When you listen to preachers and to people who are sharing the Good News of the Kingdom, there often can be a certain pattern to the way the Gospel is presented. Much of the pattern we know today was formed in the 19th century under the preaching of Charles G. Finney. For example, the whole idea of an altar call was completely foreign to the Gospel preaching until then. Finney also developed what he called “the anxious seat,” where convicted sinners could go during his messages and there await ministry to their souls, all the while anxious and fearful of eternal damnation. Crusade evangelism began in those days and expanded under Dwight L. Moody, Billy Sunday, and finally, Billy Graham. The Gospel was framed almost as an advertising appeal, often prompted by a frantic wondering of what might happen if you were hit by a bus and killed as you left the auditorium that night? Where will you spend eternity? The answer for many of us – including me on more than one occasion – was to respond by walking down the aisle, reciting the sinner’s prayer, and then promising to attend church next Sunday.

 Needless to say, this system of ministry is ripe for corruption. It appeals to the emotions and it advertises that eternal salvation can be yours simply by reciting a much-used prayer. No wonder many people decided this was incredulous.

 So then, what does it mean to be a Christian? Is salvation simply a reward from God because you raised your hand, said a particular prayer, and walked down an aisle? Or, is there something much deeper at work?

 As I was reading 2 Thessalonians this week, I was struck by the language Paul used and by his attitude toward those to whom he wrote. I began to reflect on the lack of strong evangelistic vocabulary and a great amount of language descriptive of lives that had been greatly changed and powerfully transformed by the power of God. That started me thinking about the way I preach and the way we typically minister the Good News.

 To begin with, let there be no misunderstanding about what we believe about doctrine: the cross is central to the Gospel message. Jesus died on that cross as a ransom for sinners and as the Mediator between a holy and righteous God on the one hand, and sinful and wicked humanity on the other. God the Father was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself. So, the message is unchanged and it is eternally true. What I see the Bible doing for us here is giving us a fresh revelation of how to present the message to this generation so they may have a clearer understanding of what is involved in becoming and being a Christian.

 Being a Christian involves making a choice, a conscious decision, that Jesus shall rule my life henceforth. The one who is following Jesus must make many choices, must make many decisions, each and every day. In each one of the decisions we make during the course of any given day, the Lordship of Jesus is affirmed once again. The Kingship of Jesus is made clear for all to see once again. How will you live today? How will you treat your boss? How will you treat your children, your parents, or your wife?

 We all make choices in life and we have to live with the consequences of those choices. Most people choose mindlessly and without careful thought. They make their choices for what appears to be the easiest path, the way of least resistance, or whatever seems to be the most fun at the time. That cannot be the way one who would be a Christian lives. Our choices are going to revolve around Jesus, as we have made the singular decision that from now on, Jesus will be the center of our lives and not us. Jesus will be our focus. Obeying Him, serving Him, and serving other people will be our goal. Whether we do that shows whether we are following Jesus or not. It is not a case of almost, or of trying to follow. You either are following Jesus, or you are not following Jesus. Don’t cry crocodile tears, claiming you are following Jesus when it is obvious you are making decisions to the contrary. This is the Christian life we are talking about, not a hobby.

 In verse 3, we read the faith of the Thessalonians “is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing.” There is no doctrinal checklist to be found in those words; just the plainly obvious fact that transformed people are living transformed lives. The first choice you make as a follower of Jesus is to choose God over yourself. No wonder people find this to be a problem for them, because this is the second, third, and fourth choice. Most people will say, “I want to be the king of me. I will have that spirit of complete independence. I demand to run my own life.” But when you make the choice to allow Jesus to be your Lord, it means everything that was about you from this point forward will now take a back seat, a far back seat, to the plans and directions you will receive from Jesus, who is your Lord. That decision, that choice, means you really are under new management. You have a new leader and you have a new direction, a new destiny and a new destination. You are saying to your family, to your co-workers, and to your friends, from now on, Jesus is the Lord of me.

 Making the decision to follow Jesus is going to alter the course of your life. There is that old song, “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus, No Turning Back.” Paul was painting a picture of this little church as a group of people who made that break, who turned their lives over to God, and were growing stronger and stronger in the faith by the present power of God in their lives. When we declare we are not going to turn back, that means retreat has been very much a temptation and very much on our minds while we are experiencing distress. But we will say, no. We have made our choice, and we choose to stand with Jesus.

 It has been taught far too long that the decision to be a Christian is a one-time decision. You just raise your hand, walk down the aisle and pray that sinner’s prayer. That is simply false. A Christian is a changed person. A Christian is a person who is now under new management. Just because you prayed that prayer does not mean the management of your life has been revolutionized. If it has – trust me – you and everyone around you will know it and see its fruit. Life change is what these verses are talking about. The love of God was flowing in this Thessalonian church. Selfless love, such as Paul describes here, does not happen automatically anywhere in this world.

