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Beginning Your Christian Journey  

 

INTRODUCTION:  

Welcome to God's forever family!   On any given day around our world thousands of people are making the same decision you have made – to recognise and receive the love gift of God. That gift is a person, Jesus Christ. As with any gift, the gift is largely valueless unless it is received.   In giving His Son, God has made eternal life available to us. But that gift cannot be separated from Jesus. In another place the Bible also teaches us this fact:

 

"God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. (1 John 5/11,12)  

 

Now begins life's greatest journey. You are part of a great company of people who are committed to become disciples or followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the most fulfilling and rewarding venture that any one can undertake. Mind you, it is anything but smooth sailing all the time. There will be high points and low points. There will be times when you will wonder if it's worth the challenge and the struggle. But there will be times when you will know that this is the best decision you have ever made.   What follows in this seminar is designed to help you build strong foundations for this life-long project of becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ.  

 

Although you may not be familiar with the Bible and the location of its various sections and parts, we will still encourage you to go looking for the references that are made in these notes. This is a deliberate strategy to help you become familiar with the Bible – the book that will become foundational for the rest of your Christian journey.   So, hang on to your heart! Here we go!  

 

INTERACTION POINT:  Highlight or underline any word, phrase or sentence in the above that strikes you as particularly new, significant or helpful.    

 

WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO ME?  

 

John 1/12,13 says, "But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn! This is not a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan—this rebirth comes from God".  

 

A child of God! How about that?!! It's no wonder that one of the first questions asked by people who have made this great decision is, "What has happened to me?"   That's a good question because understanding what has actually taken place within your life will help you to grow in your experience of God.  

 

Of course, there is an assumption at this point that you have truly said "Yes" to God's love gift and you have yielded to Jesus Christ for Him to become your Master and Saviour. If that is not the case, then maybe what follows in this session will explain what can & will happen if you respond to God's love for you by receiving the gift of His Son.  

 

So, what has happened to you because of your decision?  

 

[1]WHAT HAS NOT HAPPENED  

 

Well, let's first be sure about what has not happened.

 

2 Corinthians 5/17,18says,   "What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun! All this newness of life is from God, who brought us back to himself through what Christ did…..."  

 

a) You have not decided to simply turn over a 'new leaf'. When we talk about becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ, this has nothing to do with some kind of self-improvement or personal reformation.

 

b)This decision is not another form of a 'new year resolution'.

 

c) You are not trying to simply imitate Jesus by some huge effort on your part as though He is just an example or model that you are to follow. What a pointless and impossible exercise that would be!!

 

d) This decision you have made is not a commitment to try harder and do more to become a better person. In fact, the decision to follow Jesus Christ is based on the fact that we are incapable of living up to the standard of God's law. We may want to do so. We may have tried to do so. But we have discovered that we are powerless to do so, no matter how sincere our motivation and efforts may have been.  

 

INTERACTION POINT: Do any of the above 4 points surprise you? Have you ever tried to live your life by any of these 4 'codes' or systems of belief? How did you find those attempts?  

 

What does happen in our lives when we make that great commitment of our lives to God is that God does something in us that you & I have been unable to do. He has made a bridge from Himself to us. That great chasm or gap between us and God which was created by our self-centred independence – the Bible calls it "sin" – has been bridged through the death & resurrection of Jesus Christ.    

 

[2]BACK TO THE BEGINNING   To understand the real dynamics, we need to go back to the beginning – right back in Genesis 2/15-17 where we are told how that chasm or great gulf came to be in the first place.  

 

The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and care for it. But the Lord God gave him this warning: "You may freely eat any fruit in the garden except fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat of its fruit, you will surely die…"  

 

 Disobedience would result in death. Physical death? Yes; but more than that.  When Adam & Eve rejected God's authority in their lives, they remained physically alive even after they were evicted from the Garden of Eden. But something within them died.   There is a part of our being that the Bible calls our 'spirit'. The spirit is that part of us that relates and responds to God.   It was that part of Adam and Eve that 'died' that day. Their friendship or fellowship with God was terminated and the chasm of separation became a reality. So it has been from that day to this.    

