August 28, 2017

August 27, 2017 - Colossians 2:6-10

Theme: A Complete God means a Complete Believer

One of the first major doctrinal attacks upon God’s Church was the uprising of Gnosticism. Gnosticism comes from the Greek word for knowledge. As a religious belief it is a mixture of several different religions of both Western and Eastern influence. Gnosticism was around even before Jesus came to earth but it reached its height in the late 100s AD, just as the Christian Church was also growing and coming into its own.

According to Gnosticism, the greatest evil in the world is matter. Salvation consists in separating oneself from matter. According to Gnosticism, evil entered the world when wisdom entered the world and created a union with matter that gave birth to a Demiurge, or lesser god. To Gnostic teachers, this demiurge was Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament. According to their beliefs, Jehovah claimed to be the only divine, but was really ignorant of the greater truth that He was simply in charge of this fallen realm. Here’s where the main connection to Christianity comes. Gnosticism teaches that through Christ, the chosen one, redemption came. This chosen one entered Jesus at His baptism and left Him at His death. Christ was the Gnostic Savior in that He taught true Wisdom while He was on earth, not that He died for sins. For Gnosticism, the great evil of matter was conquered through the spiritual wisdom. Not surprisingly then, Gnosticism denies both the true humanity and true divinity of Jesus. To them, He was simply the vessel through which their chosen one revealed wisdom. In fact, it was taught that Jesus’ own body served as insulation against the true chosen one coming into contact with evil matter.

What we see under this carefully crafted and complicated lie is a direct attack against our Savior, leveled against God’s Church at a time when it was extremely fragile. The lies of Gnosticism continue to be promoted today in various forms. Therefore, let us not take for granted the precious truth that our Savior Jesus is both man and God, and in that way is our only perfect Savior. Against the backdrop of this context, consider the words of Paul’s letter to the Colossians, from chapter 2, verses 6-10. 

Colossians 2:6-10 As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7 rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. 8 Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; 10 and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.

This is one of those portions of Scripture that reminds us, having the true God is so important. But that’s not what we often hear today. We hear, “Be a good person, that is what really matters.” We hear, “Correct doctrine is not what saves a person, don’t be such a stickler.” We hear, “Don’t judge others or even dare to tell them they’re wrong, let each person believe what they want.” We don’t often hear, at least from world, “I believe that Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, is my Lord.”

Suppose your next-door neighbor was Gnostic. The brief overview I gave of that religious belief probably sounded quite outlandish. If not much of it made sense, hopefully you at least gathered that a Gnostic denies the true Jesus. So, suppose your neighbor believed this. Would you say anything to them? Suppose the majority of people in our community, in our nation, believed it. Would you stand firm against it? Would you defend Jesus, knowing that it is a direct attack against Him? The right answer is abundantly obvious, of course we would take a stand; absolutely we would tell others the truth.
But, there’s a great temptation in desiring to conform, no matter how ridiculous the majority opinion is. Our actual culture is currently filled with equally dangerous beliefs, things that are not hypothetical for us but reality. As we think of the beginning of the school year it reminds us that the evolutionary tale and the sinful lifestyles that develop out of it are taught and promoted widely to young children in our nation. Kids are learning that they are not made in the image of God but rather are highly developed animals.

We are all know how easy it is to hasten after riches in this life instead of invested our time in spiritual treasures from God’s Word. God’s truth is that neither success nor happiness is measured in material terms. Everyone knows this, yet so many continue to fall into the same trap.

The world tells us to despair if our surroundings and circumstances don’t give us pleasure or make us happy. That it must be someone else’s fault if things don’t go our way when we pursue our dreams. But, God says our own personal goals are not the measure of our fullness. These examples are all real beliefs that shape our culture today, yet is substance they are just as foolish and dangerous as Gnosticism.

The point here is that when you are rooted and established in the truth, you will overflow with thanksgiving. Thanksgiving gravitates toward service, and in our Christian lives that means service to God first and foremost. And to God, the greatest service you can offer is to obey His Word. The circumstances you are in do not determine the reaction of faith, rather the substance of your life determines the reaction.

The early Christians had to endure the danger of Gnosticism, and much more. The religion of the majority was based on the mythical false gods of the Romans. At this time, there was intense physical persecution, which lasted longer than the United States of America has currently been in existence. Think of that, a period in which the authorities sanctioned, and even promoted mistreatment and murder of Christians that was longer in existence than our own nation’s history. On top of this, a direct attack on the core teaching of the Christian faith, on the very central figure of the faith. These early Christians, including the Colossians, were up against a lot. We are today – in different ways. And we share the same hope – the person of Jesus Christ.

Despite all the hardship against the early Church, by the time Christianity was legalized in the 300s AD, over half the population of Asia Minor, Greece, and Egypt confessed Christ. No wonder the early historians said that the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the Church. No wonder Martin Luther remarked that the ability to endure persecution is one of the necessary traits of a believer. The Church flourished despite these perils because their hope was never about themselves, or about the circumstances they were in. Their hope was that they were complete in Jesus, who is a complete God, and nothing could separate them from this.

The main theme of our section is that Jesus is a complete Savior and therefore those who believe in Him are complete Christians. The same word is used in our text to describe Jesus being fully (completely) God (v.9) and Christians being full (complete) in Him (v.10). This pertains to more than just redemption though. It contains a message for today, as well as for eternity. In Jesus we are completely restored, forgiven, and cleansed of sin. But, it is also in Jesus that we find the most complete measure of who we are. Because He is who He is, we are who we are.

Therefore, we see an inescapable connection between the person of Jesus and our lives. If He is not God, we have no hope. If He is not man, we have no hope. Paul is as clear as possible when he says, For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. In that simple phrase we have everything about the person of Jesus. We see the lie of Gnosticism exposed. Jesus is man, with a body. He came and took flesh. He assumed matter as part of His existence, not as a barrier to cover up who He really was. But, He is also the fullest, most complete expression of God.

