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7 Steps in the Christian Life, Part 6


We’ve come to the end of another series.  We’re taking the last step in the seven steps of the Christian life.  There are probably more steps if you look for them, but these are the seven I chose because, to me, they are the most meaningful.

The first step is one we all take when we become part of God’s family:  We receive Christ.  God is calling all people into His family, but only a few will receive Christ as Lord and Savior.

He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.  Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.  (John 1:11 – 13 | TNIV)

The first step God did for you.  All you did was respond, and God even helped you with that!  The second step we could say you couldn’t help but take!  You confessed Christ.  Either by your words or actions, the people around you heard and saw that you had changed.  

For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.  (Romans 10:10 | TNIV)

The third step is a step only you can take.  God will hold onto you – He’ll never let you go – but it’s up to you to remain in Christ.  Like the branch is alive only as long as it connected to the vine, the believer can live and produce good fruit only as long as he is connected to Christ.

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.  (John 15:4 | TNIV)

The fourth step sounds a little like the previous one, but it’s different.  You have to remain “in Christ,” but then you have to consciously decide each and ever day to follow Him as closely as you can.  Literally, you must glue yourself to the Lord.  

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”  (Luke 9:23 | TNIV)

The fifth step is a hard one for some people.  As a believer, you have to be on the lookout for open doors; doors the Lord swings open for you to share your faith with others.  These are opportunities that come from God.  But He won’t force you to take advantage of them; it’s up to you to see them and use them.

Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test those who live on the earth.  (Revelation 3:10 | TNIV)

That was written to the church at Philadelphia.  They were to keep on testifying for Christ, even to members of the Synagogue of Satan!  

The sixth step is related to the the fifth.  We are to love each member of the Body of Christ with the same love with which God loves us.  And we are to extend that love to members outside of the Body of Christ.  

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  (Romans 12:11 | TNIV)

The final step is found in Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…  (Philippians 3:10 | TNIV)

The seventh and last step is to know – really know – Christ and to make His life and death experiences yours.

Short term loss… 

In Philippians 3:2, the apostle gives the Philippians an important piece of advice:

Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh.  (Philippians 3:2 | TNIV)

That’s advice you should heed too.  Do you know any “mutilators of the flesh?”  You do if you listen to any false teachers.  That’s who Paul has in mind.  If you spend some time watching “Christian TV” or reading the latest “Christian” best seller, you’ll soon come across false teachers.  Paul’s advice is to be on guard; be vigilant; be careful to whom you listen.  Sometimes these false teachers don’t know they’re preaching or teaching in error.  Other times false teachers know they are and they’re motives are sinister.  In either case, it’s on you to know what you believe and to pay attention to what a Bible teacher or preacher is saying.  Just because a fellow looks good, sounds good, sells a lot books and videos, and preaches to huge crowds, doesn’t mean he’s the genuine article.  

What’s the best defense against false teachers and false teaching?  It’s knowledge.  You need to know what you believe.  You need to know what the Word says.  Paul was a guy who know a lot of things.  In fact, he knew way more than the average Jew.

If others think they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.  (Philippians 3:4b – 6 | TNIV)

The false teachers who were trying to get into the Philippian church were smart, but as Paul points out, compared to him, they were mental midgets.  He wasn’t jealous of them.  In trying to back a point he’s about to make, he points out that he had everything going for him.  He was one of the highest educated Pharisees in Israel.  He had been raised a strict, observant Jew.  The fact that he now turned his back on all those advantages wasn’t because he didn’t possess them.  If any of the false teachers claimed to be “all that,” Paul could easily make the same claim and then some!  So why then did Paul appear to turn his back on all his training and education?  It was because none of it could make him righteous in God’s sight; none of his learning or strict rule-keeping could make him a better person; none of it could bring him closer to God.

The false teachers were zealous in their beliefs, but then so was Paul.  Before he became a follower of Christ, he zealously persecuted Christians and defended his Jewish faith.  When judged by his compatriots, nobody could accuse Saul/Paul of being a wishy-washy Jew!  

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  (Philippians 3:7 | TNIV)

When Paul met the risen and ascended Lord on the road to Damascus, everything changed! This is a tremendous verse, full of depth and meaning.  Here, Paul used the language of commerce.  “Gains” and “loss” in the Greek were words used by Greek merchants and shopkeepers.  Before encountering Christ, all of the advantages he mentioned in the previous verses Paul placed on the credit side of his ledger, as though each one of them had value in itself.  You can imagine, knowing Paul as we do, that he reminded God often of his virtues.  Paul was full of himself – full of spiritual pride because he imagined himself so much better than others.  He, like so many people today, trusted his intellectual acumen, his skill with the Scriptures, his personal ethics and virtues, his very disciplined life, and he held them up to God as though He, God, should take notice of him.  But when he met Jesus, his whole perspective changed.  Instead of advantages, all the things Paul had achieved he saw for the first time as hindrances and not advantages. All those good things – education, ethics, philosophies, religion – were doing more harm than good because they blinded Paul to the reality of his state:  He wasn’t a good person.  He wasn’t a virtuous person.  He wasn’t in good stead with the Almighty.  All the things he had been depending on were actually drawing him further and further away from God.

And when Paul found Jesus, and saw his pitiful state, it was as though he moved all those things from the credit side of the ledger to the debit side, considering them to be one great loss.  Though he never heard the Lord say the words, Paul instinctively knew them to be true:

What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?  (Matthew 16:26 | NIV84)

It’s too bad so many Christians know what Jesus said and what Paul experienced, but have yet to appropriate its truth.  So many of us still think that our “doing” will lead to our “being” righteous, when if fact all too often, the “doing” does the exact opposite.  As one scholar noted:

We forget that we do not strive to live by the Spirit in order to be in the Spirit. It is the reverse. Because we are in the Spirit we live by the Spirit. And because we have been conferred the righteousness of God, we do deeds of righteousness. We do righteous works not to get in right relationship with God, but because He has already justified us. 

Long term gain… 

What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.  I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.  (Philippians 3:8 – 11 | TNIV)

In order to follow Christ, Paul tossed out all the junk he had accumulated.  He considered all the advantages of his past as “garbage.”  That’s harsh, but Paul is making the point that everything, even very good things, pale in comparison to “gaining Christ” and “being found in Him.”  The climax of this group of verses must surely be Paul’s singular ambition:  “To know Christ.”  But what does that mean?  How do you “know Christ?”  Paul gives us the answer:

Knowing Christ is to have His Resurrection power in your life now.  When we become born again, we repent and place our faith in Christ and His work on the Cross.  God does this for us.  He unites us to Christ.  But now, we must come to know Him, and knowing Christ is not the same thing as knowing about Him.  It’s knowing that our Lord’s suffering, death, and Resurrection are forces active in our lives right now.  We need to be absolutely convinced that Christ rose from the dead and so we rise to our new life in Him as a new creation.  It’s waking up every morning and knowing we’re different from the person we used to be; it’s living like the new person we became at our conversion; it’s living in optimism and joy and anticipation of God’s power working in us and through us.  It’s forcing ourselves to stop “the old man” from crawling back into our new skins.