 

There's a sense, then, in which the human spirit dies and our relationship with God ceases. Instead of friendship, there now exists hostility and enmity between ourselves and God. Our rebellion & resistance to God's authority over our lives is the reason for that sense of separation or estrangement even though His love for us remains unchanged. 

 

Ephesians 2/1-6 says,   "Once you were dead, doomed forever because of your many sins. You used to live just like the rest of the world, full of sin, obeying Satan….. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passions and desires of our evil nature. We were born with an evil nature, and we were under God's anger just like everyone else. But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so very much, that even while we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God's special favor that you have been saved!)…."  

 

INTERACTION POINT:How do you feel about words like 'hostility', 'enmity', 'rebellion' and 'resistance' being used to describe our relationship with God prior to our decision to become disciples of Jesus?  

 

As mentioned previously, the word the Bible uses to describe this heart attitude of self-centred independence is SIN. It's important to catch the difference between 'sin' and 'sins' because it will help us better understand our situation. 'Sin' refers to our condition – who and what we are. 'Sins', on the other hand, refers to our behaviour; what we think, say and do because of our condition. In other words, our condition determines our conduct.

 

 To put that another way, 'sin' is the root and 'sins' are the fruit.   In order for us to be reconciled or restored to God, not only do we have to find a way to be forgiven for what we have done, we also have to find a way to be changed in who we are! The first part – forgiveness for thoughts, words & actions – is not enough because our unchanged condition sin will keep producing sinful conduct sins. The only way to change the 'fruit' is to change the 'root' – the very source and nature of our life  

 

INTERACTION POINT:Is the distinction between sin and sins helpful for your understanding? Can you give an example of condition determining conduct?    

 

[3]TRANSFORMED, NOT REFORMED  

Humanly speaking, the radical change that is needed is beyond our human capacity & self-effort. We may be able to make some short term, cosmetic adjustments but deep, lasting, fundamental changes are way beyond our ability.   But what we could not do despite all the good intentions in the world, God has done!  

 

Romans 5/6-11 says,   "When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, no one is likely to die for a good person, though someone might be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God's sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God's judgment.  For since we were restored to friendship with God by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be delivered from eternal punishment by his life. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God—all because of what our Lord Jesus Christ has done for us in making us friends of God.  

 

There are at least three key words or terms in that passage that describe what we were before we surrendered our lives to Jesus authority:  

a)"utterly helpless"

b)"sinners"

c)"enemies"  

 

 And there are at least three words or phrases that describe our condition after  we respond positively to God's love for us.  

a) "we have been made right in God's sight"

b) "we were restored to friendship with God"

c) "delivered from eternal punishment"  

 

What is it that happens to change us? How does that happen? What is God's part in this radical transformation? What is our part?  

 

[3]GOD'S PART   Since we are powerless to do anything to change our condition, it is entirely up to God to provide a way for us to come back to Him. He has to make it possible for our sins to be forgiven, for the friendship to be restored and for our hearts to be transformed. The good news is that He has done just that!!   As we have seen, the Bible makes it clear that the consequences of sin is death. God is too just and holy to simply "turn a blind eye" to sin. At the same time, He is too loving and merciful to ignore our desperate condition. Somehow God has to be true to His holiness & justice AND His love & mercy simultaneously.  

 

The birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is God's amazing response to our need.

 

John 3/16 says,   'For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life'.  

 

Jesus was miraculously conceived, lived a life that perfectly fulfilled God's holy Law, died as a substitute for you and me and was raised from death so that He can empower us to live for God now and with God forever!!   God has honoured His own justice because Jesus sacrificed His life and, in doing so, paid the penalty for our sin. He died in our place. He died our death.

 

2 Corinthians 5/21 says   "For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ".  

 

But, at the same time and through the same event, God has also been true to His love for us.   Remember what we read in Romans 5/8?   But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were st ill sinners.   God's part was to make it  possible for us to return to Him by providing the means for us to be forgiven AND for us to be empowered to live lives that honour God.  

