Sermon — 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8, Sexuality and Sanctification

1 Jul

1 Thessalonians 4:3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

 

This section is most obviously about sexuality and the call of God on the lives of His people for holiness. But in back of this direct teaching is the person of God. God, the Lord, the Holy Spirit are mentioned over and over in these verses. Real Christianity is always God-centered. There is no area of life which is not touched by the Person and Presence of God. There is no area in the life of a Christian that is not to be subject to the Lordship of Christ.

In our text today, we hear the call of God for our sanctification, or holiness. This holiness in our passage is particularly connected to our sexual morality. Several weeks ago we looked at the Song of Solomon and talked about the need for a joyful Christian sexual ethic. Today is kind of the flip side of that coin. We will not find lasting joy in sexuality if we walk in sexual immorality. Holiness was the picture the Old Testament temple provided. It was a reflection of God’s presence and purity. Holiness was required. Cleansings and washings were prescribed, sacrifices were made. Purity was paramount. God’s nature has not changed but the Temple was just a picture of the new covenant reality that through Jesus’ death on the cross God has purified His people from their sin, counting the perfect life and the atoning death of Jesus in the place of all who trust Him. The dwelling place of God is no longer to be thought of as a building. The church building today is not the house of God. We are the house of God. We are God’s temple, believer by believer joined together to be God’s dwelling place. And as purity was a top priority in the Old Covenant so should it be in the New Covenant. What we have by virtue of our position in Christ God intends to work into our lives by practice, so that we grow in holiness, becoming what we are, a people purified by God through the dying and rising of His perfect Son Jesus. It is a sad reality that many professing Christians understand grace as being distinct from holiness. Nothing could be further from the truth. The idea that one can be saved by grace without a care for holiness is an absolutely false view of grace that is damning many people to hell. Sometimes in our eagerness to avoid teaching salvation by works, at other times in our eagerness to console ourselves about family members who made a profession of faith but have lived fruitless lives, we have separated salvation and sanctification. But the Bible gives us no place at all to do this. Our memory verse from June makes this clear, Colossians 2:6,7, “Therefore as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.” We were saved by faith and we now walk by faith. And if we don’t walk in faith, if we live as a lifestyle in darkness rather than light, we show that we are not saved. This is a big part of what 1 John is about that some of us men are studying on Saturday mornings.

So this is a sobering message today. We need to be careful about comforting ourselves about our family members if there has been no evident spiritual fruit in their lives. This is not a denial of salvation by grace or of our security as a believer, it is just an acknowledgement of what the Bible teaches everywhere, namely that those whom God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ. Holiness is not an add-on to the Christian life for the really serious Christians, it is the reality of life for those who truly belong to God. Those whom God saves He will sanctify. Sanctification is where we begin in 1 Thessalonians chapter 4, verse 3 . . .

 The WHAT of Holiness: ABSTAIN from Sexual Immorality (4:3).

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality;

To be sanctified is the opposite of being impure. The word ‘sanctification’ means to be set apart, to be godly. Because I belong to God through Christ I should reflect the family likeness. I always perk up when I see a Bible passage say, “This is the will of God.” When something is made explicit as the will God, I really want to take notice. Here the will of God explicitly stated is that we as believers is our sanctification and that this holiness is shown as we abstain from sexual immorality. The complete avoidance of sexual thought and action centered outside the marriage covenant is in view here and in many other places in the New Testament. In every list of sinful vices I can think of in the New Testament the issue of sexual immorality is mentioned, and it usually leads off the list. Paul makes an argument in 1 Corinthians 6 that sexual immorality is especially damaging as it is a sin against one’s own body. Jesus’ teaching on marriage, that it is to be a lifelong bond of union except in highly unusual circumstances and Paul’s teaching that marriage is a picture of the relationship between Christ and the Church, all raise the stakes as to the significance of sexual sin. So sexuality is not the only issue of holiness we need to think about but it is a major one. Thus we are not wrong as Christians to speak about this issue in the church and hold out a biblical view of sexuality to the world. We are not obsessed with these things, we are just trying to be faithful to the focus the Bible gives them.

Sexuality is a watershed issue in our day, a dividing line between being faithful to the truth of God and being unfaithful. This is one of those issues that in the days to come will divide families and churches. It is already happening and it will only pick up steam in the next few years. At the core, the issue is this: where does my view of life come from? If your view of the life is shaped by the Bible, then you will hold to the view that sexuality is only properly expressed in the context of one man, one woman marriage and that other expressions or thoughts outside that boundary are sinful and put one under the judgment of God. If on the other hand your view of life is shaped by culture, then in today’s world you will hold the view that sexuality is properly expressed through the exercise of personal freedom. In other words, anything goes as long as I like it. As the old cliché goes, “What I feel makes it real, what I like makes it right.” So there is no limit, no boundary, except that which is put on me by society legally or culturally. The focus of the worldly view is self-gratification, the focus of the Christian view is God-glorification. Where is your view of sexuality coming from? If your view is being shaped by culture you will live an immoral lifestyle, you will not avoid sexual immorality. But if your view is grounded in Scripture, seeing sex as a good gift to be enjoyed within its boundaries, you can pursue holiness and honor God with your life. It is a watershed issue.

And it was a watershed issue in Paul’s day for the Thessalonians. This church was living in a pagan culture that coupled sexual activity with the worship of the gods. Many of the Thessalonian believers had come out of this background of casual sexual self-gratification. So don’t think this call to sexual purity was easy for the Thessalonians but difficult for us. The Thessalonians didn’t have an internet, but they did have all kinds of public sexual degradation. Sexual purity has never been easy. But we make it much more difficult on ourselves when we try to walk in two worlds, when we try to have a Christian exterior while inside we are being shaped by culture and our own sinful desires.

This is not a matter of Christian liberty. We are to abstain from sexual immorality. There is no wiggle room. This is not a matter of debate. Lustful thinking or acting outside of marriage between a man and a woman is sin and puts us under God’s judgement. This is the will of God. Have we forgotten the words of Jesus, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God?” Could it be that if there is spiritual coldness in you: a lack of interest in church, a coldness to your prayer life, an emptiness to your Bible reading, weakness in your service for the Lord, a spirit of despondency, is it possible that these things are not the fault of other church members or your past experiences or your pastors or deacons? Is it possible that you are not seeing God because you are not pure in heart? Is it possible that your sexual sin is the thing that is most holding you back from a joyful walk with God? Does this sexual sin even call into question whether you have even ever really trusted in Christ? The stakes are high. As high as seeing God.

How do we abstain from sexual immorality? Look at verses 4 and 5 . . .

  The HOW of Holiness: Self-Control through the POWER of God (4:4,5).

 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 

The first principle of sexual purity given in this passage is the principle of self-control. There is some dispute about what is said here. Some of your translations may speak of controlling the body and others may speak of taking a wife. The wording could point in either direction. Whether one controls his sexual passions through godly discipline or through taking a wife or husband rather than burning with passion, we see concrete ways in which we seek to turn away from sexual immorality. For some, marriage may prove a great help in the battle against sexual immorality. It is not true that marriage ends the battle with sexual immorality because we still have sinful tendencies and we are still surrounded by a world of immorality, but marriage can help. At the same time, self-control cannot be ignored. We need to remember when we talk about self-control that for the Christian it is Spirit-empowered. Galatians 5 tells us that self-control is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. I am heartened that Paul teaches us that sinful sexual impulses can be controlled. We do not have to be like little boats tossed by the big waves of a sinful world. Paul doesn’t give us the specifics of how to win this battle consistently, but he does say God has given us the power to do so.  For me, it means God gives me the power to say “no” to watching something sinful on tv. God empowers me to not let my mind wander into lustful thoughts. But a part of God’s provision for me may just be the wisdom of not having cable movie channels or having filters on my internet or memorizing Scripture as a way to fight the unbelief that leads to lust. You probably have a different battle than me but you have the same Holy Spirit if you are trusting in Jesus. Trust Him to give you the power and wisdom to take the steps in your life to be holy and honorable rather than impure and degrading.

The end of verse 5 is a critical aspect of this passage. We are to live self-controlled lives, not like the Gentiles WHO DO NOT KNOW GOD. You see, this life of sexual obsession and sexual sin is a sure mark of a person that does not know God. Knowing God is essential to sexual purity. Sex is not about us it is about God. As Paul says in Titus 2, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us to say no to ungodliness and worldly desires and to be upright and self-controlled in this present evil age.”

Understand me. Sexual purity is only sustained by God. It is not rules, it is not simple self-discipline. As Paul says in Romans 6, we must yield our lives over to the Lord, Romans 6:13: “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God … and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.”

And again, in Romans 6:19, Paul writes: “You used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.”

Look at verse 6 . . .

 The WHY of Holiness — A WARNING to the Unrepentant (4:6).

that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you.

Some think Paul is changing the subject here, telling us that one should be honest in their business dealings. But the context doesn’t bear this out but seems to stay on this theme of sexual sin. Certainly adultery is the wronging of another, as you have relations with the spouse of another. But the actual person with whom you engage in immorality is also wronged through your sin. Even a person you think about in a sinful way is diminished in your eyes as you have made them an object of your desire rather than seeing them as a brother or sister in Christ.

The proof that the stakes are high is shown here in the threat of God’s judgment. Hebrews 13:4 says much the same thing, “Marriage should be honored by all and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the sexually immoral and the adulterous.”

The seriousness of this verse is also seen in the way Paul calls the Lord an avenger. There is a sense in which sexual immorality and sexual betrayal of others is fundamentally abhorrent to God.

The seriousness of this verse is also seen in the way Paul highlights the fact that he has had this talk with the Thessalonians before. It is true that the people in Thessalonica came out of a very immoral background, but this is also true of many of us. Some here lived in the passions of their flesh for years before they were saved. We may all need to revisit this sober warning of judgment from time to time. But this is not the whole story. Take a look at verses 7 and 8 . . .

