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Steps to God

Steps to God

How can we enter into a relationship with God? It begins with the “A-B-Cs.”

We must admit that our sins have separated us from God

We must believe in the forgiveness of Jesus.

We must commit ourselves to Jesus publicly.

A--Admit

The first step to God is to admit that your sins have separated you from God.

Did you read about the teenager in New York who set fire to his exam papers in the privacy of his bedroom? It seems he wanted to hide the poor grades from his parents. The fire quickly grew out of control, though, and ended up gutting the entire second floor of his home.

It began as a way to keep his parents from discovering his poor grades, but his effort at hiding his failures resulted in disaster. Far from hiding his failures, eight fire trucks and sixty firefighters responded to the blaze, and newspapers around the world ran the story as an offbeat news item.

The police said there were no injuries. Yeah, right. Anyone who can remember being fifteen knows that's not true! The boy felt “the price of admission” was too high, but the price of denial turned out to be higher. In the same way, we get in trouble—and stay in trouble—when we ignore the impact of our sins.

So, the first step into a life with God is to admit the truth about yourself. Acknowledge what you’ve done in times of anger, or where your lack of self-control has taken you, or how often you’ve put your desires ahead of everyone else’s, or the way you abandoned a friend—or a family. Recognize how often you’ve ignored chances to do the right thing, and how often you fantasize about bitter retaliations or sexual adventures that you would never have the courage to act out. Some of these sins have hurt our relationship with others while some of these things have only hurt us. All of these things, however, have hurt our relationship with God, both now and into the next life. The Bible says, “Your sins have cut you off from God” (Isaiah 59:2 NLT).

We may be tempted to hold up evidences of our goodness as a defense—our sacrifices, for example, or our acts of kindness, or our moments of tolerance and forgiveness. In doing so, however, we may end up looking like Sydney Pollack’s character in the 2002 film, Changing Lanes. The film starred Ben Affleck as Gavin Banek, a morally conflicted junior partner in a big Manhattan law firm. Pollack played Stephen Delano, Banek’s father-in-law and senior partner in the same law firm.

In one of the most important scenes in the film, Banek confronted Delano with the ethical compromises he had found in the firm. The partners stood to make millions from a fraudulent document that gave them control of a deceased client’s charitable foundation. In turn, Delano tried to reassure Banek that he shouldn’t struggle over it. Instead, Delano said, Banek should spend a few months in Texas defending a death row inmate, and return to New York feeling better about himself. After all, he told Banek, the man behind the charitable foundation they were bilking wasn’t so noble himself—

Delano: C’mon. How do you think Simon Dunn got his money? Huh? Do you think those factories in Malaysia have day care centers in them? Want to check the pollution levels of his chemical plants in Mexico or look at the tax benefits he got from this foundation? [He pauses at Banek’s disillusionment with this news.] This is all a tightrope. You gotta learn to balance.

Banek: How can you live like that?

Delano: I can live with myself because at the end of the day I think I do more good than harm. [Pauses.] What other standard have I got to judge by?

What a contrast Stephen Delano makes to King David in the Old Testament! When confronted by actions that revealed his dark side, he admitted the truth about himself. The poet-king wrote this prayer to God (Psalms 51:3-4 NLT):

For I recognize my shameful deeds—
       they haunt me day and night.
Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
       I have done what is evil in your sight.
You will be proved right in what you say,
       and your judgment against me is just.

What’s remarkable is how honest David was in regard to his darkness, because he could have pointed to a lot of virtuous acts if he hoped that his good deeds could cancel out his bad deeds. He was the most popular and admired king of Old Testament history, and I’ve found that those who enjoy the admiration of their peers—or at least the acceptance of their peers—have difficulty admitting the darker stuff of the soul. C.S. Lewis was right when he said:

A world of nice people, content in their own niceness, looking no further, turned away from God, would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world—and might even be more difficult to save.

