In this study we will look at God's wonderful kindness, freely ours in Jesus. We will consider what it means to be a friend of Jesus and how we should live as his friend.
Unbelievable as it may sound, we can know God intimately. God may feel distant from us. We may believe he is there somewhere, but this may be as real to us as Father Christmas. Yet it is possible to develop a relationship with God deeper than anything we have ever known. A friendship for eternity. Why should Jesus should bother to take human form, to suffer and die? The Bible tells us that he did this to bridge the gap between lost humanity and God. He did it to make it possible for us to know God and live for him forever. Jesus said "I am the way to the Father." To his disciples, who wanted to see God, Jesus said, "If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.
Right now, through Jesus, we can come to know God intimately - He promises to be our friend forever.
We all of us tend to live for ourselves. Yet that is not the way it is meant to be. We think happiness comes by pleasing ourselves, but the truth is that happiness comes by pleasing God.
Jesus taught his disciples how they should live for God. For someone living in the first century as for today, it amounted to a radical new life-style, a simplicity of life orientated toward others instead of self. It is true that many people have tried to live that way and have either failed or found it drudgery, but Jesus promises success because he is totally involved in the living of it.
Right now we can become a new person in Jesus, a new creation by God. Right now we can find a new life-style.
Jesus offers us freedom from guilt. Mark Twain once said, "Mankind is the only animal who blushes and the only animal that needs to." We have all asserted ourselves before God, we know it and feel it deeply. Who can take away the pain?
Jesus died that we might live: He took upon himself the accumulated evil of the human race and let it crush him. He did this so that the offer of forgiveness might be made to us - the least to deserve it.
Jesus offers freedom from self. "That dark little dungeon of self", as Malcolm Muggeridge calls it. We hope that people don't see us the way we are. We hide the fact that we are like an ingrown toe-nail curled in on ourselves. Who will set us free?
Jesus rose from the dead. Because he lives, so may we - live free to serve God. It is in living for him that we find our true self. Jesus also offers freedom from fear. The occult, sickness, death, the pressures of life... they all push in on us. Who can draw us from the quagmire of fear?
Jesus now reigns as Lord of all. Our life can be lived with purpose, with the knowledge that he is bringing all things into subjection to himself.
Right now we can find freedom.
Many young people have experimented with communal living, but for most it is a failure. The more radical claim Marxist philosophy is the answer, but the only trouble is we can see the actual results in the Eastern Block countries and we're not persuaded. It just doesn't work.
Jesus announced the formation of a new community - the church. Not a human institution with its worldly failings and certainly not a building. The church is a group of people dedicated to meeting with Jesus and each other. To these small groups, scattered throughout the world, Jesus made a number of promises.
i] When two or three meet together in his name he promised to stand with them. Jesus is present when God's people meet.
ii] He promised a new understanding. An understanding of God, ourselves, our work, our world and our future.
iii] He promised unity. A deep friendship and commitment to each other and God.
iv] He promised power. A group of people commissioned, trained and empowered to filter into our decaying world, bringing healing and new life.
Right now we can become a member of a new community. A community of peace and love.
I guess we all have a utopian dream of some sort or other. If it's not for this world then it's for the next. When Jesus spoke of the new heavens and the new earth, he spoke of a glory that outshines any dream. He spoke of a day that will soon appear. He promised to return to a world in turmoil and gather to himself his followers. The world, as we know it, will be consumed in fire and recreated in perfection, made part of a new dimension. The members of his new community, both past and present, will be clothed in a new body - an ultimate release to freedom. In that day every tear will be wiped away.
The mind boggles when we think of eternity with Jesus. I remember at college, I was raving on about what heaven would be like. "Sure to have vintage cars up there." I said. In the group we had an African minister over for theological training. He never said much, but to this day I can remember his comment. "In heaven there will just be you and Jesus." What a profound thought. Sure, there's more to it. We will meet our fellow Christians there and spend eternity working with our Lord. Yet meeting him in the eternal realm is what it's all about.
Some, you know, will not experience that reality. If we ignore him now we certainly won't know him then. Right now our place can be assured in God's new world.
A Christian is a person who:
1. Believes that there is a moral, loving, personal all powerful Being who has created the whole universe and cares for humanity.
2. Recognizes that they have ignored God, either intentionally or unintentionally, and so has turned away from him. They are a rebel.
