A NEW WAY OF LIVING
Sabbath Day Sermon: Saturday 2 March 2001
"So we are buried with Him in death through baptism in order that, just as Christ rose from the dead through the Father's glorious power, so we too shall conduct ourselves in a new way of living" (Romans 6:4, RBV).
About 150 years ago there was once a peaceful Nepalese village in the foothills of the Himalayas. The villagers grew rice and a few other crops, kept numbers of goats and cows for dairy produce, and a few other animals for meat. Their location pretty well ensured them safety from warring armies and bandits.
And then one day some Afghan raiders entered their village, killed many of the men, plundered what little in the way of wealth they had, and took some women captive. One of these women, a Tibetan, was turned into the Afghan chief's slave and forced into concubinage. Her whole life was suddenly turned upside down and her nightmare began.
Unfortunately such stories are common. Similar things even happen today in many parts of the world. Men and women are pressed into being economic and sex slaves by ruthless men. Occasionally we hear about how they are murdered. In the Sudan, which is even now in a bitter civil war between the Arab north and the Black south, Christian and pagan southerners are routinely sold into slavery by the Moslem Arabs and forced to convert to Islam. The women are forced into marriages against their will, just like the Tibetan.
These, and others like them, are horrible stories to be sure. When the hand of Satan reaches into people's lives, their worlds are turned upside down and everything changes for the worse. We can only begin to imagine how that poor Tibetan woman felt in an alien culture, speaking an alien language, living in an alien climate and geographical location, living within an alien religion with an alien husband who did not love her.
As a family we have lived in many places in the world. When I moved to England from the Far East it was like changing worlds. I found myself living in a wholly new way with new people in a different climate and culture. Many things were different and it was, at first, a culture shock. But unlike the Tibetan woman's experience, the new way of life was not a nightmare even though it had its unpleasant sides. It took a long time for me to look upon England as "home". Then we moved to Norway which was another culture shock, with a new language and a new climate and different customs. My own elder children have experienced changes like this too, not for mention their grandmother. And others of you have moved from Norway to Sweden which, though not such a big change, was a change nonetheless. We have all experienced great changes in our lives and have had to adapt to new ways of living.
Not all change is, of course, negative, and if we look back on the big changes that have taken place in our lives we will appreciate much good. Think of a scenario where someone raised in slavery, such as in the Sudan or Mauretania, suddenly escapes to become a free man or a woman, able to make real choices for the first time in his or her life. Think how exhilarating that must feel for them! I think of all the people locked away in prison for crimes they never committed and who finally taste freedom again. Their whole lives change. From being restricted to a colourless and, in some countries, filthy, cold and rat-infested cell to enjoying the basic comforts of home life must be one of the most wonderful experiences imaginable.
Sudden change happens to many people. Mostly, it isn't wanted because we learn to grow comfortable with set routines and ways of doing things. There are, admittedly, some types of person who just love continuous change, especially when they are young, but as you grow older you prefer things to be a little quieter with less upheaval. The thought of ever moving house again, for instance, fills me with utter horror today, though there was a time when it didn't bother me too much. And I know many of you will agree with me, especially those of you who have moved house in old age.
The title of my sermon today is, A New Way of Living and addresses the Christian way of living. For those of us who were not raised in Bible-believing homes where spiritual rebirth was taught and practised, there is the challenge of what it actually means to completely change your way of life. Accepting Christ as your Lord and Saviour means a completely new way of being. And whilst such can involve great change for someone raised in a Christian household, who comes to the point of decision, it is a much greater upheaval for someone who, for instance, was formerly a Muslim, atheist or a devil-worshipper. But no matter where you are coming from, being born again in Christ requires nothing less that a total reorientation of thinking and behaviour which can be as dramatic as moving to another planet.
Learning to think and speak in Norwegian - and now Swedish - was a major problem for me, especially as I am not very gifted in languages. Nowadays I think and even dream in a mixture of English and Norwegian. Without my even being conscious of it, learning Norwegian has changed my behaviour as I now partly walk in what one might call the Norwegian 'spirit'. Another thing that I have noticed is that since leaving England in the 1980's that I can no longer think and relate to the 21st Century English person. England has simply changed whilst I have been away so that 'my England' is not longer the England of today. Imagine what it would be like is you went into a coma for 20 years and woke up in an entirely new culture. Many people have experienced that. There was a documentary on TV some years of an American who was in a coma for that sort of length of time. He was absolutely dazed seeing all the new technology around him, the new social customs and habits, and all those he once knew had aged suddenly by 20 years. No, the truth of the matter is that great change usually disturbs us because in our spirits we come from a world which never changes - a world of constancy where life is predictable without being boring and safe without loss of excitement.
