CROSSING OVER ♦ INTRODUCTION
Easter Sunday service had just ended, and I waited inside the side entrance for my family. We were heading to lunch. Soon a gentleman strode down the hallway who I recalled had walked the aisle to accept Christ during the service. He was tall and slim, wore a trendy hairstyle, and donned a white suit that I found more than ironic this day. I was excited to see him because my heart rejoiced for him. But it troubled me watching him walk out of the church like he walked down that aisle, alone.
It concerned me because I have watched people come to Christ time and again after repeatedly falling away for frustration and personal failings. Moreover, I have witnessed it largely due to a lack of discipleship and faulty teaching that disservice new believers by leaving them not fully converted. So these people become disappointed with themselves and the difficulty of following Christ and fall back into old, sinful patterns.
I didn’t want this to happen with this man because I believed he was sincere about his decision. I had no idea what things he was told when he left the auditorium with the prayer counselors. I couldn’t tell whether he had received any literature nor did I know if he was promised a follow-up interview. But I knew that I could add my congratulations and encouragement. So I followed him outside and approached him as he stood waiting for someone.
What I talked with him about is the subject of this study: how to start the Christian life. This is where many new converts fail. They are told what being a Christian is and presented the long list of duties and expectations, but they falter at the very beginning because they don’t always understand how to do what they are supposed to be. Let me explain.
In the last few months of my high school career, I became anxious when I thought about life after graduation. I knew that a major change in my life was approaching, a change that I welcomed and had desired for a long time. No more school—hallelujah!—but then what? I recall asking my mother, “What am I supposed to do after graduating? Is it just free time? Do I wake up and go to work every day?” As momentous as being graduated was, what did graduates do exactly? The script had changed.
It’s the same for new Christians. (I will assume that you are a new believer.) Perhaps you have watched your parents, grandparents, friends, and acquaintances change their behavior, love God, go to church, read their Bibles, and share their faith; you have rightly understood that to be who Christians are and what they do. You may have some idea what the life of faith is all about, but not the entire picture. Any anxiety you feel about it, however, is probably because this is no longer the script you can pass over for another. It is now your script, and you may be unsure how to make the first step to what you know lies ahead. Take courage. I’ve found that even some veteran Christians don’t truly understand what the landscape of Christian living looks like or discern the goal. Just be glad that you’re reading this.
This study is written to be a primer for new Christians. Many books with beginner audiences often deal with deeper theological topics, like God’s attributes, Jesus’s life, and various doctrines—all good and necessary information to understand. But this study is the step ahead of those topics. It is written to answer your personal questions, like “What has happened to me?” “What do I do now?” “Am I supposed to pray and read the Bible?” “How do I shake my bad habits?” Other books that might deal with these questions can certainly be found but usually where new Christians don’t look, like in books on spiritual formation and classic spirituality, which are excellent tools and the kind of stuff we are going to touch upon here.
The Purpose of This Study
Ours is a threefold purpose. First, this study is to be used as a tool of discipleship: You should use it to assist yourself in becoming a follower (disciple) of Christ. Discipleship should be understood as encompassing evangelism. Ideally, I would hope that one is led into his or her knowledge of faith with the support of an individual or a group that is able to counsel, answer questions, explain concepts, and be a listening ear. In this manner, discipleship is enjoined with evangelism. Perhaps you were fortunate enough to have had a friend or support group that was able to facilitate you this way and escort you to faith. But many people do not get such a privilege.
Some people “see the light” suddenly and some sense the nudging of the Holy Spirit to choose Christ over a period of time. However it happened, we thank God because we responded. But those that never receive discipleship or are completely new to the church are, unfortunately, at risk of living at the fringes and off the radar of other Christians from whom they should be learning about their newfound faith. Sadly, this happens to many people right amongst their fellow church members!
