The Faith part 3
How to Become a Christian and Live as One
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
January 25, 2009

Over the past couple of weeks here on Sundays and in our LIFE Groups we’ve been exploring some of the foundational beliefs that have united all Christ-followers in all places at all time. We’re talking about the core of the Christian faith. We’ve talked about how Christianity is not just a set of beliefs or a code of conduct… and it’s not even just a relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s a complete worldview that affects everything you say, think and do. We’ve talked about the basic understanding that “God is”… that He exists regardless of how we may feel at any particular point of time. And we’ve talked about how God has spoken… He has spoken through Creation, through our conscience, and through His Word, the Bible.

We’ve also talked about the reality of absolute truth. We live in a time when everything seems to be subjective and relative… whatever you want to believe is right for you. But if there is absolute truth, then it is true regardless of what you might believe. Absolute truth is truth for everyone at all times, even if a person may choose to deny it or it doesn’t fit their preferences. Absolute truth is what we’re talking about throughout this series.

We’ve talked about the Creation, the Fall, Redemption and Restoration. We talked about how everything God created was good, including the Free Will that He gave to humanity. But we used that Free Will to rebel against Him. We sinned, and that sin has corrupted all of Creation. We’ve talked about God’s solution to this corruption… the Incarnation, the crucifixion and the resurrection.

We’ve talked about the ascension… how Jesus after the resurrection spent time with His followers but then returned to Heaven. And someday He will come back again. In the meantime, He has established His Church as a peaceful occupying force to expand His Kingdom on earth.

Now, we’ve only been in this series for two weeks and we’ve already talked about all of that. Next Sunday we’ll be talking about the Trinity and the nature of God. The Sunday after that we’ll be talking more about the purpose and the practices of the Church. And then the Sunday after that we’ll be talking about our message to the World, the clash of cultures in our world, and the return of Jesus to our world.

All of that is still to come. But today, we’re going to focus in on the very basics of the Christian life… becoming a Christ-follower and living as one.

What does it mean for me to be a Christ-follower?

A.    I turn from my sinfulness and turn to God.

One of the words you hear tossed around at churches is the word “repentance”. Well, this is what repentance means. It means you turn from your sinfulness and you turn to God. In fact, one of the Hebrew words for “repent” literally means “to turn”. So repentance means that you become aware of the depth of your sinfulness, you recognize just how ugly it is, and you choose to turn away from it and turn instead to God.

Now, the reason that God wants us to come face to face with our own sinfulness like this is not so we feel bad about ourselves, but so we realize just how much we need to repent and so we turn to Him. When you see the depth of depravity within yourself, and then you gaze on the perfect unblemished holiness of God, you can’t help but be moved to repentance. In fact, the end result is not that we feel bad about ourselves but that we celebrate who we become in Christ.

“Repentance and the desire to be in Jesus’ company are the crucial elements of any sincere conversion.”
~ Chuck Colson

That’s what Chuck says. What does the Bible say? Well, in the Bible in Acts 3:19, Peter said…

Acts 3:19 (NLT)
“Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away.”

And Paul said…

Acts 20:21 (NLT)
I have had one message for Jews and Greeks alike—the necessity of repenting from sin and turning to God, and of having faith in our Lord Jesus.

2 Peter 3:9 (NLT)
[The Lord] does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.

So repentance is necessary. It’s crucial. If you want to be a Christ-follower, you need to repent. You have to turn away from your sinfulness… from your old way of life… leaving that behind… and you need to turn to God and look to Him. And God desperately wants us to do that. Now, He’s not going to interfere with our Free Will… we talked about that last week… but He’s doing everything He can to bring us to repentance before it’s too late.

Romans 2:4-5 (NLT)
Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?
But because you are stubborn and refuse to turn from your sin, you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself.

God desires for each one of us to repent and turn to Him. Repentance is crucial for anyone who wants to become a Christ-follower. You cannot be a Christ-follower without repenting.

