Langenburg Evangelical Fellowship

Lifting Up Christ, Transformed by His Love; Serving Others

Langenburg Evangelical Fellowship - a small church in southern Saskatchewan which promotes authentic worship of God, is Christ-centered, and holds the Bible as being divinely inspired and authoritative.

 

Sermon: 1 John 5:1-12

What Will You Believe?

April 2, 2017

Pastor Dennis Elhard

 

As we wind down our journey through the book of 1 John, we come again this morning to the third repetition of a theme we have already visited twice before – that is this: genuine believers hold certain truths about Jesus.  It is the test of doctrine.  Again, since John has come back to this theme for the third time, it means that he holds this truth – this teaching – to be of utmost importance.  In fact, it is critically important to our Christian faith – if Jesus is not the divine Son of God, we’re all really wasting our time here this morning – at best we would be merely a social club for “better/moral living.”

            It is apparent that John is beginning his conclusion to his letter at the beginning of chapter 5.  The clarity of the outline is not as clear, and he seems to begin to blend his three major themes as brings the letter to conclusion.  However, the major theme of this section would seem to fall under the test of doctrine – a tight theological argument for the divinity of Jesus Christ.  Who is Jesus is a question that we must all come to terms with, and as I have said before is a question that is under assault in the culture of our day – even within the church – most disturbingly in the church.  Here’s a snapshot of what I believe that John through the HS is teaching us today – A genuine follower of the Christian faith believes that Jesus is the Son of God and receives the testimony concerning His divine nature.  The focus of this text is on belief.

            First: A belief that Jesus is the Son of God. (vs. 1-5).  This section of scripture is interesting in that the word “believes” begins the passage and is also a part of the ending.  In between, John revisits all three of the major themes of his letter, and in doing so reveals the essential unity of these themes.  A belief that Jesus is the Son of God produces:

* A faith that loves.  “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.”  Here is a clear statement – to be truly born of God, to be a child of God, one must believe that Jesus is the Messiah – or God’s divine Son.  John is unequivocal here – uncompromising.  This is very relevant today.  Many people, when asked whether they are Christians, will respond, “Sure, I believe in God.”  But belief in God will not bring about a new birth.  One must believe that Jesus is the Messiah and one must act on that belief by acknowledging him as their Lord. 

            “And everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.”  This is a well understood general principle.  And what is true of the human family is also true of the divine.  When we love the parents, we will typically love their children as well.  In the same way, those who love God – our spiritual Father, will also love his spiritual children - our brothers and sisters in the faith.  This verse may also reflect the idea that children bear their parents nature.  (Love)

            Verse 2 begins with John’s familiar language of testing – “This is how we know.”  Here is the test of “how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out His commands.”  Even as someone cannot love God without loving God’s children, so also it is impossible to truly love the children of God (one another) without also loving God.  The construction of this sentence comes as somewhat of a surprise.  And what is interesting is that the order of this sentence can be re-arranged and it still speaks truth.  For instance we can say that this is how we know we love God: by carrying out his commands and loving one another (God’s children).  Or this is how we carry out his commands: by loving God and loving his children.  It works all three ways – while there are subtle differences in meaning, the fact that they are interchangeable reveals how interwoven the concepts really are.  So we see that a belief that Jesus is the Messiah produces a love for God and a love for his children (one another).

* A faith that obeys.  “This is love for God: to obey his commandments.”  How do you know that you love God?  Is it based on warm and emotional feelings for Him?   No! You know that you love God; you show that you love God, by obeying his commands.  Jesus repeated this truth in various ways a half a dozen times in the 14th and 15th chapters of the gospel of John.  Do you love God this morning?  The simple answer to that question is found entirely in our obedience to his commands (Phil’s question).  Don’t say you love God and then continue to willfully live in sin – because you are revealing very clearing that you don’t, in fact, love God.

            John goes on to say that God’s commands are not “burdensome” – (gr. weighty, crushing).  The Jewish law had become a burden – it controlled virtually every aspect of one’s life.  Jesus said that his yoke was light by comparison; however, while His commands are not burdensome, they are not necessarily easy.  However, if we are born of God we have within us both the power and possibility of keeping His commands.  In fact, living according to his commands, which is the life of love, becomes our delight (“I love your law; it is life to me”), and the commands of God bring us the freedom and the liberty we long for.  They are the pathway to the good life, to the abundant life.

            “Loving God and obeying his commands have always gone together.  To think otherwise is deception.”  There is a modern deception in many churches today that suggests to speak of the need for obedience from the pulpit is legalism (legalism police).  The effect is that they have rid the church of a healthy focus on God’s commands.  It’s all about grace; we don’t need to do anything because any attempt to please God is nothing but legalism.  I see it all the time; I’ve read some of the books, let me tell you this morning, it’s a crock, and a denial of Christ’s very commission to the church: “Go and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”  We need to cultivate a faith that obeys - not to earn our salvation, but to give evidence of it.

