A Commitment Unto Death
June 10th, 1979 @ 8:15 AM
A COMMITMENT UNTO DEATH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-10-79 8:15 a.m.
And once again welcome to the thousands uncounted who are listening to this hour on the two radio stations that carry it. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, bringing the message entitled Answering God’s Call, or A Commitment Unto Death. In our preaching through the Book of Acts, we are in chapter 26, and in the nineteenth verse, "Whereupon, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision" [Acts 26:19], answering the call of God.
It is first an acceptance of Jesus as our Lord and our Savior. The Christian life begins in that. The Christian life is that: a following after the Lord, and answering the call of God with our lives. This man, Saul of Tarsus, had been a vengeful and vitriolic and bitter opponent, antagonist, persecutor of the Christian faith; and breathing out threatening and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, was on his way to Damascus to hale into prison those that called upon the name of Christ [Acts 9:1, 26:9-11]. And in that journey, the Lord appeared to him above the brightness of the Syrian noonday sun [Acts 9:3, 26:13]. And blinded by the glory of that light, he fell at the feet of that marvelous Person who appeared to him, asking, "Who art Thou, Lord?" And when the Lord replied, "I am that Jesus whom thou persecutest," then Paul replied, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" [Acts 9:4-6]. It is the beginning of the Christian life: "Lord what is Your will for me?" And all of the vengeful antagonism and bitterness of rejection had left him, and he became a humble follower of the Lamb.
It is a remarkable thing, how the Lord spoke to Paul in the way. In the Hebrew tongue the Lord said to him, "It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks," skleros, hard. You have that word in our English language, "sclerosis," hardening. If there is a hardening of the arteries they call it "arteriosclerosis," a hardening. So the word skleros, "hard" came to mean "difficult and painful." "It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks" [Acts 9:5, 26:14], kentron, an ox goad. Isn’t that a remarkable thing also? This Saul of Tarsus, so bitterly opposing the Christian faith, seeing Stephen die [Acts 7:54-60], having heard his wonderful testimony to the living Lord [Acts 7:1-53], seeing these faithful Christians who laid down their lives for the faith [Acts 26:9-10], "It is sclerosis, hard for thee to kick against the kentron, the goads that pierce the heart."
I suppose that most people who reject the Lord do so with many misgivings, many convictions that sweep through their hearts that have to be drowned and denied. A young fellow came to me, whom some of us had been trying to win to Jesus, and he was very obdurate, very difficult. But there came into his life a great sorrow. And upon a day, he came to me and sat down by my side, saying, "I will say no longer no to God. I want to know how to be saved. And I have come for you to show me the way." It’s easy to guide a soul into the kingdom of God that is open-hearted toward the Lord. God says yes to us in many, many ways and when we say yes in return, God is favorable to us when we are favorable to Him. God is reconciled to us when we are reconciled to Him [2 Corinthians 5:18-20]. God is for us when we are for Him. The whole life becomes filled with light, and glory, and meaning, and purpose, gladness and joy, victory and triumph; every good thing is ours in Christ Jesus. That’s the first call of God and our first answer: to faith and to commitment in the grace and mercy, in the atoning goodness of Jesus our Lord [Ephesians 2:8].
Answering the call of God, a commitment to our Lord: it is next a baptism and an identification with the people of Christ, belonging to the church of the living Lord. In the ninth chapter of the Book of Acts, it is described like this: "And he received sight forthwith, and arose and was baptized." And as Paul recounts it in the twenty-second chapter of the Book of Acts, this Ananias that was sent to him said to him, "And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized [Acts 9:18], and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord" [Acts 22:16]. The first response of someone who has accepted Christ as Lord is, "I want to be baptized,See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? [Acts 8:36]. I want to be baptized." That is in the great command in the Great Commission for our lives; that’s God’s will for us [Matthew 28:19]. First, I am to receive the Lord Jesus in my heart as Savior, and second I am to be baptized – immediately [Acts 8:36-38], immediately.
"And when he had received the ordinance of baptism, he was numbered with the disciples which were at Damascus" [Acts 9:18-19]; immediately identified with the church, with the people of the Lord. When we don’t do that, we fall into great possibility of error and tragedy. I saw that one time in Atlanta, holding a revival meeting in one of the churches in Atlanta; there was a devout mother in the church, an older woman. And when we asked if there were those present who had a burden of heart and requested remembrance and prayer, she stood up, and with many tears asked the congregation to pray for her two sons. After the meeting was over, the pastor said to me, "Did you notice that mother who stood up and with great brokenness of heart asked for prayer for her two sons?" I said, "You couldn’t help but notice a request so moving as that mother made."
