From Religion to Relationship: A Transformation of the Heart

I grew up in a family where dad was a good practicing Catholic and mom was a Protestant who had grown up in a Baptist Church. I went to church each week and made all the sacraments, and I was an Altar Boy for a few years.

I continued to practice my Catholic faith pretty consistently until I was 32. Basically I was a pretty good Catholic who would have said he believed in God but was really more of a religious guy. The reality was that I wrestled with a performance mindset and fought the issue of pride, whether it was about my spiritual, academic, athletic or career successes. My story was really far more about me than it was about God and his desires and plans for my life.

I was working as a principal when a colleague who had a similar background began to talk with me about a personal relationship with Jesus and how his life had been transformed. He shared articles with me and invited me to his church. I politely refused, thinking and telling him I was fine.  I did read the material and finally visited his church on January 19, 1983. That night I asked Jesus into my life, and my focus and mindset changed dramatically. A gospel transformation began in my heart, and I have never been the same since.

I suddenly began to read God’s Word daily, pray regularly and listen to Christian radio.  One of the biggest changes was the burden I had for family and friends who did not know Christ. My life became about living for Jesus and sharing his love with others. In his book, The Grace of God, Andy Stanley says, “Christ’s death and resurrection signaled to the world that the kingdom of God is not reserved for good people. It is reserved for forgiven people.” I suddenly realized I could not earn God’s favor by my own human efforts but needed the grace of God and his forgiveness.

My focus over the last 3+ decades has been what Jesus would have me do in loving my wife, kids, grandkids and friends. I continue to share the good news of what Jesus has done for me and for everyone who responds to his great love demonstrated for us on the cross. When I experienced transformation, my career suddenly became an opportunity to love and encourage others.  My goal was no longer to pursue personal gain or accolades but rather to do my “work heartily unto the Lord” (Col. 3:23-24).

Another dramatic change was how I looked at finances, as I now realized everything I had came from God and I wanted to honor him in how I used it.  I desire to be an image bearer of my Lord who is able to love, encourage and minister to others for his glory and honor. I hope to finish my race with a passion for Jesus and others so that I will hear “Well done, my good and faithful servant” sometime in the future.

Yet the race is not yet over, and my eyes are set on him. It is my hope and prayer to be someone who follows Matt. 6:33: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” One other scripture that I focus on for living my life is Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.”

In New Morning Mercies, Paul David Tripp reminds us of a truth that I learned 35 years ago:

The gospel of Jesus Christ must not be just an aspect of your theology. It must not be relegated to the “religious” dimension of your life. Your relationship with God through Jesus Christ is your life. It touches and alters every aspect of your existence; it redefines your identity. It infuses your life with new meaning and purpose and it completely reshapes your destiny.

I am forever thankful that my heart was transformed and that my life’s desire now is to live for Jesus in every aspect of my being. I pray that you, too, might realize your need for God’s forgiveness and ask him to transform your heart and life for his honor and glory.

 

For more on this topic, here are some resources:

Saturate: Being Disciples of Jesus in the Everyday Stuff of Life by Jeff Vanderstelt

New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotionaby Paul David Tripp

The Grace of God by Andy Stanley

 

AUTHORED BY RICH PARISI, ASSISTANT PASTOR & LEGACY, NORTH CENTRAL CHURCH

 

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