No man is the author of his own existence, and no man can quicken his own soul.
The pastor had adopted a wailing tone the minute he started his sermon. “Brothers and sisters,” he cried, his voice trembling in an affected Southern accent, “close your eyes and bow your heads.”
I glanced at Mister out of the corner of my eye and saw in his eyes as he stared at the pew in front of us the same thought trailing through my mind. We were only visiting (for my in-laws’ sake), so we obliged.
Now, I was raised in a Presbyterian home. Until I was in high school, my family and I had no experience with Baptists. I had no clue what to expect. Meanwhile, my husband is a veteran of Baptist churches, and I detected a heavy “here we go” sigh as we settled into the bowed-head position.
The pastor then proceeded to ask everyone who had accepted Jesus into their lives to raise their hands. I heard a shuffle as hands shot up. I’m not a cheater; I didn’t peek. But I did purse my lips and wrinkle my forehead and began my mental dialectic I learned while home-schooled.
Technically, I shouldn’t raise my hand. Because, technically, I accepted no one. Let’s be real, I was happier than a pig in mud just wallowing in my sin.
I stole another glance at Mister. He wasn’t raising his hand, either.
I tried not to smile at our stubbornness.
The pastor thanked the crowd, and included the pagans who didn’t raise their hands in his closing word. “Thank you for your bravery, but if you could just repeat this prayer after me…”
Cue inward groans.
And, since we were probably the only two in the crowd who didn’t play along with the game (it was a small church), he wanted to make sure the tall couple in the back didn’t leave before getting a chance at salvation.
I have no doubt the pastor’s intentions were sincere. He was simply evangelizing the way in which he was taught to evangelize.
But the well-meaning man had completely missed the boat.
I wasn’t necessarily a bad kid, as far as outward appearances go. I refrained from, uh, relations with my boyfriend, even if I knew from the get-go I was going to marry him (and did). I didn’t drink. I have never smoked any kind of funky stuff or cigarettes.
I went to church. I most definitely thought I was a Christian, and so I did my absolute best to talk and walk like a Christian in the presence of other Christians. I easily fooled everyone except my parents, my siblings, my granny, my Mister, and, duh, the Lord of the universe. I even fooled myself.
My soul wasn’t sick. It wasn’t injured. It wasn’t confused. It wasn’t asleep.
It was dead. Deader than roadkill. Colder than a garage doorknob. Stiffer than a telephone pole.
I was spiritually dead.
And let me tell ya. Dead people can’t do much.
They can’t hear, see, smell, taste, or feel. And they sure can’t choose to bring themselves back to life.
It’s a nice concept. As a human with human nature still taxing me here on earth, the idea of having complete control over my soul and its happenings is quite appealing. Plus, choosing your own salvation, choosing your own medicine, comes with the perk of feeling smarter and superior to those who didn’t choose correctly.
But if all we humans had to do to punch our ticket to heaven was choose life instead of death, then why on earth do we need the Holy Spirit to guide us?
Why on earth did Christ even die for such a smart lot of people?
Why on earth didn’t any of us choose sooner?
Why on earth isn’t everyone on earth a believer?
“What? Life or death? I choose death, please.” Highly unlikely.
No, friends, until Christ chooses you and breathes the breath of spiritual life into you… only then are you awakened from death.
Until Christ saves us Himself, we are like Lazarus, wrapped in burial garments and tucked into the tomb.
Until Christ commands us to come alive in Him, we are like the dry bones in the valley.
Christ alone has the power to raise a spiritually dead sinner from the ashes and make him a sinner saved by grace.
So, no, I did not accept Jesus into my life. I didn’t find God or religion. I didn’t make the decision for Christ. In fact, I didn’t want any of that. I was like a cockroach that scuttled from the light. I hid in the shadows, clinging to my sin nature, hiding it, trying not to expose it.
No, I was nowhere near accepting or finding or choosing Jesus.
Instead, He chose me. He found me, despite my trying to run, despite my trying to hide.
He reached into the darkness and pleaded.
He grabbed me and dragged me into His light.
He showed me my sins, lined them up front-and-center.
And then He told me He died for me, that He covered those sins with His blood on the cross.
He said He had taken them from me, and put them as far from me as the east is from the west.
He clothed me in new spiritual garments, in His righteousness.
And now, by His initiating grace, I live for Him.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
“The hand of the Lord was upon me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; and it was full of bones. He caused me to pass among them round about, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley; and lo, they were very dry. He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, You know.” Again He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.’ Thus says the Lord God to these bones, ‘Behold, I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life. I will put sinews on you, make flesh grow back on you, cover you with skin and put breath in you that you may come alive; and you will know that I am the Lord.’”
So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold, a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, sinews were on them, and flesh grew and skin covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they come to life.”’” So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they came to life and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.”
“Left to himself, no child of Adam would ever turn to God. The truest description of the change which we all need in order to make us real Christians is the expression ‘new birth’. This mighty change, it must never be forgotten, we cannot give to ourselves. … We might as well expect a dead man to give himself life as expect a natural man to make himself spiritual. A power from above must be put in exercise, even that same power which created the world. Man can do many things, but he cannot give life either to himself or to others. To give life is the peculiar prerogative of God. Well may our Lord declare that we need to be ‘born again’!”