Evidences of Christian Conversion

[Audio http://ab86qw.bay.livefilestore.com/y1pf59iO-YHyiL3wCHZmswOYJI8quAbULMVv5miS8Y6FZIrTu0657z65WTaGNKbGKRXg4QMJY4D1Kh4SE8Wh_YGDzSwn7SwDOJu/4-20-08evidencesofchristiansconversion.mp3%5D

Title: Evidences of Christian Conversion

Text: Acts 2:42

Time: April 20th, 2008

 

We are examining the very beginnings of the Christian church in chapter two of the Book of Acts. Last week we saw how the Apostle Peter preached his first Christian sermon – actually the first sermon preached by a Christian after the birth of the Christian church. We saw how different it was from the most popular preaching style and approach of pastors today. Peter held nothing back in his strong teaching about the truth – the truth about sin and the truth about the need for repentance and trust in Christ. That contrasts sharply with most of today’s preaching which over-emphasizes sentimental feelings and practical advise for successful living. While there is nothing wrong with feeling good and living a successful life, early Christian pastors like Peter were more prophets than counselors, more truth-tellers than advise-givers. I concluded that more preaching today needs to come back to a greater prophetic approach rather than the current therapeutic approach. Part of the blame for the decline in truth convictions and moral behavior is due to poor preaching that emphasizes superficial solutions to life’s problems rather than teaching the truth of God as give in the Bible. A return to truth-telling could correct our church and cultural decline. But today I’d like to unpack the next verse in chapter two of the Book of Acts, 2:42, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Here in this one verse we see what happens immediately after three thousand persons convert to Christianity. We also see a pattern which should be followed today when a person converts to the Christian faith as well. What can be expected of Christian converts? What kind of evidences should exist that a person has truly understood and committed themselves to Christ? It isn’t enough for someone to simply claim to be a Christian, because after all, anybody can say anything about anything; talk is cheap. But how can the person and other persons truly know if someone has indeed surrendered their life to Christ in salvation? The Bible outlines some simple and basic evidences of true salvation in Christ. I’d like to go through those essential evidences today so that we might examine ourselves, all of us who claim to be Christians, to test ourselves against them in order to ascertain whether we are indeed Christians, as well as provide a basis for determining whether new converts are truly of the faith or not. I have a feeling that a lot of people professing Christ aren’t truly saved, and that might go far in explaining why most professing Christians and church attenders can’t be discipled into the faith – they aren’t really saved to begin with. The big problem we suppose in mass evangelism is the follow-up of new converts. It’s a known problem that only a small percentage of persons making decisions for Christ at evangelistic rallies actually continue on in the church or in any meaningful Christian life afterwards. Why is that? The supposed answer is that they were not properly followed-up, but I suspect that the real answer is that they were not properly saved to begin with. Why? Because a truly converted or saved person will naturally and normally want to follow-up on the basics of the Christian faith on their own without needing anyone or any church to hold their hand or talk them into it. The Bible shows converts naturally being followed-up. So let’s see what the Bible teaches us about what real Christians naturally will want to do once they are saved — and most of all, let’s see if we have that same desire to follow-up our faith in the same way. Verse 42 mentions four important evidences of true Christian faith.

 

