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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Dr. Charles Stanley » Charles Stanley - The First Step

Charles Stanley - The First Step

Charles Stanley - The First Step
TOPICS: Maturity, Spiritual Growth

Do you remember the first time your first child took their first step? Oh, you called your friends and your family and you just said it's wonderful. It's just so awesome that they'd taken their first step, and it was all just beautiful. And next thing you knew, something wrong: they were into everything. They were into this and to that and every... so your whole attitude changed. But that's alright. That was the beginning of a whole new life for them. And there's the beginning of a whole new life for those who take another first step. Because there are many people who believe this. They believe that if I believe there's a God, that somehow in some way, everything's going to be all right.

And when I die, I'm going to heaven or I'm going somewhere. Nothing could be further from the truth. Just because a person believes there is a God has nothing to do, I could believe there are many things that have no effect upon me at all. Just because I believe there is a God, has nothing to do with having a personal relationship with that God. And if all you know is... and believe that there is one, and you don't have a personal relationship with Him, then you're in trouble.

And the title of this message is "The First Step". And if you'll turn to the sixteenth chapter of Acts, and just give you a little background of what's happening here. Paul and Silas are on their second missionary journey. And so, they got thrown in jail. Thrown in jail, their feet were in the stocks, and they had been beaten with rods. Now, we think beaten with a whip would be something, but beaten with rods, and it was against the law to beat any Roman citizen with rods or put them in jail without some real, true, real reason to do so. So as a result, the scripture says, verse twenty-five of the sixteenth chapter, "But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them".

Now, what do you think they were singing? I don't have any idea what they were singing in Hebrew or Greek, but if they'd of had these songs, they're been singing, "Jesus Saves, Jesus Saves", and a whole lot of songs like you and I know, "Suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's chains were unfastened". Just think about that, "When the jailer awoke and saw the prison doors opened, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped". Because that was the Roman law. In other words, they gave you an authority and a position and you didn't fulfill it, you'd had it.

And so, "Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, 'Do yourself no harm, for we are all here!' And he called for the lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas, And after he brought them out, he said, 'Sirs, what must I do to be saved?'" Not a lot of stuff about is there a God and this, that, and the other. They said, "'Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.' And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in the house. He took them that very hour of the night, washed their wounds, immediately he was baptized, he and his whole household. And he brought them out into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household".

Now, when the chief magistrates came, for example, the rest of that passage says that they were scared to death because they found out they were Romans. It was against the law to beat and to chain a Roman like that. And so the interesting thing is that they went away freed and the magistrates wanted them to go as quickly as possible and please don't tell anybody what happened to you. But the most important statement in that whole series is this. He said, "What must I do to be saved"? And Paul said very clearly, look at this, just a simple verse. He said, "What must I do to be saved"? And they said, "Believe," watch this, not in Jesus, but, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, and your household". And so, when I look at that passage and see how simple it seemed to be and think about how people think about God and salvation, whatever it might be.

Let me ask you a question. If somebody said to you, "Now, tell me exactly what you mean by salvation". What would you say? What do you mean by salvation? Well, probably you'd have a pretty good answer, but I want to give you a very simple answer because this is a simple statement. It's all true. And all you have to do is to say salvation is the work of God's grace by, listen, by which He does what? He pardons our sins and bestows upon us what? The gift of eternal life. That's what salvation's all about. It's the work of God's grace. God's grace is what? His unmerited, undeserved favor and love for us. As a result of that, by which He pardons us, forgives us of our sins and bestows upon us, we don't work for it, bestows upon us the gift of eternal life.

So, if somebody asks you, "What is salvation"? That's a simple definition, but it clarifies everything. The grace of God is His unmerited, undeserved favor. He doesn't save us because we deserve anything. And so, many people feel like if they know there's a God or believe there's a God, then they're saved. But absolutely they're not. So, I want to talk about a couple of things primarily, and the first one is this. Is our spiritual condition before salvation? If you ask the average person how they're doing, they'd probably say, "Well, I'm not too bad". And what they would do, and what they will do, is they will talk about other people or other things or circumstances and situations and say, "You know what? I'm as good as that. I know some church members that do this and do that and I'm as good as they are so I'm not worried about going to heaven because I don't do any bad things".

Nothing could be further from the truth, because all of that is based on what you believe that God thinks about your conduct, your work, your attitudes, your this, and your that. And when He says by grace, that means unmerited, undeserved love for us. God does not save us on the basis of how much you do, who you are, what you have. He saves us on the basis of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ the Lord. No matter what else you believe, you cannot deny that truth. And you cannot expect to be saved on the basis of anything that you do. If the Bible isn't your compass, you have no true, genuine compass to live by.

