I thought it was a divine revelation, a visitation from the Holy Spirit. A skeptic challenged me and a long conversation ensued. I found myself saying things I had never put into words and a rapid shift in perception occurred. I had this certainty, the Lord was moving me to a higher plane. It seemed to have been from the Lord. . . until I started reading the Bible and found out differently. It was just another religious experience; an excursion of imagination and intensity.
Not to be derisive, but how else can it be described? So many religious experiences have no basis in Bible teaching. The only common denominator has to do with the nouns and verbs: Jesus, God, love, repent, pray, heaven, hell, etc. But the difference in concept between religious experiences and Bible teaching is big. For example, this is the understanding I get from religious neighbors who have spoken to me about grace; “The grace of God just touches you and you are changed. It is beyond reading and following what is in the Bible. If you haven't had the experience then you don't know the grace of God. It doesn't make any difference what the Bible says; I know what I have experienced. You have head knowledge, I have heart knowledge.” Perhaps my take on this is overly simplified. However, I think it represents the average religious conviction based on having an “experience.” Grace is a word lofted like an umbrella over conviction. So let's review a few things the Bible states about grace.
“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:11-14) First of all, the grace of God brings salvation. God did something to save us. “. . .the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. . . grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Jesus' ministry on earth, His sacrifice on Calvary, His resurrection and ascension, these all are manifestations of God's grace. These were deeds done in the flesh. Secondly, this grace has appeared to all men, not to a select group, not to the chosen gnostic, but to all. This means that anyone can access it at will. As it is written; “But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered.” (Rom.6:17) So we come to a third point; God's grace teaches. Because it “has appeared to all men,” its teaching is not subject to personal revelation; “. .no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. .” It is open for common examination. The established testimony of the Bible is how we know about God's grace. The scriptures are “. . . profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. . .” There would be little if any discussion of the subject if it were not for the Bible. It teaches us how we ought to live, what we should be looking for in the future, and how He has the power to to redeem and purify us.
A summary word concerning the effect of God's grace is transformation. Transformation is where our will and the will of God meet. The Holy Spirit used the example of circumcision to describe this. “In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.” (Col.2:11-12) Baptism is a part of the circumcision of Christ. It was commanded to the Jews and to the Gentiles. What do we bring to the water? We bring our corporeal body and our faith. God brings Jesus Christ. It is through faith in the operation of God that Jesus becomes a part of our lives and we are able to come up out of the water, raised to walk in newness of life. Thus an experience happens which is founded upon the testimony of God, a testimony above our imagination, a testimony any sinner can believe and obey. The experience comes from transformation. I don't think we can put our finger on Jesus or the Holy Spirit in our life, as if the brain can isolate the presence of God. But you can identify the joy one receives in being born again. It is joy founded on what God has done and testified of in the Bible. It is founded on faith and yielding to God on the basis of what is written. We can rejoice in a change of behavior. We can experience the well being of a new a life.
When we think God is touching our lives, we must be certain that God is with us in truth and not in imagination. A religious experience occurring out of thin air (so to speak) has none of the qualities which the Lord has given for all men everywhere to appreciate.
There is nothing to verify that it comes from God other than how we feel about it.
It is personal, therefore it cannot truly be shared.
No obedience is involved.
On the other hand, the arm of the Lord has been revealed. (cf. Is.53:1) “Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began but now has been made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures has been made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith--” (Rom. 6:25-26)
God touches (establishes) us through the gospel.
The gospel has been made known to all nations, thus we can share our faith with all.
It requires our obedience.
The way of the Lord provides lasting comfort and assurance when we believe and obey the gospel.