The Decision You Must Make

John 1:12-13

This is the final sermon in the series “How to Be Right with God.” As I have mentioned earlier, these sermons will form the basis for a “gospel book” I am writing under the co-sponsorship of Moody Press and the Committee on the Gospel. I ask for your prayers as I work on the manuscript during November. If all goes well, the book will be published next summer. Our hope is that God will mightily use it around the world to win many people to saving faith in Jesus Christ.

I would also like to mention that next Sunday we will begin a new sermon series on the Old Testament book of Daniel called Daniel: Courageous Living in Turbulent Times. Over the next few months we will go through the entire book passage by passage. We certainly live in turbulent times and as we pass from one millennium to another, I hope we can find great comfort and spiritual challenge from this book written over 2500 years ago. I think you’ll be amazed at how relevant it is to life today.

I’m sure the tragic deaths of pro-golfer Payne Stewart and five others last Monday have saddened all of us. The Learjet took off from Orlando heading for Houston but never made it. Something happened (drastic depressurization of the cabin perhaps) that caused the jet to fly a straight line until it ran out of fuel over South Dakota and fell from the sky at 600 miles per hour.

WWJD

All week long we have heard how Payne Stewart was transformed in recent years by a rededication of his life to Christ. Evidently it began several years ago as he examined his life. Like so many others who have achieved worldly fame, he found something was missing. He was also greatly affected by the things his children were learning as they attended the Christian school associated with the First Baptist Church in Orlando, Florida. Earlier this year his son Aaron brought home a WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) bracelet and asked his father to wear it at a golf tournament. Payne was wearing it when he won the U.S. Open in June with a dramatic 15-foot putt on the final hole. Afterward Sports Illustrated noted the change in his life, saying that he had “embraced Christianity with the fervor of a prison convert.”

Not long after that his story was included in a not-yet-published book on Christian athletes called Finishing the Course. He approved the section on his relationship with Christ the week before his death. This is part of what was written about him:

Some come to this point in life (faith in Christ) early, but for others, like Payne, it is later in life that we recognize who Christ really is and what he has done for us. Early or late in life, it is the most profound thing that happens to a person. It is even more profound than winning the U.S. Open at 42 years of age as Payne did.

He described the change this way: “There used to be a void in my life. The peace I have now is so wonderful. I don’t understand how I lived so long without it.”

Last Monday afternoon several pastors from First Baptist in Orlando went to his home. Not long ago one of the pastors had advised him to start reading the gospel of John. When they entered his room, they found on open Bible with his reading glasses on it. Framed on the wall was a quotation from Psalm 16:8, “I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”

It’s Jesus!

Not long ago he told one of the pastors, “I’m not going to be a Bible thumper. I just want everyone to know it’s Jesus.”

This week I meditated on what God might be saying through the recent string of Christians who have died in tragic ways. I’m thinking about the children killed in Paducah, Pearl, Jonesboro, the massive publicity given to the killings in Littleton, and the seven people killed at Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth. And now Payne Stewart. In every case these tragedies have resulted in the news media helping to spread the gospel around the world. People who would never go to church are hearing the gospel through the deaths of God’s children. What is God saying to us and to the world? I believe he is saying what Payne Stewart said: “It’s Jesus.” He’s the only answer. Apart from him there is no answer to the great problems of life.

But still people don’t believe. Some people make excuses, others have reasons. Some have intellectual issues: Is Jesus really God? Is he the only way to heaven? What about other religions? Why is there so much suffering in the world? Is the Bible really God’s Word?

Others struggle with relational issues: Fear of what others will say, fear of offending family members, fear of rejection by loved ones. Then there are spiritual roadblocks: pride, self-trust, love of money, love of power, love of pleasure, trust in religion, and the fear that you have sinned too much to be forgiven.

Jesse Ventura’s Theology

Then we have the words of that “great theologian” Jesse Ventura who told Playboy magazine that religion is a crutch for weak-minded people. He is partly right in that even Jesus can’t help a man who doesn’t want to be helped. Only the sick go to a doctor. The rest deceive themselves into thinking they are okay. Some turn to sex as a crutch, some to knowledge, some to education, some to physical prowess, others to money or to family connections. Truth be told, we all have our crutches to help us get through life. The important thing is to find the one that will get you successfully through life and death and the judgment to come.

This week I spoke with a man who told me that people don’t come to Christ because “they haven’t hit bottom yet.” Certainly many people today feel self-sufficient and think they don’t need the Lord. One can only pray that when they do hit bottom, they will finally look up and cry out for help.

