[Text: Acts 11:26]
[Attendance: 13,000 Inquirers: 762]
Tonight I want to talk on "How To Live The Christian Life." I want you to turn with me to Acts, the 11th chapter, and the 26th verse, the latter part of it: "And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch."
The word "Christians" was given to the early disciples as a name in derision, which was "Christ's ones," "Christ-followers," "Christ-ites." I remember when Dr. Ham was here in Charlotte a few years ago, about twenty-some years ago, they called the people who went to his meetings "Ham-ites." I do not know what they will call the people who come to our meetings; maybe they will be "Graham crackers." But that was the type of title that was given to the early church.
Dr. Kenneth Goodman[?], pastor of the Methodist church, is with us. He has been in Chicago, and he will tell you that the word "Methodist" was given as a name in derision to the early people two hundred years ago who were meeting in England during and after the ministry of John and Charles Wesley and George Whitefield. They were called Methodists; that is, they had a special method in Bible study and in prayer and in meeting together. Little groups all over England began to meet together, and that was the beginning of the great Methodist church.
So the early disciples also had a name. They had a tag, and their tag was "Christian." They were Christ's followers, followers of Christ. Tonight I think most of us here know how to become a Christian. You know that to become a Christian, an encounter with Christ must take place, but so many do not know how to live the Christian life.
There was a girl who heard one of Beethoven's sonatas. She had a strong desire to learn to play. She had real latent musical talent, but she didn't practice her piano. She never struggled with the five-finger exercises and scales, and years later her neighbors had to listen to her murder Beethoven. Now she wanted to play Beethoven, she wanted to be a musician; but she was not willing to practice.
Now just to want to live the Christian life is not enough. You must learn how to live the Christian life. Attention must be given to the methods, the techniques, and the practice. We have been urged to live the Christian life, but sometimes we have not been told how to live the Christian life. We have not been told the means, the methods, and the words.
Now, first of all, what is a Christian? What does it mean to be a Christian? Is it a person who is born in a Christian home? No. I could be born in a garage, but that does not make me an automobile. You can be born in a Christian home and have fine Christian parents, but that does not make you a Christian. You cannot inherit Christianity.
You say, "Well, Billy, a person who lives by the Golden Rule--isn't that a Christian?" Not necessarily. A Christian is a person in whom Christ dwells. Now I know people in the Buddhist religion who live just as high an ethical life as the average Christian. In fact, Buddha had a very high system of ethics. A Christian is more than a person who is living up to a system of ethics. A Christian is a person more than living a good moral life. A Christian is a person in whom Christ dwells. A Christian is a person who has had an encounter with the living Christ.
Three things must have taken place for you to become a Christian. First, you have made a choice. You have chosen to give your life to Christ rather than to self. You are serving Christ rather than self. Self no longer controls your life, but Christ controls your life. That is a choice which you deliberately made. It was a volitional choice. You were convicted by the Holy Spirit of sin. You recognized that you were a sinner. You came to Christ and said, "I am going to trust the Christ who died on the cross for my sins. I am going to trust Him for my salvation." You made a deliberate choice. You chose Christ instead of the world. You chose light instead of darkness. You chose righteousness instead of sin. You chose Christ instead of self. And Christ, by the Holy Spirit, now lives in your life.
Now that was a choice you made. It might have been an unconscious choice, or it might have been a dramatic choice such as the apostle Paul made on the road to Damascus [see Acts 9:1-18]. Perhaps it was a moment when you woke up in a cold sweat, you recognized that you were a sinner, you got on your knees and called upon God in your room to have mercy upon you. It might have been at a meeting like this that you came to Christ. It might have been when you were reading a book sometime; and you stopped and said, "I need to give my life to Christ." Whenever and under whatever conditions it came, be sure that it has come, because to be a Christian means that you make a choice.
Secondly, a change must take place in the way you live. "Old things . . . [pass] away; behold, all things . . . become new" [2 Corinthians 5:17]. When you give your life to Christ, you change your way of living. You cannot live the same old life. You cannot go on being controlled by the lusts and desires of this life. You cannot go on living for the flesh. You cannot go on living for the world. You cannot go on letting materialism and secularism control your thinking and your way of living. You now live for Christ. You now live in the fellowship of the church.
Christ is uppermost in your thinking. You are spending time in prayer. You are reading your Bible faithfully. You are witnessing for Christ in every way you know. You are gracious and courteous and kind and, above all, you love your neighbor as yourself. That is the fulfillment of the whole law--to love God with all our hearts, and our neighbors as ourselves. [See Matthew 22:36-40 and Romans 13:9,10.]
