JESUS Is Both The PRICE and The PRIZE of The Gospel

Easter 2013The title of the message today is, “JESUS is Both The PRICE and The PRIZE of The GOSPEL.”[1]

Read Romans 5:6-11…

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. 11 And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

I find that there is much confusion regarding the meaning (or the message) of the GOSPEL – both in our culture as well as in the Evangelical Church (which is our tribe).

The word “gospel” as you probably know, means GOOD NEWS and is used about 90 times in the New Testament.

Before we get (back) to our text in Romans 5, I would like to make four points to help us grasp the uniqueness of the GOSPEL.  Hopefully, these points will set us up to more fully appreciate both the PRICE and the PRIZE of the GOSPEL…

1.  The GOSPEL represents a distinctive THIRD WAY to both view and live our lives.[2]

  • Traditionally we have tended to view only two types of people:
  • The religious/spiritual, or
  • The irreligious/secular.[3]
  • The GOSPEL is neither religious nor irreligious (secular), but is something else entirely (e.g., Prodigal Sons in Luke 15).
  • The GOSPEL is a third way of relating to God that comes to us by:  grace alone, through faith alone, through the finished work of Jesus Christ alone.
  • This third way, this “grace way,” is exclusive to Christianity.
  • The Christian GOSPEL cannot and does not mix with or blend with any other religious system or philosophy of life.
  • In fact, the GOSPEL is meant to replace the whole concept of religion.
  • I would add that the GOSPEL also does not mix or blend with political liberalism — or conservatism.

2.  The GOSPEL is not good advice, it is good news. 

  • The GOSPEL is not something that we do, but something that has been done for us – and something we must respond to. 
  • In Peter’s first sermon recorded in Acts 2 he was preaching to the gathered Jews and twice he told them, ‘you killed Christ’ (2:23, 36). (Acts 2:37: “Repent, be baptized, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”)

3.  The GOSPEL is the good news that we can be saved, or rescued, from the coming wrath at the end of the age (1 Thess 1:10 – “Jesus…rescues us from the wrath to come”).

  • Let’s consider the word “wrath” for a moment… You might say, ‘I don’t like the idea of the wrath of God. I prefer a God of love.’
  • Tim Keller writes, “The problem is that if you want a loving God, you have to have an angry God. Please think about it. Loving people can get angry, not in spite of their love but because of it. In fact, the more closely and deeply you love people in your life, the angrier you can get. Have you noticed that? When you see people who are harmed or abused, you get mad…Your senses of love and justice are activated together, not in opposition to each other. If you see people destroying themselves or destroying other people and you don’t get mad, it’s because you don’t care…The more loving you are, the more ferociously angry you will be at whatever harms your beloved. And the greater the harm, the more resolute your opposition will be.[4]
  • God is unwaveringly holy.  The only way into His presence is sinless perfection.  And that brings us to number 4…

4.  The GOSPEL is news about what has been accomplished by Jesus Christ to reconcile our relationship with God. 

  • Jesus left the comfort and security of heaven and condescended to become a human.  He lived a sinless life so that we could be reconciled to God. The conflict has ended. 
  • Colossians 2:21-22: 21 And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, 22 yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach.
  • Becoming an active intentional follower of Jesus Christ is about a change in status.  We are either “in Christ” or not.  (Used approx. 90 times; “in him” is also used about 80 times…)
  • **Once we find ourselves “IN Christ,” we no longer work FOR (religion) His acceptance (or approval), but FROM (the GOSPEL) His acceptance (and approval).
  • **Obedience is not the obligation of the GOSPEL (or the Christian).  Finding our delight, our comfort, and our JOY in Christ is the obligation of the Christ-follower.  Obedience becomes the fruit, not the goal. (God is not opposed to effort, He’s opposed to earning.) Psalm 87:7: “All my springs of joy are in you.”
  • **The GOSPEL is not about something we do, it is about what has been done for us.

