. I’m fed up with religion; I’m fed up with the church. Don’t give me that garbage about religion.”
She shot back, “Mister, I didn’t say ‘religion,’ I said, ‘Jesus Christ.’”
Accepting the challenge
At first I thought it was a joke. How ridiculous. It was my opinion that most Christians had two brains; one was lost and the other was out looking for it. Oh, I used to wait for a Christian student to speak up in class. I could tear him or her up one side and down the other side, even beating my professors to the punch. I knew the answers to any argument a Christian could bring up. But these people kept challenging me over and over and over again.
Finally, I accepted their challenge. I did it out of pride, to refute them. So I set out to make an intellectual joke of Christianity, but after two years it backfired on me. After gathering the evidence, I was compelled to conclude that my arguments against Christianity wouldn’t stand up. Jesus Christ is exactly who He claimed to be, the Son of God.
At that time, though, I had quite a problem. My mind told me all this was true, but my will was pulling me in another direction. I discovered that becoming a Christian was rather ego-shattering. Jesus Christ made a direct challenge to my will to trust Him. Let me paraphrase Him: “Look! I have been standing at the door and I am constantly knocking. If anyone hears Me calling him and opens the door, I will come in” (Revelation 3:20). I didn’t care if He did walk on water or turn water into wine. I didn’t want any party pooper around. I couldn’t think of a faster way to ruin a good time. So here was my mind telling me Christianity was true, and my will was somewhere else.
Every time I was around those enthusiastic Christians, the conflict would begin. If you’ve ever been around happy people when you’re miserable, you understand how they can bug you. They would be so happy and I would be so miserable that I’d literally get up and run right out of the student union. It came to the point where I’d go to bed at ten at night and I wouldn’t get to sleep until four in the morning. I knew I had to get it off my mind before I went out of my mind!
In my second year at the university—on December 19, 1959, at 8:30 p.m.—I became a Christian. That night I prayed four things to establish a relationship with the resurrected, living Christ which has since transformed my life.
First, I said, “Lord Jesus, thank you for dying on the cross for me.”
Second, I said, “I confess those things in my life that aren’t pleasing to You and ask You to forgive me and cleanse me.” (The Bible says, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”)
Third, I said, “Right now, in the best way I know how, I open the door of my heart and life and trust You as my Savior and Lord. Take over the control of my life. Change me from the inside out. Make me the type of person You created me to be.”
The last thing I prayed was, “Thank You for coming into my life by faith.” It was a faith based not upon ignorance but upon evidence and facts of history and God’s Word.
You’ve probably heard religious people talk about their “bolt of lightning.” Well, nothing so dramatic happened to me, but in time there were some very observable changes.
Mental peace. I had been a person who always had to be occupied. But in a few months after I made the decision to trust Christ, a kind of mental peace began to develop. Don’t misunderstand; I’m not talking about the absence of conflict. What I found in this relationship with Jesus wasn’t so much the absence of conflict as it was the ability to cope with it. I wouldn’t trade this for anything in the world.
Control of temper. I used to “blow my stack” if somebody just looked at me cross-eyed. I still have the scars from almost killing a man my first year in the university. My temper was such an integral part of me. I didn’t consciously seek to change it.
Then, one day after my decision to put my faith in Christ, I arrived at a crisis, only to find that my temper was gone!
Freedom from resentment. I had a lot of hatred in my life. It wasn’t something outwardly manifested, but there was a kind of inward grinding. I was ticked off with people, things, issues.
The one person I hated more than anyone else in the world was my father. I despised him. He was the town alcoholic. And if you’re from a small town and one of your parents is an alcoholic, you know what I’m talking about.
Everybody knew. My friends would come to high school and make jokes about my father. They didn’t think it bothered me. I was laughing on the outside, but let me tell you I was crying on the inside. I’d go out in the barn and find my mother lying in the manure behind the cows. She’d been knocked down by my father and couldn’t get up.
About five months after I made my decision for Christ, love for my father—a love from God through Jesus Christ—inundated my life. It took that resentment and turned it upside down. It was so strong, I was able to look my father squarely in the eye and say, “Dad, I love you.” I really meant it.
What do you think of Christ?
When I was confronted with the overwhelming evidence for Christ’s Resurrection, I had to ask the logical question: “What difference does all this evidence make to me? What difference does it make whether or not I believe Christ rose again and died on the cross for my sins?”
The answer was put best by something Jesus said to a man who doubted—Thomas. He told him, “I am the Way—yes, and the Truth, and the Life. No one can get to the Father except by means of me” (John 14:6).
Considering the fact that Jesus offers forgiveness of sin and an eternal relationship with God, who would be so foolhardy as to reject Him? Christ is alive! He is living today.
Adapted excerpt from Skeptics Who Demanded a Verdict published by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. © 1989 Josh McDowell. All rights reserved. Used by permission.