PROFESSION OF FAITH:

To profess something is to openly declare it. When we use the term profession of faith, we usually refer to a person’s public declaration of his or her intent to follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Because words do not always reflect the true condition of the heart, a profession of faith is not always a guarantee of true salvation.

Romans 10:9–10 shows the value of a profession of faith in Christ: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” Faith in the heart is accompanied by a profession of the mouth. Those who are saved will speak of their salvation—even when that profession could lead to death, as was the case for the Christians in Rome to whom Paul was writing.

Our part in salvation is minimal because salvation is a spiritual work performed by the Holy Spirit. Our words don’t save us. Salvation is by grace through the gift of faith (Ephesians 2:8–9), not by words we speak. Jesus’ rebuke of the Jews’ hypocrisy was based on their empty profession: “Isaiah prophesied correctly about you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘These people honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me’” (Mark 7:6).

In the days of the early church, and in many parts of the world today, confessing Jesus as Lord could be costly. Professing faith in Jesus as Messiah invited persecution, even death, for Jewish believers (Acts 8:1). That was one reason Peter denied three times that he knew Jesus (Mark 14:66–72). After Jesus rose from the dead, ascended back into heaven, and sent the Holy Spirit to indwell believers, the formerly fearful disciples confessed Jesus boldly in the streets and synagogues (Acts 1–2). Their professions of faith won converts but also brought persecution (Acts 2:1–414:1–4). They refused to stop speaking about Jesus, remembering His words: “Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:26). So, one purpose of our profession of faith is to declare that we are not ashamed to be called His followers.

Of course, words without a heart change are only words. A mere profession of faith, with no corresponding heart of faith, has no power to save or change us. In fact, Jesus warned that many who think they are saved because of a profession will find out some day that they were never His at all: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:21–23). So simply professing faith in Jesus, even when the profession is accompanied by good works, does not guarantee salvation. There must be repentance of sin (Mark 6:12). We must be born again (John 3:3). We must follow Jesus as Lord of our lives, by faith.

A profession of faith is the starting place for a lifetime of discipleship (Luke 9:23). There are many ways to make professions of faith, just as there are many ways to deny Jesus. He said, “I tell you, everyone who confesses Me before men, the Son of Man will also confess him before the angels of God” (Luke 12:8). One such outward profession is baptism, which is the first step of obedience in following Jesus as Lord (Acts 2:38). But baptism does not guarantee salvation, either. Thousands have been immersed, sprinkled, or dabbed with water, but that ritual cannot save. “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing” (John 6:63). Baptism should symbolize the new life we have in Christ, the inner change of allegiance we possess. Without that new life and change of heart, baptism and other professions of faith are simply religious rituals, powerless in themselves.

Salvation occurs when the Holy Spirit moves into a repentant heart and begins His sanctifying work of making us more like Jesus (Romans 8:29). When Jesus explained this action to Nicodemus in John 3, He compared the Spirit’s moving to the wind. We cannot see the wind, but we see where it has been because it changes everything it touches. Grass moves, leaves shudder, and skin cools so that no one doubts that the wind has come. So it is with the Spirit. When He moves into a believing heart, He begins to change the believer. We cannot see Him, but we see where He has been because values move, perspectives shift, and desires begin to line up with God’s Word. We profess the Lord Jesus in everything we do and seek to glorify Him (1 Corinthians 10:31). The way we conduct our lives is a more sure profession of faith than mere words. Words are important, and a believer in Christ will be unashamed to identify as such. There were times when Jesus pressed for a verbal profession of faith (e.g., Matthew 16:15), but He also pressed for more than words: “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine” (John 8:31).

Prophet Nathan’s Sermon

ARE YOU A TRUE CHRISTIAN?

According to Acts 11:26, the followers of Jesus were first called Christians at Antioch. Why were they called Christians? Because they were “followers of Christ.” They had committed their lives to “walk as Jesus did” (1 John 2:6).

