God Is Closer Than You Think #2 – What Is God Like?

What Is God Like?  (A Taste For His Majesty*)

I. INTRO

Most of us know who Chuck Colson was – a Special Counsel to President Richard Nixon from 1969 to 1973…

On June 1, 1973, Chuck Colson[1] visited his friend Tom Phillips,[2] while Watergate unfolded in the press. He was baffled and shocked at Phillips’ explanation that he had “accepted Jesus Christ.”

But he saw that Tom was at peace and he wasn’t. When Colson left the house, he couldn’t get his keys in the ignition he was crying so hard. He wrote in his book, Loving God:

That night I was confronted with my own sin—not just Watergate’s dirty tricks, but the sin deep within me, the hidden evil that lives in every human heart. It was painful and I could not escape. I cried out to God and found myself drawn irresistibly into His waiting arms. That was the night I gave my life to Jesus Christ and began the greatest adventure of my life.[3]

Charles Colson’s New Understanding of God

That story has been told thousands of times over the last four decades. We love to hear about this kind of conversion.

But far too many of us settle for that story in our own lives and the life of our church.

But not Charles Colson. Not only was the White House hatchet man willing to cry in 1973; he was also willing to repent several years later of a woefully inadequate view of God.

It was during a period of unusual spiritual dryness. (If you are in one, take heart! More saints than you realize have had life-changing encounters with God right in the midst of the desert.)

A friend suggested to Colson that he watch a videocassette lecture series by R.C. Sproul on the holiness of God. Here’s what Colson wrote:

All I knew about Sproul was that he was a theologian, so I wasn’t enthusiastic. After all, I reasoned, theology was for people who had time to study, locked in ivory towers far from the battlefield of human need. However, at my friend’s urging I finally agreed to watch Sproul’s series.

By the end of the sixth lecture I was on my knees, deep in prayer, in awe of God’s absolute holiness. It was a life-changing experience as I gained a completely new understanding of the holy God I believe in and worship.

My spiritual drought ended, but this taste for the majesty of God only made me thirst for more of him.[4]

In 1973 Colson had seen enough of himself to know his desperate need of God, and had been driven “irresistibly” (as he says) into God’s arms. But then several years later something else wonderful happened. A theologian spoke on the holiness of God and Chuck Colson says that he fell to his knees and “gained a completely new understanding of the holy God.” From that point on he had what he calls a “taste for the majesty of God.” Have you seen enough of God’s holiness to have an insatiable taste for His majesty?

This same thing happened to Job in the Bible – through all his tribulations he came to see God anew.

Job 1:1There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job; and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.”

Job was a believer, a deeply devout and prayerful man. Surely he knew God as he ought. Surely he had a “taste for the majesty of God.” But then came the pain and misery of his spiritual and physical desert. And in the midst of Job’s dryness God spoke in His majesty to Job:

Job 40:8–14; 41:10–11: “Will you even put Me in the wrong? Will you condemn Me that you may be justified? Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like His? Deck yourself with majesty and dignity; clothe yourself with glory and splendor?…Look on everyone that is proud, and bring him low? And tread down the wicked where they stand? …Who then is he that can stand before Me? Who has given to Me that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is Mine.”

In the end Job responds, like Colson, to a “completely new understanding of the Holy God.” Job says in 42:3–6:

Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand,
Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.”
‘Hear, now, and I will speak;
I will ask You, and You instruct me.’
“I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear;
But now my eye sees You;
Therefore I retract,
And I repent in dust and ashes.”

These two stories of men encountering God in life-changing ways is the same thing that is happening to Isaiah in Chap 6…

Isaiah 6:1-8 — In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said,

“Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts,
The whole earth is full of His glory.”

And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. Then I said,

“Woe is me, for I am ruined!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I live among a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

II. BODY

Revival happens, individually and corporately, when we see God majestic in His holiness – and we come to grips with our own need and desperation.

Brokenness, repentance, the unspeakable joy of forgiveness, a “taste for the majesty of God,” a hunger for His holiness—to see it more and to live it more: that’s revival. And it all begins by seeing God.

We have a companion book for this series and we have a companion passage that I am asking all of us to pray for ourselves, our loved ones, for SBF. That passage is:

Eph 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.

In our companion book “Christian Beliefs” by Wayne Grudem we are in Chap 2 – What Is God Like?  It is the longest chapter of the book (16 pages listing 24 separate attributes of God), and we won’t be able to cover them all this morning, so I would like to offer you 4 glimpses of God from the first 4 verses of Isaiah 6 that coincide with our companion book.

1. God Exists – 6:1:KingUzziah is dead, and Isaiah encountered the Lord sitting on the throne.

We see this also with the first four words of the Bible: Gen 1:1 – In the beginning God…” God was the living God when this universe banged into existence. And He will be the living God in 10 trillion years.

God never had a beginning and therefore depends on nothing for His existence. He always has been and always will be alive.

Our companion book describes God as “independent.”  I would take issue with Grudem’s choice of words here.  I agree with Grudem’s words that God “doesn’t actually need us or anything else in creation for anything.”[5]

I would prefer to use the term self-differentiated rather than independent.  What does it mean to be self-differentiated?

