Monday, March 26, 2018

Lesson 7 Discipleship and Faith

Confirmation Journey 7. Discipleship and Faith

(Read Chapter 8 of “What Christians Believe” and complete Assignment 7 before this Session)

From the outside Christianity looks as though it is all about certain things. Helping people. Going to Church. Being a decent person. But you can do all those things … and not be a Christian. At the heart of Christian faith is something a whole lot more dynamic. A personal relationship with God, through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is that special relationship that both inspires and gives the power to live the way Jesus has taught us. In this lesson we'll explore what the Bible teaches about having a living relationship with God.

We'll start at the beginning. The Book of Genesis. We read at the end of the first creation story....

Genesis 1:31God saw everything that God had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Humankind were created as the pinnacle of all that God created. Humans are given a special role and have tasks to complete.

Genesis 1:26-29Then God said, "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth." So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." God said, "See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.

Among the many tasks given are:
  • being good stewards of creation
  • populating the earth
  • taking care of the environment and the animals.
We also learn that humanity is created to enjoy God and worship God.

Revelation 4:11 "You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created."

As we look around our world today we see what a terrible mess we've made of things. The world is overpopulated and many go hungry. There are wars and human trafficking, terrible things such child abuse and murder. The environment is polluted by our greed. Many species of animals are now extinct. For many people worshiping God is not on their “To Do” list.

The Bible explains this situation by picturing something called “The Fall.” It tells a story of how 2 perfect human beings are placed in a garden called Eden, and told to enjoy life and do all the things God asked of them. But one thing they are not to do. Eat the fruit of a special tree.

You know the story! A serpent tempts Eve, she gives in. She tells Adam... hey... this fruit is awesome. He gives in. When they are found out... Adam blames Eve and Eve blames the serpent. “It's not our fault. We couldn't help ourselves!”

Just before their claims of innocence, we find that “Guilt” enters the picture. They realize they are naked … not just physically, but their whole lives, thoughts and desires.... good and bad... are seen by God. They are so ashamed that they want to just hide from God. But that never works!

Genesis 3:7-10 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, "Where are you?" He said, "I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself."

They lose their innocence, they are no longer in paradise and suddenly life becomes a matter of hard work, struggle and eventually death. The story has often been seen as describing every humans journey. We begin with the best of intentions, but there is something in all of us that rebels against doing the right thing and chooses the wrong way. This causes us to lie, to feel guilt, and to feel shame. This fallen condition is described in the Bible as “sin.” It is a deadly condition. Paul writes For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23)

1 John 3:4Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.

When we talked in a previous session about God, we learned that God is holy. And like ink and water... like light and darkness... and law and lawlessness... “Sin” and “Holiness” do not go together! We are estranged from God.

Christian teaching has talked of two ways of sinning that curse our lives.

Original Sin. Something that we are born with. A genetic mutation that seems to touch every human life.

Psalm 51:5 Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.
Romans 5:12Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned.

Actual Sin. The specific things we do that create a distance between ourselves and God and between ourselves and each other.

Romans 3:23All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

We discussed in a previous session how Jesus gave His life upon the Cross as a sacrificial offering for sin, to make a way for us to no longer to be separate from God. Scripture solemnly warns us that the ultimate end of those who turn their backs on such an offer... is terrible! The punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might.”

2 Thessalonians 1:6-10 For it is indeed just of God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to the afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes to be glorified by his saints and to be marveled at on that day among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.”

Although Scripture talks about heaven and hell, and of God's judgment, in our world today most people are not that worried about their eternal destiny. Many are just struggling to get through each day! People are more concerned about how to find a decent life while still on earth rather than what may happen when life is over!

At the same time many people find life to be meaningless, frustrating, confused, without direction and without purpose. Many fill their life with “stuff” that cannot satisfy and trust in beliefs that are shallow and have no basis in anything other than self interest.

The Bible describes this situation as being rooted in sin... and pictures many people as being more like the living dead, than they are living the joy filled, abundant life God desires for them. In John 8:12 Jesus tells us; "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life."

Paul, writing to a church in Ephesus puts it this way...

Ephesians 2:1-3 “You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.

I can totally identify with that. In my own life, before I became a follower of Jesus, I thought I was just fine! In actual fact my life was controlled by all kinds of forces outside of myself. The spirit of the age, my parents, my friends, the things I watched, the books I read, my environment... and many of those forces pushed me in the direction of not believing in Jesus Christ and suggested that to take the gospel seriously was just plain stupid. I was spiritually dead.

But then... what this verse talks about... happened to me.

Ephesians 2:4-5But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ-- by grace you have been saved-

And my story is no different than millions of others who claim today to be Christians. It's a story told many times in the Bible itself. In Acts Chapter 16 there is story about Paul and Silas being placed in jail for preaching the gospel. The crazy dudes are singing hymns, praising God! That's how much they trusted that God was in charge. “In jail? No problem. Let's sing!”

While they sing, an earthquake happens, their chains fall off, the doors burst open. But they just carry on singing and make no attempt to escape.

The jailer, who has been listening to them talk about Jesus and witnessing their praise, is terrified. If they escaped, his life could be on he line! You get the feeling tat he suddenly realized that they were the ones, not he, who were truly free.
Here's a bit of the story... Act 16:27-30 “When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted in a loud voice, "Do not harm yourself, for we are all here." The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them outside and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"

The answer they give the jailer is this...

Acts 16:31They answered, "Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household."

The way to experience the life God wants us to have, to “be saved” from a pointless existence on earth, and as an added bonus discover there's nothing to fear about whatever may come next... is to “Believe on the Lord Jesus.” Jesus also spoke about this experience as being “Born again” or as being “Born from above.” You will sometimes hear people talking about their Christian experience as “Having a new life in Christ.” (Pages 78-80 in “What Christians Believe” talk more about this.)

As we said at the start, because we often focus on the things that people do, like going to church or giving money to charity, we can get the wring end of the stick when it comes to matters of discipleship and faith.

We wouldn't be the first....

Proverbs 14:12There is a way that seems right to a person, but its end is the way to death.
Proverbs 14:15The simple believe everything, but the clever consider their steps..

We can also fall into the trap of thinking that we don't need the grace of Jesus Christ to help us, but can somehow do everything God requires of us without God's help. That was the road Paul tried to follow, and he even tried to do away with Christianity... before he became a follower.

Ephesians 2:8-9For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God-- not the result of works, so that no one may boast.

A song by a singer called Larry Norman puts it this way... (in a song called “Forget Your Hexagram”)

You can't hitchhike to heaven, Or get there but just being good,
The rules were set down long ago, When the spikes went in the wood.

Heaven is in your mind, When love is in your heart
Maybe you'll find the way, But first you have to start...”

So how do we start?
Paul gives us some HUGE clues.

1 Timothy 1:15The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners -- of whom I am the foremost.”

So does Peter;
1 Peter 2:24He Himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by His wounds you have been healed.

The final book of the Bible, Revelation, invites us to listen for the call of God.. as though Jesus were knocking on the door of our hearts asking to be let in...

Revelation 3:20 Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.

The first ever Christian sermon preached makes it a matter of ABCD

Acts 2:38 “Peter said to them, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

A. Turn Away “Repent.” There must be a genuine desire to break away from living for self and a desire to live for God.

B. Be Baptized “be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ”. Baptism and Confirmation are symbolic rites. They speak of a) Letting our old nature be drowned and buried so God can treat us us as new people; b) joining the church to take sides publicly with God's people.

C. Confess “ so that your sins may be forgiven” Believe that because Jesus died for your sins God is offering you a new life.

D. Do! “and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Live into the new life in Christ that God desires for all God's children. Just do it!

For many people, their journey of discipleship began with a moment of commitment. Many have found what has been called “The Sinners Prayer” to be a great way of committing to the journey. I remember saying words similar to this when I first started to take the call of Jesus seriously in my own life. I highly recommend it. All these years later, I remain amazed at the way God has blessed my life and the journey that life has taken me.

Dear God,
I know I’m a sinner, and I ask for Your forgiveness.
I believe Jesus Christ is Your Son.
I believe that He died for my sin and that You raised Him to life.
I want to trust Him as my Savior
And follow Him as Lord, from this day forward.
Guide my life and help me to do Your will.
I pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen."

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