(1) It's More Than Being A Church Member
In all three of the above portions of scripture, we find the word Christian. The word Christian means "to be CHRIST-like; to be a follower of CHRIST". (Many are going about under the "flag" of Christian, yet they are following everybody and everything BUT Christ.) Our scripture lesson tells us that the disciples were called Christian first in Antioch. From that time on, the word Christian was used to designate Christ's followers. To be considered a Christian or follower of Christ in those days meant one's very life was in mortal jeopardy.

In our day and time, many who attend church automatically consider themselves to be a Christian, but on the Authority of God's Word, a Christian is more than a regular attendee or church member. As Billy Sunday once put it: "Going to church does not make a person a Christian any more than going to a garage makes one a car." Many who profess the label of Christian commit sin throughout the week, but on Sunday morning, they put on their pious front and religious garb. They may teach a Sunday School class or hold some other office (position) in the church. Because they've got the church folks fooled, they (mistakenly) think that God will overlook their sinful, hypocritical life. My friend, we need to remember: God does NOT OVERLOOK sin; neither does He overlook the hypocrisy that goes on among "religious" people. The Word of God sets forth a clean-cut Gospel message. Holy living is a requirement of Almighty God.

The term "Christian" is used very loosely today. There is so much false pretense and sham that goes on, that many times the person who really wants to find God, does not know where to look. Many of us have heard someone make a similar comment to, "That person goes to church on Sunday, but you'd never know it Monday through Saturday! If that's Christianity, I want NO part of it." Or perhaps you've even witnessed to those who were disgusted with church because of certain folks they knew who "talked the talk" but didn't "walk the walk".

There are ministers and various other offices of leadership in our churches across the land (and around the world) being occupied by those who don't live according to the Word of God. Of course, they defend their actions (and so do many others) with the phrase, "Judge not." It's not a matter of being judgmental, it's a matter of knowing what we see. Those of us who profess to be "Christians", that is, followers of Christ, are supposed to live the witness of the changes Jesus Christ has wrought in our lives by salvation! One of the reasons ministers no longer preach and Sunday School teachers no longer teach the straight-forward truth of the Word of God is because they are no longer living it themselves!

(2) "Be Thou An Example"
Christian people do not have time to find fault, criticize, and backbite one another. We have only enough time to live the message before others in our homes and communities so that we may win every honestly seeking heart to God. What kind of witness of the power of God to change lives is it if folks don't see any change in us? If all a person sees in us is bickering, unhappiness, defeat, why would they want to change from the way they are currently living? What do they see in us that would draw them to our Savior??

My friends, our Heavenly Father sent His Only Begotten Son into this world. His Son paid the supreme sacrifice upon the Cross of Calvary for the salvation of our souls. If we think we can live as we please and get by, we are just lying to ourselves.

It takes good, everyday living and diligence to get to Heaven. Oh my! Folks don't like to hear that! You will hear them say: "You are not saved by works!" That's true, we are NOT saved by works, but once we have been saved by salvation through Jesus Christ, our works (that which we do everyday) WILL show it. Our everyday lives are a witness of that which lives within us: if it is of God, it will show through. If it is of the world, that too, will show.

Those who would lead you to believe that "Christianity" consists of merely shaking some deacon's hand and signing their membership book, are leading you down a pathway of ignorance and deception. Certainly, we are saved by Grace, not by works, but there must be works in our lives. Jesus, Himself, said Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. Matthew 5:16. Our "works" (that which we do daily) are the witness of Jesus Christ and the changes He has made in our lives. If there have been no changes, I ask you, where is the witness of salvation? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. Matthew 16:27. Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works' sake. Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. John 14:11,12. Oh yes, many "profess to know God", but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate. Titus 1:16.

Loose, unconcerned living will not be the witness of the new creature we were made into when we accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior! We had better mean business with God and take Him at His Word. We MUST settle it in our hearts and minds that others are watching our lives--they see the witness, or lack thereof, of what is in us! Look at what Paul told Timothy: Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. I Timothy 4:12. Whether we like it or not, God expects those who "profess" to be a "Christian" to be an example.

