When I graduated from a parochial school to a public school, I had a new start. I could do whatever I wanted, and what I wanted was to fit in.
So I got involved in the drinking and drugs of the party scene. By my sophomore year it got out of hand. I was partying every day, going to classes and football practice “high.” But the drugs that were meant to make life easier brought a confusing, frightening awareness of the spirit world. I became terrorized by what I thought was demonic activity. I grew superstitious – I even wore a ring that I thought had magical powers to protect me. But
the evil around me was like a prison.
Looking for relief, I started to read a Living Bible that had been given to me for eighth-grade graduation. I was reading at random and came across a verse that listed all sorts of wicked things, including “wild partying.”
Now I realized there was evil in me, too. I was a sinner; I was going against what God wanted. Going to confession would make me feel better while I was there. But as soon as I got home, I’d think, I’ve got to go back in another week. What’s the use?
During my junior year, my English teacher, who was a Christian, offered The Late Great Planet Earth as an optional reading assignment. That book started me thinking about the future and the end of the world. I was terrified of going to hell. I’ve got to get ready, I thought. So I tried to be as good and religious as I could to make up for all my partying.
I went from one extreme to the other.
By my senior year, I quit partying and started telling everyone they should believe in God. But I didn’t have the right message or the right attitude.
Once I confronted a student who was a Satan worshiper. He was trying to convert people to his beliefs with as much enthusiasm as I had for God. I had read somewhere that after judgment day the saints would walk over a lake of fire, where unbelievers would be in torment. “If you keep up what you’re doing,” I said to him, “you know where you are going to go. And when I cross that lake of fire, I’m going to make sure I smash your face when I pass you by.”
“If you can say something like that,” he said, “I don’t want any part of what you’re talking about, and I’m going to do what I’m doing even more.” I felt horrible.
About the same time, several close friends began to attend a Bible study that was held after school in a house near campus. I knew from them something good (religiously speaking) was happening at that study, so I wanted to be a part of it. And when my English teacher also invited me, I was sure I wanted to see what was going on.
I waited several months until football season was over. I had no idea what I was going to hear.
There were about 30 kids packed into two rooms. The speaker read a verse from Colossians: “When you were dead in your transgressions … He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us … having nailed it to
the cross” (Col. 2:13-14).
When I heard that, I understood that there was a different way – the right way – to get to heaven. I was wearing a crucifix; it was a religious symbol to me, a charm. But when I heard that speaker, it broke through to me what the cross really meant. Jesus Christ paid the penalty for all my sins – all the partying, everything – by dying on the cross.
I was being religious to earn God’s approval. But I couldn’t do enough to make up for my sins. So Christ did it all. I could know for sure that I would go to heaven, and stay out of hell, by accepting His offer of forgiveness (1 Jn. 5:13). About a week later, I made a public confession of my faith in Christ at my aunt’s church.
After that, I wanted to hear more about the Bible. I kept going to the study and brought as many people as I could. I was free from having to work my way to heaven, but I wanted to preach to people even more. Now I had the right message and the right attitude.
I probably didn’t appear very different on the outside. Others had already formed their first impression of me as a “religious” type. But I was different, especially on the inside.
As I watched the other Christian kids, I saw how accepting they were of others. Because I was a football player, I was in one of the top cliques in school. And frankly, I had tended to look down on kids who didn’t fit into that group. It took time, but I began to see people as people, no matter what group they were in. I discovered Christians who weren’t part of “my crowd,” but who became good friends because we were spiritual brothers and sisters.
The extremes of sinful self-indulgence and self-righteousness both brought the same result – I was a prisoner. Only Christ held the freedom and assurance I’d been searching for.
Ed Mally as told to Ken Sidey
If you’d like to know how to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, then we encourage you to read Four Steps to Peace and Eternal Life.