May 3, 1987
Redeemed by An Everlasting Love
(I Peter 1:17-23)
If you are aware of the mood of the country now, you know that we are in a time of personal insecurity, self doubt and disappointment. Psychology Today recently reproduced a survey that was originally done in the early 70s and it revealed that we think less of ourselves than we did a decade ago.
It is a plague the human race must deal with in every generation. We are a part of a sinful world and we as Christians must meet the challenge of the degenerating view of life that many folks hold. We must respond to the fact of sin.
I. We can respond to sin with condemnation
We have in us the desire for things to be right, fair, done in decency and order. But that is not the case in much of life. Whether we are the instigators or the victims of sin, the effects permeate our lives. The crucial question is how we are going to deal with the fact of sin.
Many of us become very sad when we run up against the tragedies of life. We give into feelings of hopelessness and despair. Often these emotions are followed by feelings of frustration and anger. These God-given feelings are the result of our desire that things be right and fair. The guidance of these feelings into constructive courses of action is the difference in a Christian and non-Christian response. We can just become angry and lose control.
A church basketball league was being held in our church. The job of referee wasn’t filled that night and they asked me to blow the whistle. “No problem,” I thought. “I did this in college. This ought to be a piece of cake.”
Well, it wasn’t. The teams played sloppy ball. One team got behind and started pushing. One fellow was sandwiched so hard by two fellows I thought he wouldn’t be able to get up. I didn’t even blow the whistle, I just yelled in anger. They were playing so far below their potential, I was really upset.
I didn’t realize how bad it was until more pushing happened in the open court. I lost all control and threw both fellows out of the ball game. I realized I was through for the night and as soon as possible I bowed out. I wanted them to do it right and they refused. I let my anger get away from me.
Jesus experienced more trouble with the religious leaders of His day than anyone else. These men wanted people to live correctly, according to the law. When they were disappointed in someone not behaving according to their standards, they became critical and even destructive.
We can become investigators for God, finding out who has done wrong and judging them appropriately. The difficulty in this approach is that we find everyone guilty. We then start judging according to our own standards, often set by our culture, our race, our self-defined measures of success. We lose the ability to respect all persons equally. Jesus defined for us the way to respond to sinful persons.
II. We can respond to sin in love.
Jesus gave persons of little worth in the eyes of the world great value. The gospel of John points out several events in the life of Jesus that serves as examples. In chapter 4 He met and redeemed a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. He also healed a child through the faith of that child’s father. In chapter 5 He made well a man so impotent and friendless that he had lain in one spot for 38 years without help.
In chapter 6 He took a child’s lunch and made him an example of giving while He fed the multitude. In chapter 8 He was interrupted in His teaching by the Pharisees as they brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. They wanted Him to punish her, but instead they received a lesson concerning their own sin. In chapter 9 He healed a handicapped man blind from birth.
In every instance, Jesus demonstrated a loving response to persons not considered valuable or worthwhile to their culture. He taught us how to love.
There was an occasion when I discovered how that kind of love can last. I was 14, big enough to ride my bicycle anywhere I wanted, yet young enough to do some foolish things. I heard there was a party that Monday night. I was supposed to be at Scouts.
I rode my bike to Scouts, checked in and slipped out the back door. I went to the party and got home at the time I normally arrived from Scouts. But what I hadn’t noticed in all this was the assistant scout master (who also had a 14-year-old) followed me to see if I arrived safely. He then called my parents.
When I arrived I knew I was in trouble. Dad took me into the bathroom and pulled off his belt. I stood eye to eye with him in size, and the pain of the belt wasn’t that tough to take. The pain came when I looked in his eyes and saw the disappointment.
When he was finished he took me in his arms and told me how much he loved me and how disappointed he was in how I had acted. I will never forget that moment. He never spanked me again. It wasn’t the last time I did something wrong, but the pain of falling short of what he expected stayed with me.
The truth of the gospel is that we have been redeemed by a love that will never perish. It will stay with us forever. (SNW)
May 10, 1987
What is the Church?
A number of books have been published in the last two decades announcing the impending death of the church. The church is irrelevant, an antique that is out of place in our modern society.
