13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realised that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. 14 But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. 15 So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together. 16 “What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everybody living in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it. 17 But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn these men to speak no longer to anyone in this name.”
18 Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. 20 For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
19 Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. 20 Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. 21 The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
22 News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. 24 He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord. 25 Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the Church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.
The words Christian and Christianity have lost so much of their true meanings in the modern world. The Internet and good old-fashioned encyclopaedias have colour-coded maps that show us which are ‘Christian countries.’ If someone is a nice person they’re sometimes described as a ‘good Christian.’ The name our parents give us at birth is called our Christian name. Even when we look at the Church, there is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding of just what Christianity really is. For some Christianity is a system of rules and rituals, and nothing more than one of the many religious options we have to choose from.
I could go on, but there are many false ideas out there (and unfortunately, even in the Church) about just what it means to be a Christian. So the word Christian needs to be rescued and its original meaning restored. In the midst of the religious turmoil and confusion of our day, we need to search for and find a genuine Christianity once more. Just what is genuine Christianity? In order to try and answer that question, we need to go back to the original sources. We need to look at the story of the Christian Church in the 1st century.
As we examine the lives and actions of the very first Christians, one of the first things we learn is that Christianity is not a religion. Neither is genuine Christianity a creed, and it certainly is not a cult.
Rather, it was a new way of life centred and built around the person and purpose of a crucified but risen and living Lord. God, in and through Jesus Christ, revealed His divine concern for the redemption of lost people from sin. In Christ God expressed His determination to deliver people from the penalty and power of sin. If we look at the lives of the first generation of Christian disciples we find that as they put their faith in Jesus, there were incredible changes in their attitudes, their ambitions and in their very lives. Of course, they, just like 21st century Christians, were accused of turning the world upside down, while in reality they were actually turning the world the right side up.
This brand of Christianity they portrayed and taught 2000 years ago remains the desperate need of the world today. They understood just what it meant to dedicate their lives to Jesus, because it is He alone who can bring authentic change in people’s lives. And our world today desperately needs to rediscover an appreciation of the spiritual and become aware of the presence and power of God. As people try to fill their lives with worldly things, all they discover is a hunger that becomes more intense as time goes by.
And we as the Church – those God has called to be His instrument of grace today – need to get back to the roots and basics of our faith. As those who claim to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, we need to re-examine the Bible and evaluate our own faith and witness. Why was the early Church so effective? What was the source of the spiritual effectiveness of the early disciples? How were they able to accomplish so much?
And is it possible for us to experience the same kind of transformation they did? The answer to that question is an emphatic yes, but it will require a fundamental change in our hearts and minds if we are to be as effective for the Kingdom as our 1st century brothers and sisters in Christ were. These early disciples lived Christ-centred lives. They didn’t turn the world right side up by living self-centred lives. They didn’t change the course of history because of a passion for riches and personal glory. There was a cost of discipleship that they clearly understood, and willingly paid. Because Jesus was at the centre of their thoughts and activities and because they surrendered themselves to His mission of redeeming the lost, God used them and blessed them in the most amazing ways. You can’t help but wonder just how effective they would be in today’s world of modern travel, technology and social media.
So is Jesus at the centre or is He on the circumference of your life? Is He a dear friend to you or a distant stranger that you kind of know, but prefer to keep at an arm’s length?
Do you spend time with Him, and do you listen to Him through the written Word and the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit?
To what extent do you identify with the passion that took Him from the majesty and glory that is rightfully His, that He willingly gave up to come from heaven to earth and eventually to the cross?
This morning we will be looking at three characteristics that define the Christ-centred life. They are three qualities the first generation of Christians had, that we are able to use as we evaluate just how much Jesus is or isn’t at the centre of our own lives.
Firstly, the Christ-centred life is characterised by a glad surrender to the will of God.
In the words of Peter and John, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
The supreme desire of Jesus was to do the will of God. In John 4:34 He said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work.” Jesus defined His mission in terms of the will of God. In John 6:38 He said, “I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of Him who sent me.”
Even while He suffered the agony in Gethsemane, Jesus remained completely surrendered to the will of God, knowing full well that the cross awaited Him. In His prayer in the garden He prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”
Because we’re surrounded by so much pain and suffering caused by human sin, many people have this picture in their minds of God as some kind of sadistic, cruel and vindictive God. God is not the cause of our pain – we are. It is because we live by worldly standards that the vast majority of us have little or no idea that God only wants the best for us. This misunderstanding is precisely what Paul addresses in Romans 12:2. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then (and only then) you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is - His good, pleasing and perfect will.” In other words, move yourself aside, live a Christ-centred life, and then you will begin to see and understand God for who He really is.
God’s will is always good in the long run. In Exodus 34:6 He says of Himself, “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” In Romans 8:28 Paul writes “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”
His purposes for us and for others are defined by His measureless love for us. Of course, doing God’s will sometimes involves suffering and sacrifice. The cross is the perfect example, and the apostle Paul again put suffering for doing the will of God in its right perspective in Romans 8:18. “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Jesus looked beyond the cross to the joy of bringing the greatest possible glory to God and the greatest possible blessing to people. And if we are ever to find true happiness and joy in this life, we need to learn to surrender to the will of God for us.
