The Effects of the Christian Faith

Will I be different if I become a Christian?

The Bible says you will be a different person. Listen: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! “

These words might frighten you. Too often well-meaning people have given the wrong impression about what it means to be different. Close friendships from the past are dissolved, because the new Christians can no longer be exposed to the thinking or behavior of their old pagan friends.

Not long ago I asked a man about a common friend whom I had not heard from for a long time. He replied, “We never see or hear from them anymore. Each Friday night we used to have dinner together, but then they had a born-again experience, and they elected not to remain close friends any longer. At first we felt bad about this. They had been such close friends, but in retrospect, we believe this was the best decision. If that is what Christianity does for you, we are glad that we are not Christians.”

This is not what the Bible is talking about when it says, “In Christ we become new people.” Rather, the Christian’s relationship with Jesus Christ would cause them to love these friends even more and show them how Christ can enrich their lives.

Christians experience God’s love in Christ. It is this love that shapes our lives. In II Corinthians 5:14f Paul tells us that the love of Christ compels us not to regard anyone from a worldly point of view. In Christ our love for people grows.

Is this not also true when we are loved by someone? A mother once told me about her son. He was going nowhere in life. Then he married Mary, and this mother said, “Mary’s love for Joe made him a different person.” Well, if a person can have that kind of influence on another person, think what can happen when he or she experiences Christ’s love. Let us be more specific in some differences we will experience in our lives when Christ is our Lord.

The telephone rings, and a person you have been wanting to call for some time asks you to have lunch with her. Your last meeting ended with an exchange of harsh words. Would this be a difficult lunch?

The first few minutes were a little chilly. You engage in small talk about what the kids were up to and what was new in your family’s life. Then your friend says, “Well, Jane. I felt compelled to call you. Our differences seemed to surface the last time we were together, and the anger in my soul became obvious. I want to express my regret. I am sorry. I love you and ask for your forgiveness. As a Christian, I have to get rid of this guilt. God has forgiven me, and I need to hear that you will forgive me for my unkind remarks.”

It is now your opportunity to bear your soul to Barbara. The conversation continues: “You do not know how often I have wanted to call and get our differences straightened out, but I did not have the courage. I was so thankful when I got your call and you asked for this meeting. Barbara, I was so childish, and to let these strong feelings linger in my soul made me very uncomfortable as a Christian. I ask you to forgive me.”

The meeting ends with such joy that both Jane and Barbara, who were very weight conscious, decide this occasion called for sharing a dessert.

This type of conversation likely would not have happened if at least one of them had not been a Christian. The love of Christ compelled them to get these matters settled. To carry ill will toward another person is sin.

Listen to some of these statements from people who have become new creatures in Christ:

Visiting with a complete stranger in a doctor’s office, a woman told me of the last few years of her life. First she lost a son in his 40s. A few months later her 51-year-old daughter died. Now they have no children. This was her comment: “I could never have gotten through those difficult times had God not given me the strength.” In Christ she was a new person.

Here is another one:

I had not seen Mary for a couple of years. The last time we were together, she introduced me to her fiancŽ. When I asked if she had married, Mary told me that she had broken off the relationship with this man. “I loved him and really wanted to marry him, but he was not a Christian. I knew the marriage would never work out.”

Yes, when Christ is our Lord, we are new people, and our lives show it, even when it is emotionally difficult.

Listen to these words: “And he (Christ) died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (II Corinthians 5:15). The stronger Christ’s influence is in our lives, the more we say goodbye to self-centeredness.

“No longer do we regard one from a worldly point of view” (II Corinthians 5:16). We understand what a person can become in Christ. Just before Jesus was handed over to the Roman authorities, he must have been very disgusted with Peter. Here was a man who said he would never leave Jesus, yet in the next breath Peter claimed to have never known Him. However, Jesus saw what Peter, empowered by the Holy Spirit, could become. Less than two months after Peter denied Jesus, he stood in Jerusalem and confessed that Jesus was the Son of God and the Savior of the world. The disciples had become new persons in Christ.

What do you think of this statement: “We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making his appeal through us” (I Corinthians 5:17). Commit your life to Jesus Christ and you become one of His witnesses. He will use you to bring the Gospel to others. If you are an unbeliever or a lukewarm Christian today, can you imagine yourself as a powerful witness for Christ? That will happen. It is a change in your life when Christ is Lord.

Do not expect these changes to come overnight. We never stop growing spiritually. You might say, “I have not experienced any great changes in my life, and I have always thought of myself as a Christian.”

Are you sure there are not changes in your life? What would you be like if Christ had not come into your life? Remember what Paul wrote to the Christians at Philippi: “He who began the good work in your life will perform and perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

However, it is good for us to remember that, before God can begin His sanctifying work in us, He has to be a part of our lives. Justification comes first, and sanctification follows. The holy life is a fruit of our faith and a contributing factor to our salvation.

This is a basic doctrine of the Christian faith. It is expressed so well in the Augsburg Confession, Article 6: “Also they (our church) teach that this faith is bound to bring forth good fruits, and that it is necessary to do good works commanded by God, because of God’s will, but that we should not rely on those works to merit justification before God.”

Will my life change if I become a Christian? Yes, it will. It will be a welcomed change, because then you will know what Christ meant when He said, “I came that they might have life and have it abundantly.”

I have not yet met a man or woman who says they are sorry they became a Christian. Rather, they state clearly that Christ makes all things new.

But How Can I Believe?

People have personal questions that they choose not to ask everyone they meet. For example, a proud man comes to you as a close friend and says, “I would not have this conversation with most people. However, as someone I trust, may I share with you something very personal?”

When he gets your consent, he says, “Bob, I am hopelessly in debt. None of my friends know this. My wife will be devastated when she learns that we are losing our house, and the kids will rebel having to adjust to a more modest lifestyle. How can I live with myself? I have been such a disappointment to so many people. What can I do? Do you have some advice for me?”

While you did not think your troubled friend would ever face financial difficulties, it did not surprise you that much. After all, major financial problems are common in our day when the standard of living demands a large income. So, after a long conversation, you pledge your help and give him words of encouragement that something can be worked out.

But would you understand this request: a friend comes to you with the following plea. “Bob, you are a Christian man. I have never had much time for religion and the church, but can you help me? I know some basics of the Christian faith Ð that we are sinners and that Jesus came to die for us; if we trust Him we will be forgiven and go to heaven; if we deny Him we will go to hell. I remember how we used to make fun of the fellow in college who went off to church every Sunday morning and openly confessed that Jesus was his Savior. I have been critical of you when you became angry and even strengthened your conversation with profanity. I criticized you when, in your weaker moments, you departed from Jesus’ teachings. However, Bob, I would like nothing more than to trust Christ as my Savior and Lord. How did you come to believe this teaching? How can you believe something that cannot be proven?”

“Wow!” you say to yourself. “This plea is something else! I did not know people were running around with problems like these. I knew some problems exist in the local congregation and people become irritated with denomination of which they are a part. Still, this friend is talking about his relationship with God!”

You finally answer your friend by saying, “Listen to something I learned when I was a kid. It did not make much sense to me then, and I did not like having to memorize it. However, today it brings me comfort, and it is the answer to your problem. Here it is Ð ÔI believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in the one true faith . . .’

“Do you know who wrote those words? It was Martin Luther.

“Now listen to this: ÔI will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever. The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything that I have said to you.’

“Do you know who spoke these words? It was Jesus Christ.

“Listen to this: ÔNo one can say ÔJesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit . . .’ The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit, for they are foolishness to him. Neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.’

“Do you know who wrote these words? It was the Apostle Paul.”

Then you reply to your friend, “The Holy Spirit is at work in your life, or else you would not be asking how to come to faith in Jesus Christ.

The answer is this: The One who can make all this possible is the Holy Spirit. Try as hard as you may to believe, only God can create faith in your heart.”

I use this illustration to talk about the Holy Spirit, who is the third person of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit is God, who lives in us. He is a person, and not an influence. You can, and should, pray to the Holy Spirit just as you do to God the Father and to Jesus Christ.

St. Paul writes that faith comes by hearing the Word of God. It is through the Word that He first convicts us of our sins. We cannot by our own reason understand that we are not perfect people. An honest evaluation of ourselves will cause us to say that we make mistakes; but this is not a conviction of sin. When we can admit that we are helpless in our sin and there dwells in us no good, the Holy Spirit has been at work within us.

