Saturday, November 29, 2008

Why Did I Come To Jesus Christ in Faith? (Part 2)

This is a picture of one of the natural lakes in New Hampshire. I can remember thinking, as I looked across the lake to the trees and mountains, "God did this." Today as I look at the picture and recall the beauty of God's creation, I have another thought. I am aware that, by the will of God, all of creation has been subjected to futility and is under the bondage of decay as the result of Adam's sin. But I know that is just a momentary thing. There is an ultimate reality. One day, God's creation will be set free from this bondage. There will be a renewed creation - greater than the first. As I write this post, I am thinking, though, more about God's ultimate creation - man. There are no words to describe this creation. I am thinking, too, about something that casts a dark shadow over this wonder - mankind is under God's wrath. We are all born into a state of sin and death and we face the punishment reserved for Satan and his angels. Yet behind this deep shadow is the brilliant light of an awesome truth. It is expressed in Romans 5:8-11. "(B)ut God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation."

Ephesians 2:8 explains how this blood bought salvation and reconciliation can become the reality of our life. "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God." In John 3:16, Jesus said, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." Over the last year, I have looked closely at that time in my life when, as a nine year old boy, I turned to Jesus in faith. I have been more intense about this in the last few weeks. Why did I come to Jesus in faith? These efforts have been bolstered by the words of 2 Corinthians 13:5. "Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!" While Paul was dealing with persistent wrong behavior in the lives of some to whom he wrote, he also expressed a need for all who profess to be Christians. It is proper and important for us to ask at times if we are true Christians. Are we putting on a front? Are we in the faith? Is there any evidence that Jesus Christ lives in us? I want to address these questions in more detail later; but first I want to know why am I in the faith. Was I drawn by God and the power of His Word or by other means? If it was by any other means or for any other reason, then the foundation upon which I am resting my eternal destiny is false. It is sand. If I came to Jesus by any other power, I really never came to Him. I have struggled over the years because I have not been able to be clear about this. I have been haunted by the words in Matthew 7:23 that Jesus will speak to many, "Depart from Me, I never knew you." I have pursued this question because I want to be assured (and put to rest any question to the contrary) that the war is over. I want to know that I am no longer under the wrath of God because God does not intend for Christians to live as if they are still under His wrath. I want to live in peace in my relationship to God. This goes to the heart of the issue raised by Paul. My salvation must be true according to Scripture. I want to make sure that it is and that Romans 5:1 is true in my life. "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."

So, as a nine year old boy, why did I believe the Gospel? I need to preface what I have discovered and am discovering by some of the things I strongly believe about salvation. Some of these beliefs are long standing. There are some things I am now understanding with greater clarity and conviction. I believe in the Biblical doctrines of the sovereignty of God and human responsibility. I believe that both must be kept in balance. We must have a strong view of God's sovereignty. It must not be one that is imbalanced and unbiblical. I believe we have a responsibility to present the Gospel to all mankind and offer Christ to the world. We do not know who will be saved. Only God knows. I believe that the Gospel calls all sinners to repentance and faith and that it calls for a response. I believe that response, though, is preceded by the hearing of the Word and the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. I believe that everyone who comes to Christ will be saved. I also strongly believe in truth like that expressed in John 6:37 where Jesus says, "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. " I believe that the presentation of the Word and the offer of Christ must be done with intensity - even to the point of imploring. In 2 Corinthians 5:20, Paul said, "Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God." We are to stand with conviction and intensity in Christ's stead and plead to lost mankind. In other words, evangelism and missions are essential responsibilities for all Christians toward mankind. The presentation of the Gospel must not be supplanted by a message of election and reprobation nor entangled in debate. Efforts to understand the validity of our salvation must not become one of introspection to know if we are one of God's elect. I have struggle in my life at that point; but God brought me out of that assurance killing endeavor. Finally, as a preface to what I have discovered and am discovering, I do not ascribe to any teaching that minimizes this truth: Salvation is of the Lord.

