Continued from last month
How does a person enter into a relationship with a loving God and begin living an abundant LIFE He promises us? That is why God sent Jesus to the earth, to live among us as a human, though He was also God’s Son—to tell us and show us how to do this incredible thing: Love Him and live this abundant LIFE—sharing God’s own LIFE with Him as part of a family. The four Gospels (four biographies) about Jesus in the New Testament are where we learn about what LIFE with God is like.
Jesus called this change from non-relationship with God into relationship with Him being “born again.” Think about those words: Born Again! To be born again involves a major change in one’s life. Inviting the Spirit of God into residence in the human heart where until now we have done whatever we wanted, calling no one Lord or Master—is more significant a moment than natural birth. It is truly a second birth, for when God takes up permanent residence within us, not only are we no longer alone, but we are also no longer in charge of our lives. God moves from being only our Creator, but also becomes our Father, and as such we place ourselves in relationship with Him as His child.
When I write about the distinction between aloneness and relationship, make no mistake, it is not an equal sort of “buddy-buddy” relationship with God. There is a Father and there is a child. And the Father sets the rules for the household. That’s why once we enter into this relationship, if we are serious about it, we do become better people, because within this relationship we are under obligation to obey our Father and live as Jesus taught. Jesus Himself becomes our Savior—the messenger or agent of our salvation, and also our Lord. That means He becomes our Master and we must do as He says. And Jesus has made clear very specific guidelines about how we are to conduct ourselves and about the attitudes and priorities we are to adopt. Walking in relationship with God, therefore, means living according to His principles.
That’s how the relationship works. It involves a significant shift, a change of management in life. That’s why Jesus defined it with words of such enormous magnitude. The interesting thing is that one night when a man in the Bible asked Jesus how to be born again, Jesus gave him no religious formula. He compared being born again to the wind. That analogy says that this process of inviting the Spirit of Jesus into one’s heart and beginning to live as God’s child, is an invisible process that each person must discover for himself or herself.
Instant or Process?
A myth that has come down to us through the years is that salvation comes instantly in a single moment of conversion. But if you read through the ministry and teachings of Jesus, you gain a beautiful picture of what is often a gradual and steadily deepening growth and maturity of LIFE with God. It was certainly gradual in the lives of Jesus’ early disciples. The teachings of Jesus always emphasize the growing lifestyle rather than the instantaneous experience.
Salvation may, of course, begin in a single moment. For those who have never done so, Jesus can be invited into one’s life with a brief prayer and take only a few seconds.
Let me remind you, too, that many who have been attending church for years may never have actually prayed such a prayer. Learning to live in relationship with God takes the rest of a lifetime. There are, though, three important ways one cultivates this new LIFE. Praying and talking to God is the first. Reading the Bible to discover the new type of LIFE Jesus wants his followers to live is the next. And finally, obeying what God tells you to do in the Bible.
Pray. Read your Bible. Obey—do these and you will grow as a Jesus-believer. God gave us the Bible not merely to inform us, but to transform us! All these aspects of salvation that I’ve written about are involved in being born again. And many more aspects that will be significant in certain lives. These are steps to a deeper LIFE with God for presidents, grandmothers, children, laborers, teachers, secretaries, executives, financiers, homemakers and teenagers, not just for pastors and priests and those one usually thinks of as “religious.” Salvation is for everyone. For me . . . and for you. Another thing about salvation is that it is ongoing. It is not a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Jesus may live in my spirit, and I hope He lives in yours. But daily I must renew my commitment to yield to Him the throne of my life.
I have to live out my salvation every day. There’s no autopilot for the Jesus-believer’s life. Every day I have to engage my will to live as God’s child and obey what He gives me to do. So . . . the invitation for God to enter our lives may be made in a moment, but the life of faith must be lived with fresh commitment daily. I must tell you that walking with God is not always an easy life. Daily I must struggle to relinquish my own will—to say to God “You are altogether good, and absolutely everything You do is good . . . and I trust You as Lord and Master of my life.”
No, salvation is not always easy. This is no cotton candy faith, this thing called living a LIFE in eternal relationship with God. Men and women have been tortured and have died and suffered through the ages for no other reason than that they were known as Jesus-believers. Jesus won no cheap salvation when He died for us on the cross. He prayed to be spared that cruel death. But in the end, because He trusted in God’s infinite love and goodness, He said, “Not my will, but Yours be done.” No, it is not “cheap grace,” but a hard-won salvation. But this gutsy thing we call believing in Jesus is true. God is good. And we can trust Him. And you can trust your life to Him. Don’t let Jesus’ death on the cross be in vain. Invite Him to share his LIFE with you and trust Him.