First, Once saved, they devoted themselves to Christian teaching. Acts 2:42, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.” At the beginning of the Christian church there was no New Testament of the Bible; there was an Old Testament – the very same one we have in our Bibles today – but there was no New Testament because that was still to be written from the testimony of the disciples and other men close to the life and teachings of Jesus. But those early believers didn’t need a New Testament just yet because they had something better – they had the very disciples who saw and heard Jesus teach. They knew what Jesus said because they heard it themselves. They remembered the mission Christ gave them at the very end, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you,” Matthew 28:18-20. So after the tremendous Pentecost response and the conversion of three thousand persons that first day, the disciples knew what to do – to teach these knew converts how to obey everything that Jesus had taught them. All these teachings are contained in what we now call the Gospels, with supplementary material found in the rest of the New Testament, such as the writings of the Apostle Paul, and other Christian prophetic writers. But for the early converts, it was the apostles whom they turned to for guidance and instruction – and they did turn to them for basic training and spiritual instruction, it was natural for them to do so. So we see what real converts to the Christian faith do, naturally, once they are saved: they turn to spiritual instruction on what to believe and how to behave in the new faith. That’s why when we hear about the results of evangelistic campaigns, how 1000 persons make decisions for Christ, yet one year later, studies show that only 25 persons out of the 1000 are attending church and living out the Christian faith, we have to wonder just how valid the so-called “decisions for Christ” really were to begin with. It seems to me that when such a low percentage of people ever make it into actually living out the Christian faith that maybe their initial introduction to the Christian faith itself was flawed. Last week I explained how the Apostle Peter preached his first Christian sermon and how he held back nothing – he didn’t shy away from preaching sin, nor was he afraid to confront the hearts and minds of the listeners with their own personal sins, nor did he shrink back from calling them to confession and repentance and absolute commitment to Christ. I then talked about how different today’s preaching generally is with its super-sensitivity to the feelings and sensibilities of the audience, not wanting to offend or turn anybody off because they might not come return again. Peter’s preaching philosophy was different: he figured he only had one shot at presenting the truth so he might as well give it to the people straight-up; and he did. And when people got saved under the preaching of Peter and the other apostles, they really got saved, no question about that. There was no easy-believism, no overly-simplified gospel presentations. No. Under that evangelistic philosophy, it’s not difficult to see why follow-up would be more straight-forward. New converts were hungry for the Word of God, and they eagerly sought it out in the apostles. It says they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. Today, we would say new converts devoted themselves to the teachings of the Bible, particularly the New Testament, which is essentially the teachings of the apostles’ in written form. So we have a sure-fire test for sincere Christian conversion: is there a hunger for the Word of God? Do you have a hunger for the Word of God? Do you? Do you eagerly read the Bible daily? Do you devote yourself to learning and living it? If not, go back and see if you are really saved, because as we see here, a real Christian, a new convert or long-time Christian, will naturally hunger for the Word of God and devote themselves to study and live its teaching. Do you?

Two, Once saved, they devoted themselves to Christian fellowship. Acts 2:42, “They devoted themselves . . . to the fellowship.” Not only did the new converts begin immediately to study the Word of God under the guidance of the apostles, but they also devoted themselves to Christian fellowship. Now we must be careful here because it we aren’t we’ll think we already know exactly what this means based on our own experiences of fellowship in church. The original Greek word here for fellowship is “koinonia” which means “common” or in other words, sharing in the common life of Christian believers. Now at that time the only Christianity, the only Christian believers were the apostles and others associated with them who had experienced Jesus first hand. So what the verse is describing is that these new converts to the Christian faith, secondly, became a part or were immersed in the life of the early believers community. Now notice they were a part of the community secondly, not firstly. The Word of God comes first before fellowship because only through the Word of God do we know what true Christian fellowship really is. One of the big problems in Christianity today is that churches rush ahead with developing what they call fellowship before they are even devoted to the Word of God in their midst. Many so-called liberal churches, that is, those churches that have long since departed from following closely God’s Word the Bible, since they have un-attached themselves from any form of absolute truth from God, they really don’t have any basis for true Christian fellowship at all. Their meetings and gatherings are merely on a human level, which, as we all know can be friendly and interesting and comfortable and even helpful socially, but these kind of activities can take place in any organization, club or group, and isn’t particular to any church. This isn’t what the early church was experiencing. What they experienced with the apostles and other early believers, and now with the new converts, was true spiritual fellowship based on a common faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus also said in the last part of the Great Commission that he gave to his disciples, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age,” meaning that he, Christ, would truly be with all true believers, in their very midst, as long as the Christian church existed and on into eternal life. True Christian fellowship isn’t just people gathering like they might at a town council meeting, a Rotary club meeting, The Moose or Elks club, or PTA meetings, etc. No true Christian fellowship would fail to include the real spiritual presence of Christ himself in their midst also. True Christian fellowship also consists not only in encouraging one another in living out the teachings of Christ, but also in holding each other accountable for living out the beliefs and moral behaviors of the faith. This is something most churches have totally lost in our day and age. Early Christian fellowship was just as much accountability as encouragement. In other words, new converts and all Christians need to be encouraged when they’ve done right and rebuked when they’ve done wrong. We need to have a community that reminds one another of the truth and holds each other accountable for living it. That’s the missing element of much of what is called Christian or church fellowship today. There is no accountability; everyone just does their own thing: sinning with no confession and repentance and no restoration of the sinner. But true Christian fellowship both encourages and holds accountable believers. And a true Christian will want that. If you find a so-called Christian who refuses to be held accountable in the Christian faith, or if you yourself refuse accountability, you need to ask if that person — or yourself — is truly saved, because as we see here in the passage, the true believers devoted themselves to the fellowship, which included both encouragement and accountability.

