Extract from unpublished notes on "True Conversion"
We read in Mark 12:34 of the scribe who answered Christ wisely, who was declared by the Lord to be not far from the kingdom of God. He was near the Lord spiritually. This whole concept of being near the Lord is clearly presented to us in the Old Testament. We have two elements—both the concept of ourselves coming near to God, and God coming near to us. We are urged to draw near to God and promised that He will draw near to us, James 4:8. This is nothing new. God was near His people Israel. They were a people near to God, Isaiah 33:13. God came near to them when he showed them kindness, Psalm 75:1. This nearness should not be taken for granted, Isaiah 55:6. So, when the Lord Jesus Christ Himself came from heaven, He was indeed drawing near to men. Then the moment came when He actually entered the city of Jerusalem, in fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9, “Behold, your king is coming to you. . .”. There was an urgency in individual cases, as with Blind Bartimeaus when Jesus of Nazareth passed by.
Taken together, these Scriptural thoughts present the whole concept of a relationship. We have to come to God and He comes to us. Those who came to God approached Him spiritually through an understanding they were given of Him. He revealed Himself to them step by step, came to them in the Gospel, and reconciled himself to them through His work of Redemption. When we read at Pentecost of a great number being saved, they were indeed prepared. Many of them had made a literal pilgrimage to Jerusalem. They were certainly prepared. The events of the previous weeks had certainly prepared those in Jerusalem itself, and Peter's preaching prepared them. All this drew them near to God, and God came to them in the power of the Spirit through the preaching of the Word. They were given a revelation of God in the ministry of that Word. The message itself was all about the King, just as Christ spoke Himself concerning His person. People followed Him. They were taught to look to Him for salvation. In no sense could salvation be seen as simply a way of escape from trouble. Eternal life was union with Christ which would never end. In John 14, the disciples were troubled at the thought of Christ leaving them, but were assured that He would receive them to Himself, v.3, that where He was, they would be also. Salvation was all about a never-ending relationship with the blessed Redeemer. For God's people as a whole, the fullness of joy was to be in the presence of God for ever.
We know that the Jewish nation had wrong notions concerning salvation. For them it was simply a question of fulfilling legal requirements to secure their own righteousness. It was not a personal relationship with God, essentially. Furthermore, they wanted a Messiah who would simply give them the material benefits they sought. Satan used their leaders to propagate a wrong notion of their needs and aspirations. They looked for the literal fulfillment of promises that would satisfy all their natural desires without any thought of a relationship with God. This would satisfy the human heart. When multitudes listened to the Lord Jesus Christ, many turned aside because they thought of the kingdom in merely human terms. They sought Him because they ate of the loaves that He gave them. They laboured for the food that perished, and wanted to make Him a king by force. Satan sought to corrupt the message of the Lord Jesus Christ and make it something that simply gave satisfaction in a human way.
Salvation was presented in the letters of Paul not in terms of works, finding satisfaction in the fulfillment of certain conditions in order to escape certain penalties, but a blessed union with God Himself for time and eternity, not secured by anything that man does but brought about by a mighty work of God in which there was a great preparation and drawing of the Spirit, and giving of life itself.
When we look at the period after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the same picture of the Gospel way is presented, and in even clearer terms. The divine objective is not simply the salvation of His people here on earth, but eternal union and the blessedness of marriage to Christ in salvation. The new Jerusalem is not the place where the saints will dwell. They will not walk the streets of gold. The new Jerusalem is the Bride herself, where God will dwell. The blessedness of glorification is God's destiny for His people. How heavenly this is, and how contrary to the worldly view of an earthly Messianic kingdom that was held and looked for, and is still held and looked for today! The message is all about the King, our relationship to Him, and eternity in the closest possible relationship with our glorious Lord Jesus.
Bearing this in mind, it is important to stress that the message of the Good News cannot be conceived of simply in terms of escaping the consequences of sin. Man, indeed, spends most of his time trying to evade the effects of his rebellion. The Gospel tells us not only of the way in which our sins can be put away, but how we can stand in the presence of God. It speaks of the gift of righteousness. It was a spotless Lamb that died in the place of sinners. Not only has His blood secured our deliverance from the guilt of sin, but His righteousness secures our acceptance. What makes the Gospel of Christ so wonderful is that God is prepared to treat us not only as though we had never sinned, but as though we had lived a perfect life of obedience, as the Lord Jesus did. How attractive is our blessed Saviour! What bliss to spend eternity with Him! The Gospel is all about a Person, the eternal Son of God, who lived, died, rose again, and will return to be with us for ever.
Once the Holy S;pirit works in people's hearts they not only feel the danger of their sin but see sin as a barrier between themselves and God. It is not simply that they see sin as something that will hurt them, but something that deprives them of the smile of God's face. They see it as a barrier between themselves and God, and they do not simply want to get away from the consequences of their sin, but to get to God. They see it as something that has spoiled a blessed relationship. They not only want to escape God's anger, but want to see His smile. The blood of the Lord Jesus Christ propitiated God's wrath. God was angry with us personally. Salvation is not simply legal, it is more even than that, it is personal. The whole scheme of salvation was worked out to reconcile us to God in a personal way. We are accepted in Christ and loved with the very same love wherewith the Father loves His Son. Our security is, therefore, our relationship with the Lord Jesus. The Covenant of Grace has been made between the Father and the Son and, because of our spiritual union with Christ, we get the benefit of it. Christ fulfilled the terms of the covenant for His people. He has fulfilled its condition—consequently, it is a free gift. The instrument by which salvation is given is faith. Faith brings us into union with Christ but faith is not part of a bargain. We do not have to fulfil any conditions. We could never do this, but Christ has done it for us. The Holy Spirit enables us to believe in Christ, but that is not to say that He enables us to fulfil a condition, for faith is not a condition of our acceptance. Christ has met the conditions. Faith is the means whereby God gives us salvation. The sinner stretches out his hand by faith, and by grace the gift is given. It is important to make this point lest we consider faith to be a work. We are not saved on account of our faith, but by means of our faith. Faith is not a work that completes salvation for us, but the means whereby it is given.
Faith Not Works
Satan sought to corrupt the Gospel by confusing people here. The Galatians were troubled by false teachers who taught them that there was something they had to add in order to share in their own salvation. This heresy has always been with us and is, indeed ‘another gospel', for “By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God”; Eph. 2:8. Faith is not a work, but simply the expression of our seeking the Lord. It is the ladder up to heaven, the way in which we can come to God. We hear the message of the Gospel, we are convicted and concerned; the message is all about a person, we learn of Him and we come to Him. We grow in our understanding and confidence, and so approach Him spiritually in our pilgrimage. Just as we read in John 6:35, “He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst”, so coming and believing are the same.