The apostle Paul tells is that the ordinance of baptism is a rite of passage rather like a policeman wearing a uniform for the first time. Once in uniform, he is expected to conduct himself in a certain way. Once we become Christians, we too have changed into uniforms - even though they are not always visible - which reflects the way we want to become and what God expects of us. Unlike a policeman, though, who takes off his uniform when he is off-duty and behaves like any other civilian, the Christian's uniform is to be worn 24 hours a day no matter who you are with or where you are. But even more pointedly, perhaps, is that this uniform is not only for life but for ETERNITY. Christianity is not something you 'do' in church once a week - it's what you are all the time. It's not about performing certain religious rituals but a total mental and a feeling condition. Christianity is a whole way of life with a totally different way of living from the world. And because it's different, you are immediately made conspicuous. You stand out from the crowd because you are different.
Yahweh warned us not to expect to be able to 'blend' in with the crowd because to be His witness we must stick out like sore thumbs. When I first read my King James Bible and read the following I got quite a shock: "For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God, and the LORD hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth" (Dt.14:2, KJV). I didn't like the idea of being "peculiar" because in our modern language that means to be "strange" or "weird". Fortunately, the word "peculiar" in 1611 didn't have the same meaning as it does today and modern translations instead describe God's people as a "special treasure". I'd rather be that than "peculiar"! The NASB says: "the Lord has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the people of the earth".
From this passage you may sometimes have heard the Jews calling themselves the "chosen people" as though they were somehow more important than anyone else. In actual fact, this passage, which points to all the Twelve Tribes of Israel and in the New Covenant, refers to all those who have truly accepted Yah'shua (Jesus) as Saviour and are walking in His commandments. Nobody is special because of their physical birth in God's eyes but because of their new birth and the way they conduct their lives. That is why Yahweh says: "thou art an holy people" - meaning, you are a people who have been set apart to walk in the way of holiness and righteousness. We become God's chosen people, His special treasure, only as we become 'treasurable' - only as we become good and pure.
Throughout the Scriptures we learn that Yahweh wants His people to be different from the surrounding pagan nations and their cultures. They were continually under pressure to adopt pagan ways. As contact with pagan nations was inevitable through commerce and war, Israel had to be careful of the way in which she conducted herself. Not only that, but Israelites had to be reminded that they were ambassadors for Yahweh in all they did. Three times Yahweh said to His people: "You are my witnesses..." (Is.43:10, NIV). And of what are we witnesses we might ask? Yahweh says: "Ye are my witnesses ... that I am God" (v.12). Yah'shua said exactly the same thing to His disciples: "you will be My witnesses ... to the ends of the earth" (Ac.1:8, NIV).
What is a witness? In its simplest meaning, a witness is someone who can give first hand evidence of some event. We hear of witnesses in court cases relating things they have seen, heard and experience. A Christian is therefore a witness of what he or she has seen, heard and experienced of Yahweh and His Christ. A witness bears his testimony - he gives evidence. What kind of evidence does he give? Well, if a special health drink makes you feel better, and perhaps even aids you in recovering from a disease, then you are in a position to be a witness that that health drink actually works. Because your life has been changed for the better by it your evidence becomes credible - people will start to believe you. When we bear witness of Christ we are testifying to a world that finds it hard to believe in the God of the Bible that not only is Christ alive and all that the Scriptures say He is, but that He actually makes a difference to our lives. Knowing Christ and following Him actually makes us better people - more loving, more disciplined, and more helpful to society. It is one thing to tell people that you believe in God and in Christ - which is good - but it is quite something else to be able to tell others how He has changed your life for the better and to show them how their lives can be richly blessed in the same way.
Christ touches people's lives in so many different ways. Ask a Christian what Christ means to him and he will probably tell you many different things. I know one man who, if I ask Him to bear witness of Christ, tells with gushing feeling how through Christ he has received pardon for all the terrible things he did previously in his life. Others will tell you of supernatural healing from diseases, alcoholism, and drug addiction. Others will tell you how Christ had made them whole people. But without a doubt the most important witness that anyone can give - the most important testimony that anyone can give to the world - is that "God is love" (1 Jn.4:8,16). And the only way that people will ever see that love is to see that love manifested through His witnesses - that is, we who believe and claim His Name.
"Ye are my witnesses ... that I am God", He said to Isaiah. But who is God? That Yahweh is God, and that His Son Yah'shua (Jesus) is God-in-the-flesh. Do you remember doubting Thomas' testimony? "Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!"" (Jn.20:27-28, NIV). That was Thomas' testimony - that Yah'shua (Jesus) is God! Does anyone remember what Peter's testimony was? "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Mt.16:16, KJV). Can anyone remember Martha's testimony? She said: "Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God" (Jn.1:27, KJV). Though these may seem as but words to some, they are probably the most important witness that anyone can give. John said: "Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God" (1 Jn.4:2, KJV). Does that mean that anyone who says they believe in Jesus as the Son of God is of God and saved? See what Paul said to Timothy: "Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness" (2 Tim.2:19, NIV). Everyone who bears witness of Christ must stop living in a wicked way. What would you say of a person who confessed Christ but who did evil things? You would say that his witness was worthless. A couple of days ago I came across a news item on the Internet (which may or may not be true) which reported how Brittany Spears, the famous pop star who says she is a Christian, had posed almost completely in the nude for a magazine. Do Christians do such things? Of what value then is her witness? Would you say that such a person was one of Yahweh's witnesses?
