What is the proper way to live the Christian life in the Western world? Or maybe a better question is how am I, as a follower of Christ, to live out the Christ life today? Yes, I know, according to the Bible, but how does that look?
The reality is that in the next 10 to 30 years I could very well be either dead or incapacitated. What will I do with the time that I have left?
This past week I read again through the gospel of Mark and I am once again captivated by both John the Baptist and Jesus. I find that, by observing their lifestyles, I feel a renewed sense of excitement and humility.
They preached a simple message and lived simple lives. I believe that, now more than ever, we need their examples desperately, both in the world and in the church. Read what Jesus preached: “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe in the good news.” And it’s recorded in Matthew 3:2 that John preached the same message.
Then when Jesus called His disciples, He did not recite any scientific formula or use difficult terminology that would confuse those He called. Nor did He demand that they meet certain criteria for following Him. The call is simple: “Follow Me.” It is recorded in the gospel of Mark, “and I will make you fishers of men.” What’s amazing is that with those simple words the men immediately began following Him. There does not seem to have been any hesitation on their part and He really gave no explicit instructions.
Yes, it was a simple message, but it made a profound impact that reverberates still today. Maybe I/we need to get back to this simple message and allow God to change hearts and minds.
If you look at the words of John the Baptist and Jesus again, you will see that the main message is two-fold: repent and believe. They really didn’t explain themselves. Their statements were sufficient.
Let’s look at this message in more detail as we rethink church. There’s something amiss in today’s church here in America. The church is so diverse, yet not in a positive way. There are far too many denominations and far too many factions. We are divided.
Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:10; “Now I urge you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, that there be not divisions among you, and that you be united with the same understanding and the same conviction.” These are powerful words from the pen of Paul the apostle.
Watchman Nee took this passage to mean that there should be only one church in a province and not connected to any denomination, for he believed that denominations divide us. The church in China, of which he was a part, did not go off the rails after leaving a denomination but, instead, remained Biblically faithful.
Now I am not advocating leaving a denomination. But there are some denominations that think there is only one right denomination (theirs) and only one translation of the Bible.
That divisive way of thinking reminded me of a very special conference held every other year in Louisville, KY called T4G. It was begun by four men from three different denominations: Southern Baptist, Presbyterian Church in America and Sovereign Grace Ministries. They may have differing views on baptism and on the last days but they do not allow that to separate them from one another. They acknowledge that the heart of the gospel is Christ crucified, buried, risen and seen; this is what they believe and stick to as they fellowship one with another.
It’s the gospel that holds all things together in the Church of Jesus Christ! Far too many people/denominations focus on differences when we ought to be focused on the meat of the gospel.
Let’s break down the gospel a bit to see what the critical points are. Jesus Christ was born of the virgin Mary, who was in need of saving herself; and He was born without sin. He took on the sins of this world for us when He died on the cross, though He was sinless. He was crucified on an old rugged cross, died, was buried and on the third day He rose from the dead and was seen by as many as 500 people at one time. Finally, He’s coming again – no man knows the hour or the day, but He is coming again.
So what sort of people should we be? And what should we to be doing? The scriptures answer those questions with two fascinatingly simple words – repent and believe.
First is repent. This is always a word that needs clarification. A basic definition is to change one’s mind. John MacArthur says of repentance, “Repentance is no more a meritorious work than its counterpart, faith. It is an inward response. Genuine repentance pleads with the Lord to forgive and deliver from the burden of sin and the fear of judgment and hell. It is the attitude of the publican who, fearful of even looking toward heaven, smote his breast and cried, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ (Luke 18:13). Repentance is not merely behavior reform. But because true repentance involves a change of heart and purpose, it inevitably results in a change of behavior.”
The American College Dictionary of 1968 begins to define it this way: “change one’s mind with regard to past action in consequence of dissatisfaction with it or its results.” Since you regret your past actions, this implies that you are going to make a change in your lifestyle.
This is where it all begins. First, you make a change when you come to Christ for the first time in salvation. And when we’ve blown it as believers and sinned against God, we come under conviction in our conscience that we’ve done wrong against God or sinned against God. As a result, we come back to repentance and are brought back into fellowship with Him as we were before we sinned.
The second part is to believe. Believe the gospel. How does one do this? Look at the example of the disciples. Romans 10:9-13 gives us a good idea of the steps of initial belief. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in Him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing His riches on all who call on Him. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (ESV).
Then this leads us to trust Jesus fully. John Piper has correctly written, “they who trust Him wholly find Him wholly true.” How do I know this is true in my life? Oswald Chambers’ devotional “My Utmost for His Highest” for November 10 gives us good insight:
“After sanctification, it is difficult to state what your purpose in life is, because God has moved you into His purpose through the Holy Spirit. He is using you now for His purposes throughout the world as He used His Son for the purpose of our salvation. If you seek great things for yourself, thinking, ‘God has called me for this and for that,’ you barricade God from using you. As long as you maintain your own personal interests and ambitions, you cannot be completely aligned or identified with God’s interests. This can only be accomplished by giving up all of your personal plans once and for all, and by allowing God to take you directly into His purpose for the world. Your understanding of your ways must also be surrendered, because they are now the ways of the Lord.
I must learn that the purpose of my life belongs to God, not me. God is using me from His great personal perspective, and all He asks of me is that I trust Him. I should never say, ‘Lord, this causes me such heartache.’ To talk that way makes me a stumbling block. When I stop telling God what I want, He can freely work His will in me without any hindrance. He can crush me, exalt me, or do anything else He chooses. He simply asks me to have absolute faith in Him and His goodness. Self-pity is of the devil, and if I wallow in it I cannot be used by God for His purpose in the world. Doing this creates for me my own cozy ‘world within the world,’ and God will not be allowed to move me from it because of my fear of being ‘frost-bitten.’”
Repentance and believing the gospel are not simply done when one comes to Christ, but they must be a lifestyle. While we live in this human body and upon this sin-filled earth, we need this lifestyle of repenting and believing in the good news of Jesus Christ.