Soul Shift #5 – Our Father In Heaven, Part 2

SoulShiftI. INTRO

I used to play a game at home when my children were younger – much younger.  In this game they might have asked for money for their allowance, or we may have been playing a board game, with dice – and I would have what they wanted in my hands –and I would pretend to suddenly fall asleep. They would start giggling and laughing and crawl all over me while attempting to pry what they wanted from my clinched fists.  Those were some beautiful moments of giggles and joyful laughter and mutual longing – they were longing for the things I held in my hands; I was longing for our closeness, our innocence, and wanting those fleeting moments of sheer joy to last forever.

For me this is a picture of the activity of prayer – while we love God sometimes we are focused more on the gifts in God’s hands rather than hand of God Himself (someone described it as seeking the hand of God and not the face of God) – we pray fervently for the new job, or the return of health.  When we gain the prizes we are delighted and, often, our focus turns to the prize — and away form the momentary closeness of the good Giver Himself.

We are in a series on prayer that we are calling “Soul Shift,” where, as individuals, as couples, as families, and as a church we are asking God to move us from ‘ordinary’ prayer to ‘extraordinary’ prayer.  What does that mean?

It means that when we speak or teach about prayer in church it’s easy for all of us to instantly feel guilty.  A sermon on prayer can amount to a drive-by guilt-ing.

Is there anyone among us who is satisfied with their prayer life?

So, today, let’s not talk about – or, even think too much about what WE SHOULD DO, but let’s take a few minutes to consider WHAT JESUS CHRIST HAS DONE.

If we can lift the eyes of our hearts to see WHAT JESUS CHRIST has accomplished FOR US it will lift the “eyes of our hearts” (Eph 1:17) in worship, in adoration, in joy, in expectancy, and in delight.  It will draw prayer out of us…

Our goal, our objective is that we would leave here today more fully delighting in the Giver than in the gifts.  (Some people’s prayers go something like this: “God, if You get me out of this mess, I won’t bother You until the next one!”)

In our study of prayer we are looking primarily at what has been called The Lord’s Prayer in Mat 6.  (There is a more compact version of the same prayer in Luke 11.)  This prayer is not meant to be prayed ritualistically, but to be viewed as a pattern for prayer.

Here’s the bottom line: **We don’t need to make bigger commitments about prayer, what we really need is to think and to believe truer thoughts about God — thoughts that are shaped by the gospel, by what Jesus Christ has already done on our behalf.

We are called to work, love, to worship, and to pray FROM His righteousness, not FOR His righteousness.  That is the gospel in a nutshell – we work, serve, love, and worship FROM a growing understanding that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has won the heart and ear of God on our behalf.

Hebs 4:16: “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

We come to God through Jesus Christ.  We don’t have to earn the ear of God in prayer – Jesus has earned the ear of God for us, He has won God’s ear and God’s heart for us — so we come to God in prayer.

The Lord’s Prayer is best used as a model for prayer –or, we could think of it as template – to launch us out into a place or a perspective of reflection, adoration, and gratitude.

For the next few weeks we will be looking at the individual phrases of this model prayer… learning to delight in the Giver of all good gifts.

What we will learn is 1) the initial focus is upward, with its first three requests having to do with God’s glory and 2) the remaining three requests are for our well-being. God first, humanity second – that is the ideal order of prayer.  His glory before our desires.[1]

II. BODY

Today I would like us to look at the opening phrase of The Lord’s Prayer:  “Our Father in heaven.”  Simply stated:

  • The word, “Our” — speaks of community. 
  • The word, “Father” speaks of family.
  • The phrase, “in heaven” speaks of majesty, transcendence (time, space, understanding, etc.), and authority. 

Let’s take some time and briefly consider each one…

1. What does the word “Our” tell us about community?

  • We have left the land of “me” and entered the land of “we.” [2]
  • The Lord’s Model Prayer begins with the acknowledgement that we have been invited out of isolation and into both the joy and the challenge of community.
  • Here’s a simple way to say it: Pro 27:17: “As iron sharpens iron, so one [person] sharpens another.”
  • There are at least three primary and legitimate needs of every human being:
    1. The need to feel authentically human
    2. The need to belong
    3. The need to have a sense of destiny and purpose
  • It is in the heart of God to fully meet these needs in every person. 
  • The first and most important step is through conversion and regeneration, which is the restoration of our individual relationship’s with the living God
  • The next step is through significant relationships with each other
  • Some people find it helpful to think in terms of a cross (), with our relationship with God signifying the vertical and our relationships with each other signifying the horizontal – the cross, and subsequently, Christianity is all about engaging and pursuing both the horizontal and vertical aspects of faith.
  • Our culture, unfortunately, sidetracks us with counterfeit opportunities for community.  The neighborhood bar is possibly the best facsimile there is for the fellowship Christ desires to give His church.  The bar is an imitation — dispensing liquor instead of grace, escape rather than reality — yet it is tolerant, it is ac­cepting, it is inclusive, and it is virtually unshockable.  You can tell people secrets in a bar and they usually don’t tell others or even want to.  Bars flourish not because most people are alcoholics, but be­cause God has put into the human heart the desire to know and be known (Cheers!), to love and be loved.  There are scores of people who seek to medicate their shame and pain for the price of a few beers, drinking their courage instead of turning humbly to Christ.
  • With the opening word of the model prayer Jesus is welcoming us into community.

2. What does the word “Father” tell us about family?

  • With the words, “Our Father,” Jesus is welcoming us into the family of God and identifying Himself as our older brother.
  • The Aramaic word for Father is ABBA.
  • Last week we spoke about the “Abba” Cry/Longing
    • Romans 8:15“For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.  And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’”
    • Galatians 4:6“Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’”
  • According to Jewish rabbinical teachings, slaves were forbidden to address the head of the family by the affectionate title, “Abba.”
  • “Abba” approximates “papa” or “daddy” and implies unwavering trust.
  • “Father” expresses intelligent comprehension of the relationship.
  • Together the two reveal the trusting love and intelligent confidence of a secure son or daughter.

3. What do the words, “In heaven” tell us about authority?

  • It may be helpful to view heaven as a perspective and not a physical place, like a zip code.  God is omnipresent (always present everywhere).
  • God’s omnipresence reminds us of His transcendent nature.  Transcendence is a theological term referring to the relation of God to creation.
  • And so “our Father Who is in heaven” is “other” or beyond His creation.
  • God is independent and different from His creatures: Isa 55:8-9 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.”
  • Being beyond His creation and not limited by it or to it. This simple understanding of transcendence makes our privilege of approaching Him intimately like a son or daughter would their earthly father, all the more humbling and praiseworthy.
  • Our transcendent God is also the omnipresent God and is never farther than a prayer away!

III. CONCLUSION

  • Pastor and theologian Arthur Pink, in his book The Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer, says, that in these four words: “Our Father in Heaven,”there is a “blessed balance.”[3]
  • The first two words: “Our Father” teach us about the nearness and dearness of God’s relationship to us through Jesus Christ – and they inspire us to confidence and love for God.
  • The second two words: “in heaven,” Pink says, should fill us with humility and awe.
  • He says the first two words (“Our Father”) without the second tends toward an “unholy familiarity.”  And the second two words (“in heaven”) without the first two produces “coldness and dread.”
  • **When we combine these two lofty concepts for the purpose of adoration and prayer we see a marriage of God’s unfathomable love with His immeasurable holiness.
  • In the coming week will you consider giving the best five minutes of your day to God?  Before moving to quickly to petitionary prayer, will you take 3-5 minutes of worship and adoration?  Will you worship God and ask God to open your heart afresh to the wonder, to the reality of what Jesus Christ has accomplished on our behalf.
  • Begin by thinking of it this way:
    1. No one has ever been so rich and became so poor as Jesus Christ.  He left the richness, the perfect love, and perfect communion within the Trinity of heaven.  He condescended to become a man and live a perfect, sinless life so that you and I could enjoy confidant access to a holy and righteous God.
    2. No one has ever been so poor and become so rich as those who’s hearts are awakened to the reality of what Jesus Christ has done – on our behalf.  Has your heat been awakened to that gift?
  • We said at the start that we want to focus more on what Jesus Christ HAS DONE than on what we SHOULD DO.  I invite you to spend a few moments in quiet contemplation…you and I don’t have to work to earn God’s favor.  The perfect, sinless life of Jesus has already accomplished that.  We own our own sin, we repent (surrender), and we believe that we have been made righteous and perfectly acceptable in the presence of a holy God…

[1] Hughes, R. K. Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom. Crossway Books.

[2] Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers: Prayer for Ordinary Radicals: 18.

[3] Baker Books 1982:80-81.

God Is Closer Than You Think #6 – What Is Sin?

I. INTRO

Romans 5:12-21 (emphasis added)

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned— 13 for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.

15 But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. 16 The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. 17 For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.

18 So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. 19 For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. 20 The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Christmas is coming…Suppose I purchased a gift for you and wrapped it nicely in wrapping paper with a nice ribbon and and a beautiful bow…And I even filled out one of those tags — From: Gregg and To: You and I gave the beautifully wrapped gift to you.

Now, I assume you’d be trilled and excited – and suppose you took the gift home and you placed it in a very prominent place in your home.

And when people came over to your home – you would show them the gift”  “Look Pastor Gregg gave me a gift, he must really like me…”

What’s wrong with is picture?

Right, to have been given a gift and never open it and delight in its contents is pretty dumb…But that’s what some people do with their Bibles – they don’t take the time to learn and grow.

The Bible speaks of one main gift.  That gift we’ve come to call “The Gospel.”  And the essence of the gospel is found in Romans 5:8:

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

The word “theology” means “the study of God.”  We are all theologians.  Some people are vocational theologians.  Some have more degrees than Fahrenheit and we read their books – but we are all theologians.  (The Bible is the only book in existence that necessitates increasing intimacy with the author to fully understand its contents.)

Now the essence of theology is learning how to unwrap the gift of the gospel that God has given us.

Theology matters.  Good theology matters.

That’s why we’re taking this time to cover some of the basic, or main doctrines of the Christian faith.

And more than that, I am praying for us that everyone one of us would capture, or obtain a higher view of God. Isaiah 40:9 – “Get yourself up on a high mountain…” (Isaiah 6 as well – Isaiah is undone by a view of the holiness of God…)

This is why I am asking all of us to be praying Ephesians 1:17-19:

“That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might…”

The main gift the Bible speaks about is the Person of Jesus Christ.  And that because of His great love for you, He condescended to come and live a perfect sinless life and die a horrendous, torturous, murderous death that we might gain access to the very presence of God. The most holy place – the holy of holies.  Hebrews 10:19 says it this way:

“We [now] have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus.”

What Jesus Christ has done, we call the gospel, or good news.

Many long-time churchgoers have thought of the gospel as the doorway through which we enter the Christian life.  What we’ve been trying to say for the last 18 months here at Southside (our theological “reboot”) is that the gospel is not just the doorway, it’s the whole house.

What we’ve been saying is that the whole Bible – from Genesis to Revelation, only has one main, or primary, storyline – and that is: redemption (found in the gospel). There are four sub-themes:

  • Our need for redemption
  • Our longing for redemption
  • The act of our redemption
  • And the calling to live in remembrance of our redemption…

Our passage this morning (Rom 5:12-21) contains three paragraphs.  Each of these paragraphs say basically the same thing.  Paul is very carefully repeating himself to make sure the people understand the gospel.  Also, we will see that each paragraph has little different twist to it.

The first paragraph (vs. 12-14) tells us that through one man (Adam) sin entered the world and death spread to all people – “even over those who had not sinned like Adam sinned.”  (Now you might be thinking, one guy blew it and we all pay the price? – We’ll get to that…)  This paragraph also tells us plainly that Adam is a “type” (or foreshadowing) of Jesus Christ.  In Jesus Christ we have a greater Adam – a perfectly obedient Adam.

The second paragraph (vs. 15-17) tells us the same thing – that by the “transgression” (or sin) of the one (Adam) God’s “judgement arose” (or was imposed) and humankind was condemned to die in their sinful condition.  Now the twist in this paragraph is that it clearly states what Jesus Christ has accomplished on behalf of the human race.  Notice that between verses15-17 the word “gift” is used five times.  The fifth use of the word gift identifies what’s in the package: “the gift of righteousness” (notice also that “abundance of grace” is included in the gift package).

The third paragraph (vs. 18-21), again tell us basically the same thing…one sin resulted in the condemnation of the whole human race (again, you might be thinking that is unfair), but here we see yet another facet of the gospel: …Through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all [people].

19 For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. 20 [the purpose of the Law] The Law came in so that the transgression would increase [there are 613 commandments listed in the Hebrew Scriptures]; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through [Christ’s gift of] righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

II. BODY

With the remainder of our time this morning I’d like to ask and answer 4 questions:

  1. What is sin?
  2. Where did sin come from?
  3. How does sin affect us?
  4. What has Jesus done?

1. What is sin?

Sin is any failure to conform to the moral law (or standard) of God in act, attitude [i.e., doing the right thing for the wrong reason], or nature.[1]

Sin is defined as a source of action, or an inward element producing [outward] acts.  This is what Rom 5:12 means when Paul states, “death spread to all people.”

Grudem describes sin as “the internal character that is the essence of who we are.”[2]

The reason God hates sin is that it directly contradicts everything God is.[3]

2. Where did sin came from?

Satan was the originator of sin. There are three passages that seem to describe  the heart of Satan – and the fallen angels who followed him:

Isaiah 14:12-15 “How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, You who have weakened the nations! 13 “But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, And I will sit on the mount of assembly In the recesses of the north. 14 ‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’”

2 Peter 2:4 — “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment.”

Jude 6 – “And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day.”

Demons and demonic power are real.  Demons oppose and try to destroy every work of God.  However, they are limited by God’s control and have limited power (i.e., Job).

(A brief theology of spiritual warfare – don’t attempt to cast out, or fight, the darkness but turn on the Light – invite Jesus.  When Light dawns, darkness must flee.)

God has never sinned, nor did God create sin.  (Deut 32:4 – “His work is perfect…”). First it was Satan and the other fallen angels, then Adam sinned in the garden.  So, we can say that God allowed sin to enter the cosmos – and then the world, but He did not create sin.  We call this a paradox – a seeming contradiction – at first glance it appears to be contradictory, but in the end, it is not…

3. How does sin affects us?

Adam’s sin calls into question the very basis for all morality because it gave a different answer to the question, “What is right, and true, and good?”

Sin affects us in that it introduces lust into the human heart. The essential difference between lust and love is that lust is characterized by getting and love is characterized by giving.

Adam’s sin also gave a different answer to the question, “Who am I?”  They succumbed to the temptation to “be like God” (Gen 3:5) – attempting to put themselves in the place of God.  We are created creatures, not the Creator.

Romans 5 tells us we have what theologians describe as “inherited guilt.”  (This is a better term than “original sin”…)

God counted us guilty because of Adam’s sin (Rom 5:18-19).

When Adam sinned God thought of all who descended from Adam as sinners (Rom 5:8 – “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”).

