How Do You Become A Christian?
Joel 3:14-16, Jeremiah 29:11-13
Steps In Coming To Know God
Notes E. Stanley Jones, "Setting up a saving relationship with Christ is not essentially different from setting up a warm human friendship. (1) The stage of drawing near. This is the tentative, explorative stage. You are not certain whether you want to give yourself inwardly to the other person. It is the stage of yes and no. (2) The stage when there is the inward decision to give yourself to the other person–the stage of decision. (3) You implement the decision–you actually make the inward surrender to the other person. (4) Having given to the other person, you are now free to take from that person. There is an exchange of selves–you belong to that person, and that person belongs to you. You are one.
There is the stage of drawing near. This is the explorative stage. This is the stage in which one has not decided to say Yes or No to God. Up until this time the person has been relatively unconcerned about God and the Church, but suddenly (or sometimes gradually) a new interest in religion and God is awakened within the person. He finds himself in the 'valley of decision'. It is not uncommon for a sense of loneliness or guilt to grip a person at this time.
A university student once called me and said something like this: "I am such-and-such. I was wondering what your church was like. I used to go to church, but I sort of drifted away. I guess I would call myself a cynic. I can't believe in the literalism of the Bible. For instance, the Tower of Babel. To think that all the languages of the world came from that! I just wondered if your church permits debate". In the very tone of this student' s voice was the accent of questing and searching and hunger for Reality, and yet the student wanted to give the impression of courage, sophistication, and intellectualism.
Another came frightenly into my office to blurt out his guilt. He confessed that he was afraid he was responsible for causing his girl friend to become pregnant. Because he came from a good background he could not bear to face his parents. I turned to the Bible and prayed with him, and he found real peace with God. He later went to a Christian college, after marrying the girl. Today, he and his wife are happily married with several children.
A short time after my father's mother passed away, my father's brother and I were digging a pipe line. My uncle is a good-hearted man, but without religious knowledge or Christian experience. 'Out of the blue' he asked me, "What… what is the soul, and where does it go after a person dies?". My uncle was in this first stage–the stage of exploration and searching.
"You have promised that if I draw near to You, You will draw near to me. May my search end in glorious discovery!"
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: God has been seeking me long before I began seeking Him. If I take one step toward Him, He will take a thousand steps toward me!
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Making The Decision To Follow Christ!
A woman called a pastor and said without preliminaries: "I'm a lost person and I've run smack into God. I want to talk with you". (E.S. Jones, Conversion, p. 207)
Once I spoke at 1ength to a man who had shown considerable interest in spiritual matters. After I talked to him, I asked him if he understood. He replied, "I understand quite well". Then I asked him if he was ready to make his decision to follow Christ. He replied, "I want to give it some more thought". He was still at the first stage–the stage of drawing near. He was still counting the cost of following Christ. He was still weighing the various factors in the moral scales of decision. He wanted time to consider whether or not it was worth his effort and sacrifice to serve Christ.
The questions people ask today reveal their spiritual search: "What is man?" "What is the purpose of life?" "Where did I come from and where am I going?" "Is there a God, and if so, how can a person know God?" "What happens when I die?" "What is truth?"
Hopefully, these Questions will lead many to pass from the first stage of drawing near to the second stage of decision-making. The second stage in the formation of a relationship is the stage of inward decision to give yourself to another person, in this case, to God. In the human-divine relationship there is no decision on God's part whether or not He is willing to receive you as His friend. God's arms are open, ready to receive all as His personal friends! God is actively seeking the friendship of man! It is "Whosoever will" with God! However, on man' part there must be an inner decision to give oneself to God. For many months a person may be debating whether or not to become a Christian. There may be a battle of the will that, on one hand, seeks to fulfill the lusts of the flesh, and on the other hand, seeks to care for the eternal soul. The point at which that battle of the will is over and the will has decided to follow God, is the point at which the first stage has passed to the second stage in the process of coming to know God. The second stage is the stage of inward decision. The person at this stage has resolved deep within himself to follow God, even if no other person knows of this decision at this time.
