For a short time in my life, God seemed distant and far off from me. I was drowning in a pit of hopelessness and despair as I engaged in spiritual warfare with a sinful pattern I had picked up in elementary school before I became a Christian.
Guilt blinded me from the goodness and sweetness of God’s grace offered in Jesus Christ. Little did I know, the stirring of horror and disgust within my heart at the ugliness of this sin-pattern was the fruit of the very goodness of God that I doubted.
The Root of Doubt
I doubted I was a recipient of his promises of redemption from slavery, forgiveness of my sins, reconciliation from his wrath, adoption from orphanhood, healing from the scars of sin, and the recreation of the desires of my once dying soul. The root of my doubt lay in my lack of understanding how God accomplishes and applies these promises because of my union with Christ.
As I gradually became rooted in an understanding of my union with Jesus, I grew in security. This foundational knowledge became a shield to protect me from the venomous, fiery darts of the devil. This knowledge became solid ground for me to stand on when the doubting quells of my soul raged.
The Father, the Divine vine-dresser, rescued me from my spiritual grave where I lay dead in my sins and trespasses, condemned by the law, and awaiting the coming judgement. Then, he placed me—a dead and inanimate branch—into the cultivated vine, Jesus, so that I might bear good fruit out of a spirit of worship and joy for his glory (John 15:1-11).
The Core of Identity
After telling his disciples to store up treasure in heaven, Jesus states, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). In You Are What You Love, James K. A. Smith states that the heart is “the core of our identity, the wellspring from which our actions and behavior flow” (Smith, 2). What we treasure will be at the core of our identity.
Before God created the world, he wanted to manifest his glory to creatures that could know him, respond to him, and long for him in a spirit of worship. We were made to treasure him. Thus, God designed humans with the capacity to love and seek after him for their satisfaction and joy.
The Work of the Spirit
After God finished creating the world and everything in it, Adam stood as our representative. Adam’s disobedience against God affected his descendents by corrupting their souls with sin (Romans 5:13-14). This corruption and depravity disarrayed the loves of our heart. Our gaze became fixed on man as the object of our worship and enjoyment, rather than on God.
In a futile journey, we sought to satisfy the insatiable hunger pangs inside each of us, which were meant to be satisfied in God (Romans 1:21-25). The dreams, actions, and words which flow from our heart do not conform to the perfect law of God — they conform to the imperfect law of man. As transgressors of God’s perfect law, we plunged ourselves into darkness and death, since our guide to and end of worship was ourselves.
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But, at the day of our regeneration, the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, pierced our hearts. He convicted us of our rebellion and revealed to us our need for reconciliation with God (Hebrews 4:12). The Holy Spirit gave us new spiritual birth, represented by baptism and a new heart (John 3:5). He began a work in us: conforming us to the image of Jesus with reoriented and renewed loves. Our gaze is being gradually fixed back on God, who enables us to seek after him in worship to satisfy the hunger pangs of our soul.
The Work of Christ
During the difficult time spoken of earlier, I was a new creation in Christ. Therefore, I had no reason to blaspheme God by doubting the work done within me to accomplish and apply my salvation. Rather, I had every reason to praise him out of a comforted heart.
As John Murray writes in Redemption Accomplished and Applied, God gives us, sinners, once dead in our trespasses and sins, a new birth, whereby he stretched his merciful arms into “the lowest depths of our need” and met “all the exigencies of the moral and spiritual impossibility which inheres in our depravity and inability” (Murray, 100).
In his power and benevolence, God enabled us to take a step of faith towards Christ. Faith, “a whole-souled act of loving trust and self-commitment,” is God’s ordained instrument through which he grants us grace. It’s the only fathomable response of the heart, mind, and will to the divine call (Murray 87-88). And our faith is in Christ:
[He] had to begin his work in prenatal darkness, mature through every stage of life in perfect fellowship with his Father, and then die in the deeper darkness that surrounded him on Golgotha. (Sinclair Ferguson, In Christ Alone, pp. 30-31)
The Father drew us to the Son (1 Corinthians 1:9; 2 Timothy 1:8-9). The Son lived the perfect life we could not live, and died the death we deserved on our behalf (Romans 5:15-21). The Holy Spirit transformed our callous hearts of stone into tender hearts of flesh, and he is reorienting the loves of our hearts towards the end that God created us for (Jeremiah 24:7; Ezekiel 36:26).
That end is himself, the Creator and Sustainer of all life, light, and love.
The Security of Union with Christ
Our entrance into the kingdom of God was selected by the Father, secured by Jesus, and sealed by the Holy Spirit. The centerpiece of our redemption is our union with Christ, our beloved and heavenly groom.
Christ was chosen to be the means of our redemption before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-4). Our redemption was secured in Christ’s death, resurrection, and exaltation (Romans 6:2-11; Ephesians 2:4-6; Colossians 3:3-4). Our redemption was applied by the Holy Spirit because of what Christ had already accomplished (Ephesians 2:10). Our lives are lived and deaths are died in Christ. We will also be raised with him (Romans 6:5).
The inception of our salvation is in God’s grace. The constant reminder of this eternal security was and is the means by which I fought, and fight, the doubt which threatens to crush and blind me. With realigned and renewed loves, my identity lies in Jesus, whom I am free to serve and worship for the rest of eternity.
I greatly anticipate the day when I will be fully free of the presence of the old self, absorbed with vanity, and full of the new self, finding my pleasure only in God. “The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him” (Psalm 28:7).