My Knowing God study with the three men from my former church comes to an end next week. We have decided to continue with a new book, MegaShift until one of our members finishes selling his house and moves to Maine. He is retiring from NASA and he and his wife are going home.
When these sessions are finally over I will really miss them. During the time we sit around my kitchen table talking, debating and throwing ideas back and forth I get some of my best images and insights. Being a verbal person, talking is how I get my best ideas and illustrations, frequently getting an image out of the blue that I can use to illustrate a point. I personally believe some of these are prompted by the Holy Spirit, but when you say that some people feel you are arguing ex cathedra saying Thus says the Lord but I dont mean that. Just that God gives me insights to help me understand and explain his unchanging truth.
This weekend we were discussing the middle section of Knowing God, Chapter 22: The Adequacy Of God. I decided to do this last chapter using a different approach with them. Instead of supplying their study materials, such as those listed on my Knowing God Study Center site, they were required to take on the responsibility of outlining the chapter. After they got a grasp of Packers arguments it was their job to come up with the appropriate questions and then ask them of me and the other two men. I wanted these faithful students (the youngest of whom is in his mid 60s) to learn how to do a little of the work that I normally do in the study so they could be better prepared to move on and get more out of their future personal study efforts. I hoped for them to learn not only the material Packer was presenting but something about the process of wrestling with it. It seems to be working.
During our discussion one of the questions that was asked, which related to a need for a better understanding of the relationship between election, being born again, and declaring our faith, caused us to pause for a while. The question started out, “If I have been saved by faith then how does that relate to…” After the initial responses, I pointed out that the text of Ephesians 2:8 does not say we are saved by faith, but through faith. I argued that there is a considerable difference between those two things. The simple explanation is that it is not faith that saves us (by) but that faith is the means to making our salvation real and applicable to our lives (through). We are saved by the Spirit working out the eternal will of the Father in response to life-giving and sin-satisfying sacrifice of the Son.
We opened our bibles to the gospel passage in John the third chapter where Jesus discusses this and I suddenly had the image in my mind of a baby being born. Jesus did not use a recreation image, like that of the initial creation of Adam or Eve to explain our new life in Christ. He used the image of being born again, being born in a spiritual birth, but a birth non-the-less.
Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:5-8
Saint John is absolutely consistent here with what he said earlier in chapter one.
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1:12-13
Born by the will of God – not the will of blood, man or flesh. That birth has two sides, the initiation side and the response side. In natural childbirth the event is a result of the will of man and women as part of the will of flesh and blood. They choose to have intimate relations and their bodies perform their natural functions; a child is conceived. The womans body, her flesh and blood, continues its natural functions bringing the baby to term and then through a combination of the woman’s will and the actions of her flesh the child is born; she pushes and her body expands and pushes and the birth occurs.
However, none of this, from inception to birth had anything to do with the will of the baby. It was through the will of the parents and their bodies that the new child came into being, came to term, and was born. In the same way, our new spiritual birth has nothing to do with the will of that new creation, our born again selves, being born. This new birth occurs through the will of our new parent, God the Father along with the actions of the Son and the Spirit. From creation, to term, to spiritual birth it is all by the will of God, just as John says in that closing phrase “but of God.” (1:13)
So, they then asked me, where does faith come into the picture? I turned it around and asked them what must happen after a baby is born? After thinking for a while and making a few statements hitting around the point they finally said that the child cries out and takes its first breath. I told them very good and that the saving faith of Ephesians 2:8 is like the taking of the first breath of our new spiritual life. Without it the child is still born. The breath does not create the life or bring the life into the world. Instead it begins the actual living and sustaining of that new life.
Remember, I explained, it is the action of the parents that creates the new life, but it is the breath, our faith that sustains it. God, our Father creates our new life through the work of the Holy Spirit and the sacrifice of the Son on the cross, and through our faith that new spiritual life is begun and sustained.
We all wrote the main points of this discussion down since we didnt want to forget it. Through our interactive study God had given us a tool to better understand the relationship between being born again and the exercise of our saving faith. It helped to put in perspective the who, when, what, and how of salvation in a way that we all could grasp and pass on to others as the Lord wills.
I hope this was helpful to you and that it gives you another way to explain the richness of Gods marvelous work of salvation to those the Lord brings across your path. Grace and peace be to you on your holiday (those in the U.S. celebrating Memorial Day) or the beginning of your week to those outside the U.S.
To God be the glory for the good things he has done.