“Self-differentiation” is a term used to describe one who is emotional healthy – and is no longer ultimately dependent on anything other than themselves. They are able to live interdependently with others because their sense of worth is not dependent on external relationships, circumstances, or occurrences.

There are three categories of connection that are worthy of our understanding:  

  • Independence (-)
  • Dependence (-), and
  • Interdependence (+).

Within the Trinity each member is fully self-differentiated – and each is supremely interdependent.

2. God Is Omnipotent – The word omnipotent means all-powerful (omni = all; potent = power). Notice the throne of God’s authority is not one throne among many thrones. It is high and lifted up above ALL thrones. Again in 6:1: “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne high and lifted up.”

That God’s throne is higher than every other throne signifies God’s superior power to exercise His authority. No opposing authority can nullify the decrees of God.

What God purposes, God accomplishes. In Isaiah 46:10, God emphatically states: “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all My purpose.”

Daniel 4:35: “He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand.”

To be gripped by the sovereign omnipotence of God is either marvelous because He is for us — or it is terrifying because He is against us.

Indifference to God’s omnipotence simply means we haven’t seen it for what it is. The sovereign authoritative power of the living God is a refuge full of joy and delight for those who have been gripped by the gospel, which is His new covenant promise of love, mercy, and forgiveness.

3. God Is Holy – 6:2-4: “Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.” And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke 6:3: “And one called to another, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts!’”

The seraphim are never mentioned again in the Bible again. The word seraph literally means “to burn.”  John Wesley describes them as, “An order of holy angels…[that] represent either their nature, which is bright and glorious…and pure; or their property, of fervent zeal for God’s service and glory.”[6]

According to verse 4, when one of them speaks, the foundations of the thresholds in the temple shake.

This scene is repeated in Rev 4:8, where John has a vision of the throne in heaven – “And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.”

The difference between the creatures in Isaiah and Revelation have a lot to do with the eyes of these angelic beings.  In Isaiah the Seraphim covered their faces – and in Rev – the beings “are full of eyes around and within.”

In Isaiah’s vision the Seraphim cannot even look upon the Lord. Great and good as they are, untainted by human sin, they revere their Maker in great humility. How much more will we shudder and quake in His presence!

Let’s consider the word holy…

  • The possibilities of language to carry the meaning of God eventually run dry.
  • The root meaning of holy is to cut or separate. A holy thing is cut off from and separated from that which is common, or we might use the word, secular.
  • Earthly things (and people) are holy in so far as they are distinct from the world — and devoted to God.
  • The Bible speaks of holy ground (Exodus 3:5), holy assemblies (Exodus 12:16), holy sabbath (Exodus 16:23), a holy nation (Exodus 19:6); holy garments (Exodus 28:2), a holy city (Nehemiah 11:1), holy promises (Psalm 105:42), holy men (2 Peter 1:21) and women (1 Peter 3:5), holy scriptures (2 Timothy 3:15), holy hands (1 Timothy 2:8), a holy kiss (Romans 16:16), and a holy faith (Jude 20).  While it’s not used in the Bible, we speak of holy matrimony.
  • Almost anything can become holy if it is separated from the common and devoted to God.
  • God is not holy because He keeps the rules. He wrote the rules! God is not holy because He keeps the law. The law is holy because it reveals God.

Habakkuk 2:20 –“The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.”

The final glimpse is not in our companion book – or, perhaps we could say it is interwoven throughout our companion book…

3. God Is Glorious – 6:3: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory.”

We cannot separate God’s holiness from God’s glory.

The glory of God is the manifestation of His holiness. God’s holiness is the incomparable perfection of His divine nature; His glory is the display of that holiness.

When we say, or when the Bible says, “God is glorious” it means: God’s holiness has gone public. His glory is the open revelation of the secret of His holiness.

Leviticus 10:3 — “I will show myself holy among those who are near me, and before all the people I will be glorified.”

When God shows himself to be holy, what we see is glory. The holiness of God is His concealed glory. The glory of God is his revealed holiness.

When the Seraphim say, “The whole earth is full of His glory,” it is because from the heights of heaven they can see the end of the world. From down here the view of the glory of God is limited. And truth be told, it’s limited largely by our foolish preferences for lessor things.

Some day God will remove every competing glory and make His holiness known in awesome splendor to every humble creature.

CONCLUSION

Having said that, there is no need to wait. Like Chuck Colson, Job, and Isaiah, my prayer is that as individuals and as a church we will humble ourselves to go hard after the Holy God – that we would develop a taste for His majesty.

I want to hold out this promise from God, who has existed forever, who is omnipotent, who is holy, and who is glorious.

As we prepare our hearts for communion I’d like to read my favorite about revival. But I must warn you it’s not for the faint of heart…Burns asks the question:  Do we want a revival?  Do we really?  And then he answers…

To the church, a revival means humiliation, a bitter knowledge of unworthiness and an open humiliating confession of sin on the part of her [pastors] and people.  It is not the easy and glorious thing many think it to be, who imagine it filled the pews and reinstated the church in power and authority.  It comes to scorch before it heals; it comes to [convict] people for their unfaithful witness, for their selfish living, for their neglect of the cross, and to call them to daily renunciation and to a deep and daily consecration.  That is why a revival has ever been unpopular with large numbers within the church.  Because it says nothing to them of power, or of ease, or of success; it accuses them of sin; it tells them they are dead; it calls them to awake, to renounce the world [system] and to follow Christ.[7]

Sit quietly and reflect and repent as necessary – and when you’re ready come and remember what Christ has done.  His broken body and shed blood.  He lived the life we should have lived – and He died the death we should have died.  While we were yet dead in our sins, Christ died for us – He became poor that we might become rich in mercy and grace…

* I am grateful to the teaching and preaching ministry of John Piper for some of the illustrations of this sermon – as well as the treatment of holiness — and the relationship between God’s holiness and God’s glory.


