Martin Sohn's Testimony
I was born to a Christian family. My father was an elder in a church and my grandfather was a pastor and a missionary in Japan. From my birth I have been familiar with the Christian life style: going to church every Sunday, reading the Bible, participating in church activities like choir, serving, etc.
If somebody asked me if I had the assurance of salvation, my answer was always “Of course, I am saved” or “I have assurance of salvation”. But in truth, I was not sure in my mind and heart. I pretended to be confident of it because I was a son of an elder in the church.
I never denied that God exists. But I was caught by fear of a sudden death without confessing unforgiven sins. My concept of faith was that sin was doing something wrong, and my sins were forgiven by the blood of Christ “IF” I confessed them. This view had been formed during my life in a Christian family and church. The love of God had always been conditional in my mind. Holy God was watching over my behaviors and ready to punish me if I didn’t confess those behaviors. The cross and the blood of Christ were a way or an opening to confess and to be forgiven for each of my sins. I thought I had to confess my sins every moment as soon as possible so I would not go to hell if I confronted a sudden death. That was the gospel I understood through church life. My life was under the law, and the fear of God who was ready to punish me for my sins if I didn’t confess and keep His laws. I walked in nominal religion and spiritual fog until my freshman year of college.
One day in 1987, I was listening to a friend talking to me about his conversion in a Bible study meeting led by the Korean Navigators in my college. I was aware of the difference between him and me. He looked so confident and joyful and overflowed, but I had no joy and no assurance, even though I had been in church longer than him. I was concerned that he was a true Christian and I was not.
This inspired me to read the Bible more closely to discover how to become a true Christian and to meet Christ personally. After a while, some verses describing sin and the completed redemption by Christ on the cross reached into my heart. They revealed to me my sinful status and the great value of the death of Christ. Looking back, my concept of sin was “I become a sinner because I sin”. But reading through the Bible, I was aware that I sin because I am a sinner in nature. I recognized I was rebellious against God and my being itself deserved God's wrath.
Simultaneously, the fact that God, the most holy, sacrificed His only beloved Son on the cross to save me, the wretch, was magnified in my eyes through studying and reading the Bible. One verse that touched me was Isaiah Ch. 53:
“But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
I began to understand the meaning of the cross (though I am still learning and understanding). I recognized that my sin was forgiven not through confessing every event of my sin, but solely through the shedding of Christ’s blood. My whole being is forgiven and saved and righteous for the past, present, and future. All I needed was to believe Christ’s finished work on the cross and trust him. I recognized that all my being was accepting Christ as my Lord by recognizing his love, his redemptive work once and for all, and his beauty. My conscience came to be free from the guilt and the fear of God’s wrath and I was tied to Christ who sacrificed Himself for me.
I was struck by a simultaneous deep grief and unspeakable joy. My deep grief came from the fact that I was an awful sinner in nature. I began to see that I was rebellious against God in every thought and behavior even in my good works or religious activities. The unspeakable joy was from the unfathomable love of God toward me through forgiving my being completely. The creator condescended and had mercy on me, a hopeless sinner, and sacrificed Himself on the cross.
This revelation triggered several changes in me. The first and major change was a true desire to live for His glory in my heart. I used to repeat the right answer that I learned in the church and say that my life was for God’s glory whenever someone asked me about the purpose of my life, without thinking about my answer. But now I truly wanted to live for His Glory with all my heart, because my heart was filled with a gratefulness for His sacrifice through His incarnation, death on the cross, and resurrection. The meaning and the value of my life were changed. Second, the most joyful activity was to read the Bible which previously was boring to me. Every word and verse in the Bible began to move in me, to make sense to me, and to be applicable to my life. I used to read the Bible for several hours continuously, sometimes all day long, feeling the presence of God. Third, I came to be sensitive to sin. My concept of sin was changed from doing wrong to having a rebellious heart against God. I came to be aware that even things that I thought righteous in my life can be, in fact, sins God hated.
This is my first confrontation of the gospel and Christ’s glory.
After my conversion, I participated in a campus mission institute. There, I was taught that the gospel was just the first step in Christianity and there were more important things like training for spiritual growth and visionary ministry. I learned many principles and practices for ministry dealing with evangelism, organizing people, driving team, motivating methods, vision making, commitment, leadership training, self-training for pursuing excellence as a leader, and so on. I thought I was growing in faith. 11 years later, I moved to a local church after getting out of the campus ministry and started another church ministry for young adults. I was doing same things that I learned in the campus.
At some point, I began to recognize that I was lacking something, but I didn’t know what it was.
One day in 2000, I heard a preacher through the car radio when I was driving and I was moved by his preaching, which revealed Christ himself and made me confront the glory of God again. He was a scholastic pastor who was pursuing reformed theology and faith. Following his references to several books, I began to read the books of Martyn Lloyd Jones and J. I. Packer. I read more books and met many of the forefathers of Christianity, like J.C. Ryle, Jonathan Edwards, John Calvin, Martin Luther, Augustine. What I found was that their books did not deal with anything that I was learning until that time. Their focus was God, the triune God, and the glorious truths of the gospel. I read again and again and was amazed at the gospel that they described. Sometimes I was surprised again at my sinfulness and sometimes I was deeply amazed once more at Christ’s sacrifice for me. I was returning to the gospel by which I was saved. I recognized that the point that I was missing was the gospel-centeredness. The supremacy of Christ in Christianity was not possible without continuous pursuit and revelation of the gospel. The gospel is not only the beginning, as I misunderstood, but also a constructing element in every part of the Christianity. The gospel is not a tool for evangelism. It is the marrow of Christianity and Christian life because the image of Christ most obviously appears in the gospel. I was returning to the cross again not as a starting point but as my ultimate goal.
After this realization, I stopped preaching, teaching, and leading in the church because I recognized that I too lacked the knowledge of the gospel. I began to concentrate on personal growth in the gospel.
I am still a sinner even after my conversion. I am still learning my sinfulness in my life again and again. But that reminds me that I need to hear the gospel of grace: that I am still in God’s favor not because of any good thought, good behavior or religious work, but because of the accomplished work on the cross, showing that God’s unconditional favor on me and that grace on me will be forever. I am confident that I am righteous before God always. That unmeasurable grace urges me to continue to repent and grow to the image of Christ. I want to grow in the gospel more than before.