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Where Are You?

 

James R. Davis

 

Many who ask the question, "What must I do to come to Christ?" are directed to a study church doctrine. Immediately the question arises why so many conflicting church doctrines? Their search for Christ usually turns into a study of the diverse church doctrines. At best one's attention is diverted into a study that in itself directs one's attention away from Jesus Christ. A religious study may direct one only to teaching that has been developed by churches. One may entirely lose sight of God. Too many times Church doctrines dwell on the religious practices of a church, but not necessarily on the needs of the individual. Personal needs are relegated to the back burner of life, while religious teaching runs rampant over the individual's needs. Jesus said of the religious people of his day: "They tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them."  (Matthew 23:4) Jesus called them hypocrites.

 

When you are searching for Christ make sure you know where you are standing. Travel directions are usually tailored made to the needs of the individual asking the questions?

 

Have you ever called a place of business and ask them how to get to this place of business. Invariably the question comes back, "Where are you?" After the person understands where you are, he/she proceeds to tell you how to get there from where you are standing? When you request a travel map from AAA Travel for a route on a trip first they will need to know your starting destination. So it is with Christ. When Jesus came to seek and save the lost he began his personal teaching where he found the individual. He began with the issues of the heart.

 

Jesus' teaching was always tailored to the needs of the individual. Christianity has to do with bringing your life to Christ from wherever you happen to be at the moment. If you are looking to bring your life to Christ it all depends on where you are.

 

Differing answers from Christ can be confusing when one begins to study the scriptures. Much of this misunderstanding is because everyone was not standing in the same place when the question was asked. When Jesus was teaching the religious Pharisees, he began with the issue of their heart. Jesus said of them, "'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.'"

 

Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen and understand. What goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean'" (Matthew 15:8-11). The specific issue Jesus was dealing with was their perversion of the commandment to "Honor your father and mother." They had relieved themselves of any responsibility to their parents by saying, "Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God." So rather than help parents they gave that contribution to the temple treasury. Jesus said that they had nullified the word of God because their hearts were far from God. (Matthew 15:1-9) They had nullified the effectiveness of the word of God in their lives and their parent’s lives by perverting its teaching.

 

On one occasion  " . . . a man ran up to him and fell on his knees saying, "’Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good-- except God alone. You know the commandments: Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.' ‘Teacher,’ he declared, ‘all these I have kept since I was a boy.’ Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!’" (Mark 10:17-23)

 

When Jesus discovered where the man was he began to give him directions. Obviously he believed in the Ten Commandments and Jesus began with the commandment he wasn't keeping.

 

The answer that Jesus gave the Pharisees was irrelevant to this man because this man wasn't lost at the same place on the road to salvation. This man's problem was much different although there was also a problem with his heart. He thought that if he had kept all the commandments that he would be alright, but Jesus the revealed the root of his problem, "Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth." His problem was covetousness, which Paul says is idolatry. (Colossians 3:5)

 

This was the answer he needed and Jesus met him at the crossroads of his life. The Pharisee's problem was with the commandment of honoring father and mother and this young man's problem was with the commandment of coveting. Two different problems; two different answers. Yet I have heard some try to give the answer Jesus gave to this rich man to everyone. They quote Jesus exact words to everyone, "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."  (They usually want you to sell all and give you money to them.) That answer certainly could apply to you if you stood where the rich man stood with a heart of covetousness. But the answer does not begin to cover everyone. It certainly does not begin to tell us everything we need to know.

 

When Jesus met the woman at the well in John chapter 4, he confronted her with the facts. He asked her to call her husband; she responded that she had no husband. Jesus said that she answered correctly, but he revealed that she had had five husbands and the man she was now living with was not her husband. (John 4:16-19) Jesus met her where she was. Her problems were much different, in that she was guilty of adultery. Therefore the answer Jesus gave her was different.

 

The Pharisees, the rich young ruler and the woman at the well all had different problems and were given different directions as to what each must specifically do to come to Christ. Each was required to deal with the issue of his/her own heart.

 

Different Answers but the Same Solution

 

The gospel met each of them at the crossroads of their lives, and from there Jesus  gave them the direction they needed to come to Christ. Although each was standing at a different place and each was given different directions, yet, each was given the same solution ---repent and come to Christ. Each had to leave their sin and follow Christ. Although all had different problems the solution for each was the same. Each was told to repent.

 

The Pharisees were told to cease nullifying the commands of God with their own tradition. The rich man was commanded to give up his riches and turn to God. The woman at the well was confronted with her sin of adultery.

 

The beauty of this is that each of us can come to Christ from where we are presently standing. You don't have to back up and relive the past, for that is impossible. You don't have to go forward endeavoring to live a life that will make you worthy to come to Christ.  It begins where you are! God has no choice but to accept you where you are because you cannot improve your lot on your own. You can only come to Christ from where you are presently standing.

 

Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God." (1 Cor 6:9-11)

 

Paul tells us where the Corinthians were before they were washed and sanctified. They were fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, extortioners and abusers of themselves with mankind. But note he said, "Such were some of you: but your are washed, and sanctified, and justified. The gospel intercepted each of them where they were standing. The Corinthians were told to repent and turn from their specific sins. Some had to stop fornicating, others had to give up extortion, and still others had to stop their drunkenness and revelry. If you happen to be guilty of all these problems then the solution of repentance applies to all.