God’s WORK for Our Purity and Our Response (4:7,8).

 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

There is a warning of judgment here which it is wise for us to heed. But there is also a word here about God’s calling for us. As the passage started stating God’s will that we abstain from sexual immorality so the passage ends with God’s call to holiness. God’s call is holiness. Impurity short circuits not only the vitality of our relationship with God but also derails the working out of God’s purposes in our lives. How many ministers in recent years with great gifting have been brought down through sexual immorality? I mentioned a couple of weeks ago three prominent Southern Baptist leaders who had been involved in immorality. Since I gave that message, three more professors and state convention workers in the SBC have resigned because of immorality. It is a tragedy. We must not play around at the edges of this. It applies to all of us, every church member, every pastor and deacon. Notice here that Paul says God has called US to purity, he includes himself in his statement. He is accountable too. It is possible and even likely that these men who have fallen, if repentant, are true believers. But oh how tragic the consequences of their sin. We are not under condemnation through faith in Christ, but there is a principle of sowing and reaping that Pastor Terry talked about a couple of weeks ago.

God calls us. He draws us. He saves us. But He does all of this to bring us into holiness. And He did this to draw us close to Himself. Notice, if you reject these instructions you reject not just the instructions but God who gave His Holy Spirit to you. Sexual immorality is a form of blasphemy. It is a form of idol worship and no man can serve two masters.

This verse is so important for our world today. To reject these instructions is to reject God. If someone has an issue with the idea that sexuality is only rightly bounded within one man, one woman marriage, their argument is not with me, it is with God.

If you look at these instructions and feel it is impossible, let me give you three grounds of hope: 1) Jesus was totally pleasing to God and totally fulfilled in His life on earth and never had sexual relations. Sex is not like air and water, regardless of what our culture says. 2) God has given you His Holy Spirit to empower you for this life. 3) Our year verse, Luke 18:27 – what is impossible with man is possible with God.

I want to conclude this morning in a detailed way. What does it look like for us today to abstain from sexual immorality as an important part of our growth in grace, our sanctification?

First, we must reject as a matter of principle all forms of sexual immorality. We must say no to ungodliness. We must draw a line in the sand and define what is right and what is wrong from a biblical point of view.

Having carefully thought through these things, I can say without hesitation that the following principles should be characteristic of a Christian when it comes to sexuality. I haven’t seen every principle possible, but I believe I can biblically justify each of the things I am about to say. . .

When it comes to sexuality, a Christian is characterized as one who . . .

Rejects lust and affirms married love.

Rejects adultery and affirms faithfulness in marriage.

Rejects pornography and affirms a joyful sexual ethic in marriage.

Rejects living together without being married and affirms the biblical obedience of marriage.

Rejects sleeping together apart from marriage and any other sexual relations outside of marriage and affirms the beauty of sex itself within marriage.

Rejects fantasizing or setting our thoughts on people to whom we are not married and affirms the cultivation of a healthy marital relationship of mind, body and soul.

Rejects homosexuality in all of its forms and affirms heterosexual marriage as God’s pathway of obedience.

In the absence of marriage a faithful Christian affirms celibacy as God’s pathway of obedience.

Rejects the idea that our identity is tied up in our gender and affirms that our identity is found in Christ.

Rejects the notion that gender is self-constructed and affirms the truth that God’s design is two genders: male and female, made in His image.

Rejects the idea that life is about self-gratification and affirms that life is about God-glorification.

Rejects dating or marrying unbelievers and affirms the value of marriage between believers as God’s pattern of obedience for Christians.

Rejects divorce (with few exceptions) and affirms the permanence of marriage.

Rejects a spouse seeking sexual fulfillment outside of marriage when sexual fulfillment in marriage is not happening.

Rejects spouses withholding sexual activity in a prolonged way with one another except for an agreed upon time and affirms the joy of sexual activity as a blessing and a guard for our hearts.

Rejects flirting, immodest dress, crude jokes, cat-calls, all forms of sexual harassment, all sexual abuse and affirms the beauty and worth of married love.

Rejects all forms of media that stir sinful desires in the heart and affirms setting our minds on things above.

I truly believe that these things I have just mentioned are clear and biblical standards for our holiness when it comes to sexuality. These things are not matters of Christian liberty, they are truths that flow from God’s Word and His standards for purity. They are things that cannot be lived apart from the Holy Spirit’s power. There will never be complete obedience to these things this side of glory. But there should be substantial alignment with these things if we belong to Christ. These are the kinds of people we should be as followers of Jesus.

What if I am falling short in one or more of these areas? Let me suggest three things: 1) Repent. Turn away from these sin areas immediately and embrace the truth. Don’t live under God’s judgement. Draw near to God. Know that through faith in Christ you have forgiveness and His righteousness is counted on your behalf. 2) Take steps to get help/make changes. Talk to a friend. Confess to another brother or sister. Bring your life into the light. Sin thrives in darkness. Get counsel from a wise believer. Make physical changes to draw healthy boundaries. 3) Understand that God’s grace is greater than your guilt. If you have a marriage that split up, if you committed adultery, if you have yielded your heart to every manner of lustful thought in times past, know that you can be forgiven and restored and that through faith in Christ you are acceptable in God’s presence. Finally, may all of us exercise patience and kindness toward others in the spirit of Galatians 6:1. If this message is really taken seriously there will be much confession and change as a result. If someone comes to you wanting you to walk with them through change, be gentle with them. Treat them kindly, don’t be harsh with them.

If you need to repent today, you are safe here. You will be received and understood and prayed for and helped. Let’s get our lives into the light. Let me hear from you if you are defeated in this area. If you are a woman I will connect you with a trusted woman. Don’t fail to bring your struggles into the light.

Finally, understand that what we said earlier is true: this is a watershed issue. If you disagree with the biblical pattern for sexuality, I urge you once again to consider that your argument is not with me but with God and that He is all-wise. He really does know better than we what is right and good and true. There may be others here for whom this may be the start of a long battle. For still others this may be a critical step in a long-term victory. Understand that some hearing this message will insult me, if not publicly then privately. Understand that if you believe these things and live them you will be looked at, even by some in the church, as odd and intolerant. In the minds of some people you will be categorized with all the worst hate groups in our society. In your seeking to walk with Jesus you may be the most loving and kind person but if you say the wrong thing in the wrong way in our world, you will be hated and vilified. And I want to say to you, and to myself, take heart! Blessed are you! You’re just walking the path of the prophets and the path of the Savior.

Jesus is better than sexual immorality. Trust Him today to do His work of sanctification as you walk with Him.

 

 

 

 

Ephesians: A Brief Introduction

25 Jun

If you are studying Ephesians with us this summer, you may find this brief introduction helpful . . .

Ephesians: A Brief Introduction

One of the best books in the Bible for grasping a sense of what it means to be a Christian, Ephesians is a beloved book filled with memorable passages.

Unlike many of the other New Testament letters, there is no clear situation or problem in the church that Paul cites as his reason for writing. This matches somewhat the assessment of the church in Ephesus in Revelation. The church is commended for its practices but challenged that it has lost its first love. Though removed some decades from Paul’s writings, Revelation may nevertheless give us some insight into Paul’s motivation for writing Ephesians. Perhaps even at this early stage, the Ephesian church needed to be reminded of the riches they had in Christ and how appreciation of such riches should shape our lifestyle and make us people of joyful praise.

Many people regard Ephesians as deeply doctrinal (and it is) but this doctrinal focus results in deep practical applications. This little book of six chapters speaks to dozens of issues of everyday life application. Some have called Ephesians a theological song. To be sure, the atmosphere of praise that fills the book is an attraction for most readers. Ephesians is not trying to prove something to skeptics and it is not especially heavy-handed toward believers. Instead, the focus is on proclaiming the earth-shaking gospel with all its implications for living.

Ephesians moves through six chapters in prayer and praise and proclamation. The book is just 2500 words but it is power-packed by the Holy Spirit.

AUTHOR

For the first 1800 years of church history, there was no dispute that Ephesians was written by Paul. But in the 19th century biblical scholarship took on a more critical and even skeptical tone. Authorship of many biblical books began to be challenged, Ephesians included. The chief reason for disputing Pauline authorship, apart from the fact that the vocabulary of the book is somewhat different from some of his other letters, is the difference between the account of Paul in Ephesus and his demeanor in the letter. In Acts, Paul had a deep, intimate, years’ long relationship with the Ephesians. They parted with tears in their eyes when Paul moved on in his ministry. But in Ephesians, there are no prolonged greetings, little in the way of personal reference and nothing much that denotes Paul’s personal involvement in the ministry of this church. This difference caused many authors to question Pauline authorship. But there could be many reasons for this difference other than non-Pauline authorship. The letter may have been distributed, as were some of Paul’s other letters, to multiple locales around Ephesus and so Paul kept it more general. It may also be that Paul wished to focus his attention in a special way in Ephesians on Christ and not on particular people. In addition, the intimacy in the letter may be said to exist in the heart of praise that overflows in Paul. He loves the Lord Jesus and he wants to share His glories with this beloved church. And as John Stott notes in his commentary, FF Bruce said, “The man who could write Ephesians must have been the apostle’s equal, if not his superior, in mental stature and spiritual insight . . . Of such a second Paul early Christian history has no knowledge.”

RECIPIENTS

The church in Ephesus was the primary audience for this book, though it may have been distributed to other locales and through the preservation of the Holy Spirit it has, of course, come down to us. Early church history affirms this, as Irenaeus in his Against Heresies says the letter was written to the Ephesians. This is a reference from the second century, so it is early. A hundred years later or so Cyprian bishop of Carthage says the letter was to the Ephesians as well. Ephesus is the only place name that has ever been associated with this letter, but interestingly, three early manuscripts that have been found of the book omit the reference to Ephesus in verse 1. This has led many scholars to believe that the letter may have been a circular letter distributed among a number of churches in the area.

WHAT SORT OF PLACE WAS EPHESUS?

Ephesus was a large and important city in the ancient world, located in modern day Turkey (Asia Minor). At the time Ephesians was written, Ephesus and its immediate environs likely had a population of around 250,000. Ephesus was called the “Mother City” of Asia because of its influential status as a metropolis. It was a major port city for western Asia. In its part of the world at the time of Paul, Ephesus was the most important city, outstripped only by Alexandria to the south in Egypt and Rome in Italy. Ephesus had a diverse population (including a significant Jewish population). Because of its diversity and the Roman Empire’s desire for peace, religious tolerance was promoted in Ephesus as in other places in the Empire. However, in Ephesus this was especially difficult because of the city’s attachment to the cult of Artemis (or Diana). The temple of Artemis, just outside of Ephesus, was regarded as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

Artemis’ influence was found all over Ephesus. Her image was on the money, games were held in her honor, banking was done in the city on the temple premises. Artemis was seen as a god of fertility and blessing and was seen as having authority over the spirit world. In Acts, Luke tells us that the gospel impacted the Artemis cult because many were turning away from it to follow Jesus. This caused a great uprising that nearly led to Paul’s death. So this atmosphere of spirituality pervaded Ephesus.

But the spirituality of Ephesus was not a biblical spirituality. When the new believers in Ephesus saw the power of God at work, they burned their magical texts, texts worth 50,000 days of wages according to Luke. It is important to remember than many people in Ephesus who became part of the church had been deeply involved in the Artemis cult. This explains perhaps why Paul focused on the unseen spiritual world so much in Ephesians.

There was a strong Jewish element in Ephesus, with some estimates saying as much as 10% of the population was Jewish. There is some evidence that some Jews in Asia Minor during this time practiced what is called “folk Judaism,” a blending of pagan and Jewish practice that again believed in magical unseen spiritual forces. So the Jewish-background audience of Ephesians could benefit from Paul’s discussion of the unseen spiritual world in chapter 6 as well.

We also have to remember that in the first century the Jews were under a lot of pressure from Rome politically. Acts talks about Claudius expelling the Jews from Rome in AD 49 and we know of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 clarifying expectations for Gentiles. Based on the things Paul talks about in chapter 2 there may have been Jew/Gentile tensions in the church in Ephesus.

But Paul is careful to emphasize in Ephesians that the big enemy is not other ethnicities nor is it the power of the Empire. The spiritual powers are the key focus of the book. We will be seeking to understand these and how they relate to physical powers as we look together at these things.

DATE

Paul mentions his imprisonment on two occasions (3:1 and 6:20) and this is likely Paul’s two year house arrest in Rome recorded in Acts 28. More than likely this imprisonment was in AD 60-62 and if it is the one referred to in Ephesians that would set the date for us. This would make it one of Paul’s later letters.

WHAT KIND OF DOCUMENT IS EPHESIANS?

Unlike Hebrews, which we said was a sermonic document, or Revelation, which is an Apocalyptic document, or Acts, which is a historic document, Ephesians has all the classic marks of an epistle. There is a brief introduction, a body and a conclusion. There are also items found in Paul’s other letters like extensive prayers, household codes and extended theological discourses. In short, Ephesians is a letter.

WHAT IS THE STRUCTURE OF EPHESIANS?

Ephesians has a classic “Indicative/Imperative” structure. The first half of the book gives us the statements of truth about Christ which provide the theological undergirding for the second half of the book, the imperatives, which provide us with the implications of our theology. What we believe leads to what we do. Ephesians works according to this pattern.

WHAT ARE THE KEYWORDS AND THEMES OF EPHESIANS?

Ephesians has several keywords which give us insight into Paul’s meaning in the book. First, there is the word “walk,” which is repeated throughout the book. This is an important part of Paul’s approach to application. In a way you can understand the book of Ephesians around this word “walk.” We’ll look at that as we continue in the study.

Another key theme of the book is the “mystery.” Interestingly, the mystery in Ephesians is different than the mystery in Colossians. We’ll explore about this too later in the study.

Still another theme, and one of the reasons I am so excited about Ephesians, is the theme of the Church. Paul emphasizes the Church throughout the letter. There is great value here for us as we walk as a local church in today’s world.

Another key theme is the gospel’s power to save and to unify Jew and Gentile under Christ. This will be a big theme we will explore.

The biggest message of the book is the transforming power of the gospel. The good news of Jesus transforms us personally, transforms human relationships from racial groups to families to the church.

Other important themes include an emphasis on prayer (prayers and verses about prayer take up a significant part of the book). There is also an emphasis on praise, particularly in chapter 1.

Finally, Ephesians may be the most Trinitarian of all of Paul’s letters in the sense that Father, Son and Spirit receive somewhat equal attention and emphasis. Romans is somewhat like this too and perhaps it makes sense that Paul’s two most theologically rich works would be his two most Trinitarian work. I hope we’ll be able to explore the significance of the Trinity in our weeks together.

CONTROVERSIES

The chief controversial passages in Ephesians today are the ethical instructions of chapters 5 and 6, particularly the instructions regarding husbands and wives and slaves and masters. We will take our time and face these issues thoroughly and head-on.

So I want to encourage you to come join us each week as we study this great book.

 

Ephesians: A Verse-by-Verse Study

25 Jun

Last night we began a study of the book of Ephesians on Sunday nights. In this post, I want to explain how we can get the most out of this study and where we are going in terms of our schedule . . .

 

How to Get the Most Out of This Study

  1. Read the book of Ephesians often. The more you can read through the book of Ephesians the more connections and applications you will see when we study through it together. If you could read through the book at least once a week for the duration of this study, you would have read through the book dozens of times at a minimum.
  2. Come consistently to the Sunday Night Study. Your attendance on Sunday night is the key to getting the most out of this study.
  3. Participate on Sunday Nights. We have some knowledgeable people here. There are some who have been pastors and missionaries here with us every Sunday Night. I want to encourage you not to be intimidated. Ask your questions. Make comments. No one knows everything and we can all learn from each other. I expect to learn from you even though I am leading the study and giving significant time to it each week.
  4. Make notes. Use the sheets provided each week and insert them into a notebook. It is a good idea to journal about what you read each time you read through the book. Write down questions that arise and applications you see. Write down truths you can praise God for in your daily life.
  5. Pray through the book. Read Ephesians at times in a meditative way, looking to turn the truths you are seeing there into personal prayer. For example, when you come to chapter 6 and the armor of God, you can pray about each item of the armor, praising God and thanking Him for His provision. Praying through the book in this way can greatly enrich your experience in this study.
  6. Watch the Facebook stream on the weeks that you miss. You don’t have to miss a single week of the study because it is streamed every week on Facebook. Just look up West Hickory Baptist Church and you should find it there.
  7. Keep the conversation going. Talk to one another outside of the Study about things you are interested in studying further. Encourage each other about the great truths we are learning.
  8. Keep application in mind. This study is not about learning. It is about learning which leads to life transformation. Think often about how the truths of Ephesians are shaping you. Think often about how your life can more fully conform to the truths of this book.

A Word About Our Approach

We will be studying Ephesians verse-by-verse. Many Sundays we will only cover just one verse. Some weeks we will spend significant time on just one word. At the same time, we will always be trying to keep the big picture in mind. As we close each week, we will be trying to see how the particular verse or verses we’ve studied is connected to its immediate context and to the book as a whole. At times we will also trace how the themes of Ephesians connect to the rest of Scripture. So we will be concerned not only with understanding each verse but also with understanding the message of the book as a whole.

Our Anticipated Schedule

This schedule is subject to change but this is what I anticipate going forward for 2018 as we work through the book.

June 24 – Introduction to the Study

July 1 – NO EVENING SERVICE

July 8 – Ephesians 1:1-2

July 15 – Ephesians 1:3

July 22 – Ephesians 1:4

July 29 – Ephesians 1:5-6

August 5 – Ephesians 1:7-8

August 12 – Ephesians 1:9-10

August 19 – Ephesians 1:11-12

August 26 – Ephesians 1:13

September 2 – NO EVENING SERVICE

September 9 – Ephesians 1:14

September 16 – CHURCH PICNIC

September 23 – Ephesians 1:15-16

September 30 – Ephesians 1:17

October 7 – Ephesians 1:18

October 14 – Ephesians 1:19

October 21 – Ephesians 1:20-21

October 28 – Ephesians 1:22-23

November 4 – PRAYER DAY

November 11 – Ephesians 2:1

November 18 – Ephesians 2:2

November 25 – Ephesians 2:3

December 2 – Ephesians 2:4

December 9 – CHRISTMAS CANTATA

December 16 – Ephesians 2:5

December 23 – NO EVENING SERVICE

December 30 – NO EVENING SERVICE

 

Sermon: Philippians 4 — Principles of a Healthy Church

25 Jun

Philippians 4 – Principles of a Healthy Church

Introduction – I’d never really thought of Philippians 4 as being a chapter about church life. There are many great verses here that we celebrate as individuals (be anxious for nothing, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory) but these verses were written to the church body at Philippi. They are to be walked out in the context of a church community. And I believe that to the degree they are walked out here at West Hickory, we can be a healthy and flourishing local church. Of course that means that individuals must take up these things and walk in them, but we walk as individuals in the midst of a community of believers because as Paul says elsewhere, “we are members one of another,” “we are the body of Christ, made of many different parts,” and “we are God’s holy temple being built up brick by brick for His glory.” So what directives does Philippians 4 give us for Church Life?

The Practices of a Healthy Church . . .

  1. Gospel-Focus (4:1). What is it? All Paul had talked about to this point. 1:21; 2:4-8; 2:13; 3:10-14. How do we have it? Consistent hearing of gospel preaching and teaching (Preaching, Ephesians study tonite, Sunday School, summer studies, personal Bible reading, memorizing/meditating on Scripture, discussing things of God with members, family devotions, books)
  2. Relationally Unity (4:2-3). What is it? A spirit of mutual warmth and high regard for one another without any hint of animosity or bitterness. How do we have it? Flows from the gospel (those forgiven forgive). Release or Reconcile.
  3. Happy Humility (4:4-5). What is it? A spirit of joy and gentleness that characterizes those who are walking in the love of Jesus. How do we have it? The Gospel (Eternal life, forgiveness, adoption, new life, the Spirit, the Word, blessing upon blessing, yet all undeserved). How can we help but be happy and humble? Awareness of God’s Person and Presence (in the Lord, the Lord is near). Awareness of Others, Regard for them (Let your gentleness be known to all).
  4. Prayer-Saturation (4:6-7). What is it? A spirit of anxiety-killing, fear-destroying prayer without ceasing to the God who saved us and calls us to a life of holiness and usefulness in His kingdom. How do we have it? The Gospel (Jesus death has opened the way to access to God and Jesus intercedes for us, as does the Spirit). Really praying together. Relating to God. 9am Prayer Time. Prayer Days. Revamping Our Prayer List. Stop and Pray as we talk. Pray always in all ways (praise, intercession, confession).
  5. Thinking and Doing (4:8-9). What is it? An approach to life that values setting the mind on what is godly and good while also valuing walking in what is godly and good. How do we have it? The Gospel (Jesus, the greatest theologian was the greatest servant). Set your mind on things above. What do you think about when no one is around? Talk with one another about the things of God. Small group Bible study. But remember to know is not enough (James). Everyone is a theologian but true theology always overflows into service.
  6. Compassion (4:10). What is it? A heart that is concerned for others and for the work of God’s kingdom. How do we have it? The Gospel (God so loved the world). Do not center your life on your own agenda but yield to God’s agenda (Not my will but yours be done). Be interrupted for the glory of God. Care about more than what’s in it for you. Ask how you can glorify God in a situation.
  7. Contentment (4:11-13). What is it? A wholehearted trust in our Sovereign God that enables us to be satisfied in Him not our circumstances. How do we have it? The Gospel (We have all we need because our eternity is secure and our life here is abundantly blessed). We lean on our sovereign Savior and know that He is enough. We lean on each other through encouragement. Sometimes we need less advice and more listening and encouragement.
  8. A Mission-Mindset (4:14-15). What is it? A desire to be involved in God’s world-transforming work in the gospel. How do we have it? The gospel (God so loved that He sent His Son). Outward focus (get out of the bubble). Don’t focus on dollars or attendance but on what God is doing to change lives. See the world in need as an opportunity not an obstacle.
  9. Generosity (4:16-19). What is it? A heart that delights to give of money and time to the kingdom of God. How do we have it? The Gospel (For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son). As Jesus is your great treasure hoarding for yourself will become distasteful and investing in His kingdom will become a delight.

The Results of a Healthy Church  . . .

  1. Stability (4:1). Psalm 1 People.
  2. Peace (4:2,7) from God and with one another. What everybody wants but almost nobody seeks in the right way.
  3. Christ’s Protection (4:7). Jesus promises to guard those things which are most precious in life (my heart and mind).
  4. God’s Presence (4:8). If God is for us who can be against us. Also contentment and freedom from anxiety springs from God’s presence with us (Hb. 13:5-6).
  5. Bringing Blessing to Others (4:1, 10). It is more blessed to give than receive.
  6. Ability to Deal with Ups and Downs (4:11-12). Everyone has emotional ups and downs but wouldn’t it be nice to live free of debilitating days.
  7. The Strength of Christ for Every Need (4:13). Its more than a slogan on a t-shirt, it is a reality. Fear not I am with you be not dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will support you with my righteous right hand.
  8. Receiving the Blessing of God (4:17). Blessing on God’s terms is always better than what we could come up with.
  9. Pleasing God (4:18). Paul says elsewhere, “we make it our aim to please God.” It is not a denial of the gospel to please God. God delights in the praises of His people and God delights in healthy local churches.
  10. The Supply of God for Every Need (4:19). God knows the needs and He will meet them. We can trust Him.
  11. A Life for God’s Glory (4:20). The chief end of humanity will be fulfilled in us as we become the healthy church God intends us to be.

Conclusion – No local church is perfect but every local church body can become more faithful to living out the gospel in their life together. That’s what we want to do here at West Hickory. As I look over the practices of a healthy church in Philippians 4, I see seeds of all of those things at West Hickory. But I also see much room for progress and growth. I truly believe that if we as a people were largely marked by the 9 practices in Philippians 4, we would see the results that emerge from this chapter as well. So when there is weakness, instability, fearful anxiety, open rebellion, and relational conflict, we know that Christ still has a lot of change to bring among us. I want to submit to that change and pursue it. If you do too let’s ask God to do His good renewing work in our midst. Let it begin today as we become, by His grace and power, a healthier church, bearing good fruit for the glory of God and the blessing of the world.

 

 

Sermon — 2 Corinthians 10:3-6 “Warfare for the Mind”

3 Jun

          The old cliché is true: “Whatever gets your mind gets you.” Paul knew this and that is why he consistently urges us to set our minds on things above and to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. This is also the reason that Paul in 2 Corinthians acknowledged that a big part of his ministry in the local church was to wage warfare for the minds of his hearers.

          Don’t be naïve, everyone else around us is battling for our minds. Advertisers are battling for your mind. Schools, whether public or private or home, are all waging warfare for the minds of children. Politicians want to sway our minds with persuasive words. Scholars attempt to shape culture by shaping thinking. Interestingly in our information age at the same time we have been bombarded by more and more people trying to shape our thinking, we have been counseled by our popular culture for the last 50 years to “turn off our minds, relax and float downstream.” We have been told, “Don’t worry, be happy.” We have been told to enjoy life and don’t waste time thinking. We have “amused ourselves to death.” So we live in a world where there is a double-edged sword of intense external efforts to shape our minds combined with an internal emphasis on feeling over thought which makes it easy to conform us to the latest thoughts and ideas. Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 10:3-6 come like a clarion call to a Christianity that has become apathetic, ineffective and in many cases even immoral precisely because it has exchanged the principles of this passage for nostalgia, sentimentality and emotionalism. We have done precisely the opposite of what Paul urges in this passage. And the results have been devastating. Hear the Word of God in 2 Corinthians 10 and you will hear our marching orders as the people of God . . .

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.

Now as we said last week, in 2 Corinthians Paul’s ministry is under fire, in part probably because he called out the church in Corinth for their toleration of open immorality and in part because he criticized them for their practices as a church, which tended toward disorder and favoritism rather than the kind of order that brings the widespread use of the gifts of the whole body which builds up, or edifies, the church. Paul had brought his critique from a heart of love, but we all know that critique is not easy to take and our first response is often to become defensive. It seems the church in Corinth had some of this defensiveness so some among them began to criticize the apostle Paul. They criticize his methods and his person. One of the criticisms they bring against him is that he is really bold in writing but in person he is weak and unimpressive.

Paul makes it clear in this passage that he does not intend to be weak or apathetic when it comes to this minds of his hearers. Instead he tells us that he is engaged in a war. And so he wages war in verse 3, takes up weapons of warfare in verse 4, tears down strongholds in verse 5, and prepares to punish rebels in verse 6. Many of us read this kind of passage and the book of Acts and conclude that Paul was a loud, brash, combative person. But the Corinthians do not seem to think this way about Paul. Nor do we catch this idea among the Ephesians, with whom Paul spent two years. On a personal level, Paul seems to have not been outwardly impressive. His ministry was not sustained by the power of his personality or charisma but by the power of God.

Paul acknowledges here that he “lives in the flesh.” By this he does not mean what his accusers meant, that he was living by his own wits and power, living sinfully, or that he was using manipulation or his own abilities to sway people. Instead, when Paul says he lives in the flesh, he is just acknowledging what he has already said, that he lives in a physical clay vessel that is subject to weakness. Later he will talk about the thorn in the flesh, some kind of physical trial that troubled him. But though Paul lives in a body that is subject to the effects of a fallen world, he does not war according to the flesh. Here Paul is saying that though he lives in a fallen world, he does not use the tools of a fallen world to wage his battles. He has already spoken of these things in chapter 4, when he says we don’t live in the dark, we don’t manipulate or use craftiness, we just openly tell the truth about Jesus and thus we have a clear conscience. Paul wants the victory of God to touch everyone but he won’t use methods to get people in the door that compromise the truth of the gospel. He is not interested in gathering a crowd so much as he is interested in making disciples. Paul has told us that his adequacy comes from God. Since Paul’s power is from God, he will fight according to God’s rules of engagement. The good news of this passage is that Paul has an arsenal of weapons through his union with Christ which are far more powerful and effective than anything he could come up with on his own. In today’s church circles we are on the lookout for the latest method or plan and we seem to think our plans are more important than God’s power to the blessing of a ministry.

Through the rest of the passage, Paul illustrates his calling to battle for the minds of his hearers through the imagery of ancient warfare. He says his ministry is one of destroying defensive strongholds, taking captives and punishing rebels when the city is secured. Paul in himself is weak and unimpressive. I am not sure if we were with him in a crowd if we could pick him out as being in any way distinctive. But in Christ Paul is mighty. And so should it be for us too.

Paul’s warfare imagery is distasteful to many in our day, especially in church. We think church should be nice and things should be peaceful. But shouldn’t we remember, on this Memorial Day weekend above all, that peace is so often only secured through resistance to the enemies of peace? And as it is physically, so it is spiritually. Paul’s aim is to wage warfare for the sake of his hearers.

