Nowhere to Go
“Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near.”
I was thinking this week about why I am a Christian. Many religions exist in this world. Why am I not something else? Why am I not a Moslem or a Hindu, a Buddhist or Sikh, a Jew or a Bahai, a Confucianist or a Jain, a Shintoist or a Taoist? Actually, I read about all the world’s religions before I became a Christian, and I found some elements of good in all of them. Obviously a successful religion must speak to some element of human nature or people would not believe in it.
But, however that may be, understand this: I turned to the gospel of Christ because I literally had nowhere else to go. I was in the Air Force, and I was spiritually desperate. My problem was spiritual, not material or physical. I had a job in the Air Force that 90% of the people in military service would have loved to have. I went to school for two years. After that, Inspections, marching, drill—I did none of that. I wore the uniform but that was about the only way you could tell I was in the service. I had a job in electronics, just like a civilian job. In fact, after I got out of the AF, I was offered a civilian job doing the same thing I had been doing in the AF. So, materially and physically I was just fine, but spiritually, I was deeply troubled. I wanted more than anything else to have a relationship with God.
Why should I want that? Why should I want God at all? Traditional Presbyterian theology says that I wanted God because God had already given me his Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit was leading me to God. But at the time I did not think about any of that. I just knew I wanted God. I had to have some kind of connection with God, but how? I had not then worked out much of a theology, but even then I thought of God as most holy, most perfect, most loving, and I never kidded myself about my holiness or perfection or lovingness. I knew that I did not deserve God.
I could have made all sorts of promises to God, I could have said, “Lord, I am going to do better, just forgive me and accept me. If you will accept me, Lord, I will be your man and do your will.” And certainly I tried to do that, but as I said, I could never kid myself about myself. I could not convince myself that I could ever be good enough for God.
But I knew about this other way. I grew up in the South. I knew the gospel, I had been dancing around it for sometime. Finally, I realized that there was nowhere else to go for me. I knew that I was never going to be able to make myself acceptable to God, but I also knew that through Jesus Christ, God would accept me anyway, so I had nowhere else to go except the cross, except Jesus.
Question 11 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What are God's works of providence?” Answer: “God's works of providence are, His most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all His creatures, and all their actions.” God often so orders things by his providence, that is by his governing of the events of the world and of our lives, that we are brought to see how desperate our condition is, and we learn to despair of ourselves and to trust in Christ alone. We see this method in God’s dealing with his people in the OT.
In the book of Exodus, the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, and their slavery just seemed to get worse. Pharaoh commanded they should do more work. He said they must not only make bricks, they must go out and collect the straw to make the bricks with--and still make the same number of bricks. At that time, just when everything was at its worse, they were delivered.
And when the Israelites marched out of Egypt to the Red Sea, Pharaoh changed his mind and sent his chariots after them. When they say Pharaoh’s army, the people thought they must assuredly perish. The sea was behind them, the chariots of Pharaoh were in front. They had nowhere to go. They could not save themselves. But though they had nowhere to go, they had somewhere to turn. They turned to the lord, and the Lord delivered them by opening up the sea before them.
Continuing on in the Bible, before God brought Israel into Canaan, he led them about in the wilderness for forty years. God did this to teach them the sinfulness of their own hearts and to teach them that they were dependent on him. We read in Deut 8:3, “And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live.” The experience in the wilderness was intended to cause the Israelites to reflect upon what was in their hearts, that they might be convinced of their own perverseness, that they might be aware that it was not for their righteousness that God made them his people and gave them Canaan, but that God did it simply out of his unmerited favor.
God used the same method in the book of Judges. Every time that Israel revolted against God, God gave them into the hands of their enemies. He allowed their enemies to dominate them until they were reduced to great distress and saw that they were in a helpless condition and cried out to God for mercy. But even when they cried out to God, God did not deliver them until he had brought them to admit their unworthiness, and to admit that they were in his hands. For example, In Judges 10 we read, in the ESV, “The people of Israel cried out to the LORD, saying, "We have sinned against you, because we have forsaken our God and have served the Baals." God replies, “You have forsaken me and served other gods; therefore I will save you no more. Go and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen; let them save you in the time of your distress." (13-14) And the people of Israel said to the LORD, "We have sinned; do to us whatever seems good to you. Only please deliver us this day."(15). Then God delivered them. God delivered them when they realized that they were sinners and in their despair they threw themselves upon the mercy of God, and said, “Do whatever you want, Lord.”