[1]  Colson was Special Counsel to President Richard Nixon from 1969 to 1973. He gained notoriety at the height of the Watergate affair for being named as one of the Watergate Seven, and pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice. He became a Christian in 1973 after his arrest.

[2] Chairman of the defense contractor Raytheon.

[3] Loving God, p. 247.

[4] Loving God (pp. 14–15).

[5] Christian Beliefs: 22.

[6] Wesley’s Notes On The Bible. Christian Classics Ethereal Library; 1.1 edition 2010.

[7] James Burns. Revival, Their Laws & Leaders, Hodder and Stoughton 1909:50.

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 Great Commandment Pt 2 – Matthew 22:39

Love Your Neighbor as Yourself

I.   INTRO/REVIEW

A.   We have been looking at what the Bible refers to as the Great Commandment, which is for us, important preliminary vision passage because it synthesizes so much of the Scripture into two VERY straightforward commands.

B.    (It is quite important for us to understand that when the NT authors declare God’s commands for us to be holy and to love our neighbor, etc. These commands 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 on our own.)

C.    Matthew 22:33-40 (NAS): “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Notice the order – and notice that Jesus was asked to answer with one commandment, but He gave them two…)

D.   We have multiplied this passage into two messages…

  1. Last week: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind – this is the great and foremost commandment.” (Click here to read that post.)
  2. Review of last week: How do we love God?
  • Come alive to God.
  • Find your true joy and delight in the message of the Gospel – and the Person of Jesus Christ.
  •  Come to grips with the idolatry that grips ALL of our lives.

(i)    Idolatry is not just a failure to obey God; it is setting our heart and affections on something, or someone other than God.

(ii)  This cannot be remedied by repenting that you have an idol – or by engaging willpower to try and live differently.

(iii) If we uproot our idols (through repentance) but fail to plant the love of God (or, delight in God) in its place, the idol will grow back – like mowing a weed.  Repentance and rejoicing must go together.

E.  This week: (v. 39)“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  And here’s the questions we’re asking as we unpack these verses…

  • What is God’s heart/vision for Southside Bible Fellowship?
  • And for you?

II.  BODY

A.   The life-changing context of this commandment:

 ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ 40 On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

  1. The overwhelming commandment to “neighbor love.”  Who is my neighbor?  This passage retold in Luke 10 – and is followed by Jesus unpacking the Good Samaritan and Mary and Martha.
  2. John Piper: This is a staggering commandment. If this is what it means, then something unbelievably powerful and reconstructing will have to happen in our souls.  It seems to demand that I tear the skin off my body and wrap it around another person so that I feel that I am that other person; and all the longings that I have for my own safety, health, success, and happiness I now feel for that other person as though s/he were me.

B.    Loving God is invisible. It is an internal passion of the soul. But it comes to expression when we love others.  (Similar to James 2:18: “I will show you my faith by my works.”)

  1. Idolatry and pride are at the root of our sinfulness.  Pride is the desire for our own happiness apart from God and apart from the happiness of others in God.
  2. Pride is the pursuit of happiness anywhere but in the glory of God and the good of other people.

C.   So, Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  How do we get there from here? Four points (adapted from John Piper):

1.     Understand that our self-love is a creation of God.

  • Jesus says in effect: I start with your inborn, deep, defining human trait—your love for yourself.  It’s a given.  Jesus is saying, I don’t command it — I assume it.
  • We all have a powerful instinct of self-preservation and self-fulfillment. We all want to be happy, to live and love with satisfaction, we want enough food, we want enough clothes, we want a place to live, we want protection from violence, we want meaningful or important work, we want sincere and meaningful friendships, and we want our lives to count!  All this is self-love.
  • Self-love is the deep longing to diminish pain and to increase joy. That’s what Jesus starts with when he says, “as yourself.”
  • This is common to all people. We don’t have to learn it, it comes with our humanity. Our Father created it. These longings are natural…

2.     Make your self-seeking the measure of your self-giving.

  • When Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” the word “as” is very radical: That’s a BIG word: It means: If you are energetic in pursing your own happiness, be AS energetic in pursuing the happiness of your neighbor. If you are creative in pursuing your own happiness, be AS creative in pursuing the happiness of your neighbor. If you are persevering in pursuing your own happiness, be AS persevering in pursuing the happiness of your neighbor.
  • In other words, Jesus is not just saying: seek for your neighbor the same things you seek for yourself, but also seek them in the same way—with the same zeal, energy, creativity, and perseverance. The same life and death commitment when you are in danger.  Make your own self-seeking the measure of your self-giving.
  • Here’s where this gets difficult: We feel that if we take Jesus seriously, we will not just have to love others “as we love ourselves,” but we will have to love others “instead of loving ourselves.”
  • See the handout: “Developing Practical Skills to Love Well”… (This handout should be in the foyer at SBF.)

