On becoming a Christian......


I lift up my eyes to the mountains—

    where does my help come from?

 My help comes from the Lord,

    the Maker of heaven and earth.

 He will not let your foot slip—

    he who watches over you will not slumber;

 indeed, he who watches over Israel

    will neither slumber nor sleep.

 The Lord watches over you—

    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;

 the sun will not harm you by day,

    nor the moon by night.

 The Lord will keep you from all harm—

    he will watch over your life;

 the Lord will watch over your coming and going

    both now and forevermore. Psalm 121:1-8, NIV

 

This is the prayer, not of a Christian, but of one that lived hundreds of years before Christ came, but he was looking for that day and he believed, because of his faith, that his place with God and God’s kingdom was secure.  He lived a life in anticipation of God’s provision and the Savior—and God considered him righteous because of that.

 

I share that because I think that sometimes we confuse God’s plan for mankind or we misunderstand just what is required for salvation. To be sure, salvation and eternal life is a gift from God, but He does expect certain things from us in order to receive that gift!

 

I am assuming that most of us here have experienced salvation, but of course some have not. I would like to talk about something that we all know, but sometimes forget or get confused: How is a person saved? How are they born again? What is absolutely essential and how can we be certain that we’re going to heaven?

 

Would you know how to lead a person to eternal salvation if they asked you and were going to die in a few minutes?  Do you believe what you talk about when it comes to eternal life, Jesus Christ, the resurrection?

 

Here are those essential elements for being reborn:

 

Belief

Confession

Sorrow and repentance

A determination to live a new life—reborn to be righteous.

 

Let me begin by saying something that might annoy you, but the Bible is not essential for salvation. Many people come to Christ that never read a word of the Bible. The Bible does not save us—-Jesus Christ, spoken of in the Bible, saves us. 

 

The thief on the cross never read the Bible. When the early church began, there was no New Testament.  For the first 100 years of the church there was no New Testament and yet the church exploded in numbers of saved souls.

 

Let me make the point quite personal:

 

1. I believe in the resurrection——now.  But I did not really believe when I chose (to) be baptized and prayed the sinners prayer.  I just did not want to go to hell!  I was not sure what I believed.

 

2. I believe in the sonship of Jesus now, and the virgin birth and the miracles and the Jesus purpose for coming here—-now. But again, I did not “get it” for many years and the older I got the more I doubted these things.

 

3. I believe that the Bible is the infallible, accurate, Spirit-inspired and Holy Word of God—now. But for many years I had my doubts—particularly in college and graduate school because my professors and teachers instilled doubt, not faith.

 

4. I accepted Jesus into my heart sincerely and authentically, just as the preacher told me to pray,  but I did not have all the facts right for many, many years.

 

As followers of Jesus we read the Bible to understand God’s love and His plan for/redemption of  mankind, but it’s not meant to be a step 1, step 2, step 3 for becoming a Christian. The new birth that Jesus taught is perhaps different from what we hear today. His followers led people to Jesus Christ by their love and devotion to Him and by teaching and discipling them! Jesus never told them to throw out scripture (which means nothing to a non-believer) and expect them to understand it, let alone believe it!  And remember, the greatest evangelist, Paul, had a mission was to the Gentiles—-not the Jews. The Gentiles did not hold even the Old Testament to be inspired. The good news was something that appealed to their logic, their yearning for eternal life and the Holy Spirit tugging at their hearts.  But they believed because the messengers were authentic followers of Jesus Christ—something was peculiar about them…………are we also peculiar?

 

I stand before you today as a believer in Jesus—born again—- because people that loved me and that I trusted shared the good news about Jesus to me. I believed in the gospel, or good news about God’s love for me, because I trusted those that shared the stories about Jesus with me. But not because I read about it in the Bible.  My understanding of the Bible came later.

 

Similarly I believed on the existence of Europe and Asia and the form of earth because people I trusted told me that it was true.  Later I was able to verify this when I got on a plane and traveled. But initially my belief was all about my confidence that the ones teaching me and showing me pictures were people of honesty. That’s why our integrity and character matter! People need to trust us if they are going to believe in Him.

 

But I can tell you, having read the Bible through many times, what is consistently explained in scripture and constitutes the “good news””

 

1. We are all in trouble. None of us are good.

2. Worse, compared to a holy God, we are like filthy rags

3. He, who created us in His image, has a special, unfathomable love for us that exceeds any love for anything else in all His created order.  We are unique and special and He wants        us to be redeemed and has provided a way for us to maintain an eternal relationship with Him

In the OT, the relationship was made by obeying the laws, offering a blood offering and believing in God’s future provision for mankind—-i.e. the Messiah

In the NT, the relationship is made by final blood offering of His perfect son. That’s how much He hates sin and how much He loves us!

4. He loves us enough to give us a new chance, and eternal life because of His Son paying for all of our sins. But He requires that we accept the hopelessness of our predicament and accept His offer, His way——or He will leave us to die in our sins in Hell not Heaven for eternity.

5. He requires that we profess and believe two things: “Jesus is Lord (that is the divinity and supremacy of Jesus), and believe in our heart that God (His Father) raised him from the dead.”

 

So that’s it: Salvation comes when a person’s heart has been made alive to God’s love, acknowledges/confesses/disavows their sin, professes in their heart that Jesus is Lord and acknowledges his/her belief that God raised Jesus from the dead.

 

But what causes someone to seek salvation in the first place?  A believer speaks to us about it and He causes our souls to be stirred so that we will listen to the Holy Spirit speaking to us.

