You probably hear it all of the time, “give your life to God…” (or “give your life to Jesus” or “so-and-so gave his/her life to God”) and you will be saved, or your life will be made better, or you will become pleasing to God. Now… there is a way of understanding what is being said by this phrase that can be true. However, there is a fundamental problem with this statement that need to at least be discussed; therefore, it is the topic of today’s Complete the Thought (CTT).
The fundamental problem with this phraseology, is in the emphasis on the person being saved, rather than He who actually saved. It is dangerous to allow the focus of our redemption to move off of the Grace of God for the slightest of moments. Let’s look at how Jesus characterized His charge from the Father in the book of John:
John 10:14-18 (ESV) 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
Jesus is, He knows, He calls, He brings, He laid down His life, and He took it up again, for the authority was His. The Gospel Jesus Christ, must remain wholly and completely focused on Jesus Christ. So, when we regard the Gospel of Jesus, the Message of Salvation, we dare not use man-centered language “he gave himself to God”, or “he gave his life to Jesus”. Let’s see how Paul talked phrased salvation in his letter to the Ephesians:
Ephesians 2:1-10 (ESV) 1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
So, how can someone who is dead in the trespasses and sins have any means of “giving his life” to God? What can that person do? Nothing. Anything that person might have done prior to being made alive in Christ is not only worthless… but disgusting by comparison to the gift of God’s Grace. Am I splitting hairs on this? Possibly, but I believe I am right in doing so.
Galatians 5:9-11 (ESV) 1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision* that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. 7 You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? 8 This persuasion is not from him who calls you. 9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump. 10 I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. 11 But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision*, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed.
* Paul isn’t just talking about the surgical procedure of circumcision here, but he is talking about the Law.
A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough, and that is why I believe it right that we choose our words carefully, even at the risk of being accused of “splitting hairs”. The entire book of Galatians is a rebuke to them about allowing those who slipped in to start preaching to that they had to follow the Law of Moses in order to be true followers. The seal of those under that Law, those under the old covenant, was physical circumcision of all men under the covenant. They were preaching justification by works of the Law to those who were already saved by grace, through faith, in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The entire letter to the Galatians bears this out in plain language. Paul is not talking to the lost, so any attempt to minimize what is being said here as simply “yeah, we’ve said all along that you are only saved by grace”. The Galatians were running well. They had received the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They were saved. Yet they had allowed the preaching of a different gospel, one of men, one that placed the hearers and doers of this gospel back under the yoke of slavery to the Law. But why were they teaching these things? Was it for the good of the Gentile believers? Let’s see how Paul closes this thought in Galatians:
Galatians 6:12-15 (ESV) 12 It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. 14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.
There it is. Those who would preach a works-based gospel, can in-turn boast of their accomplishments, and in yours, because they taught you how to measure your life by your actions, actions whose teaching they can take credit. That is why Paul draws the distinction he does… Paul boasts only in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. No one can take credit for that, except Jesus. Eph 2:8-9, ” For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
So, what are we to give to God? Well, first of all, since we were dead before Christ, then it is not we who now live but Jesus who lives in us; therefore, “our lives” isn’t the best answer. It works, if everyone is speaking the same jargon (American football fans know the difference between ‘a safety’ regarding the defensive back, and ‘a safety’ regarding the loss of 2 points based on the context, but a non-fan hasn’t a clue, and can even be mislead if they assume the wrong meaning). I did a quick search of the the Pauline epistles “give God” in the ESV bible (I love the online bible tools!). Overwhelming focus of who gives what to whom is that God has given us everything. We are told to give God “Thanks” for His gift. Not repayment… but thanks. So even to those of us who have heard and accepted the Gospel of Jesus Christ, live out our lives in humble thanksgiving to God in all circumstances. We don’t presume to repay anything… for such is beyond our reach. We must give thanks to God for His Gift of Salvation. Our charge is not to preach the old covenant, because righteousness was not possible through works of the Law, but the new covenant established by the One who was solely able to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, the One promised to Abraham, to Eve, to all of mankind, the One who was with God in the Beginning, the One through whom all that is made was made, and who laid down His life for His sheep and raised it once more, the Firstborn from the dead whose flesh will never see corruption, to whom all Authority in Heaven and Earth was given and now sits at the Right Hand of the Father, who sent the Holy Spirit to all who believe and are baptized in the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit as a comforter, a helper, to give power to those who believe to testify and act as a witness of the Gospel of Grace, the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
Will you slip from time to time and say someone, “gave their life to Christ”… just be quick to refocus the statement. Let us not be so quick to defend the clever verbiage of men over the God-Breathed passages of Scripture. Now, I prefer the phrases: “accepted Jesus Christ as Savior” or “received Jesus Christ” or even “baptized in Jesus Christ”. We accept/receive gifts, and we are told to baptize those who believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. We could even go so far as to skip those attempts at pinpointing a moment in time and refer to them as simply Spirit-filled believers in the Gospel, because the Gift of the Holy spirit is for those who hear the Gospel, Believe and are baptized (Acts 2). So, there are is no shortage of Gospel-inspired terminology that accurately reflects the whole truth of the Gospel.
May the Lord bless and keep you,