There may be a gradual progress to this point of decision, but when the decision is reached there is no doubt as to its reality. "The ugly larva in its cocoon spends months in almost unnoticeable growth and change; but no matter how great that growth may be, there comes a moment when it passes through a crisis and emerges a butterfly. The weeks of silent growth are important, but they cannot take the place of that experience when the old and the ugly are left behind and the new and the beautiful come into being." (World Aflame, Billy Graham, p. 157)
"I see now that emotion is the feeling that accompanies the great decision, but the decision itself to follow Christ is an exercise of my will. Help me to choose once and for all to follow you!"
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: I only have one freedom–the freedom to choose my master. I will choose to follow Christ as my Master!
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Matthew 4:18-22, Matthew 10:32-39
Implementing The Decision To Follow Christ
The third stage in forming a relationship with a person is the stage of implementing the inward decision. That is, one actually makes the surrender of himself to another person. One who inwardly decides to follow God takes the necessary steps to make that decision real and visible. One who decides to give himself to God makes the giant turn of his life. He turns his back on his past and turns his present and his future over to God. This act of turning is the act of faith–faith that God forgives the past and faith that God will provide in the present and in the future. Someone said that the letters in the word 'Faith' stand for 'Forsaking All I Take Him'. Indeed so! Notes Alan Richardson on faith, "It is the act by which he lays hold on God's proffered resources, becomes obedient to what God prescribes, and abandoning all self-interest and self-reliance, trusts God completely".
Exercising faith in Christ as a result of inward decision to follow Christ, means' giving one's self to Christ. "The one thing you won and the only thing you won is just yourself. It is the one and only thing you will take out of this world with you–you cannot take your money, your home or your loved ones, nothing but yourself. It is the only thing you own. Then you can decide to whom that self shall belong–to yourself? In which case you become a self-centered person, hence disrupted. To the herd? In which case you become an echo not a voice, a thing not a person, a nonentity. To money? In which case you become an insecure person with the insecurity of your money–you go up and down with it. To sex? In which case you become a sex-dominated person–a person of lust, hence disgust. Don't think that if you don't belong to Christ you are free. Nobody is free. We are free only to choose our own masters. It is Christ or something else, that will rule us. When you say deep down, 'I belong to Him', then you do." (Conversion, E.S. Jones, p. 191)
The fourth stage in a relationship is the stage of receiving from the other person. Having given oneself to Christ, now one has a right to receive all that Christ offers. Christ offers Himself as the Gift of gifts and when one has Christ, that person has all else that belongs to Christ, such as the gift of forgiveness (1 John 1:9). To many people, forgiveness is the most beautiful word in the English language. Christ gives the gift of reconciliation in place of one's alienation (2 Corinthians 5:18). Christ gives the gift of regeneration or new life in place of one's old life (2 Corinthians 5:17). Christ gives the gift of adoption into the family of God (John 1:12), and also the gift of assurance of eternal life. (1 John 5:11-12)
"Master of men, attune my inner ears to hear your call and give me faith to make an inner commitment to You. Let my inner commitment be outwardly expressed in my decisive following of You!"
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: Whoever acknowledges Christ openly before men, will be openly acknowledged before the Father in heaven! I will not be a secret disciple!
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How To Become a Christian
Notes C.S. Lewis, "The central Christian belief is that Christ's death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start". (Mere Christianity, p. 57) By this, it is not meant that Christ's death automatically makes us right with God. That would be to exclude the subjective aspect of human appropriation of God's salvation. Preoccupation with the objective aspect of salvation–that is, Christ's work on the Cross–is to the exclusion of the subjective aspect of salvation–that is, man's appropriation of Christ's work–results in a form of universalism. The doctrine of universalism asserts that because Christ died for all men, therefore all men will ultimately be saved. But man must appropriate God's salvation.
In speaking of man's appropriation of God's salvation, it is important to distinguish between meeting conditions and earning salvation. As Stanley Walters says, "The conditions which lead into Christian conversion are necessary, but not meritorious. On one hand, you can do nothing to merit God's gift of salvation; on the other hand, God does not give it indiscriminately to everyone, but to those who want it and are willing to receive it".
For instance, a gift such as an inheritance may belong to you, but certain conditions must be met before you receive it. You did not earn the inheritance, but you must meet certain conditions to receive the inheritance. Man does not earn salvation or deserve salvation, but he must meet certain conditions to receive that salvation. It is not his automatically.
There are three conditions for salvation. There must be an awakening, which leads to genuine repentance and saving faith.
