December 7, 2008

God's Approval Comes Through Faith in Christ - Dec 7, 2008


During the season of Advent we prepare for the arrival of God’s own Son. We ponder how He came into the world as a newborn baby. We remember how He has come into our hearts through the Word of God. We look forward to the time when He will appear visibly, in power and glory, on the Last Day.

Of all the things we want to be ready for this Advent season, the Last Day is the most important. We want to be ready, so that on that day we will receive God’s stamp of approval, instead of His stamp of rejection.

Today’s readings are all about God’s approval. How is it obtained? Can we truly know that we have it? How?


God’s prophet Zephaniah spoke to the people of Judah during the reign of good King Josiah. The northern kingdom of Israel had been destroyed many years previous, and the southern kingdom of Judah was within fifty years of its end.

In his writing, Zephaniah uses the term, “the day of the LORD”. In the Bible this term is used in a general way. It always refers to a time when the LORD does something big. When Zephaniah uses the phrase he is referring to the destruction of Jerusalem which would come in 586 BC. It is then that the people of Israel would be enslaved by the nation of Babylon.

This terrible time of death and slavery would come upon the people because they had turned away from the LORD to worship idols.

When the destruction of Jerusalem came in 586, the wealth of the people could not save them. When the final “day of the LORD” comes, and all people stand before the LORD to be judged, wealth will not be able to save us.


In the Garden of Eden the LORD promised Adam and Eve that a champion would one day be born who would destroy the Devil’s power. When the Son of God was born in Bethlehem, He came because of God’s great love. He came to fulfill God’s longest standing promise by dying in the place of sinners, thus removing the punishment for our sins, and the power of the Devil.

When Jesus returns on the Last Day, He will come to bring judgment and condemnation on those who stand as enemies of God by their rejection of the Savior He sent. But Jesus will also come to finish out the promise God made in Eden. In love and faithfulness Jesus will usher all who trust in Him into the eternal kingdom of Heaven.

INTRO: MARK 13:1-8

In this section Jesus tells His followers that if anyone comes claiming to be Him before the Last Day, they are not to believe that person. It will be obvious to all when Jesus returns on the Last Day.

In our day and age there aren’t many people claiming to be the Christ, but there are many who label themselves “Christian”. When you probe into what they actually mean, you sometimes find that “Christian” to them merely means loose association with a Christian church.

A true Christian is a person who when confronted about their sin responds ultimately with a change of heart, not with endless excuses. A true Christian seeks the forgiveness that Christ offers by confessing his sins to God. A true Christian is a person who believes that only through Jesus can their sins be forgiven.

Self labeling may give the appearance of approval. But this is only deception. God labels His own people with the sticker that reads “Trusts in Jesus for forgiveness” and, “Confesses Sins Continually”. And after these labels He puts on others like: “Forgives People”, “Loves Others”, “Is at Peace”, “Is Kind”, “Is Joyful”, “Controls Self”.

When Jesus returns on the Last Day all deceptive self labeling will fall away and only those approved by the LORD ,by true faith in Christ Jesus, will stand.


On his second missionary journey, the apostle Paul reached the city of Corinth. Corinth was in the most important trade city between Rome and the east. It was well known as a place of learning and as a place of loose morals.

Paul spent a year and a half in Corinth, preaching the Good News of sins forgiven through Jesus Christ. Christ’s message bore fruit, and a good sized congregation grew up made of both Jewish born peoples and non-Jews who had come to trust in Jesus as the promised Savior from sin.

Eventually Paul departed from the congregation at Corinth so that he could continue to bring the message of Christ to other towns. But from time to time Paul would check up on the Corinthians to see how they were doing in their walk with Christ.

When Paul heard of some very un-Christian behaviors being tolerated in the congregation at Corinth, he wrote a strong letter to them to set them straight. We still have that letter. It’s in the New Testament and is called “First Corinthians”.

When Paul later found out that the congregation had responded well to this first letter, he wrote a second. In his second letter to the Corinthians Paul commended them for the good changes they had made in response to his first letter.

But there were still issues to deal with. There was a group of people in the congregation that were speaking badly about Paul. They were telling lies about him that Paul could not tolerate.

In our sermon meditation for today we’re going to take a look at part of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian congregation.

In this section Paul is seeking the approval of the Corinthians. But Paul doesn’t try to gain their approval by flattering and complementing them. Instead he seeks to get their approval by telling them the truth.

In this section Paul addresses a good number of the lies that had been reported about him. Toward the end Paul gets around to the reason why he’s defending himself and also why he had written so strongly to the Corinthians in the first place. Paul wanted the Christians at Corinth to remain followers of Christ. He also wants them to grow stronger in faith and wisdom so that the Good News of Jesus could spread out from the Corinthian congregation to the surrounding cities.

In this section Paul seeks the approval of the Corinthians so that other people might have the approval that really matters, the approval of God that comes through faith in His Son.

Because this section is a bit complicated, we’ll take up our study in a little different way than usual. Instead of reading through the text all at once, I’m going to read through it and explain what Paul’s talking about as we go.

2 Corinthians 10:7 (NIV)

7You are looking only on the surface of things. If anyone is confident that he belongs to Christ, he should consider again that we belong to Christ just as much as he.

In the Corinthian congregation there were arguing factions. These factions had aligned themselves with different leaders in the church. Some said, “We follow Paul.” Others said, “We follow Apollos.” Others said, “We follow Cephas”. One other groups got the wise idea to say instead, “We follow Christ”. Ha! How do you beat that!

Paul says, “Don’t be fooled by labels.” If they’re really Christians, so what, so is Paul. The name Christian doesn’t give you authority over other Christians. Besides, just because a person says “I’m a Christian” doesn’t guarantee that they are. Jesus once told His disciples,

21“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:21-23 NIV).

Don’t assume that your neighbor who goes to church is a Christian. Find out what they really believe. Look in their life for the signs of faith in Christ. What do they really believe will open the gates of heaven for them when they die? Is it Jesus alone? Or is it something else that they put their trust in? Outward labels cannot save, don’t be fooled by them.

2 Corinthians 10:8 (NIV)

8For even if I boast somewhat freely about the authority the Lord gave us for building you up rather than pulling you down, I will not be ashamed of it.

Apparently when Paul had spoken of his authority as an apostle of Christ Jesus, some of the people in Corinth had used that against him. They had said, “Look at the way he boasts about his authority. Is that how a servant of the church acts?”

Paul says, “I won’t be ashamed of what Christ gave me for the purpose of building you up.”

Some people are very suspicious of authority. They think that everyone who holds some form of authority is going to abuse it. This certainly wasn’t the case with Paul.

Did you know that he went out of his way in Corinth not to be financially supported by the church there? Yeah! He accepted financial support from other churches while he was in Corinth, but none from them, so that he wouldn’t be a burden to them in any way. And yet some of the Corinthians had the nerve to point the finger when Paul started defending his authority as an apostle sent out by Christ.

Don’t be ashamed of the authority that you have as a follower of the Son of God. When a person shows that they have no are not sorry for their sins, you can warn them by declaring to them that they stand apart from Jesus as long as they refuse to repent.

When a person shows that they are troubled by their sins, you can comfort them by telling them their sins are truly forgiven because of Jesus.

We call these powers given to the Christian the binding key and the loosing key. They are both given to us for the purpose of helping people, not hurting them, so don’t be ashamed to use them.

2 Corinthians 10:9-11 (NIV)

9I do not want to seem to be trying to frighten you with my letters. 10For some say, “His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.” 11Such people should realize that what we are in our letters when we are absent, we will be in our actions when we are present.

Sometimes politicians put ads on TV about their opponents meant to frighten people into not voting for them. These kinds of scare tactics can be very effective. But these methods are not the way that a Christian operates.