Knowing Christ is suffering as He did.  No believer can fully appreciate Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior without suffering to one degree or another for the faith.  That’s not just persecution, although that may be part of it.  Suffering for your faith includes things like reaching out to help others when you’d rather not; loving people you don’t like; obeying the Word of the Lord when your mind rebels against it.  Paul, who spent a lot of time downplaying “doing” things to gain righteousness, knows that righteous acts are part of the new life.  Being born again – saved by faith – is the motivation that compels you to live a new lifestyle; a lifestyle marked by good works.  The bottom line is, if your faith in Christ hasn’t changed your life, then you aren’t saved; you’re same as you were before.  As Dr McGee once said,

Paul dissipates any notion that beings saved by faith means you can sit in a rocking chair and rock yourself all the way to heaven.

Maybe the “fellowship of suffering” means a new kind of prayer life for you.  Interceding on behalf of others.  It may mean developing an awareness of and becoming keenly sensitive to the suffering of others and, to a certain degree, taking on their suffering and making it your own.  Intercession isn’t easy, but some of us are called to do it.  

Suffering for the faith takes many forms, but as we do, we are in fellowship with Christ and we are growing closer and closer to Him and becoming more like Him.  

Third, Paul wrote about being “conformed to His death,” which as creepy as it sounds, is a theme he goes back to over and over again.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  (Galatians 2:20 | TNIV)

For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  (Colossians 3:3 | TNIV)

In other words, as a born again believer, you have died to the old order.  It may not seem like it, but your old life is gone; you aren’t the same person you were then and now, to live your new life to the fullest, you must let go of the old so that the new can grow stronger and stronger.

The final step in the Christian life is a big one.  It’s leaving the past behind and moving forward in your new life, given you by the Lord.  






7 Steps in the Christian Life, Part 5

The Bible is the most important book every written. It is, in spite of what the critics have said, the most rational book ever written. Between its covers is the collected wisdom of thousands of years, from all kinds of people, both sons of God and otherwise. I hate to quote from Abu Huraira, Muhammad’s good buddy, but his quote proves the point that there is wisdom all over the world.

The wise saying is the lost property of the believer, so wherever he finds it then he has a right to it.

Well, the Bible is chock full of wise sayings, from many different cultures, from different eras, that belong to believers. It’s over-loaded with life-changing wisdom that, if a person is shrewd enough to apply to their own life, will change it for the better. Abraham Lincoln was convinced that without the Bible, man would not know wrong from right. Ronald Reagan believed that the Bible had the answers to any problem any man would ever face. But it was Dwight L. Moody who said it best:

The Bible was not given for your information but for your transformation.

Through all the years of your life, the Bible is there for you to guide you every step of the way. We’ve been looking at some of the steps in the Christian life. Every believer takes these steps, in roughly the same order. The first step we take is that of receiving Christ. At some point in your past, you came face to face with the reality that you were a sinner in need of saving, and you received Christ into your heart. God is calling all sinners to receive His Son, and though most won’t, hopefully you did. Following that, you confessed Christ to people around you. In other words, your life – by work or deed – witnessed to those who knew you that you were a changed person. Christ changes lives. A born again believer can’t hide that, even if he tried. The third step is a tough one. After receiving Christ, the Christian must remain in Him. That sounds easy, but it’s not. God will hold onto you, but you must remain connected to Christ, like a branch is connected to the vine. It’s a conscious decision every believer needs to make all the time. It doesn’t just happen. It takes effort to remain in Christ. But without Christ, you can’t do anything or accomplish anything of lasting value. Another step is to follow Christ. Literally, according to Luke 9:23, we need to be “fused” to Christ; so close to Him that we follow as though we were His shadow.

The next step is found in the last book of the Bible, so it will be easy for you find.

Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test those who live on the earth. (Revelation 3:10 | TNIV)

To “endure patiently” was the command our Lord gave to church at Philadelphia. And it’s also the fifth step in the Christian life.

What we call the “book” of Revelation is really a long letter that was written to seven churches, of which the Philadelphian church was one. The letter was written by John and most of it details a revelation of Jesus Christ; that is, a revelation that God the Father showed His Son, who in turn showed it to an angel, who showed it John, who wrote it all down as best he could and sent it in a letter to the seven churches.

The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. (Revelation 1:1, 2 | TNIV)

Each of the seven churches is addressed personally in chapters 2 and 3, with the revelation detailed in the remainder of the letter. The revelation is really a vision of the future of the world from just after the Church Age to the Second Coming of Christ and beyond. You might wonder why Jesus needed to be showed these things. Well, He knew some of them already. In the Gospels, Jesus spoke extensively about the time of the Tribulation, that period of seven years just before His return. But Jesus said something interesting that explains why the Father needed to show Him the revelation:

But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (Matthew 24:36 | TNIV)

For reasons known only to God the Father, His Son knew about the events of the Tribulation, but not when He was to come back. So God showed Him in graphic detail the events of His coming and He showed the angel, and the angel showed John and John wrote it a letter. God doesn’t want anybody to be in the dark about the future.

7 Churches that needed to be encouraged

If you read John’s personal memo to each of the seven churches in Asia, you’d see a common theme which is addressed in the key verse of this section:

To those who are victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. (Revelation 3:21 | TNIV)

That’s Jesus’ big word of encouragement to the churches. Even though they all had problems, they were all victorious because He was victorious. The idea that believers are victorious conquerors is addressed by Paul in one of the most famous passages he ever wrote:

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37 – 39 | TNIV)

Who are the victorious conquerors? Believers and churches that put their full faith in the risen Christ. Victory is guaranteed, but not all believers are conquerors. It’s up to individual believers to latch onto Christ’s victory and make it theirs, by faith. Jesus wasn’t victorious until He did His work on the Cross. Sadly, many believers don’t want to do what it takes to overcome the world around them. Of the seven churches John wrote to, exactly none of them would be victorious. They all, without exception, were swallowed up in the mists of time; vanishing without a trace. We get the slightest inkling of a clue as to what happened to the churches in Asia in a passing reference Paul made in one of letters.

You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes. (2 Timothy 1:15 | TNIV)

“Everyone in the province of Asia” must have included these seven churches of Revelation.

The city of brotherly love and the church there, Revelation 3:7 – 13

The fifth step in the Christian life, to endure patiently, was given to the church at Philadelphia. Let’s take a look at what was going on in that city of brotherly love when John wrote his letter.

The city of Philadelphia was located some 30 miles southwest of Sardis and was named after its founder, Attalus II, also known as Philadelphus. Earthquakes were not uncommon in that area and the whole city was destroyed in 17 AD, along with Sardis and many other cities in area. Fear of another quake kept people from living in Philadelphia, even during John’s day, so it wasn’t a huge metropolis. The city was relatively small, as was the church. The major false religion practiced in Philadelphia was the worship of Dionysus, but John seems to indicate that the major opposition to the church came from the Jews, not the pagans. John wasn’t the only follower of Christ to write to the church at Philadelphia concerning this. Just a handful of years later, Ignatius of Antioch would write this warning:

But if any one preach the Jewish law unto you, listen not to him. For it is better to hearken to Christian doctrine from a man who had been a Jew, than to Judaism from one who never was. But if either of such persons do not speak concerning Jesus Christ, they are in my judgment but as monuments and sepulchers of the dead, upon which are written only the names of men.

This gives a clue as to what became of this little church. More on that in a moment, but for now, Jesus pays them a distinct honor.

