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What Happened When You Became a Christian

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October 16, 2011

“Because of his great love for us…” Ephesians 2:4

Today we begin the second leg of the series, which is like a triathlon.  We’ve done the swim, and the water was pretty cold.  It’s not easy to face up to the Bible’s teaching about our own sinfulness.  So, it’s good to get out of the water after that long swim, and now we’re getting onto the bike!

This second leg will be quite a different experience from the first.  We begin today by looking at what happened when you became a Christian.  We’re moving on to look at “the inside story of the Christian life.”

Just as there are many Christians who understate the human problem, so there are many who miss the full extent of what God has done for us in Christ.  Shallow views of sin lead to a shallow views of salvation.

But when you see the extent of the human problem: Spiritually dead, pulled along by the sinful nature and under the wrath of God, then you will begin to see the weight and wonder of our salvation in Jesus Christ.

That’s why it has been so important to get a proper grasp of the extent of our problem.  When you see the extent of the human problem, you will begin to see the glory of what God has done in Christ.  So, I have great pleasure in inviting you to get on the bike for stage two of our journey.

A 7-Fold Description of…
…What Happened When You Became a Christian

“But because of his great love for us…” Ephesians 2:4

Getting on the bike is a good analogy, because having swum rather slowly, today we are going to cycle past some wonderful views of God’s love and mercy.  Everything that follows is a display of God’s love for you.  Get ready to take this in—we’re going to discover the spectrum of God’s redeeming love in Jesus Christ.

What Happened When You Became A Christian…
1. God gave life to you
“God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.” Ephesians 2:4-5

By nature you were dead towards God, but life came to you.  It did not come from you, it came to you.  The new life and new birth didn’t come from something you did.  How could it?  You were dead—nothing in you reaching out to God.

When you were uninterested and unable to reach out to God, He reached out to you and created in your soul what did not exist before.  This is what happened behind your coming to Christ.

New affections formed in your soul.  You began to love, trust and desire God.  New convictions began to settle in your mind.  You became aware of your sin, and you were drawn to Christ.  You saw a beauty in Him that you did not see before.

New desires were formed in your will.  You began to say, “I’m dissatisfied with the life I’ve been living.  I want to be clean.  I’m done with living for myself and my own comfort and pleasure.  The greatest thing I could do with my life is to lay it at the feet of Jesus.”  What an amazing transformation this is!

You used to feel God was against you. Then you became convinced that God is for you.  Your old instinct was to hide from God.  Your new instinct is to draw near to Him.  There’s a new hunger and thirst for God in your soul.  You want more of Him in your life and you want Him to have more of you.

It was as if you were awakened from a deep sleep, and rubbing your eyes, you said, “How was I asleep for so long?  What have I been thinking about all those years?  What have I been doing with my life?  How could I have lived so long and completely missed what this life is about and who it is for?”  This song captures it so well…

I was blinded by my sin, had no ears to hear your voice

Did not know your love within, had no taste for heaven’s joys

Then your Spirit gave me life, opened up your Word to me

Thought the Gospel of your Son, gave me endless hope and peace.[1]

If you are a Christian, this is what happened to you.

What Happened When You Became A Christian…

  1. God imparted power to you

“And God raised us up with Christ…” Ephesians 2:6

God “made us alive” (2:5).  What’s added when he says, “raised us up?”  This speaks not only of life, but of action.  When Jesus was raised from the dead, He did things—He moved, He walked, He ate, He spoke, met with His disciples, forgave them, restored them and commissioned them.  “Raised up” speaks not only of new life, but also new ability to do things.

Being a Christian is more than a change in direction; it involves a change, but it is much more than that.  Suppose a man uses his ability to make money for himself.  Then he decides to deploy his ability to make money for widows and orphans.  That’s a wonderful change of direction, but it’s using an ability that already existed and deploying it for a new purpose.

