Welcome back! This is part 4 of our foundations series, and today we will learn some truths that I trust will help us to truly live the new life that Jesus has given us.
Let’s start with a question:
WHAT IS A CHRISTIAN?
It’s an interesting question – to which we’re likely to hear many different answers. Here’s the problem: many people say they are Christians, but – they believe different things, live different lifestyles, and even fight with one another! No wonder people are confused!
Interestingly, you will only find the word “Christian” or “Christians” 3 times in the New Testament. So we can’t get a good understanding of the term from the Bible either – it was just a label given to believers in Christ.
The most common word used in the Bible is “disciple“. The word “disciple” or “disciples” occurs 285 times in the New Testament (NIV translation).
“Disciple” was a commonly used and well understood word. It means learner or pupil. Jesus’ disciples followed him and learned from him as he taught and demonstrated how to live a life of faith.
Jesus’ “Great Commission” recorded in Matthew 28:19 is essentially this:
“…go and make disciples of all nations…”
So our fundamental calling as believers in Jesus is two-fold:
Firstly, to BE a disciple of Jesus (to follow Jesus, learning his ways)
And secondly, to MAKE disciples of Jesus (to show others how to follow Jesus and learn his ways).
It sounds really simple – and in a sense it is: we are to be disciples of Jesus and make disciples of Jesus.
While it’s a simple, easy-to-understand commission, its also very powerful!
Consider the growth of the early church:
– In Acts, we start with a small group of disciples in Jerusalem.
– In 100 AD, the church had grown to around 10 000
– By 200 AD, the church had grown to around 200 000 (20 times greater)
– By 300 AD, the church had grown to around 6 000 000 (30 times greater)
This exponential-type growth was achieved in days when travel and mass- communication were difficult.
Evidently, discipleship is very effective!
Paul wrote this to a young church leader called Timothy (2 Timothy 2:2 NIV):
And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.
In this simple instruction, we see a picture of exponential growth through discipling others:
Paul taught Timothy
Timothy would teach “reliable people”
The “reliable people” would all do likewise to others!
Consider this simple arithmetical picture: say each disciple disciples 5 “reliable people” in their lifetime; and these in turn all disciple another 5 “reliable people”.
5 would disciple 25,
25 would disciple 125,
125 would disciple 625,
who would disciple 3 125,
who would disciple 15 625,
who would disciple 78 125,
who would disciple 390 625,
who would disciple 1 953 125 !
That’s why we need to “go and make disciples of all nations”! Disciples make disciples!
This sounds – and is – fantastic! But it is grounded in a real-life living-out of our faith! Jesus did not just run Bible studies and train teachers to lead Bible-studies. He called people to literally walk with him and live with him. He taught… and he “walked his talk”!
Likewise, Paul demonstrated what he taught. Consider his words in Philippians 4:9 (NIV):
Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice.
Discipleship is learning Jesus’ ways – and living what we learn!
OK, that’s the foundational principle of discipleship – learning and living… Now let’s look at some practical things that we can DO: let’s learn to live!
One of the first active steps we see disciples taking is
BAPTISM – IN WATER
Let’s learn from the Scriptures:
Matthew 28:19-20 NIV
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Please notice this: Jesus commanded baptism. So baptism is first-and-foremost, a step of obedience to Jesus.
But it is much more as well! It is a profoundly significant act! Consider:
Romans 6:4 NIV
We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
It has been said that baptism is a funeral – we bury our old life! But its a happy funeral, because it is followed immediately by a resurrection! We rise again to live the new live Jesus has given us!
In our western 21st century, baptism is not generally an obvious or “normal” response to our salvation. But in the days of the New Testament, baptism was just that. Jews practised baptism as did other cultures. Baptism typically represented the beginning of a new phase of life – such as conversion or ordination as a priest.
This explains why we read in Acts 2:41 (NIV):
Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. [that very day!]
And in Acts 8:35-36 (NIV):
Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?”
Baptism may not be a culturally normal response to salvation, but Jesus commanded it. And when we understand the profound significance of the act, it makes absolute sense!
Do you need to be baptised? If so, please don’t delay!!
John the Baptist was named after his ministry of baptism in water – but he also introduced people to another baptism – one that only Jesus could perform:
THE BAPTISM IN THE HOLY SPIRIT
Listen to the words of John the Baptist as recorded in Matthew 3:11 (NIV)
“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one [referring to Jesus] who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
In Acts 1:4-8 (NIV) one of Jesus’ final instructions is recorded:
On one occasion, while he [Jesus] was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Jesus commanded his disciples to wait – for the baptism in the Holy Spirit – before heading off to obey his commission to make disciples. This is because we need power from God to do what he requires of us! This is not a man-made organisation or program; it is a God-ordained, God-powered mission!
The baptism in the Holy Spirit is necessary for us to receive an impartation of power from God. Once we are empowered, we become enabled fulfil our mission. We receive power and then we become Jesus’ witnesses.
Without this baptism, we can be good believers – but weak disciples. The “ask” is too big for us without power from God!
There seem to be a lot of opinions about how we receive this baptism… but Jesus gave us a very simple perspective: listen to Luke 11:13 (NIV):
“If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
This is so simple it offends some! God is our father. God is a perfect father. Our Father knows how to give us good gifts. So when we ask for this “good gift”, he gives it to us!
Believe… ask… receive!
Some have tried to “write a formula” for this baptism, but as we read through Acts, we see that both the activities and the experience was quite varied. Common elements of the baptism are prayer and laying on of hands, and common results are speaking in tongues (a language not known to us) and prophesying – but they are not always noted. So we should not insist on doing these things; but not be afraid of them either!
OK… those are two powerful and profound EVENTS; now let’s talk about living day-to-day life as disciples after our baptisms.
The first thing we need to deal with is SIN. Not the slavery to sin that we’ve been set free from, but the sins that still trip us up from time to time.
– We have been set free from sin – sin no longer enslaves us and we can say “no” to it
– but unfortunately we are still able to sin. So it’s still something we need to deal with.
The apostle John gives us the good news and the bad news about sin:
1 John 1:8-10 (NIV)
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.
The bad news is that, although we sin less, we are not yet sinless – without sin. And denying our sin is self-deception… even worse, John says we call God a liar when we do so!
The good news is that, when we “man-up” (or “woman-up”) and admit that we did wrong, God is waiting to forgive us. And there’s more – God also does a cleansing work in us, washing away the mess we made! Truly we have a kind Father!!
But we must confess – admit our sin. Hiding it is like just covering up a festering wound; things can only get worse! Confessing is like going to the doctor to have it lanced and then cleaned with antiseptic! It can be painful, but it brings healing!
Confession can also be powerful to break habitual sins. Sometimes habitual sin sticks because we have given it a nice name so we don’t feel bad about it – or because we hide it. But when we confess it as sin, calling it what it is, we see it for what it is and it is easier to leave it behind.
That’s us dealing with our own sin… what about when someone else sins against us?
Listen to Jesus’ instructions in Luke 17:3 (NIV)
If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.
Jesus teaches us to confront the sin in a rebuke – in a sense, to call our brother or sister in Christ to confess their sin. When they do so, the promised forgiveness and cleansing flow from God.
We can confront another believer because they know better; interesting, Jesus teaches another tack with unbelievers:
Matthew 5:38-39 (NIV)
You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.
Jesus teaches us to love our enemies. In this discourse, Jesus teaches us to overlook personal offenses and even minor injuries, material offenses and infringements of liberty.
This is his way; he is so generous in grace! While we were still against him, he died for us! Believers know better; unbelievers are still slaves to sin and often don’t know better.
Rebuking such a person is seldom helpful; responding in the opposite spirit is far more likely to shock them into seeing a better way. (Please note that this does not invalidate justice and upholding the laws of the land! Romans 13 clearly validates law and justice!)
There are some big questions on this topic that we don’t have time to address in a foundations course. We offer these principles as foundational to our dealing with sin; let’s keep short accounts and take hold of our freedom from sin!
The next topic is well-established, but sometimes misunderstood. As we seek to know God better and live our new life to the full, we begin to take bigger steps and face bigger challenges. So we need to develop some “spiritual muscle” and “spiritual fitness”.
We could call it “spiritual gym”; the established term is:
Dallas Willard puts it like this:
“A baseball player who expects to excel in the game without adequate exercise of his body is no more ridiculous than the Christian who hopes to be able to act in the manner of Christ when put to the test without the appropriate exercise in godly living.”
Dallas Willard, in “The Spirit of the Disciplines”, and Richard Foster, in “Celebration of Discipline”, have compiled a list of “spiritual disciplines” – practices they believe were modeled in the life of Christ. These disciplines are organized into two categories: the disciplines of abstinence (or “letting go”) and the disciplines of activity.
Disciplines of Abstinence (Letting Go)
While this sounds rather negative, these are actually positive disciplines. These practices allow us to relinquish something in order to gain something new – and better.
Solitude – Spending time apart from people in order to be with God.
Find a quiet place to be alone with God for a period of time. Listen to him and talk to him. Reflect and ask him your questions. Use the Bible as a means of hearing from him. Write down your thoughts.
Silence – Removing noisy distractions in order to hear from God.
Find a quiet place away from the noise of your daily life. Switch off your phone, radio, TV and other media devices. Try to quieten even your mind (this is hard for some of us!)
As you turn off the other voices, you make it easier to hear what God is saying.
Fasting – Abstaining from food in order to find greater nourishment from God.
Choose a period of time to go without food. Drink water and, if necessary, take vitamin supplements. Feel the pain of having an empty stomach and depend on God to fill you with his grace. Recognise him as the one who sustains you!
Frugality – Learning to live with less in order to learn contentment.
Before buying something new (say your TV has expired), choose to go without for a while – or pick a less expensive alternative that will serve your basic needs. When shopping, ask if each item is a “need” or a “want”. Such exercises help you to live a simpler, more focused life. They also free up money to give to those in greater need.
Chastity – Abstaining from sexual intimacy in order to seek spiritual intimacy
Here a married couple would decide together (“together” is very important – see 1 Corinthians 7:5) to set aside time to go without sexual pleasures in order to seek a deeper relationship with God in prayer.
Secrecy – avoiding the praise of man in order to seek the praise of God
This is an exercise in avoiding self-promotion. You choose to serve God or bless others in some way without other people knowing. Give in secret. Serve “behind the scenes” in a ministry that you are assured few will know about.
Sacrifice – Giving beyond what is reasonable to remind us of our dependence on Christ.
Here you would choose to give of your time or finances beyond what you normally would. It develops your faith and your generosity.
Disciplines of Activity
Study – Spending time reading the Scriptures and meditating on its meaning and importance to our lives. We are nourished by the Word because it is our source of spiritual strength. Choose a time and a place to feed from the Word of God regularly.
Worship – This is offering praise and adoration to God. Read psalms, hymns, or spiritual songs, or sing to the Lord. Read of his attributes and worship him for them. This often builds faith and courage in us.
Prayer – Spend time talking to and listening to God – about your relationship with Him and about your concerns. Find time to pray without the distraction of people or things. Many people combine their prayer time with meditation on the Scriptures in order to focus better.
Fellowship – Fellowship is practising your faith in community – spending time with other believers, praying together, encouraging each other, telling each other what you are seeing and hearing from God.
Confession – As often as you are aware of sin in your life, confess it to the Lord and to those you may have offended. If you find yourself repeatedly sinning in a particular area, confess it to a leader you can trust.
Submission – Humbling yourself before God and leaders and seeking accountability in key relationships. Find faithful brothers or sisters in Christ who can lovingly hold you accountable for your actions and growth in Christ.
Our last topic for this session is a look at what we can expect the Holy Spirit to do in us and through us. The most common terms used are:
THE GIFTS AND THE FRUIT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
Galatians 5:22-23 NIV
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
1 Corinthians 12:7-11 NIV
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.
Romans 12:6-8 NIV
We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
The Holy Spirit could be said to work in us in two primary ways: with fruit and with gifts.
– The fruit can be though of as supernaturally imparted character traits of Jesus. As the Spirit of God works in us, we change inside. And people begin to observe more and more of the character of God in us. Love… joy… peace… patience… kindness… goodness… faithfulness… gentleness… self-control…. these are beautiful things that truly glorify God and draw people to him.
– The gifts are supernaturally given abilities. There are many, and it is not in the scope of this course to examine them all. God-given words of wisdom… God-given words of knowledge… extraordinary faith… supernatural healing… miraculous responses to prayer… speaking on behalf of God to people… recognising the supernatural work of God and the work of demons… speaking in a language we don’t know… interpreting a language we don’t know… serving skilfully… teaching God’s ways… encouraging… giving more than would normally be expected… leading… showing mercy to the needy…
We should expect the Holy Spirit to do both of these things in us: to transform our character – and to give us new abilities.
A couple of key points on this:
The fruit of the Spirit is something all of us should expect to experience – and in all aspects (we should not settle for just one or two characteristics, but all of them).
The gifts of the Holy Spirit however, are imparted just as he determines (1 Corinthians 12:11). So while we all enjoy the same fruit, we enjoy different gifts (Romans 12:6).
There is not time in this foundations course to thoroughly explore the gifts. Please get hold of the additional notes on the gifts – and then please take steps of faith in those areas you think God has gifted you!
As you recognise your gift(s), seek ways to put them to use for others – remember, they are “for the common good”, not for you!
Imagine what the church will be like when we get these things right! It will be magnificent!!
Paul had that picture in mind as he wrote to the church in Ephesus:
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. – Ephesians 4:14-16 (NIV)
Let’s be true disciples of Christ! What a glorious privilege and adventure!