 

[4]OUR PART   It's one thing for God to do His part. It's quite another for us to do our part. God has made it possible for us to be restored to friendship with Him i.e. to be reconciled. But what is our part?  

 

First, we are called upon to REPENT.This word indicates turning from sin to God, from sinful ways to God's ways. Repentance is a commitment to a way of life that involves turning from and abandoning a previous way of life. Repentance itself is essentially the "about-face" of a new commitment.   This aspect deals with our attitude to our "sin" and our "sins". We recognise that our sin has created a barrier between us and God. We don't make excuses.

 

But that recognition requires action on our part. We confess to God that we are "sinners" (our condition) and that we have "sinned" (our conduct). We express to God a willingness to turn from our previous way of life. We need God's power to do that but there needs to be a willingness on our part.  The story in Luke 15 of the lost son or the rebellious son (often called the prodigal son) is a wonderful illustration of what repentance looks like.  

 

Jesus told them this story: "A man had two sons. The younger son told his father, 'I want my share of your estate now, instead of waiting until you die.' So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons. "A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and took a trip to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money on wild living. About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. He persuaded a local farmer to hire him to feed his pigs. The boy became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything. "When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, 'At home even the hired men have food enough to spare, and here I am, dying of hunger! I will go home to my father and say, "Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired man." ' "So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long distance away, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son…"  

 

Although the father probably forgave his son long before he came home, the son could not experience that forgiveness until he came home.   The son could have stayed in that distant land, estranged from his father, and been very sorry for his self-centred decision to leave home. That would constitute regret or remorse but not repentance. Coming back to his father and confessing his 'sin' was the action of true repentance.  

 

INTERACTION POINT:Is there anything about the story of the rebellious son that encourages you….impresses you….puzzles you…..outrages you?

 

Second, we need to BELIEVE. We need to believe that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ on our behalf is absolutely ALL that is required by God to make it possible for us to be made right with God.

 

Ephesians 2/8,9 says;   God saved you by his special favour 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.  

 

 There is absolutely nothing we have done or can do that can begin to compensate or 'atone' for our sin. Not now. Not ever. Everything that is needed to make possible our forgiveness and restoration has been fully, completely, absolutely, irreversibly and totally done by Jesus. We can add nothing to it. That's not only good news – that's great news!!   Our part is to believe it is true and to act upon it. When the Bible talks about "believing", it means much more than simply accepting that something is true or factual. Remember the very opening lines of this session from John 1/12?   But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.   It's very possible to believe in Jesus (as true and factual) but not accept Himi.e. not accept His claim on your life as your Saviour and Master.  

 

Third, we need to RECEIVE. As with any gift, it is of little or no value unless it is received or accepted. At that moment when you and I said 'Yes' to Jesus' claim on our lives, God did something miraculous. He put His Spirit within us – within our dead spirit. We came alive!! No longer are we 'dead in our trespasses and sins'. We have been re-connected with the very life of God. The past is forgiven. We begin a whole new life. Jesus described this transformation as being 'born again'(John 3/3,5).    

 

INTERACTION POINT: a. In your own words, how would you describe to a friend of yours what it means to 'repent'?b. How do you feel about the truth that there is nothing we can ever do to contribute to our forgiveness? c. Does any of this challenge the way you currently seek acceptance with God?      

 

BUT HOW CAN I BE SURE?     This is one question that is often asked by new believers. It is asked in different ways but it really is a question about assurance.   "How can I be sure about what has happened to me?" "Can I know for certain that God has accepted me?"   "What about those times when I am not sure – when doubts seem to flood my mind?" "What about those feelings of uncertainty? What do I do with them?"  

 

These are good questions and you need to know that the vast majority of new disciples (and many who are not so new!) ask them, especially if they are going through tough times when outward circumstances and events seem to challenge and mock the very idea of the existence of God, let alone the possibility of having a relationship with Him.      

