Monday, August 14, 2017

After Jesus, What's Next: 10 Guide Posts for Christian Living

So I've come to know Jesus Christ as my Lord and savior.  I've come to understand his atoning sacrifice on the cross. I've come to believe that Jesus resurrected and is alive in heaven right now.  I'm beginning to study my Bible and pray twice a day.  I'm attending a good church weekly and I've even gotten plugged in with a small group.  I'm volunteering for ministries at my church, and serving my community through volunteering at other non-profit organizations.  What more do I need to understand about the scriptures?  What should my practice be in life?  What do I need to understand in the long term about being a Christian?  How should I live my life?

I'm glad you asked my friend!  But I suppose I asked myself, though hypothetically I'm asking on behalf of someone else who may or may not exist.  But that's alright.  I'm sure it's a common question.  So let's dig into it. 

We can get into a habit of so over-emphasizing the conversion experience of coming to know Christ, and preaching the gospel, and trying to get people saved that we forget that there an entire life to be lived after that moment of belief.  After that day of my salvation, I had to learn how to live as a Christian.  I was saved at age 27, meaning I've got a lot of life left to live!  I'm 32 today, and just beginning to understand what it means to live for Christ. 

Let's look at ten areas of concern, when considering how we ought to live, after Christ.

1. My Will vs. God's Will - This is a fundamental truth of the new testament, in that coming to know Christ is to turn our whole lives, plans, goals, and desires over to God.  We turn our will and life over to God.  But what does that mean in practice?  Essentially it means that we no longer live according to our will, and what we want, but we begin to live seeking through prayer and scriptural meditation to seek God's will for our lives and then carry out that will.  

Romans 12:2 (ESV) says "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." (emphasis, me)

So take an example in my life, I wanted to be a novelist and a journalist in the worst way.  But when I came to know God, I needed to reconsider my plans.  And as I prayed, went to church, listened to sermons on Youtube, read books, read the Bible and such, I realized God's will for me was to go into ministry.  Knowing that I could either argue with God and go my own way, or submit to God and do it His way.  So I did it His way, even though I was uncertain about how it would all come together.  That's faith, striking out when we don't even know how we're going to get there.

2. Sexual Practice - You'd be amazed how many times in the NT letters it talks about sexual immorality.  It's obviously a huge concern for us as we struggle in the flesh.  God tells us to get married, to not be out carousing with random people, God's word tells us not to engage in orgies or sexual relations with family members, and to abstain from sexual relations with those of our same gender.  There are numerous sexual teachings in the New Testament, mainly in the letters.  So we're called to be very cautious about our sexual relationships.  

God knows us all too well, doesn't He?  He knows exactly what areas we struggle in and exactly what our weak points our.  This is an issue we like to sneak by with sub-par conduct.  Yet it says so clearly in the scriptures: "Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people." - Ephesians 5:3 (NIV) Not even a hint. 

3. Wait on the Lord - Learn to be exceedingly patient.  I'm not kidding, and I'm not being flippant.  Get used to being very patient, and waiting for things long term.  We think in terms of days and weeks.  God responds in months, years, decades and beyond.  

There have been times in my short walk as a believer that I've felt like God had forgotten me, left me behind, or that He wasn't responding.  I've noticed that there are times that God is silent, and it isn't because something has gone amiss.  God is intentionally silent.  

Don't give up, and don't be easily swayed to abandon your walk.  Be faithful even when it seems like your alone.  

Don't become overly upset when God doesn't answer a prayer, or when you don't understand what is happening.  Be utterly faithful.  And submit yourself humbly before God, responding as Job did when he said, "God gives and God takes away, never the less, blessed be the name of the Lord."  

In times of struggle please the Lord utterly by saying, "I don't understand Lord, but I love you and I know you are holy."

4. Get Wisdom - Even if it costs you everything, gain wisdom.  Read books, watch documentaries, watch Youtube videos by great minds, diligently study the scriptures, make use of study Bibles, learn and grow in your own understanding.  Put the Bible into real practice.  Get together with an inner-circle of diligent followers of Christ and really try to practice the faith.  Study the various parts of the philosophy of Christian life and figure out to put it into practice.  Discover what it means to hold a Christian worldview and then see the world through those eyes.  

"The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding." -Proverb 4:7 (NIV)

5. Center your mind on His Grace - There is a fear that I struggled with in my faith, a fear that I would lose Jesus, a fear that I'm just too sinful for Jesus to save, or that I've secretly committed sins today that God doesn't know about or won't forgive.  Center your mind on His amazing grace.  

