salvation

I’ll never forget the spiritual journey that brought me to faith in Christ. My father is a retired pastor, and we were always in church. My mother was a godly prayer warrior. From my earliest age, I remember having my spiritual faith encouraged. We had devotions, went to church, and I had numerous opportunities to experience faith.

I learned to be a good little boy. For most of my childhood, I believed the facts about the gospel. I tried to do all the things I should (read the Bible, confess my sins, behave well). In spite of my efforts, my teenage years were internally disturbing. I experienced uncertainty about my salvation and could not be confident that I would have eternal life. For about 6 years, I faced mounting doubt and uncertainty. There were a number of occasions where I just wanted to die so I could find out where I would spend eternity.

On the outside, I’m sure I looked fine. On the inside, I was a spiritual mess.

During the summer of my 18th year, I was invited to go to summer camp with my cousin’s church. I distinctly remember having a conversation with God prior to camp where I said,

“God, I don’t know what is going on in my soul. I can’t get peace. But whatever you say, whatever you tell me to do, I will do.”

At camp, the internal turmoil did not ease. Rather, it grew exponentially. My heart was bursting with tension and frustration. It was at this point of tension, that God spoke loudly and clearly,

“Chris, you need to be forgiven. Your sins are the reason I died. You need to trust Me alone for your salvation.”

That night is forever imbedded in my memory. I gave up. I asked God to forgive me. God saved me that night at summer camp. In that moment, I experienced a peace, a joy, a freedom that was unexplainable. Something else became unalterably clear to me in that moment. God wanted me to preach his gospel to others. For me the call to salvation and the call to preach occurred at the same moment.

In the 20+ years since that experience, I’ve thought a lot about my conversion and call experience. Following are some insights into God’s call that I’ve developed as I interpreted my experience through the lens of Scripture.

  • Personal experiences are not universals, but they can be templates. It is important that we don’t generalize our experiences that we believe they are universal for everyone. But we should learn from personal experiences. Moses’ call in Exodus 3 might not be replicated in our lives today (God speaking through the burning bush), but when God calls, it will be to reveal himself and send us on his mission (this is the universal).
  • My need for salvation was because I had been relying on my goodness rather than God’s grace. Over the years I reflected deeply on why I was not converted at a younger age. I believed the facts of the gospel long before I experienced salvation. God helped me understand that one could believe spiritual facts while still relying on self for salvation. Trusting in Christ alone is required for salvation, and that is what I was missing.
  • God’s calling to salvation may not always be a calling to preach, but it always includes a calling to serve. Not every salvation experience includes a vocational call. But every salvation experience does include a call to follow Christ and serve his purpose. I’m afraid that in experience-driven Christianity, this may not always be communicated clearly. God’s call to salvation anticipates a call to serve his purpose and testify to him and his glory. According to Matthew 28:18-20 we all have the obligation to lead our neighbors and the nations to follow Jesus.
  • In order to hear/sense God’s call, we need to have distractions removed. That fateful summer camp for me provided a time of devoted attention to hearing from God. Moses’ burning bush experience occurred in the wilderness where he was alone. Many of David’s psalms were written during his alone time with the sheep. The principle is this: if we are going to hear from God, we need to make time to be alone and quiet with him. Cell phones, television, and other distractions must be removed so we can hear and experience God.

What about you? Have you experienced God’s call to salvation? I hope so. Nothing is more important than knowing God and being confident of eternal life. If you have that peace, then have you embraced God’s call to serve his purpose and live his mission? If not, why not make time to pause, pray, and hear from God about his calling on your life.

This week in my devotional reading I came to Romans 9. For some of my theologically astute readers, you will recognize the controversial section in Romans 9 where Paul acknowledges election and predestination. But I’m not writing in response to that section as important as it is. God impressed upon me a burden regarding an earlier set of verses.

I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen. But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.

