How do you know you are a Christian?

How do you know you’re a Christian?

That’s a simple question but one many answer in different ways.They may say they are a Christian because they walked an aisle or said a prayer one day. Others will look to the time they went forward at Children’s or Youth Camp. Still others will say they are Christian because they attend church each week, teach Sunday school, are a Deacon, or give to the church. These are all activities Christian do, but are they the activities that you should look to for assurance of salvation?

Non-believers can do all these activities as well. It is possible to walk an aisle, say a prayer, go forward as a child or a youth, attend church, give to the church, even teach a Sunday school class or become a deacon and you not be a Christian. If both Christians and non-Christians can do these activities, what other actions can we look to that show we are a true believer?

In Matthew 18:15-20 Jesus teaches about reconciliation. Specifically, Jesus teaches us how we are supposed to seek reconciliation with one another. He tells us that if someone sins against us, we are to go and tell them how they have hurt us. If they don’t listen, we take two or three people with us as witnesses to the conversation. If they still don’t listen, we are to tell it to the church and the church is supposed to call them to repent and be reconciled to their brother or sister in Christ. If they still don’t listen, we are to treat them as an outsider, as a non-believer.

The process Jesus lays out, teaches us that forgiveness and reconciliation matter to God. It matters so much that He provides step by step instructions as to how we are to seek reconciliation with one another. If a person refuses to reconcile — they show themselves to be non-believers.

What does it mean to forgive someone?

When we forgive someone, we are absorbing the debt a person owes us. We are taking their debt upon ourselves. Someone has to pay the debt. When we forgive someone, we absorb the debt they owe us. Once we absorb it, we absorb it. We stop rehearsing what happened in our minds. We stop talking about it to others. We stop being angry and resentful. We stop seeking revenge.

To forgive means we cancel the debt the person owes us — whether that debt be money, position, status, pain — whatever that debt might be, we cancel it. We “ keep no record of wrongs”, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13.

It is here we have to use some wisdom because forgiveness and ultimately reconciliation revolves around repentance. In the section before today’s parable, Jesus is teaching us to seek reconciliation. Reconciliation revolves around us “gaining our brother” or other translations say “you have won your brother over” (NIV84). Winning over or gaining someone back involves us coming to an agreement that they have wronged us. Likewise, it may also mean that we come to the realize that we have wronged them. We repent.They repent. We both seek to not wrong each other in the same way again. The relationship has been restored. That is great. That is exactly what is supposed to happen.

I say we have to use some wisdom and be cautious here because a lot of people just want to sweep another person’s sin under the rug. They want to forget about it and move on like nothing happened. Certainly, that is part of forgiving someone. We don’t hold their sin against them. We forgive their debt. We allow the relationship to move on.

But what I am afraid is that we are often quick to claim forgiveness not for the sake of the offending brother or sister, but for our own sake. We don’t want to do the hard work of seeking reconciliation. We don’t want to go to another person who has offended us and seek to win them back. We don’t want to have to take two or three people with us as witnesses. We don’t want to have to tell it to the church. That is messy. That requires emotional energy. That requires work. We would rather not have to deal with.

I believe that is why many churches are unhealthy. They aren’t willing to deal with conflict. They would rather sweep it under the rug because it is easy. But that is not what Jesus tells us to do, is it? No, He tells us that we are to seek reconciliation with others. When we or the church stop short of the process Jesus outlines for us in Matthew 18:15-20, we not only do the offended party a disservice, but we also do the offender a disservice. When the church is not willing to walk out the steps of reconciliation, or what you might refer to as church discipline, it leaves things in limbo. It makes it hard for the church to operate in a unified way. It tarnishes the reputation of the church in the community. It hinders the church’s mission. It doesn’t glorify God.

Not only that, but when the church stops short, the church allows the offender to deceive themselves into thinking what they did was right and good. That they are not in sin. While that might be easy, it is not what is best for the person.

When it comes to this idea of forgiveness, we have to use wisdom, we have to be cautious. We shouldn’t just sweep a major sin under the rug because it is easier to do so. Doing so doesn’t actually result in true forgiveness.

