Saturday, January 28, 2012

Christianity is more than a name!

 Acts 19:1-41
If you call the tail of a cow a leg, how many legs does a cow have? Someone will very promptly say, “Five of course!” But the question is, “How many legs does a cow use to walk?” This will make you realize that a cow still has four legs despite the claim of ‘five legs, including its tail! Calling a tail of a cow a leg doesn’t make it one. Calling a non-believer a Christian doesn’t make him one, either! To take a name is to take a claim. Therefore to say that you are saved because you attend church every Sunday mornings doesn’t make you one. That you were brought up in a Christian home and you were baptized as an infant doesn’t make one a Christian.
You must realize that, if you call yourself a Christian you are claiming to be a follower or a disciple of Jesus Christ. You are saying that you want everyone to know that you are a Christian and you are not ashamed to be one – in fact to the contrary you are telling everyone that you are one by not just words but by your character and lifestyle, mind and heart, your family and your friends. All that you are and have defines you as one owned by Christ. The Bible constantly urges us to live up to the name of Christ who we profess to believe and trust, Christ whom we depend on and live for. We are constantly urged never to forget that we are Christ’s ambassadors, witnesses, workmen and slaves in all the aspects of our lives – whether we eat or drink. It is the Name of Christ that is written in our foreheads. The name that Christians represent is not just a mere name in word i.e. J-e-s-u-s. There must be a reality of knowing the Person – Jesus Christ who is the Saviour sent of God to save sinners.
What I am here to tell you today in my 20th sermon from Acts, is that it is not enough to be called a Christian – you must actually and indeed be a Christian because you need more than a name. You must see that the Bible does not say anything of non-practicing Christians because there is no such a thing as a non-practicing Christians. In this chapter we meet various people – some genuine Christians believers called the Disciples of Christ, willing to die for Him. But we also see fake ‘Christians’ who more than anything need the gospel that they may believe in Christ and be saved and have an eternal inheritance in the glory of God.
In the first place, Christianity is not just a name because; when you believe you receive the Holy Spirit
You realize that the condition of sin is such that it leaves its slave completely unable to do anything to free himself from its yoke of bondage. One who is a captive of sin is bound so much that he would spend his time like Demetrius and company serving idols like Artemis or Diana, who filled up the great city of Ephesus with idols. The devil makes a captive of sinners so that they would be willing to spend all their resources to build an idol called Diana such a magnificent temple as the temple, the  seventh wonder of the world, which was so highly venerated that they could not allow Alexander the Great to have his name inscribed on it even on a promise of a great reward.
Without the Holy Spirit working in one’s life, he remains in utter darkness, without hope and without God. Without the Holy Spirit one remains ignorant of Christ. He remains deficient of the salvation that comes from Him. It when one receives the Spirit of God that he is animated and activated as to conduct himself as a Christian. The Lord Himself explained that there was the need for the Holy Spirit so that when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. (John 16:8-11).
But when the Holy Spirit comes into a sinner’s heart, he shows him the terribleness of his sins so that the sinner loathes and hates the sins so much as to try to leave them. The Holy Spirit points the sinner to Christ having regenerated them. When the Holy Spirit works in the heart of a person as to produce repentance, we call it regeneration or being born again. This precedes the conversion itself, otherwise where will a helpless sinner get the courage and strength to go to Christ? How can a dead sinner call upon the Name of the Lord without the help of the Spirit of God? How can one who is an enemy of God go to God without a mediator? It is only until the Spirit of God comes that one’s mind is turned from its focus in sin and sinful habits to turn to the Living God. It is until one has had the Holy Spirit open the eyes of understanding that he becomes aware of the danger of sin, fully comprehends the glories of heaven. This is what happened to the 12 disciples who confessed that "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit."  
