Tuesday, August 11, 2009

a new heart.

"I will give you a new heart.
I will give you a new spirit that is faithful to me.
I will remove your stubborn heart from you.
I will give you a heart that obeys me."
Ezekiel 36:26

this Sunday, i am making a public profession of faith through baptism. i love the description that was given during a message on baptism earlier this year that says it is "a joyful declaration to the world that you belong to Christ". at my church, there is a brief (read: 90 seconds) recorded video testimony and public declaration that is shown just prior to the baptism. i went in last week to tape mine, curious as to how the Lord would lead and enable me to squeeze the past seventeen years of my tattered inconsistency into a mere ninety seconds. "are you a new believer?" daniel, the videographer, asks as we we make our way up the stairs to the taping room...

that is a loaded question.

(one that i had been asking myself [and God] an awful lot lately.)

there is a tiny little church on one of the country roads winding out to my mom's house. i've passed it thousands of times by now and each time, i'm reminded of a message that was on their sign once when i was a teenager: "if you don't live it, you don't believe it".

in the years that followed, when i clearly wasn't living the gospel, i would find myself questioning whether or not i believed it. each time, i would conclude that i did, in fact, believe. i believed in God. i believed in the bible. why, exactly, that belief wasn't evident in my life... i couldn't put my finger on... and frankly, i never spent too much time trying to. after all, i was totally "saved", right? by grace? wasn't that, my faith, all that was required?

had i ever stopped to examine - really examine - what salvation meant, apart from the "getting to go to heaven" aspect of it - i might have become aware, painfully aware, that i - myself- did not possess it. there is a difference between superficial faith and saving faith. and the difference, is not only where you will spend eternity, but how you will live your life on earth...

"You can profess publicly what you do not possess personally." D. Platt

then, in adulthood, there were those seasons in my life where it looked - and felt - as though i was living it... a former pastor posed the following question to the congregation frequently, "do you know... that you know... that you know?"... there was never any real clarification [that i can remember] as to "how" we were supposed to know. in my mind, i had reduced it to a matter of believing... or not. you had prayed the prayer or you hadn't. i would always nod. because what i knew was that i had walked that aisle. i had prayed that prayer. i had "invited" Christ into my heart. joined a church. attended church. read my bible. prayed. i did all of those things. you know, sometimes.

what i did not know, and would not know for years to come is that Jesus Himself established none of those things as the basis of salvation. i had spent so many years assuming my salvation without any biblical foundation. i believed i was "saved" strictly because of all the things that i myself had done wihout any evidence of what Christ had done *in me* or *through me*. my futile attempts were my own works, not His. my countless attempts to change myself were forced by my hand rather than surrendered and changed by Him. i could vividly remember the day that i walked the aisle and prayed the prayer, but i could not remember a single point in my life that had marked the beginning of a new life, a new me, a new heart. there had not been any lasting internal or external transformation of my life because i had not ever truly surrendered my life.

"We have traded internal transformation for external regulations and traditions". D. Platt

we have both complicated and candy-coated the truth of God's word so much that we ourselves can be deceived into thinking we are something we are not. we should do away with the questions like, "are you a christian?"; "have you been saved?"; "have you invited Jesus into your heart?"... the real questions, the ones i faced at the age of 32 and the ones that Jesus Himself said would be the mark of our salvation is "Are you a Christ-follower?"; "Do you follow Christ?"; "Does His word determine how you live your life?"...

as i was faced with those questions, i could no longer nod my head in agreement reflecting on things i had done. . . because there was nothing - absolutely nothing of me or in me - that was evidence of such. walking an aisle at fifteen certainly wasn't evidence, here at 32, that i was actively following Christ or walking in obedience to His word. instead of nodding my head in agreement, i shifted nervously in my seat.

by all appearances and admission, i was a "Christian", but i was certainly not a Christ-follower. i had "invited" and "accepted" Christ into my life and yet continued to my life at my own will, by my own accord... and still giving God some credit here and there. i had simply made Christ a part of my life when i desperately needed Him to be my life.

"When you have biblical salvation, Jesus' words determine how you live."
D. Platt

i will never forget the day that David spoke those words. it was march 2008. notice he did not say "should determine". there was a quiet unsettling among us, unseen but not unfelt. in hindsight, i imagine there were scores of people sitting there who - just like me - had thought that they knew that they knew - and in that moment, no longer knew....

confusion swept over me. or was it conviction? and i was not alone. emails flooded the church office the following week. questions. complaints. rumors of works-based salvation being taught swirled in different circles. it was evidence of how many of us sat in that sanctuary, sunday after sunday, with the same old hearts... hearts that were unpenetrated by the gospel. hearts that had yet to be turned in. hearts that were still waiting to be surrendered.

he quoted Jesus in Matthew 7 where Jesus (speaking to "religious people" not completely unlike us) says, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not [enter your own list - walk the aisle, pray the prayer, be good people - here]?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you..."


Jesus wasn't saying that his people simply "had" to be obedient to His word, living lives of bedgrudging obedience. He was saying that His people, His true followers, the ones with whom were filled with His spirit, would DESIRE to be obedient to His word, they would LONG to be obedient to His will. some of the people in the crowd that Jesus was speaking to scoffed in confusion and disbelief.

at that moment, in march of 2008, i was doing the same thing. "the gift of salvation", david continued, "is a NEW HEART and it is one that no longer delights in sin but delights in the Lord".

i was struggling. wanting to surrender and not knowing how. longing for true surrender and yet, fearing it. longing for God's love and yet, rejecting it. it was a crisis of belief and i did what i always do when facing fear and discomfort. i ran away. i returned. and ran again. but the seeds those truths had planted were growing, even as i was running...

i had constructed my confidence, my assurance of salvation on false foundations of intellectual knowledge, religious involvement, a guilty conscience and perhaps, most of all, a past decision. true salvation is not a passing moment of surrender, but a lifetime of surrender. oh, it fills me with such sorrow to see how very little i understood - for so very long - about true salvation and the true grace of God. it is not about our works, but His work in us. it is not about forcing our hearts to be obedient to His word, but about our new hearts - filled with His Spirit - that delight in His word and that long to be obedient to His word.

"You cannot claim him as your Savior if you have not surrendered to Him as Lord"
. D. Platt

i settle into the chair in the taping room. it's dark. daniel sits in chair diagonal to me, creating an angle so that i am looking at him conversationally rather than directly at the camera. "my name is nadia wilder and i am 32 years old. i thought i became a Christ-follower at the age of 15..." i begin...

as we finish the taping session, i think to myself, no - i am not a new "believer". i am a new follower of Christ. this i know (that i know that i know) not because of anything i've said or done, but because He has given me a new heart.

"I'll pour pure water over you and scrub you clean.
I'll give you a new heart, put a new spirit in you.
I'll remove the stone heart from your body
and replace it with a heart that's God-willed, not self-willed.
I'll put my Spirit in you and make it possible
for you to do what I tell you and live by my commands."
Ezekiel 36:26 (MSG)

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