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Entries in Salvation (38)

Monday
Aug072017

Faith is an Endurance Race

Hebrews 12:1-2.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty on August 06, 2017.

There have been many great runners throughout the history of the world.  In fact, many great runners may never have run in sporting events, or at the Olympics.  Today, through science and technology, we are able to squeeze out ever faster times.  And, yes, sometimes even through the use of drugs.  The latest line of technology is that of gene therapies.  Instead of trying to correct DNA errors to fight disease, they seek to enhance the performance of athletes.  There is no end to what people will be willing to do in order to win a race.  However, the question should never be, “Did you win?”  Rather, it should always be, “When the truth is known will you be disqualified?”  This brings to mind the American cycling legend Lance Armstrong.  He had amassed an amazing 7 Tour de France titles.  However, claims of doping dogged him throughout his career, all of which he emphatically denied.  Eventually enough evidence came forward to have the Cycling World strip Lance of his titles.  He had been doping and even using blood transfusions of highly oxygenated blood.  To the world looking on, it seemed like Lance Armstrong had won those events fair and square, but when the truth was known he had cheated and was disqualified. 

Life is an endurance race and all of us are going to live it one way or another.  No matter how well it looks like you did to others around you, the real question will be this, “Did you live it with faith in God as your foundation?”  Will we live our lives in such a way as to have the commendation of God, who alone knows the truth?  We want to hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” from Him.

I want to encourage you today that regardless of the questions and fears that you have today, you can trust God and take your place among the vast number of saints who have finished their race with commendation.  How?  By the help of God Himself, no less!

We are surrounded by witnesses

In Hebrews 12 verse 1, the writer points to a surrounding cloud of witnesses as a reason why Christians should lay aside the things that keep them from living by faith, in God and for God.  But before we break that down, let’s look at the context that has led to this statement.

Throughout the previous chapter we are reminded of the faithful saints who have gone before us and their stories of faith.  Of course this list is of the many people recorded in Scripture.  None of them were perfect and without sin.  However, they believed God in the face of trials, persecutions, personal failures, and questions.  Chapter 11 opens with the statement that each of these saints obtained a good testimony (vs. 2), and then closes the chapter by restating the same in verses 39-40.  “And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.”  Now the phrase is literally, “they were witnessed.”  It begs the question, “By whom?”  We see in 11:4 that it is God Himself who testified that Abel’s sacrifice was acceptable and Cain’s was not.  The point is that each of these people were received by God as commendable because they lived by trusting God rather than themselves or the world around them.  This is in contrast to individuals like Cain, Lamech, Nimrod, Esau, Saul, etc.

So this great cloud of witnesses that we are surrounded by is now 2,000 years of saints larger.  But what exactly is the writer trying to tell us?  Some see them as witnesses of us.  The picture would be that of a stadium in which all the saints, who are no longer running, are cheering us on from the stands.  Although this would fit the analogy and it would be an encouragement to know that our loved ones are cheering us on in heaven, it has been suggested that we should not see them as witnesses of our lives, but rather as witnesses to us.  Their lives are testimonies that God has testified are holy and acceptable.  We are surrounded by the millions of past and present stories of those who have lived out faith in commendable fashion.    I am sure that the saints in heaven are rooting for us, whether they can see us or not.  However, more than this, we can read their lives and draw encouragement from what they had to endure.  In some ways our stories are no different from theirs.  No, they are not exactly the same.  But, like them we have to overcome the trials, pitfalls, temptations, and fears that they did in order to have faith in God.  We have all lived in a world that is adverse to our faith, and in the midst of a spiritual enemy that seeks to work us woe.  So take time to glean the difficulties and trials of the faithful throughout the Bible.  Take time to read the biographies of modern believers who have had to overcome great difficulties in order to trust God.  And, don’t say, “I can’t do that,” or, “But, I’m not a Moses/David/Elijah.”  You have not been called to live their lives.  You have been called to live yours, by faith in Jesus.  You can do it because the same Spirit of God that enabled them is going to help and enable you as well.  Jesus said to his disciples, “I will never leave you nor forsake you even to the end of the age.”  This is your promise too, as one of his disciples.

