Follow (pt. 4): Help Others Follow Jesus

Below is part 4 of an outreach and discipleship booklet I put together for my church based on an April 2013 sermon series by the same name.  You can find Part 1: Give Up Your Life for Jesus, here; Part 2: Value Jesus Above All Else, here; and Part 3: Delight in the Father’s Love, here.


Help Others Follow Jesus

Jesus’ first followers were a group of common tradesmen, fishermen to be exact.  They were use to long days on a boat, casting nets into the sea, and pulling in large hauls of fish.  That is, if the day went well.  It was a long, hard, dirty, smelly, sweaty job.

In Luke 5:1-11, Jesus got into the boat of some fisherman whose day was not going well.  They had spent all day and night casting nets and going from one part of the sea to the next, but they had caught nothing.  They were tired and ready to go home.  Jesus told them to put back out and let down their nets once more.  They protested, but still did what Jesus said.

To their surprise, their net caught so many fish they had to call another boat for help.  The catch was so great that both ships, filled with fish, began to sink into the water.  One man, Peter, falling to his face said to Jesus, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.”

But Jesus told them all, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”  When they got back to the land, they left everything and followed Jesus.

A little later in Luke 5:27-32, Jesus walked by the booth of a tax collector named Levi (also known as Matthew).  Jesus said to him, “Follow me.”  Levi left everything, immediately, and followed.  He then invited Jesus over to his house with a large number of his friends and coworkers, and they had a great feast.  This, of course, made the Pharisees mad and they asked, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”

Jesus answered, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

Then in Luke 24:46-48, after dying on the cross and three days later conquering death by rising from the grave, Jesus appeared to his followers and said:

46 “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  48 You are witnesses of these things.”

Another word to describe followers of Jesus is disciples.  A disciple is one who learns from a teacher to become like that teacher (Luke 6:40).  Jesus is our ultimate teacher, and he is the one we are to become like.  This will happen with the work of his Spirit within us as we grow together in our relationship with him, and we come to live his word (the Bible) and reflect his character more fully (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control—see: Galatians 5:13-26).

When Jesus first called his disciples to follow, he told them they would “catch men,” or, lead others to be his disciples—the very thing Levi did by inviting his friends to Jesus.  At the end of Jesus’ time on earth, he told his followers that they are supposed to tell the world about him and the forgiveness he brings to those who will turn (repent) and follow him.

In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus said it another way, “Go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.”missions 04

If we are followers of Jesus (disciples of Jesus), then he has given us one primary task for the remainder of our lives on earth: we are to follow him in order to be like him and lead others to follow him and be like him; as disciples we are to make disciples.

In Genesis, God told the first humans to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, or to make more humans, to reproduce.  As followers of Jesus we do the same, but we reproduce other followers of Jesus.

Whatever else we do for work is secondary to this.  Remember, our identity is not found in the things of this world but in the ways of Jesus.  So how do we make disciples?

First, we go. The gospel is given to us in words (the Bible) and communicated to us in words (someone tells us about it).  To be a witness is to tell other people about Jesus, while we are living a life following Jesus.  As we go throughout our day we are to make much of Jesus, as we are able.  Now, when we work, of course we have to get work done.  When we are in school, of course, we have to listen to the teachers.

But when we’re on our breaks, at lunch, at the coffee shop, barbequing with our neighbors, playing at the park, driving down the road, riding bikes on a trail—whenever we are living life around others we have many opportunities to talk about Jesus and the joy we have in him, to show them what it means to live for Jesus, and to invite them to join in following him.  As we talk with them, we also seek to serve them.  Everybody has different needs they face.  We are to extend the love of Jesus by seeking to meet these needs and sharing the hope of salvation.

When Jesus said, “Go,” a better rendering of the word would be, “As you are going.”  As you live life, look for opportunities to tell others about Jesus and serve them.

Second, we baptize.  We mentioned this earlier, but now for a further explanation.  Baptism is a ritual churches do in which they take a new follower of Jesus and dunk them under water.  It paints a visual picture of death (as we go into the water), burial (as we are under the water), and resurrection to new life (as we come out of the water).

