I had it wrong.
I have had a relationship with God since 1998; you do the math. I am 63. I was born in a church-going family so I was a “religious” person for many years before 1998. Since 1998 I have had a hunger for God that is unsatisfied. I want to know Him more in heart, soul and mind [everyone knows where that comes from].
I have felt closer to God since 1998 but I certainly don’t have everything figured out. I never will. However, I was reading some material the other day that helped me so much. It was about faith. I thought I would share.
Early on in my post 1998 walk, I encountered the basic idea that one of God’s greatest gifts to mankind is grace, the love and mercy given to us by God because God desires us to have it, not because of anything we have done to earn it. That is needed because we cannot shake the urge to sin from our being. Sin is a permanent stain and to receive salvation, we have to have grace to attain it. Grace is generous, free, totally unexpected and undeserved. What a necessary and wonderful gift!
What I had wrong was my conception of faith. I never considered that as a gift. I always felt that faith was my part of the bargain. I had to produce that.
Until the other day…
A major learning moment
I encountered an interpretation and explanation that shook me up. John McArthur, the American pastor, author and syndicated radio host writes “Faith is nothing that we do in our own power or by our own resources. In the first place we do not have adequate power or resources. More than that, God would not want us to rely on them even if we had them. Otherwise salvation would be in part by our own works, and we would have some ground to boast in ourselves. Paul intends to emphasize that even faith is not from us apart from God’s giving it.”
I had it wrong.
Let’s consider sin to help us understand. Let’s say that I am going to focus on only one sin. I want to quit doing a particular sin.
The fact is, sin is a part of me and it always will be. To quit doing a sin, I have to be willing to change but because of my sin nature, I will never be willing to change. Worse than that, I can’t create enough faith to bring about the change but faith is a gift from God.
Ephesians says “For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift from God.” [2:8]
I have never examined this verse closely until now. Now I see that faith is followed by the modification “this is not from yourselves, it is a gift from God.” The gift from God is faith.
What do I need to accept the gift of faith? Open my hands, admit my weak faith and helplessness and ask God to help me believe.
I reference the story in Mark about the father who has the spirit possessed son. This evil spirit has robbed the son of speech. Worse than that, the boy foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth, falls down and becomes rigid on the ground. The father had already asked the disciples to help the boy but they had no success driving out the spirit. The father brings the boy before Jesus and the boy goes into a demonstration of the ill effects of the spirit. Jesus watches for a while and then makes the general statement “Everything is possible for him who believes.”
What did the father say? “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.”
This is a sincere admission of unbelief with a request for faith. The boy recovered and the spirit left him “with a shriek.”
Early on, I latched onto the idea of grace but I did not see that faith was associated. Now I am beginning to see that. Faith is like the breath of spiritual life. It is given to us as part of grace.
What we have to do is decide to exercise the faith that God has given us. If we don’t use our faith, it is not God’s responsibility, it is ours.
McArthur tells a story about a man who was desperately searching for a tent revival: “he was very late to a revival meeting and found the workmen tearing down the tent in which the meetings had been held. Frantic at missing the evangelist, he decided to ask one of the workers what he could do to be saved. The workman, who was a Christian, replied, ‘You can’t do anything. It’s too late.’ Horrified, the man said, ‘What do you mean? How can it be too late?’ ‘The work has already been accomplished,’ he was told. ‘There is nothing you need to do but believe it.’ ” [Have faith]
All these years I knew I had a wonderful gift from God already.
Now I have another. Am I going to untie the bow, remove the wrapping paper, pull the gift out of the box and use it?