Other Scriptures explain how a person comes to faith in Jesus Christ and begins this relationship. For example, Ephesians 2:8-9 reveals that a person becomes a Christian by faith, not by following a list of rules or good works: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” A true Christian has faith in Jesus as the Savior.

Romans 10:9-10 says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” A true Christian is unashamed to say Jesus is Lord and believes Jesus was resurrected from the dead.

First Corinthians 15:3 says this message of the resurrected Jesus is of “first importance.” Without Jesus’ resurrection our faith is “futile,” and we are “still in [our] sins” (v. 7). A true Christian lives by faith in the resurrected Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:13-14).

Paul writes, “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. . . . The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Romans 8:9, 16). A true Christian has God’s Holy Spirit living within.

The evidence of a true Christian is displayed in both faith and action. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). James says, “I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18). Jesus put it this way: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). A true Christian will show his faith by how he lives.

Despite the wide variety of beliefs that fall under the general “Christian” label today, the Bible defines a true Christian as one who has personally received Jesus Christ as Savior, who trusts in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ alone for forgiveness of sins, who has the Holy Spirit residing within, and whose life evinces change consistent with faith in Jesus.

Prophet Nathan’s Sermon

HINDRANCES TO A POTENT PRAYER LIFE:

The most obvious hindrance to a potent prayer life is the presence of unconfessed sins in the heart of the one who is praying. Because our God is holy, there is a barrier that exists between Him and us when we come to Him with unconfessed sin in our lives. “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2). David concurred, knowing from experience that God is far from those who try to hide their sin: “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Psalm 66:18).

The Bible refers to several areas of sin that are hindrances to effective prayer. First, when we are living according to the flesh, rather than in the Spirit, our desire to pray and our ability to effectively communicate with God are hindered. Although we receive a new nature when we are born again, that new nature still resides in our old flesh, and that old “tent” is corrupt and sinful. The flesh can gain control of our actions, attitudes, and motives unless we are diligent to “put to death the deeds of the body” (Romans 8:13) and be led by the Spirit in a right relationship with God. Only then will we be able to pray in close communion with Him.

One way living in the flesh manifests itself is in selfishness, another hindrance to effective prayer. When our prayers are selfishly motivated, when we ask God for what we want rather than for what He wants, our motives hinder our prayers. “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (1 John 5:14). Asking according to God’s will is the same as asking in submission to whatever His will may be, whether or not we know what that will is. As in all things, Jesus is to be our example in prayer. He always prayed in the will of His Father: “Yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Selfish prayers are always those that are intended to gratify our own selfish desires, and we should not expect God to respond to such prayers. “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:3).

Living according to selfish, fleshly desires will also hinder our prayers because it produces a hardness of heart toward others. If we are indifferent to the needs of others, we can expect God to be indifferent to our needs. When we go to God in prayer, our first concern should be His will. The second should be the needs of others. This stems from the understanding that we are to consider others better than ourselves and be concerned about their interests over and above our own (Philippians 2:3-4).

A major hindrance to effective prayer is a spirit of unforgiveness toward others. When we refuse to forgive others, a root of bitterness grows up in our hearts and chokes our prayers. How can we expect God to pour out His blessings upon us undeserving sinners if we harbor hatred and bitterness toward others? This principle is beautifully illustrated in the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:23-35. This story teaches that God has forgiven us a debt that is beyond measure (our sin), and He expects us to forgive others as we have been forgiven. To refuse to do so will hinder our prayers.

Another major hindrance to effective prayer is unbelief and doubt. This does not mean, as some suggest, that because we come to God convinced that He will grant our requests, He is somehow obligated to do so. Praying without doubt means praying in the secure belief and understanding of God’s character, nature, and motives. “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). When we come to God in prayer, doubting His character, purpose, and promises, we insult Him terribly. Our confidence must be in His ability to grant any request that is in accordance with His will and purpose for our lives. We must pray with the understanding that whatever He purposes is the best possible scenario. “But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does” (James 1:6-7).

