This is one of the definitions of "epiphany" in Webster's dictionary:
(1): a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something (2): an intuitive grasp of reality through something (as an event) usually simple and striking (3): an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure b: a revealing scene or moment
Several years ago there was a movie that dramatically illustrated an epiphany: it was called The Sixth Sense. The climax of the movie comes when the central character realizes, in a moment of stunning revelation, that things were not at all the way he thought they were. The neat thing about this movie is that the audience (at least the first time they see it) also experiences the epiphany for themselves. Up until that point, they were assuming the same things that the character was. At the moment of revelation, the audience (like the character) starts replaying previous scenes in their minds, and now the signs are plain to see, the hints jump out from the background, and the puzzle comes together in a most unexpected way.
I feel like I'm in the middle of an epiphany right now.
After I wrote my post on Monday, I emailed it to one of the associate pastors at my church -- the one who had recommended that I read Stanley's book. I wanted to know if he thought someone could lose their salvation, and if so, how? I've always believed that you could lose your salvation (and lose it quite easily), so the idea that you couldn't lose it was almost inconceivable to me. Surely there had to be a line somewhere, and when you crossed it, you were out... maybe the line wasn't where I thought it was, but it was still there SOMEWHERE... wasn't it? Grace without strings--come on, how could that be true? It was too easy. It was too extravagant.
Tuesday evening that pastor and I met at a coffee shop and he shared some of his story with me. He comes from a pentecostal background too, so he grew up believing that he could lose his salvation. He was afraid of God. Then he shared some things that helped him understand what grace really meant, and what impact that had on his relationship with God.
This pastor had a child who went through a very difficult rebellious phase. It hurt him very deeply, and even tho that child had walked away from the family, the pastor never stopped loving his child. He never lost his place in the family. In that experience, he recognized that if an earthly father was capable of loving his child through a situation like that, surely God's capacity to love His kids was even greater.
Anyone can love a person who loves you back and behaves correctly. It's harder to love someone who turns away from you... harder still to love someone who wrongs you. But that's exactly what God does.
When God adopted me into His family, it was forever -- warts and all. My capacity to walk away from Him will never exceed His capacity to hold on to me. I don't have to be afraid of losing my salvation on some silly technicality. God's not looking for an excuse to get rid of me.
In the course of one conversation it was as if my world was turned upside-down. Grace without the strings? Salvation that I couldn't lose? Could this really be true?
It seemed like there were a lot of verses in the Bible that supported the idea of losing your salvation... so that night I started looking for them. But even as I began to write out my questions, I could see some answers that hadn't been obvious to me before. Something inside "clicked," and I started to see everything differently. The clues had always been there. They were in plain view, I had just been oblivious to them. I had missed it... but now, in a way I had never anticipated, the puzzle was coming together.
Within a matter of hours, I had done a complete 180 on something I had strongly believed for ~15 years. And if felt really good.
Two days later, it's all still sinking in. I can't even completely put it into words yet, but I know that I can never look at things the same way. I've never known peace like I've known in the last two days. I can have a relationship with God now that isn't based on fear.
It seems especially appropriate that today is Thanksgiving. I've never understood grace or salvation more clearly than I do today, and I just can't help but thank Him for such an extravagant gift.