* A faith that overcomes.  The fact that God’s commands are not burdensome means that everyone born of God (spiritual new birth) can overcome the world – its lusts and its corruption.  And the victory that we have in overcoming the world is through our faith.  So who is it that overcomes the world?  The argument comes full circle back to belief. Those who overcome the world are those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God and are born of God. 

            It’s not coincidental that John talks about faith and keeping his commands in the same context.  (Marty) “Faith in Jesus will lead to a life that shows it... We must understand that biblical faith involves a commitment to Jesus, not just intellectual belief.  It involves the confession ‘Jesus is Lord,’ not simply, ‘I accept Jesus as my personal Saviour’.”

            In this section that is focused on faith, John brings together the three themes he has systematically repeated in this letter: The necessary belief that Jesus is the Son of God, the need to love God by obeying his commandments, and the call to love God’s children in the same way we love the Father.  Belief, love and obedience are the marks of the new birth in Jesus.

            Second: A belief in the testimony about Jesus (vs. 6-12).  John’s declaration that Jesus is the Son of God at the close of verse 5 continues into this section for the purpose of providing testimony to this fact.  He is confronting the false teachers who have been denying the divinity of Jesus and his incarnation.  To them he offers testimony to substantiate his claims.

* The testimony of the water and blood. This has been a hotly debated text for centuries.  What is the meaning of the water and the blood, and how do they testify?  (Cerinthus teaching) Most commentators think that the water is a reference to Jesus’ baptism where the Spirit came upon him in the form of a dove and the Father’s voice from heaven affirmed Jesus as God’s Son.  The blood is a reference to the cross and gives testimony to his humanness and death – the two framing the beginning and ending of his ministry. However the main point of both references is to uphold the full incarnation –that Jesus Christ was the divine Son of God who came to earth and took on the form of a man and walked among us. 

*The testimony of the Spirit.  The Spirit gave testimony to the Sonship of Jesus at his baptism – as I already mentioned.  Stott also suggests that John “appears to be referring to the inward witness of the Holy Spirit, who opens our eyes to see the truth that is in Jesus.”  It is only through the work of the HS that one can come to recognize the truth about Jesus – without his revelation it all appears as foolishness to the natural man.  The Spirit, the water and the blood all testify and all are in agreement about the true identity of Jesus and of his incarnation.

*The testimony of God.  The testimony of God, John argues, is much greater than the testimony of men – which we generally accept.  God has testified about his Son (baptism, transfiguration), and through His Word and prophets.  Anyone who believes knows this in their hearts, but those who do not believe this testimony about His Son are in effect calling God a liar.  John cannot allow that one can profess belief in God and yet reject God’s own testimony of His Son.  The divinity of Jesus that John was writing about was based on the testimony of eyewitnesses.

            In verse 11 and 12, the testimony is defined: “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life and this life is in His Son.  He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”  Believing in God is not the key issue in salvation; he who has the Son is the one who has eternal life.  So I ask you this morning, do you have the Son?  Much testimony has been given for you and I to believe in the Son of God, who died on a cross for our salvation and so we could receive eternal life.

            So you might be thinking, “I believe that Jesus is the Son of God,” why did I need to hear this message?  Let me just say that this message, this truth, is under attack in our world today, and I believe that the voices will only grow stronger, so we need to have this truth firmly planted in our hearts and minds.  The divinity of Jesus is continually being brought into question everywhere.  A few years ago, a gathering called the “Jesus Seminar” met in order to study the “historical” Jesus. Most of their conclusions were preposterous.  They concluded that only a small percentage (20-30%) of the gospel accounts were actually historically accurate -  the rest had been made-up fill-ins by Jesus’ followers in the hundred or so years after Christ’s death.  Of course they denied the historical truth of the miracles, and anything that pointed to Jesus as the divine Son of God.  At the time, the whole thing got a fair amount of press in regards to its “groundbreaking “work.  This is typical of what is called “scholarship” in NT studies today.

            Disturbingly, the divinity of Christ is being attacked in the church.  In 1994, The WCC held a conference largely underwritten by the Presbyterian Church that sought to “reimage” God.  The cross and the atonement was thrown out for a new theological center – Sophia – a feminized idea of wisdom, which appears in many ways and in many spiritual traditions. South Dakota Indian tribal dances and Zulu rituals were equal contributors for theological reflection. It is most important to note that in this church setting, historic Christology was totally dismantled.  The target of the conferees was the cross. Christian teaching on salvation promoted violence, they claimed.  A father killing his son is a formula for child abuse. One speaker said, "I don't think we need a theory of atonement at all. I don't think we need folks hanging on crosses and blood dripping and weird stuff… We just need to listen to the god within."

