The normal (Christian) journey of faith
Chapter 3: Early Days
What happens in the early days of our life with Christ? Or – what should happen? It is a common experience to feel a sense of great elation, of walking on tiptoe, of being almost outside ourselves, and all that is good and wonderful. But I can think of one difficult and dangerous thing that happens and two things that we should deliberately set out to try and make sure they happen – if at all possible.
The difficult thing, which is a common experience, is to be a particular target of the devil’s attacks. We can see this in the experience of Jesus. He was not converted; he did not have to start to follow himself! He was God and could be no closer to the Father than he already was. But he did have an occasion when this became clear, not only to him, but to all that knew him. I refer of course to the great event which was his baptism by John. Matthew records that: Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.
As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
All of which is very good and exciting – just like our experience when the hand of God touches us for the first time. But when we read on we discover that Jesus was immediately led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil and had a very uncomfortable 40 days being tempted to use his powers to relieve his own discomfort, to demonstrate to others the huge abilities he had and to short circuit the whole uncomfortable experience that lay in front of him.
Our temptations may be quite different from his though we too in our own small way may be tempted to show off to other people the wonderful things that have happened to us.
We need to be careful and, hopefully, be well advised by other Christians and be swift to accept that advice. That is the immediate possible, or even probable, downside of setting out to follow Jesus.
There are two positive things we should do if at all possible as soon as we can. The first, which I have already hinted at, is to seek the company of other Christians who are now, in a new and more powerful way your brothers and sisters. That means joining a church fellowship as soon as possible. Not necessarily in the formal sense, but certainly in the practical sense. You are now a member of the family of God. You have been adopted into his family. It is a strange member of a family who never goes near it. Unless you are in a very isolated or dangerous situation be careful to seek out the people of God in your locality as soon as possible. I well remember a fellow, when we were in a Muslim country, who was hesitantly lurking at the back of our church as if he did not belong. Fortunately my wife saw how he was behaving and approached him. The first thing we did was ask him to chose a new Christian name by which he could be known amongst us to avoid any unnecessary conflict with his family and other people of the majority religion in that country. He was a very new convert who had been contacted by someone on the phone as he worked at a night time call centre and come to faith in Jesus. So it may not be possible for everyone who reads these notes to openly associate with a Christian fellowship. I am sure the Lord will understand that.
My second positive suggestion is perhaps even more difficult for some readers and hearers of these notes to do anything about. It is that, if possible, you should buy a good study Bible. There are many available in English these days. Some of them are general; others are specific being study Bibles for men or women with particular interests or teenagers etc. In the early days of a Christian life it is probably best to have a general study Bible so that you can slowly learn how the whole scripture fits together and have the more difficult words, phrases and ideas explained to you. Thus you will gain a good knowledge of Scripture without having to work too hard at it. (It will even give you something to read if the sermon gets too boring!) A good study Bible is the best way to start to learn what God says and will say to us. It is his word, his written word and enormously valuable. Through it you will encounter the living Word which is Jesus.
So three things: beware the devil’s interest in you; join up with a local fellowship of God’s people, particularly one which will enable you to talk with other people about your experiences and the scripture and learn from them; if possible equip yourself with what Paul called the sword of the Spirit that you may learn to fight well against the many temptations of life, to rejoice in the many promises that the Lord gives us in his Word and, above all, come to be in a living relationship to the living Word, the Lord Jesus.
This time there is no separate thing to do here. Those are three important things to do. If you asked someone else what you should do as a young believer you would probably get a different set of priorities. Never mind. Go to these – and the Lord will bless you.