I have told you before that when I first started college, I wanted to become a doctor. Now in the pre-medicine track, you must take several courses in chemistry. You likely have heard the phrase, “They have the right chemistry.” It means that the persons in a relationship blend together very well so that they work together beautifully. In my chemistry classes, I never had the “right chemistry.” I could understand what was being said in theory but it rarely worked in the lab.
For example, one time our assignment was to make nylon. The professor said if we did the experiment right, we would end up with strands of nylon in the flask. Well, I followed all the right procedures but all I ended up with was a flask full of some nasty colored liquid but no nylon. It was the story of my life in the chemistry lab. What was supposed to be true in theory rarely worked out for me in practice.
Do you ever feel that way about your Christian walk? You know what you are supposed to be doing and you understand what the results are supposed to be, but it doesn’t seem to work out very well. Perhaps it is time to try again and look at what makes up the Christian life. What does it take to be a Christian? Acts 2 gives us the story of Pentecost when the Spirit came. We will read the last part of Peter’s sermon and then the response of the people as we remind ourselves of the main parts of the Christian walk. Let’s read Acts 2:22-39.
I. First, let’s make sure we understand the right questions.
The first question is asked in Acts 2: “Brothers, what shall we do?” The question is asked in response to Peter’s sermon to the crowd about Jesus. Many in the crowd had perhaps agreed with the death of Jesus. When Peter convinced them of who Jesus really was, they realized that they had killed their one and only hope of salvation. They are asking what they should do to correct their terrible mistake? Verse 38 gives the answer: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
That second question in the Heidelberg Catechism asks as similar question. “What must you know to live and die in the joy of this comfort?” This question is more than how one is saved; it is “How does one continue to live in the comfort that Question and Answer One describes when we belong to Christ?” Notice that the same elements that Peter used to describe what was needed to become a Christian are the same elements that the Heidelberg Catechism gives in describing what it takes to live as a Christian. It is those three main aspects or elements that we look at now.
Repentance is more than saying “sorry” to God; what is required is a complete change of heart. Repentance is a radical change of thinking and way of life. Living in sin is like rebelling against God, walking down a road away from God. Repentance means that you not only realize the wrong but you start walking toward God and doing things that God wants. Repentance means throwing off the things that are sinful; now we live to please God.
But here is an important element: we must never lose sight of sin completely. The catechism points out that we must know how great our sin and misery are. We know that our sin and misery continue to be a part of our lives. None of us lives perfected lives by any means. We all think, do and say things that hurt others and offend God. But we should also never forget just how miserable we were before God saved us. We will appreciate what God has done for us if we remember how miserable we were before we repented and God saved us.
Now this does not mean that we can look back at our sin with fond memories. When I was in high school, that seemed to be the approach the chapel organizers took to reach us students. Get someone who had been involved in drugs to come to chapel. And then get them to tell how God had saved them. Even then I remember thinking that in a strange way, these people seemed almost proud of their past sinful exploits. Now they could brag about them as Christians. We should remember our sin with humility, remembering what it cost to have those sins removed. That is what we look at next.
III. The second element is belief.
Peter continues on in verse 38 by saying that the people must be “baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” This requirement likely surprised no one since baptism was common then. Non-Jews who were converted to Judaism were required to be baptized. John the Baptist had proclaimed a message of baptism and repentance from sin. But now this baptism is different in that it is in “the name of Jesus Christ.” Being baptized in the name of Jesus meant that the person believed that all the wrong things he had done were paid for when Jesus died on the cross. It also meant that the person was now in a new relationship with Christ. And the result of that relationship was the forgiveness of sins. Baptism symbolized that the person’s sins were washed away. Baptism meant that the person would not face the eternal death that he deserved. Belief in Jesus is an essential part of a person becoming a Christian.
But that special gift continues on even after we begin our life with Christ. The catechism says that we must know how we are set free from sin and misery. That means that while we should never forget that we are sinners, we should also never forget that our sins are removed and paid for. Sin no longer holds any power or control over us unless we allow it to or try to deal with it ourselves instead of letting Jesus get rid of it for us. John Stott tells of a time when a leading British humanist was interviewed on television. In a moment of surprising candor, she said, “What I envy most about you Christians is your forgiveness. I have nobody to forgive me.” People, we have someone to forgive us and Jesus has indeed forgiven us and freed us from our sins!