What does this say to us? God has a method in salvation. God’s method is that first of all we must take a long clear look at ourselves and realize what we are. Now this is not easy. In fact, most people would probably rather do anything else in the world except be honest with themselves about what they are. We present an image of ourselves to others. The image is carefully crafted to make us look decent and good, but the image is at best only partially true. The great English writer, William Somerset Maugham, wrote: “For my part I do not think I am any better or any worse than most people, but I know that if I set down every action in my life and every thought that has crossed my mind the world would consider me a monster of depravity.”
What makes us all socially acceptable is that the world does not know us, not really. The world does not know our every thought or action. But God does. That is the whole point. That is why we must be honest with ourselves about ourselves when it comes to dealing with God.
And in all honesty what we say of ourselves is that we are sinners. That is our state, and, being in that state, we have a destination. Our destination is hell. Now most people never actually understand anything I have just said. Most people do not have an awareness of their sinfulness. They assume that everything is all right between them and God, and they are pretty good people, and so they can count on going to heaven.
I have been in the ministry a long time, since 1971. I have been to a ton of funerals. At most Christian funerals, the minister talks about how good the departed was, and we can all be sure that person has gone to heaven because he or she was so good. I do not want to be overly critical here. I know that at funerals families are working through a lot of issues, and the funeral is really for the family and friends, not for the dead. But somewhere when it is appropriate someone needs to say: that is not true. That departed person was not good enough to get into heaven. No one is. You cannot come to any kind of relationship with God until you understand that.
Last week I preached upon a passage from II Corinthians 1 where Paul wrote about being in a desperate situation. He says in v8, “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself” (ESV). He believed he was going to die, and he could not do anything about it. He had nowhere to go. So he turned to God and God rescued him. Not just any God. Paul is specific. He says in v9 that the God who delivers is the “God who raises the dead.” He has further identified this God back in v3 as the “Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.” What Paul is saying is that God will have mercy on us, God will forgive us through Jesus Christ, because of Jesus Christ, only because of Jesus Christ.
So let us summarize a bit. A person who is being led by the Holy Spirit to seek God is aware of his unworthiness before God. It seems like a hopeless predicament, I want God but I know that I do not deserve God. I know that my sins are an abomination to God. What am I going to do? I have nowhere to go but Jesus Christ.
Now when a person comes to that point, we say that they are “under conviction.” That is God is calling them through his Holy Spirit and they are wrestling with that call. The best advice they can have in that situation is this verse from Isaiah: "Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near”
This is a gospel promise of pardon and peace. Observe what we are called to do. Seek the Lord. Seek to be reconciled to God and be acquainted with God, and to be happy in God’s favor. Seek God in the way that God has laid out for sinners—that is through Christ. Christ is your way, the Spirit is your guide, the Scripture is your rule.
Notice also that the verse says that we should seek God while God may be found. Several things are implied here. I described earlier how I was under conviction, desperately wanting God. That was a time for me when God could be found. There are times in all our lives when a divine reality is near to us when we will not seek in vain, when we cannot call upon God in unsuccessfully God is patient. God sends the Holy Spirit to lead us.
But, also implied in the verse is that there will come a time when God will not be found and the Spirit will lead us no more. There may come such a time in this life, when the heart is incurably hardened; the decision has been made, and the door that was open is now shut.
We see this in people’s lives. They have a time when they are seeking God and they are concerned about spiritual things, but somehow they never actually make any decisions. They talk and talk, but that is pretty much it and in the end it all comes to nothing. They have missed their chance.
Do not let this happen to you. Do not miss out on God. Now is the acceptable time. Christ is the acceptable way. Believe on Jesus Christ and your sins shall be forgiven and you shall be a child of God.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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