Three, Once saved, they devoted themselves to celebrating communion regularly. Acts 2:42, “They devoted themselves . . . to the breaking of bread.” The new converts not only devoted themselves to the Word of God and to Christian fellowship, but also to the regular communion remembrance of Christ’s atoning death for our sins. Now Protestant Christians have historically and traditionally put more emphasis on the Word of God than on the celebration of holy communion, which biblically is correct, but sadly they have neglected teaching the importance of communion or the Lord’s Supper. Why is the remembrance of the Lord’s Supper so important? Why was it so important to the early believers? The Apostle Paul gives us the first account of the importance of this particular Christian activity in 1 Corinthians 11:25-26, “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink of this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.’” So the importance of holy communion is in order to properly remember the very reason for Christ’s sacrifice – payment for our sins, payment of our sin debt, to satisfy the justice of the Father towards sin, in order that we might be eternally forgiven of our sins enabling us to have fellowship with God without any judgment or condemnation. Our very salvation is at the heart of Christ’s atoning work on the cross; that must never, ever be forgotten. Through faith in Christ and everything Christ has done, we are saved. So in remembering Christ’s death at communion, we are really remembering the Gospel of salvation and appreciating it once again. We need that remembering over and over again because we so easily forget it. The early Christians were never allowed to forget the Gospel because it was presented again and again in the celebration of Holy Communion. But today, we are in danger of forgetting the Gospel because we take it for granted because we have heard it, or think we have heard it, so often. But in truth, we have often heard a distorted gospel not the real biblical Gospel. For example, in many churches, there is a great confusion over the very message of salvation. Many so-called Christians and church attenders are under the impression that salvation is through works, through human effort. These people don’t understand the impossibility of fulfilling the law of God and so they imagine they can please God by their good works. They say things like, “I’ve got to be good in order to go to heaven.” But they totally misunderstand that the “good news” of the Gospel is that only through the grace of God and faith in Christ can we be saved particularly because we can’t save ourselves on our own by our efforts. But then on the other side, many people today imagine that since it’s by faith we are saved, they can make a casual profession of faith and forget about any effort to live the Christian life. But as the early Christian converts show, true faith expresses itself in good works; where good works are absent, there is no true saving faith. Holy Communion reminds us of the very reason why Christ died and how we are saved by grace alone through faith alone. Anyone who takes the Lord’s Supper casually, it is doubtful they are truly saved. That is a warning to those who think they can live the Christian life alone, apart from a church community. So-called “Lone Ranger” Christians usually don’t celebrate regular communion, and by not doing so cast doubt on their very status as a Christian because, as we see here, early Christians made it a priority to take communion, which was a natural thing for a true convert. Anyone lacking motivation for participating in regular communion lacks something essential; he or she should begin to ask himself or herself whether they really are biblical Christians.