 As a Christian, you are moving away from a life-orientation in which you are the star of the show and the focus of attention. Your own personal life-focus has also shifted. You are no longer fixated on yourself, on your happiness, on accumulating wealth, experiencing pleasure, or seeking power. You are moving away from darkness and you are seeking Jesus, who is the Light of the world.

 When you read Scripture, you are reading so as to hear God, to listen to the heart of God reveal Himself to you. Because you have decided to be a follower of Jesus, when you mess up, when you sin, the Holy Spirit makes you aware, makes you conscious of that sin. He lets you know. There is no question in your heart that you want to be done with that thing, so you turn away from that attitude or action and you stop it. You don’t whine about it. God has graciously welcomed you into His family, and there is no way you want to turn your back on Him. There is a name for people who repent and then return back to their sin immediately – they are still sinners. People who have made the decision to follow Jesus don’t give up so easily. They have turned away from sin and turned toward God. They have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.

 There comes a time in every young man’s life when he begins to wonder if he is a man, or if he is still a boy. He may need to shave, he may have a job and a car, but what is it that makes a man? I can remember several times when I decided today, I am a man. But then, some poor choices and less than wise decisions made me realize I was not quite there yet. I was not mature enough to be considered a man.

 What does it mean to be a Christian? We know it is not just saying you are a Christian. If that’s all it took, the churches of America would be chock full of people who are seriously relating to Jesus, walking with Jesus, radiating the presence of Jesus, and seeing their lives powerfully transformed by Jesus. But saying you’re a Christian does not make it so. Being a Christian means you are making that daily and moment-by-moment choice to submit your life to Christ, to serve God, to live for God, and to do it in the power of His Spirit. It’s not magic, and it doesn’t happen automatically.

 In 2 Thessalonians 2: 13 – 17, Paul provides us with a thorough description of a follower of Jesus. We have already seen that you will possess a growing faith and that your love for each other will be steadily increasing. We are a small church so this place is a laboratory experience for the Christian life. Here you get to try out your love. You get to love some unlovely people. You get to forgive, you get to release people, freeing them, and no longer holding some sin, or some grudge over their heads. If we cannot love one another here, there is very little chance you will do better in another church.

 A follower of Jesus is a man who is chosen by God. A follower of Jesus is a woman saved through trust and belief in God’s truth, but more than that – she is sanctified. When you say, today I am a Christian, it means God is making you holy, He is making you like Himself. You are separated to God, set apart for God, and separated from this world and its bondages and attractions.

 The Christian is a person who has taken a stand to live his life for Jesus and he is standing firm, verse 15. The enemy of your soul wants nothing more than to see you discouraged, defeated, and even destroyed. Standing firm is persevering. Refuse to be defeated; the Lord Jesus lives in you!

 The Christian is a person who is holding on, also verse 15. In this world, we are regularly presented with lots of reasons to give up, because life can be very hard. Every day you and I see people who are being worn down by the constant barrage of discouragement and fear they experience. Listen, the Word of God has encouragement for you. Listen to what Jesus says. Listen to what the Bible teaches. This is God’s bread for your life. It is the presence of Jesus in your life, the power of God in your life that will help you hold on.

 Paul wrote in 2:11 about people who are deluded. Some people simply refuse to trust God. They refuse to love God’s truth. In so many words, the Bible is saying, they can’t handle the truth! They could have been saved if they had been willing to trust God. They could have trusted God. They could have loved the truth. Instead, they made the decision to believe the lie. The made the decision to seek for themselves. They chose self over God. They chose power over humility. They chose pleasure instead of serving. The consequence of making that conscious choice is condemnation. I’m sorry, but that’s what God says.

 The Christian is not going to be like that. He holds onto the truth. God’s truth informs the way she thinks. God’s truth feeds the Christian’s heart. God’s truth encourages her soul.

 This business of being a Christian is serious stuff. Being a Christian doesn’t happen because you made a walk down an aisle years ago. That is how it got started. The Christian life happens today because you continue to make that choice to obey Jesus, to follow Jesus, to seek after Jesus, every day. Today, I am a Christian. Today, I will follow Jesus. I will make a decision about how I will live my life today, and today I choose to live for Jesus. You cannot live the Christian life by flitting from one thing to another. People who are fickle, who are constantly changing their opinions about the stuff that matters, don’t make it far as Christians because they are shifting and changing with every ebb and flow of their feelings. In the Christian life, maturity is required because serious choices have to be made, and storms of life must be endured.

 You have today’s choice to make now. It’s an important decision no one but you can make. Will you make your choice this morning to follow Jesus today?

Edmund C. de la Cour, Jr.
First Baptist Church of Pocasset
298 Barlows Landing Road
Post Office Box 1080
Pocasset, MA 02559
www.pocassetbaptist.org