 

Jesus Laid the Axe on the Root Problem

 

In each life radical measures were needed to rid themselves of sin.

 

Luke 3:7-14

John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire." "What should we do then?" the crowd asked. John answered, "The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same." Tax collectors also came to be baptized. "Teacher," they asked, "what should we do?" "Don't collect any more than you are required to," he told them.

 

Then some soldiers asked him, "And what should we do?" He replied, "Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely-- be content with your pay."(NIV)

 

John the Baptist came preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. As John preached repentance, he dealt with each person's problem. In these verses each individual's problems were different. The man with two tunics needed to share with those that had none, the tax collectors needed to stop collecting more taxes than was required and the soldiers needed to stop their extortion and be content with their pay.

 

John the Baptist came preaching, "The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire." (Matthew 3:10) "But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance." (Matthew 3:7-8)

 

Luke 13:1-9

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.                Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them-- do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish."

 

Then he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, 'For three years now I've been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?' "'Sir,' the man replied, 'leave it alone for one more year, and I'll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.'"

 

When Jesus came he aimed the axe at the root of the tree. The root of a tree is the very heart and core of the trees' existence. So Jesus aimed the axe at the heart of the tree. In the example of the Pharisee, the rich ruler and the Samaritan, Jesus put the axe on the heart of each.

 

Jesus said, "Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.

A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit." (Matthew 7:17-18) Those of us who live in Florida know that there are good fruit trees and there are bad fruit trees. There are orange, grapefruit, and lemon trees that grow in some of our yards. Some of those trees have bad fruit. You may find an orange that is so sour that it isn't good. You may find a lemon tree that has lemons as big as a grapefruit. You may find a grapefruit tree that is also to sour to eat. The reason these trees are bad is because of their roots. You cannot make a bad fruit tree bear good fruit. A tree is either good or bad and if it is bad it must be cut down and a good one must be replanted in its place. Another thin you can't do is produce artificial fruit on a bad tree. God is not interested in artificial fruit, or renovating our hearts or remodeling over lives.  Christianity is more than a change of habits and a change of behavior; it is a change of heart.

 

Keep in mind as we use the analogy of the tree that the tree doesn't represent the person but it represents what is growing in the heart of a person. If you concluded that the tree is the person, then all you can do get rid of the evil is to destroy the evil person. But Jesus is teaching that it is what is growing in the person's heart that makes a person good or bad and there is a remedy. Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen and understand. What goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean.'"  (Matthew 15:8-11) We have control over how our hearts are developed for good or bad.

 

Hearts Can Be Changed

 

It is what is conceived within the heart that is all-important. Jesus taught that evil comes from the evil planted in one's heart. The Hebrew writer indicates that each of us with God's help can control what grows in the heart. He writes, "Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many."  (Heb 12:14-15) He tells us to make sure no "bitter root grows up to cause trouble" and this indicates that with God's help we can control what is planted and what grows in our heart.

 

When I lived on a farm we often took a bulldozer and cleared the forest so we could cultivate to plant a crop where a forest once stood. That land was usually rich and fertile. When we planted the crops we wanted we usually got great results. But suppose for a moment that you go out into a forest and try to plant corn without cutting down the trees. The results would be far less than desirable. You would starve if you tried to farm like that. Jesus says in the parable of the sower that the thorns and thistles will choke the good seed.

 

The word of God is designed to root out the bad plants. God's word is designed to root out the evil.

 

Jeremiah 1:9-10

Then the LORD put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the LORD said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth. See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant. (KJV)

 

Notice that two thirds of Jeremiah's work involved rooting out, pulling down destroying, and throwing down. One third of his work was to build and to plant. When we allow God to root out the evil then the good seed can be planted. It is not enough to just root out the evil. You can't root out and pull down the bad in the heart and then allow the heart to lie fallow. Something must be replanted in the fallow heart. In April I drove by a farm we owned when I was growing up. I noticed that land we had cleared for cultivating when I was a growing up had been left unattended and the trees and bushes had taken over. If you don't keep cultivating the ground and planting good seed then it will become over grown in bushes and trees.

 

James says, "Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it-- he will be blessed in what he does." (James 1:21-25)

 

Hearts Will Be Sown

 

Some kind of seed will be sown in your heart. But who will sow the seed? Will it be Satan or God? Satan desires to fill your heart with evil.

 

Acts 5:1-4

But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles' feet. But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God. (KJV)

 

Peter says that we are born again when we choose to obey the truth or have God's word planted in our hearts.

 

1 Pet 1:22-2:2

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, "All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever." And this is the word that was preached to you . . . Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation . . . "

 

When God's word is planted in the heart it brings forth good fruit.

 

Gal 5:19-26

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;

idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

 

Matt 13:8-9

Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop-- a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. He who has ears, let him hear." (NIV)

 

Matt 13:23

But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown."

 

Christ Came to Give Us A New Nature

 

It matters little where we are but the important thing is that Christ came to give us a new nature. Christ told Nicodemus that he needed to be born again.

 

John 3:3-5

In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." "How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!" Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.

 

Peter says that we are born again by receiving the teaching of God's word. If we choose to allow God to sow his seed then he will give it growth.

 

Paul said, "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow." (1 Corinthians 3:6-7)

 

Psalm 1:1-6

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.

 

We find Christ when we commit to bury our sinful nature in baptism.

 

Romans 6:3-7

Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?   

 

Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin.

 

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