Discipleship and spiritual formation curriculum for new believers, new Christians

1. Rescue - Grace and Forgiveness

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
 

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Young man drinking iced coffee You have become a new Christian. Congratulations! This step is the most important one you will make in your whole life.

Exactly what has happened? It depends upon your point of view. Unless they too are believers, your family and friends may think you've "got religion" or may imagine that you are crazy. Your Christian friends are probably overjoyed that you have decided to follow Christ. And you? You may have all sorts of thoughts and emotions flooding through you -- joy, wonder, anxiety, enthusiasm, freedom -- or perhaps no emotions at all. That is okay. We are all different.

Jesus and the Lost Sheep

A story that Jesus told can help explain what has happened to you. Since Jesus grew up in a rural culture, many of the stories he told -- known as "parables" -- were about raising crops and herding animals. He told this famous story about a shepherd:

"Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?  And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.' I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents1 than over ninety-nine righteous persons who don't need to repent." (Luke 15:4-7)

At the close of each day a shepherd would count his flock of sheep as he brought them into the sheepfold for protection at night. The shepherd discovers that one sheep was missing. He goes out into the hills to find the missing sheep. Perhaps the sheep doesn't even realize it is lost or in danger. But the shepherd knows that if he does not find it, a predator will probably kill it by morning. So the shepherd searches. He calls out the sheep's name in the dark, listens for its bleating, and does not give up. When he finally finds the sheep, he rejoices. He puts the sheep over his shoulders and comes home with joy.

You are like the sheep in the parable. The Good Shepherd has been searching for you. You were lost, alone, going the wrong way. If Jesus had not found you and rescued you, where would you be?

But he loves you and cares about you -- so much, that at great effort he rescued you and brought you to safety.

Rescued = Saved

I tell this story because Christians sometimes explain what has happened in your life with the words "saved" and "salvation." These words mean "rescued" -- rescued from danger of being separated from the Shepherd forever, rescued from sin, rescued from punishment, rescued from meaninglessness. When Christians say "you are saved," they mean that Jesus has found you and rescued you from a life that was in grave danger of harm.

One way to think about your new life as a Christian is as having been "rescued" or "saved." Let me explain three more ways to understand your relationship to God -- loved, forgiven, accepted. These concepts will anchor your faith.

Loved

The first concept is: You are loved by God. In these lessons, I'll be introducing various Bible verses that teach these concepts. Here is one:

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)

God loves you -- you personally. Christianity at its very core is based on love. God's love for you. Jesus' love for you. Because God loved you so much, he sent Jesus to this world to rescue you and give you eternal life with him. You are loved -- no matter what you have done and no matter what you might do in the future.

Forgiven

The second concept is: You are forgiven by God. Jesus died on the cross for your sins. When you became a Christian, you probably told God about the sins that you have committed and asked his forgiveness. Know this: God has forgiven you. The Bible says:

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9)

Forgiven means that God does not hold your sin against you any longer. Yes, you committed sins, but they have been forgiven. God does not hold a grudge against you.

But what if you sin again after becoming a Christian? What then?

You probably will sin in the future -- many times. But the same idea applies. Confess your sin to God and he will forgive you, again and again! We will consider this more deeply in Lesson 3. But know this: You are forgiven! That is the way God looks at you.

Accepted

The third important concept is: God accepts you. You don't have to do something good to be accepted. He accepts you just as you are.

If you are a parent, then you understand this. You don't say to your child:

"I will not accept you as my son until you are completely potty trained." OR

"I will not accept you as my daughter until you learn to walk without falling down."

That is silly. Parents accept their children just as they are from the day they are born. They don't expect an infant to walk or be potty trained. They accept the baby just as he is or she is. They know that as the baby grows, he will finally become potty trained. She will finally learn to walk. She is not accepted because she walks. Children are accepted by parents for who they are, without having to achieve anything.

God is your Father who accepts you just as you are. He loves you, and as you grow, he will help you to become more and more like him.  He does not accept you on the basis of your being able to avoid sin, but because he has found you, loved you, and forgiven you.

It is really rather amazing and wonderful!

Grace and Mercy

Let me introduce two more words that will help you understand what happened to you when you became a Christian -- grace and mercy.

  • Grace is the favor that God decides to show you, unrelated to anything you might do to deserve it. Grace is about God's love toward you, not about your worthiness.
  • Mercy is not getting the punishment you deserve.

One of the most wonderful verses in the Bible explains what happened to you when you became a Christian. It is a verse worth memorizing and thinking deeply about:

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith -- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God --  not by works, so that no one can boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9)

It is because of God's grace -- his amazing love and favor towards you -- that you have been saved or rescued. It is like a gift. You did not do anything to deserve it. The only thing you did was to have "faith," that is, trust in Jesus. You believed that he loved you and would help you. That is it!

