Sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Larry Maley at Dardenne Presbyterian Church on August 6, 2017
“Faith Is Not a Destination, But a Journey”
Scriptures: 2 Peter 1:5-11 and Acts 2:42-47
Committing oneself to Jesus Christ for the original Christians was not a destination; it was the beginning of a difficult journey. And that emphasis on the Christian life as a steadfast journey has been lost by many modern believers in America.
Today, too much emphasis is placed upon the initial decision to believe. At a particular moment a potential Christian makes a “decision” to trust, or put their faith in Christ. In our eagerness to make converts, we allow our hearers to absorb the idea that they will be complete and responsible Christians through a once and for all decision to believe in Christ. After making one’s initial “decision” to believe, the impression is given that maturing as a Christian is automatic. After declaring your faith, just hang around with church people for an extended, undefined period and you will be mysteriously transformed into a faithful, exciting, productive disciple of Christ.
This spiritual maturation by osmosis is not taught in so many words, but the effect is inadvertently created by our failure to continually instruct believers about the challenges, obligations and responsibilities of the Christian life. Jesus made no such mistake when He invited people to follow Him. He challenged people to weigh the costs of being His follower (Luke 14:28-30). He informed would-be disciples that following Him would bring obstacles, rejection (John 15:18-19), separate families (Matt. 10:36-37), and even usher in persecution from the world (Matt. 5:11-12; 10:38-39). Those first believers turned to Christ with the full understanding that they were espousing an unpopular cause that could cost them everything. They knew that they would henceforth be members of a hated minority group with life and liberty always in jeopardy. What has “your decision” to follow Christ cost you?
In the Book of Acts faith was for every believer the beginning of a new, demanding, challenging life. Believing in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord was the start of a journey, not a bed in which to lie while waiting for the day of our Lord’s triumphal return. They accepted that there would be significant work to be done to spread the Good News about Christ. Believing was not a once-done act. It was an attitude of the heart and mind which inspired the believer to take up her or his cross and follow the Lord wherever His Spirit led them (Mark 8:34).
According to the New Testament, on any given day in Jerusalem – be it on the first Pentecost (Acts 2:41) or later (Acts 5:14, 6:7); or in Galilee and Samaria (9:31); or in Antioch (11:21-24), or in Macedonia (16:5), people believed, were baptized, and joined the community of faith. Their growing numbers were exciting – but what about tomorrow; and the next day; and the next week? How would anyone know whether or not their conversion was genuine? How could they answer the critic’s charge that new believer’s had surrendered under the psychological pressure? Or, new Christians had merely been swept up in the religious fervor of a radical religion? Obviously, there was only one effective rebuttal: “They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42).
The Greek word (“proscarterountes”) translated “continued steadfastly” in Acts 2:42, means those original Christians continued practicing their faith despite serious opposition. Steadfastness is required only when we are under attack, mental or physical. The story of those early Christians is a story of faith under fire. Shortly after Pentecost some new believers were jailed, many lost all their earthly goods, a few were slain outright, and hundreds were “scattered abroad” (Acts 8:1-4). The Apostle Paul continually exhorted believers to remain steadfast despite the opposition they endured (1 Cor. 16:13; Gal. 1:6; Eph. 6:11-13; Col. 2:20; Heb. 12:3).
They could have escaped all the rejection and persecution thrown at them by simply denying their faith and returning to the world. But they steadfastly refused to do so. Comparing their faith practice to the Christian faith practiced by many Americans, how many believers today are “steadfastly continuing” in the faith? How many people come to church for a season during their lifetime, and then cease participating? How can 75% of Americans claim to be Christian according to a 2015 Gallup poll, yet less than 20% regularly attend a local church?
Do those sad figures represent our modern understanding of being steadfast in the faith? Or, have we become a nation of religious weaklings; avoiding any inconvenience which faith may cause in our lives and fleeing from any suffering we might endure on account of our faith in Christ?
I fear we have diluted the demands of the Gospel of Christ in order to convince people to “accept Christ” for what they can get out of Him. In order to gain converts today, we play down the difficulties of following Christ and promote the peace of mind and worldly success enjoyed by those who “accept Christ.” WE have attempted to dilute Christianity into a proper and respectable thing with little mention of humanity’s sin:
- We are not being honest with potential believers if we fail to tell them that they are moral rebels in need of a Savior.
- We are not being honest with potential believers if we avoid warning them that without Christ they will surely perish eternally.
- We are not honest with potential believers if we do not inform them that if they turn to Christ, the same enemies who crucified Him may try to crucify them.
Those first believers turned to Christ with the full understanding that they were espousing an unpopular cause that could cost them everything. Despite the consequences, they placed their confidence in the fact that one day they would arrive at a destination called Heaven. Yet they had no delusions: in order to reach that Eternal destination they would endure a grueling, steadfast journey with Christ’s Spirit on earth (Hebrews 11:33-38). They realized that their faith was an arduous journey to a glorious destination!
American Christians should not be surprised at the ridicule, resistance, rejection and ruthlessness which may be directed at us by a world which is turning its back on God. Such hostility and persecution is happening every day to fellow Christians around the world who willingly sacrifice their lives so they might win others to Christ.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, we are on a faith journey which requires “steadfast endurance” if we are to attain the “prize of the Heavenly call of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). What is it costing you to follow Jesus Christ today?