.           A genuine follower of the Christian faith believes that Jesus is the Son of God and receives the testimony concerning His divine nature.  We need to have this belief solid in our hearts, because the day may come when there will be a cost to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.  Our message, our belief is one that is exclusive and consequently we run counter to a culture that worships at the altars of tolerance and choice.  Did we believe this so thoroughly and so completely that we will pay whatever the cost demanded – even our very lives?  May we hold to the truth that has been passed down to us and be overcomers in this fallen world.

 

 

Sermon: 1 John 5:13-21

That You May Know

April 9, 2017

Pastor Dennis Elhard

 

The content of the opening verse seems to indicate that John is beginning the formal conclusion to his letter.  It is typical of a conclusion to have the subject matter jump around somewhat as the author presents his final thoughts and recaps his main message.  Consequently it makes it difficult to outline very succinctly.  The general outline that I have used for this journey through 1 John had this section under the theme – third time – of “obeying God.”  This again is the test of obedience – genuine believers are obedient to Christ’s commands.  However, while obedience is referred to implicitly in today’s text (somewhat explicitly in vs. 18), this is a bit of a weak point in the overall outline.  There were actually more explicit references to obedience in last week’s text and I preached on that theme then, so while the outline suggests otherwise, obedience will not be the central theme to this message.

            Instead, we see in our text for today a number of affirmations of truth that John wants his readers to grasp and hold onto.  As he concludes, he wants these things firmly imbedded in their hearts and minds, so – “that you may know.”  The word “know” is used by John 7 times in these verses, so confidence, assurance and certainty of truth are the themes for today.  This passage teaches: You may know assurance of eternal life and confidence in prayer if you heed the clearly presented message of First John.  So what are the things that John wants us to know?

            First: Confidence in eternal life and answered prayer (1-3).  John writes: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know you have eternal life.”  This is one of, if not the main, purposes that John gives for writing this letter.  I quoted this way back in the introduction to 1 John as one of the key purpose statements in the book.  The fact that it comes near the end suggests the importance of it to John’s entire purpose.  This verse closely parallels John’s statement in the gospel of John 20:31 – “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” 

            The possibility of knowing that we have eternal life is a key to the Christian life and hope.  We can have assurance about this, and this is what the whole letter is about – what are the things that give us this assurance – that we may know – with all confidence and certainty.  John gives us the answer to these questions through the use of tests (more about that later).

            Another kind of confidence we can have is when we approach God in prayer. This confidence is this – “that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”  And if we know that he hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have (the requests - ESV) what we asked of him.”  Wow!  It’s hard to wrap your mind around that statement, isn’t it?  The first thing we need to clarify is that the Greek word translated as “hears” does not mean simply to be listened to, but to be heard favourably.  God doesn’t just hear our words, he hears us with the ear of a listening Father who desires the best for His children. 

            The key, however, to approaching God and having our prayers answered is stated in a condition – “that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”  So the next time you pray for a new Harley, it is unlikely that your prayer will be answered – unless, of course, that is God’s will for you.  Anything we pray out of our own selfish desires will not be answered – and he knows the motives of our hearts.  Praying according to his will is praying in an attitude that submits our wills to Gods.  Prayer is not an attempt to try to bend God’s will to ours, but to surrender our will to his.  This is the environment of prayer that he promises to answer.  The last part of verse 15 is a stunning statement: (ESV) “whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.”  That is written in the terms of a “done deal!”  That when we pray according to God’s will, we can have confidence that we have what we asked for.

            But, you may be wondering, I have prayed many times for something I believed was according to his will – as far as I could ascertain. I even surrendered my will to his – but I never received an answer.  This experience is where this verse gets really difficult – and I don’t pretend to have an answer.  I did find this quote which may help our understanding – “That our petition is answered is not dependant on whether or not we have personally observed the answer – some answers to prayer are observed immediately, others later, and some are not recognized in our lifetime.”  So the prayer is granted, but we may have to wait or we may even never observe/experience the answer.  This would make some sense out of the statement of John’s.

            We should quickly recall that John had already declared another aspect to having confidence in our prayers being answered – back in 3:22.  There he says that we can have confidence to receive what we asked for “because we obey his commands and do what is pleasing to him.”  So we learn from 1 John that obedience and asking “according to his will” are keys to having our prayers answered and having the confidence to approach God.

            Second: Prayer for sin (vs. 16-17).  These two verses seem to be a digression by John – they don’t fit the theme about “knowing” – the word doesn’t occur - although they do continue the subject of prayer.  To be honest, if I didn’t have some good commentaries, I wouldn’t have a clue what John is talking about here.  Even after reading the commentaries, I don’t think anyone can say for sure what these verses refer to.  What is the “sin that leads to death”, and the “sin that does not lead to death?”  Honest commentators say, “We don’t know, John doesn’t say.”

