Late one evening three men conversed in a small flat in Budapest: A Lutheran pastor named Richard Wurmbrand, his landlord and Borilla, a huge soldier on leave from the front where the Romanians were fighting as allies with the Germans during World War II.
Borilla dominated the conversation, boasting of his adventures in battle and especially of how he personally volunteered to help exterminate Jews in Transmistria, a border province Romania had captured from Russia.
Wurmbrand listened with horror; his wife’s family had been murdered in that place. This man bragging before him may well have been the killer.
At first, the pastor was filled with indignation. But as they continued talking, something else began to fill his heart. Wurmbrand himself had been converted from a life of immorality when he read the Gospels; Christ’s teachings had overwhelmed him. One of those teachings was that we should love our enemies. Wurmbrand began to see in this cruel man someone Jesus was trying to reach. He invited Borilla down to his apartment to hear some of the Ukranian melodies that he said he her family’s murderer Wurmbrand began playing the piano—softly so as not to awaken his wife and baby son. After a little while, he could see the soldier was moved by the music. He stopped playing and said, “If you look through that curtain, you can see someone asleep in the next room. It’s my wife, Sabina.
You told me that you killed hundreds of Jews in the area where Sabina’s family lived; Sabina’s parents, her sisters and her 12-year-old brother were killed there. You yourself don’t know who you shot, so we can assume that you are the murderer of her family.” Borilla leaped from his chair, his eyes ablaze, looking as if he could strangle the pastor.
But Wurmbrand calmed him by proposing an experiment: “I’ll wake my wife and tell her who you are and what you’ve done. And I can tell you what will happen.
My wife will not speak one word of reproach! She will embrace you as if you were her brother.” The pastor then came to the punchline: “If Sabina, who is a sinner like us, can forgive you and love you like this, imagine how Jesus, who is perfect love, can forgive and love you!” Then Wurnbrand urged Borilla to turn to God and seek forgiveness.
The man melted; rocking back and forth, he sobbed out his confession: “I am a murderer! I am a murderer! I’m soaked in blood.” Wurmbrand guided him to his knees and began praying.
Borilla, not knowing how to pray, simply begged for forgiveness over and over again. He asked God to give him new desires. He asked God to give him a new heart. He was willing to surrender, but he needed the power of God in his life.
When they were finished praying, the pastor walked into his bedroom and gently awakened his wife. “There’s a man here who you must meet,” he whispered. “We believe he has murdered your family. But he has repented, and now he is our brother. He, too, is a disciple of Christ.” Sabina came out in her dressing gown and extended her hands to the huge, tear-stained soldier. He collapsed in her arms and both wept bitterly.
When Borilla rejoined his regiment in Russia, he laid aside his weapons and volunteered to rescue the wounded under fire. He had surrendered his will to Christ and had received His forgiveness and life-changing power. The law of God had been written in his heart.
He was now a devoted disciple, a genuine follower of Jesus Christ.
if Christians lived like Christ If only all Christians had the same kind of love and willingness to forgive that Pastor Wurmbrand’s wife revealed. Mahatma Gandhi once said that if Christians lived like the Christ they professed, all India would become Christian. Millions have turned from Christianity because the church has not lived what it has preached.
In many Christian circles there is a lot of talk about Jesus, with little action for Him. There’s a great deal of emphasis on externals but not much on devotion.
Heart religion, Christ in the life, God’s law written on the inside—that’s the kind of faith that counts. Being a Christian involves a lot more than just a rote observance of duty.
Jesus reserved His most scathing rebukes for some of the professed religious people of His day. They fasted, prayed and gave large gifts of money to the church. They memorised Scripture. They kept the Sabbath meticulously. They observed the laws of health. These devout people emphasised obligation. But for many of them, religion was totally removed from what happens in the heart.
Jesus became quite specific about what His religion of the heart will do.
It will fill us with love instead of anger, generosity instead of pride, a longing for righteousness instead of a longing for more possessions.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus actually said that if a bad-tempered person strikes you on the right cheek, you should turn to him the left. He continued, “And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles” (Matthew 5:40, 41). These words of Jesus about loving one’s enemies must have been hard for those people on that Galilean hillside to take.
It’s easy to love one’s friends. But only religion from the heart can enable one to love their enemies.
Come with me to a garden called Gethsemane, where we will see in Jesus the ultimate example of the fully surrendered life. Here, just before His crucifixion, the fate of the world trembles in the balance. Jesus bows low beneath the ancient olive trees. In a few hours He will be tried in Pilate’s judgment hall. A Roman lash will lacerate His back, tearing out hunks of flesh. Then He will face Calvary’s hill.