I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. (Revelation 3:8 | TNIV)

The Lord had referred to Himself as the one who opens doors no one can shut. This small congregation had apparently seen the open door and taken advantage of it. They were faithful servants of Christ in a pagan/Jewish city and in spite of opposition, never once denied the name of Jesus. Woodrow Kroll referred to this little church as “the Chapel of Opportunity,” because in spite of their size, the Philadelphian church reached out through that open door to the lost around them in a powerful spirit of evangelism. To this church, our Lord made this astounding promise:

I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. (Revelation. 3:9 | TNIV)

That’s quite a promise! Their efforts at evangelism – witnessing to the lost around them – would have a mighty breakthrough in the near future. People worshiping the false gods in the “synagogues of Satan” would accept the Gospel of Christ. The challenge to members of the church was to continually point to Christ.

In the few sentences devoted to Philadelphia, we can see some important aspects of evangelism. Ever wonder how the church – be it the church in Philadelphia or your own church – should approach the idea of winning lost souls? Well, the first thing we should notice is that it is Jesus who provides opportunities for soul winning. He opens the doors and He also shuts the doors. He holds the key. In other words, if you or your church wants to be effective evangelists for the kingdom of God, then you need to understand that Jesus is the One you need to trust to lead you in the right direction. In the pagan city of Philadelphia, doors were miraculously opened up for the believers to witness to members of the synagogue of Satan.

That first thing is what Jesus does for us. The next four things are things we as believers and church members need to be doing ourselves. Secondly, we are to be steadfastly loyal to our Lord. Regardless of what’s happening around us, our devotion and commitment to Jesus and the Gospel are non-negotiable. Thirdly, we can’t be shy about our loyalty to Jesus. We can’t proclaim our fidelity to Him on Sunday but then ignore Him the rest of the week, or worse, deny Him! Fourthly, love is all-important. If you love the lost, you’ll want to reach out to them and tell the Good News of the Gospel. You should even love members of the Synagogue of Satan and want to share the love of Christ with them. And lastly, we are not to limit our witness to people we “think” may respond; every lost soul is deserving of our efforts. Who would imagine that members of the dreadful synagogue of Satan would be running into the church acknowledging the Lord Jesus Christ? Somebody had to plant the seeds in their minds.

No wonder our Lord encouraged the members of this little church to endure patiently. It’s not easy sharing the Gospel with the lost. Most of the time we’ll face rejection. Or worse. But endurance is essential. During His earthly ministry, Jesus offered a similar teaching:

Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them.” (Luke 12:35 – 37 | TNIV)

Did this “little Chapel of Opportunity” endure patiently? It seems not. They were struggling a few years after John wrote them, and they had abandoned Paul in his hour of need. It seems to be a familiar story. A believer starts off strong but fades later on. This fifth step is a tough one. It’s not easy to “endure patiently.” But if we do, the rewards are nothing less than stunning.

Those who are victorious I will make pillars in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name. (Revelation 3:12 | TNIV)

7 Steps in the Christian Life, Part 2

Ask 10 born again believers how they got saved, and 8 out of 10 would respond with something like, “I went forward during an altar call,” or “I prayed the sinner’s prayer,” or “I asked Jesus into my heart.” Two of the ten might answer correctly by saying, “Jesus died for my sins and the Lord saved me.” It’s not that the other eight were all wrong, but when it comes to your salvation, you didn’t do anything to merit God saving you. Jesus did. You simply responded to the drawing of the Holy Spirit as God enabled you to. You received Jesus because God made it possible for you to do so. It’s a fine point, but an important one.

“Receiving Jesus” is the very first step in the Christian life. But it doesn’t end there. You don’t live in a vacuum. The second step in the Christian life is found in Romans 10.

For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. (Romans 10:10 | TNIV)

What does it mean to “profess” or “confess” your faith? Let’s take a look at what Paul was trying to teach his friends in Rome.

Israel: A dismal failure

It all starts back a chapter, where we read this:

What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. As it is written: “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who believes in him will never be put to shame.”. (Romans 9:30 – 33 | TNIV)

Paul’s letter to the Roman church is deep. Really deep. But, I’m not going to go SCUBA diving; I can’t do it justice in the time allotted. The apostle was addressing a problem involving Jewish Christians versus Gentile Christians. Gentiles were getting saved right and left, but the Jewish Christians had a hard time understanding how Gentile Christians could be saved without any exposure to the Jewish Law. That’s a simplification, of course, but it’s good enough to give you an idea of what Paul was up against. In very blunt terms, Paul informed his readers that God had rejected Israel because they rejected Him. That is, they rejected His Son. Historically, the Jews thought they could become righteous by simply keeping the letter of the Law. God’s intention was to save them by the word of His Promise.

The thing that Israel missed during Jesus’s earthly ministry was that plenty of scurrilous people became believers without strict obedience to the Law. Prostitutes, tax collectors, Samaritans all simply believed the Gospel and were saved, apart from the Law. Now, as Paul wrote, Gentiles were flowing into God’s family the same way: By simply having faith in the Word of God – the Gospel. Israel thought they were favored but Paul said not so. All people are in need of saving, and all people, Jews or Gentiles, are saved the same way, not by working for it through keeping the Law or by being good people, but believing in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Jesus is referred to as a “stumbling stone” the Jews tripped over. And He was. Jesus wasn’t what they were expecting in the way of a Messiah, so they tripped over Him; they didn’t notice Him for who He is. Lots of people miss Jesus, today too. The way of salvation is simple but man likes to complicate it. In truth, simple faith is all it takes but that doesn’t stop many churches from giving people tests to save them and then imposing standards of behavior on them to keep them saved. It seems like God’s people haven’t really learned much in the 2,000 years since Paul wrote about “justification by faith!” Some of us still think works play a part in the process when it fact works have nothing to do with salvation.

Misplaced zeal

In chapter 10, Paul pushes even further the issue that Israel was on the outs with God because of their arrogant refusal to just submit to God and trust Him.

Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. (Romans 10:1, 2 | TNIV)

And therein lies the problem with all religions. What Paul wrote about the Israelites is exactly what’s wrong with religious people today – they want to approach God based on their own ideas of what He wants, not His. Indeed, some people may be so zealous for God that they spend a lifetime working and living among the poorest of the poor thinking their good works will place them in good standing with God. But that’s not how it works.

The Israelites were incredibly zealous for God, but as Paul wrote, their zeal was not based on knowledge. They were willfully ignorant; they refused to believe the simplicity of faith. And Paul was the worst of a bad lot!

For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. (Galatians 1:13, 14 | TNIV)

But he was all wrong, and his zeal counted for nothing. He was literally chasing his tail; spinning his wheels; wasting his time. His “work for God” wasn’t saving him at all. And the traditions of his fathers had nothing to do with God or God’s Word. Yes, Paul was sincere, but sincerely wrong.

Now, you may wonder why was Paul so wrong. After all, he was obeying the Law given to the Israelites by God, right? So what’s wrong with that?

Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. (Romans 10:4 | TNIV)

In other words, faith in Christ is all there is now. When He came, the Law ended. Works ended. Now you see why it was useless for Paul be so zealous about his religion. It had ended. It was all over. When it ended for Napoleon at Waterloo, Chauvin, one of his soldiers, stubbornly refused to believe it was really all over. He kept on fighting even though the battle was lost. If this fellow’s name sounds familiar, it’s because you’re likely are familiar with the word “chauvinist,” a person who believes in his own superiority when it’s obvious he isn’t. It took him a while, but Paul finally realized two things: He was a chauvinist. He thought that his stubborn adherence to a dead Law made him a righteous person and was saving his soul. And two, that Christ “is the end of the law for righteousness.”

