Friday, December 24, 2010

My Story and the Gospel

My Conversion and Christian Life

During my first year in college I studied many different philosophies and religions only to find myself very confused and hopeless. Then I began to give Christianity a chance after speaking with some very alive and compassionate Christians in a college dorm in Boulder, Colorado. (I had gone to Sunday school for a few years and had a vague belief in God, but I had never taken the issues raised by Jesus Christ very seriously.) Before leaving Colorado I began to read books by Christians and to think seriously about the whole issue of the existence of God and my relationship to him.

When I returned to Anchorage, Alaska, in the summer of 1976 I spoke with many of my old high-school friends who had become Christians while I was away at school in Colorado. Many of them had gotten off of drugs and had a new sense of purpose and meaning in life. As I sensed my own need for answers in life, I began to read the Bible and seek God as best as I knew how. After a few weeks of searching and struggling, I put my faith and trust in Jesus Christ at a public meeting. I realized that I was lost without God in my life and that I needed him. I didn’t know very much about the Bible at the time, but I prayed that Christ would come into my life to forgive my sins and to be my Lord and Savior.

My life did not change immediately, but over a few months I saw the difference that Christ was making in my life. I was no longer interested in drugs or alcohol (I wasn’t addicted to either, but I had abused both), I had a desire to understand the Bible, and God gradually began to give me a sense of peace and joy I had never before experienced.

Having known Christ for over thirty-four years, I’ve seen how he has led me and protected me, despite real struggles with discouragement and loss. I have been involved in teaching, preaching, and writing about the truth of Christianity ever since I graduated from college in 1979. God has led me to write ten books which defend the truth of Christianity against the challenges of non-Christian viewpoints. I haven’t shied away from the intellectual challenges brought to bear against the claims of Jesus Christ. As a philosophy professor and as a public speaker I must deal with them. In fact, I enjoy doing so.

I remain convinced that Jesus of Nazareth was and is God in the flesh, that he lived a perfect live, that he died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin, that he rose from the dead in space-time history three days later (Easter) and that he always lives to love and forgive and make new those who come to him in simple faith and trust. It makes sense to conform our lives to his will, to let him work within us for his good purposes, and to deny ourselves and follow him. He is also the One before whom all of us will one day appear, either to be welcomed into his eternal kingdom or to be cast out forever (Philippians 2:10-11; Matthew 25:31-46).

The Gospel Message

The beauty and wonder of the message of Jesus is that God cared so much about his creation that he sent his Son into the world to rescue us from the penalty of our wrongdoing. God knows that we fall short of his perfect standard of goodness. God knows that we have violated our own consciences and that we cannot undo the wrong we have thought and done. He knows we can’t deliver ourselves from our own true moral guilt before him. That is precisely why Jesus came into the world. Without a vital relationship with Jesus Christ, we have no hope for forgiveness and heaven. And we remain lost in this world as well.

One of my favorite stories from the Gospels is that of the criminals who were crucified next to Jesus. One criminal mocked Jesus and challenged him to free himself from the cross if he were God’s Son. He was rebuked by the other criminal who said that Jesus had done nothing wrong but they, as thieves, were getting what they deserved. The repentant criminal then turned to Jesus who was bleeding and suffering on the cross and said “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus’ response was amazing. He said, “I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:26-43).

The repentant criminal recognized that he was a sinner in the presence of a sinless man. He realized he was guilty before God and man. But he called out to Jesus in faith. Jesus saw the thief’s sincere faith and assured him of paradise with him that very day. All that Jesus required of the man was the recognition of his own sin and his genuine faith in Jesus himself. It wasn’t too late for this pathetic man. He had lived and died as a criminal, but he would spend eternity as a saint with God! Why? It is because he reached out to Jesus. This is God’s grace in action, his mercy manifested in the real world.

The Bible teaches that while we may not be thieves, we have all sinned against God and have fallen short of his perfect standards. We are all guilty before him. You can’t find a single culture on the face of the earth that doesn’t attempt to deal with guilt and shame in one way or another. We can try to cover it up, we can pretend it isn’t there, or we can try to do enough good things to make up for the bad ones. But none of this works. Neither do religious rituals. Our guilt remains and God knows it. Only faith in what Christ has done on the Cross can give us forgiveness and the assurance of heaven.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son (John 3:16-18).

Jesus said: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6-8).

These and so many other verses show that God is concerned about our eternal condition. This is not a fairy tale. My research has convinced me that the Bible is a historically reliable and philosophically credible book. More than that, the Jesus of the Bible, the living Christ, has transformed the lives of countless millions around the world. He changed my life and continues to challenge me to live for God and the furtherance of the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33).

