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Entries in Gospel (16)

Tuesday
Aug292017

The City of the Living God

Hebrews 12:18-24.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on August 27, 2017.

As we continue through this chapter about the believer’s faith, it may appear that this section is a tangent.  However, it is important to recognize that the unseen, heavenly realities are a critical part of our faith.  We have put our faith in the God of far more glorious things than those of this earth.  The temptation to gravitate towards that which can be seen must be overcome by faith in God.

When early Jews began turning towards Christ and His Church, it left many of them with a sense that they were losing some very awesome and amazing things, at least during the 40 years from the death of Jesus to the destruction of the Temple.  The pomp and circumstance of Jerusalem and its temple, priests and sacrifices had no physical correlation in the Church.  Just as idols tempted early Israelites away from worshipping the Living God (or at least mixing His worship with the surrounding idolatry), so early Christians were tempted to go back into Judaism because of its greater physicality (or, again mixing the two).  The writer of Hebrews, and in fact the Holy Spirit, was encouraging early believers that our faith is based on glorious, spiritual realities that far outshine the Old Covenant established by Moses.  Thus Christians should stand firm against the pull of their flesh back towards the Old Covenant.  We too have a tendency to try and build physical things that become more important to us than those spiritual realities.

Christians have a city, a temple, and a high priest that is spiritual and in the heavens as opposed to the earthly Jerusalem.  This does not mean that the earthly Jerusalem is no longer important to Christians.  Prophecy tells us that much is still to take place at that place on this globe that is important to God.  So let’s look at this comparison between the Old Testament (or covenant) of the Law and the New Testament of the Gospel.

The Old Covenant through Moses

In verses 18-21 we are reminded just what the covenant of Moses entailed.  As mentioned earlier, the terms Old Testament and Old Covenant are synonymous in this context.  Both are a reference to the agreement made between God and Israel at Mt. Sinai.  The Old Covenant was made at a specific place on earth.  Thus he emphasizes that it can be touched, which is indicative of the Old Covenant.  It was full of material things here on earth that could be touched and seen.  For example, when a person sinned they physically took a cow, ram, or dove to the temple and it was killed on a literal altar by a human priest.  Though the problem of sin is ultimately a spiritual problem before a spiritual God, the actions proscribed were mostly physical.

We are also reminded of the terrifying nature of their experience at Mt. Sinai.  This would be a fact that the early Christians could forget because they were 1,400 years after this event.  The biblical passage that underlies this passage is Exodus 19-20.  In this passage we are told that as they approached the mountain it was covered by a dark cloud with thunder and lightning.    Then it says that the LORD descended on the mountain as a fire, which caused smoke to ascend from it like a furnace.  On top of this all, the mountain shook from an earthquake.  As if that wasn’t enough to get their attention, a loud trumpet blast sounded from the mountain and got louder and louder.  Then Moses spoke to the LORD and an audible voice from the mountain commanded Moses to come up the mountain. 

We are also reminded that the people were also threatened with death.  God warned the people that any person or animal that touched the mountain would be put to death.  Thus a barrier was constructed between the people and the mountain.  It is clear that the giving of the Law is purposefully associated with a terrifying fear of the LORD by God Himself under threat of death.  The Law hedged them in on every side pointing out their sins.  If not for God’s mercy they could not have survived this relationship.  Over and over again they broke God’s covenant as a people and as individuals throughout those 1,400+ years.