Because Paul’s weapons are not fleshly but spiritual, Paul is confident that he can tear down the strongholds in the lives of his readers. The strongholds here are “speculations and lofty things” and these things are “set against the knowledge of God.” So the strongholds are ways of thinking that stand as a kind of resistance to the truth of God. Since Paul has made it clear throughout his writings that the focus of his preaching is Christ and Him crucified we can safely assume that Paul is saying here that strongholds are those thoughts and ideas and ways of thinking that are set in opposition to the good news of salvation in Jesus by grace through faith. Now Paul is not specific about what these stronghold ways of thinking are because these ways of thinking can be quite varied. Some people have strongholds that are thoroughly religious. They think that their religious activity or devotion makes them right with God. On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who resist the truth about Jesus through atheism, the insistence that there is no God. Others trust in science. Others have strongholds of materialism or pleasure. Still others trust in the stronghold of activism or politics. In Paul’s day, people trusted in credentials and influence and impressive speaking ability. But as Paul said in Philippians 3:4-8, all these kinds of things were like rubbish to Paul in comparison to knowing Christ. Still, these strongholds, though they have no ultimate value, do have a very strong pull on us in the present time. That’s why they are strongholds. A stronghold physically speaking is a defensive protection. It is a fortress or a bulwark intended to provide protection from an attack. In this way, this is such a powerful picture for the way we live. Our false ways of thinking are like strongholds to us, they give us a sense of security and protection against the truth of the gospel. Why would people want a sense of protection against the gospel? Well, people are worldly, people are drawn to love the world and self and that’s why the Scriptures so often call us to reject worldliness. Non-believers certainly try to erect strongholds against the truth of the gospel but so do professing believers. We can fall very easily into worldly thinking, making the measure of our lives our bank accounts or our homes or our achievements and compromising basic Christian truth in order to keep an outward peace with the world around us that is really nothing more than simple cowardice on our part.

Paul says, “No! We must attack these strongholds.” Why? So that we can conquer people and build a kingdom for ourselves? No! The warfare we wage is for the glory of God and the good of those who are locked into strongholds of unbiblical thinking. Since our adequacy is in God we don’t come from a position of superiority to tell people how wrong they are but we do fight the good fight of the faith and we do face down false ways of thinking. This is not just work for Paul or for pastors it is for all the people of God. And the first step is to remove our own planks of stinking thinking about God and life and truth and to align ourselves with the truth of the Word of God.

Paul had effective weapons in this battle and so do we. Paul mentioned these weapons specifically in Ephesians 6 when he talks about the armor of God. The Word of God and prayer are the weapons with divine power to tear down strongholds. The world will not be impressed by these things. But just as David’s sling when he faced Goliath didn’t look impressive but was effective, we will find that when we wield the Word and prayer in dependence on God that God will make His mark against the strongholds that grip the lives of those we love.

Perhaps Paul had in mind Proverbs 21:22 when he wrote this text . . .

A wise man scales the city of the mighty

And brings down the stronghold in which they trust.

So spiritual warfare is a part of our calling as believers. We attack with the Word of God and prayer against all the ideological and philosophical and religious strongholds people hide in because in their hiding from the truth of God they only do harm to themselves. Any militancy on the part of a Christian must be grounded in love for Christ and love for people. The goal is not to get society to adopt a Christian perspective by force, it is to lovingly confront what is false and graciously proclaim what is true.

I think this passage, along with Ephesians 6, has a great deal to teach us about spiritual warfare. I think often we have been taught that spiritual warfare is our direct entry into power encounters with demons and through prayer we cast out this demon or oppose that demon and for most Christians it just sounds so strange and scary that we don’t approach such things. But notice in this passage that the strongholds are not demons. Spiritual warfare is not about chasing demons it is about opposing the doctrine of demons which trickles down into the ways of thinking of people all around us. John MacArthur says, “Our enemy has formed, from demon sources, ideologies and we assault those ideologies. Yes, ultimately they are doctrines of demons. Yes they come from seducing spirits through hypocritical liars who build these great edifices to human wisdom and demonic doctrine. But we assault the system, we don’t chase the spirits. Scripture indicates right here that our war is for the destruction of fortresses. They are not demons, they are human demonically inspired ideologies set up in defiance of God.”

“Listen, there’s only one way, there’s only one way to destroy error and that is with truth. Now you know what the weapons are. The only way you can take wrong thoughts and make them right is to replace error with truth. So when you look at Ephesians 6 and you see the soldier who is the Christian soldier, and you see him with all of his clothing and then it says he has one weapon, that weapon is a sword which is the Word of God…the Word of God. You don’t fight the spiritual warfare with a bunch of anti-demon formulas whispered at them or shouted at them. You don’t fight the spiritual warfare with some kind of magical incantations. The spiritual warfare that you fight is an ideological warfare that is fought at the level of the mind and when you find people ensconced and entrenched in the great fortresses of these ideologies, you assault them with the truth. That’s what we’re all about. That’s what we do.”

So taking up this pathway of spiritual warfare against the strongholds of people all around us inside and outside the church, we don’t just teardown the strongholds we take captives. The verb here where it says we are taking every thought captive means literally to take a prisoner with a spear. It means to take a prisoner with a spear. We smash the fortress to the ground, went in and put a spear in the back of the prisoners and marched them out. We see the miracle of God’s work here, the miracle all of us who are saved have experienced. We see God taking one who has all sorts of barriers set up against the knowledge of God brought to a place of obedience to Christ. We have here the picture of a person taken from a place of resistance to the knowledge of God to obedience to Christ. They didn’t even want to know God and now they are brought to a place where they desire to not just know but obey. That is a miracle of grace. Only God could do that. But let’s be clear. God has chosen in large part to carry out His work in the world through His redeemed people. Paul believes wholeheartedly in God’s sovereign power to save but he is also absolutely convinced that God has called him to proclaim the gospel and that a part of that proclamation is to speak in opposition to ways of thinking that are contrary to the gospel of grace.

There is an irony here. Paul speaks this language of conquest and capture but in doing so he is pointing the way to freedom. The only way to be free from the snares of the devil is to be conquered and captured by Christ. Everyone serves someone, either self or Satan or the Savior. I know which one of those three is the only One worth serving. I hope you do too and that you are ready to lay down and forsake any kind of foolish stronghold that has captured your imagination to walk with Jesus.

Now when we come to verse 6, after all this language of battle and victory, it just sounds mean. Why is Paul ready to punish disobedience and why is he waiting until their obedience is complete? Probably what Paul is doing here is an act of mercy. When the church in Corinth makes their stand on the Lordship of Christ rather than worldly wisdom then Paul will act to punish remaining disobedience, particularly from false teachers. In other words, Paul is trying to spare people from punishment if they will align their lives to the Lordship of Christ. But he will not spare from punishment those who will not turn away from the false fortresses set up against the knowledge of God.

What this passage makes clear to me is that there is a real battle for the mind and that we as Christians should be people of a renewed mind who are fighting for others to have a renewed mind. Christianity is not just another option for life among many. There are pieces of truth in all kinds of ways of living, but only one way is the embodiment of truth, rooted in a Savior who is the way, the truth and the life.

Paul was hated for the stand he took. And so it will be for us, even in the church. “Why be confrontational? Why draw lines in the sand over issues of biblical truth?” There is a way to be confrontational that is wrongheaded and arrogant and mean-spirited. We’re not interested in that. We’re not interested in proving ourselves right. We’re not against people. We are not trying to conquer people we are standing instead against the false and harmful ideas that people hold. We are interested instead in offering the gospel of Christ to a world that is hiding behind all sorts of false teaching. We are intent on showing in our actions and words that the way of obedience to Christ is the way of life and strength and peace.

All true Christian ministry involves a battle for the mind (which by the way is one of the reasons that teaching and preaching is so central in the life of a healthy church). It is necessary and essential to demolish false arguments so that the path to obedience to Christ might be opened to us. But these false arguments are not demolished by our ingenuity or our wisdom or our methods. Instead the Holy Spirit works through the Word and prayer to use us as God’s army of truth.

Warren Wiersbe says, “Simply because Paul did not use carnal methods and exert the power of a “strong personality,” the believers thought he was a weakling! His weapons were spiritual, not fleshly. Like all of us, Paul “walked in the flesh” (that is, had all the weaknesses of the body), but he did not war after the flesh by depending on fleshly wisdom, human abilities, or physical prowess.

There was disobedience in Corinth because Christians were believing lies instead of the truth of God’s Word. Paul warned them that he would smash their arguments and false doctrines and bring their hearts and minds to the place of obedience. Church problems are not solved simply by changing the constitution, revising the church program, or reorganizing a board, but by confronting people and problems with the Word of God.”

So in closing, what do we do with this passage, as individuals and as a church?  First, we must address our own hearts. Do I understand the gospel, what God has saved me from, what God has saved me for, how I am saved? Am I walking in light of the truth of the gospel? Are there any areas in which I am listening to false strongholds of human philosophy and worldly thinking? For example, am I good with following Scripture except when it comes to my sexual morality, in which case I listen to the world? Or am I good with God’s truth about honesty but not willing to submit to God’s truth about anger? So the first step this morning is to humble ourselves before God and evaluate whether there are strongholds of worldly thinking in our own hearts and to repent of any thinking that is out of step with God’s Word.

Second, what lies are we as a church listening to? Are we given to traditions or trends or to biblical truth? Are we willing to forsake ways that are false when their untruth is made clear? Are we willing to take a hard look at what is really biblical over what is just preference? What strongholds do we need to demolish within the walls of our church? Apathy, pride, worldliness, self-centeredness and lack of love?

Third, do we believe in the sufficiency of prayer and the Word through the power of the Holy Spirit to guide our life and ministry? It is not as if we have nothing to do but pray and read the Word. We make plans, we do things, but what is our compass? What is our guide?

Fourth, what is the place of demolishing strongholds in the work of evangelism? Are we willing to be bold and at the same time humble? Do we love people outside the walls enough to reach out to them with the truth of God and lovingly point out ways they may be building their lives on shaky foundations?

Finally, do we have the courage to live by the guidance of God’s Word in a world that more and more rejects the truth of God? Are we willing, like Jesus and the apostles, to bear the scorn of a world that despises God’s Word?

Each one of us must reckon with these questions in our hearts. And then we must come together to discuss these things. I would encourage you to talk about these questions with your spouse, with your friends, with your Sunday School class, with your pastors. Let’s not let any more time slip away where we are not giving serious attention to taking every thought captive. After all, “whatever gets your mind gets you.”