A simple confession

Salvation is as simple as this:

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. (Romans 10:9, 10 | TNIV)

But is it that simple? Remember the words of Jesus, because He said something a little different:

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 7:21 | TNIV)

So there’s a little more to it than merely staying “Jesus is Lord.” Knowledge is involved; knowledge of God’s will and doing God’s will. And it also has to do with a firm conviction deep down inside that you have been justified before God and that you are completely and freely forgiven. Jesus also had something to say about that:

For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. (Matthew 12:34 | TNIV)

For good or for bad, what’s inside a person will find its way out in the words he speaks.

Now, Romans 10:9 and 10 flow from what Paul had been writing about – the failure of Israel and the inadequacy of trying to earn points with God through good works and following the rules of religion. Religion can never save you. Good works won’t get God’s attention and make you look good to Him. When people insist on works and religion to save them, they’re showing their ignorance of what God has plainly said in His Word. Paul had previously written about the power of knowing God’s Word. That knowledge is indispensable.

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”. (Romans 1:16, 17 | TNIV)

And that’s all he’s really saying again here. The only way for anyone to stand righteous before God is to believe deep down inside what God has provided through the work of Jesus Christ. And Paul, who was a master at writing, makes sure his readers understand the the nature of salvation. In verse 9, the order is: Speak what you believe, it’s in your heart. And in verse 10, the order is reversed: Believe in your heart, then speak it. He’s covered all his bases in these two verses. Salvation naturally bubbles up from what’s deep down inside you. It’s a knowledge of the Gospel message. How can a book save you? It’s because the Word of God isn’t a normal book; it’s a spiritual Book and every word of it is infused with God’s presence and God’s power.

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 | TNIV)

So it’s not the “confession of faith” that saves a person, it’s a result of the Word of God being planted in a sinner’s heart. It takes root then takes over and at last the sinner becomes a redeemed sinner and he can’t keep it to himself! He has no choice but to shout, “Jesus is Lord!” Psalm 116 tells us something similar:

I believed, then I had spoken…. (Psalm 116:10a | KJV)

Paul felt that way his whole life after the Word of God changed him:

If I proclaim the Message, it’s not to get something out of it for myself. I’m compelled to do it, and doomed if I don’t! (1 Corinthians 9:16 | MSG)

Paul just couldn’t keep quiet about what God had done for him, to him, and in him. It bubbled up from inside and came out in his words, verbal and written down.

The second step in the Christian life is confessing Christ. But it’s not getting up in front a congregation and testifying that you’re saved. Just confessing Christ won’t save you. Being able to declare that Jesus is Lord of your life is the result of being convicted in your heart of hearts that you have been saved, not through your work, but through Christ’s. And verse 11 informs us that the true believer, the convicted and convinced believer, will be able to take this second step even if it’s inconvenient for them to do so:

As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” (Romans 10:11 | TNIV)

Even in difficult circumstances, you should be able to stand up and boldly declare, “Jesus is Lord.”

7 Steps in the Christian Life, Part 4

Human beings are funny. I say that as one of them, so I know what I’m talking about. We plan our vacations. We plan our education. We plan for our retirement. Even those of us who have a habit of “flying by the seats of our pants” plan for some things in our lives. Yet rarely do we take the time to plan how we will live our lives as Christians. Too many of us make the terrible mistake of letting life just happen to us, then spend countless hours trying to deal with the consequences. Most of us are reactive, not proactive, when it comes to living. And it shows. Most people are mediocre, at best. Mediocre spouse. Mediocre parents. Mediocre employees. Mediocre church members. Most of us do “just enough.” That’s too bad, because God wants us to excel at whatever we are doing. When we look good, He looks good. Perhaps one of the reasons why so many of us are so mediocre is fear. Fear of failure. Fear of looking like fool. Fear of success. Some of us just plain afraid to try harder. There’s a very interesting couple of verses that you should know if you live a fearful Christian life.

The Lord makes firm the steps of those who delight in him; though they stumble, they will not fall, for the Lord upholds them with his hand. (Psalm 37:23, 24 | TNIV)

Do you delight in God? If you do, and you should if you call yourself a Christian, then according to the psalmist, your steps are made firm by God. That is, the way you walk is directed and confirmed by the Lord. How can you go wrong? Well, being a human being, obviously a lot can go wrong. When those times come, God’s promise is that you won’t fall. Oh, you may stumble, but like the Weeble that wobbles, you won’t fall down. It’s a promise that won’t fail.

We’ve looked at three of seven steps we all take as Christians journeying through this life. We all take them in the roughly the same order. First, we all received Christ at some point. You may not be able to recall the exact date or circumstances, but in the past you received Christ as your Lord and Savior. Second, with Him now living in you in the Person as the Holy Spirit, you’ve confessed or professed your faith in Him. You couldn’t help yourself. You’re a changed person; from the inside out, you’re a new creation in Christ. Even if you never opened your mouth, people can look at you and see the difference. And third, we must remain in Him. Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. Apart from Him, we can’t do anything of lasting value.

That brings us to the fourth step in the Christian life. It’s found in Luke 9.

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23 | TNIV)

We must “follow” the Lord every day of our lives. Our goal each and every day must be to follow as closely as we can. But what did Jesus mean that? And how do we follow Him? Let’s find out!

Speaking of confessing Christ, that’s how it all started.

Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “God’s Messiah.” (Luke 9:18 – 20 | TNIV)

All three Synoptics cover Peter’s confession more or less the same way. As far as we know, when Peter uttered his famous confession, “God’s Messiah,” as Luke records it, nobody else put it quite that way. Matthew informs us that that great truth was revealed to Peter by God Himself. Peter didn’t figure it out on his own.

This was probably the most profound and important confession ever made. Often overlooked is what Luke says in verse 18: Jesus was praying in private just before He asked His disciples that all-important question. We can certainly understand why, given the importance of what God was about to reveal to Peter! This fisherman had a habit of speaking before thinking. If ever there was a time when a man had to pay attention to that “still, small voice” of God speaking to him, it was right now with Peter. I’m sure Jesus was praying that His friend Peter would get it right the first time.

Finally! The apostles got who Jesus was. It only took them three years and a revelation from God, but they got it now, and Jesus needed to make sure they understood why He came. He was not the political messiah everybody was looking for. He was not a prophet or a reincarnated prophet. And He wasn’t His cousin, John the Baptist. His purpose in coming was purely redemptive; the last thing on most people’s minds. He had hinted at this purpose a couple of years previously, but the truth really dawn on anybody.

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him. (John 3:14, 15 | TNIV)

Of course, we know Jesus was talking about His crucifixion, but Nicodemus didn’t get what Jesus was telling him. Now, though, time was short and the time for veiled language was past. Jesus needed to be blunt.