And whether ministers like it or not, they MUST live lives that say to their congregation, "Follow me, as I follow Christ." The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples (examples) to the flock. I Peter 5:1-3. Paul wrote, In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, Sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you. Titus 2:7,8. And just who is "he that is of the contrary"? Our adversary, the devil. Let me tell you, sometimes we have to get after old self, and that right firmly, to turn away from temptation!

The "world" needs to see the example of Christ in our lives. I said, Christ, you know the term, "CHRISTian"? Followers of Who? C-H-R-I-S-T. Sadly, the term "Christian" is now used to denote only the difference in those who (sometimes) admit there is a God as opposed to those who won't, or to differentiate between various "religions" of this world, such as Pagans, "Christians", Satanism, etc. Let me tell you, to be a "Christian", a TRUE follower of Christ entails more than merely admitting "there is a God".

What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? (This is talking about physically "saving" or "rescuing" a person.) If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? (That's what too many do: merely say they "wish someone well", yet do nothing to physically help them along.) Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? James 2:14-20.

Yes, in this day and age of ours, the term "Christian" also includes those who follow everybody BUT Christ. There is only ONE DOOR, my friend, to eternal life and it is not through some earthly man! The ONE and ONLY DOOR to eternal life is by Salvation through Who? Not the pope, not St. Peter, not Mary, not St. Paul, Collective Great Spirits, Mother Nature or Lady Luck, but through JESUS CHRIST, the ONLY Begotten SON of GOD!

The world desperately needs to see examples of true, dedicated, sold-out to God CHRISTians; those who are living according to the teachings of God's Word. It is a serious thing when we say, "I am a follower of Jesus Christ." By doing so, we are telling others that we are adhering to the teachings set forth in the Word of God. People ought to be able to see that we are living for God. What did Jesus say about it? Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16.

(3) Forsaking The Old Life
Let's consider some of the characteristics that make up a true follower of Christ. First, before a person can ever become a Christian, he (or she) must realize that they are lost, that he needs a Savior. That person must realize that he has sinned against God and His Word. He realizes that Jesus Christ gave His life for him upon Calvary's Cross. Once this realization has been accomplished, that person can then seek (ask) Christ for forgiveness of his sin. Merely raising your hand, mumbling a few words, joining a church, singing in the choir, being dipped or sprinkled, or any other submission to man-made creeds (dictates) will never make you a Christian. There must be good "old-fashioned" repenting, confession and forsaking of sin!

Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. Isaiah 55:6-8. (For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.) II Corinthians 6:2.

To be a TRUE Christian (Child of God), the wicked are to forsake their ways (read the above scripture from Isaiah again). The unrighteous are to forsake their thoughts. When one truly repents and receives forgiveness for his sins, it WILL change his mind, his affections, his desires, his very nature. The Word of God tells us, Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. II Corinthians 5:17.

What a grand and glorious declaration! Oh, you may "appear" to be the same person: your nose may still be as crooked as it was a year ago, or you may still have that bit of a bow in your back; you may still have big ears or frizzy hair, but you ARE a NEW CREATURE in CHRIST! No matter what "the world" knows about your past, it is sealed as forgiven; your sins have been cast as far away from you as the east is from the west. You will have a "new look" shining forth from you. Your outlook on life (the way you feel about things) won't be the same, the way you perceive others about you will be changed. Let me tell you, when Jesus Christ changes a life, IT IS CHANGED! No matter how hard you have tried to change yourself before, when Jesus Christ changes you, those changes reach into every aspect of your life! He doesn't forget any of the details!

And you won't have to wear a sandwich-board to declare it, either! Folks will look at you and know there is "something different" about you. It is an immediate change--you won't talk the way you used to talk, you won't think the way you used to think. That "peace that passes all understanding" that you had "heard about"? It will be there, too. The Word of God tells us that many of the things you used to love you will now hate, and many of the things you used to hate you will now love. Those things of the world that used to be so attractive to you will lose their appeal. You will want to know more about God and this wonderful Savior, Jesus Christ. You will have a burning desire to share the good news with everyone you meet. Do it! Do NOT let "the world" talk you into being ashamed of the changes that Jesus Christ has made in your life!

Secondly, when you receive Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, you will die out to self. What does that mean? It means you won't be pampering and petting and cultivating selfish desires. You won't be having pity parties; they are gone! We all know of someone who has "professed" to be saved for ten or twenty years (or even longer), but they have to have special treatment, special attention to get them to do anything, even attend church services. They need to grow up! It is a shame when pastors, or for that matter, anyone has to take time away from witnessing to the lost to pet and pamper someone who knows better than to act the way they do!

"Well, I had my feelings hurt." Get over it!! You think Jesus Christ didn't have His feelings hurt? Not only was He wounded physically, He was hurt deeply, wounded inside, for peoples' rejection of Him. "But I'm not Jesus Christ!" Nobody's crucified you, either! Jesus was spat upon, beaten, publicly stripped and humiliated, and HE was WITHOUT SPOT or BLEMISH. None of us can claim that! Look at the end of Stephen's life: he stood there that day before that group of "learned" men, knowing full well he was preaching his very last sermon. He knew it was going to cost him his life on this earth! Yet did HE back down? And you and I get offended over a "look" or a word? And then we wonder why we can't lead souls to Christ? What do they see in our lives worth taking on, I ask you?

Go back and read our scripture text, Acts 26:24-29. There stood Paul before King Agrippa, pouring out his heart as he witnessed to the king. Read again what Paul said: "King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest." See that look on Paul's face as he pled with the King, not for his own life, but that the King would believe on Jesus Christ. Had that been you or me, would we have done that? Or would we have been pleading for our life? What did Jesus say about it? Paul did it perfectly: And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 10:38,39. Paul wasn't worried about his own life; he wanted King Agrippa to accept Jesus Christ as his personal Savior! What would you and I have done that day?

Old self wants his way. He loves to sit on the throne of our lives and give orders. Self will be with us for as long as we live, but we must get "old self" under control! You don't think "self" still rules in many "Christians" lives? Just cross them and find out. Instead of a humble spirit coming forth, you will see their eyes flash and a nasty attitude come forth. Ugly words will come out of their mouths. Oh yes, some folks professing "Christianity" are hateful and ugly if you cross them in any manner.

Let me tell you, if we do not "have the goods", God will expose it sooner or later! We might fool folks for a time, but in God's time and in God's way, something will come up and we will display an attitude we did not think would ever show to the world! Whatever we have on the inside shows forth on the outside! We need to check ourselves, daily. Do we have "old self" under control? Is the Holy Spirit in control of our lives, so that even under pressure, we still act the way we ought to as a follower of Christ? Or do our actions give the devil the ammunition to say, "I knew you didn't have anything to begin with!" Let me tell you, if the Holy Ghost is directing our bark, even under pressure we will still act the way we should!

(4) Overcoming Others
Thirdly, for one to be a Christian, he must die out to what others think. This does NOT mean that we are to live just any old way we want to and not care how the world observes our “Christian walk”!! This means that we are not let what others think rule our lives, our “every day walk with Christ”. Many people would be a Christian today if it were not for the influences they have allowed other people to have in their lives. Beloved, God wants men and women today who have the backbone and “intestinal fortitude” to take a stand for God and not be as a “reed shaken in the wind”. Let me tell you, each and every one of us has an influence on somebody. Someone is watching us to see if we really are what we claim to be. Have you ever had a great deal of confidence in another Christian, only to have it blown away by something they said or did? We cannot place our confidence in others--it MUST be in Jesus Christ! Certainly, our lives are to be examples to the lost, but as Christians, we cannot follow mankind--we MUST follow WHO? CHRIST.

With all the “televangelists” that come into our homes each week, we’ve all “heard” of those who have wreaked havoc in the cause of Christ. So many of their congregations and those who watch them on tv have been discouraged, or even lost faith in serving Christ, because of the way they have conducted themselves. Their works shall be tried by fire, but in the meantime, they have caused all manner of confusion. My friends, we need to keep our eyes upon Jesus, not some preacher or teacher. Sure, we enjoy listening to them, we learn from them, but we are not to focus our confidence on mankind! We are to follow Jesus Christ!

