I stood by his casket tonight and just stared at his old body. It was such a sobering moment, for I know where he is now even though the boy I knew was somehow represented in this presentation. I wonder if I'll recognize him right away in heaven... I wonder if he'll still have on a cross necklace.
Every second I stared, I remembered in greater detail the moment we prayed together for his salvation. Clearer and clearer it became... clearer and clearer.
But what about everyone else?
People normally don't want to change until they're ready, often enjoying whatever it is they believe. Then something rocks their world - and suddenly they realize things don't work they way they figured they would. It could be the death of a loved one, a soul-piercing truth from the Bible, or simply a relationship that proves itself to be authentic.
There isn't any one way to come to Jesus, but I have seen some trends...
- Prevenient Grace: This concept refers to the love of God that is unconsciously evident in all of creation and “precedes any and all of our conscious impulses.” Since it is argued that we cannot come to God on our own merits or works, prevenient grace is the understanding that God has provided the first step in our direction so that we can take the first step in His. Likewise, it includes the understanding that what prompts us to even come to God is this “fingerprint” that He has stamped in us and around us.
This was Dustyn being interested in church in the first place.
- Growth in Grace: As sinful people we could never even begin to understand the Holy Scriptures without the Holy Spirit interacting with us by His grace. In James we learn that if we “come near to God” that “He will come near to [us].” This is true both before and after salvation, with each step we take being possible only by the fact that the Lord even allows it. As we hear the truth of God through teaching and encounter it in reading, we begin to walk less in the darkness and start to find our paradigm being illuminated by the Light.
This was Dustyn lending an ear to the teaching, worship, and community the church offered.
- Repentence: Many people define repentence differently, from the Hebrew concept of “returning” to the Greek language of a military idea translated as an “about face.” In both cases, the agreement is that repentence is about starving a life of sin and feeding a life of abundance. This occurs with a definitive crisis decision where a choice to admit our guilt is followed by a resolve to not continue in that life pattern.
This was Dustyn beginning to feel that tug on his heart to go in a different direction - the direction he was always intended to go.
- Justification/Regeneration/Adoption: If we confess with our mouth and life that Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart that He is the risen Messiah and Savior of our sins, God adds the final “punctuation” by making us His own. Being in Christ, we are no longer who we were but are a new creation, regarded no longer as one of the world’s but instead as God’s. This is the first taste we experience of the abundant life Jesus described.
This was Dustyn trusting in Jesus Christ through faith and inviting him into his heart through a prayer.
- Assurance/Initial Sanctification: As we draw near to God, He (again) continues to draw near to us. The Holy Spirit takes on a new role of counseling the believer into understanding his/her identity in Christ. It is out of this realization that the Christian begins to set themselves (or at least areas of themselves) apart for God.
This was Dustyn getting baptized, taking advantage of weekend retreats, digging into his Bible, and sharing his faith.
- Progressive Sanctification: Like the first trip someone takes outside of his/her own hometown for the first time, the Christian’s world begins to get larger and larger as he/she is exposed to the complexities of the faith. At each intersection of thought, he/she must make continual acts of surrender to either integrate the new levels of understanding and obedience or try to ignore them in favor of a more controlled paradigm. For every choice to open up to God, though, the process of sanctification grows as does the individual’s love for God and others.
This was Dustyn growing up in age and maturity in his faith. Unfortunately, this was the part I missed out on because I left the church and had to distance myself from the students so the new guys could become their leaders. (Side note - I hate this part about ministry.)
To be theologically sound, here are a few more stages...
- Repentance of Believers: Some would say that the point of Christianity is to be saved and baptized, but perhaps a better concept is to become who we really are by living a baptized life. When the believer comes to a point where he/she is willing to make a final death to self, it resembles the initial act of repentence but at a much deeper level. Just as a groom and a bride commit themselves with sincerity at their wedding to love each other, there is a whole new level implied to that same couple renewing their vows 30 years later. The process of living with each other in the covenant has allowed them realize all that they initially committed to, making the latter renewal that much more significant.
- Perfect Love/Renewal In Image Of God: Once someone has left behind their desire for sin and replaced it with a desire for God, they begin to be to others living letters of Jesus on earth. Much like a plumbing pipe that is no longer clogged, the Living Water can more freely flow in and through his/her life. In doing so, they begin to become who they really are, no longer disconnected spiritually from God by the broken choices of sin (even though the world still continues to be broken and dim) but more fully understanding the reconciliation through a first person experience of it.
- Growth in grace: No one will ever be God, which implies the idea that there will always be something more about Him that we might grow in. Only by His grace are all things from Him and through Him and to Him, keeping the Christian in humility about his/her salvation while providing invitation for freedom and confidence in Christ.
I don't know if you've ever thought about things in these terms, but it helps me to articulate what I'm thinking today. Maybe tomorrow I'll learn a different way to see this, but today it's just a simple matter of looking at an old body and knowing the story doesn't end there.