The message that I’m going to deliver this morning is, I believe, probably one of the most important messages that I could deliver to anyone that I would describe as a church-going person or a person with a church background. This message is a result of two experiences that I’ve had over the last couple of years. The first comes from a number of conversations that I’ve had with men who I’ve interacted with who are struggling with their lives, who may be struggling with their faith, and I would describe most of them as church-going men who intellectually believe in Christianity, but they’re men who would clearly acknowledge that their faith has little impact on their day-to-day lives. I think they also would acknowledge that it’s not a high priority in their lives. And, of course, they’re not really that concerned about it, but when it gets right down to it, that’s where they are. And so, from these conversations, I’ve recognized something.
The second part of this is an experience I’ve had just in closely reading and carefully studying the New Testament and what it says about having a real legitimate faith in Christ. So, as you listen this morning, I would ask you to do this. I would ask you first to listen carefully to what I say, to think clearly, and to be honest with yourself and ask yourself this question, how does this message apply to me spiritually?
And the title of this is what I call “The Heart of Christianity”. What I’d like to do in beginning this time together is take maybe two or three minutes to summarize the Christian message; to summarize the message of the New Testament in its simplest form. The Bible teaches us that a holy and righteous God brought us into existence and gave us His holy law to live under. The problem is that we as human beings consistently break His holy law because we’re naturally self-centered, and we have this attitude in our hearts that says, I want to go my way in this life. You know, this really is the definition of sin. Sin is an attitude of the heart that says, I want to do what’s right in my own eyes. I’m going to live the way I want to live. And that’s really, I guess, kind of the perspective of being autonomous; to live under my own moral law to live, however I want to live.
And this is why the Bible says in Romans three, that there is none righteous, not even one for all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory. Fall short of God’s moral law. (Romans 3:10) And the Bible is very clear. It says because of our transgressions, because of our lawlessness, there are consequences for that, and those consequences are separation from God. Isaiah 59:2 says, “But your iniquities, your sinfulness have separated you from your God. Your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.” Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages or the penalty of our sinfulness is spiritual death, eternal separation.”
But then there’s good news. That’s what the word “gospel” means. Good news. And that good news is that God has sent his son Jesus Christ into the world to die on a cross, to take our sins on Himself. He died an atoning death on the cross so that we can be cleansed of our unrighteousness so that we can find forgiveness. II Corinthians 5:21 says, “He,” talking about God, “made Jesus, who knew no sin, to become sin on our behalf so that we might become righteous.”
I Timothy 2:5 says, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man, Jesus Christ.” In other words, there’s a separation. There’s this huge chasm between us and God that separates us from God. Jesus comes in and mediates. He brings us together so that we can have a relationship with God so there’s no longer that separation. And one of my favorites is what Peter says. He says our lives, our souls were redeemed, not with perishable things like silver and gold, but with precious blood, the blood of Christ. This is the Gospel, which leads to, I think, the huge issue that I want to address this morning, and that is this: how does a person integrate the Gospel into their lives? In other words, how do we come to know Christ? How is a man or a woman forgiven and cleansed of their sin, or really, simply put, how does one become a Christian and have an eternal relationship with God?
You know, when I ask this question, all kinds of responses come forth. Well, I was born a Christian. I’ve been a Christian all of my life, or I’m a Baptist or I’m a Presbyterian, or I’m a Catholic, or what I hear from many people is well, you know, I joined the church. But basically, what I find is when you ask a question of how do you become a Christian, or when did you become a Christian, you get a blank stare. It’s like, what are you talking about?
Let me share with you my assessment of what I see. And this, again, just comes from my experience in talking to men. And my assessment is this that we Americans are a very busy people. We live at a frenetic pace. We work hard, we play hard and when we’re not working or playing, we’re either sitting in front of the television or we’re sitting in front of the computer. And what’s so funny is we seemed to always be complaining that we don’t have enough time. Consequently, what happens or what, you know, again, this is my opinion, our spiritual well-being is not a priority, and it’s not a priority because, and I would like to hopefully say this very clearly, is because I sense a pervasive presumptuousness in people’s lives.