Another direction from which we cannot allow what people say or think about us, is when our loved ones try to discourage our Christian walk. So many times, that which our loved ones see in us convicts them of their sins, and they don’t want to change their lives, they don’t want to give up that which they are doing, so they try to stop or at least discourage us from living for God. We cannot allow it. Sometimes, we find ourselves here: And a man's foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. Matthew 10:36-38. Oh, it is a hard way to keep going for Christ sometimes, but there is an eternal reward for however we live. It’s going to be one way or the other, my friends, it won’t be both. Heaven or hell, which will it be?

Oh yes, there is coming a day when we will step off this stage of life and stand before God. Have we allowed opposition in this life to cause us to turn from Him? People can cause us to go down if we let what they say move us. What was King Saul’s flimsy excuse? And Saul said unto Samuel, I have sinned: for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord, and thy words: because I feared the people, and obeyed their voice. I Samuel 15:24. We need to consistently realize that we are individually responsible before God. God knows how each of us are living: He knows our conduct, our actions, our words, our lives. He knows what we do in our homes, on the street, in our businesses and in our church buildings. It is God Who has the final say. Not some man on this earth. So we need to not let mankind rule our Christian walk, my friends.

(5) Laying Aside Hindrances
Fourth, for one to be a Christian, he (she) must set aside those things that can hinder spiritual growth. God does not require that you set aside anything that is good for you. Now understand one thing: that is not "our" definition of good--that is God's definition of good. Those things that feed our soul, cause us to grow in the Lord, make us seek more of Him, help us to be stronger in Him, those are for our good. We must "lay aside" those things that cause us to not be our best for Him.

And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret. Ephesians 5:11,12. To have a fulfilling, wholesome relationship with Jesus Christ, we must set aside those things that defile our minds. But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. I Peter 2:9.

There are many ungodly things that we allow into our lives; we defend our allowance of them with the excuse, "It won't affect me." And whether we "care" or not, others are watching our lives to see if we truly do have Jesus in us. The Word of God very plainly tells us that we are to Abstain from all appearance of evil. (I Thessalonians 5:22). The Living Bible puts it, "Keep away from every kind of evil." The NIV reads, "Avoid every kind of evil." Now you don't find that to mean "some kinds", do you? It very plainly states, in all three versions, "all" and "every"--two totally encompassing words that mean the same thing. No picking and choosing there!

...I will walk within my house with a perfect heart. I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes... Psalm 101:2,3. Now we come to another venue through which the devil gets at us, that hinders so many: that which we allow into our homes. We call it "entertainment" and that's exactly what it does--it "entertains" us AWAY from the things of God! How many of us have known better when we discovered someone reading a filthy magazine and they told us they bought it for the "articles"? Well, the joke is on ALL of us who watch ungodliness on tv and listen to it on radio.

Sadly, it's not a joke at all--it is pulling the hearts and minds of countless numbers away from their Christian walk. Far too many times, we allow the tv to babysit our children (or grandchildren) because we "don't want to be bothered". If it's something our children cannot watch, why are we sitting there taking it in? Even those who don't claim to be Christians wince at the vulgarity shown on tv, but we who "profess to know Christ" go about our business mindlessly, seemingly unconcerned with the vile filth that invades our homes.

It has often been said that nothing restores conversation in the home like a good old power outage. It's true. We eat our meals crouched around a tv--no communication (other than to yell, "Get out from in front of the tv!"). We don't have any discussions about God; we don't talk to our children about coping with this challenge or that adversity--but we sit for hours, totally immersed in "soap operas". I ask you, where is there anything in them that is uplifting to Christ? We wonder why our children won't obey us--we get our parenting lessons from the "cut-downs" and barbs on tv shows; they get their pattern of behavior from thinking that all children are supposed to behave as those on tv do.

Some might say, "I watch the preachers on tv." That's fine, but it's not an adequate substitute for assembling ourselves together, in one accord, to worship the Lord! Being a Christian is NOT living a life in isolation. That is pure old out and out selfishness. God wants us to share Him with others, whether it's in word or deed. Living a life of isolation does not allow others to see Jesus in us! It doesn't allow us to witness to others, when the opportunities arise. It doesn't allow us to speak a word of encouragement to someone who may need it more than we could ever know. Assembling with others doesn't mean you have to "put your name in membership on some church's roster", but we need to be around people. Our testimonies, our prayers, our worship, lift one another up and we are (or should be) strengthened through Christian fellowship. This is not talking about those who are physically unable to get out to church--this is about those who don't "feel well enough" to go to church, or spend time in prayer, but they are completely recovered in time for work on Monday. What are we allowing to be more important than God in our lives??