And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Luke 9:22 | TNIV)

It doesn’t get any more blunt than telling your friends you’re going to die. And naming those responsible! This verse is known today as the first passion prediction. And it’s a stunner. Put yourself in the disciple’s place. How would you feel hearing that your beloved Rabbi and Messiah was soon to be killed? Following Jesus was about to get more than a little complicated! Read carefully the next few verses:

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for you to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit your very self?” (Luke 9:23 – 25 | TNIV)

Luke wrote something most people miss. Jesus had been talking to His disciples, but now He’s addressing “them all.” He told the disciples more or less privately about His passion. The principles for the new life were meant to be heard by all. Let’s see how it looks in the KJ21

And He said to them all, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever will lose his life for My sake, the same shall save it. For what is a man advantaged if he gain the whole world, and lose himself or be cast away?” (Luke 9:23 – 25 | KJ21)

That phrase, “come after me” is translated as “wants to be my disciple” in the more modern translations, but it properly means “ to come behind me” in the sense of attaching one’s self to Jesus as His disciple. Two things should be pointed out. First, that phrase should bring to mind what Jesus had said about the vine and the branches. A disciple is to be fused to Jesus as a healthy branch is fused to the vine. But second, this attaching is voluntary. Lenski, quoting from Frommel and expanding on the quote makes an important observation:

“Christ does not pull His sheep by a rope; in His army are none but volunteers.” Jesus knows of no irresistible grace but only the grace which draws the will and wins it for Himself. And this grace excludes no one.”

But, now, mark this. Anybody who wants to follow Jesus must “deny themselves.” The Greek means, oddly enough, to “disown one’s self.” If you want to know what that looks like, read this:

A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.” But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said. (Luke 22:56, 57 | TNIV)

As strenuously as Peter denied Jesus, if you want to follow Jesus, you must deny yourself. If you think that’s an easy thing to do, think again! Nobody wants to deny themselves anything these days. To deny yourself to the extent Jesus wants you to, you need the help of the Holy Spirit. He will show you the awfulness of your sin and the certainty of damnation and death wrapped up in it. He will give you the strength to turn from it and attach yourself to Jesus.

But denying yourself isn’t enough. If a person can gin up enough self-control, they can practice some self-denial. But your self-denial must have carrying your cross as part of the deal. Jesus was about to carry HIS cross, and if you want to follow Him, then you must carry YOUR cross. That concept has been really abused over the years. A lot of people think suffering in general is carrying your cross, but that’s not entirely correct. As a matter of fact, the non-believer suffers all the time and you could hardly say that he’s carrying a cross!

Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds those who trust in him. (Psalm 32:10 | TNIV)

The cross we are called to carry is the result of our faith in Jesus. Because we are attached to Him, then we will necessarily suffer in some way. Jesus’s suggestion is that each of His followers will, to one extent to another, suffer because of Him. But it means more than even that. Remember to whom Jesus was talking: The people He had fed miraculously and the people who were looking for miracles.

Once you have learned to deny yourself and you’ve accepted the inevitable suffering that will come because you belong to Christ, our Lord reiterates the admonition to follow Him. There’s a reason why He felt the need to repeat Himself. Christ is the one who leads, we are the ones who are following Him. We can’t change His course. It’s not our job to tell Jesus what to do or how to do it or where He should go. We are to follow Him.

But verse 4 tells us something significant:

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. (Luke 9:24 | TNIV)

There’s that “free will” again. It’s hard to get away from it. A decision has to be made. A sinner must, with God’s help, decide to follow Jesus. That phrase, “save their life” means a lot more than appears on the surface. Of course, it refers to rescuing those who are perishing. That’s every sinner, by the way. The wages of sin is death and every unredeemed soul is doomed. But it means even more that just rescuing; it also means “preserving.” Jesus rescues and preserves your life. You can’t lose with Jesus. But His statement here is paradoxical until you understand that the life you are to loose is the life you lived without Him in it. Verse 25 helps us see the paradox clearer:

What good is it for you to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit your very self? (Luke 9:25 | TNIV)

Well, now you see why you must – MUST – leave your old life behind. To hold on to what is past is to destroy the present. Whatever you think you gave up to follow Jesus is a pittance compared to what you gain with Him in your life. Following Jesus is serious thing; it’s for serious people. The problem is, today the church is full of non-serious people playing at following Jesus. In truth, they wouldn’t know Jesus even if He was carrying a sign that said, “I am the Way.” The fourth step in the Christian life is a big one. It’s what separates the men from the boys; the children from the adults. Have you taken it? Or are you avoiding following Jesus so closely that you suffer a little for it? Are you shunning your cross in favor of the status quo? Do you find it more satisfying being a mediocre Christian rather than the kind Christian who causes the Devil to worry when you get down to pray? Take that fourth step and find out what your life could be instead of what it is.

7 Steps in the Christian Life, Part 3

Cast your minds back to when you became a Christian. For some of you, this might be a difficult assignment; you’ve been a believer for all your life, maybe. Others may not be able to pinpoint an exact date, but you do have a dim recollection of being without Christ, then with Him. And some of you may know the exact date, time, and circumstances of your “come to Jesus” moment. We’re all different, yet we’re all the same. In our Christian lives, we’ve all taken the exact same steps; we are all taking the exact same steps. The first step we all took, whether or not we may recall the exact date or circumstances, was receiving Christ.

He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:11 – 13 | TNIV)

Most people around you will never receive Him, but you received Christ. When you did, you became a child of God by the will of God. That’s an important thing to remember; you received Christ, but it was God’s will that it happened. From your perspective, you made up your mind to confess your sins, repent, and receive Jesus into your heart. But from God’s perspective, which is the one that counts, He had been calling you to receive Jesus, as He calls all lost people to receive Jesus, and He gave you the ability to open up and receive His gift of salvation in the form of His Son, Jesus.

The second step was your confession or profession of Christ. What saved you wasn’t your decision but rather the Gospel of Jesus and your faith in it. You became a Christian because you heard about what Jesus did for you on the Cross: He took your punishment; He shed His blood to wash away your sins and the guilt of your sins. By faith from God, you believed that and were saved. That Word of God that you heard with your ears was planted in your heart and pretty soon, what was in your heart bubbled up and came out your mouth!

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. (Romans 10:9, 10 | TNIV)

You’ve received Jesus into your heart, and His presence in your life has become obvious to your friends and family, through things you’ve said and the way you behave. You’re a different person, from the inside out. Paul put what happened to you this way:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…. (2 Corinthians 5:17, 18 | TNIV)

An important phrase you should remember is this: “all this is from God.” That means that when it comes to your salvation, God did all the work. He did it all for you. But, after that, you have something to do. And that’s the third step in your Christian life.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5 | TNIV)

That’s Jesus talking to His disciples, telling them that it was their responsibility to “remain” in Christ. What does that mean? How do you do it? And how do we reconcile what Jesus said with what Jude said:

To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy… (Jude, verse 24 | TNIV)

Jude makes it sound like God will keep you in Him; God will keep you saved. Yet Jesus told His followers that it was up to them to remain in Him. Let’s take a look at just what Jesus was teaching His disciples because we are also His disciples.

Jesus and His friends had just left the Upper Room, heading toward the Garden of Gethsemane. His time on earth was coming quickly to an end. Our Lord’s earthly ministry was drawing to a close. As the group passed by the Temple, they noticed one of its most beautiful ornaments, a golden vine cluster which was larger than a man. Jesus used this decoration as the basis of a parable.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. (John 15:1 | TNIV)

The disciples would have been at least vaguely familiar with the figure of a vine and vineyard. They are used frequently throughout the Old Testament where Israel is pictured as a rotten, dying, degenerate vine with dried-up fruit barely clinging to it. Here’s an example:

I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit. (Isaiah 5:1, 2 | TNIV)

In other words, the nation of Israel was a huge disappointment to God. The prophets used the figure of a vineyard to drive home that teaching. God was tending His vineyard, Israel, but Israel wasn’t bearing any good fruit, only rotten fruit.