Thirdly, you have accepted Christ's challenge. Christ said, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, . . . take up his cross, and follow me" [Matthew 16:24]. Christ said, "If you are going to follow me, you have to go back to your business, back to your office, back to the high school campus, back to your home, and take your stand with me no matter what it costs." They may laugh, they may sneer, they may not understand. You may stand out like a sore thumb. But you absolutely refuse to cheat, to lie, to be immoral, even if it costs you your life.
I talked to a man in San Francisco a few weeks ago. And he said, "Billy, I'm an outstanding businessman in this city. If I give my life to Christ, I'll have to go to the penitentiary. Because," he said, "I'll have to confess the things which I have done wrong. I'll have to make restitution." I said, "All right, you've got to choose. You've got to accept the challenge of Christ, no matter what it costs." It costs something. You have to turn loose from those things that are wrong in your life. He will help you tomorrow morning when you go to face the old gang. Yes, a choice must be made. And I want to ask you tonight, have you made that choice? Has a change taken place in your life? Have you accepted Christ's challenge to follow Him, no matter what it costs?
Well, how do we live the Christian life? Paderewski one day said, "If I am inactive in my practicing one day, I notice it. If I am inactive two days, my family notices it. And if I am inactive three days, the public notices it."
Now the Christian life is just not being saved from hell. It is just not redemption and forgiveness--that certainly is essential, and that is a part of it--but the Christian life is a way of life. It is a way of living here and now. It is a new way, a revolutionary way, a dynamic way; life with a new dimension, life with a thrill and a joy.
Your conscience is free, your sins are forgiven. There is the assurance that if you die you will go to heaven. But there is also a challenge, a flag to follow, a master, a controller, a way of life that is brand-new. That is the Christian life, but the average Christian I know today is making a miserable failure of the Christian life. You are up one day, down the next. One day you are on top of the world; the next day you are down in the dumps. The devil has got you down, and some of you are down all the time. You have failed so miserably in your Christian life that you now think it is the normal Christian experience. Don't you?
You get up on a Sunday morning, and you have so little spiritual strength that you can hardly make it to church. Now if it were a movie, you would be right there. If it were a football game, I don't care how it rains or snows, you would be right there. But let a little bad weather come up, and you can hardly make it to church. The devil has you defeated, discouraged, and despondent. And you think that is the Christian life. You have an idea that you are living the normal Christian life, if that is the way you are living.
The Christian life is a life of fruit-bearing [see John 15:8]. The Holy Spirit gives us supernatural power to bear supernatural fruit. "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering," etc. [see Galatians 5:22,23]. The Christian should be bearing fruit. Jesus said, "By their fruits ye shall know them" [Matthew 7:20].
If I see a man who cannot forgive his brother, who resents something against him, and holds grudges and malice, I know that man is not bearing the fruit of the Spirit. Because with the fruit of the Spirit we are to forgive, we are to love.
If I see a man who has prejudice, I know that he is not bearing the fruit of the Spirit. If I see a man who does not have peace in his soul, who is tense and nervous, who cannot trust God for anything, worried all the time, that man is not bearing the fruit of the Spirit. If I see a man who has no joy, with nothing of the joy of the Lord springing up in his soul, I know that he is not bearing fruit. He is not living the Christian life, because the Christian life is to be one of fruit-bearing. And the fruit is love and peace and joy and patience, longsuffering.
We are to be patient. Maybe your wife does come down in the morning with her hair up in those pins, or whatever they are; and you get impatient. I don't blame you, but you are to be patient. Abe Lincoln once said, "I have learned to accept the faults of my friends." We are to be patient with the frailties and weakness of others because we ourselves are so imperfect.
The first thing in living the Christian life is to learn the secret of prayer. I am going to spend the whole evening on this subject tomorrow evening. The disciples came to Christ and said what? "Teach us to"--what?--"pray!" "Teach us to pray" [see Luke 11:1].
Now you have to learn to pray. Did you know that? You have to learn how to walk. We learn how to ride a bicycle. You have to learn to pray. We learn from Christ and from the Holy Spirit within us. Romans 8:26, "Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession[s] for us with groanings which cannot be uttered."
I do not believe that anyone can live the Christian life without first and foremost spending time every day in prayer. If you don't spend some time each day in prayer, the rest of the day will be wrong. The decisions of the day will be wrong, business will go wrong, everything will go wrong.