But, the New Covenant through Jesus

In verses 22-24 he shows them that the New Covenant through Jesus is so much better and more desirable.  In a parallel manner we are shown the better aspects of the New Covenant.  As the old was made on earth, the new was made in heaven.  Yes, Jesus died on earth, but the New Covenant is actually created in heaven.  Hebrews 9 speaks of Jesus ascending into the Heavenly Temple, presenting Himself before God, and purifying the heavenly altar once and for all with His own blood.  This is much of the imagery we see in the Book of the Revelation.  The term Mt. Zion was often used of the earthly area in Jerusalem where the temple was.  However, throughout the prophets it is clear that they also speak of the heavenly temple of God as the higher Mt. Zion.  Thus just as we have an earthly city called Jerusalem with the temple of God or Mt. Zion as the place of God’s throne, so there is a Heavenly Jerusalem with a heavenly Mt. Zion upon which the Heavenly Temple, Throne of God resides.  From there God and His Divine Council govern the affairs of the heavens and the earth.   Again, this is the backdrop for most of the Book of the Revelation.  Though we cannot fly airplanes or rockets to God’s throne room, it is real.  In fact, it is more substantial than the temporary courts of mankind, which pass like the flowers of the field.  Now I understand that it can be terrifying to think of standing before God in heaven, but here we see that the Covenant of Christ bids us to come and join the family of God.  That is why it is called the Gospel, or Good News.  The atmosphere of the New Covenant is this invitation to intimate relationship with our Maker.

We are then told that this heavenly city is full of heavenly beings.  There are an innumerable company of angels (Revelation speaks of myriads of myriads).  Though some of them have fallen with the devil, there are still millions, if not billions, that are faithful to God.  Next we are told that we are a part of the General Assembly.  Some see this as synonymous with the next phrase “Church of the Firstborn.”  However, the General Assembly seems to be everyone, both angels and humans, all the faithful of creation.  The Church of the Firstborn refers only to humans who have been called out of the world to belong to Jesus, who is the Firstborn.  Our names are not registered in an earthly place where the nation could be destroyed and records lost.  Instead our names are registered in heaven where nothing can touch it or destroy it.  It is kept safe by God Himself.  We are also coming to God, who is the Judge of all things.  We are also coming to the spirits of just men made perfect.  This is our destiny.  We too will enter the spirit realm and take our place among the just that have been made perfect.  At this point we are not perfected yet.  But by faith we trust Jesus as the author and finisher/perfecter of our faith.  They are spirits now because they have left their earthly bodies behind, but the Resurrection has not occurred yet.  Eventually we will all have immortal, heavenly bodies.  This reminds us that God is bringing us to a higher order of existence, which is similar to what angels enjoy now.  Imagine being a part of a nation of angels and immortal, perfected men.  Who would want to go back to any earthly nation of this world from that?

One being is left to be mentioned and that is Jesus Himself.  In Jesus the New Covenant has much more precious service than the Old Covenant.  Jesus is the mediator between us and God.  This mediation occurred at the time that the Covenant was created.  This means that Jesus is our High Priest and He serves us in heaven.  This will never change or be handed down to a descendant.  Jesus does not offer multiple sacrifices throughout all of time.  Instead, He offered himself once and for all.  1 Timothy 2:5 says, “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ.”  This past mediation becomes the foundation for His present intercession on our behalf.  It also mentions the “blood of sprinkling.”  This refers to the sacrifice.  Blood from the sacrifice would be sprinkled upon the altar, thereby removing sin from the individual.  Notice that it says the blood of Jesus speaks of better things than that of Abel’s.  Some have connected this to the blood of Abel’s sacrifice.  This makes sense if you focus upon the sacrificial aspect of the death of Jesus.  However, the passage emphasizes what the blood is saying (Abel’s blood speaks something that is not better and Jesus’ blood speaks something better).  This clearly links to the record in Genesis 4 where God says that Abel’s own blood (shed by Cain) was crying out to God from the ground.  Though we are not told what this blood cries out for, we must compare it to what Jesus cried out when He was dying.  “Father, forgive them.  They do not know what they are doing.”  If the blood of Jesus cries out to the Father to be forgiving then Abel’s blood cries out for something less than forgiveness.  It would seem that Abel’s blood is crying out for justice because God places a curse upon Cain for what he has done.  So what is God’s response to the Blood of Jesus and it’s cry of forgiveness?  His answer is this.  He will forgive anyone who repents of their sins and puts their faith in Jesus.  Have you done this today?  If you have done this, are you tempted to add to the Gospel all manner of visible aspects of the Law to assuage your flesh?  Let us hear the call of Jesus to those who are weary and heavy laden.  Come to Him and find rest.  Repent of your sins today and follow Jesus by faith.  Don’t be tempted to go back under the Law of Moses, but instead, walk with the Spirit of God and live out the righteousness of Christ.  Our destiny is to take our place in the Heavenly Jerusalem among the glorious beings and having a glory of our own.