Romans 9:1-8

As a pastor and theology professor, I often focus on the contentious theological passages of the Bible. Warranted as addressing the finer points of theology might be, Paul’s heart in Romans 9 is not found in a theological treatise, but in an evangelistic purpose.

When you read verse three above remember that Romans is Scripture. Paul’s writing here is God-breathed, inspired. Paul is not merely making an emotional point. He’s serious. Deadly serious. Eternally serious. His heart for his fellow Israelites is such that he expressed willingness to be cut off from Christ for their salvation.

This is what God used to break my heart.

Am I so concerned about the eternal state of my friends, family, and neighbors?

Am I broken by lostness that I would cry out for my own soul to be cursed that they might be saved?

Do I pray with fervency and share with urgency that sinners might come to Christ?

Take some time to read Romans 9. Go ahead and read the next two chapters as well. Paul’s internal spiritual desperation is matched only by his external evangelistic zeal. May we be so burdened in prayer and zealous in witness.

Have you ever had news so good to share you couldn’t wait to tell someone? We tend to be wiling to share news about pregnancies or weddings or promotions very easily. But do you share the best news of all? Are you evangelistic? Do you regularly put yourself in situations where you can share your faith personally?

In the New Testament, especially the book of Acts, the early believers are consistently, regularly, faithfully sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Privately, publicly, personally and powerfully they shared the good news with sinners. Philip, one of the church’s first deacons provides a great model for being evangelistic in Acts 8. Philip offers five imperatives that will help us be more effective and intentional evangelists.

  1. Be Obedient. Philip had been preaching in a revival setting in Samaria, but God sent him to the desert. Philip obeyed. His obedience led to an opportunity to share the gospel with an Ethiopian eunuch. Sometimes you may be frustrated with your situation and location. But be obedient. Maybe God has you right where you are just because he wants you to share the good news with someone.
  2. Be Attentive. Philip noticed the eunuch and ran to speak to him. I think sometimes we fail to share the gospel simply because we are so busy with our own stuff. Look for a person to talk with. Pay attention to the waiter or waitress at the restaurant or the homeless person on the street corner. Being attentive to our surroundings and to others will afford us opportunities to share the good new
  3. Be Inquisitive. Philip’s first words to the eunuch were in the form of a question, “Do you understand what you’re reading?” It can be challenging and intimidating to know how to share your faith with someone. But when you are not sure what to say, ask a question. Being inquisitive allows you to genuinely be interested in other people and move the conversation toward spiritual things.
  4. Be Prepared. Philip connected the reading in Isaiah 53 to Jesus himself. If you know Jesus as your Lord, then you know enough to share the gospel. Would you consider standing in a pulpit to preach with no preparation? I would hope not. Your greatest evangelistic preparation comes from your daily walk with Jesus Christ and meditating and memorizing Scripture.
  5. Be Available. Philip was not only ready to share, but even baptized the Ethiopian right there. This imperative should also be an overarching theme of our lives. Are you available to share Christ and make disciples or are you too busy doing other church things? There is little more important in our lives than sharing Christ with others and leading them to follow Jesus. We must be available.

It is so easy to be distracted and hampered by good things from sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. But when we look at the story of the early church, the gospel was not hampered. They shared over and over again because they were ready to share. Are you?

Bible Studies for Life devotional originally published at the Biblical Recorder here.

