Shaped By His Expectations
At this point we can make some general observations regarding God’s authentic redemptive plan. We should probably start by recognizing that it is first shaped by God’s expectations, and after that, by the human need. However, the popular, modern tendency is to view it first, and sometimes almost exclusively, through the filter of human need. This tends to create a skewed understanding of God’s plan.
So, man’s guiding question, when it comes to understanding God’s redemptive work, should be, “What does God expect of me?” not, “What do I need?” Truly, when all is said and done, the most important need of the human creature is to measure up to the expectation of his Creator.
It’s His Plan
Also, we should note that God's plan is God's plan. He designed it. The specifications and parameters are entirely His. They are set in place by His sovereign grace and are not subject to anyone’s approval or disapproval. And, whether interpreted correctly or incorrectly, they remain the same. The simple role of humanity is just to accurately discover and embrace His design for our renewal.
It is a Precise Plan
God’s plan for our redemption is also very precise and specific. It is by no means loosely organized or vaguely defined or casually administered. It is a very carefully crafted prescription, aimed at accomplishing very specific things, in a very precise way. And, it is not, in the slightest, altered or diversified by man’s varying interpretations or his ignorance of the true plan.
The Plan Employs a Process
Also, God's redemptive plan should be understood as a process rather than one event. Today, it is common that the event of conversion almost entirely defines the believer’s concept of salvation. But, taken alone, this event does not even come close to adequately defining the redemptive work of Christ.
The conversion event, that actual moment in time when one consciously embraces the lordship of Christ, is but one milestone event in a long redemptive journey. The journey actually begins long before that place and continues far past it. And, each of the various milestones and phases which make up its course are every bit as indispensable as that conversion moment.
A Quick Overview of the Redemptive Process
A Binary Nature:
When we step back and take the long look at the redemptive process, we can easily note the Binary Nature of the process. In other words, it has two major facets in its basic make up. The Redemptive Process is composed of both a Reconciliation aspect and a Renewal aspect. And, it brings both of these indispensable benefits to the believer in very real terms.
And this dual nature of the redemptive process is both mirrored and confirmed by the duality of the major events involved in the redemptive work of Christ: The Cross and The Resurrection. In the Cross of the Dying Christ, we find forgiveness and reconciliation to God. And, flowing out of the Resurrection and Living Christ, we find the here-and-now means of the believer’s thorough renewal.
Now, let’s take a quick overview of the essential events and phases which are linked together to become God’s authentic redemptive process. Obviously, in the details, we each have a very unique and very personalized encounter with God. But, in this wondrous redemptive experience there is also a very basic and common that which we all experience and share alike.
For example, one can easily note what might be called the “First Contact” in the redemptive process. The Church often describes this as a time of personal “Conviction.” It is that time when the Holy Spirit first begins to intensely call to a person’s heart.
The conduit of this awareness may initially be constructed around very finite issues: perhaps financial, relational, or metaphysical struggles etc. But, regardless of the triggering issue, this is typically a time when the status quo of our life is disturbed and seriously called into question.
Then, if all goes well, there eventually comes what might be called a “Decision Point.” By this point in the redemptive process, the Holy Spirit has typically enabled us to see beyond those beginning trigger issues which first got our attention. Thus, at this juncture, we have realized that those issues actually have larger, underlying spiritual implications. And, as a result of that realization, at some point we are confronted with the need to make a decision.
It is a decision between two basic life approaches. There is the Faith Choice. This is the choice to fully embrace the lordship of the Living Christ, both His value system and His daily directions for our life.
And, there is the alternative choice. This is the choice to continue our Self-determined approach to life. This is the choice to continue to trust our own value system and set our own life course.
The Faith Coin:
Regarding the Faith Choice, if we parse it carefully, we can notice that this choice is really a two sided coin, so to speak. On the one side is the decision to humbly embrace the lordship of Christ. This decision is what the Church typically refers to as one’s “Conversion” to Christ.
And, simultaneously, on the other side of the “faith coin,” is the complementing decision to entirely abandon our previous, self-determined approach to life. This side of the faith coin is what the church calls “Repentance.”
So, on the one hand we are turning to a Christ directed life. While at the same time, on the other hand, we are turning from the previous, self-directed approach to life. Nevertheless, both of these decisions are just two aspects of that same Faith Choice which brings to us divine Forgiveness.
And so, at this Decision Point in the redemptive process, we make our choice, either for or against personally embracing the lordship of Christ. And, assuming we choose to embrace Christ, this milestone decision marks the beginning of our Faith-based Relationship with God through Christ. But, what it does not do is mark the conclusion of the redemptive process. Rather, this Faith Choice sets the stage for a whole new phase of the redemptive process: The Renewal Phase.