According to Romans 6, baptism represents our connection to Jesus and his life, death, and resurrection.  It is a sign or symbol of our faith that visibly displays our commitment that we no longer live for ourselves but want to be found in Jesus and devoted to following Jesus.

Earlier we saw how our religious works cannot save us.  Isn’t baptism a religious work?  Yes, but we don’t do it to be saved, we do it because we are saved.  We do it to show that we love Jesus and are committed to him.  And we do it because Jesus tells us to do it, so it is a part of following him.  All followers of Jesus, then, should be baptized.  If you are not baptized, talk to the leaders of your church and they can tell you how to be baptized.

Finally, we teach.  As we saw, a disciple is one who learns.  Jesus said that as we make disciples, we will teach them to obey all he commanded.  Therefore if we are disciples, we also seek to learn and to obey all that Jesus commanded.

When we think about commands, we tend to think about lists of rules that become burdens that take away all the fun things in life.  Dead religion is about following such rules.  This does not mean that all rules are bad.

We have already seen that God wants us to experience the good and to have joy.  With Adam and Eve he gave them one negative command—do not eat of this one tree (though you can freely eat from any others).  Positively stated, this command would simply be, “Trust me and listen to my word.”

Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30:

28 “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

A yoke was a harness fastened to an ox in order to help it pull a load or a plow and do its job.  By telling us to take his yoke upon ourselves, Jesus tells us he does have some rules for us to follow.  But compared to the rules of false religion and the rules of the world, and compared to not following Jesus, his rules are easy and prove not to be burdensome.  According to Matthew 22:36-40 all his rules are summarized by one word: love.

Love God with your entire being, and love others as yourself.  That is the heart of the commands Jesus gives to us.  We give full worship and devotion to God, and we bring God’s love and word into the lives of others as we share life with them and strive to meet their needs.

The life of love, joy, peace, and rest that God promises does not mean that everything will always go well in this life.  People who follow Jesus still suffer, they still get sick and die, they still might end up poor, and other people still might hate them.  But if we follow Jesus, value him above all else, and obey his commands by loving God and loving others, then we will have joy and happiness that looks beyond our circumstances.  And we will spend eternity in a never ending celebration with God and with other followers of Jesus.

Are you ready to help others follow Jesus?

{ Who do you follow?}

discipleship 02

Follow (pt. 3): Know Who You Are and Delight in the Father’s Love

Below is part 3 of an outreach and discipleship booklet I put together for my church based on an April 2013 sermon series by the same name.  You can find Part 1: Give Up Your Life for Jesus, here; and Part 2: Value Jesus Above All Else, here.


To Follow Jesus, Know Who You Are and
Delight in the Father’s Love[1]

In Luke 15, Jesus was surrounded by two groups of people.  One was a group who disregarded God’s commands, lived how they wanted to live, and sought pleasure in whatever sins they could commit.  This group included those who became rich by robbing their very neighbors (the Roman tax collectors).  They came to Jesus because his message and methods were different than what they had seen from other religious people.

The second group was just that—very religious people, leaders in fact, called scribes and Pharisees.  They thought everything they did was right and that by following all sorts of rules they were pleasing God.  They also thought they were better than everyone else around them, and they despised anyone who didn’t measure up.  In fact they despised the “sinners and tax collectors” coming to Jesus, and they despised Jesus for accepting them.

So, Jesus, with all these people gathered around told a story that goes like this:

11 “There was a man who had two sons.  12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them.  13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living.  14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need.  15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs.  16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!  18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.  19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”‘  20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.  21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’  22 But the father said to his servants,’Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.  23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate.  24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing.  26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant.  27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’  28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends.  30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’  31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.  32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'” ~ Luke 15:11-32 (ESV)

When Jesus told this story, he sought to speak to the hearts and lives of everyone who listened.  The younger brother in the story represented the sinners and tax collectors—those who had abandoned God, lived for themselves, and sought all sorts of pleasures from the world.  But, they had come to the end of themselves when they realized all they had lost and the mess they had made their lives.  And so they were looking for something better, something different.

