From Muslim Traditions to Faith in Christ

June 07, 2021

In Christ, Ola found something he had never experienced: power to live without sinning.

By Ola Balogun

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rowing up, I was raised in a wonderful, loving home in Nigeria. There were nine of us including my parents and six siblings. Ours was a Muslim home, and our parents brought us up well with good moral values. The central mosque in our community had been built by my grandfather, so our family had a bit of a legacy around us. We were not fundamentalists, but we practiced the daily prayers, the fasts, and the special sacred events. I tried hard to live the right way and to be a good person, and my parents were proud of me. When I explained to them one day that their careful training was actually the springboard that led me to Christ, they were devastated. They fully rejected the idea that one of their beloved children would convert to Christianity.

It was in 1987, during my time at university, when God began to deal with me. I appeared to be a good person, but I knew there was sin in my life. Despite not believing a person could live a sinless life, I still had standards of morality and continually failed to meet my own standards. One day, the thought occurred to me: What would happen if you got in a car accident and died? I felt that I would go to Hell. In spite of my attempts to convince myself that couldn’t be true because I was a good person—everybody knew me to be so—I could not convince myself that I would make Heaven. I felt condemned.

I wondered why evil things were happening in the world, and why there was such fierce disagreement between the Christians and Muslims in Nigeria. I thought there must be answers to these questions, and the genuine desire of my heart was to find them.

Those doubts made me want to know for sure how to get to Heaven, and other questions weighed on me as well. I wondered why evil things were happening in the world, and why there was such fierce disagreement between the Christians and Muslims in Nigeria. I thought there must be answers to these questions, and the genuine desire of my heart was to find them. I longed to know the truth.

I held an allegiance to my parents’ religion, though my knowledge of the Quran was very limited, so I began to study a translation of the Quran in order to dig deeper into what it taught. At the same time, there was a group at school who gave out pocket-sized New Testaments, and after receiving one, I decided to read it too. Thus, I found myself reading both the Quran and the Bible simultaneously for the first time.

In the New Testament, I started right at the beginning with the Book of Matthew. When I got to the Sermon on the Mount in chapter 5, the Beatitudes and Christ’s teaching to love even your enemies struck me deeply. It was clear to me that the kind of life Jesus described was not normal or conventional wisdom. A person could never live that way naturally; it could only be divine. I felt in my heart that if there is a way for a person to actually live that way, it must be the true religion, and that person would definitely make Heaven.

Sitting there in my room, I fell under heavy conviction for my sin, and without understanding what was happening, began confessing my sins. I poured out my heart to the Lord. My prayer was essentially this: “God, if You can make a change in my heart to make me able to live the life described in the Sermon on the Mount, then I will follow You to the ends of the earth.” Suddenly and instantaneously, the Lord transformed my heart. He took out the sin in my life! My moral upbringing had kept me from many outward sins, but when God saved me, my very desires were changed. I was able to tell the truth without a single lie! I did not understand what had happened or much at all about being a Christian. All I knew was that I had prayed an honest prayer, and my life changed. I could finally say with certainty that Christianity was true because I had experienced being born again for myself.

Rejection from my family

My parents were extremely upset about my conversion, and they thought I had lost my mind. My mother was often in tears, believing she was losing her son. My father argued, trying to convince me I had to continue in our family’s Muslim heritage. They brought me before a panel that was meant to persuade me to change my mind. Our local community leader was there, as well as the leader of our local mosque and some of my family members. They wanted me to recant my salvation and became very adamant, yet the Lord helped me to remain calm. I told them that if it was something I had done myself, I would recant, but what had happened was beyond me. I could not deny what God had done.

Many times in the coming years, my father would sit me down and lecture me for hours about how my decision to become a Christian was a mistake. Though I knew it was all done out of love for me, it was very difficult to take emotionally.

Many times in the coming years, my father would sit me down and lecture me for hours about how my decision to become a Christian was a mistake. Though I knew it was all done out of love for me, it was very difficult to take emotionally. Once, my mom became so angry that she burned some of my Christian books in the house. She gave me the impression that she had even burned my Bible, though later, after her passing, I learned that she had just hidden it away. Even through that, the Lord gave me grace not to be angry or complain in response, which made an impression on my parents.

My two grandmothers also tried to compel me to change my mind. They knew the pressure my parents were going through because of my conversion, and they begged me to at least wait until I moved out of the house to become a Christian. All of my siblings and cousins were against me as well.

My family’s problem with Christianity was the doctrine of the deity of Christ. They disagreed with the fundamental teaching that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Of course, the Sonship of Christ and His atoning death at Calvary is the very essence of Christianity. To reject Christ’s deity is to reject everything, because without Him there is no power to live without sin. Without Him, all we would have is self-righteousness and trying in our own strength to live a good life, which is what I had before. Christ is the One who provided what my soul had longed for, but my family could not understand that.

My family thought they could force me to do what they wanted, but what they did not anticipate was that they were not fighting only me. They were fighting against the Lord in me!

Had it not been for the grace of God, I wouldn’t have been able to withstand that period of persecution at home, because I did genuinely love my parents and never wanted to hurt them. But the love of Christ surpassed everything else in my life. My family thought they could force me to do what they wanted, but what they did not anticipate was that they were not fighting only me. They were fighting against the Lord in me! It was God’s Spirit that enabled me to stand for Him.