            No doubt, the context would’ve provided the answer.  The people to whom this is written probably understood exactly what John was referring to, but it remains a mystery to us today.  Usually, a sin that would lead to death would involve some form of ongoing, willful, unrepentant sin – a kind of “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.”  In the context of this letter, John may be referring to the false teachers who have abandoned the key tenets of the faith as well as the congregation.  He already referred to them as “antichrists’ earlier!  He is not inviting his readers to pray for such people because they have willfully rejected Christ and are lost.

            But to those whose sin does not lead to death, he exhorts his followers to pray for them, and God would hear that prayer and give them life – forgiveness.  Stott writes: “The way to deal with sin in the congregation is to pray.  And God hears such prayer.”  However, John reminds us that “All wrongdoing (wickedness, evil) is sin.”  That some sin does not lead to death does not sanitize it, or minimize it. 

            Three: Three certainties (vs. 18 – 20).  John ends his letter with three statements of affirmation, meant to edify his readers, “that you may know,” - notice that each of verses 18, 19 and 20 begin with the words “We know.”  (Stott) “Here are no tentative, hesitant suggestions, but bold, dogmatic affirmations which are beyond all dispute and which neatly summarize truths already introduced in earlier parts of the letter.”  The certainties are these:

*We know someone born of God does not continue to sin.  This does not mean that a Christian never sins, we all know that, but that Christians do not sin habitually or “live in sin.”  And while the believer cannot attain perfection, we ought to be growing in Christ-likeness and sinlessness –and sin should even become abnormal to us.  This life quest of “putting away our old self” is the evidence that we have been truly born of God – and that His Spirit is at work in us.

            The reason we do not continue to sin is that “the one who has been born of God keeps him safe (protected), and the evil one cannot harm him.  This brings up an interesting question as to who is “the one who has been born of God?”  (Discuss textual variant: himself better).  This little variation totally changes the meaning of John’s statement – it is the believer himself who is doing the keeping himself safe, not God.  Those who have been born of God do not go on sinning because they are careful to “keep themselves” (guard themselves) from sinning, and as a result the evil one cannot harm (touch) them.

            So, how do we keep ourselves?  The answer is found in Romans 13:14: “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Marty) “If we want to win the battle of the flesh – and that is the heart of spiritual warfare (armour) – we have to stop feeding the flesh.  We have to let it starve.” Instead, fill yourself with the things of God.  In this translation of the text, we are called to be vigilant to keep (guard) ourselves from sin.  When we do this, we guard ourselves from the power of Satan.  When we choose sin, we become vulnerable to his attacks and open up avenues to his devious ways.

* We know we are God’s children separated from the world. “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.”  This is NT teaching – that Satan has dominion over this world – temporarily. We see in the book of Revelation the confirmation of this – Rev. 12: 7-10; 12.  We also see in this verse that there is a sharp distinction between the saved and unsaved.  As believers we are the children of God, the rest of the world is under the control and influence of the devil – there is no other options, no middle ground.  And because He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world, we can overcome (4:4)

* We know that Jesus is the Son of God who helps us understand what is true.  “We know that the Son of God has come” – affirmation of divine incarnation – and he has provided us with understanding that we may know Him who is true.  Who is “Him” referring to here?  God, the Father, revealed to us through His Son Jesus Christ – he is the one true God and eternal life.

            Fourth: A final exhortation (vs. 21).  John ends his letter strangely, abruptly.  He does address his readers pastorally as “Dear children,” but then tersely says, “keep yourselves from idols.”  What is interesting is that he has not referred to idols in the whole letter up to this point.  In the same way we are to “keep” ourselves from sin (18), we are to “keep” ourselves from idols.  We are as tempted as Israel was to run after idols – what are the idols we are tempted by today?  We can’t live in idolatry and expect to have eternal life in Jesus.

            You may know assurance of eternal life and confidence in prayer if you heed the clearly presented message of First John.  I want to end today with a short review “That You May Know” the message we have been considering over the past few months:

- Purposes stated:

            -We write this to make our joy complete (1:4)

            - I write this to you so that you will not sin (2:1)

            - I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may               know that you have eternal life. (5: 13)

- Overall theme/question: “How to Know You’re a Believer?”

- Content Outline:  Three themes repeated three times – often in the form of a test:

            - Obeying God – The test of Obedience – Genuine believers are obedient to Christ’s         commands.

            - Loving one another – The Test of Love – Genuine believers are characterized by a           practical love for each another.

            - Knowing the truth about Jesus – The test of Doctrine – Genuine believers hold certain    beliefs about Jesus.

- It is offered to some as a message of warning and to some as a message of assurance.

