Reproclaiming the Everlasting Gospel
The call to obey God is a call to action. It's not enough just to commit our lives to Jesus and decide to follow him. It's not enough to read the Bible, reserve a regular time for prayer, and have fellowship with other Christians. It's possible to do all these things and still not approach what God actually wants from us.
How do I know this? Because of how God has dealt with me. In 1985, during a Quaker Meeting for Worship in the Name of Jesus—silent, waiting worship—I received a massive, overpowering visitation from Christ, which convinced me that my whole self, indeed my whole life, belonged to him. So I began to listen as hard as I could, and also continued with all the other things I'd been doing before, when I believed in Jesus but had not yet seen the importance and unique character of the Early Quaker message.
However, in the midst of these activities, and despite my closer listening, I held part of myself aloof from God. I had a list of things I was afraid he might require me to do, and in the deeps of my soul, reserved under my will my refusal to consider doing them.
Sometime in 1987 I began having a recurring dream. In the dream, I'd done something wrong; something I was very sorry for and would have given anything to reverse. Worst of all, I had to go to the person I'd sinned against, confess, endure their hurt and my shame, and ask forgiveness. I always awoke under extreme stress, and was unspeakably relieved that it had been only a dream. Yet I had a clear sense of being warned. God was admonishing me, "If you continue as you are and do not change directions, you will cross a line you don't want to cross. There will be no going back, and you will be very sorry because you won't be able to undo what you've done. Stop and turn around before it's too late."
Sometimes these dreams took a milder form: I'd enrolled in college, but it was the end of the semester and I hadn't attended even one of my classes. I didn't even know what the assignments were nor the buildings and rooms in which those classes met. It was too late, and there was no rolling back the calendar so I could have another chance—there was a deadline and I'd missed it.
Several of the parables in the Gospel according to Luke underscore this situation of "too late; you've shut yourself out by your own acts and your own choices." For example, in Luke 13:25-27, Jesus warns the people, "Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, 'Sir, open the door for us.' But he will answer, 'I don't know you or where you come from...'"
But how is it possible for a sincere believer with honest intentions, as I was, to be left outside knocking on the door and pleading in vain to be let in? I began to understand the answer to this question as God continued to make clear my own situation. As the years went on, he pointed me again and again to the "something wrong" within me—something so wrong that it put me in danger of being separated from him.
That "something wrong" was my list—the list of actions I was afraid I might have to take if I relinquished my whole heart and will. Finally he made it absolutely clear that "partial obedience" is in reality no obedience at all: the quick road to death.
So I saw that it was not enough just to read the Bible, seek fellowship, pray regularly, and do all the other things believers are supposed to do—I also had to await his commands and be willing to take particular action according to his instructions and his leadings. My salvation therefore lay not in my "Christian habits" but in my complete willingness to obey his direct instructions.
As it turned out, he did require me to do some, though not all, of the things on my former "I'm afraid to do this" list. But part of the reward of relinquishing that list was that he took away my fear of doing those things. Thus, he worked the inner changes in me that were required for my obedience.
In former days, when I read Jesus's parables about "too late, the Master has shut the door, and you could be left outside," I assumed that the situation described couldn't apply to me. I thought non-believers were the ones who would miss the deadline for the closing of the door. But it turns out that refusal to listen and to give up one's whole heart and will are the criteria, and this puts those "deadline" warnings that recur in so many New Testament parables in a much more serious light for those who believe they are already saved but are actually reserving part of themselves, as I was.
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