In the story, the younger brother has a plan.  He will go back to the father and beg forgiveness, and offer to work and pay back as a hired servant all he owed the father.  The father, however, would have none of it and out of love and grace received the young man back to himself as his son, and even threw him a large, loud, and joyous party.

The older brother represented the scribes and Pharisees.  They had stayed at home (been religious), worked hard, and followed all the rules.  Yet when they saw the sinners and tax collectors being accepted by Jesus, they became angry.

In the story, the father goes out to meet the older brother and reminds him that he has always had his share of the father’s possessions.  And he invites him to come and join the celebration, to delight in his love.

The younger brother wanted the father out of the picture so he could live life as he pleased.  The older brother wanted to act like he loved the father, but really all he wanted was to be rewarded for his work.  Both wanted the father’s wealth and possessions, but neither (at least at the start) wanted a relationship with the father.

In the story, the father represents God.  The Bible says that every good and perfect gift comes from the Father above (James 1:17).  God wants to give us good things and an abundant life, but he wants to do it in a father-to-child relationship with us.  He gave Adam and Eve the goodness of the garden, and asked simply for their trust and obedience.  They rejected God and we reject God.

Each of us fits into the story of the two sons as either the younger brother or older brother.  If we are younger brothers, we have gone and lived as we pleased, treated others as we have wanted, and not had a concern for what God says.  If we are older brothers, then we act very religious, follow a bunch of rules (at least the ones we want to follow), do a bunch of good works trying to earn God’s favor, and think that our goodness and good deeds should please God, and we despise those who aren’t as religious as us.

Some of us might be younger brothers who are not quite in the pigpen, and we might not realize our need for God.  Some of us might be older brothers identity2 smallwho use to live as a younger brother but became religious to try to clean up our lives.  And some of us might be younger brothers who use to be older brothers but became tired of all the rules and regulations.

{ Who are you? }

There is another brother in this story—the one who is telling the story, Jesus.  He is God running out to us.  In fact, he is like an older brother who was always with the Father in both obedience and relationship.  And he is the brother who came, sent by the Father, to pursue us while we were either in the filth or in the fake goodness of our own religion.

As this brother, he is God’s gift to us.  When we think we need to pay God back, Jesus says, “I already did the good works for you.  My life is your life, and my obedience is your obedience.  Come delight in the love of the Father, and rejoice with me.”  And when we think we have done good but lack a relationship with God, Jesus says, “I am your way to the Father, I am your relationship restored.  My life is your life, and my obedience is your obedience.  Come delight in the love of the Father, and rejoice with me.”

In both cases Jesus is calling us to abandon ourselves, whether it is in the filth of sin or the bitterness of self-righteousness.  He calls us to abandon ourselves and find true joy in a relationship with the Father and our other brothers and sisters in him through the Bible, prayer, worship, and the community of church.

Again, I ask: Who are you?

If you are a follower of Jesus who has left a life (good or bad) of living for yourself and have come back to the Father—then rejoice and celebrate!  Share this joy with others (which we will talk about in the next section; keep reading…)

If you are not a follower of Jesus, then you have a choice: you can continue to live in the filth of sin or the filth of your “good religion,” or you can turn to Jesus and listen to the invitation of the Father.  If you are ready to become a follower of Jesus, then…

Abandon.  Admit you are in your sins and that you do not have a relationship with God through Jesus.  Admit you cannot save yourself, and abandon all attempts.  Abandon your life of sin and false religion (an act the Bible calls “repentance”), and…

Believe.  Believe the good news of Jesus and salvation, which the Bible teaches.  Believe that Jesus is the Christ—hfellowship_01e is the (he is your) Savior-King.  Trust in him and the life he lived on your behalf.  Trust that he is the way and the hope for life now and life in eternity to come, and…

Commit.  Commit your life to following Jesus and all that entails.  Commit to get to know God through his word—the Bible, and learn what he has in store for your life and future, both now and after death.  Commit to belong to a church in your area, a church that makes much of God through Jesus and teaches the Bible.  Commit to be baptized there as a sign of trust (faith) that you belong to Jesus, you have died to yourself, and you live for him (see: Romans 6 for such a description of baptism.  If you have any questions about baptism, you can talk to the pastors or leaders of that church).

