SHORT CHRISTIAN READINGS SELECTED FOR FORMER JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES
Your New Life as a Follower of Jesus
By David A. Reed
Jesus himself spelled out what people in the future would need to do to follow him. Appearing alive to his first followers after rising from the dead, Jesus said to them: "All power in heaven and on earth is given to me. So go and make followers of all people in the world. Baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach them to obey everything that I have taught you, and I will be with you always, even until the end of this age." -- Matthew 28:18-20 NCV.
These instructions make it clear that we are really following Jesus when we are baptized in the manner Jesus outlined, and when we then go on to learn and to obey everything that Jesus taught.
What did Jesus teach? It would be impossible to present here a better picture of what he taught than the understanding you will gain by reading the four Gospels for yourself. So, I will not be offended at all if you put this book aside for a while and pick up the Bible to read what Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote about Jesus' life, ministry and teachings. In fact, I would encourage you to do that.
As you read the Gospels, you will notice that Jesus started out his ministry with a call to "Repent!" This is not a familiar word for most people today, but the dictionary tells us that "repent" means to feel sorry for past conduct, to regret or be conscience-stricken about past actions and attitudes -- with such sorrow as to want to change one's life for the better. This call for people to change their hearts and lives was such an important theme of Jesus' preaching that he began his work on earth with this call for people to "Repent!", and ended his work on earth with the same message.
Matthew says this about how Jesus began his ministry: "Jesus began to preach, and to say, 'Repent!'" -- Matthew 4:17.
And Luke shows that Jesus concluded his ministry on earth with the same message: "... that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name to all the nations." -- Luke 24:47.
Moreover, decades later when the Gospel message had already spread throughout the Mediterranean area, resulting in the formation of many Christian churches, the risen Christ appeared to the then aged Apostle John in a vision in which Jesus commanded John to send messages to seven major Christian churches, and the messages to most of those churches included a call for their members to "Repent!" -- even though they were already Christians:
"To the church in the city of Ephesus, Jesus said: 'Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your ... .'" -- Revelation 2:5 NIV.
"To the church in the city of Pergamum, he said: 'Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight ... .'" -- Revelation 2:16 NIV.
"To the church in the city of Sardis, the risen Christ said: 'Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.'" -- Revelation 3:3.
"To the church in city of Laodicea, Jesus said: 'Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So, be earnest, and repent.'" -- Revelation 3:19 NIV.
(I purposely quoted just a few words from the messages to these churches -- enough to show that Jesus was calling their members to repent -- but you would benefit from reading these messages in their completeness in Revelation chapters 2 and 3.)
So, Jesus calls on us to "Repent!" -- change our hearts and lives -- when we first turn to him to as our Savior and Lord. And he repeatedly calls Christians to "Repent!" even later during our walk with him as his followers. When we regularly read the Bible and prayerfully think about the things it says and how those words apply to our lives, God's Holy Spirit shows us the changes we need to make to grow up as God's adopted children and to become more like Jesus.
When we first turn to Christ, asking him to forgive our sins and expressing our desire to follow him, we typically need to repent of major sins -- to change our hearts and lives in major ways. For example, in the Apostle Paul's first letter to the church in ancient Corinth, he lists some of the sins that various members of that church used to practice before becoming followers of Jesus:
"Or don't you know that the unrighteous will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don't be deceived. Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor male prostitutes, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor slanderers, nor extortioners, will inherit the Kingdom of God. ... Such were some of you, but you were washed. But you were sanctified. But you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and in the Spirit of our God." -- 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.
If you open your Bible and read the context of this passage, you will see that Paul was reminding those in the Corinthian church that they had left these practices behind when they became followers of Jesus. But the thrust of Paul's message was that some in the church were continuing to practice these sins, or were falling back into such practices -- and that this was totally unacceptable.
First Paul pointed out that some in the church "do wrong and cheat, and you do this to other believers" (1 Cor. 6:8 NCV), then he wrote the passage above, and then he went on to say, "Surely you know that your bodies are parts of Christ himself. So I must never take the parts of Christ and join them to a prostitute!" (1 Cor. 6:15 NCV) Evidently there were some in the church who either failed to abandon those sinful practices, or who were in danger of falling back into behaving badly like that.
