SHORT CHRISTIAN READINGS SELECTED FOR FORMER JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES
But I'm a sinful person, not fit to be a follower of Jesus!
By David A. Reed
Is that how you feel about yourself? A rough and vulgar fisherman when he encountered Jesus, the man who was to become the Apostle Peter felt the same way about himself: "But Simon Peter ... fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, 'Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, Lord.'" -- Luke 5:8.
The Apostle Paul wrote similarly about himself, even calling himself a chief or especially notorious sinner: "I was before a blasphemer, a persecutor, and insolent. However, I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. The grace of our Lord abounded exceedingly with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. ... The saying is faithful and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. However, for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first, Jesus Christ might display all his patience, for an example of those who were going to believe in him for eternal life." -- 1 Timothy 1:13-16.
So, if Jesus could save someone as sinful as Peter, or as sinful as Paul, he can save you, no matter what your life has been like up until now. In fact, Jesus said he did not come for righteous people, but for sinners: "Those who are healthy have no need for a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." -- Mark 2:17.
Jesus illustrated his concern for sinners by comparing himself to a shepherd who has a hundred sheep, with one that wandered away -- the way a sinner wanders away from God. And he described the joy in heaven when such a lost person repents:
"Which of you men, if you had one hundred sheep, and lost one of them, wouldn't leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one that was lost, until he found it? When he has found it, he carries it on his shoulders, rejoicing. When he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!' I tell you that even so there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance." -- Luke 15:4-7.
To drive home the point that there is great joy in heaven when a sinner repents, Jesus immediately gave another illustration concerning a woman who had ten valuable coins and lost one of them: "Or what woman, if she had ten drachma coins, if she lost one drachma coin, wouldn't light a lamp, sweep the house, and seek diligently until she found it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the drachma which I had lost.' Even so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner repenting." -- Luke 15:8-10.
So, no matter how sinful you have been, God will welcome you when you change your heart and life by turning to him in repentance and deciding to follow Jesus. In fact, Jesus died to take away your sins, heal you, and give you new life: "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed." -- 1 Peter 2:24 NIV.
It doesn't matter how serious your sins have been. Jesus' sacrificial death on the cross will cover them. It is just as when God invited ancient Israel to repent. He told them: "'Come now, let us reason together,' says the LORD. 'Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.'" -- Isaiah 1:18.
Naming very specific serious sins when writing to the church in Corinth, Greece, the Apostle Paul said that people in that church had previously practiced those sins, but were now washed clean: "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. ... And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." -- 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 NIV.
So, even people who have committed very serious sins against God can be washed clean and made acceptable to God when they repent and put faith in Christ. This, of course, is not a license to keep on practicing sin willfully in the expectation that there will be no consequences. Rather, when Jesus healed a man, he told him to "stop sinning": "Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, 'See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.'" -- John 5:14 NIV.
But even Christians may fall into sin. If you have slipped and fallen after accepting Christ, you should not feel eternally condemned. God still calls you to repentance. The Apostle John wrote this to Christian believers:
"My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense -- Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world." -- 1 John 2:1-2 NIV.
And the letters that Jesus had John write to the seven churches in Revelation, chapters 2 and 3, called on the members of five of those churches to repent: "Remember where you were before you fell. Change your hearts and do what you did at first." -- Revelation 2:5 NCV.
Even toward "that woman Jezebel", in the church at Thyatira, who "leads my people to take part in sexual sins and to eat food that is offered to idols," Jesus held out the opportunity for her to repent. Jesus told John to write, "I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality." -- Revelation 2:21.
Don't be like Jezebel, who refused to repent. No matter how serious your sins, Jesus calls you to repent and turn to him for salvation, and to begin following him. There will be rejoicing in heaven. Jesus promised, "I will never turn away anyone who comes to me." -- John 6:37 Today's English Version.
How Can You Follow Jesus?