And let me share with you what I mean by that. This is most people’s mindset. I live in a predominantly Christian nation; I believe in God, and I believe that Jesus was the Son of God. I believe he died on the cross for me. I go to church when there’s not conflict. Maybe even I go to Bible study, and I’m pretty much a law-abiding citizen. You know, in other words, I’m a pretty decent guy. And so, therefore I must be a Christian. I mean, what else could I be? I’m not an atheist. I’m not a Hindu. I’m not Muslim. I’m not Jewish. I must be a Christian. And this perspective that people bring to the table, this perspective concerns me deeply. And what else is kind of amazing, or not amazing, but of interest, it was a grave concern to Jesus. This presumptuousness that people have about their faith greatly concerned Him.
In Matthew chapter seven, He talks about this, and I don’t know how much you know about the Sermon on the Mount. It’s probably the most famous sermon in the Bible. And it goes from Matthew five, Matthew six, all the way through Matthew seven. And it speaks on a multitude of issues that relate to the people of God. This sermon does. And right at the end of the sermon, this is what Jesus says, just kind of out of the blue. And he says, “Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of Heaven.” In other words, not everyone who calls Me Lord will enter the kingdom of Heaven, “but he who does the will of My Father, who is in Heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons and, in Your name, perform many wonderful works. And then I will declare to them, I never knew you. Depart from Me you who practice lawlessness.”
And then, in the book of Luke chapter 13, beginning in verse 22 (Luke 13:22), Jesus, this was not the sermon on Mount is a completely different occasion. It says it was a time of his passing from one city to another proceeding on his way to Jerusalem. In verse 23 of Luke 13 (Luke 13:23), it says, “And someone said to him, Lord, are there just a few who are being saved? And he said to them strive to enter by the narrow door. For many,” He uses that word in both situations, “Many I tell you will seek to enter and will not be able. Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door saying, Lord, open up to us. Then He will answer and say to you, I do not know where you are from. Then you will begin to say, we ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets. And He will say, I tell you, I do not know where you’re from. Depart from me all you evil doers. There’ll be weeping and gnashing of teeth there. When you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being cast out.”
It’s important to note in both of those passages, in both of those parts of Scripture, he is referring to religious people. He’s not referring to atheists. In both cases, they call him Lord. They obviously believe in God. Also, He says there will be many, in both readings, it says ‘many,’ not few, who presume that they will go to Heaven, but when they find out they’re not, they argue with Him. I mean, think about that. They argue with Him. You know, if you’re a godless person and then one day you die and you stand before God, you know, you realize I don’t have any room to, I have nothing to argue with Him about. These people argue and you see their presumptuousness, their presumption. They presume they’re Christians because they believe in Him and they did, they not only did good works, but good religious works, which they relied on. They stood on that. They said, that’s what they presented before God, but God, look, we did all these things, and we did it in Your name.
And finally, I think the thing we should recognize is that the people he is referring to will be stunned. Why? Because anybody would be stunned if they expect to go to Heaven. But as Jesus says in Luke 13:24, he says many seek to enter, or many expect to enter the kingdom, but will not. His words are but will not be permitted. Now, let me say this. These are hard words. And some of you listening might not like them at all, but you know, the thing that strikes me about the words of Jesus is they always come out of a heart of love. He loves us.
Think about going to a physician; look at it in that light. You know, there’s something terribly wrong with your life physically, and you go see a doctor. Do you want the doctor to say, don’t worry about it, you’ll be all right? You want the doctor to say, take two aspirin, come back in a couple of weeks? That’s not what you’re looking for. You want the doctor to diagnose your problem. You want him to speak straight to you. You want him to tell you what’s wrong with you so you can get well, and this is what Jesus does. He doesn’t tell us what we want to hear. He always tells us what we need to hear. And I believe in these verses, which seem to be very harsh, or hard almost, to receive, I believe He is trying to shake us all up, every single one of us, and get our attention so that we all ask this question, “Am I right with God? If I died tonight, would I be allowed to enter His Kingdom? Or would I be one of the many who hears the words ‘depart from me, I never knew you.’”