Jesus encountered people who were reluctant to admit their need of God’s mercy (Luke 18:9-14):

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
 
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Tax collection was a very corrupt and corrupting business in Christ’s day. It often involved extortion of the community as well as collaboration with the hated Roman occupiers. The tax collector in Christ’s story, however, admitted the truth about himself and asked for divine forgiveness. The other listed off his merits and said, “God, you’re lucky to have me around.”

Jesus wanted us to see ourselves in this story, and he gave us only two roles to choose between: we can be like the man who denied his need for God’s forgiveness, or we can be like the man who cried out for it. So, the first step is to admit the truth about our dark side. Jesus said, “Healthy people don't need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call sinners, not those who think they are already good enough” (Mark 2:17 NLT). 

 

B--Believe

The second step to God is to believe in the forgiveness that Jesus offers through his sacrifice.  Once we admit the truth about ourselves, we must believe the truth about Jesus: he died on the cross to take away our sin and he rose again in victory. To make things right with God, it’s not about doing one hundred hard things for God but rather trusting in the one great thing he did for us at the cross.

In his 1908 book, The Russian Conquest of the Caucasus, John Baddeley described the fierce leader, Shamil, who led the Caucasian resistance against imperial Russia in the area that is now Chechnya. Even as he led daring guerilla strikes against the Russians, he had to fight the spirit of defeatism among his own countrymen. He once made a proclamation that whoever advocated any capitulation with the Russians would be beaten with a hundred heavy lashes. Shortly after the severe edict, an offender was caught and brought before Shamil. To the warlord’s shock and grief, it was his own mother who had called for a treaty with the enemy.

He retreated into solitude for three days to decide what to do. Due to the blatant disregard of his order and its potential impact on morale, he instructed that the penalty should be carried out. After the fifth stroke ripped into his mother’s back, however, he called a halt to the lashing. Then something remarkable took place: He stripped to the waist, knelt down by his mother, and took the remaining ninety-five strokes upon himself.

The story of Shamil's actions wound its way up the mountain passes, carried in astonished whispers from village to village. Impressed by their leader’s uncompromising justice and costly compassion, none of his tribesmen ever again mentioned negotiations with the enemy. It’s a story that resonates in the region to this day.

God did the same thing for us. He bore the punishment himself, in the person of his own Son, “so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26). The cross became that place where God showed both his justice and his love.

We’ve got to respond to the offer of new life in Christ. Jesus said, “I stand at the door. I knock. If you hear me call and open the door, I'll come right in and sit down to supper with you” (Revelation 3:20 Msg). Many great friendships form around the supper table, and Jesus used this image to speak of the close friendship he wants to build with us. In order for this friendship to take place, it requires mutual action: he calls and knocks, and then we have to open the door. That’s what it means to believe: to open the door to Jesus.

The Apostle John wrote, “To all who receive Him, He gives the right to become children of God. All we need to do is trust Him to save us. All those who believe this are reborn!” (John 1:12-13 LB.)  I’m reminded of the story of John Paton, the missionary to the New Hebrides Islands who worked hard to translate the New Testament into the language of the islanders. When he got to the word “faith,” however, he was at a loss for how to communicate the concept. One day, a friend came to his house. The friend had walked a long way, and as he settled wearily into the missionary’s comfortable chair, he said (in his language), “It is so good to rest my whole weight on this chair.” With that, the missionary immediately had the word he needed to capture the concept of faith. Throughout the translation, he spoke of faith in Jesus as “resting one’s whole weight” on Jesus.

When Paul wanted to tell people how to begin a life with Christ, he emphasized the importance of belief. He said (Romans 10:9-10 Msg), 

Say the welcoming word to God—“Jesus is my Master”—embracing, body and soul, God’s work of doing in us what he did in raising Jesus from the dead. That’s it. You’re not “doing” anything; you’re simply calling out to God, trusting him to do it for you. That’s salvation. With your whole being you embrace God setting things right, and then you say it, right out loud: “God has set everything right between him and me!”

 

C--Commit

The third step to God is to commit yourself to Jesus publicly.