Some people think of conversion like that, “God gave me certain abilities.  I used to use that strength one way.  Now I’m deploying my strength in another way.”  But when Paul says we’re “risen with Christ” he’s saying something far greater.  “Risen with Christ” means you have strength, and an ability to act, that you didn’t have before.

When you became a Christian, God imparted power to you.  His Holy Spirit made you alive towards God, and now He lives in you.  That is how you can live a new life of obedience to God.  Wesley captures the action in his great hymn…[2]

Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound by sin and nature’s night.
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,
I woke the dungeon flamed with light.

There’s the new life.  But notice what happened next…

My chains fell off, my heart was free.
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee!

 

There’s the resurrection power.  Not only has God given you new life, but He’s given you power, which puts you in a new position so that you are no longer shackled.  You may have all kinds of battles, but if you’re a Christian today, the Spirit of God dwells in you.  You can face any temptation that comes to you this week in the power of the Holy Spirit.

On many different occasions, somebody will come to me and say, “Pastor, this temptation is so much stronger than I am,” and I’ll say, “Let me lead you to Christ, so that you can become a Christian.”

Then the guy will say, “No, no, no—you don’t understand.  I’m a Christian.  And I’ve been a Christian for 20 years, but this temptation is so much stronger than I am.”

I’ll say, “Now wait a minute.  If you are in Christ, the Holy Spirit lives within you, and this temptation is not stronger than the Spirit of God.  So make up your mind—if this temptation’s the greatest power in the world, what you need to do is come to Christ, so His Spirit will live within you.”

“But if His Spirit lives within you, don’t go on repeating Satan’s lie that this temptation is too great for you.  You can stand; you have power.  This is what it means to be a Christian—that you’re able to stand in the battle.”

“You may have failed many times, you may fail many times in the future, but do not say ‘God has not given me power to face temptation this week and to stand for Jesus Christ.’  You say that, and you are emasculating what it means to be a Christian.

What Happened When You Became A Christian…

  1. God secured heaven for you

“God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus…” Ephesians 2:6

Heaven belongs to the future, but God speaks about it here as something that has already happened.  Here’s what that means—all that’s needed for your entrance into heaven has already been accomplished by Jesus Christ.

Your entrance into heaven does not depend on your performance in the Christian life.  That’s wonderful news.  Your entrance into heaven rests on the completed work of Jesus Christ in His death and resurrection for you.

God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.  Christ has ascended into heaven, and He is there for you.  Because of the bond of Christ in which you are in Christ and Christ is in you, there is a profound sense in which you are already there.

I love the fact that it says Christ is “seated in the heavenly realms” and that we are “seated with him.”  In the temple, before Christ came, the priests served in a room where there was a table for eating, a lampstand for lighting and a basin for washing, but there was no chair.  You could engage in all kinds of activity, but you could never sit down.

The chair-less room was a statement.  People sit down when their work is done.  Before Christ came, the work of the priests was never done.  Another sacrifice always needed to be offered, another confession always had to be heard and another offering always had to be given—always something more that needed to be done…

…Until Christ came as the sacrifice and offering.  He laid down that perfect life, and when He took it up again, He ascended to the right hand of the Father where He sat down!  Do you see the significance of that?  His work was completed.  There’s nothing more for Him to do to secure heaven for His people.

Now Paul says, “we are seated with Him.”  In other words, when you have faith in Jesus Christ, not only is there nothing more for Him to do, there’s nothing more we need to do to secure heaven either, because it is all accomplished in the atoning death of Jesus Christ and His resurrection life.

That is the basis of Christian assurance.  That’s why you don’t need to spend the rest of your life in an attempt to work your way into heaven, because this gift is yours, and you’re able to live out of gratitude and to come and worship with joy.

