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What are your goals in life?
What do you want to do? What are your plans? [Write them down.]
Once you reach these goals (or don't reach them), then what? ... then what? (Etc.)
Eventually, you have to reach the end. At some point, the answer to "Then what?" is that you will die... "Then what?" ... judgment and eternity. Are you ready?
Hebrews 9:27 - We're appointed to die and be judged for what we have done in this present life.
NOW is the time to prepare!
2 Corinthians 6:2 - Now is the day of salvation.
The way of no regrets - being a disciple of Jesus
We are going to be looking at the way that leaves no regrets - the "adventure" of life as a disciple of Jesus.
Romans 10:11 - When we get to the end of life, we will not be ashamed: "No Regrets" for following the way of life. No disappointment in following Jesus.
2 Corinthians 7:10 - Even though there will be sorrow and repentance, when sin has been present, it is a sorrow that is temporary and leaves no regrets. This is contrasted to "worldly sorrow" - the type that non-disciples have: They may be sorry about sin in their lives (remorse), but life-changing repentance is not present in their hearts. [Repentance involves a change in both attitudes and actions. It involves a turning away from sin, to following the ways of God.]
(The Bible's concept of "Christian.")
We need to know ... if we are a disciple. We must make sure we are following in the way of life.
2 Corinthians 13:5 - We need to examine ourselves.
Luke 13:24 - We must "strive" or "make every effort" to enter the way of life. Many will not succeed.
Matthew 7:15 - False teachers will try to lead us astray. (See also 2 Peter 2:1.)
What does it mean? ... to be a "Christian" or a "disciple of Jesus"?
What are some of the ways people use (or misuse) the words "disciple" and "Christian"? [Write down various views (whether correct or not).] Contrast this with the next question.
What does the Bible say? How does the Bible use the words "disciple" and "Christian"?
All we need to do is to look at the definitions of the words, and this will show us how the Bible uses them!
A "disciple" is someone who "follows" Jesus, so that he can learn from Jesus how to live. Hence, we could say he is a "learner."
John 8:31-32 - Those who hold to (who live by) Jesus' teachings are his real disciples.
The word "Christian" means "belonging to Christ." This is only possible (in the true sense of the word "Christian") for the person who is controlled by the Spirit (instead of being controlled by his own corrupt nature). Otherwise, he does NOT belong to Christ.
Romans 8:8-9 - If you are controlled by the Spirit of Christ, you belong to Christ. And you will NOT follow the ways of your old corrupt nature.
Note: A non-disciple - someone who is not controlled by the Spirit of Christ - might even deny that his human nature is naturally corrupt, in spite of what God's Word says about it.
These words ("disciple" and "Christian") are two different ways of describing at the same person. This person has received the Spirit of Christ, and now belongs to Christ. And because of this, he is now learning to follow Christ's example - the life controlled by the Spirit (rather than by his own desires).
Many people misunderstand the word "Christian."
Some people think it refers to a person who holds to certain religious views or beliefs about Jesus. Others think a "Christian" is someone who goes to "church" (another word often misunderstood) or who is born into a "Christian family." Still others think it refers to someone who just lives a "good life."
The way the Bible uses this word, a "Christian" is a "disciple"; there is no such thing as a Christian who is NOT a disciple. Even though many man-made definitions exist today, the Bible's use of the word "Christian" (occurring only three times in the New Testament) is always associated with things characteristic of a disciple. These three occurrences of the word "Christian" are described below. Other verses in the context, which do not use the word "Christian," are included when they help us better understand the meaning of that word.
Acts 11:22,23,26 - In v. 26, we discover that, when the word "Christian" was first used, it was used in reference to disciples. This group of people (disciples) were described as having visible evidence of God's grace (undeserved kindness) in their lives (v. 22-23). Their lives were changed; it wasn't mere talk. (This change in one's life is characteristic of a disciple.)
Acts 26:20, 22-23,27-28 - Paul preached the necessity of a change in one's lifestyle - a change demonstrated by one's actions (v. 20). As Paul talked to King Agrippa, he said that what he preached was the same as what the Old Testament teaches (v. 22-23). These things - a change in lifestyle and acceptance of what the Old Testament says - are characteristics of a disciple; yet at the same time, the king immediately associated these characteristics with the word "Christian" (v. 27-28). [Note: Any Jew who accepted what the Old Testament said would accept what Paul said, and would become a disciple (or "Christian"). Those Jews who replaced the Old Testament teachings with man-made rules and regulations (as in Mark 7:6-8) wouldn't do so.]
1 Peter 4:12-19 - Peter associates the word "Christian" with a willingness to endure all kinds of trials for Christ's sake - a willingness to "share" in his sufferings. This suffering is caused by people who hate what is good. He also encourages the people to not give up, but to be willing to continue doing good things, even though their opponents hate it so much. These attitudes are characteristic of a disciple. [In the first chapter (v. 6-9), Peter shows them the perspective they should have when trials come: God is using the trials to purify us and to prepare us for the glory of eternity.]
How can you become a disciple (a Christian)?
If disciples follow Jesus in order to learn something, what is it that they are learning? If they are controlled by the Spirit, what is it that they do differently than before?
Being a disciple could be summarized by the two words: "trust" and "obey" - both operating within the framework of a third word, "love." (This is explained in greater detail, in the next section..)
What this means: We believe what God says; we have faith in him and in what he does.
What it isn't: The basic focus isn't in believing that God exists, for we already know he exists.
Romans 1:18-21 - All people have a knowledge of God... they just don't want to admit it. They try to suppress this awareness, instead.
What it is: It involves an admission that God can be trusted - in both what he says and what he does. It is the acknowledgment that he is our Creator, and that we owe everything to him - all that we are and have. We admit that he deserves our loyalty and attention, and we are willing to give it to him. [We also admit that we, by nature, don't have the ability to give him the loyalty and attention he deserves. So we also trust him for the power (and the new nature) that enables us to do so.]
Hebrews 11 - This chapter gives many examples of people who trusted God.
Hebrews 12:1-2 - Because of all these "witnesses" to God's faithfulness (in Hebrews 11), we ought to focus our attention on Jesus. We have every reason to do so!
A Warning about temporary (or counterfeit) "faith."
This could be described as "skin-deep" faith, for it has not resulted in a changed heart.
Mark 7:6-8 - A person can act very religious, but not have a heart that belongs to God.
Romans 10:9-10 - Trust/faith/believing must be present in the heart. [Note that this trust, when it exists, will express itself openly to other people.]
Genuine faith demonstrates its character by what it does: It "lives-out" the type of obedience that God requires of us. (See the next section.)
This is the natural result of genuine "faith" or "trust" in God, and is proof that our faith is genuine. (Note: The word "natural" does NOT imply that it takes no effort, or that we can passively wait for it to happen. Obedience is something we must do!)
Illustration: We can claim that we "trust" in a chair's ability to hold us. Yet it is only when we are willing to sit in that chair, that our trust is proved genuine. As long as we are unwilling to do so, there is no evidence that our "faith" in the chair is genuine.
James 2:14-20 (+) - Faith without action is dead/worthless.
Acts 26:20 - We need to prove our repentance (our turning away from evil and to God) by our actions.
Romans 1:5 (also 16:26) - The "obedience of faith." The obedience is present because the faith is present.
Note: Obedience to God cannot be separated from trust in God (trusting him for the power to obey). Without God, we would be powerless to do anything. We would still be slaves to disobedience! (More about this elsewhere in the study.)
We accept what God says (we trust him, or have faith in him), and allow what he says to determine the way we live (we obey him).
What it involves: A change of conduct toward God and toward people: We want to do what honors and pleases God, as well as what is good for other people. This becomes more important to us, than satisfying our own personal interests.
Matthew 22:37-40 - Love for God and love for people: These two commands summarize all the obligations a person has. [These obligations apply to all people - even to those who claim that God does not exist. (In their consciences, they know he does exist.) However, only those who trust God for the power to obey can succeed in obeying these commands in a way that honors God. Why? Because without God, there is nothing good in us - Romans 3:10-12 (+).]
Romans 12:10b and Philippians 2:3 (+) - We must be willing to love other people more than we love ourselves.
Matthew 5:43-48 and Romans 12:16b - This love must be expressed even toward people we don't like, as well as toward people we might be tempted to consider "lower" than ourselves.
What it does NOT involve: The mere practice of "religious activities," or blind obedience to religious leaders.
Matthew 7:21-23 - Your "fruit" (actions) show what is really true. (Note: This passage shows that religious activities can be done by people who do not belong to God.)
James 1:26-27 - For the disciple of Jesus, true "religion" involves one's actions toward God (here: focusing on a willingness to live a pure life) and toward people (here: focusing on one's expression of love to those who are neglected by the world).
Matthew 23 - In this chapter, Jesus had to strongly condemn the religious leaders of his day. These leaders were very "religious" in following rules invented by people, but they neglected obeying God's law. People who followed these leaders were in danger of becoming just like them, or worse, according to v. 13-15. (See also Mark 7:1-23.)
NOTE: People in the world normally use the word "religion" in reference to the practice of activities and rituals, in order to gain the favor of one's "god" (or to become "one in spirit" with it, etc.). For the disciple of Jesus, "religion" refers to what he does after God has poured out his love into his (the disciple's) heart. The people of the world do their religious activities in attempt to gain (or to maintain) "salvation" (or whatever they call the goal of their efforts); the disciple does it as an expression of gratitude, because God has already saved him! Only a disciple of Jesus can do these things in a way that pleases God.
LOVE - It's connection to Trust and Obedience
Both of these - trust (faith) and obedience - are inseparably connected with love.
Galatians 5:6 - Faith expresses itself in love.
1 Corinthians 13:2 - Faith without love is nothing.
John 14:23-24 - If you love Jesus, you will obey him; if you don't, you won't. It is as simple as that!
1 John 5:3 - To obey God is an expression of love to him.
This is a love that encompasses all of life. It encompasses, or fulfils, every obligation we will ever have.
Matthew 22:37-40 - The greatest command: Love God... The second greatest command: Love neighbor...
Note: We must remember that life as a disciple involves growth and maturity. These three characteristics will exist in anyone who is a genuine disciple. However, we must also remember that one's expression of these characteristics may be weaker and have less depth, at the beginning of one's life as a disciple, than later, after he has had years of growing-up.
Dennis Hinks © 1999