It’s all there, but remember also the very first word, “For…” Paul stated this not as a simple point of fact, but as a reason for what he said in the prior verses. We could also say, “Because in Jesus dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” What was Paul defending? The Colossians’ hope, that they would be firmly rooted and built up in Christ. Both of these thoughts are metaphors for faith and both were taught by Jesus too. The idea of being rooted makes us think of the image of Jesus as a vine and believers as branches. Only through Him can we bear fruit. Only through Him does that fruit mean anything. Being built up is another thought of growth, a construction term. We think immediately of Jesus’ saying that the wise man builds his house on the rock; that rock being the teachings of Jesus. Suddenly, despite what the world tells us doctrine starts to matter quite a bit. Again, we see a hole exposed in Gnosticism and any other belief that exalts itself against Christ Jesus. True wisdom is in God’s Word, not in a conglomeration of man’s opinions.  

Paul used the plant and construction imagery to state the positives of faith. But, the humanity and deity of Jesus also serves as a warning about the negatives. Verse 8 reads, Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. The basis of Paul’s warning here is that if the Colossians did what verse 8 describes, they would be in danger of losing Jesus. You see, Jesus does not rise and fall in the gospel portions of the Bible alone. So often, we set up this imaginary scenario that we can think less of or even ignore certain parts of God’s Word, as long as they’re not the gospel. We think that somehow that attitude won’t be quite as dangerous. But here Paul says that any philosophy opposed to God, any empty deceit, any tradition of men, any basic principle of the world could directly threaten what we have in Jesus Christ.

The idea of “cheat” in verse 8 is to literally carry something away captive. The warning is to avoid becoming the world’s slave by letting it control your thinking and dictate your faith. The phrase “empty deceit” is also interesting. Why would Paul feel the need to qualify deceit? Wouldn’t warning against deceit itself be enough, we know that’s not a good thing. Why does he warn about empty deceit? Well it’s a difference between perception and reality. Another way to think of deceit in this sense is pleasure. Don’t we often seek pleasure because it’s enjoyable, even if it’s something that is sinful? Aren’t we often encouraged by the world to think that pleasure isn’t all that bad, that we’re designed and programed to have it so we shouldn’t say no?

Of course, if something is sinful it’s never good for us. That’s the bare truth. But, we tend to convince ourselves otherwise. The Holy Spirit knows this, so he takes this deceit, which the sinful flesh longingly desires to be innocent, and he qualifies it. He calls it empty, vain, worthless, just so we know exactly what we’re dealing with. No matter what the world calls it. No matter what mental gymnastics we might do to convince ourselves it’s okay, the Spirit tells us clearly, it’s worthless – stay away from it.

The last warning of verse 8 deals with what is called the “basic principles of the world.” Think of this as describing the building blocks of knowledge, the ABC’s of why we believe what we believe. The point here is that the little things matter. Every evil starts somewhere. The kinds of philosophies that lead away from Christ are based on tons of tiny beliefs. Even the littlest of things that would detract from Jesus matters. We have to constantly heed this warning because that compendium of beliefs that serves as the foundation for world-based philosophy is always changing. There is no fixed truth for unbelievers; they will change their beliefs and follow whatever they feel like. Not so for us. Our faith has always been the same and always will be the same. It never changes because the One it is based on never changes. Hebrews 13:8 

Everything that Paul addresses here in this context comes back to one thing – the complete Jesus: True Man and True God. It is because of this central truth that he states both the positives and negatives that we should be thinking about in our lives. The truth about Jesus matters, not because it is some obscure fact in history, and not because our faith is measured by our correctness. The truth about Jesus matters because it is the very source of the truth about ourselves. Just as He is complete so are we. If we fracture His nature, it will fracture ours.  

The early Christians were confronted with a serious threat on this front right away. Through the Lord’s guidance and by relying on His Word of truth, they prevailed. Jesus Christ, true Man, true God, crucified for our sins – becoming matter and flesh for us, so that we could become more. But, Satan’s arsenal is simpler than you think. For generation after generation he has waged the same battle is different forms. The singular goal is this – to destroy Jesus in your heart. That can happen in several ways. For today, let us be on guard against this one in particular – changing who He is and what He did.

It is fact that He is man and God. It is fact that He needed to be both to win salvation. It is fact that our completeness, both here and in eternity, is contingent on His. May we never change those truths for the mere sake of personal convenience in this temporary world. And may God’s Spirit continue to root us and build us up with thanksgiving, in our blessed Savior. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen. 

August 22, 2017

August 20, 2017 - Galatians 3

Galatians 3: A Beginning of Division, an Ending of Unity

Grace and Peace be to you in the name of your righteous Substitute, Jesus Christ.

Many people are discouraged and concerned at the division that currently exists in our nation. The news outlets have been flooded this past week with stories of racial divide stemming from protests and violence in Charlottesville, VA. We often wonder why such evil continues to exist in our country. We marvel that ignorant beliefs which were conquered years ago in war keep on being perpetuated publicly. And perhaps most alarming of all, we fear for the future of our families, our nation, and our world.

Even with racial tension aside, we still have plenty of vexing dangers. Terrorism, digital crime, and nuclear war all loom on our minds. Fear is still very much alive in our 21st century. And fear thrives on division. How fitting then that we encounter chapter 3 of Galatians this morning in our Lord’s Word. For this chapter is all about division, and yet the lasting thought is one of unity. Is this not what all people today desperately long for? Can we not then give them strength as we ourselves are also strengthened by the Holy Spirit? We ask Him to lead us today in that portion of His Word which we read as our second Scripture reading.

And we pray: guide, uplift, and sustain us through Your Word, O Lord; for it is truth.

To begin, let us list the many divisions we see in this chapter (printed in bulletin).
·       Law and Gospel
·       Spirit and Flesh
·       Works and Hearing
·       Beginning and Ending
·       Curse and Promise
·       Mediator and Guide
·       Jew and Gentile
·       Slave and Free
·       Male and Female, and certainly more could be driven out of the text.

By God’s grace, the chapter ends with this promise: “You are all one in Christ Jesus.” This is ultimately the lasting theme. As dreary as the divisions sound, their severity only serves to highlight the insurmountable love of your Savior. At the end of the day, they are all surpassed by Christ. For the believer, divisions are no longer sources of contention and stress. They are mere evidences of all that Christ has overcome. This is all that needs to be said, but to learn a bit more let us dig a bit deeper.