Sunday Morning Preview — April 29, 2018

28 Apr

Tomorrow morning’s worship service will begin with one of the highlights of any service: Baptism!

We baptize those who profess faith in Christ as a symbol of their new life in Christ and their desire to follow Him.

The Children’s Choir will follow the baptism with a Call to Worship. Some may wonder at whether it is wise to have the children sing in such a setting. What if they don’t understand what they are singing? What if they get a performance mindset? These are legitimate concerns. Parents should talk with their children about why they are singing and what they are singing about when they sing. At the same time, there can be great blessing through singing as children learn that they can share a message about Jesus with others. Children can learn by being in front of others to live with boldness rather than timidity. In addition, we as adults can often be humbled by the enthusiasm and energy of children for the things of God.

After a piano Offertory, we will say together our Church Verses for Meditation.

This week is the week we will try to say Romans 12:1-2 from memory. Just in case you need one more chance to review, here are the verses . . .

12 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Following the recitation of these verses, we will sing a Congregational Hymn.

This week we will be singing the old spiritual, #156 Were You There? Once again we visit the themes of the gospel: the cross and the empty tomb.

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?

Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?

Were you there when he rose up from the dead?
Were you there when he rose up from the dead?
Sometimes I feel like shouting ‘Glory, glory, glory!’*
Were you there when he rose up from the dead? 

*The Baptist Hymnal retains the line from the other verses, “Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.”

There are two unique things about this hymn. First, it is a spiritual which found wide usage among African-Americans in the period of Reconstruction after the Civil War. So this was a song of an oppressed people identifying their suffering with the suffering of their Savior. As such, the original version of the hymn had no last verses about being laid in the tomb and about the resurrection. Instead there were two other verses. One was “Were you there when they pierced Him in the side.” The other was the final verse of the hymn originally, “Were you there when the sun refused to shine?” The original hymn left singers pondering the suffering of the Savior (even as they likely pondered their own suffering) but not His glory. This is not wrong. A song does not have to cover every aspect of Christ’s work to be a good song. Some can focus on the sufferings of Christ, others on the glory, some can tell the whole story. As churches sing widely through the hymnal and other sources a full theological picture emerges through congregational singing.

Following the Hymn, we move to a time of Prayer. We don’t want prayer to be a perfunctory part of the service at the beginning and end, we want prayer to be the lifeblood of our church’s worship. Thus we meet at 9am in the choir room to pray each week for the service. And we linger in prayer during the service, in the hopes that we will all learn to pray more deeply on a personal level and that we will be moved to join our hearts together that our hearts might be knit to the heart of God.

The Choral Offering will follow the Prayer. This week the choir is singing, Here I Am Lord. This is a pretty melody with meaningful words about drawing near to God loosely based on the prophet Isaiah’s encounter with God in Isaiah 6.

Following the Choral Offering will be this morning’s Sermon. We will be looking at 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 as a conclusion to our “Arise and Go” Evangelism Conference. Here is the text for tomorrow’s message . . .

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

After the sermon, we will sing the great Hymn #141 The Old Rugged Cross.

George Bennard, an American who lived in the Midwest in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, composed many hymns, but this is his most famous. That we would cherish and cling to the old rugged cross, this is our prayer as the service draws to a close.

Our Benediction tomorrow will be Galatians 6:14 “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. May we go out in that spirit into the coming week.

“Lord, bless our gathering tomorrow. Use it as an exclamation point to a week lived for you and for a launching pad into a new week of serving you. Let the service bring you glory in every way. We pray you would be central to every action and you would be at the center of every heart.  We can make plans but we ask you to direct our steps. Use your Word to bring change and comfort and strength to your people. Open the eyes of those who don’t know you and be honored in everything we pray, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

 

 

 

“Arise and Go” Evangelism Conference: Night Two — Matthew 28:18-20, “What Are We to Do With the Gospel?” — Pastor Alan Carr

28 Apr

Last night we looked at what the gospel is and why we should be so thankful that God saves all who trust in His Son Jesus. Tonight we looked at how those who have trusted in Jesus should share the good news that saved them with a lost world.

Matthew 28:18-20 is the Great Commission. It is an authoritative command from the Lord Jesus. It is the Church’s Marching Orders.

The disciples of Jesus obeyed this command (they turned the world upside down with their preaching according to Acts 17) and people noted that these disciples had been with Jesus (see Acts 4).

But 2000 years later the state of evangelism in our day might often rightly be called “The Great Omission.” Most professing believers never share the gospel. We have a lack of motivation to follow the foundational command of the Church.

Jesus established a Church that was to enter into battle with the forces of evil for the sake of the gospel (Matthew 16:18). But we are happy to be comfortable in our churches and reluctant to enter into the spiritual battle of sharing Jesus with a lost world.

It is true that evangelism is becoming more difficult in America. But Jesus’ command to us has not changed and if we love Him we will keep His commandments.

SO why do we not fulfill the Great Commission?

We Have REJECTED God’s MANDATE

God told us to “go” and we have said “no.”

We are to live and teach the gospel. Not just show it but say it.

Not all are called to be vocational ministers but every Christian is called to preach the gospel in this world.

God saved us to make us like Jesus.

God wants others to see the power of God in your life and hear the gospel in your words.

God gives us multiple opportunities to share the gospel every day. Ask Him to open your eyes to those opportunities.

We Have REPACKAGED the MESSAGE

Jesus is the only way.

Jesus paid it all.

It is not about church or preacher or denomination or dress or music or worship or baptism. All of these things have their place but the commission is to share the message of Jesus.

First invite people to Jesus, then invite them to church.

Everybody needs the gospel.

Sharing the gospel on one level is simple: Our sin, Jesus’ sacrifice, a call to believe, but when we live an unholy life or get away from this clear gospel message we will miss the mark.

We’ll never win the world by being like the world.

We Have REFUSED God’s MISSION

God may or may not lead you overseas.

But we are all called to be witnesses where we are.

We are called to reach out to everyone and make no exclusions because of race or background or lifestyle.

We Have REBUFFED God’s MEANS

God has given us His presence and His power.

We need have an outgoing personality we just need to be faithful and trust God to work.

Rely on God He will empower, enliven and energize our witness.

There are plenty of people who need Jesus even in our own city. Thousands within a five mile radius of our local church are lost. Will we care enough to go to them? Nothing will change until we are gripped by the value of the gospel and broken by the lostness of those around us. Let’s be a people who obey the Great Commission for the glory of God.

“Arise and Go” Evangelism Conference Day One: What is the Gospel? (Romans 1:16-17) Pastor Alan Carr

27 Apr

We were blessed in our first night of the “Arise and Go” Evangelism Conference with a stirring message from Pastor Alan Carr of Calvary Baptist Church in Lenoir. Below are my notes on the sermon. Please join us tomorrow night at 6pm for the second night of the conference. You will be blessed.

Romans 1:16-17  What is the Gospel?

 

Our theme “Arise and Go” comes from Mark 16:15 “Go and preach the gospel to all creation.” This is a simple command but a daunting task.

If we are going to obey Mark 16:15 and preach the gospel we have to know what the gospel is and this is the purpose of tonight’s message, to make sure we are all clear on what the gospel is and what it is not. Romans 1:16-17 gives us a great starting point for understanding the gospel . . .

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.

17 For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.

Now the question comes as we read this: why would anyone be ashamed of the gospel?

There were many reasons in Paul’s day for being ashamed. Paul’s Jewish background was looked down on by many he was trying to reach. Paul had been rejected and mistreated repeatedly in his ministry. Paul’s message of the death of a Jewish man bringing salvation was regarded as foolishness. To top it off his proclamation of this Jesus’ resurrection, ascension and return was ridiculous to his Gentile hearers (see 1 Cor. 1:18 and 1:22).  We face many of these same obstacles today in our world. But in spite of these obstacles, Paul was still willing and ready to share the gospel. The question is why? And the answer is found in Romans 1:16-17.

Paul was willing to preach the gospel because the gospel is POWERFUL.

God could have expressed His sovereignty in any number of ways but He chose to express it through the sacrifice of His Son for His people.

There are many false gospels: Religion, Materialism, Liberalism (I’m ok, you’re ok), Pleasure and the Social Gospel of good works but all of them are characterized by two things: the are all POWERLESS to save and NONE of them are good news.

The gospel on the other hand is the good news of God’s powerful working through His Son Jesus to bring about reconciliation of ourselves to God, transformation and abundant life. Paul knew the power of the gospel by firsthand experience through his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road (see Acts 9).

Paul was willing to preach the gospel because of the gospel’s good PURPOSE.

God sent Jesus to save (to deliver, rescue). Because the end of all sinners apart from Christ is eternal hell God sent Jesus.

“God gave Himself to Himself as a sacrifice to Himself to save us from Himself.”

Because of the depth of God’s self-giving love, we need not fear that if He saves us we will ever be lost (see John 10:28).

Paul was willing to preach the gospel because of the PLAN of the gospel.

To everyone that believes. Salvation is not through ritual or through good works but by grace through faith (see Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:5; John 3:16; John 6:47).

Paul was willing to preach the gospel because of the PURPOSE of the gospel.

to everyone who believes (see John 1:12-13; John 6:37). No distinction. The gospel is for young and old, rich and poor, black and white, morally upright and morally suspect.

Paul was willing to preach the gospel because of the PRODUCT of the gospel.

In the gospel the righteousness of God is manifested (see Galatians 3:22 and Romans 3:10). We are not righteous. We are not good. We are destined for wrath and judgement. But God is so good that He sent Jesus to die in our place and to bear the wrath of God as our substitute. God counts the righteousness of Jesus to our account and then over the course of our lives He makes us righteous in our actual experience. Salvation makes us different people (see 2 Corinthians 5:17). Salvation is by faith from first to last and that life of faith produces a changed life.

