July 28, 2017

Speak up or shut up?

Tuesday evening in a parking lot, a woman told me that her adult children were not interested in God or going to church. They wanted nothing to do with any sort of religion. This was causing her great heartache and suffering. She was tearful, but also convinced that it was time to shut up and let God do His work in their hearts.

I understand her feelings and her conclusion. If our family members are saying NO to God, then my arguments and preaching is more likely to harden heats than soften them. The Holy Spirit needs to do His work.

Some would disagree and say that you must keep telling them about Jesus and what He has done. They might tell this woman that she should be bold not fearful, and press on, urging them to repent. They might cite passages such as this one:

“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me.” (2 Timothy 1:7–12)

Timothy was young and timid in his role as pastor. Paul told him that this fear was not from God. Rather, God gives His servants power, love, and self-control. Power is “the ability to influence reality in a supernatural manner.” From experience, Christians learn that we either have it or we don’t. God can use our words to change lives, but we cannot assume it, particularly when our hearts are determined to have our way. Usually this power shows up when we do not expect it, not when we desperately want it!

The word for love in this verse is “a strong, non-sexual affection and regard for a person and their good as understood by God’s moral character; especially characterized by a willing forfeiture of rights or privileges in another person’s behalf.” While that often describes the heart of a concerned mother, it also describes a willingness to give up our ‘right’ to pressure our kids into living the way we want them to live. Love is sacrificial, but not manipulative.

Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, but the term in this verse is not the kind of control required to keep quiet when I want to talk. The word is about being given wisdom to know what God wants me to do. Self is always eager to do what I want to do, like persuade and convince someone to believe, but arguments and human logic are not the ways of God.

As the devotional reading for today says, salvation is of the Lord. Human merit has nothing to do with it, nor does human persuasion. If God chooses us in Christ, redeems us in Christ, regenerates us and calls us in Christ, He must also be the one who convinces us to follow His leading and yield to His grace. Humanly, our sinful nature will say NO to God because sin wants to go its own way, do its own thing. Unless God changes our hearts, we will not — and cannot — say YES to Him, no matter how much someone else may want us to.

Jesus, the devotional also says there is no doctrine more practical than this. I whole-heartedly agree. Grace and the failure of human effort to save or change lives, including my own, strips away my pride. Yet grace gives me a solid place to stand. You accomplished my salvation. You granted me the faith to believe. I did not earn or deserve it and nothing I do will destroy it. Instead, I can exalt and honor You. You are my Savior, and because I can trust You with my eternal destiny, I can trust You with the eternal destiny of others. Unless You give me a clear assignment to do something, their lives are entirely in Your wise and loving hands.

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