Lay aside the things that slow you down

Like any race, you only wear what is necessary to run.  I have seen people jogging on the side of the road and they may be carrying 5 pound barbells in their hands, and 10 to 20 pound weights on their ankles.  They do that in order to get into shape quicker.  That is fine for training, but when it comes to race day, no runner in their right mind would try to run with those things.  So Paul reminds us of all those who have gone on before us and tells us to remember them so that we will then turn and jettison anything that might slow us down in this race of faith.  Are there things that are spiritually slowing you down, tiring you out, and making you want to quit?  We have to learn to hear the Holy Spirit pointing out those things that are hurting our faith and boldly toss them aside. 

You will notice that though the writer mentions sin next, this first phrase is not necessarily about sinful things.  Can things that are not sinful be detrimental to our faith?  There may not be anything inherently wrong about it, but it gets in the way between Jesus and me.  It side tracks me away from Christ and stirs up my flesh towards selfishness.  Just like there is nothing illegal about running with weights, so there is nothing sinful about these things.  However, they slow us down and lead us away from faith in God.  Too many Christians are concerned about what they are permitted to do.  They state phrases like, “The Bible doesn’t say I can’t do such and such.”  The problem with this mentality is that we are always trying to justify ourselves instead of trying to win the race of faith.  The rules don’t say you can’t run with a 50 pound backpack on.  But, you would be stupid to try and run a long distance race wearing it.  Thus wisdom is more important than permission.  In fact if we honestly and openly prayed about some of these things, we might hear the Holy Spirit say, “It isn’t sinful, but it is holding you back.  Let it go.”  Paul dealt with this in 1 Corinthians 10:23.  Some of the Corinthians kept stating the mantra, “All things are lawful for me.”  They took the grace of God and their release from the Law of Moses to mean that nothing was unlawful for them anymore.  Paul retorts, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.  Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being.”  When we live this life trying to maximize our own pleasure, we quit running the race of faith. We quit being helpful and edifying to ourselves and to those around us. But when we watch out for one another and live to please God, then we are running the race that God has for us.

However, the writer does mention that we need to also jettison the sin that so easily entangles us.  Now, there are many things listed in the Bible that we are told are wrong.  To do them would be sin.  Sin is not an act of faith but of rebellion against God’s judgment.  Every runner has an inner dialogue from their body that is constantly badgering them.  “O, not this race again.  I hope I finish and don’t die.  This is too hard.  Slow down.  You’ll never make it.  You better just drop out or at least walk.  If you quit now you can go get a Krispy Kreme donut.  Running is for losers!”  Okay, so maybe not everyone has the exact same dialogue, but you catch my drift.  Our flesh constantly fights us in the natural against goals that our minds and hearts have set.  So it is in the spiritual.  Our flesh doesn’t want to trust God, it wants to please itself.  We all have our own personal panoply of sins that we are drawn towards and must resist in order to follow Christ.  In Christ, we do not lose our salvation every time we sin.  But, we can be slowed down, and we can be tripped up.  In fact, we can even have our faith “ensnared,” as verse 1 states.  Don’t get stuck on the course like some large mouse trap.  Though sin can ensnare us, we can also be set free from it through repentance and faith.  If you know someone who has had their faith ensnared by sin, then pray for guidance from the Holy Spirit to help set them free from the sin and get them back on the path of faith in Jesus.

Whenever we talk about laying aside those things that side track us, sinful or not, we have to ask ourselves, “What am I pursuing and for what prize am I running?  If I am all about pursuing the pleasures of this life rather than pursuing God and His promises then I am not running the race of faith.  I have been trapped in sin.  If I am all about an inheritance in this life rather than the inheritance that God has reserved for me in Heaven, then I am not running the race of faith.  This is what we should get rid of, so that we can obtain the prize that God has for us.  Next the writer speaks of the positive thing that we should focus on.