Stanley Walters notes that an awakening is a proper attitude toward yourself, repentance is a proper attitude toward your sin, and saving faith is a proper attitude toward your Redeemer. Notes Dr. Walters, "These conditions must coincide. When you meet them fully, you may be sure that God will act to justify you and make you a new creation. Confidence in God assures you of salvation (1 John 1:9, 'he is faithful…'), although the Holy Spirit also gives assurance." (Romans 8:16)
We must carefully look at each of these three conditions for salvation. First , there must be an awakening. Before a person can be saved from sin he must acknowledge that he needs to be saved. Awakening is a collision with God, a recognition of personal, spiritual need. What causes a person who is preoccupied with worldly pursuits and pleasures to stop in his tracks and suddenly realize that he is traveling the wrong road of 1ife? That is the awakening work of the Holy Spirit. (John 16:8)
"I cannot earn, purchase or deserve your salvation, O God, for your salvation is a gift to be received with gratitude. Help me to humble myself before you, as a little child before his father, in order that I might receive your gift."
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: Pride pays for a possession; humility accepts a free gift. God offers a gift! I will humble myself before the Giver!
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"Collision With God"
Before a person can be saved, he must experience a spiritual awakening. He must confront God and recognize his own personal, spiritual need. This 'Collision with God' or inner awakening to personal need is the work of the Holy Spirit. "And when he has come he will convince the world of its sin, and of the availability of God's goodness, and of deliverance from judgement." (John 16:8, Living Bible)
Notes Martyn Lloyd-Jones, "Though men decide not to believe in God and to put Him and His ways out of their lives, though they ignore all consequences and in a spirit of bravado decide to follow the other life, they do not therefore finish with God and truth at that point. The truth continues to remind them of its existence and to worry them. It does so most definitely, of course, in and through the conscience. It warns, it condemns, and it prohibits. The Truth is not static and lifeless. It is actually within us–there is 'the light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world'… The truth follows us and worries us". (The Plight of Man and The Power of God, p. 51)
It is said that one of the thousands of listeners at a Billy Graham Crusade suddenly arose from his seat and became rather indignant, because he thought Billy Graham was preaching right at him specifically. He thought the evangelist was describing his own specific sins in the presence of the large crowd, and he was embarrassed and embittered. This man felt singled out because he was convicted and enlightened by the Holy Spirit.
Coleridge said that he believed the Bible to be inspired because, as he put it, "It finds me". Mark Twain once said, "Most people are bothered by those passages in Scripture which they cannot understand; but as for me, I always noticed that the passages in Scripture which trouble me most are those which I do understand".
It was the Holy Spirit who pricked the hearts of Peter's listeners on the Day of Pentecost. "Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, 'Men and brethren, what shall we do?'" (Acts 2:37) It was the Holy Spirit who awakened Felix to his spiritual need: "And as he (Felix) reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgement to come, Felix trembled". (Acts 24:25 a)
God uses the Holy Scriptures to produce a spiritual awakening: "For the Word that God speaks is alive and active; it cuts more keenly than any two-edged sword; it strikes through to the place where soul and spirit meet, to the innermost intimacies of a man's being; it exposes the very thoughts and motives of a man's heart. No creature has any cover from the sight of God; everything lies naked and exposed before the eyes of him with whom we have to do". (Hebrews 4:12-13, Phillips)
"I am naked and exposed before the eyes of Him with whom I have to do! But, God, you only reveal my sins in order to release me from my sins. You only expose my spiritual nakedness in order to clothe me with your righteousness!"
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: I am not a sinner in general; I am a sinner in specific. Christ is not a Saviour in general; He is my Saviour in specific!
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A Moral U-Turn
After God awakens a person to his true spiritual condition, he must repent of his sins. What is repentance? To understand the meaning of repentance, we must first note some of the misconceptions regarding repentance.
Repentance does not mean self-improvement. Reformation is human endeavor; transformation is divine renewal. A person may attempt to reform a pig by cleaning him up and dressing him in clean clothes. However, until the nature of the pig is changed, the pig will go back into the mud puddle. Man's nature must be changed by God. Self-improvement is not sufficient. Man must be divinely transformed.
