Sunday, January 29, 2006

A Primer On Election - Part 3

It is late Sunday evening and I couldn't wait another moment to post to the blog. Part 2 of the primer on election really left you hanging as if you were dangling over the fires of hell by a tiny string of self-righteousness. This part brings us what God did so that men do not have to perish for all eternity in the tormented depths. As an evangelist, my heart races reading messages on God's great salvation! Even if you are not as pumped about this as I, it is still a valuable topic for this blog.

Who Makes The First Move?
(continued)
by Steve Shank
#4: Called by God

One day when I was a boy I saw my neighbor’s cat get hit by a car. Though I didn’t care much for cats (and this one was no exception), I felt a twinge of sadness as it flew into the bushes. So I helped my neighbor look for it. “Here kitty, kitty, kitty,” I called. Meanwhile I was thinking, If this cat comes to me now after all the abuse I’ve given it, it must really be hurt.

When we finally found it, the poor cat was as dead as Julius Caesar. No amount of calling could have brought it to life. I could have called “Here kitty, kitty, kitty” all week long without getting any response from that flattened feline.

Before you became a Christian, you were spiritually in the same state as my neighbor’s cat: dead as a doornail, incapable of any response. Don’t take it personally. The Bible says the same about everyone who has yet to be converted: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live” (Ephesians 2:1,2). Your spirit wasn’t merely comatose or unconscious. It wasn’t sickly or sluggish. It was dead. Even though God had chosen you and created you, your sinful condition separated you from him.

The story would have ended there, were it not for God’s mercy. Do you realize what he did? “When you were dead in your sins…God made you alive with Christ” (Colossians 2:13). Why? “Because of his great love for us…it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5). Had you done anything to deserve this? “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:5).

One day, in his own perfect timing, God touched the cold, dead center of your spiritual being and brought it to life. You were born again. (Theologians call this event regeneration.) The new birth is the greatest miracle you will ever experience. While you were still spiritually dead, incapable of responding to God and awaiting judgment for your sin, God called you to himself through the message of the gospel, and that call produced life, faith, and repentance. (Something my “kitty, kitty, kitty” never could have done!) God’s life-giving call, which some refer to as his effective or effectual calling, is “that mysterious, divine, and humanly inexplicable act of God through the Holy Spirit, which brings us into living fellowship with Jesus Christ, our Lord.”

Dead cats don’t come crawling out of the bushes when you call them. But when God’s call penetrated the deadness and darkness of your soul, it rang with the life-giving power of regeneration. You have been brought from death to life, not by your own effort, but through a miraculous and merciful work of God.

#5: Cooperating with God

Of all the billions of babies ever born, not one has been able to take credit for its own conception. Likewise, no Christian can claim responsibility for his or her own regeneration. Only God could have brought your dead spirit to life. But once he did that miraculous work, you then needed to cooperate with him through conversion.

Theologian Wayne Grudem defines conversion as “our willing response to the gospel call, in which we sincerely repent of sins and place our trust in Christ for salvation.” A genuine conversion involves two responses: faith and repentance. Let’s look at these responses separately.

Faith requires believing what God’s Word says about your sin and Jesus’ sacrifice. By faith you admit that your condition is hopeless, that you are unable to please God, and that your sin has provoked his holy anger. But faith also enables you to accept Christ’s death on the Cross as the full, final, and free payment for your sin. Faith is a fascinating thing. It is both a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8) and an act of your redeemed will. In other words, God gives you faith, but you are responsible for exercising it.

When he regenerated you God opened your heart, planting the seed of faith by which you trust in Jesus as God’s only hope for sinful humanity.

Faith alone is an insufficient response; repentance is also required for conversion. Repentance simply means change. It begins with a change in your view of God. He is now to be your Lord, the ruler of your life. Repentance also involves a change in your view of sin. Instead of doing whatever makes you feel good, you now pass your actions through the filter of God’s Word to see if they measure up with his expectations. Finally, repentance requires a change in your view of yourself. Once you exalted yourself and lived for your own pleasure; now you are laying down your life to please the One who created you, died for you, and calls you to obedience.

Baptism in water should be one of your first acts of obedience as a new follower of Christ (Matthew 28:19). Being baptized publicly in water is a bold testimony to all who witness it that two changes have occurred in your life: first, that God has mercifully regenerated you, and second, that you have consciously turned away from your former way of life. It is “a symbol of beginning the Christian life,” writes Wayne Grudem. Please note, however, that baptism does not save you; you have been saved by the sacrificial work of Jesus. Nor does water baptism remove your sinful nature or regenerate your soul. Rather, baptism is a sign of your allegiance to Jesus, a declaration that you have been united with Christ in his death and resurrection. Jesus commanded it, the early church modeled it, and you will benefit immeasurably by it. If you haven’t already been baptized in water, ask your pastor how you can experience this powerful event.

Faith in Christ and repentant submission to Christ—these are the only appropriate responses to God’s merciful initiative on your behalf. They are not mere flags stuck in the soil of your heart to commemorate a one-time event. Instead, they are the twin pillars supporting your new Christian life. You are to live every day cooperating with God by cultivating habits of faith and ongoing repentance.

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