At church this morning, one theme that I heard was the importance of being thankful, not just for material blessings, but also for spiritual blessings.
I thought back to when I was living in New York City. I would listen to a radio program on Sunday mornings that could probably be characterized as hyper-dispensationalist. Its message was that we were in the dispensation of grace. Whereas Jesus taught that God would not forgive those who did not forgive others, the current dispensation (promoted by Paul, the apostle of grace) says that we forgive others because God has already forgiven us. We have God’s grace, it cannot be lost, and that then motivates us to forgive others. The hyper-dispensationalist radio program taught that some of the things that Jesus said were for another dispensation, whereas Christians today are to follow Paul’s teaching that one is saved by accepting God’s free grace in Christ.
I enjoyed listening to this program for a variety of reasons. It was upbeat. It highlighted the diversity of Scripture. And it presented a God of grace for whom I longed. I had long struggled with Jesus’ teaching that God would not forgive me if I didn’t forgive others, for I had a difficult time putting away my grudges. I also felt unable to obey Jesus’ commandments about love for others, since I was introvert, and also because, well, I did not like people! I wasn’t looking for a God who would excuse my sinfulness, mind you, but I wanted to know that God loved and accepted me, as imperfect as I was. The Christianity that I so often encountered in my own reading of the Bible focused on obedience, commandments, and God’s wrath, and I was wondering if there was a way to find in the Bible a nicer God who accepted me. That would make it easier for me to love others, I thought!
Well, near Thanksgiving Day one year, I was listening to the radio program, and the speaker on it was talking about being thankful to God for spiritual blessings. These spiritual blessings included being saved by grace, salvation being permanent (meaning one cannot lose it), being accepted by God, and having eternal life and the hope of a glorious future. We have been given so much, the message went, and thanksgiving was a proper response to that! Moreover, the speaker was saying that being thankful for God’s grace can help us to have a good attitude during the challenges of each day. If we are cut off in traffic, the speaker said, we don’t have to get too upset about that, for we are saved by grace: God accepts us and loves us, and has a wonderful future for us.
I had a hard time being thankful for spiritual blessings because I was not sure that I even had them. I did not know if God loved me or rejected me on account of my sins. I didn’t know if I was repentant enough to get God’s favor. I didn’t know if I had eternal life.
I remember this incident with some fondness because listening to that radio program presented me with the sort of spirituality that I wanted. How are things with me nowadays? Well, I’m not sure how much of the Bible is true, or if Christianity is even true. Maybe I will some day find an understanding of Christianity that makes sense to me and bears fruit in my life. I don’t have the extreme spiritual insecurity that I once had, I will tell you that, but that’s not because I accept a hyper-dispensationalist reading of Scripture, or a free grace, once-saved-always-saved reading. Rather, I just accept that God is loving, and that a loving God would care for everyone. If God is the source of our moral laws, then God probably follows them himself. That’s what I figure.
Anyway, I’ll stop here.