February 24, 2019

Are You a Disciple of Jesus?

Matthew 28:19-20; 1 Peter 2:4-8

I have been with a lot of people and their families through the dying process.  I have discovered that most families believe that their loved one has moved from this life into a life of comfort, a life beyond this one that is better to a place we refer to as heaven.

In fact, very few people believe or even entertain the idea that their loved one might have slipped away into eternal torment, a place we call hell.

Recently, a professor at a Baptist college in Missouri was fired because he did not fully embrace the concept of hell as a place of eternal punishment.  Instead, the professor said that more New Testament passages describe hell as destruction rather than eternal punishment.

Part of our problem as Baptists is that we spend too time arguing about things like whether hell is a place of destruction or a place of eternal punishment, that we forget the more important issue, that far too many people don’t believe that we can end up in either kind of situation.

A lot of people have a difficult time coming to terms with the grace of God and accepting the grace of God and never do, which is necessary for salvation.

The irony is that when a loved one dies, even those that may not have accepted God’s grace in their own lives want to claim the grace of God for others.

Do you hear what I’m saying? We seem to want to claim God’s grace and the gift of heaven for people that we love, even if that person never asked God for that gift themselves.

When it comes to salvation, the scriptures point to the importance of each of us asking God for his grace ourselves, because it is important that we acknowledge that we need God, that we are deficient without God. I cannot claim salvation on your behalf.

I have heard several conversations like this when I’ve asked people to talk about their loved ones:

“Daddy was a good person.  He would give you the shirt off of his back. Don’t get me wrong.  He had his faults.  He wasn’t a church going person, but he often told me that he worshipped God in his own way.  If there was anyone that deserved to go to heaven, it was my daddy.  He was always helping other people.  I know he’s up there today with grandmother, and granddaddy and his brothers and sisters.”

Now can you tell me where this man was spending eternity?  I can’t. I will never claim to know what was in someone’s heart.  But the person telling me about his daddy believed he was in heaven.  Why? Two reasons.

  1. He believed his daddy was a good man and he thought that good people go to heaven.
  2. Secondly, it’s less stated and more implied. He believed that a God of love and grace would not send a good man like his daddy to a place of destruction or eternal punishment.

The reason I can’t tell you where the man will spend eternity is that God is always the judge, not me.  I am never the final authority of what is in someone’s heart.

Of course, we can have a good indication of what is in someone’s heart based on what people say and based on what they do, but that still doesn’t make us the judge.

Romans 2:2 reads:  “So do you think that you can judge those other people? You are wrong. You too are guilty of sin. You judge them, but you do the same things they do. So when you judge them, you are really condemning yourself.”

We are not the final judge. We are not the final judge of people we know that have been good people.

We are not the final judge of people that have lived sinful lives and never gone to church.

We are not the final judge of a Muslim in an Arab country that has never heard the name of Jesus.

We are not the final judge of a child that dies having never made a profession of faith.

God is the final judge.  We may hold beliefs and opinions.  We may quote a scripture passage to back up what we believe about these questions, but we are not the final judge.

Because I worship a God of love and a God of grace, I feel good about God being the final judge, not me.

God is the Alpha and the Omega.  God is the one who says who enters into the Kingdom of God.

God is the judge, the final judge.  His judgment is just, holy, pure, and omniscient.

It is helpful to know a few things about our path to heaven based on the Bible.

While the Bible tells us that our faith without works is dead, nowhere does the Bible say good deeds is the criteria for going to heaven.  

Yet of the hundreds of families I have journeyed with through death, I have met very few who voiced a belief that their loved one would be separated from God by death.

While there is nothing wrong with believing that our loved ones are spending eternity with God and others in heaven, claiming they are there because of their goodness does not make it so.

Nor does claiming God’s grace on their behalf make it so.  If it did, then it would not matter how long someone has been dead, we could still claim God’s grace on their behalf.

If a loved one dies, we all have a strong desire to see them and be reunited with that person again.

Often the language I hear is that heaven is an entitlement.  It is a door we enter automatically, like a baby leaving the mother’s womb and coming into the reality of the world on the outside.

Is that how it works?

It’s interesting that heaven or hell doesn’t play a prominent role in Jesus preaching?  If you listened to preachers of the era before us, you would think that Jesus spoke of both on every other page of the New Testament, but he doesn’t.