I wonder how long it has been since you have spent half an hour in prayer. You say, "Well, Billy, I wouldn't know what to say to the Lord for a half hour." All right, you pray for fifteen minutes, and then listen to God for fifteen minutes. Spend time in prayer. And, listen, you will never have a successful prayer life unless you have a definite time and place.
Some people say, "Well, I only pray when I feel like it." When you say that you don't feel like praying, that is when you need to pray the most, and no praying is a matter of the will. Even if you don't feel like it, it is good to close your door and then you pray to God. You can pray all day long. As the Bible says, "Praying without ceasing" [see 1 Thessalonians 5:17]. As Frank Laubach said, "Send little dart prayers to the Lord."
You say you don't know how to pray, especially to avoid vain repetition. You can begin to read the Scripture and you will come to a part that speaks to you; and you say, "O Lord," and you find yourself praying. You can use the Psalms. You can read five Psalms a day, and that will take you through the book of Psalms every month. You can read one chapter of Proverbs a day, and that will take you through Proverbs once a month. Proverbs teaches you how to get along with your fellowman, and the book of Psalms teaches you how to get along with God. The book of Psalms teaches you how to worship God. Read five Psalms, one chapter of Proverbs. You read them through every month and after awhile they begin to saturate you and fill you, and it becomes exciting and thrilling. You find yourself praying.
I take a Psalm, like the 37th Psalm, and get on my knees and pray it out loud. Just read it out loud. That will help you to pray. Then you can take a hymnbook. Take some of the great hymns and read them as prayers, because many of them were actually prayers. Or take a book of prayer where prayers are written out. It will help you to pray. It will express the inward needs of your heart. There are many ways of prayer. You have praise, thanksgiving, confession, intercession, and petition.
Suppose tonight you give your life to Christ. All right, at first you will not know how to pray. You might be like my little baby. My little baby is now seven months old, and he is just beginning to say "Mama." And he says "Mama" more than he does "Dada," and I don't like it. I tried to teach him all morning how to say "Dada." He can't say it. He doesn't see enough of me to know that he has a daddy, I guess. But we are so thrilled that he can say "Mama." But if, twenty years from now, he were looking at his mother and saying "Mama," we would take him to a doctor. There are a lot of you that are twenty years old in the Lord. You have been a Christian for twenty years, and you are still saying "Dada." You go to a prayer meeting, and the minister asks everyone to say a verse around. And they come to John 3:16 and somebody says it, and the next person says, "Oh, they have got my verse." That is all you have learned. You are still a child. You are still a baby. You haven't learned to pray.
Like the little boy. He prayed to the Lord and then he said, "That's all for tonight, Lord. Here are the headlines again." And he gave a little brief summary of what he had said.
Then the second thing is reading the Bible. Read the Scriptures every day. Now we don't worship the Bible. We don't take the Bible as a fetish and worship it. We worship the God of the Bible, the Christ of the Bible. The Bible is God's inspired holy Word. God has spoken through His Word, so we read it. And Job said, "I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than [any] necessary food" [23:12]. Do you esteem the words of God more than your necessary food? I do not believe that anybody can be a successful Christian who is not daily reading and studying the Bible. Start, maybe, with the gospel of John. Read it four or five times through. Then when you come to a part of the Bible that you especially like, take your pen or your red pencil and mark under it. Then if you have a question, put a question mark there and read that over and over and try to understand. Get a little Bible commentary to help. Go ask your minister what it means, until you know the book of John, until you know every chapter in it. Why, you lawyers, if you didn't know a case any better than you know the Bible, you would flop every time you went in the courtroom. If you doctors sitting here tonight didn't know any more about medicine and surgery than you know about the Bible, what would happen? Suppose a doctor would go in to perform an operation on me; and he would say, "Now, let's see. Well, I don't know which one of these tools here to use." Well, I would jump off the operating table.
I suggest you get a modern translation. There is a very good one you can get down at the bookstore now, a brand-new one. It's called The Amplified New Testament. I like it better than any. Because, you see, the New Testament was written originally in Greek; and what we have in the King James is a 300-year-old translation in a language we no longer speak. Get a modern translation. You can get Phillips now in a whole book. Study the Scriptures. Read the Scriptures.
"Thy word have I hid in [my] heart, that I might not sin against thee" [Psalm 119:11]. Memorize the passages in the Bible. Take one verse, and here is all you can remember. You can only memorize--even the smartest people that I have ever met--not more than two or three verses a week. Because, you see, anyone can memorize a chapter and say it, but then they forget it a month later. To be truly memorizing, you must memorize it so you can remember it ten years from now.