Four, Once saved, they devoted themselves to prayer. Acts 2:42, “They devoted themselves . . . to prayer.” It was normal and natural for new converts to the Christian faith to devote themselves to learning about and actually participating in regular, meaningful prayer. Prayer was essential, basic, and fundamental to Christian existence to these early Christians. We already know that prayer was important to the disciples and their associates even before Pentecost because Acts 1:14 says, “They all joined together constantly in prayer.” So the disciples knew how to pray and then they passed along this knowledge and practice to the new converts who adopted it as their way of life to pass along to others who would join the faith later. Now when we look at the state of prayer today, we see a great lack in the church and in individual Christian lives because of the many distractions we encounter in the modern world. The early believers didn’t have to battle the temptations of television, radio, the internet, print publications, and all the other distractions of the modern, popular culture in which we live. Christians today are typically lacking in the discipline to say “No” to these many distractions and so prayer suffers in the church today. Many Christians no longer pray before each meal, and of those that do, in many cases these are the only kinds of daily prayers they pray. But in the early church among the original Christians prayer was as essential as breathing. I’m afraid our churches have failed in teaching basic prayer to Christians today. But if we were to listen in on the original disciples teaching the new converts how to pray, we might hear them instructing them on the different parts to daily praying. For example, in the Lord’s Prayer found in the Gospels, we see different kinds of prayers explained. “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name.” This is praise and worship to God. So prayer begins with the worship of God. Each Christian should take time each day to praise and worship God. This helps remind us that God is God and we are not! It centers us on God and not ourselves – and in a culture that teaches self-centeredness, this is important. “Thy kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Again, this is an affirmation to God and his rule in our lives. It puts down our sinful tendency to exalt our own will over that of God. Remember Christ’s words in the Garden, “Father, nevertheless, not my will but thy will be done.” Again, we all need to pray such a prayer in order to avoid remaining self-willed individuals – the curse of the modern world. “Give us this day our daily bread.” Prayers of request. We must learn to become dependent on God for everything, so we make requests of God for ourselves and for others. “Help us Lord, meet our needs, and help our family and friends, meet their needs, and also help our world and all the people in it,” etc. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” This is a prayer of confession and repentance, which is essential for every Christian to pray every day. Many mental health problems that our population suffers is due to lack of praying prayers of confession. The early church taught converts to confess and repent of sins. “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Again, this is a prayer for strength against the powers of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Why are Christians so weak today? Much of it is for lack of prayer. Do you pray daily? Do you pray in these different ways daily? Are you disciplined yet in your prayer or is it still hit-or-miss? The disciples expected early converts to pray, and churches and church leaders should expect of all Christians to develop prayer in their lives. There really is no excuse for not praying as a Christian. We need to be better at teaching prayer, but if a person has no desire to learn how to pray or pray at all, they need to re-examine themselves and find out if they really are a Christian at all, because as this passage demonstrates, converts naturally prayed and it was expected of them. What’s your excuse?

I hope we can all see from this brief account on how new converts were treated by the disciples, that much was expected of true Christians in the early church. It started with a real salvation conversion and then continued in discipleship instruction. Today, there is such casualness about Christian living. Church attendance is seen as optional, something extra that may or may not be done according to one’s schedule or interest. There is the erroneous thinking that prayer is also optional, that a lack of prayer in one’s life means little or nothing, that the Christian life goes on with or without it. But if we look around at the state of Christianity in general and the state of the church particularly, we see that the instruction of Christ in the Great Commission is not being fulfilled, “teaching them to obey all that I’ve commanded you.” Christians are not obeying all that Christ commanded, they aren’t obeying hardly any of it, particularly in respect to loving one’s neighbor as one’s self, and the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount. In respect to morality, in just one area, sexuality, Christ commanded that we not even look upon a person with lust, but from the surveys and studies on culture today the research shows that lust isn’t the problem, but out-and-out sexual immorality is the problem, even within the Christian community and church. American Christians seem to be no different than the general population, which begs the question, “Just what difference does Christ make in one’s life, if visible Christians don’t display any different form of living than the general non-Christian population?” It all comes back to the problem I spoke of briefly at the beginning of this message: first, we must make sure that we are teaching an accurate gospel salvation message which includes both repentance and whole-hearted faith in Christ; second, we must expect and lead converts into the basic Christian discipleship practices such as daily Bible study and prayer, as well as regular participation in true Christian fellowship that includes both encouragement and accountability, and regular participation in communion. We need to move away from the modern tendency to reduce Christianity and church to entertainment and therapeutic counseling or the dispensing of advise for a successful life on earth. We must begin to do, as the early church did, following the teachings of Jesus, to “seek first the kingdom of God,” so that “all these (other) things can be added unto us” as well. Right now, the church has largely made these “other things” or side issues center stage instead of secondary. We need to once again make the important things important. For the early church these basic spiritual practices were seen to be some of the main and most essential things. Are these things – God’s Word, Christian fellowship, Lord’s Supper, and prayer – are these things most important to you? If not, God is calling us back to basic Christianity. Are you willing to return if need be?

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