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HOW TO BE A SUCCESSFUL CHRISTIAN

by Dr. Christopher L. Cagan

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Evening, July 21, 2019

“At that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. As for Saul [Paul], he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison. Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word” (Acts 8:1-4).


The church was persecuted. Stephen had just been stoned for preaching Christ. Saul (who was later the Apostle Paul) was not converted yet. He was an enemy of Jesus. When Stephen was stoned, Saul watched over the coats of the people who stoned him. The Bible says, “Saul was consenting unto his death” (Acts 8:1). Then “there was a great persecution against the church” (v. 1). In his hatred, Saul went wild. He “made havock of the church” – he wrecked the church (v. 3). He went into houses and threw men and women into prison. The Christians were “scattered abroad” (v. 4). What a terrible setback!

This happened only a few months after Peter preached at Pentecost. You might think the church would be crushed. It might disappear. It might go into hiding as a shrunken shadow of what it had been.

But it didn’t. The church became stronger than ever. It became successful! What did the people do? The Bible says, “They that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word” (Acts 8:4). Who did this? It wasn’t the apostles. It was the people. The Bible says, “They were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles” (v. 1). They kept on preaching the Word. Yes, the church suffered terribly. But they became successful. You too can become successful. I am going to tell you two things about how you can become better than you are.

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I. First, you can be successful through the Word of God.

Those early Christians knew that Jesus said,

“Go ye therefore, and teach [make disciples of] all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:19, 20).

And they knew that Christ said,

“Ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

They knew that God had a plan for them, to bring Christ to the whole world. They knew that Christ promised to be with them always.

They knew that persecution would come. Christ said to the Apostles, “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18). Then Jesus said, “If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). Those Christians were not surprised when they were attacked. Jesus said it would happen. The persecution didn’t break them. They rose up and went forward!

You have been persecuted. Our church has suffered from within and without, from inside and outside. Chan the Apostate did us great evil. But don’t be surprised. This is to be expected. The Apostle Paul said, “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world” (II Timothy 4:10). Then Paul said, “Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil” (II Timothy 4:14). Paul preached, “Of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:30). It should be no surprise that Chan the Apostate did us great evil. The Apostle Peter said,

“Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy” (I Peter 4:12, 13).

“Think it not strange.” Don’t be surprised, “as though some strange thing happened unto you.” Isn’t that the Word of God? Didn’t God say it?

Didn’t Jesus tell us He would be with us? He said, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20). Before that He said, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matthew 28:18). Yes, trouble will come. Christ said it would. But remember that Christ is all-powerful, and He will be with us. No one can beat Him, not the Devil, not the demons, not Chan the Apostate. Jesus said,

“I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).

Christ said it. You can count on it!

And you can count on the love of Christ. The Bible says of Christ, “The church, which is his body” (Ephesians 1:22, 23). Again, the Bible says, “No man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones” (Ephesians 5:29, 30). Everyone loves his own body. Jesus loves His body, and that body is the church. He loves our church. That is the promise of Christ. You can claim these verses in prayer. You can take encouragement and strength from them. You can be a successful Christian!

II. Second, you can be successful through building your character.

Last Sunday I preached a sermon called “Trust and Obey!” I told you about a Roman centurion. Christ came to heal the man’s servant. The centurion said to Christ, “I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it” (Luke 7:8). He told Jesus, “You don’t need to come to my house. I know you can heal my servant without going there.” Why did he say that? Because that was the way things were done in the Roman army. When the centurion gave an order, he knew his soldiers would do it. He came from a “trust and obey” culture where the people had good character. They kept their promises. They did what they were told. They had a good culture.

To have a good church, you must have a good character. Your character is what kind of person you are. Your character comes out in the way you act. The Bible says, “Let all things be done decently and in order” (I Corinthians 14:40). We can’t have a good church if everything is in a mess. We can’t have a good church with people who don’t keep their word. We can’t have a good church if people walk away in a church split.

