Two Things which are central to Following Jesus

Paul gives us a springboard for the Christian life in the simple phrase: “Therefore…in view of God’s mercy.” And then he urges us to do two things which are central to following Jesus.

#1) (vs. 1) In view of God’s mercy…offer your bodies as a living sacrifice. This is temple terminology. The confusion is that there were several different kinds of offerings.

  • Sin offering: But Jesus is our sin offering.
  • whole burnt offering: It had to be without defect (holy and without blemish). Why? Such an animal was expensive. It showed that all you had was at God’s disposal, not leftovers. To be a “living sacrifice” is to be fully at God’s disposal.

In mentioning our physical bodies Paul is saying that God does not want a purely inward and abstract worship, but a practical and total one. He wants us to give him everything we do.

#2) (vs. 2) In view of God’s mercy…Renew your mind. That’s how the Christian life occurs. It is the way we are to be transformed into Christ-likeness. He doesn’t define this but probably means more than just thinking true thoughts, but that the governing influence of our mind is reoriented. We could say that our imagination is captured by Christ. Who he is and what he did fires the imagination and controls our minds.

Seven Privileges that Christ Followers Possess as Adopted Children of God

Romans 8:15-17,

15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

  1. Security: We are not to fear but enjoy our status as a child of the King (15a). A child-parent relationship is not characterized by fear of losing the relationship.
  2. Authority: Status of “sonship” not “slave” (15a). Slaves have no authority. They only do what they are told. Children are not mere servants and have authority. The children of God are given authority over sin and the devil. They are move about the world knowing that it belongs to the Father. There should be a confidence about them. They have the honor of the family name.
  3. Intimacy: “By him we cry, ‘Abba'” (15b). “Abba” is an Aramaic term best translated “daddy.” A child doesn’t often address their father as “father.” More often they use a term that shows loving, trusting familiarity. This is how we Christians can approach the all-powerful Creator of the universe.
  4. Assurance: “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (16). When we cry out to God as “Abba,” the Spirit of God somehow comes alongside us (“with our spirit”) and gives us assurance that we truly are in God’s family.
  5. Inheritance:”Now if we are children then we are heirs” (17). This means we have an incredible future. Normally the first born would get a much larger share but he calls all Christian “heirs of God.” Paul is saying that what is in store for us so is grand and glorious that it will be as though we each had along gotten most of the glory of God.
  6. Discipline: “…If indeed we share in his sufferings.” When parents discipline a child they allow or introduce a milder form of pain in order to teach or mature the child away from behavior that will lead to far greater pain later. Hebrews 12:9-10 explains.
  7. Family likeness: Christians will suffer precisely because they are brothers and sisters of Christ. We get to be like Him! Though we are adopted, God actually implants Christ’s nature in us. As children of God, we actually come to resemble the Son of God. As we bear the family likeness of suffering, we become more and more like the Son and our Father in our character and attitudes.

How the Difficult Can Be Our Friend

Sometimes as much as we hate to think about it, our past can catch up to us. We may be totally different people but you never know what the consequences of previous actions may bring years later.

Enter Jacob. 20 years had passed since he deceived his dying father and cheated his brother Esau out of the blessing that belonged to the first-born. In those 2 decades Jacob had found love, a home, and prosperity. But then the shadow of his old transgressions fell across his path. Esau is on the march to meet him with 400 armed men. Esau the cheated had sworn an oath that he would kill his brother.

After splitting his company in 2, Jacob prayed that God would deliver him. He also sent presents to his brother. Then Jacob remained alone to wait. It turned out to be his life’s greatest experience. Do not fear your solitary moments. God will come closer to you than at any time.

What happened? He wrestled with some unknown assailant from midnight to dawn. In awful solitude they fought. Jacob seemed to have an advantage when his mysterious opponent somehow got his hip or thigh out of joint. Yet Jacob fought on.

As the morning dawned, Jacob found out this wasn’t an enemy but an angel. Jacob gripped him close and cried, “I will not let go until you bless me.” The angel blessed him and departed.