"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." -Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)

If your just amazed, just baffled by God's extensive, scandalous grace for all your sins, and even your present struggles against sin, that's exactly how you should feel.  That's why it's called amazing grace, because we can't deserve it.  We can't even understand how God could absolve us and welcome us into His family, yet He does all this in the victory of Christ Jesus at the cross.  It's amazing grace.  So have faith, continue walking with Jesus, and remember, He won't lose you.  Be diligent and repent from sin, trust in Christ alone, and you will be well within the arms of God forever.  Fear not. 

6. Give Thanks in all Circumstances - The secret to a happy life is having an attitude of gratitude.  We're so blessed in so many ways, yet we focus on what is wrong.  We indulge in self-pity and feel sorry for ourselves.  Yet we are so blessed.  When I thank God in prayer for how I am blessed in my life, I can't possibly feel gratitude and joy for all the Lord has done.  Cultivate that attitude of gratitude.  

"Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." -1 Thessalonians 5:18 (ESV)

7. Trust the Word - There are so many efforts today to rewrite God's word, to change God's word, to alter doctrines and theology to fit the culture of our day and what they desire.  There is so much temptation to yield to emotion and fear, and selfish desire.  Don't be one of those people. Trust every single word of the Bible.  If and when you don't understand something, pause, and consider: Maybe I'm not understanding a deeper context.  Or maybe I'm wrong.  It's OK to be wrong, I do it all the time!  Trust God's word. He has preserved it.  And it is eternal, it doesn't change with the times.  It is timeless. 

"All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work." -2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NLT)

8. Love and Show Mercy - This one should be obvious enough to most of us, though we're all quick to jump to judgment in many situations of life.  Can you forgive people who have seriously harmed you?  What about family members and friends?  What about drug addicts, alcoholics, and the real bad sinners?  What about pedophiles, drug dealers, rapists, murderers, and the very worst of the worst?  Jesus Christ came for them too.  The cross can absorb the worst sins.  The very worst.  Be scandalous in how you love and show mercy.  

In fact the word of God says that we will each stand before God to give an account for our lives.  And it says if we were harsh and judged others, condemned, and refused to show mercy, then God will use that standard to judge us.  

As it says in James 2:13 (ESV) "For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment."

9. Don't Run Your Mouth about Others - Easy enough to say, harder to do.  In fact it's very difficult to avoid gossip.  It's so fun to indulge in, it seems.  Can we shut it off, when it's hard?  Can we resist it?  Our temptation is to scold others when they gossip, but give ourselves special permission to do so, perhaps about friends, or family or church members?  

What if your in a conflict of sorts with someone else?  Do you talk to them directly, or about them to others?  

"Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear." -Ephesians 4:29 (ESV)

I know, this is a tough one.  I've been guilty of this in the past many a time.  But we must learn, and I must to grow and do better in the future.  Thankfully His grace goes with us. 

10. Live a lifestyle of Repentance - It's not so bad.  In fact I find it enjoyable, in the results.  After I repent, and Jesus helps me repent, then I feel joy, peace, and grace as I find freedom from sin, obsession, and addiction.  It's so nice, so great to have those chains broken.  What seems impossible to be free of in your life?  It's exactly that, that Jesus will set you free from.  Jesus will break those chains that seem utterly unbreakable.  Essentially, I'm saying constantly keep growing.  This is something many Christians simply don't do.  Be one of those rare Christians who is always growing and changing to become more like Christ.  

"And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate[a] the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." -2 Corinthians 3:18 (NIV)

A Final Word - I encourage you in one additional matter: Love what you do, and labor for what is eternal.  Too many of us focus on the physical world around us, our marriages, our families, work lives, vacations, entertainment, home life, car repairs, friendships, political affairs, cultural affairs, but none of these things are eternal matters.  Realize this friends: The ultimate reality is beyond the material affairs of this world.  The eternal city of God, the New Jerusalem is a reality.  It's real.  And we'll all be there.  You'll walk on your feet, your soul, your body and mind will be there, renewed, set free from sin, and guilt and fear.  Focus on this reality, and labor for this reality.  Don't become muddled down in the affairs of this world.  Only consider how you can explain the eternal truths of the kingdom of God and translate them into the culture of this world.  That is our concern, the propagating of the living gospel.  The souls of humanity hang in the balance.  We must focus with a constant unblinking eye on the eternal affairs of God, which is of Christ Jesus, to gather all those He has predestined in election for citizenship in the eternal new city of God, in the new universe, and on the new Earth.  That is of paramount concern.  The affairs of this life will pass away, God's kingdom will be our soon coming constant reality.  Don't lose focus on this kingdom, and keep your eyes centered on Jesus Christ.  Focus on Jesus and all the wonders of His glory and you will never falter on this journey, year by year, to the eternal country, a better country. Home.  

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