 

OUTLINE – 1 JOHN

* Prologue / Introduction – 1: 1-4

* I.  Obeying God #1 – 1:5 – 2:6.  The Test of Obedience – Genuine believers are obedient to       Christ’s commands.

            A. No Darkness at All – 1: 5-10

            B. The Test of Obedience – 2: 1-6

* II.  Loving One Another #1 – 2: 7-17.  The Test of Love - Genuine believers are characterized   by a practical love for each another.

            A. The Test of Love – 2: 7-11

            B. A Dangerous Love – 2: 12-17

* III. Knowing the Truth About Jesus #1 – 2:18-27.  The Test of Doctrine – Genuine believers hold certain beliefs about Jesus.

            A.  The Importance of Knowing the Truth About Jesus.

*IV. Obeying God #2 – 2: 28 – 3:10

            A. Confident, But Prepared – 2:28 – 3:10

            B. The Incompatibility of Sin – 3: 4-10

* V. Loving One Another #2 – 3: 11-24.

            A. The Call to Love One Another – 3: 11-18.

            B. Blessed Assurance – 3: 19-24.

* VI. Knowing the Truth About Jesus #2 – 4: 1-6.

            A. Testing the Spirits.

* VII. Loving One Another #3 – 4: 7-21.

            A. The Necessary Love of the Christian.

* VIII. Knowing the Truth About Jesus #3 – 5: 1-12.

            A. What Will You Believe?

* IX.  Obeying God #3 – 5: 13-21

            A. That You May Know           

 

 

Sermon: Easter Sunday

This Easter – Remember It’s Only Through Faith That We’re Saved

April 16, 2017

Pastor Dennis Elhard

            There are three essentials to Christianity: faith, hope and love.  While we are told in 1 Corinthians that love is the greatest of the three, faith is the necessary basis of our salvation.  Today as we celebrate the truth about the empty tomb, I want to remind all of us of the critical role faith plays in our relationship with God.  Remember, it’s only through faith that we’re saved.  But do you believe that?  Do you truly believe it – in the gospel of Jesus Christ?

            I want begin today by showing you a video, but I first need to set the scene.  The movie that this is taken from is about the movie industry back in the fifties.  They are in the process of shooting a movie about the story of Christ, and the clip shows the scene of a couple of Roman officers at the site of the crucifixion.   Baird Whitlock is a famous Hollywood actor (in the movie), playing the role of a Roman commander, who begins to recognize the love, mercy, truth and divinity of Jesus at the cross. While his passionate performance inspires the cast and crew, Baird forgets a very important part of his line - "faith."  (Show video)  It seems a bit awkward, doesn’t it?   Making a film about the story of Christ, and can’t remember the word “faith!”

            (Quote) This Easter, millions around the world will attend some type of Good Friday or Easter service.  Most will sit opposite the symbol of a cross and they'll hear someone give an inspiring and passionate depiction of Christ's suffering on that cross. But will they, like Baird Whitlock, forget the most important part - "faith"?  So many of us have heard how wonderful Jesus is... how loving, how wise, how merciful, how He healed, and how He forgave even His executioners.  What is not to be admired?  But what ultimately makes a difference in ones heart is not just recognition and admiration.
            Often it's easier to intellectualize “the what” Jesus did on the cross than it is to
truly believe it.  We can hear convincing apologetics, explaining how the Hebrew
prophecies for the Messiah were fulfilled, establishing an intellectual basis for the
truth of the Gospel.  However, convincing everyone of this "truth" won't inspire lasting
change without faith.  Baird Whitlock, the Roman commander had reverence, understanding, and even an epiphany. Yet he forgot the foundational element of faith.  (End quote)

            So how does one “forget” faith?  The way we can forget faith is to never really fully embrace it – or to ignore it or treat it with apathy.  However, some may have a measure of faith, but not fullness of faith.  Will a measure of faith save a person?  I’m glad I don’t have to answer that question – only God can because he knows the heart.  Another possible way to describe forgotten faith could be “Ineffective faith.” 

            First: Ineffective faith:  I want to suggest three characteristics of ineffective faith, in order to help us examine our own faith.

A. Ineffective faith often falters (Matt. 14:25-31).  Peter actually shows an incredible amount of faith in this story – impulsive faith, no doubt, but faith enough to get out of the boat and start walking.  But when he took his eyes off of Jesus and began to consider the wind and the waves (circumstances), his faith began to falter and he started to sink.  After Jesus saves him and they’re back in the boat, Jesus says to Peter, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”  Peter’s faith was effective to motivate him, but not effective enough to sustain him.

            Another example from Peter’s life comes with his three-time denial of Jesus.  Again, initially Peter’s faith motivated him to say to Jesus, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”  But after vehemently denying that knew Jesus three times, the rooster crowed, Jesus turned and looked him and he ran away devastated.  Ineffective (impulsive) faith often falters when the pressure is on.  But we can also take encouragement from the stories of Peter, because weak faith can become strong faith with God’s help.  Peter became a rock of faith!