Finally, discord in the home is a definite obstacle to prayer. Peter specifically mentions this as a hindrance to the prayers of a husband whose attitude toward his wife is less than godly. “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers” (1 Peter 3:7). Where there is a serious conflict in family relationships and the head of the household is not demonstrating the attitudes Peter mentions, the husband’s prayer communication with God is hindered. Likewise, wives are to follow the biblical principles of submission to their husbands’ headship if their own prayers are not to be hindered (Ephesians 5:22-24).

Fortunately, all these prayer hindrances can be dealt with at once by coming to God in prayers of confession and repentance. We are assured in 1 John 1:9 that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Once we have done that, we enjoy a clear and open channel of communication with God, and our prayers will not only be heard and answered, but we will also be filled with a deep sense of joy.

Prophet Nathan’s Sermon

YOU SHOULD BE PRAYERFUL:

For the Christian, praying is supposed to be like breathing, easier to do than to not do. We pray for a variety of reasons. For one thing, prayer is a form of serving God (Luke 2:36-38) and obeying Him. We pray because God commands us to pray (Philippians 4:6-7). Prayer is exemplified for us by Christ and the early church (Mark 1:35Acts 1:142:423:14:23-316:413:1-3). If Jesus thought it was worthwhile to pray, we should also.

Another reason to pray is that God intends prayer to be the means of obtaining His solutions in a number of situations. We pray in preparation for major decisions (Luke 6:12-13); to overcome demonic barriers (Matthew 17:14-21); to gather workers for the spiritual harvest (Luke 10:2); to gain strength to overcome temptation (Matthew 26:41); and to obtain the means of strengthening others spiritually (Ephesians 6:18-19).

We come to God with our specific requests, and we have God’s promise that our prayers are not in vain, even if we do not receive specifically what we asked for (Matthew 6:6Romans 8:26-27). He has promised that when we ask for things that are in accordance with His will, He will give us what we ask for (1 John 5:14-15). Sometimes He delays His answers according to His wisdom and for our benefit. In these situations, we are to be diligent and persistent in prayer (Matthew 7:7Luke 18:1-8). Prayer should not be seen as our means of getting God to do our will on earth, but rather as a means of getting God’s will done on earth. God’s wisdom far exceeds our own.

For situations in which we do not know God’s will specifically, prayer is a means of discerning His will. If the Syrian woman with the demon-influenced daughter had not prayed to Christ, her daughter would not have been made whole (Mark 7:26-30). If the blind man outside Jericho had not called out to Christ, he would have remained blind (Luke 18:35-43). God has said that we often go without because we do not ask (James 4:2). In one sense, prayer is like sharing the gospel with people. We do not know who will respond to the message of the gospel until we share it. In the same way, we will never see the results of answered prayer unless we pray.

A lack of prayer demonstrates a lack of faith and a lack of trust in God’s Word. We pray to demonstrate our faith in God, that He will do as He has promised in His Word and bless our lives abundantly more than we could ask or hope for (Ephesians 3:20). Prayer is our primary means of seeing God work in others’ lives. Because it is our means of “plugging into” God’s power, it is our means of defeating Satan and his army that we are powerless to overcome by ourselves. Therefore, may God find us often before His throne, for we have a high priest in heaven who can identify with all that we go through (Hebrews 4:15-16). We have His promise that the fervent prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much (James 5:16-18). May God glorify His name in our lives as we believe in Him enough to come to Him often in prayer.

Prophet Nathan’s Sermon

PRAY FOR YOUR ENEMIES:

Several places in the Bible command us to pray for our enemies (Luke 6:2735Romans 12:20). Most familiar to us is the passage from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:43–45, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” It is clear that Jesus expects us to pray for our enemies, but how do we do that?

Our first response to that question is probably not the right one. When someone wrongs us, we’d like to pray that disaster falls on them! We may be tempted to pray the imprecatory psalms and hope to sit back and watch God exact vengeance on the evildoers, much like Jonah did outside of Nineveh. But that is not what Jesus meant by praying for our enemies. He had something better in mind that will benefit us as well as our enemies.