With everyone who comes forward to receive Christ, we start them on a little Scripture memory program. Because we believe that if we can get a few Scriptures hidden in our hearts, it helps us in living the Christian life. You cannot live it without studying and reading the Bible. Make the Bible central. You should have family devotions in your home where you read a passage of Scripture. You ought to look forward to your Bible reading just like you do the television, or just like you do the newspaper.
Thirdly, have a disciplined life. Jesus taught that to live the Christian life takes discipline, renunciation, and sometimes hardship. There are a number of verbs in the Bible that are used to describe the Christian life. We are told that we are to "fight" [1 Timothy 6:12], "wrestle" [Ephesians 6:12]. We are to "run" [Hebrews 12:1], we are to "work" [Philippians 2:12], we are to "suffer" [1 Timothy 4:10], we are to "resist" [James 4:7], we are to agonize, we are to "put to death" [Galatians 5:24, TEV]. All of these are verbs regarding the Christian life, and we must work at it.
When you got married, you courted your wife awhile and then you one day popped the question to her, "Will you marry me?" She said, "Yes." But you are still not married, are you? The marriage ceremony must take place. Some of you have decided here tonight that you want to be a Christian, that you want to live the Christian life. You have decided that. You have been proposed to by Christ. He is the heavenly Bridegroom; you are the bride-to-be. He says, "Will you be mine?" You say, "Well, I would like to be. I think I will." Then comes the day when you get married. That is done publicly before some witnesses. And when you stand there together to get married, the minister asks, "Will you have this man to be your husband?" You don't stand there and say, "Well, I like him. He's a fine man." You can say, "Well, I love him." That's not enough. You've got to say, "I do," publicly. After you say, "I do," why, listen, that's just the beginning.
I have an uncle here tonight, Uncle Tom Black. I remember three days before I was to get married he came over to my house and said, "Billy, have you really thought about this business of getting married?" I had. "Yes, sir, Uncle Tom, I have." He said, "Well, you know, it is going to make a lot of changes in your life." By the time he finished, I was not so sure whether I wanted to get married or not. I began to realize for the first time that after I said, "I do," that was only the beginning.
Those of you who come forward to give your life to Christ--that is only the beginning. It is a lifetime of problems, troubles, and difficulties. But you are meeting them with the help of Christ and the Holy Spirit who lives in your heart. It takes discipline. Any marriage that is successful takes much. It takes give-and-take. You have to work at it. You have to face your problems realistically.
And so it is in the Christian life. You have to discipline yourself. We are to discipline our minds so that we keep our minds on Christ, and Christ is first in our thinking. "Thou [will] keep him in perfect peace, whose mind [has] stayed on thee" [Isaiah 26:3]. "Whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, of good report, think on these things" [see Philippians 4:8]. Our mind is not to be wandering around and thinking about something else. Our mind, our subconsciousness, is to be on Christ. That takes discipline.
Then our tongue--this little bit of muscle in our mouth that causes so much trouble, that splits churches, and divides homes, and ruins lives, and damns characters, and slanders people--these tongues now are to be disciplined. We speak only that which blesses. We never talk about our friends behind their backs. The Bible says that "every idle word that [they] shall speak, they shall give [an] account thereof in the day of judgment" [Matthew 12:36]. "Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth" [Psalm 141:3]. Our tongues are now to be under the control of the Holy Spirit.
Then we are to redeem the time, the Bible says [see Ephesians 5:16]. In other words, plan each day; because, you see, these little minutes that God gives you are actually little diamonds. They are little jewels. Suppose tonight you had a carat diamond. Would you pay as little attention to a full carat diamond as you pay to the minutes that are passing in your life that can never be recalled? Now you take this day, this October day, 1958. You have lived it, and you can never repeat it. If I were you, when you get up in the morning, I would plan this day very carefully because every day and every moment will be called into account. I would budget my time. I would discipline my time. I would certainly put down time for Bible reading and prayer, and witnessing for Christ and church work.
Then our bodies. The Bible says the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you [see 1 Corinthians 3:16]. Our Lord said, "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth" [Matthew 5:5]. What does a "meek" man mean? A meek man is not a little, dried-up effeminate fellow talking in a high-pitched voice with soft hands. Here is a meek man: The word "meek" carries with it the idea of a wild horse; and those who break a wild horse. In other words, here is a man filled with tremendous potential abilities which are in the wrong direction. I take him and train him and discipline him, and he takes all of his energy and all of his power and uses it for the glory of God.