B. Ineffective faith is marked by an unchanged life.  A faith that is not effective does not produce a transformed life.  In Matthew 3:7-8, John the Baptist thunders to the Pharisees and Sadducees who were coming to see what was going on, “You brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?  Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”  A faith in Jesus that is repentant and genuine will produce fruit in your life – after all we become new creations!  Just as a fruit tree is expected to bear fruit, God’s people should produce a crop of good deeds. “The evidence of real inner spiritual life is always the fruit of a changed external life.”

            In Mark 7: 6-7 we read about the confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees concerning the issue of ceremonial hand-washing.  In his frustration, Jesus replies: “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.  They worship me in vain; their teachings (traditions) are but rules made by men’.”  Here Jesus is chastising a religion that is merely going through the motions, but there is no involvement of the heart.  Let me make this clear today – God wants your heart - no external actions will be accepted without the involvement of the heart.  Hypocrites give only lip-service to God.  Biblical faith is best defined as active obedience that flows from a heart of love for God.  Ineffective faith gives only lip-service to God, goes through the motions of faith without any heart involvement or without any real life change.  How productive are you for God?  Are you producing the fruit of a changed life?

C. Ineffective faith seldom goes beyond words.  We just talked about an ineffective faith that only goes through the motions, while this is a faith that is one of cheap talk.  Some people talk a lot about faith, but that is all it is – talk.  They may know all the right words to say, but it is not backed up by action.  In James 2: 15-18 we read these words: “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If someone says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed’, but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.  But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’  Show me your faith without deeds and I will show you my faith by what I do.”  (1 John 3: 18)  There is a big difference between knowing the right words and living them out.  There’s an even bigger difference between knowing all the right answers about Christ, and living in faith and obedience to his teachings.

            This was illustrated in the video clip. Many a man can be eloquent in his religious proclamation, able to recite popular passages in great detail.  But can we be sure this is the life changing acceptance of Christ for salvation, and not (like Baird Whitlock) just an Oscar caliber performance?  Whitlock certainly did wax eloquent in his performance, and seemed truly moved by the scene and events represented in the movie.  However, he forgot the most important aspect of a relationship with Jesus – faith, and the life faith calls us to.  Ineffective faith seldom goes beyond words.  Don’t be content to merely have the right answers about Christ. 

            Is your life characterized by an ineffective faith?  I urge you even today to open up your heart to him and receive him by faith as Saviour and Lord – he will come and save you and change you.  Remember, it’s only through faith that we are saved.

            Second: Saving faith:  In contrast to an ineffective faith we have saving faith.  This is the kind of faith that brings about genuine salvation.  What are the characteristics of saving faith?

A. Saving faith is a gift of God’s grace (Eph. 2:8-10).  Saving faith is first of all a gift from God.  Our salvation is a result of his initiation.  “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith.”  Notice that “Christians are saved by God’s grace, not by their faith.  Faith is the means by which this grace is received.”  Faith is our response to the grace and gift of God – but it is necessarily a response that comes from the heart (Rom. 10:9).  It is not of our own works, we cannot earn the grace of God; we can only receive the gift by faith.  However, in order to possess the gift of grace and salvation, we must receive it – as one would when offered any kind of gift.

            A problem too many Christians have is that they stop at verse nine and ignore ten.  We have no basis to boast because we are God’s workmanship; however there is a purpose for our salvation in that it should result in good works.  Salvation is not “from” works, but it is surely “for” works – that is, living obediently and productively.  So, salvation is a gift of God’s grace which we receive through faith for the expressed purpose of producing good fruit and good works in our lives.

B. Saving faith is necessary to please God.  Hebrews 11:6 makes this astounding statement: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”  There is no ability or possibility to please God without the element of faith.  To “forget” faith keeps you from gaining the favour of the Lord Almighty.  To come to trust him with all of our heart is the place he wants to be – like Enoch. 

            The context of this verse comes in the “Hall of faith”, and the author of Hebrews has just mentioned Enoch as an example of great faith.  Enoch did not experience death, but was just taken away one day by the Lord.  Why?  Because it says in Genesis that he was a man “who walked with God” (in faith) - and God was so pleased with him that he allowed him to escape physical death.   Faith pleases God, and it is the kind of faith that is exercised when the situation doesn’t look that good.  When you struggle to find faith, be like the father of the boy with the unclean spirit who cried out to Jesus, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

C. Saving faith rests on what Christ has done.  The NLT translates Romans 5:1 this way: “Sonow, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith in his promises, we can have real peace with him because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.”  We can have real “peace” – love that word.  It’s from the Hebrew word Shalom.  We tend to think of peace merely as an “absence of conflict,” and while this word includes that (enemies of God); it is much more encompassing than that – meaning a general sense of harmonious well-being.  That’s the kind of “shalom” available to us through salvation – we have harmony with God.