Focal Passage: Exodus 17:8-16

One of the most iconic symbols in American history is the sculpture of the marines on Iwo Jima as they raised the flag of the United States of America. The flag symbolized victory, freedom and the power of the United States military. That picture aids our understanding of the concept of “the Lord is our Banner” In Hebrew it would read Yahweh-Nissi. A banner would be a military symbol that clearly identifies an army or a people. In the story of Israel’s battle with the Amalekites, Joshua led the rabble of former slaves to defend themselves. Moses watched from a hilltop overlooking the battle. As his arms were raised in prayer and dependence on God, Israel gained the upper hand. As his arms fell, Amalek gained the upper hand. Ultimately, Israel was victorious because God strengthened the armies of Israel against their enemy. It is interesting to observe the shared responsibilities in the battle. Israel fought. Men fell. Moses prayed. Moses lost strength. Aaron and Hur held Moses’ arms up. God gave Israel victory. The Lord is our Banner does not mean that we huddle in a corner hiding from our problems, enemies and difficulties. Rather, it means that we walk in faith and advance in dependence. We do ourselves no favors when we try to battle on our own strength. Rather, we gain victory when we look in faith to the Lord our Banner. More than a thousand years later God gave his people a glorious symbol of his victorious banner. When Jesus hung on that cruel Roman cross, he atoned for our sins and defeated our spiritual enemy. The cross of Christ is both historical reality and powerful symbol. We receive the victory of the cross not by fighting alongside our Savior, but by depending on the victory he won. Look to the cross as the symbol of God’s banner over you.

 

UnknownRecently, I finished a teaching series on the Trinity in my Sunday School Class. I must say that it was a challenging and rewarding series to teach. Trinitarian theology is an important distinctive of Christianity. Trinitarian theology is also significantly practical to our understanding of salvation, prayer, and relationships.

For example, in Ephesians 1 Paul describes salvation in light of the Trinity. God the Father planned our salvation. God the Son accomplished our salvation. And God the Holy Spirit sealed our salvation. Relating to our prayer lives, we pray to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. Jesus in Matthew 6:9 taught us to pray “to” the Father. In Hebrews 4:14-16, Jesus is described as our High Priest or access to the Father’s throne room, and in 1 John 2:1, he is our advocate with the Father. In Romans 8:26, Paul teaches that the Spirit prays for us, and Paul also admonishes us in Ephesians 6:18 to pray “in” the Spirit.

But our salvation and prayer lives are not the only aspects of Christian living affected by Trinitarian Christianity. The way in which we relate to one another is modeled after the relationship between the Father, Son, and Spirit within the Trinity. 1 John 4:7 affirms that “God is love.” Love here is the Greek agape which means a selfless, other-centered love. This verse is an implicit evidence of the Trinity. The Father doesn’t love the Father with agape. Rather, the Father loves the Son and the Spirit with agape, as the Son loves the Father and the Spirit with agape, as the Spirit loves the Father and the Son with agape. So, the relationship within the Trinity pictures for us the love we are to have for one another.

Not only does the Trinity provide for us a picture of selfless love, but it also offers to us a model for submission in relationships. Within the Trinity (as the picture above highlights), the Father, Son, and Spirit are equally God, but each person within the Trinity is distinct. Interestingly, Scripture teaches that Jesus submits to the Father’s will and was sent by the Father (John 5:19-23; as well as numerous other times throughout the gospels). Scripture also teaches that Jesus sent the Holy Spirit who comes from the Father (John 15:26). In other words, Jesus is fully God, yet submissive to the Father’s will; the Holy Spirit is fully God, yet submissive to the Son and the Father. Thus the concept of structural submission is necessary to the biblical testimony concerning the Trinity. And yet the submission of the Son and Spirit in no way makes them less God than the Father. As a result, when we are commanded to submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21) or to specifically submit within relationships (wives to husbands in Ephesians 5:22 or children to parents in Ephesians 6:1 or slaves to masters in Ephesians 6:3) it is not a reflection that the submissive person is less than in dignity, honor, or nature than the one being submitted to. Rather, the pattern of submission creates a relationship of structure and order. As Jesus is our model in all things, so must we adopt his submissive attitude to those in structural authority over us. I’m convinced that if we practice the Trinitarian model of submission, our relationships would be much more healthy and fruitful.

I realize there is much more to be said concerning the Trinity. I hope these few examples remind us to wonder in awe at the beauty and glory of One God in three persons. Moreover, I hope these examples remind us that the doctrine of the Trinity is more than just a theological conundrum to be debated and studied, but also a practical influence on our understanding of salvation, how we pray, and how we relate to one another.