Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Can we know Christ more?

After experiencing Christ, what else is there? This question is one I think a great many new Christians have, but I am afraid there are a great many older Christians who have not found the answer. We have developed a salvation theology that seems to pervade our culture; anyone may believe and be saved. In several famous tracts, we place a picture of a train, with fact always leading feeling. Soul winners stress that it is not how you feel, but what you believe that makes all the difference.

The problem I think is so profound because such theology is true—salvation is by faith alone—as far as it goes. That is the fact. But the emotion, put in the little caboose at the end of the train seems to suggest its unimportance. Almost made irrelevant by today’s rationalistic society, we pride ourselves on walking the walk of faith as much as possible through the facts of the Word. All of this could make a wonderful beginning to the Christian life, but it is only a bare beginning. I cannot help but reflect that the little caboose for years contained the boss of the train, and told the train when and where to stop. I cannot help but observe, that for many people, their caboose of emotion is what drives most of their decisions, in hard times and in easy times.

The richness of God’s promises to the believer are often not sought for, or not sought for with the hunger that God would fill. We are satisfied with mediocrity, and we ignore the many promises of God that have to do with a deeper walk. Says Tozer, “The stiff and wooden quality about our religious lives is a result of our lack of holy desire. Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth. Acute desire must be present or there will be no manifestation of Christ to His people. He waits to be wanted.”1

There is meant to be so much more to the Christian life! It does not at all end with your decision for Christ. Nay! Instead it begins, and if the Bible is to be believed, a journey with Christ our Savior that continues throughout eternity. One of the most wonderful things I found in reading about the First Great Awakening was that Jonathan Edwards consistently had seekers actually seeking, waiting upon the God of their salvation to reveal himself. Sometimes that waiting included all night stands, before the altar of God, before the sweet release of the Spirit was obtained. Discipleship, is of course, a lifelong pursuit. Paul tells us this in several places, but one important place is, “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Paul is teaching us here the profoundly simple truth that it takes time to know the Lord, and be changed by him. Edwards knew that, and clinging to that simple truth, waited upon God to bring delightful changes. When we meet with God, how much better our initial experience might be if we were to wait upon him for an answer. Instead we often preclude any response that God might have by severely limiting the time that we spend to just the sinner’s prayer.

Lest you are wondering, I am not advocating for a charismatic experience of gifts here; I am advocating for the introduction to God to have more meaning for the new convert. I think we have simplified the process too much—if one prays certain formulaic words, then one must be saved. “We have been snared in the coils of a spurious logic which insists that if we have found Him we need no more seek Him.”2 I know that time limits in our services are constrained, and everything frequently is limited to five or ten minutes of sharing the gospel, and then praying the sinner’s prayer. Such a way of leading someone to Christ would be a surprise to Paul, who spent his life knowing Christ in a deeper and deeper way, “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death” (Phil. 3:10). Paul, at the end of his life, still was struggling to know his Savior better. That includes emotion as a valid means of knowing him. It is, after all, called the GOOD news, and good news as special as this ought to bring plenty of accompanying emotions. When we try to separate emotion from the process of accepting Christ, we are so foolish that we often believe we are helping the new convert. But tragically, we may be setting them off on a road never to find the knowable Christ beyond the salvation experience.

Perhaps I speak here from my own experience—I received Christ by myself, after hearing two friends explain the gospel for hours—and I wept for hours, both at the awesomeness of the God I had just discovered, and at the horrid turns I had taken to move away from him in my life. God showed me in a few seconds how he had been calling me and working in my life for many years, but he also showed me how at every turn I had rejected his message. Tears flowed from my eyes as I came to know his grace. I would that everyone would come to Christ in the same manner—to appreciate the wonderful love of an infinite God for a singular soul. There may be no better experience this side of heaven! But when we pray the sinner’s prayer with someone, are we giving God any opportunity to start a relationship?

Is God knowable? Is he more knowable by us today than yesterday? And to honestly know him, we need to spend time getting acquainted, just as we might when making a new friend. Tozer, in his day, did pray for revival, but it came not. For his part, he did not see the coming revival, but he knew his church was not ready for it. “We are beating the drum for revival and we are getting thousands of people to pray into the night for revival. But we might as well jump up and down on the altar of Baal, cut ourselves and cry, "Baal hear us, Baal hear us." We will not submit to diagnosis. We will not let God find out what is wrong with us. We will not let God know us through and through, and we will not listen to the man who tries to find out and minister to our needs.”3 It was, in every sense of the time, God who was ready for revival, even though many in his church were not. Edward Plowman, master of the history of the awakening, says, “I recall in the early days of the movement how Arthur Blessit all but wept into the telephone as he told of pastors turning away new converts he had sent. Ministers came right out and said they didn’t was blacks or hippies in their churches.”4

Indeed, many of his generation were praying for America to have revival, but they themselves were not at all ready for it. I realize their very prayers for the lost is the reason that God moved in such a mighty fashion. In a sense I owe my salvation to the men and women of the Fifties and the Sixties who were praying for revival. Chief among those who were praying I reckon was Tozer himself. In an irony only God can give, Tozer was both right and wrong. God brought the increase in spite of whether the church was ready or not. The Fourth Great Awakening came upon us, and in so many instances the staid churches were the very people who rejected it. Salvation for street people was the last thing they wanted to see, and many did their best to ignore the handiwork of God. In every awakening (except perhaps the Third) we find the established churches having a great deal of difficulty accepting the movement of the Spirit in their time.

Every awakening, without exception, had much emotion accompanying the decisions for Christ. This fact alone ought to wake us up to the reality that emotion can be a strong draw to the path of discipleship, that we may know Christ, and know him more fully unto the end of our days. Scripture is replete with urgings for us to take up the mantle of discipleship and find that wonderful and emotional bond that we ought to have with God, as a son might have to his father. Let me just name a couple. Hebrews 12:1 and 2 says, “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Our race is to be lifelong, and we should be drawing ever closer to the author and finisher of our faith. Another? Try Romans 12:1 and 2, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” The struggle is daily, the cost is taking up the cross and following him day by day. In our churches today, we can look to those with white hair and a stooped disposition, for they frequently model to us what a Christ-transfigured life ought to be like. And just maybe, if we join in prayer for revival, we might yet see an outpouring of the very Spirit of God once more, before the great Coming that we all anxiously await.

1. Tozer, A.W.; Tozer, Aidan; Tozer, Aidan Wilson (2011-01-31). The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer (Special Kindle Enabled Edition with Interactive Table of Contents and Built in Text to Speech Features) (Illustrated) ... | The Writings of Aiden Wilson Tozer of) (Kindle Locations 182-184). Christian Miracle Foundation Press. Kindle Edition.
2. Tozer, A.W.; Tozer, Aidan; Tozer, Aidan Wilson (2011-01-31). The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer (Special Kindle Enabled Edition with Interactive Table of Contents and Built in Text to Speech Features) (Illustrated) ... | The Writings of Aiden Wilson Tozer of) (Kindle Locations 174-175). Christian Miracle Foundation Press. Kindle Edition.
3. A.W. Tozer. Reclaiming Christianity: A Call to Authentic Faith (p. 148). Kindle Edition.
4. Plowman, E. (1971). Meanwhile, back at the church. In The Jesus movement in America: Accounts of Christian revolutionaries in action (p. 122). Elgin, IL: David C. Cook.

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