by Mike Ratliff
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. (John 5:24-25 ESV)
From January1986 through most of 2004 my conception of genuine Christianity was that it must be wrapped up in and based in decisional regeneration. My concept was that unless a professing Christian “made that decision for Christ then received the free gift of salvation” then he or she could not possibly be a genuine Christian. I had this mindset even through those days of deep depression and anger mixed with a great deal of fleshly backsliding seemingly triggered by the Oklahoma City Federal Center bombing. I was in the blast zone, but physically unharmed though somewhat scarred emotionally.
Through that dark period from April 19, 1995 through early August 2004 I had long periods of being dominated by my emotions and flesh separated by glorious, but short lived periods of repentance and obedience. However, through it all I clung to the concept that I was a Christian because I had made that “decision for Christ” back in 1986. 2003 ended with me in a sabbatical from teaching Sunday school. At a Christmas party, my pastor asked me to create a new class for young married couples. I am not sure why, but that terrified me. I knew that this was something “new” and I could not “wing it.” I knew that for this to succeed I needed the Lord to do it. However, it had been many years, since 1995 at least, since I had spent much time in prayer and simply meditating on God’s Word. So, during my Christmas vacation that year I began to approach the throne of grace consistently as I began each day in prayer and devotion.
God is good my brethren. Through the first seven months or so of 2004 that little seed of devotion had grown into an everyday, all day search of our Lord’s face and will. August 2004 in the Kansas City area was very strange. We had October weather nearly all month. However, something wonderful happened early in the month. I had progressed with my devotion to the Lord to the point that I was either praying or worshiping our Lord all day. I had a morning devotion before going to work. I spent all my free time at work seeking the Lord in some form. I had another very long devotion each evening that lasted until bedtime. I stopped watching TV. My family was astounded. I am sure they were awaiting the return of the old Mike Ratliff, but he was nowhere to be found.
Early one Saturday morning in August 2004, I bounded out of bed praising the Lord as I headed for the bathroom to shower. It was then that it was if God opened my spiritual eyes so I could see the change wrought in me. My entire value system had been altered. I cared nothing about all those things that used to send me spiraling into anger and defeat. All I cared about was living for God’s glory and helping others to get to this very same point.
I have given it much thought as to whether I was really saved in August 2004 or if what happened then was the good work of God drawing me to walk in repentance so I could be of some use to Him in the Kingdom. From that period through the middle of October, I actually thought that God had done this in me BECAUSE of my turning my heart to Him as if it was my idea done by my ability. However, in October I stumbled a bit with some anger issues. I was devastated. However, as I sought my Lord in repentance with a broken heart God made it apparent to me that He had been the one who had drawn me into the light. It was His work, not mine. It was at this point that I began writing and researching.
I wrote a couple of books. The first one was the product of that “revival” I had just gone through (and am still in today). The second one was about walking this walk before the face of God in repentance thereby laying up treasure in Heaven. If I could rewrite them both I would. There are so many things in them that I regret writing. However, that exercise led me to research doctrine. It was through this research that I came face to face with my concept of genuine Christianity being that it must be wrapped up in and based in decisional regeneration. I did not approach this lightly. It was tough going. I did not want to let go of some of my former doctrinal stances. However, I soon learned that those “stances” were based on little more than what I had been hearing from the pulpit in SBC churches since I was a child.
It was this combination of repentance and research into Biblical doctrine that led me to finally give up my grip on decisional regeneration. It was as if God had to pry my fingers off of it one by one, as He took it away and replaced it with a full surrender to His Sovereignty. I am very glad my brethren that I never moved into that form of Calvinism called “doctrinal regeneration.” No, I knew that I was a Christian way before I became a Calvinist. I now see that God saves His people by effectually calling them through regeneration as the Gospel becomes apparent to their hearts. There is no requirement to adhere to the Doctrines of Grace here. It is also not a decision born from free will. No, it is the sinner seeing their sin and their separation from God and their need for a Saviour. Then they turn from their sin in belief. Then the Father justifies, sanctifies, and adopts them into His family. This turning and seeing are only possible in a regenerate, God opened heart.
And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'” And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region. (Acts 13:46-49 ESV)
And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us. (Acts 16:13-15 ESV)
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. (John 6:35-37 ESV)
Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:43-44 ESV)
These are just a few of the passages that teach us of the Sovereignty of God in salvation. Now, let us look at another passage that reveals an already/not yet tension regarding the resurrection. Those who are Born Again or born from above are already spiritually resurrected. They were spiritually dead now they are spiritually alive (Ephesians 2:1-10; Colossians 2:13).
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me. (John 5:19-30 ESV)
Where does spiritual life come from? God the Father gave the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the mission to raise the dead and give them life. This is a picture of the resurrection unto salvation. This is the new birth unto eternal life. Now, who receives this life? It is given to whomever the Son wills. These hear His word and believe Him who sent the Lord. They have eternal life. They were dead yet they heard the voice of the Son of God. These who hear will live. Notice how judgment is continually woven through this passage. Those who hear and believe are not judged, but those who do not hear are judged. How do they hear? These are the ones given to the Son by the Father as He drew them to Him? He opens their hearts to hear and believe. However, those who are not given to the Son by the Father are not called and do not believe. They are judged and our Lord’s judgment is just.
After a great deal of contemplation, meditation, and pondering over when I really became a Christian, I am convinced that I was saved in January 1986 in spite of the lack of doctrine in the church I was attending. As I look back at my journey I can see those horrible hard times as those periods of crushing and rebuilding the Lord takes us through in order to remake us unto the image of Christ. That dark period after the OKC Federal Center bombing in 1995 to the end of 2003 and into 2004 was essential in God’s plan of taking me to the lowest so He could rebuild me. He did not remake me perfect. I still sin, but I no longer dwell in bitterness. My struggles keep me humble and we all need that.
Our salvation begins when the Father gives us to the Son. It does not end until we reach the end of this life to be with our Lord forever in eternity. Yes, we are justified at our rebirth, but our sanctification takes the rest of our lives. Since our justification is the declaration of our righteousness as the Father imputes Jesus’ righteousness to our account, we do not “sense” it. However, our sanctification is with us each and every day. Therefore, we often do not “feel saved” as we struggle and repent. I heard a testimony last Sunday in Church in which the one giving it said she had been struggling with emotional things and feeling down because aging was becoming apparent in her looks and in her body. She began to see her self as “worth less.” Then as she took this to the throne of grace pouring out her heart to the Lord she found herself in Sacred Scripture reading of the great worth of our Lord. She then “learned” that she has value in the Kingdom of God because of the value of her Saviour and the fact that she had one.
My brethren do not let the doctrinal debates drive you from the wonderful truth that God the Father gave you to God the Son, drawing you to Him. He opened your heart so you could believe and repent. He justified, sanctified, and adopted you. Therefore, you have a Saviour and your worth in the Kingdom is based in this. Your value is not based in how much doctrine you know nor is it based in the fact you exercised your will.
Soli Deo Gloria!