1. THE RIGHT APPROACH. The Right Approach. God takes the initiative. The Bible reveals a God who, long before it even occurs to men and women to turn to him, while they are still lost in darkness and sunk in sin, takes the initiative, rises from his throne, lays aside his glory,
The Bible reveals a God who, long before it even occurs to men and women to turn to him, while they are still lost in darkness and sunk in sin, takes the initiative,
rises from his throne, lays aside his glory,
and stoops to seek until he finds them.
God has spoken.
He has taken the initiative to make himself known. The Christian concept of revelation is essentially reasonable. The idea is that God has ‘unveiled’ to our minds what would otherwise have been hidden from them.
It isn’t just that we are ignorant but also that we are sinful. This is why it isn’t enough for God simply to reveal himself to us and dispel our ignorance. He must also take action to save us from our sins.
God keeps his promises. He honours all earnest searching. He rewards all honest seekers. The undertaking given by Jesus is very clear: ‘Seek and you will find.’
WHO CHRIST IS:
Who Christ is and what he has done are the rock upon which the Christian religion is built.
If he was not who he said he was, and if he did not do what he said he had come to do, then the foundation is undermined and the whole thing will collapse.
We don’t need at this point to go along with the Christian view and accept the Gospels as the inspired Word of God. All we need to do is take them seriously as the undeniably historical documents that they are.
We are persuaded that Jesus was a historical person who possessed two distinct and perfect natures, one divine and one human, and that this makes him absolutely and for ever unique. In short, we believe him to be worthy not just of our admiration but also of our worship.
This self-centredness of the teaching of Jesus immediately sets him apart from the other great religious teachers of the world. They point people away from themselves, saying, ‘That is the truth, so far as I understand it; follow that.’ Jesus says, ‘I am the truth; follow me.’
He is not just another signpost, but the destination to which the signposts have led.
We simply can’t go on treating Jesus as a great teacher if he was completely mistaken in one of the chief subjects of his teaching—himself.
WHO CHRIST IS:
It’s not simply that he is better than others, nor even that he is the best human being who has ever lived, but that he is good—good with the absolute goodness of God.
Everyone else was a lost sheep; he had come as the Good Shepherd to seek and to save them.
Everyone else was sick with the disease of sin;
he was the doctor who had come to heal them.
Everyone else was trapped in the darkness of sin and ignorance; he was the light of the world.
Peter first describes Jesus as ‘a lamb without blemish or defect’ and then says that he ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth’.
So when Jesus was on trial for his life, his detractors had to hire false witnesses against him. But even then they were unable to agree with one another. In fact, the only charge they could come up with was not moral but political. Time after time, his court appearances made it clear that he was blameless.
The moral perfection which was quietly claimed by him, confidently asserted by his friends and
reluctantly acknowledged by his enemies,
is clearly shown in the Gospels.
It is this paradox which is so amazing,
this combination of the self-centredness of his teaching and the unself-centredness of his behaviour.
WHO CHRIST IS:
The Resurrection of Christ
The argument is not that his resurrection establishes his deity, but that it fits with it. It is only to be expected that a supernatural person would come to and leave the earth in a supernatural way.
We may not feel able to go as far as Thomas Arnold who called the resurrection ‘the best attested fact in history’, but certainly many impartial investigators have judged the evidence to be extremely good.
The tomb was empty. The body had gone. There can be no doubt about this fact. The question is how to explain it.
What did Peter see which made him believe? The story suggests that it was not just the absence of the body, but the presence of the strips of linen and, in particular, the fact that they were undisturbed.
It is unreasonable to dismiss the appearances of Jesus as hallucinations being experienced by people with disturbed minds. The only alternative left is that they actually happened. The risen Lord was seen.
It was the resurrection which transformed Peter’s fear into courage, and James’ doubt into faith.
It was the resurrection which changed Saul the Pharisee into Paul the apostle.
WHAT WE NEED:
The Fact and Nature of Sin
Sin is an unpopular subject, and Christians are often criticized for going on about it too much.
But they only do so because they are realists.
Sin is a fact of human experience.
‘We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way’, and
‘All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags’.