Let me ask you this question. Is there any more serious issue in all of life? When it gets right down to it, our eternal well-being, our eternal destiny. Listen to what Paul said to the Christians in Corinth. This comes in II Corinthians 13:5. He says, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith, examine yourselves, or do you not recognize this about yourselves? That Jesus Christ is in you? Unless indeed you fail the test.” Why would Paul say to a group of Christians? Why would he say this? Why would he challenge them about the legitimacy of their faith? I think there’s one reason: he had the same exact concern that Jesus had.
So, what does the Bible teaches about how one becomes a Christian? What is a legitimate believer or follower of Christ? And you know, it really doesn’t matter what you and I think. What matters is, what does the Bible say? What does the Bible teach? I want to take a close look at that, and I want to start by reading three short verses to you. In John chapter one, verse 12 (John 1:12), it says, “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God.” Luke 18:17 says, “Jesus says, truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a child will not enter it at all.” And then in Colossians 2:6, Paul says, “As you have received Christ Jesus, the Lord, so, walk in Him.”
The Bible is clear. At a point in your life, you must receive Him. Whether it’s when you were a child, when you’re a teenager, when you’re an adult, when you’re an old person. At some point, you must do that. Of course, the next natural question I get, or that would seem to come up is, well, where does belief come in? Doesn’t the Bible say you got to believe? Isn’t that what it’s all about? You believe in Jesus? What does John 3:16 say? “For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have life everlasting.”
John 6:47 says, “Truly, truly I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.”
So, it’s important to ask the question then. Okay. What does it mean to believe? We’ve talked about receiving Christ. What does it mean to believe? Well, every time you see the word ‘believe’ in the New Testament, I looked up every single one of them, the word ‘believe’ comes from the Greek word. Pisteuō it’s P-I-S-T-E-U-O. And when you look up that word in the Greek, it means “to believe, to entrust” or, as The Amplified Bible says, “to trust in, cling to, rely on”. In other words, it means so much more than to believe something in my head. The best example that I use very often is again, going back to, to use the illustration of a sick man, going to a doctor, let’s assume you’re, you know, something’s wrong. You go to your physician, he diagnoses you and says, you have a very rare form of cancer. And if it goes untreated, you’ll die within six months. The good news is, is we can do surgery. And because of all the new drugs, you know, we can pretty much heal you and you’ll be well.
Now, it’s important, first of all, that you believe it in your head. I’m in no way to saying that that’s not. If you don’t believe in your head, you’ll never go back to the doctor. You’ll think he’s a quack and you’d go somewhere else. But if all you do is believe it in your head and you say, oh, this is great. I believe that. But you never go back to the doctor, you’ll also eventually die. True belief is believing in my head and then going to the doctor and saying, I give my life to your care. I entrust my life to you. This is what pisteuō means. This is what it means to believe. Now you may say at this point, I’m confused. You say, receive Christ, and then also give myself to Him? Receive and believe or believe in the Biblical context, which is it?
Well, it’s both. Let me explain this. This is really quite simple. I promise you. When we’re talking about becoming a Christian, what are we talking about? We’re talking about entering into a holy relationship with the living God, with Jesus Christ, entering into a relationship with Him. And this is most important to comprehend.
There is another holy relationship we enter into in this life, marriage. Holy matrimony. That’s why it’s called holy matrimony because it was instituted by God. And listen to this. This is fascinating. In John 3:29 and Matthew 9:15 and Mark 2:19 and Luke 5:34, and a host of other verses Jesus refers to Himself as the bridegroom. Isn’t that interesting? Just out of the blue, the Pharisees will ask the question, when He says, He refers to Himself as the bridegroom, and he refers to his people, Christians, as the bride. Interesting. You know, he doesn’t say I’m the husband, you’re the wife. Why? He uses the language of bridegroom and bride. Why does he do that? Because the bridegroom and bride, when you hear those terms, you realize he’s talking about a wedding, where two people come together to be united in a holy event.
You know, marriage is one of the most significant events in life because we’re entering into a relationship; we’re entering into a whole new life. Jesus uses the term bride and bridegroom to demonstrate how we enter into a relationship with Him, a life changing relationship. Now, let me ask you this question. I think we have a large group of people here that are married. Some are not. What happens when you get married? Think about it. Well, the first thing you should do after you meet, since this is a group of men, the young lady that you might be interested in marrying, you begin to get to know and date her, at some point, you begin to count the cost of getting married. That’s why, when you get married, the minister always says, it is not to be entered into lightly because there’s a huge cost when you go from being single to being married.
