Everyone who is truly converted goes on to serve the Lord Jesus Christ. The Christian life is not a cruise ship with passengers enjoying a great holiday on their journey to heaven; it is a rowing boat and everyone has an oar!
You can see this in Saul’s conversion in Acts chapter 9. In previous articles we have seen that conversions are sometimes surprising, always supernatural and always about submitting to the Lord Jesus. Now we see that conversion means serving the Lord, and that involves two things.
Serve the Lord
The first is that we must serve the Lord: Jesus said to Saul ‘Get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do’ (v.6). A few verses later, Ananias is told what Saul/Paul’s work will be: ‘This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel,’ (v.15). That service lasted the rest of his life and was of huge significance for the whole church of Jesus.
We do not all get to play such a big part as Paul did. One preacher I know really wanted to be Spurgeon! Why wouldn’t he? They were both Baptists, both had the same theology and similar understandings of church life. Spurgeon’s ministry saw many thousands converted and built what was then the largest church in the world. His sermons continue to be influential more than 100 years after his death. My friend’s ministry was inevitably much more modest and he has confessed that it took him a surprisingly long time to adjust to the fact.
Yet each of us who is granted faith in Christ is called to serve him. 1 Corinthians 12 famously describes each local church as the body of Christ, with every member given different gifts to serve him in different ways. And Ephesians 2:10 tells us that though we are not saved by our works (v.9), God has prepared in advance good works for us to do once we are saved.
Our generation just doesn’t much like the idea of serving others. We prefer to be served! But Christians must be different. We have been served by God the Son, who gave his life that we might live. We are not our own; we have been bought at a great price. We sing, ‘Love so amazing, so divine; Demands my soul, my life, my all’ and it’s important that we live like that, too.
Serving means suffering
The second thing we must notice is that serving will often mean suffering: the Lord Jesus says ‘I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’ (v.16). And Paul did suffer! He lists in 2 Corinthians 11 just a sample of what he has had to go through as an apostle: prison, flogging, lashes from the Jews, beatings with rods, stoning, shipwreck, bandits, hunger, cold, nakedness – and so on.
For Christians in some parts of the world, these are real and present dangers. But for most of us they are not. Yet it is never easy to stand for Christ in a world where we are aliens and strangers. Jesus himself warned that because the world hated him it will hate us (John 15:8). In our own land, each year it is getting harder to stand for Christ. Christians are called ‘bigots’ because of our views on sexual morality or the uniqueness of the Lord Jesus. Open-air preachers have been arrested or cautioned. Some Christians face the real possibility of losing their jobs unless they compromise their faith — something that would have been inconceivable just a generation ago.
Bible teachers need to make clear that the call to repent and follow Christ is not only a call to serve, but also to suffer. ‘Through much tribulation we must enter the kingdom of God’ (Acts 14:22). If we fail to make that clear, even the genuine converts we see will not be prepared for what happens to them. If we follow the Lord Jesus, he will most definitely save our souls – and we need that. But, for many, it will be a hard road. Suffering does not mean we have taken the wrong path; it means the world is still in rebellion against God. It hates our Master, and it cannot cope with us.
God is good though, and wise. We are neither! He has promised there is nothing in all creation that can separate us from his love. Though he may lead us into difficulties we had not expected, we can be absolutely sure it will always be for good and wise reasons, even when we cannot see what they are.
There’s a point in Acts 9 that we may miss unless we are paying careful attention. Ananias thought he was in danger when the Lord Jesus told him to seek out Saul. Saul had come to arrest Christians. He had already done much harm to the saints in Jerusalem. Ananias is frightened at the prospect of seeking him out, until the Lord explains to him what is happening. This act of dangerous obedience is vital in the whole history of the church; Ananias sees it, and obeys.
Sometimes, the Lord does tell us why we are to suffer. Often he leaves us in the dark. But we may be sure that the Lord is in control. We may be sure that he who died for us lives and reigns for us. And we may be sure that he is a Saviour worth serving – even, a Saviour worth suffering and dying for.
Many years ago I was told a story about the Napoleonic wars. I have no way of knowing whether it is true but it makes a valid point. In one battle, Napoleon placed a cannon in such a dangerous place that those who manned it had a life expectancy of only minutes. He explained that the cannon was vital, but he would only ask volunteers to man it because of the danger. Throughout the battle, it was the one cannon that never lacked men! Some causes, they had decided, are worth dying for. Some leaders are worth dying for. Our Saviour’s cause and our Saviour himself – worth living for. Worth suffering for. Worth dying for.