What opposes us in life, even our past, or what makes us struggle is, after all, not an enemy but a friend in disguise. Do not mourn over the hard and difficult experiences of life that have thrown your thigh out of joint, for in ways that you know not they have made you strong. Make sure that you utter the prayer of struggling Jacob, “I will not let go until you bless me!”

The Message of Hell

Is it possible to love someone in healthy ways after they threaten, “Love me or I will do you harm?” No. But isn’t that what God does to us with the threat of hell? Isn’t the point of hell to scare us to salvation?

Jesus taught that whoever is forgiven much, loves much; and whoever is forgiven little, loves little (Luke 7:47). Truly loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind requires that we understand He has forgiven us much. Our love treasures God, not simply a means to avoid His wrath. So threatening people harm if they don’t love you can’t produce biblical love. At best it can create a parody of obedience.

This means we (and God) can’t scare anyone into heaven. Our walk with Christ is not simply a self-serving choice to live in heaven rather than suffer in hell. In order for us to experience the joys of heaven, we must love Him.

To motivate genuine holiness, hell must first be perceived as a just destiny of those who have broken the righteous standards of God. Those standards must be seen as rooted in the holiness of God, and their transgression as deserving an eternal penalty. When this is properly understood, then the MERCY of God that saves us from the just penalty of hell, more than hell itself, is what generates love for Him.

But this is the problem: this mature understanding of God’s holiness, justice, and mercy is not where most people begin their Christian walk. Most people turn to Christ because of the despairs of this life, not because they are dodging the despairs of the afterlife.

Most people love Christ initially because of His rescue from the present hell of earthly existence, the falleness of our humanity as seen in loneliness, emptiness, guilt, shame, depression, addiction, sickness, relational fractures. This is why Jesus was being true to the human experience as well as the spiritual task when he said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). He understood the pains of this life could be as compelling as the threats of the next.

Early in their Christian experience most people have no concept of what they have done that would deserve eternity in hell.

Theologians defend the doctrine of hell with the rationale that people deserve infinite and eternal punishments of hell because sin is against an infinitely holy and eternal God. It makes sense to a theologian but not for almost everyone else.

If even Hitler or Stalin were to scream in agony for thousands of years, most people would be ready to end these monsters’ pain. And arguing that an unending hell  awaits if my neighbor or my aunt whose greatest earthly crime appears to be an unkind grouch, seems outside any standard of of justice that we associate with Christ’s nature.

So how do we explain that Jesus spoke about hell more than anyone else in the Bible? Part of the answer lies in the fact that Jesus reserved his harshest words for those who were relying on their self-righteousness to get them to heaven. They needed to know that separation from the blessings of God was the future of all who do not seek God through His Son.

Jesus’ greatest expressions of mercy and grace were poured on those who believed they had no hope of heaven due to their failings and sin. Their despair in this life and the provision of security for the next life made Christ’s grace welcome and powerful. His love for the outcast and despicable is what drew hearts to him. He usually reserved comments about hell with the intention of making the proud understand how desperate they were apart from Him.

One reason that hell is eternal is that no one there says to God, “Let me out–I want to honor and serve you now!” Hell is total, conscious, eternal separation from the blessings of God because those there get exactly what they want: total and continual autonomy from God’s influence and care.

For believers, such freedom FROM their Savior would be agony. Christ’s warning them of hell and offering to save them from its just consequences is a grace that makes want Him forever.

Though the sinful suffer in hell, they prefer its agonies to honoring Christ’s glory.

Christ speaks so much about hell because His grace requires that He warn all about the consequences of their choices. Because God is holy and just, He will punish wickedness and purify His kingdom. Grace requires that He do each of these. Grace also compels Him to offer peace to those alarmed by the realities of hell.

Fill in the Blank: God accepts me because _____

Titus 3:3, “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.”

Do you ever make decisions by looking at the pros and cons of that particular decision?

Imagine if God decided whether to save us with a list of pros and cons. The con side would include: foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved, envious, hating. What would He list on the pro side? NOTHING! There is no reason why God should save us. Yet He lists on the page: “MY kindness, MY love, MY mercy.”

