Wednesday, January 21, 2009

CHAPTER 14: The Invitation

Jesus said, "Come Unto Me." This is the most important and far reaching invitation ever extended to man or woman. There are two purpose of the book you now hold in your hands. One is to help those who have not truly found Jesus Christ as their Savior to do so; becoming converted and totally turning their life over to Him. The other is to help those who have, refine that relationship with their Savior. This may seem like a moot subject to many who claim to be Christians, assuming that all people of the Christian faith accept Jesus as their Savior—but do they? The unfortunate point here is that this last statement is all too true: many believe that Jesus is the Christ, but they lack the testimony to really know. Merely saying so doesn’t make it so, as Jesus so aptly pointed out: "Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven." We can know when we have that testimony because our living example will reflect the life and teachings of the Master when we do, for Jesus said, "Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them." (Matt. 7:20.)

One of those fruits is that we verbally confess Jesus as our Savior with a pure and innocent heart. The Apostle Paul said that Israel had a "... zeal for God, but not according to knowledge." Knowledge means a personal testimony or witness. He said they were "... ignorant of God’s righteousness." Righteousness, as used here, means holiness, justice, equity, and innocence. Israel had a zeal for God, but that zeal was based upon the law (commandments, policies, practices, and traditions), but they did not submit themselves unto God’s holiness.

Paul continued by saying, ".... if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.... For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." (See Rom. 10:1-13.) As Paul pointed out, we are to confess with our mouths and call upon the Lord to be saved. This we are to do with a heart that is consecrated and innocent before God and man. Just the zeal of lip service based upon the law will not be sufficient. The pure Love of God must also be in the heart.

A Personal Witness
I would like to begin this chapter by sharing my witness that Jesus is my Savior and only foundation of life. Many years ago, as a Southern Baptist, I sincerely, and with deliberate purpose, committed myself to Jesus Christ and turned my life over to Him. At that time I was in the ninth grade of school, and I received a lot of ridicule from those whom I thought were my friends. I remember that I even went and hid in the boy’s washroom until the school halls cleared one day because of their chiding and pointing fingers at me when all could hear and see. However, I soon overcame that weakness, for it was God that I was trying to please, not those who could or would not understand.

I was very active in the Baptist Church. I went to both Sunday morning and evening services, sang in the choir, attended BTU (Baptist Training Union) every Wednesday night, taught Sunday school, and even contemplated going into the ministry after high school, having received a scholarship offer from a Baptist college in Richmond, Virginia.

During the years after committing my life to Christ, I considered Him my first responsibility and only hope for salvation, notwithstanding the many weaknesses I possessed and sinful pits I had slipped into. Nevertheless, I knew He would forgive. My goal was to always try to do good and not be an embarrassment to Him, or be ashamed of being called a Christian. He was my Savior. He remained the foundation of all my hopes, and I did not lose focus of the fact that Jesus was and is my redeemer, instead of any organized church. I knew that a church was only here to help Father’s children return to Him, without standing in the way of that pursuit.

I remember that shortly after high school, many of my friends, upon one special occasion, insisted that I sing (by myself) the hymn, "I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go." As I did so, the words rang in my heart as a renewing of my commitment to Christ. "I’ll go where you want me to go, dear Lord ... I’ll say what you want me to say ... I’ll be what you want me to be." It was, indeed, a rededication to a previous covenant made to God when I was in the ninth grade—one I have never forgotten.

Having spent many years of service as a committed Christian and follower of Jesus Christ, I have come to observe that many churchgoers appear to be converted to their respective churchs, or ecclesiastical leader, but not to the Savior Himself. They appear to be more concerned with church policies than Gospel principles. Jesus Christ is to be our foundation, and the rock of our salvation. Nothing else is to take His place in that respect.

Being Converted
One of the costs of being a follower of Jesus Christ is to believe, trusting that He has all power, intelligence, and wisdom, and can solve our problems without our needing help from the world around us. It takes faith to trust that the grace of Christ will intercede, provide forgiveness, make up the difference, and supply something better than that which we have kept inside, hidden in sorrow and remorse.

Let me ask: Have you been converted to Jesus Christ? I don’t mean, Are you a Christian just because you go to a Christian church? Some Christians are only Christians in a general sense, only by the accident of birth, like a Jew may be a Jew just because he is born to Jewish parents. What I mean is, Are you a Christian by choice, and not by tradition of family or society? Have you had a change of heart that merits you being called a "Christian," in the real meaning of the word? Have you pledged your heart to Jesus? The Apostle Paul called this conversion circumcision of the heart.

To the Romans Paul wrote: "For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God." (Rom. 2:28-29.) Circumcision was to be an outward sign of those who followed God in their hearts. However, as time passed, most of Israel only followed the letter of the law of circumcision, but became untrue to God in the spirit—becoming more like the world around them.

Paul said that a true Jew is not a Jew just because he was circumcised in the flesh, but that he must be a Jew in his heart. That is to say, a real Jew is a Jew by conscious choice based on his desire to live the spiritual, as well as the temporal laws. He is not a real Jew just because his parents went through the ritual of having him circumcised at birth.

Likewise, a true Christian must be circumcised in the heart. That is to say, he must make a conscious choice with full purpose of heart—a change of heart—to live spiritually as God would have him live. He is not just a Christian in name only because he was born into a Christian society and baptized out of tradition. As the practice of circumcision was to be an outward sign to the world that the one circumcised was a true follower of God, so being circumcised in the heart is to be an outward sign to the world—through his way of life—that the one so inwardly changed is a true disciple and follower of Jesus Christ, and is willing to so witness.

