Having made the first step of faith...
What makes us a Christian?
Salvation from what?
God's time line
Two kingdoms in conflict
LEARNING ABOUT THE BIBLE
LEARNING ABOUT PRAYER and WORSHIP
Allow extra time in this first segment to review the introduction to this course, as an orientation to the course. Have a look at the subjects for the whole course, so that the first series can be put in context.
This course is for believers wanting to grow in Christian discipleship. Each series of units in this course progressively goes deeper into the faith. In this first unit we are providing a grounding in the basics. So let's first recap on what it means to be a Christian.
A Christian is a person who is enjoying a life of restored union with God, made possible by the death and resurrection of His son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
As it says in the catechism:
Being a Christian is not easy! "Easy grace" is not the way to establish an enduring faith (discuss the meaning of "easy grace," providing some examples). This term alerts us to the importance of commitment in our faith. "Grace" is God's unmerited favour being extended to us, and we must be careful not to trivialise or limit such a wonderful extension of God's love to us. We need to submit ourselves to the full "Lordship" of Christ. This involves us in a radical spiritual transformation...
Jesus called it - "Being born again" (John_3:7). What does this mean?
Before becoming a Christian, there was a gulf between God and us. This chasm started at Genesis Chapter 3.
Discuss - What are the main issues in Gen chapter 3 between God and His people? Do we face the same issues today? Are our reactions any different to theirs?
This uncrossable chasm of sin and human failure separates us from the holiness and righteousness of God and His kingdom. God was never wanting this to be the case, so He devised one and only one plan to resolve this separation between God and us. This is known as God's plan of salvation through Christ Jesus.
How did Jesus bridge this chasm? (This will be covered in more detail in a later unit).
At our conversion to Christ, or our new birth, we came to the realisation that Jesus had died in our place. He did this to pay the ransom for us - to liberate us from the consequences of our sin. In this way the Cross of Calvary became our bridge to God - crossing the gulf between Him and us. Jesus imparts His own righteousness to us because we can never rely on our own! (We will explore this in more detail later).
That is why Jesus said:
"I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John_14:6); and,
"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).
As we accept this great news with sincerity, humility and repentance for our sin against God, we receive a new life which lasts for eternity. This is our step of faith in response to God's love reaching out to us where we are.
The thing for us to do, is to respond to God with a whole heart.
Our salvation can never be earned by vain attempts to gain "brownie points" through our good deeds. We can never achieve perfection - and anything less cannot merit a place in the presence of the holiness of God. No, we need to accept His provision for us in Christ, by faith. (Ephesians_2:8-10).
Our repentance means a genuine commitment of heart - to turn from our old ways of independence from God - to learning a new way of living in relationship with him. This is the attitude of heart which gives God room to move in our lives.
David Pawson describes repentance as follows:
"Repentance is not just 'feeling sorry'. Such a feeling can express a variety of attitudes. Sometimes it is simply regret that our actions have brought such consequences on ourselves; this is little more than self-pity and reveals that the heart is still egocentric. More commendable is that overwhelming remorse at the consequences of our actions on others, which is at least less self-centred."
"Real repentance, however, begins when we realise the consequences for God (and His son); this is that 'godly sorrow' which of itself does not constitute repentance, but can lead to it (2_Corinthians_7:9). Light dawns when we realise we have 'sinned against heaven', as well as against others, and in a sense, against ourselves (Luke_15:18-21). Only then are we able to grasp that we have defied God's authority, broken His laws, provoked His anger and deserved His judgment. Our unhappiness will then be more than tinged with fear".
"Scriptural repentance involves three dimensions: thought, word and deed. In passing through these mental, verbal and practical phases, there is a movement from the 'inward heart' to the 'outward life". (The Normal Christian Birth, by David Pawson p23, used with permission).
Essentially repentance is a transition from rebelliousness and independence from God - through a humility which recognises who God is - to a relationship with Him based on faith and love. Where are we in this process?
"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death". (Romans_8:1).
One of the great things about the Christian life is that at any point in time we can have a new start. The power of the Blood of Christ is so powerful that God will wipe the slate clean at the moment of our asking. Hence we are never subjected to condemnation before God, when we come to Him by the Cross.
As the revelation of Christ and the Cross open up for us - and we respond by opening our lives to the love and authority of Jesus - we make a step of faith which allows God to breathe in us His new life. For some, this change to a new life in Christ may be a definite experience at a specific time. For others, it can be a gradual realisation over a longer period of time. Either way, the important thing is entering into God's wonderful plan, which is knowing Christ within you. (Colossians_1:27)
No matter how we came to Christ, two vital challenges are always before us as believers:God's time line
Let's now have a look at a different view of history, from God's perspective and see where we fit into God's scheme of things.
This following illustration represents a time line of history from Genesis to Revelation. Starting out with union between God and His people at creation, the illustration leads us to the fall of humankind as a result of disobedience. From here we see God's rescue plan coming into operation initially through the law in the Old Testament, with its fulfilment in the Cross of Christ.