We don’t need the Bible to tell us that we are mortal, that these bodies of ours are decaying and that we all must die. But there is something else ahead. To those who come to the loving Christ by faith there awaits an eternity of joy and peace in the presence of God himself. He has promised it.

But the Bible also speaks of those who are lost because they refuse to admit their failures, to turn away from wrongdoing, and to turn to Jesus as Lord and Savior. We can either come to know Jesus as our Lord and Savior in this life or we will know him as Judge in the next (which means hell). No one can merit heaven by their own deeds. We all come up far short. Without Christ as our Savior we are lost and condemned. There is no other way.

The Work of the Holy Spirit and Renewal

Once one becomes a Christian by trusting in the finished work of Christ, the Christian life must be lived in the power of the Holy Spirit, not in the flesh (Acts 1:8; Galatians 5:16-26). The Spirit not only calls and leads us to repentant faith (justification), but continues to enable us to grow in good deeds and Christ-likeness (sanctification). Christians should, therefore, strive to keep in step with the Spirit in order to bear fruit that will last. The work of the Holy Spirit today involves all the fruits, gifts, and ministries described in the Bible. There is no good reason to think that the supernatural gifts (such as prophecy, healing, tongues, dreams, visions, words of wisdom and knowledge) have ceased. While all Christians are not equally gifted in the supernatural ministry of the Spirit, the church as a whole should desire the manifestation of these gifts for building up the Body of Christ and for Kingdom outreach (see Acts 2; 1 Corinthians 12-14).

As a Christian who believes in these gifts, I seek their application to my personal life, to the life of the church, and in my teaching. For example, I am sometimes led to stop my teaching at Denver Seminary and pray for particular items. I once spent an entire class leading the students in prayer, because I felt so prompted by the Holy Spirit. I pray before class, asking God to direct the teaching and learning as He sees fit. While I always prepare lessons (sometimes quite detailed), I try to remain sensitive to the leading of the Spirit in all that happens in class. This may include strong exhortation from Scripture along with the instruction that flows from the reading and outlines that I provide.

I believe that the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements of the Twentieth Century are key renewal movements for the expansion of the Kingdom of God. As a Christian philosopher, I find no dichotomy between the work of the Spirit and intellectual excellence. They should go together as hand-in-glove. Jesus called us to love God with all of our being, including our mind (Matthew 22:37-39). Since the Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of Truth,” He is the ultimate teacher of knowledge and wisdom.


John said...

Enjoyed reading your testimony and comments regarding spiritual gifts; also appreciated your transparency in your prior post about your feelings in light of your mother's passing. I said to my wife after my own mother passed to glory (my father preceded her) that even though I was a middle-aged man, I had some strange sense of being an "orphan." We will read the Christmas story today from her well-worn Bible as a way to honor her and the faith she imparted to her family.

Praying for you today as you deal with your own incredible loss. Thank God for the hope of the Gospel!

Christmas blessings,

Michael said...

Amen. I appreciate your sound (and intellectually credible) assessment of the work of the Holy Spirit and renewal movements.

Frank said...

God has done some great things thru the charismatics, including a church which lovingly cared for my grandmother's needs after her husband died. And I've met some wonderful Christians involved with the charismatic movement.

However, I've also seen abuses that appear endemic. Anti - intellectualism is common (trust your emotions, not your mind), as is a tendency to elevate experience over scripture. Sadly, the combination of these tendencies often results in churches which put too much trust in their leaders, particularly if they are glib or have a big personality.

This happens in all churches, true, but less often in those who place more reliance on scripture and reason.

And, of course, these churches tend to preach the health & prosperity gospel. When life & tragedy reveal the emptiness of this "gospel", too often good people walk away from the faith altogether.

Mr Veale said...

Dr Groothius

Thank you for your testimony.

Do you have any thoughts on what Evangelicals could accept as "Mere Christianity"? Personal appropriation of the Gospel, or personal acceptance of Jesus as Saviour and Lord must be in the definition of a "Mere Christian". But I don't think that we need go so far as to insist on a particular definition of justification.
Christians of many traditions find common cause, and a common commitment to Christ, on the web. Some definition of what we all should hold in common would be appreciated.


Mr Veale said...

Dr Groothius

Thank you for your testimony.

Do you have any thoughts on what Evangelicals could accept as "Mere Christianity"? Personal appropriation of the Gospel, or personal acceptance of Jesus as Saviour and Lord must be in the definition of a "Mere Christian". But I don't think that we need go so far as to insist on a particular definition of justification.
Christians of many traditions find common cause, and a common commitment to Christ, on the web. Some definition of what we all should hold in common would be appreciated.