søndag 14. august 2016

What does it mean to be a Christian?

Today Frode, Juliejean, (Hazel) and Robert are all choosing to be baptised. But what is it they are choosing? Well, they’re choosing to follow Jesus Christ. They are saying publicly I belong to Jesus.

But what does that mean? What does it mean to follow Christ? What does it mean to be a Christian?

I think if you ask most Norwegians today if they are Christian they would say yes. By which they mean they’re not Muslim or Hindu, they have some sense of a God, and they think church is a good idea and Jesus’ moral teachings were pretty good. But the Bible says that’s not a Christian. The devil believes those things!

It’s not just about going to church either. You can go to church for many years and still not be a Christian. You can say all the right things, do all the right things, be a good person – but still not be a Christian.

So, what is a Christian? What does it mean to be a Christian?
Well, being a Christian means, firstly

1. Being perfect, like Jesus – every day.
We cannot know God, unless we are perfect.
Oh. But I’m not.

2. Recognising my sin, so I need Jesus’ grace – every day.

Wow! Thank God for grace and forgiveness! Yes, but it’s not cheap grace. We are called to obey.

3. Fighting my sin, in Jesus’ power – every day.

1. A Christian is to be perfect, like Jesus, every day

Now you might think, hang on, isn’t Christianity about being a bit better, trying hard, being nice?
Unfortunately, many “churches” have ended up presenting a “Christianity” like that – even here in Norway.

But that’s not what the Bible says. Listen to Jesus’ words:

Mt 5:48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. Let me read that again. Og på norsk: Vær da fullkomne, slik deres himmelske Far er fullkommen.
Seriously? Oh yes. This is in the middle of the sermon of the Mount, where Jesus commands his followers to love their enemies, to be faithful to your wife – even in your mind: a lustful thought is the same as adultery. Woah. He says you must never worry, because that means you’re not trusting God. Never break a promise. And on and on. Be perfect, like God Himself.

These aren’t suggestions! These are commands. This is what you must do to enter the kingdom of God.

So often we try to soften Jesus words - to make them reachable if we just make a big effort.
But that’s the point. We can’t do it. We have fallen short of God’s glorious standards. Even the best of us. Even in our best moments. We’re not perfect like God.
That’s the mistake the Pharisees made (the bad guys in the gospels - the religious leaders who ended up killing Jesus). They were trying to reach heaven by their own efforts. They thought “perfect” meant “good enough”. It doesn’t. It means perfect.

Leviticus (3. Mos) 19:2 The LORD … said to Moses, 2 “Give the following instructions to the entire community of Israel. You must be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.

This is echoed again and again throughout the Law. And the apostle Peter picks this up in the New Testament:
1 Pe 1:14–16 So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. 15 But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. 16 For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.”

The Apostle Paul says the same thing in Rom 12:1 And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. In the original Greek the verse literally says being holy is the only sensible or smart thing to do. In other words, not being holy is DUMB!

Hopefully by this stage you’re thinking “Uh-oh, I’m in trouble”. Because that is exactly the response we’re supposed to have. Meeting God is not “Hey buddy, how’s it goin’”. It’s “oh my goodness I’m going to die”.
Remember the prophet Isaiah’s reaction when he saw God: Woe is me! I’m doomed. I’m finished. For I am a sinful man, and I have seen God.
And the Apostle Peter when he realised that Jesus was God said “Get away from me Lord, I am a sinful man.”

Perhaps if apostles and prophets are reacting like that... maybe we should too? Fall on our faces before God. Get away from me Lord. I’m not good enough.

God’s goodness is a fierce goodness. He’s described as an all-consuming fire. The Temple has layers upon layers around it – not to protect God from the people, but to protect people from God! To come to God imperfect is to die.

But hang on. Isaiah wasn’t perfect – but he wasn’t killed. His sin was wiped away and he served God. And Peter too. In fact, none of the so-called “heroes” of the Bible are perfect! Adam disobeyed, Noah got drunk, Abraham slept with his wife’s slave girl, David stole his friend’s wife and then arranged his murder to cover it up, Moses was a murderer – and said no to God! And the list goes on. Gideon was a coward, Samson was a sex maniac, Jacob was a cheat, Joseph was boastful and arrogant. So what’s going on? Is God telling lies? Does he actually just want us to try our best?

No. Judgement Day will not like school today where “everyone gets a prize”. Only the winners win. Only those who deserve.

As Romans 2 points out Ro 2:5–6 But because you are stubborn and refuse to turn from your sin, you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself. For a day of anger is coming, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 He will judge everyone according to what they have done.

Ok, but how did David and Abraham and all the other imperfect people – how did they know God.

Here’s the magic. Here’s what makes Christianity unique amongst all religions and worldviews: grace. Grace. God’s undeserved favour. Nåde. Ufortjent velsignelser.

When we come to God, realising we fall short of his standard – he responds in mercy. That is why Jesus came. He swaps places with us. He gives us his perfection. He takes our imperfection, our sin.
Instead of being judged by what WE have done, we are judged by what CHRIST JESUS has done! It’s a swap. (Vi har byttet ut vår synd, vår gjerninger med Jesu gjerninger, Jesu godhet!)