How can you make your character better? How can we make our culture better? The two questions are the same. When one person is good, he has a good character. When a community is good, they have a good culture. It’s the same. How do you do it? Start with simple things. Did you come on time to the service? Do this not once, but every Sunday. Did you read the Bible today? Do this every day. Did you meditate on the Bible verses you read? Do this every day. Did you pray today? Do this every day. Did you read the sermon manuscripts this week? Do this every week. What if you don’t pray or read the Bible for a day? If you miss a day, don’t quit. Just do it better the next day! Forget the past. It’s over. Now go on and do better tomorrow! That’s a good character!

Why do I keep saying “every”? Because “every” is the difference between a good character and something you just do once and then forget about. Anybody can do something once! Sloppy people can do that. Weird and emotional people can do that. You’ve seen it. Anyone can get excited about something once. You saw people do it. They read the Bible. They prayed. They read a sermon manuscript. They got excited about church once. But it was too hard for them to keep doing it when they didn’t feel excited. So they went their way.

What’s the difference between them and a good Christian? The word “every” makes all the difference. Anybody can do something once. A good Christian of good character does it “every” time, whether he feels excited or not. The “every” is what makes a person “stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (I Corinthians 15:58). When the people in a church do it, they have a good culture.

You say, “How do I get to the ‘every’? How do I become an ‘every’ person?” I answer, “One day at a time.” Read your Bible tomorrow. Meditate on it tomorrow. Pray tomorrow. That’s tomorrow. Then do the same thing the next day, then the next, then the next. Come to church in time to pray. Then do it next time, and then the next. Read the sermon manuscripts this weekend. Do it next week, then the next. Do these things once, and then do them again. Then do them again.

That’s the way to become an “every” person. Do these things one day at a time. Don’t stop. Don’t give up. If you fail one day, do them right the next day. Yes, do them one day. Then do them the next day, for that is a new day. You will build a habit in yourself. You put on your clothes every morning, don’t you? That is a habit. You did it every day as a child until it became a habit. You put on your clothes whether you feel good or bad, whether you are rushed or relaxed. It became part of your character. It became part of you. And you can do the same things in your Christian life.

When I was in college, I saw an advertisement for a good old-fashioned school. It said, “Character building for your son.” The advertisement was true. The graduates of that school became ministers, military leaders, businessmen, and attorneys. Many served with honor in political office. All of them were good citizens, what we call good people. How did that school build character? By training their students to do simple things. They had to be in class on time. They had to dress properly. They had to take care of their rooms. They weren’t allowed to skip their homework. They weren’t allowed to get drunk or use drugs. They taught their students to “trust and obey.” Today people don’t want schools to have any rules, but it was better the old way. Those students became people you could count on. They had a good character. They made a good culture. And so can you.

If you keep on doing what a good, solid Christian does, you will become a good, solid Christian yourself. You will build up a habit. The habit will become part of you. You will pray and read the Bible no matter how you feel. You will come to the meetings on time no matter how you feel. You will support the church no matter how you feel. You will have a better character. That’s how to get one!

Now I must speak to those of you who are lost. You have not trusted Jesus. Some of you are too lazy to strive for your salvation. Jesus said, “Strive to enter in” (Luke 13:24), but you don’t do it. Don’t expect to be converted like that. But if you do trust Jesus, He will forgive your sin. He shed His Blood on the Cross to wash your sin away. However you have sinned, however you have failed, Jesus will save you if you trust Him. An old hymn says,

Out of my shameful failure and loss, Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;
Into the glorious gain of Thy cross, Jesus, I come to Thee.
   (“Jesus, I Come” by William T. Sleeper, 1819-1904).

If you would like to speak with us about trusting Jesus, please come and stand at the front of the room now. Amen.


THE OUTLINE OF

HOW TO BE A SUCCESSFUL CHRISTIAN

by Dr. Christopher L. Cagan

“At that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. As for Saul [Paul], he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison. Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word” (Acts 8:1-4).

I.    First, you can be successful through the Word of God,
Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8; John 15:18, 20; II Timothy 4:10, 14;
Acts 20:30; I Peter 4:12, 13; Matthew 28:18; Ephesians 1:22, 23;
Ephesians 5:29, 30.

II.   Second, you can be successful through building your character,
Luke 7:8; I Corinthians 14:40; I Corinthians 15:18; Luke 13:24.