But when they heard of the Holy Spirit they believed and trusted in Christ so that they soon began to utter the mysteries of heaven on earth. A mini-Pentecost in Ephesus was the result – that is the last step in the spread of the gospel – Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the world (Acts 1:8). Acts reports of four baptisms or comings of the Spirit in Acts 2 for Jews in Jerusalem; then for the Samaritans in chapter 8; chapter 10 records of the Gentiles in Caesarea and 19 of those who were ignorant of the gospel, being disciples of John in Ephesus. The reason why they spoke in tongues was to mark the work of evangelizing or discipling those who have inadequate knowledge of Christ but are subsequently instructed in the truths of the gospel so as to believe. Speaking in tongues is not normative for all Christians, but was a sign to the unbelievers because writing to the church in Corinth from Ephesus, Paul told them, Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers.”(1 Corinthians 14:22).
In this particular case both tongue-speaking; prophesying and miracles were there to authenticate the work of Apostle Paul as a messenger of Paul. In the context of this passage, Paul told them tongue-speaking was childish in terms of thinking – it was only there for the infant church! Thank God that the church of Christ is no longer in the infant stage, it is past the foundation of the Apostles and prophets. We have the full revelation in the Word of God so that there remains no more room for new tongues and prophecy except the tongues in the Bible. Prophecy in this case was simply uttering praises to the Lord having received it from Him because prophecy is speaking from God. This is the same as preaching, as long as the preacher speaks not from the words of men but the Word of God, so that in effect the Holy Spirit would help hearers to receive it not as the word of men but as it indeed is – the Word of God, the manner in which the church in Thessalonica received it.
If anyone thinks that he is missing out on spiritual gifts, let him know that we have the perfect revelation in the Son of God. We have the genuine apostles and prophets of Christ leave us the true testimony of Christ so that we do not have to depend on subjective dreams of men to guide us. So do not trust anyone who comes to you in the name of he saw a vision – whether a Muiru or Dr. Owuor do not believe them – tell them all you need is the Word of God which is sufficient guide for your faith and your conduct. In a nutshell I am saying that all revelatory gifts have ceased, (As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away – 1Cor.13:8). The gifts that we have are such as love, faith, hope that remain (1Cor. 13:13).
The same question is for you as well, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" How do you know that you have the Spirit of God? If you were challenged by sorcerers and magicians and demons, would you have the Spirit of God within you? You would know that you have the Holy Spirit, not by the gifts you have of the Spirit but by the fruit of the Spirit that you bear. Look at the way these were of the submissive and humble spirit as to listen and believe what the apostle preached? Notice that the repentance of those who were initially sorcerers – they were willing to do away with their wicked literature worthy thousands (v.19). The Holy Spirit makes one to abhor sin and to love righteousness. The Holy Spirit makes one hate the things of the world of the flesh and of the enticements of the devil to love Christ and God and His People.  The Holy Spirit makes one’s perspective completely different so that all that thrills His heart is Jesus. He makes a person desire heaven so as to look unto Christ because he has been raised with Him. He makes one want to live only for Christ.
When they believed, they were baptized in the Name of Christ. Have you been baptized in the Name of Christ – have you identified with Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour? Have identified with the church of Christ, His people? Was rebaptism necessary for the disciples in Ephesus? It was mandatory because they were initially baptized to repentance, not to Christ. They were supposed to be baptized as believers in order to show their new commitment was in the Lord Jesus Christ. They had to be baptized to show that they had changed masters. They had to be baptized to show that they belonged to the community of God called out to light the light of the gospel wherever they lived and worked. This is because Christianity is not just a name – it is more than a name it is the Way of life! The Holy Spirit of God dwells permanently in believers because those who at any point do not have the Spirit of Christ do not belong to Him (Rom 8:9).