Paul says, “I’m not trying to manipulate you with scare tactics, I’m speaking the truth in love. When I return to Corinth my actions there will match my words.”

This is the way that Christians speak. We don’t hold back any necessary things, but we also don’t exaggerate things in order to manipulate people.

Jesus teaches us that we should not need to swear that what we’re saying is the truth. The Christian’s “Yes” should simply be “Yes”, and their “No” should be “No”. In the same way when we speak we should be careful to simply speak the facts instead of embellishing them to further our own agendas.

2 Corinthians 10:12 (NIV)

12We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.

It’s easy to exaggerate our own good qualities and forget about our faults. It’s also easy to exaggerate our neighbor’s faults and forget about his good qualities. When we insist on seeking approval by comparing ourselves to others we usually end up lying to ourselves and hurting others.

Paul says, “Don’t grade yourself by comparing yourself with others.”

Paul also says, “Don’t grade yourself by comparing yourself with yourself.”

Proverbs 21:2 says,

Every way of a man is right in his own eyes,

But the Lord weighs the hearts” (Proverbs 21:2 NKJV).

When we judge ourselves by human standards, we can usually find a way to come out looking pretty good. Christians, we need to stop manufacturing approval for ourselves and seek instead the approval of God.

2 Corinthians 10:13-15a (NIV)

13We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the field God has assigned to us, a field that reaches even to you. 14We are not going too far in our boasting, as would be the case if we had not come to you, for we did get as far as you with the gospel of Christ. 15Neither do we go beyond our limits by boasting of work done by others…

Some might have called Paul a big bragger, but the fact of the matter was, Paul was the one who had originally brought the Good News of Christ to the city of Corinth. This was the work that Jesus had given him to do. He had gone and done it. He wasn’t taking credit for someone else’s mission work.

Paul says, “Don’t brag about work not GIVEN TO YOU, not COMPLETED, and not done by YOU.

But don’t get the wrong idea. Paul wasn’t seeking credit for himself. Listen to Paul’s own words in his first letter to the Corinthians.

9For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed” (1 Corinthians 5:9-11 NIV).

This is true Christian humility. To acknowledge real hard work when it is there, but to remember it is God’s hand that enables any successful work in His service.

2 Corinthians 10:15b-18 (NIV)

…Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our area of activity among you will greatly expand, 16so that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you. For we do not want to boast about work already done in another man’s territory. 17But, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” 18For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.

Here Paul reveals his agenda. It’s not really a hidden agenda. It’s what Paul is all about. He has been defending his own reputation as an apostle of Christ because Paul wants to be able to build up the faith of the Corinthian Christians.

He wants them to be a base-camp for trips out into the “un-Gospelled” cities and villages all around them. But that can’t happen unless their faith in Christ grows stronger. That can’t happen with factions growing and false teachers being tolerated and Jesus’ apostle being slandered.

Paul says, “I want people to boast that they know the LORD. Only the further preaching of the Good News of Christ can accomplish this. But that won’t happen until you Christians grow up.”

“…it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends” (2 Corinthians 10:18 NIV).

That brings us back to the focus of our service today. The LORD’s approval.

The Bible clearly teaches that there is one way to receive God’s approval – faith in God’s Son as Savior. Jesus once told his disciples:

32‘Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. 33But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven’(Matthew 10:32-33 NIV).

Faith in Jesus is what gives a person God’s approval. But faith in Jesus is not merely saying “I believe that Jesus is my Savior” with your mouth. Faith is the living and active relationship with God’s Son that causes a Christian to acknowledge Him with our lives. Faith is an on-going relationship of trust with God’s Son. A living relationship that breathes by prayer, grows by the Bible and lives because it is connected to Jesus.

God grant that through the powerful Word of God we may be built up in faith, trusting in Christ alone for God’s approval. God grant also that we might become mature Christians, ready to move out into our community with the message of Christ in a real and powerful way. Amen.

The peace which comes from God, which far exceeds all our understanding will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

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