And I was single for 41 years. So, for me, when, as I was thinking about getting married to my wife, I had to realize, I’m going to give up living by myself. And when you live by yourself, you do whatever you want to do whenever you want to do. And you can imagine for me, I was set in my ways. And so, I realized for me to get married, I was gonna have a lot of change coming in my life. Also, when you get married, as you count the cost, you realize that there will never be any other women in my life, ever again, on this basis. You give up dating. You are committing yourself to this one person and you, as you know, for the rest of your life. And if you know and contemplate having children, you are talking about even more change, more of a cost, and then think about it, in the Biblical terms of marriage, they don’t, you know, prenuptial agreements were not a part of it. You know that’s not part of God’s plan for marriage. So, when you enter into, when you get married, think about this. Everything you have becomes hers, everything you own becomes hers, and everything she owns becomes yours; huge commitment, which God intended for it to be.
And this is what a man or a woman must do if they want to become a Christian. I believe you have to count the cost. And this is a problem today because modern man, and I think the modern church believes in what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace”, where there’s no cost on my part required. No commitment required, where Christ really has no impact on my life and no real authority over my life. But the Bible says very clearly in Mark chapter 8, following Christ is costly. He says, “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” And then he goes on to say, “If you want to save your life, you’ve got to lose your life.” You have to give it up. You have to give it to me.
So, think about, guys, what happens in a wedding ceremony. You commit yourself to each other. Think about it. Think about the vows. Next time you go to a wedding. “For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, as long as you both shall live.” Do you see what goes on in a wedding? You give yourself to your spouse and they receive you. And in turn, they give themselves to you in commitment in the wedding ceremony and you receive them. So, there is a giving of yourself and there is a receiving, and this is what must happen if we are to become a Christian.
And this is what’s important to note. Jesus has already given Himself to us. Listen to what Ephesians 5:2 says. It says, “Walk in love just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” In Paul’s letter to Titus 2:13-14, he says, “We are looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Christ Jesus who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself, a people for His own possession.” And then I Timothy 2:6, Paul talks about Jesus who “gave Himself as a ransom for many.” In all of those verses it says, “He gave Himself.” “He gave Himself to us.” Jesus clearly also tells us in John 15, “There is no greater way for me to demonstrate My love and commitment to you than to lay down My life for you,” which He did at the cross.
So, picture this, folks. Jesus is the bridegroom. And He is saying to every single one of us, I have given myself to you, I have laid down my life for you. Will you receive Me and what I have done for you on the cross? And will you believe in Me and entrust your life to My care and to My will.
This is the ultimate question. Will I receive Him? And will I entrust my life to Him? You know, in marriage, if you think about it, you enter the church and you enter in single, assuming you get married in a church, you go into the church and you’re single, and you leave married. And it happens at the very moment the minister says, “I now pronounce you,” those famous words, “I pronounce you, man and wife.” In the same way, as we receive Christ and surrender our lives to Him, we become a Christian.
In a moment, we become a Christian. And at that moment, we are cleansed of our sins, we are given salvation, and we’re in a position to begin to know Him personally, in a relationship, a relationship that extends on into eternity. But this is important to note, very crucial to note. In II Corinthians 5:5, it says, when we become a Christian, “He gives us His spirit as a pledge.” Those are the words from II Corinthians 5:5 In other words, He puts His spirit within us.
Let me read to you a couple of verses that talk about this. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, the fourth chapter starting in the fourth verse (Galatians 4:4), he says, “But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His son born of a woman, born under the law so that He might redeem those who were under the law so that we might receive the adoption as sons.” But he also says in John 1:12 that we read, “As many as received Him, to them, He gave the right to become children of God. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the spirit of His son into our hearts, crying Abba Father. Therefore, you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” In other words, when we become a Christian, He sends His spirit in our hearts and we are adopted into His family as His children.
Then Jesus in John chapter seven says this, starting in verse 37 (John 7:37). “Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out saying, ‘if anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.’ He who believes in Me as the Scripture said, from his innermost being will flow rivers of living water. But this He spoke of the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive.”
