Anatomy of a Christian: The Power of the Gospel

April 23, 2017


April 23, 2017

Scripture Reference

James 1

Today we are beginning a new series called, “Anatomy of a Christian.” Anatomy is an interesting subject. I’ll be honest I never had to take an anatomy class. I took biology, but never anatomy. And as I was preparing and getting readying for this series, I started wondering, “Why study anatomy in the first place?”

Well, without a deep understanding of the internal body, health professionals cannot truly evaluate, diagnose and treat illness. Yes, they can see the outward signs, but the outward signs of something being wrong really stem from something going on inside. That makes sense. If doctors don’t know what is going on inside the body, how could they ever prescribe something to make us better? They couldn’t.

The anatomy of a Christian is a study of the makeup of a Christian. When we are healthy inside, we will be healthy on the outside. But when there is something wrong on the inside, then we will show signs outwardly that something isn’t right. So, are you a healthy Christian? Do you know how to determine if you’re healthy or not? Do we recognize what the outward signs are that are telling us there’s something wrong on the inside? We’ll be taking a closer look at all of this over the next couple of weeks.

Today, we look at what is at the heart and core of a Christian. In other words, what is inside a Christian? And what is at the heart and core?

The gospel. The good news that Jesus lived perfectly, died innocently, and rose victoriously. This is the message that resides in the heart of every believer. And what we are going to see today is that the gospel is powerful and it changes us.

We are in the book called James. James was originally a letter written to Jewish Christians scattered during 60 ad. Here’s how the letter starts.

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:

James 1:1

The author of this letter was a man named James.  So the question is what James is this? Jesus had 2 disciples named James. James, the brother of John, was martyred during the early 40s. So he is out. The other disciple named James we know nothing about. He is only listed as one of the disciples. Other than that he’s never mentioned. However, Jesus had a brother named James, and he is the one who writes this letter. The interesting thing about that, is that at one point in James’ life, he didn’t believe in Jesus. So the first thing we learn about the gospel is…

Never underestimate the power of the gospel to change hearts.

If you want to look these up on your own, look up Matthew 13:55, John 7:5, and Mark 3:21. These Scriptures give you more background on Jesus’ brother James.  We see that at one point not a single one of Jesus’ siblings believe in him. In fact, they are recorded as saying that Jesus was out of his mind!

Now before we look down on James, think of how hard it must have been to be Jesus’ sibling. Jesus never did anything wrong. He lived perfectly! You’d always consider him a suck up. A prude. He was always mom’s favorite and you were tired of her saying, “Why don’t you be more like your brother?” Then he grows up and out of nowhere begins preaching and teaching. He starts saying he’s the Messiah. This is crazy!

What a hard situation for James. What a hard situation for Jesus. We know Jesus lived perfectly. He fought off temptations and lived the perfect life we had too. But on top of all the other temptations he faced, he had to face rejection from his own siblings. If that has ever happened to you, you know the pain that causes.

But then in 1 Corinthians 15 we are told that after Jesus rose from the dead, he appeared to his brother James, and James became a believer. The power of the gospel changed his heart and he actually became a pillar in the early Christian church. He was the pastor of the Christians in Jerusalem.

So what does this mean for you?  Well, at some point in your life you were like James. You were born into this world as a sinner the Bible says. A sinner without faith in Jesus. But the power of the gospel has changed your heart so that you believe in him as your Savior. When we look at the anatomy of a Christian, this is the message that we find in every believer’s heart.

Maybe some of you are here or listening and you still aren’t quite sure. You want to believe in him, but it just doesn’t quite make sense. The gospel has the power to change your heart. Look at James. He went from thinking Jesus was insane to believing in him as his Savior. In fact, James’ heart changed so dramatically that he didn’t even call himself Jesus’ brother. Instead, he rather be known as a servant of Jesus.

If you’re here today and you are thinking of a loved one who doesn’t believe in Jesus. Know that you don’t need a pastor, there’s not some magic solution to getting them to believe. You don’t need to preach to them about shaping up and start making better life decisions.

All you need is the gospel. The good news that Jesus died, and he rose again for them. The gospel has the power to change hearts. You have that message. You can tell people how Jesus died and rose again to save you from your sins. That’s the message that changes hearts and it’s that message that is at the heart of every believer.

