Caring for new Christians

Can you remember what life was like when you first became a Christian? Before I became a Christian when I was 16 I had no contact with church or Christian things at all. So when I discovered Jesus many things were unfamiliar to me. I had so much to learn. And that is true for anybody who becomes a Christian today, especially if they have not been involved in church before. Let me remind you of some of the things a person will discover in their early days of following Jesus.
To begin with they will find out what being a Christian is actually about. Being a Christian is not about turning over a new leaf, working hard to become a better person. It is living a new life, that is a change as dramatic as a caterpillar turning into a butterfly.
When someone becomes a Christian he becomes a brand new person inside. He is not the same any more. A new life has begun! (2 Corinthians 5:17 Living Bible translation)
Jesus has died so that our sins can be forgiven.
All we like sheep have gone astray and turned every one to his own way.
But the Lord has laid on HIM the sins of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)
Jesus has risen from the dead and He shares with us His resurrection life. That mighty power of God which raised Jesus from the dead is at work in OUR lives day by day! Through Jesus, God gives us a new life to live.
Christ was without sin, but God made Him share our sin, so that in union with Him we might share God’s righteousness. (2 Corinthians 5:21 in the Good News Bible)
Our PAST is dealt with – all our guilt and failure is replaced by forgiveness.
Our PRESENT is transformed – as we live life in all its fullness in a personal relationship with God.
Our FUTURE is certain as the fear of death is replaced by the happy certainty of heaven.
This is the Good News Jesus Christ brings to us all. This is the new life He offers EVERY ONE OF US. When a person first starts following Jesus, it is very important that they understand what it actually means to be a Christian. A new life has begun!
Then especially in the early days it is important to be certain of our salvation. We have a brand new life. But we still sin. We still do and say and think things which we wish we did not. A new Christian can be worried that they might somehow sin so badly that they lose their salvation. But this cannot happen. Jesus promised, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no-one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no-one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10 :27-30)
Jesus is promising us that the eternal destiny of every true Christian is completely secure. We are once saved, always saved, for at least three reasons.
Firstly, because of our new relationship with God. God has changed us from His enemies into His friends. More than that, we are adopted into God’s family as His beloved children We are no longer “lost sheep” – instead we belong to Christ’s flock. Nothing we can do will cause God to take that new status as His children away from us again. Jesus promises that our loving heavenly Father would never turn away or reject or disinherit one of His own children (John 6:35-40).
John 6 35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. … 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. … 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
Secondly , we can be assured of our salvation because we have been born again to a new life. A Christian is someone who has been born again. They share in Christ’s resurrection life. They have passed from death to life. They are no longer in darkness – they have come into the light. It is God the Holy Spirit living inside us which gives us this life in all its fullness and God will never take His Holy Spirit away from us.
Thirdly , we can be certain that God can and will keep us safe. The eternal security of every believer rests ultimately safe in God’s hands, not our own. We do not have to work hard to “keep our place” in God’s family – that place is guaranteed by God Himself. God is greater than everything. He CAN and WILL keep us safe. God will never reject us and NOTHING in the universe can ever separate us from God’s love. Once saved, always saved.
Many Christians go through times of discouragement and even doubt when they might say “But I don’t FEEL as though God loves me.” Physical problems, like tiredness, illness and stress, can cause us to doubt our own salvation. Emotional upsets can shake our faith, like grief, anxiety, fear or disappointment. It is vital that we recognise that what SEEMS to be true is not always the same as what IS true. Feelings don’t change facts. We can’t trust our feelings in spiritual matters Instead we put our trust in God Himself, and His promises in His Word the Bible. We need to see our spiritual situation from the eternal perspective of God and His promises, and not let ourselves be weighed down by circumstances. We all need to learn to live by faith, not by sight.
Sometimes our faith is shaken when, even as established Christians, we fall into sin. We are overcome with guilt, and feel that God could never forgive us if we have rejected His love so badly. It may be our pride that is most hurt – we have failed to live up to the standards we demand of ourselves. But however much we may be surprised at our own sinfulness, God isn’t. Jesus died for those sins too! We are already forgiven. As Christians we do not forfeit our eternal life when we sin (however deliberately or seriously) otherwise none of us would ever stay saved for very long! We can always come back to God in confession. “It’s not the falling that hurts, but the staying on the floor!”
Once saved, always saved. Then as well as assurance of their salvation, New Christians need encouragement to live their new life. The Bible word for a follower of Jesus is a disciple, which means a learner. New Christians need to work out what is means to follow Jesus in their daily lives. Giving a Bible to a new Christian and leaving them to find their own way is like putting a baby into a larder with a can-opener and saying, “Get on with it.” New Christians need help to understand the Bible.
New Christians need help in learning how to pray. Prayer is conversation with God and it takes us all more than a lifetime to learn to pray as we could. Like learning to ride a bicycle or learning to play the piano, we learn to pray by praying. As C.H.Spurgeon once said, “Whether we like it or not, asking is the rule of the Kingdom.” We learn thanksgiving, adoration, worship, praying for others. And we also need to learn how to listen to God as we pray. But like many aspects of the Christian life, prayer is better caught than taught and new Christians best learn how to pray by praying with others.
There are other aspects of being a Christian which can be unfamiliar to new Christians. One is church. The church is not a building, or an organisation. The church is the people, the Family of those who have God as Father. Our salvation is a shared experience. But lots of things in church will be very strange to a new Christian. They need to discover what worship is all about. And there is this weird thing called “fellowship” which simply means helping each other live our Christian faith, caring, sharing and bearing one another’s burdens. Established Christians know what Communion is about, but eating bread and sharing non-alcoholic wine to celebrate Jesus’s death and resurrection will be something new and mysterious to a new Christian.
