Saturday, October 4, 2014

Messy Credit

As a teenager, I knew the depth of my sin, and gratefully received the wonderful news that Jesus died on the cross to atone for that sin. I didn't understand how His death purchased my pardon, but I trusted that He saved me from  certain damnation by shedding His blood on my behalf. And I knew that, because He saved me from eternity in hell, I owed Him my life. More precisely, I wanted to express my gratitude by living for Him.

On that basis, I believe the Lord genuinely converted me that January afternoon so many years ago. My faith rested in His work on the cross, not in any of my efforts. On one level, I've never deviated from my conviction that my salvation rested solely on what Jesus did on the cross.

Regretfully, I also believed that I had "accepted" Christ, therefore playing some sort of role in my salvation. As recently as two years ago, I recounted my testimony in such terms that I subtly congratulated myself for "becoming" a Christian, as well as taking credit for "maintaining" my salvation through my "obedience."

Yet my self-congratulatory stance ebbed and flowed, often giving way to the truth that I contributed nothing to my salvation. Looking back, I think my instability arose from being in churches that minimized the importance of doctrine. These churches deliberately avoided the Arminianism/Calvinism debate (although they tended toward Arminianism) for the sake of "unity." Consequently, I struggled a lot with whether or not I could take credit  for my Christianity.

Arminianism definitely appealed to my pride. Truthfully, I very much liked having the spotlight on how I "correctly responded" to the Gospel. Yet I also had Calvinist leanings. I didn't particularly want them, but  the Bible had an annoying habit of supporting the doctrines of man's depravity and election.

At the time I began chatting online with John, I also chatted with another man who hoped to introduce me to the "beauty" of   Calvinism. I felt resistant. I also wondered how Calvinism could be beautiful. Of course, my romantic attraction to John quickly caused the other  man to stop chatting with me, so he had little chance to explain his doctrinal perspectives to me. I was both relieved and disappointed.

Couldn't I take from each tradition, not confining myself to a doctrinal stance? Well, essentially I did just that for nearly forty years, all the while regarding myself as a "mature" Christian. But now I understand that, for the most part (no system of theology gets every point right), Calvinism most closely follows Scripture's teachings.

Through my exposure to Reformed blogs these past few years, the Holy Spirit has helped me understand that He alone brought me to faith in Christ. The following Scripture best explains how He brought me to life:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. ~~Ephesians 2:1-10 (ESV)
Does it matter whether or not I believe I played a part in my salvation? Yes. As long as I took even the tiniest slice of credit, I denied the clear teaching of Scripture. Had I never studied doctrine from a  Calvinist standpoint, I would, in all probability, still assume credit for something that the Lord did entirely because He is gracious.

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