With the above in mind I would like to ask and address two questions:

1.  What is the PRICE? (Rom 5:6-8)

  • The price of the gospel is the death of Jesus Christ.
  • Verse 6: “Christ died for the ungodly.”
  • Verse 8: “But God… Christ died for us.”
  • God loved us while we were still in our sin and paid a PRICE so that we might have an infinite PRIZE. That PRICE was the death of his Son. And we find PRIZE in verses 9-11…

2.  What is the PRIZE? (Rom 9-11)

  • The gospel is the good news that God in Christ paid the PRICE of suffering, so that we could have the PRIZE of enjoying Him forever. God paid the PRICE of his Son to give us the PRIZE of Himself.
    • Justification: God’s forgiveness of the past, together with His acceptance for the future (J.I. Packer).[5]
    • Freedom from the wrath of God — we are saved to BE WITH Him, who is our PRIZE.
    • Reconciliation: The removal of the barrier of sin between God and humankind and now we enjoy absolute and unhindered access to Him (2 Corinthians 5:18: “Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation”).
    • Exultation (NIV – boast, NKJ – rejoice): The highest good of the good news is finding our JOY in God.  The fullest, deepest, sweetest good of the gospel is God Himself, being delighted in and enjoyed by His redeemed people.
  • The PRIZE of the gospel is the Person who paid the PRICE. The gospel-love God gives is ultimately the gift of Himself. This is what you were made for. This is what Christ came to restore.
  • “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).
  • The GOSPEL message is not that if you follow Him, everything’s going to go well, everything is going to work. The good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ is that you get Him and He’s enough no matter what circumstance comes! 

CONCLUSION

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”   — C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Communion: Rom 5:9: We have been justified by His blood…

When we see the blood in the Bible we can know that it’s a summarized or an abbreviation of the gospel message.  (There are other words that are used by the NT writers as summations of the GOSPEL — including cross, kingdom, and grace.)

Jesus said in Matthew 26:26-28…

26 While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” 27 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.

We practice an open communion… yet keep in mind 1 Cor 11:28-29:

28 But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly.


[1] Adapted from a sermon by John Piper.

[2] Adapted from Tim Keller. Center Church, Zondervan 2012:28-30.

[3] Or, moral conformity (moralism) vs. self-discovery (secularism). See Prodigal God by Tim Keller.

[4] Tim Keller. King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus, Dutton 2011: 176-78.

[5] J.I. Packer. Knowing God, pp. 206-207.

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.

Soul Shift #2: Preparing Our Hearts For Prayer – A Survey of Mathew 6

SoulShiftI.  INTRO

Last week I made three points I would like to review…

  1. Prayer is not a method to get what we want from God, but the primary means of getting more of God Himself.  Through prayer, we want to find our delight, comfort, and joy primarily in God as He becomes the end goal of our lives.
  2. Often times when we endeavor to press into God, our circumstances will get harder before they get better.  This can be because God will begin to point-out and address areas in our lives that have become hindrances or barriers to our intimacy with God.
  3. Last Sunday I described those hindrances and barriers as (modern day) idols – or functional saviors.
    • They are all the earth-bound things we tend to turn to, to quiet the (legitimate) longings and/or pain that we have in our souls.
    • To unhook from some of those idols takes honesty, confession, repentance, surrender, and a heart that sincerely seeks to grow.

This morning you’ll need your Bibles open to Mathew 6; we will be looking at the whole chapter.  We are asking two questions today:

  1. How do we prepare our hearts for prayer?
  2. What is the fruit of a heart prepared for prayer?

II. BODY

In asking the question: How do we prepare our hearts for prayer? We must first take a careful look at Mat 6:1 – and particularly the words “your righteousness.”

  • NAS — “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men...”
  • NIV — “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others…”

In our study of prayer it is essential that we get started on the right foot.  The phrase our righteousness is foundational because EVERYTHING else is built on top of it.  If it’s really ‘your,’ or ‘our’ own righteousness – that we somehow earn our way into God’s presence, we will find ourselves turning away from the gospel and turning TO religion (or moralism).

If, however, it is God’s righteousness we will begin to generate a holy confidence and expectation to build a life of prayer.  See also 6:33 – “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.”