During my internship, I met a guy named Mike. Mike had been coming to church for about a year. Maybe not quite that long. About a year before I got there, Mike’s wife said she was going to divorce him. He was an alcoholic. He had broken her trust. She was done. So Mike stumbled into church one Sunday. He wasn’t a Christian, but he was determined to find God. He came back the next 2 weeks when he finally said, “Pastor I have no idea what is going on in this service. The only thing I somewhat understand in the children’s devotion.” So, he joined Bible 101. After the first few weeks of that, he thought, “This is garbage.” But he kept coming, and suddenly the gospel changed his heart. He went from thinking it was garbage, to believing in Jesus as his Savior.  His wife began coming, and they took bible 101 together. The gospel worked on both of their hearts and their marriage is great. But the most amazing part is that Mike has taken Bible 101 several times since then. But now he brings friends from AA. He tells them about Jesus and the power of the gospel works on them and changes their hearts.

Sometimes we undersell the gospel, and yet it is the gospel that has the power to change hearts. And once it changes our hearts, it changes how I live.

Never underestimate the power of the gospel to change how I live.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1:2-4

“I consider it pure joy, my brothers whenever you face trials of many kinds.” Thanks, James! What the heck?” Clearly James doesn’t know my struggles because if he did he wouldn’t say that.

He must not know what it’s like to struggle financially, not knowing where he’s going to get the money for the next rent check. Because if he did, he would understand the worry that fills your heart. He must not know what it’s like for a loved one to have health issues. Because if he did, he would know it’s the only thing that consumes your mind. He would know the sadness that fills it up. He must not know what it’s like to have a stressful career. One where dread fills you every Sunday night because you have to get up and go to work Monday morning. Because if he did, he would know how joyless life really is. James must not know what it’s like to have a coworker or someone at school who does nothing but spread lies about you. They lie about what you said. They lie about what you did. It’s like their whole goal is to tear you down and make your life miserable. Because if he did, he would know the bitterness and anger that fills your heart.

How can James say this? Because he knew that the testing of your faith brings perseverance. As a Christian you are going to go through trials. Either God will send you trials or God will allow trials to come into your life. Why? Because in order for your faith in Jesus to grow, it needs to be strained. Some of you know that Anne and I do Camp Gladiator. It’s an outdoor cross fit. Well the first time I went to a work out, I left there so angry. I left saying, “I am never going back. That was horrible.” I felt like throwing up. I was tired and already sore. No thanks. But now almost 9 months later, I’m still there. I’m stronger, faster, and my endurance for physical labor is higher.

The same is true with your faith. Trials are never fun, but we can view the trials in life as a joyful thing because we know that God is working on our faith. We know that he is stretching our faith and bringing us closer to him. And it’s the gospel, the good news that Jesus died and rose again for me, that turns my bitterness to patience. My worry to trust. My anger to happiness. See, it’s the power of the gospel living in my heart that changes my outlook on life. It changes how I view trials. Trials are no longer woe-is-me scenarios. Trials are now an opportunity for me to grow in my Savior.

My prayer is that when you face trials, don’t blame God. Instead, view your trials as an opportunity for you to grow. Constantly be asking God how he wants you to grow and to help you see how you are growing in your Savior through the trials. And then rely on the gospel. It’s only the gospel that changes how you live. But it also changes how you die.

Never underestimate the power of the gospel to change the way you die.

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

James 1:12

The power of the gospel changes the way we look at trials. Not only do we view them as an opportunity to grow, but by the power of the gospel, we know and believe that trials are only momentary. When the gospel is planted in your heart, you know that no matter what you face, it will have an end. And when it ends, you will either continue to live, or you will receive the crown of life that God has promised to you. The promise he made to you when Jesus died on the cross. There he promised that all of your sins have been paid for in full. There he promised that you are forgiven. And when Jesus rose from the dead, he promised that because he lives so will you.

The power of the gospel, which is in your heart, changes the way you die. Your end is not the tomb. Your end is not eternal punishment in hell. Your end is just your beginning. Then you will receive the crown of life. It is only when the gospel is planted in your heart that you have this confidence and outlook on death.

I pray that as we leave here this morning, we take comfort in the fact that this crown of life isn’t earned or deserved. It’s simply a gift from God. It’s a gift that he has given to you. It’s a gift that is wrapped up in the gospel of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection which is planted deep in your heart. That message has changed your heart. It changes the way you live. And it changes the way you die.