All members of the human race were represented by Adam in the time of testing in the Garden (there’s Eden & Gethsemane).

Adam’s sin was imputed to us – God counted Adam’s guilt as belonging to us.

We have been represented by both Adam and Jesus.  If we don’t own-up to Adam’s sin, then we cannot receive Christ’s gift…

4. What has Jesus Christ done?

2 Cor 5:21 — He [God] made Him [Christ] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Here is the apostle Paul’s most succinct statement about the meaning of the cross. This could be the shortest, simplest verse among many in the Pauline epistles that help us to define and understand justification.

Its meaning can be summed up in a single principle: substitution.

It describes an exchange that took place through the atonement that Christ offered—our sin for Christ’s righteousness.

Jesus took the place of sinners so that they might stand in His place as a perfectly righteous person.

Please take notice the graphic language: He was made sin (that’s the very epitome of all that is despicable and odious),

So that we might be made righteousness (that’s everything that is good and pure and acceptable in God’s estimation).

This was the exchange: our sin for His righteousness.

Our sin was charged to His account and His righteousness was credited (imputed) to our account.

III. CONCLUSION

The effects of what Christ has done on those who believe…

  • When we do sin our legal standing before God remains unchanged (Rom 6:23; 8:1).
  • When we sin our fellowship with God is disrupted and hindered (Eph 4:30; Rev 3:19)
  • Westminster Confession of Faith Chap 11, Sec 5:

Although they never can fall from a state of justification, yet they may, by their sins, fall under God’s fatherly displeasure, and not have the light of His countenance restored unto them, until they humble themselves, confess their sins, beg pardon, and renew their faith and repentance.

  • There is a danger of some being “Unconverted Evangelicals”…

While a genuine Christian who sins does not lose his or her justification or adoption before God, there needs to be a clear warning that mere association with an evangelical church and outward conformity to “accepted” “Christian” patterns of behavior does not guarantee salvation.[4]

A consistent pattern of disobedience to Christ coupled with a lack of the elements of the fruit of the Holy Spirit is a warning signal that a person is probably not a true Christian inwardly.


[1] CB: 62.

[2] Christian Beliefs: 62.

[3] CB: 62.

[4] Grudem, Systematic Theology.

God Is Closer Than You Think #1 – What Is Man?

I. INTRO TO SERIES

Ephesians 1:17-21 is our theme passage for this series.  Will you join me and pray this passage regularly for yourself, for SBA – and for me and the other men who will be teaching and preaching??

That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe (emphasis added).

As a church we want to see and encounter the greatness, wonder, and glory of God from an elevated vantage point. Isaiah admonishes,

Get yourself up on a high mountain! (40:9a).

We want to glorify God and know God; we want to have our hearts captivated afresh by a revelation of who God is and what God has done, so that He becomes our greatest hope, our greatest joy and delight.

The first thing we need to know about God is that God’s ultimate goal in all that He does is to preserve and display His own glory. God is uppermost in His own affections.  This is difficult for us to fathom because many of us grew-up and were taught, inadvertently, that we were at the center of God’s world.  This isn’t true.  God does not NEED us.  God loves us, but God has been perfectly content and joyful within the context of the Trinitarian relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – where there has been perfect unity, joy, delight, and love – for all of eternity.

God prizes and delights in His own glory above all things. It is SO important that we see this.  The Bible is about God, not us.  The Bible is written TO us, but it is ABOUT God.

The phrase “glory of God” in the Bible generally refers to the visible splendor and the moral beauty of God’s perfection. It is a weak attempt to put into words what cannot be contained in words-what God is like in His unveiled magnificence and excellence.

When we begin to see God from this vantage point it will free us from our lessor fixations, fears, and anxieties and we will be changed from the inside out.

The secondary reason for this series is to re/lay a foundation of the basic doctrines of the Christian faith at SBF.

Our English word doctrine is derived from the Latin word doctrinais and is the term given to the body of teachings that result from weaving together the various strands of the biblical witness and integrating them into a coherent and systematic account of reality.[1]

A doctrinal statement, then, would be a collection of our core beliefs as an expression of the larger body of Christ.

Some perspective[2] about where I hope this series will take us…

  • God is bigger, more passionate about His own glory, and at the same time, more available to His people, than we have ever dared to imagine.
  • While “principles” are good and helpful, they don’t drive (or change) our lives – passion does. What we really need is for our hearts to come alive for God. Whatever our heart prefers will exercise gravitational pull over the rest of our lives.
  • Something always takes first place in our lives. Whatever, or whoever, is at the top of our “passion list” will drown out everything else. What is it that takes first place in our lives? Is it a relationship – or the thought of a relationship? Is it money, success, pleasure, comfort?
  • Augustine said it as well as anyone – and turned it into a prayer: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”[3]
  • This is why the Bible doesn’t just give us advice on how to live, the Bible gives us a revelation of who God is. The glorious gospel is not advice it is news. The Bible does not just offer principles about how to live, it offers an unmatched vision of what (or Who) to live for.
  • Most of us don’t need more information what we really need is illumination.
  • If all we want are practical steps regarding how to live our best life now, then we are seeking the wrong thing.  Our goal in this series is to catch a glimpse of the wonder, majesty, and greatness of our God – that He would become our “exceeding joy” (Ps 43:4) that eclipses everything else.
  • When we studied the Beatitudes last Spring we studied Mat 5:8 – Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God. We become pure of heart as we long to see and encounter God above all else.
  • When our thoughts of God are small our feelings for God will be small. What we seeking with this Fall series is a truer, greater, weightier vision of God.
  • In our North American 21st century Evangelical churches, God is not always the true subject matter of much of our preaching.  We have settled for what one researcher described as mere “moralistic therapeutic deism.”[4]
  • My hope for this series is that we wouldn’t have small thoughts about God, but that we would begin to think BIG thoughts about God and that in thinking BIG thoughts about God we would grow an appropriate and wholehearted worshipful response to God – to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.[5]
  • As we begin, I am reminded of a quote from John Piper: “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the Church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man…You can’t commend what you don’t cherish.”[6]
  • May our Bible studies, classes, CommGroup dialogues, and sermons during this season at SBF cause us to worship Christ – first and foremost. Everything else is secondary.

II. SERMON INTRO

That being said, please turn to Genesis 1:27-28…

God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

The biblical story of creation reaches its climax with the creation of man (male and female) in God’s image. (Woman is at the apex of God’s creation — God made man and then He said, I can do better than that! 🙂  Four things should be noted about this climactic creative act:

  1. Man is created as the last of all God’s creation works and thus is the highest creature.
  • We are below God as worshipers.
  • And we are above lower creation and therefore, have we have been given dominion – or, stewardship.
  1. Only humankind is said to be in the image of God. (Latin: Imago Dei, Greek: anthropos).
  2. Only now that man is on the scene in the image of God does the writer of Genesis describe the work of creation as being very good (1:31).
  3. Man is given dominion (stewardship) and commanded to subdue and fill the earth (1:28).

Today we are asking the question “What is man?”  Or, “What is humankind?”  It is this doctrine that answers questions regarding how humankind is both similar to and distinctive from God the Creator.

III. BODY

What does it mean for us to become image bearers of God?  The theme, the motif, the thread, of us being image bearers of God runs throughout the Bible as we will see…

So, the first thing that we learn from this passage in Genesis is that we were created to reflect God’s glory.  We are image bearers of God.

We look to God for fulfillment of our deepest needs.  We find our joy, our comfort, and our delight in Him.

You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever. Ps 16:11

We want to join God in His rejoicing over us:

The Lord your God is in your midst, A victorious warrior.  He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.  Zephaniah 3:17

If we are made in God’s image, then the more we see and understand about God, the more that we will see and understand about ourselves.