Jesus’ humanity shrinks from the cross. If possible, He longs to avoid it.
But here, in Gethsemene, with His face buried in the warm earth, in the darkness of night, beneath the starry heavens, Jesus cries out, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).
Jesus’ life commitment Jesus had a will of His own. But His entire life reflected one specific goal.
His life commitment was to do the will of the Father. He stated: “The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him” (John 8:29).
Jesus’ passionate desire was to please the Father. When His human will pulled in one direction, He chose to follow His Father’s wishes rather than His own desires. The psalmist, speaking prophetically for Jesus, declared, “I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart” (Psalm 40:8).
The ground of our salvation is Jesus Christ and the cross of Calvary. His blood shed there redeems us. His grace pardons us. The mercy He extends provides salvation. Our works do not provide the means by which Jesus saves us.
Salvation is a gift, full and complete in Christ (see Ephesians 2:8; Romans 3:20-24; 6:23).
But Jesus is not only Saviour, He is Lord, and the faith that receives Him as Saviour must accept Him also as Lord.
He is both the Champion who overcame Satan on our behalf and the King we bow before in honour and obedience— Saviour and Lord.
The Holy Spirit leads us to Jesus.
The Holy Spirit places within our hearts a desire to do right. When we yield to the Spirit’s prompting, surrendering to the convictions He brings— when, in other words, we surrender our wills to God’s will—He gives us the power to carry out that choice. The choice is ours. The power to carry it out is His.
God took the initiative in sending His Son to die for us. God takes the initiative in sending the Holy Spirit to draw us to Himself. God creates within us the desire to serve Him. God gives us the power to live the Christian life.
But there is one thing God cannot, will not and does not do. God cannot make the choice for us. God will not force us to defer to His will.
A friend of mine told me a story about his father. Years ago, the family lived on a farm. My friend’s dad was trying to quit using chewing tobacco.
Early in the morning, my friend said, he would see his dad pacing back and forth in front of the little farmhouse, fighting the terrible craving he had for chewing tobacco. Then the old man would take his chew and throw the container as far as he could out in the cornfield.
But, my friend said, about noon he would see his dad out there among the cornstalks, head down, looking for something—desperately searching for his discarded tobacco container.
Here’s my question, if you were God, would you let him find that tobacco? “No!” you’re probably tempted to reply.
“God wouldn’t let him find it!” But God did. Why? Because my friend’s father had the same power of choice in the afternoon that he had in the morning. And God will not manipulate the human will. God allows us to make choices. When we choose to put our wills on the side of obedience, the Holy Spirit enters our lives. When that choice is genuine and we long to give up sin, when we long to give up some habit and open our hearts to God, the Lord Himself comes into our lives in remarkable, dramatic ways.
how God changes people God has declared, “I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds” (Hebrews 10:16). And Paul tells us what God does when He changes people: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Just as in the beginning Jesus spoke and a world was created, so He speaks again and, through the power of His Holy Spirit, creates new hearts in us.
Light chased away darkness when He spoke on the first day of Creation.
When He speaks again, His light chases away the darkness in our minds. Then the fruit of the Spirit grows in our lives.
Where there was hatred, there is now love. Where there was anger, there is now peace. Where there was depression, there is now joy. Where there was lust, there is now self-control. Where there was arrogance, there is now meekness.
As we surrender our will to Jesus Christ, yielding to the claims of the Holy Spirit, God Himself creates in our minds both the desire to serve Him and the power to serve Him. In this way, we become disciples of Christ—followers of the Master.
So, the greatest evidence that we are Christians is a changed life. Our thought patterns are different. The focus of our attention is different. Our conversation is different. The centre of our life is no longer what pleases us; it is now what pleases Him. Christ gives us new strength to do His will. We can now love even our enemies—as Sabina loved Borilla.
Have you opened your heart to Jesus? Have you responded to the claims of His Holy Spirit? Or is religion, to you, a matter of externals? Does your wife see Jesus in you? Does your husband see Christ in you? Do your children see Jesus Christ, as Saviour and Lord, shining through you? Is Christianity something you talk about or live out? Christianity is not merely something to believe. It is Someone to love. As you love Him, His life-changing power will transform your life. You can be a genuine follower of Jesus Christ. You can be His true disciple as you surrender your life to the claims of His love today.
Reprinted with permission from Signs of the Times (US).