City of the Living God audio

Thursday
Jul272017

Slaves to Righteousness

Romans 6:15-23.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on July 23, 2017.

Last week we looked at the first half of this chapter and focused on how our water baptism symbolizes and highlights the new life that we are given in Jesus Christ.  This new life is not a life that is exactly the same as the world, yet covered by “Jesus Insurance.”  It really is a new life where we grow in our ability to walk away from the unrighteousness of the world and our own flesh. 

Now in this passage the Apostle Paul uses the imagery of slavery to make a point.  Now, I know that such imagery can be offensive to many, but please recognize that Paul is not advocating slavery here.  So, instead of letting this become a red herring, let us try to focus on the Paul’s argument that Christians should not continue in a life of willful sin.  Simply put, he reminds believers that they have been freed from sin so that they can follow Jesus.  May God help us to truly follow Jesus and experience the new life that God has for us in Christ.

Our change in status is put in terms of slavery

In verse 1 Paul contemplates a sort of “godly sinner.”  Clearly this is an oxymoron, but what I mean by it is a person who does not claim to reject Christ, but instead have come up with a religious argument why it is okay for them to continue in sin.  They see nothing wrong with sinning because it is covered by the grace of Jesus.  Paul answers the person who thinks their continued sinning somehow glorifies how great God’s grace really is with a very strong rejection of such a thought.  The phrase is literally, “may it never be!”  It is a categorical rejection of such an idea.  Thus in verse 15 he contemplates this same issue in relationship to our status as a slave under the law versus a free child of God under grace.  Paul does not give a fully explored and neatly outlined theology.  But, he does give us enough to understand what is right in this area.  The people to whom Paul is writing were well acquainted with slavery.  It was around them every day.  Paul uses this imagery to speak in a powerful way to both free and slave alike.  No free person desires to be a slave, and most slaves want to be free.  So what about the person who treats God’s grace as a license to be able to do anything?  Paul’s answer again is, “May it never be!” 

Now this is a very important concept because there are some in Christianity who are so afraid of legalism that they push grace to the point that Paul is talking about here.  I would call this a hyper-grace theology.  Christians have truly been set free, but not in order to keep on sinning.  Instead we have been set free to fight against sin without guilt and fear.  This is the proper understanding of grace.

In verse 16 Paul reminds us that we are a slave to that which we obey.  Notice that Paul uses an interesting turn of phrase.  Though he is saying they are becoming slaves, he expresses it in a way that emphasizes their freedom, “to whom you present yourselves.”  The picture is of a slave presenting themselves to their master for instructions.  A Christian is no longer a slave to sin, but they can still make the mistake of presenting themselves to sin.  Don’t be deceived.  If you do this you will become a slave to sin all over again.  To obey sin is to present yourself to it, receive its instructions, and then do it.  This always leads to death in the end.  Such “obedience” is actually disobedience to Christ.  We were not raised up to plunge into the same old life of sin.  How can a Christian be a slave to sin?  The answer is simply because they use their freedom to rebel against the command of God, and love themselves above all else.  Let me use the example of the Pharisees who confronted Jesus.  Their problem was not that they wanted to be righteous before God and their fellow man.  Their problem was that they refused to listen to God’s message through the Law- you fall short and need my grace.  Instead of seeking a righteousness from God by grace, they clung to the self-righteousness of their own making.