As painful as it is, division is a reality of life. The simple, straightforward truth is that life will never be close to perfect in a sinful world. And God is very upfront about that truth. That’s why so much of this chapter is spent on describing the negatives. That’s why so many examples are listed. And Paul gets right to the point in talking about their effect upon the Christian. He calls the Galatians “foolish.” He says that they were “bewitched,” literally led away by sorcery. What made this all the more painful was that they knew very clearly what they were straying from. Paul says that the message of Christ crucified was laid bare before them. Like a gigantic billboard on the highway, there was no missing the Gospel. The Galatians plight, as we have seen over the course of our series, was not born out of ignorance, but rather out of indifference. They knew the great treasure that they had and they let it slip away.

How sad this must have been for Paul, who helped found this congregation. But, he also knew that the situation was not beyond repair. And so we see the first round of our divisions. Paul asks, Galatians 3:2-3 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?

Here we see a clear distinction between the Law and the Gospel. The Law is always paired with works. The Gospel is always paired with hearing. Hearing may seem like a work on the surface but it is an entirely passive activity. The person who is hearing a message is not contributing anything to the substance of the message. Likewise, when a believer hears the Gospel and believes, it is entirely the Holy Spirit’s doing, based entirely on the work of Jesus Christ. For the Galatians, there was no doubt that this was the way they came to faith. In fact, it’s the same way all Christians come to faith, regardless of church denomination; regardless of generation. It always happens by hearing the Word of God.

But, as they continued in their faith, the Galatians were trying to move forward with their works. Paul’s stern reminder is that both the production and the progress of faith come from hearing. Take this bit of wisdom to heart. If you think you’re a Christian and claim to be a Christian, yet are distant from God’s Word, your faith is not progressing and it may very well be dead. Usually, when such a warning is given the first response is, “But, look at everything I’m doing.” I am loving to others. I don’t break the law. I feel very connected to God on my own. And the reasons go on and on but you’ll notice that they all deal with works and not with hearing. For the non-hearer, faith becomes their own creation. They produce it and they progress it to their liking and according to their definition. As we saw last weekend, in the case of the young rich man, this is simple idolatry.

For the Galatians, this foolishness of works began when they allowed false teachers to convince them that they needed to retain the old ceremonial restrictions of Israel – things like circumcision, Sabbath-day laws, tithing, etc. The Galatians were told that if they did not do these things, they could not be saved. To drive his point home, Paul gave them an example. If the Galatians wanted to be like Jews, Paul would go back to the father of the Jews – Abraham. Here we see the next divisions of our text.

God gave Abraham a promise. That promise was the coming of a Savior, who would enlarge the family of Abraham. This was not a physical promise. Abraham is known today as the father of the Jewish nation, but more importantly he is the father of all believers. God’s promise was more important than a long line of earthly descendants – because the Seed of Abraham was Jesus. Just as Jesus’ kingdom was not of the earth, so also Abraham’s family was not of the earth – at least in connection with this great promise.

In order for that promise to be kept, something had to be done with the curse. First, the curse of sin brought into the world. But, also the curse of the Law which binds all people under God’s strict commandments. Against these two curses we are helpless. But, Christ stepped in our place, became our Substitute, and redeemed us from the curse. Notice the complete exchange. We deserved to be cursed, righteously, yet Christ became the curse for us. He completely took our place, and He fully paid for our sins. If this redemption is truly complete, then it is eternally true that no work is needed on our part. Not only was this the point of God’s promise to Abraham, it was the very way that Abraham himself was saved, as Paul writes, just as Abraham "believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness." If the Galatians really wanted to be more like Abraham, they were doing a pretty poor job at it.

For the Galatians, the struggle was about OT works. For us, it is different but the point is the same. Many of us have begun our faith in the same simplicity, by connecting to the Holy Spirit through the simple waters of Baptism. There was no struggle there. There was no effort on your part in the slightest. Yet somehow, later in life things get more complicated. We begin to think that we must do something and that somehow God couldn’t operate without our help.

That’s the kind of thinking that leads the Christian, who began in the Spirit to tell others they must choose their Savior or invite Him into their hearts or they must be make a confession of faith before they can be assured of heaven.

That’s the kind of thinking that leads a person, who began in the Spirit, to believe that they don’t need church because they can be close to God on their own.

That’s the kind of thinking that tells a person, who began in the Spirit, that they can find more spirituality in nature than they can from the pulpit.

Each of those thoughts leads further away from hearing, and closer to works. As Paul would say, What foolishness! Don’t be led astray. If you began in the Spirit, why are you being perfected in the flesh?

But, at times, the truth hits even closer to home, especially in the current divisions of our nation. How often people think that human kindness and generosity will end world conflicts. If we could just be more loving, more wise, more educated, the world would be a better place. A utopian peace of this world is the perpetual lie of Satan, sown explicitly so people will no longer hunger and thirst for a heavenly country. Every person who trusts, promotes, or believes this lie has no more reason to keep on hearing by the Word of God for growth in faith by the Holy Spirit. The ideas of world peace, tolerance, love of others are all noble pursuits, to be sure. They emanate from God, the Creator of all good. But they are not more important than God. And they are never attainable in a completely holy manner outside of God’s Word.

