Break Free!

Last week, Dave shared a challenging message on sharing our faith; about how the gospel is good news and has no expiration date (it’s not old news!).  We were reminded that there is no lack of bad news that people receive, but we have the divine opportunity to share God’s powerful good news with them.
There are many various surveys and statistics regarding sharing our faith out there.  Through them, we find that generally speaking, Christians know how important it is to share their faith and to lead people to Christ (80% according to Lifeway Research).  However, most Christians have not told another person how to become a Christian in the past 6 months (61% according to Lifeway Research).
How many here believe that it is important to tell others about Christ’s salvation?
How many here has lead someone to accept Christ’s salvation in the past year?
We believe that this life is very temporary and can end at any moment.
We believe that Christ’s return is imminent.
We believe that eternity in heaven or hell hinges on one simple decision.
We believe that God wants none to perish, but all to come to repentance.
We believe that salvation is available for everyone.
We believe that becoming a Christian is simple.
We believe that Christ has entrusted us to share this good news with everyone.
However, do our actions prove our belief or dispute it?
Brennan Manning is quoted having said: “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”
Praise God, though, our lives do not have to be this way!  That same grace of God that paved a way for us to be saved, also paved a way for us to be forgiven, and has also laid solid steps to enable us to walk up out of the pit of our sinfulness and shame and into an empowered life that overcomes our weaknesses with God’s strength!
Let’s take a look at the lives of those who have gone before us with great success by the grace of God!  Just like us, these great people of faith were found to be common, ordinary people who had simply been with Jesus (Acts 4).  The only special thing about them that enabled them to lead so many to Christ was their courageous trust in God and their abandonment of self.  They laid it all down and allowed their lives to be lead and empowered by the Holy Spirit.  It was all about God and not about them.
Acts 5:12-42
12 The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. 13 No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. 14 Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. 15 As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. 16 Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed.17 Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. 18 They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. 20 “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people all about this new life.”21 At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people.When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin—the full assembly of the elders of Israel—and sent to the jail for the apostles. 22 But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So they went back and reported, 23 “We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside.” 24 On hearing this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were at a loss, wondering what this might lead to.25 Then someone came and said, “Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.” 26 At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them.

27 The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. 28 “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”

29 Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! 30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. 31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. 32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

33 When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. 34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. 35 Then he addressed the Sanhedrin: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. 36 Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. 37 After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. 38 Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

40 His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.

41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.

Through this account, we find a few keys that enabled these common, ordinary, unschooled men and women to move in the power that they did and to lead thousands to Christ.  We have a tendency to read through scripture and to think of these followers of Christ as somehow far different than us.  We have a tendency to think that they had some type of special spiritual superiority or anointing that we can never obtain or achieve.  However, scripture reminds us that these people were ordinary people just like us who were filled with and lead by the Holy Spirit just like us.
This all being said, what makes their lives so different from ours?  Why is it that we don’t see these same miracles in our own lives?  Why is it that we are not leading thousands to Christ like they did?
Can we even begin to imagine someone having such great faith in God through us that they would bring their sick out into the street with certainty that if even our shadow were to simply pass over them that they would be healed?  It happened then and it can happen now.
It sounds like these expectations are just far too great.  It sounds like this type of supernatural lifestyle is too far beyond our reach.  Our minds are filled with doubt that God could ever work through our lives in these sorts of ways.
That’s why we’re starting this new message series this morning entitles ‘Break Free!’.  In it, we’re going to learn of various ‘prisons’ that keep us from teaching and proclaiming the good news about Jesus and how to break free from them.
Let’s first take a look at some key attributes that we learn about from this scripture that we also can obtain in order to be able to have this same bold courage and to lead others to Christ.  What made this believers so enabled to do what they did?
First, they made an intentional choice to obey God (v. 29).
They didn’t count the cost nor the consequences.  They had clarity of vision.  They were faithful to do their part and trusted God with the rest.  They valued God and His will above all else, even their very own lives.
How were they able to do all of these things?  They knew who God was and what their destiny was in Him!  They knew exactly where they were heading and nothing could stand in their way; not even death itself!  They knew that nothing could stop their purpose and calling and that nothing could steal away their salvation nor the rich rewards awaiting them on the other side of this life.  The greater that they sacrificed here on earth, the greater their reward in Heaven.
Second, they never gave up (v. 42).
Despite such harsh and intentional opposition that tried to stop them, they chose to never stop teaching and proclaiming the good news of Christ’s salvation.  They knew that what they were doing had nothing to do with them and everything to do with God.  Even after being flogged, they left rejoicing to be able to suffer for the name of Jesus.
They didn’t put their toe in the waters of what God was leading them to do in order to test and determine whether they would be faithful to follow through with it or not.  They did what God lead them to do jumping in feet first without even a thought of going back or withholding anything from Him.  They were wholly surrendered and committed to the purpose and cause of Christ and didn’t count the cost.  They knew that God is faithful and that He would take care of all of their needs as they faithfully put His kingdom first.
Yes, there was opposition.  No, it wasn’t always pleasant.  However, they never gave up and kept their focus on Jesus, the author, perfecter, and finisher of their faith and their very lives.  They believed wholeheartedly that their very lives were created by Jesus and for Jesus (Col. 1:16) and wouldn’t allow anything to sway them from this focus.
Thirdly, they understood their purpose and whose they were (v. 38-39)
Just as Gamaliel had stated to the Sanhedrin, if the purpose of these Christ followers is of human origin, it will fail.  However, if the purpose of these Christ followers is of God, it cannot be stopped!
We also need to have this mindset.  If we go out there and believe that WE will be able to win people to Jesus, that WE will be able to do everything that Jesus said that we would do, WE will fail.  WE are unable to do anything on our own.
Solomon, in the great wisdom that God had given him wrote this:
Psalm 127:1-2
1 Unless the Lord builds the house,
the builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain.
2 In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves.
In fact, even the great Apostle Paul himself who very clearly did all that Jesus did and even greater things said this about himself:
Romans 7:15-25
15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
On our own, we are powerless.  We are slaves to do the things that we know we should not do by our sinful nature.  We have the desire to do what we are supposed to do, but something holds us back and keeps us bound.  It is ONLY through Jesus Christ that we can be delivered from this bondage and empowered to do all that we have been called to!
This should be a HUGE RELIEF!
God is not limited by the degree of my holiness.
God is not limited by my knowledge of scripture.
God is not limited by my finances.
God is not limited by my ability.
God is not limited by my personality.
God is not limited by ANYTHING but by ONE THING: our will.
Are we willing to allow Him to work in and through our lives?  God created us with free will and WILL NOT override it.  He will move in and through our lives only to the degree that we submit and permit Him to.
So then, what holds us back?
I believe that God wants us to focus over the next several weeks on verses 18-20.
Acts 5:18-20
18 They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. 20 “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people all about this new life.”
The question that we’re challenged with this morning is, “What prison is holding us back from telling people about this new life?”.  We all have something in our lives that holds us back.  What God desires to do for us, just like He did for the apostles a few thousand years ago, is to break us free from these prisons and enable us to tell others about this new life!
Join us next week as we learn about the first prison and how to break free from it!