What Happened When You Became a Christian…
4. God showered grace on you

“It is by grace you have been saved…” Ephesians 2:5

“…the incomparable riches of his grace” (2:7)

“It is by grace you have been saved…” (2:8)

The word translated here as “incomparable” (2:7) is a combination of two words—one that means “throwing out,” and the other word means, “over the top.”  It is the word from which we get our word, “hyper.”

God is displaying “the incomparable riches of His grace, His “over the top” grace in the life of every Christian.  It is an “over the top” display that He would lay down His life for His enemies.

What do you make of the Wall Street preoccupation, spreading around the whole the world?  We’ll have very different opinions on it.  Some people saying, “Well, there are a few people who have all the wealth, why don’t they redistribute it?”  Others are saying, “Well, if you want more wealth, why don’t you go and earn it?”  Those are the polarities of thought here.

All around the world, that’s an issue that people are focusing on.  It started in this country, and now it’s as far as New Zealand, so we’ll be talking about it for a while.  Here’s something you could say, if it comes up in a conversation this week…

“A massive, massive distribution of what has not been earned.  Where would you ever expect to see that?  The incomparable, ‘over the top’ throwing out of God’s unmerited favor to His enemies, at infinite cost to Himself on a cross?”

There is nothing like it in any culture or in all human history, only in Jesus Christ.  God has showered grace on you, if you are a Christian believer.

What Happened When You Became a Christian…

  1. God saved you

“It is by grace you have been saved…” Ephesians 2:5

“It is by grace you have been saved…” (2:8)

Saved from what?  We’re saved from all that we were learning about in verses 1-3: Saved from spiritual death, saved from being dragged around by our sinful nature and ultimately we’re saved from the wrath of God.

If you are in Christ, Divine wrath burned itself out on Jesus at the cross, as far as you are concerned.  The Divine wrath was burned out in the Divine Son.  There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

That’s why Paul speaks of “Jesus who rescues us from the coming wrath” (1 Thessalonians 1:10), and he says, “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him” (Romans 5:9).

Friend, if you are a Christian, it’s never half-and-half.  If you have been saved, don’t say, “I’m still a little under His wrath.”  You are no longer under God’s wrath.

What Happened When You Became a Christian…
6. God gave faith to you

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast…” Ephesians 2:8-9

Now, of course, it’s true that when you became a Christian you believed.  You exercised faith in coming to Christ and you exercise faith in walking with Christ.  But Paul states very plainly that this faith, which you exercised, is the gift of God to you.

Your position is not, “Well, I am a Christian because I have faith.”  No, it is the gift of God.  The eyes that saw the glory of Christ were opened by God.  The ears that heard His voice were opened by the Holy Spirit.  Behind your decision to trust Jesus, lies a massive and amazing work of God, in which He gave you life, raised you up.

This truth that faith is the gift of God gives confidence and assurance to a Christian.  If faith was simply my decision to trust and follow Jesus, then how do I know I can keep it up?  What if I turn back?  When the going got tough, I might easily make another decision.

True faith is the gift of God.  It is a living seed that grows and bears fruit until the day when it has fulfilled its function and is no longer needed, because faith is turned to sight in the presence of Jesus forever.  Do you see how that gives stability, encouragement and assurance?

What Happened When You Became a Christian…

  1. God prepared work for you

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10

“We are God’s workmanship.”  You are God’s workmanship if you’re a Christian today.  Every Christian is crafted by the hand of God, and there are no mass productions.

The word translated “workmanship” is the word “poeima” from which we get our word “poem.”  You are God’s work of art.  There is something beautiful in every redeemed life.  If you are in Christ, something of His beauty, something of His character will be seen in you.  It will be heard in what you say, seen in how you respond—it will be visible in what you do.