God loved us so much that He "... gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16.) We are to give our life to Christ. We need to have a burning desire to be as Jesus would have us be. We have to be changed, or circumcised in the heart, as a witness that we will follow Christ at all costs, for the remainder of our lives. We must accept the Father’s gift.

Behold, He Knocks
Many have seen the picture showing Jesus standing at a door and knocking. Those who are familiar with it will notice that there is no doorknob on the outside of the door where Jesus is standing. The reason is that the doorknob is on the inside. We are to open the door and let Him in.

The merciful arm of Jesus is extended towards all, and whosoever will open the door and invite Him in will be blessed. Jesus desires to come into our lives, but He cannot enter without our permission. Therefore, He said to John the Revelator, "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me." (Rev. 3:15-20.) Consequently, when He knocks, we do the opening. The Shepherd seeks out His sheep, but the sheep have to follow.

Many are familiar with verses 15 and 16 where Christ says He would rather have us cold or hot than lukewarm. He would rather have us on one side of the fence or the other, than sitting on it. When we are cold or hot, we are taking a stand for something; we have made a commitment. Many, however, are afraid to make commitments because that lets other people know which side of the fence they are standing on, and that could produce displeasure to others if it’s not their side. For many, it’s a hard thing not to receive the pleasure of the world.

Jesus did not just come to the earth to tutor us with a few platitudes, perform a few miracles, and then go back to the Father leaving us here without hope to wallow in our sins. He invites us to follow Him; trusting Him to provide a way for us to go back to the Father. Matthew records: "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matt. 11:28-30.)

Because we have many of the good things of the world, we often feel that all is well. We do not realize that we have nothing without Jesus; that we are poor, blind, naked, wretched, and miserable individuals without Him. He pleads with us to spend our all on Him, He who has been tried by fire and found pure. When we do, we shall become rich in Him, being clothed in white raiment which signifies that His blood cleansed us from our sins. This brings to mind the words of Isaiah, when that prophet wrote, "... though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. (Isa. 1:18.) This whiteness covers the nakedness of our sins, that we may not be ashamed, for all of our sins shall be revealed if they are not covered by His cleansing blood. Not only will He clothe us in purity, but He will apply a salve to our eyes that will take away our blindness. Then we shall see with more clarity the things of Eternal life.

He loves us. Therefore, He earnestly, and even enthusiastically, chastises us, imploring us to repent that we might be washed clean and become sanctified in purity. However, before we can become sanctified and clothed in white, we need to first open the door and let Him into our life. He offers the gift, but He cannot force it upon us. We must pledge our lives to Him. We must accept the offering through faith, receiving the joy of His hope and obtain the gift.

Give of Yourself to Receive of Him
I heard a story a while back that was supposed to have come out of India. It helps illustrate a point, and it goes something like this:

A poor man was sitting by the roadside eating his last bowl of rice. As he was eating his rice, and wondering where his next meal was going to come from, he saw the Prince and his caravan coming down the road. "Ah," thought the poor man, "I’ll beg food from the young Prince, he is a goodly man."

But before the poor man could ask food of the Prince, the Prince said, "Poor man, give me some of your rice."

The poor man, feeling rather imposed upon that the wealthy Prince should want what little he had left, grudgingly reached into his bowl and gave the Prince one grain of rice. After the Prince took the rice, he said to the poor man, "Give me some more."

The poor man was really upset, but again he grudgingly reached into his bowl and, this time, gave the Prince two grains of rice; after which, the Prince and his caravan moved on.

Being very disappointed, the poor man sat back down, hanging his head with a heavy heart. As he looked down he saw three small bags of gold sitting at his feet—one for each grain of rice he gave the Prince. The poor man was saddened and ashamed as he thought, "If only I had ungrudgingly given more."

Does Jesus have to beg us for our meager grains of rice, when He has so much more to give? Can we not offer all we have to the Prince of Peace, for the gift of eternal life?

Our Savior, Jesus Christ, suffered all things for you and me. He was despised and rejected of men, and acquainted with grief. Once He said, "the Son of man hath not where to lay his head." He was ridiculed, spat upon, scourged, nailed to a tree, fed bitter gall, and gave His life that you and I might have salvation in our Father’s kingdom.

Have you given your life to Jesus Christ? If you haven’t, thanks to the grace and forgiving nature of Jesus, all is not lost. If you have not covenanted as the Lord requires, you can still repent and totally give your life over to Him. You can still purposefully, with sincerity and real intent, with a broken heart and contrite spirit, recognizing your total dependency upon him and none else, dedicate your whole life to Him with a pledge. You can still covenant to serve and be a witness of Him at all times, in all places, and at all costs until the end of your days. You can still be numbered among His people. He will be, not only just your God, but your best friend.

What about you who have given your life to Christ some time in the past? Where are you today? Does He still have that life or have you taken back control of it yourself? Can you still confess with your mouth—with all the innocence, equity, and holiness of your heart—that Jesus is your Lord and Savior? Can you do this without being ashamed about it? (Rom. 10:9-11.)

In the garden, and while hanging on the cross, Jesus gave His blood so that you and I can live. He exercised His will in compliance with His Father’s wishes. At the end He had a final choice to make, and He made it for the sake of His Father’s children. Now you are to exercise your will and make a choice, if you haven’t already. After He gave all He had for you, are you willing to give all you have to Him in return? Can you express your appreciation to Him in that way? Are you willing to count the cost of discipleship and follow Him? Are you willing to pay the price in this life? And are you ready and willing to receive Him?

Jesus is the only way to the Father. There is no other way. He invites you to come unto Him. Covenant and consecrate all you have, or ever hope to have, to Jesus Christ, and give your life to Him—all of it. There is no true joy without Him. Come unto the Master with a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Come hungering and thirsting. Come praising His holy name. Jesus invites all by saying—come, "Come Unto Me".

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