Established in the faith

As a new believer, my heart yearned for more of the truth. I joined the Christian fellowship group on campus and attended several conventions, and eventually joined a Pentecostal church. However, my experience during that time was mixed because one minister would preach the truth, but then another would say something a little different, and it was confusing to me. They also taught people how to speak in tongues; we learned to switch it on and off at any time. However, they did not teach how to live without sin on a daily basis. I had a close friend who said he was saved, but after a while he started smoking again. Because of the misleading teachings, he thought he was still saved and only needed to be delivered from an evil spirit. We were exposed to many of what they called “deliverance sessions” for a spirit of lying, a spirit of fornication, and so on. They went through deliverance session after deliverance session without finding any real victory. I felt there must be something deeper than what this church taught, but I became troubled to the point of questioning whether to give up on churches altogether.

I had read books by John Wesley and liked what he wrote, but I thought the Gospel he preached did not exist anymore. In time, though, God directed me to the Apostolic Faith Church through one of my friends. Upon hearing the truth preached there, my heart warmed with it. The way the Word of God was expounded, and the simplicity of the Gospel that was presented, was something fantastic to me. There were no deliverance sessions because it was understood that when the Son of God sets you free, you are free indeed! I loved what I heard so much.

Once I was sanctified, that internal struggle between pleasing my family or the Lord ended; my only desire was to please the Lord.

When I learned about sanctification at the Apostolic Faith, I sought for it and realized I had already received it, and in a prayer meeting God confirmed it in my heart anew. Upon reflection, I understood that even before having heard about the experience, God had led me to yield my life further to Him, and as I did so, He sanctified me. I distinctly remember the change it made in me. Prior to receiving sanctification, resisting the pressure from my family was very hard. I would never compromise on matters of sin, but there was a part of me that still wanted to please them. Once I was sanctified, that internal struggle between pleasing my family or the Lord ended; my only desire was to please the Lord.

One example of that revolves around the common tradition in Nigeria of making special drinks that were believed to have protective spiritual powers. This was a common practice in Nigeria. After I was saved, I did not want to take those drinks anymore, but I also did not want to be in conflict with my family about it, so I decided to give in on that issue. I had read in 1 Corinthians where Paul said that eating meat which has been offered to idols is not a sin because the idols are not real, so I justified my decision by telling myself that drinking my family’s concoctions was not a sin, though they certainly did not provide spiritual protection. However, the moment God sanctified me, the struggle in my heart to stand up to their pressure was over. I gave my parents a final no regarding those drinks, and even they could see the change in my attitude because they never brought it up again.

Soon I attended my first camp meeting. There, the doctrine of the baptism of the Holy Ghost was expounded in a way that I had never heard before. Realizing that my previous understanding had been a false teaching, I embraced the truth and received that experience too.

After returning home from camp meeting, the infilling of the Holy Spirit empowered me in such a way that I almost felt fearless. The ongoing persecution from my family had been a continual burden, but after being filled with the Spirit, it was so much easier to weather the storms. When people in my community would mock me, it was not a big deal anymore. I even had new boldness to share the Gospel. Previously, I had mostly tried to avoid confrontations about my faith, but afterward, there was a new courage to share with my friends. The baptism made serving God a lot easier for me.

Sent to the United Kingdom

In my mid-twenties, my parents decided that I should move to the U.K., hoping that sending me abroad would get me away from my church and possibly away from Christianity. I was not concerned about losing my faith, but I also had no desire to move and never gave it much thought because the emigration process is generally very difficult. However, I had been born in the U.K. and lived there for the first six years of my life. Though I had always known of my birthplace, my parents had never told me that I was also legally entitled to go back. Still, I did not want to go because I was enjoying the Gospel and was content where I was in Nigeria. However, the Lord showed me that as a believer, it is necessary to seek His will before making decisions and not make decisions on our own. While praying, I started the process of relocating alongside two of my siblings who were also born in the U.K. There were major hurdles in the way, but God removed every one and made it clear that He wanted me to move.

At age twenty-six, I arrived in the U.K. The Lord helped me to switch careers and eventually find a job despite a national recession, and He has guided my career ever since. I joined our church in London, and in time met my wife, Remi. We were married in 1996 and have had a wonderful marriage. We faced some challenges early on when she suffered a few miscarriages and also a stillbirth. We told the Lord we would accept His will if He did not want us to have children, but God assured us that He would give us a child. Despite those heartbreaking times, we kept believing the Lord, and for seven years He gave us peace and patience to trust Him. Finally, in 2003, our son Samuel was born. We believed the Lord would do it, and in His own time, He did. That was a huge milestone in our lives.

Just prior to my move to the U.K., my mother fell ill with cancer and passed away. However, during her sickness she softened toward the Gospel and allowed ministers of the church to come pray for her regularly. After her death, one of my uncles said my mom told him that Jesus had touched her and healed one of her symptoms. We have hope that she prayed and received salvation before she passed. My father eventually acknowledged the truth of the Gospel, and we remained very close until his death. It is my hope that he made his peace with God before he passed. I thank God that three of my siblings have embraced Christianity.

The Lord has been so good to me. I couldn’t ask for more. I cherish how the Gospel is so simple, yet so powerful in the transformative effect it has on lives. The Gospel means everything to me. My desire is to continue to love the Lord and give my all to Him until I make the goal of Heaven someday.

About the author

Ola Balogun is pastor of the Peckham Apostolic Faith Church in London, England.