Friday, July 14, 2006

Embracing Christ

Note: Here's another post from my previous blog. I'm not quite sure that I would agree with all that Piper has written in Future Grace, but the portions that I quote here were certainly "food for thought" for my life. This was originally posted on the Dec. 23, 2005.

Embracing Christ

Thoughts of the gospel flood my mind frequently. Granted, I'm not thinking about Christ's death, burial, and resurrection during every second of each day, but I am consistently and daily amazed by His acts of grace. However, as John Piper's excellent work Future Grace points out, true saving faith is a faith in "future grace."

I'm really not sure if I can summarize the thrust of his book very well in a brief way, but the main gist of it is that we live by faith in the promises of God and what He is for us and will be in the future. Piper tears down the belief that the Christian life is to be lived simply out of gratitude. For one, that is not mentioned as the ongoing motive for faithfulness throughout Scripture. Plus, if we live our lives forever trying to "payback" God for His grace, it sort of nullifies grace. Then, we're just trying to keep our salvation through works. Instead, looking to God through faith is what keeps us faithful. In this way, salvation is not just belief in Jesus Christ and what He did on the cross. It is trusting in Him, and "the focus of my trust is what God promised to do for me in the future" (p. 6). After being converted and born again by the Holy Spirit, we live our lives by trusting in Christ, and this trust is displayed in complete embrace of His promises. Here is where the talk of "embracing Christ" comes in.

In chapter 15, "A Taste of Spiritual Beauty," Piper opens with a sobering series of questions: "Is it possible to believe the promises of God about the security of the saints, and yet be lost? If faith in future grace means believing the promises of God, how is it that those promises could be believed and yet the 'believer' not be saved?" He then quotes Matthew 7:21-23, where Jesus asserts that not everyone who has called on Him will enter the kingdom of heaven.

Part of the issue here is one of facts and experience, or as one of Piper's headings assert, "The basis of believing determines the experience of believing." Mere mental assent alone will never save anyone. I know people who live the lives of total pagans and show no evidence of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, yet they will loudly proclaim, "I believe in Jesus Christ and in the gospel." However, "being persuaded that Christ and his promises are factual is not by itself saving faith" (p. 200).

The difference comes in the "experience of believing." We often make the mistake of asserting that belief in the gospel is equal to believing whole-heartedly that a certain man will be able to traverse the mighty Niagara Falls on a tightrope. It is quite another to come when he beckons and climb upon his back for the ride across. Piper quotes Charles Hodge as he asserts that true, actual saving faith "is a faith which rests upon the manifestation by the Holy Spirit of the excellence, beauty, and suitableness of the truth...It arises from a spiritual apprehension of the truth, or from the testimony of the Spirit with and by the truth in our hearts" (p. 201). Hodge then moves on, according to Piper's citation, to discuss Luke 10:21, where Jesus speaks of having hidden spiritual truth from the wise only to lavish it upon those that are as babes. Piper explains: "In other words, the truth about Jesus and his ministry and the kingdom of God was seen externally by some; but to 'the babes' God revealed it. This revelation enable that spiritual apprehension and taste which moves the heart to embrace and savor the reality, not just think that it is true" (p. 201).

Aye, there's the rub..."that spiritual apprehension and taste which moves the heart to embrace and savor the reality, not just think that it is true." This is the road to which I came back in February. Through the enabling of the Holy Spirit, I saw the beauty of the gospel of Christ, not just the facts. In fact, I don't know if I mentioned this in my testimony, but as I was praying to beg God for His salvation, I remember looking at my theological library and telling God, "I'll give it up if I have to. I'll quite Boyce College if that's what You require and move down to Georgia to work in a carpet mill the rest of my life." I knew fully well that were I to receive Christ it would obviously jeopardize my experience prior to then. For the truth of the matter was, and rightfully so, that once I surrendered my life to Christ I knew He would have the reigns of my decisions. What if He actually didn't want me in the ministry anymore and, after coming to saving faith, one of my first acts of obedience (after baptism) would be to move back home. Granted, I love my parents, but I did not want to move back home, I did not want to surrender the degree that I had worked so hard toward attaining, I did not want to give up the bulk of theological books that I had amassed, and I most certainly didn't want to surrender the education that for which I've work so hard.

