by Mike Ratliff
21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
27 Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. Romans 3:21-28 (NASB)
Our pastor has been preaching through the first several chapters of Acts. In our small groups we have been taking a deeper look at the passages from which he gets his sermons. Last night was interesting because we talked a great deal about how each of us came to faith. Some of us had false starts, that is, we made a profession of faith as a child or teenager that was emotional not based on faith. Others were members of churches that did not preach the gospel, but they were baptized there. Since then we all have come to faith in our Lord Jesus Christ at various ages, but, interestingly, none of them were the same, not even close. In my own case I sat there and listened to everyone sharing while God took me through the labyrinth of time and circumstances in my life which culminated in me repenting and believing on my Lord Jesus Christ. But, it didn’t stop there. I also reflected on my journey since then. For many years, even as a Bible teacher and Deacon, I confess to you all that my understanding of salvation and the doctrines that have been developed, which explain it, was very fuzzy compared to my understanding now. During those years of doctrinal “confusion” I based my salvation on something I had done. I based my assurance on things I did. When I witnessed to others during that time the emphasis was on bringing people to make a decision followed by them reciting a sinner’s prayer. As well meaning as all of that was, I see it now as the fruit of utter spiritual immaturity.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10 (NASB)
In the late 1980’s I enrolled in a class at our church called Evangelism Explosion. My trainer was very good. We had to memorize a lot of scripture. The one above from Ephesians 2 was one of the first ones we memorized. Of course, we didn’t include v10 because that wasn’t part of our presentation. I actually did quite well and became a trainer myself the next year. However, I admit to you right now that v9 confused me some. I finally came to understand that v9 was speaking of doing the works of the Law. Therefore, the act of deciding and choosing were not those works Paul was speaking of. If so, and I did think about this, then I could boast. I made the right decision after all. I had friends who wanted nothing to do with Christianity. They obviously had made the wrong decision. I was secure in my salvation though because I had decided correctly. This carried over into my walk. Even though I never admitted it to anyone, there was a tinge of self-righteousness in my walk. In it I saw me earning God’s favor by doing good works. I even felt dread when I missed church for any reason like God was going to strike me dead because of my unfaithfulness.
In 2005 I started studying doctrine. Through this study I came to an understanding of Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism, Arminianism and Calvinism. As I compared these systems I came to understand that my fuzzy understanding of doctrine was nothing but a hodgepodge of beliefs from all of them. The one point in Calvinism that I had the hardest time grasping was “Irresistible Grace.” This point of doctrine basically says that God saves His people by grace through faith as a gift from God. When God Effectually calls a sinner to repentance and belief they are regenerated. This regeneration quickens them. They go from spiritually dead to spiritually alive people who then see the truth of their own depravity in light of God’s Holiness. This ALWAYS results in God saving them, justifying them by faith. My old understanding of salvation stubbornly held on for several weeks. I just could not see how Mike Ratliff could have been saved if he didn’t do something. Do you see the error? This one point was a topic of study and prayer for many weeks. Finally, I reached a point where I simply had to believe what the Bible was teaching me. I then bought and read two wonderful books. The first was The Doctrines of Grace by James Boice and Philip Ryken. The second was Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul. I devoured these books, I still have them, and still refer to them.
By the end of 2005 I was able to look back at my own journey and see how much God had changed me. I went from a fuzzy understanding of doctrine with a walk tinged with self-righteousness to a believer who knew beyond all doubt that God had saved me by grace through faith, not because I made the right decision, but because he quickened me so that I came alive spiritually and then I could see the truth and believe it. This was all God’s work not mine. I then did an inventory of all of my walk. No longer was my walk before the face of God a compartment in my life where I made room for God occasionally. Instead, God is my all in all. Jesus Christ is my brother because God has adopted me into His family. I live for God’s glory now. I now have to work out time to do things I used to do in a way that won’t conflict with my serving my Lord. God has all of me. What a joyful thing it is to know that my God saving me was an intentional act by Him. It was not random in any way. It was not a work done by any other person. It was certainly not a work done by me. I did nothing to earn it. My faith was not the grounds for my justification. Instead, it was the channel through which justifying grace was received by me. Because of God quickening me, I was able to believe. When I believed God, He imputed righteousness to my account.
When this reality finally landed on me like a ton of bricks in 2005 I was probably the most joyous person on the planet. What a wonderful thing it is to know that God is not far from us, but is intimately involved in every aspect of our lives, including saving us. He suddenly filled my Universe. He wasn’t some far off object of a cold religion, He is right here with me and with you if you know Him. Also, His Sovereignty, omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience, and immutability became precious to me. God is huge! God is good! My faith is much stronger now because I understand that anything I do that is good is His work. What do I have to worry about? My God may allow me to suffer a little or even much, but it makes no difference. I am His servant and He can do with me as He wills because all of God’s works are for His glory. To be a part of Him being glorified is the best place to be.
Soli Deo Gloria!