When you have done that — I am sure you have — when you have swept someone else’s sin under the rug instead of confronting them, in most instances, you have not forgiven them. Deep down in your heart bitterness, resentment, revenge, and the debt they owe is still there. It hasn’t been forgiven. It hasn’t been cancelled. It still exists. That is why Jesus teaches on the subject of reconciliation before He teaches on forgiveness. That is why Jesus outlines steps for reconciliation before teaching on forgiveness. He knows we must seek reconciliation with someone in order to truly extend forgiveness to another. Yes, reconciliation can be much much more difficult. It is emotionally costly. It is taxing. It can be hard and messy. But it is not an option Jesus has given. It is a command. We are to seek reconciliation as a means to extend forgiveness.

Forgiveness is cancelling the debt someone owes us. It is laying it aside. It is absorbing that debt ourselves.

The forgiveness we receive in Jesus should also spur us on to forgive others.

I like what author Jerry Bridges says regarding forgiveness: “The basis of our forgiving one another, then, is the enormity of God’s forgiveness of us. We are to forgive because we have been forgiven so much.” (JC Ryle, Expository thoughts on Matthew, 186.)

When we look at it like that, “Our neighbors offenses against us are [next to nothing] compared with our offenses against God.” The forgiveness we experience, should cause us to forgive others.

When we are unwilling to forgive, we show we haven’t truly understood, nor have we experienced the mercy, grace, and forgiveness of God. If we had, we would be forgiving people. Forgiven people don’t hold a forever grudge against someone. They will not seek vengeance. They will be willing to not only seek to gain their brother, as Jesus tells us to do in Matthew 18:15-20, but they will also be willing to extend forgiveness to others.

Are you are forgiving person?

I’m not talking about a “sweep it under the rug” forgiving person, but a truly forgiving person. If you are, you can be assured of your salvation. You can be assured of your place in the kingdom because forgiven people are forgiving people.

If you happen to be having trouble forgiving someone for their sin against you, meditate on the grace and mercy of God. Allow it to warm your heart to a forgiving state. If you need to seek reconciliation in order for forgiveness to be real, allow the reconciling actions of God to spur you on to seek reconciliation with others. Jesus left His throne in order to seek reconciliation. Allow that to spur you on to seek it with others.

Church, don’t leave the process of reconciliation undone. Do your part. Help bring others to a point of reconciliation and forgiveness using the process Jesus provides. The glory of God and the salvation of others is worth the difficulty.

Forgiven people are forgiving people. Forgiving people are assured of their salvation

What are the advantages afforded those who continue to follow Christ?

We are all looking for advantages in life. Those things that can help us as we seek to move through life. We seek these advantages in many areas – work, play, and school. At times, they help us as we attempt to navigate the ever changing world.

Experience tells us, however, that these advantages don’t last and they are ever changing. But there is One who does not change. Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. The advantages He offers are real and unchanging.

What are the advantages afforded those who continue to follow Christ?

(1) You don’t have to live under a standard you can’t meet (13a)

We know the Judaizers expected the Galatians to live according to the law because they taught that they were to accept circumcision. But while following the demands of the law is what the Judaizers wanted the Gentiles to do, we learn in verse 13, that they themselves weren’t living by the law. In the first half of the verse we read,

For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law,…” (Ga 6:13a)

What does this mean?

On the one hand, the Judaizers lived according to the law. They were circumcised, they observed the dietary laws, and they lived according to Jewish customs — Observing feasts and other things. While they did those things, they still failed to keep the law perfectly so as to earn salvation. Remember what Paul revealed in chapter 3.

For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” (Ga 3:10)

The key phrase in that verse is “abide by all things.” If we add anything to the gospel, any work, then we nullify the gospel and we are forced to keep the whole law in order to experience salvation. But no one is perfect. We all make mistakes. We all sin. We all break the Law, the Judaizers included.

That is why the gospel is good news. It reveals we don’t have to live under a standard we can’t keep. All who trust in Christ are freed from the condemnation of the law. We are freed because Christ paid the penalty for us. He became a curse on our behalf. That is the paradox of the gospel and the advantage in continuing to follow Jesus.

Remember, Jesus + something = nothing. But Jesus + nothing = everything. That is exactly what Paul wants the Galatians to see. In Christ, we don’t have to live according to a standard we can’t meet. Jesus has met the standard for us.

