Acts of the Apostles
Changes are effected in a new Believer’s Life
I suppose that the attitude of many people in our country today concerning Christianity would go something like this: If you must be religious, OK, but do please keep it to yourself and don’t allow it to spoil our relationships.
There’s nothing really that new about such an attitude because down through history men and women have never really felt comfortable when God draws near and have often tried to silence their guilty consciences by shutting their eyes and refusing to look at the truth, by stopping up their ears so that they don’t hear the truth and by closing their minds so that they don’t have to think about it either.
Keep it to yourselves, we don’t want it!
But while it might be possible a person to keep a dead and lifeless religion quietly to himself it is certainly a very different picture when it comes to the Christianity of the Bible.
Now why is that someone might ask. Aren’t all religions basically the same? I don’t want to be told to what to do and what not to do in my life. Leave me alone.
But the Christianity of the Bible is not at all like other religions because it is gospel religion, that is it is good news religion for the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.
This is a gospel that totally transforms the people who receive it. The Christianity of the Bible doesn’t suggest you can tinker with your life and so make yourself acceptable to God. This is the gospel of God’s power that alters a person’s entire standing with God and does so forever. This is a gospel that imparts new spiritual life meaning that the person who receives it enjoys a fresh start with a clean spiritual slate. This is a gospel which takes away the old and brings in the new. This is a gospel that doesn’t pretend that we’re better than we are but it is a gospel that takes into account our hopelessness, our ignorance and our guilty sinfulness and offers us God’s potent and sufficient solution – the Lord Jesus Christ and his sacrificial substitutionary death and resurrection.
When such truth is understood and embraced with repentance and faith it can’t be kept hidden away like you might keep quiet about having some strange and minority hobby. The gospel is quite simply too big for that! This gospel is so important because it doesn’t originate with men but it is the gospel of God. It is relevant to you and it is relevant to me because it is God’s idea and what a wonderfully merciful and gracious idea it is!
Changes that the Gospel Brings
Peter had finished his preaching with a call to his hearers to respond to what he had told them about Jesus whom they had crucified. He called for them to repent and longed for them to save themselves from the crooked generation they were part of.
Now, it is important to understand just what he meant by that. Men and women are not straight by nature. However much we might like to imagine that we are good and upright, paragons of virtue perhaps, in God’s sight we are something very different – we are sinners with a bias that keeps turning us away from the One True Living God. We end up way short of God’s righteousness and exposed, as rebels, to his wrath. If we remain part of the humanity that constitutes this “crooked generation” we remain exposed to God’s wrath with catastrophic and eternal consequences.
But the good news of Peter’s message is that a solution is offered, there is a way to escape this serious predicament, a way to save ourselves from this crooked generation, and that is by exercising faith in Jesus Christ, God’s appointed and anointed Saviour. In exercising such faith we cease to belong to “this crooked generation” and are separated from it. The result is that the Christian cannot, and must not, go on living as he had done before. Do you remember the words Jesus spoke to the woman taken in adultery. He didn’t condemn her but did say to her:
“Go and from now on sin no more.” Jn.8:11
And that is the regular pattern we find in the NT.
Well, 3,000 of Peter’s hearers responded to his call to faith and they were not only separated from the crooked generation but they were also added to the church. It was a tremendous transformation and it evidenced itself in the way they went on from there. Luke highlights a fundamental attitude and a fourfold practice.
In describing their new manner of living Luke is showing us some of the characteristic marks of a Christian believer. We should use his description as something by which we might measure the reality of our own understanding of the faith and the true measure of our commitment. As we reflect on what Luke has to say we should be asking some serious questions about ourselves: Do I know anything in my life of what Luke is describing here? Are there areas of evident weakness in my life that need to be addressed? Perhaps we need to ask ourselves has the gospel ever had a profound influence upon life for it may be that we have yet to repent before God and to receive the gospel for the very first time.
Let’s begin with the attitude these new converts demonstrated – it’s there in v.42
Other translations have “they continued steadfastly” “they committed themselves”.
“they devoted themselves”
What does this suggest? Well it surely tells us that these people were enthusiastic about their new faith and the new life that they had been given by God’s grace. They were not half-hearted in their response nor were they trying to work out the strict minimum on which they could get by. Not a bit of it. They had been transformed by the gospel and wanted as much of it as they could get and their enthusiastic appetite was displayed in a variety of specific areas:
Luke tells us that “they devoted themselves to”:
- the apostles’ doctrine
- the fellowship
- the breaking of bread
Let’s look at this more closely.
It begins with doctrine! The apostles were Christ’s appointed and equipped representatives to tell others about him and to explain the significance of his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. They would also pass on his teaching and records of his ministry. And these new converts couldn’t get enough of it! Are you like that? Do you have an insatiable appetite to learn more about Jesus?
That appetite was perfectly understandable if you stop to think about it. They had heard about Jesus and the Holy Spirit had convicted them of their sin. Under Peter’s preaching they had been “cut to the heart” feeling the weight, the seriousness and the guilt of their sin. But Peter’s preaching hadn’t left them there and they had been set free as they confessed their sin and put their trust in Christ. They were no longer exposed to divine wrath but had begun to live under the divine smile. They had peace with God – everything was new for them! How could they possibly not want to know more about this glorious plan? So when the apostles taught they made sure they were there to listen, they didn’t want to miss out. It was all so great they had to know more and more and more.
They probably didn’t have access to books and certainly not to tapes, cds or the internet so they had to be present when the church gathered together and it wasn’t a hardship for them. They devoted themselves to this teaching that had born such wonderful fruit already in their live s and they continued steadfastly in it.