Sadly, there are some churches that fit the description, and many of them are, indeed, dying or already dead. Why? They are dying because they have abandoned the biblical concept of what the church is all about.
If we want our churches to be dynamic and relevant to the needs of our world, we have a model: the earliest days of the Christian church following Pentecost. They turned their world upside down, and if we want to make an impact on our world we must follow their example.
I. They Were A Redeemed Community
Those early Christians had an experience with God and it resulted in changed lives. What happened to them?
A. They received the Word (v. 41). They received Christ into their lives and made His life the center of their lives.
A present is not yours until you receive it. You can leave a gift unopened for days, weeks, even years, and it does you no good. Only when you receive it, open it, take it to yourself does it truly become yours. The same is true of a relationship to Christ — you must make the decision to allow Christ to become real in your life.
B. They were growing (v. 42). The Christian life involves maturing. Just as a little baby must grow physically, so a Christian is called on to grow spiritually. How do we grow: study, fellowship, and prayer.
II. They Were A Rejoicing Community (v. 46)
A. They rejoiced at worship. There is something special that takes place when Christians unite their hearts and spirits in worshipping God. The Spirit of God moves in our midst, and the result is a joyous power.
B. They rejoiced in their homes. Groups of Christians gathered in homes to praise God and to encourage one another. Do we share in that kind of positive experience when we gather with fellow Christians?
C. They rejoiced in their praise(v. 47). We miss so many blessings because we fail to express our praise to God. Praise is like a window that allows light into a house; it doesn’t benefit the light but it does wonderful things for the house. So it is that praise opens our hearts to let God’s love and power shine in.
III. They Were A Reproducing Community (v. 47b)
Too many churches are like pools of water which are cut off from other water. Nothing flows in or out, and the result is stagnation and death. The New Testament church was nothing like that, for they saw as their ultimate purpose reaching their world for Christ.
A reproducing church doesn’t leave the task of sharing the good news of Christ to the missionaries and the pastors. The job is too great, the joy too precious, the judgment too sure to fail in our responsibility to share Christ’s love with those around us.
God help us to be that kind of church, that we may also see our world turned upside down for Jesus’ sake. (JMD)
May 17, 1987
The Conquering Christ
It was the winter of 1777 and Washington’s troops were at Valley Forge. They were hungry and ill clothed, and a sense of defeat hung in the air. The future seemed dismal, yet from this rag-tag army came victory and independence for the United States. Certain defeat became certain victory.
Jesus and His disciples faced a similar situation. One would deny Him, another betray Him. Their cause would seem hopeless, headed for certain defeat. Yet Jesus told them to hold fast, to trust in God, because out of seeming defeat would come certain victory. He assured them — and us — that He is the conquering Christ.
I. He Is Conquering In His Person
A. Because He is trustworthy. Christ does not hide from His disciples the fact that the road won’t be easy. They face persecution and a cross. Likewise, He tells us not to expect an easy road if we will truly follow Him.
B. Because of His task (v. 6). He became the “way,” the road we must travel. If you’ve ever tried to follow some people’s directions, you know how much easier it is to have someone take you to your destination. Christ takes us with Him.
He became our “truth.” Unlike other teachers, Christ Himself embodies truth: all we need to know and do is found in Him.
He became our “life.” Christ is the source and guiding principle of life. He alone makes life worth living.
Christ combined all of these things to lead us to God. As the songwriter said, “Without the way there is no going; without the truth there is no knowing; without the life there is no living.”
C. Because of His triumph. Before Jesus, the cross was the ultimate symbol of shame, humiliation, defeat. Jesus took that awful symbol and made it a tool of God’s glory. His triumph came through obedience and sacrifice on our behalf.
Perhaps we experience so little real glory because we look in all the wrong places. We look for triumph and glory in status, power, position. Jesus found His triumph in serving a lost and hurting world.
II. He Is Conquering In His Provision
A. He provides a vision of the Father (v. 9). Throughout history, men have held various understandings of what God is like. The Greeks, through their elaborate mythology, saw the gods as brutal, capricious, much like humans in their emotions. Many primitive tribes have seen their environment as full of gods and spirits — in trees, animals, and so on. Even many people who have accepted the notion of one God have had little understanding of what that God was like — He was draped in mystery and fear.