Next Up: Part 4 ~ Help Others Follow Jesus

[1] For many of the elements in interpreting this story, I am indebted to Timothy Keller’s book The Prodigal God (New York: Riverhead, 2008).

Follow (pt. 2): Value Jesus Above All Else

Below is part 2 of an outreach and discipleship booklet I put together for my church based on an April 2013 sermon series by the same name.  You can find Part 1: Give Up Your Life for Jesus, here.

SS13033Value Jesus Above All Else

Luke 14 tells us how Jesus was walking along and an exceedingly large crowd followed.  At one point Jesus stopped and turned towards them, and said some very difficult things to them.  Imagine Jesus speaking these words, and listen as you read:

26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.  27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.  28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?  29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’  31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand?  32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.  33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” ~ Luke 14:26-33

Now, you may have heard that God is love and that Jesus loves others and that he told his followers to love others—and that is true (see: John 13:34-35, and 1 John 4:7-21).  So what is going on here that Jesus said to “hate” others?  Well, let’s take a moment to think about what Jesus is not saying…

Jesus is not telling us to be mean to others, to kill others, or to harm others in any way.  At one time Jesus even told us that we have to love and do good to our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48).  So the same is true for our family and friends.

So what Jesus is doing when he says to “hate” others and even our own lives, is to challenge our priorities and what we hold most important.  In Luke 16:13, Jesus said, “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and money.”  So, essentially, this is Jesus’ way of asking, “What do you serve?”

You see, some people (and you might be one of them) think that family is the most important thing in life.  Or jobs… or money… or love or power or fame or sex or happiness… the list could go on and on.  None of these things are necessarily bad themselves, though they can be abused and used in completely wrong and therefore sinful ways.

But Jesus is telling us that none of these things—not even the good things—should be the driving devotion of our lives.  Instead, you should value Jesus above all else.

To put things in perspective, think about it this way: Here in America, you can tell your friends or family, “Hey, I’ve decided to be a follower of Jesus.”  They might support you, or they might call you dumb.  But in the highest probabilities, they won’t kick you out of the family, disown you as a friend, or worse: seek to physically harm or kill you.  But that wasn’t necessarily true in Jesus’ day, nor is it true all around the world today.

There are people living in countries this moment who, if they decided to be a follower of Jesus, would be disowned by their families and face a very real threat of death.  In fact, in some places it is so bad that their very own friends or family would seek to kill them.  In his book Follow Me, pastor and author David Platt tells the story of how he was in a foreign country telling people about Jesus and two men (one young and  one  old)  decided to  follow  Jesus and be baptized (a ritual involving being immersed into a pool of water) as a public expression of their faith.  But if certain people saw them being baptized, they would be killed.  So another man asked these two the question, “Are you willing to be baptized, knowing it may cost you your life?”  In both cases, the men said, “Yes.”[1]

That is what Jesus was saying in Luke 14.

Our hope is to be able to have Jesus, to follow Jesus, and have family, friends, a good job, and even life.  But if it comes to a choice between these things and Jesus, then choose Jesus.

Now there are some things Jesus will never tell a person to do in light of this truth.  He will never tell his follower to not provide support for a family member in need (usually a parent supporting a child, but it could also be a child supporting their aged parent).  Nor will Jesus ever tell his follower to abandon or initiate divorce from their spouse.  (We see these truths in places like 1 Timothy 5:8 or 1 Corinthians 7:10-16).  But if it is a choice between Jesus and your family abandoning you, then choose Jesus.

Jesus is far, far more valuable than family, comfort, wealth, possessions, friends, and even life.  Choose Jesus.

So ask yourself:

{ Have you counted the cost?  Are you willing to give up anything and everything to follow Jesus?  Is Jesus worth it to you? }

Next Up: Part 3 ~ Know Who You Are and Delight in the Father’s Love

[1] David Platt, Follow Me (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2013), 128-30.

Follow (pt. 1): Give Up Your Life for Jesus

Below is part 1 of a booklet I put together for an upcoming sermon series, and a booklet we will hand out to all in attendance on Easter Sunday.  I want to provide each section as an individual blog post.  I hope it is both encouraging and challenging to you as we enter into this Spring season of 2013.


We all follow something…
Who (or what) do you follow?

“Follow Me”
~ Jesus, Luke 5:27

Everybody in life follows something or someone.  So who, or what, do you follow?  Who is the person that leads you?  What is the thing that you value most—the thing that gives you your identity?

What is the most important thing in your life?

Is it… Popular personalities? (actors, actresses, sports figures, musicians, politicians)  Parents?  Spouse?  Children?  Peers?  Religion?  Culture?  Tradition?  Yourself?

Often whenever Jesus encountered people, he would tell them, “Follow me.”  He was inviting them into a completely new life and identity totally defined by him.  And Jesus didn’t make this an easy thing to do.  He wasn’t asking people to add him into their busy lives or their list of favorite people.  In modern terms, he wasn’t asking people to like him or be his friend on Facebook or to follow his posts on Twitter.  No, Jesus was telling people to give up their very lives for his sake…

Just read his words from Luke 9:23-26:

23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?  26 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

To follow Jesus, people would have to deny themselves and take up their cross each day.  Now what was the cross?  People use them today in jewelry or artwork, or place them on buildings either to show their devotion to or disdain of something.  But in Jesus’ day the cross was a brutal instrument of torture and death used by the Roman Empire to execute the worst of the criminals.

Taking up your cross meant giving up your life.

Now Jesus went on to make a great promise when he called people to this radical and self-sacrificial devotion: he told them if you lose your life for his sake then you will have life.  He was promising life for eternity for any and all who will truly follow him today.

So what does it mean to follow Jesus in terms of self-denial and dying?  First, it means that his will matters more than yours.  Each day we wake up with a choice: will I pursue self-interests or will I pursue Jesus?  Will I love God and love others in a selfless and self-sacrificing way?  Second, it means a complete devotion to Jesus that carries you all the way to death—whether that death is in 80 years or 80 minutes.  Third, it means what he says, you will do; and where he leads, you will go.

{ But who was Jesus to make such a claim like this? }

In that same passage in the Bible, just a couple of paragraphs before, Jesus asked his followers the question: “Who do the crowds say that I am?”  They answered.  And then he asked, “But who do you say that I am?”  One man, named Peter, responded, “The Christ of God.”

“Christ” or “Messiah” is a word that basically means Jesus is the Savior-King.  Savior means that he rescues us from something.  This something is what the Bible calls “sin.”

You see, at the beginning of the human story, God created us to worship him and be in a wonderful relationship with him and with other people.  God took our first parents, Adam and Eve, and placed them in a beautiful garden with an abundance of trees and plants, and things to do.  He told them to care for the world, to cultivate the ground, and to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth with humankind.

It was good, and he gave us the freedom to do whatever we wanted—except for one thing.  He placed a tree in the middle of the garden, a tree named the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and he told Adam and Eve not to eat of the tree.  Out of all that God had provided, it was the one thing he prohibited humanity from doing.  It was a test of faith—would they truly be faithful and obedient to their good, gracious, and loving God?  He warned if they disobeyed then on that day they would die.

Unwilling to listen to God, Adam and Eve ate of the tree and they brought death into the world.  Immediately they plunged themselves into spiritual death—a broken relationship with God where they placed themselves under his judgment and wrath.  They also brought into the world the process of physical death and decay.rubble

For all the children of man born since, we have continued to walk in Adam and Eve’s footsteps.  Disobeying God, choosing our own way, and bringing harm to ourselves and others.  All have sinned, the Bible says, and therefore are all justly under God’s wrath and condemnation.

But God, being full of love and mercy for the people he created, did not leave us without hope.  Instead, he sent Jesus—the son of God, God himself in human flesh—to live a perfect life we could not live, and die in our place on that Roman cross where he took our sin and disobedience upon himself and also took the wrath and judgment of God we deserve.

If we believe that he is Savior and follow him as King (the other thing “Christ” means), turning from a vain life in sin to embrace the life he offers, then we have God’s perfect love and forgiveness bestowed upon us.  All of our sins past, present, and future—all the bad we have done in rejection of God, and even all the good we have done without trusting in God—all of our sins have been placed upon Jesus and his perfect life has been given to us.

God also promised us as followers of Jesus that he would put his Spirit within us to truly make us alive.  This life is characterized by change.  The Spirit of God changes us instantly taking us from a state of spiritual death to true life, and the Spirit changes us progressively making us more like Jesus with time.  And God promised to make us part of an eternal family called “church,” and so we gather with other followers of Jesus where we live as churches.  Then after this life or after Jesus returns to the earth, we will be with Jesus forever experiencing perfect joy and peace.  And we will rule with Jesus over a new earth where God restores and makes everything beautiful once more.

This is the story we call the Gospel or good news of Jesus.

And here’s the thing… the world looks at Jesus, and some say he is a myth, others say he was a good teacher or good example,  and  some  might say he was a prophet of God.  If any of that is all Jesus is, then neither he nor the Bible have any right to demand our very lives in following him.  But if Jesus is God, if he is the Christ—our great Savior-King, then Jesus has every right to command our lives and we have every obligation to obey and to follow.

In following Jesus, there is gain: we gain everything! Life eternal, abundant, and free—a life full of forgiveness, joy, and peace; a life with a place on the new earth.  In following Jesus we gain a new family and we gain God himself.

And if we don’t follow Jesus, there is a cost: we lose everything.  We can gain all the world has to offer—all the riches, the power, and the pleasures.  But we are all marching towards death, and none of it will help us once we die.  When we die, it’s gone and we are left in the misery of eternal punishment.  (If you have a Bible, read Matthew 25—Jesus explains more about eternal joy and life versus eternal punishment and death).

Here’s a question for you: Are you willing to give your life completely over to Jesus?

Next up: Part 2 ~ Value Jesus Above All Else

The Words We Speak, the Moment We First See God

Back on February 12, I started a 27-sermon series teaching through the book of Hebrews, the most extensive expository set I’ve done at my present church.  Twenty-five of these sermons are down, we have 2 to go…and I gotta say, I love Hebrews and I think it well worth the time for my church to spend the better part of the year absorbing the book, and its main theme: Jesus is greater than everything!

For an upcoming young adult fellowship this Friday night, I spent some time today preparing a lesson to go along with Francis Chan’s DVD series (based on his book), Crazy Love.  In the first session on prayer, he encourages us to read Revelation 4 and asks the question, “What do you think would come out of your mouth the moment you first saw God?”

In Revelation 4, John saw a vision of God’s throne room in heaven and he came face to face with the Mighty One described with “the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald.”  And, “From the throne came flashes of lightning and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God.”

It was an awe-inspiring sight matched by the praise of six-winged heavenly creatures, likely the seraphim Isaiah saw (Isaiah 6), who cry out, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”  As these creatures sang, the twenty-four elders surrounding the throne added their own voice of praise, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”

Of course, like most things Revelation, a plethora of interpretations abound concerning the identity of the elders.  Personally, I side with the view that these 24 stand as the representatives of all the people of God from the Old Testament times and the New.

There stands a striking difference between the words of these elders and the words of Isaiah when he first sees God in Isaiah 6.  With the prophet, instead of words of worshipful praise, we find words of terror, “Woe is me!  For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”  It is then a seraph must fly to the altar, take a burning coal, and touch Isaiah’s lips to say, “Your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

So to answer Chan’s question: What will our first words be when we stand face-to-face with our great God and Savior?  The answer is more Revelation 4 and less Isaiah 6.

In Hebrews 12:18-28 we find a magnificent description of our response to God before and after Christ—both as a fact of history and as a personal experience in regards to our sin and salvation.

In the Old Testament, at Sinai, the place representing the Law’s exposure of our unrighteousness and sin, the place that we stand without Christ, there was terror before God.  God spoke through fire, darkness, storms, and trumpets; and the people responded with fear begging to hear the voice of God no further.  And as if this were not enough, even their mediator, Moses, who stood as a representative between the people and God said, “I tremble with fear.”