 

 Can we be sure that God has accepted us? The answer is a resounding 'YES!'  So, if it is possible to be certain that we have been accepted by God completely and forever, how can we know that assurance?  

 

[1]THE WORD OF GOD   "God said it! I believe it! That settles it!" That 3-fold sentiment is not meant to sound simplistic but it really is at the heart of faith. This assurance is based upon the conviction that what God says is utterly reliable and trustworthy. If He says that we now belong to Him and that we are in His Kingdom, then we are!! Whatever we may feel, God's truth is greater than our feelings – especially those negative feelings that undermine our faith.  

 

This raises the obvious questions, "What  has God said that can be the basis of my assurance? What promises has God given in His Word to believers of every generation that are totally trustworthy and, therefore, an unshakable foundation for strong faith?  

 

 John 5/24   "I assure you, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life".  

 

John 6/35-37   "I am the bread of life. No one who comes to me will ever be hungry again. Those who believe in me will never thirst.  But you haven't believed in me even though you have seen me.  However, those the Father has given me will come to me, and I will never reject them.  

 

John 10/27-29   My sheep recognize my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them away from me,  for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. So no one can take them from me.  

 

Romans 8/38,39   And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Death can't, and life can't. The angels can't, and the demons can't. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can't keep God's love away.  Whether we are high above the sky or in the deepest ocean, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.  

 

 2 Timothy 1/12   "…..for I know the one in whom I trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until the day of his return".  

 

1 John 5/11,12   And this is what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. So whoever has God's Son has life; whoever does not have his Son does not have life.I write this to you who believe in the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life.      

 

 When Jesus was tempted to doubt His relationship with God, He countered those "attacks" by quoting the authority of God's Word. He didn't try to debate or argue with the devil. He didn't try to manufacture His own brand of certainty. He simply quoted the truth of God's Word, staked His faith upon what God had said and finally the devil had no choice but to leave Jesus alone.

 

The Bible teaches us that we can resist the devil and he has to depart. That is what Jesus did.  

 

Luke 4/13 – "When the Devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left him until the next opportunity came".  

 

James 4/7,8 - So humble yourselves before God. Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you.Draw close to God, and God will draw close to you.      

 

[2]THE WORK OF CHRIST   We have already noted that there is nothing we can do that will ever be worthy of God's love and grace in saving us from sin. Any hope we may have of ever being made right with God is totally and solely dependent NOT on what we can do BUT on what Christ has done for us through His death & resurrection.  

 

If what Jesus has done for us is not enough to save us then we are finished! We really have no hope. However, the consistent testimony of the Bible is that Jesus' death & resurrection is absolutely adequate, complete and final. We can add nothing to it to make it more complete or more adequate.  Our assurance or our certainty and security, then, is based on what we might call the "finished work of Christ".  

 

John 19/30   When Jesus had tasted it, he said, "It is finished!" Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.  

 

Ephesians 2/8-10   God saved you by his special favour 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.  For we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.  

 

Ephesians 2/13   But now you belong to Christ Jesus. Though you once were far away from God, now you have been brought near to him because of the blood of Christ.  

 

Philippians 1/6 And I am sure that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on that day when Christ Jesus comes back again.   But there is still one further aspect that is very important as we identify the basis of our assurance & sense of security.      

 

[3]THE WITNESS OF THE SPIRIT  

 Earlier we talked about the fact that when we repent of our sin and believe in Jesus, God puts His life with us in the person of the Holy Spirit. The "witness" or "testimony" of the Holy Spirit within us has two dimensions – internal and external.   Internally, the Holy Spirit assures us that we really do belong forever to God.  

 

Romans 8/16 - For his Holy Spirit speaks to us deep in our hearts and tells us that we are God's children.  

 

Although the Holy Spirit is said to 'speak', we most likely will not hear words with our natural ears. What we 'hear' is the sense of peace, rest and confidence that comes as a result of knowing my sins are forgiven and I have been made right with God.   Externally, the Holy Spirit begins to produce in our lives what the Bible calls the "fruit of the Spirit" or what we might call the fruit or evidence of the Spirit's presence in our lives.  