In Jesus Christ, however, we have the ultimate revelation of God. As Christians, we understand that we serve a God of love and mercy, because we have seen that God reveal Himself in Jesus.
B. He provides strength for daily living (v. 12). Because Christ has triumphed and is with the Father, we have strength to live each day in the power that only God can give. We have that power because He lives in and through us (vv. 19-20).
The same power that overcame death and darkness is the power that is available to you and me each day as children of God. (JMD)
May 24, 1987
Marks of Discipleship
(John 14:15-21; focus, v. 14)
Have you heard about the robber who was holding up the train and came to one man with an empty wallet. “Why don’t you have any money?” he asked, to which the man answered, “I’m a Baptist preacher.”
At that the robber thrust out his arm to shake hands with the preacher, saying, “Well what’ya know about that. I’m a Baptist, too!”
Too often there’s an inconsistency between what people profess and what they do. The world scoffs at the church because our actions so often fail to match our words.
Jesus spoke about the lifestyle He expected of His followers. In this text Jesus indicates two things are expected to mark the life of a disciple.
I. Discipleship Is Marked By Obedience
In an age when there seems to be so little respect for law or rules, obedience is becoming a less common trait among both children and adults. Yet Jesus said that obedience is a necessary mark of discipleship. A disciple seeks to know and do God’s will, no matter what.
Obedience may be OK if it doesn’t cost me any time, money, popularity, influence — as long as I don’t have to give too much or give up too much.
But obedience to Christ means rejecting the world’s values and adopting God’s values. It means to bring my lifestyle into accordance with the standards God set in His Word.
During World War I, a group of Turkish soldiers rounded up a flock of sheep to take back to the troops. The shepherd looked on quietly, knowing that if he objected he would be killed. After the soldiers had driven the flock some distance, the shepherd put his hand to his mouth and gave his peculiar call to his sheep. The flock immediately turned and ran to the shepherd while ten startled soldiers looked on. Just one voice had authority for those sheep. It was the voice that had led them through dangerous country, had led them to food and drink and safety. And at the sound of that voice, they obeyed.
In the midst of a world of varied and conflicting claims, the voice of Jesus is clear and distinct, and His followers hear and obey.
II. Discipleship Is Marked By Christ’s Presence
The result of obedience to Christ is to experience the love and presence of Christ in our lives. What does that presence mean?
A. Christ’s presence gives purpose to life. No matter what difficult turns life takes, Christ’s presence is a reassurance that life has meaning, that God is in control.
While in a time of crisis, British Christian and educator George Turell wrote: “Again and again I have been tempted to give up the struggle, but always the figure of that strange man hanging on the cross sends me back to my tasks again.”
B. Christ’s presence gives power for life. People use all sorts of artificial means — alcohol, drugs and more — to “get through the day.” Yet the presence of Christ is the only real source of ultimate power for daily living. Christ’s presence brings power that can breathe new life into us.
A British officer was leading his company of weary soldiers back to the front lines during the Second World War. It was raining, the road was muddy, the countryside was scarred by war, and each man knew he was returning to possible death. No voice was heard as they marched. Passing alongside a bombed-out church, the officer saw still standing in the ruins a statue of Christ on the cross. Immediately he gave the command, “Eyes right! March!” As those discouraged soldiers captured a vision of Christ, heads were lifted and bodies straightened as they gained new hope, marched with new confidence. The presence of Christ brings new strength and power to our lives.
Our challenge is to live lives of obedience, seeking to know and do God’s will. When we do, we know Christ’s presence in a new and dynamic way, experiencing purpose and power in our lives. (JMD)
May 31, 1987
The Church and Its Mission
(Ads 1:6-14; focus, v. 8)
The lighthouse stood on the rugged coastline for years, and many were the stories of the ships that had been saved along the dangerous coastline by the lighthouse. The volunteers who manned the outpost had performed many heroic rescues through the years.
One day a group of those volunteers decided to expand and beautify the lighthouse and station. Many designs were proposed for this worthy cause, and many in the community contributed financially. As time went on the renovation and building became so time-consuming that the volunteers could no longer afford the time to participate in the rescue missions, so they hired some employees to do that while they dedicated themselves to their important project.
How could they have lost sight of their great cause and been caught up in the outward trappings while negotiating the central purpose of the lighthouse? Could it be that this is a parable of the church? In its earliest days the church was a rescue operation, reaching out to offer love and grace to a lost world. But how many churches now spend most of their time on buildings and programs, maintaining the status quo at the expense of their original purpose? The church was created for mission. Our mission is to proclaim the message of Christ.
I. We Have A Purpose For Mission
We are to be witnesses of Jesus Christ. Our mission is to continue His work of revealing God and redeeming lost humanity.
What is a witness? A witness is someone who can testify that something is true based on personal experience. The court doesn’t want hearsay evidence; it wants to know what you have seen and heard personally. You can only be a witness for Christ if you have personally experienced His love and grace; once He has touched your life, you share in that mission.
II. We Have A Plan For Mission
Jesus gave His disciples a plan for accomplishing their mission — a plan that is still workable today. He told them to start at Jerusalem, where they were at then, and work their way out until they had proclaimed the gospel to the farthest parts of the world.
Have you ever thrown a stone in a pond and watched the ripples flow outward from the center point where the stone hit the water? That is our plan.
A. We must share Christ where we are now. There are people in this community who do not know God’s love. Our responsibility and our privilege is to share that love with them. Why not wait until they come to church to hear? Most people without Christ will never come to the church; we must reach out where they are, just as Jesus did. He did not hide in the Temple and wait for people to seek Him out; He went to the marketplace, to the streets, to the homes, to find people and share God’s love with them.
B. We must reach out beyond our area. Not only can we share God’s love in Christ where we are, but we can have a part in spreading the good news around the world. As we join with other churches in supporting missionaries in our own country and abroad, we help fulfill the Great Commission.
III. We Have A Power For Mission
In November 1965, the northeastern United States experienced a massive power blackout. The lamps and streetlights and other appliances were still there; the only thing missing was power.
As a church we can find ourselves in the same predicament. We can have organization, methods, programs and plans, but none of them have value without power. Power for mission comes from the Holy Spirit. He provides the power to reach out in Christ’s name. The Spirit works in the life of the person with whom we share at the same time He works within us. As we share Christ’s love with another person, we are never alone.
In one of our major cities a few years ago a magnificent new post office was built. Several million dollars went into the construction, which featured modern design and the latest equipment. It was on the dedication day that someone made an embarrassing discovery: there was no slot to deposit the envelopes. In the concern for all the beautiful extras, the designers forgot the purpose of the building: to deliver mail. Let us not be so concerned with good things that we forget the most important thing — sharing Christ. (JMD)
June 7, 1987
Empowered and Gifted for Ministry
(Acts 2:1-21; I Corinthians 12:3b-13; John 20:19-23
I once heard Dr. Harrell Beck of Boston University say that we Christians frequently are guilty of asking the wrong questions in life. For instance, many Christians never get beyond the question, “Am I saved?” They run around checking their spiritual pulses at every opportunity, never having enough faith and trust to believe that God took care of the salvation issue, once and for all, at Calvary.
Rather than always asking, “Am I saved?” Dr. Beck says that we should ask, “Could God possibly use me to help somebody else be saved?”
That question raises the whole issue of ministry. Once we enter into God’s gracious offer of a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, we enter into ministry. Our ministry becomes helping others to have the same type of experience in their lives. We carry out that ministry under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
I. Why does the Spirit come?
In I Corinthians 12:7, Paul tells us why we receive the Spirit. “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Jesus sends us the Spirit for the sake of the community. The Spirit works in and through us to help others, and that’s what ministry is all about.
Paul goes on to delineate the kinds of gifts (vv. 8-11) that the Spirit gives to us. Such gifts differ from talents in that they are not inherited or learned, but are literal gifts.