Repentance is not merely regret or remorse. Simply to feel sorrow about events in the past is not to change things in the present or the future. Regret and remorse are both involved in repentance, but repentance is more than regret and remorse. The mourner's bench is good, but one must do more than mourn at a mourner's bench. Combined with mourning must be a genuine change of the will and of the mind.
Repentance is "a moral u-turn. A change of mind toward sin, from one of embracing to one of separation". (Stanley Walters) Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting; for you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death". (2 Corinthians 7:9-10 RSV) Notes John Murray, "The change of heart and mind and will principally respect four things; it is a change of mind respecting God, respecting ourselves, respecting sin, and respecting righteousness". (Redemption Accomplished and Applied, p. 114)
The prodigal son is an example of true repentance. He changed his mind about sin. He saw the results of sin and came to despise his sinful way of life. He turned his back on his former way of life–he made a moral u-turn and went to his father. His repentance began with regret and remorse, but it ended up in action. Repentance is basically an action of the will–"I will go to my Father".
Repentance involves open confession of sin. Says Weatherhead, "Suppressed sin, like suppressed steam, is dangerous. Confession is the safety-valve". Said one psychiatrist who dealt with the disrupted of Hollywood at high fees, "All these patients of mine need is a mourner's bench".
"O God, allow my remorse over sin's consequences to turn to repentance over sin's commission. Help me to make a moral u-turn, to turn from my old life to Your new life! Through Jesus' power. Amen!"
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: I will no longer embrace sin, but I will embrace my Saviour! The Father is waiting for the prodigal to return home!
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What Is Repentance?
What is repentance? "Laying down your arms, surrendering, saying you are sorry, realizing that you have been on the wrong track and getting ready to start life over again from the ground floor–is what Christians call repentance." (Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis, p. 59)
The Scriptures teach that repentance must be preached. Said Jesus, "Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem". (Luke 24:46-47)
Repentance is always the condition for healing and life. Repentance assumes that there is an honest recognition of sin in one's life. Sin is not simply breaking God's laws (10 Commandments), but sin is a breaking of God's heart! Sin is not only a violation of a law, but it is also the breaking of a relationship. To break laws is to break the heart of the lawgiver!
There can be no repentance without first recognizing the fact of sin and the seriousness of sin. There can be no treatment of a disease without diagnosis of the disease. There can be no healing without acknowledgment of the hurt. There is no conversion without conviction of sin. No treating of sin as a plaything, but as a serious problem.
Repentance is not only recognizing the fact of sin and the seriousness of sin, but repentance is also recognizing one's inability to save himself from the consequences of sin, in terms of both spiritual death and eternal death. The Bible talks about being "dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once walked". (Ephesians 2:1-2) Sin causes one to be dead to life's purpose and plan. Sin blinds one to the meaning of life. The consequences of sin is not only spiritual death, but also eternal death, which is separation from God forever.
To have a true spirit of repentance is to acknowledge ones personal helplessness, before one is ready to receive God's help, he must declare moral bankruptcy!
Next, repentance involves confession of sin to God. Confession means "agree with". One must agree with God's evaluation of sin and God's provision for sin. Repentance means rejecting man-made solutions for salvation, and acceptance of God's sole solution for salvation.
Repentance further involves a change of mind, from an attitude of embracing sin to an attitude of forsaking sin. Repentance also involves a change in actions, from a life of practicing sin to a life of practicing righteousness. Repentance does not mean, however, perfection in performance, but rather a new direction in life.
"O God, I turn my back upon my old way of life, and I turn my face towards Your beautiful face of love and mercy. I see Your outstretched arms, waiting for me. I accept Your wonderful forgiveness!"
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: I disagree with my former prideful attitudes of self-sufficiency, and I henceforth agree with God's grace-estimate of my moral condition.
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Obstacles To Repentance
The Biblical message is the message of repentance. "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord." (Acts 3:19) Jesus said, "Unless you repent, ye shall all likewise perish". (Luke 13:3-5)
If repentance is so important according to Jesus, then why is it so hard for so many people to repent? One reason is that people have a wrong attitude toward sin.
