Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Why Did I Come To Jesus Christ in Faith? (Part 5)

One of the greatest changes in my thinking - a change that has helped me realize why I came to Jesus in faith - concerns the matter of faith and repentance. It is profound; yet simple. I didn't start the process. It was part of God's grace. In Ephesians 2:4-10, Paul says, "But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." How could I have missed seeing this truth - "...even when we were dead in our trespasses (He) made us alive together with Christ..." and not see that God had to do something in my life before I could respond in faith? Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:7-8, "Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 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. That verse seems inconsistent with the idea that my response of faith brought the new birth.

However, when I put faith on the other side of "made alive" and "born again" things started to make sense. The dark shadows that have hung over my life for so long began to lift. It was an astounding thing to suddenly realize that IT WAS NOT ME. My response of faith really was the evidence of the new birth - not the cause. I realize now that I should have wrestled with John 6:37-40 and verses like these a lot sooner. Over the years, I would start and then back away. It has been a source of peace to listen to those words that Jesus spoke. "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” Jesus clearly ruled out the idea that I could start the process. In John 6:44, He said, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day."

It now seems plain that the new birth (regeneration) was and is the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit and that comes before any act of saving faith. One noted writer has said, the "cry of faith is the first sound a new born babe in Christ makes. We do not get God to bring regeneration by trusting Christ; we trust Christ because He has done it to us already." Because of God's work in regenerating my life, I could make a personal response that I had to make and was then free to make. The personal response that I made was the result of being acted upon by God. It was a response that was absolutely essential to receiving the salvation that Jesus obtained for me on the cross. It enabled me to repent and turn from sin to grace - all because of grace.

Some might try to explain that God's work in my life was based on His prior knowledge of my choice. He certainly knew the choice I would make. But as far as I am concerned, that explanation is a product of human reasoning trying to deal with God's sovereignty in salvation, the ramifications of election, predestination, calling and the secret counsels of God. There is still much that God has not explained when it comes to the outworking of His sovereignty and human responsibility in salvation. I am content with that and satisfied with verses like Deuteronomy 29:29. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law." I am satisfied to know that I am saved; that He calls me by a new name and that He makes all things new. Scripture is very clear that neither I nor anyone else can come to Jesus unless drawn by God. He says in John 6:65, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted to him by my Father." This is a troubling thought for some people. They struggle with it. Jesus recognized that some would take issue. He began the explanation in John 6:61-65 by asking, "Do you take offense at this?" Many do take offense. It has been and is the center of much debate and personal attacks. That saddens me. It is not my intention to join the debate in writing about these difficult areas. I am simply explaining how that truth has impacted my life. I don't have to understand or explain how God works all of this out. What overwhelms me is to realize that had God not been sovereign in my salvation, I would have been lost for eternity. It certainly leaves me without room to boast or feel proud that for reasons beyond my understanding, God called me and enabled me to have faith. Contrary to what some might argue, this view does not in any way lessen my views on the importance of evangelism and missions. In fact, it has just the opposite affect. I know that it, unlike any other view, gives me a real reason to pray for the lost - to pray that God would break down their resistance and show them how sinful and hopelessly lost they are without Jesus - just as He did for me. Because of God's sovereignty in salvation, I can ask Him to give the lost a new heart and open their eyes. I can pray that He would make His grace irresistible. I can pray that God would pursue them and overwhelm them with His glory. The truth of the Spirit's sovereignty gives me real motivation to witness in the face of seemingly impossible situations. I firmly understand why a simple verse like John 3:16 can open the door to salvation and how it can happen when God makes one's heart alive.

I remember that moment when God began to act upon me. It was like a tugging at my heart. I remember the faint longing to come to Jesus and be forgiven. I remember how that longing built with intensity. I pursued that longing and it made an eternity worth of difference. If a person has that spark and nothing more, don't back away. It is God acting upon your life. Run to Him. Take hold of Him. I did that. It opened a floodgate of grace. With that came right legal standing with God (justification); sonship (adoption); the right and ability (through faith, His Word and the power of the Spirit) to be transformed into the likeness of Christ (sanctification). With that came the capacity and ability to keep going (perseverance). Finally, it meant that my ultimate destiny upon death would be to go to be with the Lord and receive a resurrection body (glorification).

Just think that behind these awesome truths is the gentle call of Jesus spoken so long ago and recorded for us in Matthew 11:28-30.
"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
“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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