God didn’t look at us and think, “Oh, they’re not TOO bad.” Or, “I can see some potential there!” He saw a thousand reasons to condemn us forever.

How would you complete the sentence, “God accepts me because ____________.”

If I think I will be saved because of something I have done, then I am not saved. I can have no confidence. Our acceptance before God is: “Not because of righteous things we have done” (Titus 3:5). Saving faith involves removing faith in ourselves. It involves stripping away confidence in anything except God.

We need to read Titus 3:3 (above) and feel the weight of the truth about who we are and what we are like, and see that God’s kindness does not mean injustice. He will punish sin. He has punished sin.

4 Motivations for Sharing Your Faith

#1 A desire to reach a disoriented culture.

We live in a spiritually confused society. John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.” Christianity is not one of many religions. It stands alone in contrast to all the others.

You might be saying, “Well, what’s this have to do with evangelism?” The answer is everything. For if we don’t believe that people who reject that Jesus Christ is the Son of God will spend eternity experiencing a separation from God than why do we need to bother to tell them about Jesus Christ?

#2 A desire to love the lost.

The Apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”   Christ’s love compels us to have a love for the lost.

The highest motivation we have for sharing our faith is love. Saved people aren’t any better than lost people. Christ is the One that makes the difference. A love that communicates that you mean so much to me that I can’t fathom you being separated from God for eternity that’s the love that we’re striving for.

Some might say, “Ah come on! Hell is a concept conjured up by preachers to guilt trip people into good behavior and attending church.” But if the Bible only spoke of hell even one time we would have to believe it. But the Bible doesn’t speak of hell one time, it’s talked about 54 times. And do you know who spoke of it more than any other? Our loving gentle Shepherd Jesus Christ. In fact, He went to incredible lengths so that those who placed their trust in him will never have to go to such a place. Our motivation in sharing our faith is that we have a concern for those who do not yet know Christ and if you believe that people are really lost and they are apart from the Lord then it is the height of selfishness to fail to point them in the direction of Jesus.

#3 A desire to imitate Christ.

Christ sets the example for us. Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man came to seek and save what was lost.” That’s why he came.

#4 A desire to obey Christ.

It’s more than just following his example, it’s also striving to be obedient of what he asks of us. Matthew 28:18-20, the Great Commission, Jesus’ last words to us before he ascended to heaven, “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Obediently He asks us to tell others. Because what it does is it proves to others that Christ truly is on the throne of our lives.

Why I Don’t Dress Up for Worship Services

Someone asked me the other day, “How come you don’t wear your robe or a coat and tie in worship?”

Here’s why: One of the biggest excuses I hear from people who don’t attend church is that they don’t have nice clothes to wear. Now that may be a convenient excuse. Surely they have something nice to wear. Of course, how nice is “nice enough for my church.” As I read the Bible I can’t find any dress code for worship. In fact, one time King David stripped down to his underwear to worship God publicly (but don’t worry, I’ll never do that!). Is it possible that our cultural expectations of “Sunday clothes” limits who we reach? And doesn’t our mission statement say that we want to “reach out to all.” Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 that his desire is “to become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” If I thought wearing a tie or a robe would reach more new people then I would. I would also shave my head or pierce an ear if I thought that’s what was necessary to reach those in our community for the Gospel.

It’s not that I don’t like to dress up. I appreciate the compliments when I wear a coat and tie. But for me, spirituality needs to be separated from outward appearance. When the Prophet Samuel anointed David, God said to him, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Jesus echoes this sentiment when he got on the Pharisees who cared more about outward appearance than inward transformation. Jesus said, “You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead man’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matthew 23:27-28).

Dressing nice for worship is a cultural expectation that has been dying for the last decade in this country. Most people I talk to prefer to be themselves, not “put on something they’re not.” I see the leader’s job as leading the way to make newcomers comfortable.

P.S. There are inappropriate things to wear depending on the venue. Men and women should dress modestly and appropriately. So I’m not arguing for bathing suits or risqué outfits on Sunday morning!