Transition: Another advantage of following Christ is that:

(2) We are free from having to follow the world’s system (14)

In verse 14 the text says,

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Ga 6:14)

We will get to the first part of the verse in a moment, but look at the second half. Essentially, Paul tells us the world’s system doesn’t have a hold on him. The idea that the world doesn’t have a hold on him has massive implications for how he lives. It means he no longer looks to the world for hope and salvation. He no longer needs the approval of others. He’s no longer enslaved by sin and Satan. All that makes it possible for him to live in the world for God. He can be counter-cultural without having to worry about what others think or what others can do to him. He can seek to please God and expand his kingdom. He can be a real force for the gospel. As well as, he can enjoy the things that the world has to offer because he’s not finding hope or salvation, ultimate joy or peace in any of the things of the world. They are what they are and he can enjoy them for that.

In Christ, we are freed from having to follow the world system, and we are able to live in the world in the way God has designed for us to live. We don’t have to fear the world. We don’t have to try to gain meaning from a meaningless world. We can enjoy the world in the way God has designed for us to enjoy it instead of making it an idol.

Transition: Another advantage of following Christ is that:

(3) We are a new creation and we have a new creation for which to look forward (15)

Look at verse 15,

For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” (Ga 6:15)

When we believe in Jesus, we are made anew. Essentially we are changed from the inside out as our desires and will are brought inline with God’s. As Christians, we are a new creation. As those who are created a new, we look forward to a time when the world in which we live is created a new as well. This world is not all there is or all there will ever be. When Jesus returns, He will change the world. It will become a new creation free from the affects of sin and Satan. All those who are blessed to live in the new world will be new creations as well.

How do you experience this change?

This present change and future hope is only for those who follow Jesus. Those who don’t follow Jesus have an eternity in hell to which to look forward. Instead of living in God’s perfect, new creation. But if you believe in Jesus as your Lord and as your Savior, you can be made into a new creation. You can experience the New World to come. You can experience the kingdom to come, Jesus‘s kingdom. A kingdom that is completely and absolutely perfect.

If you are willing to humble yourself and admit that you cannot save yourself, and that Jesus is the only one who can save you. That He has provided a way for salvation to take place by dying on the cross for your sins. If you are willing to turn from, to repent of, your rebellion against God, then you too can be made into a new creation. You can experience the salvation Jesus offers.

Transition: The last advantage in this text to following Christ is that:

(4) We will experience true peace and mercy (16)

Look at verse 16,

And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.” (Ga 6:16)

The rule to which Paul refers is living according to the gospel. With the gospel as our foundation for life, we will experience true peace and mercy. As well as we will be a part of the Israel of God.

If you long for peace and mercy, if you long to experience true salvation, don’t move on from the gospel. Don’t move on from faith alone, in Christ alone. That is the way we receive the mercy of God and experience a peace that’s beyond all comprehension.

What does it take to be Jesus’ disciple?

In Luke chapter 14 Jesus highlights key ideas we must be willing to forsake to follow Him and be a part of His kingdom. He tells several parables in this section. These parables help us to see a number of things.

Jesus wants us to see that those who enter the kingdom must not immediately expect that they are kingdom people (vs 7-24).

The Pharisees, the religious leaders of the day, believed themselves to be kingdom people because they sought to keep the law. They believed they pleased God through their works and deserved to be a part of the kingdom as a result. But Jesus flips the script on them. He reveals it is not those who believe they are deserving, but those who are humble, who recognize they are not deserving that are invited into the kingdom.

Jesus also wants us to see that those who enter the kingdom are willing to forsake all for Him (vs 25-33)

This is the point that landed on me this morning as I read the Bible in my devotional time. At the end of His teaching on the cost of discipleship, Jesus wraps the section up by saying:

So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Lk 14:33)

I have read this Scripture a number of times in the past, referred to it in conversation, and even included it in my preaching and teaching. Though I am familiar with the passage, today it landed on me differently.

How did it land on me?

Jesus reveals that His disciples must be willing to renounce all that we have in order to be His follower. I am afraid that those of us who live in the West hear those words, champion them, preach them, teach them, but don’t take them to heart. We want to add Jesus to our comfortable lives, to the American and cultural dream of what it means to be happy and successful. I am not saying we shouldn’t be successful, we shouldn’t work hard, or that we shouldn’t have things that make life more comfortable. If the Lord blesses us in that way, praise God. Instead, what I am driving towards is that we can’t make those things ultimate. They can’t be those things that define us. Our relationship with Jesus should define us. It should be what makes us happy and joyful. It should be what gives us meaning and purpose, as well as peace in life.