3.     It’s the first commandment that makes the second doable.

  • This is why the first commandment is the first commandment.
  • If we try to accomplish the 2nd Commandment without FULLY engaging the 1st it will become the suicide of our own happiness.
  • The 1st commandment is the basis of the 2nd commandment. The 2nd  commandment is a visible expression of the 1st commandment.

4.     Make God the focus of your self-seeking.

  • Take all your self-love—all your longing for joy, hope, love, security, fulfillment, and significance—take all that, and take it to God, until He satisfies your heart, soul, and mind.
  • What you will find is that this is not a canceling out of self-love. This is a fulfillment and transformation of self-love. Self-love is the desire for life and satisfaction rather than frustration and death.
  • God says, “Come to me, and I will give you fullness of joy. I will satisfy your heart, soul, and mind with My glory. This is the first and great commandment…
  • And with that great discovery—that God is the never-ending fountain of our joy—the way we love others will be forever changed.
  • Our quest for joy and happiness becomes a life-long quest for God. And He can be be found [only] in the Person Jesus Christ.  (I wish “all paths” led to God, but they do not…)

III. CONCLUSION

A.   As we bring this to a close, we can say that our ultimate GOAL is to love God with all of our heart, soul, and strength – and the FRUIT is that we will splash His love onto people.

B.    God’s word for us this morning is that we embrace these commandments with tremendous focus and authenticity during this season of learning to express the redemptive love of God in and through SBF.

C.    Let these verses deeply touch and challenge your soul – and remake your priorities.

D.   Get alone with God and deal with Him about these things. Let’s not assume that we fully know what love is – or that love has the proper centrality in our lives.

E.    God is saying:  All of Scripture, all God’s plans for history, hang on these two great purposes: that 1) he be loved with all our heart, and 2) that we love each other as we love ourselves.

F.    A closing verse:  Gal 6:10 – “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.”

The Great Commandment Pt 1 – Matthew 22:33-40

I.  INTRO

A.   We are going to take the next couple of weeks and look at what the Bible refers to as the Great Commandment.  An important preliminary vision passage because it synthesizes so much of the Bible into two pretty straightforward commands.

B.    Matthew 22:33-40 (NAS): “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Notice the order.  Loving people id the outflow of loving God.)

C.    We will divide this passage up into two messages…

  1. This week: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind – this is the great and foremost commandment.”
  2. Next week: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

D.   Here are two important questions…

  1. What is God’s heart for Southside Bible Fellowship?  And for you?
  2. What is God’s VISION for us during this transition season?  Vision will focus us.  Vision will restrain us – Pro 29:18 (NAS): “Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained…” 

II.   BODY

A.   “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind – this is the great and foremost commandment” is a quote from Deut 6:5 and is:

1.     Part of the Shema Yisrael (Heb word for hear), vs. 4-9. The Shema is the central prayer in the Jewish prayer book and is usually the first section of Scripture that a Jewish child learns – as well as the prayer that is most often said each morning and evening by the Jewish people.

4 “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

2.     Rabbi Julian Sinclair: Oneness, [or] unity, is the aspiration of love, and love emerges from a perception of unity. This insight is also expressed in the Shema: its first line declares God’s unity, and ends with the word “one.” Then follows the mitzvah [commandment] to love God. Love comes out of a sense of God’s unity pervading all things.

3.     In the Torah (the first 5 books of the Bible) there are 613 commandments (explicit and implicit).

4.     The 10 Commandments (Ex 20 & Deut 5) are understood to be the root commands — revealing God’s standard of holiness.  They also reveal our need for a Savior.

  • Gal 3:24Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.”
  • The Law is like a dentists mirror – it can point out decay, but can’t do anything about it.

5.     In Deut 5 – the previous chapter, we find the second listing of the 10 Commandments (also in Ex 20).

  • The first two commandments speak to the issue of idolatry:  #1 is Deut 5:7 – “You shall have no other God’s before me.”
  • The 2nd Commandment states – Deut 5:8-10: “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 9 You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, 10 but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”

6.     Theologians think that if someone were to be able to keep the first commandment the others would not be a problem – because they all have to do with idolatry.

7.     Martin Luther:  All those who do not at all times trust God and do not in all their works or sufferings, life and death, trust in His favor, grace, and good-will, but seek His favor in other things or in themselves, do not keep this [First] Commandment, and practice real idolatry.

8.     Tim Keller:  Sin isn’t only doing bad things, it is more fundamentally making good things into ultimate things. Sin is building your life and meaning on anything, even a very good thing, more than on God. Whatever we build our life on will drive us and enslave us. Sin is primarily idolatry.

9.     So, what are we saying? All 613 unchangeable commandments of the Torah can be summed-up in these two verses (or 6 words): Love God and love your neighbor. Every person on the planet has this built-in longing to deeply connect with God and people.  We were designed, created to be worshippers.  This, then, becomes the grand objective and passion of every human heart.  Augustine said it well:  “Our heart’s are restless until they find their rest in God.”

