Thursday, May 20, 2010

What Is It To Be A Christian?

Here is an excellent excerpt from a Samuel Davies sermon entitled The Sacred Import of the Christian Name that was published last week by Grace Gems.

"The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch." Acts 11:26

What is it to be a Christian?

1. To be a Christian--is to depart from iniquity.

To this, the name obliges us; and without this we have no right to the name. "Let every one who names the name of Christ--depart from iniquity!" 2 Timothy 2:19. That is, let him depart from iniquity--or not even dare to take that sacred name!

Christ was perfectly free from sin--He was "holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners." His followers also shall be perfectly free from sin--in a little time! Before long, they will enter into the pure regions of perfect holiness, and will drop all their sins, along with their mortal bodies--into the grave!

But this, alas! is not their character in the present state--but the remains of sin still cleave to them! Yet even in the present state, they are laboring after perfection in holiness. Nothing can satisfy them--until they are fully conformed to the image of God's dear Son!

They are hourly conflicting with every temptation, and vigorously resisting every iniquity in its most alluring forms. And, though sin is perpetually struggling for the mastery, and sometimes, in an inadvertent hour, gets an advantage over them--yet, they are assisted with divine grace, so that no sin has any habitual dominion over them. Romans 6:14.

Hence they are free from the gross vices of the age--and are men of good morals. This is their habitual, universal character; and to pretend to be Christians without this prerequisite, is the greatest absurdity!

What then shall we think of the debauched, defrauding, worldly, profligate, profane 'Christians', who have overrun the Christian world? Can there be a greater contradiction?

A loyal subject in arms against his sovereign;
An ignorant scholar;
A sober drunkard;
A charitable miser;
An honest thief—

Are not greater absurdities, or more direct contradictions!

To depart from iniquity--is essential to Christianity, and without it there can be no such thing as a Christian!

There was nothing that Christ was so remote from--as sin! And therefore, for those that indulge themselves in sin--and yet to wear His name, is just as absurd and ridiculous as for an illiterate dunce to call himself a university professor!

Therefore, if you will not renounce iniquity--then renounce the Christian name! You cannot consistently retain both!

Alexander the Great had a fellow in his army who had his same name--but was a mere coward. "Either be like me," said Alexander to him, "or lay aside my name!"

You servants of sin, it is in vain for you to wear the name of Christ! It renders you the more ridiculous, and only aggravates your guilt! You may with as much propriety call yourselves 'princes' or 'kings'; as 'Christians', while you are so unlike Christ!

You are a scandal to His precious name!

2. To be a Christian--is to deny yourself and take up the cross and follow Christ.
These are the terms of discipleship fixed by Christ Himself:
"He said to them all: If any man will come after Me--let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me!" Luke 9:23

To deny ourselves, is to abstain from the pleasures of sin, to moderate our sensual appetites, to deny our own interest for the sake of Christ. In short, it is to sacrifice everything inconsistent with our duty to Him, when these come in competition.

To take up our cross, is to bear sufferings, to encounter difficulties, and break through them all--in imitation of Jesus Christ, and for His sake.

To follow Christ, is to trace His steps, and imitate His example, whatever it costs us.

This is the essential character of every true Christian.

What then shall we think of those crowds among us, who retain the Christian name--and yet will not deny themselves of their sensual pleasures, nor part with their temporal interest, for the sake of Christ? Who are so far from being willing to lay down their lives, that they cannot stand the force of a laugh or a sneer for the cause of Christ--but immediately stumble and fall away?

Are they Christians--whom the commands of Christ cannot restrain from what their depraved hearts desire? No! A Christian, without self-denial, mortification, and a supreme love to Jesus Christ--is as great a contradiction as . . .
Fire without heat,
A sun without light,
A hero without courage,
A friend without love!

Does not this strip some of you of the Christian name, and prove that you have no right at all to it?

3. To be a Christian--is to be a follower or imitator of Christ.

"He left us an example--that we should follow His steps!" 1 Peter 2:21

Christ is the model for every Christian.

Paul tells us that believers will be conformed to His image, Romans 8:29; and that the same mind must be in us--which was also in Christ Jesus. Phil. 2:5.

Christ's heart glowed with love to His Father! He delighted in universal obedience to Him; it was His food and drink to do the Father's will, even in the most painful and self-denying instances! He abounded in devotion, in prayer, meditation and every pious duty.

