“You mean I can’t just decide I want to be a Christian and be “born again?”
Scripture teaches that our minds are darkened. We cannot perceive the things of God with unaided reason. No “decision” for Jesus will ever produce the spiritual birth that Jesus said is prerequisite to knowledge of God and entrance to the Kingdom. Neither Jesus nor the Apostles ever described the new birth as a “decision.” All we can decide is to agree with the Holy Spirit and the Word regarding our need before God. We must agree with him that we are spiritually destitute. And that we need him. That we don’t know how to love him sufficiently to produce lasting change in our lives. This is an important truth, because it explains the missing component in the American Gospel.
Somewhere along the line, the Gospel became infected by the notion that a relationship with God could be attained by human effort, apart from revelation–God personally “revealing” himself to a human being. Proclamation included making a “decision” for Jesus. And dispensing with emotion. Unusual since throughout the Bible we see that God is a God of emotion. He created emotions.
You cannot approach God on your own terms. Without His previous action in personal experience, we do not have in us that love that produces devotion and obedience. He must “reveal” Himself to us.
The Bible, God’s own Word, says it this way:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5, ESV)
Here Jesus told his disciples how they could bear fruit. They needed to stay in close relationship to him (and God’s love). They needed to be connected. For apart from love (and proximity to Him through Christian community) they would not produce fruit worthy of the kingdom.
In the following verse, the Apostle John says it more directly:
“We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19, ESV)
Scripture teaches that “His Love Comes First.” His love–a prior revelation of Himself, His heart, His values.
I believe that the lack of an experience of God’s presence and love explains in part the shallowness of much “so called” Christianity. This love-deficit is behind poll figures that claim that 84% of adults who claim to be Christians; 40% of Americans claim a “born again” experience.* Yet fewer than 21% believe that Christian community is vital to their faith.** They do not discern the Body–recognize the Family of God as important in their spiritual growth. Many who claim to know God have no passion for him or the people and values He loves.
The Barna Group shares these interesting trends:
On the one hand, four out of five self-identified Christian adults (81%) say they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today. More than three out of four self-identified Christians (78%) strongly agreed that spirituality is very important to them. Yet, less than one out of every five self-identified Christians (18%) claims to be totally committed to investing in their own spiritual development. About the same proportion of self-identified Christians (22%) claims to be “completely dependent upon God.” Those figures help explain why a majority of self-identified Christian adults (52%) believe that there is much more to the Christian life than what they have experienced. Without a full determination to live like Christ and for Him, the path to complete transformation is blocked.**
“Well, if the love begins with God, then what can we do?”
We can desire to know Him. We can place ourselves in an “environment of grace” by being with others who know Him. Or by reading his book, the Bible. We can listen to those whose lives demonstrate that they have a relationship with God. As we do, and as others pray for us, God meets us.
The Bible says it this way, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.” Begin to do the things that you think please Him. As far as it is in your power, keep a clear conscience. From time to time, focus your thoughts on Jesus Christ. Think about his life. If you can find a copy of the Jesus film, watch it. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the Father’s love to you.
“But isn’t this my behavior or actions before God’s love?”
Yes and no. You are simply seeking. God’s promise is that when you seek (and keep seeking) you will find. When you ask (and keep asking) it will be given. When you knock (and keep knocking) the door will be opened to you. Seeking, asking, and knocking are not the same as approaching God intellectually, then making a decision. Our intellect can only take us so far in our search for God. Reason and will can place us on the path. Only love takes us the distance. And His love must be prior.
That is why He gave Himself to us in His Son, Jesus. And as we gaze at his life, death, and resurrection, we see the Father-Heart in Christ. Jesus came to reveal the Father’s love.
Revelation is always the initiative of God:
“All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”” (Luke 10:22, ESV)
God’s Love Comes First! If you have not already–at whatever stage you are along your spiritual journey–ask Him to reveal himself to you. You will not be disappointed.
QUESTION: Has he revealed his love to you, personally? Do you know yet, in experience, how deeply you’re loved by Him?
©2012, David C Alves
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Barna Quote Source: