Christ Over All: Put on the New Self

http://www.foresthillsbaptist.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/03-08-2015.mp3  

Each Monday (This week Wednesday!) I’ll be putting up my sermon notes and audio file for the sermon series from Forest Hills Baptist Church “Christ Over All: A Study from Colossians”. This is an edited copy of my sermon notes, not a transcript of the sermon. You can listen to the sermon audio above or directly for at the church’s website

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:12–17, ESV)

As we’ve been walking through the book of Colossians, chapter 3 turns to the practical aspects of the Christian life. Paul has been discussing how our union with Christ by faith changes who we are. We are new people with a new identity. Therefore the old person who we used to be is now gone. Paul tells us in v. 5 to put to death our old self and to put off the vices of worldliness.

Here in v. 12 Paul is going to instruct us what the character of Christ looks like in the Christian life. We must not simply stop doing the sinful activities of our past, but we must put on a new character and a new heart that is birthed out of our new identity in Jesus.

One of the things that I think will surprise you as we study this passage together today is just how much Paul discusses putting on the character of Christ within the Christian community of the church.

Some will claim a “me and Jesus” faith that has no need for the community of the church. They may claim to be able to worship just fine on the fishing boat or may claim to grow just fine disconnected from community and membership to a local body. Yet, this attitude is not found in the NT at all. The writers of the NT always assume that a follower of Christ is always connected to the body of Christ.

If you hope to grow in your relationship with Jesus and if you hope to increase in Christ-likeness it will not happen if you are severed from the church. God has ordained it that we grow together in the loving community of the church. If we hope to put on the character of Christ as Paul instructs us here today, we will see that he assumes it is done within the context of the local church.

If you have a desire for holiness and if you have a desire to live your life for the glory of God than you ought to have a desire to belong and participate in the life of the church as well. The church is God’s gift to us helping us to grow in our faith. As we dive in to our passage for today we will see it over and over again. Putting on the character of Christ is meant to happen within the Christian community of the local church.

In Jesus, we put on the character of Christ and grow through the community of Christ.

1. The Character of a Christian (v.12–14)

Paul kicks off his command of “Put on then” by reminding us of who we are. Again that theme of indicatives and imperatives reoccurs here again. Before Paul tells us what we must do as Christian he always reminds us of who we are. And just who are we?

Paul tells us that we are God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved. Paul reminds the colossians and reminds us that if you are a Christian who are the elect of God. Chosen to be a member of his family. You have been called by him to be set apart and you have been chosen by him to be a special object of his love as he unites you to his son Jesus Christ by faith.

Paul is reminding us again of our new identity in our Christian life. Our identity in Jesus is the source and power for any hope to put on the character of Christ. Because in Jesus we have been made holy, by the Power of God’s spirit we are able to live in holiness.

I must never cease in warning you of this: It is impossible to live the Christian life without first being made by God a Christian. When we come to Christ there is a fundamental change in who we are. We are made new. We are born again. We become new men and new women in Jesus. It is out of this new identity that we are able by the Spirit to not only put off our former way of life, but put on the character and love of Christ.

Five Virtues

So Paul describes the character of Christ in which we are to put on. Just as Paul gave us a few verses earlier of 5 vices to put off, here he gives us a list of 5 virtues that are to radiate from the Christian life. He tells us to put on compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.

Jesus transforms our very personality as he brings about the character of Christ in our life. In our Christian life we should seek to be growing in each of these areas.

Our ruthless merciless hearts should be growing more warm and compassionate towards others. The rudeness and selfishness that dominates our speech should be replaced with the kindness of Christ. Our sefl-suffeciency and pride should be replaced with a God given humility and meekness. Our irritableness and frustration with others should be replaced by divine patience for others struggles and weaknesses.

Bearing with One Another

Paul goes on to tell us that we should bear with one another, and be patient with one another. Here already you see the importance of community in growing in christ-likeness. It is easy to get frustrated with one another as church members isn’t it? We all have annoying little quirks and we all have areas of sin in our life and blindspots. Some of us are a little thick-headed and stubborn than others.

Yet maturity in Christ means that we are patient in bearing with one another. For those who are slow to learn we show humble patience. To those who hurt us and harm us we offer forgiveness. To those struggling with sin, we come along side and help them bear their struggle.

The immature Christian is a one who sees the weakness of his brother or sister and gets filled with self-righteous frustration. The mature Christian is the one who sees the weakness of his brother or sister and is filled with compassionate and loving patience.

For those of us who struggle with our weaker brothers and sisters perhaps we are not as mature in Christ as we’d like to think.

Forgiving One Another

Paul even tells us that those who have put on the character of Christ should make us forgiving people. A forgiving spirit is a sign of maturity in Christ. Those who hold on to bitterness and unforgiveness in their heart not only hurt their own soul but bring destruction and disunity on the church. The forgiveness of God changes us.

How has God forgiven us? Well he has forgiven us in the most costly of ways. That while we are sinners God sent his son, born in human flesh to absorb the penalty for our sin at the cross. Jesus stands in the gap and takes on our shame so that we could receive the favor of God and be adopted into his family. Our horrific, vile, and detestable sin has been forgiven by the blood of the lamb! The forgiveness of God is costly, it wasn’t cheap, and yet God generously gives it to all who might believe in his son Jesus Christ.

Again, I must urge you if you do not know Jesus and if you have yet to be forgiven by God, he is generous and merciful to receive all those who would turn from their sins and place their faith and trust in Jesus as their savior and Lord. Christians are not perfect people, but forgiven people. And God’s forgiveness shapes us and molds us into forgiving people.

So when you have conflict with other members in the church it is vital that you go and seek reconciliation and forgiveness. A church filled with gossip, bitterness, grudges, and tension is not a church that is growing in the image of Jesus Christ. We should be so quick to offer forgiveness when we fail each other and we must be quick to offer grace just as God in Christ has offered to us.

