“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith– and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8)
I’ve let school get the better of me once again, and now an entire semester has gone by without any posts.
It’s hard to put the past semester into words. I could talk about the difficult but rewarding relationships I’ve had with people over the course of the semester, the 10 very special days I spent in Guatemala, the doors God has opened for me and the doors he’s closed, or the successful prayer service I was blessed to lead, but none of those things by themselves would really sum up what I learned this semester. No, the greatest thing God taught me this semester had to do with the idea of salvation by grace through faith.
You see, the past few months have been the closest thing to losing my faith I have ever expereinced. There was no great tragedy that caused me to question God’s providence. Nor did I come across some overwhelming evidence against Christianity. But nevertheless I began to feel the crushing weight of doubt. I was forming some bad habits that I couldn’t reconcile with my faith and yet I wasn’t sure I wanted to give them up.
I knew what the Bible said about faith being proved by actions. I was particularly bothered by the verse that 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 heaven.” I certainly wasn’t doing the will of the father. Was that I sign that I didn’t really believe?
I couldn’t help but think of all this in light of sovereignty. I’ve always identified myself with the “free will” camp on this issue. In other words, I believe that God gives us the freedom to choose or reject his gift of grace. But I’ve also heard convincing arguments in favor of the view that when God chooses souls to claim for his kingdom he overcomes their will to resist him, therefore God is soverign in every aspect of salvation.
I was tempted to put God to the test. If salvation really was his doing, then wasn’t he responsible for bringing me back to the knowledge of his grace? I prayed that if God was still there he would show himself in such a way that I would have absolutely no excuse to doubt. Then I waited.
I was disappointed. Instead of seeing a message in the sky, life just continued as it had. My attempts at prayer went nowhere, and I repeatedly succumbed to temptation. I didn’t understand why God was silent when I needed him more than ever. I felt trapped. I was running out of reasons to believe, and yet I couldn’t just walk away. With bitterness, I cried out to God, “Save me!” wishing it hadn’t sounded so much like a challenge.
That’s when I started to notice the signs, the little ways in which God was showing himself. He would put thoughts into my head that allayed my doubts. I would hear something in a sermon or everyday conversation that spoke to my situation. And I found my desire to sin gradually decreasing. This was the God I was familiar with. The God who had never spoken to me with audible words but was always in the background calling the shots, changing me in ways I hadn’t expected. And now I knew he was asking me to take a leap of faith. I could confidently say I believed again.
In a way, I feel as if I’ve come full circle. My relationship with God is neither better nor worse than it was six months or a year ago. But something happened during those few months that I can never go back to, now that my faith has been tested almost to its limit. I may not have proof that God is there and he’s on my side, but isn’t faith being certain of what we don’t see?
In closing, I have a position with a national ministry organization this summer. Because of what I’ve struggled with, I almost wonder why God has allowed me to be a leader to Christian youth at this time. I’m afraid that somehow my influence will be more negative than positive. But God keeps reminding me how much he likes to use broken people, and at least I have my faith, which is mine by grace.