B.    Years ago Rick Warren said something that, I think, begins to put this into perspective: “A great commitment to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission will grow a great [Christian and a great] church.”

  1. A key and critical question is, how will this commitment be expressed?
  2. The Church (at least in N America) has placed an emphasis on the Great Commission without a sufficient understanding and practice of the Great Commandment.
  3. John Piper:  Passion for God in worship precedes the offer of God in evangelism because we cannot commend what we do not cherish.
  4. I believe this is THE most critical issue facing Southside Bible Fellowship during this season – duty or delight.

C.    So, if we are to “LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND” our question is – How do we get there from here?

1.     Come alive to God.  Ephesians 2:1-10 An explanation of the Gospel…

 1 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, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. 

2.     Find your true joy and delight in the message of the Gospel – and the Person of Jesus Christ.

  • My prayer for us as a community of believers: “That we would experience Jesus Christ, the sovereign, risen, living, Lord of the universe; and that He would continue to become THE source and content of our real hope and joy.”
  • One of the most important discoveries we will ever make is:  God is most glorified in you when you am most satisfied in Him (John Piper). This is to be the motor that drives our lives.  This concept, I believe, will be key to this transition season here at SBF.
  • Tragically most of us have been taught that duty, not delight, is the way to glorify God. But here is what the Great Commandment is instructing us to do: To delight in God is your duty!
  • John 15:11-12 (AMP) – “I have told you these things, that My joy and delight may be in you, and that your joy and gladness may be of full measure and complete and overflowing. This is My commandment: [or, out of that joy and delight] that you love one another [just] as I have loved you.”

3.     Come to grips with the idolatry that grips ALL of our lives.

a.     Tim Keller:[1] One of the main ways to read the Bible is as the ages-long struggle between true faith and idolatry. In the beginning, human beings were made [created] to worship and serve God, and to rule over all created things in God’s name (Gen 1:26­–28).

Rom 1:21–25 — Paul understands that original sin as an act of idolatry:

21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.

 24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. 25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

b.     Instead of living for God, we began to live for ourselves, or our work, or for material goods. We reversed the original intended order. And when we began to worship and serve created things, paradoxically, the created things came to rule over us.

1 John 5:20-21“And 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. 21 Little children, [speaking to believers] guard yourselves from idols.”

c.     What is idolatry?

  • It exchanging the truth for a lie.
  • Putting our trust in other saviors – “momentary functional saviors,”
  •  “Exchanging God for pitiful substitutes.” (John Piper),
  • Whoever or whatever we give central value to,
  • Whatever controls us is our Lord.

d.     David Powlison writes in Seeing with New Eyes[2]: The most basic question which God poses to each human heart: “Has something or someone besides Jesus the Christ taken title to your heart’s functional trust, preoccupation, loyalty, service, fear, or delight?

e.     Here are some questions that will bring some of our idol systems to the surface:

  • What do I worry about the most?
  • What, do you really want, or expect out of life?
  • What do I use to comfort myself on a bad day?  Cope?  Release valves?
  • What preoccupies me?
  • A Puritan writer from the 17th century said: Our religion is what we do with our solitude (What do you daydream about?).
  • For what do you want to be known?
  • What prayer, unanswered, what make you seriously question God?

f.      Root idols vs. branch (surface) idols:  Lust, like rape, is hardly ever about sex – it’s about self-image, it’s about anxiety, it’s about fear.  These are some of the root idols that seek to control our lives – they are the sin behind the sin…

III.         CONCLUSION

A.   How do we replace our idols?[3]

B.    Idolatry is not just a failure to obey God; it is setting our heart and affections on something, or someone other than God. This cannot be remedied by repenting that you have an idol – or by engaging willpower to try and live differently.

C.    Here’s the final passage for today…

Colossians 3:1-3 (Put On the New Self)

1Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things above [i.e., YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, SOUL, AND MIND], not on the things that are on earth. 3 For you have died [to sin, to idolatry] and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

D.   We are invited to rest in, appreciate, rejoice in what Jesus has done through his hideous death – and resurrection.

E.    Jesus must become more beautiful to your imagination, more attractive to your heart, than your idols.

F.    If we uproot our idols (through repentance) but fail to plant the love of God (or, delight in God) in its place, the idol will grow back – like mowing a weed.

G.   Repentance and rejoicing must go together.


[1] “Talking About Idolatry in a Postmodern Age.”

[2] Pgs. 132-40.

[3] Adapted from Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller, pgs. 170-172.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism – Pt 2 (Teens Are Listening To Us)

It is easy to get caught in the trap of moralism.  You might be asking, “What is moralism?”  Moralism seeks to achieve growth or “Christian maturity” through behavior modificationConsider the following descriptions:

  1. One of the most seductive false gospels is moralism, which can take many forms and can emerge from any number of political and cultural impulses. Nevertheless, the basic structure of moralism comes down to this — the belief that the Gospel can be reduced to improvements in behavior.
  2. Moralism is a religious attitude that tends to look down on unbelievers from a self-righteous position by comparing our supposed moral superiority to theirs. It is as if we believe our entrance into Christianity is by grace but that our growth in Christ is due to maintaining a (NT) moral code.
  3. Those who believe this fall into the trap (perhaps subconsciously) of believing that grace alone (Sola gratia) is insufficient for sanctification. The New Testament 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 (e.g., Rom 3:19-20) 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.