I’m going to quote the Scottish national poet, Robert Burns.  If I read this in Scotland, everyone would immediately know who it was…

…Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place…
Weel are ye wordy o’ a grace
As lang’s my arm.[3]

It’s fairly meaningless actually, but its Robert Burns addressing a haggis, which is a kind of food.  You might think that is very strange, but I’ll tell you, anyone hearing those words with that inflection, who knows anything at all about this culture, would immediately say, “That’s Burns!”  Because no one else writes like that…

Being made alive in Jesus Christ and given power to live in a new way, the world is able to look at the Christian believer and say, “That’s Jesus,” not even, “That’s like Jesus,” because there is an extension of the life of Jesus that is being lived out in that person—it’s quite unmistakable.

That’s why our Lord said, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and give praise to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).  This may show itself in a thousand different ways in a thousand different places, but this is the work that God has you here for.

What Happened When You Became a Christian?

God gave life to you.  God imparted power to you.  God secured heaven for you.  God showered grace on you.  God saved you.  God gave faith to you.  God prepared work for you.  These are the amazing miracles of God’s grace in the life of every believer.

Are you savoring the joys of God’s love?

Because of His great love for us…” Ephesians 2:4

Look at what God’s love has done!  My prayer is that God would bring many to a place, not only of seeing the extent of our own sin, our deadness towards God, our captivity to the sinful nature and the fearful prospect of the righteous judgment of God; but also that we would see the love of God poured out in Jesus Christ and say with bated breath, “Lord Jesus, I knew that you loved me, but I never knew that you loved me like this!”

Do you see the unique glory of Jesus Christ?

I’ve left this point until now, because I want to make it especially clear.  Did you notice how everything God has done in His love and mercy is tied to Jesus Christ…?

“God… made us alive with Christ” Ephesians 2:5

“God raised us up with Christ” (2:6)

“God seated us… in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (2:6)

“The incomparable riches of [God’s] grace [are] expressed in his                         kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (2:7)

“We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus” (2:10)

Your new life is in Christ.  Your new strength comes from Christ.  Your salvation is through Christ.  Your faith is in Christ.  Your works are for Christ.  Your heaven will be with Christ.  All of these blessings are in Him, and none of them are yours without Him.

When people ask you, “Is Jesus the only way?” the question you should ask is, “The only way for what?”  Who else gives new life?  Who else rose from the dead and, therefore, is able to raise the dead?  Who else is seated at the right hand of the Father?

Look at the spectrum of God’s love.  Look at these miracles of grace!  All these gifts are ours in Christ and none of them could possibly be ours without Him.  That’s why we worship Him as Savior, Redeemer, Master and Lord.  No one else is like Him; no one else can do what Christ can do.

Have you grasped what it means to be a Christian?

I was speaking to a friend who has served as the pastor of a very distinguished church in Washington D.C.  When he came to the church, he found that a number of the people had what the Bible would describe as “having a form of godliness, but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:5).  In other words, they were very moral people.  They would sign off on the creed, but they did not have the life of Christ in them.

He told me that for the first year he preached through the Gospel of Mark.  Every sermon described what a Christian is, what a Christian does, what a Christian experienced. And as the year rolled on, some folks began to say,

“If that’s what a Christian is, that’s not true of me.”

Folks realized that they were not Christians, so they began to pray and to seek after God, many of them coming to Christ in faith and repentance.  What happened as a result was that many of them were wonderfully saved.

Do you really know what it means to be a Christian?  Can you say, “God has given life to me?”  Could you say that?  “God has imparted power to me?  God has secured heaven for me?”  Can you say, “God has saved me?

God has showered grace on me?  God has given faith to me?  God has prepared work for me?”

That’s the truth about every Christian.  I’m asking the question, is it true of you?  If it’s not true of you, then thank God that He’s awakening you today.  Ask Him, “Give me what I do not yet have.”  I invite you to draw near to Christ in repentance and faith today.

 

[1] Bob Kauflin, from the song “O Great God,” Sovereign Grace Ministries, 2006

[2] John Wesley, from the hymn “And Can It Be,” 1738

[3] Robert Burns, from the poem “Address to a Haggis,” 1786

 

© Colin S. Smith

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