You Should Be Committed! Part 4

Anybody can call himself a Christian, but it takes real commitment to actually be one. It takes no particular effort to join a church or even to attend one, but that’s not what makes a person a Christian. You can even believe in God and that doesn’t make you a Christian. There is a very common misconception today that says a person can be a Christian without being a disciple of Jesus Christ and that he can accept Jesus as Savior without making Him Lord (a word which means Master) of his life. But the Bible has a very different view of what a Christian is. The word “Christian” occurs only three times in the New Testament, and each time it’s used, it’s synonymous with the word “disciple.” In one instance, it is directly connected with that word.

News of this reached the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord. Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. (Acts 22 – 26 | TNIV)

In Antioch, there was a visible change in the people’s lives – there was glaring, obvious proof that God’s grace was present and changing lives, and Barnabas could see the change. This passage specifically states that it was the (new) disciples who were called “Christians.” They were being mocked because of the changes which had occurred in their lives.

Now, contrast what happened in Antioch with what happens today. Rarely is a new convert ever discipled in ways a follower of Christ should live. In fact, usually the opposite happens: Christians today try to find ways to be accepted by the world – they try to find “common ground” with non-Christians. They water down the Gospel to make it more palatable for the lost to accept. But the grace of God demands holiness – separation from the world and a lifestyle that is radically different from what the world thinks is the norm.

Acts 26:24 – 28

At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.” “I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.” Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” (Acts 26:24 – 28 | TNIV)

Here, Paul was sharing his testimony before King Agrippa, and it was the king who used the word “Christian,” but he used it as a term of ridicule. He was not claiming that he was almost ready to become one, because to him the word “Christian” meant “weird religious fanatic.” It would have been “political suicide” for him to “convert” and make it known to everyone that he believed that some obscure, dead, Jewish criminal named Jesus had come back to life!

Paul, as he told King Agrippa what Jesus had done for him, spoke about the need for people to change their ways, and said that the Messiah – Jesus Christ – fulfilled the message of the prophets. To the king, accepting these things meant becoming a “Christian,” and changing his ways – and this he was unwilling to do.

1 Peter 1:6 – 9; 4:12 – 19

As Peter understood it, trials which result in a measure of suffering should be considered the norm, not the exception for committed Christians. If a Christian experiences some kind of suffering on account of his faith, he needs to understand that it’s God’s will.

These [trials] have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:7 | TNIV)

If a person claims to be a Christian yet has never experienced any kind of “suffering,” then they aren’t doing it right. It’s not that a disciple of Christ should want to suffer or that they should think that they should be suffering 100% of the time. That’s not what Peter is saying here. What he is telling us is that if we are true disciples of Christ and genuinely committed to him, there will be times when we will be called out because of our faith. When that happens, it serves to prove that our faith is genuine.

Not only that, Peter seemed to understand that the age in which we live – the Age of Grace – is really a very long (so far over 2,000 years), protracted period of judgment or discipline for the Church of Jesus Christ.

For the time has come for judgment, and it must begin first among God’s own children. And if even we who are Christians must be judged, what terrible fate awaits those who have never believed in the Lord? (1 Peter 4:17 | TNIV)

Every human who has ever lived and will live will be judged – Christian and non-Christian alike. Right now, members of the Body of Christ are being “lightly judged,” or being “disciplined” by the Lord. As we experience this divine discipline, our faith matures and we grow in grace. The writer to the Hebrews had this to say about God’s discipline:

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate children at all. Moreover, we have all had parents who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! Our parents disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:7 – 11 | TNIV)

If you are living as a disciple of Christ, then you will, from time to time, experience God’s discipline. It’s unavoidable but helpful.

God wants His people to be committed to Him, no matter the circumstances and He wants us to grow to the point where our “inner man” is committed to His will. This time, we’ll look at another aspect of our commitment to the Lord:

Into your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, Lord, my faithful God. (Psalm 31:5 | TNIV)

Background

Psalm 31 is what Bible eggheads call an “individual lament.” It was written by David while he was on the run from crazy King Saul in the desert. It’s an interesting psalm because while it is a lament, there is also a lot of thanksgiving and faith expressed in it. David was nothing if not realistic. He knew when he was in trouble and he knew when the cards were stacked against him. But those potentially disastrous circumstances didn’t seem to dampen David’s faith and trust in God. How unlike the modern Christian he was! If it’s a rainy day, some of us think God has jumped ship and abandoned us. We are so easily discouraged when it seems like things don’t break our way. We can all learn about commitment from this psalm.

Trust. No matter what. Psalm 31:1 – 8

“Trust” is the big theme in this first division of the psalm.

[1]In Thee, O LORD, do I put my trust; let me never be ashamed; deliver me in Thy righteousness. [6] I have hated them that have regard for lying vanities; but I trust in the LORD. (Psalm 31:1, 6 | KJ21)

More modern translations use the word “refuge” in place of “trust.” Both words work since the Hebrew word translated “trust” carries with it the idea of a “refuge,” or a “hiding place.” That’s an important concept. As we use the word “trust” these days, we are usually referring to having faith in someone’s abilities – we trust a person to do a good job or show up on time. “Trusting” usually refers to what a person can do and is capable of. But the way the Bible uses the word in relation to God is more along the lines of having confidence in who He is, not just what He does. David trusts God to be his “refuge,” a place of safety in the midst of trouble. It’s a very personal word based on personal experience. David could “trust” God because in the past, God had shown Himself to be “trustworthy.”