Keep your eyes on Jesus

Of course we want to run the race of faith, but we successfully do so by keeping our eyes on Jesus.  In this sense He is our goal.  He is the one that the Spirit is working in our life to make us like.  Also, he is waiting in heaven and when we finish this life, we will go to Him.  He is the one we want to see.  Imagine stepping to the other side and being greeted by Jesus and the cloud of witnesses who have gone on before us.  Keeping your eye on the goal is the only way to avoid the temptations of this life to give up our faith in Him.  We want to be like Him and also be with Him.

Verse 2 says that Jesus is the author and the finisher of our faith.  The word “author” has the sense of a chief or leader.  He is the one who has blazed the trail ahead of us and made it possible for us to follow.  His work makes it possible for us to have faith and live by faith.  Without Him our faith, if we had any, would fail.  The word “finisher” is the sense of completing it.  When a house is being framed you don’t worry about how pretty the boards are.  But when you finish out the house, you are making sure the trim boards and everything are just as you want them.  Here we see that God is helping us all along the way.  When you feel like you are losing your faith, and you wonder where God is?  Remember that He is all around you.  He is in the person who led you to Christ in the first place.  He is in the Bible that you can pick up and read at any moment.  He is in the silence as you pray and aren’t sure what to do.  He is in the brothers and sisters at Church who have as much trouble as you.  Don’t let the enemy rob you of your prize.  Keep your eyes on Jesus and He will bring you through.  Have faith!  He will never leave you nor forsake you.

Next we are told that Jesus endured the shame of the cross for the joy that was on the other side.  Jesus also had trials, persecutions, and temptations that he had to face in order to live out His faith in the Father.  He didn’t love the cross.  Rather he despised its shame, and yet saw something good on the other side- like a runner who doesn’t like side aches and lack of oxygen, but they want the joy on the other side of the race.  Thus this example that Jesus sets for us is to be our torch in the dark times.  It reminds us that there is a day of joy ahead.  God gives us times of joy in this life, but our ultimate joy is the day of the Restoration of All things.  Then we will stand with Jesus and all the saints upon a new heaven and a new earth and there will be no more evil.  What a day that will be!  So keep the faith, brother, and don’t give up, sister.  God is on your side and no one can stand against Him!

Lastly it says that he has received a place at the Father's right hand.  Our place is secure because Jesus is holdin our place in reserve for us.  We belong to Him and He is already seated in the highest place in the universe.  My, how our faith should soar at the thought of such a thing.  All who belong to Jesus will be accepted by the Father.  Don't listen to the world as it tries to discourage your faith.  They will be found out in the end.  The truth will set you free, but it will disqualify them.  So don't let the enemy plunder you of all that God has for you in this life and especially the next.

Faith is an endurance race audio

Monday
Jul172017

Water Baptism

Matthew 28:18-20; Romans 6:1-12.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on July 16, 2017.

Today we are preparing to have a water baptismal service as we celebrate the new life that God has given to believers.  There is a part of us that may wonder about the value of such an enactment, and whether or not we should continue doing it.  So today, I want to take some time to establish both its importance and significance in the life of a new believer.

It is the command of Jesus

In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus not only gives his disciples a command, but he also emphasizes it by declaring his authority up front.  All authority, in heaven and on earth, had been given to him.  This is important because it establishes his authority to tell his disciples what to do, and it establishes his authority to send them to all the other nations in order to make new disciples.  He even states that this dynamic in which He spiritually is with them in this task, will continue until the end of the age.  So let’s break down the command or commission that Jesus gives to his followers.

The main thing in this command is to make new disciples.  They would do this by telling other people about the person, teachings, miracles, and work of Jesus and then extending to them the offer of Christ to become his disciple.  Thus it is the command of Christ that those who are already disciples are tasked with the mission of working to bring in new disciples.  Those who believe in Jesus and respond positively are to be those who are “discipled.”  Jesus mentions three other aspects of this task that are given to qualify or describe what that will look like and entail.

The first he mentions in verse 19 is going.  This mission requires us to go, whether it is across the street, the city, the state, the nation, or the world.  Not every disciple will do all of these things.  As God leads us, some may go to other nations, and many will be focusing on their homes and neighborhoods.  Regardless it is our task as a group to reach the ends of the earth with the offer of salvation and becoming Christ’s disciple.

The second aspect is that of baptism.  But I am going to come back to that since it is the main focus of today’s sermon.  The third aspect is teaching.  We make disciples by teaching people the commands of Jesus and His apostles.  Thus we have the Bible, which is the record of this teaching, and we have the influence of those who became disciples before us and are tasked with teaching us today.  Being a disciple of Christ is not about having a title, but about learning the ways of Jesus.

Now let’s go back to water baptism.  Jesus tells his disciples to baptize those who become new disciples.  Notice that as a command this is a matter of obedience upon those who are making disciples, but it also implies the obedience of those who are becoming new disciples.  There is really no way around the fact that Jesus commands us to baptize new believers and thus commands new believers to allow themselves to be baptized.  To ignore this would be to reject being a disciple of Jesus.  So with its necessity clearly established, let’s go to Romans chapter 6 in order to further flesh out what water baptism is and why Jesus commands us to do it.

The meaning of water baptism

Romans chapter 6 is not about water baptism per se.  It is actually about the conflict that can occur in people’s understanding of the grace of God.  So Paul deals with the person who would take the truth that God’s grace becomes greater in order to overcome our sin, and posits that a Christian should sin all the more in order to make God’s grace even greater.  This is a perverted sense of “glorifying God.”  If a person comes to believe that grace means that they should or could continue to sin then they are deceiving themselves and not paying attention to the Gospel that they received.  In verse2 Paul categorically rejects such an idea and goes on to use their experience of being baptized in water, when they first became a Christian, as his case for why they too should reject it.

In verse 3 Paul first points out that water baptism symbolizes being placed in Christ.  Thus the whole event of water baptism speaks of a person coming to Jesus and being place in Him.  They now have a place within the community of disciples, and an inheritance in Jesus.  The Holy Spirit has taken the person, made them spiritually alive, and connected them to Jesus.  We now belong to Him.  Another word we could use here is identification.  This identification with Jesus is important because it speaks to the Christian community that this person belongs to Christ and is a fellow brother or sister.  It also speaks to the world that this person is a believer in Jesus.  But even beyond this, it speaks to the spiritual powers and principalities that have held mankind and the nations in bondage under their deceptive lies.  It says to them that this person is under the authority and protection of Jesus.  “Hands off!”

Paul also points out that water baptism symbolizes joining Jesus in His death to this world and being raised to live a new life to God.  Before I came to Jesus I lived my life all for myself and this world.  But now I am following Jesus, both in His death and in His life.  I now live my life for Him and the glory of God the Father. 

Verses 5-12 give us a clearer picture of what Paul is saying in verses 3 and 4. Notice that in verse 12 Paul ends with a conclusion that we should all come to believe:  I must not let sin reign in my mortal body in order to obey its lusts.  The believer may fall into sin, but they should never think that this is what Jesus wants them to do.  We are called to the daily battle against sin and our fleshly desires, not so that we can be saved (under law), but because we have been saved (under grace).

In verses 5-12 Paul hits upon two different aspects of the symbolism within water baptism, one is present and the other is future.

The present aspect of water baptism is mainly spiritual and points to a spiritual transformation that is happening in my life.  It does not point to a physical death, but rather a spiritual one.  I had been a part of the rebellion against the Heavenly Father, but now I am at peace with Him.  So the old me is dying, but the new me (made alive by the Spirit) is living for God.  The old life dies the new lives.  In fact notice that verse 11 says that we are to “reckon” or “consider” ourselves to be dead to sin.  Thus, the Christian will still sense the old nature’s sensitivity to sin.  But by the Holy Spirit, we put that old nature to death and live out the righteousness of God.  The Christian can say “No,” to sin because of the power of the Holy Spirit in their life.  This new spiritual leadership is fueled by the Holy Spirit, but also carried out by the believer.

