Transformation of a Family Tree
My great grandfather was a sharecropper in Southeastern Alabama, near the Georgia state line. He rented a small piece of land to work, and in return, he would give a portion of his crop to the landowner at the end of each year. My great grandfather decided he wanted a better life for his family than the poverty-stricken fields in the deep South, so he found a job in the cotton mill. Later, my grandfather began working there as well. After one shift, my grandfather realized that was not where he wanted to spend his life—he wanted to continue the pattern of making life better for his family. So together with my great grandfather, he built a concrete block building and opened a small grocery store in hopes of pursuing a more prosperous life.
In its early days, the store developed a certain reputation. It became the spot for anything sinful that went on in town— drinking, smoking, gambling, fighting, and more. Needless to say, my family was hopelessly lost without God. In fact, my father was nine years old the first time he walked inside of a church building. But the trajectory of my family tree changed one day when some local Nazarenes stopped by my grandfather’s store and invited him to revival. They were persistent, and he agreed to attend the revival if they would agree to leave him alone.
The revival services were lively, Spirit-filled meetings. The men of the church would frequently meet down by the river on Friday nights and pray for people by name to come to know Christ. People were being saved, sanctified, delivered, healed, and called into ministry. Even the managers and supervisors at the cotton mills loved revival because they would see a lot of stolen tools returned after the services.
When people’s lives are being transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, the community sits up and takes notice.
The grace of God was already at work in my grandfather’s life, and it pierced through his calloused heart when he attended that revival service. He heard that Jesus could forgive him of all the things he had done wrong in his life; he was drawn to that message of hope. He repented of his sins and received Jesus as his Savior. The next evening, he told his family they were all going back to church for revival. They sensed something different in the sound of his voice. The message that night was on entire sanctification, and my grandfather heard a message of full salvation—a message of hope and of deliverance from all sin and selfishness in the human heart. The minister preached about allowing God to cleanse our heart, fill us with His Spirit, and make us whole. During the altar call at the end of the service, a nice gentleman in the church made his way over to my grandfather. He said, “Bud, would you like to go pray and be sanctified?” My grandfather said, “I’m not sure what that means, but if it’s anything like I got last night, I want all of it!” At that moment, he fully surrendered his will to the Lord and was gloriously sanctified.
Within six months, my grandfather had given up all his addictions and was teaching the men’s Bible class in church. Though he may not have been able to articulate the prevenient, saving, sanctifying grace of God in theological terms, he had an unmistakable experience with God that transformed his life. It also changed the life of my grandmother, my father, my mother, my aunts and uncles, my siblings, my cousins, and even my own life and the lives of my children. It forever changed the trajectory of our family tree. Before my grandmother surrendered her life to the Lord, she was so bashful that when she saw someone she knew in town, she would cross the street to keep from having to walk past them on the sidewalk. Shortly after she was saved and sanctified, she began teaching the women’s Bible class. She loved and cared for those ladies like no one else and would regularly have as many as 150 women in her Sunday school class as a result. The transformation in her life was nothing short of amazing.
My grandfather answered the call to preach in the early 1950s. When he went before the credentials board for ordination, one of the elders asked him: “Bud, don’t you think at 44 you’re a little too old to go into the ministry?” He replied, “Well, Noah preached for 100 years and all he saved was his family. So if I do that well, I’ll be fine.” My grandfather only finished the 6th grade, but he had deep wisdom about how to lead people to Christ and how to reach the community for His Kingdom. To this day, I still run into people who were saved under the ministry of my grandfather and hear stories of families that were impacted by his ministry all over the state of Alabama. Unfortunately, I never knew him. My grandfather died the year before I was born, but the Lord had placed a call to preach on his son’s life. My father answered that call shortly after I was born.
My dad, who stepped inside a church for the first time at nine years old, made sure life was different for me and my siblings. We rarely saw life outside of the church. My parents were living examples of what it meant to live Spirit-filled lives. They sold everything they had and invested their lives in starting a new church in Columbiana, Alabama. Soon after, people began to notice that lives were changing. A man on probation for manslaughter, the pool hall owner, and people in the bondage of addiction were accepting Christ, experiencing renewal, and some even called to ministry.
People were being set free from sin and sanctified wholly—and the whole town was paying attention.
From my grandfather to my father, the message of full salvation continued to transform lives from the inside, and it was evident on the outside. I accepted Jesus into my life at seven and was sanctified and Spirit-filled at 18. However, for 10 years, I wrestled with a call to preach—after all, my grandfather was a pastor; my dad was a pastor; the last thing I wanted to be was a pastor! At the age of 28, I finally said “yes” to preach full salvation—that God wants to sanctify us through and through and that if we confess our sins, He will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). God has blessed me with a wonderful wife and partner in ministry for the past twenty years. He has given us four children that have truly been blessings, keeping us humble and on our knees in prayer. The sanctified life is more than a theological concept to understand or a doctrine to teach—it has been the lifeblood of my family for four generations now. I can’t imagine where I would be if the Nazarenes wouldn’t have come knocking on my grandparents’ door.
My father recently shared with me his perspective on the difference between my grandfather’s day and the day we live in now. He said that back then, they had an experience with the Lord but did not really know what to call it when referring to entire sanctification. Today, we know what to call it and can articulate it very well, but rarely do we really experience it. I think he is right. I am hopeful we will rediscover the mission for which Christ died, “to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). I am hopeful we will rediscover the transforming message of entire sanctification and holy living in this present age. I am hopeful that families will continue to accept God’s transforming power in their lives. I am forever grateful my grandfather did!
Scott Sessions is senior pastor at Cullman First Church of the Nazarene in Cullman, Alabama, USA.
Holiness Today, January/February 2021
Please note: This article was originally published in 2021. All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at that time but may have since changed.