**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.  We are called to work, love, and pray FROM His righteousness, not FOR His righteousness.

With this in mind let’s look at four spiritual disciplines (or ‘means of grace’) we can participate with God in detaching from our various accumulated idolatrous affections and prepare our hearts to encounter God — and move from ‘ordinary prayer’ to ‘extraordinary prayer.’  They are:

  1. Giving
  2. Prayer
  3. Forgiveness
  4. Fasting

We’ll look briefly at one at a time:

1.  Giving (or Generosity) – (vs. 2-4, 19-21)

These verses boils down to two overlapping ideas:

  • Motive matters
  • Generosity prepares our heart to pray

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 concise and powerful theological statement that summarizes the gospel)

2 Cor 8:9 is the cornerstone, the basis, for any theology of stewardship or generosity – identifying Jesus Christ as the most generous life ever lived

As Christians we face countless enemies to the welfare of our souls, be it pride, lust, bitterness, or envy.  But few are as powerful and relentless as greed.  Greed has been deified in our American culture…

What is the most effective counter-attack to this insidious force of greed?  Generosity.

No one ever started so rich and became as poor as the Lord Jesus Christ.  And 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.

Martin Luther spoke of a “great exchange,” or a transaction; our sin is charged to Jesus and Jesus’s righteousness is credited to us.

2.  Prayer – (vs. 6:5-8) We are to, first and foremost, pray privately and pray authentically.

Have you ever shaken your fist at God over His seeming lack of response to your prayers?

If so, you’ll be able to relate to the prophet Habakkuk, who lived about 650 years before Christ.

His book begins with this complaint: “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but You do not listen?” (Hab.1:2a).

God was not offended by Habakkuk’s prayer.

Passionate, honest, gritty, and even angry prayers have been recorded throughout the Bible.

And Habakkuk certainly wasn’t the only one to complain. Moses, Gideon, and David, and Elijah all questioned God.

Job even cursed the day God made him and said, “I loathe my very life; therefore I will give free rein to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul. I will say to God, ‘Do not condemn me, but tell me what charges you have against me. Does it please you to oppress me, to spurn the work of your hands…?'” (Job 10:1-3).

When we get into the Lord’s Prayer we’ll see that it’s best to approach God with humility, deep respect, and honor.  Having said that, God can certainly take our intense emotions and questions.

2 Cor 4:17-18: For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

3.  Forgiveness – I find it interesting that the Lord’s Prayer speaks to the issue of forgiveness, but Matthew comes back to it in 6:14-15.

Mark Twain said that, “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the flower leaves on the heel of the one who crushed it.”

When we truly experience the forgiveness of our sins there is an inward transformation that awakens in us a desire to glorify, trust, and obey God.

When we carry with us a deep appreciation for this grace-fueled transformation, we’ll have a heart that is more ready to forgive.  This doesn’t mean the process will be comfortable or easy, but it will mean that we can approach someone in need of forgiveness remembering that we are just as much in need of what you’re about to give to him or her.

4.  Fasting“I humbled my soul with fasting”  (Psalm 35:13b)

Isaiah 58:6-14

“Is this not the fast which I choose, To loosen the bonds of wickedness, To undo the bands of the yoke, And to let the oppressed go free And break every yoke? “Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry And bring the homeless poor into the house; When you see the naked, to cover him; And not to hide yourself from your own flesh? “Then your light will break out like the dawn, And your recovery will speedily spring forth; And your righteousness will go before you; The glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. “Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; You will cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you remove the yoke from your midst, The pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness, 10 And if you give yourself to the hungry And satisfy the desire of the afflicted, Then your light will rise in darkness And your gloom will become like midday. 11 “And the Lord will continually guide you, And satisfy your desire in scorched places, And give strength to your bones; And you will be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail. 12 “Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins; You will raise up the age-old foundations; And you will be called the repairer of the breach, The restorer of the streets in which to dwell. 13 “If because of the sabbath, you turn your foot From doing your own pleasure on My holy day,
And call the sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable, And honor it, desisting from your own ways, From seeking your own pleasure And speaking your own word, 14 Then you will take delight in the Lord, And I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; And I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

A simple definition for fasting would be voluntary abstinence of our appetites and our soulish longings for spiritual reasons.  The Bible speaks of it not as an option but as an expected and regularly practiced spiritual discipline. 