Jesus is much more concerned with people understanding what the Kingdom of God should look like.

He wants people to change their ethical standards.  He wants our hearts to change so that the love of God becomes the most important thing in our lives.

He wants us to start considering our neighbor and love them as much as we love ourselves.

He wants us to stop living selfishly and honor God with our money and our resources by taking care of those in need.

He wants us to turn away from violence and find peaceful ways to solve problems.

He wants us to embrace him and follow him as a teacher and leader.

He told his disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  (Matthew 28:19-20).

When someone dies, people ask, “Was he a good person?  Did she do good things in the community?”

What if we just asked, “Was that person a disciple of Jesus?”

Actually, that’s the question we should ask while a person is living.

Most of us ask another question, “Are you saved?”  By that, we usually mean, “Have you accepted the grace of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins?

It is an essential question because Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

But the question, “Are you a disciple of Jesus?” implies that we are continuing on a journey with Jesus.  

Some people “get saved,” and then they stop following, which brings up the question, “Are you really saved if you don’t follow.”

This is what I know.  If you are not following Jesus, you are going to get lost.

Maybe I can explain it like this.

Most houses have air conditioning systems that have filters that need to be changed regularly.  The filters are the lifeline of the system.  If the filter is never changed, eventually it will cause a malfunction in the unit, and it will stop running.

A lot of people come into the Christian faith by saying a sinner’s prayer.  They might have been baptized at some point in their lives and affirm that they are saved.   If that’s the only prayer they pray, and the Holy Spirit isn’t filtering what is going through our lives, you can be assured we are going to break down.   

We must engage in the disciplines of the faith to filter out sin which will continue to mount up in our lives.   If the filter is never changed, our lives will break down.  If we stop exercising the disciplines of our faith, it will be impossible to tell whether we are Christians.

We are saved by grace through faith -yes.   But faith must be exercised for grace to be distributed.

Yes, this can happen in a moment, in an instant, with the confession of one’s mouth that Jesus is Lord.  It is not a result of works.

However, once saved, God is looking to take our salvation experience, root it, and help us to yield fruit.

The Apostle Peter wrote: “Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander. 2Like newborn infants, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” (1 Peter 2:1-3)

Salvation is more than about being a good person.  Salvation is more than about going to heaven.  Salvation is about the Lord being good and us being able to demonstrate that goodness through our lives.

Because the Lord is good, holy, just, merciful, kind, and compassionate, we are inspired to be his disciples.  We want to be molded in his image.

Peter continues with these words:

4As you come to Him, the living stone, rejected by men, but chosen and precious in God’s sight, 5you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

When we speak of salvation, it is essential that we do not just talk of heaven, of some gift of eternal life given to us after we die.

If we think of salvation only as the gift of heaven and the avoidance of hell, then we are not likely to think of ourselves as disciples of Jesus.

As disciples of Jesus, we are active participants with Jesus in his Resurrection.

Peter calls Jesus the living stone. We are not disciples of a person that lived two thousand years ago.  We are disciples of a living Jesus, one who knows us and interacts with us, and who lives within us.

Because we choose to follow Jesus, Peter says that we are like living stones so that the spiritual house that we build forms a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ.

Unless you die a sudden death, one day, someone will stand at your deathbed.  What will they say to those in the room?

Will they say, “He/she was such a good person. I know he/she is in heaven”?

Although people may not frame it like this, maybe their comments will be more like this: “She was a disciple of Jesus.  She knew the Lord.  The Lord knew her.  Jesus was the cornerstone of her life.  Not only did she accept Jesus into her life, but you could tell that by everything she did and said.”

Will something like that be said about you?

Salvation isn’t just about avoiding hell and going to heaven.  Salvation is a process of becoming more like Jesus.

Being a disciple of Jesus is a constant process of allowing God to do maintenance on our souls. If we are not submitting our lives to the Savior, how can we be his disciples?

I want to ask you today, “Are you a disciple of Jesus?”  Are you following Jesus’ commandments?  Do you try to live by his ethical standards?  Are you concerned about others the way he asked us to be?  Have you asked him to forgive you of your sins and save you by his grace?

If you are not a disciple of Jesus, as good of a person as you may be, are you confident that’s enough for Jesus?