Do you know what it means to “stake a claim”? It comes from the days when the American West was being settled. In the late 1800s, the United States government opened the “Unassigned Lands” in territory that is now Oklahoma. The land was granted to settlers on a first-come, first-served basis in an event called the “Land Run” or “Harrison’s Hoss Race.” Between 50,000 and 75,000 people participated in the Land Run. Once the event began, people dashed to the plot of land they wanted and then they planted a stake into the ground. Today, we use the phrase “to stake a claim” when speaking of making a decisive and public commitment to something. That’s what we need to do with Jesus. We need to make a decisive and public commitment to him—to “stake our claim” in him. According to Scripture, we do this through baptism.

Jesus expected that those who became his followers would become baptized after they put their faith in him. In his last “marching orders” to the church, he said, “Go to the people of all nations and make them my disciples. Baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to do everything I have told you” (Matthew 28:19-20 CEV).

His earliest followers took this command seriously. In the stories of the early church, found in The Acts of the Apostles, baptism was a prominent feature:

When three thousand people committed themselves to Christ on the Day of Pentecost (about two months after Christ’s death and resurrection), they were immediately baptized (2:41).

When an Ethiopian leader converted to Christ in a conversation with a church leader who traveled with him, he stopped along a body of water and asked the church leader to baptize him (8:36-38).

During the time Paul and Silas were imprisoned for preaching the gospel, they led their jailer and his household to Christ, and baptized them all that very evening (16:16-34).

Like my wedding ring is a visible symbol of the commitment I have to my wife, my baptism was a visible symbol of my union with Christ. We commit publicly to Christ through baptism. Although the routine of baptism varies from church to church, in many churches like mine, we follow a common procedure. In waist-deep water, I stand with the person being baptized and introduce him or her to those witnessing the baptism. Just like I ask some questions of a bride and groom in a wedding ceremony, I ask a question of the candidate for baptism: “Have you asked Jesus into your life as your Forgiver and Leader?” When the person replies, “I have,” I lead them to lean back into the water, like a body being lowered into the ground at a funeral. As I bring them under the water and back up again, I say, “Buried with Christ in baptism, and raised to walk in a new way of life”—a reference to Paul’s comment on baptism in Romans 6:4. While this is a solemn time in some churches, in churches like ours baptisms are met with joyful applause.

 

Stake Your Claim

The late Rich Mullins had a way with song lyrics, and he wasn’t afraid to express his Christian faith in unexpected, rugged terms. One of his more popular songs called on people to respond to God’s call with, “Alrightokuhuhamen.”
 
That’s the right reaction to Christ’s offer of forgiveness and leadership: “Alright . . . Okay . . . Uh-huh . . . Amen.”

If you’re ready to take that step, let God know. You could pray a prayer like this:

Jesus, I open the door to you, and I ask you to come into my life. I’m sorry for my sins. Thank you for dying on the cross to take them away. Forgive me and be my Leader from now on. Make me a new person inside. Amen.

If you’ve prayed that prayer, let a believing friend or relative know right away. Talk with a church about scheduling your baptism, and start growing in your knowledge and experience of Christ.

 

Your Baptism Experience

 

Why Should I Be Baptized? Baptism is a symbol of salvation, just like a wedding ring is a symbol of marriage. A ring cannot make a person married, but it is a constant reminder of the commitment a couple makes. Likewise, baptism doesn’t grant you salvation, but it is a powerful picture of our union to Jesus, who died for our sins and rose again.

 

How Should I Be Baptized? The pastor will immerse you into water and will bring you back up again. This is a powerful picture of our union with the Lord who died for us and our commitment to die to sin (Romans 6:3-4).

 

When Should I Be Baptized? Jesus commanded His church to baptize people after they become disciples (Matthew 28:19). Your baptism should be arranged soon after you've made this decision.

Contact Lisa, Pastor Tom's assistant, if you have any questions or if you want to schedule your baptism (512-345-3771‪ or ).

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