The Experience of King Saul
October 15, 2012, 10:56 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

by David Bishop

Had he cared to, King Saul might have tried counting an experience with God as righteousness.

1 Samuel 19:22-24  Then he himself went to Ramah and came to the great well that is in Secu.  And he asked, “Where are Samuel and David?”  And one said, “Behold, they are at Naioth in Ramah.” And he went there to Naioth in Ramah.  And the Spirit of God came upon him also, and as he went he prophesied until he came to Naioth in Ramah.  And he too stripped off his clothes, and he too prophesied before Samuel and lay naked all that day and all that night.  Thus it is said, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”

King Saul had a real encounter with God.  The Spirit of God actually came upon him.  He prophesied.  He prophesied a full day and night.  And yet this same man who had a real encounter with God, this same man upon whom the Spirit of God came, did not have a righteous status before God, was not regenerate, was not one of God’s elect.  Worse still, he had actually been on the hunt to murder one of God’s elect at the very moment the Spirit of God came upon him!  Had he fellowshipped with some of the people I used to fellowship with, he might have counted himself blessed by God as evidenced by this “power encounter”.

I’m not concerned at the moment with the question of how this could happen.  I would rather address the fact that it continues to happen today.

I continue to meet people who insist that either they or someone they know will be saved because of an encounter they or someone they know had with God.  They sensed His presence or they were convicted of sin in their life, they felt a sudden closeness to God or found themselves acknowledging their need for Christ; something always along those lines.  When asked how they can be so sure they will be saved, they will usually launch into some tale that concludes with the story of their experience.

“I drank a case of beer every day for twenty years, my wife left me, my dog left me, I lost everything and everyone I ever cared about.  And then one day I went to church and I heard the preacher say this and that and the other, and suddenly it was like I just felt warm all over, and it was like I was hearing God say, ‘I love you, Jesse, just the way you are’.  Lemme tell you, I ain’t never had a drop to drink since then.  Ain’t had no need for it.  You ask me how I know I’m gonna be saved?  Lemme tell you, brother, I know for a fact God loves me.”

Had he cared to, King Saul might have said the same thing.   He could, after all, have pointed to a specific date and time when the Spirit of God came upon him and caused him to prophesy.   How do you know you’ll be saved, Saul?  Well lemme tell you, brother, it started when the Spirit of God came upon, see.

People who live by their experience do not believe, not for one second, that Christ’s death is the only work that God will accept as the righteousness.  I know, because I used to fellowship with people like this back when I was still lost and abiding under God’s wrath.  I used to stand with them out in front of the Wal-Marts on Kemper Road in Tri-County giving away free hot chocolate and Snickers bars “to show God’s love in a practical way.”  I used to stand with them at certain busy intersections in downtown Cincinnati, readying myself to scurry out with them into traffic when the traffic light turned red so that I could help give away free cans of Coke and diet Coke to thirsty motorists.   I used to go with them door to door, giving away free groceries and prayer.   In some of these instances, even I myself experienced mighty works, moments of the miraculous, an instance where I prayed for someone to be healed and they were indeed healed right there in front of my eyes.  And yet it was all self righteousness. It was all an experience that I counted as my righteousness. All of these moments of “showing God’s love in a practical way” were nothing more than attempts to establish an experience that I could then count as my righteousness.

People who live by their experience do not believe that Christ’s death is the only work that God will accept as the righteousness.  And the immediate reason they don’t believe this is because they believe instead that God has worked inside of them to produce something that God will accept as the righteousness in the place of Christ’s death alone.

People like this will confess to need Christ’s death, but what they mean by this is that God needed to start with Christ’s death only in order to get the ball rolling so that He could produce a righteousness in them that is more than Christ’s death alone.  They believe the righteousness in them that God produced was their experience of showing God’s love in a practical way, or their experience of giving up a particular sin, or even just a feeling of closeness to God.  This is why the Calvinist and Reformed persuasion of these people will confess to believe Arminians are brothers, because although the Arminian may have his doctrine all screwed up, he nevertheless has had “the experience” that they believe is the proof that God has worked in them to produce a righteousness that is more than Christ’s death alone.

Speaking of these people, the apostle Paul writes in the third chapter of his epistle to the Philippians, “they walk as enemies of the cross of Christ, their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” (Phil 3:18-19)

They glory in their shame.  That shame, as Paul shows a little earlier in the same chapter, is their flesh.  Their attempts to convert their behavior or their feelings or their experience into a work that God will accept as the righteousness, in other words.   They glory in their attempt to convert their works into a righteousness that God will accept as the grounds for their justification.  Rather than standing ashamed of these attempts, rather than taking sides against them, they boast in them instead.   They take great pride in them.  They judge lost and found by them.  It would be like King Saul taking pride in the fact he had prophesied.  How do you know you’re going to be saved, Saul?   Glory be, hallelujah, lemme tell you, I know I’ll be saved because I prophesied.

Matthew 7 contains a stern warning for these people.  Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord will enter into the kingdom of heaven.  Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not do many mighty works in Your name? Did we not prophesy in Your name?  Did we not cast out demons in Your name?

To this we might add a whole litany of attempts to make the work of human hands the grounds for justification.  Lord, Lord, did we not stop drinking?  Did we not stop smoking?  Did we not stop cussing? Lord, Lord, did we not memorize our confessions?  Did we not work to prove we have the right epistemology and the right foundation for understanding Your word?  Did we not study our Gordon Clark?  Lord, Lord, did we not feel Your presence?  Did we not sense Your love for us?  Did we not go up to the altar and repeat the sinner’s prayer?  Lord, Lord, did we not do this and did we not do that?  Did we not do everything humanly possible to convert our behavior and our feelings and our thoughts into a work that You would accept as the grounds for our justification?  Lord, Lord, did we not spend all day and all night prophesying after Your Spirit came upon us?

Matthew 7:21-23 And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness.”

The only ground for justification is Christ’s death.  God will accept nothing else.  Absolutely, positively nothing else, no matter how sincere the effort.  If you are one of those people who has not taken sides against yourself in this matter, then I tell you now that God commands you to repent and believe the gospel.

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