Session 5: New heart, new start
Becoming a Christian: believing, repenting, following
Q) What is your definition of a Christian? Has it changed from when you started this course?
The first Christians simply called themselves followers of ‘the Way’ (Acts 9:1-2). ‘Christian’ was the name first given to them by the people in Antioch (Acts 11:26, ‘and in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians’). It actually means ‘little christs’.
Q) Why do you think that they were called this, and should the reason make a difference to how you live today?
In the end it is not so much what you believe (head), important though that is, as who you know (heart) that matters!
Becoming a Christian
Read Acts 2:22-24
Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. NIV
and then verses 36b-41.
“God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off — for all whom the Lord our God will call.” With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptised, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. NIV
Q) What do you think moved Peter’s hearers so much that they were ‘cut to the heart’?
The work of the Holy Spirit.
In verse 37 the people in the crowd asked, ‘What shall we do?’
Q) Look again at Peter’s answer (verse 38).
Becoming a Christian is a process that includes a number of steps and each element is important. They are all closely interrelated and it is often hard to say which came first in your life. We will look at them one by one.
The Bible defines faith in Hebrews 11:1 as being ‘the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen’ ESV.
Faith is like a ‘title deed’ that gives us rights to a property that we have inherited but not yet come into possession of.
The dictionary definition ...
What is faith not? Worry, anxiety, unworthy. What if...
What are some of the key things that Christians need to have faith in?
How is trust different from faith?
The dictionary definition ...
Read John 3:16. This is a very familiar verse, so it is helpful to look at it in a slightly different translation:
For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him should not be lost, but should have eternal life. J B Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English.
Don’t worry if your faith seems small.
Read Matthew 13:31-32.
He told them another parable:“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” NIV
It is not the size of your faith that matters. It is God working in you.
To repent means to change one’s mind, literally to think again, particularly with reference to past behaviour. Repentance is much more than just being sorry. It is a conscious decision to choose to think about things from God’s point of view, and involves a fundamental change of direction: stopping one thing (going your own way) and starting to go in another (God’s way).
In the last session we looked at why we need to repent? No one can save themselves but once a way has been opened for us then we need to respond.
How do we set about repenting? Repentance is an action. It involves our will. Our emotions can sometimes lag behind, but they will catch up!
Repentance is usually specific. Genuine repentance will probably involve some specific actions on your part, such as putting things right with other people.
Q) What sort of things do you think we need to repent of? You may like to spend a few minutes thinking about this quietly by yourself.
The forgiveness of sins
How do you think God feels when we repent? Read Luke 15:11-32 (the parable of the prodigal son) and as you read try to imagine yourself from the point of view of the son, and then as the Father.
Q) Why do you think it is sometimes hard for us to receive forgiveness?
Look up Psalm 103:8-14.
The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbour his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. NIV
Our relationship with God is now restored. This is not because of anything that we have done, but because of God’s love shown to us in Jesus:
‘the proof of God’s amazing love is this: that it was while we were sinners that Christ died for us’. Romans 5:8, J B Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English.
Sometimes it is hard for us to accept we have been forgiven or to be able to forgive others (especially if someone we care for is the injured party). The psalmist wrote that his ‘soul had escaped the snare of the fowler’. <!— (ref?) —> Unforgiveness is a trap that it can be hard to escape from but to progress we need to be set free.
Christians talk a lot about God’s ‘grace’. At its simplest grace is about getting what you don’t deserve. It is not something you can earn by being good or by working hard to achieve. It is the free gift of God for us to accept.
You have accepted an amazing, costly gift. You can now call yourself a Christian and you have a new relationship with God.
Q) What difference should this new perspective make in your life?
Read Romans 10:9-10. How do you set about telling others about your new faith?
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. NIV
One of the surest signs that the Holy Spirit is working in your life will be the words you speak. This could be in prayer, a new boldness in speaking about God, song or just being happy, but expect to see the overflow of God’s blessing in your life.
The disciple Thomas saw Jesus in a radical new way, when he called him ‘my Lord and my God’ (John 20:28). To call Jesus ‘Lord’ is to let him be in charge of your life.
The Bible clearly teaches that baptism is a natural step for new Christians to take:
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off — for all whom the Lord our God will call. Acts 2:38-39, NIV.
Being baptised is a vivid picture of what it means to become a Christian, by identifying with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.
We will consider baptism in more detail later in the course. If you have recently become a Christian or have not been baptised as a believer, perhaps you should be asking, ‘is this the next step for you’? Session 10, The Commitments, looks at this important topic in more detail.
Having questions or doubts does not mean you are not a Christian. It is by wrestling with them that we grow. The important thing is how you respond to them. You are on a journey that lasts a lifetime not a sprint.
When we really connect with Jesus, in the same way as Thomas did, we can be sure that this is the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We have been ‘born again’, in a spiritual way. In John 3:1-8 we read Jesus’ explanation of this to Nicodemus.
Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again. ’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” NIV
The initiative comes from God. If you have the Spirit of God living in you, then you are a Christian.
We will have much more to say about the Holy Spirit next week. For the moment, just note how central his activity is to the whole process of becoming and growing as a Christian.
Your choice (home study option)
Read Mark 1:16-17.
As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. NIV
Q) Jesus is calling you to follow him. How will you respond?
Q) As we noted above becoming a Christian is the start of a life-long journey. It is not an end in itself, there is a lot more to come. It is always good to take stock at the beginning of a journey though. Think about any unresolved issues in your life that might make you hesitate to make Jesus your Lord and decide what you are going to do about them.
Read Ephesians 2:10, NIV
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
One of the challenges for a new Christian is learning to be confident in who you have been created to be. Each of us is unique and formed by God for a purpose. We are God’s workmanship (in the passage we have just looked at the Greek word translated ‘handiwork’ is ‘poema’ - from which we get the modern English word ‘poem’. We are his creative masterpiece!) and an important part of the journey is discovering what that will look like.