|Book: Becoming a Secure Christian|
Part 1 : Setting the Scene
Part 2 : A Biblical Security
Part 3 : Personal Security
(Practice and Theory)
Chapter 13: Secure in my Calling
The next aspect of our personal security we need to think about is that of our calling. In this chapter we'll consider the security we have in our calling (the 2 nd half of the above verse), and then in the next chapter we'll consider being secure in all circumstances (the first half of the above verse)
The verse above is perhaps one of the really well known and much quoted verses of the New Testament. Yet when it comes to the crunch, in a crisis, many of us abandon this verse and almost abandon our faith. Why is that? I would suggest that it's probably because:
we've never understood the full implications of the verse and
we've never really let it become a foundation stone in our faith and in our daily life.
So, let's try and remedy that. Again it may be that as you read these words you are tempted to say, “Oh no! This is such basic stuff! I don't need to read this!” Well, yes you can move on to the practical application chapters if you want, but maybe, just maybe, I might be saying something you need to hear. Run with me please, don't miss this chapter out!
13.1 The Problem of being a “Long-term Christian”
I'm assuming that you who are reading this book are Christians. At some point in your life you had an encounter with God, either in a crisis moment or spread out over a longer period, and you became a Christian. I want to go back beyond that time in your life, to the time before you knew Jesus as Lord and Saviour and think about what you were like then.
For some of us this is difficult because we knew him at such an early age. My wife asked Jesus to be her friend when she was five and she had a very real relationship with him throughout those childhood years and ever since. My three children also entered into a relationship with Jesus somewhere between the ages of five and seven, and it was real and, thankfully, at the time of writing still is (you'll see why I say it like that later on). I didn't encounter Jesus until I was twenty one and so my perspective has been quite different from the rest of my family, but I do understand if you are one of those people who feel you've known Jesus most of your life.
Yes, for those of us who entered into a relationship with God at an early age, it's perhaps difficult to comprehend the awfulness of sin, because we haven't had a chance to do “any of the really bad things in life”. That's why you may have had difficulties with my words in chapter 11 when I said we're “not nice”! Our tendency, when we've known the Lord for many years, is to equate sin with drunkenness, drug abuse, violence, murder, rape, theft and so on.
Strangely, for us, our insecurity or vulnerability is in ‘being nice', just like the rich young ruler we considered in Chapter 5. Yes, we are ‘nice' in comparison to many really nasty and evil people, but we still have the same tendency to be godless (living on a daily basis with little or no reference to God, being self-centred) and unrighteous (living on a daily basis slightly missing the mark because we're following human rules and not God's prompting and leading). This is still sin, but because we've held such a shallow understanding of it, it now means we don't cling to Jesus for dear life for our salvation, we tend to take our salvation for granted, and because of that we're vulnerable to attack.
In the last decade of the twentieth century a number of people were heard to say, “I believe we're in revival times”. Well apart from some fairly rare places around the world, I'm convinced we were not and are still not at the time of putting this on the site, and one of my main reasons for saying that is because of our weak view of sin. Many of us acknowledge with our intellect the facts of salvation, that we are sinners and in need of a Saviour but that truth hardly touches our hearts.
We come back to what I said in Chapter 11, we ARE children of God, sons of God, yet we, left to our own devices, still have a tendency to get it wrong. Why is that so? Because we've got such a light hearted view of sin! In daily life you are delivered from sinning, in practical terms , by one of three things, either:
13.2 The Problem of Destiny
Let's focus back on your earlier life, before you were a Christian. When did God take an interest in you? Was it only at that point, was that your call, at your conversion? Did God make you get saved or did you have a part to play in it? These are important questions because answers to them determine how we view the other aspect of our lives.
Many of us consider that our God only became interested in us when we turned to Christ, a God who seems only concerned when we've become concerned with Him. Now that is very far from the truth of Scripture.
Others of us feel that we have been slotted into a fixed regime by a sovereign God who keeps some people out of His kingdom and drags others of us in. We'll consider this more in a moment and also in the following chapter.
The verse at the beginning of the chapter speaks about those of us “ who have been called according to his purpose ”, so let's examine this “calling” in some detail.
Eph 1:4 For he (God the Father) chose us in him (Christ Jesus) before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons.
This verse is just one of those “before the beginning of the world” verses (see Chapter 12 where I referred to the whole New Testament list). There are really just three ways you can understand these verses:
The first view says that before the beginning of the world God decided on the general principle or strategy that He would use, and individuals were not in the picture at that point of His thinking. However certain things must flow from this viewpoint:
The second view says that before the beginning of the world God decided exactly who would become Christians and who would not, i.e. ‘back then' He decided those He would ‘randomly' (?) choose. This also has certain inevitable consequences:
First of all, please note that these are NOT merely academic points to be chewed over by theologians. They are real pastoral problems that affect how people think and feel and live out their lives. Many of us have a negative view of life or of God because we hold one of the above views.
The second thing to note, is that if you are already set in your views of an extreme Calvinism or Arminianism, I am not out to change your mind - I don't have either the space or inclination to do that (see a later chapter). My comments here are restricted and are for those who haven't thought these things through before and will accept a logical, pastoral and Scriptural (in my view!) approach to these things. Right, read on….
A mid-way view says that before the beginning of the world God looked into the future (being outside of time and in eternity) and saw who would respond to the Good News of Jesus and thus knew then who would respond. The consequences of this view are:
Assuming you agree with me that options 1 and 2 above have big question marks over them, we are left with some important implications as a result of number 3. There are two primary points about your life that follow from this:
This viewpoint is confirmed by God's words to the prophet Jeremiah, when he was at least a teenager :
Jer 1:5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
David also knew this when he wrote Psalm 139 and verses 13-16 say the same thing to us. Indeed these verses could be taken more for the argument for a God who does exactly decree what WILL happen, if it weren't for the so many verses throughout the Bible that would become nonsense if that were so. Don't feel in any way that this diminishes the sovereignty of God, it simply means He could fix things if He wanted but in His love He allows us the privilege of genuine free will.
Many of us can now see, as we look back on the years before we came to Christ, the hand of God that was hidden from us at the time, and we marvel at the wonder that God loved us so much that He interacted with our circumstances even while we were totally self-centred and unrighteous. Have you ever seen this? Have you ever marvelled at this? Have you ever thanked God that He was there doing those things? The later in life that you came to Christ, the more times you can probably see the hidden hand of God that was there behind the circumstances of your life, protecting, guiding, inspiring!
13.3 But what about…?
“Ah,” some of us might say, “but you don't know what I've been through! Do you mean to say God was there watching over me and yet He let me go through that!” That's exactly what I am saying, but there is another side to what you're inferring. You're suggesting that God was unkind in letting you go through all that you went through in those years before you knew Him, but what would you have had Him do?
I presume you value your sense of free-will, you value being allowed to choose what you do, where you go, and so on? So did the other people involved in your past! Would you want God to over-rule their free will to protect you, to stop them being unpleasant, unkind, even abusing you? How do you want God to operate this discriminatory removal of free will? To allow you total free will but to stop others when it comes to their interacting with you? Perhaps you would accept Him limiting your free will a little? How much?
No, that was the price of free will, that both you and others could be godless and unrighteous. But perhaps you say, “But I wasn't unrighteous, I was the one abused!” So how did you handle it? Did you tolerate it, go down under it, did you react with bad attitudes? Please understand, I'm not trying to be unkind, just to help us face the truth.
Did you turn to God in it all, did you cry out to Him praying day and night for deliverance, day and night for your abuser, day and night for God's glory to be revealed in the situation? That would have been a godly, righteous response, but we didn't do that! Why? Because we were still self-centred, godless and the grace of God in the form of His own Holy Spirit was not there within us, challenging, stirring, encouraging, strengthening. No, Sin was reigning in us. We may have been through the most unpleasant of circumstances but, let's face it, we didn't handle those circumstances in a godly righteous manner.
No, the wonder was that God put up with all your foolishness (and mine!), all your self-centredness, all your unrighteous thinking, unrighteous words and unrighteous deeds, while He was waiting for you to come to Him. He knew exactly the right time in your history when you would make that decision. No, the staggering news is that God loved you then, even while He was waiting, knowing there was going to come a right time, a right place, right circumstances, when you would, like the prodigal son, “come to your senses” (Lk 15:17). There hasn't been a moment of your existence when God didn't love you!
What's even more staggering is that God puts up with all those people who are never going to turn to Him. That's another part of the price to pay for free will. Yes, death will be own-up time, but in the meantime the unrighteous seem to get away with it so often. “ He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous ” (Mt 5:45 ). The weeds grow alongside the wheat (Mt 13:24 -30) until the end. These are the facts of living in a Fallen World, and we need to remember these things. We'll examine this some more in the next chapter.
13.4 The Realities of our Conversion Experience
So how did we eventually come to Him? Was it the earnest yearning of our hearts? Did we think our way through to salvation? Was there room for us to boast in the part we played? No, the honest answer is that the Spirit of God spoke to us, drew us, and convicted us. Although we have free will that doesn't stop God speaking and speaking and speaking to us. What is it that makes one person respond and another person hold back? I don't know. There are a number of factors involved but at the end of the day the answer is not clear.
The point of our conversion wasn't a glorious moment for us; it was a point of surrender. We didn't grab for the glorious gift because we saw the wonderful wisdom of it. No, we came in awareness of what a mess we were, a mess who needed help, a mess who needed a Saviour. It doesn't matter if we came as a young child simply aware of our ‘need of a friend', or later in life aware of the awful things we had done. Ultimately it's all the same, we came aware of a need, aware of a shortfall in us that could only be met in God. That's what our calling was about. It was a calling to recognise and face the truth about ourselves and then accept the truth about what God, in His love for us, had done for us.
Rom 5:8 While we were still sinners, Christ died for us
Yes, God's plan for our salvation through the death of Jesus on the Cross, went ahead without any reference to us, was set down in history for us to receive long before we were around, and even if we had been consulted we would have been in no state to approve it, because we were still sinners, still in our folly, still without understanding.
Could we boast that we came to God having worked out our need and worked out the means God was using to redeem us? No, at the time of our conversion our understanding was strictly limited. That understanding only came when He placed His own Holy Spirit in us, and that initially was very limited understanding.
It doesn't matter if we came as a five year old child or a twenty five year old man or woman, it's just as Jesus said in Luke 18:17, “ anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it ”, or as Matthew records Jesus saying, “ unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven ” (18:3). No, as the apostle Paul wrote, we have no room to boast, it wasn't what we did but what HE did that was the all-important thing (Rom 3:23), because He chose what was weak and foolish - you - to show that it wasn't you but Him! (1 Cor 1:27 -31)
13.5 Some Conclusions
If you still question God's love for you, can you not see the wonder of this all-pervading love that was there watching over you, all through those years of your rejection of Him. But it's more wonderful than that!
This love was there even before He formed any material thing. It was expressed between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, communicated within the Trinity even before Creation, aware that as soon as They made a being in their image, a being capable of making decisions, capable of making choices, the way would be open for wrong choices to be made, wrong decisions to be taken, and God's will rejected. Even then They knew a Way had to be made to redeem, to reconcile, to restore. Even then the heart of love decided the awfulness of the Cross. Even then they looked and observed and saw who would respond, who would come freely without coercion, who would kneel and pray, “Forgive me, I need you”. Even then they saw – you!
And so through time-and-space-history events moved on, the interaction of the Sovereign God with the puny wills of sinful men, until that time that you now know about, when in time and space you knelt, you asked, and you received.
In all of this do you catch a sense of destiny, of your place in the Great Plan? You only saw it from a tiny limited vantage point of sinful anguish in time-space-history when it happened, but God had had it in mind from outside of time, in eternity when He planned, He knew, He saw, and He rejoiced that, despite your sin, you would become His child.
Rejoice in this, be secure in this. You are His child and “He who began a good work in you will carry it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6) and so nothing “in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:39 ).
Now, again we have been dealing with profound truths and it may be that you need to go back over this chapter and take it in slowly. Make sure you are clear on the truths that are here, for once you are, you will never be the same again!