It is easy to look at the book of Acts and remain in wonder at what the believers accomplished. It is another thing to truly ask oneself if such a life is possible, and something even deeper to ask if such a life is normal to the Christian. The book of Acts makes it apparent that there was no secret to such a life other than a genuine submission to the plan and purpose of God. The Holy Spirit was the driving force of the believers as recorded in the book of Acts.

The Bible does not seem to imply that the experiences of the Early Church were just exclusively for them. Therefore we can conclude that such a life is allowed, possible, and even normal for the Christ-follower. The normal Christian life is an all-encompassing love relationship with the Master, and a principle-driven love relationship with the Church. The Christian life is all about dying to self and living for God, and learning to reach to others as we grow together in community.

Dead In Christ – A Revolutionary Approach To Living

“…We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. 
Romans 6:2-4 (NIV)

Living for Christ is one thing, but dying to ourselves something that many of us would rather not do. For us to live the Christian life, and I mean truly live, we must learn the art of dying to ourselves. We need not look further than Christ Jesus Himself, who died willingly upon a cross that deserved Him not. Dying to yourself is a God thing. For Christ to rule supreme within the heart of a sinner, something needs to be sacrificed. To come to Christ, the salvation decision is a dying process.

When you made that decision to follow Christ, you began the process of dying to yourself. You transferred from a slave to sin, to a slave to righteousness. Many times however in the experience we call the Christian life, all the attributes of our life that we declared our old self, come creeping back into our lives. How do we come to the point in our lives where the normal Christian attribute of death to self is something we live by daily?

If we look at the life of Peter, one of the three closest disciples of Jesus, we read of the time that he disowned the Master. It was a circumstance that Jesus had foretold to Peter, and the agony that hit Peter after the fact was poignant and real. Like Judas, Peter had become one who took part in the betrayal of Jesus. Peter was heartbroken. Here he was, supposedly a man who was going somewhere with this charismatic leader named Jesus, whom he had now forsaken. The pain within his heart must have been beyond agony, leaning more towards depression.

How could you live knowing that you disowned the Lord Jesus after walking through Judea with for the past three years? In this event Peter was dying to himself. Through this circumstance, Peter realized that he was not worthy of the Master. It is in this mindset that Jesus later speaks to Peter and asks him three times whether Peter loves Him. Peter had now realized that He could not do things on his own strength. He now realizes that his strength comes not from within, but is an overflow of the love relationship he has with Christ Jesus Himself. Peter had effectively given up himself of the personal drive of doing, and now was enthused with the supernatural drive of living for God.

Paul talked much of dying to self. If you look carefully at Paul’s life as written in the book of Acts, you will see that Paul almost had a carefree attitude toward his life. Here was a man who was beaten, stoned, thrown in prison, spit on, dragged through a city, and eventually martyred. Throughout his life, the foundational characteristic that would ground him in the faith, would be that his life is not his own, but a tool in the hand of God to do with it as He pleased. Paul realized that his life was ‘now hidden with Christ in God.’ He had counted the cost. To live is Christ, but to die is gain. Therefore we can see a great example of dying to self in the life of Paul."

Stephen the newly ordained deacon of the Church in Jerusalem, had all of life to look forward to. Here he was, just beginning his ministry, and in a relatively short time, his life was snuffed out. If you notice however his last words, they were words of forgiveness towards his persecutors. How could a man so brutally murdered remain sane enough through the process to ask for forgiveness for his persecutors? It truly was the Holy Spirit working within Stephen, as Stephen realized his life was not his own and was ready to do whatever it took fulfill God’s purposes. Stephen was dead to himself, and therefore death had no power over him. He was truly free, and lived with that understanding and died knowing that a better place was prepared for him.

What does dying to ourselves and living in Christ mean practically? Idealistically it is a great endeavor, but how is such a process illustrated within the life of the believer? To begin with, we must realize that the process of dying began when one made the decision to follow Christ. The key though is realizing that the decision made is not the end but rather only the beginning of a life truly dead to the flesh and alive in Christ. On the simplest level, dying has to do with submitting daily to the will of the Father. This is initiated by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, and only possible when we make the decision to obey the Holy Spirit in this process. Dying to the flesh and living for Christ is a necessary attribute when living the normal Christian life.

