7 Steps in the Christian Life, Part 1

Have you ever wondered how you became a Christian? Or how you remain a Christian? You probably have, and depending on where you go to church, you’ll get an answer based on what your church or denomination teaches. That’s too bad. The church is good at many things, but giving a straight answer to a theological question usually isn’t one of them. As always, your best resource to find an answer to a spiritual question is always – always – the Bible, unfiltered and uninterpreted by theological eggheads. The dirty little secret some churches don’t want you to know is this: You don’t need them to tell you what the Bible says. Don’t get me wrong. The church is important; it is Biblical and it is vital to your well-being as a healthy believer. If you claim to be a Christian, then you are obligated to regularly fellowship with a group of believers that forms a church. Staying at home or pretending to have church in your home is a terrible idea in the 21st century. This is America. It’s not communist China. Generally speaking, you’re in no danger in this country if you go to church. Of course, just any church won’t do. You’re best bet is to find a church that holds the Bible in the highest esteem; that has a pastor who preaches from the Bible, faithfully explaining it and showing you how to apply it to your own life. The worst thing you can do is land in a church that prefers man’s teachings to God’s; that considers the writings of Calvin or Wesley or Luther or Augustine to be as good as the Bible. Or that tells you that the Bible is beyond your understanding. That’s utter nonsense. The Bible was written for any born again believer to understand. The Bible itself confirms this:

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. (Psalms 119:105 | NIV84)

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. (John 16:13 | NIV84)

The Bible is your guide, and the Holy Spirit will lead you to grasp its truths. But you have to do your part. You need to study it. You need to prayerfully read it. You need to talk about. And you need to be in a church that takes the time to explain it.

So, as I begin this series on the seven steps in the Christian life, our primary source will be the Bible. I may quote from theologians and scholars smarter than I, but remember: I always prefer the Bible. In other words, we will always defer to God’s Word.

The first step in the Christian life may seem obvious, but lay aside what you’ve been told or what you think you know and let’s discover what the Bible really has to say about it.

Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God–children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:12-13 | NIV84)

Step number one in the Christian life: Receiving Christ. But, what does it mean to “receive Christ?” We’ve all seen the late Billy Graham’s evangelistic services and the hundreds upon hundreds of people going forward at the end of his sermon to “receive Christ.” Did these people just decide they needed to “get saved” and “receive Christ” during Rev. Graham’s 20 minute sermon? Did they feel the guilt of their sins during the service to the point where they felt the only remedy was to go forward and “receive Christ” and His forgiveness? Or, was something else happening in the lives of these people; something not evident just by looking at them? Was God, in fact, working on their hearts and minds long before they showed up at the arena to hear Billy Graham’s sermon?

The ugly truth

Human beings were created in God’s image. We all know this. But when sin entered the world, everything God created changed, including human beings. As a matter of fact, you and I probably can’t conceive of what man was like as he was originally created. Can you imagine being able to walk with and talk to God as we talk to each other? Adam and Eve were created to be able to do just that. They were made to be able to relate to their Creator just as naturally as they did to each other. But sin ruined that. The ability of any human being to live in a right, healthy relationship with God, with other people, with nature, and even with himself has been completely corrupted. But, we still bear the image of God. Sin, with all its destructive power could never erase that image. Though God’s image in us has been severely marred and distorted, it’s still there. So when God looks at sinful humanity, He still sees images of Himself.

And the Lord sees people desperately in need of saving. Not only saving, but restoring. God longs to restore that image of Himself in a sinful person back to perfection. But the sinner has no such desire. He has been completely corrupted by sin. That’s the nature of sin, you see. Sin is not just a bad decision or some moral failing. It’s direct rebellion against what God wants. The day Adam and Eve sinned and disobeyed God, they literally began to die both physically and spiritually. That death was passed on to every one of their descendants.

Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. (Psalms 51:5 | NIV84)

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned…. (Romans 5:12 | NIV84)

For the wages of sin is death… (Romans 6:23 | NIV84)

Every human being today is born estranged from God. Earlier I said that when God looks at all people, He sees distorted images of Himself. That’s true, but He also sees something else. He sees something He didn’t put there. He sees sin. Every child born has a sinful nature that God cannot look at. That’s one of the consequences of sin, and it’s a devastating consequence because it impacts every single area of our lives because it effects our wills. In simple terms, every single human being acts in accord with their sinful nature. Paul described what that looks like:

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing. (Romans 7:15-19 | NIV84)

Without Christ, people are, by their very nature, estranged from God and hostile to Him. We have wills that don’t want to obey God. We have eyes that can’t see Him and ears that are deaf to Him because without Christ, we are dead to God.

