WHAT IS A CHRISTIAN?
Too many of us are running through life without tasting freedom, without living joyfully. Even many Christians experience an incompleteness in their lives, a lack of complete victory over temptation and sin.
Whether you are a Christian or not, the Bible offers you a path to victorious living. Today we will explore that path and discover how to have victory in Christ.
Our greatest problem is that while we want God, we fear him. We run away from fully giving ourselves to him. We want our race to remain our own. We want to decide by ourselves what our destination will be and how fast we will run. We want God. . .but not too close, not too demanding. Yet, all along, even while we're deliberately trying to run away from God, he is following close by, helping us without going against our will. He lets us know that he still loves us and cares for us.
God knows that for us to try to live a complete, joyful life without him is like trying to run a race with pebbles in our shoes. He understands us. He sent us his Son, Jesus, to show us how much he understands. He knows what it is like to run in a world of pain, fear and loneliness. He knows what our tears mean.
He not only knows, he can also help. He can direct us to a worthwhile goal to run toward. With the apostle Paul we can "press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:13)
So often in life we think we have just about reached the turning point, and soon the problems will be over and our goal will be in sight. But so often we find that we just can't overcome our problems. Even after we've made up our minds to follow Christ, we find that we fail him and we yield to temptations. Our old ways return. What can we do? How can we overcome our problems? This is an urgent question, and the answers that the world gives are never sufficient.
But the Bible has the answer. The first thing you have to do, it says, is accept the fact that you can do nothing without Christ. "Without me ye can do nothing," Jesus told his disciples. (John 15:5) You cannot save yourself. No matter how hard you try, or how strong your willpower, you cannot change your basic sinful nature.
The prophet Jeremiah affirmed this fact in very descriptive language. He said, "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil." (Jeremiah 13:23) The answer is no--by ourselves wecan't solve the problem of sin in our lives. So, what do you do after you admit that fact? You turn your eyes away from yourself and toward the One who can do everything. You focus your attention on Jesus Christ, the Savior who overcame sin. With Paul you can say, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." (Philippians 4:13)
In order to have Christ's power in your life, you must have a growing relationship with him. You must get in touch with him and keep in touch. Jesus described the relationship vividly. He said, "I am the vine, ye are the branches." (John 15:5) As a Christian who wants complete victory over sin, you must be constantly connected to Christ. As a branch derives nourishment and life from the tree, so you derive power from your Savior. You cannot be separated from him and expect to grow.
In the Christian life, you need to have a daily connection with Christ. If you decide to run your own way, then this connection is broken. But remember that God is right behind you, waiting for you to turn again to him, calling you to turn to him, loving you and caring about you. All you need to do is sincerely feel your need and pray, "Lord, help me to know you love me and you want to walk with me. I know you've promised it. Help me to believe your promise with all my heart and act on it."
After you've accepted the fact that you can do nothing without Christ in your life, and after you've decided to turn to him for help, what else should you do? You should maintain a daily personal friendship with Jesus. Your part in solving your problems and overcoming temptation is to abide in your Savior. That comes from getting to know and love him. Through this friendship with Christ you will receive the "power to become the sons of God." (John 1:12) But to abide in Christ through daily communion takes surrender on your part. It seems that everything within us rebels at the thought of surrender.
It would be well for us to understand what surrender to God really means. We usually think of surrender as giving ourselves up to an enemy. . .waving the white flag and submitting to subservient conditions. But surrendering ourselves to God is giving up ourselves to a loving Father--One who wants the best for us and who can bring about the best in our lives as we let him.
We can conquer our sins and weaknesses only as we let our Friend, Jesus, pilot our ship through the storms of life. We must recognize that in the battle against sin and the Devil, we are powerless. With the apostle Paul we must let ourselves become "crucified with Christ." But this oneness with him leads to life. "I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live." (Galatians 2:20) This type of surrender does not come about through a one-time,emotional experience. It comes through a daily time spent in communion with Christ.
Where we often fail in meeting temptation is thinking we can succeed by ourselves. We forget that, "all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags." (Isaiah 64:6) But when we come to Christ each day in close communion, in a study of his Word, we let him take over. We realize that "The Lord is our righteousness." (Jeremiah 23:6) The Bible also tells us that "Christ in you" is "the hope of glory." With Christ in your life, you will find you can stop running aimlessly, searching for secrets that will help you live successfully. "Christ in you, the hope of glory" will direct you, will help you live victoriously. (Colossians 1:27)
Now comes the great question--How can you surrender yourself to God? How do you yield yourself to Jesus and let him take over your battles? That's a tough question, because often we'd rather go any route except God,s way. One way some people try to find fulfillment is through pleasure. They try to lose their deep-down questions and religious desires in the excitement and fun the world has to offer. There is fun. There is distraction for awhile. But it never lasts. The questions keep coming, and we keep running.
A more subtle way many try is following a "do-it-yourself" religion. We get just enough religion so we can pretend we are Christians. We can make a good show of it. But we have to keep running from ourselves, because this type of religion is never satisfying.