In 1838, after a strong emancipation movement among blacks, slavery was abolished in Jamaica, to take effect on August 1, 1838. On the evening of the last day in July a large company of former slaves gathered on the beach for a solemn, yet joyous, occasion. A large mahogany coffin had been constructed and placed on the sand next to a hole in the beach. All evening the soon-to-be-emancipated slaves placed in it the symbols of their enslavement. There were chains, leg-irons, whips, padlocks, and other similar symbols of slavery. A few minutes before midnight came the box was lowered into the hole in the beach. Pushing sand into the hole to cover the coffin, all joined their voices to sing: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow, praise him all creatures here below, praise him above ye heavenly host, praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.” They were free from their slavery
Believing in Jesus means you are not trapped or enslaved by the sins in your life. You can experience joy by asking Jesus to free you from that sin. There is sin in our lives, but there is also freedom from sin.
IV. Finally we are to live in spiritual service.
Verse 38 says that those who repent and are baptized will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Not only will the person receive forgiveness of his or her sins, they will live in the power of the Spirit. This Spirit assures us that we are indeed saved by Christ’s death on the cross. This also includes the special power which enables us to live for Christ and overcome the power of sin in our lives. The Spirit will also enable us to live a life of thankfulness to God for our salvation. When we think of our sin and what Jesus did to save us from the penalty our sin deserved, we should be filled with the desire to want to do something for God. God in his love and gives us the Spirit so that we can live lives that express our gratitude to God by living a life of service for God. The catechism says that we are “to thank God for such deliverance.”
Those are the three areas that we must always keep in mind: We are sinners who are saved by grace in Jesus Christ and who are called to live for Him to show Him our gratitude. If these things are out of balance, our lives will also be out of balance. If we stress the sin, we will not be living in the joy of salvation. If we stress the salvation without thinking enough of the sin, we will think lightly of the great sacrifice that Jesus had to make to save us. If we stress the life of service, but neglect the grace of salvation, we will lose the power and joy that should motivate us in our Christian lives and be trapped in legalism. These things need to be in balance or we won’t have the right chemistry in our lives. And the result will be that our lives will be frustrating or disappointing. If we keep the balance, then our lives will be full of the joy and comfort that the catechism is talking about.
There is one final note to mention based on these verses and that is that this message is one that we must share. Verse 39 says, “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off.” The powerful truths of the gospel of Jesus are certainly for us and our children. But they are for all people who have not yet responded. Verse 39 continues by saying, “for all whom the Lord our God will call.” God is certainly calling many people today to believe in him and experience the joy and comfort of believing in Jesus Christ. It is our task to see to it that this message goes out. We have a command to share the joy and comfort of Jesus with those around us.
It is scary to think about sharing the good news with those whom God may be calling. I came across an example that helped my view of talking to others about Jesus. It comes from Paul Scott, a pastor from Australia who wrote, “As I was walking down the hill, a van drew up alongside me. ‘Excuse me, mate,’ said the driver, ‘can you tell me how to get to Spring Vale, please?’ ‘I certainly can,’ I replied. ‘For a start, you’re heading in the wrong direction. Go back the way you came, and you’ll find Spring Vale a little way on your right.’ The driver thanked me, reversed and drove off. He didn’t seem annoyed at all that I had told him he was going in the wrong direction... The van driver didn’t regret his change of direction. If he had ignored me and driven straight on, he would have wasted time and never reached his goal. In a similar way, God’s call to repent isn’t meant to discourage us. Rather, it is a call to choose the right path and find all that our Creator has for us.”
So what do we do? Some of you know the joy and comfort that we have been talking about. Continue to grow in your relationship with God. But also look for ways to share that message with those around you. To some of you this may sound foreign. I urge you to look at your lives and turn back to the Lord. Then believe in Jesus and let His love sweep away your sins and failures. Then look for ways to live a life of gratitude to Him. Are you living in the comfort of belonging to Jesus? Are we sharing that good news with others?