Does Christianity change people? The world wants to know. Does being a Christian make any difference at all? If God forgives our sins but we keep doing the same things we did before we embraced Truth, then don't non-Christians have a right to ask how Jesus makes any difference?
Christians claim that the Bible is a communication from God to man. We claim to live our lives by God's Book. Then how can the non-Christian know if we are doing that? Is there any outward sign that might point to the inward reality? Something that would show people whether or not the Christian is doing what God in the Bible calls him to do?
The answer is, Yes, Christianity actually changes people; yes, there are Christians who live their lives by God's Book; and yes, there is an outwardly visible repeating sign. The Bible will tell us in this hour exactly what that sign is!
Does Christianity Change People?
First then, does Christianity change people? We are changed by the company we keep. If we spend time with people who are doing wrong, that will change us. If we spend time with those doing good, that will change us. If we spend time with those who believe in God and His ways, we will be strengthening ourselves. If we spend time growing in our understanding of the Bible, we will be influenced for good.
What if we every week we met together to seek God with others who are seeking God? The Bible writer says,
Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (Hebrews 10:24, 25).
We should seek out others who are following Jesus and stir each other up to love and good works. It makes a giant difference. There is a day that is coming. Every person will be judged by God. We will not be saved because of doing good, but what we have done will reveal whether or not we have walked with Jesus. It will be known what we are and what we have become. Our lives will witness either to evil, or to good.
Christianity changes people. But how can we know that someone is following God? Christians are measured by the Bible. It is not your calling or mine to judge others. But humans are designed to evaluate, to weigh evidence. It is inevitable that those who do not have the Bible will make a decision about the goodness of Christianity, in part at least, on the basis of their evaluation of evidences.
It is inevitable that the unbeliever will weigh such evidences as present themselves. If you and I are Christians we cannot escape our being, in a sense, some of these evidences. Does God have a living kingdom? Then there are living citizens. There is a population who recognizes Him as King.
A Real kingdom
It is true that Jesus has gone back to heaven in person, to appear in the presence of God for us. Christ is being formed within in every believer (Galatians 4:19). He desires to be in us. He is our hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). His church is His fortress that he keeps by His power in this revolted world. It is composed of His followers, His advance troops on planet earth.
If you and I are followers of Jesus, then we are echoes of Jesus. Then we will do what He did and live out the gifts that He gives us. We show that His kingdom is real. How does Jesus manifest His kingdom in this world? Satan makes himself the prince of this world; he claims an authority for himself. But God owns the earth. There is a collision. How does God show Himself the ultimate owner of the world, and that He alone has right to worship?
God is who He is, and His Law He has given to men. Jesus came and lived the Law, agreed with it, magnified it, and by the power He gives His children, He makes it honorable. He enables us to obey. His Holy Spirit He gives to those who obey Him (Acts 5:32; Hebrews 5:9). We cannot obey without Him! It shows humans what is right. He will show the world that He is God through His law. He will have a people who will follow His laws. The obedience His people render to His law testifies there is a God in heaven they deem worthy of worship. They set aside selfish inclination to do God's unselfish will.
Not all the commands in God's law are negative. Some are positive. To honor your father and your mother is framed positively. Another positive command in God's law is God's command to remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days are set aside for regular labor, but the last day of the week, the seventh, is the Lord's Sabbath. It is the day He made; the day He sanctified, He set apart. He made it holy. On that day we do not do ordinary labor. It is set aside for us to cease from toil and commune with Him. People can see whether you are digging a hole on the Sabbath; they can see whether you are buying or selling, fishing, or following the same routine you follow the rest of the week.
Sabbath versus Sunday
Not only this, but the reason that we should worship God on the Sabbath day is given. It is because in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and because He then rested on the seventh day, set it apart, sanctified it, and made it a holy time different from all other time. Sabbath is the day that Jesus kept.
Sunday is a day that comes from the tradition of men. Sabbath is the day the Bible teaches. Sunday is the day that the Bible does not teach. Sabbath is the day which is indisputably given in the law of God. Sunday does not appear there as a weekly day of worship. Sabbath is the day that the prophets and apostles kept. Sunday is the day that popes and prelates have kept. Sabbath is in God's law; Sunday is outside of God's law. Sabbath marks the holiness of the Creator and the fact that He is Creator; Sunday marks a common working day. The Sabbath marks freedom; Sunday, bondage.
There is nothing wrong with labor, but we labor in a damaged world. When men sinned and the curse entered, it meant that our labor would be intensified. So now we till the ground with additional labor; we sweat. Our women experience pain in giving birth. Life is harder for us than in God's original design. Labor is honorable, and the difficulty of our labor is a help in some ways. Idle time can be a problem for us. But when all life is in order, even when all is done to God's glory, even in a world which originally had no sin in it, no rebellion, still, in that world, God gave to us His holy Sabbath. The Sabbath was made for man.
You Shall Be Holy, as I Am Holy
God's purpose for us is that we should be holy. What does it mean to be holy?
One way that things are made holy is by God's presence. When God is present, that place is sanctified by His presence. Moses was told to take off his sandals while in God's presence. God's command to His people, if He would be their God, is that they be holy as He is holy (Leviticus 11:44, 45). The same command to remove sandals in God's presence is repeated to Joshua (Leviticus 5:15). God Himself is holy. When we combine with Him we experience His holy influence (Psalm 99:5, 9). The whole earth testifies in itself of God's craftsmanship and thus testifies that God is holy (Isaiah 6:3).
Another way things are made holy is when they are consecrated to God. God's command to not just the priests, but the whole congregation of Israel, was to be holy because He, their God, is holy (Leviticus 19:2). The high priest wore a crown inscribed with his consecration: "Holy to the Lord" (Exodus 39:30). The person who consecrates himself to God is holy (Leviticus 20:7; 20:26; 21:8).
