If someone asked you, "What decisions must I make to become a Christian?" I hope that you could answer that question clearly. First, you must decide to place your active trust in the resurrected Jesus. We refer to that as having faith. Second, you must decide to redirect your life. You decide that you will not continue to live as you have been living. We refer to that as repentance. Third, you must decide to be baptized. This is the visible act, the visible declaration that states that you are placing your life in Christ in order that you might be alive in Christ and that Christ might be alive in you.

If the same person asked you, "What decisions must I make to exist as a Christian?" how would you answer that question? Would you say, "If you want to exist as a Christian, you must decide to go to church, to pray, and to study your Bible." Are questions such as these the foundation questions of Christian existence?

  1. I want you to follow me as we do a rapid survey of Paul's first message in the letter we call Romans.
    1. This morning I asked you to be certain that you brought your Bible tonight.
      1. Turn to Romans chapter one.
      2. I want you to see these thoughts as I call them to your attention.
    2. Look at Romans 1:18: "God's wrath is revealed from heaven against ungodly, unrighteous people who suppress the truth."
      1. The rest of chapter one shows why these people are ungodly and unrighteous.
      2. It also shows why it is just for God to use His wrath against them.
    3. Look at Romans 2:1-5: "You religious people who exist to pass judgment on other people will also receive God's wrath."
      1. Why?
      2. Your condemnation of others is inexcusable.
      3. You make the same kinds of mistakes that you condemn.
      4. You expect others to live it, but you fail to live it.
    4. Look at Romans 2:14-16: "Those who never had God's law (the law that God gave to Israel) but who respond to God from the heart and the conscience will receive good treatment from God."
    5. Look at Romans 2:24: "You who always had God's law live in ways that cause other people to blaspheme God."
    6. Look at Romans 2:28,29: "The real Israelite is not the person who has Jewish parents and was circumcised; the real Israelite is the person whose heart belongs to God."
    7. Paul in Romans 3:1 anticipates the Jewish reaction to these thoughts: "That is not fair! We have been God's people for centuries. What you are saying totally destroys the benefits of being God's people all this time."
    8. Now consider Paul's response to their reaction:
      1. Romans 3:5,6: "It is not possible for God to be unfair!"
      2. Romans 3:9 following: "Are Jews better than Gentiles? No. Both Jews and Gentiles are sinners before God. Everyone is a sinner before God."
      3. Then in Romans 3:21-26 Paul gave the most specific, concise statement found in the New Testament that states how God makes a righteous person out of a sinner.
    9. Then Paul emphasized some basic awarenesses.
      1. Romans 4: "God has justified the person who placed his trust in God's promises since the time of Abraham."
        1. Justification is produced by trusting God.
        2. Justification is something God gives, not something the person deserves.
      2. Romans 5: "It is trusting God's work and promises in Jesus Christ that produces justification, and it is God's justification that gives the person peace."
      3. Romans 6: "The purpose of your baptism was to place you in relationship with Christ and end the rule of sin in your life."
      4. Romans 7: "The law that God gave the Jewish people does not give and cannot sustain a relationship with God."
      5. Romans 8: "God's Spirit that God gives to those who are in Christ sustains relationship with God."
      6. Romans 9: "I am in deep grief because my Jewish brothers reject Jesus."
        1. "More than anyone else, they should understand that the sovereign God does not base His acts or His decisions on human understanding."
        2. "Remember Jacob and Esau: God decided to work through Jacob, the younger, before the two were born."
      7. Romans 10: "I fervently wish that physical Israel would come to God through Christ."
      8. Romans 11: A serious warning from Paul: "You Gentiles who have been accepted and welcomed by God, do not get arrogant because God is working in you."

