Former President Jimmy Carter has won the respect and affection of millions for his long career as a humanitarian, a peacemaker, and a model of faith in action. The Sunday school classes he leads at his hometown church in Plains, Georgia, are legendary. "These weekly sessions . . . are remarkable for the ability of regular folks to walk in, grab a seat, and exchange views with the thirty-ninth president of the United States," says The New York Times. "But they are also remarkable for what Mr. Carter has to say."
For Sources of Strength, President Carter has culled fifty-two of his favorite Bible lessons--one for each week of the year--from the fifteen hundred or so he has taught over the decades. A thoughtful and inspiring book, Sources of Strength captured the heart of the country when it was published in hardcover, and became an immediate national bestseller. Now available in paperback, it can be enjoyed on its own or as the companion volume to Carter's bestselling spiritual autobiography, Living Faith. Jimmy Carter was president of the United States from 1977 to 1981. He is the author of thirteen other books, including Always a Reckoning, The Virtues of Aging, and Living Faith. In 1982 he founded the Carter Center, a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization in Atlanta that addresses national and international issues of public policy. Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, live in Plains, Georgia.
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Three Rivers Press
October 01, 1999
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Excerpt from Sources of Strength by Jimmy Carter
What It Takes to Be a Christian
The jailer asked, "What must I do to be saved?" Paul answered, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you
will be saved--you and your household."--Acts 16:30-31
Many people have asked the question the jailer does here, and Paul's simple response is the answer that has been accepted by almost two billion Christians living around the world today. As a young man, I joined other members of our church in carrying this same message about Jesus Christ to the families in our rural community who were not Christians. This was very difficult for me, because I was always doubtful about the reception we would receive. I usually knew the families well, so I was somewhat embarrassed about implying that I was superior in some way, having knowledge or a privileged position that they didn't.
However, the company of another man always strengthened me. We were well versed in the rudimentary tenets of what we called "The Plan of Salvation," which was the basis for our brief presentation. Later, beginning in the mid-1960s, I traveled to more distant places for a week or so as a volunteer lay missionary, joining others in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and in the suburbs of Atlanta to visit homes and share our faith in Christ. We approached each family with sincere prayers, and learned to rely on the presence of the Holy Spirit to overcome our timidity and uncertainties. In other words, we just did our best and had faith enough to relax and leave the results to God.
The Plan of Salvation is still an integral part of my weekly Bible lessons. I often outline it briefly when I receive a question about the nature of Christian faith from a visitor or when the lesson text has an evangelical meaning--as most of them do. In this first meditation, I want to share the Plan of Salvation with you, relying more on a few passages of Scripture than on my own words.
1. God loves all of us. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but may have everlasting life" (John 3:16). "For God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved" (Ephesians 2:4-5).
2. All of us are sinners. Some of us may be satisfied with the way we are, feeling that we don't need God's mercy, but the Holy Scriptures are clear: "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way" (Isaiah 53:6). "There is no one who is righteous, not even one" (Romans 3:10). And "All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).
3. Sin separates us from God. What are the consequences of our violating God's moral code? There is a clear and disturbing answer: "For the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23).
4. We cannot save ourselves. Only God can save us, through our faith. Even the Hebrew patriarch Abraham did not earn his righteousness before God; it came because of his belief, or faith: "For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For the scripture says, 'Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness'" (Romans 4:2-3 and Genesis 15:6).
"For by grace are you saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God--not the result of works, so that no one may boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9).
5. Jesus came to remove the barrier of sin. "But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). "He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed" (1 Peter 2:24).
6. It is through our faith in Christ that we receive these blessings. "If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved" (Romans 10:9-10).
These are the premises that all Christians have accepted. Some people may think this path to salvation is too simple and easy--that something else must be required for us to receive God's mercy and everlasting life. After all, most of the achievements in life--education, a good family, a successful career--require hard work, persistence, and sacrifice. Yet God's forgiveness and blessings are given to us freely, by pure grace.
This mistaken attitude reminds me of the reaction of the Syrian general Naaman, who went to the prophet Elisha to be cured of leprosy. Without leaving his tent, Elisha sent word that Naaman needed only to bathe in the little Jordan River seven times to be cured. The powerful man stormed away, furious at the simplicity of the prescription. But his servants said, "If the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, 'Wash, and be clean'? So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean" (2 Kings 5:13-14).
The simple but profound fact is that our lives can be changed--beginning now--by professing our faith in Jesus Christ. The rest of this book will explore the fascinating, exciting, and remarkable ramifications of this basic, life-giving truth.