However… now catch this… it’s not the repenting that makes you a Christ-follower. It’s the grace of God.

B.    I am made right with God only through His grace.

Repentance does not save you. It simply prepares you to experience the amazing grace of God.

We sang a version of that classic hymn earlier this morning. Some of you know the back-story to that hymn. That hymn was written by John Newton and first published 230 years ago this year. John Newton had at one time in his life been a slave trader. In fact, his father had groomed him to become the slave master at a sugar plantation in Jamaica. But one night during a storm at sea, as water began to fill the ship, he cried out to God. Well, the ship survived, Newton began reading the Bible, and he eventually became a Christ-follower himself.

Years later, he would reflect on his. And he wrote down these words…

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind but now I see

John Newton is someone who participated in one of the most despicable occupations in history… he sold people as property. So when He became a Christ-follower, it became very clear to him just how much he had experienced the grace of God.

Those of us who haven’t sunk to those depths sometimes have a more difficult time recognizing that amazing grace and our need of it. And we even get to thinking that we deserve salvation… that God somehow owes us something. Chuck Colson in The Faith talks about how prisoners… how hardened criminals… understand the nature of sin and the need for grace more than anyone. They realize, and we need to realize, that reconciliation with God is possible only by the grace of God. You can’t earn it, you can’t buy it, you can’t inherit it. It’s only by His grace. That’s clear in Ephesians 2:8-9…

Ephesians 2:8-9 (NLT)
God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.

Acts 15:11 (NLT)
“We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus.”

This is how great the love of God is for you and for me. God knew that because of our sinfulness we deserved death. And even repenting doesn’t remove what we’ve already done. It doesn’t do away with our guilt. It doesn’t erase our sinfulness.

So God desperately wanted to do something about that. He wanted to offer us a way out. So He entered into His own Creation… Jesus was born… and He grew up and suffered and died on the cross to take our place and pay the price for all the wrongs we have done and ever will do. His sacrifice on the cross satisfies all the requirements of God’s Holiness and Justice while also showing His incredible love, compassion and mercy.

That’s the incredible, amazing grace of God. That’s the extent of His love. While we were sinners and couldn’t do a thing about it—and still can’t—Christ died for you and for me.

John Newton recognized that he wasn’t worthy of the grace of God. He was a wretched slave trader. But yet God’s grace washed over him. This is what Newton had to say about that…

“If ever I reach Heaven, I expect to find three wonders there: first, to meet some I had not thought to see there; second, to miss some I had expected to see there; and third, the greatest wonder of all, to find myself there.”
~ John Newton

But that’s the way grace works. You don’t deserve it, you can’t even begin to earn it, but it’s offered anyway.

C.    I receive salvation as a free gift by faith.

Romans 6:23 (NLT)
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Think about it like this. You’re at home, the doorbell rings, you open the door, there’s a delivery man there, he holds out a package for you and you reach out and take it.

That’s an analogy of what we’re talking about here. The sin in our lives has cut us off from God. That’s the door that separates us. But when we repent, it’s as if we remove that barrier. And what we discover there is God offering us the free gift of His grace. We can’t earn it, but He offers it to us anyway. So He’s there offering it, but you don’t receive it until you reach out in faith and accept it. You have to believe and receive.

John 1:12 (NLT)
But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.

You know, one of the things I’m concerned about is how many people attend church every week, maybe even read their Bible every day and serve in a ministry, but never actually accept Him. Oh, they believe… but they don’t receive. I know there are people like that in churches all over this city, all across this country, all around the world. And I don’t want that to be true of you.

Even outside of this particular series were going through right now, this is something we talk about fairly often. Because I don’t want any of you to miss the point. I don’t want any of you to start to think that being a good person and going to church and believing in God is enough, because it’s not. You’ve got to believe and receive. You’ve accept that what Jesus did on the cross He did for you… He did it as payment for your sins… and you’ve got to receive the forgiveness He is offering.