The Galatians had their problems, we have ours. Our nation’s current conflict with racial tension will never be mended by tearing down statues, or ostracizing the opposition. Verbal wars on social media only serve to widen the division. Protests and marches often serve to heighten the conflict, rather than deter it. In any human endeavor, there may be minor improvement, but the sinful hatred that gives birth to racism, and every other evil, will always exist in a sinful world. No amount of human works or effort will ever eradicate it. And most important for our own hearts, no amount of human works will make us any better than anyone else. If you can grasp that truth, you have taken a huge step past the deluge of Satanic lies that are thrown your way in this world. You will show yourself to be a student of God’s law, to understand a part of His righteousness. The Law can certainly tell us a lot about ourselves but even the Law falls short of salvation. Paul writes, if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. (Gal 3:21 ESV) the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, (Gal 3:24 ESV)  

The path to salvation is through the Gospel. It is the Gospel that can indeed change a person’s heart. The Galatians were going through their own racial tensions but Paul didn’t prescribe any of the world’s solutions to their problems. He told them: so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith (v.14). This thought was completely unheard of at that time. No one, outside of God’s followers, were teaching that Abraham was connected to Gentiles in any way. It was the Pharisees who appealed to Abraham as their father as a reason why they didn’t need a Savior (John 8). It was through Abraham that God instituted the Old Testament ceremonial laws which they Galatians had become so entangled with. Paul could preach something so revolutionary because salvation had nothing to do with Abraham’s works or anyone else. It was not a matter of earthly ethnicity. It was completely about faith in Jesus Christ – the one who did everything. And that faith came through the hearing of the Word of God and the blessing of the Holy Spirit. 

The divisions of sin continue to hit our culture hard. We want to offer some kind of hope and we can. Let us strive for something greater and more powerful than mere human works. We can offer eternal unity to all people. Unity through the blood of Jesus. But, this gift does not come being silent or by hammering the opposing side harder. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” Having begun in the Spirit, let us be made perfect in the Spirit. No matter the division, we are all one in Christ Jesus. That is not of this world. That is not defined by the world. That does not come by works. If we are trying to attain that gift in any of those ways, we have strayed from the truth just as the Galatians did.

Only in Jesus Christ do the many superficial divisions of life become superseded by true unity. For this unity we now wait for by faith, and we eagerly expect in eternity in heaven. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

August 14, 2017

August 13, 2017 - Risky Gospel Part 2

Our Risky Identity: Empowered Dependence

Psalm 86:3-5 Be merciful to me, O Lord, For I cry to You all day long. 4 Rejoice the soul of Your servant, For to You, O Lord, I lift up my soul. 5 For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, And abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You.

Mark 10:17-22 Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, "Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?" 18 So Jesus said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. 19 "You know the commandments:`Do not commit adultery,'`Do not murder,'`Do not steal,'`Do not bear false witness,'`Do not defraud,'`Honor your father and your mother.'" 20 And he answered and said to Him, "Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth." 21 Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me." 22 But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

Our focus throughout our Risky Gospel series is seeing how God equips us to be bold and courageous in our faith. The last message in this series looked at the parable of the talents, where we saw that God expects us to trust Him above all else and that we use our treasure of the gospel to build His kingdom. This is not always an easy task, for several reasons. Sometimes we are hindered by dangers and persecutions from outside ourselves, at other times we become our own worst enemies by self-inflicting sinful wounds on our hearts.  

We take a look today at one way that we can either be further empowered by God or we can create bigger problems for ourselves. The pivot point of our text today is our identity. Is it rooted in God or in ourselves? Our lesson flows from the curious case of a rich man who approached Jesus. What we learn ends up hitting home deep in our hearts.

At first, we see several indications of correct intentions from this man. In fact, four things strike us from verse 17 alone: 
·       Ran up to to Jesus – sought Him out.
·       Knelt before Jesus – sign of respect.
·       Called Him “Good”
·       Asked what he needed to do to “inherit” (receive at no cost) eternal life

Clearly, this man’s understanding of God’s Word was advanced. And, furthermore, he recognized something in Jesus that would help him in his life with God. This was far beyond the understanding of many at this time, even among Christ’s own disciples. With all these things spot on, one might expect this story to conclude as an evidence of great faith, as a lesson on true holiness. However, we all know how this story ends. With such a promising beginning how could things end up so differently? Answer: The young man’s identity was not in God.

Here we see a perplexing thought. A person can be acquainted with God’s Word yet be distant from God. A person can know the commandments of God and desire to follow them, and perhaps even do a good job outwardly at it, and yet be far removed from life in heaven. This man knew the Bible, followed the Bible, yet was in the same camp as the Pharisees and Sadducees when it came to faith. Outward signs can be misleading, and even dangerous, when it comes to a skewed identity.

As our text moves on we see the true reason why the man thought he was doing well in life. Verse 20 reveals the problem. Upon hearing a summary of God’s Law as the correct path to heaven, the man replied, "Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth." The man already knew the answer to his question. He was looking for something else. He didn’t want advice or instruction from Jesus. He wanted a pat on the back. He wanted to be made a stunning and noble example by Jesus. He wanted to hear, “Keep it up. Stay faithful to those Ten Rules. Live a clean life. Enjoy yourself. You’ll get there in the end.”

Have you ever been in a situation where you could recognize that a person was just doing something as a means to something greater? Perhaps you’ve been that person. Someone says they want to help you with a task, maybe trimming the bushes, mowing the law, or helping you move. Simple tasks, not a big deal, but important ways to help one another. But, in the end they get upset if you don’t react the way they want you to; if you don’t shower them with praise, or tell others of how great they were. They didn’t really want to help just to be kind. They wanted something more.

Jesus was in a similar situation here. This man didn’t want to learn. No, he had a preconceived agenda to be praised. You can almost see in your mind the expression on Jesus’ face as the text tells us that He was moved to compassion for this wayward man, that His Savior loved him even in this moment of self-absorption. And you don’t have to imagine the man’s reaction to Jesus’ final words, because the text tells us clearly. The man went away sorrowful. The words actually contain picture language that points to a cloudy appearance, like that little raincloud hanging over someone’s head in a comic.

This man was sad, not because he was confronted with his sins and was reflecting in a moment of Godly repentance. No, his sorrow was much more superficial than that. He was sad because his ulterior motive had been exposed. His pride was not stoked as he thought it would be. He didn’t want to think about having to sacrifice his great treasures of the earth. By the way, the word “great” in the last verse of our text does not speak to value, but quantity. The man had a lot of stuff, but compared to faith in Christ it was all worthless. The same could be said of the many earthly treasures we hoard day after day.

Suddenly, this text becomes real for us. This is a lesson we know well, we’ve learned it many times from this story, yet we continue to be plagued by the same problem. We look down on this man as someone who just didn’t understand such a simple thing, namely that Jesus is greater than possessions. Helping others is better than shopping for ourselves. Yet, is there a single culture in history more attached to materialism than ours? Hardly. This man’s sorrow continues to haunt us too. It’s true that the lesson is simple. But, it’s one we need day after day.  

We clamor and hound for the latest technology, often destroying relationships to get it or throwing fits when we don’t have what we want. We would rather save our money to get what we want, rather than invest in church. We plan and plan for vacation time and we save for long, expensive trips but we don’t take time to help a fellow person in need or offer an encouraging word to build up church members. Too often, we are investing in the worthless things. We look dejectedly at the Lord’s Word of where our priorities should be, because we too have “great possessions.”

It all comes back to identity. It’s easy to say that we treasure the Lord above all, but have we thought lately about what that really means? Time with the Lord means less time with the treasures of the earth. That is a fearful prospect to our flesh, but only if our identity is rooted in the wrong things. If it is about possessions, we will go away sorrowful. If it is about our own cares or dreams, we will go way sorrowful. Rather, our identity should be firmly in God. We should desire to follow and obey what He tells us. To our flesh, this is intimidating, but Christ has defeated our flesh. We are a new creation in Him. That means we trust His plan and we realize it is really the most prosperous for our lives. Paul writes, 2 Corinthians 5:16-18 Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 18 Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.     

Identity is important because it shapes the way we think about things. The reason the man thought he had kept all the commandments was because his self-identity taught him that being a good and decent person, but not perfect, would be good enough. He never thought of God’s standard that demands total perfection because he was not aligning his thoughts to God’s will.

Strachan calls this our “calculus.” When we put all the information together, what does it compute? What is the answer to the equation? You may have all the correct numbers, but if the calculus, the formula, is off, so too will be the answer. You could also think of it in terms of baking. Following a recipe is very much like solving an equation. You complete each step, in turn, at the right time, and the product is complete. But, some steps are based on the validity of those that have preceded them. If I make a mistake early on, it will change the outcome, regardless of faithfully I follow the recipe.

This is what we must understand about ourselves. The mistake of sin, early on, first in the Garden of Eden and also at the very onset of our lives, has distorted our identity, our calculus, our recipe. We have the instructions before us. The Law of God is clear and simple. But it doesn’t speak praise and honor to us. We have been changed from perfection. That is the reality of the matter and with that basis alone there is absolutely no hope. The only result that a self-based identity will lead us to is an inflated, self-absorbed, false image of our lives. It will cause us to believe that the basis of salvation resides in ourselves, even if we still believe God helps in some way. It will lead us to focus on preserving our own interests, instead of repenting and seeking God’s help to change.

Strachan calls this Narcissistic Optimistic Deism. It is a form of positive pride where we become convinced that it’s everyone else that needs to do things differently, not us. It causes us to demand things from God, rather than humbly submit to His Word. Is God the granter of all my wishes or the righteous ruler of all things? Does God exist to make me great or do I exist to glorify Him? In the end, basing our identity in ourselves, no matter how “optimistic” it sounds, saying things like: “you are fine the way you are.” “follow your dreams.” “Don’t let the anything, church or God’s Word, hold you back from your potential.” Saying all those things is really idolatry in the end. It is self-deification.   

We look at the ancient rulers who deified themselves. Nebuchadnzzar, the Pharaohs, the Caesars, Japanese Emperors. We think of that as rudimentary, archaic thinking, that a mortal could actually think themselves to be a god, or be worshipped by others. But that’s really how all narcissistic spiritual thinking works. It deifies the self. We may not build a towering image of ourselves and command others to pray to it. But, if we are constantly absorbed in ourselves, if that is where our identity rests, the result is no different because our complete calculus is off.

Rather than narcissistic optimistic deism, God calls us to empowered dependence. That’s the beauty of the gospel in Christ. It establishes our identity firmly on what He has done for us. And, yes, that is empowering. The grace of Christ is able to unbind you from the shackles of self-inflicted pride. It will lead you to appreciate others more. It will cause you to look to God as the center of the universe, not yourself. There is healthy humility in the gospel and it produces the beautiful completion of God’s plan for your life, in a way that only God can accomplish.

But, God doesn’t work by patting you on the back. He doesn’t expect you to do everything and then He will take credit at the end. The grace of Christ also leads us to depend on Him. That means that we aren’t good on our own. It means that our intentions, even when they are directed in the right place, are not enough to be saved. It means that trying harder is only digging a deeper hole. God’s great promise in His Son is that the most fulfilling, liberating, and joyful life is a completely free gift, but it generates dependence on Him, not independence from Him. That’s the same difference between identity in yourself or in God.

The pain of losing your self-identity is only painful because of your old-man flesh. God says, Romans 6:4-8 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. 7 For he who has died has been freed from sin. 8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.

What amazing hope! We are free from sin, but only through Christ. Don’t get going so quickly in life that you lose that identity. Try to solve the equation any other way and you will fail. Your calculus is off. The hardship and pain of obeying God’s will as a sinner on this earth is only temporary. Is risking eternal life and complete holiness really worth a few more moments of earthly ease, which in the end will mean nothing? Where your identity resides will determine your answer to that question. Today, and every day let us boldly confess. In Christ Alone. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen. 

August 1, 2017

July 30, 2017 - Risky Faith

This sermon is part of our Risky Gospel series, based on the book of the same title by Owen Strachan.

Theme: Risky Faith -  God’s Call to Service and Salvation

The theme of our third Pentecost season series is called Ricky Gospel. It is based on a book of the same title in which the author, Owen Strachan, a professor of theology and church history at a Christian college, challenges Christians and their congregations to return to a mindset of boldness in these trying times. Each of our Sundays will look at a different aspect of our lives, both here on earth and by faith with God, and how the Holy Spirit equips us to be courageous for and through His Word.

Our first topic is Risky Faith and we meditate on the Lord’s Word from Matthew 25:14-30, the parable of the talents.  

"For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. 15 "And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. 16 "Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. 17 "And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. 18 "But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord's money. 19 "After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 "So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying,`Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.' 21 "His lord said to him,`Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.' 22 "He also who had received two talents came and said,`Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them.' 23 "His lord said to him,`Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.' 24 "Then he who had received the one talent came and said,`Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 `And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.' 26 "But his lord answered and said to him,`You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. 27 `So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest. 28 `Therefore take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents. 29 `For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. 30 `And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'

I read a news article this past week about a young man who grew up in tough circumstances and grew to become a decorated Navy SEAL, one of the elite of our nation’s military. In the article, the man told of his past and many of the mistakes he made. He was raised by a single mother. He lacked the guidance and leadership a father would have offered. He quickly became caught up in crime and recklessness, just because all of his peers were doing the same. He was drifting and heading for disaster. But, deep inside, he yearned for order in his life. So, he enlisted in the military and under that intense training and authority, he was fashioned into the man he became and he became a great asset to both his family and to his nation. Reflecting upon his former ways must have felt like living a different life.

The military has done that same thing for countless young men and women. I’m sure you all know someone who lacked maturity or a vision in life, entered the military mainly because they were out of options, and ended up becoming a completely different person. Strict training and discipline can have that effect on a person’s life.

In a way, God’s Church serves a similar purpose. We are here to provide spiritual discipline from the Lord. Not the kind of discipline that involves punishment, but the kind that gives structure and meaning to a wayward person’s life. But, unlike the military, the Church cannot drive that authority into a person by sheer training. God calls us to use a different approach. This method is incredibly easy, yet also incredibly difficult. We are to preach the Gospel to change people. That is easy because it is a free message and the work is completely finished. It is difficult because it means we must trust in God alone, not even in ourselves.

A question enters now when it comes to boldness of that faith, or what our author calls riskiness. In the military, one can simply hammer out that boldness through training. Intense, repetitive, hard training can help a person cope with their fears and overcome enemies that they never thought they could handle. When it comes to the enemies of our faith, intense training in the Scriptural things helps, but it will not eventually win the day for us.

Many Christians and churches try the militaristic method of hammering Biblical ethics and piety through a person’s subconscious. This tactic takes the forms such as: withdrawal from earthly pleasures, adherence to strict commandments and laws, and forming a unique and tight-knit community that keeps outsiders separate. At times, none of these things on their own is wrong. There is a certain amount of Biblical merit for each and many would even characterize our church in such negative ways. However, what merit and priority the Gospel of forgiveness holds really dictates the Godliness of these habits. The church that does these things simply to produce something they deem worthy in an individual is participating in a failed enterprise. The church that does these things to preserve the most sacred Gospel and to create an atmosphere that facilitates Gospel-centeredness is absolutely following our Lord Jesus’ command.    

The parable before us is about value. Not value in trying to find a cheap deal, but value in trying to find something lasting and treasured. First, this was the last parable Jesus spoke as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew. Immediately following these thoughts Jesus predicted His final coming and then reminded the disciples that in two days he would die on the cross. Jesus was stressing the value of this message near the end of His ministry. 

Second, within the parable, an individual talent from that era would be roughly equivalent to $60,000 in our modern economy. Simply put, the master gave his servants a valuable investment. Likewise, God has given us a valuable blessing in the gospel. Actually, more appropriately, God has given us something invaluable, because forgiveness cannot be bought by any means. Peter reminds us of this treasure when he writes, “knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot (1 Peter 1:18-19).”

We often think of this parable as describing the talents God has given us to serve Him. Things like: qualities, skills, occupations, and even finances. We are all different and therefore we all have different strengths and weaknesses. But, this fits the church well for there are many tasks that need helpers and the Gospel message can reach people in a variety of different ways. However, the real “talent” of our parable, the true investment, ultimately goes back to God’s blessing through the gospel, not the ways we show gratitude for that blessing. It is the gospel that God wants us to treasure above all other things. It is the work of sharing the gospel that God wants us to be invested in. Everything goes back to the gospel, and therefore so also does our courage as followers of Christ. This parable is certainly an encouragement to use our gifts and talents to serve the Lord, but that theme is secondary to the Lord’s warning of losing the precious gospel. When we prioritize the Lord’s Word in life, there will be plenty of difficulties and hardships that arise. There is always a temptation to take the easy way out of hard situations. Herein, we see the example of the wicked and lazy servant.

The wicked and lazy servant was punished by the master because he desired safety and acceptance over the work he was given to do. Make no mistake, the wicked servant knew how difficult the investment of his master’s treasure would be. We’re not told that he had evil intentions, either. He knew that investing the talent was important and a worthy thing to do. Yet, in the end, he was deemed “wicked and lazy” by his master because of his inaction. What Jesus is trying to root out in this example is apathy and indifference in our lives.

We know how important the work before as a church is. But, we also know how intimidating it is. We need boldness. At times, we need to be risky in that we trust God even when the path is unknown or even terrifying for us. What the wicked and lazy servant really did was accept that a comfortable life in the fallen world was more powerful than his master. He knew the consequences of disobeying his lord, as do we. But so often we choose the easy way out in order to avoid conflict with the world.

-        We tell ourselves that society is becoming so wicked, that it doesn’t matter what we preach from God’s Word – people will always reject.

-        We convince ourselves that service to the church isn’t all that important, after all what does cleaning and vacuuming really do to advance the kingdom of God? Donating weekly offerings to a cause that doesn’t produce the results we want feels like a failed endeavor.
At other times, we know that a loved one has strayed or the Lord is moving us to step up and defend His name, but we don’t because the risk is too much. We may be ostracized by our friends or we may generate conflict in our homes.

In each of those examples, we choose our own path over God’s. We sacrifice His command to invest on the altar of our own cowardice. And in so doing we become wicked and lazy servants ourselves.    

Paul wrote to young Timothy, a pastor who faced the same challenges we do, encouraging him by this reminder, God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). We have an invaluable gift in the gospel. It is the “power of God to salvation.” It has wrestled away the hearts of God’s biggest enemies and it can continue to do the same today. But, if we cater more to our fears than to trust in God, we will lose the gospel’s power. Not because it has changed, but because we have.

The word “wicked” in our text indicates something that is completely without value. What a contrast to the value of the talents. The Lord places value on our heads by first giving us the blessings of the gospel but also by redeeming us through His shed blood. When we resist His will to trust, especially in serving, we are becoming unprofitable, the opposite of what He has called us to by faith.

Strachan speaks of this in how we make sense of the world by calling that which we seek in life our  “fundamental orientation” (calculus). If that fundamental orientation is safety at all costs, or comfortableness then we have lost the Biblical way. God does not call us to literally let the world go to hell while we wait it out on the sidelines. Rather, He tells us that one of the very reasons Christ came was to change us. Paul writes that we are “transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2).” We no longer run in terror and shame from God’s will, we embrace it by faith and we seek it out. For the Christian, God’s Word is the fundamental orientation of life.

And why is that the case? Because God has placed value in and through His Word. That value shows us how God treasures each one of us and also the whole world. No matter who you come into contact with, the Bible tells you that without doubt, Jesus died for that person’s sins. Jesus placed a value on their life and he expects us to value it to. We don’t do that by hoarding the gift of salvation to ourselves. We don’t value them by commanding that they meet our standards before we accept them. We don’t value them choosing our own path of safety. We follow God’s Word.  

This parable is about service to God and one another. We should feel the Lord’s pressing word upon us to love our neighbor as ourselves, to support the work of the church and our ability to share God’s Word, and to be bold in our witness of that Word. But, most important of all, this parable is about salvation from God. Without this free gift there would be no treasure to invest. Without sins fully atoned for, there would be no reason to follow our Lord. What’s at stake in our Christian courage, our riskiness of faith, is not just projects at church or relationships with fellow members of our congregation. The very power of the gospel is at stake and the very reason why Jesus hung on the cross rests in the balance. 

This is not some desperate plea to be the best Christian you can or all will be lost. It is a humble reminder of the importance of God’s call to you – a call to service and a call to salvation. Amen.  

July 23, 2017 - Heritage of our Fathers: Part 2

Theme: How God Takes Care of Your Greatest Need
1.     He tells you the truth about your situation
2.     He accomplishes what you could not

I will praise You, O LORD, with my whole heart; I will tell of all Your marvelous works.” Psalm 9:1

Let’s play a round of “funny or annoying.” It’s just how it sounds. I say something and you think to yourself whether it’s funny or annoying. Ready? Blonde jokes. The super intense body-building guy at the gym who takes everything so seriously but really is only intent on checking himself out in the mirrors. That parent who always has his go-to joke, which you’ve heard 15 times. That person at work who plays really nice in front of the boss but is lazy and mean with everyone else. Chances are, even with just those few examples, we are going to answer differently. Some things in life are utterly hilarious to one person while at the same time completely annoying to someone else. We’re all different.

How about when it comes to the phrase, “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission.” I’m sure you’ve heard it before; probably even used it before. Is it funny or annoying? Perhaps both. To the person who is doing it or saying it, it’s probably funny. To the person who’s being acted upon, it’s most definitely annoying.

Here’s a tougher question though. Is that phrase true? Is it actually easier to ask forgiveness than permission? Simplistically, yes. Getting permission for something is usually a headache. Think of a teen with their parents or a young entrepreneur with investors. Sometimes, a great idea to you takes a lot of convincing for someone else. Why not bypass the permission step and just do it? Surely, in many instances in life, that is a very attractive idea.

But, realistically, it’s not actually true. If we’re talking about true forgiveness, the kind that means something and doesn’t just sound good, it doesn’t work if we ignore obedience at the same time. We explored this idea a bit last weekend as we talked about hypocrisy. Is there a greater example of hypocrisy than a Christian who exalts the forgiveness of Christ yet ignores the boundaries of permission in God’s Word? James tells us that that kind of attitude really isn’t true faith in Christ, because “faith without works is dead.” That’s kind of a no-brainer right, faith that is hypocritical is not truly faith.

Then, what of sin? What about the main issue we all face, even though we confess faith in Jesus? How are we proven to be more than hypocrites? We wrestle with that theme in our text today from Romans 7:13-18, as we take part two of our series on the Heritage of our Fathers. We see today the great need we have before God and what He has done to take care of it:  

Romans 7:13-18 Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful. 14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. 16 If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17 But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.

Part 1: God tells you the truth about your situation
When most people think of God taking care of our needs, they immediately jump to the supernatural. They think of God’s aid as something as simple as snapping His fingers and doing whatever He pleases. Along with this notion comes a lot of pent up bitterness against God. After all, if He is able to accomplish anything why doesn’t He help everyone, exactly in their moment of need? Why all the pain, struggle, hostility, and unfairness that we witness in the world? God should be able to just wipe all that away.

It’s true that God could do that. In some ways, God has used the miraculous to accomplish His will. He has stepped beyond the limits of natural law and affected the outcome of events. But, those situations are really the outliers of how God normally operates and even when they happen, there is always a bigger goal on the horizon. Many of the miracles in the Bible were done, not so much because they were noble and right on their own, but that they served a greater purpose in the long run, often to confirm or protect the promise of a Savior in Jesus. Now that Jesus has come and salvation is fully accomplished, God doesn’t have as much of a need to go beyond the realm of our reason, though He certainly can.

I believe that one of the reasons that God often doesn’t just snap His fingers to solve mankind’s problems is because He wants us to be aware of what He is doing. He could choose to simply operate on a plane above our understanding. We would never know what’s going on and God would control everything, like a puppet master behind the scenes. But, this would not be very fulfilling for our relationship with God. God wants us to discern His will. He wants us to learn. He wants us to understand what we can about Him, until we reach heaven and we no longer have any limits on our understanding. And so, God condescends, if you will, His will to us. He helps us see.

We see this as the first part of looking at our great need. God is honest to us about the truth of the situation, and with that honesty will come struggle. Our text begins with Paul talking about how the Law of God is good in our lives. We don’t often think of the Law as good because it has a condemning message because of our sins. In fact, it’s the opposite of the Law, the gospel, that literally means “good news.” But Paul is pointing out the Law’s usefulness in our lives and in that sense it is good. Essentially, the Law tells us the glaring truth about who we are. Paul goes on in verse 13 that this Law, which is good, helps us to understand sin to be “exceedingly sinful.”

This phrase is a bit jumbled. What could Paul mean by saying that sin becomes exceedingly sinful?
Think of it as knowing something “beyond the shadow of a doubt.” The Law’s purpose is that we would know exactly what sin is. People naturally have different feelings and opinions about everything in life, just as we mentioned before. God knows this and He knows it will be that way when it comes to discerning His will too. That’s one reason He has given us His Law – to know without mistake what is good and what is bad, or to put it another way, to know what is sinful. Even when it comes to sin itself, God wants you to know it is exceedingly (without a doubt) sinful.

Earlier in verse 13 Paul also said that the Law does its job so that sin might “appear” sinful; literally so that sin would be exposed for what it is. “Appear” means to illuminate something, to shine to light on it and make it known. God removes all “shadows of doubt” through the Law. We know what is right and what is wrong, so long as we use the Law in truth. I hope you see the importance of this. We know how easy it is to make God’s Word say something it doesn’t. People regularly adjust the boundaries of the Law so that it no longer shines the light on that which God has called sinful. Imagine someone who changed the parameters of a ship navigator’s instruments. By themselves, the instruments would still work, but they would lead to a much different destination, even if one or two degrees were changed in a long journey. The same holds true with God’s Law. Change it ever so slightly, just one or two degrees, and it has drastic consequences on your destination. It will start to condemn things which God does not, or it will no longer condemn something which God does.

Part 2: He accomplishes what you could not

Okay, so we see how we should be using God’s Law. But, here’s exactly where Paul describes the next problem, we are carnal humans trying to use the spiritual Law. That’s like trying to use that navigation equipment with no training. In addition to being carnal (think physical, mortal) we are also sold to sin. We are slaves of the devil. We have no claim to our own personal freedom. It’s like having the antidote for a deadly disease right in front of you but not knowing how to open to the bottle. So is our struggle with sin. We see the Law, we understand the Law, but we can’t accomplish it on our own.

No wonder Paul says in the very next verse that he has no idea what he is doing. What Paul is describing is what we often refer to as the struggle between old man and the new man. Christians have both within their hearts. The old man is the sinful flesh that keeps us bound to sin, both the sins we have inherited from our parents that the sins we commit daily. It is an enemy that we can’t even detect on our own, let alone conquer. But, God tells us in our text, the Law is meant to bring that sin to light, to expose it, to show it as “exceedingly sinful.” But, what do we do with this tremendous gift? We fumble around with it, we misuse it, we ignore it, we reject it. And all the time, we know we’re doing this.

And yet, in the same moment, we are forgiven and renewed in Christ. We are given the new man, the life of faith. We are truly able to serve God in righteousness and holiness. Our acts are counted as worthy before God, as if Christ Himself were doing them because it is Christ who works in us. As chaotic as it sounds, the Christian life on this earth is one where these two extremes exist side-by-side. We are in a constant battle between the old and the new. To the world, this makes no sense. Paul’s personal confession here sounds ignorant at best, psychotic and schizophrenic at worst.      

Here’s where we come back to our phrase from the opening. Does the reality of the old man make Christians hypocrites? Are we simply running around telling others what to do all the time while we just ask forgiveness from God? Does a trust in the Gospel forego the desire for obedience? These are questions we should genuinely wrestle with because they show we care about our beliefs. But, they are also accusations leveled against justification by Christ. It was this very thing that caused many to reject the Reformers during the time of Luther. These individuals had discovered this profoundly simple truth – that God forgives sinners by His grace alone. Yet, many rejected such a thought because it didn’t make sense to them. In their minds, Christians would then ignore the Law of God, forget about trying to be obedient, and just use forgiveness as an excuse to do anything. To them, there would be no way to control the people any longer.

And right there, in their own position, they show their biggest mistake. The work of the Church is not about controlling others, it’s about sharing the simple truth. Leave the work of conversion and regeneration to the Holy Spirit. And when we start with the truth, we start where Paul did – at our need. Whether we want to believe in God’s grace or man’s work, one thing we cannot deny is that we have a great need. We suffer because of sin. We struggle with the old man. Paul took the time to point out these basics truths, not to confuse us, but to set us off on the right track. If this struggle is real for you, if you are aware of it, if you seek relief from it, then it proves that you care about more than just asking forgiveness. No one who ignores their sins thinks about the need for obedience. On the other hand, those who are plagued with despair because of sin are pressed down precisely because they desire to obey, but cannot. They suffer the same as Paul, and the hope is that they are restored the same as Paul.

On the surface of our text it may not seem like it, but accomplishment is a major theme. Verses 13,15, and 17 all use the exact same word, which means to achieve something.
Verse 13: But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me…
Verse 15: For what I will to do, that I do not practice
Verse 17: But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me

In each verse Paul speaks about what is being done in his life, but in each case he is helpless. Sin accomplishes death through the Law. He wills to accomplish what is right but can’t. Sin accomplishes what he hates. This is the crazy, psychotic cycle of sin. This is how Paul describes the inner battle; the same struggle we all endure. No wonder that Paul exclaims in verse 24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? His next words provide the answer: “I thank God – through Jesus Christ, our Lord!”

Jesus is the one who has accomplished what we could not. As the Father promised, so Jesus delivered, as One who “redeemed those under the law.” Paul reminded the Galatians of the cost, “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree ") (Galatians 3:13). The Law is good because it continues to point us to obedience. It does not relax the importance of God’s commands. Yet, God, through sending His Son to earth, has made a way possible for salvation that does not rest with us accomplishing the Law. We continue to use it to expose, to illuminate the truth, but not to be saved. For that, we look alone to Jesus, who loved us and gave His life for us.

Today, we struggle internally with this battle between the old man and the  new man. But, tough as it may be, not all battles are without purpose. Our great need reminds us that we are not fools. We are not simply seeking forgiveness at the expense of obedience. We do not take the easy way out. For our great need gives way to our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He suffered the divine wrath for our sins. His difficult, nay impossible for us path, makes life eternal easy for us. But, lest we forget, let us always remember and treasure the great cost of our need; the debt our Savior paid by His grace. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.