Those gifts — “the utterance of wisdom,” “the utterance of knowledge,” “faith,” “healing,” “the working of miracles,” “prophecy,” “the ability to distinguish among spirits,” “various kinds of tongues,” and “the interpretation of tongues” — do not exist for one’s own benefit, to exalt oneself above others. Rather, the Spirit gives these gifts that everyone may be blessed.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus met with His disciples on the evening of the resurrection. During that time together, Jesus gave them their “marching orders” for ministry, as He said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I send you.” After speaking these words, Jesus breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
Jesus gave the Spirit to empower His followers for ministry. Those followers, He said, go out as God’s representatives, just as He was God’s representative. They enter into ministry to others, under and with the Spirit’s power. That ministry involves helping others experience the forgiveness of sins.
Even the story of the Pentecost event itself emphasizes the role of the Spirit in empowerment for ministry. Once the Spirit rushed in upon Jesus’ followers, they began their ministry in His name. Immediately, Peter began to preach to a crowd that had assembled to see what was going on. He told them about Jesus and why He had come. By the time he concluded, some 3,000 were ready to become disciples of Jesus. Peter urged them to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins that they too might receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
By living under the empowerment of the Holy Spirit and receiving the gifts that the Spirit gave, those early disciples participated in one of the most thrilling eras of church history. Their ministry made a difference that the world still feels today.
II. When the Spirit comes to us
The experiences of the early Church brings us back to Harrell Beck’s question: “Could God possibly use me to help somebody else be saved?” And, of course, the answer is “Yes.” The Holy Spirit has empowered and gifted us for that ministry.
As a teenager, I remember hearing a story about a man in Georgia who learned that he was terminally ill. The doctor told him that he had about a year of fairly good health left before he would become bedridden. The man left the doctor’s office shaken to the core of his being. He sat in his car in the parking lot taking inventory of his life. As he did, he thought to himself, “I have been a Christian all my life. I know that. Yet, does anyone else? Oh, I go to church, but I’ve never told anyone else about the joy I have known as a follower of Jesus. I have a year to go before I won’t be able to do so any longer.” At that, he bowed his head and asked God to help him lead others to Christ.
The year passed. During that time the man helped seventeen others become Christians. Then, as the doctor had predicted, the illness began to take its toll. He had to be confined to his bed. One day, his pastor came for a visit. As they talked, the pastor commended him for his faithfulness in the ministry of evangelism during the last year.
The man began to cry, much to the surprise of the pastor. The pastor waited a moment, then asked why he was crying. After all, he should be full of joy over those seventeen new Christians. The man answered, “Oh I am. I am. But I have been a Christian for well over fifty years, yet I never let the Holy Spirit use me effectively until the last twelve months. Just think what the Spirit could have done during all those other years!”
Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to empower and gift you for ministry. Just think what the Spirit can do in your life. (RMR)
June 14, 1987
We’re In Charge
(Genesis 1:1-2:3; II Corinthians 13:5-14: Matthew 28:16-20)
Have you ever noticed when something goes wrong, you can never find out who’s in charge.
Whenever there is a colossal foul-up in government, just watch the “buck passing.” No one wants to take responsibility. A spokesman will appear and say, “This department did not have jurisdiction over that particular operation at that point in time.”
The same thing happens in the lives of individuals. All sorts of excuses fly when we make a mistake: “I didn’t really have proper training to do that … Nobody told me what to do … I was just following orders … I wasn’t feeling well that day … You know the stress I’ve been under.”
Or, as Flip Wilson’s character “Geraldine” used to say, “The devil made me do it.” Such excuses may be valid at times — especially when I make them — but most of the time they are just excuses.
I’m reminded of a sermon that Bob Miller allegedly preached at the Covington United Methodist Church one Sunday several years ago. He titled it something like “Who Killed the Church?” He even went so far as to get the local funeral home to bring a casket to the church for the service. He had it placed right down under the pulpit.
In the course of the sermon Bob painted a sorry picture of the person who killed the church and who now lay before them in the casket. Oh that person had offered all sorts of excuses for inactivity, not giving, not serving, not being supportive, and so on. After all, they paid a preacher and the preacher should do the work.
