Upholding the official beliefs and doctrines of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and spreading the three angels' message of Revelation 14:6-12
LESSON 11 - BEGINNING TO LIVE
BEGINNING TO LIVE
Sometimes we say: 'If only I could start all over again!' How many words would we like to take back, how many deeds would we like to undo? Yet our words and actions are history which we cannot change, even the ones that we deeply regret. What would we give to be able to swap our old lives for new. If it were possible to put a line through everything, we would not make the same mistakes again. There would be no repetition of old lies, no more hurtful obstinacy, no longer constant self-centredness. But is this really possible?
One question is dealt with again and again in the Bible. How can sinful man stand before our holy God? For this much is clear: without radically changing the direction of our lives this encounter would result in death for man. And one other question. What happens when God speaks to man? Does anything at all happen, or is it at best a question of an external change when somebody becomes a Christian, which has nothing to do with real decisions? Unless the new beginning means a sea-change in the life it is an empty phrase. Yet, how is it possible to begin again?
ONE MAN TRIED IT
Zacchaeus was a tax collector - rich and unpopular. But above everything else he wanted to see this Jesus for whom a large throng of people in Jericho was waiting. Because the tax collector was so short he climbed a tree so that he could see above the heads of the crowd. Jesus saw him and said that He wanted to be his Guest that day. The crowd standing around was horrified. Jesus wanted to call on this abject villain! (Luke 19:1-10).
In the Bible we are not told Zacchaeus's motives for wanting to see Jesus. Perhaps he was just curious. The important thing is what this encounter meant for the tax collector. Jesus says:
'"I must stay at your house today."' Luke 19:5.
The many people who had led a decent life must have felt this like a blow in the face. They were disappointed and angry. An understandable reaction. Only for a new life with Jesus the desire for His closeness is important. Not some kind of human qualification, a 'decent' life. Jesus says this quite clearly:
'"For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."' Matthew 9:13.
For Zacchaeus, the experience with Jesus led to change. A fundamental change takes place in him. Of his own accord he promises:
'"Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay hack four times the amount."' Luke 19:8.
Zacchaeus suddenly finds himself able to part with his money. He has understood what Jesus really means. Zacchaeus's life becomes new. Jesus says:
'"Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."' Luke 19:9,10.
A NEW LIFESTYLE
In the example of Zacchaeus it is clear what conversion means in the practical sense of the word. He repents by paying back to his victims the money which he has so unjustly acquired, and giving of his wealth to the poor. This is not imposed upon him, not something he is forced to do. Not 'penance money', as we might call it. This repentance is far more an outer sign of the change which has taken place inside Zacchaeus. Something is happening and that can be seen.
His relationship to his fellow beings changes. Old values waver, are thought through afresh. In this way repentance becomes an expression of experienced conversion. It liberates and is an experience which brings us joy. However, this new beginning is only possible with God. It invades the life of a person and lets him experience new birth. The first essential for this is the consciousness that rebirth is necessary. If a man believes that he is perfect he is hardly going to realize that he needs to turn round to be converted.
Indeed, one can be called to repentance (Matthew 3:2,5-8; 4:17; Acts 2:37,38), but everyone must carry it out himself. Repentance is man's one chance in life.
STEPS INTO LIFE
As Jesus talks to Nicodemus He speaks of conversion in a metaphorical way:
'"I tell you the truth, unless a man is born again, be cannot see the kingdom of God."' John 3:3.
At first Nicodemus does not understand this. What would such a new birth look like? Jesus answers him:
'"Unless a man is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God."' John 3:5.
This is how new birth occurs.
This means through the baptism of a man who has been converted. (We shall be speaking about this in the next chapter.)
AND THE SPIRIT
This means that first and foremost rebirth is not a process which is visible or which can be created. Rather it is the Holy Spirit which does the most important work by showing a man what was wrong with his previous way of life and what God wants to alter.
BY ACCEPTING THE GIFT OF GOD
This can be expressed in the following request:
'Dear Father in heaven, I thank you for what you have done for me. You gave your Son. You have accepted His sacrifice, and you are willing to pardon me. I thank you for forgiving my sins and making me pure through the blood of Christ.
I thank you Lord Jesus Christ for dying for me. I owe you my life. Take it. You want to come into my life. I am open to you. I thank you for coming to me. I thank you that you want to make me new through the Holy Spirit. I ask you to reshape my life. Give me the strength to progress on the way which leads to you. Amen.'
GROWTH INSTEAD OF STAGNATION
New birth is a new beginning. However, it is literally that; a beginning. Things do not finish there. Without constant growth it counts for nothing. Just as children grow, so does the Christian. Paul admonishes:
'We will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.' Ephesians 4:15.
Certainly this comparison is rather lame, for growth cannot be ordered, but belongs to a healthy organism. But one thing must be clear to us: if growth and maturity are lacking, the most decisive thing is missing. Whoever grows, lives (John 15:2-8).
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