In the second place Christianity is not just a name because; Christ completely transforms you
When Christ came on earth the immortal putting on the mortality, our transformation to put on immortality began. God incarnating to be a man with a human body, with various sets  of its limitations, the Bible records that He came with a fullness of two things – Grace & Truth because these are the two basic ingredients that man needs. The devil came with deception, falsehood and untruths and took away grace from our first parents. So when Jesus came as the Word and became flesh, He dwelt among us, and for us who have believed Him have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth … And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:14-17)
These two ingredients, when wrought in our hearts they produce a permanent transformation. The transformation is such that it affects the heart, the way of thinking, the desires and conduct of one who has met with the Lord. The Lifestyle of a Christian is not defined by feelings or contemporary issues or even the needs of the moment. It is not determined by the philosophy of the day – whether of the stoics or Epicureans, it is guided by the revealed word of the Lord – the Bible. It is solely dependent on the Master by His providence to guide and provide.
You notice in this passage we have Paul who was formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent (1 Timothy 1:13). But now having received mercy and grace, he became the preacher of righteousness and peace with God through the Jesus Christ. We also notice that he is the one pointing people to believe in Christ with such vigor that he is consumed into it so that nothing else matters. Therefore, the Bible records that he entered into the synagogue and spent three solid months talking boldly of nothing else other than ‘speaking boldly reasoning and persuading them of the Kingdom of God’. And when the Jews became stubborn and refused to hear the message of the Kingdom of God, he withdrew and took the disciples who were willing to learn so that he reasoned with them daily in the hall of Tyrannus for two years! As a result all the residents of Asia heard the Word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks. Talk of zeal! But this is what Jesus Christ requires of those who are called by His name. This is a person who had an encounter with the Living God otherwise his transformation cannot be explained.
For this reason when the twelve disciples that Paul met in Ephesus were convinced that John the Baptist himself preached repentance; that he told people to believe in the One who was to come after him, that is Jesus for them to be saved they accepted the Way of life by announcing it to the people that they had publically embraced Jesus to be their Saviour. Then they were baptized in the Name of Jesus as their Lord. You notice their faith was unto the Lord Jesus. This marked a great change in their lives from within because at the same time the Holy Spirit came upon them as well!  May the Lord grant everyone here to believe into the Lord Jesus Christ and to be united with Him in death symbolized by baptism and remain in communion with Him and His people by remembering Him in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. May our delight be in Christ so that nothing else matters except Jesus. If we have been baptized into Him, then we are to bear fruit worthy of repentance so that we will be willing to submit to Him in our daily walk with Him. We are also to willingly and eagerly submit to the authorities that He has appointed to keep us focused on the Way.
We meet with Timothy and Erastus who were preachers of the gospel by serving as helpers of Paul – not by serving him personally but because he was an apostle of the Lord. They were willing to be sent to Macedonia (to collect the offering for helping Jerusalem church?). This is where Timothy had just come with the report of the pathetic condition of the Ephesian church. Therefore Paul wrote the letter of 1st Corinthian and sent it by their hands (1Cor.16:10) so that this time round Erastus was left there (2Tim. 4:20). You remember that Erastus was the Ephesus city treasurer (Rom. 16:23). He had left such a high flying job to serve the heavenly Lord. Where duty calls or danger be never wanting there! You must be willing to obey the trumpet call to duty of service to the Lord who gave His life for you.  Apollos who was initially ignorant but now an apt teacher and preacher of the gospel was in Corinth. He kept on preaching the gospel. It is in the line of duty that we see Gaius and Aristarchus being dragged into the theater with all sorts of accusations against them together with Paul. The point is that they were there with their courage rising with danger and did not deny their master before men – their Master also did not deny them before the Father and the angels in heaven.
Our responsibility as believers is developing a lifestyle that makes everyone that we relate with that it is Christ who is of first importance in our lives. We are to engage in activities that extol in the Lord. We are to talk in a manner that reveals the Lord. The places we go should reflect that we have the Lord Jesus in our hearts. For example we saw Aquila and his wife Priscilla willing to open up their house to Paul and most likely to support him in the ministry of the gospel. Would you be willing to open up your house to ministers of the gospel so that you may be their comfort? But still it is more than that it is using your home, your resources, your time to make Christians and non-believers see the love of Christ in you so that they may be attracted to Him. Some will say that, “I am not sure I want to lose my privacy…” this means that your privacy is more important to you more than the Lord because He has told us in His word that we are to show Christian love and hospitality to our brethren. Purpose to make your home an evangelism center. But if you do not want use your home then look for a person known to you and seek to constantly bring them the gospel say by inviting the person for coffee in town every month and you follow him through. Get books and Christian messages either on video or audio and request them to listen. Why buy someone flowers for valentine that will be thrown away as soon as you part? Why not a good Christian book?