There are many different ways to fast. 

  • We can fast food and just drink water or juice
  • We can eat vegetables and/or fruit only (this has been called a “Daniel Fast,” see Daniel 1:8-17)
  • We can choose not to eat any sugar or carbohydrates
  • We can fast one or two meals a day
  • We can fast from sun-up to sun-down.
  • Paul encourages married couples to occasionally fast sexual intercourse, “that you may devote yourselves to prayer…” (1 Corinthians 7:5).
  • We can fast television or the internet and pray instead!

Before we fast it is important to seek the Lord regarding what would be appropriate.

What is the fruit of a heart prepared for prayer?

Preparing our hearts for prayer, learning how to pray, and leaning into prayer is the cure for anxiety.

Vs. 25-34 are not to be seen as admonitions to simply STOP BEING ANXIOUS!  They are telling us that as we make God the object and desire of our prayers; as we seek to find our comfort and joy IN HIM through:

  • Generosity
  • Prayer
  • Forgiveness
  • Fasting

These spiritual disciplines, or ‘means of grace’ lead us into the presence of God, which BECOMES the cure to our anxiety.  God is the goal of prayer, but the loss of anxiety – or peacefulness is the fruit.

CONCLUSION

Who are the two most important people who ever lived?

Certainly, Jesus.  The first One is easy, but who’s the second one?  Adam.

There are only two groups of people on the earth:

  • Those who are in Adam
  • Those who are in Christ.

If you are an active, intentional follower of Jesus Christ your past may help to EXPLAIN you but your past does not DEFINE you.[1]

To live our lives from a gospel-centered perspective is to live, and work, and love, and serve FROM our new identify ‘in Christ;’ not to live, and work, and serve FOR Christ’s – or anyone’s approval.

You idols do not define you – they may help to explain you, but they don’t define you.

Sometimes the most mature and appropriate thing to do is to take our focus off of our sins – even our besetting sins, and to focus on remembering what Christ has done.

When we encounter Christ through humbling our soul, we will find ourselves doing what Isaiah 30:22 says – “You will scatter your idols as an impure thing and say to them, ‘Be gone!’”

Take some time to reflect on what Christ has done… No one was ever so rich and became so poor as Jesus Christ – and if you are in Him, no one was ever so poor and became so rich as you.


[1] Mark Driscoll, Who Do You Think You Are? 2012.

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.

The Upside Down Life #4 – Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

I. Intro

Matthew 5:4; Hebrews 12:14-17

Today we will continue in our series The Upside Down Life, looking at the first 16 verses of Matt 5.  Today we will do some review work and unpack a few concepts in Matt 5 and then we will move into Heb 12.

(Review) Both Gene and Chris did an excellent job defining the words “blessed” (and what it means to be “poor.”)  Those notes are available here on the blog…

Review “poor in spirit”

  • Two weeks ago Chris said being “poor in spirit” is seeing our desperate need for God.
  • And then last week Gene said some pretty heavy things…
    • He said that as a church we are to be thankful that SBF has been privileged to go through all the struggles we have. God must be thrilled that there is somebody here who is broken and hungry for more… (Heavy words…a perfect message to begin our week-long fast as a church).
    • Gene went on to say SBF has lost pastors, people, programs, reputation, visible success, and a downward trend in the bank account…  [God comforts the afflicted – and afflicts the comfortable]
    • Your church is flat broke, you do not have it all together, you do not have it all figured out, and you cannot muscle, or buy, your way out of this one.
    • Blessed are those bankrupt in spirit, because they are entering the eternal reserves of the reservoirs of the God of true riches.
    • As a church we’ve been taken out to the woodshed…we’ve been spanked. Are you glad yet?  [I have a tremendous amount of respect for those of you who have stayed.]