When someone sets out to cause us harm, our natural reaction is to protect ourselves and fight back. They gossiped about us; we’ll gossip about them. They lied about us; we’ll lie about them. They smeared our reputation; we’ll smear theirs, too. However, Jesus calls us to a higher standard. He demonstrated that standard by never retaliating when someone wronged Him. And they wronged Him a lot. His own people rejected His message (John 1:11). The religious leaders mocked and tried to trap Him (John 8:6). His own family was ashamed of Him and tried to make Him stop preaching (Mark 3:21). His friends deserted Him in His worst moment (Mark 14:50), and the city who had cried “Hosanna!” when He arrived in town shouted “Crucify Him!” a few days later (Mark 15:13). So, Jesus had enemies, and, when He said to pray for our enemies, He knew what He was talking about.

Jesus gave us a perfect example of praying for our enemies when He was being nailed to a cross. In the middle of His own agony, He cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). He talked to His Father about the people who were harming Him. He did not ask for their destruction; He did not pray for revenge. He prayed they would be forgiven. Jesus had compassion on the deceived people who believed they were doing the right thing by killing the Son of God. They had no idea what was actually taking place. They had no idea how wrong they were. When Jesus said, “They don’t know what they are doing,” He hinted at an important factor to keep in mind when we pray for our enemies.

The enemies we pray for hurt us from their own world of hurt. Their thinking may be influenced by the devil (2 Corinthians 4:4). Their attitudes may have been shaped by past wounds (Judges 15:7). Their actions may have been manipulated by peer influences (2 Kings 12:13–14). None of this excuses their behavior or minimizes the damage they cause, but it helps to explain the why of the matter. People do what they do for their own reasons. They may not be valid reasons, but they seem so to the ones who hold them. So how do we pray for those who have hurt us and never tried to make it right?

1. We can pray that God will “open the eyes of their hearts that they will be enlightened” about truth (Ephesians 1:18). When enemies set themselves against us, they lack understanding. They are reacting from the flesh instead of responding from the Spirit. We can pray that God will open their hearts with understanding so that they will learn from their mistakes and grow wiser.

2. As we pray for our enemies, we can pray for their repentance. Second Timothy 2:25 says that “opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.” It is God who softens hearts enough for repentance. When we pray for our enemies to repent, we know we are praying in accordance with God’s will because He also desires their repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

3. When we pray for our enemies, we can ask that our hearts will remain soft and useful if the Lord wants to use us to accomplish His plan in the lives of our enemies. “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). When we return anger for anger, wrong for wrong, we put ourselves on the same level as our enemy. But when we respond with kindness, gentleness, and mercy, the situation is often diffused within moments. Nothing is more convicting than a gentle response to a hateful, rude action. It’s what turning the other cheek is all about (see Matthew 5:39). Satan desires discord, so he tries to stir up our fury and coaches us to respond in kind. We should pray that God keeps our hearts soft toward the offenders so that His goodness will be revealed to them through us.

4. As we pray for our enemies, we can pray that God will work in their lives because of this offense to bring about His purposes. Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). It is always right to ask that God’s will be done in any situation. We should pray until we want what He wants. If He wants to bless our enemy, we want that, too. If He wants us to serve our enemy in some way, then that’s what we want. Prayer is the aligning of our wills with God’s; when we pray for our enemies, we need to wrestle through our emotions until we truly want God’s best in their lives.

Praying for our enemies is not a natural response to their mistreatment. But we remember that we were once enemies of God ourselves, and we are now His children. We can now intercede for others who are still far off (Colossians 1:21). In doing so, we keep our own hearts free from bitterness (Hebrews 12:15). In praying for our enemies, we become more like Christ, and we keep ourselves in harmony with God’s will, which is how every human being was designed to live.

Prophet Nathan’s Sermon