Invitation to Eternal Life
|Jesus said "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Below is an excerpt from David Martyn Lloyd-Jones sermon on "Becoming a Christian."
How do I become a Christian?
How does one become a Christian? The answer that we find here is that it is not something vague and indefinite but rather concrete and clear. There is a time when one is not a Christian, and then one is. We are told here that 3,000 people were added to the church as the result of that one sermon by the apostle Peter. Something happened to those people—they moved from one position to another: They were “added” to the church (Acts 2:41, 47). First they did not belong, and then they did. There is nothing uncertain about that.
Christians, according to the New Testament, are men and women who know exactly where they are and what they believe. As the apostle Peter put it when he wrote a letter to Christians later on in his life: “Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15). That is the basic point from which we start.
A change takes place
The first thing that happened is that the 3,000 people underwent a complete change. Their whole position was revolutionized. Their thinking, their actions, their outlook were all changed. It is as complete as that — and that is Christianity. There is nothing more definite than being a Christian, according to the New Testament; and people who do not know what it is to be a Christian or cannot tell you why they are Christians are by definition not Christians at all. There is something unique, special, specific about being a Christian. You can find many men and women who are not Christians who do a lot of good, think noble thoughts, and are ready to make great sacrifices. But they will tell you they are not Christians, and they are not.
So we find here that these people underwent a complete change. How did it happen? It was not the preaching of Peter. If you read Peter’s sermon, you see that he quotes Scriptures, he develops certain arguments. Quite right. Logically sound. He makes his case, and you cannot contradict it.
But Peter’s sermon, read in cold print, does not account for the fact that something vital happened to 3,000 people! What accounts for that is the action of the Holy Spirit.
God does the work
“They were deeply troubled...” (Acts 2:37). The men and women standing there and listening to an exposition of certain Old Testament Scriptures were in trouble. They were disturbed, and they cried out. This was the work of the Holy Spirit, and there would never have been a Christian church but for this. This is what makes her; this is what causes her to persist. This is the explanation of the revivals and reformations down through the centuries.
Now this is something that we cannot understand. It is something that happens to us, something that takes place in us, and we ourselves are amazed at it. It is not something we do. Let me make this perfectly clear. You cannot “take up” Christianity. You can take up Christian Science; you can take up many cults; you can take up many movements; you can even join a church. But you cannot take up Christianity. By definition Christianity is something that takes you up. It is not primarily something you do, but something that is done to you. You cannot explain it. You cannot dissect it or analyze it. It is the power of the Holy Spirit.
We have seen how the apostles themselves underwent this great change, especially after the baptism of the Spirit. They were transformed, made entirely new. And this is the story of the centuries, the story of all the revivals and of all the great saints.
“You,” says Paul to the Ephesians, “hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins … and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved)” (Eph. 2:1–5).
This is the first thing that strikes us. Something happened to these people, to the 3,000. A work went on within them. The Holy Spirit of God was using God’s Word and applying it to them. He is a powerful influence, an influence that baffles our understanding, defying analysis and explanation, but we know it has happened.
The work of the Holy Spirit
But what exactly is it that the Spirit does to us?
The first thing the Holy Spirit does to people when He comes upon them in this powerful manner is to make them think! How do I find that?
Well, the apostle, applying his sermon, said, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.” And then we read, “Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?” They said that because they had been made to think.
This is most remarkable. Look at these 3,000 people. They were a part of the crowd that just a few weeks before, when Jesus of Nazareth was on trial, had cried out, “Away with Him! Crucify Him! Give us Barabbas.” The Pharisees and Sadducees and the doctors of the law, these clever men, these politicians, these ecclesiastics, had seen themselves getting into trouble because of the ministry and the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. So they had said, “Let’s get rid of this man who would save the nation! Let them punish Him, and then we’ll be all right.”
So these religious leaders had incited and manipulated the crowd, which earlier had almost worshiped our Lord, surrounding Him as he rode into Jerusalem on the foal of an ass and singing, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” The thoughtless, heedless crowd, carried away by the clichés, not thinking at all, changed their opinions, blinded by “the god of this world,” and cried out, “Crucify Him!”