Where do we go from “bankrupt in spirit”?  We mourn…

Today, we will look at 5:4 “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted”

Once we see and acknowledge our deep spiritual poverty, it gives way to a deep and utter repentance.  (There’s a difference between repentance and “relentance.”)

There is a transforming grief, or repentance, that surfaces – not only for our own lives, but also for the injustice, greed, and suffering that grips our world.  (“Meanwhile we groan.”)

I’ve titled the message this morning, The Unlikely Route To Joy (borrowed from a chapter heading in Dan Allender’s’ book Wounded Heart).

  • In order to become rich, we need to acknowledge and own our poverty.
  • And in order to know “joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Pet 1:8) we must mourn.  This is the essence of living the upside down life (or counterintuitive).

I would like us to refer to mourning as a lifestyle of repentance.

For those of us who have read Pete Scazzero’s book, The Emotionally Healthy Church, we remember that the 3rd principle of the EHC is to live in brokenness and vulnerability.

This means living and leading out of our failure and pain, questions and struggles…[1]

This is how Paul led.  In 2 Cor 12 – Paul speaks of being caught-up to the third heaven – and then he shares about his thorn in the flesh“a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! 8 Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. 9 And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”

Dr. Dan Allender – “An about face movement from denial and rebellion to truth and surrender… Repentance involves the response of humble hunger, bold movement, and wild celebration when faced with the reality of our fallen state and the grace of God…It is a shift in perspective as to where life is found…It is melting into the warm arms of God, received when it would be so understandable to be spurned.” (Wounded Heart)

**Mourning, or lifestyle repentance, is living WITH our failures, but not UNDER them.

II. BODY

With that said please turn to Hebrews 12…

If we had to boil down the book of Hebrews to a one-word description, the word would be perseverance. It is written specifically for a group of Christians who were about to quit.

Vs. 14-17 are full of some very specific admonitions to help us with engaging in a lifestyle of repentance…

14Pursue peace with all [people], and the sanctification without which no one will see [to perceive, to know, to become acquainted with by experience] the Lord.

15See to it [Looking diligently – episkapao] that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled [stained];

16that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal.

17For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance [NIV – he could bring about no change of mind], though he sought for it with tears.

This is a heavy passage: Esau found no place for repentance – even though he sought for it with tears.  (What are we supposed to do with this text?)

This passage offers us some insight into the reasons for Esau’s inability to come to a place of true repentance – and I believe it will help us to consider some possible issues that may be keeping us from fully knowing the privilege of repentance.

Listed in this passage are (at least) 6 admonitions that will move us toward embracing a lifestyle of true repentance…

1.  Pursue peace with all people.

Pursue: to run swiftly [NIV –  Make every effort]

Peace: from a primary verb eirēnē (harmonized relationships)

“If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.”  Matthew 5:23,24 (NAS)

Roms 12:18 – “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”

(In a few weeks we’ll be talking about Mat 5:9 – Peacemaker vs. peacekeeper.)

I once flew from Reno, NV to Tulsa, OK and then rented a car and drove 3 hours just to ask someone’s forgiveness after reading this passage and taking it to heart.

2.  Pursue sanctification.

Sanctification: hallowed [NIV – Make every effort… to be holy] The Lord’s Prayer (Mat 6) hagiasmos (Heb 12 – noun), hagiazō (Mat 6 – verb)

We have positional sanctification and progressive sanctification

The Gospel Is for Believers.  We Christians need to hear the gospel all of our lives because it is the gospel that continues to remind us that our day-to-day acceptance with the Father is not based on what we do for God but on remembering what Christ did for us.  (That is what communion is all about…)

**Esau was rejected by God because he steadfastly refused to serve the purpose of God and instead served his lust for the immediate and the tangible.

3.  Pursue grace.

“See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God.” (v.15)

Grace: All that God is lavishly poured into you. If God has acted lavishly toward you, could you not be lavish to others?  Or yourself??

Jerry Bridges, in his masterpiece says, “The idea portrayed here is analogous to the ocean waves crashing upon the beach. One wave has hardly disappeared before another arrives.[2]

Pursue the truth in love (Eph 4:15).

“See to it that…no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled.”  (v.15)

Notice the word, “many.”

Like a small root that grows into a great tree, bitterness springs up in our hearts and overshadows even our deepest relationships.

A “bitter root” comes when we allow disappointment or expectations to grow into resentment, or when we nurse grudges over past hurts.

Eph 4:15: But speaking the truth in love we are to grow up…” In my view this passage speaks to the epitome of what it means to be spiritually and emotionally healthy

5.  Pursue purity.

“See to it that…there be no immoral…person like Esau.” (v.16)

pornos – male prostitute.  Again, Esau steadfastly refused to humble himself to serve the purpose of God.  Instead he served his lust for the immediate and the tangible.

6.  Pursue God.

Instead of being godless (or, “unhallowed, profane” – Vine’s]

Esau found no place for repentance (metanoia), though he sought for it with tears.

We usually associate tears with repentance.  And it’s true that tears very often accompany true repentance.  But here we have the instance of Esau crying for repentance but not finding it.  Why?  Esau was in “relentance,” not true repentance.

III.CONCLUSION

“Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.”   Acts 3:19 (NAS)

Nothing will cause a renewed soul to hate sin so much as a realization of God’s grace; nothing will move him to mourn so genuinely over his sins as a sense of Christ’s dying love. It is that which breaks his heart: the realization that there is so much in him that is opposed to Christ. But a life of holiness is a life of faith (the heart turning daily to Christ), and the fruits of faith are genuine repentance, true humility, praising God for His infinite patience and mercy, pantings after conformity to Christ.  —The Doctrine of Sanctification by A.W. Pink.


[1] EHC: 110.

[2] Jerry Bridges, Transforming Grace.

The Upside Down Life (#1) – An Indepth Look At Matthew 5:1-16

The Way In Is the Way On.  An Overview of the Beatitudes…

I. INTRO

I have been serving here at SBF for 11 months now – and I can tell you that everything we have been studying up to this point has been preparing us for the study we are about to embark on…

We will take our time and work through the first 16 verses of Mathew 5.  These are also the first 16 verses of the most famous sermon of all time – The Sermon on the Mount (SOTM), which consist of chapters 5-7.  They are all red-letter verses, in other words these are the words of Jesus.

Here’s what John Stott the late pastor, author, and missiologist has said about the SOTM:

“The Sermon on the Mount is probably the best-known part of the teaching of Jesus, though arguably it is the least understood, and certainly it is the least obeyed. It is the nearest thing to a manifesto that he ever uttered, for it is his own description of what he wanted his followers to be and to do.”[1]

Now, reading the SOTM only takes about 10 minutes so it’s widely thought that Matthew is giving us the “Cliff Notes” version (i.e., highlights).

We need to make some theological distinctions as we lean into the Beatitudes and the SOTM…

Some of the theological roots of SBF include what’s known as a dispensational[2] view of the Bible.

Dispensationalists and most of the rest of Evangelicalism would differ on the interpretation and application of the Beatitudes (and the SOTM).

Classical dispensationalism would argue that the Beatitudes (and the SOTM) are not gospel but pertain to life in the millennial kingdom after to the second coming of Christ.[3] (If you have a Scofield Study Bible – that would emphasize the classical view of dispensationalism.)

It should be noted that there are more moderate views of dispensationalism.  If you have a Ryrie Study Bible – he’s a more moderate dispensationalist.  Yet he would still believe that primary fulfillment of the Beatitudes (and the SOTM) are in the millennial kingdom.[4] (Popular contemporary dispensationalists include John MacArthur and Charles Swindoll.  I have also heard that John MacArthur has become more moderate in his dispensationalism, but I don’t have first hand knowledge of that.  Charles Swindoll would also be considered a more moderate dispensationalist.)

The basic evangelical approach is to recognize that the kingdom of God has come in the person and work of Jesus. (Mk 1:15: “kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel). This “kingdom now” theological perspective teaches that Jesus established the kingdom of God (KOG) at His first coming and will consummate the KOG at His second coming – and we live in the age (or dispensation) between the two.  One theologian, George Ladd, has said we live in the presence of the future – between the already and the not yet.[5]

So, how will this affect our study of the Beatitudes?  I believe the Beatitudes (and the SOTM) ARE for today – and that they are the means to allowing the gospel to be worked into our lives – and then through our lives to others.

Here’s how I would say it: “The Gospel is not advice, it is news.”  (Jared Wilson, Gospel Wakefulness, Crossway 2011: 188.)  It is the ultimate Good News.  I would suggest to you that Sunday Services are not primarily the place to give advice… Gospel-centered (or Christ centered) change (i.e., sanctification) is rooted first and foremost in remembrance. We are to remind one another primarily of what Christ Jesus has done, not what we must do.

We cannot commend what we do not cherish.  -John Piper

And the essence of Christian maturity is when the Gospel – or, what Christ has done — gets worked IN – and then THROUGH our lives – which is what I’d like to spend our remaining time considering – and this will be the main intent of our series.

Today we will take a look at the Beatitudes.  Allow me to offer a few introductory thoughts.

II. BODY

Contained in the Beatitudes are eight qualities that characterize the life of Jesus Christ, and therefore, through conversion, they begin to characterize our life in Jesus Christ.  Jesus calls us to follow him, surrender to Him, and to depend upon His strength and power.

The word beatitude comes from the Latin word meaning “blessed.”

More specifically the word means exalted joy, or true happiness. (Joy is not always exuberant, but can also be described as calm delight in even the most adverse circumstances.  Joy fueled Paul’s contentmentPhil 4:11.)

With the beatitudes, Jesus dives into our innermost being probing the heart and raising the question of motive.  (This is why, at face value, it’s harder to be a Christian than Jewish…)

What made Jesus a threat to everyone and the reason He was eventually killed was that in His encounters with people (particularly the religious leaders), He exposes what they were on the inside.  Some people find it liberating – others hate it.  (Mat 23:27: hypocrites and whitewashed tombs.)

The Beatitudes, I have come to see, is our surrendered response to the Gospel.  I see the Beatitudes as a step-by-step spiritual formation process that moves us toward spiritual depth and maturity.  This becomes cyclical as we grow deeper and deeper in our faith.  The Beatitudes become the outworking of the Gospel IN and THROUGH our lives.

1. Blessed are the poor in spirit…

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope.  With less of you there is more of God and his rule.” (Petersen – MSG)

Another translation renders this verse, “Happy are those who know their need for God.” (JBP)

What does it mean to be “poor in spirit”?  A desperateness of soul that is weary of living in it’s own strength and longs for God’s mercy and grace to come and refresh the soul.  In a word, it is DESPERATION.

Prodigal Sons (Lk 15:11-32) The younger prodigal came to the end of himself (v.17) and though he had no idea of the Father’s love, made his way home.

In the recovery movement this would be similar to steps 1 & 2:

  • Step 1 – We admitted we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable.
  • Step 2 – Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

2. Blessed are those who mourn…

I have a river of sin in my life – with 3 primary tributaries…

  1. Original sin (Adam & Eve traded the presence of God for the knowledge of God – and that’s been our core tendency ever since…).
  2. Family of origin issues. (We all have negative traits and generational sin patterns that we bring into our Christian experience.  Are you in touch with yours?)
  3. My own dumb choices.

As we are honest about the sin that has infected us there will be a transforming grief and accompanying repentance, that surfaces – not only for our own lives, but also for the injustice, greed, lust, and suffering that grips our world.

I want to own my sin everyday.[6]

This is where the upside down life comes into play.  The Beatitudes are counterintuitive (paradox: seeming contradiction).  We go down to go up; death precedes resurrection; we get to joy by traveling through grief.  Our soul wants to find a way around grief, but God says, “No, you must travel through grief – and the good news is, He says, “I’ll go with you and we will do it in My strength and power.”

