How God Saved David Powlison from Destroying Himself

A Conversation Plants the Seed

I came to faith in Jesus Christ when I was twenty-five years old. I wasn't raised as a Christian or in a Christian family. I grew up in a very liberal, mainline church—probably Unitarian in functional belief. I remember thinking as an adolescent that Jesus was a really good person who cared for people less fortunate than him, and therefore we should be good people who care for people less fortunate than us. That was about the sum of my beliefs.

During college and the following years, I was interested in whatever was hot: radical politics, anti-Vietnam war, drug culture, existentialism, New Age practice, psychotherapy. And as a very minor subtext in my immersion in this culture, my good friend Bob became a Christian, and we started a conversation.

I credit God's amazing grace for that conversation continuing, even though I did not want to be a Christian. For whatever reason, I didn't bail on the conversation.

A Call to Joy, not Despair

So Bob and I argued for five years, and I have such a vivid memory of the evening when he, by the power of the Spirit, won the argument. He spoke in a very uncharacteristic way that evening. We'd discussed the usual apologetics, Scripture, Christ, and philosophy—round and round the mulberry bush that I was always able to dodge out of. Then he got very personal and said, "David, Diane and I really love you. We respect you, but what you believe and how you're living—you're destroying yourself." He put it right out there.

I finally understood the fact that joy—not despair—would have the last word.

I was convicted by the Holy Spirit, and it was like my life was passing before my eyes—all my sins, selfishness, pride, and wanting to run my own life. It was an armor-piercing shell of conviction by the Spirit. And of all the marquee sins to which one could point, two were the deepest.

I had believed that despair got the last say in life, and I was convicted that I had believed a lie. I had been an existentialist—death wins. But very much like C.S. Lewis in Surprised by Joy, I finally understood the fact that joy—not despair—would have the last word.

A Call to New Life

I was also convicted that I had not wanted to need someone to save me. It was that fundamental unbelief: I want to make my own life work. I don't want to have a savior, I don't want to have a lord. Realizing that Jesus was Savior and Lord, I was profoundly laid low as I came face to face with my unbelief in the greatest gift that had ever been given.

Scripture, naturally, was part of the conversion. In the midst of my despair before the face of God, Bob shared with me the promise of Ezekiel 36:

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

How Does Sanctification Work?

David Powlison

Weaving together personal stories, biblical exposition, and theological reflection, David Powlison highlights the personal and particular means God uses to make us more like Jesus.

And I cried out to God for mercy: "God, be merciful to me, a sinner."

I remember driving home that night. It was late by then, and I didn't immediately understand "I've now become a Christian." I remembered thinking in the car, "Huh, that's interesting. I never thought of myself as a sinner before." I'd just been blasted with this new reality . . . and then I went to sleep.

I woke up the next morning and I was absolutely flooded with joy. It was as if I was awakened out of my spiritual sleep, and the thoughts that ran through my mind on awakening were, "I'm home. I'm a Christian." It was as though my entire life had been a quest through hot, dusty roads, searching for something which wasn't God. But he was looking for me. And I found myself at home—I had been found and loved. I'm a Christian.

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