Much of the focus in churches is filling the pews. That's good; one of the church's primary duties is to reach the lost. The church is here to spread its message and to save souls. To evangelize.
The next step, often neglected, is discipleship. After we get them in the pews, we don't teach them what it means to be a Christian. Fortunately, almost two centuries ago, Brownlow North, a bishop of the Anglican Church from 1770-1821, wrote down six steps for new Christians to help them grow in the faith. I think that every Christian, be he on milk or meat, can benefit from applying the steps on this list.
1. Never neglect daily private prayer; and when you pray, remember that God is present, and that he hears your prayers (Heb 11:6).
Being omnipresent in our reality, God is present during your prayers and he hears your request. This doesn't obligate him to answer affirmatively, but he is present and he does hear you. That's simple, yet very deep. I've heard it said that it is impossible to stumble while on your knees.
2. Never neglect daily private Bible reading; and when you read remember that God is speaking to you, and that you are to believe and act upon what he says. I believe all backsliding begins with the neglect of these two rules (Jn 5:39).
Daily prayer and daily Bible reading are the most important factors of becoming a Christian. The necessity of God for the universe is an awesome, if abstract, idea to think of and discuss. However, the necessity of God for one's own life is more interesting, making the discussion less abstract and much more personal.
We're called "friends of God." In biblical society, serfs probably never saw the sovereign. But, through the power of prayer, we get to talk to the sovereign, confess our deepest fears and desires, and God hears them!
In Genesis 18:22-33, Abraham is able to strike a conditional bargain with God -- if 10 righteous people can be found in the city of Sodom, then God will spare it. God took into consideration what Abraham had said, and did as was befitting a truly righteous judge.
Remember, neglecting the first two rules will cause more backsliding in your life than anything else. So get to praying and reading that Bible!
3. Never let a day pass without trying to do something for Jesus. Every night reflect on what Jesus has done for you, an then ask yourself, "What am I going to do for him?" (Mt 5:13-16).
I once told an atheist, "God created the universe, you, gives you life and sustains your existence, and sent his Son to die for your sins."
He responded by asking what else has God done, really?
God has done a lot for humanity, even though we don't deserve it. Most of the time, we're just not grateful. We never pause to think that this wondrous universe, beautiful planet, and the next breath we will take all come from God. So, let's ask what we can do for God instead of always the other way around. He's done plenty already.
4. If you are in doubt as to a thing being right or wrong, go to your room and kneel down and ask God's blessing on it (Col 3:17). If you cannot do this, it is wrong.
This touches on the instinctual nature of moral duties. Normal people know the difference between right and wrong. My three-year-old, for example, knows that she has to listen to mommy and daddy when we tell her to do things. When she doesn't, she admits that she knows and understands that it was wrong.
But this instinct alone (call it conscience) isn't enough. It's a great start, and this "prayer test" is simple and awesome. It presupposes a generally good nature, and since we are made in the image of God we have enough goodness to know the difference between right and wrong.
5. Never take your Christianity from Christians, or argue that because such and such people do so and so, therefore, you may (2 Cor 10:12). You are to ask yourself, "How would Christ act in my place?" and strive to follow him (Jn 10:27).
Because other people do it, that doesn't make it okay. As a manager for over a decade and a half in the fast food industry, every single time I dealt with someone's tardiness the first thing I always got to hear was an angry litany of names of other people who are "always late."
That's what North is talking about. Using another's behavior to justify your own is not acceptable. Take responsibility for yourself.
We cannot justify our actions by comparing them to what others do. The yardstick for comparison is the instinctual moral standard (see rule #4). It doesn't matter what our peers do.
North might be the first to ask, "What Would Jesus Do?" If we follow rule #1 and rule #2, we're on our way to having a good sense of the correct answer.
6. Never believe what you feel, if it contradicts God's Word. Ask yourself, "Can what I feel be true if God's Word is true?" And if both cannot be true, believe God's Word and make your own heart the liar (Rom 3:4; 1 Jn 5:10-11).
Susan B. Anthony once said, "I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires." She's right, and we need an objective measure of truth -- not our "feelings."
Knowing and doing are totally different. Everyone knows it's wrong to steal, yet people are in jail for everything from petty theft to the Enron scandal. Everyone knows its wrong to cheat on your spouse, yet that is one of the main reason couples divorce.
While the conscience is effective at blowing the whistle, we are equally as effective at ignoring the noise. More troubling, we can often delude ourselves into believing that God is on our side.
Look at liberal theologians like Rob Bell. They are very good at redefining God, rendering eternal judgment unnecessary or evil. Suddenly, our choices lose eternal significance. Now, people can be comfortable as they are instead of embracing the life-changing effects of the gospel. Instead of "Go, and sin no more" we are being told "Sin boldly, all will be forgiven." That's quite different than what Jesus would say, and the total opposite of Paul's salvation by grace through faith.
No wonder Susan B. made the statement she did.
The Bible states "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jer 17:9). Though the conscience can be an excellent guide, we can ignore it in favor of pursuing our own passions. Let Scripture stand as the objective measure by which we know what is right and wrong. Don't trust your gut.
Applying North's six short rules to our walk with Christ, every day, will ensure that the gospel message changes us. God, if he is really God, won't conform to our expectations. He will, however, give us the strength and tools to conform to his expectations -- the image of his Son, Jesus Christ.
Cory Tucholski is a passionate defender of the Christian faith. He is the husband of one amazing woman and the proud daddy of two fantastic children. Cory runs the apologetics blog Josiah Concept Ministries (http://josiahconcept.org).
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