As I’ve been traveling down this road recently, and seeking to discover my true intentions regarding my profession that “Jesus is Lord,” this first question didn’t come up immediately (which surely is indicative in itself). Now, however, it seems obvious that I must begin this journey by asking myself carefully, but sincerely, the following question: Does my theology hold up against scripture? In fact, as I’ve honestly searched my heart, I think the correct question actually is: Does my theology hold up against even one verse of scripture?
“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12. As I read these words, I am reminded gently by the Holy Spirit of all of the careless, frivolous ways I’ve thrown around scripture for my own defense and for the condemnation of those I claim to love. I can feel the grief of the Holy Spirit as I recall the words in 2 Timothy 3: 1-5: “There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves…having a form of godliness but denying its power.” And for the first time ever, I read those words and feel the double-edge sword penetrating my spirit and revealing the bare truth as I confess, “Oh dear God, that’s me.”
A couple of years ago, I met a young lady in Russia who had come to me and asked me to pray with her. This lady had been a Christian for many years, and had been active in the Christian community there. I distinctly remember the first time we sat down to pray together noticing that her hands, really her whole body, shook constantly. She began to share with me a bit of the intense darkness and fear in which she constantly lived. She couldn’t stand to be alone ever, even in her own home. It had only gotten worse over the years, and by the time we began to meet she had become unable to even leave her husband’s sight.
I remember some time after she and I had begun praying together that I began to get a little discouraged that more healing wasn’t happening as I’d hoped. I shared a little about her with a fellow missionary who I knew didn’t know her, but who had been serving here in Eastern Europe for several years and who I hoped may have some encouraging advice to offer about the situation.
“Well,” my friend responded, “you have to be careful ministering to people who struggle with depression. A lot of times I have found that they really just want company in their darkness, and will just keep dragging you down and down with them.” Of course, this response discouraged me a bit. But honestly, it wasn’t far off from what I’d begun to feel.
I knew what the scriptures said:
Proverbs 14:27 – “The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death.”
John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
John 8:12 – “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
However, after many hours of prayer over several months, I had to admit to myself that I wasn’t sure that I believed these words were possible for this young lady at all. I began to justify my doubts with ideas like, “Well, Jesus must have meant that we could have the light of life after our bodies die and we go to Him in heaven.” – though I knew that I couldn’t back this up with scripture. I began either to dismiss certain scriptures or at least to add my own caveats to the words of Christ in order to validate my own lack of faith. In this time of trial, I cowered a bit as my ugly, false theology was revealing itself.
I saw this lady in St. Petersburg last week. She told me that she’d decided to come to the conference when she learned I would be there because she wanted to talk with me about some things that were happening. When we found some time to be alone together, she began to share with me a beautiful account from earlier this year.
She asked me if I knew the story of John Wesley’s “Aldersgate experience”, which he declared to be the first time he actually experienced the gift of the grace of God during a worship service (several years after he’d been serving as a pastor). She recalled that Wesley described it as a “warmth in his heart” that came upon him suddenly and without any particular reason. He later recounted this moment as the the first time he not only knew the truth that Jesus was Lord over sin and death, but that he actually experienced the gift of that freedom in his own life as he was able to truly receive an assurance of the grace of God. From that point on Wesley lived with an assurance of the freedom God promised through His son, and he knew a real transformation had happened in his spirit at that moment.
My friend in St. Petersburg told me, “For the first time, I had that same kind of experience a few months ago. Just suddenly, I felt this very tender, warm feeling in my spirit, and I knew it was the presence of God filling me, actually transforming my heart and setting me free.” She continued, “A few weeks after that experience, I was meeting with my bible study group, and was reading Romans 5: 6-8 – ‘You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ And it just hit me,” she said, “for the first time in my heart that Jesus Christ died for me. I suddenly felt this grief in my heart like if a member of my family had died for me. I could see Jesus hanging on the cross, bleeding, and I just started weeping in the bible study in front of all of those women. I’ve read those words a thousand times before, but now I know that the Lord has truly written them on my heart, and that I’ve been transformed, I have been set free.”
It’s interesting to me how these intimate experiences receiving the gift of the grace of God very often come to people after they have already been through certain battles or times of healing with Him. It seems that in order for the significance of his death on the cross for our salvation to really change our hearts, we must first know Him – allow Him to show Himself to us and allow ourselves to fall in love with Him. We must let Him save us, we must let Him wash our feet, we must let Him have His way with us.
Romans 5:10 – For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved.
John 13:8 – “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
Hebrews 4:1 – Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.
Hebrews 4:15-16 – For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Let us be willing to enter into the sanctuary of God today, whatever we are doing, and ask Him to test our theology, to use His word to pierce our spirits. And let us not be afraid of the battles into which He may lead us, of the healing that He desires to bring. For through Him we truly do have life and freedom forever. Amen.