Easter Holidays & Occasions

Easter Redemption Story

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My only hope is that through this Easter redemption story, the grace and love and majesty of the Lord Jesus Christ may burst through the clouds of our souls and shine with a radiant intensity that will wake us up once again to His eternal and matchless glory. For “not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness” (Psalm 115:1). This is the glorious God we serve, and may this testimony reflect the splendor of His glory as best as humanly possible.

As with any personal testimony, this story is hardly about me and entirely about Christ. Paul puts it perfectly in 2 Corinthians 4:7 when he writes, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”

I grew up in a Christian home, attended a Christian elementary school, actively participated in the local church youth group, went on several short-term mission projects, and essentially lived a culturally-Christian lifestyle for the first 17 years of my life. I read my Bible, prayed, sang the songs and went through all the motions of being a Christian. I may have looked like I had it all together, but I was desperately far from Jesus Christ in every way. Rather than living out of heartfelt love for Him, I was merely leading a moralistic life in order to please my parents, my teachers, my church leaders and my own self-esteem. My desire to behave according to biblical principles was fueled by pride, vanity and a longing to be accepted. Without having the exact theological understanding of this at the time, I was essentially attempting to save myself through works. From the outside my deeds looked pretty good. But on the inside, I was broken and rotting. I was the whitewashed tomb that Jesus describes in Matthew 23:27: Outwardly I appeared beautiful, but inside I was “full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.” This caught up with me as soon as I got to college.

Rather than attending a Christian College, as my parents wanted me to, I decided to go to the University of Iowa for my undergraduate degree. Part of this decision was out of vanity (I didn’t want to tell my friends that I was going to a Christian school), and part was simply that I wanted to rebel against the moralistic life that I’d been leading. In short: I wanted to “have a little fun.” And I certainly did my share of that.

During my four years in college, I fell completely away from the Lord and disobeyed His Word in more ways that I can count. I smoked pot frequently, got drunk at least once a week, disrespected authority, swore, gambled several hours a day online, fooled around romantically with multiple women, and handled my money irresponsibly. I began dating–and eventually slept with–a non-believing girl , and basically pushed God out of my life entirely. I never attended a church service or sincerely prayed about anything. Yet, I still considered myself a Christian. Since I didn’t truly know what it meant to trust and surrender one’s life to Christ, I continued to assume that because of my Christian background, everything would be okay. Of course, it wasn’t. I made good friends and did very well in school, but beneath my phony exterior was a dark spiritual underbelly that threatened to ruin my life for all eternity. Without Christ, I was dead in the water. And it took a serious wake-up call from God for me to finally realize this.

When I graduated from college, I was in the second year of dating a non-Christian woman.  I had every intention of continuing to date, and perhaps, to even marry her. As a result, I decided to rent an apartment close to her in the suburbs of Chicago, even though it forced me to commute via train over an hour each way to work. Initially I despised this Oregon Trail-like commute, as it took up a pretty huge portion of my day. I would sit on the train with my computer and try to kill the time as best I could, but in the end I always walked away feeling empty. I knew that something was missing. And I knew that that “something” was God. For years I had been denying Him, marginalizing Him, distancing myself from Him and refusing to accept His sovereign grace. But now He had finally broken through to my cold, dead heart.

When I started to pursue Him once again, I picked up Lee Strobel’s book The Case for the Creator and decided to read it on the train. What followed over the course of several months was a reawakening within my soul. I was still living in sin.  I was still disobeying God.  I was still not born again, but at least I was headed in the right direction.  As the Lord continued to pursue me relentlessly, He brought me closer and closer toward Him, until finally my entire house of cards came tumbling down.

After a full three years of dating a non-believer, the Lord–in His infinite wisdom and mercy–brought our relationship to a close.  He did so in a way that only He could ordain. You see, the one thing that always came between us was God himself. As a couple, we agreed on 99 percent of every other issue, but the one (enormous) missing piece was the Lord God Almighty. It was like the difference in DNA between humans and chimpanzees. The percentage of difference is tiny, but it means absolutely everything!

In the same way, Christ was the difference that made all the difference. Without Him, I was living in darkness, walking in sin, dead in my trespasses, and stood already condemned in the courtroom of the Perfect Judge. I needed Him so badly and I couldn’t go on without Him. It was then, when this realization hit me like a cannonball to the chest, the Lord did something miraculous. He caused the woman I was dating to walk into my apartment and break up with me on a moment’s notice. She came over, sat down, delivered the news, and that was that. By the grace of God our relationship came to an end, and after so many months of bottling up my desire to pursue the Risen Lord, He granted me that opportunity in the most unexpected way. I never thought that she would break up with me, and because of my fear of hurting her, I certainly wasn’t planning to break things off myself. Yet God knew exactly what I needed and He didn’t hesitate to make it happen.

Following this divine interruption in March of 2008, the last 12 months have simply been remarkable. I went back to attending church regularly, opened up my Bible, became actively involved in a Sunday school group, repented of countless sins, and asked for God’s forgiveness and mercy in my life. I have since been blessed with amazing opportunities to serve in a high school ministry, in a variety of functions. At some point along that journey (though I can’t say exactly when) the Lord opened my eyes to His glory and saved me and “called [me] to a holy calling, not because of [my] works but because of His own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Timothy 1:9). It is for this incomprehensible grace that I am eternally grateful, and I now feel called by the Lord to let that grace overflow to others and to declare His glory among the nations.

The saving power of Jesus Christ is real, powerful, and wholly transformational. I went from being a moralistic, hypocritical teenager, to a hopelessly rebellious college student, to a fully redeemed sinner who was rescued from sin and death by the grace of God through the death, burial and resurrection of His glorious Son Jesus Christ. Paul puts it like this in Colossians 2:13-14:
“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”

I was dead in my sin, yet God made me alive together with Him by nailing my transgressions to the cross of Jesus Christ. This is the power and glory and wonder of the Gospel. “Though [our] sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Isaiah 1:18). For “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:4-5).

As for the road ahead, I recently applied to seminary in order to begin a more dedicated life in full-time ministry, and I will be getting married this summer to a wonderful, noble and Christ-centered woman who has surrendered her entire life to the Lord Jesus Christ.

To Him be the glory forever and ever, and “may the LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift us his countenance upon you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-25).

Ryan Karpeles

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