When I was about seven years old, I met God. I don't know how, or exactly when it happened, though I recall a couple of pivotal events. One was at the Douglas County Fair. There was a small tent in which my buddy and I were invited to see a short slide show about Jesus. The Gospel was clearly presented, and I recognized it as what must surely be truth.
Prior to that (I don't know when) I watched Pinocchio, and I was absolutely frightened by its presentation of the allure of sin (which I understood all too clearly at age five or six) and its consequences. I can report with full confidence that what I experienced was the beginnings of spiritual regeneration, the work of the Holy Spirit leading to salvation. At what point I was actually saved, I don't know, and I don't believe it is for any man to know. If we could know, then we could be judge. But God is judge, not man. Thus, the moment of salvation is not known to us, for ourselves or for anyone else.
What we can know, however, is the moment we ourselves experience the assurance of our own salvation; the epiphanal moment when we consciously recognize, "God has saved me. I am a child of God. I have been forgiven, and rescued from hell."
So these things I know:
- God saved me. I didn't save myself.
- God was working in my heart before I formally responded to His Gospel.
- I, by the grace of God, made numerous conscious decisions that led to my own assurance of salvation.
- I, by God's grace, have never experienced the slightest doubt about whether I am saved.
Notwithstanding number 4, there were times during my teens when I knew that though I had no doubt of my salvation, I couldn't really explain it well. I realized that I didn't have a firm mental grasp on the mechanics of it all. The story of my own salvation and relationship with God was somewhat removed from daily life, as being no more veracious than a fairy tale or fable, or myth. But I knew it was no myth, and I found myself thinking, "I'd like to really know how all this works. I'd like to know all the whys and wherefores of the story of Christ's sacrifice. I'd like to be able to give an adequate answer to those who would question the reasoning behind my faith."
Interestingly, when I look back over the years, as much as I prefer to lean on my own understanding of how things work for steerage in life, my relationship with God has always been sustained not by my understanding of it, but rather by one simple absolute subjective conviction: Christ died for me. This sustained conviction has been God's greatest gift to me (second only to His actual death on the cross). For whenever I have strayed, no matter how far, there was always the cross calling me back; there were always the open arms of Jesus beckoning me to return to Him—because I knew: Christ died for me; Jesus is my Savior. Once you know this, you can't un-know it. And for this I give Him praise.
So my faith doesn't rest in my understanding. Whereas my understanding is objective in nature, being an accumulation of that which I have been able to perceive, assess, and comprehend, my faith is subjective in nature, its underpinnings stemming from something outside myself. In a way, I could say that I have earned my understanding through study and thought, whereas my faith has been given to me—it is a gift, given to me by the giver of all good gifts, God Himself.
Do I therefore think that I am somehow special, since clearly there are those without faith, to whom God apparently has not given the same gift? No. Rather, I think I am priveledged, for my faith is surely not something I have earned.
If, on the other hand, I should choose to compare my understanding, which I have earned, to that of others, who have less understanding than I, I might be tempted to believe I am special, or superior to, or better than others. But no, I don't believe that, because
- No matter how good I am, I could be better were I more diligent, and
- Even in my diligent application of my God-given abilities, I can claim no credit for my own abilities which have been given to me by God to begin with.
So in the end, though I might gain understanding as a reward for applying myself, I still have not really earned it per se, because I really cannot claim title to its source. See, I didn't create myself. I didn't decide to give myself my talents and natural abilities. God did that. So in the end, everything I am, I owe to God. Everything.
The poetic part of all this is that this viewpoint stems from a single primitive acknowledgement, the same acknowledgement that forms the very core of my faith: that absolute subjective conviction that Christ died for me, a sinner in need of salvation. Thence, and thence only, comes my world view and my sense of who I am.
But I have found that even without faith, an honest person should come to the same conclusion. Whenever I see a poor beggar or vagrant on the street, my heart and my mind tell me, "But for the grace of God, there go I." And I know it to be true. And I think that anyone, if they are honest, should believe the same. Even as a child, I remember considering that there were people living in abject poverty in many other places in the world, and what were the chances that I happened to be born in the United States? How is it that I won that lottery? Did I somehow earn this wealth and luxury that I enjoy? No. God, for some reason, decided to give it to me. I wonder why…
But even apart from one's belief in God, shall a person truly believe that his station in life is purely a result of his own choices and actions, and that he has received what he deserves? Or shouldn't he rather be honest with himself about it? Surely he has lied to someone somewhere along the line. Surely he has cheated, or taken advantage of another. I know I have. Does he really deserve what he has? I know I don't.
And besides, did this person decide for himself to be smart or clever? Did he choose his own birthplace and time? Without God, the best he can say, if he's honest, is, "I am very lucky, for I have not earned everything I have." Which sould bring him to the conclusion: "But for the grace of God, there go I."
This world—the whole of humanity—left to itself, without God, devolves into a heirarchy (as do the animals). None can deny that no matter how hard we try to equalize life, there are always those with influence and those without, the leaders and the followers, the winners and the losers, the have's and the have-not's. I think it's fairly common for us to wonder, "Who's really at the top right now?" Any of us, with a little study, can discover who is the richest man in the world, or who is the most powerful man in the world. But have you ever wondered, "Who's at the bottom?" Sometimes I wonder…
Interestingly, there's only one person on earth who is able to say that no one has it worse than him. Yet even he—though it's hard to imagine—might be able to look at another and say, "I'm glad I don't have his problems," for surely this man's problems must be great if he's really at the bottom. Nonetheless, as surely as we know that the one at the top has problems we don't have, we can be sure that we ourselves have problems that the one at the bottom doesn't have. And since it's not unimaginable that the one at the top might envy us, shall we not imagine that we might find occasion to envy the one at the bottom? After all, we all know that true riches are not found in material things.
Now, since true riches are not found in material things, then we must realize that the one at the top is probably not really at the top, and that the truly richest person in the world is going to be hard to discover. Likewise, of course, we will be hard pressed to find the one who is actually at the bottom, the person whom no one on earth could envy.
But there was one, once. And paradoxically, he was also the richest man on earth! Falsely accused and sentenced to death, the world turned a blind eye toward this good man at his execution. Not a soul on earth said, "I envy him," or, "I wish I could take his place." —even though he was the richest man who ever lived. Yet every last one of us should say of his punishment and death, "But for the grace of God, there am I."
And when you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive with Him and forgave us all our trespasses. He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it out of the way by nailing it to the cross.
—Colossians 2:13-14 HCSB
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: Though He was rich, for your sake He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich.
—2 Corinthians 8:9 HCSB
My faith lies in the absolute subjective conviction of this truth, which I find that honest introspection cannot refute.