So the question for all of us tonight is: what have we done with this gospel? Are we believing in God’s gift of His Son Jesus or have we rejected His gift? And if we have believed, do we have an unashamed passion like Paul to share the gospel with others? Tomorrow night, we’re going to talk about how to share this great gospel with others all around you.

Come back and join us tomorrow at 6pm. You will be blessed as we join together to “Arise and Go.”

 

 

 

 

 

Sermon: Romans — Gospel Power

15 Apr

Below is a lightly edited manuscript of a sermon which provides an overview of the book of Romans, delivered by Scott Frady at West Hickory Baptist Church on April 15, 2018.

We live in a sound bite culture. We digest information in small pieces. We pay attention to headlines, to bumper stickers, to tweets and texts. We are not so good at digesting more than this. Our attention span is weak. Most of us rarely read an article if it is more than a page or two. Most of us have trouble sitting through a movie unless it is action-packed. And for sure we have trouble sitting attentively through a sermon. We have trouble following a person’s argument for or against something if it goes on for very long. So I recognize that my aim today of preaching through the whole book of Romans in one sermon is counter to our culture. How does a pastor preach through the whole book of Romans in one sermon? We are about to find out. I think it is so important for us as Christians to get the big picture. First, we need to read through the whole Bible and get a big picture of how it all fits together. Then as we come to read individual books of the Bible, it is good for us to see how individual books of the Bible fit together as well.

As we read together through the Bible as a church and spend this quarter in the letters of the New Testament I thought it would be helpful to us this morning to lead us through an overview of the book of Romans. As you have been reading through Romans, you may have found many encouraging sound bites but you may not be grasping the overall message of the book. If you have felt this way as we have been studying through the book then I invite you to listen with special attention today.

On one level this will be a very simple message. We will be looking first at the Argument of the Book of Romans and then at the Applications that flow from that Argument. So it’s just a two point sermon today. But as we look at these two points, we will find one of the most treasured books in all the Bible and the greatest explanation of the gospel in the world.

 Let’s look first at THE ARGUMENT OF THE BOOK OF ROMANS

Romans really is a masterpiece. Following the introduction, which brings out Paul’s heart for the nations and the Church and the fulfillment of God’s plan in Christ, Paul unfolds the theme of Romans in 1:16, 17 – 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” The powerful gospel reveals the righteousness of God and enables the righteousness of God to be active in the life of anyone who believes.

Romans 1:18-3:20 tells us we start not with God’s righteousness but with God’s wrath. 1For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. We need God’s righteousness because we are under God’s wrath. The focus of chapter one is on the fact that the Gentiles are under God’s wrath and the final words of the chapter sound like they were ripped from today’s newspaper 28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips,30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. Do we not live in a world that demands not only that we give people the freedom to do all sorts of things God says are wrong but also demands that we approve of people who are living in sin? The people of Romans 1 have suppressed what they knew of God from looking at the Creation. They ignored His power and majesty, pushed those things down. So God gave them over to their sin. But it is not only the Gentiles, who are under God’s wrath. The Jews, the nation God chose in the Old Testament, the nation through whom God would bring salvation, are also under wrath. In 2:1-3:8 Paul makes it clear that the moralist, even with religious privileges, fails the internal test. There are still inward desires and outward actions even among those with a religious background which bring the wrath of God. So the devastating crescendo of 3:9-20 comes crashing down What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
11     no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
    they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14     “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16     in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18     “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

Jew and Gentile are under sin and deserving of the wrath of God and His judgment.

After giving the bad news, Paul turns to the good news. 21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. God has made a provision of His righteousness to take away His wrath. Righteousness apart from the law, because chapter 2 showed us the law is insufficient to save, has been revealed. Faith in Jesus Christ brings God’s righteousness for all who believe, Jew and Gentile alike, so that God gets the glory and we get the blessing.

Faith in God’s provision of righteousness through the shed blood of Christ is the key and this is illustrated by the father of the Jews, Abraham. In chapter 4 Paul explains that Abraham was not justified by works or ritual but by faith. In this way Abraham is not simply the father of the Jews but the father of all who believe. Paul uses Abraham in this way to take away any thought from the Jews that their heritage saved them. If Abraham their forefather according to the flesh, was saved by faith, how much more shall they be saved by faith.

With chapter five, Paul turns from talking about how we are saved and set free from wrath and counted righteous to a discussion of how that righteousness actually is at work in our lives. Chapter 5 opens with the wonderful truth that through our Lord Jesus Christ we have peace with God, joy in the hope of the glory of God, joy even in our sufferings because we know God uses them to develop perseverance, character and hope in us, and we have escape from the wrath of God.

Chapter 5:12-21 brings out the contrast between Adam and Jesus. In Adam, because of his sin, all are dead. In Christ, because of His death, all sinners who trust Him are made alive. This passage teaches us that Adam’s sin was counted against us and we follow in his steps by sinning ourselves. But the good news is that through faith in the dying and rising of Christ, the righteousness of Jesus Christ is counted for us and He gives us a new nature so that we can obey God and live a life of spiritual maturity. Our union with Christ doesn’t just forgive us, it changes us.

In chapter 6, Paul takes up the issue of change by addressing whether there is any need for it. Using an imaginary opponent, Paul asks many questions and gives strong answers. Since we’re forgiven, should we just keep on sinning? No way, because we are united with Christ. No way, because sinning leads to more sinning and we become enslaved to sin. No way, because sinning disregards the sacrifice of the cross. This is the argument of chapter six, answering this question of sin in light of the truths of justification and union with Christ.

Chapter 7 is difficult and there are differences among Bible-believing people about this passage. I think the big picture is helpful here before we get into the specifics. We have to take chapter 7 with chapter 8, they go together. Chapter 7 is the negative side of the argument; our flesh and the law cannot keep us from sinning. Chapter 8 is the positive side of the argument; our union with Christ and the Spirit can sanctify us and keep us and bless us. So we’ve got to keep chapter 8 in mind in order to understand chapter 7.

The big point to take away from chapter 7 is that anyone who tries to make progress in life with God through following external commands will fail. We don’t fight sin through supreme discipline and self-effort. We will fail every time. Just as we must have a deliverance from outside ourselves to be saved, so we must have an external power to be holy. And the truth of Romans is that the way to be saved and the way to be holy are found in the same place: the person and work of Jesus Christ. We fight sin because we have received God’s righteousness through faith in Christ and there and only there can we see real deliverance from this body of death.

The law is good, but the flesh is bad, so the law has no power to enable us to live obediently.

But thanks be to God, there is Romans 8. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus! And those who are in union with Christ by faith are not only not condemned they are also enabled by the Holy Spirit to gain victory over sin and death and to be brought into the family of God and into an eternity of glory, which nothing can take away from us. In the meantime, as we groan through the sufferings of this life awaiting future glory, we can trust that God is working in all things for good and that He is carrying out His plan among us through the golden chain of salvation. Listen to the glorious plan of God in Romans 8 . . . 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Having dealt with God’s righteousness in salvation on an individual scale in chapters 6-8, Paul in chapters 9-11 turns His eyes to God’s plan of salvation in the world. How is it that God can be righteous and yet reject the people of Israel, whom He had so blessed with great covenant promises? Paul makes it clear in chapter 9 that God’s word has not failed but that not all Israel by birth are truly the people of God. Paul says in chapter 9 that God’s righteousness is bound up in His choice and what He chooses is right, because He is righteous. Paul shows that God has always been choosing, even within the family of Israel he chose Jacob and rejected Esau. Israel rejected Jesus, clinging to the law.

And so in chapter 10, Paul is heartbroken over the lost state of his kinsmen according to the flesh and longs for them to be saved. Yet the message of chapter 10 is that Israel is still unrepentant. So how will God be true to His Word with this people He had chosen who had so largely turned away from Him? This is the question Paul addresses in chapter 11.

Paul points out first that God has not rejected all of Israel for there is a remnant of Jews who have turned to Jesus as Messiah. And the rejection is not final. The Gentiles are being brought into the tree of salvation to arouse the jealousy of the Jews, that they might seek Christ. Paul points to a final turning of Jews back to God in 11:25-32. Then Paul concludes this section with the great doxology of chapter 11:33-36. This seems to function as a word of praise for the whole first eleven chapters.

So what is left to say? For Paul, his focus now turns to what this great salvation looks like on a daily basis, how is the righteousness of God lived out among the people of God? Chapter 12 points to personal commitment of our lives to the Lord, this is what our April memory verses are about, “offer yourselves as living sacrifices.” Paul then turns to how we live as the church, how we use the  gifts God has given us in the church body, and how to relate to one another. Chapter 13:1-14 tells us how the Christian should relate to earthly authorities and to the world around us. Chapter 14:1-15:13 moves us back into relationships in the local church. Whereas chapter 12 was telling us more the positive behaviors to affirm, chapter 14 is helping believers walk through the challenges of living righteously together. Paul says we are not under the law and we don’t have to keep food laws or other ceremonies, but he does not look down on those who do. He urges the believers in Rome not to judge each other over such things. Our freedom in Christ should open us to love, not cause conflict between each other.

Paul concludes by explaining his mission to Spain and his calling to take this message of the gospel of God’s righteousness to places that haven’t heard. Chapter 16 concludes with Paul’s greetings to those in the church in Rome, a warning about those who cause divisions in the church, greetings from Paul’s co-workers, and a beautiful doxology which brings together several key themes in the letter.

Let’s finish up this morning by looking at several APPLICATIONS OF THE BOOK OF ROMANS

What are the key truths we take away from our reading of the book of Romans?

Universal guilt. The book of Romans makes it clear that there is no one righteous. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and the wages of sin is death. We need to hear this message in our nation today in the way that Romans gives it to us. We are prone to diminish this idea in our world. We say things like, “Nobody’s perfect” or “everybody makes mistakes.” But God says, “All have sinned.” The wrong we have done is first and foremost an offense against our Creator God. And this sin means that we are under God’s wrath. We don’t just have a few faults or some problems we are utterly lost and under God’s judgement and destined for eternal hell. If the book of Romans stopped at chapter 3 verse 20, it would be the saddest book ever written. But universal guilt is not the end of the story. Because the book of Romans also speaks of . . .

