Are You a Christian? Have you seen the evidence of salvation in you that only the Holy Spirit can produce? Have you been brought from spiritual death to spiritual life?
Perhaps you are familiar with the idea of being "born again," but are wondering what that change looks like in practice? Let me give you an example of what it looked like in the life of a man you’ve probably never heard of: John Gifford.
Gifford was a Cavalier, a soldier from Kent, and a major in the army of King Charles during the English Civil war. Gifford was what older authors would have called a “profane man” he drank too much, and was constantly gambling and womanizing and felt comfortable in the presence of those who did the same. He couldn’t stand Christ’s people, and hated the Puritans with a passion. After the King’s forces were defeated in the civil war, Gifford was one of the ring-leaders of an attempted uprising against the new government. The rebellion went badly and Gifford was captured and sentenced to hang with eleven other ring-leaders. That would have been the end of his life, but amazingly the day before his execution his sister came to visit him and found the guards asleep and all the other prisoners hopelessly drunk. She merely opened her brothers cell door and they walked out of the prison, in a manner that reminds you of the way Peter was miraculously delivered from jail in Acts 12. He hid in a ditch for several days and then made his way to the quiet town of Bedford, where he took up the job of a physician and even got married.
Now he’d said of course, “I’ll make a new start of it, I’ll turn over a new leaf but the natural man can no more change his own heart than the Leopard can change his spots. He returned to all his old habits with a vengeance and was soon gambling away what little he earned. His rage and bitterness was frequently vented against the Puritans of the town, whom he saw as the cause of all his misfortune. Finally after losing 15 pounds gambling one night (keep in mind that in that day a laborer could expect to earn 5 pounds a year) he resolved to kill one of the leading Christians in the town, but amazingly, on reaching home he picked up one of his wife’s books, by a Puritan by the name of Robert Bolton, on the subject of the “Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Hell and Heaven” and as he read through it one question pierced his soul: “Consider that to die is but to be done once and if we err in that one action we are undone everlastingly. What manner of man ought you to be in the mean time… to give up your account with comfort at that dreadful hour?" Gifford was convicted and as he continued to read in Bolton’s book night after night, he found that the only answer to that question was to be found in Christ, that through his blood even the vilest of sinners might find forgiveness and that through the righteousness of Christ given to that sinner, he might find acceptance with God and the joy of salvation. Gifford came to faith, but like Paul he had great difficulty convincing the Christians he had persecuted that he was a new man and desired to meet and worship with them. Eventually it was not his words, but his manifestly new life and spirit that convinced them. Everything that Gifford had once loved he now hated, and everything that he hated he now loved. He studied the Word with such diligence that the small group of Baptist believers whom he had once despised called him to be their pastor. His character and life were so thoroughly changed that he came to be known as “Holy Mr. Gifford.” Gifford only lived for seven years after that, but the Lord used him to change the world, because one of the converts under his ministry was another man who had also been known for his great immorality, and would be known by generations to come as the "Tinker of Bedford" and author of Pilgrim's Progress: John Bunyan.