The statement, "I had a close call," is commonly associated with a near death experience. When we survive a traumatic event that could have killed us, we marvel that we survived the "close call." It might be a car wreck. It might be a fire. It might be a disease. It might be a crime. It might be a natural disaster. Whatever it is, it almost killed us--and we know it! We know we could be dead--maybe even think we should be dead.

Many who experience a "close call" find life changes in profound ways because of the experience. Before our close call, we never truly understood, "I could die." The experience made us fully aware of the fact, "I can die." We were a "quarter of an inch" from death. We looked death "in the eye." The experience forever changed the way we look at life and life's purpose.

How does a "close call" experience change the way a person sees life? "Close call" experiences change our concept of life by introducing us to the reality of our own death. What was important becomes unimportant. What was unimportant becomes important. What was powerful becomes weak. What was weak becomes powerful. Our whole view of life changes.

Christian development and spiritual maturity truly depend on the person becoming aware of a "close call."

  1. This is a difficult realization for people to understand.
    1. Most of us do not question "the friendly world" concept of life.
      1. All of us would say it is "a dangerous world out there."
        1. Christian parents feel a deep, sharp desire to protect our children from the dangers "out there."
          1. We want to protect them from drugs.
          2. We want to protect them from alcohol.
          3. We want to protect them from sexual activity.
          4. We want to protect them from evil influences.
        2. But all the things we want to protect them from are "out there."
      2. If we can just keep our children and the people we love from the bad forces "out there," then they will be all right.
      3. It is a "friendly world;" "out there" is just dangerous.
        1. Our world is controlled by good, not by powerful influences of evil.
        2. Evil exist, but it is a minor influence in "our world."
        3. None of us are in any real danger because of evil.
    2. With our "friendly world" view, being religious actually can blind us to the dangers.
      1. "He is doing okay; he goes to church regularly."
      2. "She is doing all right; she was baptized a couple of years ago."
      3. "Oh, he is struggling with some personal problems right now, but he will work his way through it. He is at church every Sunday."
      4. "Oh, she let some things get her down, but she will bounce back. She is at church every Sunday."
    3. Experiencing a "close call" with evil has little to do with our conversion.
      1. Jesus' crucifixion has little to do with our conversion; it is just a fact that we need to acknowledge.
      2. Jesus' resurrection has little to do with our conversion; it is just a fact the we need to acknowledge.
      3. "I did not need to be rescued from anything; I just needed some correct religion in my life."
      4. "I did not have an urgent need for forgiveness; I just needed some correct religion in my life."
      5. "I did not need to be saved from anything; I just needed to be a member of the church."
      6. "There were no real 'dangers' I needed to escape; I just needed to respond to God by doing the right things."
      7. When our conversion motivations have no awareness of the "close call," becoming a Christian has little to do with seeing the power of evil in our lives, little to do with the death evil causes.

  2. Most of us are familiar with Paul's conversion (Acts 9:1-19; 22:1-21).
    1. He was on his way to Damascus, Syria, to find and arrest Jewish Christians who might be worshipping in the Jewish synagogue in Damascus.
      1. His intention was to return these Jewish Christians to Jerusalem for trial and imprisonment.
      2. Before his trip, Paul viewed the dead Jesus as the greatest immediate danger facing Judaism.
      3. His goal was simple: destroy Christianity by destroying Jews who believed in Jesus; "nip it in the bud."
      4. He was destroying Christians for God as a righteous act.
    2. On that trip the resurrected Jesus appeared to him and talked to him.
      1. He asked Paul why he was persecuting him.
      2. Paul knew immediately that he was 100% wrong.
      3. He knew immediately Jesus came from God.
      4. He knew immediately that he misunderstood the crucifixion.
      5. He knew immediately that the resurrection really happened.
      6. And Paul knew immediately that he was a dead man because his past acts violently opposed God.
      7. Paul was right about Jesus' identity, Jesus' crucifixion, and Jesus' resurrection, but he was wrong about being a dead man.
        1. In Jesus there was and is forgiveness.
        2. Being forgiven of violent acts against Christians forever changed his life.
        3. Paul never forgot how close he was to death.
        4. Paul wanted everyone to know what he knew about Jesus, about Jesus' crucifixion, about Jesus' resurrection.