That is how these people had been, but a great change came over them, and the first part of this change is that they began to think, and to think about this Jesus. Those who had shouted against Him were now beginning to think about Him. Oh, the Bible is full of this! What Christianity does, what the Gospel does, is save us; it “delivers” us, as Paul puts it to the Galatians, “from this present evil world” (Gal. 1:4). And what is the main characteristic of “this present evil world”? It is that it does not think, that it cannot think, that it is carried away by mob emotion. It exaggerates; it goes to extremes. It does not know what it is saying. It has no understanding. It is the victim of the powers that are ready to manipulate it.
He makes us think
So the first effect of Christianity is to make people stop and think. They are not simply overawed by some great occasion. They say, “No, I must face this. I must think.” That is the work of the Spirit. The people in Acts thought again. They repented—the Greek word is metanoia—they changed their mind completely. The Spirit always leads people to think, and, as I have been showing you, the greatest trouble is that men and women go through life without thinking. Or they think for a moment but find it painful, so they stop and turn to a bottle of whiskey or television or something else—anything to forget.
We see the relevance of Jesus Christ
What does the Spirit make us think about? Well, not first and foremost about ourselves. I must emphasize that Christianity does not start with us. It does not say, “Do you want to get rid of that sin that is getting you down? Do you want happiness? Do you want peace? Do you want guidance?” That is not Christianity. That, again, is the approach of the cults. No, these people in Jerusalem were made to think about Jesus Christ! They were given the objective, historical facts about this person. Peter had just said to them, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
The next verse continues, “Now when they heard this” — they were not thinking about themselves but were beginning to think about Him. That is always the message of the Christian church. The true Christian message brings us face to face with the historical facts. I repeat this once again because false religions make people think about everything except Jesus Christ. But when you come to a truly Christian church, it is Jesus Christ who takes the highest position—nobody else, however great, however wonderful. Jesus Christ dominates us, and the Spirit dominates us. The first thing we have to face is the person of Jesus Christ—His life, His death, His resurrection, these great historical events. “When they heard this”—when they were reminded of what they had done—“they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?”
The next point is that the power of the Spirit upon the message makes us consider this person, but He does not stop at that. The Spirit now makes us go on to realize the relevance of Jesus Christ, and everything concerning Him, to ourselves personally. “Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?”
You can sit in a chair and read a book about Jesus Christ, you can read about Him in your Bible, and you can read books of theology. Very interesting. To an intelligent person there is no study more entrancing. It has been the occupation of some of the greatest minds of the centuries. But you can do all that and still not be a Christian. It is the Holy Spirit who makes each of us see the relevance of Jesus to ourselves, so that we are no longer spectators, no longer critics, no longer people taking a wonderful, objective view. No, no, I am under criticism myself. The relevance of this has come to me. I see that I am involved in all this, and I had not realized it.
That was the trouble with these people in Acts. There they had been, but a few weeks back, shouting with all their might, “Away with Him! Crucify Him! Give us Barabbas. Who is this Jesus? What’s all this fuss about? What’s all this nonsense? Are we going to get into trouble with the Roman authorities because of this crackbrained man who sets Himself up as some great deliverer and messiah? Nonsense! He has nothing to do with us.” And so they went back, and they drank and had a wonderful evening together, and the jokes had never been so good.
But now, suddenly, they realized, listening to Peter, that this Jesus whom they had thus dismissed and so easily got rid of, as they had thought, was one with whom they were vitally concerned. They understood what everyone who becomes a Christian must understand, because you cannot be a Christian without realizing this—they understood that this Jesus was “made … both Lord and Christ.” They saw that they had been fighting against God and rejecting His Christ. Their voices had done it. They had urged the authorities to crucify Him. The crucifixion had been carried out by popular verdict—theirs!
And this is still the message of Christianity, this is still the Christian Gospel, and it is addressed to everybody in the whole world today. You may say to me, “I can understand it in the case of those people. They had literally shouted, ‘Away with Him!’ In a sense, they were responsible for His murder. But I have never done that!” But remember this: If up to now you have been unconcerned about Jesus Christ and who He is, then you have rejected Him. By doing nothing about Him, you reject Him. You cannot be neutral in this matter. So I say to the respectable people, the humanists and others, some of whom may live very good lives and think they are all right, if they are not related to this Person, and if they are not for Him, they are against Him. And when people are convicted by the Holy Spirit, they begin to realize this.