Procrastination keeps many people from God. We always think there is more time to decide. But life is so uncertain. A week ago Payne Stewart had no idea he had only one day to live.

There comes a time when you must decide where you stand with Jesus. No one can sit on the fence forever. Not to decide is a decision in itself. If you don’t say yes to Christ, you are actually saying no. To borrow a phrase from Billy Graham, there is an “hour of decision” that comes to all of us sooner or later. I pray that this might be your hour to say yes to Jesus Christ.

The Gospel Made Plain

Since this is the final message in the series, let’s take a moment to review what we’ve learned so far. I can summarize the whole gospel message in seven simple statements:

Admitting my need: To know the God who made me

Accepting God’s judgment: Guilty as charged

Facing the truth: Helpless to save myself

Acknowledging God’s solution: The Lord Jesus Christ

Remembering what he did: The Cross and the Empty Tomb

Transferring your trust: From self to Christ alone

Receiving eternal salvation: His righteousness for my sin

If you understand what those phrases mean, you have everything you need to go to heaven. The gospel begins with the God who made us. Though we were made to know him, sin has separated us from him. Because of sin we are truly guilty in God’s eyes and left in a helpless condition. Apart from divine grace we will die in our sins. If God doesn’t do something, we’re lost forever. God did something. He sent his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who perfectly fulfilled God’s will and perfectly obeyed God’s law. He succeeded where all of us failed so miserably. When he died, he died not for himself (for he was sinless), but standing in our place, as a condemned man, bearing our sin and taking our punishment. What we deserved he took in our place. He validated all his claims by rising from the dead on the third day. Salvation is offered to one and all on the condition that we turn from self-trust and self-confidence to trust wholly and completely in Christ alone. When we trust Christ in that fashion, God credits the righteousness of Christ to us and the penalty for our sin is paid in full. Thus we receive the benefit of what Christ accomplished 2000 years ago. This is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Bible uses a number of words and phrases to describe what happens to us when we wholeheartedly trust in Christ as Lord and Savior. We are forgiven, saved, born again, declared righteous in God’s sight, given new life, pardoned, set free from the penalty of sin, brought into a new relationship with God, called a child of God, given a new life, and assured of going to heaven when we die. This is “total salvation.” It’s free to us but it’s not cheap. It cost God the death of his one-and-only Son.

All of this is available to anyone and everyone who wants it. God’s offer is now on the table. What will you do about it?

Salvation Made Simple

Some people think no decision is necessary to become a Christian. They think they are Christian by birth. Usually they arrive at that conclusion by a process of elimination. “I’m not Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, or the follower of any other religion, so I must be a Christian.” But you aren’t a Christian simply because you aren’t something else. You aren’t a Christian simply because your parents were Christians or you were raised in the church. Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than sleeping in a garage makes you a car.

When it comes to great spiritual issues there can be no neutrality. Each person must decide for himself. No one “drifts” into Christianity by accident. At some point you must consciously trust Christ as Lord and Savior. In the words of Charles Spurgeon, “You will never go to heaven in a crowd.” It’s true there will be crowds in heaven, but we only go there one at a time. God saves individuals, not masses or groups.

John 1:12-13 offers a very simple description of what it means to become a Christian.

A Simple Step—Receiving Him

The way of salvation begins with a simple step: “To all who received him.” The word “receive” means to welcome a visitor into your home. It’s what happens when someone knocks at your door and you open the door and invite them to come in. To “receive” Christ means to welcome him as an honored guest and to have him make your heart his home.

A Wonderful Result—Child of God

“He gave the right to become children of God.” The word “right” means “honor” or “privilege.” The moment you receive Christ into your life, God gives you the honor of becoming a member of his family. This teaches us that not everyone is a child of God. All are created by God, but not everyone in the world is a child of God. Sometimes people carelessly say, “We’re all God’s children,” but the Bible says no such thing. God only gives the privilege of being his children to those who by personal faith receive Jesus as Lord and Savior.

That leads to some questions you ought to ask yourself:

“Not everyone is a child of God; am I?”

“Not everyone will have eternal life; will I?”

“Not everyone will go to heaven; will I?”

A Mysterious Truth—Born of God

“Children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:13). This verse teaches us that grace doesn’t run automatically from one generation to another. You aren’t a Christian just because your parents were Christians or because your grandfather was a Methodist bishop. And you won’t get brownie points with God just because you come from a good family and have a fine education. You can’t save yourself by human effort so don’t bother trying. The sooner you stop trying to save yourself, the sooner you can be saved by God.