 

Galatians 5/22, 23   But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, and self-control.  

 

In the same way that the life force within a tree produces fruit on that tree, so the life of the Holy Spirit within us produces the evidence of His presence. However, please note that this process takes time. Don't expect changes in our thoughts, words and actions overnight.   Having identified the basis of our certainty concerning our relationship with God, let's consider the origin of some of those questions that try to undermine and sabotage our sense of certainty and faith.

"What about those times when I am not sure – when doubts  seem to flood my  mind?" "What about those feelings of uncertainty? What do I do with them?"  

 

 THE SOURCES OF UNCERTAINTY  

If you think back to the earlier part of this session, you might recall that our decision to become a disciple of Jesus Christ involved turning from our former way of life which is described in the Bible as being 'rescued' from the kingdom of darkness (and its king, Satan or the Devil) and giving our allegiance, loyalty and love to a new King, Jesus Christ.  

 

"For he has rescued us from the one who rules in the kingdom of darkness, and he has brought us into the Kingdom of his dear Son. God has purchased our freedom with his blood and has forgiven all our sins" (Colossians 1/13,14)  

 

Our former master, Satan, who had blinded and deceived us regarding God's purpose for our lives, now seeks to rob us of the assurance of our new life in Christ by challenging our faith and questioning the reality of what God has done and is doing in our lives. He is quick to whisper words of condemnation when we fail to live up to our desire to please God. "How can you possibly think you are a Christian and yet think …. speak… act like that?"  

 

According to Genesis chapter 3 and verse 1, this is how he undermined the relationship that Eve had with God and how he sowed doubt and uncertainty in her heart.  

 

Now the serpent was the shrewdest of all the creatures the Lord God had made. "Really?" he asked the woman. "Did God really say you must not eat any of the fruit in the garden?"    

 

According to Luke chapter 4, verses 3 and 9, this is exactly how Satan tried to sabotage the relationship Jesus had with His Heavenly Father. "If you are the Son of God…." He wastrying to make Jesus doubt or question His relationship with God, His identity as the Son of God and, ultimately, His mission as the Saviour of the world.   Then the Devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, change this stone into a loaf of bread." Then the Devil took him to Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, "If you are the Son of God, jump off!  

 

So it ought to come as no surprise to us if Satan employs the same tactics with us. He knows that  if he can rob us of our certainty and the assurance of our faith in God, he will undermine that relationship and make us virtually ineffective in our Christian life.   Another source of uncertainty can simply come from within ourselves – especially if we have the kind of personality that is prone to think negatively about the issues of life - natural pessimists! For such people, there is very little in life about which they are certain. This pessimism carries over into their new experience as a Christian disciple.  

 

INTERACTION POINT:How do you feel about the idea of a real but malevolently evil being or personality called Satan? How do you respond to the idea that he actively seeks to deceive and blind us from knowing and loving God?  

 

So where do feelings fit in all of this? Do I just treat them as untrustworthy and hope they will go away? Do I pretend and deny their existence? Are my feelings my enemies? On the other hand, can God be speaking to me through my feelings?   We need to remember that our feelings belong to the shallowest part of our emotional lives. Therefore, our feelings are very prone to rapid change depending on changing circumstances.   Our feelings are not our enemies. Nor should we deny their existence. That would be unhealthy.

 

But we should not be mastered by our feelings and emotions. When it comes to the vital matter of our assurance and certainty as Christians, we need something much more substantial and objective than the subjective nature of our emotions and feelings.   Yes, God can speak to us through our emotions BUT what we think God may be saying to us needs to be checked against the three-fold criteria we have outlined above – the Word of God, the Work of Christ and the Witness of the Spirit.  

 

INTERACTION POINT:   Which of these three criteria is the most helpful for you? Which is the most puzzling? What do you most need at this stage of your journey that will most help you grow and continue the journey?

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