How could that happen in the Christian church in ancient Corinth? In much the same way that it happens in churches today, when pastors and teachers fail to put the same emphasis on repentance that Jesus did. The city of Corinth was a place where bad behavior and sexual immorality were commonplace and accepted by the community, very much like our corrupt society today. So, apparently the local leadership in the church failed to rebuke and correct church members when they behaved like their non-Christian neighbors, and it became necessary for the Apostle Paul to rebuke and correct them through his letter that now forms part of our Bible. Paul was, in effect, reminding them that they had repented of their bad conduct when they became followers of Jesus, and that they needed to guard against slipping back into such bad conduct again.
Church leaders today can similarly be affected by the corrupt and sinful world that surrounds us, and can be influenced to water-down the call to repent, or even to omit it entirely from their preaching. In fact, the invitation to follow Jesus is often presented today as if it were another one of the various competing self-help or self-improvement programs offered on television, in magazines and on the internet: "Follow Jesus, and you will be happy!" or "Solve all your problems by following Jesus!" or something to that effect. Beautiful smiling people sit in front of the TV camera and tell how Jesus brought them happiness.
There is some truth to that: Jesus is the only way to real, lasting happiness. But that was not the main focus of Jesus' message, and not the main focus of the New Testament. As we just read above, the focus was on salvation from sins, repenting of those sins, and changing hearts and minds by learning to obey and follow Jesus. Moreover, Jesus told his early followers they would be hated and persecuted, and would suffer just as he suffered:
"If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also." -- John 15:18-20 NIV.
"... you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers." -- Matthew 24:9 NLT.
Jesus' first followers experienced this persecution and hatred in ancient Palestine and throughout the Roman Empire, and today, too, there are large areas of the earth where Christians face intense persecution, most notably in China, India, North Korea, and dozens of Muslim nations. And even in the nations of Christendom there have been long episodes when true Bible-believing Christians have been persecuted by governments and church leaders who were "Christian" in name only -- such as during the Inquisition. Many observers see a new wave of persecution coming, as Western nations toss aside biblical beliefs and biblical morality, making heroes of celebrities who practice sin and sexual immorality, and making it punishable as a "hate crime" to speak out against such sins.
So, the visible benefits of following Jesus may not always outweigh the visible disadvantages -- in this life, before we go to our heavenly reward. The Apostle Paul wrote that he himself had been "in prison ... flogged ... beaten with rods ... stoned" and had faced many other dangers as a result of his ministry (1 Cor. 11:23-27 NIV). That is why Paul wrote, "If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men." -- 1 Corinthians 15:19 NIV.
But our hope in Christ goes beyond this life. As Jesus said, "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." -- Matthew 5:11-12 NIV.
Our persecution for following Jesus may not be violent, but we may face opposition, ridicule or contempt from friends or relatives. If our repentance from sin involves quitting certain practices or activities that we used to share with friends, those friends may react with hostility toward us and toward the Gospel message. As the Apostle Peter wrote,
"Strengthen yourselves so that you will live here on earth doing what God wants, and not the evil things people want. In the past you wasted too much time doing what nonbelievers enjoy. You were guilty of sexual sins, evil desires, drunkenness, wild and drunken parties, and hateful idol worship. Nonbelievers think it is strange that you do not do the many wild and wasteful things they do, so they insult you." -- 1 Peter 4:2-4 NCV.
We may encounter such verbal persecution from friends and associates, from workmates, or even from close relatives. And that may prove to be a test for us. Jesus said, "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me." -- Matthew 10:37-38 NIV.
Jesus' first followers were all Jews, and they preached the message about Jesus at first to mainly Jewish audiences. For centuries Jews had heard the Old Testament read aloud each week in their synagogues, so they already knew that the true God created the world and everything in it, and they were already familiar with the Bible's history of mankind's rebellion against God. Jews already knew how God wanted people to live, because their Scriptures contained laws from God declaring what was bad and what was good. And Jews were already familiar with the passages in their Scriptures promising a coming Messiah or Christ -- a savior and king appointed by God.