There are many who will not repent because they deny the very existence of sin. Many call sinful actions or attitudes mere human weaknesses. Says Dr. Karl Menninger, "The word (sin) went away. It has almost disappeared– the word, along with the notion. Why? Doesn't anyone sin anymore? Doesn't anyone believe in sin? Congress voted some years ago to require the President to proclaim each year a national day of prayer, and Truman began it in 1952. The following year (1953) President Eisenhower made his first proclamation and in it he made a reference to SIN. He borrowed the words for his proclamation from a call issued in 1863, by Abraham Lincoln, the country's first Republican and most theological President:
"It is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions in human sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon."
An article in Theology Today has this to say about Eisenhower's use of the word 'sin':
"None of Eisenhower's subsequent calls to prayer mentioned sin again. The word was not compatible with the Commander-in-Chief's vision of a proud and confident people… Since 1953, no President has mentioned sin as a national failing." (Whatever Became of Sin, p. 14-15)
Another wrong attitude toward sin which makes it impossible to repent is that attitude expressed in these words: "I feel stupid asking God to forgive me for what I have done, for I know I will turn around and do it again". Those were the words of a young lady with whom I talked on the phone when taking a religious survey. She felt that sin was unavoidable and necessary, and to ask God to forgive her would be hypocritical! In her conversation she revealed to me three wrong attitudes toward sin which made repentance impossible for her. (1) She talked of her pleasures while sinning, failing to realize that there is only pleasure in sin 'for a season'. (2) She had no deep regret over the consequences of her sins, failing to see that whatever a person sows, that he shall morally reap. (3) She failed to see the terribleness of sin, that it was sin which crucified the most beautiful life in the universe to a cross.
"Help me, Saviour, to deny neither the reality nor the seriousness of sin! Help me decisively to forsake sin in all forms and at all times! Save me from my sins, not in my sins!"
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: In my life, the serpent-hissing word 'Sin' must confront the irresistibly powerful word 'Saviour'. When sin abounds, the Saviour super-abounds in my life! Glory!
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Half Conversion Or Whole Conversion?
There are, what might be called, half-conversions. That is, there are persons who are partly or temporarily changed in their behavior, but who have never really experienced a divinely-wrought transformation. Some people save face by substituting religious activities for genuine repentance. "It is doing religious acts in order to avoid an authentic return to God. It is not outright hypocrisy; it is not a deliberate outward show to convince others of religiosity. It is primarily an effort to convince oneself that he is right with God." (The Psychology of Christian Experience, Mavis, p, 13) Some substitute membership in a church or baptism or participation in the Lord's Supper or congregational confession for personal repentance. Writes E. Stanley Jones, "Many today are converted to phenomena surrounding Christianity, the music, the architecture, the ritual, the eloquence of the preacher, the standing it gives one in a community to be a member of the church, the keeping up of mores from generation to generation–it's the thing to do–and other such phenomena surrounding the Christian movement. But there is no vital saving contact with this saving Person. It's all secondhand and marginal. It lacks luster and vitality. It's an echo instead of a voice. They have not given themselves, so no transformed self emerges… Half the church members are converted to phenomena and not to Christ–arrested conversions". (How To Be A Transformed Person, p. 79)
Some are half-hearted in their repentance because of the pain of facing themselves honestly. Because repentance involves honest reflection upon one's sinful nature, repentance usually is discomforting to ones self image. It is easy to concentrate on ones good, but difficult to face the fact of ones sinful nature and sinful practices.
One who is half-hearted in his repentance is one who "seeks to make a compromised settlement of his life with God in which the Almighty receives certain areas for control while he himself retains others… He becomes Christian partially on the basis of a conditioned commitment. 'I will follow thee; but let me first go… '(Luke 9:61)… The man with a divided heart loves God and he also resents Him. He esteems the eternal principles of righteousness, but he also has a practical regard for 'realism'. He seeks to belong to both the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world". (The Psychology of Christian Experience, Mavis, p. 16-17)
"The fear of the herd is the greatest single thing producing arrested conversions and a dead Christianity. Said a herd-bound soul to a released soul, 'Catherine, I admire your convictions, but why don't you have convictions like the rest of us?'. In other words, 'Why don't you be herd-centered instead of Christ-centered?'." (How To Be A Transformed Person, E.S. Jones, p. 81)
"Lord, don't allow me to substitute religious ritual for real repentance! Deliver me from my tendency to rationalize my sinful behavior. Help me to confess honestly and whole-heartedly!"