The coming of Jesus begins the start of God's new Kingdom. This is fully completed in His second coming. We are living somewhere between Christ's first and second coming.
Now, as a Christian, we are acutely aware of forces of good and evil around us. We feel the tension within and without - of the pull of this world in conflict with the values of God. Why is this so?
Belief in Jesus brings membership of a new Kingdom.
If a Christian doesn't feel this tension, there is something wrong!
We feel this tension to do with sin -
We are now inwardly motivated by the Holy Spirit not to yield to temptation, and to take a definite and complete stand against sin - because we now understand that sin is against the one who loves us and gave His life for us. This is a permanent and normal position for the Christian. If this stand is compromised we must put it right straight away!
We also feel this tension to do with values -
The world is obsessed with seeking success and recognition, power, material wealth, demanding rights and self fulfilment. This clashes headlong with our faith because these worldly values are self-centred, whereas the Christian is called to be Christ and "other" centred. Discuss examples of these type of conflicts.
Most Christians have times of doubt some time after their conversion. This is a common experience usually following a "honeymoon time" - of being captivated by the wonders of our new faith. This doubting is a phase which can recur at other times. [Discuss experiences of doubt]. At times of doubt, how can we be assured of our salvation?
It's not our faith that is important,
Once we have taken that initial step of faith we are part of a new family, held together by God's power [Read Ephesians_2:8-10]. Our faith does not rest on our feelings but on God's word - the word of a perfect almighty God who will never fail us! Christ has already laid His life down for us (John_10:11) - He promises never to let us go:
"My sheep know my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal
life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father,
who has given them to me, is greater than all, no one can snatch them out of my
Father's hand. I and the Father are
Faith is trusting God. It is not the absence of doubt,
How are we assured?
1. By trusting the promises of God -
God's promises will never let us down because He can never let us down. He is God, the Almighty! That is not to say that by a deliberate act of determined will and rebelliousness, a person cannot take themselves out of the Father's care. But such an act is no accident, nor the result of some sin or other. If a Christian is concerned about their position with God, then by definition, they are not making a wilful decision to abandon their faith - and are therefore secure in God's love (even if it doesn't seem like it for a while). If we are full of doubt, we should talk it over with someone more mature in the Christian faith and be comforted in knowing that our experience is not unique.
Check out some of the reassuring promises, such as:
2. By trusting the Holy Spirit - evidenced by the fruit of the Spirit.
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control". Galatians_5:22-23
These fruit become more evident in our lives as we go on with Christ. To illustrate this, consider how the wind blows over a field of wheat. You can't see the wind - but you can see the wheat moving in the breeze. In a similar way, we can't physically see the Holy Spirit, but we can observe His effect on our lives and on the lives of others who are moving along with God. Galatians 5 is a good place to test the evidence of the Spirit's movement in our lives [Read together Galatians_5:22-25 and Romans_8:16].
3. By trusting the work of the Cross - getting free from sin.
The Christian life is living in Christ's strength and righteousness, not our own. We don't rely on our own efforts - but in the power of the Cross to redeem us, as we acknowledge our need to God.
What happens if you sin? Are you out of the Kingdom of God? No! But you are not living as a citizen of God's kingdom should. You need to put this right as quickly as possible. As we get more mature, we learn to walk in the light as Jesus is in the light - check out 1_John_1:5_-_2:3 and Isaiah_1:18. To put these scriptures into practice in the event of sin, we should quickly:
What ever we do, we shouldn't leave sin lurking around unrepented. If we sin quickly,
we need to get right quickly. Otherwise we give the Devil an open window into our lives while
we are not availing ourselves of God's provision.
|Don't play with the Devil's toys -|
keep away from circumstances and temptation which lead to sin!
|Temptation is not sin.
An evil thought is not necessarily sin - it may be coming from the devil like a dart. Temptation usually becomes sin by the following process:
The Devil would like to have us condemned whenever we sense an evil thought. Our job in such a situation is to recognise what's happening and arrest the process before it turns to sin. We do this by turning to Christ and starting to praise him, telling the Devil to get packing - because we are on God's side. In this way, we are becoming good soldiers of Christ. We learn how to defeat not only sin, but also the author of sin!
Luther said of temptation and ungodly thoughts: "You can't stop the birds flying over your head, but you can stop them nesting in your hair!"
4. By trusting that we are grafted into the vine
Our wonderful position with God as a Christian is summarised in the parable of the vine, found in John_15:1-10. This illustration helps us to understand:
We can be fully confident in what God's word says about our position with Him - as long as we are not deliberately denying it. We may rest fully in the reliability of God's word, and in God keeping His word. We will focus on this passage for our personal study this week.
Our assurance is certain. It is like the three legs of the stool in the following illustration. The legs of the stool are trustworthy because God made them. The stool becomes effective as we place our weight on the stool, trusting in its capacity to support us. In this way we are 'grafted into the vine', placing our trust on God's love and provision.
Unit 1: Learning About The Bible [Next Section]
Buy This Book | Introduction | Unit 2