Paul says that above everything else that should define the character of a Christian, a Christian must be defined by love. As recipients of God’s love we love one another. Why is it that we refuse to forgive one another? Why is it that we are not humble or compassionate or patience towards others? It is because our hearts have not been filled with God’s love. Harmony in the church is achieved when the people of God genuinely and deeply love one another. It is the love of Christ that binds our hearts together and puts us together in perfect harmony.

2. The Community of a Christian (v. 15–17)

Paul tells us that the one of the distinguishing marks of the body of Christ should be one in which the peace of Christ rules. The church is to be a group of people growing together in christian maturity. We live under the rule of Christ and under his authority, and we live under the rule of his peace. In col 1:20 we are told that Jesus made peace by the blood of his cross. As we live our life under his Lordship that same peace should be evident in our churches.

The church should not be known for its back-bitting, grumbling, and complaining, but joyful peaceableness as we live under the rule of Jesus together, and for that we should be incredibly thankful to God that he allows us to be apart of this wonderful community of peace called the church.

But a question remains. How can our church became a community living under the peace of Christ? Why is it that most churches seem to be places of hostility not of peace?

Let the word of Christ Dwell in you richly

Well, I believe Paul gives us the answer of how that peace within the body is attained. We live under the peace of the rule of Christ if we allow the word of Christ to dwell within us richly. That’s what Paul says isn’t it in verse 16.

As we think about Forest Hills Baptist Church none of us can claim any sense of ownership to this body. Even though I’m a pastor, this isn’t my church. Even though you might have been born and raised in this church, Forest Hills is not your church. The one who owns us, who controls us, and who rules over us all is Jesus Christ himself. After all, he is the one who bought us by his own blood.

This is hugely important for us to grasp. If Jesus rules over us as his body, then that means that his Word is the final authority when it comes to our church. It means that every member of this church should submit our lives to the Scripture not only our personal lives but also in our church.

The reason there is so much hostility in some churches is because their is a conflict of authority. The church is not the place for you to come and exert your own influence, control, and your own way of doing things. When people begin to act like this, conflict ensues and rivalries develop. When Jesus’ word is replaced by our own personal authorities we cease to be His church.

So let me make it clear in case there is any doubt, as pastors of Forest Hills Baptist Church we will only lead our church under the rule of God’s word. God’s word will be our authority, not the opinions and preferences of our members. Why? Because we want the peace of Christ to rule in our hearts, therefore we want to allow the word of Christ to dwell within us richly.

Corporate Worship

v. 16 has a lot to teach us when it comes to cooperate worship. One implication is that it means that the word of God takes the primary seat in all we do, particularly in our corporate worship.

This is why there is such an emphasis on the teaching of the Bible here at Forest Hills, because we want to let the word of God dwell within us as a body. As a result, it gets the lions share of time as we come together. The preaching of the word of God and the teaching of the word of God are essential and primary in the life of the church.

In every generation there seems to be an attack on the preaching of the word, but in our own day preaching is especially attacked by a focus of shifting our church worship towards entertainment. There is great pressure for churches to make their worship services something that will attract a large crowd through large scale musical productions, skits, videos, flashing lights, fog machines, and overpowering decibels of volume. The preaching of the word is being reduced to a 15 minute sermonette in which preachers become less like prophets heralding the truth of the Gospels but stand up comedians who tickle itching ears.

Some will doubt that the word of God will be effective in reaching this next generation. The Bible isn’t enough, we need to bolster it with our own ingenuity or we need to come along and bolster the Bible. Some may say that the Bible isn’t enough at all that it should be jettisoned and replaced in the church with something new and fashionable.

Let me tell you something, the word of God is enough. Whenever a man of God stands before a church with the Scriptures miracles happen. Why? Because the Spirit of God works to save the lost and grow the saved through the faithful preaching and teaching of the word.

May God forgive us for making worship about our own entertainment than about God’s own glory. At Forest Hills we are committed to treasuring Christ in worship by seeking to fill our hearts with the word of Christ! Does this mean worship is only preaching? No, not at all.

In the same focus of letting the word of Christ dwell in us richly Paul tells us to use psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to admonish one another with the word of God. Music can be a powerful way to instruct one another with the word of Christ. This is exactly what Paul tells us to do, to admonish one another with the word of God.

When it comes to music in our worship we must always make sure that we are singing towards God in worship but also singing to one another. The point of music isn’t to set a mood, draw attention to soloists or the musician ship of worship leaders, but rather it should function as admonishing one another with the word.

There are few principles of how I think Colossians 3:16 gives us guide when it comes to understanding our singing.

  1. Our songs should be dripping in Scripture.
  2. Our Songs should be directed towards God.
  3. Our songs should be admonishing one another.
  4. Our songs should be sung with thankfulness to God.

The summation of the Christian life both individually and corporately has one aim and one aim only, the glory of God. “And whatever you do, in word or deed, so everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” v. 17.

As we put off our old way of life and as we put on the character of Christ in the community of the church may our life’s purpose be to the glory of God. In whatever we say and whatever we do may our ambition for God’s glorious name be the driving motive in it all. The Christian is one who lives his life wrapped up entirely in Christ. There is no such thing as being to committed or to devoted to Jesus. Christ is our life. He is Lord over all. His peace rules over us as we live in our community of love together allowing the word of God to dwell in our hearts and admonishing one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

Don’t you want to be a part of a community like this? There are some of you that are incredibly connected and invested in the community of Forest Hills Baptist Church, but there are many of you that are not. You come to an event on Sunday morning but you are not engaged in the community of the saints. Your not a member of our church, you are not connected to a Sunday School class, or you are not engaged in serving the body in any way. Let me challenge you today to get connected to what God is doing here in us. If you want to grow in your faith and put on the character of Christ you need the body. You can’t do it on your own.

If you are interested in joining in membership to our church I’d love to talk to you about that after the service. We have our membership class starting again in just a few weeks and we’d love to get you learning more about what it means to be a covenant member at our church.

For some of you who are members perhaps you need to pray today about investing in this community with your time and with your resources. Maybe you need to recommit to pursuing holiness by committing to regularly participating in the life of the church. We need one another to grow together in Christ. Will you join us as we come together as a church to put on the character of Christ together for the glory of God.

Christ Over All: Christ is Your Life

[embed]http://www.foresthillsbaptist.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/R_20150215-110524.mp3[/embed]  

Each Monday I’ll be putting up my sermon notes and audio file for the sermon series from Forest Hills Baptist Church “Christ Over All: A Study from Colossians”. This is an edited copy of my sermon notes, not a transcript of the sermon. You can listen to the sermon audio above or directly for at the church’s website

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:1–4, ESV)

Can people really change? We tend to be skeptical don’t we? We seems to be pessimistic about people’s ability to change, including Christians.

That lady in our Sunday School class who continually gossips and complain, seems to be destined to do so forever.

That Negative friend who always tears everyone else down always tends to be negative forever.

That brother who is enslaved to the brown bag of liquor seems to never be able to break away from his slavery.

The prideful pastor who thinks so highly of himself continually looks down on others as inferior.

The teenager who seems addicted to pornography and just can’t seem to break away from the enslaving pictures on his computer screen.

The husband who seems unable to love his wife because he lusts after other women seems to forever do so.

As we encounter these people and even ourselves it is easy for us to just throw up our hands and say, “He’s just being who he is, people never change!”

Yet, the Bible teaches us that people can change. A prideful punk kid named Joseph becomes a humble obedient servant of God. A weak and cowardly man named Gideon went on to be a mighty warrior for God. The bloodthirsty Paul who made it his life work to kill Christians became the world’s greatest Christian missionary. Change is possible and the Bible is filled with stories of men and woman who change when they encounter God.

Yet, we tend to be very confused about the Christian life often thinking we can do it ourselves within our own might or we tend to just throw up our hands and give up! How do people truly change? How can we really grow in our Christian walk? How do we deal with these sins that seem so enslaving to us?

The key to true change rests in our identity in Christ. As we study Colossians today we will see that, We must have our identity in Christ if we hope to live the Christian life.

Colossians So Far

To understand the significance of these four verses at the start of Colossians 3 we have to understand the rich theology and doctrine that Paul has been teaching us so far. He begins the body of his letter by celebrating Jesus who is the image of the invisible God. He highlights Jesus as the divine creator who is pre-eminiant over all. Just like our series title states, Christ is Over All. He rules and has authority.

Paul has also been teaching heavily on our union with Christ. Paul emphasis that the identity and life of the Christian is tied to the person of Christ. By faith we are united to Christ and we live our life in him. We are saved by the blood of Christ as he reconciles us back to the father. Through Jesus’ life and death we are united, wedded to him by grace.

Therefore, we should not go back to worldly rules and regulations for they are of no value and unable to truly change. Paul has addressed the false teaching happening in the church warning them and condemning these false teaching as worldly and of no value. Rules and regulations cannot get us any closer to God and rules and regulations cannot change us. Behavior modification seems to be all the rage today as we try to manage our vices through will power, but Paul tells us that its an empty pursuit. You can’t change your heart by managing your external behavior. True change must go deeper. We can’t truly kill the weeds in our life by mowing them down. We must get on our hands and needs and allow the Spirit to pull up our sin by the root.

The puritan John Owen said it like this, “mortification from a self-strength, carried on by ways of self invention, unto the end of a self-righteousness, is the soul and substance of all false religion in the world…all other ways of mortification are vain, all helps leave us helpless; it must be done by the Spirit.”

Colossians 3:1–4 serves as a pivotal change in the book of Colossians. Largely what has been taught in Colossians so far is deep teaching and doctrine. These first four verses mark the transition from Paul’s teaching of doctrine to his applying it in the Christian life. Christian Doctrine and Application are not two separate ideas. Christian thinking must always lead to Christian living. Paul takes these four verses in Colossians 3 in order to help demonstrate how our union with Christ fuels the ethical teaching he begins to teach in chapter 3. True change results from finding our identity in Christ. The more fully we understand our union with Christ the more our life is filled with Christ’s life. Paul in these verses actually is going to make an even bolder claim - You cannot live the Christian life without first being united to Christ by faith.

Two Great Mistakes When it Comes to the Christian Life

Many Christians tend to be confused over the essence of the Christian life. From my observations (and also from Paul as we’ve seen in Colossians) there tend to be two opposite but equally dangerous understandings of the Christian life. Before we talk about what the Christian life is, lets first talk about what it is not. Here are the two mistakes in understanding the Christian life.

1. The Mistake of AntiNomianism

AntiNominanism is simply the idea that as a Christian we simply don’t care about holiness or the Christian life at all. AntiNomianism literally means “against the law”. The first dangerous mistake about the Christian life is to not care about the Christian life at all. These so called Christians will point back to some point of time in which they made a decision for Christ but then go on to live completely apathetic to Jesus. These people really don’t care what Jesus says about their lifestyle. “Who cares if I sin, I made a decision twenty years ago”. These people continue to live in sin, unrepentantly thinking Jesus doesn’t care about their sexual sin, their materialism and selfishness, and their entertainment choices. Those who reject the Christian life think of salvation as simply a get-out-of hell free card like you’d pick up in the monopoly game. Salvation for them is just fire insurance, something to pick up before they die, but completely avoid the Christian life. These are the professed Christians who refuse to belong to a church, refuse to repent from sin, and refuse to live out there faith in any visible way. These are those who claim to be healthy trees but who produce bad fruit, not good fruit.

“he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.” (Colossians 1:22–23, ESV)

2. The Mistake of Legalism

An equally dangerous mistake in the Christian life is to think that the Christian life is what causes us to achieve salvation. This is the mistake of legalism. Its the complete opposite of antinomianism. While antinomianism says I’m saved so who cares how i Lives, legalism says “I care how I live, so that I can be saved”. Legalists put up rules and regulations and intensely pursue good Christian living in hopes that they might be good enough to garner salvation. Legalism rejects grace and salvation by faith in exchange for a works based righteousness. The legalist thinks that what saves him is his own goodness, not the grace of God. Paul also addressed the danger of legalism in colossians too doesn’t he?

“If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—” (Colossians 2:20, ESV)

So the Christian life is not anti-nomianism meaning Jesus doesn’t care how I live at all, and the Christian life is not legalism meaning I have to live the Christian life to earn my salvation. What is the correct way to think about the Christian life?

The Correct Understanding of the Christian Life

The Christian life results from understanding who we are in Christ and we live our life out of that identity of being in Christ.

It is important we understand the order Paul gives us. He first lays out the indicatives of the Gospel, before ever giving us the imperatives. What are indicatives - Well those indicative verbs are those that express meaning and identity. The indicatives tell us who we are. So in Colossians 1–2 Paul has been outlining who we are in Christ. At the start of Chatper three he tells us “If then you have been been raised” or “For You have died”. In other words, Paul says that before we have any hope of living the Christian life we must first and foremost understand who we are in Christ.

Paul is preparing to outline for us so very practical ethical teaching of the Christian life. He is going to spend most of chapter three telling us how the Gospel impacts our life. How it tells us to put off an old sinful morality in exchange for a new morality and new life in Jesus. However, it all hinges on this important clause at the start of the chapter. Paul only admonishes us to attempt to live these things out because we have been united, and thus raised in the new life of Christ. “If then you have been raised with Christ”

So the indicatives of the Gospel - Who we are in Christ always come first. The imperatives are the commands - Do this, do that. So Paul says if you have been raised (indicative), seek the things that are above (imperative) the imperatives always come after the indicatives. This importance is crucial and the antidote to the mistake of anti-nominanism and legalism. It corrects both of the mistakes. When we are truly born again, saved by faith in Jesus it changes who we are. We have a fundamental change in identity. That identity then leads to new behavior and a new life.

So our identity in Christ leads to new action. Just what is our identity though in Christ? Who are we know that we are in Jesus?

  • In Christ, I am perfectly righteous, given the righteousness of Jesus I now stand before God blameless before him.
  • In Christ, I am a blessed given all the inheritance of heaven as my possession and given new life.
  • In Christ, I am adopted into the family of God. I live my life as a son or daughter of the king of kings.
  • In Christ, I am accepted though other people might reject me or mock me, in Jesus I have the full and permanent acceptance of God.
  • In Christ, I am reconciled through the blood of Jesus God has brought peace to my soul and I am no longer an enemy of God, but his friend.
  • In Christ, I am new. My old life has passed away and I am now a new Creation in Jesus Christ. My past no longer enslaves me because in Jesus I have his new resurrected life.
  • In Christ, I am protected from the powers of darkness and my own sin. God holds me in his hand.
  • In Christ, I am victorious as I live my life in the resurrected victory of Christ, though sorrows and defeats may come in this life, my life is sealed in the victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ.
  • In Christ, I am loved greater than I ever hoped to be because God saw me at my worst and still choose me to be his child.

You see, when we understand our identity that is in Christ, when we grasp the indicatives of the Gospel then we have the Spirit’s power to enable us to live out the imperatives of the Gospel. True change in the Christian life results of seeking to live our life out of our new identity in Jesus Christ.

  • Because I’m righteous in Christ, means that I seek to live righteously because that’s who I am.
  • Because I’ve been made holy by Jesus, this means I hate my sin and loath it and long to rid it from my life.
  • Because I’m God’s child, it means I want to live in a way that bring honor to my Father seeking always to obey his will.
  • Because I am a new creation, its foolish for me to go back to an old sinful way of living.
  • Because I am victorious in Christ, sin no longer has an enslaving hold over me and can be put together by the Spirit’s power.
  • Because I am accepted in Christ, I can live my life without fear of failure. Though I may fail in defeating my sin, God in his grace covers my failure in Christ’s acceptance.

This is why Paul gives the indicatives “You have been raised” before he gives us the command “Seek the things that are above” or “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth”. As we seek to live our Christian life we must always seek to live out our identity that comes from our union with Christ.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

Our Life is Christ

Another principle from this passage that is hugely important from this passage is that all of our life belongs to God. If we understand that the Christian life is a change in our identity and a change of who we are, it means that all of our life must be lived out in that identity. If we are joined to Christ by faith, it means all of our life is his!

We tend to compartmentalize our life so much as Christians. We have our life broken up into neat little segments that should not intersect with one another. I have my work life, family life, entertainment, life, church life, spiritual life, financial life all separated in individual containers that don’t interact or touch. This is not a correct understanding of the Christian life. The Christian understands that Jesus is the center of everything he does. All areas and compartments of our life come under his authority. Our identity in Christ must be evident in every area of our life. From what we say to what we watch, from what we read to how we spend our money. Christ is Lord over every inch of our lives. Christ is over all your life, not just a segment of your life. Christ is either Lord over all, or he is not Lord at all.

“If God be God over us, we must yield him universal obedience in all things. He must not be over us in one thing, and under us in another, but he must be over us in every thing.” - Peter Bulkeley

What areas of your life is not under Jesus authority?

Understanding the Christian Hope

Paul fleshes out this idea that if our life is in Christ, if we have both died and raised with him then our life is hidden with God. The idea behind this word hidden is not so much a secret, but God’s protection. When we turn our life over to God and place our life in his hands. When we by faith make him Lord over all, we place our life in good hands.

Al Parish was a professor from my college Charleston Southern University. He was an economics and business professor who garnered quite a lot of prestige in the community. But, it came to find out that Parish squandered nearly $90 million from about 460 investors in what the government called a massive Ponzi scheme. His personal wardrobe alone was valued at $2 million. His chartered-jet travel bills ran as high as $1 million, authorities said.

Many in the Charleston community had put their lives savings in this man’s hands to manage for them. The investment and trust in this man proved to be incredibly tragic.

How opposite is this from us trusting our lives to God! When we hide our lives and place them in his hands, he will not lose us and he will not disappoint us. Rather, by the power of God we will be preserved continuing in Christ as we seek to live the Christian life. When we are united to Christ it is a permanent union that cannot be separate though we fail in stumble. If we have truly been born again and if our identity has truly changed by the grace of God, our life is hidden with Christ.

When Christ appears, this Christ who is our very life, we too will also share in his glory. How amazing is this! We who were sinners, who were enemies with God have now been brought into share in the very glory of Christ. Because we are connected and united to him by faith when Christ comes again we will not only be saved from our sins but we will share in his glory.

God in his divine power will make sure we become who God says we are. As we seek to live the Christian life we struggle and its often tough killing our sin and living in obedience. Yet, When Christ our life appears this long pilgrim journey called the Christian life will come to fruition. In a twinkling of an eye we will be changed. The process of our sanctification will be made complete and those whom God has justified he will glorify!

Can We Change?

So can people really change? Yes, but true change only comes by having a change in identity. True change can only come by receiving a new heart.

Do you want to change? The first thing you have to ask yourself is do you know Christ? Have you turned from your sins and given Christ your life. Have you put your faith in Jesus and trusted him as your savior and as your Lord? If not, change will continue to be an impossible task. Sure you may be able to change a behavior here or there by your will power, but you cannot change your heart. Only God can do such a thing. If you do not know Jesus, I invite you to come and put your faith in him and experience a new identity that gives you the power of God to truly change.

For those of you seeking to live out the Christian life, remind yourself of you who are. Remind yourself of your identity with Christ, and let the incredible transforming love of God shape you and mold you into his image. Yes, the Christian life can be difficult. Putting to death our sin is tough work as we will see next week, but it is possible and it is possible only because God has given you a new identity through Jesus. Christian, Christ is your life. Do not put the imperatives before the indicatives. Today in your struggles remind yourself of who you are in Christ and rest in the fact that when Christ is your life, by the power of God when he returns your journey will come to an end and you will appear with Christ in perfect glory.

Pragmatism vs the Power of God

One of my greatest temptations is to begin to rely on pragmatism rather than on the power of God. In a day and age where efficiency and productivity are virtues, it is difficult to resist the cultural pleasure to begin to make pragmatism a god. Yet, the Christian must resist this impulse to rely on ourselves. God has freed us from the chains of self-sufficiency. To be a Christian is to be dependent upon God in everything. Yet the beast of pragmatism begins to sneak in our lives without our knowing. What does true dependence on God look like? Well lets look at three areas together: our sanctification, our work, and our church.

Dependent on God in Our Sanctification

What does pragmatism look like in the Christian life? Well it turns spiritual things into mechanical things. It takes the things of God and turns them into the things of man. If we are pragmatic in our personal spiritual lives we try to force spiritual growth by attending a conferences, reading a book, listening to a sermon, etc. Though there are nothing wrong with either of those things, in fact they can be powerful tools for spiritual growth. The mistake in our thinking comes when we begin to think that those activities are causative, meaning that they within themselves created growth and maturity. When we begin to adopt a pragmatic attitude in our personal spiritual lives we become content to grow in godliness apart from God’s help, as if there could be such growth!

In our personal spiritual life we are totally and wholly dependent upon God. He is the one who brings growth and conforms us to the image of Christ. We see this so clearly in Philippians 2:12–13 as Paul writes, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure”. Paul commands us to work in our sanctification. We must be disciplined in scripture reading. We must prioritize time in prayer. We might even choose to go to a conference or two. We work out our salvation into our daily lives like kneading yeast into dough. We want our new life in Christ to permeate into all of who we are. Yet, Paul says that in actuality as we are working it is God working in us through our works! In other words, our spiritual activity may seem to be causing our growth, it is actually the power of God working through our activity. God is not only the one justifies us but also sanctifies us. It all comes by his grace through faith.

When we adopt a pragmatism in our spiritual lives it breads within us a pharisaical mindset. In pride we become self-sufficient relying on our own strength and power to cause fruit to grow in our life. Yet it is God who gets all the credit! He is the one who is going to finish what he started in our lives (Phil 1:5). Therefore to try to grow in our personal spiritual lives apart from Christ is not only foolish, it is impossible. Do not let a spiritual pragmatism breed within your spirit a prideful self sufficiency. Be dependent on God.

Dependent on God in Our Work

Pragmatism takes place regularly in our day to day activities. We wake up to a buzzing alarm, put our wobbly feet on the floor, and hit the ground running with an impossible daily to-do list. I believe busyness is killing our spiritual vitality. In our busyness we spend all our energy working towards our own goals. Despite the convenience of modern technology, we seem to keep getting busier and keep getting more stressed. As a result a whole genre of literature has arrived to help us manage more and be more efficient in our work and in our lives.

For many Christians, the paralyzing demands of busyness stifle spiritual growth and spiritual fruitfulness. Rather than relying more on God in our times of busyness, we rely more on our selves. We become more self-sufficient in our productivity system and our tightly scheduled calendars. Rather than spending more time in God’s presence, we spend less and devout the extra time to the office. One of the ways we have seen this is with the extreme lack of prayerlessness in our lives.

John Piper writes, “Prayer is the translation into a thousand different words of a single sentence: ‘Apart from me (Christ) you can do nothing’ (John 15:5).” How right he is. Prayer is an expression of dependence. It fights within the mechanical pragmatic impulse we all have. To many prayer seems to be a waste of time. How can I spend an hour of prayer in the morning when I have so much to do? Yet busyness should not lead us to pray less, rather it should lead us to pray more. The great reformer Martin Luther once said, “I have so much to do today that I’m going to need to spend three hours in prayer in order to be able to get it all done.” What is he teaching us in that statement? That prayer is not a waste of time, but prayer makes us more effective. We are dependent in all our lives on the very power of God. We must get on our knees and ask for his help. In our work and in our busyness, we need his power if we hope to be fruitful and truly productive.

Don’t let the pragmatic demands of efficiency keep you from relying on God for everything. Apart from him you can do nothing. Get on your knees and beg for his enabling strength and power.

Dependent on God in the Church

I cannot write about pragmatism and not address the pragmatism that is in the Church. If pragmatism has been harmful to our personal lives, it has been death to many churches. Many churches have placed more confidence in 21st century business practices than they have in the Spirit of God. We find ourselves creating program after program, meeting after meeting, activity after activity in order to fabricate a work of God. We live in a day and age with manipulative alter calls all to just increase baptismal numbers. Under the mantra of being a successful church we bring the ugly beast of pragmatism into the spirit-dependent people of God.

For many churches if the Spirit of God stopped working today, things would continue as usual tomorrow. What shame this is! If anyone should understand their dependence on the power of God’s spirit to save and grow, it should be the people of God. After all, each and everyone of us in Christ have experience the enabling power of God in our salvation. We know that it is only by grace we have been saved. Yet, the pragmatic impulse continues to breed great activity, but little prayer.

If church leaders would only get on their knees quicker before picking up the next book on church trends the Kingdom of God would be better for it. It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is no help at all! (John 6:63) Pragmatism is depending on the flesh rather than depending on the Spirit.

Pragmatism vs the Power of God

Christians are to be a dependent people. We don’t pull ourselves up by our boot straps and make things happen in our lives. We need God. We are poor in Spirit. We are broken. May God put to death all self-sufficiency in our lives and make us wholly dependent on Christ! How miserable it is to receive the Gospel, the power of God for salvation for all who believe, and exchange it for a power of our own making. Confess your dependence upon God this day. Fall on your knees in prayer and ask him to work in your life, in your work, and in your church. Ask, seek, knock. Persist and ask to see more of his glory. Pray to see more of his face and for his work to be evident. Wrestle with him till he blesses you. Those sort of desperate, longing, dependent prayers are just the sort of prayers that God loves to answer. May God get us to the point where we trade in a powerless pragmatism in exchange for His powerful Spirit.

 

Why Holiness Isn't a Microwavable Bag of Popcorn

Laziness comes pretty naturally to human beings, especially to those of us in the West who tend to live in such affluent prosperity. We live in a day and age where we don’t have to work very hard. We have washing machines, dish washers, computers, cars, and the list goes on and on. We live in an age of incredible ease and comfort. So the idea of hard work is something must of us are allergic to, especially when it comes to our spiritual lives. The idea of training and working hard to be like Christ makes us cringe. We want holiness to be easy for us. We expect to be like Christ overnight. We want to transform into Jesus as fast as cooking a microwavable bag of popcorn. However, our spiritual lives do not work that way. Jay Adams writes in his book Godliness Through Discipline,

“The word discipline has disappeared from our minds, our mouths, our pulpits, and our culture. We hardly know what discipline means in modern American society. And yet, there is no other way to attain godliness; discipline is the path to godliness.”

Discipline Ourselves for Godliness

1 Timothy 4:7 tells us to “discipline ourselves for godliness”. Discipline can seem so cold and legalistic. Discipline either makes us think of our Mom grabbing the belt for a spanking or monotonous scale playing on the piano for hours on end. Discipline is  necessary for the Christian life, yet it is something we avoid. We see it as burdensome and we do not see it as a liberating joy.

The best book on Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney. It is a book I recommend to anyone who is looking to grow in their faith. It is theological, historical, and above all extremely practical. In that book he lists out 10 Spiritual Disciplines.

  1. Bible Intake
  2. Prayer
  3. Worship
  4. Evangelism
  5. Serving
  6. Stewardship
  7. Fasting
  8. Silence and Solitude
  9. Journaling
  10. Learning

Strength in Some, Weakness in Others

Each of us tend to be stronger in some of the disciplines than others.  Some disciplines come much more naturally to us than others.  For example, Bible Intake and Silence & Solitude come much more naturally than Fasting or Stewardship. However we must seek to grow in discipline even in the areas where we may be weak.  Just because Bible Intake is tougher for some than others, it does not mean that we can neglect it (although it is one of the most important of the disciplines). Identify the areas that you are weak and seek to grow in them in the coming year.

Resolve to Grow Spiritually

I love new years and this time of year. We by nature almost seem to go into a state of reflection. We think about our highs and lows, our successes and our failures. Many begin to make resolutions this time of year. I think it is a great practice, although there are some potential dangers such as legalism, pride, and shame. People tend to make resolutions for all sorts of things.  Some resolve to go to the gym, quit smoking, or eat healthier.  Although all those resolutions can be good, lets not neglect the most important area of our lives, our spiritual maturity.

How about this year we resolve to grow in godliness?  We need to really seek after the Lord this year. Maybe we need to create a new habit or discipline for godliness. Maybe we need to read the Bible every day, spend nightly time in prayer, or read more edifying books.  Maybe you need to be more active in serving in your church or sharing the Gospel with others regularly. I’m not sure where in your life God is leading you to discipline yourself for godliness, but I do know this – godliness will not happen to you by accident. The Spirit of God sanctifies us through our efforts and diligence. As Paul writes in Philippians 2:12, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure”. Our Christian Maturity is a beautiful combination of God’s divine work through our human efforts. Resolve to grow spiritually this year and discipline yourself for godliness.