Have you ever known anything like that? Perhaps when you were first converted you were keen and eager but now you’ve settled down and that appetite has dissipated. Other Scriptures tell us the serious truth that it is possible for a disciple to lose his first love and it is not a good thing for him or you to do! Remind yourself what the gospel is really all about. Plunge your eyes into it again and marvel again at what the gospel offers to a sinner like you. If you don’t have much of an appetite for these things is it because you have a very limited view of the gospel and a poor estimation of the value of Jesus Christ? Or is it because you are still a stranger to God’s grace and haven’t yet become a real Christian at all?
Fellowship comes next on Luke’s descriptive list – and it is important to understand that the fellowship he has in mind is that which flows from the apostles’ doctrine. There is no genuine fellowship when the truth of the gospel is set aside. Ah, but where the truth of that gospel is adhered to and loved there genuine fellowship is possible. And these new converts didn’t want to live apart from their fellow Christians but shared the common life together. Separated from that crooked generation they did not want to live as spiritual recluses thinking only of themselves. And such fellowship is the norm amongst Christians – mutual love is both commanded in the NT and seen by our Lord himself to be a sign to the world our discipleship.
And surely those who have benefitted from the same marvellous grace and believe the same marvellous truth have reason to want to be together. Fellowship it seems was not an optional extra for these new believers but an integral part of their Christian commitment. Can the same be true of us?
The breaking of bread - Luke will refer to breaking bread again in v.46 where it seems to refer to the simple fact of sharing meals together in each other’s homes but here in v.42 I think that Luke is referring to something else. I think here the reference is to the Lord’s Supper when bread is broken and a cup of wine shared pointing to the Saviour whose body was broken and whose blood was poured out as he suffered in our place bearing the weight of the guilt of our sins. And again what a natural thing for these new believers to do together in the church! They knew that Jesus had died and they had come to understand why as they had listened to the explanations the apostles gave concerning the significance of that death. They had come to believe that this meal confirmed the truths they already had come to believe through the preaching of the truth. They had heard too how the Lord Jesus had provided his followers with a simple meal that would help keep them focused on what really mattered. So why wouldn’t they want to share in this breaking of the bread together? Of course they would do so and do so with an ever increasing understanding of the significance of the sacrifice of their Lord and Master. And growing in their understanding of the apostles’ doctrine they would not fall into a sacramentalist trap of thinking that the bread and the wine had magical qualities and would produce benefits automatically regardless of whether or not faith was exercised.
Prayer. Finally these new believers joined in the prayer life of the church. There was regular prayer in that life and they didn’t hesitate to join in. Later in the Acts we find Peter and John going up to the temple at the time of prayer for the Christians continued for some time to follow Jewish prayers there. And these new believers joined in enthusiastically – just as they devoted themselves to the apostles’ doctrine so they were enthusiastic participants in prayer. We don’t know exactly what it was they prayed for but they probably included thanksgiving and praise. Given the fact that in just a short while the church was praying for continued boldness to speak of Jesus in the face of opposition they probably were also praying for the spread of the gospel that had so revolutionised their own lives. They surely prayed too for those amongst their number who were facing particular needs for this early church was concerned about those in need and took significant and exceedingly generous steps to meet those needs and to relieve suffering where they could.
And what sort of people were those who behaved this way? Were they self-righteous religious bigots the kind who always give religion a bad name? Were they always anxious, moralistic and judgmental? Well if you at how Luke describes them you’ll hardly come to that conclusion.
Let me read to you again what Luke said:
vv.46-47 “And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.”
These people were characterised by a unity of spirit and a singleness of heart – another way of talking about their steadfast devotion. They were happy, sociable people content with their lot, indeed they were glad, so very glad, to be Christians. They weren’t morbidly introspective but outward looking to those in need and upward looking to the God who had done so much for him that his praise characterised their lives.
No, they hadn’t become religious fanatics or religious cranks they had simply become Christians through faith in Jesus Christ and were joyfully enjoying the new life he had given them as pardoned sinners and other people looked on and were impressed by the way they lived, impressed by the God they served!
In v.43 Luke tells us, after describing the pattern of living adopted by these new Christians, that a sense of awe came upon everyone. This was a reverential awareness of God and his greatness and it was widely recognised. I don’t know whether we are meant to limit that sense of awe to the church members or whether it expanded beyond the confines of church membership to those yet outside but God was certainly present making his presence known. No silly glibness, no disrespectful light-heartedness, no man-centred gimmicks but a holy fear before a thrice holy God.
And the watching world looked on but it didn’t mock these committed, these devoted new believers who had become a serious, worshipful and glad people. No, they didn’t mock them they admired them and held them in high esteem “having favour with all the people” as Luke puts it in v.47. The world is rarely impressed by a church that apes the world but when the church lives out the gospel joyously and reverentially it is a different matter. That doesn’t mean that such a church will know only blessing it won’t after all the church’s master is a crucified Lord who suffered the just for the unjust. No, the church will frequently face persecution and opposition when it is true to its Lord but the world will find it hard to ignore such a church.
Well if the people round and about looked positively on the church at that particular moment in history there was another whose opinion is far more important. The LORD looked favourably on his people and further blessings were poured out as day by day the Lord added to his church those who were being saved. And he has continued to do so down through the centuries. He is keeping his promise to build his church. Our very presence here this morning testifies to the faithfulness of our Lord Jesus as he has saved many of us here. Has he saved you?
Oh, may the Lord be pleased to grant us this quality of life as we work out the salvation he has so freely and generously given us and may our transformed lives resound to the praise and glory of his name!