In verses 17-18 we see that the Gospel has freed us from being sin’s slave so that we can become slaves of righteousness.  The Gospel comes to all of us when we are slaves to sin and our flesh.  The “form of doctrine,” or teaching that they received, was the teaching of true righteousness, which can only be found in Jesus.  Paul continues the slavery terminology by saying that they were delivered from sin to this new master of the Truth of Christ, and his true righteousness.  When they believed the Gospel, they then obeyed its instructions: they repented of their life of sin, and confessed Jesus as their Resurrected Lord.  Sin no longer had dominion over them, but that does not mean they are “free” from the Gospel that set them free.

Now in verse 19 Paul makes it clear that he is using terms from the human situation of slavery because of their weakness of understanding, and their weakness towards sin.  They needed to stop serving sin and start serving the righteousness of Christ.  It is clear that Paul is uncomfortable in couching this teaching in these terms.  Grace really is about freedom.  It is the freedom to actually be able to follow Jesus, and live out the true righteousness by faith.  Anyone who teaches that freedom means you can sin if you want to do so is lying.  Sin is bondage.  So even though Grace is truly freedom and not slavery, he uses those terms for the sake of understanding.  Ultimately he is reminding us all that we are not our own.  We have been bought with a price, the blood of Jesus.  Christians are those who refuse to serve sin anymore, and begin serving Jesus.  If we continue to serve sin it will just lead us to more sin, until eventually we are destroyed by it.  But serving the righteousness of Christ will lead to holiness; a person that is set apart by God and by their life for His purposes, not sin’s.

What does our slavery produce?

In verse 20 Paul points to the reality of what our slavery produces.  When Israel was in Egypt, their slavery produced bricks for Pharaoh’s glory.  But when they served God, He led them to the freedom of producing life for themselves, and to God’s glory.  Imagine being set free by God, but then turning around and going back to Egypt in order to make bricks.  Paul is challenging us to think about what our choice in this matter leads to.

If I obey sin, it will only lead me to shameful things and then death (vs. 20).  When we were sinners we weren’t worried about what Jesus thought.  We were too busy sinning and pleasing our master, sin.  This implies that Christians should be too busy serving the righteousness of Christ that we no longer give thought to pleasing sin.  Of course, that is easier said than done.  Why go back to shame and death?  There are some who believe that a Christian is somehow immune to the effects of sin.  Even if you repent and are forgiven, sin still produces death in our lives.  If you are unfaithful and your wife leaves you, she may not come back just because you repent.  However, Paul’s emphasis here is not on the singular consequences of a particular sin.  It is on the end product of living our life in service to sin.  It leads to physical and spiritual death.  Remember Paul’s words to the Galatian Christians in Galatians 6:7-8, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.  For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.”  Grace does not make us immune to the effects of sin.  Rather, it provides a way out from under its tyranny and dominion.

In contrast to this, to serve God produces holiness and everlasting life.  God wants us to follow Jesus by the help of the Holy Spirit.  This is what produces everlasting life.  Think of all the grace that God has given us.  He has freed us from sin and its dominion.  He has shown us the True Righteousness that is found in Jesus.  Yes, His righteousness saves us and sets us free.  But then His grace enables us to live out his righteousness too.  Thus, serving God is like a tree of righteousness in our life producing the fruit of holiness and a new life that is eternal.

So what is the conclusion of the matter?  Verse 23 lays it all out in a succinct statement, but we should also notice the change in his terminology.  When speaking of sin, he keeps it in terms of Law and slavery.  If you work for sin you will be paid death, period.  But, if you are under grace Paul drops the slavery terms.  The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.  Slavery terms are very appropriate for a person who is living for their flesh and sin because that is exactly what it is.  But they are not the most appropriate terms for our New Life in Christ.  We really have been set free in Christ to now produce the righteousness of God.  So the choice is before us.  Will we choose death or choose life?  Let’s choose life by voluntarily presenting ourselves to God, through Jesus.  He will set us free from sin and give us eternal life!

