Consequences For Christians
Are Opportunities To Grow
Let’s start with a question. What do Christians talk about most, when they discuss their spiritual lives?
It’s a good question, and I have no hard evidence to prove my answer, but the conversations I’ve witnessed firsthand are a bit introspective, revolving mostly around personal issues like:
- Am I a Christian?
- How can I know I really did what is necessary to become a Christian?
- How can I be sure that I’m still a Christian now?
And so on.
The focus is inward, not outward or onward. It’s the proverbial all-about-me, in-the-moment mindset.
The Philippian jailer expressed it well:
What must I do to be saved (become a Christian)? (Acts 16:30)
He, of course, had a very good reason for asking the question. But as far as we know, he never asked again. He didn’t repeatedly harangue Paul for reassurance.
Today things are different. People often ask over and over and over again, “how can I be saved” or “Am I really saved” or “How can I really be sure?” The question is overworked.
We should also note that the jailer asked his question in the present tense.
He wasn’t asking about the next day or week or year. He was concerned about that very moment. It couldn’t wait so he barged into the presence of Paul and Silas in the middle of the night!
And when he asked his present-tense question, Paul and Silas gave him a present-tense answer:
“Believe on the Lord Jesus (right now) and you will be saved (right now). Acts 16:31
Obviously, how one becomes a Christian, is important. It has to be asked and answered first before any other issues become relevant.
But there are two important observations to mention about this question:
- One, it only gets the conversation started.
It is the beginning of the discussion, not the ending.
- Two, once the question is answered it never needs revisiting.
Salvation is an instantaneous, once-off, never to be repeated transaction. You’ll never deserve salvation. If you could lose it, you would. You cannot earn it and according to the Bible, it is so simple.
- Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Romans 10:13)
- The person that hears my words and believes on him that sent me, has everlasting life and shall not come into condemnation. (John 5:24)
- God gave His only begotten son that whosoever believes on Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)
- The gift of God is eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 6:23)
- As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God. John 1:12)
This theme is repeated over and over in the New Testament and the new birth happens in a split second.
Once you answer this question, you don’t need to ask it again.
It is important, yes!
It is incredibly exciting, yes!
In some ways it is incomprehensible.
It is the first question, yes! But it isn’t the only question.
We talk about it a lot. Excessively even, but we shouldn’t get stuck in that moment.
Paul addressed this issue. Paraphrasing, Paul said:
By this time in your Christian experience you should be teachers, but you not only still need someone to teach you, you are also stuck on the first principles.
Instead of eating solid food, you’ve only developed a taste for milk. (Hebrews 5:12)
And that brings us to an equally important question:
- What follows salvation?
What happens afterward? What are we supposed to do following? This is actually the bigger question.
The time it takes to become a Christian is nothing compared to the amount of time most people will live as a Christian. We need to change the perspective and ask different questions.
- What do Christians experience moment by moment?
- What is it like being Christian on a daily basis?
- How should Christians act?
- What thoughts do Christians have? What thoughts should they have?
- What feelings should they allow?
- Would a Christian fail and what happens when they do?
Is it smooth sailing for Christians or should they expect trying moments ahead?
Usually, we don’t entertain questions like these because we have a very idealised view of Christians and therefore a very sterile view of how they live.
We like to believe that Christians would never think wrong thoughts, or experience wrong feelings and would never do wrong things. But there are several reasons to believe Christians can and will do sinful things.
There is also reason to believe their sins, though regretful, are opportunities to grow.
Christian Living Is A Never Ending Series Of Choices
Jesus made a very interesting statement about discipleship:
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23)
A couple quick observations:
- Taking up your cross is a metaphor for making a personal choice.
- Also, and according to Jesus, discipleship involves making these choices every day.
Don’t negatize this. This isn’t a warning and Jesus isn’t threatening us.
The Cross does symbolize sacrifice but even that is more positive than negative. You can’t choose one pursuit without sacrificing all other pursuits (both good and bad), at least until the first is completed.
And sacrifice is not the focus. The idea isn’t we should all chose a painful sacrifice. Jesus was the example in this.
He focused on the goal, which the Bible describes as “the joy that was set before Him,” (Hebrews 12:2) and that helped Him endure the Cross.
College students endure the struggles of getting an education because of what the achievement will bring. They focus on the eventual outcome, not the present difficulty.
The sacrifices we make are sometimes things we should get rid of anyway, like sacrificing:
- Self will to become better children.
- Self absorption to become better parents.
- Self promotion to become better friends.
- Self indulgence to become better employees.
- Self interest to become better employers.
Jesus also didn’t say disciples only make right choices. He wasn’t implying sinless perfection. Disciples will make wrong choices occasionally, whether intentionally or by mistake, but a bad choice will not erase the next day’s opportunity to choose.
Choice for Christians is always available. It’s like everyday is a new fork in the road. A bad choice may leave a scar but it also leaves us with a lesson we won’t forget.
We may have to retrace a few steps, but the fork in the road never goes away.
Correct your mistakes, don’t worry about them.
Christian Living Involves Endless Moments Of Learning
Christians are disciples (followers) and discipleship is about learning, but learning isn’t always ideal.
One way everyone learns is through experience. Both good and bad experiences are informing.
We learn when we make mistakes. We learn when we try and fail. And we learn when we do the very thing we know we shouldn’t. We learn by making progress and by losing ground.
We learn to look for the open door and then we learn how to navigate it.
The essence of life is learning and for humans the process never stops. But it also isn’t a perfect experience.
That is one of the major differences between us and God. God never learns because He knows everything. Humans never stop learning.
God never experiences curiosity. Humans should never let it fade.
Here’s the point. Christians get frustrated and antsy during the learning process. They bark and growl, say things they shouldn’t, act out and sometimes doubt God. And all of that is a part of the process.
You might experience devastating failure but even in that there is a lesson to learn. Failure is a very common teacher. Frustration and vulnerability is a natural part of the process.
Christian Living Is Supplied With An Endless Supply Of Forgiveness
Peter, wanting to clarify the issue of forgiveness, asked Jesus how many times a person must be forgiven. He even suggested a number: seven times, and he probably thought that was a generous number.
That is, until Jesus responded:
Not seven times, but until seventy times seven. (Matthew 18:22)
In other words, forgiveness has no end. We can never stop forgiving. I doubt Jesus was telling us to keep tally.
Here’s the point. Why would Jesus teach us to be so forgiving if we weren’t inclined to need it? If we try, we’re going to fail, probably many times. Don’t be surprised. It’s a part of the process.
There’s not a just person upon earth who does good and sins not. (Ecclesiastes 7:20)
When I would do good, evil is present with me. (Romans 7:21)
Would Jesus expect us to be more forgiving than He?