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HOW TO EXPERIENCE THE HEART OF REAL CHRISTIANITY
Intro: What does it mean to be a Christian? The answers you get to that question depend on the persons asked. Some people believe that belonging to a Christian church makes you a Christian. Others believer that baptism or confirmation is what makes one a Christian. Still others believe that being religious and morally clean is enough to allow one to wear the name Christian.
But wait! Not everyone who claims to be a Christian is one! How can I say that? Because Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Roman Catholics claim to be Christians. But, according to the Bible, they aren’t! So what does it mean, then, to be a Christian?
To answer that question, let’s look at the word Christian itself. This word literally means “The Christ Ones”. This name was first given to the followers of Jesus in a place called Antioch, Acts 11:26. History tells us that it was a term of contempt! The people of Antioch, who were pagans, were offended by the clean lifestyles and the preaching of the believers and gave them the name “Christian” as an insult. Instead of insulting these believers, it perfectly summed up the image they were attempting to project to their lost neighbors. So then, a Christian is a “Christ one” or “one who is like Jesus.”
You see, just going to of joining a church cannot make you a Christian. Being a good moral person cannot make you a Christian. Just claiming the name for yourself or for your organization does not make you a Christian. In fact, just being saved cannot make you a Christian! To be a Christian means that you become like Christ. We lump all saved people under the title Christian, but real Christians are people live like Jesus Christ.
In this passage, Jesus is talking to His disciples about His impending death, v. 21. He is immediately rebuked by Peter, v. 22. Jesus uses this event as an opportunity to teach His men about the heart of real Christianity. I want to focus our thoughts on verse 24 today. Because, it is in this verse that we get down to the heart of what it means to be a Christian.
Why is this important? Because as individuals, many have no idea what the Christian life is supposed to be about. And, because as a church, we have left the heart of our faith behind in an effort to be found pleasing in the sight of the world. This sermon and this passage is a call for believers to return to the heart of what it means to be a Christian. I want to preach to you today about How To Experience The Heart Of Real Christianity. I want to point out the simple steps Jesus gives to us. If we will hear His voice and heed His Words, then we can experience real Christianity and impact our world for His glory!
I. WE MUST FIND OUR HEART
A. Jesus says “If any man will come after ME...” Jesus and Jesus alone is to be the heart of all we do and of who we are as believers.
B. If we are going to experience the power of real biblical Christianity ion our lives and in our church, then we are going to have to find our heart! That simply means, “We are going to have to discover what makes us tick!” We can begin this process by asking ourselves a couple of very simple questions:
1. Why are you here today? (Ill. You always get what you come after!)
d. To see and be seen
e. Love for the church
f. Love the Lord and desire to worship Him - This is the only valid reason to attend church. You will always benefit from coming, but we all need to reach the place where He is the sole reason we attend.
2. Why does this church exist? Churches exist for lots of reasons! Too often, they exist only because someone started it a long time ago and the reason why has been long forgotten. I would submit to you that there are only three valid reasons for this, or any church to exist. If these things are not true about us, then we do not deserve the name church and we certainly do not qualify for the name Christian!
a. To Exalt Our Sovereign - John 4:23-24; Heb. 13:15
b. To Edify The Saints - Eph. 4:11-16; 1 Thes. 5:11
c. To Evangelize The Sinners - Acts 1:8; Matt. 28:19-20
(Note: All three of these can be seen in action in the life of the early church - Acts 2:41-47.)
C. When the call “come after me” is issued by Jesus, it registers differently depending upon the condition of the heart that hears it.
1. To the lost person it says Be Saved - Jesus can give you a new heart - Eze. 36:26.
2. To the saved person it says Be Sold Out - Jesus can refocus your heart! It is possible to be saved and active and still not have a heart for Him - Rev. 2:1-7.
D. In all honesty today, not before me, but before God, what makes you tick? What is the heartbeat of your life today? Do you, as an individual need to rediscover your heartbeat? I know that, as a church, we do!
II. WE MUST FOCUS OUR HEART
A. Jesus calls His disciples to “come after”. If we are really in love with Him and He is the central love of our hearts, there will be a desire to be where He is! (Ill. We need the same hunger to follow the Lord that dwelled within the heart of David - Psa. 42:1-2.)