The pursuit of all things Christian must be anchored in the grace of God or it will be doomed to failure.  Grace is at the heart of the gospel, and without a clear understanding of the gospel and grace we can easily slip into moralism, which bears little resemblance to what the gospel offers us.

Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, writes the following about a disturbing and discouraging trend in American Christianity, which adds to the false gospel of moralism

The “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism”[1] that these researchers [sadly] identify as the most fundamental faith posture and belief system of American teenagers appears, in a larger sense, to reflect the culture as a whole. Clearly, this generalized conception of a belief system is what appears to characterize the beliefs of vast millions of Americans, both young and old.

This is an important missiological observation–a point of analysis that goes far beyond sociology. As Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton explained, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism “is about inculcating a moralistic approach to life. It teaches that central to living a good and happy life is being a good, moral person. That means being nice, kind, pleasant, respectful, responsible, at work on self-improvement, taking care of one’s health, and doing one’s best to be successful.” In a very real sense, that appears to be true of the faith commitment, insofar as this can be described as a faith commitment, held by a large percentage of Americans. These individuals, whatever their age, believe that religion should be centered in being “nice”– a posture that many believe is directly violated by assertions of strong theological conviction.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is also “about providing therapeutic benefits to its adherents.” As the researchers explained, “This is not a religion of repentance from sin, of keeping the Sabbath, of living as a servant of sovereign divinity, of steadfastly saying one’s prayers, of faithfully observing high holy days, of building character through suffering, of basking in God’s love and grace, of spending oneself in gratitude and love for the cause of social justice, et cetera. Rather, what appears to be the actual dominant religion among U.S. teenagers [according to the study] is centrally about feeling good, happy, secure, at peace. [Good insight!] It is about attaining subjective well-being, being able to resolve problems, and getting along amiably with other people.”

In addition, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism presents a unique understanding of God. As Smith explains, this amorphous faith “is about belief in a particular kind of God: one who exists, created the world, and defines our general moral order, but not one who is particularly personally involved in one’s affairs–especially affairs in which one would prefer not to have God involved. Most of the time, the God of this faith keeps a safe distance.”

Smith and his colleagues recognize that the deity behind Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is very much like the deistic God of the 18th-century philosophers. This is not the God who thunders from the mountain, nor a God who will serve as judge. This undemanding deity is more interested in solving our problems and in making people happy. “In short, God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he is always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process.”

Obviously, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is not an organized faith. This belief system has no denominational headquarters and no mailing address. Nevertheless, it has millions and millions of devotees across the United States and other advanced cultures, where subtle cultural shifts have produced a context in which belief in such an undemanding deity makes sense. Furthermore, this deity does not challenge the most basic self-centered assumptions of our postmodern age. Particularly when it comes to so-called “lifestyle” issues, this God is exceedingly tolerant and this religion is radically undemanding.

As sociologists, Smith and his team suggest that this Moralistic Therapeutic Deism may now constitute something like a dominant civil religion that constitutes the belief system for the culture at large. Thus, this basic conception may be analogous to what other researchers have identified as “lived religion” as experienced by the mainstream culture.

Moving to even deeper issues, these researches claim that Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is “colonizing” Christianity itself, as this new civil religion seduces converts who never have to leave their congregations and Christian identification as they embrace this new faith and all of its undemanding dimensions.

Consider this remarkable assessment: “Other more accomplished scholars in these areas will have to examine and evaluate these possibilities in greater depth. But we can say here that we have come with some confidence to believe that a significant part of Christianity in the United States is actually [only] tenuously Christian in any sense that is seriously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition, but is rather substantially morphed into Christianity’s misbegotten step-cousin, Christian Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.”

They argue that this distortion of Christianity has taken root not only in the minds of individuals, but also “within the structures of at least some Christian organizations and institutions.”

How can you tell? “The language, and therefore experience, of Trinity, holiness, sin, grace, justification, sanctification, church, . . . and heaven and hell appear, among most Christian teenagers in the United States at the very least, to be supplanted by the language of happiness, niceness, and an earned heavenly reward.”

This radical transformation of Christian theology and Christian belief replaces the sovereignty of God with the sovereignty of the self. In this therapeutic age, human problems are reduced to pathologies in need of a treatment plan. Sin is simply excluded from the picture, and doctrines as central as the wrath and justice of God are discarded as out of step with the times and unhelpful to the project of self-actualization.

All this means is that teenagers have been listening carefully. They have been observing their parents in the larger culture with diligence and insight. They understand just how little their parents really believe and just how much many of their churches and Christian institutions have accommodated themselves to the dominant culture. They sense the degree to which theological conviction has been sacrificed on the altar of individualism and a relativistic understanding of truth. They have learned from their elders that self-improvement is the one great moral imperative to which all are accountable, and they have observed the fact that the highest aspiration of those who shape this culture is to find happiness, security, and meaning in life. 