That is how a Christian can be perfect. Not in myself. But in Christ.

A Christian is to be perfect, like Christ, every day.

And we do that by:

2. A Christian needs to remember he is a sinner, needing Jesus’ grace (forgiveness), every day.

This is the key. We do not come to God in our own strength. But we come in weakness. Help.

Jesus told a story to illustrate this. It’s found in Luke 18:10–14 if you want to follow along in your Bibles.
“Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee (the religious, good person, top of society), and the other was a despised tax collector (traitor, “Quisling”, bad person, bottom of society).
11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! 12 I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’
14 I tell you, this sinner, not the (good) Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

The Pharisees eyes were on – himself. He trusted himself to save himself. Good luck.
But the tax collector, Oh he knew he had no chance! His eyes were on God. His trust was in God to save him. And the message of the gospel is that Jesus saves sinners who trust in him.

We come in weakness, we come in humility. This is the way of the Christian life. This is what following Jesus looks like.

I have been thinking recently about the weakness of Christianity. In many ways its stupid religion with stupid message. There’s a big holy God, and he going to strike us down – well we all feel guilt, so far so good. But because he loved us so much he came himself to die on a cross for us. What? And we don’t have to do stuff, offer sacrifices, etc. to earn our salvation. It’s all done. What? It’s just. Weird. It’s weak. Turn the other cheek. Love your enemies. Drop your sword. You can’t force people to become Christians because then it’s not real. And our God is hanging naked on a cross, broken, bloodied. It is a very weak message.

But it keeps spreading. Remarkable. Under terrible opposition. Over 60 million people have died rather than give up their Christian faith. 60 million martyrs. And that was 10 years ago. The number is higher now. They roll over and die. And yet this weak church is unstoppable. Unkillable.

I heard recently that the first missionaries arrived in Japan in 1549. Huge numbers turned to Christ. The Emperor got worried and banned Christianity under pain of death. Huge numbers killed because they refused to renounce Jesus. 300 years later missionaries are finally allowed back in. And they find… Christians. And now the church is growing. Slowly. But growing.
We were at a Christian convention this summer and at the prayer meeting a brother was going to share what God was doing in his country. Which country was that? North Korea.

Christians sin. The church gets corrupted, and makes a huge mess. Governments crush the church. Enemies inside and out. And yet it endures. It carries on. It grows. The church keeps growing. In the quiet, in the dark. Under pressure. Under threat, It GROWS. All over the world. Almost as if some unseen power is guiding it, protecting it, keeping it.

In its weakness the church is unstoppable. Because in our weakness we see the power of God.

There is no other explanation for the church, it is only God. I cannot explain why Frode, Juliejean, Hazel and Robert are standing here today. Except by the power of God. In their weakness, he has been strong, changing them to be more and more like Jesus. They are living miracles!

Christianity is not about huge monuments and displays of power and doing GREAT THINGS FOR GOD. It is coming before Him in humility each day, saying I can’t. I’m not strong enough – will you be my power, will you be my strength, will you be my righteousness today, Lord Jesus.

We come as we are. We start by admitting our sin, turning away from our sin (repentance), and turning to God. And we continue, by admitting our sin, repenting, and believing.

Every day we need to remember “I am a sinner before God” – and turn to Jesus in our weakness, saying forgive me. And then we remember that in Jesus we are declared perfect. We are given his perfection.

And because we belong to Christ, we want to obey him, we want to love him. And so we fight.

3. Fighting my sin, in Jesus’ power – every day.

Because we come as we are. But God does not leave us as we are. He changes us.

2 Co 5:17–18 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

This is the work of regeneration: of changing a sinner into a righteous person. God declares us righteous and then starts making us righteous. It is a work that will only be completed after we die – when we see him face to face we will be transformed in the blink of an eye. But until then each day we become more like Jesus. (Sometimes one step forward, two steps back). But he is at work in us.

Eph 4:24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.

1 Cor 1:2 I am writing to God’s church in Corinth, to you who have been called by God to be his own holy people.
He made you holy by means of Christ Jesus, just as he did for all people everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.

We fight sin, we obey, we are regenerated, not by being strong. Not by trying really hard like some spiritual superman. No. We continue how we started. By admitting our sin. By admitting that we are weak. In humility. And by throwing yourself onto Jesus and his strength and his power. We are holy only through Jesus Christ. So every day we put on our new nature – we decide to act like children of God.

There’s an old Sunday school song which goes: Trust and obey, trust and obey, there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.
Faith and repentance. It’s how we start. It’s how we continue. It’s how we end. And one day, we will see him face to face. One day his work in us will be finished, just as he promised. The last bits of the old sinful man will be burned away, and we will rise like a phoenix from the ashes – new, perfect, like Jesus.
As CS Lewis once said – if we could see ourselves as we will be – in all our glory - we would fall down in worship. That is what Christ has done for us. This is why we are being baptised. This is why we fight our sin. Because we are loved by Him. And we love Him in return. And we will be with Him. Perhaps today.

Are you ready?

Come as you are. And be transformed.