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Becoming a “Christ-follower”…

It is interesting how both society and the church frequently come up with new “buzz words.”  I try to use some of them, so as to connect with younger generations and be effective in communication.  Quite often these new terms refer to things we have been doing or saying for years – but using different words.

For example, being “missional” in the evangelical world has become popular in recent years.  It is sort of replacing terms like being “focus-driven” or missionary-minded – which replaced terms like evangelism or witness.  I actually like the term “missional.”  But many of us were already missional without using that term.  We have taught for years that a Christian witness is not going to be effective – and people are not going to be interested in coming to hear the gospel at church, unless they see a (missional) Christian exhibiting the living Christ in daily life – and being an effective witness out in the “real” world.

Another newly popular term in evangelical circles now urges people to become a “Christ-follower” or a follower of Christ.  That is certainly biblical.  Jesus commanded the disciples to follow Him, as the disciples dropped everything and did so (Matthew 4:18-19).  We should follow Christ, and we should urge others to become Christ-followers.

However, it is important to emphasize the supernatural miracle of the new birth which transforms a person – if they truly become Christ-followers.  As Jesus commands us to follow Him, He also commands us to be reborn spiritually (John 3:3, 7).  We do not want any misunderstanding on what it means to be a Christ-follower.  In India, the Hindus worship some 330-million (yes, you read that right) gods.  A Hindu would not hesitate to follow Christ – along with several other gods.  Or he may become a “seeker” — following after the truths of Christ (but not yet convinced).  We would want him to understand that a decision to follow Christ entails being transformed by receiving Christ by faith as our personal Savior – and following Him alone.

Certainly in a case like that of the Hindu who “adds” Christ to his other gods, such a person has not truly become a Christ-follower.  But to prevent such confusion or misinterpretation, we should always emphasize the nature of the new birth in Christ – the wonder of being “born again” of the Spirit of God (Titus 3:5).  Similarly, the person who chooses to “follow” after in seeking Christ — without making a definitive commitment — needs to understand the need for spiritual rebirth.

So, yes, I am a Christ-follower.  But more than that, I am a new creature in Christ, transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit – and that regeneration is what empowers me effectively to follow Christ (II Corinthians 5:17).

Pastor Jim

 

Is it okay to “accept” Christ?

The older I grow, the less combative I find myself. I have no interest in compromising the Gospel or the truth of the Bible, but it does not bother me a great deal if other preachers and Christians do not agree with me on every jot and tittle. However, every now and then I see arguments put forth in public which need to be countered biblically.

I saw a hot topic by a well-known preacher – a man whom I greatly admire and respect – arguing that the term “accept” Christ and the “sinner’s prayer” are not found in Scripture. His conclusion was that a great many people who “accept” Christ or pray the “sinner’s prayer” are not genuinely coming to Christ, and that, in fact, we are therefore misleading them if we use these terms and methods.

This is not a new argument. I have heard it for years. It is a specious argument.

While the term “accept Christ” is not used in Scripture, any number of theological terms are not used in Scripture – but they do describe Scriptural truths. For example, the word “rapture” is not used in Scripture, but the description of the rapture is clearly given in Scripture (I Thess. 4:13-18; I Cor. 15:50-54). The word “trinity” is not in the Bible, but the triune truth of the Godhead is clearly described in Scripture (Matt. 3:16-17). Likewise, expressing faith in Christ. The prayer of the sinner with the publican (Luke 18:13), and the prayer of the thief on the cross (Luke 23:42) were both shorter prayers than anything we use today in evangelism.

The key to the act of salvation is the transfer of trust in the heart (John 6:47; John 11:25-26). While a person can clearly get saved without verbalizing a prayer at the moment of salvation – as was true in my life, we normally express that trust in our hearts in some kind of words. The goal of the evangelist is to lead the sinner in a prayer which helps facilitate that spiritual transfer of trust in the heart. By the way, “heart” is also a figure of speech. It represents the volitional faith part of the mind and soul. And it is also used in Scripture (Romans 10:9)

Personally, I have never been a big devotee of the word “accept” in regard to receiving Christ (John 1:12). However, I believe that the Bible-believing world has used that term for many years in order to show that the act of salvation is clearly of grace and not of works – that the sinner is now “accepting” the completed work of salvation which was already accomplished on the Cross by Christ – the rewards and blessings of which already await anyone who will respond in faith. And I have noticed in my readings (biographies, church history, etc.) that many of the most accomplished preachers and missionaries have commonly used the word “accept Christ” through the years. I am talking about servants of God who were sincere and committed to evangelism and missions.

The frustration we see in people who do not follow through in their Christian commitment – after “accepting” Christ through the sinner’s prayer – is not due to the choice of words in the prayer. It is due to the incompleteness of their commitment to Christ as they turn to Him in faith. Follow-up and discipleship will continue to be an on-going challenge for those of us who are active in evangelism and missions.

Pastor Jim

God’s Creation at Sea

After 40 years of marriage, my wife and I just went on our first ever cruise.  Our ship left port from downtown Miami and stopped in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands before returning.

Without question, the most pleasant part of our trip was being with Christian friends.  We all had a wonderful time!  Plus, of course, anyone who has been on a cruise knows how much food is available.  That was a close second!

We enjoyed visiting Jamaica, the homeland of one of our church’s deacons, and we enjoyed visiting Grand Cayman, even though were unable to see a couple there who are former members of our church here in America.

But one of the delightful surprises of the cruise was seeing God’s creation on the high seas!  The Bible tells us, “Then God said, ‘Let the water swarm with living creatures’…So God created the large sea-creatures and every living creature that moves and swarms in the water…” (Genesis 1:20-21)  On our 4th day at sea, as we headed back toward Miami, somewhere in the middle of the Caribbean Sea going into the Florida Straits, we saw a pod of small (presumably young) dolphins, and then a loggerhead sea turtle.  We were able to watch the dolphins for quite some time as they appeared to swim alongside our ship.  As for the turtle, I did not know initially what kind of sea turtle it was, but looking it up online the colors were obvious.  By its size, it also appeared to be young – although I am no expert.

Certain parts of the cruise we obviously had to pay for, but as for seeing God’s creation on the open sea – it was free, an added blessing from God!

Pastor Jim