The Joy of Salvation
Have you ever noticed that we tend to appreciate things more after they are gone? People take better care of their heart, for example, after it stops working for a minute. The job that causes complaints one week may be valued more after the pink slip comes.
An old car looks good to someone who has none, but less desirable to someone who has a new one. It’s the same car, yet one person appreciates it more than the other one does, because the person who experiences loss tends to value it more.
In Jesus’ parable, the woman celebrated having 10 coins only after fearing she would have only nine (Luke 15:8-9). She had the same amount (10) before as after, but she did not celebrate until after she had lost and then found a coin. The shepherd did not celebrate 100 sheep, but celebrated finding one that was lost (verses 4-6).
People appreciate food more when they are hungry, they appreciate water more when they are thirsty, they appreciate help more when they are needy. Health and freedom—and perhaps all good things—become more important to us when they are threatened.
The joy of being found
The same seems to be true of spiritual realities, too. We value life with God more after we have experienced the problems of life on our own. In a strange sort of way, good can come out of evil.
Joe Aldrich mentions this statistic: "More than 90 percent of those who remain within the fellowship of the church following conversion were dissatisfied with their non-religious lifestyle before anyone proclaimed the gospel to them. More than 75 percent of those who ‘drop out’ of the fellowship following conversion showed no significant level of dissatisfaction before conversion" (Gentle Persuasion, p. 99). In other words, people make a more serious commitment when they have a greater need. The less happy they were with life before, the more serious they are now.
Perhaps that is why Jesus came to seek the lost (Luke 19:10). Of course, everyone is spiritually lost, but Jesus came to seek those who would admit to being lost, who would admit that they needed to repent and turn toward God. They were the ones who knew they needed help and would appreciate his help. Beggars appreciate crumbs more than rich people do.
This does not mean that second-generation Christians should go out and sin like crazy so they can have a better repentance. All sin brings is heartaches and grief. Why make it worse? Everybody sins enough that they should be able to see that we are incompetent creatures and are in need of serious help. It would be foolish to pretend that we are among a (nonexistent) tiny minority who can manage life OK without any need for God.
Jesus did not call the comfortable. He called those who were burdened and tired (Matthew 11:28). He called the thirsty, those who knew they had a need (John 7:37). The first step of salvation, it seems, is to realize that we have a need. We need to see that life has more to it than what we can get on our own.
Some people struggle on the margins of faith. They know they fall short, but think that if they just had a little help, they could get back on their feet and make it on their own. They view Jesus as a temporary help, it seems—a little rescue every now and then, but they think they will manage after that. "Just tell me what to do, and I’ll do it. A couple of days in the hospital and I’ll feel better and go on my way."
But we are far too sick for that. We need more than rescue—we need regeneration—a new life. We need a heart transplant, intensive care, constant monitoring and constant forgiveness.
We need a pacemaker—Jesus giving us a new heartbeat—and frequent medication from the Holy Spirit. We are seriously sick, and the better we realize it, the more appreciative we will be of the help that Jesus gives us.
Help now and forever
The gospel of Jesus Christ helps us both in this life and in the future day of judgment. We have needs in both ages, and we should not neglect either one.
Some people treat the gospel merely as rescue from future condemnation. They accept Christ and, thinking that their future is now secure, go back to living pretty much the way they were before, all on their own steam, their own willpower, their own ideas of right and wrong. They may have seen a future need for Christ, but failed to see that they are desperately in need of him in this age as well.
They may trust in Christ when it comes to the future, but they do not trust in him for the here and now. They may strive for financial success, or for fame, power and importance. They may strive for pleasures in food and drink, sports and amusements. They may get them, but none of these will satisfy, because God has made us to need something more significant than self-amusement.
God has made us for fellowship with him, and nothing else can satisfy our souls. However, we often go hours or even days without giving much thought to God’s glory, love and holiness. I am sure that once we see Christ in his glory, we will thump our heads and say, "Oh, how could I have ever paid so much attention to other things?"
But we do not yet see Christ this clearly. We live in the slums, so to speak, and find it hard to imagine places we have never been. We are too busy trying to survive the slum to dwell on the glories of God.
But all the miseries of this life are training, I think. We will appreciate the joys of eternity even more after we have struggled with the shackles of sin. We will appreciate spiritual bodies more after we have experienced the pains of our physical bodies.
We will appreciate paradise more after being lost, than if we had never been lost at all—or at least the contrast will help us appreciate it much faster.
The trials of this life make us look forward to, and will help us appreciate even more, the joys of eternity. In a strange way possible only with God, good will come out of and replace evil. This does not make our trials go away. Rather, it may help explain why trials are part of life. As it is written in Acts 14:22: "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God."
God does not give us health and wealth whenever we ask, even if we are his children, because such things would too easily tempt us to focus on this physical life instead of spiritual reality. We are distracted too often as it is, but our attention (and our affections) would go astray even more if this life were more physically satisfying.
This physical life, in itself, is not supposed to be satisfying. It is supposed to make us hunger and thirst for the kingdom of Christ, so that we will come to him and be satisfied in him. The joys that he gives can never be taken away.
In this life, we get only a down payment, to whet our appetite for more. It is through realizing what we lack, that we appreciate what Christ gives. The pain of being lost makes the joy of salvation that much more wonderful.