Miserable guilt is not worth holding on to, says John
Upset by the apparent hypocrisy and violent conflict seen in religious beliefs, John Tilinger decided in his teens that those who believe in God are "stupid and untrustworthy".
"I believed I was smarter and braver than any Christian because I knew and freely announced that God didn't exist," recalls the Perth-born 19-year-old.
On the outside he looked unshakable in his unbelief, but John admits his attempts at running his life was "ending up in despair".
"Pretending to be somebody I wasn't, putting down other people, and buying the latest fads to appear cool; my life seemed meaningless and empty."
By year nine he thought he would never find true happiness, so he turned to heavy drinking, hung out with "a bad crowd", and enjoyed bullying classmates.
None of these things altered his frustration with life, so at age 15 he began wondering if God was real and if He could do anything about his past.
"I became convinced that I was a wicked person. I had hurt so many people with my harsh words. I felt guilty and I figured that I needed forgiveness.
"I thought, 'If only I had a fresh start, then I would be free from misery.'"
With an open mind, John questioned his Christian classmates and attended a Christian youth group to find out if God existed.
He found out that the Bible says that nobody deserves forgiveness; instead it is God's merciful gift.
"According to the Bible, we deserve to be punished for rebelling against God," John explains. "But, because God loves the world, anyone who trusts in Jesus can have a fresh start.
"It didn't matter what I had done in the past, I could be forgiven because Jesus took the punishment that I deserved on the cross.
"I was also told that Jesus rose to new life, so Christians could be certain that one day they will be raised from the dead and live with God forever. I thought that this invitation was too good to pass up on!"
One night in 2009, John asked God to forgive him for rejecting Him and to change his heart.
"When I put my trust in what Jesus had done for me, I felt the shame and guilt disappear from my heart. I marvelled at the goodness of God in sending Jesus to die in my place and that He had put me in contact with people who would tell me about Jesus' forgiveness."
After that day, John has never felt that despair again, as he explains that God is daily transforming his heart.
"God's love for me has overflown and now I actively love others. I love to tell others the good news about Jesus and rejoice when people around me come to trust in Him.
"As His much loved child, God provides me with hope and joy when I am struggling, and it is wonderful to know that He uses all things for my good."
John admits he has many imperfections, but adds, "God has still been faithful to me and is willing to forgive me when I doubt Him, and He helps me to stand firm through His promises in the Bible.
"In the Bible God promises that everyone who trusts in Jesus will be raised to new life and will live in perfect harmony with God and each other forever. There will no more crying, grief, death or pain. It will be perfect.
"All the rebellious temporary pleasures are harmful and will fade in comparison to the pleasure of being with God in heaven.
"I hope with all my heart that when I get to heaven I'll see you there."