Universal salvation (no distinction between Jew and Gentile). Now don’t misunderstand. I am not saying the book of Romans teaches that everyone will be saved. That is a heresy you won’t find in the Bible anywhere. Some will be judged. By what I mean by universal salvation is that through Christ salvation is available to all kinds of people. Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, young and old, all may come to God through Jesus Christ. We are freed from the wrath of God through faith in Christ.

Salvation is greater than we think. The early chapters of Romans speak to our being justified (set free from the penalty of sin and given peace with God). The middle chapters of Romans speak of our sanctification (being set free from the power of sin in this life and living a life of holiness by the power of the Spirit). And the middle chapters speak of glorification (our future with the Lord when we will be set free from the presence of sin). And it doesn’t stop there. Romans tells us that the whole creation has been corrupted by Adam’s sin but in its groaning it will one day be renewed. And the book of Romans tells us even as salvation is available to Jew and Gentile alike, God has not forgotten His people, whom He foreknew but has planned a great ingathering of the Jewish people in the last days. So how great is this salvation we enjoy? How great is the work of God in our midst? How great is the work Jesus has accomplished? The truth of the greatness of our salvation should cause us to see that there is nothing more significant than Jesus and His kingdom. The gospel changes everything!

The gospel is the power of God. As we said last week the gospel is powerful. But it is a directed power, a power directed toward salvation, toward a good end. It is not raw power that just destroys and conquers, it is directed power that restores and builds up. The gospel is the power of God.

We also learn from Romans that salvation changes all our relationships.  The first chapters of Romans definitely tell us salvation changes our relationship with God but chapters 12-16 also tell us that salvation changes our relationships with others as well. Because we have been so well-loved by Jesus, we are secure in our identity in Him and so we are free to surrender our hearts and lives first to God and then to live as a loving member of our new family: the church. We can even submit to outside authorities and live among those who do not know Jesus in a peaceable way. And when conflicts arise in the body of believers, we can look for solutions instead of running into our corners or building walls of division. A healthy local church is one of the greatest demonstrations of the power of the gospel in the world because in it you have the gathering of diverse people who are there united in love to worship and serve Jesus.

Another application we see in the book of Romans is that Doctrinal rigor is not the enemy of active ministry, it fuels active ministry. Sometimes people that are concerned with doctrine and theology are perceived as being all about the head and not about the heart or the hands and feet. In other words we have this idea that there are thinkers and then there are doers. But nothing could be further from the truth. Paul was the great missionary pioneer. He was buy with travel and occupied with ministry for years. And yet he took time to write the book of Romans and many other books of the Bible under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. So the great missionary was also the great thinker. His meditations on the gospel fueled his passion for ministry and his passion for ministry fueled his thinking about the gospel. All that to say we would be making a deadly mistake as a church to set aside theology in an attempt to reach people. Because there comes a point when you have to ask: if you’re not reaching them with truth, what are you reaching them with? Everything else: programs, personalities, all the rest, will fade away. But the souls of people and the truth of God will remain. Woe to us if we turn away from knowing and loving and joyfully sharing the truth. Paul proves you can be deeply theological and deeply relational, just look at all the co-workers he lists in chapter 16.

We also see in our survey of Romans this: Since the gospel is for all who believe we should make every effort to take the gospel to those who have never heard. We need to recapture good and God-honoring ambition. Selfish ambition is always wrong, but an ambition for God to be glorified through us is a good thing. And God is glorified as His gospel goes out into the world. Paul’s ambition, expressed in Romans 15, was to preach Jesus where He had not been named. We too are called to that ministry. We can all be a part of Jesus’ plan to take the gospel to the nations. And it’s not an either/or thing. It’s not either local evangelism or global missions. It’s both. That’s why we are having an Evangelism Conference at the end of this month and then in November we are having a Missions Conference, because we believe both are important and both deserve our special attention.

Finally, we see in the book of Romans that God’s Glory and Our Joy Are Not at Odds. Some people seem so God-centered that they don’t care about people and others are so people-centered that they scarcely bring God into the conversation. Romans shows the uselessness of both approaches. God’s glory is demonstrated by His mercy to sinners. Our joy is found in His grace toward us. God’s glory therefore is most clearly seen in His saving work. As John Piper has said, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”

As we come to the end of this message I don’t think there is a much better way to end than to remember Paul’s words in Romans 11:33-36 . . .

33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

34   “For who has known the mind of the Lord,

or who has been his counselor?”

35   “Or who has given a gift to him

that he might be repaid?”

36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

 

Sunday Morning Preview 4.15.18

14 Apr

As we prepare for our morning worship service tomorrow at 10:30am, I wanted to share with you our order of service and make a few comments on the various elements of the service. I hope you will come join us if you are in the Hickory, NC area and are not an active member of another local church (www.westhickorybaptist.org).

Sunday Morning Worship — April 15, 2018

Prelude   — will be followed by a welcome and a few announcements from Pastor Dickerson.

Call to Worship #173 — Christ is Alive

Our service today will bring us back to Easter, since there is a sense in which every Sunday and every day is a Resurrection Sunday. Two of our three congregational hymns this morning will be oriented toward the resurrection with our final hymn turning our minds back to the cross.

Here are the lyrics to Christ is Alive

Christ is alive! Let Christians sing.
The cross stands empty to the sky.
Let streets and homes with praises ring.
Love, drowned in death, shall never die.

Christ is alive! No longer bound
to distant years in Palestine,
but saving, healing, here and now,
and touching every place and time.

In every insult, rift and war,
where color, scorn or wealth divide,
Christ suffers still, yet loves the more,
and lives, where even hope has died.

Women and men, in age and youth,
can feel the Spirit, hear the call,
and find the way, the life, the truth,
revealed in Jesus, freed for all.

Christ is alive, and comes to bring
good news to this and every age,
till earth and sky and ocean ring
with joy, with justice, love and praise.

(Lyrics by Brian Wren)

After a piano offertory, we will speak together our church memory verses for April – Romans 12:1-2

12 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

We plan after speaking our memory verses together to sing a classic hymn #407, Because He Lives . . .

God sent His son, they called Him, Jesus;
He came to love, heal and forgive;
He lived and died to buy my pardon,
An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives!

Chorus
Because He lives, I can face tomorrow,
Because He lives, all fear is gone;
Because I know He holds the future,
And life is worth the living,
Just because He lives!

How sweet to hold a newborn baby,
And feel the pride and joy he gives;
But greater still the calm assurance:
This child can face uncertain days because He Lives
!

Chorus

And then one day, I’ll cross the river,
I’ll fight life’s final war with pain;
And then, as death gives way to victory,
I’ll see the lights of glory and I’ll know He lives!

(Lyrics by Gloria and Bill Gaither)
After our hymn we will hear a word of testimony from Steve Workman of the Christian Community Outreach Ministry (CCOM). Steve is a godly man with a passion to share the gospel and care for our community. You will be blessed hearing from Steve and learning more about the work of CCOM.

Our choral offering is the song In the Presence of Jehovah. We don’t just affirm Jesus’ resurrection and cross, we also affirm that this dying and rising has brought us into the very presence of God, tearing down the wall of separation our sin had raised between us and God.

In and out of situations
that tug of war at me,
All day long I struggle
for the answers that I need.
But when I come into His presence
All my questions become clear,
And in that sacred moment
No doubts can interfere.

Chorus:
In the presence of Jehovah,
God Almighty, Prince of Peace,
Troubles vanish, hearts are mended,
In the presence of the King.

Through His love the Lord provided
A place for us to rest,
A place to find the answers,
In our hour of distress.
Now there’s never any reason
For you to give up in despair;
Just slip away and breathe His name,
You will surely find Him there.

Music and Lyrics by Becky Davis and Geron Davis

Our sermon from Pastor Frady tomorrow will cover the entire book of Romans as we look at the world-changing message of Jesus Christ in Paul’s great letter to the Romans. The message has two points . . .

I. The ARGUMENT of Romans.

II. The APPLICATIONS of Romans.

Our closing song will be #144 When I Survey the Wondrous Cross. I once heard this was a favorite hymn of Martin Luther King, Jr. This great Isaac Watts hymn has more verses than what we find in our hymnal. I am going to share all the verses below, noting the verses not in our hymnal with an asterisk.

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.

See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

His dying crimson, like a robe,
Spreads o’er His body on the tree;
Then I am dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me.*

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

To Christ, Who won for sinners grace
By bitter grief and anguish sore,
Be praise from all the ransomed race
Forever and forevermore.*

When it comes to the closing hymn, we invite anyone who would be helped by coming to the front to pray to do so. We also invite those in need of someone to pray with them to come pray with a pastor. In the end, we do not believe anyone is saved by walking an aisle but we also believe that any time the Word of God is preached it calls for response. That response may be in the heart right in the pew or by coming forward. Hopefully the greatest effect of the service is seen in our lives from Sunday to Sunday.

It is interesting to note that all the songs we are singing tomorrow are directed toward one another. Most songs we sing in church are either addressed to God or to one another. It is appropriate on a day when the sermon focuses on the gospel and we hear a testimony of community outreach that our songs are songs we sing to encourage one another about the work of Christ in the gospel. It is also interesting to note that the last two hymns we will sing are individual songs that we are singing in the congregation. So though we are singing the songs together, we are affirming individually the truths of each song.  “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow . . . ” and “When I survey the wondrous cross . . .”

Our benediction is a time to summarize the morning and briefly invite the church to other events of the week. Tomorrow’s benediction will be from 1 Corinthians 15:58 . . .

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

We are far from perfect. We know Christians have differing convictions about how worship should look when we gather together. This article is just intended to give you a little help in preparing your heart for worship.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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