  1. We are moral creatures – born with an intuitive sense of right and wrong.
  2. We are not mere physical creatures, but spiritual creatures.  As such, we can relate to and know God.
  3. We are intellectual creatures, having the ability to think and process information.
  4. We have been born with a desire to know and be known in the context of community.  This reflects our Trinitarian God, who has existed for eternity in perfect love, harmony, respect, and admiration – each one fully serving the needs of the other.  We join in this “dance” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity: 52)

Because of sin this image has been distorted.  There is a confluence (crashing) within us of both majesty and depravity.

A few weeks ago we spoke of how the “gift of righteousness” (Rom 5:17) was imputed (or, credited) to us. Is 61:10 – “He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness.”  Well, in the same way Adam and Eve’s sin was imputed (or, credited) to us.  Every human being is born with this “sin nature.”

This is where the dogma of contemporary culture is in direct opposition to the gospel.  Our culture desperately wants to believe that we are all basically good people (with a few exceptions).

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? Jer 17:9

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  Rom 3:23

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. 13 But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.  1 Cor 13:12-13

We will talk more specifically about sin next month, but sin:

  • Sin distorts our moral judgment.
  • Sin clouds our thinking.
  • Sin restricts and hinders our fellowship with one another.  We see this in the Garden of Eden after the sin of Adam and Eve.

The good news is that through repentance God’s image can be restored. God redeems us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The theme, or thread, of us being image bearers of God:

  • Roms 8:19, 29 — For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God…Roms 8:29 — For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren.
  • We also see this in Colossians 1:13-15 — The incomparable Christ rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.”
  • Col 3:10 – Through worship and adoration we, “have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him.”
  • 2 Cor 3:18 — But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.
  • Our transformation culminates with the consummation of this present age and  in 1 Cor 15:49 — Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly.
  • 2 Cor 4:1-4 — Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake.

In Jesus we see God’s likeness as it was intended to be – and because of what Jesus Christ has done we will eventually be changed to reflect God’s image as we were originally intended to do.

What responsibilities do we bear as image bearer’s of God?

  1. We are reflecting the image of God throughout the course of each and every day (for better or for worse!).  As we engage one another, our spouses, our children, or our co-workers, or neighbors, or friends – or even those that don’t like us (or, God-forbid, those that we don’t like), we are to be cognizant (aware, conscious) of the ongoing question: How can I serve, love, and listen to this person in a way that reflects a little bit of who God is?  “We cannot commend what we do not cherish” (John Piper).
  2. We are to reflect God by taking care of the earth…
  3. We have been given the ministry of reconciliation.  2 Cor 5:17-21 — Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 18 Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

IV. CONCLUSION

N.T. Wright on What It Means To Be An Image Bearer…

Next week: What is God like?  What does God say about Himself?  (I think this may be the longest chapter in our companion book.)


[1] Adapted from Alister McGrath, “Doctrine,” in Kevin Vanhoozer, Gen. ed., Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, Baker Academic 2005: 177.

[2] I am indebted to a sermon by JR Vassar entitled, Our Great God (Apostles Church in NYC) for spurring me on to think bigger thoughts of God.)

[3] Confessions. Lib 1,1-2, 2.5, 5: CSEL 33, 1-5.

[4] Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults by Christian Smith, with Patricia Snell (Oxford University Press, Sept 2009).

[5] Westminster Shorter Catechism 1648, Q1.

[6] Let the Nations Be Glad. Baker Book House 1989: 11.

God’s Mission Becomes Our Mission

I. INTRO

Last week we turned an important corner in the life of this church with our Sacred Assembly.  Today, I’d like for us to consider the mission of God’s Church – and more specifically this church, Southside Bible Fellowship.

By way of introduction, God has a MISSION, a MEANS, and a METHOD.

1. What is the MISSION of God?

God’s mission is the manifestation of His own glory.

“For the earth will be filled

With the knowledge of the glory of the Lord,

As the waters cover the sea.” Habakkuk 2:14

What is God’s glory?  God’s glory is the shining forth of the perfection of all of God’s attributes.

God’s supreme desire is that He might be known and enjoyed above all things.

God seeks to be recognized as supremely worthy, supremely splendid, and supremely valuable. God’s glory is sensed when we feel the reality of His presence, goodness, and superiority.

2. The MEANS of God’s mission is Jesus Christ and the work He did on the cross.

We call this the gospel.  God creates, calls, rescues, redeems, saves, restores, restrains, and grants — all to the end that we may find our true comfort, joy, and delight in Him.

The gospel is the historical narrative of the triune God orchestrating the reconciliation and redemption of a broken creation and fallen creatures, from Satan, sin and its effects to the Father and each other through the birth, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension — and future return of the substitutionary Son by the power of the Spirit for God’s glory and the Church’s joy. (We see summary statements of this throughout Scripture – both Old and New Testaments.)

To be “gospel-centered” means to both see and live out this narrative as the central theme, or singular story line, of the Bible.  It is central. It is singular.

The gospel stands at the center of God’s redemptive plan, and in it we see Him most clearly for Who He is and what He has done.

3. The METHOD of God’s mission is you and me – the Church.  In a nutshell we (the Church) are all called to live as missionaries in our current life station and cultural context.

Family, friends, neighbors, co-workers – all our social networks.

If you were preparing to be a missionary in Malaysia what activities would best prepare you?

We are to begin the discipleship process BEFORE conversion.  (This is where most churches get it wrong…think about it – we start discipling our kids before they’re converted…)

II. BODY

Having identified God’s MISSION, MEANS, and METHOD I would like to spend the rest of our time considering the mission of the church – and specifically this church – SBF as we enter into a new season of ministry…

The mission of the Church universal is: To glorify God by making disciples through embodying the gospel of Jesus Christ.

God’s mission and the mission of His Church are inseparably linked. If God’s mission is to be glorified through the redemption and reconciliation of a people, the Church’s mission must orient around the glory of God and seek to glorify Him through redemption and reconciliation.

2 Corinthians 5:17-20 – “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 18 Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

The mission of the Church is highlighted in these verses. As those who have been reconciled to God through the gospel of Jesus Christ, we are now ambassadors of reconciliation to a lost and broken world. We plead, urge, implore, reason, pray, serve, preach, teach and gather to see God glorified through reconciliation.

We also see the mission of the church in the more familiar Matthew 28:19-20:

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

A suggested mission for SBF: To glorify God through making disciples.  We will accomplish this through:

  1. Gospel-centered worship
  2. Gospel-centered prayer
  3. Gospel-centered community
  4. Gospel-centered service
  5. Gospel-centered mission.

1. Gospel-Centered Worship

All of life is worship. Every thought, word, desire, and deed involves the ascribing of worth and value – glory. Each attitude, affection and activity is an expression of our allegiance, whether to our Creator or His creation. God is alone worthy of our worship.

Worship is related to every area of our lives. We are called to eat, drink, speak, think, and work to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31 – whatever you do, do all to the glory of God”). Worship cannot be narrowed down to a particular time and place as if God does not claim authority over certain aspects of our lives. There are no neutral desires or deeds; everything is an expression of worship.

Gospel-centered worship is to be pursued in every facet of our lives as we consider how all encompassing the gospel is to us. Gospel-centered worship is nurtured through:

The gathering of God’s people in a weekend worship service. Within this venue, we worship God by remembering the gospel through preaching, teaching, singing, praying and celebrating the ordinances of baptism and communion. Each presents an opportunity for the church to receive, remember, respond and rejoice in the work of our great King.

Gospel-centered worship also means that we orient our lives (between Sundays) around learning how to worship God and bring Him glory through our thoughts, words, and deeds.  Again, 1 Corinthians 10:31 becomes our holy objective – whatever you do, do all to the glory of God”

1 Corinthians 10:31, Psalm 145:1-21, Isaiah 43:6-7, Colossians 3:1-17

2. Gospel-Centered Prayer

Turn with me to Exodus 33:15-18 –“Then [Moses] said to [God], “ If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here. 16 For how then can it be known that I have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not by Your going with us, so that we, I and Your people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth? 17 The Lord said to Moses, “I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name.” 18 Then Moses said, “I pray You, show me Your glory!

What we have here is the greatest request we could ever make of God.  It transcends any other request that we could ask of God.

It’s an unrelenting desire to engage the presence of God.

If you want to know the real you, listen for what you pray for involuntarily.  Listen to the spontaneous prayers that irrupt from your heart.

Moses’ prayer is a reflex of the heart.  It reveals what he REALLY wants.

What is it that you involuntarily pray for?  What is the unrehearsed outburst of your soul…

God loves it when we address Him in prayer as the END and not simply a MEANS.  If you’re like me it’s easy to fall into the trap of seeing God as the MEANS to our true desires instead of seeing God as the END of all our desires.  We seek God for jobs, for relationships, for good health, for material things – and all those are good yet the ultimate value is God Himself.

The prayer that most delights God is the prayer that makes Him our most passionate desire.

Jonathan Edwards concluded the most essential difference between a Christian and a moralist is that a Christian obeys God out of the sheer delight in who He is. The gospel means that we are not obeying God to get anything but to give him pleasure because we see his worth and beauty. Therefore, the Christian is able to draw power out of the contemplation of God (i.e., prayer). The moralist will usually only come and petition God for things…

Gospel-centered prayer, is making God the END and not the MEANS — rather than anxious petitioning.

3. Gospel-Centered Community

We worship a triune God, Who has eternally existed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In identifying the tri-unity of God, we recognize that God is communal. The Godhead has perpetually dwelt in perfect harmony, unity, joy, and love. Bearing the image of God, we are called to reflect this reality. We are called to be communal creatures imaging the community of our Creator.

Though each Christian has a personal relationship with God, that relationship is not individual or private. The Christian faith is not intended to be lived in isolation. We were made for community – relationship with God and with each other.

The local church is not merely a place that we attend but a people to whom we belong. The Bible calls us members of the body (1 Corinthians 12:12-31) with the expectation that we contribute to the body for the glory of God and the good of His people.

Gospel-centered community is a radical call amid a culture of mere attendance and casual involvement. It involves mutual love, care, consistency and authenticity as we seek to adorn the person and work of Christ with our lives. Where these elements are lacking, we have moved away from gospel-centered community and into the realm of social clubs.

Gospel-centered community is primarily expressed through Community Groups that meet during the week, or Sunday School classes that meet before the service on Sunday mornings. Groups are not perfect and those who participate in them will find them messy at times. However, our hope is that group members will be radically committed to reform from within. This takes time, prayer, effort, patience, love, trust and hope.

Acts 2:42-47, Hebrews 3:12-13, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31

4. Gospel-Centered Service

Gospel-centered service is motivated by the reconciling work of God and seeks to extend His grace and mercy to others for His glory and not our own. It is an expression of love and stewardship of grace marked by humility, generosity and hospitality and empowered by a passion for the glory of God.

Service can and should be pursued in various ways by all recipients of varied grace. Those who have been impacted by the gospel have countless opportunities – both formal and informal – to serve others by greeting at the doors of the church, following up guests who will be visiting our church, volunteering to work with our children and youth, teaching, singing, serving communion, giving financially to the needs of others, opening their homes to their neighbors, etc.

John 13:1-20, 1 Peter 3:8-11, 2 Corinthians 8:1-9:15

5. Gospel-Centered Mission

We are used to thinking of mission in terms of funding and sending missionaries to work in other countries to share the plan of salvation with unreached people groups.

If there is an unreached people group in the United States, it is New Englanders. A recent Gallup poll placed the six states of New England in the top ten least religious states in the nation.

Those in New England who attend evangelical churches hover between 1- 3% of the population. There is a higher percentage of evangelical Christian churchgoers in Mormon Utah than in New Hampshire!

Gospel-centered mission is the recognition that each one of us is sent by God as a missionary into our own sphere of relationships – family, friends, neighbors, co-workers – where we boldly promote the gospel through collaborative expressions of mercy and generosity.

We serve a missionary God: The Father sent the Son, the Son sent the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit sends us.

Let me just say that I am more of a fan of mining the vein of our current relational sphere than I am into organizing what we’ve known as “street witnessing.”  And I am more of a fan of initially engaging our relational network through learning how to listen.  In our culture at this moment in history, we will earning the right to speak through first of all learning how to listen.

2 Corinthians 5:11-2, Matthew 28:18-20, Mt. 4:19; John 20:21; Acts 16:20; 17:6, and to make disciples of all nations Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8

A Generous Life #5 (of 6) 2 Cor 9:1-7

Reciprocity Reconstructed – 2 Cor 9:1-7

 I. INTRO

Where are we headed today?  The BIG IDEA is reciprocity reconstructed.

I would like to begin, however, with a review of our foundational verse in this series – and in this section (chapters 7-8): 2 Cor 8:9.

Then we’ll define, deconstruct and then reconstruct this concept of reciprocity – and then use that concept to help us unpack the three key verses in our passage today (primarily vs. 6,7, & 8).

Part of the teaching today will be a critique of the so-called Prosperity Gospel, sometimes referred to as Health & Wealth or Name It And Claim It.  Sadly, this message has seeped into the Evangelical landscape of North American Christianity.  And what’s even sadder is that it is being exported to third-world countries through infected missionaries and ministries.  But more about that in a few minutes…

Let’s begin by going back to our foundational verse for this series: 2 Cor 8:9, which identifies Jesus Christ as the most generous life ever lived…

2 Cor 8:9: For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.

This is a rich (no pun intended :)) theological statement, which anchors this section on practical Christian stewardship. It identifies the ultimate example of (self) giving – how and why Jesus so fully and completely gave Himself (Christology).

This verse invites us to ask and answer three questions:

1. How rich was He?  No one ever started so rich as the Lord Jesus Christ.

Ps 50:12b: “For the world is Mine, and all it contains.”

2. How poor did He become? No one ever became as poor as the Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Cor 5:21: “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

3. How rich do we become? No one ever started out so poor and have become so rich as those who have placed their faith and trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.

Eph 1:3 – Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” [no need for a second blessing]

Our “riches” in Christ include: Justification, forgiveness, sanctification, the Holy Spirit, partakers of the divine nature, new heart, new will, new creation, imperishable inheritance — the inheritance is Him.  We’ve been invited into the Trinitarian dance…

OK, with Paul’s lesson of Christology, let’s consider Reciprocity Reconstructed.  What does reciprocity mean? (Definition, Deconstruction, Reconstruction)

Definition: rec·i·proc·i·ty [res-uh-pros-i-tee] noun

A reciprocal state or relation.

Reciprocation; or mutual exchange.

Deconstruction: The word reciprocity has been adulterated by the (so called) Prosperity Gospel movement (i.e., “word of faith,” “positive confession,” “health & wealth gospel,” etc.) claims the Bible teaches financial (& physical) blessing is the will of God for Christians. Their doctrine teaches that:

  • Faith,
  • Positive speech, and
  • Donations to Christian ministries

Will always increase material wealth and physical health.  At the root of this “false” doctrine is their belief that God’s promise of dominion to Israel applies to Christians today.

Paul clearly warns against the desire to be rich. And by implication, he warns against ministries who stir up – and teach the desire to be rich.

1 Timothy 6:9-10: “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”

Reconstruction: The reciprocity of the gospel exchanges my sin for Christ’s righteousness. Martin Luther calls it, “the great exchange”…

Luther says, “This is that mystery which is rich in divine grace to sinners: wherein by a wonderful exchange our sins are no longer ours but Christ’s, and the righteousness of Christ not Christ’s but ours. He has emptied Himself of His righteousness that He might clothe us with it and fill us with it; and He has taken our evils upon Himself that He might deliver us from them.”

So, the Health & Wealth folks have cheapened the concept of reciprocity – and made it about materialism.  Kind of an Americanized brand of Christianity…

II. BODY – now let’s take these concepts and move into our passage for today…I’ll give a cursory view of the first five verses and then we’ll unpack vs. 6,7, & 8.

The ministry of giving in Corinth – 9:1-5:

  • Paul’s reminding them of their initial commitment to give – vv. 1-2.  Paul’s comment that the Corinthians’ initial zeal to give stirred up “most” (v.2) of the Macedonians is a healthy dose of realism.
  • In other words, not all the believers in Macedonia gave generously with joy in the midst of their poverty and affliction (cf. 8:1-5).
  • In vs. 3-5 we see Paul’s purpose in sending Titus –
    • Paul’s initial excitement has been somewhat tempered. Titus has come from Corinth with the discouraging report that the collection has, basically, been put “on the back burner.”
    • Paul expresses some disappointment here these verses.  Paul views stewardship and living out the generosity of Jesus as an important component of discipleship.  Paul had hoped they were farther along.
  • He is also attempting to prolong the friendly competition between the Macedonians and the Corinthians.

Verses 6-11 help us to understand and apply the principle of reciprocity in Christian giving…

In v.6 we encounter the illustration of “sowing” and “reaping”

Now I’m not a farmer (I could kill an artificial plant!), but in farming, what may initially appear to be a loss (“sowing”) – in due time, it will produce a gain (“reaping”). As one sows, so one reaps.

So, we need to ask what determines whether a gift is “sparing” or “bountiful”?  It is not determined by the quantity, but by:

  • The means of the giver (we learned from chapter 8 that giving is to be in proportion to our wealth (cf. 8:3,11,12; 1 Cor. 16:2); and
  • The heart (mind/mood) of the giver (it is possible to give a lot of money, but still be sowing “sparingly” (cf. 8:1-5; 9:5b).

In v.7 we encounter the pattern for generous stewardship. There are six parameters:

  1. Universal (“Let each one…”)
  2. Personal (“just as s/he has purposed in his heart”). Many commentators say that if Paul had believed that we should begin our giving with a tithe, he would have reiterated that here.
  3. Choice/Resolve (“as he has purposed;” this verb proaireomai, found only here in the NT, means: to choose deliberately or to make up your own mind about something.)  In the end only you and God will know if you are sowing sparingly or bountifully.
  4. “Not Grudgingly,” or, without regret. Lit., “not out of sorrow;” i.e., giving and then grieving over the fact that money is gone; thinking of all the things you could have purchased with the money.
  5.  “Not Under Compulsion. No force – psychological, guilt-driven, or otherwise.
  6. Cheerful. The Greek word translated “cheerful” is hilaron, from which we get out English word “hilarious.”  What does it mean to be a cheerful, or hilarious, giver?  It means that we find our joy, our delight, our pleasure in the generosity of Jesus Christ and we give out of a worshipful, joyful heart – as we remember what Jesus Christ has done.  Is it an act of faith?  Yes.  We sow and we wait…

III. CONCLUSION

What if the cheerfulness of responsive obedient giving is not there?

I’ll suggest three things[1]:

  1. Don’t say it doesn’t matter how you feel. Confess the sin of joylessness (yes, joylessness is a sin). Acknowledge the coldness of your heart.  (Money might be one of your root idols!)
  2. Pray earnestly that God would give to you, or restore, the joy of responsive obedience.
  3. Go ahead and do the outward dimension of your responsive obedience in the hope that the doing will rekindle the delight.

Paul envisions us joyfully and bountifully sowing in the light of God’s faithfulness — that we might give as a response to His joyful sacrifice and righteousness. (Heb 12:2: “For the joy set before Him He endured the cross.”)


[1] Adapted from John Piper, Desiring God: 248-249.

1 John 5:14-21 (#14) Finale!

I.  INTRO

We’re landing the plane today in our 1 John series – His Light, Our Delight

A week ago Wed I was on a plane from DC to Manchester.  Before we took off the Captain came on and told us the flight was going to be bumpy – and it was…

As we close out 1 John (and as we prepare our hearts for Christmas) I would like to begin our study today be reminding us of the human condition…And I should warn you that it may get a bit turbulent as we prepare to land the plane.

Last June reTURN/CRM conducted a diagnostic here at SBF.  (A 1-page version is available in the lobby.)  Well, Scripture has also conducted a diagnostic of the human heart and I would like to let the Word of God speak to us this morning regarding what has gone wrong with humanity.  It takes a humble courage to embrace the truth about ourselves…

Here is my thesis: We simply cannot fix what’s wrong with us.  With all of our advances in science, technology, and clinical therapies the human heart remains as Jeremiah said 17:9: “more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it?”

  • Ps 14:3 – They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt;
    There is no one who does good, not even one.
  • Prov 20:9 – Who can say, “I have cleansed my heart, I am pure from my sin”?
  • Rom 3:9-12 — What then? Are we [Jews] better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; 10 as it is written,  “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; 11 THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; 12 ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.”  All of us have one singular thing in common…our base commonality is that we are sinners incapable of righteousness.
  • Rom 3:23 – For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
  • Eph 2:1-3 – And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath…”

The NT authors invite us to bear in mind that God’s commands for us to be holy and love our neighbor, etc. are not there to show our ability, but to reveal our inability and to remind us of our continual dependence on the grace of God to do in us and through us what we cannot do (accomplish) on our own.

Before we move into our text for this morning I am going to say something very difficult to you.  I will say it because I love you and I want to be able to say at the end of my time here that, I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27).

The core issue with you and me is not that we sometimes DO the wrong things, the problem is we were born with something very wrong inside of us.  We are born in a corrupted state of being.  We were born with a sin infection.

If your default mode is that you’re basically a good person who occasionally does bad things then you have not understood the Bible – or the Gospel.

The greatest hindrance to your joy and happiness is you.  (Merry Christmas!)

Here is what I want to say as we move into our text for this morning:  There is good news…The gateway for ever increasing joy for you and for me is an understanding that surly we were brought forth into a state of inequity that surely we have a bent toward rebellion.  Our joy and delight begin with embracing our depravity.  The way to a sure hope is to embrace hopelessness…it seems counter-intuitive to us.  Another way to say it is – the unlikely route to joy is repentance (Dan Allender, The Wounded Heart).

Eph 2:4-5 – But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our [sin], made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)…”

Whether from the pen of Moses, Paul, or other biblical authors, “But God” appears in various forms hundreds of times in the Bible. To understand these two words as they are used in Scripture is to understand the gospel. James Montgomery Boice wrote, “May I put it quite simply? If you understand those two words—but God’—they will save your soul. If you recall them daily and live by them, they will transform your life completely.” “But God” marks God’s relentless, merciful interventions in human history. It teaches us that God does not wait for us to bring ourselves to him, but that he acts first to bring about our good. Without the “But God” statements in the Bible, the world would be completely lost in sin and under judgment.

God’s response to our rebellion is nothing short of spectacular, which takes us into our passage for today…

II.  BODY

There are three main points in these final eight verses.  In our remaining time, I’d like to go back and walk through them, viewing them in the light of the biblical truth – that we were brought forth in a state of rebellion and iniquity – and our only hope is God’s mercy and grace, which transforms us from the inside out.

1.  Verses 14-17 – God loves (or longs) to give us what we pray for

This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him. 16 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. 17 All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death.

So, the big picture assertion, or promise here is that God loves, or longs to provide what we pray for.  John is saying that if we know that He hears us, then we know we have the answer (assurance).  But did you notice a couple of elephants hanging around in those verses?

The elephants are found in verses 14 & 16: (v.14) IF we ask anything according to His will… and v. 16: There is a sin leading to death

Elephant #1 – V. 14 — This can be a troubling qualification because Scripture doesn’t speak a lot to the problem of unanswered prayer, though it does give us at least three clues, which I want to pass on to you…

  • 1 Peter 3:7 teaches that strained interpersonal relationships, especially between husband and wife, hinder prayer:  “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”
  • James 4:3 teaches that prayers aimed at merely enhancing our own private pleasure will go unheardYou ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
  • 1 John 3:22 implies that if we are actively, willfully disobedient to God’s commandments, our prayers won’t be answered“and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.” (The first work of obedience is to listen.)

Elephant #2 – V. 16 – There is a sin leading to death.” This verse has provoked widespread discussion.

This is where the Catholics affirm their concept of mortal[1] vs. venial sins.

However, it seems clear that the one who sins unto death is not a Christian (although s/he my think they are).  Here is what most scholars believe is the most likely interpretation: This is the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

It is the deliberate, open-eyed rejection of known truth. Ascribing the mighty works of Jesus to the devil.  (John may have been referencing Christopher Hitchens types of their day…)

The Pharisees committed this sin.  And there are those whom John refers to earlier in 1 John as antichrists would also fall into this category.  They were children of the devil, not children of God (3:19).  Such sin, Jesus said would never be forgiven – in this life, or in the life to come.

  • Mark 3:29“but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.”
  • Mat 12:31-32“Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. 32 Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.” 

2.  Three Affirmations (“We knows”) John Stott calls them three clear, candid, bold, dogmatic certainties — which summarize the truths that have been shared in the earlier parts of the letter.

  • 1st Affirmation – (v. 18) – We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He [Jesus] who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him.
    • The phrase “born of God” literally means “begotten” and indicates a new birth.
    • New birth results in new behavior.  John Stott writes, “Sin and the child of God are incompatible.  They may occasionally meet; [but] they cannot live together in harmony.”[2] (Besetting sins?)
    • If we have Christ, we have the power for deliverance from sin.
    • This is what we are praying when we say in the Lord’s Prayer: “deliver us from evil” (Mat 6:13b).
  • 2nd Affirmation – (v. 19) – We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.”
    • God remains the source of our spiritual life and being.
    • We should not attribute to the “evil one” too much power.  The word “lies” indicates that the “whole world” is but unconsciously asleep in the embrace of Satan.
    • John draws a very clear and dogmatic line here: We are either 1) awake and “of God” (or in God), or 2) we are slumbering in the arms of Satan.  There is no third category.
  • 3rd Affirmation – (v. 20) – We know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.
    • This final affirmation is the most fundamental.  Both redemption and revelation belong to God.
    • The gospel is not concerned merely with the truth that God has given us certain things, but that He has come. (“O come, O come Emmanuel – and ransom captive Israel…”)
    • And notice that the Christian is in Christ — sharing His very life.
    • John has told us that Jesus is light (1:5), He is love (4:8), and he is concluding his epistle by saying that Jesus is the only true source of life itself (see also Jn 5:26).

3.  The Concluding ExhortationGuard [NIV, KJ: keep] yourself from idols (5:21).

At first glance this concluding, or final, exhortation might seem a bit odd…

(And the NIV & KJ translations also make it a bit confusing[3]…There is a “keeping” (v.18) accomplished by Christ – and there is a “guarding” that we are responsible for.  The NIV & KJ translate the words the same, but they are different…)

  • Keeping (tēreō) – Expresses watchful care and is suggestive of present possession.  As in, Jesus Christ will – and is keeping us.
  • Guarding (phylassō) – A helpful synonym for this v.21 word may be: beware.  So, the NASB translation is a little clearer here.  “Guard yourselves, or beware, of idols.”  In other words, have a working knowledge or understanding (with accountability) of the areas where you attempt find comfort and joy in ways other than Jesus Christ.
  • So, God keeps – and our responsibility, through sanctifying grace, is to be on guard, or to beware of idolatry creeping into our lives.  In Christ we are empowered to find our joy, our comfort, our delight in Him.

One of the best definitions for idolatry is when we “make good things ultimate things” (Keller, Counterfeit Gods).  Another excellent descriptor is from Jerry Bridges book  Bookends of the Christian Life where he describes idols as our “functional saviors.”

Sometimes our surface sins are only symptoms of a deeper problem. Underneath every external sin is a heart idol—a false god that has eclipsed the true God in our thoughts or affections.  Some scholars would say we don’t really have a sin problem, we have a worship problem.  In this context all sin is idolatry.  And every time we choose sin we have chosen to find our comfort, joy, or delight in something (or someone) other than God.

III.  CONCLUSION

To sum-up: in our His Light, Our Delight study John leans in to an associated group of churches undergoing conflict to (re-) mold their concept of God and life within the church. By carefully describing salvation and its fruit in a Christian’s life, John brilliantly defines what a Christian is by clarifying the borders of our faith with the elements of light, truth, and love.  John, an eyewitness to the ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus –  as well as His most intimate earthly friend, enables us to discern where we are in our lives and carefully sets our focus on where we could and can be as we press in to wholeheartedly love God and one another.

A baseline for truth is seeking to understand the clearest concept of God, Jesus Christ, and humanity.  Love is the way we imitate Christ in sacrificially relating to one other.  His light is the reflection of holiness stemming from Christ dwelling in us through the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit – causing us to delight in what He has done.  We wouldn’t want a Christianity without these three elements as John has defined them.  It would no longer be what Jesus Christ taught and revealed to us.  Because of this, we are exhorted to surrender to God’s transforming love and to love one another in ways that are consistent with how Jesus Christ revealed Himself to us.


[1] From a Catholic perception a mortal sin is a grave sin that ruptures our link to God’s saving grace.

[2] Stott, John. The Letters of John, Tyndale NT Commentaries Vol. 19, IVP Accademic 1964 & 1988: 192.

[3] We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He [Jesus] who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him.

1 John 5:6-13 (#13)

I.  INTRO – Assurance of Eternal Life

Review:

Where we are as a church – and where we’re headed.  We’ll start at 30,000 feet and then land in our 1 John passage for today.

As a church we are “rebooting” theologically.  What does that mean?

First of all, it does NOT mean we are changing our doctrinal statement.

What it DOES mean is that we intend to be Christ-centered, or gospel-centered, in all our preaching and teaching.[1]  There are two basic reasons for this:

  1. Not only is the gospel of Jesus Christ necessary for our salvation, but the gospel is also essential for our growth (or sanctification) in Christ.[2]
  2. (How does that happen?) A Christ-centered, or gospel-centered approach will focus more on what Christ has done, than on what we should do.

We believe that the Westminster Assembly got it right in 1646 with the Westminster Shorter Confession of Faith when they determined the “chief end of [humankind] is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  Or, as John Piper has said, “to glorify God BY enjoying Him forever.”

Where we’re headed (See the bulletin insert):

3 Summits scheduled 6-weeks apart to reaffirm values, mission, and vision in preparation for calling a permanent pastor.

The first one is Sat, Jan 14th from 9am-1pm.  A working lunch and childcare will be provided.

If you’re 13+, we’d like for you to be there.  Sign-ups start today.

Sign-up sheet – or email Beth in the office.

**The more we accomplish in the next 6-7 months, the higher caliber pastor we will attract to SBF.

Next week in the bulletin we will provide you with a calendar of the significant events for Jan-Jun of 2012.  This will include:

  1. The 3 Summits
  2. At least 3 Concerts of Prayer where we will gather as a congregation – both to learn more about prayer and to pray.  These will also include extended times of worship.
  3. And regular Sunday morning updates to keep everyone informed on what is happening (twice a month).

In Sept we embarked on a study of 1 John.  Today marks our 13th week.

Why study 1st John?  As we have been saying – the gospel of John was written that we might believe while 1 John we written that we might know.

Assurance is the key theme of 1 John.  There are two parts to this assurance:

1.  The first is an objective assurance that Jesus (and Christianity) are true.  Jesus claimed to be God.

  • Jn 14:9 – Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.
  • Jn 10:33 – We’re stoning you “for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”
  • Mark 14:61b-62   [61b] – “Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?’  [62] ‘I am,’ said Jesus.”
  •  Luke 22:66-70  [66] – “At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and teachers of the law, met together, and Jesus was led before them…[70] They all asked, ‘Are you then the Son of God?’  He replied, ‘You are right in saying I am.’”
  • In 1 John 1:1 he reminds his readers that he was an eye-witness of Jesus – he beheld Him with his eyes and touched Him with his hands and refers to Jesus as “the Word of Life.”
  • Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic, or He was telling the truth (trillema).  John is asserting in this letter that Jesus and Christianity are true (objective assurance).

2.  The second aspect of assurance John is speaking to is the subjective assurance of our own standing in Christ.

To use John’s language of what it means to be a Christian…

  • To have been born of God
  • To know God
  • To live in God
  • To enjoy an intimate personal communion with Him – which John says, is eternal life.

On Thur we sent out an eNEWS that quoted 19th century British theologian and pastor J.C. Ryle, who said:

Another way to describe assurance is assured hope.

  • A person may have saving faith in Christ, and yet never enjoy an assured hope.
  • To believe and have a glimmering hope of acceptance is one thing, to have delight and joy and peace in our believing — and to abound in hope, is quite another!
  • S/He that has faith does well.  But s/he that has assurance does far better — sees more, feels more, knows more, enjoys more.[3]

Last week (Gene) taught from 1 Jn 4:17-5:5 and made three excellent points:

  1. (vs. 4:17-18) Being perfected in love is a process.
  2. (vs. 4:19-21) People are in your life for a purpose (i.e., conflict can be redemptive).
  3. (vs. 5:1-5) Passion for God’s presence prepares the heart to obey.

Today we will look at the most difficult passage in 1 John – 5:6-13…

II.  BODY

John draws some very clear lines in this passage (as he has throughout the letter): v.12 – “S/He who has the Son has the life; s/he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.” John is saying that it is infinitely important for us to know if we have the Son. (We would do well to remember Ryle’s point: A person may have saving faith in Christ, and yet never enjoy assurance.)

Then in v.13 John writes, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life.” (2-fold assurance)

There are two words I’d like to look at more closely today from v.13, asking the questions, 1) What does it mean to believe? And 2) What does it mean to know?

1.  What does it mean to believe?

  • The Greek word is the verb pisteuō (from the same root as the word for faith) and occurs about 250 times in the NT. Matthew uses the word 10 times, Mark 10, Luke 9, John’s Gospel 99 times – and 9 times in 1 John.
  • Now I have both bad news and good news for you…
    • The bad news is that not all belief is saving belief.
    • Look with me at John 2:23-25: Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. 24 But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, 25 and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.
    • There is evidently a belief that does not save us.
    • James 2:19 – …the demons also believe…
    • Paul exhorts the church in Corinth to, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith” (2 Cor 13:5).
    • This is the kind of examination that John is referring to in 1 John 5:12-13.

In 1859 a French tightrope walker named Charles Blondin, became the first person to cross 160 feet above Niagara Falls on a tightrope.  He walked several times – back and forth. The large crowd gathered and a buzz of excitement ran along both sides of the riverbank. The crowd “Oooohed!” and “Aaaaahed!” as Blondin carefully walked across one dangerous step after another.  One trip across he was blindfolded and pushing a wheel-barrow. Upon reaching the other side, it’s said that the crowd’s applause was louder than the roar of the falls! Blondin suddenly stopped and addressed his audience: “Do you believe I can carry a person across in this wheelbarrow?” The crowd enthusiastically shouted, “Yes, yes, yes. You are the greatest tightrope walker in the world. You can do anything!” “Okay,” said Blondin, “Who will get in the wheelbarrow??”  No-one did!

    • To merely give intellectual assent does NOT save us.
  • So, what’s the good news?  The good news is that there is a belief that does save.
    • To “believe” means the active acceptance of the message about Jesus.
    • This means there is a surrender, or active ongoing submission to Jesus…
    • This is the kind of belief, or faith, that 1 Jn 5:5 is speaking about: “Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (He who gets in the wheelbarrow.)

2.  What does it mean to know? (1 Jn 5:13 John writes, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life.”)

  • The Greek word is echō.  It speaks of a joining – like a marriage.
  • This question takes us back to 1 Jn 5:7-8: “For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.”
  • These are the verses that have confounded biblical scholars… Theologians refer to this verse as the “Johannine Comma.” And most commentators agree that it is some form of Trinitarian reference.  Matthew Henry, the 18th century devotional commentator, simply refers to this verse as, “a trinity of heavenly witnesses.”

Let’s consider each one:

  1. The (Holy) Spirit testifies.
  • Turn to Roms 8.  This chapter is about life in the power of the HS.
  • Let’s begin in v.15 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.
  • Here’s a test/quiz to see if you know…
    • What grip does fear have on your life?
    • When you suffer, do you turn TO God, or AWAY from God?  Do you turn TO God’s people, or turn AWAY from God’s people?
    • Prov 18:1 – “S/He who separates himself seeks his own desire, he quarrels against all sound wisdom.”

2.  What is the “water and the blood”?

  • Some scholars think the water is a reference to the birth of Jesus and the blood is a reference to His death on the cross.
  • Look at John 19:34-35: “But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. 35 And he [John] who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe.”
    • Jesus suffered from hypovolemic shock (low blood volume) during his beatings – and when he fell while carrying the cross…
    • This hypovolemic shock causes fluid to gather in the sack around the heart and around the lungs.
  • Others have speculated that the water and blood are references to the sacraments of baptism and communion.

III.  CONCLUSION

  1. What’s the bottom line?  Is your belief a saving belief?  Have you gotten in the wheelbarrow?  This is the objective response that John is looking for.
  2. To use Paul’s language from Romans 8:15-16, is there a “spirit of adoption” resident in your heart?  Has, “the Spirit Himself testified with your spirit that you are a child of God”?  This is the subjective response that John is looking for.

This is how the gospel works for our sanctification…We are well aware of our depravity AND we have a growing witness and testimony of our Heavenly Father’s sovereign call ON our lives and transforming presence IN our lives.


[1] Someone has said, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

[2] Justification (declared righteousness) and Sanctification (growing in righteousness), the process of sanctification must flow out of the reality of justification.

[3] Adapted from the essay Faith and Assurance by J. C. Ryle.