You did not deserve God's grace. In fact, you deserved the opposite for a life of going your own way in a kind of passive (or active) rebellion against God. So when you think about being "found" and "rescued," know that God did this because he wanted to, not because you were so worthy or so good.

This is important. You will probably sin and then think: I am terrible. Because I keep on sinning, God will not love me. The only way I can get God to love me is to be perfect.

Believe me, this is a lie that says you will never be loved, because you will never be perfect.

The good news is that you were rescued, loved, forgiven, and accepted, not because you deserved it. So you can't lose God's love because you sin. He loves you -- period!

That is what grace is.

One of my favorite Christian songs, "Amazing Grace," was written by a person who was once a truly evil man. John Newton was the cruel captain of ships that transported slaves from Africa to America. Then he became a Christian. God helped him gradually to change. Finally he became a preacher who helped stop the slave trade in the entire British Empire. Looking back on his terrible past, he wrote these immortal words:

"Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I'm found.
Was blind, but now I see."

Baptism

Before we leave this lesson, let us talk about baptism. Baptism is a sacrament or ordinance, that is, a sacred act that is a sign or symbol of what God has done in your life. When people come to believe in Jesus, one of the first things they want to do is to be baptized as a way of saying: "I belong to Jesus."

Jesus commanded his disciples in the Great Commission:

"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:19-20)

We are baptized because this is what Jesus instructed. Let me briefly explain what baptism means.

1. Baptism is a sign that you are united with Jesus

When you are baptized as a Christian, people understand that you are identifying yourself solidly with Jesus. In fact, the Bible mentions this as a way of uniting yourself to Jesus (Romans 6:5). It is more than symbolic. There is something spiritual going on that is hard to put into words.

2. Baptism is a sign that your sins are washed away

The water used in baptism is a symbol of cleansing. When you finally became a Christian, you accepted the fact that Jesus has forgiven your sins. Baptism is an outward way of symbolizing what has happened inside of you.

3. Baptism is a sign of commitment to a new Master

Baptism is a sign that you have committed yourself, your life, to a new Master. Baptism is not a mark of pride, so much as a mark of humility and submission to Christ.

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Men are often hesitant to commit themselves to marriage. Why? Because they know that when they say the marriage vows, they take on responsibilities. In the same way, some people are hesitant to be baptized, because they are afraid of commitment. They put it off. They are like people who want the joys of marriage without the commitment.

Now that you are a Christian, you will want to talk to a pastor about how to be baptized. The pastor will guide you in what to do next.

In this lesson, we have talked about being rescued, saved, loved, accepted, and forgiven. We have explored God's grace and mercy towards us, and how we respond to these through faith and baptism.

Christianity is based on a simple but profound truth: God loves you! Believe it!

Prayer

Thank you, Lord, for loving me. Thank you for forgiving my sins. I don't deserve what you have given me. I can only offer my faith and thanks in return. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.

Memory Verse

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God -- not by works, so that no one can boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9, NIV)

Questions and Discussion Points

  1. Talk about what Jesus rescued you from. In what way were you like the lost sheep in the story in Luke 15:4-7?
  2. Discuss why you believe that God loves you. Does he love you because you are loveable or good? Does he accept you only if you meet certain conditions?
  3. Discuss how you know you have been forgiven. Based on 1 John 1:9, if you sin after becoming a Christian, can you be cleansed from your sins again? What does it mean to "confess" your sins to God?
  4. Discuss why so many people think they have to be good to earn God's favor. Based on Ephesians 2:8-9, is there any way to earn God's favor? What is the place of faith or trust in this process?
  5. Sing (if you know the tune) the first verse of "Amazing Grace." Why do you think John Newton was so thankful for God's grace?
  6. Ask your mentor when he or she was baptized and to tell you how it happened.
  7. Find out how to be baptized in the church or group you have been attending.
  8. Make an appointment to talk to the pastor or group leader about being baptized.
  9. Read the memory verse, Ephesians 2:8-9 five times aloud with your mentor -- even though it may seem a bit silly doing it. Then write it on a 3" x 5" card. (Any size will do.) That is how you begin to memorize something. Each lesson will have a memory verse that contains such an important truth that it is worth the time and effort to memorize.
  10. Pray together about your new life in Christ. If you are not very comfortable praying aloud yet, ask your mentor to pray for you.
  11. Appointment. Set a time and place to meet and go through next week's lesson.

1. "Repent" means to be sorry for sin and to turn away from it.


JesusWalk: Beginning the Journey
New Christian, New Believer Discipleship Training and Spiritual Formation

Copyright © 1985-2017, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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