 

It does not require a total understanding of what He did on the cross or how God raised Him, but merely faith that God took care of it because of His love for us. Understand that God did all that was required and we must accept salvation as a gift—-not something we merit or can earn. That is required and essential. It’s a free gift.

 

But if you want to lead a person to Jesus Christ, reading one (or) two verses from the Bible is just not enough. John 3:16, Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, Roman 10:9—they all contain absolute truth.  But salvation requires, according to Jesus, that a person is born again. That’s not merely saying some magical phrase, or drinking and eating wine and bread, or being ceremonially washed or dipped in water. Those things are all mentioned as a part of what it is to follow Jesus, but being born again is a very personal, private, intimate, once in a life-time experience.

 

There are two ways God reveals Himself—naturally and divinely.  Naturally He shows that He is God with sunsets, the birth of a baby, our intellectual ability to come to believe that there has to be God when one considers the universe and how perfectly all that exists has been created.  

 

But divine revelation is  something out of the natural sphere. It is God breaking into time and our history to do something unexplainable, unexpected and profoundly “out of this world”.  It’s our tasks, as Christians, to share the divine revelation of Jesus Christ—-we have to share the good news.

 

Many of you might recall the death of a young man named John Allen Chau a couple of years ago.   He was 26- year-old missionary killed on the North Sentinel Island (near India) by natives.  As of right now, years later, his body is still buried on the beach of that little island, slowly decaying away.  No one protested that he was murdered.  No one seems upset that nobody has had the decency to recover his body for his family.  The Indian Government announced that they would not ever recover the body.

 

The problem is that John was a Christian missionary and he was illegally attempting to tell some non-believers of Jesus’ love for them.  So the common thinking in the world seems to be, he kind of had it coming by going over there.  There is widespread support for the Indian government’s determination to allow these natives to remain untouched and uncorrupted by “civilization”  (whatever that means). According to all the experts in the media, these people are better off without hearing about Jesus’ love and how He came to save them from hell.   Now why in the world isn’t anybody reporting the obvious media bias against the Christian faith?

 

Why is no one celebrating the sacrifice of this young Christian martyr? He was brutally murdered for attempting to offer the good news of salvation to 100 or more souls and save them from eternal separation from God. Right?  Do you believe that? Or do you think that these ancient people are really pretty good compared to other religious folks and if there is a heaven, they’re probably going to be there anyway?  If you think that way, you must be a reporter for the New York Times, because you cannot believe in the gospel and accept such nonsense.  If you think that way, there was no reason for Jesus to come and die.

 

The errors and abuses of missionaries in the past notwithstanding, the idea that Christianity is somehow the enemy of a people that murder a slender, young, unarmed man is ludicrous.  Saint Paul and the other apostles broke the law and were executed for their faithfulness to their savior. How is this young man any different?!  It’s shameful that this young man is not being recognized as a hero to his faith.

 

Count me as one of the cranks that believe the bible is the authentic, reliable and final word from God on man’s depravity (“man” would certainly include these natives) and man’s need of a savior. Christ died to save the savage as well as the polished and sophisticated from hell.

 

In truth, it seems that a whole lot of Christendom does not believe that one must profess with their mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in their heart that Jesus was raised from the dead. No, all you have to do is live like a savage and you will naturally avoid hell and go to heaven.  Good grief. Read Romans 10:9.

 

God bless the memory of John Allen Chau.  I have no doubt that others will come to Christ because of his sacrifice.

 

This young man would have led these folks to Jesus because of his love of Jesus—-not because of what he could read to them or by convincing them of the truth of the Bible. It would have been his life and love of those lost souls that would have led them to salvation—if he had not been murdered.

 

Sometimes we forget that when we become a Christian we are not only committed to Jesus Christ for salvation, but are also committed, responsible, and accountable to Jesus Christ’s character and how He viewed God, the world, sin and the devil. Jesus even spoke directly to Satan, and also spoke more about Hell than Heaven. Kind of makes one wonder. The way we live might be the gospel of good news some skeptic, or savage is looking for in his/her decision to become born again.

 

I studied a little about Dr. Graham while I was in seminary, and I recall that his sermons were basically all from John 3:16. He was an evangelist – period. He also authored 30 books, counseled U.S. presidents, and traveled the world. But he saw himself as an evangelist first, called to preach salvation to anyone that would listen.

 

For me personally, the greatest thing about Billy Graham is that I know that he literally believed what he preached. I never sensed any doubt in his faith in Jesus Christ, nor his certainty as to the veracity of God’s Word. As a young Christian, my faith often wavered, but Billy Graham was a hero of the faith. He believed it, and many, many times I found courage and confidence knowing that this good man could not be wrong about that which he believed.  Atheists, agnostics, and non-believers must have hated him.  He proved by his very life the efficacy of the gospel. 

 

I often have compared my life to Billy Graham’s and wondered, “Would he have ever said or done some of the outlandish things I’ve done and said?”  And as I measured my life against his, I am ashamed that I have not come even close to his level of dedication and purity.  But I am keenly aware that eyes watch me, no less than my eyes watched Dr. Graham. But as they watch me, are children, youth, and adults being drawn to Him? Is their faith increasing? Are they more certain now than they were before because of my life and witness?

 

Dear God, raise up another man of God like Billy Graham for the next generation! A man after your own heart. I pray that we might remember that the greatest sermon is the one preached without words.

 

Warmly,

 

Dean Barley

1945 Vineyard Road

Westfield, NC 27053

336 351 2070

www.vineyardcamp.com

 

 


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