How Does Theory Become Experience?
Norman Grubb brings great clarity to the inner workings of faith and how the fact of our union with Christ becomes a personal experience.
How can a general fact become a personal experience? Even if I mentally accept the fact of union with God, how does that help, unless I know it in my inner being? How can I be among those of whom it was said, "They were all filled with the Holy Spirit" or as the prophet of old said, "I am full of power by the Spirit of the Lord"? The answer is that simplest of ways by which alone all that is available in life becomes personal in our experience, and although we have already stated this, it is important enough for repetition and close examination. The bible calls it the way of faith. We might define it as freedom in action. God has so ordered the universe and our relationship to it, that we are surrounded by all that is available to us–food, air, every convenience of life. We have a general recognition and acceptance of the fact that such things are there for us. We call that believing in things.
Belief is mental acceptance. We believe in thousands of things as realities, but that belief does not produce in us a personal experience of them. Experience is a product of a deeper level. That comes from the center of our personality, our human spirits, our ego, where knowledge and desire combine to motivate acts of will. That is freedom in action. That is faith in contrast to belief. Something is available–take the simplest–food, air, a chair: my belief takes me that far. But if I am to choose something, I must desire it. So to availability is added desirability; and we humans are so made that we are a continual stream of desires, for we are made of love.
Now when a thing is available and desirable, is it reliable? At that spot we have to stop short. Nothing in the universe can be proved by reason and observation to be reliable. Reason can take us up to the edge. It can make things appear the nearest thing to a certainty; but it cannot prove things as a certainty. No one can prove that the food I eat will agree with me, or the chair I sit on will hold me, or the house I buy will suit me.
What do I do then? A thing is available, it is desirable, it is reliable so far as I can estimate. That is as far as I can get. So now comes the moment–the moment of faith, the moment of freedom in action. I have to leap into the unknown. I have to go beyond reason. From the center of my personality, called in the Bible my spirit or my heart, I have to make a deliberate choice, a leap into the dark.
That is exactly what puts movement and adventure to living. We have to gather together all the certainty we can about a thing, but in the end we have to move out from uncertainty. We are always the gamblers, putting our money on what seems to use the nearest to a "cert."
So life is no smooth flow from certainty to certainty, which would be stagnation to the human personality; it is an unending series of leaps, the choices of faith in action. Down to the tiniest and most trivial of actions, everything is an inner choice of faith, freedom in action.
But those leaps, and they alone, give birth to personal experience. All the chairs in a room may look nice, be available, and look secure. They are meaningless to me beyond the general fact of my believing in them, except for the one I sit in. That involves my inner choice and outer action. I desire a chair, I think it is reliable, but without final certainty–I sit. Then I have personal experience. I cannot then say that chair would hold you, but I can say it holds me, and makes me feel it holds me. I have taken it: it has taken me. So with eating food, so with breathing air, so with every human action up to the great decisions of life. Only such personal action produces experience, and brings something down from an available generality to an individual reality. But it does always do that. What we link ourselves to, links itself to us, and makes us know it.
It is true that higher attainments of faith may take a little longer to settle themselves in us. We learn a trade or a language. It is an act of faith: the language is there, we involve ourselves in starting to learn it: that is faith. But we go through a long period in which we have to walk by faith, the endurance of faith, taking hold of something which seems constantly to elude us, sounds which seem to go in one ear and out the other; we by no means at once are taken hold of by the language. But the time comes, perhaps with us hardly realizing what is happening, when what we sought to take has taken hold of us; the language, the trade, has become spontaneously part of us. Faith, persistent faith, has produced substance. It is no longer the general fact of this trade, this language, but my trade, my language.
Now we come back to the question we first asked. God and I a unity by grace: spirit joined to Spirit. How does this generalization based on the Scripture revelation become my experience? By this same method. In place of a belief in this as a fact for humanity through Christ, I take personal action–inner action. Available? Yes. Desirable? Yes. I have come to the point where nothing will be more wonderful and desirable, and nothing more hopeless than struggling along in the old illusion of separation. Reliable? Well, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ as revealed in the Scriptures is the God to whom my heart wholly responds and before whom my reason prostrates itself as the highest conceivable: I am, therefore, ready for the leap.
From the center of my being, with my will, as being my heart’s desire, my choice, I affirm Him and myself to be in the eternal relationship He says we are, through my crucifixion and resurrection with Jesus Christ: we are a unity, He in me, I in Him. I state that as a fact. It has nothing to do with what I feel about it or with my sense of unworthiness and inconstancy, and the unreliability of my humanity. He planned it. He effected it, He chose me, no I Him. Very well then, I may think He makes queer choices–facts are facts.
The inner choices of the will are given outward expression in the body, as when we choose to sit in a chair, we then sit. So the inner action of the will in this greatest of all affirmations is confirmed by confession of the mouth. Some opportunity is taken to express our faith-in-action to ourselves and to others: I did it with my pen, drawing a picture of a tombstone with my name on it which I could visit to remind me of the end of an old union to a false god. It took a little time longer to have an equal consciousness of the resurrection!
But the all-important consummation of such faith is that what we attach ourselves to by the act of faith attaches itself to us, and makes us know it. Food in the stomach, air in the lungs, the chair we sit on, have all become conscious realities to us. So in the ultimate dimension of faith–the realm of the spirit.
By our act of faith we are identifying ourselves with the Christ whose atoning sacrifice reconciled us to God: and there settles into our inner consciousness an awareness that we are forgiven, accepted, justified in His sight as if we had never sinned, adopted into His family. It produces a peace, a solid certainty of a new relationship, something inwardly substantial in our spirits. It is God the Spirit, to whom we have attached ourselves, bearing witness with our spirit. Faith has produced a substantial awareness of Him in whom we have placed our faith in action, and of what He has done for us.
So no, this highest dimension of faith, not merely in our reconciliation to God, but in His eternal, unchangeable, factual unity with us, equally produces its settled awareness of this supreme fact of human history. It may not be in a day, just as spontaneous familiarity with a trade we are learning does not become ours in a day. But it comes.
Sometimes it is with electrifying suddenness. The gift of tongues was the evidence to Christ’s first followers at Pentecost. That same gift has been in operation in many in these recent days, and by that they know inwardly with never a further question that they and God are one.
To others, the inner awareness comes in different ways–to me not till after two years from my committal of faith, and then by a kind of flooding of inner certainty–that was all. But the point is that faith has not completed its function until it is consummated by an experienced certainty of the thing appropriated. Until then, whenever concerned about it, keep repeating the affirmation of faith in much the same way as a learner keeps repeating his lesson, until the subject matter has become part of him.
For many years after his retirement as General Secretary of the Worldwide Evangelization Crusade, Norman Grubb traveled extensively sharing the truth of our union with Christ. He was the author of many books and pamphlets, a number of which are available through the Zerubbabel Book Ministry. Norman P. Grubb entered the Kingdom at 98 years of age.