  2. Bottom line, Paul, what does this mean about Christian existence?
    1. In everyday, understood concepts, what are you saying, Paul?
      1. You are writing to Christians.
      2. What does all this have to do with Christian existence?
    2. Bottom line, in understood concepts, what it said about Christian existence is stated in Romans 12:1.
      1. "Christian, put yourself on God's altar."
        1. "Jewish Christian, put yourself on God's altar."
        2. "Non-Jewish Christian, put yourself on God's altar."
        3. That is THE decision of Christian existence."
      2. Paul, do we have to understand fully all these technical, historical matters you shared? No. But you must decide to put yourself on the altar.
      3. Paul, do we have to follow fully all your theological reasoning? No. But you must decide to put yourself on the altar.
      4. Paul, do we have to come to all the conclusions you reached so we understand exactly what you understand? No. But you must decide to put yourself on the altar.
      5. Paul, must we be able to dissect and analyze all your arguments? No. But you must decide to put yourself on the altar.
      6. Paul, do you mean that because we place our trust in Christ and belong to God through Christ that every Christian must climb up on the altar to be a daily, living offering to God? Yes! Yes! Yes!
    3. You and I have a problem here that the Christians who heard this letter did not have.
      1. All of them were very familiar with sacrificial worship; you and I are not.
      2. They knew what a sacrificial altar was and its purpose in worship; most of us have never seen a sacrificial altar.
      3. They knew that worship and sacrificial altars were powerfully connected; we never think of a sacrificial altar in connection with worship.
      4. When Paul challenged them to place themselves on the altar as a living sacrifice, they instantly knew what he meant and what he was saying; all of us have to be educated in altars and sacrifices before we can understand what Paul said.
    4. Think just a minute about sacrificial altars.
      1. First, you had the priest to place on the altar an animal that you owned.
      2. Second, that sacrificial animal had no part in the decision to be the sacrifice.
      3. Third, the animal was dead when it was placed on the altar, or it died on the altar.
      4. The purpose of altars was to receive dead sacrifices. Death and the altar were inseparable linked.
      5. I seriously doubt that any of us can imagine worshipping through an animal sacrifice and blood.

  3. The sacrifice that Paul called for Christians to make stands in basic contrast to animal sacrifices.
    1. First, we place ourselves on the altar instead of a priest placing something we own on the altar.
    2. Second, it is our decision to be on the altar. We are the sacrifice and we make the decision.
    3. Third, we climb on the altar to give our lives to God by living, not by dying.
    4. There is an inherent problem when we put a living sacrifice on the altar, a problem that does not exist when we put a dead sacrifice on the altar.
      1. A living sacrifice that climbs on the altar can also climb off the altar.
      2. If we are to exist as Christians, we must decide to place ourselves on the altar, and we must decide to stay on the altar.
    5. Most of us have a problem deciding to climb on the altar.
      1. We had rather reduce Christian existence to:
        1. Deciding to attend worship assemblies.
        2. Deciding to attend Bible classes.
        3. Deciding to develop a prayer life.
        4. Deciding to study the Bible.
        5. Deciding to assume some type of responsibility.
      2. Deciding to climb on the altar is more essential than these things.
        1. Certainly, if you place yourself on the altar you will do all these things.
        2. But what happens when we put our hearts, emotions, attitudes, and motives on the altar goes far beyond attending church, praying, and Bible study.
    6. All of us have a problem deciding to stay on the altar.
      1. When things are not going well in the family, we want to climb off the altar.
      2. When things are not going well on the job, we want to climb off the altar.
      3. When we are in conflict with another person, we want to climb off the altar.
      4. When we want to indulge ourselves in pleasure, we want to climb off the altar.
      5. When we struggle with a temptation that powerfully appeals to us, we want to climb off the altar.
      6. Virtually every day, we are tempted to climb off the altar.
      7. When we climb off the altar, we never intend to stay off the altar.
      8. We intend to be on the altar when it is important; we do not realize it is always important to be on the altar.

Remember: altars were not made to create wonderful, pleasant experiences. Altars were made for sacrifice.

A very real part of Christian existence is the peace, contentment, joy, and fulfillment found in Christ. Those are real. They are God's promises.

But it is equally truth that a very real part of Christian existence involves surrender, sacrifice, and struggle. That is why Christian existence involves decision. It is impossible to be a Christian without making decisions.

And the key decision is to climb on the altar and stay there.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 1 August 1999
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