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Why Become a Christian?
By Garry Poole
ZondervanCopyright © 2003 Willow Creek Association
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDISCUSSION ONE
Why Would Anyone Think I'm Not a Christian
Imagine turning on the evening news and hearing the top story: Christianity declared illegal! As you sit there in disbelief, the announcer states that anyone who is a Christian will be arrested and will stand trial. Special police forces are already at work, dragging Christians out of their homes.
You turn off the television, hands shaking. You never identified a particular religion to follow, but you were born into a Christian family. Is that enough to implicate you? You think of when you were growing up: your mother made sure you were baptized and attended Sunday school. You were even (you shudder) confirmed! You've visited churches several times over the last twenty years. You also remember that at work you've commented on your "Christian" heritage. Of course, you also know you're as honest, good, and kind as the next guy.
Oh no, you think. I'm toast!
You hear a sound outside. You sneak over to the window and close the blinds just as a dark blue police van pulls to a stop in front of your house. What will you do? Should you hide? Run out the back door?
There's a knock on the door. You brace yourself for the inevitable and open the door. Two police officers show their badges. You nod. They ask for your mother.
"Yes, we have information she is here with you."
"Um, no, she flew back to Florida two weeks ago."
"We'll need to look around," one of the officers says as they walk in.
They quickly search through the house looking for any signs of your mother. After a few tense moments, they head out the door. "That's it."
They stop. "Yes?"
"Well, I just thought ... the new law ..."
"Don't worry. We're only arresting Christians, not their relatives," the other officer answers abruptly.
"So you're not here to question me?"
"Like I said," the officer repeats, "we're only arresting Christians."
In this scene, not being accused of being a Christian would come as a relief. Yet so many of the attributes expressed above are what many think identifies a person as a Christian. If you're born in a Christian family and you're not following some other religion-and are not an atheist-then by default you must be a Christian. Right? Especially if you have some Christian exposure in your background. That goes double if you've attended a Christian church with any kind of regularity. Surely that would qualify you to be arrested for being a Christian.
So what kind of evidence is needed to put a person in jail for being a Christian?
OPEN FOR DISCUSSION
1. Describe an occasion when you (or someone you know) believed you had the necessary ticket to attend a special event but for some reason were denied entry.
2. If you were to identify someone as a Christian, what definitive factors or reasons would you look for to support that claim?
3. Which of the activities in the following list qualifies someone to be a Christian? Check all that apply and give reasons for your answer(s).
____ being born and raised in a Christian family
____ being baptized as an infant or an adult
____ being confirmed
____ attending church regularly
____ observing Christian holidays
____ reading the Bible occasionally
____ serving in the church
____ donating money to the church
____ being a good and kind person
____ participating in Communion
____ being a formal member of a church
____ obeying the Ten Commandments
____ praying frequently
____ having some kind of spiritual or emotional experience
4. What role do you think religious activity plays in being a true Christian?
As soon as we start pointing to things people do as proof that they're true Christians, we confuse what it takes to live as a Christian with what it takes to become a Christian. A man and a woman could walk arm in arm, kiss each other, even go to the same home at the end of the day-but that doesn't make them married. For that to be true, a moment must come when they go beyond dating and proclaim unreservedly, "I do." Likewise, people can be associated with spirituality and live out various Christian behaviors without encountering Christ in a significant and authentic way. It happens to people in cults all the time. So the definitive factor in being a Christian cannot be lifestyle oriented-it has to relate in some way to receiving Christ.
Having said that, one would expect someone who has encountered Christ to live an obedient Christian life. But an obedient life doesn't save the person-it is simply evidence that Jesus is present and is making his presence known through the person's life.
5. Do you think it is possible to have a false sense of security about being a Christian? If you answered yes, name some examples of false hopes. If no, why do you think a person can't be wrong about his or her claim to be a Christian?
The Bible warns of a kind of rude awakening that awaits those who are counting on religious activities to get them into heaven.
[Jesus said,] "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven.... Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you.'" -Matthew 7:21-23
6. The people referenced in the above verses were definitely busy doing religious things. What do you think is the difference between an actively religious person who enters the kingdom of heaven and an actively religious person who does not?
7. What is the correlation between initially becoming a Christian and living out one's life as a Christian?
8. Do you think a person, to be a true Christian, must be born into the Christian religion, or could he or she be converted into it, or both? Explain your answer.
You Must Be Born Again
The Bible records a fascinating encounter Jesus had with a religious man named Nicodemus. In the middle of their discourse Jesus replies, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again" (John 3:3). This man was not an atheist; in fact, he was well versed in the Bible and a respected teacher. Jesus was certainly not telling an irreligious person to start going back to church. Nor was he telling a hypocrite to stop his sinful actions. He was speaking to a devout member of a local synagogue-a leader, no less-informing him that something was missing in his life. Jesus revealed that this man would not be in God's kingdom unless he became born again.
9. What do you think it means to be born again?
10. What's the difference between being religious and being born again? Why would Jesus tell someone like Nicodemus, who was already very religious, to be born again?
HEART OF THE MATTER
11. In what ways are you similar to Nicodemus? How are you different?
12. If you were to encounter Jesus today, would he tell you there's still something missing in your life? Why or why not?
13. Why does talking about being born again often create negative images and angry reactions?
CHARTING YOUR JOURNEY
With this session you're beginning a journey. Keep in mind that you do not need to feel pressured to "say the right thing" at any point during these discussions. You're taking the time to do this work because you're looking for answers and because you're willing to be honest about your doubts and uncertainties. Others in your group would also benefit from hearing about what you'll be learning. So use these sessions profitably-ask the tough questions, think "outside the box," and learn from what others in your group have to say. But stay authentic about where you are in your journey.
To help you identify your progress more clearly, throughout this guide you will have opportunities to indicate where you are in your spiritual journey. As you gain more spiritual insights, you may find yourself reconsidering your opinions from session to session. The important thing is for you to be completely truthful about what you believe-or don't believe-right now.
14. Check the statement(s) below that best describes your position at this point. Share your selection with the rest of the group and give reasons for your response.
____ I still don't understand what it means to be a Christian.
____ I don't understand the difference between being a good person and being a Christian.
____ I understand how to become a Christian, but I don't think I am ready to take that step yet.
____ I'd like to learn more about what it really means to be a Christian.
____ I am glad to finally understand what being a Christian means.
____ If believing in Jesus is all it takes to be a Christian, it seems pointless to try to be a good person.
____ I now have a better understanding of how the Bible would say some people are Christians and others aren't, but I don't agree.
____ I wish someone would just tell me what hoops to jump through and I'd do it.
____ I am now sure that I am not a Christian.
____ I am still unclear about Christianity and whether I am a Christian or not.
____ I am sure that I am a Christian.
____ Write your own brief phrase here: ______ ________________________________________ ________________________________________
Scripture for Further Study
Isaiah 55:6-7 Romans 5:12-21
Matthew 7:15-27 Galatians 2:15-21
Matthew 22:1-14 Galatians 3:6-9
Mark 1:15 Ephesians 2:8-10
Mark 4:1-9 Colossians 2:6-7
Mark 8:34-38 Hebrews 3:7-15
John 3; 15 Hebrews 11
Excerpted from Why Become a Christian? by Garry Poole Copyright © 2003 by Willow Creek Association. Excerpted by permission.
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