Slaves to Righteousness audio

Sunday
May072017

Walking Worthy of Our Calling

Ephesians 4:1-6 & Matthew 22:1-14.  This sermon was delivered by Pastor Marty Bonner on May 7, 2017.

We apologize that there is no audio for this sermon.

Over the last two weeks we have been talking about the wisdom of this world versus the wisdom of God.  This ended last week with the Apostle James stating that those who are truly wise should prove it by their good conduct done in meekness.  Today we are going to pick up on this concept that the wisdom of God leads to a life of good conduct done in meekness.  These are not the words that Paul uses in Ephesians 4.  However, it will become obvious that he has the same idea in mind.  What James calls “pure and undefiled” religion (James 1:27), the Apostle Paul calls “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”

It is easy to point to religion as the problem.  But the Bible does not just offer religion.  It offers a pure and undefiled religion that is worthy of the calling to which God has called us.  Some make a better distinction by pointing to extremists within religion.  They are the true problem.  Sure, extremists can cause problems.  But it fails to recognize that even a moderate religion that is untrue is harmful to an individual and the world.  The real problem is our refusal to let God cleanse our understandings of the world around us.  In a sense, it is our refusal to be broken out of the virtual reality that the Powers of this Age have immersed us in.  People who follow Jesus are not the problem.  Rather, it is people who pretend that they are following Jesus, or at the least, who follow a pale shadow of the true Jesus and his teachings.  Let’s look at our passage.

The Call of God

Verse 1, of Ephesians 4, begins with Paul calling himself a “prisoner of the Lord.”  The main point for this distinction is to remind the Ephesians and us who is really in charge.  Paul had been arrested in Jerusalem and then he had appealed to Caesar.  This led to him being in Rome under house arrest.  It would be easy in such a situation for Paul to be so focused on Rome and its antagonism towards God’s call upon his life that he would lose sight of God’s sovereignty.  Paul wrote at least 4 New Testament letters during this time of arrest and most likely wrote many other letters that we do not have.  He is a prisoner of man, but also a prisoner in the Lord.  God had a plan through this and Paul trusted Him.  So what is this call that Paul is talking about in verse 1?

Ultimately the call is God crying out to mankind, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  (Matthew 11:28).  The call is the gracious offer of God to save us from the effects of our sin, both corporate and individual.  We are saved by grace because there is no other salvation possible, but by God, and He is not obligated to do so.  Even if we felt God had a moral obligation to try and save mankind, we have taken his grace for granted over and over again, often throwing it back in His face.  Yet, God graciously continues to offer salvation to the world.  We are saved through faith because we must believe in God and follow His directions.  It is called the Gospel of Jesus because He is the one who not only explains the plan of salvation, but also accomplishes the salvation.  The good news is that our savior has come and our salvation has been obtained. 

Paul describes this calling in verses 11-15 of this chapter.   Notice how he points to the purpose behind all that God is doing in the Church, those who have responded to His call.  The whole purpose is to help us become fully like Jesus.  As an individual the arrow of your heart needs to be towards Jesus.  However, this is not done in our own strength.  It is the Spirit of God who supplies people that He has gifted to teach.  It is the Spirit of God who has supplied us with a written account of His words, the Bible.  And, it is the Spirit of God that supplies an inner witness to our hearts of what Jesus desires of us.

This call is to anyone who will listen.  It is not limited by any race, geography, or economic status.  John 3:16 demonstrates that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  The call is to “whoever” would believe it.  Christians are called to take the good news about Jesus and His salvation to the ends of the earth.  2 Peter 3:9 makes the desire of God even clearer.  “The Lord is not slow concerning His promise, as some count slowness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”  He does not want anyone to perish and is gives a mission to those who answer His call:  Be my ambassador to extend this call to the ends of the earth.

Walking worthy of our calling

So what exactly is meant by walking worthy of our calling, which is to be made over in the image of Jesus Christ?  Verse 2 lists several character issues, and from other passages we know that this, by no means, is exhaustive.  Basically Paul is telling us that character matters.  He starts with “lowliness.”  It is a reference to our mindset.  It is a person who does not think of themselves as higher than others.  It is interesting to think that Jesus, who is Lord of the heavens and the earth, was lowly of mind.  This is highlighted in Philippians 2:5 and following.  To walk worthy of our calling is to walk with humility before God and others.  The next word is “gentleness.”  This word is sometimes translated meekness and refers to an inner disposition and calmness of spirit.  They are not just gentle on the outside, but on the inside as well.  Next is “longsuffering.”  This term regarding patience is about not quickly losing your temper, which flows into the next phrase, “bearing one another.”  Instead of losing our temper, we have a long fuse, and carry along the heavy things about each other.  It is not just about helping other people, but also putting up with their opinions and actions.  Any group that is going to stay connected has to learn to carry the imperfections of each other.  All of this is to be done “in love.”  Now Paul is not saying that a worthy walk is a perfect walk.  He is not a perfect man telling the Church to be more perfect.  Rather, it is about Christians helping each other to be perfected by the Holy Spirit.  Church is not a place of perfect people, but a place of people being perfected.  In fact, the same could be said about this life.  Quit seeking the perfect life and understand that life itself is perfecting you.  It is easy to be so worried about someone else judging us, that we forget we will be judged by God.  Don’t be deceived, God is saving you so that you can change and become like Jesus in character and action.  If you say you are answering that call then show it by living in a manner that agrees with your words.

Paul also brings up the issue of unity in verse 3.  This has become a buzz word over the course of the 20th century.  Yet, notice that it is a “unity of the Spirit.”  Unity is not something that leaders and Christians can engineer, or make happen.  The world and worldly churches turn to forceful mechanisms in order to “make peace.”  However, this is not a true peace.  To say, “There will be unity when you agree with us,” is not what Paul has in mind.  True, Jesus and His Apostles laid down, once and for all, the Faith that all believers should embrace.  However, the key to unity is when everyone in a church is looking to the Holy Spirit and walking in harmony with Him (i.e. walking worthy of our calling.)  Unity is something with demonstrates the level to which we are all walking in harmony with God’s Spirit.  Any other form is the wisdom of this world and not the wisdom of God.  Paul goes on for the rest of this section to emphasize that there is one Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and that we have received one baptism, faith, and hope.  When we have a living connection with the Spirit of God, He creates unity, but not uniformity.  God’ signature is diversity within unity.  This is why the world can never have true peace and true unity.  They have embraced the wisdom of the Powers of this Age and not the wisdom of God.  They refuse the wisdom of Jesus and continue to create their own wisdom.  Such wisdom is fractured at its source and doomed to failure by its rejection of the Creator.

Paul does not mention the issue of being chosen by God.  But I believe it is critical to discuss at this juncture.  Throughout the Scripture we see the dual concepts of God’s call and God’s choosing, or election.  So let’s look at a parable that Jesus tells in Matthew 22:1-14 to explore what it means to be “called” versus “chosen.”

In this passage there is a call or invitation that is being sent out and there are also several categories of “unworthy” people.  Let’s first understand that Jesus is describing God’s call (as the King) for people to apart of His Kingdom celebration of the wedding of his Son (i.e. The people of God receiving Christ and coming into relationship with Him).  The servants who bear the message are the prophets of God who have been faithful throughout history to declare God’s call to the world.  The first category of “unworthy” people is those who didn’t think the invitation worth a response.  They simply didn’t respond and are apathetic to the call.  The next group is mixed, but they have one thing in common.  They are all caustic towards the call, to some degree.  If the first group is neutral, this group is negative.  Some merely ridicule the call and make light of it.  Others actively abuse the messengers, and still others actually kill some of the messengers.  Clearly this is a response that is unworthy of benefiting from the call of God.  The last group is pictured by the individual who actually comes to the wedding.  He accepts the invitation, but refuses to comply with the conditions and stipulations of the King.  It was common in those days for a King to supply mandatory garments for state functions like this.  Thus the parable implies that the man came to the event, but refused to put on the wedding garments.  He did not care for the King’s wishes, but rather only cared about what he wanted.  He liked his garments better than those supplied by the King.  This is important because Paul uses this concept of putting off and putting on clothing as a metaphor for righteous works.  Christians are called to put off the dead works of our self-righteousness and put on the living works of the righteousness of Jesus.  The man who is being expelled was called and even responded to the invitation.  But, he did not comply with the conditions and thus is not chosen.  Verse 14, “Many are called, but few are chosen.”  This is similar to the verse in Matthew 7:22-23.  Jesus said, “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness!’”  These had answered the call and even had an outward showing of righteousness.  But putting on the righteousness of Christ begins in the heart.  What makes a work a dead work versus a living work?  Two people can give money to the poor, but for one it is a dead work of self-righteousness, and for the other a living work of true righteousness.  How can that be?  It is so because one has only answered the call, but has not walked worthy of the calling.  In the end they loved their own clothing.  They clung to lawlessness towards God and created a righteousness of their own.  Ultimately, the person who is chosen is the one who responds to the call by following Jesus fully.  They do not look to a man made list of do’s and don’ts.  Rather they are daily listening to the Holy Spirit through the written word, Spirit-filled mentors, and personal prayer.  They are allowing the Spirit to undress them of their own self-righteous sin, and to be dressed in the works that are born of the Spirit of God.  Don’t be deceived.  God is saving us from the lawlessness of self-righteousness.  This world reeks of self-righteousness.  Let us not think that we can remain the same and Jesus will cover everything when we die.  No.  True faith is enabled by the Spirit of God to throw off dead works and put on the living works of the Spirit of God, which is the righteousness of Christ.

Wednesday
Jul152015

The Test of Freedom

July 5, 2015--Luke 18:31-34

This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner.  The following is only a summary of it.  Please click the audio link at the end of the article to listen to it.

This weekend we are celebrating 239 years since our declaration of independence from King George of the British Empire in A.D. 1776.  Looking back, we can see how that freedom has been tested in many different ways over the centuries.  First it was tested by the War of Independence itself.  Once that test had been passed we were tested on whether or not we could govern ourselves.  This gave rise to the constitution in 1789.  Of course other tests involved the Civil War in the 1800's, our rise as a global economic power since WWII, and throughout the last 70 years the test of our spiritual and moral fortitude.  Freedom is not a right we can demand.  It is a condition we can enjoy, but will always be tested.  Our founding fathers believed that it was the right of all men to be free simply because they are created by God and He intends them to be free.  Do we still believe that?

The story of the Bible is one of the enslavement of men and God’s consequent work to free men from it.  It is not God who enslaves us.  We are enslaved by our own sins to do the will of the devil.  Jesus in John 8:36 tells us, “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  We also see in the Bible, 2 Cor 3:17, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”  Whether or not America will pass the tests of today and remain free, every believer in Jesus needs to recognize that, regardless of society, they can remain free as individuals who have embraced Jesus, the only true source of freedom.

Jesus frees us to trust God

In Luke 18:31-34 we see that the disciples did not really understand the plan and purposes of God in Jesus.  In retrospect we can see it is all about freedom, but for them it looked like Jesus was refusing to free them.  The interaction of Jesus with the rich man earlier in this chapter is ultimately about a man enslaved by trust in his wealth, rather than God.  Thus Jesus calls this man to embrace freedom and let go of his slavery. Of course he walks away sad because he is not sure he wants to be free from what enslaves him.  He would rather have both.  I want to have my cake and eat it too.  However, freedom often requires us to choose what we want more.

The call to freedom comes from Jesus to whoever will listen.  Leave everything else behind and follow me.  Peter recognizes that they had done that in verse 28. The disciples had successfully navigated the test that the rich man failed (at least in this moment).  Jesus of course recognized that what Peter says is true.  In fact the things they have lost have been replaced with something that is more and yet different, as Pastor Nick shared with us last week.  Though they left their families and jobs behind, Jesus had made them part of a new family with a new job.  They had trusted God and wanted Him more than their previous lives.