And so no matter what you hear people say about, "Well, here's what I believe about God and this religion, that religion," doesn't make any difference. If this isn't your compass, then you have a major problem. Because one of these days, you're going to stand before God, one of these days you're going to die because there is physical death, spiritual death, eternal death. Physical death, we probably will experience that. Notice I said probably, Jesus could come. Spiritual death, dead in, listen, dead in trespasses and violating the law of God. So he says this is where we are.

So, what is God's provision for that? And here's God's provision, and that is, God's provision, let me say, first of all, is motivated by love. And let's go, if you will, to Romans five, verse five, "And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out," not sifted out, poured out, "the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who indwells us, who's given to us. For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly".

We were helpless to save ourselves, "For one will hardly die for a righteous man, though perhaps for a good man someone would dare even die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified," or it means to be declared righteous, "by His blood," is a result of the cross, "we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more having been reconciled," brought back into a relationship with Him, "we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult," or rejoice, "in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation".

Brought back into the relationship with Him. How could He do that? Because if He just forgave us, then He would have violated His own law. The soul that sinneth, it shall die, and all of us have sinned. How can God rightfully forgive us? And here's the way He does, the only way He does, and the only hope of salvation. God, in the person of Jesus Christ, came into this world for the primary purpose of dying for our sins. And in so doing, He came into the world also to show us who God is and what He's like. God sent Him into the world, His only begotten Son, for the primary purpose of doing what? Of dying on the cross, shedding His blood, His blood is atoning blood.

That is, it's blood that pays our sin debt in full. But now, watch this. When He came into the world to die on the cross, God placed upon Jesus all the sins of all mankind all the way back to Adam and Eve. And Jesus had to be God, because if it had been anybody else, they could only have died for their own sin. But Jesus was sinless. He was the perfect Son of God, the perfect Lamb. Who is the only person who gave His life, first of all, who is sinless, who gave His life sacrificially as a substitute, being accounted all-sufficient in the eyes of God for your sins? Nobody and nothing but Jesus. This is why we say, Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but by Me".

You say, "Well, isn't that sort of prideful"? No. It is truthful. It all goes back to the cross. For example, if you take all the teachings of the cross out of the New Testament, there wouldn't be much left, what do you have? What man can do. And so just look around you. You ask people where you work, where you live, your friends, your family, "Are you going to heaven"? Well, some of them will say, "I don't know". Well, that's a good answer 'cause then you can say, "Well, I know I'm going". "Well, that sounds very prideful". "No, would you like to know why I think I'm going, I believe I'm going, I know I'm going"?

If they back off you, that means they're so guilty already, they can't stand to hear it. They don't even want to hear it. So let's talk about you. Have you ever been saved? So, I'm going to talk about how here in a moment, but what I wanted you to see, I wanted you to see primarily here why God forgives us of our sins. It's a four-letter word: L-O-V-E. He loves us. And listen, if He made it our works, some people, in other words, what works? Would one thing be good for this person, not for that person? We can't even all do the same thing. You have nothing but confusion if you don't have the blood of Jesus. And so, when we see what He says about our sinfulness and about the fact of His death, He says we've all sinned and come short of the glory of God. We certainly would agree with that. And that the wages of sin is death.

And so, when He does come into our life, what happens? It transforms us. We're not the same person we used to be. For example, Paul put it this way. He says, "Therefore, if any person is in Christ," have that relationship. And I'm going to talk about how in just a second. If any person has that relationship, he says, "Old things pass away; behold things become new". What happens? There is a difference. When a person's life is transformed by the Lord Jesus Christ, it's a different kind of life. You're going to walk different. You're going to sound different. You're going to look different in ways. I don't mean how you dress, necessarily, but some people need to change their dress, no doubt about that.

But, for example, in Ephesians, this first chapter, go back there for a moment, verse thirteen. He says, "In Him," that is, in Christ, that is, you have a relationship with Him now, "also, after," listen, after, "listening to the message of truth," and what is that message? "The gospel of your salvation, having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, Who," that is, the Holy Spirit, "Who is given as a pledge," this is a pledge from God, "of our inheritance," what we will receive, "with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory".

Now, think about this for a moment. Living in sin, disobedience to God, lost, separated from God. The adequate and only adequate substitute, acceptable to God, the death of His Son, He's the only one who was sinless. So, here's what happened. When He died, He opened the door to the world to be saved, because He paid our sin debt in full, because He was the perfect Son of God. And so, salvation, as we said, is a gift from God. And now, how does that work in a person's life? So we said, "Well, you have to believe in Him".