So our Lord used a very familiar motif to teach His disciples something very important. In that first verse, there are two very important, profound truths. First, there is genuine stock. In other words, there are true believers and those who aren’t. An essential in agriculture is to plant the right kind of vine or tree so that you get the right kind of healthy, quality fruit. No fruit can be better than the vine that produces it. Jesus taught that He is the “true vine,” and unless the believer is connected to Him, the quality of that believer’s fruit will be as bad as that of Israel. There may be many branches, but only those bearing good fruit are part of the true vine.

The second truth is that God the Father is the “gardener.” The Greek really means “farmer,” specifically, an expert in growing grapes. The relationship of the believer to God is the same as that of the vine to the farmer (the owner of the vineyard). He cares for that vine in every way; he tends it, waters it, protects it, and cultivates it.

He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. (John 15:2 | TNIV)

The branches that don’t bear fruit – when they become dry, brittle, and lifeless, the farmer – God the Father – cuts them off and drags them off the be burned. These branches had, at one time, been green and healthy but not any more. Now, whom do you think Jesus is talking about here? Remember His audience: His disciples. Which one of them had been walking and talking with Jesus for all these years? Which one had Jesus referred to as His “friend?” Of course, the dead branch is Judas, a disciple who began so well but eventually died inside. Judas became selfish, disregarded the truth, didn’t value his relationship with Jesus, and had become filled with the “spirit of the antichrist.” John would later write more about people like Judas:

Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. (1 John 2:18, 19 | TNIV)

Judas was a dead branch, but he’s not the only one. There all kinds of “hangers on” in the Body of Christ, people who claim to belong to Jesus but don’t really. You can spot them as easily as you can spot a dead branch on a vine. They aren’t producing good fruit. And Jesus says that His Father, the great farmer, will tend to them. It’s not your job or mine to haul these dead branches away, it’s God’s.

But God also prunes all the good branches so that they’ll produce even more, better fruit than they are already. Pruning looks like a bad thing – lopping off branches, trimming a tree back to its trunk. But that’s how the farmer keeps the tree or vine healthy. And a healthy vine will produce more and more good fruit as it is pruned. All those experiences in life that we hate – the painful ones, the ones that make us hurt or break our heart, these are the things God uses to prune us. All the disappointments and discouragements of life are used by the Lord to prune us so that we will bear more fruit. The old timey Bible scholars like to refer to this action as “moral purification.” God carefully and with great deliberation allows what we may perceive as the awful moments in life to touch us, cleansing us from dirt in our lives, so that we may produce more and better fruit. Those old timey guys were on to something. Notice what Jesus says next:

You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. (John 15:3 | TNIV)

What do you think our Lord meant by that? For sure Jesus did not mean the disciples were sinless. Nobody is. But they, and we, are clean. Believe it or not, this his a hotly debated verse among the theological eggheads, who love to strain at gnats. But sometimes the simplest explanation is the best. All believers are “cleansed of sin” when they receive the Gospel message. Back a couple of chapters, we see Jesus humbly washing the feet of His disciples. That was a common enough thing for the host of a dinner to do in those days. But when He came to Peter, Peter was incensed that his Lord would deign to wash his feet.

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean. (John 13:7 – 11 | TNIV)

Of course, the whole foot washing thing is all very symbolic of Jesus cleansing believers from the sin in their lives. Only He can do that. The forgiveness of sins is part what God does for us so that we may be acceptable to Him. But there is another side to this. We are made clean, but we must remain clean. We play a part in that as we remain in fellowship with Jesus, the vine.

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:7 – 9 | TNIV)

We have a part to play in keeping ourselves clean – we confess our sins, we remain in fellowship with Him and other believers. But then there’s something the psalmist wrote:

How can those who are young keep their way pure? By living according to your word. (Psalm 119:9 | TNIV)

Paul goes one further. Not only are the “young” able to keep their way pure through the Word of God, but the whole church is also!

And you husbands, show the same kind of love to your wives as Christ showed to the Church when he died for her, to make her holy and clean, washed by baptism and God’s Word… (Ephesians 5:25, 26 | TLB)

It is not possible to read the Bible, to study it, to go to church and be exposed to it and not be cleansed by it. God’s Word is truth and light; it exposes the sinful conduct in our lives and bad attitudes and beliefs. If you are a true believer, connected to the vine, then you will respond to the Word of God with humility and submission.

And that gets us to the main point of Jesus’ teaching, verse 4 –

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. (John 15:4 | TNIV)

For a branch to bear fruit, it must get its life from the vine. Similarly, for believers to bear fruit they must remain in Christ. The power to live as God wants you to live comes from above. You can’t do it on your own. And the fruit you bear is not what you can do, but rather it’s the life of Jesus in you working its way out. Paul noticed this:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 | TNIV)

We’ve learned something very significant so far in our look at the 7 steps in the Christian life. First, we receive Jesus because God enables us to do so. We profess Jesus because His Word bubbles up from within our hearts. And we bear fruit because Christ’s life in us works its way out through us. God does it all the work as we allow Him to. Even as true believers rooted in Jesus Christ, the good we do must be done in the power and anointing of Him.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5 | TNIV)

7 Steps in the Christian Life, Part 1

Have you ever wondered how you became a Christian? Or how you remain a Christian? You probably have, and depending on where you go to church, you’ll get an answer based on what your church or denomination teaches. That’s too bad. The church is good at many things, but giving a straight answer to a theological question usually isn’t one of them. As always, your best resource to find an answer to a spiritual question is always – always – the Bible, unfiltered and uninterpreted by theological eggheads. The dirty little secret some churches don’t want you to know is this: You don’t need them to tell you what the Bible says. Don’t get me wrong. The church is important; it is Biblical and it is vital to your well-being as a healthy believer. If you claim to be a Christian, then you are obligated to regularly fellowship with a group of believers that forms a church. Staying at home or pretending to have church in your home is a terrible idea in the 21st century. This is America. It’s not communist China. Generally speaking, you’re in no danger in this country if you go to church. Of course, just any church won’t do. You’re best bet is to find a church that holds the Bible in the highest esteem; that has a pastor who preaches from the Bible, faithfully explaining it and showing you how to apply it to your own life. The worst thing you can do is land in a church that prefers man’s teachings to God’s; that considers the writings of Calvin or Wesley or Luther or Augustine to be as good as the Bible. Or that tells you that the Bible is beyond your understanding. That’s utter nonsense. The Bible was written for any born again believer to understand. The Bible itself confirms this:

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. (Psalms 119:105 | NIV84)

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. (John 16:13 | NIV84)

The Bible is your guide, and the Holy Spirit will lead you to grasp its truths. But you have to do your part. You need to study it. You need to prayerfully read it. You need to talk about. And you need to be in a church that takes the time to explain it.

So, as I begin this series on the seven steps in the Christian life, our primary source will be the Bible. I may quote from theologians and scholars smarter than I, but remember: I always prefer the Bible. In other words, we will always defer to God’s Word.

The first step in the Christian life may seem obvious, but lay aside what you’ve been told or what you think you know and let’s discover what the Bible really has to say about it.

Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God–children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:12-13 | NIV84)

Step number one in the Christian life: Receiving Christ. But, what does it mean to “receive Christ?” We’ve all seen the late Billy Graham’s evangelistic services and the hundreds upon hundreds of people going forward at the end of his sermon to “receive Christ.” Did these people just decide they needed to “get saved” and “receive Christ” during Rev. Graham’s 20 minute sermon? Did they feel the guilt of their sins during the service to the point where they felt the only remedy was to go forward and “receive Christ” and His forgiveness? Or, was something else happening in the lives of these people; something not evident just by looking at them? Was God, in fact, working on their hearts and minds long before they showed up at the arena to hear Billy Graham’s sermon?

The ugly truth

Human beings were created in God’s image. We all know this. But when sin entered the world, everything God created changed, including human beings. As a matter of fact, you and I probably can’t conceive of what man was like as he was originally created. Can you imagine being able to walk with and talk to God as we talk to each other? Adam and Eve were created to be able to do just that. They were made to be able to relate to their Creator just as naturally as they did to each other. But sin ruined that. The ability of any human being to live in a right, healthy relationship with God, with other people, with nature, and even with himself has been completely corrupted. But, we still bear the image of God. Sin, with all its destructive power could never erase that image. Though God’s image in us has been severely marred and distorted, it’s still there. So when God looks at sinful humanity, He still sees images of Himself.

And the Lord sees people desperately in need of saving. Not only saving, but restoring. God longs to restore that image of Himself in a sinful person back to perfection. But the sinner has no such desire. He has been completely corrupted by sin. That’s the nature of sin, you see. Sin is not just a bad decision or some moral failing. It’s direct rebellion against what God wants. The day Adam and Eve sinned and disobeyed God, they literally began to die both physically and spiritually. That death was passed on to every one of their descendants.

Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. (Psalms 51:5 | NIV84)

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned…. (Romans 5:12 | NIV84)

For the wages of sin is death… (Romans 6:23 | NIV84)

Every human being today is born estranged from God. Earlier I said that when God looks at all people, He sees distorted images of Himself. That’s true, but He also sees something else. He sees something He didn’t put there. He sees sin. Every child born has a sinful nature that God cannot look at. That’s one of the consequences of sin, and it’s a devastating consequence because it impacts every single area of our lives because it effects our wills. In simple terms, every single human being acts in accord with their sinful nature. Paul described what that looks like:

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing. (Romans 7:15-19 | NIV84)

Without Christ, people are, by their very nature, estranged from God and hostile to Him. We have wills that don’t want to obey God. We have eyes that can’t see Him and ears that are deaf to Him because without Christ, we are dead to God.

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins…. (Ephesians 2:1 | NIV84)

That’s the ugly truth about every baby born and every human being who has ever lived.

What it means

What that means is this: There is not a human being who has ever lived who wanted to get saved. Nobody woke up one morning and decided that “today is a good day to convert to Christ.” Why? The answer is simply that because we are dead to God, we can’t in any way relate to Him. Our sinful nature rebels against Him. Our wills don’t want to have anything to do with God and His will. While we may, on a day-to-day basis, make wise choices and choices that may benefit ourselves and society, every single choice we make is influenced by our sinful nature. In theology, we call this “total depravity.” You probably have heard that term. Here’s what it does not mean. It doesn’t mean we are as bad as we can be. It means that all aspects of our being have been negatively impacted by sin. Sure, we can all do good things by society’s standards, but all those good things are sinful if they aren’t done for God’s glory. People may choose to do good, but because they are dead to God, they are not doing good to please God or in obedience to Him. That’s why no matter how good and moral a sinner may be, it’s not good enough to tip the scales in their favor. Their sin will always outweigh the good they may do.

That’s why people need Jesus. Sin came into the world because of what Adam did. You and I may not be guilty of Adam’s sin, but we all inherited his sinful nature. And that sinful nature is what keeps us away from God. But Jesus, the Son of God, came to earth to undo what Adam did.

For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:19 | NIV84)

You see, Jesus succeeded where Adam failed – Adam sinned but Jesus didn’t – if we receive Jesus then we also receive His nature. Or we could day, when we receive Jesus, the old sinful nature we received from Adam is taken away from us and we are given a new nature from Jesus.

The crux of the matter

In John’s Gospel, the apostle laid it on the line and wrote bluntly about something we all have noticed even today.

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. (John 1:10 | NIV84)

That’s because the eyes of the sinner can’t see Jesus for who He is. Their thought processes have been completely corrupted by sin. We Christians know who Jesus is: the Son of God, because our eyes have been opened by God. But they see Jesus as everything but. They see Jesus as a good man, a prophet, a teacher, or a nut.

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” (Mark 8:27-28 | NIV84)

And that’s why nobody who has ever lived just decided on their own to “receive Jesus.” They couldn’t because they were never able to.

And yet, it seems some do.

Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…. (John 1:12 | NIV84)

Something happened so that some would receive Jesus. Really, a couple of things were going on in the background to make this divine transaction possible. First, they were being drawn to Jesus by the Spirit of God.

But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself. (John 12:32 | NIV84)

That’s Jesus explaining to His then-confused apostles why He had to be crucified. The whole reason our Lord gave up the glories of heaven and came to earth was to hang on a cross, which released the power within Him to draw sinners to Himself. Without the cross and everything Jesus did on it, we’d all be thinking Jesus was a good man, a prophet, a teacher, or a nut.

Second, the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of the sinner just enough to glimpse the truth about Jesus.

But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. (Matthew 16:15-17 | NIV84)

That’s how a person is able to see Jesus for the very first time – somehow the Spirit of God reveals the truth to him. We don’t know how it happens, but it does. And the third thing that happens is this:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 | NIV84)

God’s grace saves the sinner when, through faith given him by God, he opens up to receive Jesus. Nobody receives Jesus on his own and no preacher, not even the great Billy Graham, can save a person through a sermon. It’s a work of God from beginning to end. Someone, I don’t know who, wrote this about the Gospel, the Word of God:

The Christian gospel offers salvation freely in Jesus Christ. It is a work of God from beginning to end. God is the active giver. He chooses, He draws, He saves, and He keeps. It is all His doing. Anything less is not the gospel.

Or, as the Bible, our primary source in our look at the 7 steps in the Christian life, puts it:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 | NIV84)

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. (Ephesians 1:4 | NIV84)

And finally, how does a person stay saved? The answer is simple.

To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy…. (Jude 1:24 | NIV84)

It’s an amazing thing, this salvation of ours. God did all the work, but we enjoy all the benefits.

You Should Be Committed, Part 7

Last time, we looked at this paragraph from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19 – 21 | TNIV)

Jesus wants His people to give to the work of the Lord while they are living on earth so that they may build up credit in Heaven. There’s no other way to interpret what our Lord is saying in these verses. As a believer, you can obsess over investing all your worldly wealth in a bank, and if you do, then that’s where your heart will be. Or you can do the smart thing. Invest some of your worldly wealth in the work of the Lord, adding to your treasure in Heaven. According to Jesus, if you do that, then your heart will be in Heaven.

Will there really be treasure waiting in Heaven for you? Some people don’t think so. But Jesus seemed to think there will be, and that’s good enough for me. Peter also believed Jesus:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3 – 5 | TNIV)

As far as Peter was concerned, our Heavenly inheritance – which is not a chance to live in Heaven as some think – is a gift from God in the same vein as our new birth! The apostle equates salvation with a tangible inheritance waiting for us in Heaven! I say our inheritance or treasure in Heaven is tangible because, first, it can never “perish, spoil or fade.” Second, it is being “kept in heaven for you.” In other words, your treasure is reserved for you. It’s yours. God has your treasure on deposit for you in His Heavenly vault, and He’s waiting to give it to you.

Jesus also said this about our treasure in Heaven:

Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Luke 12:33, 34 | TNIV)

This is all about Christian stewardship and love. Engaging in proper stewardship is an act of love; an act of love toward God and your fellow man. The smartest thing a Christian can do to get ready for his future is simply to prepare for it. You have a retirement account. You have a pension plan. You ought to have an eternal investment, too. When you practice proper Christian stewardship, you are really engaging in a paradox. You are storing your wealth, not in “purses,” which wear out, but in heavenly purses, which last forever. Christian stewardship is exchanging the earthly for the heavenly; the temporary for the permanent.

Jesus is giving us a tremendous principle for living here that is really for all people, but especially for His people. Whoever we are, whatever our situation in life may be – whether we are rich or poor, famous or infamous, saints or sinners – our hearts will be where are treasures are, and our treasures will be put where our hearts are. So, if we love God and are committed to Him, we will be making deposits in Heaven by using our wealth, possessions, and talents for God’s glory. The more we give on this side of eternity, the more treasure we will be accumulating in Heaven. The more we accumulate in Heaven, the more securely our hearts will be anchored in Heaven. This principle is the single measuring rod by which we can measure the depth of our love and commitment to God. It is also a way to check our love and commitment to Christ, for when we see ourselves becoming more and more interested in accumulating earthly possessions than in heavenly treasures, it’s time to pause and reflect and take a long hard look at our spiritual health.

Back in Matthew 6, our Lord gives us some more advice to help us not only add treasure to our Heavenly inheritance, but also to live a good life in the here and now.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?” (Matthew 6:25 | TNIV)

Trust more

That word, “therefore,” is such an important word. It attaches this concluding section of Matthew 6 to all that came before it. Throughout Matthew 6, Jesus had emphasized three virtues of true disciples: simplicity, sincerity, and singleness. The Christian life is marked by simple truth. By sincere love and devotion to that truth. And by singleness of devotion and purpose to one Master, Jesus Christ.

If you have decided to serve Christ, then you must decide to be obedient to Him. Part of that obedience is to start doing something that unbelievers don’t do: Trust God; look to Him for His care and learn to let Him take care of you. Living like this is exactly opposite to how you used to live and how most of your family and friends live. They worry. It’s human nature to worry and fret. But if you are a committed follower of Jesus Christ, then you wont live like that. Worry is a sin; it’s not a virtue. If you worry, you are passively telling God you don’t really trust Him; that you trust yourself more or other more.

George MacDonald, Scottish novelist, once said:

To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved.

He’s not altogether wrong, but when it comes to our relationship with God, He demands both your trust and your love, and your trust is a good indication of the kind of love your have for Him.

The big point Jesus makes in 25 is “don’t worry about your physical needs or luxuries.” The reason is simple. When you fret about things like those, it reveals where your heart is; the whole focus of your life is off. If God has given you a life and body – both far more important than food and clothing – don’t you think He’s capable of giving you what you need to support your life and body?

To support this principle, our Lord gives us some examples.

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life ? (Matthew 6:26, 27 | TNIV)

To worry about food and clothing and such things is to show how dumb you really are because you haven’t learned anything from the world all around you.

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1:20 | TNIV)

Mose of us take what Paul wrote to the Romans and apply it only to the unsaved, but there’s a kernel of truth in it for Christians, too. We believers should look at how God cares for His creation and understand that we, like the birds of the air, are part of that creation. If He cares for them, then how can He not care for us?

Charles Lindbergh once wrote,

If I had to choose, I’d rather have birds than airplanes.

That’s might be a funny thing for an aviator to write, but it tells us something very important about Lindbergh: He was smart. He knew you could learn more from birds than from airplanes. Think about this: Birds can’t sow. Birds can’t reap. Birds can’t store things in barns. But we can! You and I are supposed to sow and reap and store, and at the same time we’re supposed to trust God. That bird trusts God, and so should you. Trusting God doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be exercising some good judgment. You should save for your old age. You should have insurance. You should be prudent in how you spend your resources. But first and foremost, you should be trusting God to provide and sustain. And He will!

Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life ? (Matthew 6:27 | TNIV)

That’s a short verse that’s actually a little complicated to translate, and the TNIV did a good job. It can actually mean a couple of things: Worrying can’t make you taller. Worrying won’t make you live longer. You get the idea behind what Jesus was trying say here. Worrying about things like your health or your wealth won’t do any good. Worrying is all done inside your head, so it can’t do anything good for you. Leo Buscaglia wrote:

Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.

That’s absolutely correct. Want to be miserable in thirty minutes? Start worrying about something right now. Worry is a waste of time and energy. Martin Luther, a man who had a lot to worry about, once remarked,

You pray and let God worry.

Naturally, God doesn’t worry, but you get the idea.

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? (Matthew 6:28 – 30 | TNIV)

Birds work after a fashion, but they don’t worry. Flowers don’t do anything except sit there, looking good. Our Lord’s point here is not that His followers should opt out of life and be lazy but that God’s provision and care are so abundant that He is able to even “clothe” stuff as transient as grass, which produces nothing and can’t endure.

Our generation isn’t the first to be concerned about clothing. The way this is written indicates that the disciples 2,000 years ago worried about what they were wearing! No wonder Jesus chastised them: “You of little faith!”

The main point

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. (Matthew 6:31, 32 | TNIV)

And here’s the main point, from the negative perspective. True disciples of Jesus aren’t supposed to live like people who don’t follow Jesus. We’re supposed to be obviously different from them, and part of that difference is worry and anxiety. We cannot be consumed with worry and anxiety because that’s how they live. Here’s the thing a lot Christians miss. We take very seriously the notion of not living like non-Christians in terms of morality and ethics. They lie and cheat. We don’t. They commit adultery and sexual sins. We don’t. They don’t live by the same ethical and moral code that followers of Jesus Christ do, and we take that very seriously. But we smile and chuckle when the pastor tells us that we shouldn’t worry. Worrying is as much a sin as lying and cheating and committing adultery because when we worry, we are behaving like pagans. We are essentially telling God that He doesn’t know what we need and that He doesn’t care about us. So, from the negative point of view: STOP the worrying, people!

But it’s not enough to just stop the worrying. Worrying must be replaced by something else. And that brings us to the positive perspective:

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:33, 34. TNIV)

Worry less, pray more. Stop letting your mind run away with anxiety and think on Heavenly things. That will reveal where your heart is. What do you spend your time thinking about? Your job? That’s where your heart is. Your investments? That’s where your heart is. Your family? That’s where your heart is. Your hobbies? That’s where your heart is. No wonder the average American Christian is a dysfunctional basket case, full of stress and consumed with anxiety and fear. You’re living like everybody else and suffering needlessly. Your life is mediocre at best when God intends for you to live a life of excellence in every way. If you want to be different from everybody else; if you want to stand out from the mass of mediocrity all around you, then become a dedicated, committed disciple of Jesus Christ.

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