But if we belong to Christ we no longer stand in terror at the base of Sinai.  In Christ, we come to a new mountain and city, a heavenly one—Zion, the mount of our salvation which we stand upon.  We come to the celebration of the angels as the righteous made perfect, all through the work of a mediator who does not tremble with fear.  Instead of terror, there is awe with thankfulness and worship.

It is a complete paradigm shift where we are not just invited into the presence of God, but we have confidence by the blood of Jesus to enter the holy places and draw near to God with the full assurance of faith (Hebrews 10:19-22).

Because of the work of Christ on the cross, a work we receive through repentance and faith, when we see God for the first time instead of “Woe is me!”, we will cry out, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power.”

How Should We Feel When We Sin?

guilt     shame     doubt     disapproval     self-loathing
apathy     unconcern     happiness     acceptance

From early on in our lives, we all have a sense of a need for approval and a feeling of disapproval when we mess up.  Sometimes the feeling of disapproval is verbalized to us, “I am disappointed in you.”  Other times it is given as a direct attack against our personality, “You’re a failure who can’t do anything right.”  In the face of this ingrained sense of disapproval, some look at their faults with acceptance and approval.  “That’s just who I am.” or “God [or whoever—fill in the blank] loves me unconditionally no matter what.”

As Christians, we know that sin is our “messing up”—sin is our failure to keep God’s commands and a failure to believe in him.  In Christ, we also know God has forgiven our sin.  These two realities still leave us with the question: how should we feel when we sin?

Let us consider a few things…

First, God in his love has completely paid for, removed, and forgiven our sins through Christ on the cross.  As a pastor, I have run across two fairly common ideas in some people’s minds when it comes to sin.  One is that even as Christians when we stand before God we will have to give an account of our sins, as if just before entering the joy of eternity we must feel one last sting of all the wrong we have ever done.  The other is a description of God the Father as an angry judge glaring at us, going over that list, and demanding to know why he should let us into his heaven.  Only then does Jesus, acting as our lawyer, stand up and say, “Because I have paid for their sins.”  Neither of these are biblical truths and both produce unwarranted guilt in the lives of people who believe them.

If we have repented, and turned to Jesus in faith our sins are forgiven.  Every. Single. Last. One. Of. Them. Period.

Colossians 2:13-14 says that God forgave us and canceled the record of debt (that list of sins) which stood against us, and he did so by nailing it to the cross.  Romans 8:31-34 says that God is for us.  He is the one who justifies, therefore no one can bring a charge against us.  Christ is the one who died, was raised, and sits by the Father, so no one can condemn us.  Jeremiah 31:34 says that in the new covenant, God forgives and no longer remembers the sin of those who know him.  And Psalm 103:11-12 says as far as the heavens are above the earth, so how great is God’s love for his people; and as far as the east is from the west, so has he removed our sin from us.

Our Father is not an angry judge still looking for a reason to condemn us.  Our Father is not a grudge-bearer looking to rehash all the wrongs we have done.  In love, our Father saved us through Jesus, forgave us, and removed our sins from us.

Some say, “There is nothing we can do to make God love us anymore, nor to make God love us any less.”  And through Christ that requires a hearty, “Yes and Amen!”  If we trust in Jesus, our sins are completely paid for, removed, and forgiven on the cross.

Second, God has given us the righteousness of Christ.  Quoting Genesis, Paul wrote in Romans 4:3, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”  Then in Philippians 3:8-9, “For [the sake of Christ] I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”  And in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  And Peter also wrote, “[Jesus] himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.  By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

Historically, this has been called the “Great Exchange.”  Jesus, on the cross—our sins given to him, his righteousness given to us.  This is the full beauty of the grace of God.  We do not, indeed cannot, earn a right standing before God.  We cannot cover over our sin.  But God, by his own desire and love, showed us mercy by making Jesus become our sin and making us become Jesus’ perfect righteousness.

Again, if we are in Christ, no matter what we do, we cannot be any more righteous before God and we cannot be any less righteous before God.