And David knew from firsthand experience that God was righteous. And because he was in a relationship with a righteous God, he had no use for those who were “liars” and “vain.” Love for and trust in God always leads to contempt for those who don’t.

You are like an unfaithful wife who loves her husband’s enemies. Don’t you realize that making friends with God’s enemies-the evil pleasures of this world-makes you an enemy of God? I say it again, that if your aim is to enjoy the evil pleasure of the unsaved world, you cannot also be a friend of God. (James 4:4 | TLB)

Well, that nails it, doesn’t it? You can’t be in a relationship with God if you are trying to maintain a relationship with the world. You can’t do it. If you’re in a committed relationship with God, you won’t have any fear when your time comes. David didn’t. And Stephen didn’t. And Jesus didn’t.

Into Thine hand I commit my spirit; Thou hast redeemed me, O LORD God of truth. (Psalm 31:5 | KJ21)

That was what Stephen said as he died and it’s what Jesus said as He was dying on the Cross. When Polycarp was being burned alive at the stake in Smyrna, he also shouted those words. Bernard used them; Jerome of Prague used them; Luther and Melancthon and many others have also used them. It was Luther who said this:

Blessed are they who die not only for the Lord, as martyrs; not only in the Lord as believers, but likewise with the Lord, as breathing forth their lives in the words, into Thy hands I commend my spirit.

Magnificent words that can only spoken by people who have lived their lives wholly committed to God. You can hear the confidence in those words: I commit my spirit into your hands. When your time comes, hopefully you will have lived close enough to God to have developed that kind of trust. David understood that God had redeemed him – that he belonged completely to God. That’s the essence of commitment, isn’t it? That you belong to the God who purchased you from sin and death.

Lament. The realities of life. Psalm 31:9 – 13

It sounded as though David had a good grip on things until the next section begins.

Have mercy upon me, O LORD, for I am in trouble; mine eye is consumed with grief, yea, my soul and my belly. For my life is spent with grief, and my years with sighing; my strength faileth because of mine iniquity, and my bones are consumed. I am a reproach among all mine enemies, but especially among my neighbors, and a fear to mine acquaintances; they that see me in the streets flee from me. I am forgotten as a dead man, out of mind; I am like a broken vessel. For I have heard the slander of many; fear was on every side; while they took counsel together against me, they schemed to take away my life. (Psalm 31:9 – 13 | KJ21)

This man had it bad! But he did the right thing: He took it to the Lord! We usually don’t; we usually whine and complain about our miserable lives to people around us. We shouldn’t do that. It’s a waste of time. The person you’re complaining to is probably worse off than you, anyway. Take your trouble to the Lord. He’s the one who can help you. Don’t fret or worry – those are sins. And let’s face it, you have trouble enough with sins.

Thanksgiving, Psalm 31:14 – 24

David was realistic. He was in trouble; he knew it and he admitted it; and he took his trouble to the Lord. But he also did something else:

But I have trusted in Thee, O LORD; I said, “Thou art my God.” (Psalm 31:14 | KJ21)

There’s that word “trust” again. David trusted in God because he knew God personally. For David, God was not an impersonal deity, way off in the distance. God was HIS God. That’s not an arrogant thing to say. David isn’t saying that he possessed God, but that God possessed him. Years ago Phil Johnson wrote some wonderful lyrics that express the kind of confidence we all should have in God:

He didn’t bring us this far to leave us,
He didn’t teach us to swim to let us drown,
He didn’t build His home is us to move away,
He didn’t lift us up to let us down.

Part of that trusting involved a knowing and understanding who was in control:

My times are in Thy hand; deliver me from the hand of mine enemies and from them that persecute me. (Psalm 31:15 | KJ21)

That’s an amazing verse that speaks of God’s sovereignty over David’s life. He’s sovereign over your life, too. God sees all and knows all. He is not ignorant about what you are going through – He knows your enemies and those that persecute you. This would be a good verse for every believer to memorize and cling to. Robert Browning did, and he wrote a verse about it:

Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life for which the first was made.
Our times are in his hand Who saith,
“A whole I planned. Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!”

This is from “Rabbi Ben Ezra,” and it’s true. That word translated “times” in Psalm 31 means “life-stages” or “fate.” What David wrote and believed is what you need to believe: Regardless of where you are in your life – young, middle aged, old – your time, or your fate, is God’s hands. God is not for old people only, or for children! He’s for all people, at every age. There never is a time in your life when you can do without Him. That’s what being committed to God is all about. God is committed to you through all the times of your life. You should return that commitment in kind.

David ends with a word of encouragement, and it’s a good way to end this teaching, too:

Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the LORD. (Psalm 31:24 | KJ21)

I like the literal sense of this verse, which Moffatt captured perfectly:

Be strong, and let your heart be valiant, all you who hope in the Lord.

To “hope” in the Lord is to have complete, unwavering confidence in Him and His abilities. If you’re not completely sold out to God, you can’t have confidence in Him or His abilities because you won’t know Him well enough. It pays to be committed to God. Your life may depend on it some day.

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