Finally, Christianity is more than a name because, God is at work powerfully
Christianity is not just a name because God is at work so powerfully that it is has been not just standing for two millenniums but progressing at a terrific speed. Kings and peasants have been converted; governors and magistrates have been brought to the faith. White and blacks have been subdued to believe in Christ. God is at work showing His power. He displays His manifold wisdom and power by His church so that His power is manifested. There are a number of summary statements in Acts that show the manner in which God is at work to establish His church because Christianity is more than a name – God is involved. So He says:
1)     And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. (Acts 6:7)
2)     But the word of God increased and multiplied. (Acts 12:24)
3)     And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region. (Acts 13:49)
4)     So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily. (Acts 19:20)

Luke describes the growth of the church by pointing to the powerful influence of the gospel in the lives of people. He conveys that the church increased numerically and that the believers applied the message of the gospel in their lives to their lifestyle the Lord strengthened their faith as they became more obedient to God’s word and lived godly lives.
What does it mean, to proclaim the kingdom of God (v.8)? This means to announce the word of the Lord (gospel). It appears that where there is demonic opposition, Christianity is described as the kingdom of God and God shows His mighty power to show that He is the one reigning and so miracles are worked. In this case He worked them by the hand of Paul (which also served to show that he was the messenger of Christ). Therefore God is the miracle worker not Paul. Imagine the astounding miracles that God did by the hand of Paul! Luke, a doctor, records that the healing miracles were extra-ordinary – no one could deny.
Paul’s ministry in Ephesus was marked by a constant opposition. first of all, there was the inadequate knowledge of the gospel both by Apollos, the twelve men and the city residents. They were ignorant of the Paraklete – the Helper/Comforter. But when Paul, Priscilla and Aquila did their part there was victory for the part of the Kingdom of God. This is because the word of God is increasing, spreading and multiplying so as to prevail mightily. Then there was conflict with the Jews in the synagogue (8-10). The Lord gave him boldness and courage so as to stay there for three months (no other place he took so long in the synagogue. Even when he was ejected from the Synagogue, he had disciples to take away with who had believed – Epenetus might be one of the initial contact persons in Ephesus was converted. Then he went to the Tyrannus Hall where God helped to speak by arguing or reasoning very persuasively. He discussed with the disciples with the disciples for two years.  This produced the knowledge of the Word of the Lord among all the residents of Asia both Jews and Greeks.
Then there is the opposition from the silversmiths led by Demetrius. This was no little disturbance – meaning that it was a great uproar. The business community of Ephesus was the first to discern that Christianity which they called the Way was more than a name. It was transforming the lives of people who became Christians – they correctly noted that if enough people became Christians, the worship of Artemis would suffer and the clients who bought the silver shrines, which their ugali, would be adversely affected. Demetrius first appealed to the economic threat that Christianity posed to them because he said that from this business they had made their wealth (v.25). He had also made his research well because he said it was not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia that Paul had persuaded and turned ‘away’ many people against idol worship. But that was not all because he also appealed to the religion that their great god Artemis may be counted as nothing and she may even be deposed from her magnificence. They were rightly worried of these issues that they did even fear the wrath of the Romans, who could not tolerate riots.
