This evening I want to challenge all of us to think in depth about a huge temptation each of us confronts. The temptation focuses on our personal concepts and personal definitions concerning "the path to God."

Your initial reaction may be, "David, the path to God cannot possibly be a temptation to all of us! We decided long, long ago what the correct path to God is! All my life we have challenged people to trust the path, or to take the path, or to walk the path--we have never asked people to define the path! We need to emphasize the importance of the path, not dwell on the definition of the path!"

If you are tempted to think that we have correctly defined the path for a long, long time, allow me to focus you on the temptation that confronts everyone of us. Let me focus you by asking some questions.

  1. How many people did Jesus die for?
  2. Was Jesus an American?
  3. Is the best way to express Christianity in its nature and objectives to do it in terms of the American society and American culture?
  4. If believers in Jesus Christ who have been baptized by immersion in other cultures and societies do things in ways that are not American, are they genuinely Christian?
  5. If believers in Jesus Christ who have been baptized by immersion in this culture and society do things in ways that differ from the way you do them, are they genuinely Christian?
  6. In this society, what "kind" of people make you uncomfortable?
  7. Can baptized believers who make you uncomfortable genuinely be Christian?
  8. Can they worship with you?
  9. Can you be brother and sister to them?
  10. Can you be in a mutual relationship of encouragement with such Christians?

Let me approach this temptation in another way.

Do you see the problem? Do you acknowledge the temptation? Do you realize that God's love for a person is not dependent on your personal likes and dislikes?

This very difficult, hard problem is not new. In fact, it existed from very near the beginning of Christianity in the first century. Many Jewish Christians had a very hard time trying to understand that God loved people who were not Jews just as much as He loved Jews. Many Jewish Christians had a hard time understanding that God sent Jesus to the world, not just to the nation of Israel. Now if people who were not Jews accepted Jewish traditions and way of doing things, Jewish Christians were okay with that. But they were very uncomfortable if people who were not Jews did not accept Jewish traditions and ways. In fact, sometimes some Jewish Christians said the baptized believers in Jesus Christ were not genuine Christians, were not saved, and did not belong to God. That attitude created a huge problem in the first century church.

Tonight I want to illustrate the problem confronting all Christians. Hopefully, you will have a better understanding of the problem, the temptation facing all of us.

  1. I want to begin by having you picture a spectrum that goes from total black to total white.

  1. In this spectrum, black fades into dark gray, dark gray fades into medium gray, medium gray fades into light gray, and light gray fades into tones of white.
  2. I think this is an appropriate analogy for what I want to illustrate.
    1. Scripture often uses black or darkness to describe evil.
    2. It often describes righteousness as light.
    3. Conversion involves the process of repenting--leaving the darkness and coming to the light.
  1. Honestly look at this spectrum and decide for yourself what your starting point was when you first began seriously thinking about coming to Christ and becoming a Christian.

    1. I am quite serious--I will not ask you to share with anyone your decision--but I want you to locate your starting point on this spectrum.

      1. I want you to say to yourself, "That is where I was when I started to seriously think about turning to Christ."

      2. Have you done that? Good! Remember what you picked as your starting point and hang on to it.

    2. Now allow me to ask you some more questions.

      1. Can God in Jesus Christ forgive a prostitute? If your answer is "Yes," where on that spectrum would you place his or her starting point?

      2. Can God in Jesus Christ forgive homosexuals? If your answer is "Yes," where on that spectrum would you place his or her starting point?

      3. Can God in Jesus Christ forgive a drug addict who has lost everything for the sake of his or her addiction? If your answer is "Yes," where on that spectrum is his or her starting point?

      4. Can God in Jesus Christ forgive an alcoholic who has lost everything for the sake of his or her addiction? If your answer is "Yes," where on that spectrum is his or her staring point?

      5. Can God in Jesus Christ forgive a violent criminal who has physically hurt another person? If your answer is "Yes," where on that spectrum is his or her starting point?

      6. Compare all those starting points. What is the likelihood all of us will be at the very same point of spiritual development at the very same time?

    3. Allow me to advance this illustration by using two extremes.

      1. The first extreme is a person, man or woman, who grew up with no spiritual or religious influence in his or her life.

        1. His or her family never owned a Bible--he or she never saw one, never touched one.

        2. Sundays were "free days" to be used pursuing pleasure in any way you could indulge yourself. No one in his or her family ever thought about worshipping God.

        3. He or she never saw the inside of a church building, never personally knew a preacher, and felt a deep sense of disgust with all Christians.

        4. He or she never knew any of the Bible characters or Bible stories.

        5. He or she was 10 years old the first time he or she was drunk.

        6. He or she was a drug addict by the age of 11.

        7. He or she was sexually active before he or she reached the age of 12.

        8. He or she had been married and divorced by the age of 18.

        9. As a pre-teen, his or her cursing vocabulary was incredible!

        10. For the sake of illustration, let's place this person's starting point in the black.


      2. The second extreme, man or woman, is a person who grew in a genuine Christian home--no pretense, no hypocrisy.

        1. The first place the parents took this person after birth was to church.

        2. The congregation presented him or her a Bible before he or she was a year old.

        3. He or she was a part of all the children's classes and programs, an active part of the youth group, participated every year in LTC, a part of the college group when at home, and went to a Christian college.

        4. He or she grew up with devotionals almost every day in the home and had two wonderful role models full of love.

        5. By age five he or she knew the main Bible characters, before the age of 10 he or she could quote lots of Bible verses, and by the time that he or she was a teenager, he or she had a growing understanding.

        6. He or she was never drunk, never experimented with recreational drugs, was never sexually active, and knew very few curse words.

        7. This person grew up truly loving God with an absolute commitment to Jesus Christ.

        8. For the sake of illustration, let's place this person's starting point in the light gray.

      3. These two people lived in totally different worlds with totally different experiences.

        1. The discussion about believing will not be the same discussion--one always has believed (there was never a time when he or she did not believe in God and love Jesus) and one knew nothing about God.

        2. The discussion about repentance will not be the same discussion--one has some devastating experiences to repent of, and one has little to turn from.

        3. The discussion about baptism should not be the same discussion--one genuinely needs a new beginning, and the other never has consciously rebelled against God.

      4. Therefore, the path to God is not the same for these two people.
        1. If the objective is to get these two people into the baptistery for an immersion regardless of what they understand, we make a poor decision.
        2. While both need to be baptized into Christ, both need to realize they are committing to a lifestyle for a lifetime.
    4. Which one needs:
      1. Forgiveness? They both equally need forgiveness.
      2. Grace and mercy? They both equally need grace and mercy.
      3. Dependency on God? They both equally need total dependence on God.
      4. A life of commitment? They both equally need a life of commitment.
      5. What do they have in common? Excluding Jesus Christ, probably very little.
      6. Are they both God's children? Absolutely.

  2. I want us to read together two scriptures and each of us reflect on the teaching of each scripture.
    1. First, read with me Luke 15:1-10.
      Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them." So He told them this parable, saying, "What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And 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 in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!' In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

    2. Second, read with me Luke 18:9-14.
      And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: 'God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.' But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, the sinner!' I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted."

    May God lead us to be as patient with others as God is with each of us!

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 10April 2005

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