He was also full of every grace and virtue towards mankind! He was meek and humble, kind and benevolent, just and charitable, merciful and compassionate towards all.

Beneficence to the souls and bodies of men was the business of His life; for He went about doing good. Acts 10:38.

In regard to Himself--He was patient and resigned--and yet undaunted and brave under sufferings. He had all His appetites and passions under proper government. He was heavenly-minded; above this world in heart--while He dwelt in it.

This is an imperfect sketch of His amiable character; and in these things every one who deserves to be called after His name, does in some measure resemble and imitate Him. This is not only his earnest endeavor--but what he actually attains, though in a much inferior degree; and his imperfections are the grief of his heart.

This resemblance and imitation of Christ is essential to the very being of a Christian, and without it, all profession is a vain pretense!

Does your Christianity, my friends, stand this test? May one know that you belong to Christ--by your living like Him, and manifesting the same temper and spirit?

Alas! Would not some of you with more propriety be called:
Epicureans--from Epicurus, the sensual atheistic philosopher; or
Mammonites--from Mammon, the imaginary god of riches; or
Bacchanalians--from Bacchus, the god of wine; rather than
Christians--from Christ, the most perfect pattern of living holiness and virtue that was ever exhibited in the world!

If you claim the name of Christians--then where is . . .
That ardent devotion,
That affectionate love to God,
That zeal for His glory,
That alacrity in His service,
That resignation to His will,
That generous benevolence to mankind,
That zeal to promote their best interests,
That meekness and forbearance under ill usage,
That unwearied activity in doing good to all,
That self-denial and heavenly-mindedness which shone so conspicuous in Christ, whose holy name you bear?

Alas! While you are destitute of those graces--and yet wear his name--you only mock it, and turn it into a reproach both to Him and yourselves!

"Whoever claims to live in Him--must walk as Jesus did." 1 John 2:6

Monday, April 5, 2010

What Is The Gospel

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,
1 Corinthians 15:3-4

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I Am Sin

But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death
James 1:14-15

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:23

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned
Romans 5:12

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Romans 8:1

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Cost Of Following Christ

J.C. Ryle writes in his classic work Holiness that there are four things a person must be ready to give up if they wish to become a Christian.

1. Our Self Righteousness
It will cost him his self-righteousness. He must cast away all pride and high thoughts, and conceit of his own goodness. He must be content to go to heaven as a poor sinner saved only by free grace, and owing all to the merit and righteousness of another. He must be willing to give up all trust in his own morality, respectability, praying, Bible-reading, Church-going, and sacrament-receiving, and trust in nothing but Jesus Christ. Let us set down this item first and foremost in our account. To be a true Christian it will cost a man his self-righteousness.
2. Our Sin 
It will cost a man his sins. He must be willing to give up every habit and practice which is wrong in God’s sight. He must set his face against it, quarrel with it, break off from it, fight with it, crucify it, and labor to keep it under, whatever the world around him may say or think. He must do this honestly and fairly. There must be no separate truce with any special sin which he loves. He must count all sins as his deadly enemies, and hate every false way. Whether little or great, whether open or secret, all his sins must be thoroughly renounced. Let us set down that item second in our account. To be a Christian it will cost a man his sins.
3. Our Love of Ease
It will cost a man his love of ease. He must take pains and trouble, if he means to run a successful face towards heaven. He must daily watch and stand his guard, like a soldier on enemy’s ground. He must take heed to his behavior every hour of the day, in every company, and in every place, in public as well as in private, among strangers as well as at home. He must be careful over his time, his tongue, his temper, his thoughts, his imaginations, his motives, his conduct in every relation of life. He must be diligent about his prayers, his Bible-reading, and his use of Sundays, with all their means of grace.

This also sounds hard. There is nothing we naturally dislike so much as ‘trouble’ about our religion. We hate trouble. We secretly wish we could have a ‘vicarious’ Christianity, and could be good by proxy, and have everything done for us. Anything that requires exertion and labor is entirely against the grain of our hearts. But the soul can have ‘no gains without pains.’ Let us set down that item third in our account. To be a Christian it will cost a man his love of ease.
4. The Favor of the World
It will cost a man the favor of the world. He must be content to be thought ill of by man if he pleases God. He must count it no strange thing to be mocked, ridiculed, slandered, persecuted, and even hated. He must not be surprised to find his opinions and practices in religion despised and held up to scorn. He must submit to be thought by many a fool, an enthusiast, and a fanatic – to have his words perverted and his actions misrepresented. In fact, he must not marvel if some call him mad.