This research project demands the attention of every thinking Christian. Those who are prone to dismiss sociological analysis as irrelevant will miss the point. We must now look at the United States of America as missiologists once viewed nations that had never heard the gospel. Indeed, our missiological challenge may be even greater than the confrontation with paganism, for we face a succession of generations who have transformed Christianity into something that bears no resemblance to the faith revealed in the Bible. The faith “once delivered to the saints” is no longer even known, not only by American teenagers, but by most of their parents. Millions of Americans believe they are Christians, simply because they have some historic tie to a Christian denomination or identity.

We now face the challenge of evangelizing a nation that largely considers itself Christian, overwhelmingly believes in some deity, considers itself fervently religious, but has virtually no connection to historic Christianity. Christian Smith and his colleagues have performed an enormous service for the church of the Lord Jesus Christ in identifying Moralistic Therapeutic Deism as the dominant religion of this American age. Our responsibility is to prepare the church to respond to this new religion, understanding that it represents the greatest competitor to biblical Christianity.


[1] This quote is from the book: Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults by Christian Smith, with Patricia Snell, Oxford University Press, Sept 2009.

The Gospel and the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10)

This is a sermon I spoke at three services at Shiloh Community Church in Orleans MI last weekend (Palm Sunday).  I focused primarily on poor in spirit, mourning, and peacemaking

It’s Palm Sunday and we are remembering and celebrating the triumphal entry of The Servant King Jesus – arriving into Jerusalem to the praise and adulation of the multitude — and less than a week later, he is to be brutally and shamefully murdered…

  1. Next week is the high point of the Christian calendar as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
  2. Jesus triumphed over death and hell and bridged the gap between our utter depravity and God’s standard of holiness. (To miss the mark by even a little is still to have missed the mark.)
  3. We call this sacrifice the Gospel – or Good News.

I believe it is Tim Keller who reminds us that the Gospel is not advice, it is news.  It is the ultimate Good News.  He suggests that weekend services are not primarily the place to give advice… Gospel-centered (or Christ-centered) change is rooted in remembrance. We are to remind one another of what Christ Jesus has done, not what we must do.

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

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.

Turn to Matthew 5 where we will take a look at the Beatitudes.  While you’re turning, allow me to offer a few introductory thoughts.

What is Christian conversion? Christian conversion, or salvation, occurs when genuine repentance and sincere faith in Jesus intersect.

  1. These are not two separate actions – but one motion with two parts:
    • As we turn to Christ for salvation we turn away from the sin that we are asking Jesus Christ to forgive us from. (Rom 3:23 – All have sinned and fallen short of God’s standard.)
    • Neither repentance nor faith come first – they must come at the same time.
  2. They are two sides of the same coin.[1]

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 through life and to depend upon his strength and power.

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

  1. More specifically the word means exalted joy, or true happiness. (Joy is calm delight in even the most adverse circumstances.  Joy fueled Paul’s contentment.)
  2. With the beatitudes, Jesus dives into our innermost being probing the heart and raising the question of motive.
  3. 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.

The Beatitudes, I have come to see, are our surrendered response to the Gospel.  I view 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.

Matthew 5:3-10…

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

 5“Blessed are the meek (gentle), for they shall inherit the earth.

 6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

 7“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

 8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

 9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

 10“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Following is an overview and how one unfolds into the next…The first two are foundational to the Gospel blossoming in and through our lives…

1.  Blessed are the poor in spirit…

a.  “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope.  With less of you there is more of God and his rule.” (MSG)
b.  Another translation renders this verse, “Happy are those who know their need for God.” (JBP)
c.  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.
d.  Consider the Prodigal Sons (Lk 15)…

2.  Blessed are those who mourn…

a.  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

#3 – My own dumb choices.

b.  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.

c.  I want to own my sin everyday.[2]

d.  This is counter intuitive (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.”

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

f.  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.

g.  I don’t mind inviting you to question your own salvation today.  If our default mode is, “I’m basically a good person…” then we simply have not understood the gospel.

3.  Blessed are the meek…

a.  Rick Warren would say, “Meekness is not weakness, but the power of your potential under Christ’s control.”

b.  The concept of meekness describes a horse that has been broken.  We can either surrender to Christ and invite the breaking, or remain the undisciplined and wild stallion.

c.  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…

a.  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.

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

6.  Blessed are the pure in heart…

a.  Mercy cleanses our heart and restores purity to our lives.

b.  Did you know that your (spiritual and emotional) 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…

a.  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.

b.  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 speaks of a universal flourishing, wholeness and delight; a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied, natural gifts a 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.”

c.  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, and our marriages.

Examples:

(i)  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.

(ii) 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.

d.  We struggle with this false peace because the conventional wisdom of the day is that its better to keep the peace than to make the peace and there is a very real difference.

e.  Keeping this false peace insures that real issues, real concerns, and real problems are never dealt with.

f.  A façade, or veneer, of peace in that there is calm but the reality is the tension is still there.

g.  True peacemakers will challenge and disrupt the false peace.

h.  Jesus didn’t have a problem disrupting the false peace of his day.

i.  The whole history of redemption, climaxing in the death and resurrection of Jesus is God’s strategy to bring about a just and lasting peace between rebel man and himself and between man and man (Eph 2:14-22)

j.  Colossians 1:19-20 puts it like this,

“For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

k.  True peacemakers will give people the benefit of the doubt while graciously bringing up concerns

l.  But true peacemakers will deal with what is real.  FIRST IN THEIR OWN LIVES…

m.  True peacemakers will steward the conflict they find themselves in because God will often use conflict to develop things in our lives that are developed in no other way.