To be a Christian is to "conduct ourselves in a new way of living", as Paul said to the Romans. What that means is that a Christian walks in what Scripture calls "newness of life". The King James Version of that same scripture says: "Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life" (Rom.6:4, KJV). Between them, these two translations capture the essence of what Paul said in the original Greek: To be in Christ is to live a completely new life, different from whatever kind of life you were living before you were saved, but more than that, it is to be living in "newness" or "freshness" of life - a life that is never dull or dreary because it is animated by the resurrected Christ.
I'm sure that like most people that you, like me, like brand new things better than old. I'm not talking about those of us who like antique things which get better with age, but of things which are better fresh, like food, water, and air. When a soul weighed down by sin and guilt is suddenly filled with the presence of Christ, he becomes instantly changed. It is as though new life has been breathed into him. He is not his old self but has suddenly become a new creature. He has been literally re-created. Paul's resounding witness was: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 Cor.5:17, NIV). He later said that religious observance isn't so important as "what counts is a new creation" (Gal.6:15, NIV). So the big question is: Have you been changed from within? Has believing in Christ actually made a difference to you? Is your experience with the resurrected Christ as dramatic as suddenly being changed into a little baby again? For that surely would be a new life! I know that for myself I have two birthdays each year - the one celebrating my physical birth and the one my spiritual birth.
We have seen how as new born creatures in Christ we are called to be His witnesses in the way we live in confessing His Name to others. But we have been given many ways to witness, two of which are commandments to all Christians. The first I want to mention is described by Paul in the passage I started my sermon with today, namely, Romans 6:4 which describes the symbolic meaning of baptism. The ordinance of baptism by immersion was given by Christ to us not only to teach us important spiritual principles about rebirth but also as a witness to others. Baptism is to Christ as the marriage ceremony is to our friends and family. It is a covenant made in the presence of witnesses. Those witnesses are very important for Yahweh said that no covenant with Him is valid unless made in the presence of two or more witnesses. Thus the witnesses at a baptism are there to confirm that we have actually become Christians. It is our public announcement that we are Christians, coupled with our confession of faith. But more than that, the physical ordinance of baptism is our witness to others that we are disciples of Christ, that we believe in Him, and that we are going to start a completely new life, as though our old life without Christ had never existed.
Just as baptism represents our new beginning, so Christ has commanded a second ordinance to be partaken at least once a year at Passover but preferably more regularly, to represent our continuing growth in Him. This is the ordinance of the Lord's Supper which we take once a week on the Sabbath. The Lord's Supper is the holiest and most important of all the Christian ordinances. I don't have time to go into all its particulars here but I will say this: we are commanded to partake of it as a witness of Yah'shua's death and sacrifice for us (1 Cor.26). But the Lord's Supper is more than symbolic - it is actually a seal of our sonship and daughtership - it is what makes us eternally a part of His family. This particular ordinance is a witness to God the Father Himself, Yahweh-Elohim, that we have accepted His Son's sacrifice which He gave to the world for lost sinners.
Though I was born in 1954 my new life started in 1977. I have never been the same since that March day 24 years ago. I was changed supernaturally overnight, and I am still being changed today. It is my witness to you all that Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) is not just a good man who lived and died two thousand years ago but that He is the living Christ, the only Son of our Heavenly Father, Yahweh-Elohim, who was killed and raised from the dead. It is my witness that His resurrection energy is life-changing and that it is the source of all love. Christ changes peoples minds, hearts and their whole lives for the better, making them into peaceful, loving and whole persons. Just as a person who has been healed by a good doctor wants to recommend that doctor to all his friends, so a Christian, who has had his or her life completely changed for the good, wants to witness of the power of that change so that others can share in it. Such a person cannot be still - he has to share the good news of salvation by whatever means possible. And he has so many ways of witnessing - first, the mandatory witnesses: verbal confession, baptism and partaking of the Lord's Supper; and secondly, the witness of a changed life manifested in love and good works.
It is not every day you can get a new life - and it is not every day that you can get immortality. Christ is the way to both new life as well as life forever - the only way: "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man cometh unto the Father, but by Me" (Jn.14:8, KJV). Amen.
This page was created on 18 March 2001
Last updated on 18 March 2001
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