It is then that the Holy Spirit reveals to us that Christ paid the price for these sins. He took them upon Himself. He shows us that our forgiveness comes through trusting Christ alone. This is the Gospel. It is then that faith causes us to trust Christ. Far more than simply knowing about God’s love, it is throwing ourselves into the arms of a loving Savior and finding our peace there.

Jerram Barrs says, “We do not need to try to force the Gospel on family members, friends, and acquaintances who are not yet ready to listen. The Lord will open the door in His time. When He does provide the opportunity to share some aspect of the truth with a family member or a friend, we should make the most of the opportunity.”

We must remember that, as Christians, it is our task to carry the good news of the Gospel to those who are not Christian. After we have faithfully done that, we leave the rest to the Holy Spirit, for He and He alone can create that faith in our heart.

If you do not have that faith, and you wonder why He has not yet worked in that way in your life, the answer is clear. You have not spent enough time with Him in His Word so that He could do it. Give Him a chance, and the doubter can become a person of faith.

What Is Jesus’ Mission?

What was Jesus’ mission while on earth? This is our subject today as we continue the series of sermons on basic Christian teachings. We turn to the Scriptures and let Jesus answer this question.

I came to be a teacher.

“When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the One who sent me. When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness” John 12:44-46 .

You ask what God is like? The Bible answers that if you want to know what God is like, study the life and message of Jesus. There you will find that Jesus teaches, and better still, reveals that God is loving, forgiving, and righteous. A study of the woman caught in the act of adultery as revealed in John 8:1-11 tells us that Jesus treated her with mercy over against the harshness of her accusers. He was willing to forgive her, but this was not cheap grace. He told her to leave her life of sin. This was to be the fruit of her meeting Jesus and being set free.

As the teacher, He had come to tell a world living in spiritual darkness, what is right and wrong. To a world that enjoys the loose life of relativism, He gives to us rights and wrongs. Sin is still sin. It is just as much a sin to hate in the 21st century as it was when Jesus walked on earth. God’s laws dealing with sexuality are not erased by the psychologist or by the members of the Supreme Court.

I came to be the Savior of the world.

“The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” Luke 19:10.

Through Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection, he made full payment for the sins of humankind. He paid the price for our sins. He took our place when He died on the cross. Full atonement has been made for the sins of the world. He has come to forgive our sins that we might be restored into fellowship with God and be His forever.

He has come to bring us into a personal relationship with God. Because of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, it is possible for us, who trust Him, to live in peace and comfort, which only He can give.

I came to change people.

“I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly” John 10:10.

People sometimes say they do not want anything to do with religion, because it will take all of the fun out of life. That may be true if you are only dealing with religion, for that might only hang a lot of man-made laws on you that would be very hard to keep. However, nothing could be further from the truth when you are talking about Christianity. Christ has come to set us free Ð free to live unto Him, which is the abundant life.

As people we try so hard to have a rich, full life. We try to find our joy in the material, and these possessions can bring us much satisfaction, but not true joy.

Where we live there are many new houses being built. Some of these houses are very costly and beautiful. I personally love to visit these houses and am so happy that my friends and relatives can live there. However, they will tell you, if they are Christian, it is Christ, and not the dwelling, that brings joy.

We want to remain healthy so we can have an abundant life. We visit our doctors regularly, take their pills, and submit to their treatments of one kind or another to improve our health. God wants us to care for our bodies, which He calls the temple of the Holy Spirit. However, many people enjoy the best of health and yet are restless and looking for something more.

I believe we should give ourselves an A+ for the effort. Yet, having done these good things, something is still lacking. That newness comes in Jesus Christ. Happiness, which brings the abundant life, comes from within. Life may be hard, and we may cry through our tears, but deep in our soul there is happiness when Christ is our Savior.

I came to be your Lord forever.

“I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go and prepare a place for you I will come again and receive you to myself that where I am there you may be also” John 14:3.

Our days on this earth are numbered. We are but strangers or aliens here. However, the heavenly home is forever. Jesus told us this when He said, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?” He has made all things ready for us. All that we need to do is repent of our sins and in faith receive Christ as our Savior and Lord.

If you know Him as your Savior and Lord, are you not thankful that Jesus came to earth to touch your life and make you His forever?

If you do not know Him as your Savior and Lord, does his Word not make you want to know more about him and receive him as your Savior and Lord? Amen.

Who Is Jesus?

Life often presents us with difficult situations. One of these situations is not wanting to hurt a person’s feelings, but being unable to accept what he or she believes. This is often our experience when the subject is religion. Our world has grown smaller, and some of our friends are no longer of the same religious background. They may be Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or Jewish. As we discuss the differences in our religion, the conclusion that is often drawn is this: We have our differences, but it really does not matter because there is only one God. We simply have different ways of understanding Him, and we do not want to let our religious conventions come between us.

We are increasingly being told that Jesus is only one of several religious leaders, and we must treat Him that way. If we carry a narrow-minded conviction on Christ, our dogmatism will cause serious divisions within our nation.

In this series of sermons on Christian basics, we are asking the question this day, who is Christ? Let us discover how the Bible answers this question, for to the Christian this is the only answer that is important. What culture teaches is secondary.

Turning to the Bible, we read that Jesus is God. He is the Creator of all things, who came as the God incarnate and dwelt among us for thirty years. We read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. . . . The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:1, 14). Note, the Bible says Jesus is God. No other religious group makes this claim for their religious leaders. The Christian teaches that Jesus is not simply a great man – He is God.

The Bible tells us, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” (I Peter 2:24). Jesus did not come to this world to be a great teacher, though He was the greatest teacher of ethics and morals this world has ever known. Nevertheless, the world could have gotten along without another teacher. Christ came to take our sins upon Himself, and die as the sacrifice for them. When I confess my sins to Christ, he forgives me, and I am restored into fellowship with God forever.

Jesus is also presented to us as the Mediator. Paul writes, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men” (I Timothy 2:5, 6). He is the One who pleads our case before the Father and intercedes on our behalf. None of the other religious leaders assume this office.

Jesus also presents himself as a very personal God. The writer of Hebrews says, “Since we have a high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidences, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16).

Just imagine it! The same God who created this world is anxious to live in a personal relationship with us. He is the One who comes to us and desires to establish a personal relationship with us. No other religious leader presents himself in this way. He invites us to come with all of our cares. He is anxious to direct us when we are confused about a decision. He is the One who does not condemn us but forgives us all of our sins and gives us the opportunity to start over.

Jesus’ statement, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one can come to the Father but through me,” causes much discernment. What Jesus is teaching is that the only way we can get to heaven is through trusting in Him. My Moslem friend will tell me that he is willing to receive Jesus as a great spiritual leader. However, he cannot understand how can Jesus be so arrogant as to say he is the only way to God.

Our culture might dictate that we must drop this belief, but the evangelical Christian simply says, No way. This confession is the core of my faith.

When Christ has grabbed our hearts and we understand these truths, we know that we cannot say we all have the same God; we just have different ways to reach him. Absolutely not! This is why the Christian is anxious to share his/her faith and send missionaries not only to our nation, but also around the world.

Having said all of this, we must be loving, kind, and understanding as we point people to Jesus. Our witness must be positive. We dare not belittle or attack another person’s beliefs, but instead present the Lord Jesus who loves all people and wants them to know Him.

The challenge to be a Christian and remain inoffensive to others is not easy in our day. In fact, it is much harder than when I was a young person. In the neighborhood where we lived, there were Catholics, Methodists, Congregationalists, Baptists, and Presbyterians. Each of us might have done battle with the other as we held out for our own convictions. Lutherans and Baptists might have argued over baptism. Presbyterians and Methodists might not have agreed on the topic of predestination, but in the end, we agreed that Jesus Christ was and is the only Savior and Lord. Those who trusted Him were members of His Church here on earth now and then, one day, in heaven. However, today, when I discuss my Christian faith with a person of another religion, there is a vacuum. Without Christ there is little that can bind us together.

In this world setting, we must be Christlike in our spirit, and faithful in our confession, affirming all religions are not alike, and we are not all headed for the same heaven. This might sound pleasant; it could even win you friends and influence people. However, it is not Biblical. Thus the Christian dogma teaches that “Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, is my Lord.” He, and he alone, is Lord. Amen.