As mentioned previously, there are two aspects to the wonder-full salvation God provides for us through Jesus. First, yes there is “instant salvation” when one simply invites Jesus to enter his or her life in his unbodied form of the Holy Spirit. That can happen any time, any place, at any age, young or old. Yes, that can happen in an instant, but it’s only the beginning. Afterwards, there is the aspect of our salvation being a process, a lifelong journey. Yes, it’s a lifelong process: God shows us his LIFE-map, guiding us along the way, helping us stay on the lookout for sign-posts marking his course for our lives. The Holy Spirit within us keeps us centered on Him, carefully staying on the LIFE-path He has cleared, walking in the pace and rhythms He has laid down for our lives.
Here are some examples of how Jesus and some of the writers of the New Testament spoke about salvation—about being saved . . . both in an instant and for a lifetime.
First, here’s what Jesus Himself said about being saved in an instant:
“A religious leader came to see Jesus one night for a private discussion. He confessed that Jesus must have come from God because of the many God-revealing, God-pointed acts He was doing.
Jesus didn’t respond directly, but simply stated, ‘You’re absolutely right. Unless a person is born again, it’s just not possible to comprehend what I’ve been doing.’
The religious leader responded: ‘How can anyone be born again? People can’t re-enter their mother’s uterus and be born again; what are you saying with this born again talk?’
Jesus replied, “You’re not listening carefully. Let me say it again: It’s an invisible entrance into a brand-new life; that’s what being born again means.
On a windy day the wind brushes right past you and you don’t know where it’s coming from nor where it’s going.
Likewise, in an atomic second, the Father breathes his Holy Spirit into you—silently, quietly, calmly as the wind, and you are instantly born again into a brand new LIFE.”
Next, here’s what Paul said about being saved in an instant:
“Therefore, if anyone becomes a new believer in Jesus, that person instantly becomes a new person altogether—becomes a new creation having a fresh character and brand-new quality to their life: the old previous moral and spiritual condition begins to go away and a new LIFE burgeons! Behold, that person becomes totally fresh and new. And God does it all!”
Here’s what one of Jesus’ close friend, Matthew, said about the process of being a lifelong believer in Jesus:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Join Me. Take a break with me. Come away with Me, and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest and really be re-created. Walk along with Me. Lean on Me as much as you need to. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Stay right with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly throughout your lifetime without finding life to be so ‘heavy all the time.’”
Here’s another statement by Paul about both “instant” salvation and the lifelong “process” of salvation:
“We neither create nor save ourselves. God does both! We don’t play the major role in our salvation. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing. God newly creates each of us into a brand-new person to join Him in the work He does—lifelong good works He crafted for us to do long before anything else was even created”
Let’s wrap this up with another statement by Jesus’ friend, John:
“This is how much God loves you. He gave Jesus to you. Why? So that no one needs to be apart from God. You can have a whole and lasting LIFE through Jesus.
God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending you his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling you how bad you are. He came to put you right with God again. Jesus came to save you, not to condemn you.”
Just Do It
A prayer inviting Jesus into your life for the first time might go something like this: “God, I really didn’t know You love me and we could have a personal relationship.
Open my eyes to recognize my need for You. I thank You for forgiving me. I receive you and accept You as my Savior and Master, and invite You to live inside me for my lifetime in your unbodied form of the Holy Spirit. I relinquish the right to self-rule in my life. I ask You to help me. Draw me closer to You and help me to grow into the godly man or woman You want me to be. Help me, Father, to be your obedient child, to obey You and to do what You tell me.”
What we know is that when Jesus returns, we’ll see Him—and in seeing Him, become like Him. All of us who look forward to his coming stay ready, with the glistening purity of Jesus’ life as a model for our own.” –1 John 3: 2 and 3
“Since everything here today might well be gone tomorrow, do you see how essential it is to live a holy [wholesome] life? Daily expect the Day of God, eager for its arrival.” –2 Peter 3: 11
To Think About This Month
“Every tongue shall confess that Jesus is Master to the glory of God the Father!” –Philippians 2: 11
All past issues of The Traveler are archived on our ministry website along with many of my most popular teachings.
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Revised and Updated May 2019