It is either an ideal which we fail to reach, or a law which we break. ‘Anyone who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins’, says James. That is the negative aspect. ‘Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness’, says John. That is the positive aspect.
So much takes place beneath the surface of our lives, in the secret places of our minds, which other people do not see and which we manage even to conceal from ourselves. But God sees these things.
WHAT WE NEED:
The Consequences of Sin
If the curtain which veils the indescribable majesty of God could be drawn aside—even for a moment—we too would be unable to bear the sight.
It is not so much particular acts or habits which enslave us, but rather the evil infection from which these spring. This is what lies behind the New Testament
description of us as ‘slaves’.
Human sin or self-centredness is the cause of all our troubles. This is what brings us into conflict with each other. If only the spirit of self-assertion could be replaced by the spirit of self-sacrifice, our conflicts would cease.
The Death of Christ
Sin caused a separation between us and God; the cross, the crucifixion of Christ, has brought us back together. Sin made us enemies; the cross has brought peace. Sin created a gulf between us and God; the cross has bridged it. Sin broke the relationship; the cross has restored it.
What the Bible teaches concerning the centrality of the cross has been recognized and celebrated by the Christian church from the very beginning. The cross is the symbol of our faith. The Christian faith is ‘the faith of Christ crucified’. There is no Christianity without the cross.
The Old Testament sacrifices are a visible symbol which points forward to the sacrifice of Christ.
An example can stir our imagination, kindle our idealism and strengthen our resolve, but it cannot remove the stains of our past sins, bring peace to our troubled conscience or restore our relationship with God.
We are not to think of Jesus Christ as a third party wresting salvation for us from a God who is unwilling to save. No. The initiative lay with God himself. ‘God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ.’
The Salvation of Christ
God is as much concerned with our present
and future as with our past.
His plan is first to put right our relationship with him, and then progressively to set us free from our self-centredness and bring us into harmony with other people.
Is it possible to make a sour person sweet, a proud person humble, or a selfish person unselfish? The Bible declares emphatically that these miracles can take place. It is part of the wonder of the gospel. Jesus Christ offers to change not only our standing before God but our very nature.
This is the open secret of how to live as a Christian. It is not about us struggling in vain to become more like Jesus, but about allowing him, by the power of his Spirit, to come and change us from the inside.
The church is the place where we find the new quality of relationship which Christ himself gives to those who belong to him.
Counting the Cost
Jesus never concealed the fact that his religion included a demand as well as an offer. Indeed, the demand was as total as the offer was free. His offer of salvation always brings with it the requirement that we obey him.
Many people think that we can enjoy the benefits of Christ’s salvation without accepting the challenge of his absolute authority. There is no support for such an unbalanced idea in the New Testament.
If you are prepared to do God’s will and
listening out for him to reveal what it is,
he will let you know in his own time.
It is only as we see the cross that we become willing to deny ourselves and follow Christ. Our little crosses are far eclipsed by his. Once we catch a glimpse of the greatness of his love in willingly suffering such shame and pain for us who deserved nothing but judgment, only one course of action will be open to us.
Reaching a Decision
We cannot remain neutral. Nor can we just drift into Christianity. Nor can anyone else settle the matter for us. We must decide for ourselves.
Christ can enter, cleanse and forgive you in a matter of seconds, but it will take much longer for your character to be transformed and shaped to his will.
There can be no resistance, and no attempt to negotiate our own terms, but rather an unconditional surrender to the lordship of Christ.
Being a Christian
The Bible clearly distinguishes between the general relationship which God has with the whole human race as Creator and the special relationship as Father which he establishes with those who are his new creation through Jesus Christ.
God is indeed our Father in heaven,
who knows our needs before we ask
and will not fail to give good things to his children.
The basis of how we know that we are in relationship with God is not how we feel, but the fact that he says we are.
There are two main areas in which
we are meant to grow as Christians.
The first is in understanding
and the second in holiness.
If we are born again into God’s family, not only has he become our Father but every other believer in the world, whatever their nation or denomination, has become our brother or sister in Christ.
Every Christian should be deeply concerned about others. And it is part of our Christian calling to serve them in whatever ways we can.