By Alex Florez
When I gave my life to Jesus at age 17, I believed I could study my way into my new life. I thought if I read all the right books on the Christian faith, if I memorized enough Scripture, I could intellectualize my way into a perfect Christian existence. My brain would be the gateway to fully understanding the mind of God, and only then would my salvation be complete.
Well, that didn’t pan out too well. It turns out that God’s free gift of salvation doesn’t need to be supplemented by mental gymnastics. The gospel doesn’t need to be improved upon, and sanctification is the work of the Spirit. I’ve found that relying so heavily on my own brain is a recipe for spiritual malaise and confusion; my quest for knowledge kept me from believing what the Bible says about those who follow Jesus Christ.
No amount of studying or contemplation could undo the lies so deeply embedded in my mind—the assertion that I was unworthy, tainted, unlovable, and hopeless. Sadly, I could not corroborate or reconcile the new peace and joy my heart had found in Jesus with the accusing voices in my head.
Yet, I persisted. Even into my early thirties, in the midst of my latest round of existential panic, I remember telling a pastor friend my plan: “I’m thinking if I read the Bible enough, I can brainwash myself into actually believing what it says about God and about me.” He calmly looked at me and solemnly said, “Bro, that sounds exhausting.”
He was right. Looking at Scripture as a tool to basically trick myself into being a more faithful Christian had wreaked havoc on my heart by way of my mind. What I wanted was God’s wisdom, but I had deluded myself into thinking that sharpening my own intellect would be tantamount to knowing the heart of God and walking faithfully with the Lord—in thought, word, and deed.
Now, as I look upon the precipice of my forties, I like to think I’ve begun to reorient my thinking about the contrast between God’s wisdom and my intelligence. I’ll keep reading and studying God’s Word, but I see now that the only necessary ingredient for my salvation is Christ Himself. The only thing that can have a radical and meaningful impact on the way I live is the assurance of God’s commitment to us, those He has called His own.
Abiding with Him, remaining in His presence, following His example, and resting in the continual work of the Holy Spirit—this is how Jesus makes us more like Him (John 15:4–5). And because He has called us, He will be faithful to sanctify us through His Spirit (1Thessalonians 5:24). Notice that verse doesn’t say, “As long as you get your act together and master your theology, you can do it.” Nope. It’s all about God’s faithfulness. It’s about His promise to follow through on what He started in our hearts when He invited us to come near and lay our burdens at His feet.