So, it was only necessary to explain to them that Jesus was the one foretold, to provide evidence to convince them of that fact, and then to acquaint them with Jesus' life and teachings. So, to such a Jewish audience in Jerusalem, the Apostle Peter could present a brief review of Jesus' life and ministry, and then urge them to repent by turning their lives around and following Jesus:
"Peter said to them, 'Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you, and to your children, and to all who are far off, even as many as the Lord our God will call to himself.' ... With many other words he testified, and exhorted them, saying, 'Save yourselves from this crooked generation!'" -- Acts 2:38-40.
Notice that Peter's call was for his listeners to "repent" or turn their lives around and follow Jesus, and that thus they would receive "forgiveness of sins" -- which Jews understood because they already knew God's requirements for living right, and each one knew his or her own failure to live up to those requirements.
Back in the first century when the Apostles Peter and Paul began preaching, the Jews were the only people on earth who were in the habit of reading the Old Testament -- the part of the Bible that had already been written and circulated during the centuries before Jesus was born. Most people on earth had no knowledge of the true God or his inspired Bible. The non-Jewish audiences Jesus' disciples began preaching to in Africa, Asia and Europe were descended from ancestors who had long ago abandoned and forgotten the Creator, and who had now been worshiping idols for as long as they could remember -- statues of wood, stone or metal representing many different imaginary gods and goddesses. So, it was necessary to take a different approach when sharing with them the Good News about Jesus. But it was still necessary to call them to "repent".
For example, the Apostle Paul took this approach when speaking to an audience of educated and scholarly men in Athens, Greece:
"You men of Athens, I perceive that you are very religious in all things. For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: 'TO AN UNKNOWN GOD'. What therefore you worship in ignorance, this I announce to you. 'The God who made the world and all things in it, he, being Lord of heaven and earth ... made from one blood every nation of men ... we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold, or silver, or stone, engraved by art and design of man. The times of ignorance therefore God overlooked. But now he commands that all people everywhere should repent, because he has appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by the man whom he has ordained; of which he has given assurance to all men, in that he has raised him from the dead.'" -- Acts 17:22-31.
Notice that Peter speaking to a Jewish audience and Paul speaking to non-Jews both told their listeners to "repent" in order to follow Jesus, or as the New Century Version of the Bible interprets that word, "change your hearts and lives". What sort of changes must you make when you repent and choose to follow Jesus? This book will point out some passages from Scripture that specify those changes, but in order to be sure you are obeying all the things Jesus commanded, you really need to prayerfully read the Bible for yourself. As you read, ask God for understanding, for insight, for faith to believe, and for strength to walk in his ways.
If We DELIBERATELY Keep on Sinning
By David A. Reed
Do the following passages teach something contrary to the message of today's popular preachers? If so, then the reader will have to decide whom to believe -- today's popular preachers, or the inspired Word of God. The following passages are so clear about what happens if we deliberately keep on sinning that I will present them here without any commentary ... .These scriptures speak for themselves, and need no interpretation.
"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned." -- John 15:5-6 NIV.
"It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. ... Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case -- things that accompany salvation.' -- Hebrews 6:4-9 NIV.
"If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' and again, 'The Lord will judge his people'. It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." -- Hebrews 10:26-30 NIV.
"For, uttering great swelling words of emptiness, they entice in the lusts of the flesh, by licentiousness, those who are indeed escaping from those who live in error; promising them liberty, while they themselves are bondservants of corruption; for a man is brought into bondage by whoever overcomes him. For if, after they have escaped the defilement of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in it and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after knowing it, to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb, 'The dog turns to his own vomit again', and 'the sow that has washed to wallowing in the mire'." -- 2 Peter 2:18-22.
"Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. ... Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life." -- Galatians 6:1-8 NIV.
"You will say then, 'Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in'. Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off." -- Romans 11:19-22 NIV.