“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;”
The young man called out of the blue and wanted to talk. The next morning found him in my study, wringing his hands, full of doubt. He had been baptized and grew up in a Lutheran congregation. During his college years, a friend convinced him that his baptism meant nothing and that he must make a free-will decision to accept Christ. The next few years found him in a so-called non-denominational church.
He went on to describe a Christian life, as it had been presented to him, that was a source of chronic uncertainty. It began with the demand that he make a free-will decision. Then, the message he heard continually prodded the will to keep choosing, setting up Biblical principles for living, ladders of spiritual achievement, rules for godly living. The questions poured out of him. Am I doing what God wants? Am I praying often enough? Am I loving enough? Do I have enough faith? Am I sincere in wanting to love God or am I just afraid of judgment? When I die will I have done enough to escape God’s judgment? Am I really a sincere Christian? He had reached his limits. “If the Gospel is Good news”, he remarked, “why do I always feel so unsettled and uncertain?”
After listening to his litany of questions, I replied; “I don’t know you, but I can say with certainty that the answer to all your questions is ‘no’. At the same time, I can say with even more certainty that the answer to your doubts is Christ and what He has done for you. Basing faith on your decision for Christ is a formula for uncertainty. Basing faith on Christ’s decision for you in your baptism plants you firmly in the Gospel.”
What the young man who came to me was discovering is that when we look to ourselves, to what we have done, to our willing, all God will show us is our unwillingness. God deliberately drives us to uncertainty, doubt, despair, or, even worse, to pride. What I hoped he would see is that when we begin with baptism, with God’s decision for us, God shows us the righteousness that is His gift to us by faith, deliberately leading us away from ourselves to the foot of the cross, to the forgiveness that flows from His merciful heart.
“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”