People may say, “But I’m living a good life, aren’t I? I’ve never committed adultery. I’ve never been drunk. I’ve never done any of these things. I really am trying to help people. I’m paying my full dues morally—what more do you want?” But the Holy Spirit shows them that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners and that the whole world is in a state of sin, and that includes them.
Not to accept Jesus is to reject Him, and to reject Him is to reject God. It is God, said Peter, who has “made … Jesus … both Lord and Christ.” The people of Jerusalem saw that by agreeing with the authorities, they had been fighting against God. Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and they had crucified Him. Jesus Christ is the greatest manifestation of God’s love, and they had said, “Crucify Him!” Jesus Christ is the very pivot and center of God’s eternal plan and purpose of world redemption, and they had rejected Him. They were suddenly awakened to this. They had shouted thoughtlessly, but now it was brought home to them, and they were made to think. And that, of course, leads to conviction, and conviction leads to fear.
Do you not hear the fear in the voices of those people of Jerusalem? “They were pricked in their heart, and said … Men and brethren, what shall we do?” This is not intellectual interest in Jesus, not a bandying about of opinions: “Well, indeed, I do think after all that He is a very good man who said some fine things, and He is a great leader, and we want more of that spirit.” No, no! They were aware that they were in trouble. They were “pricked in their heart.” They were convicted and afraid. Why? Because they had asked themselves certain questions. And this is how people become Christians.
We are made to question
Have you ever put these questions to yourselves? Have you ever asked, “Why is it that I have been so unconcerned about Jesus Christ? How long have I lived in this world? How much have I thought about Him? Has He been central in my thinking? Is my life dominated by the historical fact that nearly 2,000 years ago God sent His only Son into this world?” Have you stopped to ask, “Who was this Jesus? Why are the years numbered according to Him — Before Christ (B.C.), After Christ (A.D., Anno Domini, ‘year of our Lord’)?”
And you suddenly realize that you have never asked those questions. You have never been concerned. “Jesus Christ? Of course, I know all about Him!” But you have never read the Gospels. You have never read the Bible through. You think you know, but you do not. When we are awakened and stop and ask those questions, it is because of the work of the Spirit. This is conviction. We sit down and say, “Why have I been so unconcerned? What was the matter with me? Here is a great historical fact. I’m interested in history. I know about great men. I know about great kings and princes and leaders and prime ministers.”
All I am trying to say to you is that if you are interested in history and in historical personages, why have you not been interested in Jesus Christ? Why has He meant so little to you? Here is this great historical personage who came into this world and died and rose again, who sent down the Spirit and established the church — why are you so unconcerned? You may say, “I read of men like the apostle Paul and these other apostles to whom Christ was everything. They were thrilled by the Gospel. They were ready to die for it. Why isn’t it everything to me?”
You will read about the martyrs, the giants of the Protestant Reformation — men and women who gladly preferred to die rather than deny Jesus Christ and who died triumphant, glorious, knowing they were going to be with Him. Why do you not say to yourself, “Why am I not like that? I know about it, but it makes no difference to me. I’ve never been thrilled by Him. I’ve never been moved by Him. If you could blot Him out of history, it would not make any difference to me. I’m not ready to die for Him and His teaching! Why is that?” Have you ever asked those questions? That is what you are made to do by the Spirit.
Another question is this: “Why have I never seen my need of Him?” He says, “The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). We are meeting on a great and solemn occasion when people are thinking about life and death [the Sunday after Winston Churchill’s funeral], so I will ask you a simple question: Have you ever seen your need of Jesus Christ? Have you ever realized that He came into the world because of you and because of everybody else who is exactly the same as you? Why is it that you have never even considered the consequences of rejecting Him?
The Spirit makes you ask those questions, and they are painful. You are thinking now. Before you simply said, “There’s nothing in Christianity. It’s played itself out. Away with Him! He’s nobody. Get Him out of the way. Christianity is outmoded. He doesn’t count.” But now you say, “Had I been wiser, I would have been saying: Here is the truth. He is a fact. What does He mean? What is His relevance to me?”
And He supplies the answers
The moment you ask yourself those questions, you will find the answers. You will say to yourself, “I’ve never thought about Him, and I’ve never seen my need of Him, for one reason only, and that is my ignorance — and first and foremost, my ignorance of God!” How often do we think of God? Where has the world come from? What keeps it going? What accounts for all its marvel and perfection? Is it all the result of chance?