However...At that moment, embracing Christ meant more to me than all those hopes and dreams. I knew that if I didn't have Him that I was utterly and totally lost and forsaken. I knew that my life was about to be turned upside down, and that scared me. But it was not as scary as pondering the thought of living without Him. It was at that moment that the walls came crashing down. There wasn't a flood of tears, but after the initial praying, there came a flood of peace. I don't know how else to describe except to say that the sin that I was carrying fell at my feet. I watched "Secondhand Lions" today with my dad, and one of the men told a story of fighting Arabian soldiers in a shiek's dungeon with money bags attached. The boy, after having listened to his great uncle tell of fighting with hundreds of pounds of coins attached, remarked that it was impossible to fight the soldiers. So, the man revised the story some and admitted that he had a little help from his brother as well. In my own case, I was seeking to live a life that was Christian-ish with bags of sin bearing down on me like a fierce wind to the sails of a boat. I was a slave to that sin, and it took me where it wanted me to go. I was seeking to fight the wiles of the devil with only my sin, and I was failing. Were it not for Christ, Satan would have eventually slain me, and I would be crying up from the pit of hell for relief from my damnation, only to endure an eternity of punishment, which is what I deserved. Instead, Christ invaded my heart, and I saw Him as altogether lovely and worthy, and I laid down those bags of sin so that I might fully embrace Him with both arms.

To continue this thought of embracing I turn to the last few pages of the chapter. Piper maintains that there are two things "necessary for saving faith to emerge" (p. 202):

1. "One is to use our preception and our mind to hear and see and understand and validate a testimony to the truth of Christ."

2. "The other is that we must apprehend and embrace the spiritual beauty and worth of Christ through the illumination of the Holy Spirit."

Basically, when you embrace Christ you put all of your faith and hope into Him. You forsake your life of sin and turn your life to Christ (repentance). The FAITH evangelism strategy describes sin as turning from something (sin and self) and turning to someone (Jesus Christ). It is the point in which you decide that you're trusting in Christ and you forsake the life of sin that you've lived up until this point. Instead, your sights are set on Jesus. As Jesus reminded us in His discourse to Nicodemus in John 3:1-21, we must look to Christ as the Old Testament Israelites looked to the bronze serpent and were healed. Jesus Christ was lifted up in the same manner that He might draw men to Himself and save those that put their faith in Him and fix their eyes upon Him to live their lives for Him.

As Piper writes here and elsewhere, he summarizes faith as "being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus" (p. 206), or "Another way to sat it would be that, in all the acts of saving faith, the Holy Spirit enables us not just to perceive and affirm factual truth, but also to apprehend and embrace spiritual beauty. It is the 'embracing of spiritual beauty' that is the essential core of saving faith. This is what I mean by 'being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus.' Spiritual beauty is the beauty of God diffused in all his works and words. Embracing this, or delighting in it, or being satisfied with it, is the heart of saving faith" (p. 206).

Such a kind of faith will continue. In fact, those who seem to abandon the faith were never really of it to begin with. Gazing upon Christ will leave the believer forever longing for Him. In fact, the most miserable person is a backsliding believer who longs to embrace Christ but lets their sin block renewal with Him. Like the erring husband who seeks the embrace of his lover, only to find himself to proud to admit to her that he was wrong. Eventually, his love and desire for her (and her loving forbearance and kind patience) will cause him to reconcile. Much in the same way, the true believer will embrace Christ. Those that forsake the faith only show their lack of ever having had it; they were merely spiritual flirts, of which Christ was the latest fling. They then move swiftly onto physical love, alcohol, lies, acceptance, or a myriad of other "gods" with whom they seek to satisfy the long in their soul for embrace.

Let me beg you, if you have not already, embrace Christ by grace through faith. Believe that He lived a sinless life in your place, died in the cross in your place, and rose again that you may too rise if you put your trust in Him. Repent! Cry out to Him for forgiveness, and He will save you and cleanse you from your sin.

I need no other argument,
I need no other plea.
It is enough that Jesus died,
And that He died for me!

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