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins…. (Ephesians 2:1 | NIV84)

That’s the ugly truth about every baby born and every human being who has ever lived.

What it means

What that means is this: There is not a human being who has ever lived who wanted to get saved. Nobody woke up one morning and decided that “today is a good day to convert to Christ.” Why? The answer is simply that because we are dead to God, we can’t in any way relate to Him. Our sinful nature rebels against Him. Our wills don’t want to have anything to do with God and His will. While we may, on a day-to-day basis, make wise choices and choices that may benefit ourselves and society, every single choice we make is influenced by our sinful nature. In theology, we call this “total depravity.” You probably have heard that term. Here’s what it does not mean. It doesn’t mean we are as bad as we can be. It means that all aspects of our being have been negatively impacted by sin. Sure, we can all do good things by society’s standards, but all those good things are sinful if they aren’t done for God’s glory. People may choose to do good, but because they are dead to God, they are not doing good to please God or in obedience to Him. That’s why no matter how good and moral a sinner may be, it’s not good enough to tip the scales in their favor. Their sin will always outweigh the good they may do.

That’s why people need Jesus. Sin came into the world because of what Adam did. You and I may not be guilty of Adam’s sin, but we all inherited his sinful nature. And that sinful nature is what keeps us away from God. But Jesus, the Son of God, came to earth to undo what Adam did.

For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:19 | NIV84)

You see, Jesus succeeded where Adam failed – Adam sinned but Jesus didn’t – if we receive Jesus then we also receive His nature. Or we could day, when we receive Jesus, the old sinful nature we received from Adam is taken away from us and we are given a new nature from Jesus.

The crux of the matter

In John’s Gospel, the apostle laid it on the line and wrote bluntly about something we all have noticed even today.

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. (John 1:10 | NIV84)

That’s because the eyes of the sinner can’t see Jesus for who He is. Their thought processes have been completely corrupted by sin. We Christians know who Jesus is: the Son of God, because our eyes have been opened by God. But they see Jesus as everything but. They see Jesus as a good man, a prophet, a teacher, or a nut.

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” (Mark 8:27-28 | NIV84)

And that’s why nobody who has ever lived just decided on their own to “receive Jesus.” They couldn’t because they were never able to.

And yet, it seems some do.

Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…. (John 1:12 | NIV84)

Something happened so that some would receive Jesus. Really, a couple of things were going on in the background to make this divine transaction possible. First, they were being drawn to Jesus by the Spirit of God.

But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself. (John 12:32 | NIV84)

That’s Jesus explaining to His then-confused apostles why He had to be crucified. The whole reason our Lord gave up the glories of heaven and came to earth was to hang on a cross, which released the power within Him to draw sinners to Himself. Without the cross and everything Jesus did on it, we’d all be thinking Jesus was a good man, a prophet, a teacher, or a nut.

Second, the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of the sinner just enough to glimpse the truth about Jesus.

But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. (Matthew 16:15-17 | NIV84)

That’s how a person is able to see Jesus for the very first time – somehow the Spirit of God reveals the truth to him. We don’t know how it happens, but it does. And the third thing that happens is this:

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 | NIV84)

God’s grace saves the sinner when, through faith given him by God, he opens up to receive Jesus. Nobody receives Jesus on his own and no preacher, not even the great Billy Graham, can save a person through a sermon. It’s a work of God from beginning to end. Someone, I don’t know who, wrote this about the Gospel, the Word of God:

The Christian gospel offers salvation freely in Jesus Christ. It is a work of God from beginning to end. God is the active giver. He chooses, He draws, He saves, and He keeps. It is all His doing. Anything less is not the gospel.

Or, as the Bible, our primary source in our look at the 7 steps in the Christian life, puts it:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 | NIV84)

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. (Ephesians 1:4 | NIV84)

And finally, how does a person stay saved? The answer is simple.

To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy…. (Jude 1:24 | NIV84)

It’s an amazing thing, this salvation of ours. God did all the work, but we enjoy all the benefits.

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