Lately I have been hearing of spiritual practices, of conquering sin, of securing our salvation, of not losing faith. There is something inherent in these discussions that rubs against the grain of the Gospel. When we think of the Gospel we must understand that the Gospel is a completed historical act. The wrath of God was poured out upon His Son, Jesus the Christ as he suffered death on a cross as the everlasting sacrifice for all those whom the Father calls to be His children. This is a deeply spiritual event, indeed, but it is also a significant historical fact. One and done.
I think of all these practices to exercise our spirit. Things such as lectio divina, recommitment services, war on sin for victory, deepening your faith, believer baptism, and so on are human-centered. Sure, we think about the Bible, may even read it and thank God, but the goal in such things is what you can do for God, or for yourself. I want to become more spiritual. I want to recommit my life to Christ. I want to conquer the sin in my life. I want to make a choice for God and this baptism is my pledge. These forms of thought can be, and most often are, dangerous.
The Gospel is not human-centered, it is God-centered. God, through the work of Jesus, does everything. This is why it is called grace. Faith is a gift. When we are afraid of losing it we must remember that it has been given to us and it is not our faith that saves, but it is the one in whom we have faith in. If our faith were the reason for our salvation, it would be considered a work. When we are told that we have to surrender to Christ for salvation, we are essentially being told salvation is no longer a gift. But, if faith is a gift, and Jesus is the reason for our salvation, then we are secure because we know that God has brought us into His light. You cannot have faith in Christ, unless the Father draws you. Acts 13.48 reads, “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” The faithful are appointed by God to be the faithful, see also John 10.27-29 and Ephesians 1.
God has made you a new creation. God has called you to Jesus Christ. Through Christ sin has been conquered and will one day be vanquished. God instituted baptism as a sign and seal of His promise to us, not your promise to Him. Reading the Word is essential, and this is how the Holy Spirit effectually forms us to be more Christlike. It is not our exercise in being more “spiritual”. You see, we have victory not by our deciding to surrender to Jesus, but by Jesus already having surrendered on our behalf. John Calvin in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, writes to the heart of this matter when he says,
“When we see that the whole sum of our salvation, and every single part of it, are comprehended in Christ, we must beware of deriving even the minutest portion of it from any other quarter. If we seek salvation, we are taught by the very name of Jesus that he possesses it; if we seek any other gifts of the Spirit, we shall find them in his unction [anointing]; strength in his government; purity in his conception; indulgence in his nativity [birth], in which he was made like us in all respects, in order that he might learn to sympathise with us: if we seek redemption, we shall find it in his passion; acquittal in his condemnation; remission of the curse in his cross; satisfaction in his sacrifice; purification in his blood; reconciliation in his descent to hell; mortification of the flesh in his sepulchre [tomb]; newness of life in his resurrection; immortality also in his resurrection; the inheritance of a celestial kingdom in his entrance into heaven; protection, security, and the abundant supply of all blessings, in his kingdom; secure anticipation of judgement in the power of judging committed to him. In fine, since in him all kinds of blessings are treasured up, let us draw a full supply from him, and none from any other quarter. Those who, not satisfied with him alone, entertain various hopes from others, though they may continue to look to him chiefly, deviate from the right path by the simple fact, that some portion of their thought takes a different direction. No distrust of this description can arise when once the abundance of his blessings is properly known.” (Institutes 2.16.19)