Monday, August 22, 2005

Why I Must Be a Christian

By this title I do not mean to give proofs to myself or others which demonstrate that I am a Christian. What I mean to convey is why being a Christian is a necessity. I must be one. There is no alternative. To abandon Christ would be to sever my own head from my neck. This is not meant to be a formal, historical, or philosophical defense -but it is a personal list of reasons why there is no alternative for me. And I do not mean this in a relitavistic sense, either. For there is only one truth, and it applies just as much to me as it does to everybody else.

I must be a Christian because I am a sinner and He is the Savior. When I was converted to Christ some seven years ago, the first thing that came to me was a knowledge of my sin. I did not know I was being converted or what was happening. It wasn't a personal choice or something volitional. It was something that happened to me by the hand of God. Evangelicals call this being "born again", but many evangelical Christian traditions rip the guts out of what this means with their un-Biblical doctrine of regeneration (presuming that being born again is something of a decision of ours and not the unilaterial work of God). Just as I was born into this world without my own choice, so I was born again by the work of God in my heart without any cooperation or permission. God needs none.

It was in this time that I began to feel the weight of my sin. It was not just "bad" to me, like I was being scolded. It showed itself to be altogether ugly to me. It was not that the sin changed -I was being changed. My vision was different. I was seeing the practices I secretly embraced and took all kinds of wicked pleasure in as filthy and horrible. I was seeing, beyond this, that they stemmed from within me. It was I who was horrible! I thank God that He did not reveal to me in those early days the full weight of my depravity, because I would probably have died from despair. No, thankfully He has been pleased to open my eyes to it more deeply in a progressive fashion. I can say with confident certainty that my own apprehension of my sinful heart is greater today than it ever was.

To most people this seems like silly talk, or even worse it seems like needless self-abasement and weird, almost frightening self-torture. But I was not bringing this upon myself, and I am not today. I cannot help that God would be pleased in opening the Bible to me and showing to me the great gulf of contrast that exists between me, as a creature, and Himself, as Creator. I remember being told a few things by a friend (who later become my wife) about who Jesus is and why He died. I had heard the things before, being raised Roman Catholic, but it never really dawned upon me. It went into my ears and never went down to my heart. Jesus died because I am a sinner. He died to take away sins because sin really deserves God's wrath. Those sinful things I loved and took pleasure in were hateful to God, the One I was for the first time in my life thinking about in serious ways. I saw myself to be a man who deserves hell. It was stunning to me. My sin, which I knew to be sin in the deep recesses of my heart, was known to God and was hated by God with a holy and perfect hatred. I saw only in part then what I know know -that I stood condemned under the bar of God's judgment.

Yet at the same time grew in me a sense of unmistakable reality about the Person of Jesus Christ. Though I loved to examine the many proofs regarding Jesus, I still knew then that He is who He claimed to be those 2,000 years ago. He is the Savior sent from God for sinners. He is God in human flesh. He is the One who came to seek and to save the lost, to call sinners, not the righteous (as if there truly were any righteous). He was immediately known to Me to be the Remedy of the horrible plight, the reality of which was forming only dimly before my eyes. For if I was a sinner worthy of death and hell, and Christ Jesus is the Savior of sinners, then there is a connection here. And the one I was speaking to told me the promise of God concerning salvation: everyone who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ shall be saved.

This was news to me, and it was offensive to me at first. All of this was coming to me all at once. I was hearing that I am not as good as I flatter myself to be -in fact I stand condemned before God. I never smoked, never drank, never had sex, and considered myself to be morally good, but it was all an idol of my own making -a smoke-screen, a facade. I was coming to realize that these things were really not so good, and they certainly did not cover up for the horrible sins I kept in secret. She told me that it was by faith that we are saved and made right with God, not by our works or any doing of ours. Suddenly all the things that I thought were good about me before the eyes of God crumbled to dust. There was no place on which to stand, so I began to fall within. Could this be!? Have I been this foolish and blind my whole life? Yes. It was through a humble reliance upon the gift of God, Jesus the Christ our Savior, that we are saved. It was through giving up on our haughty thoughts of self-preservation and self-exaltation and embracing the only thing that will stand God's judgment and pacify His wrath toward us, which is the work of Jesus in the place of sinners.

All of this is much more clear to me now than it was then, thank God, but I still writhe in agony from time to time when I experience darkness and inner trials. Yet the truth remains that I am a sinner and Christ Jesus is the only Savior. This is why I must be a Christian, there is no hope anywhere else. In chapter six of John's Gospel it says:

As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. So Jesus said to the twelve, "You do not want to go away also, do you?" Simon Peter answered Him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. (John 6:66-68)

And so it is with me. To whom shall I go? Is there Anyone else? No. This is why it is not just an option, a personal choice, or a personal preference. It is a necessity.

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