Well, he said, "Let me tell you. She and her husband and two little boys lived in a small town in Georgia. And the husband died, and was buried in the little village churchyard. And the mother came to the city of Atlanta to find support for her and her two little boys. She came to church and brought the two little boys to church. And in the providence of God, as it inevitably will happen, in the providence of God, the two little boys came of age, heard the gospel, answered with their lives, and wanted to be baptized. But the mother belonged to the little church in which her husband had been laid to rest, and the little boys said, ‘Mother, we’ve been saved, and we want to be baptized. And we want you to come and to be with us and to join the church.’ And the mother said, ‘No, children, I couldn’t take my letter out of the little country church where my family lived, in which I grew up, and from which my husband was buried. I could not do that.’ And the children begged the mother, ‘Mother, when we go forward we want you to come with us, and let’s all join the church.’ The mother steadfastly refused; she didn’t want to leave her letter, her membership in the little village church in Georgia. So the days passed, and as inevitably they do, they turn into years. And as inevitably years do to boys, they grow up."
Those two boys, the pastor said to me, "Are now two of the finest businessmen in the city of Atlanta. God has greatly prospered them, and they are influential men in the city. As the days pass, the mother, seeing those boys, made appeal to them. And the boys said to mother, ‘Mother we love you, and thank God for you, but our interests are in other areas.’ They married outside the church; their lives given to social interests and all the things that are concomitant to a life of affluence in the big city. Well, the mother joined the church, but she joined by herself. And the prayer that she prayed and asked the church to join her in, it is that her two boys might also turn and be baptized and belong with her in the faith and in the church."
That is so oft times repeated in the lives of families. There is a time when the child is like a twig, can be bent and turned in any direction. The child’s life is like soft clay: it can be molded into any form, but the years do something to us and also to the child. And the day comes when the twig is a tree, when the clay is hardened and it can’t be reshaped and bent in any other direction. The time to answer God’s call is now. And a part of that call is, "I am to be baptized on a confession of faith [Matthew 28:19], and I am to belong to the people and the assembly and the church of the Lord." If I pass it by, somehow the years take away from me the opportunity to respond. God’s call, answering God’s call: first, I am to accept Jesus as my Savior and Lord. Second, I am to be baptized and to be numbered with the people of Christ [Acts 8:36-38].
In the life of the apostle Paul, he was called into a great commitment. And it’s an unusual thing how the Lord did it. He said immediately, upon his conversion, He said, "Rise, stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness of those things that you have seen, and of those things in which I will yet appear unto thee" [Acts 26:16]. And he answered that call with his life: O king Agrippa, not being disobedient unto the heavenly vision, I showed first unto them at Damascus," that’s where he was converted, where he was baptized, and where his first testimony of affirmation was heard:
At Damascus, then at Jerusalem, then throughout Judea,
and finally unto the nations of the Roman Empire [Acts 26:19-20],
witnessing repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ [Acts 20:21].
That is a glorious thing for a God-called soul to do: to answer the will of the Lord in his life as a witness and as a testimony to the Lord Jesus.
As you so much know, I read Spurgeon and I came across a letter that Spurgeon had written to his son. This intern that we have every year, the intern comes to us from Spurgeon College. And David Warren is one of those gifted young men from the British Isles who comes to us from Spurgeon College. Listen to this letter that Spurgeon wrote to his son. He said:
I should not like you, if meant by God to be a missionary, to die a millionaire. I should not like it were you fitted to be a missionary, that you should drivel down to be a king. What are kings and nobles and diadems compared with the dignity of winning souls to Christ?
That’s a great, and I think true sentiment, conviction, persuasion. A king, a millionaire, a dukedom, all kinds of emoluments and successes, these things are nothing compared to the marvelous assignment of winning people to Jesus. That’s what Spurgeon wrote to his son. That’s our persuasion after these years of looking at the stream of life. The noblest and finest of all dedications is to be a witness for the Lord and to see people come to know Christ in obedience to the Great Commission of our blessed Savior [Matthew 28:19-20]. Ah Lord, that we might share in a like commitment and a like faith.
I remember reading in the life of the great statesman John R. Mott, one of the finest Christian leaders who ever lived in America, a missionary to Japan. John R. Mott was chosen by President Calvin Coolidge to be the United States ambassador to Japan. And John R. Mott replied, he said, "Mr. President, God has called me to be an ambassador from the courts of heaven. And since that call, I have been deaf to all other invitations." Marvelous! The first priority and the great vision and goal in life, to be a worthy witness and ambassador and emissary from the courts of God, telling men, representing to men, the grace of God in the Lord Jesus Christ [Ephesians 2:7-9].
And last, the Lord said something to the apostle that is very unusual: when He called him, He said to him, "For I will show thee how great things you must suffer for My name’s sake" [Acts 9:16]. What an unusual addendum to add to his great election and calling in Christ. "For I will show you how great things you must suffer for My name’s sake." And Paul will mention that so many times in his letters. I wrote out again and again, instances in the Book where he mentions those sufferings and trials and burdens, persecutions. I read just one: out of the eleventh chapter of the 2 Corinthian letter Paul writes:
Labors abundant, stripes above measure, in prisons frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one –
beat thirty-nine times –
Thrice was I beaten with rods, with Roman rods; [thrice] did I suffer shipwreck, being a day and a night in the deep; once was I stoned. In journeyings often, in perils of waters, perils of robbers, perils of mine own countrymen, perils by the heathen, perils in the city, perils in the wilderness, perils in the sea, perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended and I burn not?