Living To Reach Others

Jesus replied: “’ Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’…” 
Matthew 22:37-39 (NIV)

What separated the early Christians from the surrounding peoples and culture? What was the main difference between following Christ and following the major religions of that day? What really irked people about Christians? It all had to do with how much they loved each other in community, and how they were willing to reach out to those lost in their respective communities, cities, regions, and nations. The thing that separated the Early Church from culture was that love was at the forefront of ministry. Everything was about reaching people.

From the get go, when endued with the power of the Holy Spirit, the believers were powerhouses for the gospel. However, this power came with a responsibility – the Great Commission. God had given His people a specific mandate and corresponding mission. This mission was larger than even the greatest minds among them could fathom. The mandate was to reach people and the mission was to go to the ends of the earth to accomplish that.

The Jewish believers tried to limit the work of God when they attempted to turn the brand new Gentile converts to proselytes, but God had a plan that was far greater than even the minds of the Jewish Christians. Christ was building a kingdom that would supersede even the greatest of all the kingdoms of this world. To do that, the Holy Spirit gave the believers a genuine compassion for those around them.

Ananias was probably in a troubled place when the Lord said to go and minister to Saul who had just experienced a radical life-changing experience with the Master. If you think about the situation, here was the greatest persecutor of the church up till that point, and God is asking you to be the link in the chain that is to minister to Saul. Ananias at that point probably did not know that Saul, later to become Paul, would become one of the greatest apostles of the Early Church. He most certainly did not know that his decision to reach out to Saul, would result in the planting of churches, the turning of cities, and the salvation of thousands of souls. All Ananias knew was that the Holy Spirit was leading him to reach out to Saul. His response was obedient to the Holy Spirit and eventually became a decision that changed the course of Early Church history. In situations where the Holy Spirit asks the believer to reach out, it is imperative that the believer complies willingly.

Paul and Silas were ministering in Philippi and day after day a girl, who was a fortune-teller, traveled around harassing them. Paul in compassion cast out the spirit that ruled her. In doing so, her owners now could make no money off her ‘gift.’ This eventually led to a slanderous report to the local magistrates who placed Paul and Silas in prison. Paul and Silas eventually experienced the power of God as an earthquake shook the prison, which eventually led to their freedom.

In this Paul and Silas illustrates to the believer that circumstances do not dictate our response, but rather compassion should dictate our response. Believers must reach out based on the principle of compassion, and forget about the consequences attached that may otherwise be demoralizing. Jesus was looked down upon because He helped the vagabonds and lowly of society, and cared little for the acceptance of the Pharisees and religious leaders. Jesus ministered out of the principle of compassion rather minister because of a particular circumstance.

How does the normal Christian life look when it comes to compassion? According to the book of Acts it looks revolutionary. Reaching out to people becomes a part of who you are and therefore something that comes naturally to you. To live the Christian life normally is to reach out frequently to those who are lost, lowly, and in need of love. "Reaching out forces you to step out of your comfort zone and requires you to count the cost. In the end, " greater love hath no man, than a man lay down his life for his friend."

The Call To Live

It remains the highest calling to live for Christ. Every decision made, every word spoken, and every thought mulled through should be with the constant filter that we are to live worthy of the calling. It is one thing to write about the normal Christian life, and it is another to live such a life. It is a holy thing to realize that we serve Almighty God. This realization, coupled with the help of the Holy Spirit should empower us to live the normal Christian life. There are times when we complicate our mission here on earth.

In reality our relationship with Christ can be summed down to a few points. Dying to self will keep the believer humble, and reaching out to others will drive our desire to live in community. At times when we look at the complete book of Acts, we can be in such awe and wonder that we consider it impossible to live in such a way. In reality it remains entirely possible to live this way. The normal Christian life is entirely livable. At times in life you have to simplify things to really understand how feasible it really is, and this situation is no different. To live the normal Christian life we must learn to die to ourselves and live in Christ, and we must live with a contagious compassion that reaches out to people in our communities, cities, regions, and nations.