Faith is both a gift and a responsibility.
Jesus Christ volunteered His life on the cross so that sinners can be forgiven and begin a journey of being restored to the “image and likeness” of God at creation. (Genesis 1:27-31). The first work of salvation – justification – is already accomplished and offered by God to be received through repentance of sin and acceptance of Christ’s atoning work. The second element of salvation- sanctification – is an ongoing process, a lifelong journey of discovery and choices about faithful living; and it is uneven, messy and challenging.
The first element – the gift – is offered freely and without price. It was anticipated by the ancient Hebrew prophet Isaiah when he declared, “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Seek the Lord while He may be found, and call upon Him while He is near let them return to the Lord, that He might have mercy on them for He will abundantly pardon. For you shall go out with joy and be led back in peace.” (Isaiah 55:1-12) Many centuries later, at the end of the New Testament, this gift is celebrated in similar words by John: “For the Spirit and the Bride say ‘Come.’ And let everyone who hears say ‘Come.’ And let everyone who is thirsty come. And let everyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.” (Revelation 22:17) Upon acceptance of the gift of God’s grace through Christ, Jesus’ disciple, Paul, affirms that, “The One Who began a good work in you will bring it to completion on the day of Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)
The second element – the responsibility – is possible because placing our faith in Christ’s finished work means that God’s Spirit takes up residence in each confessor to equip us for faithful living and service to God and the world. Jesus’ thirteenth disciple, Paul, invites us into a new way of living when he declares, “I appeal to you brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable in God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-3)
In another of his coaching letters, Paul describes the reality of faith-informed living in a very broken world when he charges the new believers in Philippi, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling: for it is God at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13)
Paul is a good illustration of what God offers each sinner. He, too, had to receive God’s unmerited gift of grace while working for the occupying Roman government. He had been hired to rout out this new movement of radical fulfilled Jews who were declaring Jesus Christ as Messiah and King; a message that threatened the existing ruler of the Roman Empire. One day, as Paul was traveling from one village to the next to ferret out these troublesome zealots, he was confronted by Jesus in a blinding way. With help from one of his targeted victims, Paul grasped the gift of God on the cross and embraced Jesus as Messiah. Needless to say, the community of believers were deeply suspicious of his conversion, and had to be helped by of their own to accept him. (Read the narratives of Paul’s turn-a-round story in Acts 9:1-30; 22:6-16; 26:12-18)
Paul’s experience of reconstructing his life around kingdom values is illustrated in his letters. We can watch him grow over a decade as he reveals his changing self-understanding of the way to maturity. Watch Paul Grow:
@ 54 AD – I am the least of all the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But, by the grace of God, I am what I am, and this grace toward me has not been in vain…” (1 Corinthians 15:9-10)
@ 57 AD – “I know that nothing good dwells within me… wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:18, 24)
@ 61 AD – “Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ,” (Ephesians 3:8, from a Roman prison).
@ 65 AD – Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the greatest. For this reason I received mercy making me an example…” (1 Timothy 1:15-17, on his Macedonian trip.)
Godly transformation takes time! With this understanding of Paul as a person-under-construction, we can heed his appeal to his companions in Corinth and Philippi: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:16; Philippians 3:17; 4:9)
Like Paul, this two-fold change has been my experience. First, there was the delight of embracing Jesus’ cross late in high-school, with the fresh feelings of forgiveness and rising hopes about personal growth and development. Then, along the way my values and beliefs were increasingly shaped by Biblical truth, enabling me to act more like Jesus in my family, work and citizenship. That process has included spending time in Scripture, prayer and personal worship; belonging to a worshiping and learning community; practicing disciplines that develop into new habits and actions; and accepting accountability to others, even when their input hurt. As I entered my sixth decade on this faith journey, I still had lots of work to do before it ends. May you too, know the delights of new life with God.
|Brother Pete served as a senior leader with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship for many years. He went to be with the Lord he loved and served, in 2009. Pete had a rare gift for integrating God’s Word in life. In fact an important study Bible was released by Thomas Nelson Publishers in 1993. Pete, along with Dr. Ray Bakke, wrote the footnotes to The Word in Life Study Bible (NT). May these thoughts from Pete Hammond challenge and encourage you today.
“A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven.” – John 3:27
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