As I sat next to my friend in Junior Church he sang, “Blessed Insurance, the premium’s paid”. He was a smart-alecky seventh grader to whom we all looked up (he was six foot four), and he often went out of his way to demonstrate his cleverness. To sing the old hymn in this way was just the latest expression of his talents. However it was meant, the incident has stuck with me, reminding me of how many Christians think concerning their relationship with God. “Heaven is secure, Jesus paid it all, He is my eternal life insurance, so I don’t have to sweat it”. But if there has been no genuine repentance, only a shallow relationship results. This so often denegrates into anger and bitterness when God fails to perform according to my personal desires.
The Gospels begin with John’s, which later became Jesus’, message, “Repent”. Today we are reluctant to use that word with the fear that it might be considered works. However, the meaning of the word is far from works. It means doing an about face and heading in the opposite direction. In the context of salvation, to repent means to turn from self sufficiency to the One Who died to save us all. God tells us in His Word we are to receive Jesus into our lives (John 1:12). To receive Him is to acknowledge His Lordship. To do less is for us to remain in the bonds of our sinful flesh.
“I did a complete 360,” was the testimony I once heard on the radio. I have often remarked since that this means the person making the statement is right back where she started. And while I chuckle at the misuse of the expression, I realize this is where many Christians are. We became convinced of our need for a Savior, and prayed a prayer evidencing our need, but are right back where we started with self on the throne of our lives. We expect God to come at our beck and call, but haven’t really given the throne of our hearts to Him as Lord. Consequently, we do not grow in our relationship with Him and as a result our faith is stunted, resulting in constant disappointment when God does not do according to our expectations.
As a pastor, I have had the opportunity to talk to people about their faith. So often I have heard something to the tune of, “I prayed all that [the sinner’s prayer], but nothing happened”. My usual response has been, “But what did you expect? Don’t base your faith on a feeling. If you prayed and truly meant it then God has done His part and you are saved.” However, I am beginning to see there is more to say about this. I now think we need to ask people what they really prayed for. Were they praying just so they can go to heaven [not a wrong motivation]? Were they praying to be relieved of some unpleasant circumstance [again, not a wrong motivation]? Or were they praying, realizing their rebellion against God, repenting of this and turning their lives over to Him?
I am convinced that most Christians have a false notion concerning sin. We tend to define it in terms of what we do rather than what we are. In the Garden of Eden, Eve was seduced by the temptation to “be as God.” As a result, we have all sought each one to be his own god ever since. We do, as is says repeatedly in the book of Judges, “What is right in (our) own eyes”. This is what is called being at enmity with God for it usurps His authority. Salvation comes when I finally surrender, giving myself over to Him, trusting what He did on the Cross for me, placing myself in His hands. While circumstances may not change, I have changed and I have His promises to sustain me. Anything less is a powerless salvation which changes little.
The skeptic says there is no proof that God exists. The truly born-again believer replies that He lives in me, and that is proof enough. But unless we show the evidence of changed lives, how can we expect the world to be convinced? Change comes when we turn from ourselves to the God who loved enough to send His Son for us. Salvation comes when we receive the Lord Jesus Christ. Change comes when we release ourselves into His hands trusting His mercy and grace.