At the conclusion of the sermon, Bob stepped down from the pulpit to stand at the head of the casket. Then, he directed the ushers to have the members of the congregation to pass by for a final look at the one who had killed the church with excuses.
As you have probably guessed by now, Bob had placed a mirror in the casket, much to the shock of many, especially those who had excused themselves from taking charge in the life of the church.
As Pogo said once, “We have met the enemy, and they is us.”
We’re in charge, like it or not; and we’re in charge because God put us in charge.
Let’s start with the earth.
In Genesis I we hear the familiar creation story. God moved through six days or stages of creation, culminating with the creation of human life (vv. 27-28).
After God had completed the creation process, He looked out over it all and declared that it was good. Then, in effect, God stepped aside to leave us in charge of His creation.
I can’t help but wonder what God thinks as He looks out over His creation today. Would he still be pleased with what He sees? How would He rate our performance as keepers of the earth, as those in charge?
Oh, don’t wring your hands, saying, “There’s nothing I can do about all the problems.” You are in charge here, and so am I. Nothing can happen without our compliance; that scares me, because I am just as responsible for this world and its destiny as President Reagan or Premier Gorbachev. And so are you, because God put us in charge.
Our Lord Jesus Christ also put us in charge of His church before He left earth. In Matthews’ gospel, we see Jesus meeting with the disciples one last time, and there He authorizes them and us, to carry on His ministry (Matthew 28:18-20).
Our Lord has given us authority, has put us in charge of making disciples, baptizing, and teaching people to obey His commands-and there are no valid excuses for failing to do so.
Several years ago I participated in the funeral of 70-year-old Jean Bass. Jean spent the last 33 years of her life as a victim of Multiple Sclerosis. She literally couldn’t scratch her nose if it itched. She couldn’t feed herself. She was totally helpless in almost every regard.
Yet Jean Bass continued to share Christ’s love right up to the very end of her life. Everyone who visited her came away with a sense of God’s presence as she shared her faith in her Lord.
If anyone had valid excuses for side-stepping the Great Commission, I would have said that she did. Yet Jean kept alive the faith within her and shared it with others all the way to the end. She knew that she was in charge of doing so, so she simply obeyed her Lord’s command.
Finally, the Apostle Paul hints that we are responsible for our own lives and our own faith (JJ Corinthians 13:5).
Oh, nobody wants to examine themselves, Paul, except masochists. Why, we might see something there we don’t like. Worse yet, we might realize that the excuses we use to get ourselves “off the hook” in life really are not valid at all.
Paul wrote this part of II Corinthians to a congregation with whom he had had problems — and that is putting it mildly. People were offering all sorts of excuses for their non-Christ-like behavior, hatred of Paul, and of one another.
I hear Paul saying, “Enough is enough. Look at yourselves. You are in charge of your lives. You are in charge of the faith that Christ has given you. You can’t blame me or anyone else. You are in charge and responsible for living and acting right. I say this by the authority that Christ has given me — authority for building up, not tearing down.”
I know that it is difficult to do what Paul says, no one wants to go through the painful process of self-examination. Let’s face it, we all have a dark, mean, ugly side that we would like to avoid as much as possible. And we would all like to continue in the illusion that our excuses for our problems in life and for our weak faith are valid.
But it is time to quit deluding ourselves. All of us have problems in our lives; we all have hurts, pains, greed, nastiness, meanness — in short, sin. And sin continues to raise its ugly head in our personal lives and in our relationships with one another.
Now is the time to take charge of our lives; to say, “I can excuse myself no longer. I am responsible for this world, this church, my life. Cod has put me in charge, so I must take the authority that God has given and live as God wants me to live.”
Sounds impossible, doesn’t it? And it is unless I add one more thing: You can take charge because Christ is with you. As He said, “I am with you always, to the close of the age.”
That assurance is all we need. We’re in charge. (RMR)
June 21, 1987
What a Contrast!
On a summer day like today, can you remember what it was like just four months ago? The trees are leafless and surrounded partially by snow and brown grass … temperatures hover in the low teens and the sun refuses to shine … the squirrel outside depends on the corn I supply him and has difficulty finding a hiding place in the naked oak tree. Little says that nature lives!
