...That I Know Could Never Be

Yesterday I preached during our worship time (watch the singing video if you haven’t). The text I used was James 1:17-18. I thought it might help us get a head start on a text I planned to cover later in the day (I am teaching the book of Jacques now). This text teaches us, like John 1, that those of us who are "born again" were brought to birth because of the powerful word of God and His free will, not our free will (like every other text about regeneration). Then we went on with our day and in the evening I arrived again at verses 17-18.

After only four and a half days of theological instruction, I asked these Baptist guys a question last night when we arrived at those verses: “Which comes first, faith or the new birth?” I expected the answer I normally get in the US when I ask that question.

I was prepared during that class session to undo some of the error I used to embrace about the source of faith. James is introducing the God Who is the giver of all good gifts. I used to think that being born again was kind of a trade-off. We give God our faith and He gives us the new birth. Then things are all square. But I was confronted a few years ago with all the texts of Scripture that show man as spiritually dead and God as the sole agent in salvation. I pitied these Haitians who have had so little training and assumed that Arminianism (ask me what that is) is to be expected before we grow to understand grace. How wrong I was.

I was armed with Scripture to defend the power of the gospel that brings us to faith and repentance. But almost in unison they answered my question: “Naissance!” I looked at the translator and realized that these men were saying, “Birth!” Upon a study of Scripture these fellows had concluded that dead men have no faith to muster. Go figure. I had extra time to spend on the rest of James 1.

Does it really matter? Isn’t this just something for pastors and theologians to debate? It does matter and here is why: The God of the Bible is all about His own glory. Any rescue in which sinners can participate not only robs God of His glory, it hints at a deity other than the Father of lights and the Author of salvation. God-centered theology produces God-centered, cross-focused living. People who are humble enough to take no credit for their salvation can be humble enough to live a lifestyle of repentance. There is hope for Haiti.

Adventure report: I am learning to brush my teeth with bottled water. Having seen where the water comes from (a cistern on the roof) I now know why I was warned about opening my mouth in the shower and drinking the tap water. By the way, there is no hot water here, but I must say I haven’t minded.

Lord, 'tis not that I did choose Thee;

            That, I know, could never be;

For this heart would still refuse Thee

Had Thy grace not chosen me.

Thou hast from the sin that stained me

Washed and cleansed and set me free

And unto this end ordained me,

That I ever live to Thee.

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