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

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] Wayne Gudem, Systematic Theology, p. 713.

[2] “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)

The Fruit of Repentance

Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.  –Matthew 3:8

…They should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. –Acts 26:20

Repentance is a decisive reorientation of one’s life away from self and toward God. Commenting on Matthew 3:8 John Calvin writes, “Repentance is an inward matter, which has its seat in the heart and soul, but afterwards yields its fruits in a change of life.”[1]

When John the Baptist told the Jewish people that they must bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance, what did he mean?

There are three additional questions that will help to understand what the Bible means by fruit:

1.     What is repentance?

a)     The Greek verb that is translated repent in the New Testament is metanoia. The word literally means to think after. It suggests the idea of thoughtful reflection regarding a deed after the commission of it. In the case of a sinful action, the idea would be a retrospection of the act and the subsequent feeling of godly sorrow that leads to repentance (see 2 Cor 7:9-10).

b)    Thomas Watson, an English Puritan (ca. 1620-1686) said, “Repentance is a grace of God’s Spirit whereby a sinner is inwardly humbled and visibly reformed.”[2]

c)     Repentance involves a God-initiated resolve to acknowledge the wrongful conduct and surrender ourselves to the empowering grace of God, which alone will accomplish in us and through us what we have never been able to accomplish on our own.

d)    Dan Allender, a contemporary Christian educator and author, writes that repentance is “an about face movement from denial and rebellion to truth and surrender…[that] 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.”[3]

e)     Paul writes that, godly sorrow leads to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10). The repentance of this text is life reformation, not mere grief over the act.

2.     What is the significance of the expression, in keeping with repentance? (NKJ: worthy of; AMP: consistent with.)

a)     The expression in keeping with is the Greek word axios and originally had to do with objects that were of equal weight, i.e., one item corresponds to another in weight. The metaphorical use in the NT may be employed regarding actions — either good or bad.

b)    The change of life that is characteristic of repentance must correspond to the gravity and nature of the offence. Otherwise, it is not biblical repentance.

3.     What is implied by the phrase, produce fruit?

a)     The Greek word for fruit is karpos and means “the visible expression of [God’s] power working inwardly and invisibly, [and] the character of the fruit being evidence of the character of the power producing it (see Mat 7:16). Just as the visible expressions of hidden lusts are the works of the flesh, so the invisible power of the Holy Spirit in those who are brought into [a] living union with Christ (see Jn 15:2-8, 16) produces ‘the fruit of the Spirit’ (Gal 5:22).”[4]

b)    In addition to the fruit of the Spirit what does it mean to produce the fruit of repentance? Here are a some signs of fruit that will typically be found in a truly repentant person[5]:

i)      Repentant people are willing to confess all their sins, not just the sins that got them in trouble. A house isn’t truly clean until we open every closet and sweep every corner. People who truly desire to be clean are completely honest about their lives. No more secrets. Christian psychologist and author Larry Crabb defines integrity as pretending about nothing.[6]

ii)    Repentant people face the pain that their sin caused others. They invite the victims of their sin (anyone hurt by their actions) to express the intensity of emotions that they feel — anger, hurt, sorrow, and disappointment. Repentant people do not give excuses or shift blame. They made the choice to hurt others, and they take full responsibility for their behavior.

iii)   Repentant people ask forgiveness from those they hurt. They realize that they can never completely “pay off” the debt they owe their victims. Repentant people don’t pressure others to say, “I forgive you.” Forgiveness is a journey, and people need time to deal with the hurt before they can forgive. All that penitent people can do is admit their indebtedness and humbly request the undeserved gift of forgiveness.

iv)   Repentant people remain accountable to a small group of mature Christians. They gather a group of friends around themselves who hold them accountable to a plan for honest living. They invite the group to question them about their behaviors.

v)    Repentant people accept their limitations. They realize that the consequences of their sin (including the distrust) will last a long time, perhaps the rest of their lives. They understand that they may never enjoy the same freedom that other people enjoy. Adulterers, for example, would be wise to place strict limitations on their time with members of the opposite sex. That’s the reality of their situation, and they willingly accept their boundaries.

vi)   Repentant people are faithful to the daily tasks God has given them. We serve a merciful God who delights in giving second chances. God offers repentant people a restored relationship with him and a new plan for life. Consider Hosea’s promise to rebellious Israel:

Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence. (Hosea 6:1-2)

The conscientious student of the Bible is led to conclude that any repentance, without the full compliment of the elements that define that term, is simply not a biblical repentance.


[1] John Calvin, Commentary on Matthew, Mark, & Luke, Vol 1.

[2] Thomas Watson, The Doctrine of Repentance, Banner of Truth, 1999: 18.

[3] Dan Allender, The Wounded Heart, Navpress, 1990: 217.

[4] W. E. Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Vol 2, Revell 1940: 143.

[5] Adapted from the article Six Signs of Genuine Repentance by Bryce Klabunde.

[6] Larry Crabb, Finding God, Zondervan 1993: 16.