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: 'Realism' demands that I realistically face my sins, radically forsake my sins, and readily turn to my Saviour!
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Importance Of Repentance
"It is upon the rock of halfwayness that most conversions go to pieces when they fail. We don't repudiate our faith; we reduce it to conformity with the crowd. The salt loses its savor, its distinctiveness, and for that reason is cast out and trodden under the feet of men. Men despise the people who are half-and-half, and God can't tolerate them either… if there is no outer difference between you and the world, depend on it, there is no inner difference." (How To Be A Transformed Person, E.S. Jones, p. 82)
God's call to His people in the Old Testament was repentance: "Say unto them, as I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?". (Ezekiel 33:11)
The purpose for which Christ came (Luke 5:32), and the central message of the Gospel (Acts 3:19) is that men must repent and turn to God if they are to live. God's absolute requirement for salvation is repentance: "God commandeth all men everywhere to repent". (Acts 17:30 b)
"The word (repent) originally meant an 'afterthought', a second thought. Often a second thought shows that the first thought was wrong; and so the word came to mean 'a change of mind', but if a man is an honest man, a change of mind demands 'a change of action'. Repentance must involve both change of mind and change of action. A man may change his mind and come to see that his actions were wrong, but he may be so much in love with his old ways that he does not change his ways. A man may change his ways, but his mind may remain exactly the same. He may only change because of fear or because of prudential motives; his heart still loves the old ways and, if the chance comes, he will relapse into them. True repentance involves a change of mind and a change of action." (The Daily Study Bible, Acts, William Barclay, p. 24)
Remorse is mere sorrow because of the consequences of sin. Repentance is a godly sorrow over the sin itself, with a sincere desire to change ones life. "A Negro went to Alcoholics Anonymous, and when asked, 'So you want to get rid of drink!' replied, 'Not necessarily, I want to get rid of the thing it do'. He wanted a half-conversion with a whole result." (How To Be A Transformed Person, E.S. Jones, p, 79) True repentance means hating sin, accepting full moral responsibility for one's sinful actions, and turning completely to Christ for forgiveness and new life.
Repentance and faith must work together if true conversion is to result. Repentance is the proper attitude toward your sin, and faith is the proper attitude toward your Redeemer. Faith is putting yourself in the care of Christ who is able to change your life. Faith is a transfer of trust for salvation from yourself to Christ, who alone can save you!
"I change my mind about sin. I see now that the pleasures of sin last only for 'one season'. I change my direction in life. I see now that there is a way that seems right to men, but the end of that way is death!"
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: Honesty demands that I must repent fully if I expect to be changed totally!
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Relationship Between Faith And Repentance
To become a Christian, one must be awakened to his true spiritual condition without Christ. Further, one must repent of his sins and exercise true saving faith.
Repentance and faith are two sides of one coin or two halves of one whole. Repentance should always be inseparably coupled with faith. Repentance is forsaking sin, and faith is turning to the Saviour. The moment one forsakes sin, he must turn to the Saviour, for sin can only loose its grip on one's life when one surrenders himself to the stronger hold of the Saviour!
One is saved by faith. Faith is a transfer of trust from one's self to one's Saviour. Saving faith is always accompanied by genuine repentance. Repentance is a change of attitude toward sin. Faith is a change of attitude toward the Saviour, from one of rejection to one of acceptance and surrender.
Says Wesley, concerning the relationship between repentance and the fruits of repentance: "God does undoubtedly command us both to repent, and to bring forth fruits meet for repentance; which if we willingly neglect, we cannot reasonably expect to be justified at all; therefore both repentance, and fruits meet for repentance, are in some sense, necessary to justification. But they are not necessary in the same sense with faith, nor in the same degree. Not in the same degree; for those fruits are only necessary conditionally; if there be time and opportunity for them. Otherwise a man may be justified without them, as was the thief upon the cross". (Wesley's Sermons, Vol. 1, p. 387)
If repentance is turning from sin, then faith is turning to God. Saving faith is "putting yourself in the care of One who can do something. It is a transfer of trust for salvation from self to Christ". (Stanley Walters)
Saving faith is more than a mere intellectual assent to the existence of God. James wrote, "You say that you believe that there is one God. Excellent! The demons also believe the same thing–and shudder in terror", (James 2:19, Barclay) The devil knows that Jesus is the Son of God, and even trembles on account of this belief, but the devil is still the devil!