I have considered a number of explanations about the moment of salvation in a person's life. It is not my purpose in this writing to delve too deeply into these doctrines and "isms." I just want to nail down some basics. When it comes to how a person is saved and how we should present the offer of salvation there are a number of ideas floating around. Some speak of "leading a person to Christ." People are told that they need to ask "Jesus to come their heart." Some are asked, "Do you want to go to heaven?" That will certainly attract some people - especially children. A series of questions have been formulated that people are called upon to answer and then they are asked to pray "the sinner's prayer." I have even heard people say things like "You should accept Jesus as your Savior so He will not have died in vain." I have seen efforts to use human wisdom and persuasion in place of the power of the Gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit. Today it is popular in some circles to hold up the possibility of riches and wealth to those who "turn to Jesus." If any of those things are necessary, then I missed the gift. None of that happened to me. To assure that I did not miss God's gift and ended up with some human version of the gift, I have gone back in my thoughts to the summer of 1946 and have asked God to help me understand what happened during those critical weeks of my life. Through the years, God has enabled me to retain several very vivid memories of those days when I experienced the power of the Gospel in my life. It has been only recently that I have, with God's help, been able to look at those memories and understand their significance in light of Scripture.

From the time I was about 4 or 5, I can remember spending a lot of time in our church building attending various services and activities. I was involved in Sunday School and Vacation Bible School. I heard stories about Jesus and other stories from the Bible. I was very familiar with the words of Jesus in John 3:16. By the time I was nine I knew the facts about Jesus dying on the cross for my sins and about His resurrection on the third day. I had heard about believing in Jesus. One of the first significant things I remember during the summer of 1946 is the occasion when someone spoke to me about my personal salvation. It made an impression on me. The impression was that I did not want to be bothered. One day during those summer months of 1946 I was sitting on the floor behind the sales counter in my parents' store. I can't remember why. Maybe God just sat me down because of what I was about to hear. I can still see my mother looking down at me and asking, "Do you think it is time you thought about believing in Jesus and being saved?" That was all she said. She never mentioned it again. My response was silence. I don't know all that was going on in my life at that time concerning salvation; but those words, I believe now, were more than just a mother's words of concern to her son. I believe that was part of God's call to me as a lost sinner. On the Sunday I went to the altar of our church, there was no pressure placed on me. There was a deep concern expressed by the evangelist about a person's need for God's gift of salvation. I am sure God was using those words in my life. At the front, when I stood before the pastor, he did not ask me to pray the "sinner's prayer." I just told the pastor, that I was trusting Jesus for my salvation. By then deep burdens had already been lifted from my life. By then I realized that I was a sinner. That was the second significant thing that God did in my life. He let me see my sinfulness and sin in my life in a way that made me ashamed. I also felt terrible guilt. It happened just after my mother spoke to me about salvation. I never forgot what I did. Until these last few days I never understood the significance of what happened. I was sitting in a little tent that I had built in the backyard of my parent's home. It had repeatedly collapsed on me that day. Suddenly, for no reason apparent to me at the time, I began to curse using God's name. It wasn't just one time. I repeated that curse word several times. I had never heard the words "God" and "damn" spoken together. It was not just a word that I was speaking - a byword. I knew that it reflected a view of God that I never realized I had or could have. That terrified me. Until that moment, I had seen nothing sinful about my life. One moment there wasn't a problem. There wasn't any concern about sin or being sinful. But as soon as those words stopped flowing from my mouth, I knew. I became painfully aware of my sinfulness. I had a sense of doom that I have never forgotten. The third significant thing that happened was that in those moments the awareness of my need for Jesus as my Lord and Savior began to change. In fact in those early moments of what I now realize was the power of the Gospel working in my life through God's Holy Spirit, my view of sin and the sinfulness of my life dramatically changed. I felt a tremendous weight of what I now understand was the wrath of God. I was almost to the point of despair because I had cursed God's holy name. I realize now that I was coming alive to the realities of the deadness of my life and my bondage to sin. It wasn't just cursing that was being evidenced in my life. The fourth thing that happened was even further revealing about my sinfulness. I begin to resist God. I was resisting and fighting Him; but I was also trying to change on my own. I guess, at first, my human nature was saying, "You can still pull this off." The fifth thing that happened was when I realized I was powerless. I could not do one thing to change what I had done or what I was or how I degraded God. No human told me that. God did in His Word. I am not sure when God began His call of mercy and grace in my life. It was like Jesus described in John 3:7, "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. The wind grew in intensity to the point that there was only one thing I could do - turn to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith. I know that I did. The question I am finally able to ask is why did I do that. I don't know that you can ask that question if you have doubts. Maybe that is why it has taken me so long. I am looking forward to being able to express what I have discovered in the next post entitled, "Why Did I Come to Jesus Christ in Faith? (Part 3).

“Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

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