The future aspect of water baptism is mainly physical and points to a physical transformation that will happen in my life.  It is prophetic in that it declares what God will do in our life.  You see, Jesus had always lived “dead to sin” and alive to God, while he was on earth.  However, at a point in time, He died physically and then was physically resurrected.  Yes, the resurrection body is called a spiritual body elsewhere, but that is because it is different from the earthly bodies we are used to here.  Thus my baptism not only says to the heavens that I am going to live for Christ today, but that I no longer fear my physical death.  I know that just as Jesus physically died and was resurrected, so too will I be resurrected from the dead in order to live a new life with Jesus in the New Heavens and the New Earth.  Thus Jesus devises a ritual that reminds the believer of their future destiny, but also reminds Satan and his angels of theirs.  We are the overcomers of the world and water baptism shouts that to the cosmos.

If you are a believer today, take time to remember that day in which you were water baptized.  Remind yourself of the new life that you can live today because of the enabling presence of the Spirit of God.  But also remind yourself of the future life that God has for us in the age to come.  May God fill us with boldness to walk in the authority of Jesus and share the good news with others, so that they too may participate in this amazing statement to all that this one belongs to Jesus!

Water Baptism audio

Sunday
Jul092017

Our Great Joy in Jesus

1 Peter 1:3-9.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on July 09, 2017.

Today we will spend some time in a passage that focuses on the joy that we have as believers in Jesus Christ.  It is easy to let the things of the world around us drag our hearts down into a dreary drudgery.  We see individuals rejecting the gospel and plunging down the “wide way,” and we see the nations of the world rejecting the ways of God and pursuing their own ways.  In the midst of this is the onslaught of both individual and political evils that continue to tear the world apart and create massive suffering.  So I want us not to forget about the world’s plight, and yet not to be infected by a spirit of hopelessness.  The follower of Jesus has nothing to hang their head over.  We are never defeated or losers.  We are the true overcomers as we keep our eyes upon Jesus and the mission that He gave us.

We Give Thanks to God

In verses 3-5, Peter starts out by thanking God for His blessings and yet he is also reminding the believers of the blessings that they have.  And so, we do have much to be thankful for, and it all finds its source in God the Father.  He is the architect of creation, and the giver of life and all its wonderful aspects.  Am I thankful?  And, do I take time to thank God?  We should wake every morning and recount the amazing blessings with which God has surrounded us.  He has been good to us and grateful thanks should be the foundation of our daily life.

In fact Peter uses the phrase, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  It could also be translated as “Praise the God…”  Our praise is the proper acknowledgment that is actually due to God.  All creation should praise Him, but not all of creation does.  Of course giving God His due praise speaks to those who are not doing so.  But to us who do praise Him, it should not be about duty and obligation.  It should be about gratefulness and thanks.  Our thanks and praise rises up to God in the midst of a world that takes God’s goodness for granted, and a spiritual realm that has a rebellion against Him.  The devil and his angels believe that they can do better than God and are ungrateful for His decisions.    We are those who have rebelled against the rebellion, and have put our faith in Jesus.  We are not under the shadow of judgment, but can see and recognize the goodness of God.  Because of this, we are the recipients of the greater treasures that God is in the middle of giving to those who trust Him.

Peter particularly points out the “abundant mercy” of God.  He is not obligated by justice to give us mercy.  However, He is kind, loving, and merciful.  Salvation always begins with the mercy of God and we must never forget that.  His holiness and justice would come against our lives and bring us to account and to punishment.  But in His mercy, God makes a way for us to be saved from punishment.  He holds out the offer of eternal life to those who will trust Him.  So what are some of these mercies?  Peter lists some for us.