The Humbling Period:
In a normal, healthy conversion to Christ, there is typically a celebration time as the believer revels in the “lightness” of her forgiveness and her resulting friendship with God. And, that is certainly as it should be.
But eventually, the Holy Spirit begins to lead the believer to begin confronting the full depth of her own brokenness and spiritual need. This is necessary in order to remove the residual and much more deeply engrained sense of self-sufficiency which still exists, even after conversion, in the believer’s subconscious person. So, this humbling period is a time when the Holy Spirit starts to truly empty the believer of her latent, self-directed inclinations.
And certainly, this emptying process, for a time, becomes, in effect, a kind of personal wilderness experience such as those so often noted in scripture in the lives of God’s people. In fact, Moses, in his writings in the Old Testament, described the Jewish Exodus Journey through the wilderness in just such terms of humiliation. And that journey was very much a prophetical foreshadowing of this New Testament Humbling Period.
Moses described the Jewish wilderness experience this way. He wrote in the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 8, in the Old Testament part of the Bible, “And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.
“So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.”
And so it is with God’s New Testament child in Christ. She too, is prepared and confirmed by this challenging period of personal humbling. But, this preparation is indispensable to the wondrous redemptive event which comes next.
The Target Event:
And, what comes next for the believer is what can very appropriately be called the “The Target Event” of Christian Redemption and the crowning distinction of these New Testament times. It is this event in the redemptive process at which all previous redemptive steps are aimed and around which all following are oriented. This Target Event is the believer’s very literal and very personal merger with the Living Christ.
This is that mystical integration of the believer with Christ which the Church calls the Spiritual Baptism. It is at this point in the redemptive process that the divine vitality of the Living Christ is actually integrated with the human nature of the believer. And this life-changing connection becomes the believer’s energizing means to experience a whole new and very elevated life plane in the here-and-now.
Then, enabled by the positive impact of this milestone event, the believer begins to experience what can only be described as “A Christ Empowered Renewal.” And now, living daily in this symbiotic relationship with the Living Christ, the believer is freshly enabled by the resources which Christ brings. And, through this Christ-enablement the believer is, indeed, over time, entirely renewed in his heart, and flowing out of that, in his life experience.
The Basis For Relationship:
And, this thorough heart renewal of the believer then becomes the basis for a durable, lively, and very fulfilling daily friendship with God in all the Persons of the Trinity. And, it is this Christ-empowered renewal and the resultant deepening of the divine friendship which entirely occupies the remainder of this Renewal Phase of the redemptive process for the rest of the believer’s natural life.
It’s All Essential
So, hopefully it becomes obvious at this point how each of these important milestones and phases in God's redemptive plan builds on the previous one to ultimately bring a true and thorough newness to the believer in the here-and-now. And hopefully, it is equally obvious that Christian Redemption is a truly Transformative Process – and not merely one isolated moment or event.
The Process Requires Completion
And, it follows that, if redemption is a process, then the process requires completion to be successful. The true redemptive reality is that, should a believer chooses to stop moving forward in this thoroughly renewing process, he has, in effect, once again assumed control of his own life course, becoming once again self-determined and no longer God-directed. And, to do this, to balk at any point in the redemptive process is to reject the Lordship of Christ, to fail our own Christ-enabled potential in the here-and-now, and to doom our self to a miserable eternity.
All of these ideas will be explained in much more detail later, but for now, the encouragement of the writer of Hebrews may suffice when he says in chapter 3 of that New Testament book, “Beware brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the Living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called 'Today, lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end...”
The Father’s Anticipation:
Consider, for a moment, God’s anticipation of the transformation of His children through Christ. He knows, that those who come to Christ from the darkness of self-determination have stepped into the new morning of a lifelong day of discovery - a day packed with all the promise that His boundless grace can devise. And, His excitement, entirely revolves around the reality that His children will, indeed, be obtaining the hidden treasures of this lifetime adventure.
Imagine what a joy it is for God to experience with His child the beautiful release which occurs in that first moment of forgiveness. How gratified He must be to see the nobility of His child as she endures the humbling process on her journey from spiritual childhood to spiritual maturity. How pleased He must be to see His child growing up in Christ to grasp the lessons of divine truth.
This is God’s process of heart-binding – ours to His and His to ours. The Greeks described it as “ginosco - the deep and intimate knowing of another.” This is the authentic redemptive process enabling our true elevation and renewal which, in turn, results in the restoration of our easy, and intimate, and durable daily friendship with our Creator.
This is not the stuff of a momentary encounter. It is not the stuff of a marginalized and distant God. This is the stuff which ultimately brings us back to a Christ-brokered heart-oneness with God enjoyed in an everyday friendship.