Saturday, April 13, 2013

Almost or Altogether?

One day, an early Christian was arrested, and brought before the king for telling his own people they must repent, turn to God, and live a repentant life. After explaining that the prophets and Moses actually spoke of Christ’s suffering and resurrection, the Christian asked him, “Do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.”
The king replied, “Almost you persuade me to be a Christian”.
Then, with great eloquence, the apostle Paul said to King Agrippa, “I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds” (Acts 26:29).
This passage helps us realize that we can’t just be almost Christians; almost persuaded, almost converted. We must be altogether Christians. Christ Himself said, “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:14). A chick half-way out the egg is not a fully-born chick; likewise, a person half-way through the Door is not a born-again Christian.

Good intentions are a good start, but are not enough to bring freedom from sin. Sadly, many in this world follow their own religion with good intentions, but unless they pass through the Strait Gate, and walk the Narrow Road, they will not get to Heaven (John 14:6). You may dress modestly; you may be honest in your business; you may be a good son, daughter, husband, or wife; you may even obey most New Testament commands, but if you have not repented of all your sins, and asked Christ to cleanse and change you, none of your good deeds, though a necessary part of the Christian life, will buy you a ticket to Heaven. “Ye must be born again”, said Jesus. The sinful nature with which we were all born must be rooted out by Christ, and replaced by His new nature: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
A good Christian heritage is a wonderful thing to have, but is not enough to justify us before a holy God. A good heritage is an introduction to the Christian life, but if we do not have a change of heart, the outward appearance only makes us “almost Christians”. We cannot be saved by the faith of our fathers and mothers. Biblical faith must become our own personal faith.
Baptism, though an integral part of the beginning Christian, has no virtue of its own to a person that comes with good intentions only, with a faith other than his own, just because all the friends his age are getting baptized; unchanged, unrepentant, unconverted. Baptism in itself does not make a person an altogether Christian. It is only for those who have sold themselves out to Christ in true repentance, and desire to live a life of obedience to Him.
 However, make no mistake, Jesus Christ Himself said that baptism is the fulfillment of all righteousness (Matthew 3:15). While a person who gets baptized without conversion is an “almost Christian”, the same may apply to those who refuse to be baptized after confessing and repenting from their sins.
The Bible prescribes some general principles concerning our dress. The Christian should be dressed like a Christian, not like the world. However, dressing right does not make you a Christian any more than putting on wings makes you an angel. Dressing right is an expression of a right heart, but does not make your heart right. Scripture doesn’t lay down a certain pattern or style of clothing for the Christian, but has principles for us to follow. But don’t ever think that your outward appearance will clean up the mess you have inside. “Cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also” (Matthew 23:26).
Our heart is like the source of a fountain. When our mouth has said something nasty, we already know that something went nasty in our hearts. For example, James 3:10 says that it is not fitting for our mouths to give forth both blessing and cursing at the same time, because “doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?” When our lives are showing rebellion to God through our practices, our dress, our music, etc., the Bible says that something went wrong in our hearts before. “An evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil” (Luke 6:45). Don’t believe the lies that you can be an “altogether Christian,” claiming that your heart is right while doing wrong.

How to become an “altogether Christian”
The Bible says that God loved the world so much that He sent His only Son Jesus to save whoever believes on Him (John 3:16). This means that God “first loved us” (1 John 4:19), and “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). He made the first move. How about you now?
Ephesians 2 says that we are “by nature the children of wrath”. We are born with a sinful nature because the first man took on a sinful nature through disobedience, and that makes us enemies of God, who is holy. Furthermore, because we are born with a sinful nature we are bent on committing sinful acts against God’s laws, no matter if we were born into a Christian family, and were “good” children. Although children are safe from God’s wrath, they do begin to sin very young, and express the impulses of a sinful nature even before the age of accountability. When we arrive at an age where we begin to understand our fearful sinful condition before a holy God, we begin to be accountable, and are not safe from God’s wrath anymore. The time has come to confess that we are natural sinners, and that we have committed sins against God. We need a change of heart, a change of nature. We don’t want to experience God’s wrath in the Lake of Fire some day.
When we come to this understanding we have two choices: reject it, or repent. We may excuse ourselves saying we have good intentions, or that we have been born in a godly home. But we know that this only makes us “almost Christians”. To be “altogether Christians” we must repent “and be converted, that [our] sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19). We must enter the Kingdom of God through the Door, lest we are condemned for trying to break and enter some other way. Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber” (John 10:1). Repent and accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior.
Good works before conversion do not save us; good works after conversion are our duty. The sinner’s prayer, as some call it, is important, but it doesn’t end there. The Bible says that we are saved “not of works”, but “unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:9, 10). First we need to “put off concerning the former conversation (way of life) the old man, which is corrupt”. We are told to be “renewed in the spirit of [our] mind, and that [we must] put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24). Good works for the born-again believer are a natural expression of their new life in Jesus Christ. They are an expression of obedience to our Lord and Savior, for He has commanded us to live holy lives (1 Peter 1:15), to depart from sin (2 Timothy 2:19), to help those in need (Galatians 6:10), to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Hebrews 10:25), to cover our heads (for the women; 1 Corinthians 11:6), to not cover our heads (for the men; 1 Corinthians 11:7), to be chaste (Titus 2:5), to use our gifts for the edifying of the church (Ephesians 4:12), and many other things. When we do good works while we are not born again, we do it on our own power, but when we are saved, we do it through the great power of the Holy Spirit.
Being saved is not an end in itself either. God saves us so that He can have a relationship with us, and walk with us, as it were, “in the cool of the day”, as in the Garden of Eden. Take time each day to speak to God in prayer, and to read His Word. An “altogether Christian” develops His relationship with His Saviour, and loves to spend time with Him.
And finally, it is very important for us to find other Christians that share similar convictions to ours, for encouragement and guidance. Look for a church that teaches and lives out the Bible.
When I open a door, and take one step into a house, remaining with one foot outside and one inside, am I in or am I out? I could say I am almost in. But I am also almost out too! The Bible teaches that if you are “almost” a Christian, you are still outside the Door. “Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able” (Luke 13:24).
-E.S. Gutwein

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