You cannot earn salvation. It is offered only as a free gift of God’s grace in response to your faith, and that’s the gift you need to receive.

D.    I do the good works God has called me to do.

If I’m going to be a Christ-follower, it means I’m going to do the good works He has called me to do.

We’ve already looked at Ephesians 2:8-9. Let me put those verses up on the screen again…

Ephesians 2:8-9 (NLT)
God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.

So that tells us that we our salvation is offered as a free gift of God’s grace which we can never ever earn. But now let’s look at the very next verse…

Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

So Paul is saying that we are saved by God’s grace when we place our faith in Jesus and we receive the gift of salvation. But once we do that, it should be only natural that good deeds will follow. God saved us by His grace in response to our faith, so that we could then do the good deeds He planned for us to do.

Let me put it this way: Once we experience God's gift of forgiveness and life, and once we have tasted His love and grace, there should be such a joy and gratitude and love welling up within us that we want to serve Him and demonstrate God's love to those around us.

James 2:19-20, 26 (NLT)
You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?...
Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works.

Your faith must be followed by good works. Now some people would argue with that. A lot of people insist that faith is a private matter and it doesn’t have to make any difference in how you live. It doesn’t have to influence your decisions. It doesn’t have to impact your relationships. It doesn’t have to affect the way you do business. You should just keep it to yourself.

But could I suggest that while your faith should be deeply personal, it should never be private. Because a real faith is one that motivates you to action. It moves you to stand for what is right. It inspires you to help those in need. It propels you pronounce what Christ has done in your life and offer that same hope to others. It prompts you to put feet to your faith by expressing it through good deeds.

You know, a lot of people have a faith that's all up here (in their head). They know all the right words, they've studied doctrine and theology, they have a head knowledge of who God is, but it has no effect on their lives. And according to these verses right here, that kind of a faith is a dead faith. It’s useless.

That’s why Chuck Colson talks about Christianity being a complete worldview that affects everything you say, think and do. You can’t compartmentalize it. Your faith, if it’s a real faith, will impact everything.

Paul Cedar is a Bible commentator, and he wrote…

“To believe in God and to not obey Him is the very essence of sin... Our faith must show itself in action.”
~ Paul A. Cedar

Now, here’s the danger. As I’ve already mentioned, some people tend to emphasize good deeds and look at them as the way to earn salvation. Other people swing to the opposite extreme and insist that all that matters is faith. We’re saved because of our faith, and our works don’t come into play at all.

But the truth is, there’s a balance. It’s not either/or; it’s both/and. In His grace, God saves us in response to our faith. That’s true, and good works don’t factor in there. But after God saves you by His grace, that’s when good deeds do factor in.

It’s the difference between becoming a Christian, and living as a Christian. You become a Christian by God’s grace through faith alone, but you live as a Christian by doing the good works He has called you to do.

It’s the balance between legalism and permissiveness. Legalism says you’ve got to complete this checklist of requirements; permissiveness says it doesn’t matter what you do. James says both your faith and your actions are important. He says your faith will be expressed through your deeds.

That’s what James said. John the Baptist said it this way…

Matthew 3:8 (NLT)
“Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God.”

And Paul put it this way…

Acts 26:20 (NLT)
I preached first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that all must repent of their sins and turn to God—and prove they have changed by the good things they do.

Repentance, the Grace of God, our response of faith, and that faith being expressed in good works. That’s what it means to become a Christ-follower and then to live as one. You’re going to talk more about these things this week in your LIFE Group. You’re going to talk about what it means to surrender yourself and come alive in Christ. You’re going to talk about the transformation that God works in your life. And you’re going to talk about some of the consequences… some of the suffering… that may result from you choosing to follow Christ.

There should be some good conversations going on this week. If you’re reading along in the book, then this week you should be reading chapters 8 and 9.

Now let me close this way…
[Present invitation to respond to Jesus]



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