Wednesday, May 30, 2012

How Should We Respond to the Message of Jesus?

"Just say this prayer after me if you want to be saved."
"With every head bowed and every eye closed, raise your hand if you need to be forgiven."
"As the music plays, come shake my hand if you need Jesus."

How should we respond to the message of Jesus Christ? Depending on who you listen to, the responses will vary considerably. Should I repeat a sincere prayer? Should I put my hand on the television screen while a man in a nice suit prays for me? Baptism? Confirmation? Good works? Join a monastery?

How does God want me to respond to the gospel of Christ?

In Acts 2 we get a glimpse at the first time the gospel is preached after Jesus ascended back to the Father in heaven and poured out the Holy Spirit on his followers. The disciples are praying and waiting when the Spirit of God comes upon them in power. They speak in other languages and give glory to God! A crowd quickly gathers, with people from different nations in attendance. Peter leads the way and preaches the gospel to the crowd. With boldness he tells them that according to God's plan, they 'crucified and killed' Jesus, but 'God raised him up' (2:23-24, ESV). Peter declares to them that 'God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified' (v36).

The gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16), and it certainly had a powerful effect on the crowd. "Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Brothers, what shallwe do?' (2:37)"

In the verses that follow we see a complete account of what our response should be to the gospel of Jesus Christ. We see:

1. Repentance of Sin. The first word out of Peter's mouth when they asked what to do in response to the message of Jesus was "Repent" (2:38). He went on to tell them to 'Save yourselves from this crooked generation' (2:40). They must no longer be attached to the sinful world.
We must turn from our sins, from our life of self-rule and love of other things more than God. We must experience a change of mind and heart that results in a new way of looking at God and sin and self. We must repent.

2. Faith in Jesus Christ. Not only must we turn away from sin, but we must turn toward Jesus, receiving him by faith. We must BELIEVE the gospel. We see this in Peter's command for the people to be baptized (2:38), which is the outward sign of inward faith in Jesus (our 'appeal to God for a good conscience' - 1 Peter 3:21). We also see their response of faith when it says they 'received his word' (2:41). They believed the gospel message of Jesus.

3. Christian Baptism. Peter told them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (2:38). Later we read, "So those who received his word were baptized..." (2:41). As we said when discussing faith, baptism is the outward sign of our faith in Jesus. It is the sign of our covenant with God in Christ, a picture of our union with Jesus in his death and resurrection, an outward washing signifying we have been cleansed inwardly by the Lord. Scripture commands us to repent of our sins, believe on Jesus, and be baptized.

4.Committing to the Local Church. The crowd heard the gospel proclaimed. They repented of sin, believed the word about Christ, and were baptized. But this is not where their response to the gospel ended. "So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls" (2:41, ESV). Those who repented, believed and were baptized were ADDED. Added to what? "And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved" (2:47). They were added to the number of believers in the church!
They were not left to themselves; this was not an individualistic journey they had begun. Their response to the message of Jesus was to become part of the life of his corporate people. God is not just 'correcting' individuals, he is building a people in Christ who grow in grace together and live out love together and work in the mission of Christ together! A people who hurt each other and learn how to forgive. A people who share their possessions and their meals. A people who enjoy fellowship together and rejoice and weep together.

We see this described beautifully in this passage:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. ..And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people... Acts 2:42, 44-47a, ESV
Their lives were completely changed! They 'devoted themselves' to the things and people of Christ. This is part of a biblical response to the gospel: a visible devotion to the local church. Sure, we become part of God's people, the body of Christ, when we are converted (repentance/faith). But the first thing we must do after conversion (be baptized) requires that we find the local church - real believers with faces and names - to baptize us. We are united with them because we share a common union with Christ and the same Holy Spirit. But this is to be lived out, displayed, in our commitment to the life of the church.

This account in Acts describes a complete, biblical response to the message of Jesus. Have you responded in this way? Have you repented of sin, believed on Christ, been baptized and commited your life to a local church?

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