Faith is the total commitment of one's total self to Christ. Faith is "not merely a speculative, rational thing, a cold, lifeless assent, a train of ideas in the head; but also a disposition of the heart". (Wesley's Sermons, Vol. 1, p. 14)
Faith is throwing yourself upon God, like a drowning man throws himself upon the strength of the lifeguard. Only when one ceases to struggle and abandons himself to the Divine Lifeguard, is he saved.
"Help me to prove to You, O God, and to myself, and to others, that I have truly repented of my sins, by doing good deeds that befit repentance!"
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: Turning from sin, I turn to the Saviour who, in turn, leads me to service. Conviction will lead me to conversion, sadness will lead me to gladness!
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What Is Saving Faith?
Everyone has faith. One cannot live one day without exercising faith–faith that the driver you meet on the highway will stay on his side, faith that your employer will pay your salary at the end of the pay period, faith that your wife will not sprinkle poison on your food, faith that the sun will 'rise' in the morning, etc. Everyone has faith in someone or something. But the object of one's faith determines the value of one's faith.
The object of the sinner's faith must be Jesus Christ. Christ is perfectly trustworthy. "How did you like the airplane ride?" was asked of a nervous man who went up for the first time. "Very well," he replied, "but I never did put my whole weight down!" Faith means putting your whole weight down on God!
Says John Murray, "Faith is not the act of God; it is not God who believes in Christ for salvation; it is the sinner. It is by God's grace that a person is able to believe, but faith is an activity on the part of the person and of him alone. In faith we receive and rest upon Christ alone for salvation… Faith is a whole-souled movement of self-commitment to Christ for salvation from sin and its consequences". (Redemption Accomplished and Applied, p. 106-107)
Some say that it makes no difference what you believe, just as long as you are sincere. But one can be sincerely wrong! To place faith in an unreliable object (regardless of your sincerity) will result in a tragic outcome!
The Scriptures make it clear that one is saved by faith, not by his own works. Notes Wesley, "Indeed, strictly speaking, the covenant of grace doth not require us to do anything at all, as absolutely and indispensably necessary, in order to our justification; but only to believe in Him, who, for the sake of his Son, and the propitiation which he hath made, 'justifieth the ungodly, that worketh not', and imputes his faith to him for righteousness". (Wesley's Sermons, Vol. 1, p. 55)
Faith is self-abandonment to God and rejection of all attempts at works of self-righteousness. There are some who feel they must improve themselves or their actions before coming to God. Some say, "I must first do this; I must first conquer every sin; break off every evil word and work, and do all good to all men; or I must first go to church, receive the Lord's supper, hear more sermons and say more prayers". (Wesley's Sermons, Vol. 1, p. 59)
"Just as I am, and waiting not to rid my soul of one dark blot, To thee whose blood can cleanse each spot, O Lamb of God, I come!"
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: I will not waste God's gift of faith to me. I will exercise it responsibly, and as a result be saved decisively! Because the object of my faith is Christ, the value of my faith is incalculable!
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Isaiah 64:6, Ephesians 2:1-10
How Is Man Saved?
How is man saved? "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9, NASB)
Says Wesley, "If thou couldest now do all things well, if from this very hour, till thy soul should return to God, thou couldest perform perfect, uninterrupted obedience, even this would not atone for what is past … But suppose perfect obedience, for the time to come, could atone for the sins that are past, this would profit thee nothing; for thou art not able to perform it; no, not in anyone point". (Wesley's Sermons, Vol. 1, p. 66)
The one who attempts to bargain with God and who feels that he can keep his side of the contract, soon learns how weak and corrupted he really is. He who attempts to practice the Christian virtues on his own strength, will end the experiment in despair. True faith involves a recognition of man's weak and sinful creatureship, and a resulting total dependence upon the all-together Holy Creator. "If you devoted every moment of your whole life exclusively to His service you could not give Him anything that was not in a sense His own already. So that when we talk of a man doing anything for God or giving anything to God, I will tell you what it is really like. It is like a small child going to its father and saying, 'Daddy, give me six-pence to buy you a birthday present'. Of course, the father does, and he is pleased with the child's present. It is all very nice and proper, but only an idiot would think that the father is sixpence to the good on the transaction." (Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis, p. 125) Faith means that man cannot earn God's favor by giving God a gift. Faith is rather total abandonment to God in love, realizing that God is the total owner of all and that man is the grateful recipient of all.