We must not add Jesus to our cultural idea of success.

Instead, we must allow Jesus to define success. I am afraid that is where many of us fail, myself included. We chase after the things of the world as if they are ultimate. We get frustrated when they are not manifested in our life. We believe Jesus has abandoned us. Jesus, however, hasn’t abandoned us. He is right there with us, teaching and guiding us. He wants us to see that He is the One to whom we should look to for ideas of success, not the world.

If we are going to be Jesus’ disciple, we must renounce all worldly ideas and be willing to live according to biblical ideas and convictions, regardless if they are popular or not.

“All things” is all things.

We must be willing to forsake, to abandon and renounce all things, pledging our full allegiance to Jesus. But more than that — we must find our life and being in Jesus. As believers, our kingdom is not of this world. We must live as if that is true.

Once we are able to renounce all things, living in the world, no matter how blessed or how difficult life might be, we will be joyful and peaceful because we will be living as Jesus’ disciples, allowing Him to dictate and determine what should and shouldn’t bring us joy, meaning, and purpose in life.

How Can You Experience True Freedom?

We live in a post-modern society. Post-modernism casts off any and all meta-narratives as power plays by authoritarian systems. In an attempt to escape oppression and experience freedom, meta-narrative are traded for individual narratives that allow one to construct their own truth. In this way there is no absolute truth, just that truth you derive from yourself and your own experiences. We see this transition in phraseology such as “You be you”; “Be your authentic self”; etc. These ideas are why we are currently experiencing so much transition in every area of life.

The Promise of Different Gospels

Different gospels that promise salvation have been preached for centuries. Post-modernism is another gospel in a long list of gospels hoping to cast off the restrictions of a Judeo-Christian worldview to provide freedom without submission.

But does a disregard for the Christian meta-narrative provide true freedom? Does creating our own individual narratives divorced from any overarching narrative, especially a Judeo-Christian narrative, provide an escape from bondage?

The Galatians were not confronted with Post-modernism, but they were confronted with a worldly gospel. Paul, the author of the letter to the Galatians, addresses their fall away from the biblical gospel when he writes in Galatians 4:8-9

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?” (Gal. 4:8-9)

Different Gospels Don’t Provide Freedom

The elementary principles of the world represent those ideas that are fundamental. They serve as the building blocks for a particular system of beliefs. Everyone operates according to closely held building block beliefs. They are those beliefs that drive our worldview and the actions that follow.

Worldly religions and philosophies, those things we build our life on a part from the biblical worldview, do not provide us with freedom. Instead, they enslave us. They entrap us in a cycle of performance, worry, and anxiety. We are left to wonder if we have done enough in order to experience that religion’s or philosophy’s form of salvation. In the case of our modern movement, we might wonder if we gone far enough in divorcing ourselves from a Judeo-Christian worldview. In other words, are we properly secular? Are we championing secular causes well enough?

Cancel Culture as an Example of Bondage

It is here that cancel culture enters the picture. All those who are not in the main are seen as being on the wrong side of history. They are not able to represent modern day culture. They shouldn’t be applauded or championed. Instead, they should be punished for their lack of adherence to the current cultural movement, which results in them being “cancelled”.

Those who believe themselves to be on the right side of history today feel liberation, they feel as if they have been saved from oppressive structures. But “today” is not “always”. Tomorrow always comes. Tomorrow brings change in one’s ideas and thoughts. In modern day vernacular, we might say people “evolve” over time.

Tomorrow, and the evolution it brings, is why cancel culture exists. Cancel culture doesn’t care what side of history you were on in the past. It only cares about what side you are on today, which is why many past cultural champions find themselves forced to change or be cancelled.

The irony is that cancel culture requires truth and an overarching narrative to work. The very thing Post-modernism denies it uses. The truth claims made by those of cancel culture are seen as dominate and ones that should be embraced by all people. If one doesn’t embrace the current cultural meta-narrative truth claim, they are oppressed. In an attempt to create freedom from bondage, Post-modern thought has actually created bondage and oppression. There can be no dissenting voices only those who agree or cancel culture comes for you.

