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Submitting to Christ

December 2015 | by Nathan Hilton

How did I become a Christian? In order to answer this question carefully, I must first give an account of my earlier encounters with the Christian religion.

During the first five years of life, my parents took me to a Pentecostal church. I can’t remember much of my experience there. Following this period, our family moved from Sunderland to Gateshead and stopped regularly attending a church.

I remember having a belief in God at this time, and assuming that I was his child. I would sing and talk about God with friends at primary school, only to be mocked and unsuccessfully coaxed into saying ‘naughty’ words.

I was very happy as a child, though gradually my enthusiasm for God dwindled, and I was worn down by the local children until I was just like them. There was a clear and gradual degradation of my family after leaving church. Our family unit became dysfunctional and increasingly worldly.

Teenage years

By the time that I started secondary school, I had become miserable and cynical. I fought with siblings and parents. What once felt like a loving and stable home had become erratic and combustible.

The relationship once enjoyed with my dad (I would later come to understand some of the hardships my parents faced at this time) was distant and unhealthy. I rebelled in school and at home. If my memory serves me well, I was first carried home drunk at the age of 13. As I progressed through my teens, I dabbled with cannabis, nicotine and alcohol. Any thought of God was far from me.

By the age of 17, I was drinking heavily and depressed. One day a leaflet came through my parents’ door with an invitation to an ‘Alpha Course’ at the local Anglican assembly. For no conscious reason, I asked to go along with my mother for support.

I attended ten meetings, and was overwhelmed by the love and interest given to me there. We (my parents and I) started to attend the semi-Charismatic, low Anglican church for about a year. I can’t remember what I thought at the time but I did read the Bible and professed a Christian faith.

Sadly, after a year or so, I began to reflect on my experiences and thoughts. I concluded that I had become a Christian in the mind alone, but not in the heart. I had pursued more of a social ideology than a personal relationship with God.

I detested the shallow and superficial nature of my profession, and was equally critical of all those professing faith around me. I decided that Christianity was a dead religion, a wishful philosophy and a hangover from the past.

Early adulthood

By the age of 19 and onwards, I was knee deep in unspeakable wickedness. I had been taken under the wing of a libertine, given postmodern and existential books to read, and spent the weekends taking harder drugs and drinking more heavily.

I had to leave my parents’ home. After this I became more hateful towards them, Christianity and everything civilised. I had become a nihilist. I acted and thought in ways which I now find painful to recall.

Meanwhile, my parents, through the providence of God, had been introduced to a Christian family. The family invited them to their church, Durham Presbyterian Church, which is part of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in England and Wales.

There, they gradually felt at home with Reformed and evangelical teaching. They then proceeded to pray and zealously pursue my conversion to Christ.

I progressed to darker thoughts. I spent time reading the occultist Aleister Crowley and the sadist Marquis de Sade. They had a common thought: that freedom was to be sought in the unwavering pursuit of pleasure and personal desire, and the fulfilment of all lusts.

Only in giving oneself to the deepest desires of the heart, after shaking free from the shackles of morality and religion, could one be truly free.

Re-connection

I attempted to live in a way consistent with this ideology, only to my ruin and the tremendous hurt to others. I then had another ‘leaflet-through-the-door’ experience. I was asked by my parents to attend a church walk and, for a reason unknown to me, decided to go. There I talked through my ideas and frustrations with some of the men, one of whom would eventually become my father-in-law. There was at that point no conversion experience. I returned to my usual pattern of living.

It is looking back that I see this re-introduction to Christians was a significant turning point. The walk took place in May. Around that time, I had come across another existentialist, Soren Kierkegaard.

I was immediately drawn to his essays on God and the Bible. Over the next nine months I read more Kierkegaard, then eventually the Bible. I became excited with Kierkegaard’s thoughts and meditations on faith. I would turn up at my parents’ home to read them fragments from his writings.

Durham Presbyterian Church had started regular Bible studies in Gateshead that would give birth to Gateshead Presbyterian Church. I was still drinking, still taking strong drugs and reading blasphemous works, but I was also now reading through the Bible.

As time moved forward, I developed a distaste for the evil literature and a hunger for more wholesome things. What I was beginning to realise is that my experiences made no sense through a postmodern lens. I had a sense of guilt; I could not deny the objective nature of morality.

Conversion

The Bible shone irrefutable light on my experience. Things came to a climax on Christmas Eve that year. I spent the day drinking, stumbled home alone to the flat where I was living and fell in despair to the floor. I wanted one of two things: the first was to end my life; the second was to know God. As I lay, weeping, I prayed that God would reveal himself to me and put an end to my misery.

I can’t say that there was a dramatic conversion experience that night, but within a few weeks I had lost all desire for my former lusts.

I threw away my cigarettes, stopped drinking, and with greater enthusiasm read the Bible. Shortly after this, the church in Gateshead started Sunday services. I attended in conjunction with their beginning a Christianity Explored course.

I cannot describe the sense of purity and light as I sat under the biblical teaching of the church. It was as if a sunbeam shone directly into my heart. Within a few weeks, I could publicly confess my submission to Christ as king of heaven and earth.

I have continued worshipping with Gateshead Presbyterian Church for the past five years now. We certainly do not preach a ‘health and wealth gospel’, but my life would read like we did. I have never been more consistently happy, content and purposeful.

I have devoured Christian books, begun to test a call for ministry, got married and now enjoy a fruitful and reunified relationship with my family. Since the Lord saved me, he has brought into the church all three of my sisters, a brother-in-law, a nephew, a cousin and an uncle.

The ‘Hiltons’ constitute a significant portion of the church family! We remain an ongoing token and reminder of the Lord’s activity of saving grace today.

Nathan Hilton

This testimony first appeared in Good news — eternal hope in Jesus Christ, published by the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing). Edited and used here, by kind permission.

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Evangelistic