His friends – and that’s about everyone – call him Chip, but Bethel’s pastor was born George C. Hammond in a New Jersey suburb across from New York City. His family sometimes went to a Roman Catholic Church, but the message never took hold. By age 12, Chip decided he was an atheist.
How does that work in real life? At 16, he realized that if there is no God, there’s no way to say what’s right and wrong. Basically everything is OK as long as you don’t get caught; does that make an act really wrong, or just not acceptable to society? By the time Chip was 18, he was both exhilarated and frightened by the implications of “if there is no God.” That’s an enormous “if.” What if there is a God?
That fall Chip enrolled at William Paterson University and took the required Introduction to philosophy. The class was organized around one question: “Does God exist?” To answer this question, students read the works of philosophers who wrote both for and against the existence of God. The final exam for this class had only one question: Does God exist? The exam made Chip realize he was no longer an atheist.
But nor at this point was he a Christian -- a disciple and follower of Jesus. He needed to answer the question: Who is this God that exists? Christian friends had given him a Bible which he tried to read, but he didn’t understand it very well. Maybe the Catholic Church of his youth could help. He went back to that church and was told being good showed that you knew God and were accepted by him. Chip tried to be good, but his conscience told him he failed. “How good do I have to be? How good is good enough?” The priest told him, “No one knows that for sure. You just have to do your best, and when you stand before God in the judgment you have to hope that it was good enough, and that God will accept you for your goodness.”
Chip left that meeting in despair. His conscience told him he wasn’t good enough to gain God’s approval. He tried to read the Bible. And he prayed. He prayed like he’d never prayed. “God, how good is good enough? How good do I have to be? What do I have to do? How good is good enough?” Suddenly the meaning of a hundred Bible passages coalesced in his mind, and the thought occurred to him, “Jesus is good enough!”
The good news – the gospel – had broken through his mind and into his heart and had given him peace with God. “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and not of yourself; it is the gift of God so that no one may boast before him” (Ephesians 2:8-9). To his delight he found that being graciously accepted by God meant his life began to change to conform to God's Word.