            This peace is available because of what Jesus Christ has done for us.  What he has done for us is what we have been pondering and celebrating throughout this weekend.  He has died for you and for me – a vicarious death – in which he took our sin upon himself in order that we might receive forgiveness.  Like the old song says: “He paid a debt he did not owe, I owed a debt I could not pay.”  God, in his infinite love, sent his Son to earth pay that debt in full.  But the benefits of that payment are only for those who receive the Son by faith – by believing from the heart what Jesus has done on your behalf.

            Today we celebrate an empty tomb – the truth of the resurrection.  Jesus has won the victory over death and Satan - the mourning of Good Friday replaced by the ecstasy of the morning of Easter.  The resurrection is the greatest and most important event in all of history.  Why do I say that?  First of all, it is proof that Jesus was who he claimed to be – the divine Son of God.  Who else could pull that off?  It also offers to us who believe the assurance that we too will inherit eternal life.  If Jesus was resurrected, so shall we be – in Romans it says “that he (Jesus) might be the firstborn among many brothers (and sisters). 

            Saving faith rests on what Christ has done.  It does not come from anything we can accomplish in our own strength; it goes to the cross and the tomb to find salvation and rest for the soul.  I hope that you have found this peace in your own life – if not, why not find it today?  Remember it’s only through faith we are saved.  Do you believe it?  Do you truly believe it?

 

 

Sermon: 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Flawless

April 23, 2017

Pastor Bryan Watson

 

The title of the sermon today is “Flawless”, and the scripture passage is from 2 Corinthians 5: 16-21.  I’ll be reading from the ESV. 

16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.[b] The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling[c] the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Last weekend, we celebrated Easter.  We acknowledged Christ's agonizing death on the cross, as so aptly predicted hundreds of years earlier by the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 53:5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

Then on Sunday morning, we met together in this building, and shared a brunch together.  After that, we joined together in this sanctuary and we celebrated His resurrection... His victory over death by rising from the dead.  We rejoiced in the words of Matthew 28:5-6 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.

But WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THESE EVENTS?  The stock Sunday School answer is that Jesus died so that I could be forgiven of all my sins and go to Heaven.  And in it's simplest form, that is true.  But if it remains superficial, now that my Easter supper is over, I will probably go whistling on my merry way; going back to living life the way I lived it before I gave up chocolate for Lent, until next year comes along and we do it all over again, trying to make up for my personal sacrifice by eating 40 days worth of Cadbury crème eggs on Easter morning.

There’s go to be more to it than that.

When I was developing this message, one of the sources I referenced was some material from Answers in Genesis called the “7 C’s of History.”  This concept does a remarkable job of summarizing the significance of what happened on Calvary. 

Friends, I want to invite you to walk with me through a little history lesson. 

1. Creation

The first C of history is Creation.  In the beginning, God created.  Perfect Love created.  And what did He create?  Everything!  The Earth, the sun, the moon, the stars.  Land and water.  Birds and fish and animals.  Grass and trees and flowers.  And man and woman.  And what kind of things would Perfect Love create?  Perfect and lovely things.  We can't even imagine the perfection. 

For five days, God created.  At the end of each day, He reviewed His work and said that it was good.  By the end of the sixth day, God had also made Adam and Eve.  This time, however, when He reviewed His work, He didn’t just declare it as good.  Genesis 1:31 says that “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.”  It.  Was.  Flawless. 

2. Corruption

There was just one simple rule.  Don't eat that one fruit from that one tree.  That's it.  Everything else is yours to enjoy to your heart's desire.  You have dominion over everything!  Just don't eat that one fruit, or you will die.  You can't say you don't know, because you’ve been told.  Just enjoy everything else I have given to you and leave that one fruit alone. 

But Adam and Eve couldn't leave it alone.  And that sets the table for our second C of history: Corruption.

With a little help from a prideful and rebellious angel who was himself cast out of God's presence, Adam and Eve wanted the one thing that they couldn't have, and they rebelled by eating the fruit, and disobeying their Creator.  And they became covered in their own sin, like a thick suffocating tar that you see on birds in an oil spill.  They couldn't undo it, and they couldn't fix it on their own.  And the word "flawless" no longer applied.  Instead, it was replaced by the word, “corrupted”.

According to the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary, the word “corrupt” comes from the Latin word which means, “to break.”  Literally, to break, separate, or dissolve.  We became broken and separated from God and His flawlessness. 