All right, you realize you want something more than pleasures and a "do-it-yourself" religion. You want the real thing. That desire is the first step in surrendering yourself to God. It is a desire that comes from the Holy Spirit.
Do you feel the urge within you to give yourself to God, to walk with him, to really give him a fair try? That is God calling you. You can do two things--you can spend time and energy trying to outrun that call. . .or you can say, "Yes, Lord, I want to follow you. I want to be surrendered to you. Help me to take the first step toward you."
He will help you take that step. You're never too far from him for him to hear you. No sin can keep him from hearing you as you turn to him. He'll say "Let's walk together now. Don't run ahead of me. Just trust me. Lean on me." So, the first step in surrendering yourself to God is to yield to the godly desire within yourself to follow him. Don't try to run away from it. Give God a fair try.
But you must not stop at just that step. You must take the next step to surrender, and that is to learn more of his plan for your salvation. God has taken the trouble to communicate that plan to you in his Word, the Bible. Not only has he given you the Bible, but he has promised to give you his Holy Spirit to help you understand his Word.
What will a study of his plan for your salvation do for you? You will see how perfect his plan is, how filled with love, how much it can do for you. This love and knowledge will enable you to more fully surrender yourself to God. With the apostle Paul, your heart will exclaim, "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:25) You will feel unbounded gratitude arising in your heart for what Christ has done for you. You will sense a deeper friendship with him, and you will not want to disappoint your new friend by disobeying him. Christ's power will be transfused into your life because your maintaining a constant, loving relationship with him. From your life will flow the fruits of love, obedience, and peace. As the Bible says, "For God is at work within you, helping you want to obey him, and then helping you do what he wants." (Philippians 2:13, Living Bible)
This Christian life style is so filled with joy and peace that we should emphasize how you can keep it. Here is the Bible's prescription for ongoing spiritual growth. If you follow this prescription, you will find your spiritual life deepening. You will find your friendship with Jesus growing day by day, and you will find your life becoming more and more like Christ's. First on the prescription--take sufficient time to fellowship with God. The whole basis for power in the Christian life is to know God in Jesus Christ.
You become better friends with someone by spending time with that person. So it is with Jesus. Spend time with him by meditation every day on what he has done for you and on what he means to you. As you cultivate a close friendship with him, you will discover what his words mean when he says, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst." (John 6:35, RSV) There can be no more satisfying friendship than that. So first on the prescription for spiritual growth is to take time to be with Jesus, and if your with him, you'll want to talk to him.
So, second on the prescription is this: Talk to Jesus in prayer. He is your friend. He wants to hear your expressions of love, of need, of problems and victories. As you converse with him as with a friend, he will impress answers on your mind. He will comfort you and guide you.
Of course, no friendship is complete without two-way conversation. So, next on your prescription for spiritual growth is this: Listen to Jesus talking to you. In God's Word you have Christ's Word, for the Bible tells us, "The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us." (John 1:14) Jesus is the Word of God fleshed out. He is the love of God in human form.
As we listen to his words to us, we will come to know him better and better, and to know him is to love him. So, continually study his life, his truth, his promises, and contemplate what he tells you. Don't just read and run. Read and think. Understand how his words apply to your life and what his goodness means to you. If you don't spend time getting to know Jesus as a friend, then your memory of him will begin to fade. Your love for him will lessen, and of course you will cease having his power in your life.
There is one more part to the prescription for spiritual growth. It is this: Live your life for Jesus. He is a friend to be shared. The gospel is good news. . .and good news will make others happy. The Bible tells us to "put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ." We become one with him. His love flows through us and out to others. We will find our love for others increasing just like our love for our Savior increases. As we share the good news of our Lord with others, we will be strengthened by it also. Their joy will increase our joy.
A quiet time of fellowship with your Savior will take time. . .but the new direction that fellowship gives you will make the best use of the remaining time. Jesus says to you, "Come unto me. . .and I will give you rest." Talking to Jesus in prayer will help you open up to his direction for your life.
Spending enough time with God's Word--the bread of life--will nourish your spiritual being. The Bible will help you become a closer friend with your Savior and give you strength for each day. Fellowship. . .prayer. . .study. . .these will give you the foundation and strength to live a victorious life for Christ.
Will you determine now to surrender your life to God? Will you stop running away from his love, his care? If you would find power to meet temptations. . .if you would find happiness and peace. . .then come to him now and accept his way. Just bow your head now and pray:
Dear Father, thank you for your promises to handle our problems and sins. Thank you for giving us the power for victorious living through Jesus. I want to stop running away from you. I want to come to you. So please help me to follow your prescription forspiritual growth and for becoming close friends with your Son, Jesus. Amen.
Sweet hour of prayer, sweet hour of prayer,
That calls me from a world of care,
And bids me at my Father's throne,
Make all my wants and wishes known!
In seasons of distress and grief,
My soul has often found relief,
And oft escaped the tempter's snare,
By thy return, sweet hour of prayer.
-William W. Walford, c. 1842-