  3. Years later on a trip in the Roman province of Galatia he shared the reality of Jesus' forgiveness with people in a number of towns.
    1. Most of the people who became Christians were not Jews.
      1. Some Jewish Christians did not like the fact that Paul converted these people.
      2. So they made a trip to the same places and told those Christians they were not forgiven, and could not be forgiven unless they first converted to Judaism.
      3. Many of these new Christians in Galatia were deceived.
      4. They believed salvation came through Judaism, not Jesus.
    2. When Paul heard about their change, he was extremely upset and wrote these people a letter. We call the letter Galatians.
      1. Paul said many things to them, but he made three points about Jesus' crucifixion that I want you to see and understand.
      2. By his own choice, he shared crucifixion with Jesus.
        Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.
      3. How could this violent man who worked so hard to destroy Christianity become one of the leading spokesman for Christianity?
      4. Paul explained how that happened: "When I met the crucified Christ, I stopped living."
        1. "When I understood who Jesus was and what he did in his death, I choose to die with him."
        2. "I choose to let Jesus take charge of my mind and my body."
        3. "Faith in the person who loved me enough to die for me determines who I am and what I do."
      5. Paul's "close call" changed him completely.
    3. For the people in Galatia, being a Christian involved a radical redirection of life.
      1. Before they became Christians, it was perfectly acceptable to be sexually immoral, to do what felt good, to worship anything they wanted to worship, to hate people, to destroy their enemies, to be angry, to argue, to force people to do what they wanted them to do, to get drunk, and to live any way they wished to live doing anything they wanted to do (Galatians 5:19-21).
      2. Paul wanted them to understand that the world is not their friend (Galatians 5:16-24).
        1. That kind of living will destroy a person.
        2. That kind of living is at war with the kind of living Jesus wants for people.
        3. That kind of living makes the life Jesus wants for people impossible.
      3. What kind of life does Jesus want for Christians?
      4. Jesus wants us to live lives that experience love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.
      5. Those two lives do not mix.
        1. The sexually immoral, feel good, do as I please, angry life that hates people, is jealous, gets angry, gets drunk, argues, and exists in rebellion cannot mix with a life based on love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
        2. Those two lives are totally incompatible.
      6. Then how can you change from one life to another?
        1. If you try to make the change all by yourself, you cannot.
        2. The change can happen, but only if you let Jesus forgive you.
        3. Paul knew how the change happened; he experienced the change.
        4. Paul was not a sexually immoral drunkard who lived the "feel good life," who did anything that physically pleased him.
        5. But he was an angry, violent man who tried to force people to agree with him. He hated, argued, fought people, and destroyed people.
        6. Because he experienced the change, Paul knew how it happened:
          Galatians 5:24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
      7. It would happen in other people's life in the same way it happened in Paul's life.
      8. You want it so much that you choose to die with Jesus to crucify the old way you lived.
        1. "Why would anyone do that?"
        2. Because you understand the old way of living will kill you now and forever.
        3. You have a "close call" because you understand what evil is doing to you.
    4. The result is a total change of attitude, motives, and outlook.
      Galatians 6:14 But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
      1. "I never want to place confidence in myself or take credit for anything that happens in my life."
      2. "I am what I am because of the cross of Jesus Christ--and I know what I was before I understood Jesus' cross."
      3. "Through Jesus, the world has been crucified to me, and I have been crucified to the world."
        1. "Because of the crucifixion of Jesus, and I are dead to each other."
        2. "And that is precisely the way I want it."
      4. "If my life honors anyone, may it honor the crucified Jesus."

Our first common mistake today is that we try to reduce Christianity to a religion. Our second common mistake today is that we focus our concern on "having too much religion" in our lives.

Christianity is not a religion. It is an existence. It is not a matter of having the "right habits." It is a matter of who and what you are.

Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.

Do you understand what Paul meant? Does a "close call" with evil have anything to do with your Christianity?

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 24 June 2001

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