The way of the Gospel is a death and resurrection cycle…

**The gospel has the greatest potential to captivate us when we understand that we are more depraved than we ever realized and simultaneously more loved that we ever dared to imagine.

3. Blessed are the meek…

Rick Warren would say, “Meekness is not weakness, but the power of your potential under Christ’s control.”  The concept of meekness describes a horse that has been broken.  We can either surrender to Christ and invite His breaking, or remain the undisciplined and wild stallion.

Grieving over sin and suffering grows meekness in us and delivers us into a humble learning posture (disciple means learner).

4. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…Spiritual hunger and thirst is the growing desire to be empty of those things that don’t reflect God, and initiates a deep longing for wholeness in our lives.

5. Blessed are the merciful…

Mercy is entering into another persons feelings – attempting to see things from another person’s perspective – all with understanding AND acceptance…just like Jesus has done for us.

As we receive God’s mercy we begin to give mercy – to ourselves and to others.

6. Blessed are the pure in heart… Mercy cleanses our heart and restores purity to our lives.

Did you know that your virginity CAN be restored?

2 Cor 11:2For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin.

7. Blessed are the peacemakers…

Purity gives way to a personal serenity and peacefulness.  Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the absence of anxiety in the midst of inevitable conflict – and when others encounter it, they want it too.

Our Western concept of peace needs to be considered in the light of the ancient Hebrew concept of peace, which is SHALOM — and means more than our limited understanding of peace (i.e., the lack of conflict).

Biblical SHALOM means a universal flourishing, wholeness and delight; a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied, natural gifts are fruitfully employed — all under the arc of God’s love. Shalom is the way things ought to be.

Neal Plantinga – “the webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in equity, fulfillment, and delight.”

I will also say there is a difference between a peacemaker and a peacekeeper.

To be a peacemaker does not mean peace at any cost.  Peacekeeping creates a false peace.  Many of us live out our lives with this false peace and say nothing or do nothing to change it—in churches, homes, work places, marriages.

Examples:

  • Someone makes inappropriate sexual comments to you at work.  You know its not accidental because its repetitive and degrading.  But you keep your mouth shut because you know they’ll threaten your job or make you miserable if you say anything.
  • A family member makes a scene at a family gathering.  It embarrasses you, the rest of the family, but you say nothing.  You keep the peace because to go there would unearth a lot of stuff that you just aren’t willing to deal with.
  • Your spouse makes insulting remarks to you or humiliates you publicly through critical tone of voice.  It grates on you.  But you keep silent because you want to keep the peace.

8. Blessed are the persecuted… Living life from a kingdom of God perspective will place us in conflict with those that oppose it (usually it’s “religious,” moralistic people!).

III. CONCLUSION

Without the knowledge of our extreme sin, the payment of the Cross seems trivial and does not electrify or transform.  But without the knowledge of Christ’s completely satisfying life and death, the knowledge of sin would crush us – or move us to deny and repress it.

By walking the way of the Beatitudes we hold our depravity and the Cross in a healthy and dynamic tension that will lead to transformation and renewal.


[1] The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, InterVarsity Press, 1978:15.

[2] Dispensationalism is a theological system that teaches biblical history is best understood in light of a number of successive administrations (dispensations) of God’s dealings with humankind. It maintains fundamental distinctions between God’s plans for national Israel and for the New Testament Church, and emphasizes prophecy of the end-times and a pre-tribulation rapture of the church prior to Christ’s Second Coming.

[3] As one dispensationalist put it, “this Sermon cannot be taken in its plain import and be applied to Christians universally…It has been tried in spots, but…it has always been like planting a beautiful flower in stony ground or in a dry and withering atmosphere” (I. M. Haldeman, The Kingdom of God, p. 149).

[4] The moderate dispensationalist [still] views the primary fulfillment of the Sermon and the full following of its laws as applicable to the Messianic kingdom” (Dispensationalism Today, 107-08).

[5] A good primer on this alternative to dispensationalism view would be the “The Gospel of the Kingdom” by George Ladd.

[6] “None is righteous, no, not one.” Romans 3:10 (ESV)
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.” Eph 2:1-2 (ESV)