Thursday, March 31, 2011

How You Can Experience God's Love and Forgiveness

The Forgiveness God Offers

Jesus covers even that sin you think is beyond forgiveness.

Do you sometimes find it difficult to believe that you have total forgiveness for your sins in Jesus Christ? Intellectually you believe it, but how about deep within your heart?
Imagine yourself in the crowd as this story takes place as recorded in the Book of Luke:
Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a sleeping mat. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the man, "My friend, your sins are forgiven!"
"Who does this fellow think he is?" the Pharisees and teachers of the Law exclaimed among themselves. "This is blasphemy! Who but God can forgive sins?"
Jesus knew what they were thinking, and He replied, "Why is it blasphemy? I, the Messiah, have the authority on earth to forgive sins...I'll prove it to you by healing this man." Then, turning to the paralyzed man, he commanded, "Pick up your stretcher and go on home, for you are healed!" (Luke 5:18-20,24, The Living Bible).
What a marvelous illustration of God's willingness to forgive.

We Have Been Set Free

God's holy Word tells us that Jesus Christ, through His death on the cross, has set us free -- free from sin, free from the Law, free from the bondage of guilt that sin and the Law bring.
Maybe you are finding it difficult to believe in your heart that your sin has been paid for. Perhaps you are thinking, "I have lustful thoughts toward another person." Or, "I've been taking the Lord's name in vain. God won't forgive that, will He?"
The fact is, He has forgiven you. You simply need to claim His forgiveness and believe His promise. And what a promise it is:
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:11,12).
That's the forgiveness God offers. And think of it! It became yours the moment you believed in Jesus Christ as your Savior and as an act of your will received Him by faith into your life as your Lord and Master.

The Greatest Relationship You Will Ever Experience

Find out the reason Jesus came to earth

Jesus of Nazareth is the most remarkable, the most powerful, the most unique, and the most attractive personality of all time. To know Him personally as your Savior and Lord is the basis of the greatest relationship you can ever have, because only through Jesus can you experience God's love and forgiveness. Let me explain why.

Jesus Claimed to Be God

One winter during the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah), Jesus was walking in Solomon's Colonnade of the temple in Jerusalem. A crowd gathered around Him demanding, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly."
"I did tell you," He answered, "but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father's name speak for me...I and the Father are one" (John 10:22-25,30).
Our Lord's claim is reinforced by the fact that He fulfilled prophecy. Hundreds of years before Jesus came to earth, various prophets of Israel foretold His miraculous birth, the place of His birth, His divine character, the purpose of His ministry, how He would die, and that He would be raised to life.
These prophecies represent only a few of the many predictions made about Jesus' life, ministry, death and resurrection. And He fulfilled every one down to the very last detail.
After His cruel crucifixion, Jesus demonstrated that He was God by rising from death and appearing to hundreds of people over a period of 40 days, as many as 500 in a single meeting. Then, as His followers watched in wonder, Jesus returned to heaven, having promised a continuing relationship with those who love Him.
God's holy, inspired Word also affirms Jesus' claim. The apostle Paul records, "He promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 1:2-4).

Jesus Came to Provide the Life You Need

Jesus didn't live on earth just to prove He is God. He came to give you eternal life, to offer you forgiveness and set you free from sin and guilt, to give you a full and meaningful life here on earth. And it's because Jesus is God that He can provide forgiveness from sin and enable you to live abundantly.
In a conversation with a religious leader of His day, Jesus said, "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him" (John 3:16,17).
Paul wrote, "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death" (Romans 8:1,2).
A rich and satisfying life is the heritage of every Christian. Jesus intended the Christian life to be an exciting, abundant adventure. He promised, "I have come that [you] may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10). When you walk in a close relationship with our Lord, and in the control of God's Holy Spirit, every day is filled with wonder, meaning, and purpose -- your life overflows with desirable qualities:
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22,23).
But most Christians don't experience the abundant life. The life of joy and victory modeled and promised by our Lord is strangely foreign to them. Instead, they consider the Christian life a burden, a chore, a terrible cross to bear. They endure their Christianity on earth, hoping at last for relief in heaven.
Jesus never intended for you to live a defeated, dreadful existence. He called you to a life of joy and victory. Whatever the circumstance you are in -- comfort or conflict, abundance or need, health or sickness, freedom or persecution -- our Lord promises peace (John 14:27; 16:33). He said He would never leave you, and if you ask anything in His name, He will do it (Hebrews 13:5, Matthew 28:20; John 14:14).
As a Christian, God has promised you a legacy of support, abundance and joy. Why, then, are so few Christians really enjoying their inheritance?
Let me ask you: Are you living a joyous, fruitful life?
In his Introduction to the New Testament Epistles, J. B. Phillips writes:
There is a vast difference between the Christianity of the first century and the [Christianity of today]. To us, Christianity is all too often a code of ethics, a philosophy of life, a standard of performance, but to those first-century Christians, it was a new quality of life altogether, and they did not hesitate to describe this as Christ living in them. Perhaps if we believed what they believed, we could achieve what they achieved.
The first-century church rocked their world. Filled with the Spirit and compelled by the love of God, the early church took the Good News of God's love and forgiveness to the entire known world. Never before had any small body of ordinary men and women made such an impact on the world.
Those Christians were a group of ordinary people, like you and me, who knew the love and forgiveness of God. Controlled and empowered by God's Holy Spirit, they reached out in love to people living under the tyranny of an evil empire.

You Can Influence Your World

If you have experienced God's love and forgiveness in your life, you too can influence your world.
The world today is filled with anxiety, fear, and crisis. So much of the world is in a state of chaos. Nothing so characterizes the mood of our day more than the word "upheaval." In every facet of society and in every country of the world, there is upheaval -- politically, socially, economically, even religiously.
In America, for example, we are witnessing epidemics of crime, drug addiction and alcoholism, pornography, AIDS and venereal disease, abortion, and broken homes and divorce -- just to mention some of the serious problems facing our nation.
Countless human solutions have been proposed, and yet the crisis becomes increasingly worse. People are searching as never before for peace in their troubled relationships, for answers to the gnawing emptiness in their lives, for something more.
Through the process of elimination, many are now beginning to turn back to God. Never before has there been such an ideal climate for presenting the claims of Christ. The Spirit of God has created an unprecedented hunger in hearts. People are turning to Christ in increasing numbers and are experiencing God's marvelous love and forgiveness.
Even so, a relatively small number of Christians are involved in this great harvest. In the midst of these tremendous opportunities, most Christians have not entered into the joy of reaping the harvest God has prepared. The vast majority of believers live in spiritual impotence, defeat, and sterility. The average lay person and even many pastors seldom, if ever, introduce another person to Christ.
Unfortunately, many Christians do not display a quality of life that encourages others to desire a relationship with our Lord. Some believers do not even display a quality of life that encourages others to have a relationship with them.

You Can Change from Living a Fruitless Life

Through Jesus Christ, you can experience the full and abundant life God promised.

In speaking to millions of Christians around the world, I have found that most defeated, frustrated, fruitless believers want to change, but they do not know what to do. I have a message of hope and help for them and for you: You can change from living a defeated, fruitless life. You can experience the full and abundant life God has promised to all of His children through Jesus Christ.
One day as I was driving in an unfamiliar city, I made a wrong turn and found myself driving against traffic on a one-way street. People on the sidewalk called to me that I was going the wrong direction. But I had already realized that in the split-second after I turned.
My problem was not to decide whether I was going in the right direction -- it was how to get turned around! Soon, through the help of a friendly policeman, I succeeded in changing my direction and went on my way relieved and happy, driving with the traffic.
It is the same in the Christian life. If you make a wrong turn and find yourself defeated and frustrated, you do not just need to be told you are traveling in the wrong direction, you need someone to help you get turned around. In this booklet, I want to show you how you can get turned around.
The Bible, God's holy, inspired Word, provides this guidance. Paul wrote:
The whole Bible was given to us by inspiration from God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives; it straightens us out and helps us do what is right. It is God's way of making us prepared at every point, fully equipped to do good to everyone (2 Timothy 3:16,17,TLB).
The Bible not only instructs you, but it can show where you have turned in the wrong direction, give you assistance in making your course correction, and then train you to continue in the right way.
To understand the problem of misguided, unfruitful Christians, it is important to know what the Bible says about the problem. It reveals that there are 3 kinds of people in the world: the natural person, the spiritual man, and the worldly believer. Let me share briefly the characteristics of these types of people.

1. The Natural Person

Before you became a Christian, you were what the Scripture calls a "natural" person:
The circle represents your life, and the throne represents your control center or will.
You were living under Satan's dominance, and your fleshly nature -- directed by Satan -- was "on the throne," controlling your life. Christ was outside of your life, knocking at the door, wanting to liberate you from Satan's dominance by bringing you His love, forgiveness and eternal life.
The natural person considers things of the Spirit of God as foolishness. Paul writes:
The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14, New King James).
Relying entirely on your own resources, you were spiritually dead to God and separated from Him because of sin.
Then you surrendered your life to Jesus Christ:

2. The Spiritual Man

At your invitation, Christ entered your life and took the throne to guide you and strengthen you to live for Him. At that moment, His Holy Spirit indwelled you, gave you new birth, sealed you for heaven, and baptized you into the body of believers. With Christ (Spirit) on the throne, you are "filled" (directed and empowered) by the Holy Spirit.
The spiritual man understands the things of God. The apostle Paul records:
The spiritual man has insight into everything, and that bothers and baffles the man of the world, who can't understand him at all. How could he? For certainly he has never been one to know the Lord's thoughts, or to discuss them with him, or to move the hands of God by prayer. But, strange as it seems, we Christians actually do have within us a portion of the very thoughts and mind of Christ(1 Corinthians 2:15,16, TLB).
The act of staying "filled" with the Spirit is the act of deliberately keeping Christ on the throne of your life. He will not demand control against your will. If, despite His guidance and warning, you wish to yield to the influence of your flesh and wrest control away from Him for a period of overt or covert sin, He will sorrowfully step down. When you are in this state of unconfessed sin, God's Word describes you as one who is "worldly" or "carnal".

3. The Worldly Believer

There is a vast difference between a Christian and a non-Christian. The Scripture clearly teaches in 2 Corinthians 5:17, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" Also, "Anyone who says he is a Christian should live as Christ did" (1 John 2:6, TLB).
But often, as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3, the worldly Christian acts like the non-believer, and it is very difficult to tell the difference between them.
The worldly Christian is one who has received Christ but who also has allowed his sinful nature to reclaim the throne through sin. God still has possession of this person, and Christ is still in his life, but the individual has fallen into sin in one or more areas of his life. Not yielded to God, the worldly believer is in a period of stunted spiritual growth because he is not confessing and repenting of his sins, and Satan has succeeded in influencing and controlling him through the flesh.
Paul wrote to the Christians of Corinth:
Dear brothers, I have been talking to you as though you were still just babies in the Christian life, who are not following the Lord, but your own desires; I cannot talk to you as I would to healthy Christians, who are filled with the Spirit. I have had to feed you with milk and not with solid food, because you couldn't digest anything stronger. And even now you still have to be fed on milk. For you are still only baby Christians, controlled by your own desires, not God's...In fact, you are acting like people who don't belong to the Lord at all (1 Corinthians 3:1-3, TLB).
The worldly or carnal Christian certainly experiences the conviction of the Holy Spirit and will not continue in his sins indefinitely; otherwise, he is possibly not a Christian at all. But defeated and fruitless, he depends on self-effort and energy to live the Christian life instead of drawing on the supernatural, inexhaustible resources of the Holy Spirit.
Grasping self-interest in one hand and groping for God's blessing with the other, this person fails again and again to live the Christian life in the fullness and power of the Holy Spirit.
The state of carnality, or unconfessed sin, is a miserable existence. Yet, sadly, this is where millions of Christians rest today -- back on the throne of their lives -- and they often don't realize that they are in this fleshly category. One man told me he had heard his pastor talk about worldly Christians all of his life, but he always thought his pastor meant somebody else. It surprised and shocked him to discover that he was a worldly Christian.
Paul knew what it meant to be worldly. In Romans chapter 7 he records:
The law is good, then, and the trouble is not there but with me, because I am sold into slavery with Sin as my owner.
I don't understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I can't. I do what I don't want to -- what I hate. I know perfectly well that what I am doing is wrong, and my bad conscience proves that I agree with these laws I am breaking. But I can't help myself, because I'm no longer doing it. It is sin inside me that is stronger than I am that makes me do these evil things.
I know I am rotten through and through so far as my old sinful nature is concerned. No matter which way I turn I can't make myself do right. I want to but I can't. When I want to do good, I don't; and when I try not do wrong, I do it anyway. Now if I am doing what I don't want to, it is plain where the trouble is; sin still has me in its evil grasp (Romans 7:14-20, TLB).
Does this passage of Scripture describe your present relationship with God?
In Detroit, Michigan, an elderly couple was taken to the hospital, suffering from malnutrition and starvation. When police began to search through their rubbish-cluttered home, they discovered $40,000 in cash hidden away among their belongings. They had long since forgotten that they possessed such wealth.
In a similar manner, the worldly Christian lives in spiritual poverty, much like a practicing atheist: Professing to believe in God, he acts as though God doesn't exist or is unwilling to help. He fails to understand the significance of Jesus' death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead.
Christ not only paid the price for his sins, but actually broke the power of sin in his life.
Paul understood the anguish and frustration of attempting to live the Christian life in the energy of self-effort. He records:
It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love to do God's will so far as my new nature is concerned; but there is something else deep within me, in my lower nature, that is at war with my mind and wins the fight and makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. In my mind I want to be God's willing servant but instead I find myself still enslaved to sin.
So you see how it is: my new life tells me to do right, but the old nature that is still inside me loves to sin. Oh, what a terrible predicament I'm in. Who will free me from my slavery to this deadly lower nature? (Romans 7:21-24, TLB).
Have you ever asked, "Who will free me from my ugly self, my failures and defeats?" There is good news! Look at Paul's answer:
Thank God! It has been done by Jesus Christ our Lord. He has set me free (Romans 7:25, TLB).

Destructive Like a Spiritual Cancer

A pastor of a large church came to talk to me after I had presented a message on how to experience God's love and forgiveness. He was filled with hatred and resentment toward the lay leaders of his previous church because he felt they had done him great harm and had even tried to destroy his ministry.
The pastor had now realized that in his attempts to get even he had turned into a mean, critical, worldly Christian. He had come to the point of either getting right with God or getting out of the pastorate. As he put it, "This cancerous worldliness is destroying my life and ministry."
As we knelt together to claim the love and forgiveness of God, his tears of repentance were followed by tears of joy. Several days later he went to visit the church leaders whom he had hated before, and when he told them that he loved them and asked them to forgive him, the leaders responded with joy and Christian love. This dear pastor returned to his second church with a heart burning with love and zeal for our Lord.
A businessman from another church came to see me one day, greatly distressed because his church was splitting.
"Half of our members are going to move out and start another church," he said.
This distressed me, too, because I cannot think of anything more tragic than for a body of Christians to be divided.
As we talked, the man discovered and admitted that he was a worldly Christian. I explained to him how God had made provision for him to be a spiritual person. He did not need to continue to live as a worldly, carnal Christian. Finally, we knelt together and prayed.
He asked forgiveness for his sins and invited God to fill and control his life by the Holy Spirit. As we rejoiced together over what God had done, he said, "You know, there won't be any problems in my church now. You see, I'm the one who has been causing all the trouble."
Unfortunately, the acid of worldliness doesn't just burn into churches. It also dissolves marriages, homes, families, and jobs. You may have felt its affect in your life as relationships with loved ones have deteriorated and friends have become mere acquaintances.

To be continued....

Adapted from the Transferable Concept: 
How You Can Experience God's Love and Forgiveness by Dr. Bill Bright, co-founder of Campus Crusade for Christ

Monday, March 28, 2011

How You Can Be Sure You Are a Christian Part 3

Assurance of Salvation is Possible

God's Word, the Holy Spirit and life change all provide confirmation of salvation.

You may say, "I believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God and died for my sins. Am I not a Christian?" You are not, if you have refused to surrender your will to Him.
Or you may say, "I heard a wonderful sermon, my emotions were stirred and I had a great emotional 'spiritual' experience. I even responded to the invitation to go forward for counsel. Am I not a Christian?" You are not, if you have never relinquished the throne of your life, your will, to Christ.
How, then, can you be sure that you are a Christian? Is there not some kind of confirmation that God gives to those who sincerely receive Christ? I believe there is a threefold confirmation that Jesus Christ is in our lives.

1. External Witness of God's Word

The promise of God's Word, not your feelings, is your authority. His word is totally reliable. As a Christian you are to live by faith in the trustworthiness of God and His holy, inspired Word.
For years Martin Luther, the father of the Reformation, had attempted to earn his salvation by his dedication and good works. When he discovered that great biblical truth "The just shall live by faith," his life was dramatically changed, and he no longer labored for the assurance of his destiny in Christ. He believed what God's Word had to say and had assurance of his salvation.
John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church, was not sure of his salvation as a young man even though he was the son of a minister, the leader of the Holy Club at Oxford and a missionary to the Indians of America. Upon his return to England, he met Jesus Christ at an Aldersgate meeting where he heard the reading of Martin Luther's treatise on faith as a preface to the Book of Romans. Wesley explained what happened in his autobiography. "About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, and Christ alone, for my salvation - and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death."
Before the experience at Aldersgate, Wesley had engaged in a frenzied effort to try to earn God's salvation by his good works. There he received the assurance of God's salvation by faith.
1 John 5:11,12 confirm that Christ is in your life if you received Him:
This is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.
John 1:12,13 echo this promise:
To all who received him, to those who believe in his name, he gave the right to become children of God - children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.
Experience from a Swiss Doctor and his Wife
A doctor and his wife from Zurich, Switzerland, sent their son to the University of California, Los Angeles, to complete his doctoral studies in meteorology. Their son Hans received Christ at one of our meetings and wrote to his parents about his new-found faith. He mentioned my name as the one who had introduced him to our Lord. They wrote back asking if he would set up an appointment for them to see me so they might also receive Christ. At great expense the father, mother and their daughter flew all the way from Zurich to Los Angeles for the express purpose of becoming Christians.
This was at the beginning of the ministry of Campus Crusade. I never had anyone even walk around the corner to see me, yet these people were coming all the way from Switzerland. It was a dramatic moment for me when this man of great influence and means, with his wife, came into my office near the UCLA campus.
He began our meeting explaining his own spiritual journey. "I was an atheist for years," he said, "but I found no future in atheism. So, I began to study the religions of the Orient. Again, there was no satisfaction. Then, someone told me the New Testament was where I would find my answers. I began to read it and became convinced Jesus was the one I was looking for. Then we received the letter from Hans telling us how you had helped him to become a Christian. We want you to tell us what you told Hans."
Well, you can imagine how I felt. What a privilege it was to talk to this wonderful couple about our Savior, the living Christ.
I explained how they could receive Christ by simply inviting Him into their lives. He interrupted me. "Mr. Bright," he said, "I've already done that. I receive Jesus into my life every day. On some occasions I ask Him in several times a day."
Now I was puzzled. Relatively new in leading people to the Lord in those days, I didn't know what to say. I prayed silently, "God, help me. What do I say now?"
There flashed on the screen in my mind Ephesians 2:8, 9:
It is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast.
I explained it is not enough to ask Jesus into your life; you must believe He will come in as He promised. Faith says, "I know, Jesus Christ is the Son of God." Faith says, "I know Jesus died for my sins." Faith says, "I know if I open my heart's door to Him, He will come in." Faith says, "When He comes in, I'll become a child of God." Faith says, "I know that, when I receive Jesus into my life, I will have eternal life."
I told the couple, "God honors faith. He does not honor your invitation to Him to come in. It is your faith in Him and His promise that, if you open the door, He will come in that He honors. You can ask Jesus into your life a thousand times, and He will never come unless you believe, on the basis of His promise, that He will come. You can depend upon Him to keep His promise to come in if you ask Him in as an expression of faith."
I suggested to them that they invite Christ into their lives one more time and that this time they believe His promises that, if they will open the door, He will come in and that "as many as received Him, to them He (God) gave the right to become children of God."
Even before we prayed, the father's face lit up with assurance of his salvation, and he began to laugh. He was filled with wonder, gratitude, relief, praise and thanksgiving. At last he had found the One for whom he had sought for many years.
He turned to his dear wife and spoke to her in German, telling her what I had shared with him. She began to laugh with what I discovered later was a holy laugh, a laugh of assurance. They had been looking for God, and now the light went on, and they were filled with joy.
They met the Savior, and oh, how their lives were changed. Later that night I had the privilege of praying with their daughter, who also received Christ. The entire family - father, mother, brother, sister - was united in Christ. Eventually, I had the opportunity to visit them in Zurich and saw further the miracle of God's grace in their lives.
I was telling that story later to a gathering of people at one of our training conferences. A woman came up to me afterward. She was in her eighties, her hair was snow white and her radiant face was stained with tears.
She said, "I've been a Sunday school teacher for more than forty years. Every day of my life, I have asked Jesus into my life, and I've never been sure He was there. Tonight, by faith, I asked Him in for the last time as you told the story of the man from Switzerland. Now I know He's there because He said He would come in. He promised never to leave me nor forsake me. I'm never going to insult Him by asking Him in again. For the rest of my life, as an expression of faith, I'm going to begin every day thanking Jesus that He is with me as He promised."

2. Internal Witness of the Holy Spirit

The apostle Paul writes, "The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children." Paul emphasized the validity of this inner source of assurance to the Thessalonian converts:
When we brought you the good news, it was not just meaningless chatter to you; no, you listened with great interest. What we told you produced a powerful effect on you, for the Holy Spirit gave you great and full assurance that what we said was true.

3. Changed Life

Your changed life is a witness to the fact that you are a Christian. Paul records, "When someone becomes a Christian he becomes a brand new person inside. He is not the same anymore. A new life has begun!" John says, "How can we be sure that we belong to him? By looking within ourselves: are we really trying to do what he wants us to? Someone may say, 'I am a Christian; I am on my way to heaven; I belong to Christ.' But if he doesn't do what Christ tells him to, he is a liar. But those who do what Christ tells them to will learn to love God more and more. This is the way to know whether or not you are a Christian. Anyone who says he is a Christian should live as Christ did."
I remember well the night I prayed, "God, what do You want me to do with my life?" It was a simple, quiet prayer. But I meant what I prayed, and God heard me.
My life began to gradually change as I studied the Scriptures with other believers in the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood. With the passing of time, I began to feel the assurance of God's love and forgiveness. My relationship with Him became the most important experience in my life.
If you have never personally received Jesus Christ, or if you have any doubts about your salvation, you can receive Him right now through faith. You can open the door of your life to Christ by expressing your faith to Him in prayer. The following prayer may express your desire:
Lord Jesus, I need You. Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life and receive You as my Savior and Lord. Thank You for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal and abundant life. Take control of my life. Make me the kind of person You want me to be.
You do not become a Christian by simply praying this or any other prayer. You become a Christian by faith and by faith alone. Faith is putting your trust in God and His promises. I encourage you to say this prayer aloud in faith, for it is through prayer - talking to God - that you can express your faith in Christ and the promises of His Word.

Ways to Grow in Your Christian Faith

If you have invited Jesus Christ into your life, you can now have confidence that He is in your life and has given you eternal life as He promised.
Jesus would not deceive you. You can be sure, if you asked Him into your life, He now lives inside you and will give you the abundant, eternal life He promised.
I encourage you, right now, to thank God for His faithfulness to you and for His presence in your life. Do not depend on your feelings. God's Word is your authority. Faith and obedience always results in the awareness of our Lord's presence.
Begin to spend some time each day in Bible study and prayer. It is best to set aside a particular time each day to do this and to make it a habit. This will help you grow and mature in your faith.
Become associated with vital Christians. If you do not belong to a local church, don't wait to be invited. Take the initiative; call the pastor of a nearby church where Christ is honored and God's Word is preached. Make plans to start this week and to attend regularly. If you have not already been baptized, plan to be baptized as an outward expression of your identification with Christ.
Now that you are sure you are a Christian, I encourage you to experience the joy of helping others receive Christ. Share your faith in Christ with your friends and neighbors at every opportunity. The apostle Paul was so excited about Jesus that he exclaimed in Colossians 1:28, "Everywhere we go we talk about Christ to all who will listen." Take the initiative to tell everyone you meet about the person and claims of our Lord Jesus Christ and the revolutionary way He can change their lives - and how they, too, can be sure they are a Christian.
Remember, How You Can Be Sure You Are a Christian is a transferable concept. You can master it by reading it six times; then pass it on to others as our Lord commands us in Matthew 28:20, "Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you." The apostle Paul encouraged us to do the same: "The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others" (2 Timothy 2:2).

Adapted from the Transferable Concept: How You Can Be Sure You Are a Christian, by Dr. Bill Bright, co-founder of Campus Crusade for Christ

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

How You Can Be Sure You Are a Christian Part 2

Commitment 2: Emotional

Emotions also play a role in receiving Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Becoming a Christian also involves your emotions.
From the Scripture we know that God has emotions. He feels love, joy, sorrow, compassion, anger, disappointment and many other emotions. The Bible also says you are created in the image of God. As a part of His image, God has given you the capacity to experience emotions. Just about everything you do, from the time you awaken in the morning until you go to sleep at night, involves emotions.
Each person who receives Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord will have a different kind of emotional experience. Paul met God through a dramatic encounter on the road to Damascus. Timothy, on the other hand, was raised in a Christian home where he came to know Christ at an early age and gradually grew in his faith.
One frequently hears Christians enthusiastically sharing how their dramatic encounters with Christ resulted in their being healed of drug addiction, gross immorality or some other distressing problem. The fact that their lives were indeed changed validates their claims.
On the other hand, there are many who have knelt quietly in the privacy of their homes, as I did, or at a mountain retreat, or in a church sanctuary and there received Christ into their lives with no dramatic emotional experience.

Value in Legitimate Emotions

Emotions can be misleading. Probably no one issue has caused more people to lack the assurance of a vital relationship with God than a wrong emphasis on feelings. I have had moments of great joy, enthusiasm and spiritual awareness. And I have also felt times of sorrow and disappointment. But I do not depend on these feelings to determine my union with God. My emotions can be very deceiving.
We are to live the Christian life by faith, not emotions. Yes, emotions have a place in your experience, but how you feel does not determine the truth of your life with Christ. Rather, your emotions are a result of your faith and obedience. Our Lord said, "The one who obeys me is the one who loves me; and because he loves me, my Father will love him; and I will too, and I will reveal myself to him." The Book of Romans assures us, "In the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith.'"
There is a place for emotions in the Christian experience, though you should not seek them nor attempt to recapture them from the past. While you should not ignore the value of legitimate emotions, it is more important to remember that you are to live by faith in God and in His promises- and not by seeking an emotional experience.

"I've Been Waiting for Such an Experience."

An acquaintance brought his friend to see me, hoping that he might receive Christ, which he did. But in the course of our conversation, it became apparent that my friend, despite his concern for his friend, was himself not a Christian. So I asked him, "When did you become a Christian?"
"I'm not really sure that I am a Christian," he replied.
"Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God?"
"Do you believe that He died on the cross for your sins?"
"Do you believe that if you receive Jesus Christ as your Savior, He will come into your life and make you a child of God?"
"You would like to receive Him, wouldn't you?"
"Yes, I would. But I'm waiting for an experience. When my mother became a Christian, she had a dramatic emotional experience, and I've been waiting all these years for God to give me such an experience."
Although he was a professing Christian and active in his church, the thing that kept him from assurance of salvation was the wrong emphasis on emotions. I was able to explain to him that he did not have to look for an emotional experience, but could believe God's Word. Finally we bowed in prayer, and as a simple expression of faith, he received Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord and rejoiced in the certainty that Christ was in his life.

Commitment 3: The Will

Placing faith in Jesus is also an act of the will.

Becoming a Christian not only involves your intellect and your emotions, it also involves your will. You must first be willing to obey God and His Word.
Christ emphasized the importance of man's will in relation to the assurance of salvation. Jesus said:
If anyone chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth.
Some people are reluctant to obey Christ because they fear He will change their plans and take all the fun out of their lives.

Example of Choosing to Obey

One student with whom I counseled and prayed hesitated to receive Christ because he enjoyed his life of parties and sex. But through the prayers of fellow students and friends, this young man decided to obey Christ. He discovered that what he thought was an exciting life was nothing compared to the abundant life which the Lord Jesus gives. He became one of the most vital and fruitful Christians on campus.
This student had fought against God's will for his life until he realized the truth of Jesus' words:
If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your own pleasures and shoulder your cross, and follow me closely. If you insist on saving your life, you will lose it. Only those who throw away their lives for my sake and for the sake of the Good News will ever know what it means to really live.
And how does a man benefit if he gains the whole world and loses his soul in the process? For is anything worth more than his soul? And anyone who is ashamed of me and my message in these days of unbelief and sin, I, the Messiah, will be ashamed of him when I return in the glory of my Father, with the holy angels.
Let me assure you that no one has ever given up anything - home, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, or property - for love of me and to tell others the Good News, who won 't be given back, a hundred times over, homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and land - with persecutions!
A leading athletic coach held in high esteem by millions of people, a man of sterling character and tremendous ability, shared with me his reluctance to surrender his life fully to Christ. He feared God would ask him to become a minister and to give up the joy and love of his life - teaching.
Many successful people have refused to follow Christ because they are afraid He will demand they sell their possessions and give everything to the poor as Jesus told the rich young ruler to do." Although God does lead some people to give their possessions, He leads others to use their influence for Christ in other ways.

Doubt Comes from Unwillingness to Trust

As you walk in faith and obedience to God as an act of your will and allow Him to change your life, you will gain increasing assurance of your relationship with Him. You will experience God's work in your life as He enables you to do what you could never have done on your own - things like being able to love someone who treats you badly, maintaining a spirit of peace while surrounded by great pressures and problems, developing a growing desire to reach other people with the love of Christ.
But, if you do not trust God and His plan for your life and obey His commands, you will inevitably have doubts about your salvation.
Some people refuse to receive Christ because of pride or self-will. For approximately fifty years, I have worked with the so-called intelligentsia. In all those years, I have not met one single person who has said, "I have considered all the historical evidence and the claims of Christ, and I cannot believe He is the Son of God."
Every one with whom I have counseled who has rejected Christ has always denied Him as a matter of the heart, not the head - a matter of the will, not the intellect. They have used intellectual issues as a smoke screen to cover the deeper issues of the heart.

Experience with Seminary Professor

Many years ago I met with a famous professor of a very prestigious seminary. He did not believe that Jesus is God, even though he had taught thousands of young students who became ministers. One day I was invited to visit this great scholar by a friend who was getting his doctorate under his supervision.
My friend explained, "He does not believe that the Bible is the Word of God, but he is a good man. I like him. He is personable and warm-hearted, and I think you might be able to communicate with him."
The professor's first words to me after I was introduced to him were, "Mr. Bright, when you talk to students about becoming a Christian, what do you tell them?"
Knowing his reputation, I wanted to weigh my words carefully, but before I could reply, he asked a second question. "Better still, what would you tell me? I would like to become a Christian."
He went on to explain that he had recently been reading the Word of God with a new understanding. For a couple of years he had also been studying the writings of the church fathers and biographies of great heroes of the faith. As a result, he had become intellectually convinced that Jesus is the Son of God. But he did not know Him as his personal Savior.
I drew a circle on a piece of paper explaining, "This circle represents your life." In the circle I drew a throne and on the throne I wrote the letter "S" for self. I explained, "In order to become a Christian you must receive Christ into your life as your Savior from sin and the Lord and Master of your life. You must surrender the control of your life to Him."
"That's my problem," he said. "Intellectual pride has kept me from doing this. I've received many honors in the academic world, and I haven't been willing to humble myself before God. For years I have denied the deity of Christ and have taught thousands of young men to do the same."
At that moment we were interrupted by a telephone call, and due to other scheduled appointments, we were unable to finish our conversation. He asked us to return two days later. When we returned, he took us into an office with no phones and, locking the door behind us, said, "I want you to know that I went this morning to one of the local churches, took communion, and prepared my heart for your coming. I have been meditating on the third chapter of John, and I want you to pray for me that I may know Jesus as my personal Savior."
First I prayed; then he prayed, and then my friend prayed, and that day this man of international renown, like a little child, received Christ by faith as an act of his will. His whole life was changed. His teachings changed, his philosophy of life changed, and he became a new creation in Christ. Basically his problem was not intellectual; it was a problem of pride and self-will.

Deception Another Source of Doubt

Another reason people are reluctant to commit their lives to Christ is because Satan has deceived them. Jesus spoke about Satan's character this way:
He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
Some years ago I was invited to meet with a well-known military leader. He was a most cordial and gracious person. As we talked, he said he wanted to become a Christian but somehow couldn't make the decision.
We talked together for more than an hour, and finally I felt impressed to share with him a passage from Colossians 1:13, 14. I asked him to read it aloud. "God has rescued us out of the darkness and gloom of Satan's kingdom and brought us into the kingdom of his dear Son, who bought our freedom with his blood and forgave us all our sins."
Then I explained, "There are only two kingdoms in the world - God's kingdom and Satan's kingdom. Which one are you in?" After some thoughtful moments of silence, he said, "I guess I'm in Satan's kingdom."
I then asked him, "What would you like to do about it?"
He replied, "I would like to move over to God's kingdom."
Then this great general, whose influence was felt over the world, entrusted his life to Christ and moved from the darkness and gloom of Satan's dominion into the kingdom of God's dear Son.

Acceptance is an Act of the Will

Has your enemy Satan deceived you? Have you thought you must become a better person before God will accept you? Has your enemy caused you to question whether God really loves you? Has he caused you to become comfortable with your disobedience to God?
No matter what influence may be keeping you from Christ, I encourage you to turn from that influence -- and turn to Christ.
To be sure you are a Christian, you must be aware of basic truths from the Scriptures. You must not only believe these truths intellectually, but you also must, as an act of your will, accept them and make them central to your life.
This begins with knowing that God loves you and offers a wonderful plan for your life.
God has your best interests at heart. He is concerned about your needs and has provided a way for you to know His love and plan for your life.
But you are sinful and separated from God; therefore, you cannot experience His love and plan for your life until something wonderful happens.
You see, you were created to have fellowship with God, but because of self-will, you chose to go your own way as we all have. This self-will with which we struggle is revealed in either active rebellion against God or passive indifference to Him. The Bible calls self-will "sin." Your sin has made you spiritually dead and separated from God.

God is holy and people are sinful. A great gulf separates the two. People attempt to reach God and the abundant life through their own efforts including living a good life, holding to a certain philosophy and practicing religion. But no human efforts enable a person to reach God.

God's Only Provision

Jesus Christ bridges the gap that separates sinful man from a holy God.

Jesus Christ is God's only provision for your sin. Through Him you can know and experience God's love and plan for your life.

Who is Jesus Christ? Why does He have the power to bridge this gap between a holy God and sinful people?

What it Means to Receive Christ

Jesus' miraculous birth, the life He lived, the miracles He performed, the words He spoke, His death on the cross, His resurrection from the dead, His ascension into heaven - all demonstrate He was no mere man. Jesus is God.
You must receive Jesus Christ as God, as your Savior and as your Lord. By receiving Christ you can know and experience God's love and plan for your life. You receive Christ through faith, by personally inviting Him into your life. Paul said, "It is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast." And Jesus said, "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will go in and eat with him, and he with me."
Receiving Christ begins by turning away from yourself, repenting of your sins, and turning to God. It involves trusting Christ to come into your life, to forgive your sin, and to make you the person He wants you to be.

The Marriage Illustration

Let me illustrate it this way:
Suppose you meet a certain young man or woman about whom you have heard many fine compliments. You like what you see - looks, personality and many other qualities. Would this be enough on which to launch a marriage?
No. There is more to marriage than mutual respect and admiration.
As you become better acquainted, you soon fall in love. Is this sufficient for marriage?
No. There is more to marriage than the intellect and the emotions.
Then you become engaged, and the wedding day arrives. How exciting! Intellectually you believe he or she is the most wonderful person in the whole world. Emotionally, your heart beats twice as fast when you are together.
But now something even more important is about to take place. As you stand before the minister or priest to exchange your vows, you commit your wills one to the other. The marriage is not a true marriage if there is no mutual giving of one to the other.
So it is when you become a Christian. When you commit yourself to Christ, you must give yourself wholly to Him in a commitment of your intellect, emotions and will.

Two Kinds of Lives

Your life may be pictured in one of two ways. If you are living a self-directed life, you control your interests. This kind of life always results in discord and frustration.
If you are living a Christ-directed life, you are yielding to Christ, and your interests are controlled by Him, resulting in harmony with God's plan for your life.
Our lives parallel that of a caterpillar crawling in the dust - an ugly, hairy worm. One day this worm weaves a cocoon about its body. From this cocoon emerges a beautiful butterfly. We do not understand fully what has taken place. We realize only that, where once a worm crawled in the dust, now a butterfly soars in the air.
So it is in the lives of Christians. Where once we lived on the lowest level as sinful, self centered individuals, now as we trust and obey God, we dwell on the highest plane, experiencing full and abundant lives as children of God. This life begins by receiving Christ into your life as your Savior and Lord.

"No One Has Ever Told Me."

Some years ago, a woman who had just received Christ through the witness of a staff member asked me to talk to her father about Christ. He was the founder of one of the largest corporations in the world at that time. I visited him in his beautiful home. He was truly a great man. His bearing, his manner, everything about him suggested he was truly a statesman.
He showed me trophy room after trophy room filled with plaques and photographs of him with kings, presidents and all kinds of celebrities. He was a great philanthropist who had given hundreds of millions of dollars to very worthwhile causes.
After awhile he said, "My daughter tells me you have something important to share with me."
With this invitation, I began to talk with him about his relationship with Christ. He was very gracious, very warm, very open and responsive. I shared with him the words of our Lord in His discussion with Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was deeply religious, moral, ethical and above reproach. I read from the Gospel of John, chapter 3:
Jesus told him, "I tell you the truth, unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
"How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!"
Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, unless a man is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.'"
At this point this dear, gracious man in his middle eighties said to me, "Mr. Bright, I've been the chairman of the board of my church for fifty years, and no one has ever told me that I have to receive Christ as my Savior or that I have to be born again! Do you think, in the light of all of the good things I have done through the years, that I must be born again?" I explained, "The need for you to be born again is not my suggestion. It is Jesus who said, 'You must be born again' to Nicodemus, who was also a fine leader and very religious."
Then I asked him, "Would you like to be born again?"
"Yes, I would," he replied.

To be continued....

Adapted from the Transferable Concept: How You Can Be Sure You Are a Christian, by Dr. Bill Bright, co-founder of Campus Crusade for Christ