So the first goal of this study is to help beginners focus on their new life and to aid them in setting a pace toward godliness. From now on you will be absorbing spiritual bits-n-pieces from many places—church, Christian family and friends, the Bible, books and media, even the unsaved. Let this study, however, be a systematic approach for you and act as your gateway into the Christian life.
Second, this study will provide you the basics of salvation. This means that you will understand how you have arrived at your decision for Christ. We will look at important scriptures that explain God’s spiritual plan for humanity, the condition of the heart without God, what happens in the heart that chooses God, how salvation changes us, and what our responsibility is toward the work of God within us. Further, we will define terminology that you have probably already heard used in church, words and concepts found in the Bible and in Christian theology that will aid your understanding and broaden your knowledge.
Finally, the goal of this study is to be a growth aid and spiritual support to you throughout your search process for a church that you like and that meets your needs. You might have already found this place, but continue to use this site in your personal time and as a supplement to what you may be learning in new believers classes or in local discipleship support groups. The best advice I can recommend about this study is nothing shy of what doctors and nurses tell us about medication: finish it completely (then reread!)
You will find complementary information at the end of each lesson regarding the topic. God’s Purpose & Your Responsibility is just that—what God’s purpose is for you regarding the topic and how you should respond. Input-Output is an exercise. Your input involves doing something relative to the topic; the output is what you can expect from your actions. The exercise will assist you in your practice of godly virtues and become an indicator of your growth. Daily Bread is pertinent scripture support on the topic intended for your meditation or study time. There is also a Reference section with all of the scriptures that are alluded to in each lesson, although they may not be referenced.
I have intentionally not listed the majority of scriptures since that can be distracting to your reading. Use these scriptures in your own way. It may be a good idea to read them once you have finished the lesson and then reread it and make correlations. Many of these passages are key scriptures you will hear for the rest of your life. It is not a bad idea to mark them in your Bible, if this is something you wish to do.
I have included more information in two appendices at the very end of this lesson. There is a Glossary of terms that you will hear in sermons and read in books. Sometimes people refer to many of these words derogatorily as big, “churchy” words, but they’re not that at all. They are important Christian terms. Some of them appear in scripture and all of them are part of Christian theology and doctrine. If you come across a word you’re unsure of or just want to know more about it, go there and find out. The definitions are not extensive or deeply defined. I offer you a general sense of the words, as you will usually hear them used.
There is also a list of Spiritual Habits. I discuss the spiritual disciplines in the fourth lesson. The appendix will provide you a larger list of classic spiritual practices and the benefits you can expect in your life. Make good use of this section.
I have written this study, hopefully, in plain and simple language. It is not designed to be a lengthy and exhaustive, but more a handy guide and reference site. I have kept lessons short, and I have not laden them down with scripture. Instead, I have selected and highlighted significant ones that will focus your mind on what is happening to you and that will show you what progression in your spiritual walk looks like.
Run the Race Well
What I know about you is that you really want to live for God. You want to be successful at being a Christian. No one chooses Christ to fail or become the laughingstock amongst his or her peers. Jesus and Christian religion stir up strong emotions in people, especially those with opposite lifestyles. You didn’t change your lifestyle to make a mockery of Christ.
So I hope that I have done everything I can in this book to make your first few steps in God firm and sure. Let’s compare it to walking on a moving walkway, often found in places where much walking is required. While riding on these walkways you can stand, walk, or run, but the first step off is always tricky. The abrupt change of pace—the halt—is enough to make you stumble and even fall.
I want this book to help you make a smooth transition from your old life to your new one. The saying goes, “It’s not how you start but how you finish.” Well I want you to know that starting matters much more than we like to think. A good start can guarantee success in the future. Teaching children frugality could make them wealthy persons one day. A conscientious courtship will lead to many years of great marriage.
So it is with our faith: A good start can put us in full stride with Christ years down the road, ever-evolving in character and being used by him to transform others. Isn’t that what you want? I know it is. Thank you for letting me help you.