Christian Living

How I came to know Jesus – Kirsten McKinlay

How would you describe your life before you knew Jesus?

My wonderful mum took me to church as a child – perhaps, she might say now, out of a sense of it being the right thing to do, since I had been baptised as a baby. I don’t think she expected church to take hold as I grew up, but as it turned out, I loved Sunday School and youth group and just kept going!

Although I knew a lot of Bible stories, it wasn’t until a specific moment as a teenager that the overarching theme of the Bible, and the centre point of Christianity itself, made sense to me.

Until that moment, I was sure that being a nice and considerate person had earned me God’s favour. In fact, I thought I was probably kinder than the average person and was certainly good enough for heaven. And ultimately, I probably thought that unless someone was truly evil (Hitler and the like) that God would let you into heaven anyway – surely God wasn’t someone to hold a grudge.

When and how did you come to trust him as Saviour?

I was on a youth group weekend away when a man (whose name I don’t know) gave a talk on what it meant to be a Christian.

He used the ‘bridge’ illustration to show what seemed to me to be a very bleak starting point: I had offended God.

In a moment, my worldview was rocked. I learned from the Bible that despite my thoughtful deeds, I had mostly ignored God’s existence. And that was a problem, because everything that has been created was made by God and for God, including me. He gave me my every breath… but I had sidelined him. I was at the centre of my world, not God. And when it came down to it, I saw that a lot of my ‘niceness’ was just people-pleasing, not God-honouring.

Like a lot of people, I thought ‘sin’ meant dramatically evil deeds like murder, but as I heard from the Bible, it is the attitude of every human heart: the desire to exist according to our own self-oriented plans and our own moments of glory – we don’t want God to be in charge. We are rebels. 

And, as the speaker went on to explain, God is rightly offended by that kind of attitude, and he cannot keep overlooking that kind of offence. He’s justified in punishing us and actually gives us exactly what we ask for. As we turn away from God, we effectively tell him, “Go away. I don’t want you telling me what to do.” And so God’s judgement on rebels is to withdraw from them, to cut them off from himself – permanently.

I remember feeling such horror when the penny dropped that I was guilty and deserving of that punishment.

But in the next moment, I felt relief. Because the speaker went on to show that God did not leave us to suffer the consequences of our sin. He sent his own Son into our world to become a man – Jesus of Nazareth. Unlike us, Jesus didn’t rebel against God and didn’t deserve punishment. Yet Jesus did die. Although he had the power of God to heal the sick, walk on water and even raise the dead, Jesus allowed himself to be executed on a cross, as a substitute for a rebel like me. By dying in my place, Jesus paid the debt that I owed God so that I could be forgiven.

I’d heard the word ‘grace’ a lot growing up in church, but I didn’t understand it until that moment. It was God’s undeserved and generous gift to me: Jesus.

I went home from the camp. I told my mum, “Do you know you don’t have to be a nice person to go to heaven?” Her reply was “Are you sure, darling?” In God’s kindness she has been on her own spiritual journey to see for herself that it is so wonderfully true.

Since then, my Christian life has been full of ups and downs. As I reached the end of high school, I had a kind of intellectual crisis of faith. Having studied the traditional Enlightenment arguments for God’s existence, I questioned if the very premise of my beliefs was true: could an intelligent, rational person even believe in God, let alone be a Christian?

It was a gradual journey of discovery, but one thing I realised was that there were many, many more intelligent people than me who didn’t suspend their intellect to believe in God. A book by David Robertson,The Dawkins Letters,also really helped as I confronted the thinking of Richard Dawkins and the like when his voice was particularly prominent. And, in God’s kindness, I ‘accidentally’ chose a theology subject when I started uni (my degree was in History), and the very starting point of the course was to articulate that we, as creatures, cannot reason our way to God. Instead, God graciously reveals himself to undeserving people – kind of like when a loving parent uses baby talk to communicate with little children. I wasn’t as clever as I thought!

What is the biggest difference Jesus makes to your life now?

It’s so easy to lose perspective, but Jesus continues to orient me to the true and ultimate reality that eternity is real. I can’t wait to see Jesus face to face, as he really is, in a perfect world that isn’t spoiled by sin: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Cor 13:12). That is such an exciting promise.

And so, when I enjoy good things in the here and now, I try to let them be a foretaste of the new creation. I watched Hamilton for the first time recently and was blown away by the talent. My husband said, “Just think how good theatre will be in heaven”. I hadn’t yet considered that aspect of the new creation!

Equally when things in life are hard, I try to let those moments make me long all the more for the day when Jesus makes everything right. A young friend’s recent and unexpected death made me pray far more earnestly for Jesus to return and make everything right.

Every season of my life is impacted by knowing Jesus – for instance, I don’t think I’d know how to make sense of my two-year-old without the perspective of the gospel! Of course I see the amazing hand of a Creator in how wonderfully she’s been made – her perfect little body, her sense of humour, her curiosity. But I’m also struck by how much she tends towards wanting things her way, to be the centre of her own world. As adults, we get better at disguising that. We (mostly) avoid public tantrums when things don’t quite align with our will. But the same heart attitude exists! Having this Christian worldview helps me make sense of life and also helps me as a parent.

One day I will die (unless Jesus returns first) and in the meantime I want to spend my life serving Jesus and others with a love and kindness that is motivated by the grace shown to me. Knowing that the best is yet to come, and that Jesus gave up his life for me, makes it easier to hold more loosely to things like a career and money and houses and even loved ones for security. Of course, none of those are bad things, but it’s liberating to live for someone who will be with me forever, even through death.