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by Jacob Ninan
For many evangelists whose goal is to bring as many people as possible to put their trust in Jesus, salvation essentially means forgiveness of sins. Once someone experiences that, the evangelists move to the next person. A. W. Tozer says this is similar to an obstetrician delivering a baby and thinking that her work is done. But we know that just birth is not enough for a baby; there is a lot of work yet to be done before the baby can take up responsibilities as an adult in this world.
So it is in the case of a spiritual baby. He should receive nourishment and training to grow up, get strong spiritual muscles, become wise in the matters of God, and become able to stand as a witness for Jesus and accomplish His plans. But what we see around us is that God’s work is suffering—starting from evangelists who do not speak clearly about the need to turn from the judgment of God that is to come upon the world, repent from sins and turn to God, to teachers who do not tell believers about the need to grow up spiritually. As a result, many suffer from birth defects or stunted growth!
When we truly repent from our sins and receive God’s forgiveness by faith in Jesus dying for our sins, there are several other things that God will do from His side. He regenerates our spirit which was earlier dead because of sin. This is the same as the Holy Spirit coming into our spirit and causing us to be ‘born again’. God’s forgiveness of our sins also gives us justification—God justifies us in His eyes just as if we had done no sins, because the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us, or placed into our account. God also adopts us as His children, and Jesus becomes not only our Saviour and Lord, but also our Elder Brother.
At this point, many believers who have not heard anything other than forgiveness of sins with respect to salvation tell one another that we are ‘saved to save’. They make it every believer’s mission to bring others into God’s kingdom. They can only see the entry into the kingdom as what is necessary for people, and, for the most part, neglect the need to grow into closer fellowship with God and one another, and into the likeness of God. They also do not understand that evangelism is not the only ministry of the Body of Christ.
When the Holy Spirit regenerates our spirit, we get a new mind. Earlier we were dead in sin, but now we become dead to sin and alive towards God. Everyone who has been genuinely born again begins to notice this change. Now we have a desire, not only to have faith in God but also to be faithful to God. Earlier we used to do whatever we liked even if we knew it was wrong, and our only concern was not to get caught. But now we want to obey God and to be pleasing to Him.
Because of much wrong teaching, many believers get alarmed whenever faithfulness or obedience is talked about. They fear that those who speak about obedience are trying to take them back under the Law. According to their understanding, since Jesus obeyed the Law in their place and they have received the righteousness of Christ as a robe that clothes them, trying to ‘obey’ would amount to coming out from this covering of ‘faith’. But this is a misunderstanding.
Under the old covenant, which God made with Israel through Moses, people were asked to obey—keep the Law—in order to receive blessings from God. On the other hand, if they disobeyed His laws, or turned to other gods, they would face curses from God (Deut.28). So, this kind of obedience under the old covenant was meant to please God, find acceptance from Him and to get His blessings.
But when we come to the new covenant which was brought by Jesus through the shedding of His blood, our acceptance is by the grace of God—unmerited or undeserved favour or mercy from God—which we receive when we acknowledge our sinfulness and place our faith or trust in Jesus. But now, when God gives us a new heart and a new mind, we want to obey Him and be pleasing to Him in every part of our life. When we see that God loved us sinners so much that He gave His only Son to take the punishment for our sins, our gratitude and love for Him compel us to be pleasing to Him (2Cor.5:14,15).
When we start obeying God because of the new mind (new self or man), we discover that our old sinful nature is opposing us (Rom.7:14-23)! Now we have to deny ourselves in order to do what God wants us to do. Now we are expected to ‘crucify’ this old nature (Gal.5:24), in order to allow the Holy Spirit to have full control of us. But crucifixion produces a slow death, and so we have to carry our cross daily, deny ourselves and follow Jesus (Lk.9:23).
We can see a picture of this salvation from God’s dealings with the people of Israel. We know that their deliverance from Egypt is a picture of our being taken out of a life of bondage to sin and worldly pleasures. After this they were to be taken to occupy the Promised Land, which God described to them as a land ‘flowing with milk and honey’. The process through which these people were taken from Egypt to the Promised Land has several things to teach us in our spiritual life.
When they were on the way from Egypt to the Promised Land, they came to the Red Sea and realised that the army of Egypt was coming after them. God miraculously parted the waters of the sea so that the people of Israel could walk over dry ground and get across. What God told them was, “Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the Lord which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever. The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent” (Exo.14:13,14). In other words, the people did not have to do anything to get the victory over the Egyptians except to trust in God and watch what He would do for them. In a similar way, God did several other miraculous interventions to give them water from a rock, manna from heaven, birds from the sky to provide meat, etc.
But when they came to Jericho, the first city in the Promised Land which they had to conquer, they had to do something from their side. Now they had to walk around the city once a day silently for six days and seven times on the seventh day. At the end of the seventh round on the seventh day, they had to shout loudly in praise to God. Then God would miraculously bring down the city walls and the people of Israel could walk in and take the plunder (Josh.6:1-5).
When they came to the next city, Ai, Israel had to engage in proper battle with Ai, kill its soldiers and conquer the city. From then onwards, this was what they had to do with every city in the Promised Land. After that, they could occupy those cities and live in peace.
For us, who have put our trust in Jesus, the Promised Land is not so much about going to heaven because there is not going to be any war there against the occupants in order for us to find a place for us! On the other hand, our battle is here against the lusts and desires that dwell in our ‘flesh’, our old nature (Gal.5:17-25), and our Promised Land is a life of victory and rest (Heb.4:1). In order to enter into this rest, we have to take up our cross (in order to put sinful desires to death), deny ourselves and follow Jesus.
When a believer imagines that the life of Christ will come to him automatically and that he does not have to fight against his own desires and choose the will of God daily, he occupies himself with activities—Bible studies, prayer meetings, organising festivals, ‘attending church’, social work, etc., while his transformation into the nature of Jesus is not taking place!
Some others look at the example of the Red Sea and keep waiting for God to do this work entirely ‘by faith’. Some others think that what they have to do is to claim the promises of God and sing praises to God ‘by faith’ as in the case of Jericho. Then they wonder why God is not doing His part!
When Israel was spiritually immature, God just carried them through like babies, but as they got to know Him more, He gave them more responsibilities. God does many things for us too when we are spiritually babies. But He expects us to grow up with the new mind that He has given us and start learning to be faithful to Him and to obey Him. He gives the wisdom and strength.
-- Editorial in the Light of Life magazine, July 2016
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