And, second, you will see that you have been ignorant of your own true nature. People today never ask, What is man? They go on saying that people are wonderful, and twentieth-century man the most wonderful of all. They just go on repeating the clichés they are told every day in the newspapers and on television. We are always being praised and are praising one another. But do we stop to ask what people have made of the world? Do we even stop to ask what is a human being or what is the meaning of life? What are we doing in this world?
Third, you will see that you have been ignorant of the meaning of death. “Death,” you used to say, “is the end of life. It’s the end of a great career. Death is just the end.” Death makes people feel solemn, but they do not think about it. But now the Holy Spirit makes you think about death. What does death lead to? The Bible answers: “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27). The soul goes on and stands in the presence of the eternal God who made us and holds us responsible. We stand before the one from whom we have received all we have. Oh, the greatness of man! But what is this greatness? It is not what men and women do, but that they are made in the image of God and were meant to be God’s companions. It is that God holds them responsible for what they do with the gift of life and the gift of the soul.
You see that you have been ignorant about all this, and that is why you have not been interested in Jesus Christ. Is the end magnificence and pomp and splendor?2 No, no! Judgment! God! Eternal destiny! And there is only one of two destinies open to us all. It is either to be with God or to be separated from Him. It is either to enjoy the pleasures of God for all eternity among “the spirits of just men made perfect” (Heb. 12:23) and all the holy angels, or to be in a state of torment, misery, and pain.
And added to ignorance you see that you have been spiritually dead. That is the state of the world. Even when these facts are put before us, we shake them off, do we not? We are not alive to spiritual things. We say, “You preachers go on saying all that, but I couldn’t care less—it’s got nothing to do with me.” The apostle Paul describes our spiritual deadness in these famous words: “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). And in the same chapter Paul says that when the Lord Jesus Christ came into this world, the princes of this world did not know Him, “for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (v. 8). Why did they not know Him? Not because of lack of intelligence, but because of spiritual deadness. They saw nothing but the carpenter of Galilee.
The Holy Spirit makes you come to the terrible realization, “I must be spiritually dead! I must be lifeless. I must have a heart of stone! There’s something wrong with me. I’m in trouble. What can I do?” Those people in Jerusalem now realized that their rejection of Jesus was based upon ignorance and deadness, and that as a result they were terribly guilty before God. They realized that they belonged to this “untoward generation” from which Peter told them to save themselves (v. 40). They saw that they were blind fools with no excuse. There were damned and could do nothing about it.
Now they saw that there was only one thing left for them to do—they could cry out to the Lord. And they started by addressing a question to His representatives, Peter and the others: “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”
The Holy Spirit makes each of us realize that we are guilty. We see the relevance of the Gospel to us. We realize that we must die and that we cannot escape. You will have to leave behind you the world and the cleverness of the world, and your soul will go out on that last journey alone! Where to?
What shall we do?
There is one final point, and it is quite simple. All you must do is obey the message that is given to you. In answer to their question, Peter said to the people in Jerusalem, “Repent” — think again, change your minds — “and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”
If you have seen what I have been putting before you, tell God about it — acknowledge and confess it to Him. Confess that you have been a fool, that all your boasted cleverness is rubbish. Acknowledge all your arrogance. Admit that you have sinned against Him. That is repentance: You simply make an open confession, without any reservations at all, and cast yourself entirely upon God’s mercy and love.
Tell God that you have lived to the world and its passing glory. Tell Him that you have put other people before Him. Fall before Him and confess that you deserve nothing but punishment, that you have nothing to plead, you have no excuse. That is repentance. That is calling upon the Lord. Joel had prophesied, “Whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be delivered” (Joel 2:32). And the moment you call upon God in repentance, He will look upon you and will smile upon you and will say, “It is all right! I sent My only Son into the world for you. Believe on Him. Believe that He died for you and for your sins and thank Him.”
Then give yourself and your life to Him. Submit yourself to Him, whatever the cost, and be baptized. It was not a small thing for those new Jerusalem believers to be baptized. It cost them dearly in persecution, the renunciation of family, ostracism, and a thousand and one other things. It probably meant death for many of them as, indeed, it did to many Christians in the arena in Rome. But that does not matter. Once you see this truth, you will say with the writer of the hymn: