October 24, 2017

October 22, 2017 - 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

The Difference that Justification makes on Sanctification
WITHOUT Justification: Anger, Denial, and Pain of the outward man
WITH Justification: Joy, Acceptance, and Compassion of the inward man.

You’ve probably heard of C.S. Lewis. He is perhaps the most famous Christian apologist, that is, someone who defends the Christian faith. During his lifetime he often used allegorical literature to show the validity of Christianity, writing through fiction to impress spiritual truths of the Bible upon his readers. In a way, Lewis’ approach was often like Christ’s, using parables to get the meaning across.

In one of his most famous books called The Great Divorce, Lewis pictures the possibility of people from heaven and hell getting a chance to interact with one another. He is upfront that it is obviously fiction, the Bible is clear that there is no connection between heaven and hell. But Lewis looks at what it might be like if it were possible, and especially for the purpose of investigating the reasons why people reject God. The book begins by describing a magical bus ride that transports a group of people from hell to heaven. The people are given the chance to stay if they like, as their conversations with residents in heaven are chronicled by the book. Each chapter looks at a different person and their interaction with someone in heaven. Some are strangers, some know each other from their lives on earth.

In one encounter a husband and wife meet one another. Their relationship is not immediately known to the reader but it is clear that they recognize each other. The husband, from hell, is pictured as a dwarf that is chained to a much larger person. As his wife, who is in heaven, speaks with him she asks for his forgiveness for all the mistakes she made in life. As she converses with him she is accompanied by a grand host of other people, representing those whom she influenced and strengthened in the Christian faith in the world. One can immediately tell she bears some responsibility that she was able to positively encourage so many others but that her own husband did not believe.

Her husband is pictured as a dwarf, not because he was one in real life, but because he is dominated by his anger and resentment. The larger, ghost-like figure that the dwarf is leading around is
a picture for his resentment which he carries around with him. As his wife talks with him there is a moment of hope that the husband can let go. The dwarf actually lets go of the chain for a moment, but in the end he is not willing to completely let the hatred go. Eventually, the dwarf gets smaller and smaller until he can no longer be seen. The man has been completely absorbed by his anger until it overshadows his very existence.

The narrator of the story revealed the moral at the end by saying, “The demand of the loveless and the self-imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy: that theirs should be the final power; that Hell should be able to veto Heaven."

Lewis was obviously picturing here the danger of holding grudges and allowing anger to control our lives. He wanted to show the reader how it is the kind of attitude that leads a person to hell and even hypothetically given the chance to change, many would not. You might think it’s absurd that person in hell would deny a chance at heaven for any reason. But, that very thing happens every day here on earth as many refuse to turn from evil and have life through Jesus Christ. Lewis’ story is a somber reminder of the importance of justification by faith in Christ when it comes to sanctification in the Christian’s life. We read from 2 Corinthians 4:16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 18 while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.       

If we understand sanctification as our Christian life by faith, our great struggle is a lot like the husband from Lewis’ book. We wrestle with two natures – the one according to sin and the one according to faith. Paul described it the same way to the Corinthians by using the distinction of the outward man and the inward man. Paul was pointing to even more though. The context of his discussion centered around persecution, which literally attacked the physical body, the outward man. Yet, the cause of persecution goes back to sin, the spiritual ailment that afflicts our natures and our hearts.

An even greater distinction is that the outward man perishes, whether referring to our sinful body or our Old Adam; and the inward man, the New Man of faith, endures. For the man in the Lewis’ book, he was overcome by the outward man. This was pictured by the sickly, ghostly man that he carried around bound by chains. Eventually, who he really was vanished under the weight of his grudge.

One of the saddest elements of Lewis’ depiction of this is the man’s inability to be honest about his situation. In his estimation everything was fine. In fact, he felt that is was entirely natural for him to be bitter toward his wife. As the narrator explained, he felt justified in “blackmailing” the entire universe, so that they would feel as miserable as he did. If it was up to this man, he would even veto heaven itself so that no one could be happy.

This story reminds us to the most important aspect of our sanctified Christian lives – they are built on justification by Jesus Christ. Without Justification, a person will never completely be sanctified. Without justification our response to sin is filled with anger, denial, and pain; first directed toward God and soon thereafter directed at others. And without justification, these symptoms of sin threaten to destroy who God created us to be.

In contrast, faith in and reliance on justification by Christ leads to a completely different life. Jesus consumes our anger, denial, and pain and replaces it with joy, acceptance, and compassion. Justification changes our lives; both in our relationship with God and in relationships with others. God would have us remember today that each direction is possible. Either the outward man is growing or the inward man is growing; it’s one or the other and our association with Jesus determines which one.

We know very well how great of a struggle there is between the old man and new man. We are created to follow the new man, yet we also inherit sin that would have us follow the old man. We know the natural law of God in our hearts, yet we also learn sinful behaviors from our family and from the world. Paul wrote about this struggle in one of the most personal sections of Scripture, from Romans 7: For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members (Romans 7:22-23).

The struggle is that we know what is right and we, by faith inwardly, want to do what is right. But, we fail again and again. Have you ever heard those horror stories about someone who undergoes surgery and seems to respond properly to the anesthesia but in reality can feel everything happening? The patient’s muscles are relaxed so they can’t move but they can still feel pain. What a terrible thought! That’s what our struggle with sin is like and the more you know about God’s Word the more painful your sins are. We know what to do but we are helpless on our own. It’s like feeling the pain without being able to do anything about it.

What’s interesting is that this prospect is not even the most dangerous element of this struggle. Not being able to combat sin is one thing, but at least you know you can be honest about the danger. And the Bible is absolutely full of hope through Jesus Christ. It’s a painful battle but at least you know what you’re fighting and Who holds the key to victory.

The much more dangerous element of our sanctified lives is in those areas we have a hard time being honest about. What are those things that we are in denial about? This was ultimately the downfall of the husband in Lewis’ story. He was numb to the danger. He had spent so much time justifying it in his own mind, by blaming others and making excuses, that he no longer felt it was wrong. He had actually convinced himself that he had the right to think something sinful; hence being chained to and controlled by his own grudge. And in the end, he wanted everyone else to feel his pain.

What are the areas that you might be numb to? We all have them, though we often do whatever we can to ignore them. What are some things that God might be calling out on, but you keep making excuses for? Could it be lack of contentment? Could it be unwillingness to obey His Word? Could it be dissatisfaction with your situation in life? Could it be like the husband, a long-standing grudge against someone? You are probably thinking of one right now or several. You probably feel justified in hanging onto it, like a chained pet you’re carrying around. It’s always there to reassure you if you feel convicted by God’s Word. It’s always there to offer good reasoning if a Christian friend exposes the problem. Some people are willing even to destroy their closest relationships in life to keep hanging on. Remember, either the inward man or the outward man is growing.

We get an even better example of this in the Bible, which shouldn’t surprise us, and it comes from two individuals in Luke’s Gospel. The first is the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable about worship. You know the story well. The Pharisee said, “God, I thank You that I am not like other men – extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even this tax collector.” For this Pharisee, the justification he trusted in was his own as he compared himself, not with God’s moral law, but with other sinners that he felt better than. His outward man was flourishing, his inward man was denied the true Gospel of substance.

The second person of Luke’s Gospel was Zacchaeus, not just a tax collector, but a chief tax collector. He was one of the first people that men like this Pharisee would have despised. Zacchaeus said, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold (Luke 19:8).” Rather than wanting the attention of others, Zacchaeus was focused on his Lord Jesus. And Jesus’ reply says it all, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; 10 "for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost."

Both men claimed to have sanctification. Yet, they found their source of justification in vastly different places. As a result, their sanctification was different too. But, not from outward observation. To many, the Pharisee was a better person than Zacchaeus. But, Jesus was looking at the inward man, the place where all Godly sanctification is found. Why did they end up in such vastly different places? The Pharisee was numb to his sin, Zacchaeus was honest about it. The Pharisee denied his sin. Zacchaeus brought it to Jesus. The Pharisee continued on in his pain and affected others with it. Zacchaeus continued on in forgiveness and renewal and affected others with it.

What a different justification in Christ makes in sanctification. Without Christ we wouldn’t be able to tell this difference between an action done in selfishness and sin and one done in humility and repentance.

We asked earlier about what areas you might be in denial about. As your pastor, I welcome you to come to me with those burdens and concerns, but you don’t have to. Every sin is a personal thing between you and God – go first and always to Him. We all have different answers to that question. But, one more worth asking is always the same for us: What has Jesus done for me? There is no doubt there. He suffered and died for your sins. In contrast to Lewis’ story, Jesus doesn’t just encourage us to deny ourselves, He gives us the power to do so. He has justified the world. He has paid the penalty. He has paved the way for you to receive His eternal blessings. What has Jesus done for you? He has justified you – declared you to be not guilty of those things for which you were guilty. This is His gift of grace, and through it our new man, inwardly, is created, renewed, and strengthened. Amen.

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

October 17, 2017

October 15, 2017 - Galatians 5

Text: Galatians 5
Theme: If we Live in the Spirit, let us Walk in the Spirit
  1. Recognize the danger of spiritual leaven.
  2. Uphold the offense of the cross.
  3. Use liberty to serve others

Our study of Galatians has been one of facing constant objections to the truth of Christ. In chapter 1 Paul warned the Galatians straight away about turning away to a “different gospel,” one that was focused on their own works and not on Christ’s work. In chapter 2 he talked about walking the difficult path between hypocrisy and Christian freedom. So often, unbelievers object to the faith because it seems to them that Christians just pick and choose what to do and not to do when they are diligently trying to follow God’s will. In chapter 3 the distinction between the damning message of the Law and the healing forgiveness of Justification by faith in Christ was on display. There really is no other teaching from the Bible that is more objectionable to people than complete and unconditional hope in Christ as Savior. And in chapter 4 we discussed the truth that God knows us and in the midst of all of life’s uncertainties this is our continual hope. People object to this because they want to control things, not trust in God’s control of everything. At each step along the way Paul is answering objections that were placed before the Galatians and frankly before all people.

Today we come to chapter 5 where Paul writes at the very beginning, “Stand fast in your liberty, by which Christ has set you free.” These are words that indicate steadfastness in the face of objections. We see that the theme continues. And in this chapter, we bring it to full attention because the topic Paul addresses here is perhaps the most often used objection against God’s Church. Christians talk a good game, but they don’t back it up.

In the words of our text, Paul says, “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” He is not talking about some generic spirit of man or some other religion. He is talking about the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. All believers live in the Spirit, according to our text literally “in connection with the Spirit” by faith in Jesus. As Jesus Himself elaborated upon in His ministry, God the Father promised to send the Holy Spirit as the special Helper of the Church. The Spirit would be the one to bless the proclamation of the Word. It is a neat connection because the Spirit is also the one who inspired the Word.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a Christian who doesn’t claim to also live and walk in the Spirit. Here’s where the objection is leveled, though. Christians claim to have the Holy Spirit but they so often live contrary to Him. Evils and atrocities have been done throughout history in the name of Christ by His followers, sometimes even by the most pious of all, the leaders of the church. But, common, everyday Christians have plenty of faults too. In fact, according to outward observer, there doesn’t seem to really be much value to the Christian faith because sometimes even unbelievers are better people. The objection is easy to detect, and there’s not a whole lot we can say to defend ourselves. The ugly truth is that we are pretty poor at walking in the Spirit.

Part 1: Recognize the danger of spiritual leaven

Paul’s point is not just to remind the Galatians about this. Rather, within chapter 5 he has laid the groundwork for success in living according to the Spirit. The clues are subtle but once you take time to unfold the text they come out. The first clue we pick up is in verse 9, “a little leaven leavens the whole lump.” We’ve already established the certain fact that we are poor followers of Christ. That’s why the objection of talking as Christians but not living as Christians is so often leveled against the Church. Therefore, it should be readily apparent that we need help.

To aid us in our faith, God continually points us to His Word. He has given us the Bible to show us the way, what is means to walk in the Spirit. But, more importantly, He has given us the Bible to restore us when we fail. Having the instructions for success is definitely necessary, but on our own we have no power to follow them. What a horrible fate that would be; to know the path to life and salvation but never to be able to attain it! Many Christians have felt this pain as they have been fed lies about what it means to be a believer while they have been starved of the gospel.

With such a precious gift at our fingertips and upon our hearts, it’s not surprising that God would caution us to use it carefully and appropriately. Paul’s allusion to leaven as false teaching should sound familiar because he took it from Jesus. Right after the feeding of the 4,000 Jesus warned His disciples with the same illustration, comparing the teachings of the Pharisees to leaven in a lump of dough.

Paul seeks to bring the same warning into view for the Galatians. Remember what they were at risk of losing – it was the gospel, the very power of their salvation. Paul established that foundation yet again at the beginning of chapter 5, saying, “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.” The Galatians needed a wakeup call to remind of the precious treasure they had in the Word of God. They were not taking care of that Word. They were being wreck less and careless with it. And if they weren’t more careful, they would pay an awe full price.

Part 2: Uphold the offense of the cross

The price that already had been paid for them is precisely where Paul brought them next for their second piece of advice in “walking in the Spirit.” Verse 11: And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why do I still suffer persecution? Then the offense of the cross has ceased. Here’s an ironic twist. Paul talks about how the cross of Christ is an offensive thing. We wouldn’t normally think of an offensive thing as being a blessing in our lives, especially in our culture. So often today the cry of offensiveness is thrown around by people to protest whatever they don’t like. The Biblical concept of offense is much deadlier. Literally, the word means to set a trap with the intent to harm or kill. As you can imagine, it is most often used of false teachings, the very thing Paul just warned the Galatians about.

How could it be appropriate to speak of Christ’s crucifixion in that way? Well, it’s precisely the effect that the cross has on the stubborn, sinful flesh. God uses His Son’s ultimate victory to trap our sinful flesh. It’s the reason why the message of the cross is so often rejected; it’s offensive to the unbelieving heart. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul quoted Isaiah to remind us that on our own there’s no way we would want to believe the gospel (1 Corinthians 2:9). He said it’s as if we are blind to it. To our sinful flesh the message of the cross is not only utter foolishness but it’s dangerous because it threatens to expose our sinful ways for what they really are.

Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, quoting Isaiah once again, of the same effect, this time with the illustration of Christ as the Cornerstone, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame." (Rom 9:33 NKJ) For the message of the cross to not be a death trap, we need someone to enlighten us – to wake our heart to trust and believe the gospel. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit, the main subject of our chapter. And so Paul goes on to write, Galatians 5:17-18 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

To walk in the Spirit we need to be ready to uphold the offense of the cross; both in our lives and for others. People will hate us for it. They will persecute us. They will mock us. They will take our words and actions out of context. They will publicly and privately malign us. They may even stop being our friends. All because we seek to uphold the true Word of God and message of Christ crucified for sinners. Don’t be surprised if these things happen, expect them to happen. Your Savior suffered the agony of hell for your sins, and for those of the rest of humanity. Surely, a moment of reproach to honor His name is time well spent.

Part 3: Use liberty to serve one another.

Which leads us precisely to Paul’s final piece of advice on walking in the Spirit – verse 13: “through love serve one another.” What a hard thing it is to love your enemies. What a challenge to care for those who mistreat you, to look the other way and truly let it go. It’s so challenging, in fact, that the world tells us it’s not possible. And when they see Christians giving in, it reaffirms their objections to the faith even more. Haven’t we come full circle?

We struggle because our witness, our walk in the Spirit, is so weak. There are days when we don’t even feel like Christ’s own because we’re making so many mistakes. There are moments when we’re so distraught and confused that we even doubt the Lord who bought us. The chief moral is indeed what verse 14 says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” It’s also precisely at the command that our vain hopes of self-righteousness come crashing down like waves on the rocks.

I’m going to suggest a novel alternative. Instead of living our lives by our standards. Instead of setting our hopes in our goals and judging success and failure or right and wrong based on that, let us humbly follow Paul’s direction here. Remember what he says, “Use liberty to serve others.” There’s hope built into that command and Paul has set it up for our understanding. The verse first verse of the chapter, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” Use liberty to serve one another.

This is not personal liberty. This is not “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This is not follow your own dreams and it will all work out. Stand fast in the liberty by Christ has set you free. This is the freedom of the gospel. The Holy Spirit does not give us faith so that we can be perfect followers who never make mistakes. Sin is a reality that no living person on earth can fully escape, and God knows this. The true mark of a believer, the purpose for faith, is to be free from that sin. We rejoice in the liberty that only Jesus can and has given us. And it’s through that same gospel that we serve one another, that we reach the highest pinnacle of walking in the Spirit where we partake of the garden of His fruits: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness gentleness, self-control.

The objections to sinful behavior are always there and they are legitimate. We offer no excuse of our own. Rather, we point to Christ. Amen. 

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