Saturday, July 5, 2014

"THIS is what being a Christian is all about ..."

Day #190:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - July 6th

Scripture Reading:  Colossians 1 - 2 ...

Many people in the church rarely, if ever, talk about their faith in Christ or their life in Christ.  It seems that a growing number of people see the church as a social community of the "religious," who believe in Jesus (or at least in "God") and who go about doing good deeds.  Being a "Christian" today appears to have little meaning to more and more people who CLAIM to BE Christians, but who show no evidence of having new life in Christ.  For many there is no commitment to following Christ or to being engaged in the life of His body.  Believing in Jesus, for these, means believing that someone named Jesus, who lived a long time ago, died on a cross to suffer God's punishment in their place and now they get to go to heaven.  Amazing grace!!

Now you may be thinking:  Isn't that true?  Aren't we saved by grace through faith in Jesus?  How do you know if someone else is a Christian or not, and who are WE to judge?  Of course, we can't judge, at least with certainty.  None of us is perfect - yet.  Paul even talks about not judging in Chapter 2, verses 16-19.  There he talks about not letting people tell you you're not a Christian if you don't live by THEIR rules.  But here's the problem:  Christians ARE different.  What Paul is explaining to the believers in Colosse is what being a Christian is all about.  Christians are people who have been changed by the very power of God at work within them ... and the difference between those who know Christ and those who don't will be obvious.

Paul begins his letter by telling them that he had heard about their faith and their love for other believers.  He explains that the Gospel that they had heard was "bearing fruit and growing" (1:6) all over the world.  People were understanding God's grace and putting their faith in Jesus.  And their lives were showing that things were different!!  Notice the connection that Paul makes between faith in Jesus and living for Jesus:  "We have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding ... in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please Him in every way:  bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God" (1:9-10).

Being a Christian means gaining knowledge and wisdom, growing and producing fruit.  When the Bible says you and I are saved "by grace through faith" it means more than saying a few words about what you believe in your head and praying a prayer.  That's part of it, and professing your faith in Jesus, confessing your sin and asking for forgiveness is all good.  But people can do this with their mouths without having any change of heart.  Paul realized that there was more to being a Christian.  Those who are true believers know that it is "the Father, who qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light ... for He rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, IN WHOM we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (1:12-14).

You need to know that being a Christian means that there has been a transfer of allegiance from the works of the flesh and the world to the kingdom of Christ.  JESUS reigns in the heart and mind of the true believer.  We who believe in Christ have been reconciled to God (1:19-22).  We are "holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation" (1:22).  That is the truth of the Gospel.  And what follows is also the truth of the Gospel ...

Paul goes on to explain that he is suffering and struggling for the sake of Christ's body, the Church.  In the Gospel the mystery of what God would do to call people to Himself is revealed.  You become a Christian when CHRIST comes to LIVE IN YOU! (1:27).  THIS is what being a Christian is all about.    Paul says, "My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ" (2:2).  You can't be alive in Christ ... you can't have Christ living in you by His Spirit, and NOT be different than those who are not Christians.

Verses 6-7 of Chapter 2 are extremely important in understanding what it means to be a Christian.  Listen carefully to these words:  "So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live IN Him, rooted and built up IN HIM, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness."  All who believe are united to Christ through the "baptism" of the Holy Spirit.  Paul likens this to a spiritual circumcision in which the old nature is cut out and replaced by a new nature, recreated in the image of Christ.  "Having been buried with Him in baptism and raised with Him through your faith in the power of God, who raised Him from the dead" (2:12).

This does not refer to the sign of God's promise in water baptism, but to the reality of the power of God that is now at work in every true believer through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit!!  Paul says in I Corinthians 12:13 that all believers are "baptized by one Spirit into one body."  In doing so, "God made you alive with Christ" and you are now connected to Christ and reconciled to the Father.  There is no greater transformation in the entire world than that which happens when Christ comes to live within those whom God has chosen to be His children.  A transformation process begins that will end in conformity to Jesus Christ!!

THIS is what being a Christian is all about!  Being a Christian is a matter of the heart, the mind, the spirit, the will ... it is a NEW LIFE!!  For those who have grown up in the church it may be a gradual realization that you have different priorities than those who don't know Jesus.  There is a "pull" in your life toward the things of God.  But there will be a time when it becomes clear that you have chosen to follow Christ and not the world.  If that has never happened in your life, you need to examine your own heart before Christ.  Understanding God's grace produces the fruit of repentance and thankfulness.  Repentance means a heartfelt sorrow for sin and a desire to turn from it.  We who believe aren't perfect - but we WANT to be!  We know we are saved by grace and we confess we are not good enough to claim God's favor and never will be, but in our heart of hearts we know that God sees us in Christ and it is our heartfelt desire to please Him, as Paul tells the Colossians.

For those who are not yet part of the Church, but who claim Christ as Savior and Lord, you need to see that being part of Christ means being part of His body ... not just an organization, but a body of true believers who desire to proclaim Christ to the world, in word and in deed.  This is our calling and we fulfill our calling by the power of His Spirit.  "Christ IN you, the hope of glory!" (1:27).  To you who believe, rejoice, be thankful and live with joy for the Lord Jesus Christ!  Know that God is with you now and one day you will live with God, forever, in a new world.

THIS is what being a Christian is all about!!

"Our Father in heaven, it is in knowing Your grace in Jesus that my life has been forever changed.  Words cannot express my thankfulness as I think of what I was, and what I sometimes still am, and then understand what Jesus did in taking my place on the cross.  I am humbled by Your love and truly amazed at Your marvelous grace.  O Lord, continue Your work in me so that I may display Your power to those around me, giving praise and glory to You, my Savior and my God!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

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