Being a Christian is not like being a soloist, but rather a member of a choir or orchestra. It is not like playing an individual sport – it’s a team game. Christians need each other – we belong together. C. S. Lewis wrote, “The New Testament does not envisage solitary religion; some kind of regular assembly for worship and instruction is everywhere taken for granted. So we must be regular practicing members of the church. Of course we differ in temperament. Some (like you – and me) find it more natural to approach God in solitude; but we must go to church as well. For the church is not a human society of people united by their natural affinities, but the body of Christ, in which all members, however different (and (God) rejoices in their differences and by no means wishes to iron them out) must share the common life, complementing and helping one another precisely by their differences.”
Living the Christian life is not easy! We are in a ”tug of war” between our old life and our new life in Christ. The entrance fee to heaven is free, Jesus has already paid it by his death on the cross for our sins. But the annual subscription is everything, everything we own, everything we have, everything we are. Discipleship is an ongoing commitment to Jesus Christ, all or nothing, day after day, the never stopped, unceasingly! You can have a part time job. You could even be a part time policeman or a part-time nurse. But you can’t be a part-time Christian. That idea is a silly as the idea of being a part time husband or a part time parent or a part time human being! New Christians need to see examples of what it really means to follow Jesus, the Good News of Jesus translated into daily living.
If all of this sounds difficult, remember that God gives the Holy Spirit to every Christian. The Holy Spirit is God Himself living inside us to be our “Helper.” The Holy Spirit helps us to know Jesus better, to understand the Bible and to pray. The Holy Spirit helps us to tell others about Jesus and the Holy Spirit helps us to become more like Jesus. All of us, then, reflect the glory of the Lord with uncovered faces; and that same glory, coming from the Lord, who is the Spirit, transforms us into his likeness in an ever greater degree of glory.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
Every Christian needs to experience for themselves the love and joy and peace and power which the Holy Spirit brings.
So here are the most important things a new Christian needs to discover. Just what it means to be a Christian. How we can be sure that we are truly saved. Learning how to pray and how to understand the Bible for ourselves. Learning how to live the Christian life. Finding their place in the church. How to follow Jesus and how to resist temptation. And discovering the difference Jesus makes through the power of the Holy Spirit, God living within every Christian.
Think back to when you first became a Christian. What helped you to grow as a Christian? What kept you going when things got tough? It probably wasn’t inspiring sermons or Christian meetings or events. I suspect it wasn’t particular Bible passages or Christian books. I am sure that the most important positive influence on new Christians is having Christian friends. Friends who accepted us and took care of us. Friends who would stay up into the night answering our weird questions. I am forever grateful to my school friends Neil and Paul. They introduced me to Jesus through their own lives and by welcoming me to the Christian groups they belonged to. And they patiently cared for me in the early days and months when I was finding out what following Jesus really meant.
It really helps a new Christian to have established Christians around who will help them form their basic beliefs and also help them to settle into a church. It is good to have somebody there to talk through issues and problems. And of course it is good for a new Christian if they have others who are praying regularly and faithfully for them. New Christians really appreciate help and encouragement from more mature believers as they are beginning the Christian life. Having a friend, or a ‘‘spiritual aunt or uncle’’ to study the Bible with, and pray with and just to talk about faith with can make all the difference. Sometimes such friendships develop naturally but if not it helps if they can be intentionally established.
Paul wrote to the Thessalonians,
“We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.” (1 Thessalonians 2:8)
Here is the perfect example for “spiritual friends and aunts and uncles” who want to help a new Christian take the first steps of faith. You are not just helping them understand the basics of what it means to follow Jesus Christ. You are sharing your life. You are showing them what it means to you to be a Christian in everyday living. You are their role model for praying, for understanding and applying the Bible, for living a loving and holy and Christ-like life. This happens through friendship, discussion and caring and above all by praying, for them and with them. You may be the first close contact they have ever had with a Christian. You are an Ambassador for Christ and for the Church and the new Christian you are helping will be looking at your example of loyalty and enthusiasm.
Among other things, you will be aiming to help them to find a pattern of daily prayer and Bible reading. You will point them to appropriate Christian books to read, music to listen to, DVDs to watch and websites to visit. You will introduce them to your Christians friends, especially helping them not to feel left out or lost in their early days in church. Above all you will be there to answer their questions and to encourage them.
Five years ago, to celebrate my quarter century as a Baptist Minister, I gave everybody a copy of my first book, “Making Disciples One-to-One.” If you weren’t with us then please ask and I can give you one today. Part 4 of that book is an eight-week course called “One to One for New Christians”. It is a framework for an established Christian to meet up with a new Christian to encourage them in their faith and talk through exactly the issues I have been talking about this morning. Each session contains some notes introducing the theme for the week, Bible passages to look at, questions to discuss and relevant subjects for prayer.
If you are an established Christian, would you be willing to get together with a new Christian to work through that course with them? To be their spiritual friend, or aunt or uncle in the early days of their new faith? Then please come and tell me and I will have you in mind when the opportunity arises.
Or are you a new Christian? Would you like to work through the course of “One-to-one for New Christians”? Would you appreciate meeting up with somebody who can help you find your way as you are starting to follow Jesus? Please come and speak to me and I will suggest somebody you might like to meet with.
After a distinguished career as a performer, the famous virtuoso violinist Jascha Heifetz became a professor of music. Somebody asked him what had prompted his change of career. The violinist replied: “Violin playing is a perishable art. It must be passed on as a personal skill; otherwise it is lost.” None of us can learn to live the Christian life just by reading books or following courses. We all need instruction in the “perishable art” of Christian living. And many people have found “One-to-One for New Christians” to be a wonderful help in following Jesus and a great way for the church to care for new Christians.

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