The heart of the gospel is in the little phrase “born of God.” Salvation is of the Lord. It’s a free gift—totally free and totally of grace. It’s not a cooperative venture where you do your part and God does his. But someone may object, “Don’t I have a part to play in salvation?” You do indeed have a part. Your part is to be hopelessly lost in sin and God’s part is to save you. That way God alone gets the credit. Salvation is a work of God from first to last.

Three Frogs on a Log

That brings us at last to the moment of decision. Before we come to the bottom line, I’d like to stop and pose a philosophical question. It goes like this. Three frogs are sitting on a log. Two decide to jump off. How many are left? That’s not a hard question. Three minus two equals one. But one is not the right answer. The right answer is three. You haven’t jumped off the log because you decided to jump. The frog is still on the log until he actually jumps off. Until then you’re just “making a decision.”

Sometimes we describe people who can’t make a decision as being “on the fence.” Many people stand in precisely that relationship to Jesus Christ. They want to know him, they know they need him, they truly feel their sin and want to find forgiveness, and perhaps they’ve even “decided to jump.” But until they jump, they are still on the fence regarding Jesus. To use a biblical term, they are still lost.

To decide to receive Christ is good. Receiving him by faith is much better.

Now we come to the moment of decision. In the words of James Russell Lowell,

“Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide,

In the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side.”

Two thousand years ago Pontius Pilate asked the crowd, “What do you want me to do with Jesus?” “Crucify him!” they cried out. He asked the question because he wanted to shift responsibility away from himself. But it didn’t work. In the end each of us must decide what we will personally do with Jesus.

A Teenager’s Prayer

Last week I mentioned part of my own story. I joined a church as a young boy without any real understanding of the gospel message. Even though I was a baptized church member, and even though I knew many Bible verses, Jesus was just a name to me. Then one summer weekend I met some college students who had a living faith in Jesus Christ. I knew about him. They talked of him as if they knew him personally. I realized for the first time that being a church member was not enough. I needed to know the Lord personally. I can vividly recall the moment I sat down on the steps outside my house and prayed a very simple prayer: “Jesus, if you are real, come into my heart.” There is no magic in those words and I wouldn’t advise anyone to pray exactly as I did. But when I prayed, my heart cried out to God that I might be forgiven for Christ’s sake and that God might accept me into his family. God answered that prayer and a new life began for me at that very moment.

What about you? I do not believe that it is necessary for every person to have a “crisis experience” or to remember the day and the hour or even the precise moment when you became a Christian. What does matter is that you truly trust Christ and him alone as your Lord and Savior.

Risking Eternity on Jesus

Ponder the words of this little verse:

Upon a life I did not live,

Upon a death I did not die,

I risk my whole eternity.

That is what it means to be a Christian. It means trusting in Christ so much that you risk your eternity on what he did for you in his life and in his death. Perhaps it will help you to form your words into a very simple prayer. Even while I encourage you to pray this prayer, I caution you that saying words alone will not save you. Prayer doesn’t save. Only Christ can save. But prayer may be a means of reaching out to the Lord in true saving faith. If you pray these words in faith, Christ will save you. You can be sure of that.

Lord Jesus, for too long I’ve kept you out of my life. No longer will I close the door when I hear you knocking. Here and now I open the door and invite you to come into my heart. I gratefully receive your gift of salvation. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for coming to earth. With all my heart I believe you are the Son of God who died on the cross for my sins and rose from the dead on the third day. Thank you for bearing my sins and giving me the gift of eternal life. I believe your words are true. Come into my heart, Lord Jesus, and be my Savior. Amen.

In the end I can’t believe for you or you for me. Jesus said, “Come unto me.” Will you come?

Come and see for yourself. Come and discover how Christ can change your life. You’ll never know till you do.

If you are fearful, put your heart at ease. He avoids no seeker. He ignores no probe. He fears no search. You will see for yourself. God invites you. But still you must come.

Do not hesitate. Stop making excuses. I bid you come to Christ and be saved. Trust in him and your new life will begin.

To everyone who reads these words I say, Meet me in heaven! Do not go down to hell! Christ has opened the door and paid the price of admission in his own blood. Will you not trust him and make him your own? Christ has paid it all. He stands knocking at the door. What will your answer be?

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Ray Pritchard

RAY PRITCHARD

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