Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Gospel Pipeline

At Oak Mountain Presbyterian, we try to equip people to live in and live out the Gospel of Grace. What does this look like for a typical Christian? I recently preached a series on Titus 2-3 that presents the transforming flow of grace in a believer's life (Its called Roto Rooter for the Soul and you can access it on our web site). Titus 2-3 is one of the most balanced, integrated portions of Scripture you'll ever come across. So often, followers of Christ become entrenched in their views of what is really needed to bring health and renewal to the Church. In fact, the Bible doesn't present ONE element necessary to health, but ALL the elements of the Gospel of Grace held in tension. You'll run into people who say that what is needed to create new life in the Church is more emphasis on obedience, discipline and the Law. You'll run into other folk who say what is needed in more emphasis on repentance and turning from sin. You'll run into still others who say people need more emphasis on the love and grace of God. Titus reveals that all of those elements are necessary...leave out any and the Christian's life will become skewed. Let's take a look at what Paul writes to Titus concerning what pastors and churches need to emphasize to their flocks.
The first phase of the Gospel Pipeline, the entry point if you will, is grace for conversion. We see Paul talk about this in Titus 2:11 where he writes that the grace of God has appeared that brings salvation. And in Titus 3:5 he talks about the work of the Holy Spirit bringing the washing of regeneration. One of the reasons we sometimes see little evidence of life in our churches is that perhaps some of those (many??) who PROFESS faith in Christ do not actually POSSESS life IN CHRIST. The Christian life is supernatural! It is not committing yourself to a Christian Ethic, or a list of behaviors or a moral code. The Christian life is the result of a supernatural work of grace that opens our hearts and minds, will and emotions, to Christ as the Pearl of Great Price. Grace enables the soul to long for Christ and to hope completely in Him for salvation apart from works (Titus 3:5). Grace is what enables us to become aware of our sin and desperation, our sin and weakness and helplessness to save ourselves or to change ourselves. And grace is also what enables us to submit to Christ as Lord as well as trust Him as Savior. Apart from the supernatural work of grace, many will turn to Christ only as fire insurance...a ticket out of hell. But the supernatural work of grace is so infinitely powerful that the heart that is touched by the Holy Spirit not only desires heaven, but to follow Christ! Too many people have walked an aisle, prayed a sinner's prayer, joined a church or been baptized without ever having experienced the grace of regeneration...the giving by Grace of a new heart! The grace of regeneration creates a new heart, brings new life and grants true faith in Christ...I personally prayed the sinner's prayer over 100 times! I asked Jesus into my heart over and over and, if I kept asking Jesus into my heart to save me from my sin, was there truly any faith in His promises? After many months of struggle, our kind Father opened my eyes to see His promises of life in Christ, and by His grace I finally rested in the Person, Work and Promises of Christ. I'm not sure WHEN I was saved...and it doesn't matter. All I know is that at some point, I put my hope completely in Christ...and THAT by His grace. For too long I put faith in my own faith, or faith in my own spiritual experience, rather than faith in Christ alone. I also think that for a long season after I prayed the prayer (but perhaps lacked true life), I didn't really understand the enormity of my sin and the infinite nature of God's, I was not really desperate or helpless before God; I still thought my salvation was to some extent dependent upon my good works. It wasn't until grace opened my eyes to my absolute failure to live as God commands that I saw that Christ was my only hope. I think the practice of many churches to try to get people to nail down a time and place of conversion is dangerous. It can lead many to false assurance. People can write down a time and place in a Bible and say they were "saved" at that point, and then feel that it doesn't matter how they live, because they have a date and time they can point to. But Christ clearly says, as does all of Scripture, that grace is so powerful and transformational, that faith in Christ will lead to a repentant life...that we'll never "arrive" and we'll constantly "fall" but the general tenor of our lives will be to get back up by grace and carry on in new obedience. Anyone who professes faith and is NOT willing to live a repentant, dependent life should at least question whether or not they have been born again...this does NOT lead to a salvation by works mentality, but simply exults the power and wonder of grace. If someone IS led to doubt their salvation because of their lifestyle, where they turn next will in fact be the revealer of their hearts...what I mean is this...If I doubt whether or not I am truly born again because I see some sin issues in my life-style, what do I do? If, on the one hand, I think, "Wow, I better get my act together...I better turn my life around...I better turn over a new leaf" well, such a person may NOT be saved because they are looking to self, works and behaviors for confidence. However, if, on the other hand, aware of shortcomings, the person cries out afresh, "Oh Christ! Have mercy on me a sinner! I am unworthy of confidence as I look to my own righteousness. Only as I look at Your finished work on my behalf, only as I hope in Your righteous life lived for me and as I gaze at Your substitutionary death removing the wrath of God from me, do I have any confidence!"...well, I believe such a person is showing the result of God's grace granting true faith and they are regenerate and possess true life in Christ. Salvation is ALL of grace...and it will result in a changed life. This is the entry point of the Gospel Pipeline...but what tends to happen next?

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