20 Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God. 21 Then all who heard were amazed, and said, “Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?” 22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ. (Acts 9:20–22, NKJV)
Saul’s conversion from persecutor to preacher was exemplary. His transformation of heart and life demonstrates the change of heart and life to which Christ calls every disciple (Eph. 4:20-24). 1) The immediacy of a disciple (v. 20). Saul immediately changed his life of sin against Jesus after being baptized to wash away his sins (Acts 22:16). He began preaching the gospel without delay. One does not become a Christian in phases. It is not a decision to be different, “one of these days.” Salvation in Christ brings an immediate change of faith and conduct (Rom. 6:4-6). 2) The identification of a disciple (v. 21). People recognized the change in Saul. Becoming a Christian means making drastic and dramatic changes in character and conduct. People will see the difference. 3) The increase of a disciple (v. 22). Saul grew in strength and vigorously preached and lived his faith that Jesus is the Christ. Christians must not shrink back into sin’s destruction, but “press forward toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).
101 I have restrained my feet from every evil way, that I may keep Your word. 102 I have not departed from Your judgments, for You Yourself have taught me. (Psalm 119:101–102, NKJV)
Self-discipline is essential in keeping the word of God. Discipleship requires discipline, both to order one’s life after the Master’s teachings and to refrain from conduct that is against the Master’s instruction (Lk. 6:40; Jno. 13:13-17). Pride is ever ready to puff up our confidence in ourselves. It deceptively assures us we could never deny our Lord (Matt. 26:35; cf. Prov. 16:18). Therefore, since “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak,” we must continually “watch and pray, lest (we) enter into temptation” (Matt. 26:41). Utter commitment to God’s judgments (determinations) must governor our choices to refrain from evil and pursue good (1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 2:22; 1 Pet. 3:8-11). When we argue with God’s word to justify our sinful choices and conduct, we have allowed personal judgments to control us instead of the decisions of God. (That’s pride at work.) Jeremiah said, “O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps” (Jer. 10:23). God does not delight in those whose evil (sin) is called good (Mal. 2:17). Self-disciplined faith in God helps us guard against reversing God’s judgments and calling good evil, and evil good (Isa. 5:20-21; Prov. 17:15). God is our teacher, and His word shows us what is evil and what is good. Walking in God’s word is how we “watch” and avoid entering into sin.
2 Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers. 3 For I rejoiced greatly when brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you, just as you walk in the truth. 4 I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth. (3 John 2–4, NKJV)
John prayed Gaius’ physical health would match his spiritual health. How did John know Gaius’ soul was progressing successfully? Faithful brethren had told John of his beloved Gaius’ spiritual fitness. They reported the truth was in Gaius and that he walked in the truth (v. 3). Therefore, John concluded his soul prospered because Gaius believed and lived by the truth. One is not spiritually healthy when he or she does not abide in the word (truth) of Christ (Jno. 8:31-32). So, using this biblical standard, can it be said that your soul prospers? Is the truth of God in you? Are you walking in the truth? If so, the answer is “yes.” If not, the answer is “no.” God’s truth brings spiritual prosperity when we receive it and walk in it. John’s joy was made full by hearing his children (in the gospel, 1 Cor. 4:15) walked in truth. Faithful discipleship cannot exist when the truth is not in us and our deeds are not in harmony with it. Apply John’s prayer to yourself. If your physical health matched your spiritual health, how healthy would you be? When you answer these questions, “Is the truth in you?” and, “Are you walking in the truth?,” you will have the Bible answer to the state of your spiritual health.
He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. (Matthew 10:37, NKJV)
Jesus demands our first allegiance. The closest relationships we have are not to be given greater importance and priority than our faithfulness to Jesus Christ. In this matter, Jesus does not ask of us what He did not also do. Jesus did the Father’s will, even when His brothers did not believe in Him (John 7:5). Jesus gave preference to those who follow the will of God instead of His own mother and brothers by saying, “whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:49-50). We cannot choose family over God’s truth, because truth sanctifies us, not family (John 17:17). Jesus was very clear about what discipleship requires. It requires loving Him more than we love our parents, our children, our siblings and everyone else. Otherwise, we are not worthy of Him and cannot be His disciple (Luke 14:26). The general religious community does not know this Jesus. The world certainly does not know this Jesus. Not a few Christians have trouble knowing this Jesus, too. But this is the true Jesus! Family does not define faithfulness and fellowship with God in the Lord’s church – the word of Christ does (1 John 1:5-7; 2 John 9-11). When you choose to follow Jesus, you are choosing to love Him more than your earthly family.