I dare say this also sounds hard. We naturally dislike unjust dealing and false charges, and think it very hard to be accused without cause. We should not be flesh and blood if we did not wish to have the good opinion of our neighbors. It is always unpleasant to be spoken against, and forsaken, and lied about, and to stand alone. But there is no help for it. The cup which our Master drank must be drunk by His disciples. They must be ‘despised and rejected of men’ (Isaiah 53:3). Let us set down that item last in our account. To be a Christian it will cost a man the favor of the world.
Bishop Ryle then concludes:
Bold indeed must that man be who would dare to say that we may keep our self-righteousness, our sins, our laziness, and our love of the world, and yet be saved? I grant it costs much to be a true Christian. But who in his sound senses can doubt that it is worth any cost to have the soul saved? When the ship is in danger of sinking, the crew think nothing of casting overboard the precious cargo. When a limb is mortified, a man will submit to any severe operation, and even to amputation, to save life. Surely a Christian should be willing to give up anything which stands between him and heaven. A religion that costs nothing is worth nothing! A cheap Christianity, without a cross, will prove in the end a useless Christianity, without a cross.
We would all do well to remember that Christianity without a cross is useless

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Gospel of Mark, Part 6 - Jesus Heals a Man with an Unclean Spirit

And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. 22 And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. 23 And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 24 “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.
Mark 1:21-28
In our last study in The Gospel of Mark we saw that Jesus had called His first four disciples, and as we come to this passage today we see that immediately they accompanied Him to Capernaum where on the Sabbath day he entered the synagogue and began to teach. And we are told here that those who heard Jesus teach were astonished by what they heard because "He taught as one who had authority" not like the teachers that they were used to hearing. John MacArthur writes:

Jesus’ authoritative teaching, as the spoken Word of God, was in sharp contrast to that of the scribes, who based their authority largely on that of other rabbis. Jesus’ direct, personal, and forceful teaching was so foreign to their experience that those who heard Him were “astonished." And it is into this astonished crowed that now walks a man who is described here as having an unclean spirit. In other words this man was demon possessed.
It appears from the way the text reads that this man walked into the  synagogue, went straight up to Jesus, and immediately confronted Him, saying, "What have You to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are - the Holy One of God."

Isn't it interesting that the people in the synagogue - people who were there to worship God -  didn't recognize who Jesus was, but a demon did? And isn't is also interesting that here we find a demon being more of a witness for Christ than most Christians are? (When was the last time you stood in a crowd of people and said that Jesus Christ is the Holy One of God?)

Yes, the devils know who Jesus is; they all believe in Him and the tremble (James 2:19) ,and as we see in here in verses 26-27 they also obey Him when He commands them to do something. I don't know about you, but I cannot honestly say that I have always been obedient in everything that God has commanded in His word, which  convicts me and shows me my wretched sinfulness and makes me even more grateful for the mercy and grace of God that comes through our Lord Jesus Christ.

So Jesus commands the spirit to come out of the man and it does. And again all of the people are astonished. And what happens next? Verse 28 tells us that Jesus' fame spread everywhere throughout the surrounding region of Galilee. Why did Jesus' fame spread? It was because those who had encountered Him told everyone they knew what they had experienced.

We may not have had the experience of seeing a demon being cast out or of some other extraordinary event taking place, but if you are a Christian something just as amazing has happened to You. The God of the universe has washed you in the blood of his Son and has forgiven you of all of Your sins! That is something that people need to hear, so I encourage you to take some time today and tell someone you know what Jesus has done in your life.

And as we conclude this section of the Gospel of Mark I leave you with this quote from Bishop Ryle: 

The mere belief of the facts and doctrines of Christianity will never save our souls. Such belief is no better than the belief of devils. They all believe and know that Jesus is the Christ. They believe that he will one day judge the world, and cast them down to endless torment in hell. It is a solemn and sorrowful thought, that on these points some professing Christians have even lass faith than the devil. There are some who doubt the reality of hell and the eternality of punishment. Such doubts as these find no place except in the hearts of self-willed men and women. There is no infidelity among devils. "They believe and tremble."

J.C. Ryle