Let us be reminded of: Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. I John 2:15-17.

(6) Keep The Temple Of God Clean
The fifth characteristic of a Christian is that he (she) must be willing to set aside, (give up, abandon, no longer partake in or of) anything that defiles the "temple of God". This temple of God is not an earthly building, my friends. Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things? Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? But he spake of the temple of his body. John 2:18-21.

Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are. I Corinthians 3:16,17. When you are a child of God, your body is the temple of God. It is where the Holy Ghost dwells! That makes our bodies sacred unto God. We must be very careful what we allow into that temple! What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's. I Corinthians 6:19,20.

It takes more to be a Christian than just superficial living. It gets right down into the very depths of our hearts and lives. It is going to take the best that is within us to produce the life of a Christian. It is a full-time job. If we dedicate our efforts to being the best that God would have us to be, we will not have time to pick at anybody, or find fault with those we see (and meet). All our time will be taken up with keeping "old self" straight.

We all know that there are certain habits that are detrimental to the health of our bodies. Now, we may not have been convicted in our hearts that they are sinful, but we need to honestly examine that which we do, or that which we partake of, and see if our conscience is knocking at our heart's door about it. We try to crowd too many things into a day, and we have no time left to spend in quiet contemplation of the things of God, or time to spend before Him in prayer, so that He can deal with us on various issues in our life. This is vital to each and everyone of us as Christians. Far too many resist the leading of the Holy Spirit to make needed changes in their lives, and they lie to themselves about having been convicted of something they are doing.

Friends, we can lie (and perhaps get away with it--at least for a time) to anybody else, but we cannot lie to ourselves and we cannot lie to God. The fact that God hasn't physically appeared before you to take that cigarette out of your mouth or that beer bottle out of your hand doesn't mean that it's OK for you to continue in those habits. The fact He hasn't personally appeared to escort you out of the gambling hall or out of the adult video store doesn't mean that it's OK with Him if you continue to go there! Anyone who is honestly sincere about serving Christ with the rest of their life will seek to know Him in all His fullness. They will want to read and study the Word of God. And as the Holy Spirit opens their understanding, they will be convicted of that which is wrong in their lives. God does ALL things perfectly. We need to make certain we are allowing God to lead, guide and direct us in all things that we do.

(7) Willing Obedience
And finally, the last characteristic of a Christian that we are going to touch upon is that we must be willing to live in obedience to God. We must keep ourselves in the love of God. We must be willing to forgive and get past that which we feel someone may have done to or towards us. Doesn't mean we have to like what they did, but we have to forgive them of it. Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. Matthew 5:23,24. Forgiveness is a two-way street by the way: it not only frees us from harmful feelings towards another, but it also loosens the grip that anger and resentment may have on us! The Grace of God is sufficient under every circumstance.

Oh yes, things may be said to or about us, or done to us that wound us to our very core, but we must be able to pray, "Father, help them. Deal with them about this, Lord." If we allow strife or hatred to set up housekeeping in our hearts and minds, we will be drawn away from the love of God and we will suffer for it.

Friends, it means something unique and unlike anything else in this entire world to be a real, genuine CHRISTian, a true follower of Jesus Christ! God can see whether our heart's desire is to be the best we can be before Him. There is no peace of mind when we lay our heads down at night and know we are putting on a sham! Conversely, it is good to be able to pillow our head at night and know that all is clear toward God and our fellowman. That is the kind of peace that cannot be bought with gold or material possessions. True peace of mind can only be acquired from ONE source, and that is the Giver of Peace, Almighty God.

In summation, a person who is willing to commit his (her) life to Christ and walk in obedience to the Word of God is what makes a Christian. Not the church we attend or hold membership in, not the clothes we wear, the car we drive, where we live or who our friends are. The experience of Salvation through Jesus Christ makes life truly worth living. It is the best and most honorable life to live.

 

 

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