That is especially true of young people in the realm of strength. Let me say to you, young people, that if you are not willing to live a clean, wholesome, Christian life in the realm of sex, then everything else I tell you might as well be forgotten. As Dr. Stanley Jones said, if you lose the sex battle, you've lost the battle of life. Because, you see, sex is a tremendous energy that God gives to every man and woman. And when that is dedicated to Jesus Christ, it becomes a mighty power and a mighty dynamo within you to live the Christian life.
I am convinced that a dynamic Christian life cannot be lived unless there is self-control within and without marriage at this point. If you are unfaithful--and I want to tell you something. I have received more letters in the city of Charlotte about this sin than any city that I've ever been to, except New York City. I believe that this is one of the greatest sins that is seething underneath this city. Unless you are willing to come out from among that sort of thing and live a clean life under God, it is doubtful if you can be a Christian, much less try to live the Christian life. He will help you and give you strength and power when you face the temptations of everyday life.
Discipline your body. Don't take narcotics into your body unless by a doctor's prescription for illness. Don't take alcohol into your body. That damns your body, ruins your testimony. If, on a business occasion, you go to a cocktail party, go, take tomato juice, orange juice. They will respect you.
I know a man in New York City that has become president of one of the biggest corporations in this country. He has got an office right here in Charlotte. And he got his job because the board of that company chose him since, when he went to a cocktail party, he always drank orange juice. They said, "We drink, but that is the kind of man we want as president of our company."
Live a clean life. Even your business associates secretly will admire you and wish they had the strength and ability to do what you are doing. And you can't do it with your own strength, but Christ can do it through you, and in you, through the Holy Spirit that lives within.
Fifth, get into the church. I do not believe in Robinson Crusoe Christian fellowship. And Christian fellowship is not optional; Christian fellowship is essential. Christ said that He was the vine and that we are the branches [see John 15:5]. He said that we are living stones built together [see 1 Peter 2:5], members of the body of Christ knit together [see 1 Corinthians 12:12]. The Bible says all of us are important in the church.
You may think that you are totally unimportant, but the Bible likens us as to members of the body. Some of us are an eye, some a toe, some a finger, some a hand, some are noses, some are ears. Why, even my fingernails are essential. I bite them off sometimes, but they are essential. That is the reason the Scripture teaches that when even the least member of the body of Christ is hurt, it hurts the whole body. Christ is the head; we are the body. [See 1 Corinthians 12:14-27.]
Do you know one of the great problems here in Charlotte? We have thousands of people who have moved here from other sections of the country, and they are not affiliated with a church yet. You have left your church membership somewhere else, and you have little or no church responsibility. That is the reason our homes are breaking up, and that is the reason we have so much trouble. Get into the church! Center your life in the church.
You say, "Well, Billy, I look around at the church and there are so many hypocrites in the church. The church is this, the church is that. And I don't like this church, and I don't like that church." Listen, you will never find a perfect church. I have seen one group come out from another group and say, "We have the perfect church." It is not long before they are split up, and they are going over there to form another "perfect" church.
Many preachers have quit preaching the Gospel altogether and have become theological bloodhounds, going around sniffing the trail of other Christians to see if they can detect any error here, there, or anywhere. That's not God's way. Get into the church and witness for Christ within and through the church. Express yourself in the church. And, oh, how wonderful it is to come together on that glorious morning when communion is taken--the most precious, meaningful hour of the week when Christians gather at the table of the Lord--and tell the Lord once again, "We love you." There is the peak of Christian worship. The peak of expression is not an evangelistic campaign like this; it is the moment of communion when we gather round the table of the Lord and express our love to Him. We take of the juice, or the wine, and we remember His blood that was shed for us on the cross. We partake of the bread, and we remember the body that was broken for us, and we worship Him. That is the moment when He is closest.
I want to ask you tonight: Are you living the Christian life? Are you living a victorious, happy Christian life? You can't do it by yourself. You can't do it with your own strength. You can only do it as the Holy Spirit fills you. And that is the reason why the apostle Paul said, "Be ye filled of the Holy Spirit" [see Ephesians 5:18]. Are you filled with the Spirit tonight? Are you filled to overflowing?
We need to remember that we cannot live the Christian life without His power and presence within us. We must give Him His rightful place, and He must fill us and control us to overflowing. Are you living the Christian life?
I want to ask you, however, are you sure that you have really met Christ? There are thousands of people in the church who, in my opinion, have never really encountered Christ. You have never really started living the Christian life. I am going to ask you to begin tonight. Start following Him and serving Him, and witnessing for Him. I am going to ask you to do that by getting up out of your seats and coming and standing here quietly. And this is the moment you come to Christ and say, "I do."