Yet in a relatively short time the snow will melt, the grass will turn a luscious green, leaves will reappear on the trees, ducks and geese will return from their Florida vacation (along with the people we call “snowbirds,” who go south for the winter), the butterflies will flutter, the mosquitos will bite. All will live again. What a contrast!
Paul offers us a contrast as well. Dr. William Greathouse wrote that the apostle reaches “a veritable Everest of biblical revelation,” from which we have a panoramic view of redemption. Paul oscillates like a fan contrasting Adam’s sinful humanity and Christ’s life-giving victory over it.
On the stage of life bows Adam. Let’s identify his supporting cast on stage. The first cast member to appear is sin.
Adam sinned. He missed the mark. He did so not because of poor marksmanship, but because he chose the wrong target: Adam instead of God. John Wesley wrote: “Man was created looking directly to God, as his last end; but falling into sin, he fell off from God, and turned into himself.”
Because of this fall sin entered into the world. Great house indicates that Hamartia with the definite article occurs at least 28 times and always means sin, “the sin principle” or “the principle of revolt issuing in many transgressions.”
This brings us to the second character: disobedience. It was Adam’s disobedience that opened our human existence to indwelling sin, which is an irrational, tyrannical force of evil — a slumbering power which appears when God’s command comes calling. Adam’s disobedience was a calculated denial of God’s authority and a clear statement of his intention to go his own way.
The third character on stage is judgment. Because of Adam’s sin and our own we face God’s judgment. I like two-dollar bills, but store clerks and my wife hate them. When I go to my bank the tellers automatically ask “how many two’s do you want today, Rev. Keefer?” It’s interesting to see if the circulation of those two’s come back to me. I put a small mark on the ones I get and now those tellers tell me they look for “my mark” everytime a two comes into the bank.
In a sense we are daily putting “our mark” on the deeds we do that will identify them as ours at the close of life. They become our judge!
Sin will not only be judged; it will be punished. H. G. Adams wrote: “Hell is truth seen too late.” Bailey said: “Hell is the wrath of God-His hate of sin.”
What a bleak outlook. Yet now, what a contrast! Christ comes to bring summer, and life. A new stage produces new characters.
Christ brings life through obedience.
A great captain, after a battle, was talking over the events of the day with his officers and he inquired as to who had done the best that day. Some spoke of one man who fought bravely, and some of another. “No,” he said, “you are all mistaken. The best man in the field today was a soldier who was just lifting up his arm to strike the enemy, but when he heard the trumpet sound a retreat checked himself and dropped his arm without striking the blow. That perfect and ready obedience to the will of the general is the noblest thing that has been done today.”
Christ requires obedience. It is not optional; it is life supporting.
Christ brings life through mercy.
The Old Testament concept of “mercy” denotes a coupling of two other principles: “righteousness” and “love.” Some biblical scholars thus translate mercy as “steadfast love.” This vital concept implies a covenant relationship between God and humanity. God stand ready to pardon and forgive. As one Bible dictionary puts it: “mercy is compassion in action.”
With that thought, we as Christians need to take God’s example of compassion in action and apply it to our fellow man.
Christ brings life through forgiveness.
A busy judge was about to rebuff a poorly-clothed and trembling soldier who had entered his office, when he caught the handwriting of his own son in a letter that the soldier extended to him. It read:
“Dear father. The bearer of this is a soldier-friend, discharged from the hospital, going home to die. Assist him in anyway you can for Charlie’s sake.”
All the tender feelings of the father’s heart burst out. He took the young man home. He let him sleep in Charlie’s bed and clothed and supplied him with every comfort, for the sake of his own dear boy.
Will not God, the loving heavenly Father, do for His dear Son when He presents His pierced hands, and pierced feet, and pierced side, and precious blood, and says, “Father, they confess their sins; for My sake, forgive them.”
