July 10, 2011

Depth of Sin, Height of Grace - July 10, 2011

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We’ve all had to make hard decisions in life. Or if we haven’t yet, we will. When the time comes to choose what to do, or say in some hard situation, someone may offer us the following advice: follow your heart.

This little proverb sounds like good advice until you read what God says in the book of Jeremiah.
“The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it? ‘I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds’” (Jeremiah 17:9-10 NASB).
We might be okay in a given situation if we follow our hearts. We just might stumble onto the right choice. The right words. But most likely, we won’t. The human heart is sick. And in it’s sickness it lies, even to itself.

If we want evidence of the sickness of the human heart, we don’t have to go far. Flip on the news and you’ll find a parade of atrocities committed by people following their hearts. Drive to your local library and borrow a book that details the dark careers of this century’s mass murderers, serial rapists and killers. Browse the psychology section and pick up a text book on how to treat one of the many obsessive and destructive behaviors that infect the human psyche.

The human creature is a complex creature. But through all of the complexity runs one common infection – sin. The inability to live God’s way. Sin is the sickness which cripples our ability to fully enjoy life. Sin is the sickness which ultimately leads to eternal separation from the holy God.

Simply put, human beings are buried in a watery grave of sin. And the depths of that sin are unfathomable. For with a single evil word or deed we are so far separated from the sinless God, that there is no hope for us to reach Him.

Picture it like this. The sinner is like a person paddling alone in the open ocean, over it’s deepest trench. Sin is a huge iron anchor chained to our leg. It drags us down to the bottom. Down to the inky black ocean floor. And even if we could somehow detach ourselves from it, we’d have no hope of reaching the surface.

But into this sad and hopeless picture, God sent His Son Jesus. Jesus plunged into the icy waters of our world. He became human so that He could be our rescuer.

Our sermon reading for today is from Romans 5. We begin with verse six. There Paul writes…

Romans 5:6-8 (NIV)

6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

You and I were born into this world sinful. Through our choices we have added sin after sin after sin to the anchor dragging us away from God. We have lived as His enemies, attacking His holiness with our sinful words and actions.

And yet, God still loves us. He cares for His enemies. For the ungodly.

This is completely unlike us. When we see someone on the news who has done some horrible crime, we want them punished. We want them to pay for what they’ve done. We wouldn’t take the place of a mass murderer on death row.
Like Paul says, even if we had the opportunity to change places with an innocent person we wouldn’t jump at that opportunity. Paul says “for a good person someone might possibly dare to die”.

But God is not like us. He demonstrates the purity of His love in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Now, there’s something awesome thing to remember from this little section of Romans. A thing to hold onto with all your heart and mind. It says, “Christ died for the ungodly”. Look at that verse again and mark it well. Verse six, “Christ died for the ungodly”.

When you feel as though your sins are unforgivable, ask yourself: Am I ungodly? You answer has to be “Yes, I am ungodly”.

And the Scripture’s response, God’s response to this confession? - “Then Christ died for you.

Be at peace. Your sins stand forgiven through Christ. On the cross God’s Son took the anchor of your sins off your leg and He put it on Himself. He took your sin, and gave you His righteousness. He died your death, so you could receive His life.

And when you feel as though you can’t forgive someone else’s sins against you, remember that same question and answer. Is this person ungodly? Then Christ died for this person too. Maybe that person needs to hear that Christ died for them too. Maybe they need to hear that because of Christ, you also forgive them.

God demonstrated His unconditional, self-sacrificing love in this, He declared the ungodly to be righteous, through Jesus.

In the first half of our sermon reading, Paul has talked about the depth of our sin, and how God’s love runs deeper. In the second half of our reading, Paul speaks of the future that we now have because we have been declared sinless through Christ’s sacrifice in our place.

Romans 5:9-11 (NIV)

9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Now, sometimes it’s hard for our modern minds to follow Paul’s train of thought. He was, after all, a Jewish Christian who lived 2,000 years ago. So, I’m going to back up now and take us through Paul’s thought process.

First, look again at verse nine. There Paul says “Since we have now been justified by his blood”. Paul’s thought process beings here. Because of Jesus we sinner have received a new title. Instead of “sinner”, our new label is “innocent one”. We’ve been declared righteous.

Imagine that you’re waiting in line to get into a concert. But the event has been overbooked, and the doors are closed. But then, you see the star of the concert moving through the main line, making his way to the front doors. On his way he bumps into you. You exchange a few excited words. What luck! You think, well, at least I got to meet the guy. But then he looks at the closed doors, at you, and then nods at one of the bodyguards following close behind. And the body guard takes your hand and stamps it “VIP”. That done, the star moves through the crowd and into the venue where the show will be held.

Now things have changed for you in two ways. All the frustrations and irritations of waiting in line are gone. You can move through the line at ease. The line no longer matters.

Also, when you get to the door, you’ll be ushered in with no questions asked. You’ve got the stamp of approval from the star himself!

This is the picture Paul lays out for his fellow Christians in Rome. Justified by Christ’s blood, we have the star’s stamp of approval. Now we can move through life in peace and security. Now we know when we reach the Judgment Day we’ll be swept into heaven, no questions asked.

In verse ten, Paul says because of Christ, “we shall be saved through his life”. In other words, because Christ rose from the dead, He lives to guide us in our daily lives.

All the messed up ways of living we see on the news and in books and movies, we have been rescued from stumbling into those ways by Christ. Knowing that our sins are forgiven, we now follow Christ’s ways. And those ways lead to peace and confidence in this life. In this way, we are saved by the empty ways of human culture and the pain and destruction that we would stumble into if we followed the directions that our culture gives.

In another book the apostle Peter wrote…
“…you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:18-19 NIV).

In verse 9, Paul says that because we are stamped innocent by Christ’s blood, we will be “saved from God’s wrath” on the last day.

Now we have a future to look forward to. Even to brag about! We’ve been reconciled to God through the death of His Son. And since that Son has risen from the dead, we’re assured that He lives forever, and will one day take us to be with Him to live in the presence of the holy God forever!

And one of the best parts about bragging about our future is this, we can also tell others – CHRIST DIED FOR YOU TOO! Be at peace. Your sins stand forgiven through Christ. Through Christ, you too have a VIP pass through life, to heaven.

Some who hear this won’t want it. They’ll push the grace of God away in favor of holding onto the sinful ways handed down to them. We can’t do anything about this other than speak of the grace we’ve received from God through Christ. The Holy Spirit has to soften the refusing heart through the Good News of Christ. All we can do is live in that grace and express that grace that we have experienced, to the best of our ability.

These are the blessings we have because of Christ - salvation for life and salvation for Judgment Day. As Jesus once said,
“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24 NIV).
It doesn’t matter how deep, and sick and dark your sins are. God’s love is deeper and further reaching.

It doesn’t matter how low your heart has brought you, through the grace of God, earned and give through Christ, your are raised far above them. Like David wrote in Psalm 103,
“11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:11-12 NIV).

We started this message today by remembering the world’s advice: Follow your heart. I’d close it by saying don’t follow your heart. Follow your Savior, through whom you, a sinner, have been washed clean and brought back to God.

Prayer: Father in heaven, the world offers that advice, follow your heart. But you have taught us a better way. To follow Your Son. Thank you for the free forgiveness that you have given us through Jesus. Help us to shower others with that same forgiveness, and to express your love to them so that they too may believe, and live this life in peace, and with a clear view of the sure future we have because of your love. Amen.

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