Yet something else needed to happen.  Jesus is not just a way of looking at the world and living life. He had to do a real work of freeing us from the guilt and judgment of our sins.  Thus Jesus takes the 12 aside in order to remind them where he was headed, that is the cross. Our sins keep us from freedom by leading us off the path of trusting God’s way.  No matter how much we want to be with God the desires of our flesh continually pull us away from God and separate us from Him.  They also keep us from freedom by the guilt and judgment that stands in the way of getting back on God’s path.  Jesus is not just our great example.  He is that and much more.  He is also our Sin Remover; our Punishment Surrogate; our Willing Scapegoat.  He sacrificed himself for our freedom.  Thus, it is one thing to embrace Jesus as a means of having a wonderful life.  It is quite another to follow Him through the cross and to the other side.

To stay free is to keep trusting God

Once having been given freedom it is important to hold on to it.  Your flesh, the world, & the devil fight against that freedom.  The only way to retain freedom is to keep trusting God.  "He who endures until the end shall be saved."  The endurance here is not about human strength, but about faith.  If we hold our faith in God and His Son, Jesus, we will remain in His freedom.

Our faith is never more tested than when we have to walk a difficult path and endure the hostility of sinners.  Jesus takes time to point them to the hostilities and difficulties that lie ahead.  This is the 3rd time Luke records Jesus telling them about the difficult death ahead of him. Yes, we are tested in just taking hold of the call to freedom.  But we are also tested in the holding on to it. Difficult paths can cause us to shrink away from freedom and retreat back into the slavery of self-life.  Jesus warned his disciples that to follow him, they would need to pick up their own cross. Difficult times lay ahead.  In fact he would be mocked, insulted, spit upon, scourged, and killed. They would not stand by him in his darkest hour, which would become a guilt and shame hanging over their head.  These things would test them severely.  What are we willing to endure in order to retain freedom as an individual?  As a nation?  The Israelites of the first century A.D. had a choice to make.  They could cling to the hope of national freedom of Israel, or they could let go of it and obtain the freedom that no dictator or terrorist can take away; freedom in Jesus.  Is there a hope for freedom of America in the days ahead?  As long as there is a God there is hope.  However, even nations can cross lines that bring about the judgment of God.  Yet, even if this nation is without hope of turning back, we as individuals must stand with Joshua and say, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."  We cannot lose the greater in trying to keep the lesser.  Perhaps the time has come for American Christians to make a choice.  Is your love for this country greater than your love for Jesus?  It is easy to conflate the two.

So how can one remain free when faced with such choices?  Ultimately freedom was won by the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf.  In a similar manner, the natural freedom of our nation was won by the sacrifice of men and women who put their lives on the line. This principle cannot be avoided: freedom is only maintained by sacrifice.  As Christians we follow a Lord who sacrificed earthly glory in order to give us true freedom.  So how can I put my life on the line for this nation?  Yes we can join militaries and police forces and fight against evil.  But even that finds a dead end when whole nations embrace wickedness and reject God.  The way of the cross has never been about saving the body of a man or the body politic of a nation.  Jesus and his disciples are our model.  They did not shrink back because the path was difficult.  Rather, they pushed ahead even to the point of laying down their lives as fishermen and Israelites.  They did this for themselves but also for the sake of those who would follow behind them.  They wanted others to be free.

When you trust God it does not mean the path will be easy.  But God has always aided His people against the forces of tyranny.  Even when those forces seem invincible.  He has pledged to free the world from this age of the darkness of man’s rebellion and the tyranny that forever chases us like a howling wolf.  We must trust that.  We must pick up our cross and follow Him.  Let’s be the light in this dark and perverse generation so that some may believe and find freedom.

Test of Freedom Audio