By David A. Reed
Following Jesus is the right thing to do, and the best thing we can do for ourselves and for others we love and care about. And it is the proper thing to do if we appreciate our loving Creator who has given us life and who has given us all the good things we enjoy. It is what God wants us to do. But how do we go about doing it?
When Jesus called the original disciples to follow him, it was clear how they had to do it. Peter and Andrew got out of their fishing boats and followed Jesus, literally walking after him. (Matt. 4:19-20) Matthew got up from his tax-collecting desk and followed Jesus, literally walking after him. (Matt. 9:9) But how can we today follow Jesus?
We cannot see him and physically get up from our seat and follow after him as he walks down the road. But we can believe that he died for our sins, that he rose from the dead, that he is alive today, and that he accepts people as his followers now just as he did back in the first century. Jesus is not visible to us, but that does not stop him from hearing our prayers and answering them.
So, if you tell Jesus right now that you are sorry for your past sins, and that you want to leave them behind and begin a new life by following him, he will hear you, and he will forgive your sins, and he will accept you as his follower. "I will never turn away anyone who comes to me." -- John 6:37 Today's English Version.
Although he is not visible to us, Jesus promised his followers: "I am with you always, even to the end of the age." -- Matthew 28:20.
When you become his follower, Jesus comes to live with you and in you by means of his Spirit -- God's Holy Spirit: "One who has my commandments, and keeps them, that person is one who loves me. One who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him, and will reveal myself to him ... If a man loves me, he will keep my word. My Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our home with him." -- John 14:21, 23.
So, we today can come into a personal relationship with Jesus that is just as real as what the first followers experienced when they got up from their seats and followed Jesus down the road. We can ask him questions as they did, even though we can't see him. And we can listen to his replies as we prayerfully read his teachings in the pages of the Bible.
In some ways our relationship with Jesus today can be even closer than what the first disciples experienced when they could see Jesus and share meals with him. That is because everyone who puts faith in the risen Christ is "born again" spiritually as a child of God. Jesus explained it this way:
"I tell you the truth, no-one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again. ... I tell you the truth, no-one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.'" -- John 3:3-7 NIV.
We are born again when we trust in Jesus to save us from our sins and commit ourselves to obey him. God then adopts us as his children, sending his Holy Spirit into our hearts: "To prove that you are sons, God has sent into our hearts the Spirit of his Son, crying 'Abba! Father!'" -- Galatians 4:6 NEB.
("Abba" was a term Jewish children used when addressing their human father, and a term Jesus himself used when addressing his heavenly Father. See Mark 14:36.)
In some way that is beyond our understanding, Jesus actually comes to live with us and in us when we believe in him and choose to follow him. Yes, it is beyond human understanding, and that is why the Apostle Paul refers to it as, "this mystery, which is Christ in you." -- Colossians 1:27 NIV.
It really is a mystery -- beyond human understanding -- but the Bible assures us that Jesus actually comes to live in the hearts of his followers: "... that Christ will live in your hearts by faith ..." -- Ephesians 3:17 NCV.
Because followers of Jesus come into this close spiritual relationship with God as his adopted children, we can find super-human strength to overcome our inborn tendencies to sin, and we can look forward to eternal life:
"You, however, are controlled not by your sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you ... he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies though his Spirit, who lives in you." -- Romans 8:9-11 NIV.
So, following Jesus is much more than reading about an ancient historical figure and trying to live and love the way he did. It is much more than just joining a church that was founded centuries ago by his early followers. It is a real relationship with a real live person -- the risen Son of God. He invites you to come into this relationship as his follower. But it is your choice. It is up to you to open the door, to invite him into your life and into your heart: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me." -- Revelation 3:20 RSV.
You can respond right now to Jesus' invitation to be his follower. Turn to him in prayer, and tell him that you are sorry for your sins -- including the sin of ignoring God and the Bible -- and that you now want to leave your sins behind and change your heart and your life by following him and obeying him. Even though he is invisible, Jesus will respond to your prayer by accepting you as his follower. He will forgive your sins and begin to lead you in the way you should go.