Better Than a Bag of Popcorn

So Holiness takes time and it takes effort.  It is not instantaneous or over night.  However in the grind of disciplining ourselves for godliness, God teaches us to depend daily on his empowering spirit and continue to draw on his restorative grace.  As we spend our lives growing in godliness and in the spiritual disciplines we will look over the course of our lives and see that God was faithful to grow us and mature us as he has promised.  We will see the beauty of his slow cooked image in our lives and his glory will be evident.  Isn't that much more glorious than a two minute bag of popcorn?

The Gift of Rebuke

Few of us have ever thought of rebuke as a gift. We hate hearing that we are in the wrong. For many of us, our skin literally crawls as we boil with anger. The reason we hate to be rebuked is because we are so prideful. The fact of anyone, friend or foe, telling us we are wrong conflicts with the little wanna be king called ME we put on the thrown of our hearts. However, for the spiritually mature, rebuke is not an act of cruelty but of generosity. Rebuke from wise godly Christians is an incredible gift of God that he has given us. In Psalm 141:5 David tells us of the gift of rebuke when he writes,

Let a righteous man strike me–it is a kindness; Let him rebuke me–it is oil for my head; Let my head not refuse it.

You see in the eyes of David, the striking from a righteous man is a good thing. It is the ultimate demonstration of kindness. Yet so often we resist rebuke. The American virtue of self-autnomy resists this. In our minds there is no higher power or authority in our lives than ourselves. Rarely do we see rebuke as a kindness, rather we perceive it as judgemental, demeaning, an disresepctful. Yet this is not the Biblical understanding of rebuke. To be rebuked by the righteous is to receive a gift from God.

As David writes this Psalm, he knows rebuke is a gift to keep him from sin, yet he knows his heart will resist it when rebuke comes. Our puffed up heads resist the sweet annointing oil of God's favor. David prays to ask God to let him not resist rebuke in pride, but to receive it as a gift. Receiving rebuke from godly people in our lives is difficult, but something we must learn to receive with joy. There are times when a friend loves us enough to sit down and share with us hard truths. When that time comes we must be prepared to receive it as a gift. How do we do that?

Respond in Humility

Whatever is said, we must respond in humility. We understand that we don't have it all figured out. We are not following Jesus perfectly. We acknowledge that sin might be showing its ugly face in our lives even without our realization. When we hear rebuke, we must respond in humility knowing of our shortcommings and our desperate dependency on the grace of God.

Listen Reflectively

Whether friend or foe, when rebuke comes we must listen carefully to perceive the truth. This means we reflect on the words we hear. We ask ourselves reflective questions.

"Is this person speaking truth?" "Am I wrong in this area?" "Where do I need to repent?" "Is the Lord trying to get my attention?"

Thinking through questions like this will help you respond to rebuke as a gift.

Trust in the Righteousness of Christ

One of the reasons we struggle with receiving rebuke is because we are so geared up in a performance religion. We think being a Christians means moral perfectionism. We want to be self-sufficient in our own goodness. When rebuke comes the disillusionment of perfect person we imagine in the mirror shatters. When we are confronted in our sin or failures we must trust in the righteousness of Christ. Rather than trusting in our own goodness, we must trust in the goodness of Jesus. We fail. Jesus doesn't. When we face rebuke we must be restored in the confidence that comes from being clothed in the righteousness of Christ.

Preparing your heart in these three ways will help you be ready when God brings a loving friend into your life to rebuke you. Respond in humility. Listen reflectively. Trust in the righteousness of Christ. Then like David, we will begin to see rebuke as a gracious gift of God to keep us from sin and protect us from our own idolatrous hearts. Then we will grow in maturity as the annointing oil of rebuke sanctifies and matures us in Christ Jesus.

The Discipline of Reading and Christian Growth

IMG_0047 Who has time to read? It seems like more than ever our plates seem to be running over with things to do. Not only do we think of ourselves as quite busy, but we have constant distractions in our lives. Our smartphones do not help as we are constantly responding to emails, facebook, and even playing a game of angry birds. Who has time to read anymore?

One of the disciplines in my life that has fueled the most spiritual growth in my life is the discipline of reading. First and foremost, this starts with the Bible. It is vital for a Christian to read and study God's word and to be molded and shaped by its wisdom. However, reading other great Christian non-fiction books have made a huge impact in my life.

1. Reading Teaches Me to Think

This is one of the greatest benefits to my own personal reading. It forces me to stretch my mind and think through difficult issues. A great author is not only someone with a great thesis, but one walk me through his reasons for holding it. As a result, reading well argued books teaches me how to think through my own arguments.

2. Reading Exposes Me to New Ideas

There are some ideas and concepts my mind would never automatically think about. Reading books on a variety of subjects forces me to be a life long learner as I am exposed to new ideas.  As a pastor, I don't want my reading to stop after my formal education is over.  We tend to get mentally lazy after we are finished with school, and reading solid books stretches us and keeps us learning long after we get that diploma.

3. Reading Allows Me to Be Mentored by Great Authors

Each and every one of us have a desire to learn from someone else who is much older and wiser than us. You can glean a lot form someones personal experiences and the lessons they have learned. Reading books by great pastors, theologians, and authors gives me an opertunity to be mentored by some of the greatest. As I read Preaching Preachers by Martyn Lloyd Jones, I am given the opertunity to be mentored by arguably the greatest preacher in the 20th century. Books allow us to be trained by some of the best, so therefore, books are incredible gifts to us.

4. Reading Gives Me Discernment to Truth

Truth can be found in any situation and in any book. After having developed a Christian worldview, I am now able to read any newspaper article, any business book, and any novel through a Christian worldview. I am able to discern truth in the most unexpected places, and I am able to reject those ideas that are not truth. The discipline of reading has allowed me to critically engage with other worldviews and keeps me from falling captive and becoming influenced false philosophys and modern cultural trends.