So I want to put a couple of other definitions up here for a moment, Saving Faith, watch this, saving faith is trust in Jesus as a living person, the Son of God, for the forgiveness of sins and for eternal life with God. Is trusting in Jesus, so when a person says, "I want Jesus Christ as my Savior," then what I must do is I must be willing to ask Him to forgive me of my sins and place my trust in Him as the Lord and the Son of God, who went to the cross and paid my sin debt in full by being crucified. I'm willing to believe that He, because of what He's done for me and God's acceptance of that, I'm willing to believe that He saves me. And the moment I do, the Holy Spirit, as He says, comes in and seals us as the child of God.

So, you say, "Well now, what am I supposed to do"? Saving faith is I place my trust in Jesus, not Jesus as some idea, but the person of Jesus Christ, who went to the cross, died on the cross for our sins. I place my trust in Him. Now, somebody says, "Well, what about this lordship business"? And there are people who say, "I want Your salvation, Father, but I don't want You telling me how to live. I thank You for Your forgiveness, and thank You for the gift of heaven, but don't tell me how to live". Lordship means rule in our life, guidance in our life, direction in our life. He's the one who makes decisions for us and shows us the will of the Father. "I don't want that, I just want, I want forgiveness and I want salvation and I want to go to heaven, but I don't want You as my Lord".

So let me explain repentance. Repentance is a heartfelt sorrow for sin. I'm ashamed. God, I'm sorry for what I've done. A renouncing of it. I don't want that anymore in my life. A sincere commitment to forsake it and walk in obedience to Christ. Now, listen very carefully. That is the confession of genuine repentance. Let me tell you what that means, what it doesn't mean. It doesn't mean that if I repent of my sins, that if I sin again, I'm going to be lost. That's not what it means. If you repent of your sin, what are you saying? You're saying, "Lord, I'm sorry for what's in my life. I don't want this in my life. It doesn't fit who I am and will be as a child of God. I'm renouncing that".

Does that mean that you won't commit any more sin? No, because we, listen, because the lifestyle that we have had, whatever it might be. And as a young kid, for example, I didn't have much of any of that in my life, but God, if we repent of our sin, He accepts that. And so what? I may have to repent of it more than once. Salvation is I'm accepting Him as the Lord of my life. And that means He's in charge. But in my weakness and my frailty, Lord, I didn't... God, forgive me. I didn't want that, I, Lord, I said I wouldn't ever do that again. We've all been there. It doesn't mean you've lost your salvation. It means that your weakness and your frailty and that old sinful nature inside of us at times, it surfaces.

So, what do we do? We ask God to forgive us. Watch this carefully, we ask God to forgive us and cleanse us on the basis of what He did at the cross. So, where does repentance fit in all this? Does it mean that you get saved by repentance? No, you're saved by the grace of God. But repentance is a part of the recognition of Jesus Christ as the Lord and Master of my life. Somebody says, "Well, can I just go ahead and sin all I want to and be saved"?

I've met people like that, a lot of folks like that. And you know what? I've never met one that I knew close enough that did not deeply regret walking away from God. Can a person walk away from God in sin, living in sin? Yes, they can. Does that mean that they're lost? No, it doesn't. But here's what it does mean. God's awesome hand of judgment will come upon them. You see, that's what grace is all about, His love. He's gracious in His love. But He is also demanding righteousness and holiness in all of our lives. And so, I would say to you today: Can you look back at some point in your life where you can say, "I know that at that point in my life I placed my faith in Jesus Christ".

You say, "Well, I didn't understand it all then". Well, neither did I. But here's what happened. I did what I did, I fully understood, and that is I was a sinner and that God would save me. And maybe today for the first time in your life, you've understood why Jesus had to die. And you see, the only way Jesus can justify you as a child of God is having died as a sacrifice for your sins.

And so, we're saved by His grace, goodness, love, and mercy. And I would encourage you if you've never trusted Him as your Savior, say, "God, I'm ashamed of the life that I've lived. I've claimed to be something I'm not. I'm asking You to forgive me and to cleanse me. I do acknowledge You as the Lord and Savior of my life. God, I just want You to clean me up and make me one of Your children". Let me just say this to you. You don't have to beg Him. When you come to Him sincerely, He will answer the petition of your heart. And that's my prayer for you.

Father, how grateful we are that You didn't give us a list of do's and don'ts. You just gave us one statement: faith in the sacrificial, all-sufficient, atoning death of Your Son on the cross, and the surrender of our life to Him as the Lord and Master. Thank You, thank You, thank You. And I pray that every person who hears this, who has never been saved, who's depended on something within themselves to realize there is no hope apart from the sacrificial, all-sufficient death of Jesus Christ, the substitutionary One who took our place. In Jesus's name, amen.

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