As a small child I believed in God. I didn’t know much about Him, but I certainly believed He existed as a kind grandfatherly figure, somewhere up in the sky, and that somehow He watched over me. As a little child I prayed, “Now I lay me down to sleep”. It was that kind of understanding. Nevertheless, as I grew older I found that I was pulled toward Him through many different ways. I didn’t know then that this is how He sometimes works in the lives of those whom He is pursuing.
This coming April will mark 66 years since I surrendered to Christ. On that day all those years ago the Lord had nudged me hard to go to a special Good Friday service at my church. The speaker began to tell us how much God loved us. He said He didn’t just love us in a generic way, but that He loved each of us individually. He said that not only did He love me specifically, but He loved me unconditionally! That really caught my attention! In my life at home my mother was verbally abusive and I felt like nothing I did was ever good enough to please her. Now here was someone telling me that God, the omniscient One, not only knew everything about who I was, but loved me in spite of everything He knew. He not only loved me, but loved me unconditionally!
The speaker said that at the time of Creation, man had rebelled against God and had broken that intimate fellowship with God for which man had been created. We have also broken relationship with Him by our own behavior. We were sinners through Adam and also by our own choices. This creates a problem. God is holy, and holiness cannot countenance sin. The consequence was that we would spend eternity outside His presence. There was no remedy, unless God worked out another solution.
Some people assume that we can earn our way to heaven through our good deeds. Can we earn our way to heaven? God has told us in the Ten Commandments what we would need to do and be in order to meet His conditions for heaven. The Ten Commandments are not just a set of hypothetical rules for us to attempt, but are the ruler against which we are to measure ourselves to see how well we meet His requirements.
You shall have no other gods before me. (Is there anything in my life which I put ahead of my relationship with God?)
You shall make no idols. (My home, children, money, success, power?)
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. (not an OMG in sight!)
Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy. (Set apart for worship; not just remembering when it is convenient.)
Honor your father and mother. (Even when they may not be good parents.)
You shall not murder. ( Not even in my heart!)
You shall not commit adultery. (same as above!)
You shall not steal. (Not even time from my employer, or grapes from the grocer)
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. (No gossip or little while lies)
You shall not covet (Big one ~ how many things or circumstances have I envied?)
I only had to read the first Commandment to recognize that I had already failed. You can’t break the Commandments just a little bit ~ if only one part of it is broken, it is all broken. It is all one piece, like a cup or a dish. I could not meet God’s standards for admission to heaven by way of my own efforts, and my penalty would be eternity outside the presence of God. I was unable to meet God’s requirements to get into heaven through my own efforts.
Then the speaker began to tell us the good news. He said that God wanted us to be with Him eternally. He would give man every opportunity to be obedient on his own, but knew that ultimately man would fail. So, He made a plan.
He would come Himself, as the Christ, and all the sinful things I had done or even thought would be laid on Christ. God, through Christ, would pay my penalty for me. By His death, Christ would provide a way; a bridge between God and me, and my relationship to God could be restored. All I had to do was repent of my sin, and believe that Jesus is the Christ, the sent One, and commit to following Him.
There is a little caveat here. Some folks will tell you that all you have to do is say the words, or be baptized, or do some other ritual thing, and you are saved. This is a distortion. Accepting Christ is not just saying a formulaic prayer or going through a ritual; there must also be repentant submission. If we have been baptized as infants there must also be a come a time of genuine confirmation. Without acknowledgment of and sorrow for our sin, there is no forgiveness. Our hearts must be fully engaged with what we are saying. We can’t lie to God. He will know if we are truly His, and it is dangerous to fool ourselves.
John 3:16 says, God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.
The kind of belief that saves means commitment to Christ as both Savior and Lord. Savior and Lord are two different things. We must not only believe that He is our only Salvation, but also establish Him as Lord over our lives.
All this was like fireworks going off in my head. I asked God to forgive my sin, and opened my heart to Christ. At first I didn’t know if anything had happened, but over the next weeks I began to have a hunger and thirst for the word of God, and wanted to hear more and more about Jesus. That was the beginning, and this hunger has continued for 66 years. I am still learning. The conscious acknowledgment of Christ as Savior and Lord is the genesis of real faith for all believers, whether it is like a thunderbolt, or is a gradual mature appropriation of what has been loosely believed since childhood.
However, if one does believe and chooses to follow Christ, we mustn’t be fooled into believing that this will give us immunity from all the problems in the world. God is not some super-Santa who will make all problems go away. He may sometimes intervene, but sometimes He chooses to let us have problems in order to test us, or discipline us, or to strengthen our faith. The good thing is, we now know we are not going through our problems alone. There are times when He answers prayer in an obvious way, and we see His power. There are other times when He is silent, and we wonder if He is still there. Sometimes we just have to proceed in faith. It is this kind of unshakable faith which eventually helps us to grow. The Christian life is a gradual process of growth and integration of new understanding.
God is primarily concerned with our inner lives above our physical circumstances, and He will address our spiritual needs first, even if it means that our physical circumstances are challenging. After all, it is our souls that are eternal, not our bodies. He may even use difficult physical circumstances to get our attention. He may allow problems if He sees this is what will bring us back to Him, or help us learn patience or kindness or love. As a good Father, He may discipline us for our own good. He promises that He will not burden us with more than we are able to bear. Satan also has access to us, and will inflict us with problems in order to try to get us to doubt God. The Apostle Paul was probably one the most committed Christians ever, and he was imprisoned, shipwrecked, beaten, had a chronic physical infirmity, and ultimately was killed for his faith. Yet, perhaps because of his trials, his spirit drew ever closer to the Lord
He takes us slowly at first, and then as we learn to trust in His presence, He may ask harder things of us. It is a gradual, loving, careful awakening of our sense of God, and of His love. He never asks anything of us through which He is not prepared to help us, or give us the strength to complete.
No matter how hard the road may get, I will never be sorry that I have chosen to love Him and try to follow Him. He has demonstrated His love all along, even if I couldn’t see it at the time. He never abandons us. His intent is always for our good. Never think that if you become a Christian it is going to be an easy ride. It will be the most satisfying, the best and only way to go! God’s love for us is without measure, and His purpose for us is to live in that love for all eternity.