Wednesday, June 13, 2012

By Grace, Through Faith

I spent my years from birth until marriage at Central Baptist Church in Memphis.  My parents were well respected leaders in the church.  Dad was a deacon, a trustee, and taught adult Sunday school classes.  Mama sang in the choir, performed solos, and taught Bible stories to the two and three year olds every Sunday.  On Sunday mornings I attended Sunday school and the worship service, and on Sunday evenings I attended training union and the evening service.  I was also in church every Wednesday evening for prayer meeting.

As best as I can recall, I was a pretty good kid, although my parents may have a different opinion.  Even as a pretty good kid, I knew how to tell a lie to avoid getting in trouble.  I also knew just what to say or do to push my sisters’ buttons and create disharmony when I wanted to.  I didn’t dare pick a fight with my older brother because he was always bigger and stronger than me.  But I knew how to get to him if I needed revenge for something he had done to me.

As a youngster, I sat through sermon after sermon, listening to the preacher drone on and on about whatever he had to say.  But one Sunday evening, when I was about six years old, the preacher’s message got my attention.  He talked about how everyone had sinned and could never be good enough for God.  Even if you lived in a Christian home and went to church anytime the doors were open, you couldn’t be good enough for God.  I was stricken with fear when he talked about hell, and how anyone that didn’t accept Jesus as their Savior was bound for hell.  He said that nobody ever knew when they were going to die, and a car accident on the way home could be the moment.  As we drove home from church that night, I prayed that I wouldn’t be killed in a car accident.

I remember getting ready for bed and wondering what would happen if I died that night.  I had to talk to my dad, because he would know what to do.  When I asked him what I needed to do to be saved, he explained that Jesus was God’s son, and that he had died on the cross to pay for my sin.  If I would ask him to come into my heart, he would save me forever.  I would never have to worry about going to hell.  We knelt by the bed and I asked Jesus into my heart.

Several years later, I heard one of those sermons that said, “Are you saved, are you sure?  If you’re not winning souls, you need to examine yourself to make sure you’re really saved.”  Well, I had never led anyone into accepting Jesus.  I began to wonder if that prayer that I said when I was six years old did the trick.  What if Jesus knew that I only wanted to avoid going to hell?  What if I didn’t understand enough?  I decided I better make sure, so I prayed and told Jesus that I really meant it this time.

While I was in college, the doubts crept in again.  I head several sermons on knowing that you’re saved if you are producing fruit for the kingdom.  I still had not led anyone that I knew of to Jesus.  I had shared the gospel a few times, but never closed the deal.  Had I done enough?  Had I prayed with enough sincerity or belief for salvation to take hold?  I believed that I had, but just to make sure, I renewed my commitment to Christ and acknowledged him as my Savior.

All of those years, from childhood through college, I understood that we can’t work our way into heaven.  We could never do enough good to overcome our sin and be accepted by God.  But I wondered how much I needed to understand to be saved.  It seemed, on the basis of the preaching that I had heard, that a deeper level of commitment was required in order to be saved.  As I sat under the teaching of Dr. Charles Stanley, and as I read the book Leading Little Ones to God to my boys, I gained a greater understanding of God’s grace and my acceptance of his salvation through faith.

Ephesians 2:1-9 says, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

What a relief it is to understand that God gave me his gift of salvation the moment I placed my simple, childlike faith, as a six year old, in the power of Jesus Christ to be my Savior.  I didn't have to do anything to deserve God’s gift.  He gave it to me because he loves me.  I simply, through faith, accepted his gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, God’s son.

Do you know that you have sin in your heart that separates you from a relationship with God?  You may be a kind, loving, caring person, but nothing you can do will ever be enough to pay the price for the sin in your heart. 

If you will place your faith in Jesus Christ as God’s son, and accept his death, burial and resurrection as the full payment for your sin, God will extend his grace to you and give you the free gift of salvation.  There is nothing else required.  He will save you by grace, through faith.

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