Doubt - due to a lack of commitment - Acts 17:1-9

This is a sermon by Lee McMunn from the evening service on 20th September 2009.

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Last Sunday evening I had the privilege of interviewing two members of our evening congregation about how they became Christians. Dave Clark and Hongbao Duan. They both have very different stories. Dave got confirmed in the 1970s and became a Christian in the 1990s. He knew who Jesus was but no one told him what Jesus came to do. Hongbao changed from knowing nothing about Jesus to becoming a committed follow of him as his Saviour-King.

This experience has caused me to remember a phrase I heard years ago. There is one way to God but many ways to Jesus. There is one way to know God the Father and that is by following his Son, Jesus Christ. But there are many reasons that people are drawn to Jesus and eventually become his committed followers. That’s okay.

But, and this will be our focus for this evening, sometimes a person, for whatever reason, is drawn to a church, that is a group of Christian people, but that’s as far as it goes. They get associated with Christ but they themselves are never personally convinced of the truth about Jesus and therefore they never get personally committed to him.

Let me show you what I’m talking about by putting three words on the big screen.

Believe – Belong – Behaviour

When you believe you are a member of God’s people. You are part of the family. The question is not will I belong but which local family will I belong to. Then the behaviour changes.

The important stage is personal belief. This can happen in a moment or over a period of time. That is irrelevant. The important thing is personal conviction of the truth.

Let me show you this from Acts 17 and apostle Paul’s experience in Thessalonica. Look at verse 2. “As his custom was Paul went into synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ,” he said. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women.”

•    Reasoned. This word can also be translated as dialogue. Not just one way. He proclaimed by there was interaction.
•    He did this from the Scriptures. This meant the Old Testament.
•    What exactly did he do?
•    He explained and proved that the Christ had to suffer and rise again.
•    Explained means to open up.
•    Proved means to put something alongside another.

     o    Two columns. On one he put what had to happen to the Christ. Particularly his suffering and resurrection.
     o    On the other, he put the events of Jesus life and showed how they matched.

What happened as a result? Some of the Jews were persuaded as were a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women.

People were personally convinced of the truth about the identity of Jesus. As a result, they personally committed themselves to Jesus and so now belonged to Jesus people.

This is the normal way of someone becoming a Christian in the New Testament. They hear a message about Jesus. They are persuaded by it and then become personally committed to him.

The problem I am talking about this evening is the problem of association. That is, when someone becomes associated with Christ’s people, for whatever reason, but who never becomes personally convinced of the truth and so never personally committed themselves to Jesus.

Why is this a problem? It’s a problem because these people drift away. They never stay in churches for the long term. At one point they may sing the hymns and say the prayers but at some point later on they doubt whether they should be part of the church and then decide to leave. They may offer all sorts of reasons why this is the case but the root cause is that they were never personally convinced of the truth in the first place.
Let me give a few examples to make it clear what I’m talking about.

•    Family association

Your family has always gone. Inside you harbor doubts but you have to wait until you are old enough not to go. Perhaps it’s when they go to university. What happens? A different crowd with different interests and you follow the next most popular thing.

I must say that if you are sitting here and not committed to Christ and you have grown up in a Christian home, your parents are heart broken. It is one of their biggest heartaches. This is no reason for you to stay in church but I want you to know how they feel. And perhaps this should be motivation to seriously check out the evidence for yourself.

Advice for parents. Explain not just what it is you do but why you believe it.

Exodus 12. When you enter into the land and celebrate the Passover and your children ask, what does this ceremony mean? Then tell them. Explain its significance. Explain why you do things not just that you do them.

•    Fun association

Youth groups sometimes make this mistake. They try and compete with the world by offering simply entertainment. What happens when it is more fun elsewhere?

•    Friendship association

Our society is increasingly lonely. People come to church looking for community. And that is no bad thing. Churches are meant to be places of love, support and care. However, the great danger is that people become associated with church but not personally persuaded about the identity of Jesus. What happens? Someone else comes along who can meet the feelings of loneliness and so the associated members doubts whether they need to come to church and hence drifts away.
By contrast let me give you two examples of what happens when someone is personally committed to Jesus.

The first example is from Acts 17. It is the example of Jason. Let me show you what his personal commitment to Jesus allowed him to do.
Look at what we are told in verse 5. “But the Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the market-place, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other brothers before the city officials, shouting: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. Then they put Jason and the others on bail and let them go.”

Why did he keep on going? Why did he not throw in the towel? He was personally persuaded that Jesus was the Christ. He didn’t ask himself, is it still fun? Or is the Jesus thing still meeting my need for friendship? Or even are the rest of my family still involved? No he would have asked, is Jesus still the Christ? Nothing had changed. So he kept going.

This is what personal commitment allows you to do. You can keep on going when times are tough.

Take the example of suffering. How does a Christian remain committed when life is painful? How have they been persuaded that God loves them? The unchanging event that is the crucifixion of Jesus.

You can also stand alone when everyone else around you believes something different. We see this with Jason.

This is also what we see happening with Martin Luther.

How can we be prevented from being passionately wrong? Luther may have stood alone in his own time but across history there were others like him. That is important. If no one has ever believed what you are claiming then be very cautious.

One other example is from John 6. This is the example of Peter. Look at what we read from verse 60.

“On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” 61   Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you?  62 What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before!  63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.  64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him.  65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.” 66   From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. 67   “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. 68   Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.  69 We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.””

How does Peter respond? Do whom will we go? We have already concluded that you are the Holy One of God. The evidence that convinced us then hasn’t changed so we will stick with you and learn.

This is also what should happen with those who have committed to Jesus personally. We can grow and develop in our knowledge of the true and living God.

We shouldn’t come to the Bible and weigh it’s words against what we already believe. We should weigh our thoughts against its revelations.

Are you someone who is associated by not personally persuaded and committed? Look at the evidence. You may have been coming to church for years. Come to the Identity course.

If we are then let’s make sure we keep on asking the right questions when we go through hardships, when we stand alone and when we come across hard teaching. Have I been persuaded about the identity of Jesus? Then if I have then let’s keep on walking with Jesus until we see him face to face. Let’s pray together.

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