I had a great time last week in a Children’s Spiritual Formation class at Wheaton College. As a Baptist pastor, I was on a panel with a couple of other pastor’s, one Lutheran and one Presbyterian. We were talking about the difference in our approaches to children’s spiritual discipleship.
I enjoyed the discussion, but was reminded of the real differences between our approaches to faith and spiritual growth. I was challenged in my thinking. I think sometimes I don’t put enough emphasis on what God has done and what He continues to do for us.
Nevertheless, our discussion made me realize how much I believe our response is essential to God’s grace being effective in us. The Lutheran pastor spoke of God “touching” people through the sacrament. Whether they were able or willing to receive it, the sacrament (Baptism, Word, Eucharist), still has its effect. As an example, he handed a student a $20 bill as an example of that gift of God. And he “stuck” it in the student’s hand. He said that was like the sacrament of grace and it was effective.
But let me push that a bit further… The grace gift isn’t effective until the student decides to use it. $20 in your pocket does no good. Years ago, I remember hearing a story about a person who lived as a derelict, but when he died, they discovered he had more than enough money to buy anything he needed. His wealth accomplished nothing. That is like, having the $20 in your pocket. It is at the point that you believe it is real and you lay it on the counter to buy what you need that the gift has impact on your life.
In essence, when we respond with repentance and faith, we lay the gift of Jesus on the counter to be applied to our sin. We believe it is true and sufficient. We trust in it and give our allegiance to it. And we live in light of it, for God’s glory!
Now, let me underscore, salvation is a gift and it is by grace. It is by grace that Jesus gave a perfect sacrifice for sins. It is by grace that we’ve been given a gospel with power. It is by grace that we are given the ability to respond in faith. But I don’t think grace takes away the vital role of our response. That is part of the grace-faith equation that Paul wrote about in Ephesians 2:8-9.
It scares me that many believe carrying the promise of God’s grace is the same as it being active and effective in our lives. In John 1:12 it is those who “believe” and “receive” who have the right to be called children of God, not those who have had Jesus jammed into their pockets. If you have been given the truth about Jesus, take him out of your pocket and live, trusting in him.