It is good news that God is at work all over the world. But you notice that he uses means – men. Here He used the civil authority just as in Corinth with Gallio. The Lord used the town clerk to bring sobriety to this  community bent to do evil. Paul, Timothy, Erastus, Aquilla , Priscilla, Apollos, you are the means God uses. You are the means placed to turn things around so that the culture of this city and this country and the world is changed. Have you ever wondered why there is so much corruption in the country? Is it not because either Christians are turning a blind eye or are also as corrupt? Why is it that there is no much Christian influence in your place of work and yet you are there? Look if you are Christian then you must live it in every place in every way.
Lastly there was the conflict with the prevailing demonic practice of paganism magic and worship. In Ephesus the devil was celebrated by the presence of one of the wonders of the ancient world – the temple of Artemis. Where the devil is at work you find a lot of spiriticism so that people are under demonic attack. There are numerous bizarre sicknesses and there are many false healers who are not serving God but the devil and their bellies. The sons of a Jewish Priest called Sceva come to the picture under this category. They invoke the name of Jesus because to them – Christianity is nothing more than a name, it is like magic – its all about uttering the right name like abracadabra and there will be effect pap! And in Nairobi there are so many who use the name of Jesus like a magic word – it is wrong. Sons of Sceva were completely mistaken and the one to deal with them was the demon possessed man himself – imagine one man gave seven men a thorough beating so that their wounds took quiet along time to heal! God is at work to show that Christianity is not just a name and so the effect is that the incidence, just like Ananias and Saphirah, produced fear so that all the residents of Ephesus – Jews and Greeks came to know of it and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled – Jesus is the Lord, to the glory of the Father!
God is mightily working to bring good to these people and so by the hand of Paul, He was doing extra-ordinary miracles so that even filthy handkerchiefs and aprons that touched Paul’s skin were carried away to the sick and as soon as the handkerchiefs touched the sick, they were healed! By the way these were not the people’s handkerchiefs, they were Paul’s because clearly it is God who is at work. Paul did not even attempt to repeat this in another place. Yet we see preachers who use this as normative and so use handkerchief to heal. There are those who are making a lot of money by selling handkerchiefs to the sick – I attended a meeting where people were asked to buy handkerchiefs for at least 200/= and the higher you gave for it, the greater a disease you will be healed! Let us not be cheated by those whose gods are their bellies because they have loved money more than their own souls that they will exploit the sick and the poor by twisting the truth.
Because God has saved us by His Son, we ought to be willing to make our plans and goals conforming to His will this is what we see here Paul was planning to go to Rome through Macedonia and Achaia and then to Jerusalem and this was ‘if God wills’. To attempt great things for God we are to depend on the Lord completely for Him to accomplish great things with us. But do you have any plans conforming to the spread of the gospel? What goals do you want to achieve for the gospel expansion this year?  We live in a country so ignorant of the gospel, would you be willing to present the gospel whenever the opportunities present? If you will be effective in the work of ministry then you ought to have definite plans that will make the gospel propagation happen. Would make plans to know the gospel as well as to live it so that you will not be as ignorant as the Ephesian disciples?
The purpose of this series is to make you see how God graciously saves so that you may also put your trust in Christ. It is also my prayer that you may be provoked as to think of how you can be a more effective witness of Christ as you interact with people, so that you always look at yourself as the one sent by the Lord with the gospel to the people that you interact with daily by day. May the Lord help us to be found faithful so that our lives reflect the faith that we profess in word and in deed. May the Lord help us to be taken up by the gospel that we have believed because Christianity is not just a name – it is the way of living.
How can Christianity be just a name, when God by His Son works so mightily to transform a person from being dead in the trespasses to becoming a new creature? How can it be a mere name when the Son of the Living God Himself came to bring life everlasting to those who put their trust and confidence in Him? How can it be just a name when the Holy Spirit removes that terrible heart of stone to implant the heart of flesh that responds to spiritually discerned and eternal things? How can it be a mere a name to be a Christian when the collaboration of the Triune God, the thrice holy God comes to dwell with a hitherto sinner to adopt him to His Sonship, to belong to the abiding city – the city of glory?

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