Make Reading a Priority

I hope in your own life you make it a priority to spend time reading godly books that teach us and build us up in our faith. The great thing is that there is a plethora of books both new and old that a ripe for us to begin sinking our teeth into. We have time for reading but unfortunatly it is just not a priority for most of us. Finding time to read is not as hard as we may think, all it takes is to turn off some distractions and making TV a priority. It might mean waking up earlier to spend 30 minutes reading. It might mean reading during your lunch break rather than goofing off on facebook. It might mean turning off the TV in the evening and opening up a good book. We have time to read, we just need to make it.

If you are a Christian who wants to learn more about why reading is so important there is a great book that I just finished called Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books by Tony Reinke. It is a quick and easy read, but it will help you understand why it is so important to read and how to get the most out of your reading. Very practical and rooted in biblical truth, I commend this book to you. Here are a few of my favorite quotes to give you a feel of the book:

Christian book reading is never a solitary experience, but an open invitation to commune with God. By opening a book we can stop talking and we begin listening. We can turn from the distractions of life. We can focus our minds. Sometimes we can even lose all sense of time. Although it’s difficult to protect, this reading environment can be the atmosphere that sustains the life of interaction with God. (p. 37)

God’s command is protective. A culture that must express its gods in visual images cannot know God accurately. And a culture that cannot know God accurately cannot communicate God’s substance truthfully. For the Christian, media forms carry ethical consequences. (p. 42)

as a word-centered people we must learn to prize language in a visually-dominated world. If our hearts prioritize images over language, our hunger for books will erode. (p. 47)

So the point of this chapter is simple: the difficult work required to benefit from books is at odds with the immediate appeal of images. As Christians living in an image-saturated world, we must guard our conviction about the vital importance of words and language. For it is words and language that best communicate meaning. (pp. 49-50)

Truly, many Christians today measure their reading success with nothing more than a purely utilitarian gauge, either by how many book pages they can burn through, or by the amount of information they expose themselves to in the process. Too often we fail to read simply for pleasure. (p. 103)

When we set out to read important books, we can expect opposition from our hearts. Reading is a discipline, and all disciplines require self-discipline, and self-discipline is the one thing our sinful flesh will resist. (p. 131)

For many of us, reading is more a lack of of desire than of a lack of free time. C. S. Lewis wrote, “The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable. Favorable conditions never come.” The same is true of reading. Favorable conditions for reading books never come. There are always interruptions and other things to do. We can all find excuses for why we cannot read: we’re too busy, we’re too tired, we’re too burned out from the day, we’re too _ (you fill in the blank). But we all find time to do what we “want” to do. The problem is not that we don’t have time to read, but that we don’t have the desire to read. So learn to love reading—because it’s easier to find time to do what you love to do. (p. 132)

True learning and true wisdom are the fruit of long-term diligent study and meditation, benefits that we cannot get from books unless we are willing to slow our minds, mute distractions, and carefully think about what we are reading. (p. 143)

Am I Beyond Repair? - Our Holiness in Christ

2515800654 bd1562ae72 o Have you ever thought that you were beyond repair?  Have you felt like you have so many problems, that there is no hope for you?  I think many of us tend to feel this way so you are no stranger.  The good news is that there is a God who has not given up on you.  There is a God who can take your broken sinful life and make you holy and blameless.

In Paul's first letter to the Corinthians church, Paul makes a starling claim about the church in the first few verses.  Here is how he greets them:

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus…

Notice that verb in that greeting - "to those sanctified".  In the Greek, that word "sanctified" is passive and in the perfect tense.  The perfect tense was a tense to describe an action that has already been completed.  Passive means that the action is being done to the Corinthians.  So when Paul greets them, he greets them as those who have already been made holy.  Now, if you have ever read 1 Corinthians, you know just how astonishing that statement is.  The church at Corinth didn't seem to be a very holy church.  Here are a few of the issue Paul addresses in this letter:

  • There were fighting over who to follow (Ch. 3)
  • A guy was sleeping with his step-mom (Ch. 5)
  • The church was suing one another (Ch. 6)
  • There were marriage problems (Ch. 7)
  • Some were worshiping idols and practicing pagan religious rituals (Ch. 10)
  • There was gender role confusion & women were dressing immodestly (Ch. 11)
  • They were getting drunk at the Lord’s Supper (Ch. 11)
  • They were fighting over which spiritual gift was better (Ch. 12)
  • They had disorderly worship services (Ch. 14)
  • Some were denying the resurrection (Ch. 15)
A quick glance through that list will tell you one thing.  This church had issues.  They seem to be anything but holy, yet Paul greets them as saints.  How can this be?
The answer lies in the good news of the Gospel.  For those who are in Christ, we are given the righteousness of Christ.  We are declared holy and pure before God because of Jesus.  Jesus went to the cross and paid the price for our sins on the cross.  Through the cross, God has declared his people holy and blameless.  Although the church at Corinth has some major sin in its midst, Paul still addresses them as holy, because they have been made holy through Christ!

This has huge implications for you and me.  You see, our holiness is simply the outworking of who we are.  In Christ, we are holy.  So when the Scriptures call us to live lives of holiness, it commands us to be who we already are.  Our personal holiness is the outworking of who God has already declared us to be in Christ!  Even though we might feel like we are beyond repair, God in Christ has already made us holy.  Our salvation and imputed righteousness is secured through the blood of the lamb!  Be holy, because that is who you are.  That is what Christ has made you to be.

So are you beyond repair? If you are in Christ you have already been repaired through the cross.  Live your life now in obedience and holiness in joyful thanksgiving to Jesus.

How is God making you holy? How does the Gospel encourage you to be holy? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!