The second characteristic of a true Christ-centred life is that our lives become a joyous sacrifice.
There is a joy that can come through sacrifice. If we are to become true followers of Jesus Christ, we must be willing to follow His example. The things that were of supreme value to Him must become of supreme value to us. Jesus said of Himself in Mark 10:45, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
He defined His goal and purpose for living in terms of a complete sacrificial giving of Himself to meet the deepest needs of others. And it all points to the cross, which is at the centre of the Christian faith. The cross cannot be removed from Christianity. Yes, we need to be a voice of reason, and we certainly have a role to play in society, speaking out against oppression and all the other social ills in the world. But pointing people to the cross is ultimately what the Church is to do. Jesus bore the cross for us, and as we place Him at the centre of our lives, we soon learn that there is a cross of sacrifice for each of us to bear. Most (if not all) of us are guilty of searching for a costless religion. We would like very much to have a religion of comfort and convenience, and we easily forget the fact that all things of great significance are purchased through suffering and sacrifice. If we want to play our role in the task of saving the world, we must find the cross that God wants us to bear. We must then put our life on the cross and give ourselves completely to bring redemption to those whom God is seeking to reach through us. The apostle Paul was an important and powerful man before God turned his world the right way up, but he willingly sacrificed it all for Jesus.
In Philippians 3 he writes, “whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ - the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”
True Christianity is not giving God the leftovers of our lives after we have done the things we want to do first. If we are to learn what it means to live a Christ-centred life, we have to understand just what it means to sacrifice our own lives for Jesus.
And the third characteristic we’re looking at today is that the Christ-centred life is a life of loving service.
Jesus defined true greatness in terms of service. Quoting from Mark 10 again: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
Jesus did far more than simply going around doing good. He gave Himself utterly and completely in ministries of mercy to those who were suffering. And He didn’t restrict His love to those in His hometown or to His own group of friends and followers. He crossed racial and religious barriers to minister to the outcast and to the unfortunate.
We can do that too, if we allow God to use us. His Holy Spirit will empower us to give of ourselves unselfishly in service to others, if we would only ask Him to. We were created to love and serve each other. Of course, our sin makes us self-centred and selfish, but that was never God’s original intention for us. As we are given this new birth by the Spirit, His original plan when He created us is reactivated if you like. And what is His plan for us concerning others? Ephesians 2:10 has the answer: “We are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” That’s His will for your life, but it’s only possible to do these things if you live a Christ-centred life. The mission statement of our congregation is to communicate the Gospel of Jesus in service of God, each other, and the world.
As the Spirit transforms and changes us from within, He will fill our hearts with compassionate concern for others. If you feel this is not happening for you, then it is nothing more than a warning and a clear sign that you are not living a Christ-centred life.
God created us to love and serve others. We often struggle to understand the specifics of His will for our lives, but undergirding the specifics is the principle that we are to be His servants as we play our role in serving others in the name of Jesus.
What we need to understand is that everything we do in the name of Jesus is out of gratitude for who He is and for what He has done for us. Our gratitude demands that we are to give ourselves gladly in ministries that will touch the lives of others with the love of God. Do you want your non-believing friends and family to turn to Jesus? Of course you do, and I’m sure you’ve realised by now that you’re not going to drag them kicking and screaming into the Kingdom. Nor are you going to convince them of the truth of the Gospel by getting into intellectual debates and arguments. But you can love them into the Kingdom. As we live out our Christ-centred lives, God can and does use us in the most amazing ways.
The need of a world that is lost and without hope demands a radical commitment to obedience and to service on the part of those who know Jesus Christ as Saviour. True fulfillment, the abundant life that Jesus came to offer us comes only to those who give themselves unreservedly to the cause that brought Him from heaven to earth.
He died so that we might live. And He calls us to live so that others may not die eternally.
Allow Him to use you and to help you to really see Him and trust Him.
So what is genuine Christianity? What does it really mean to be a Christian? I pray that God has opened our eyes to the truth today. There are no grey areas here. Jesus Christ is either at the centre of our lives, or He is irrelevant, and of no real consequence to us. He is either Lord of all, or not at all.
Homegroup Study Notes
What are some of the incorrect definitions or understandings of the words ‘Christian’ and ‘Christianity’ we hear in the world today?
Why do you believe there is so much confusion when it comes to defining genuine Christianity?
Read Acts 4:13-20 and 11:19-26
On Sunday we looked at three qualities that characterise the Christ-centred life:
1. Surrender to the will of God
2. Joyful sacrifice
3. Loving service to others
Discuss these characteristics as we see them in the lives of the first Christians in the book of Acts.
How do we see these same characteristics in the Church today?
What other qualities define true, authentic Christianity?
Do you believe it is possible to live a Christ-centred life, and if so, what changes do you need to make in your own life?
It has been said that the non-believing world forms their opinions of who God is and what He is like based on the behaviour of those who profess to believe in Him and follow Him.
What excites you about this statement?
What frightens you?
Close by praying that the Lord would teach us just what it really means to live a Christ-centred life.