“For every child of God defeats this evil world by trusting
Christ to give the victory.” (1 John 5:4, NLT)
Josh McDowell was a hard-nosed skeptic regarding the accuracy of the Bible and Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God. His intense quest to disprove it led him into a spiritual experience with Christ that radically changed his life. There were obvious changes in his behavior over a period of six to eighteen months, but the most significant change happened as he faced the need to forgive people who had damaged him as a child.
The small community where the McDowell family lived knew his father as the town alcoholic. Josh hated him for the abuse and the shame he brought them. When Josh accepted Christ as his Savior, a powerful love consumed his life. He described how it affected his feelings for his father: “God’s love took that hatred, turned it upside down, and emptied it out. I looked my father in the eyes and said, ‘Dad, I love you,’ and I really meant it.”
A short time later, his dad visited him. “It was one of his few sober days,” Josh said. “Dad paced nervously around the room and finally blurted out, ‘Son, how can you love a father like me?’”
Josh answered, “Dad, six months ago I despised you.” He shared the story of his research and conclusions that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and confessed, “I have placed my trust in Christ, received God’s forgiveness, and invited Him into my life. He has changed me. God has taken away my hatred and now I love and accept you just the way you are.”
After they talked for almost an hour, Josh’s dad said, “Son, if God can do in my life what I’ve seen Him do in yours, then I want to trust Him as my Savior and Lord.”
His father’s life changed right before his eyes—as if God reached down and flipped on the light switch. Josh saw his father touch alcohol only once after that. The beverage got as far as his lips before his father thrust it away.
There was another person Josh needed to forgive. Between six and thirteen years of age, he was sexually abused by a man hired to cook and clean on their farm. When his parents needed to leave for any reason, they would stand Josh in front of him and say, “You do everything Wayne tells you to do or you’ll get a thrashing when we get home.” He was afraid of their punishment, so Josh did what Wayne told him.
When Josh told his mother what Wayne did to him, she didn’t believe Him. “I felt totally alone and unprotected,” he admitted. “Even at the young age of six, I knew what Wayne did to me was evil, and I hated him for it.”
Josh’s work on the farm made him stronger, so by the age of 13 he waited for an opportunity to confront his abuser. When his parents were out of sight, he walked into the house, cupped his hands around Wayne’s neck and pushed him against the wall. His grip tightened as he spoke. “If you ever touch me again, I will kill you!” Wayne never touched him after that.
Years later, as a new believer, Josh told his pastor about Wayne. His pastor looked at him sympathetically and said, “You need to forgive him.” Josh’s anger exploded. The years of abuse and his personal battle for his own protection had scarred him deeply. He admitted, “I hate the man! I want him to burn in hell!” But in his heart, Josh knew his pastor was right. He would have to forgive Wayne, just as he forgave his father.
Josh faced his abuser once again, but this time he didn’t threaten him. “Wayne, what you did to me was evil,” he said, “but I‘ve trusted Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. I believe that Jesus died as much for you as He did for me, so I forgive you.”
“I had no warm emotions,” Josh admitted. “I simply said the words in faith because I knew it would please my Heavenly Father. Faith carried me through both experiences of forgiving my father and Wayne. Through it all, I had the haunting conviction that the Bible was true and I could trust Jesus to give me victory.”
You may laugh at Christianity and mock it as Josh once did, but he finally saw and experienced the evidence. “It works,” he declares, “because Jesus works. If you trust Christ, start watching your attitudes and actions [change] because Jesus Christ is in the business of changing lives.”
Be assured that your past can be overcome with God’s help. He can change you from the inside out with His powerful love.
“Jesus, Your divine power gives me everything I need for living a godly life.” (2 Peter 1:3)
Josh McDowell is the author of More Than a Carpenter.