These two things are inexpressibly wonderful truths.  God loves us so completely that he sent his only Son, Jesus to remove every bit of our sin (past, present, future) and give us every bit of his own righteousness.  And with this…

Third, God has adopted us as his children.  We do not find it much more clearly stated than Romans 8:14-16.  “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons and daughters of God.  For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba!  Father!’  The spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”

In sin, we were the enemies of Christ, dead, hopeless, and separated.  When our sin fell upon Christ and the righteousness of Jesus fell upon us, we became sons and daughters, alive, hope-filled, and adopted.  We belong to a family from which we can never be separated (8:38-39).

But even as God’s children, forgiven and perfectly righteous before him, we still sin so long as we live in this life.  As Paul said, “Not that I have already obtained [the resurrection from the dead] or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Philippians 3:12).  We are not already perfect, we are not already there.  We belong to Jesus fully and completely, so we can press on towards perfection and the resurrection (where we will fully meet our perfection).  But we are not already there.

God has empowered us with the ability to escape temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13), but as we battle against the decaying remains of our old sinful self there are plenty of times where we will fail to see God’s way of escape and still fall into sin.  And…

Fourth, our sin still grieves God.  In Ephesians 4:30 we find this command, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”  In context, Paul gave this command in the midst of examples of habits of the old life we need to put off and habits of the new life in Christ we need to put on.  Those old habits—those sins, are what grieve the Holy Spirit.  God fully accepts us through Christ and looks upon us in the righteousness of Christ, but God does not blindly approve of the sin we commit after we come to Christ.  It grieves him because it remains an offense to him and it is contrary to the new nature he has graciously bestowed upon us.

But as God’s children, God will not judge us or condemn us for such sin.  Instead, fifth, God in love disciplines us for our sin.  Hebrews 12:6-8 states, “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son whom he receives.  It is for discipline that you have to endure.  God is treating you as sons.  For what son is there whom his father does not discipline.  If you are left without discipline…then you are illegitimate children and not sons.”  A few verses later, we read how discipline seems painful not pleasant, but “later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

Discipline can come in many forms—a rebuke from the Bible, a rebuke from a brother or sister in Christ, a feeling of guilt, a sickness, etc.  God disciplines us, though, not to look at us and say, “You’re a failure there is no hope.”  Rather, he says, “You are my child, I love you, and I want you to live in the fullness of righteousness.”  After all, in his love, our Father wants what is best for us, and what is best for us is to be righteous and removed from our sin.

So then…back to the question: How should we feel when we sin?

1. We should remember that it is not sin which defines us, but our relationship to God in Christ.  We are the righteous and forgiven children of God.  Therefore we should not feel a great sense of shame, failure, or doubt.  God still loves us, he still accepts us, and he has already removed the guilt for that sin.

2. We should feel grief as our sin grieves God, but it should not be a lingering grief.  Knowing he had grieved the saints at Corinth, Paul wrote, “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” (2 Corinthians 7:9).  Godly grief produces repentance.  The grief we feel over sin should cause us to confess it to God and then realize his cleansing forgiveness of it (1 John 1:9).  We repent, or turn from it, and turn back to living in the fullness of God’s grace.

3. Once we’ve repented, we should press on without looking back.  Repentance may also require our confessing the sin to others (James 5:16) and seeking to reconcile any way we have wronged others (Matthew 5:23-24).  But the sin was long ago nailed to the cross along with every other sin we have committed and will commit.  Therefore, we should have no lingering focus on such sin.

Our focus should be on our identity in Christ, and growing to live that out more and more.  That means, as Paul wrote, “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).  The forgetting what is behind and pressing on towards what is ahead separates us from lingering guilt and leads us to “rejoice in the Lord always” (4:4).

The Lord’s Prayer Study

Prayer is an important part of the Christian life.  To build our relationship with God, we must regularly approach him in prayer.  Prayer is also a weakness, in fact Paul wrote in Romans 8:26 that “we do not know what to pray for as we ought.”

In our weakness, God has provided us help, however.  The Spirit helps us, and Jesus gave us a model prayer.

Attached is a PDF copy of a study I wrote on the Lord’s Prayer–may it help you grow in your understanding of and desire to pray!

Lord’s Prayer Study with guide