John Murray says that faith is three things–knowledge, conviction, and trust. Before one puts faith in anything, he must have confidence in the character of the thing. "We must know who Christ is, what he has done, and what he is able to do. Otherwise, faith would be blind conjecture at the best and foolist mockery at the worst." (Redemption Accomplished and Applied, p. 110) We must not only know the facts about Christ, but we must truly believe the facts to be true. We must not only intellectually know the facts about the Cross, but we must volitionally commit ourselves to those facts. If we have a strong conviction that the facts are true, then we will commit our total being to Christ. It is only when this last step is taken–the step of full commitment–that we have exercised the kind of faith that saves from sin and saves for heaven! We have come to rely upon Christ alone for salvation!
"O Christ, you are together trustworthy in your character, and faithful to your promises. Abandoning all hope for salvation in myself, I cast myself helplessly and hopefully into your mighty arms!"
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: When I make a 'leap of faith', I am not leaping into the dark, but into the light of God's everlasting love!
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Discussion Questions On 'How Do You Become a Christian?'
What are four stages that one must take in order to establish a warm human relationship, and how are each of these four stages like the stages that one takes in establishing a meaningful relationship with God?
Relating to one's quest for God, what is meant by the phrase "valley of decision"? What are some of the characteristics of persons who are in the "valley of decision"?
What does it mean "to count the cost" to determine if one wishes to follow Christ?
In your own personal life, what are some of the factors that influenced you (or that are now influencing you) to make a decision to follow Christ?
What is your definition of "Saving Faith"? How is one's inner decision to follow Christ outwardly manifested and demonstrated?
Tell why you agree or disagree with the following statement: "Don't think that if you don't belong to Christ you are free. Nobody is free. We are free only to choose our own masters. It is Christ or something else, that will rule us".
When one gives himself to Christ in total surrender, what are some of the gifts and benefits that one receives from Christ?
What does the doctrine of universalism teach regarding salvation? What is the proper relationship between the 'subjective' and the 'objective' aspects in salvation?
List the three conditions that a sinner must meet in order to be converted.
How would you describe 'awakening' in a sinner's life, and who is the Agent of 'awakening'?
What are some of the misconceptions regarding repentance? What are the characteristics of true repentance? According to John Murray, repentance involves a change of mind in what four areas? Why is the Prodigal Son (as seen in Jesus' parable) such a good example of true repentance?
What is the relationship between repentance and confession of sin?
List and describe some of the various obstacles to true repentance.
Cite examples of people whom you have known or have observed who have denied the very existence of sin. What rationalizations have these people engaged in, to explain away sin?
What is generally the motivation of people who substitute religious activities for genuine repentance?
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Discussion Questions On 'How Do You Become a Christian?'(continued)
Name some of the 'phenomena' to which people are converted as substitutes for being converted to Christ.
What are some other reasons why some people have stopped short of experiencing genuine repentance?
Tell why you agree or disagree with the following statement: 'Realism' demands that I realistically face my sins, radically forsake my sins, and readily turn to my Saviour!"
What are the outward evidences of an inward work of God's grace in a person's life, as a result of genuine repentance?
Cite Scriptural references to support the assertion that there can be no conversion without the exercise of genuine repentance.
Does true repentance involve both a change of mind and a change of actions? Why or why not?
What is the difference between repentance and remorse?
What is the relationship between faith and repentance?
Is "Saving Faith" more than an intellectual assent to the basic truths of Christianity (James 2:19)?
Explain what is meant by the statement: "The object of one's faith determines the value of one's faith".
Describe some of the indispensable characteristics of "Saving Faith".
Do you believe that the following is an adequate definition of "Saving Faith": "Faith is a whole-souled movement of self-commitment to Christ for salvation from sin and its consequences".
What is the relationship between faith and good works as these relate to conditions for salvation and evidence of salvation?
Is there anything that man can do to earn, purchase or deserve God's salvation? Why or why not?
What three things, according to John Murray, are involved in experiencing true saving faith? Show the interrelationships between these three things.
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