So, when a person becomes a Christian, God’s Spirit comes into his life. As Paul says in Colossians 1:22 and 1:27, “It’s Christ in you, which is the hope of glory.”
Now, let me just say this really quick. When you come to Christ and God puts His Spirit in, you become a Christian and He puts his Spirit in you. There are no fireworks. There is no emotion, huge emotional charge that you get. You know, for me personally, it was just a knowledge that God was in my life. And I knew that He was going to begin to work in my life.
What God does when a person comes to Christ, receives Him, and trusts his life to Christ, what God actually does is best described in Ezekiel chapter 36, where he says, “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new Spirit in you. And I will put my Spirit,” and he’s talking about Holy Spirit, because it’s capitalized, “And I will put my Spirit in you and cause you to walk in my statutes and you will be careful to observe my ordinances.”
This, what we’re talking about, guys, this is what the Bible calls regeneration, the new birth. And it’s very important to bring this back to where we started. This is what it means to become a Christian. This is what happens. But listen to what Paul says in Romans 8:9, he says, “However, you are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” He does not belong to Christ.
And then go back to the verse I read to you from II Corinthians where Paul is addressing the Christians in Corinth. Let’s go back and I want to read it again to you because it pulls this all together. He says, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith, examine yourselves, or do you not recognize this about yourselves? That Jesus Christ is in you unless indeed you fail the test.” I don’t think the Bible is quite clear. If you have never received Christ, if the Spirit of God is not in you and is not working in your life, if that is the case, we are not in the faith, we do not belong to Christ. As Paul says, we failed the test.
You know, for 16 years, I was a member of a large Presbyterian church here in Birmingham. And from time to time, I would hear the minister, who is now retired, he would kind of tell, he was sharing his story, his testimony, if you want to call it that. And the thing that always struck me and amazed me, he says, I was halfway through seminary, and I realized I had never received Christ and I was spiritually lost. You know, imagine that. Here he was, a seminary student, halfway through seminary, he realized, I’m lost.
And just recently I heard an Anglican Bishop speak and he said, I was ordained. I was an ordained priest. And I realized one day, when someone challenged me, he said, I realized that I was spiritually lost. I had never received Christ. I did not have the Spirit of God in me. I had never experienced the new birth. And I heard this on a tape. I didn’t hear him live, but I heard him share that. And it struck me, you know, if a guy halfway through seminary or an ordained priest, admit that they were not Christians, think of all the church-going people in our land, who Jesus says are many, who may not have the Spirit of Christ in them and are spiritually lost.
And maybe that is true of some of you who are listening to this today. I just went through this entire material that I’ve just shared with a guy that I’ve been meeting with. He grew up in the church and since he’s been an adult, periodically he goes to church. His wife goes to church more regularly than he does, he says. But he made this comment after hearing what I shared. And he said, you know, I am 44 years old and I have never heard this. He said, I may have heard it, but I never understood it. Think about that. That is why Paul’s words are so important. Test yourselves, examine yourselves. Be honest with yourselves.
As I close, I would say to all of you listening, in a wedding ceremony, you say your vows publicly. It’s a vow that you make to the person you’re giving yourself to with Christ. It’s very similar. It involves a simple prayer wherever you are. So, if your heart’s desire is to be certain that you are right with God, that you will be included in His kingdom, and if it’s your desire to truly to know Him personally, all it requires is a commitment from the heart, a prayer before God, where you tell Him, Lord Jesus, I need You. Thank
You for dying on the cross for my sin. I turn from my sinfulness and entrust my life into Your hands. I receive You into my life as Savior to be cleansed from my sins. And I receive You as Lord of my life. Make me the kind of person You want me to be.
You know, when that is the prayer of your heart and you mean it on the authority of God’s Word, not on my authority, because I don’t have any authority, but on the authority of God’s Word, Jesus Christ will live in your life, and you are promised eternal life. So, if you are listening this morning, have never surrendered your life to Him and received Him into your life, remember this, He’s like a bridegroom who loves you and is committed to you and desires to enter a most glorious relationship with you, but He is waiting for you to respond to His invitation. Thanks for being here this morning.