I went to the Presbyterian church until I was seven years old. I do not recall ever hearing anything even resembling the gospel message. I have since found the Presbyterian Sunday School materials we were using at the time and discovered the gospel was never stated in them, either. The hard-shell Calvinist presumption is that you're either chosen or not, so there was no need to preach the gospel. They allowed anyone who attends to simply assume that they were Christians, whether they were destined for heaven or hell.
When I was seven, my mother pulled us out of the Presbyterian church while she was doing some home study with the Jehovah's Witnesses. Religiously, things had gone from bad to worse. My mother left the Witnesses behind but we never attended church again either.
I myself also studied with the Witnesses before I knew I was not a believer, from late 1987 to 1990. Though they thought they were living good enough lives to go to heaven, I knew that I could not. I suppose that is the first part of the true gospel message: God's standard is too high to ever achieve. Oddly enough, the JW's themselves thought it was achievable in their own strength and works, but God used them to bring the first half of the gospel to me: the realization in myself that I could not be good enough to ever satisfy God.
The two years after I had interfaced with the JW's, and learned I was not good enough for God, were a time in which God had to bring me low. I realized I did not know God and could not find him. I watched Billy Graham preach, and he told me to "accept Christ" which was meaningless. "How can I just work up belief in something?" I cried out. "How can I just 'accept' something that I don't know is true?"
I entered a period of depression, complete with panic attacks and phobias, knowing for a certainty that if I should die, not having discovered the truth about God, I was going to go to hell.
Then, a friend of mine named Harold Kemp sent me a Christian booklet (you can read it by clicking here). It told me that, if I wanted to find God, I had to first repent, which meant to change my mind about sin and self-effort and turn to God. I talked with Harold about this, and he counselled me to forget anything anyone had ever told me about God, and read the Bible to find out the truth for myself, asking the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth to me.
So, I started at Genesis and went through to Revelation wanting to answer one question: Who is Jesus Christ and can He save me?
There were a lot of things in Psalms that indicated to me that the Trinity idea about God might be true, but I still did not quite believe it. It was too vague a concept yet. But I was, for the first time, open to whatever truth God would reveal.
I read the Bible steadily for a couple of months. I began to get nervous as I came closer to the New Testament. By this time, I had read the NT multiple times, and had not understood for certain who Jesus was. It became rather stressful because I knew that, as soon as I made it into the NT, I would probably not see anything new that would settle the question for me. The answer had to come from the Old Testament.
God moved when I read Zechariah 12:10, "And I will pour on the house of David, and on those living in Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of prayers. And they shall look on Me whom they have pierced; and they shall mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only [son], and [they] shall be bitter over Him, like the bitterness over the first-born."
I recognized that God was talking about Pentecost here, and that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were all in the same verse, and that the Father identified Himself with the Son when He said, "look on Me whom they have pierced." I finally realized with certainty, Jesus Christ really is God! And as God, Jesus really is able to pay for not only the sins of Adam (as the Witnesses teach), but of every person who will truly repent and believe in Him! In that instant, I was born again. I sat bolt upright and prayed with great joy to receive Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.
In the time since I was born again, I have realized how wrong it was to ever even think that God was not a Trinity. As a person who would study with Jehovah's Witnesses, I thought God was only the Father, that Jesus was an angel or something, and that the Spirit wasn't a Person at all. But today I can't miss the truth in the Scriptures; repentance has taken the blinders away so that the Holy Spirit can reveal the truth.
People convert to religions like the Jehovah's Witnesses when they cannot understand the real concept of God: they need to reduce God to something they can understand and classify with ease rather than allow God to be what He is.
Of course, none of these things can be known if one does not actually know God. The concept of a relationship to God is absent from most religions, but is the bedrock of true Christianity. Jesus said, "If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you do know Him, and have seen Him" (John 14:7).
To know God, one must seek the true God--not to enforce one's own limited view of God, as I had done in my first reading of the Bible. I learned nothing because I sought to reinforce my own deficient theology rather than hear what God was trying to tell me about Himself.
However, on my second reading through the Bible, I came in a state of repentance, not seeking to prove my views, but to truly come to know God. On this reading, God revealed the true essence of Himself to me. Since then, continued Bible study for several years has revealed increasingly more of the truth of Him, just as conversation would reveal more to me of a trusted friend.
That repentance is key--the turning from sin, unbelief, self-effort and self-sufficiency, and turning to God, and relying on God's effort and God's sufficiency to provide you with the information, the answers to your questions, and ultimately, for salvation from sin and death by grace through faith. If we do not come to God in a state of repentance, we do not come at all.
I rejoice greatly that I came to Christ in repentance at a young age thanks to the working of the Holy Spirit and the accurate witness of my friend Harold. If you are a believer and reading this, I would beg you never to share the gospel with Christian clichés like "accept Christ." You may know what you mean but the unbeliever does not. None of the great revivalists in history ever shared the gospel in that way. The revivalists all taught us to repent and believe the gospel, just as Jesus did in Mark 1:15. If you wish to be a successful evangelist, please understand that success is not getting someone on earth to "accept Christ" by mentally accepting your views; success is helping someone to actually go to heaven with you. The only way that will ever happen is if they repent. "Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:5b).