Holiness is no mere theory; it is intended to be an actual quality in people. God showed whether the Levites or the Korathites were holy (Numbers 16:5; Isaiah 62:2, 10-12). Ephesians 1:4 says that the Christian is chosen in Christ but also called to be holy and blameless before Christ. While we are chosen to be in Jesus, our holiness is to be such that we are to stand before Jesus, distinct from Him and yet holy. In the same book, it is Jesus' mission to sanctify, or make holy, His bride, the church (Ephesians 5:26, 27). Colossians 1:22, 23 says that we who were formerly alienated are now through Jesus' body reconciled to Him if we continue in faith.
Another reason that things are holy is by their belonging to God. Offerings given to God are holy (Leviticus 27:9). Tithes given to Him are holy (Leviticus 27:30). Belonging to God makes one holy (Deuteronomy 7:6; 14:2).
Doing what God says makes a person holy. For example, doing His commandments (Numbers 15:40). God's kindness and holiness go together in His works (Psalm 145:17). In His judgments God is shown to be holy (Isaiah 5:16). In 1 Peter 1:14-16 the command is,
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.'
Peter returns to this theme in his second epistle, pleading "Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God..." (2 Peter 3:11). In Revelation 22:11, at the very end, everyone will be settled in character. The wicked then have locked themselves into wickedness. Their wickedness will never be changed for goodness. The same is true of the righteous. The righteous then will have settled themselves into holiness and it will never change.
Sabbath as a Sign of Holiness
God did not give us "the" Sabbath, or "a" Sabbath; He gave us His holy Sabbath. When in Nehemiah 9:14 God's blessings are remembered, it is pointed out that God gave to them His holy Sabbath. In the Ten Commandments the command about God's Sabbath is for the believer to "keep it holy." Sabbath is time with God's presence in it. Sabbath time is holy time. People can be holy. People are called and commanded to keep Sabbath and to be holy.
Thinking, then, about what we just saw (that things are made holy by God's presence, that that which is consecrated to God is holy, that what God owns is holy, that doing what God says makes one holy, and that God Himself is holy), then we understand that keeping Sabbath is a sign of holiness. Consider Isaiah 58:13, 14):
If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your Father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
There is always blessing in doing God's will, and always danger and loss in substituting what is convenient. But keeping Sabbath requires us to put God's pleasure first. That's what holy Christians do: they put God's pleasure first. And God's pleasure becomes their pleasure. Because God is holy He makes His people holy. God's Sabbath is a sign of holiness.
Slavery, Deliverance, and Sabbath
When we look at God's Ten Commandment Law in Exodus 20, there are interesting things. For example, the prelude. He doesn't start by listing commandments; He introduces His law thus: "And God spoke all these words, saying, 'I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.'" In preparing to give His people His law, He reminds them that He delivered from Egypt. This is how we are to think of God's law.
In the New Testament Paul tells us that the law is holy, just, and good. The law is not about prohibiting good things, but delivering from destructive things. The law is a positive. It cannot save people; that is not its purpose. It is a gift of guidance to beings needing guidance.
God's way is the way of deliverance. Satan does his utmost to put wrong thoughts into the minds of men. He puts wrong for right, darkness for light, error for truth. He replaces freedom with bondage. He delights in leading you to think yourself free, then laughs at your suffering and toil. Any worship of Satan cannot be the worship of the Creator; there is no redemption in it; there is no faith in it. All that there would be in it then would be faithless human works. The heart would not be renewed. Then there can be no holiness in it. But there is so much more.
The Sabbath is a marker, an outward sign of inward newness, a signal to the world telling obedience to the whole law. It shows who we are worshiping. When we keep His Sabbath, we are giving allegiance to His character. By imitating Him, by copying Him, we show our reverence and love for Him. We want to be like Jesus.
Jesus is the very picture of holiness. God's law is the very picture of holiness. Jesus is what the law looks like when you put legs on it.
The law could never die for us on the cross. It could never pay the penalty for your sins and for mine. The law cannot bleed. It cannot be wounded for our transgressions, receive punishment for our rebellion, nor be tortured for us. The law alone cannot heal us. But Jesus can heal us. He does not come to destroy His law, but to make it honorable. He comes to give life. He comes to release from bondage.
Jesus does not save us because we are holy. When we receive Him He works in us and makes us holy. He has a holy day and He has a holy people. He has His warriors on a rebel planet who fly His flag, who show the reality of His kingdom. He has those who love Him and will stand for Him no matter what comes because that is what they are. They are becoming more and more like Him as they are beholding Him and copying His works.
Many have missed the mark. They think they can worship God on their own terms. Thinking themselves free, they are slaves, making their own ways to worship God. God shows His people what true freedom is. It is holiness, freedom to be human the way God designed us to be.
Does God change people here and now? Yes! Does a Christian living His life by God's Book show it in any way? Yes. There is a repeating sign: God's holy seventh day Sabbath. He made a holy day for holy people.
Sabbath does not guarantee holiness. Sabbath can be misunderstood in a legal way. But Sabbath gives us a lot. It helps us understand God's moral imperatives. It encourages in us a careful seeking of His will. It points the worshiper to God as Creator and Recreator relentlessly. It reminds us to cease from our own works and trust in God's. It signals deliverance from bondage, release from slavery, and rest in Jesus. It is needed for human flourishing. You need God's holy Sabbath day.
Chewelah WA SDA 2016-07-23
Mara Vision Outreach Bible Mission Camp, Maasai Mara, Talek Kenya 2016-08-10