[2 Corinthians 11:23-29]
Just one of the many instances when the apostle speaks of the cost of his discipleship and the height, and depth, and breadth of his consecration; and that ought to be a paragon for all of us.
We live in a world of harsh and terrible confrontations, and we are losing this witness to the world. I read a most learned and studied article, a long article last night, in which the professor in the university was describing the loss of the effectiveness of the Christian witness in the modern world. And contrariwise, he was speaking of the tidal wave of socialism and communism, materialism, secularism, false and earthly values that are sweeping our world. The man is not a Christian who writes the article; he’s a professor in a secular university, just observing the signs of the times.
And now I show you the kind of antagonists that the Christian faces today. This is a letter of a young American college student who was converted to communism in old Mexico. And he is explaining in this letter to his fiancÃ©e, to the girl who promised to marry him, he is explaining to her why he is breaking off their engagement. And I read the letter of that young man:
We communists have a high casualty rate. We’re the ones who get shot, and hung, and lynched, and jailed, and fined, and fired from our jobs. We live in virtual poverty. We turn back to the party every penny we make, above what is absolutely necessary to keep us alive. We’ve been described as fanatics: we are fanatics; our lives are dominated by one great overshadowing factor, namely the struggle for world communism.
We communists have a philosophy of life which no amount of money could buy. We have a cause to fight for, a definite purpose in life. We subordinate our petty personal selves into a great movement of humanity. And if our personal lives seem hard, or our egos appear to suffer through subordination to the party, then we are adequately compensated by the thought that each of us in his small way is contributing to something new and true and better for mankind.
There is one thing in which I am in dead earnest and that is the communist cause. It is my life, my business, my religion, my hobby, my sweetheart, my wife, my bread, and my meat. I work at it in the day time, and dream of it at night. Its hold on me grows, not lessens. I cannot carry on a friendship or even a conversation without relating it to this force which both drives and guides my life. I evaluate people, books, ideas, and actions according to how they affect the communist cause. I’ve already been in jail because of my ideas, and if necessary I’m ready to go before a firing squad.
That’s but typical of those, mostly young people that you find in these revolutionary movements in the nations of the world, some of which are next door to us, and some of which are removed just one tier of countries beyond. When you read of those people in the newspapers – and you do it daily – they are rising in one country after another. Do you wonder why the fanaticism of those young men and women? It arises out of their dedication to what I think is the kingdom of darkness. As there is a kingdom of darkness – as there is a kingdom of light presided over by Jesus [Colossians 1:13], there is a kingdom of darkness presided over by Satan [Revelation 16:10]. And these deceived ones are dedicated to their cause. And I wonder at the depths and the texture of the dedication that we offer to our Lord. That’s the crying call of God today in our world: a dedication, a commitment to Christ unto death;
What tho I stand with the winners,
Or perish with those who fall?
Only the cowards are sinners,
Fighting the fight is all,
Strong is my foe, who advances,
Snapped is my blade, O Lord;
See their proud banners and lances,
But spare me the stub of a sword.
Keep me from turning back,
The handles of my plow with tears are wet,
The shears with rust are spoiled, and yet, and yet,
My God! My God! Keep me from turning back.
[Quoted by Amy Carmichael]
This ought to be the texture, and the spirit, and the quality of our dedication to the Lord. We are His servants. We’ve been called to be His witnesses. And in the army that marches under the banners of Christ, I am in step; a soldier of the cross, a follower of the Lamb, a fellow Christian and witness in the world. This is God’s call to us.
And the invitation is to your heart, one and first, to accept Jesus as your Savior. "I believe in the Lord who died for my sins [1 Corinthians 15:3], raised for my justification [Romans 4:25], coming again to take me to glory [John 14:2-3]. I accept Jesus for all that He said He was, and all that He has promised to be. Having accepted the Lord, I want to be baptized [Acts 8:36-38], to be numbered among the people of God, to belong to the church of our Lord Jesus Christ." Maybe somebody you, called into a special assignment for Jesus – finally to make that consecration unto death, "While I live I shall live in the faith. When I die I shall die in the faith. And I commit to God the issues of all of the eternities that are yet to come. I want to be a Christian."
In a moment we shall stand and sing our hymn of appeal. To give your heart to Jesus, "I accept Him as my Savior"; to be baptized, as God has said by commandment in the Book [Matthew 28:19], "I want to be baptized, I want to belong to the people of the Lord," to put your life and letter here in our church, a family, a couple, or just you; or to answer a special call of God in your life, as the Lord shall say the word, open the door, make the appeal, you answer also, "Here am I, Lord, send me, use me, bless me [Isaiah 6:8]. What wilt Thou have me to do, Lord? [Acts 9:6]. I am yielded and surrendered, willing and ready, and here I am." God bless you as you answer, and the Lord bless our people as we stay for this moment in quiet prayer and supplication. And if the Lord speaks to you, this moment, this now, down one of those stairways, down one of these aisles, "Here I am, pastor, God bless me; I’m on the way," while we stand and while we sing.