What a contrast: spiritual death versus spiritual life. The most amazing thing is that God gives us a choice! (DGK)
June 28, 1987
A New You
Augustine wasn’t always a saint! Prior to his conversion he lived a very wild, sensuous lifestyle. He had a mistress named Claudia. Shortly after he found Christ, Claudia saw him on the street in the city. “Augustine! Augustine!” she cried after her old paramour. “Augustine! Augustine!” she cried out again, “it is Claudia!” “But it is no longer Augustine,” he replied, as he continued down the street.
For those who have experienced Christ we can say: “it’s a new you!”
I. The New You Died to Sin
Paul sails into deep theological waters in Romans 6. He draws word pictures attempting to symbolize for us what happens when we become new. He states boldly that the Christian becomes a part of Christ and so figuratively “dies” with Christ as He died on the cross. With that death we are no longer under sin’s complete dominion! As Fritz Ridenour aptly puts it, “we really believe that sin’s fangs have been pulled.”
If we serve sin, it means frustration, disillusionment, a hardening toward the gospel. That’s not the lifestyle that Christians desire. It is important that we know ourselves as we are by nature.
Many today are familiar with Freud’s analysis of the psyche which distinguishes the instinctual drive (id), reason (ego), and conscience (superego). Similarly, transactional analysis deals with the “parent,” the “child,” and the “adult,” who make up each self. But it is equally essential that we understand ourselves by grace.
When Christ came He brought to light the truth that sin could be conquered. Conflict arose because I desired to live like Him, but sin still sought a place in my life. In the symbol of baptism I died to that. I desired to put it away by faith in Christ.
II. The New You Is Relational (v. 4, 6, 11)
Christ has taken over. I am now alive unto God! We have been grafted into Christ. Greathouse wrote: “Everything Christ procured for us by His atonement is now ours in Him.”
Christ’s death for me made possible my justification; Christ living in me is my sanctification. It all starts at the new birth.
Ridenour calls it “positioned sanctification,” when every believer is now positioned in Christ. My own theological upbringing defines it as “initial sanctification.” Whatever we choose to call it, a holy lifestyle begins because Christ-the holy Christ — now lives in me.
This holiness of life can only be entire as we permit the risen Christ to possess us completely.
Bishop H. C. G. Morle said: “Christ for us on the cross, as our peace with God … Christ in us for our emancipation from the tyranny of self, for the conquest of temptation, for the power to ‘walk and to please God …’ Christ over us, the Master, by every claim of Lordship, sovereignty and possession.”
It is actually allowing Christ through His Holy Spirit to help me experience triumph over sin in daily life. Ridenour puts it as the “experiential sanctification,” while Wesleyans call it “entire sanctification.” But it cannot take place if we are not in a relational position with Christ-if He does not dwell in us.
III. A New You Is a Person of Choice (v. 7)
I must allow Christ to make the difference in my life. He isn’t going to be like the old western hero who “breaks down the door” in order to save us. He doesn’t make us mechanical robots or programmed computers. We are living, breathing people who have daily choices to make.
The power of sin can be broken, but temptations to sin still come. Paul is simply saying, “Sin is not your only alternative.” Another route has opened: obedience to Jesus. As we make those decisions we will actually be turning toward sin or Christ. There is no “no man’s land.”
Robert Schuller, in his book It’s Possible, told about a man who was selling balloons on a street corner of New York City. He knew how to attract the crowds before he offered his balloons for sale.
First he took a white balloon, filled it up and let it float upward. He did the same to a red one and then a yellow one. As the balloons floated overhead all the kids of the neighborhood pulled their parents over to his cart to buy balloons.
A hesitant little black boy looked up at the balloons and finally asked, “If you fill a black balloon, would it go up too?” The man looked down and said, “Why sure it would son, it’s not the color of the balloon, it’s what’s inside that makes it go up!”
Schuller wrote, “What’s inside of you decides whether you succeed or fail …” Paul says, it’s Who is inside you that makes the difference in whether you succeed or fail!” sin. Let God create “a new you!” (DMK)
Outlines are provided by R. Michael Reed, Pastor of Center United Methodist Church, Indianapolis, IN; Derl G. Keefer, Pastor of Three Rivers Church of the Nazarene, Three Rivers, MI; Sam Wilson, Associate Editor of Preaching; and Michael Duduit, Editor of Preaching.
May 3, 1987