Monday, December 29, 2008

Why Did I Come To Jesus Christ In Faith (Part 3)

I don't think I have ever clearly understood why I came to Jesus Christ through faith. I have had some answers; but they were never satisfying - that is until recently. I know what part of the problem has been - I have not wrestled with the great statements of Scripture concerning how God saves. This greatly impacted my life in terms of peace and assurance. Over the past several months things have changed. The truth that "salvation belongs to the Lord" has become more than truth in a book on a shelf or one cloaked in haziness. My efforts to understand have involved a new focus. As a result, I have been able to look at my salvation history in a way that I believe finally squares with God's Word. The change in focus involves the truths of God's sovereignty and human responsibility. Much of my focus over the years has been on the latter. I believe in God's sovereignty; but I have not been able to go there when it comes to my salvation. I have been putting human responsibility first in the process. Once I began to focus on God's sovereignty in salvation and discover just how awesome and all encompassing that sovereignty is, I have found that it is only truth that explains and defines my salvation history. It is the only truth that gives my salvation meaning and content. It is the only truth that has freed me from the hazy thinking that has gripped my life and kept me bound. It is like a door has been opened. I am not sure what all I will find beyond that door; but one thing is for sure - I have found peace. That has deepened my thankfulness that it is God who saves and that He saves even though we may not understand all that is involved when it happens.

I have re-examined the mixture of explanations about salvation that seemed to float around my life after I was saved. They were never firm convictions. They never answered the questions that pressed down on my life. Over the years I have heard a great deal about how to get people saved; but not much was said about why a person could believe in the first place. I had been a Christian for nearly 25 years before I ever heard words like "justification," "sanctification," "election" or "calling." For some reason, when it came to the sovereign role of God in salvation, we did not go there and face the straight forward statements of Scripture. Most of what I heard kept human responsibility in the forefront. A friend once told me that he felt if a pastor ever preached portions of John 6 concerning God's sovereignty in salvation that pastor would be asked to leave the church. I thought that might be an exaggeration; and yet I know that when I taught verses like those found in John 6, I didn't deal with them head-on.

Much of what I had to consider over the years rested on the idea that an unsaved person had some type of natural ability to believe the gospel. It was a matter of somehow convincing a person to believe. Along with this thought was the explanation that God had left a little light in each person that could be turned on by human choice or persuasion. Once that happened a person then needed to repent and believe, and, as a result, they would become a "born again Christian." I never used that term because I did believe if you were a Christian you were born again. I just didn't know the finer details of the work of God in the new birth. Getting a person to exercise their free will was seen as the key that would unlock the door to salvation. There was never much said about the power of the Word and the Holy Spirit in salvation or God's sovereign role. I am not entirely sure why this was true. I know that I avoided the strong Scriptures on this point. I guess that was because I could never get those verses to square with the idea that a person had some degree of natural ability to choose. I knew that there were teachings that ignored the truth of human responsibility to believe and repent as well as the need for presenting the Gospel. I heard one man state that he had always been saved and one day he just realized it. I lived in an atmosphere of understanding that looked upon any teaching that God is sovereign in salvation as the equivalent to teaching this extreme view. I think that some felt that such teaching would lead one to accept that extreme view. That did not prove true for me. I have finally found a statement that expresses what I do believe. It is expressed in the doctrinal statement of our church and I this is my belief because I find that it is squares with Scripture.

Looking back over my life, I can say that I knew nothing about any of these wide ranging explanations when I became a Christian. I can say the things that I learned never gave me assurance. This was especially true when I kept running into Scriptures on God's sovereign role in salvation. As a result, I was left trying to re-assure myself; but as long as it was a "me plus God" type of cooperation in salvation, I struggled. I know now after carefully re-examining my conversion, from the standpoint of Scripture and God's sovereign work, that I initiated nothing. If people could have looked into my life before I was acted on by God they would not have seen any initiation on my part. Up until the time God acted upon my life, I thought I was fine. Was I in for a rude awakening. I am certain that a human being did not convinced me of my sin and guilt. I realize now that because of God alone, I went from knowing facts about Jesus to seeing my need for Jesus - and seeing Him for who He is. I realize now that when I saw the need to reach out to Him in faith and repentance it was entirely God's work of grace. I see now that the process did not begin with me and did not happened through the natural processes of my mind or human reasoning or persuasion. I realize there is alot that I don't understand and there is alot that I don't need to understand. I will just be thankful that I am saved and keep pressing forward to grasp all that God will permit me to understand.

When John 3:16 became personal to me in the summer of 1946, it happened in an imperceptible way. When I look at that time in my life, it was like a light was turned on in a darken room. It was like one moment it was dark and then in the next - there was light. The truth of that life saving verse changed. I know now that what happened was solely the result the work of the Holy Spirit. It happened to me apart from any natural ability or power of human reasoning. It would have been impossible for me to do any of that. In fact my so-called natural ability first led me to deny that I needed to do anything. Secondly it caused me to think that if I needed to do anything, it was something I could handle. Without a supernatural change in my life, this natural ability would have served only to keep me in bondage rather than lead me to turn to Christ. There is really only one explanation that makes sense. There is only one thing that squares with what happened in my life. It was the work of God, the power of His Word and the work of His Holy Spirit.

At the risk of repetition, I feel a need to emphasize how deeply I struggled to understand and find assurance. The reason - it is more than an academic struggle. It has been a life or death struggle. For so long I had seen my act of faith and repentance as a choice that I made on the basis of human ability. Much to my regret, I let my salvation rest on that choice. I kept re-examining that choice; but never in light of Scripture. That left me at times feeling like I was dangling over hell. That thought brought abject fear to my life at times. I thought, "What if I died and found out that all I had going for me was just a choice." I knew down deep there had to be more. The only way I could deal with it was to try to push it aside; but it just continued to surface. Part of a song that we sing at our church has these words - "He has given me a new name." There were times when I could not bring myself to sing those words. I wanted to but all I could do was bow my head and pray, "Father please let that be true for me." There is another line in the song that says, "He brings restoration." Those are the words we see on the screen; but what we actually sing sounds to me like "Bring restoration." That would be my prayer as others sang. That cry of my heart was growing faint. The other night in our services I got to sing those words with a glad and thankful heart. I was no longer living with a sense that time was running out for me. I was experiencing restoration.

I had been living as if the validity of my justification originated from a process that started with human choice. When my inadequate understanding of God's sovereignty was stirred into the mix, it left me desperately wondering, at times, if I was even one of God's elect. Had I just elected myself? I had been on the verge of accepting that as true; but I kept pressing forward. In the midst of that turmoil, God did bring restoration. He enabled me to acknowledge that as long as I could, in anyway, start the process of salvation, I would never find peace. I would not find peace pursuing something that was contrary to the truth as expressed in Jonah 2:9 - "Salvation belongs to the Lord!" I would not and could not find peace in the idea that somehow I started the process when Scripture plainly says in Ephesians 2:1-3 "And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind." I have been able to accept the fact that the only choice I could make in that state would have kept me bound in sin. After years of struggling and after years of trying to ignore the struggle, I finally have peace, assurance and security. I finally have more than some vague feeling that Christ loves me and died for me. I know that as a nine year old boy in the summer of 1946 God gave me a new name. I know that is true because God is sovereign in my salvation - because salvation belongs to Him and it is His gift to me.

“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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