The aging process kicked in at that point, and at a molecular level, Adam and Eve, and the rest of creation, began to die.  Weeds grew and choked out the good plants.  Animals turned on each other and started to eat each other.  Arthritis and cancer and dementia made their appearance.  "For dust you are, and to dust you will return" became the new reality.  No longer could the world be called "flawless." 

But the corruption wasn’t just limited to the physical.  We became corrupt at the spiritual level as well.  No longer did Adam and Eve enjoy the fellowship they once had walking with God in the Garden.  Separated from God, man’s destiny eternal damnation without a redemption that we can’t provide for ourselves.  There is perhaps no greater illustration of this than in Genesis 3:24.  Referring to God, it says, 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.

3. Catastrophe

History tells the tale of a world that is flawed.  Man’s sinful nature resulted in him become more depraved over time.  This descent into depravity brings us to our third C of history: Catastrophe. 

Genesis 6:5-8 says, 5 The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7 So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. 

So, through a catastrophe, through a global flood, God wiped out the entire world except for 1 man and his family and the animals that were taken upon the ark.  And yet still, in generations to come, flawed man and his flawed thinking would result in wars and famines and all kinds of abuses, while new diseases appeared and natural disasters like volcanoes and earthquakes took their own swipes at the human race.  Man's lifespan went from around 900 years down to about 75 years in only a few millennia, and the fossil record, with layers upon layers of diseased dead things, tells the tragic tale of a beautiful world gone sour.

4. Confusion

The fourth C of history is Confusion.  Only a few generations after this, the human race had repopulated itself.  However, instead of honouring God’s command to “fill the earth and subdue it” as He commanded in Genesis 1:28, man in his corrupted state had other plans.  According to Genesis 11:4, 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” 

So once again, God intervened, this time confusing their language so that they could not understand each other.  This resulted in the dispersion from Babel and led to the many languages that we have in the world today.

And throughout Old Testament history, God continued to reach out to the world, reminding us of His perfection and calling us to repentance through the Law and the sacrificial system.  Only perfect animals without blemish... flawless animals... were acceptable for sacrifice.  In fact, 36 times in the Pentateuch (or the first 5 books of the Bible)  the phrase "without blemish" is used to describe the offering required by God.  And still, this was not enough to provide salvation once and for all.  It was required over and over and over again.

5. Christ

Finally, in the fullness of time, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, perfect in all His ways... flawless... to pay the only price that was enough to redeem a fallen world.  This is the fifth C of history: Christ.  Listen to the words of John the Baptist in John 1:19, when He saw Jesus approaching:  29 “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’” 

Christ came and showed us how to live.  His teachings have provided us with timeless truths that are studied and loved by people thousands of years later.  He lived a perfect, sinless life and became the flawless lamb of God that was required to redeem us.

6. Cross

And so, for the sixth C of history, Christ went to the Cross, the spotless lamb of God to His sacrifice, as a remedy to the corruption that separated man from God. 

You know, everywhere I turn, I see the world looking for a hero.  Just look at Hollywood.  Spiderman, Batman, Superman, X-men.  The world is longing to be saved, whether they recognize it or not.  But we GOT our hero.  You see, His blood on THAT cross, was the price required to undo what was done in Eden in that first act of disobedience.  And in that moment, all that ugly, sticky, tar-like sin was washed away by the Blood of the Lamb.  Yes, we got our hero, and His name is Jesus Christ.

In John 19:30, Jesus said, It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

It is finished.  The reason it is finished is because THE CROSS WAS ENOUGH, for those who choose to accept it.  But if you don’t accept it, the cross will never be enough.

Hebrews 9:13-15 describes perfectly what happened at the Cross:

13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify[a] for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our[b]conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.

7. Consummation

And all these diseases and birth defects, natural disasters and fighting and persecution; this brokenness that began when man first rebelled against God, all this personal baggage that we have accumulated through years, sometimes entire lives, of sin and rebellion;  all of it was placed there at the foot of the cross while His Blood spilled down upon them.  The Cross was enough!

And so we come to the seventh C of history: Consummation.  The “Blessed Hope” that Christ will return again to usher in the final stage of world history, and all those whose name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life will spend forever with Him in Heaven. 

Until that day comes, are we still going to suffer and die?  On this side of Heaven, yes.  Even though we are saved by grace, we still bear the consequences of a fallen world, as well as the consequences of our own actions.  But unlike life without the Cross,  I know that my death in this life only ushers in my entrance into Paradise, and the crushing weight of this flawed world is instantly wiped away by the Flawless once again.  And when that happens, we will never... read... an obituary... again.  Ever. 

2 Corinthians 5:17 says 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.[b] The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

And in Revelation 21:5, Jesus saysBehold, I make all things new.”

The Cross was enough.  And the Cross has made you flawless.

I want to close my message with a video by the Christian band Mercy Me. 

YOU'VE BEEN MADE FLAWLESS... NOW WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?