B . For the disciples of Jesus, this call to follow Him meant the forsaking of everything else, Mark 1:16-20; Matt. 19:27-30. For us, it may come to mean the very same thing - Matt. 10:37-39; Luke 14:26-27. You see, your life boils down to nothing more than your priorities - Mat. 6:33. You go where you want to go. You do what you want to do. You follow who and what you want to follow. You are willing to do what you love to do! The Lord’s call is for us to focus our hearts upon Him and go with Him wherever He leads us.
C. The Psalmist said it this way, “O God, my heart is fixed;”, Psalm 108:1. David said it like this, “One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple.”, Psalm 27:4. Paul said it like this, “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.”, Phil. 3:13-15. All three of these are instances of single-minded devotion to follow the Lord wherever He leads.
D. What has your heart today? Who is on first in your life? May the Lord help us all to come to the place where nothing in our lives means more to us that Jesus Christ and His leadership. May He become and remain the central focus of every individual heart in this room and of this church as a body!
III. WE MUST FOLLOW OUR HEART
(Note: If Jesus has our heart, and if we are in love with Him more than anything else in this world, and if we are focused on His will for us and upon His leadership within our lives and the life of our church, then we need to take whatever steps are necessary to see that we follow our heart. If He is our heart, then let’s follow Him!)
A. We Are Called To Lay Something Down - Deny himself - This phrase literally means, “to completely disown, to utterly separate oneself from someone.” It is the same word used to describe Peter’s denial of Jesus outside the high priests home, Matt. 26:34!
• The disciples is to utterly disown himself, to refuse to acknowledge the self of the old man.
• We are to count the old man as being dead, Rom. 6:11.
• We are to make no provision for the flesh, Rom. 13:14.
• To deny oneself means to follow the example set forth by the Lord Jesus Himself in coming to this world, Phil. 2:5-8.
• We are to live our lives as one alive to God, but dead to sin and to the world, Gal. 2:20.
• It sounds hard because it is hard! Self does like to be denied, but until it is, we cannot possibly follow after Jesus like He desires for us to!
B. We Are Called To Lift Something Up - take up his cross - When Jesus spoke of the cross, everyone in His audience knew what He was referring to. Some have estimated that over 30,000 Jews were crucified during the lifetime of Jesus alone. When Jesus says that we are to take up our cross, He is saying that we are to live as dead men! You see, to take up ones cross was to start upon a “death march”. Their walk under that cross always ended up with them on that cross. They began a process from which there was no retreating and no turning back. To take up your cross was to embrace the death of self! This is just what Jesus did when He came to this world - Matt. 16:21-23; John 19, Mark 10:45. He set the example that we are to follow.
To understand what this cross Jesus refers to is, we need to talk about what it isn’t. It isn’t your lost husband or wife. It isn’t your wayward children. It isn’t your mother-in-law. Your cross isn’t your difficulties or the bad situations you face in life. The cross is not just a place of suffering, it is a place of death!
To take up one’s cross means to willingly pick up and carry the shame (Ill. People mocked men who carried the cross. Unlike today when a person will carry one across America and draw cheers. A man under a cross in Jesus’ day drew jeers!), the rejection, the suffering and the death that Jesus Himself willingly carried for us. To take up your cross means that you are willing to identify yourself with Jesus Christ, His death and His word, regardless of what it costs you personally, publically or financially! (Note: That’s not a side of Christianity you hear very often! It isn’t popular to talk about sacrifice, death and suffering, but that is what Christianity is all about! The sooner we learn that truth, the sooner God can and will send revival to His church and use us again for His glory!)
C. We Are Called To Live Something Out - follow me - We are called upon to take up that cross, once for all, and go after Jesus. We are not to back out, turn around, or lay down the cross. We are to die on that cross, giving our all for His glory! This phrase has the idea of being willing to go all the way for Jesus - no holds barred and no turning back - just a steady, humble walk that follows His footsteps and His path through this world. Jesus said it as simply as it could possibly be said, John 12:26, “If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour.”
Conc: If you want to be saved, you can be, but there’s only one way that will ever happen. That is through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. God is inflexible and firm on that point. In fact, He has stated it this way, “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”, John 14:6. God has made up His mind about that matter. If you want to be saved, you can be, but only on His terms.
Friends, He is just as inflexible when it comes to this matter of being His disciple! If you want to experience the real heart of Christianity, then you will have to meet His terms. You see, you can have as much or as little of God as you want. The question is, what do you want? If you want to be a Christian disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, then I invite you to hear and heed the words of the Savior. Then, come before Him, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Him. Until that happens in your life, you will never experience all God has for you.