True Freedom Does Exist

There is no freedom in the elementary principles of the world. There is only slavery. You can, however, experience freedom in Christ. He has come to set you free.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Gal 5:1)

How can you experience freedom? Jesus has come, He has died, paying the penalty you deserve. He took your sentence of eternal death for you. He sat in the cell of hell, He experienced God’s wrath in your place. Jesus has done your time. You have been pardoned. He has also freed you from the need for self-salvation, releasing you from the bondage of performance culture.

The good news is that His provision is open to all who would humble themselves and submit to Him as Lord and Savior. If you want freedom, don’t turn to the elementary principles of the world. Instead, turn to Jesus! Allow Him to be your King, your Savior, your all in all. Allow Him to guide and direct your life.

Money Can’t Buy You Happiness

As a child, my friends and I would sit around in the park near my house discussing what we wanted to be when we grew up. The most common answers we all would give, besides a professional athlete, was a doctor or lawyer. You know why we gave those answers? It wasn’t because we cared about medicine or the law. Many of us didn’t even know what those jobs involved. Instead, we answered in those ways because we knew doctors and lawyers made a lot of money.

I lived in a lower middle class neighborhood as a child. We didn’t have all the luxuries many kids grow up with today. We always had clothing and food and a little bit more, but we didn’t have many of the luxuries of life. We saw a career as a doctor or lawyer as a way to get those luxuries. As a way to “make it” so to speak. I’m sure if you think back to your childhood, many of you probably had similar conversations.

Many of us are still chasing those luxuries. Many of us are still seeking to “make it”. We are working ourselves to the bone. Sacrificing every chance we get to make an extra dollar, to build another relationship, to connect with someone we think can help us get ahead. We miss time with our family, with our friends, with our church. We bend the rules at times, operating in the grey because it benefits us.

But here is the thing. Money can’t buy you happiness. It can’t buy you friends. It can’t buy you what you really need. It is temporary. When it is gone, the lifestyle you were striving to sustain, the possessions you were after, they are gone. Seeking to “make it” is one big lie and an even bigger let down.

When this young man ran out of money, his friends didn’t come to his aid. They were no where to be found. He had to hire himself out to feed pigs. A Jew feeding pigs. That is about as low as it gets. But here he is. At the bottom of the barrel, all because he thought money could buy him happiness.

Money can’t fill that whole in our heart. It didn’t for this young man. It won’t for you either. So don’t put your hope and trust in the wealth of the world. Instead, put your trust in the Lord. He is the only One who will ultimately satisfy.

Please God, not man!

In today’s world, cancel culture is alive and well, which makes it is easy, and even necessary at times, to slip into a people pleasing mindset. If you get on someone’s bad side or go against a cause they are championing, you might find yourself the victim of repeated attacks that are meant to ruin your life and career. I don’t know anyone who wants their life and career ruined. We generally want our life to improve not spiral out of control. We are creatures who desire comfort, peace, and security, not the opposite. So many tow the line even if they disagree in an effort to please those around them.

For all the talk of being genuine, people pleasing is about as far from it as you can get. We might make it seem like we are championing a cause because we care so much about it but all we are really doing is looking out for our own self-interest. At our core, we are selfish people who want to travel the smoothest road through life.

The broad, smooth road, however, can easily turn into a bumpy, pothole filled road that will destroy our comfortable ride in a matter of moments. We can’t please everyone no matter how hard we try. Even if we are successful for a time, trying to please one group at one cultural moment, might result in us offending another in a future cultural moment. This is why so many who want to stay in the good gracies of the culture “evolve” every so often.

But the apostle Paul makes it clear in today’s passage that if we are going to be a servant of Christ, we must purpose to please Him and only Him.

Look at Galatians 1:10

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

Paul draws a hard line in the sand. His life’s focus is to please one person and one person only. His life is focused on pleasing Jesus Christ, who is the only person that matters. Culture changes, people change, opinions of what is right and wrong change (sometimes daily), but Jesus and what He stands for never changes. What pleased God thousands of years ago will still please Him thousands of years from now.

As our Creator and Savior, pleasing Jesus is the only thing that matters. His opinion of us is the only one that holds any weight. A relationship with Him is the only one that will provide that for which we are looking — peace, comfort, and security.

Stop toiling to please the world. Unhinge yourself from the heavy burden you are carrying. Turn to Christ! His yoke is easy and His burden is light. Please God, not man!