3. Believes that Jesus, God's Son, by his death on the cross, has bridged the separation between God and man. He has taken the punishment our rebellion deserves. Also, Jesus, by his resurrection, has guaranteed our new life now and in the age to come.
4. Has responded to God's call to repent and so has turned from rebelling against God and submitted to his Son.
5. Has asked Jesus to be accepted as God's friend forever.
6. Has put their complete trust in Jesus for forgiveness, direction in life and fulfillment of all God promises. Rests wholly in Jesus.
7. Has found in Jesus an intimate friendship with God, a purposeful life, freedom, a new community of friends (a Church fellowship) and a place in God's future new world.
8. Sees their life being changed by the indwelling presence of Jesus. They grow in love.
It will be clear from this that a person does not become a Christian merely by living a good life as such, or being a good father or mother, an honest person in the community, or even making great sacrifices for others. It is possible to do all these things without knowing God. In fact, it is often true that the better a person is, the more difficult it is to realise they are against God. Humanity has distanced itself from God. We have done this through our independent stance. We have placed ourselves in a position opposed to God and so we often fail to realize that we need to be forgiven. We tend to think we are good enough. A Christian is not just a good person. A good person, no matter how good, needs to be forgiven and brought into an intimate friendship with God the Father through Jesus Christ. A Christian will try to be good and obey Jesus, not because they want to be forgiven, but because they are forgiven.
Neither should we fall into the snare of thinking that a regular church-goer is necessarily a Christian. There's nothing wrong with going to church, in fact, there's every reason why a person should go regularly, but this is not the thing which causes a person to be a Christian. It is possible to be baptized, confirmed and receive Holy Communion regularly and still not submit to Jesus. However, when a person repents and hands the control of their life over to Christ, they will want to attend church, not so they will become a Christian, but because they have become one. They will want to meet with other Christians to pray, to be taught and to praise God.
There is nothing wrong with being good or going to church. They are just not the ways a person becomes a Christian.
The whole process of becoming a Child of God is completely a work of God. Being born again (becoming a new person centred on Jesus and no longer self) is a miraculous creation of God, something we cannot do by ourselves.
Our part in the process is simple:
1. We must be willing to turn from our self-centred ways and accept Jesus' right to control our live's (repent).
2. We must be willing to trust Jesus completely - a) for our forgiveness and thus our acceptance in God's sight, b) for his control over our life even if his way seems foolish or hard, and c) for his faithfulness in keeping his promises as recorded in the Bible.
3. We must simply ask him to forgive us for ignoring him and to make us a new person, his friend forever.
Here is a simple way of asking God to accept us as his friend forever. "Sorry Jesus for being against you and ignoring you for so long, but now I want to be your friend and live with you forever."
First, God keeps his promises. He can be trusted. Jesus says, "Ask and it shall be given to you, seek and you shall find." Have you asked? Then that settles it. Check out these verses in the Bible. John.3:16, 1John.5:12-13, John.10:27-29, Ephesians.1:7, John.5:24, Romans.8:38,39. You can be sure because God says it.
Second, from the moment you give your life to Jesus you start to change. You slowly become more like Jesus. You begin to hate evil and love good. You reach out to God, you just want to live for him. You may fail, in fact, you will fail, but he forgives you and you know it.
As the years go by, you will see the evidence of a changed life.
It's true that not all people who go to church are Christians, but it is true that most Christians go to church. The reason is simple:- The Bible tells us not to forsake the meeting together of God's people, Hebrews 10:25.
Why is it so important to meet regularly with a group of Christians? Jesus has promised that when two or three are gathered together in his name he will be present (in Spirit). So we meet to come close to our Lord and Saviour. In meeting with him we are bound close together as a group and grow in our understanding of his will. The end result is we are better equipped to serve our Lord.
What church should we attend? Obviously it's best to join with a group that you can fit in with. Do they make you welcome, are you at home there? Also, make sure the Bible is important to the group. There are many churches to choose from, but remember that the things that unite us are bigger than the things that divide us.
In attending church we should be regular. We should prepare for the meeting in prayer and meditation. We must approach our time of worship in the right attitude and try to participate as much as possible.
The Bible says "In understanding be men." To live for our Lord we must understand his will.
i] Assemble a resource file to house sermon and study notes.
ii] Take notes during sermons.
iii] Study your Bible. Scripture Union notes will aid you in this. For deeper truth build up a set of Tyndale Commentaries. You will also need some basic study aids. a) A Concordance for finding Bible verses. b) The Lion Bible Handbook for background info. c) The New Bible Dictionary and also the New Bible Commentary if you don't want to spend up on the Tyndale Commentaries.
iv] Read Christian Books.
v] Listen to Christian teaching cassette tapes and videos.
vi] Attend a Bible Study group if possible.
As to what version of the Bible we should use. The New International Version is the most popular now, but it is probably best to stick with the version used in your church.
Prayer is talking to God. Seeking his forgiveness, thanking him for the blessings he has given us, praising him for his greatness and asking him to meet our needs, these are the content of our chats with God.
Prayer is terribly important and if you don't organise time now you will find it squeezed out of your programme.
A time apart with the Lord is going to be a tremendous blessing for you and an aid in your Christian life. The following is an example of how to structure a "quite time."
i] A Bible reading. A set series of readings, eg. the one year series used in the Anglican Prayer Book, or the readings used in the Scripture Union notes.
ii] Confession. Tell the Lord where you have let him down.
iii] Praise and Thanksgiving. It's important to affirm how great the Lord is and thank him for all the blessings he gives us.
iv] Requests for others and self. We do have to remember that God is a loving Father who has promised to do certain things for us. These promises are contained in the Bible and when we ask for them we can be sure we will be given what we ask for. A problem develops when we think we have the right to ask for anything and get it. If we think that way we will end up hurt when many of our prayers are left unanswered. We may then want to blame God, blame others or even blame ourselves.
The new Anglican Prayer Book is an excellent source for a daily prayer service. See the section, Morning and Evening Prayer for Each Day of the Week.
Jesus said, "Not everyone who says Lord, Lord, shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father in Heaven", Matt.7:21.
One of the greatest dangers we face is to fool ourselves about our status before God. We can start to think that the way we keep on God's good side is by the degree to which we live out the commands in the Bible. If we start to think this way, we will find ourselves striving to keep the Law, constantly failing and so end up slaves to sin. Our standing before God is a gift of his kindness. Jesus has done everything for our salvation. All we need to do is trust him. So how good we are does not affect how God sees us. If we have asked Jesus to be our friend, then we are his forever.
None-the-less, a friend of Jesus will try to live in a way that is honouring to him. God is our Lord and Creator and our happiness lies in living for him. Yet we, by nature, think our happiness lies in living for ourselves. Left to ourselves we have little hope of breaking out from this life-style. Yet Jesus came and died to release us from that bondage to a life of service. A life of giving instead of taking. Our life should be dedicated to him.
While on this earth we will fail to live up to our Lord, but then he forgives. So here in this life we will be tested and tried for an eternity of service. I wonder what Jesus has in store for us?
Living out the Lord's teachings has nothing to do with adopting the strange habits of some Christians. Use Christian brothers or sisters you respect as role models, but do try to absorb the teaching of the Bible, particularly the sound advice Paul the apostle has for living out the Christian life.
The best rule of thumb is to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." This was the rule Jesus gave us and it can't be bettered.
Your key responsibility in the Christian life is to be involved in the spread of the gospel. We do this indirectly by our new life-style - a light shining in the darkness. We do it directly by prayer, giving to missions and speaking to others about our faith.
One of the reasons for attending church is so that we may be equipped spiritually and mentally for the task of evangelism. Church is not about evangelism itself. Church is a gathering of believers to meet with Jesus. Yet the church does preserve the pure gospel and equip individual members for the work of evangelism.
In passing on the gospel, the hardest thing is to get started.
i] Learn off a gospel presentation.
ii] Select a useful printed form of the gospel message to hand to people.
iii] Develop answers to trick questions. This is known as apologetics.
iv] Pray for opportunities and use them when they come your way.
Don't force the message on people. At the right moment they will ask you the reason for your hope or you may ask them if they would like you to explain the Christian faith to them.
Don't force yourself. Only a few believers will be good at face-to-face evangelism. Evangelism is not just face-to-face work. The most powerful means of evangelism these days is through the media. To effectively make the gospel known through different media takes money, energy and skill. So evangelism requires a range of skilled people.
God's offer of his friendship in Jesus is something we have to respond to. God's love is not automatically given to everyone in his creation. We have to accept the offer, or as the Bible puts it, we have to "repent and believe." Consider where you stand in all this.