He uses the phrase, “He has begotten us again.”  This is very similar to the phrase used by Jesus in John 3:3, “You must be born again.”  We are all born physically and because of the will of two humans.  Yet, we are not spiritually alive.  Thus all humans are in need of being “born again,” but not physically.  This second birth is a spiritual birth and is because of the will of God, not man.  Even though we are alive to the world around us, we are spiritually unable to recognize and interact with the God who created us.  If we were to use the analogy of a still birth, we can think of it like this.  Though a still born physically exists, they cannot interact with the physical world around them.  Similarly, though we do have an inner spirit, it is still born towards the Holy Spirit of God.  It will never be able to sense and interact with God unless a spiritual miracle occurs. The analogy is not perfect, but it does help to see what the Bible is saying.  This is called being born again.  So to compare the two births we have this.  Physical birth is the first birth, caused by humans, in which we are able to interact with the physical world.  Being born again is Spiritual birth, a second birth, caused by God, in which we are able to interact with the Spirit of God.  What a blessing and mercy this is.  2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”  In John 1:12-13 we are told that such a birth makes us the children of God.  “But as many as received Him (Jesus), to them He gave the right to become the children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

So why has God made us spiritually alive?  Peter says it is for the purpose of receiving a “living hope.”  Regardless of what our lot is in life because of our physical birth, our spiritual birth leaves all of that in the dust.  All that we might hope for in this life will one day be taken away from us.  Thus it is a hope, but a dying one.  Our spiritual birth gives us hope of things that cannot be taken away, even in physical death.  If a person is born into royalty or a family of great power, that is nothing compared to being born again in Jesus.  Even, if I have been born into squalor and have little hope in the things of this world, in Christ I have a living hope that is so much greater than anything this world can offer.  Peter further describes this living hope.  It is a living hope because of “the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”  It is living because it is based upon the living Jesus.  He is alive and can no longer die.  Similarly because our hope is in Him, even if we die physically our hope cannot die because it is in one who cannot die again.  Even more than this, we believers in Jesus are promised a day of Resurrection in which we will fully join Christ in that state of eternal life through a body that cannot die and a spirit that dwells in the presence of God every second.  Thus even our physical death because an entering into the presence of the Lord of Life.  What a living hope we have in Jesus!

Peter also describes this living hope as “incorruptible,” and “reserved in heaven” for us (vs. 4).  It is called an inheritance because there is a future aspect to what God is giving us.  Yes, I have eternal life already, but I have not received all that eternal life has to offer, yet.  Thus he uses the word “hope.”  We are already experiencing some of His promises now and thus the hope that is future is already “living” within us and blessing us.  Peter uses several words to show that this hope is secure for the ages.  It is incorruptible, and will not decay or go bad.  There is no expiration date on the promises of God.  It is also “undefiled.”  It is a hope that is untainted by the sin and rebellion of this world.  No matter how much the rebels of this world hope in a Utopia, it is a defiled hope.  They will continually slam up against the reality that the hope is tainted by the sin of mankind and the fallen angels.  Lastly, Peter says that it doesn’t “fade away.”  It is a hope that will not lose its luster and beauty.  This world fades and dims, but our hope does not.  It is reserved in heaven for us.  Thus it is safe in God’s hands, and guarded by none other than God Himself.  If God be for us who can be against us?  On this earth our inheritance and blessings are always in danger of others who may want to steal it, but the inheritance of God cannot be touched by any, not even the devil himself.

However, God does more than just guard our inheritance.  In verse 5 it says that we ourselves are guarded by the power of God.  The same God who guards our inheritance is also insuring that we can make it to that inheritance.  The word “kept” in verse 5 is similar to the word “reserved” in verse 4.  They both have the sense of guarding something.  However, the word in verse 5 adds the sense of a military guard.  It has a higher sense of protection to it.  Thus God stations His forces around us, to ensure that we make it to the day of inheritance, which is the completion of our salvation (notice the future sense of salvation in this verse- more on that later).  The only thing that can derail it is our own faith.  Satan cannot win by destroying us physically, financially, or emotionally.  But, he uses those things to try and destroy our trust in God.  Now, God doesn’t just put a carrot in front of us.  He also protects us along our way to make sure that we will be able to dine upon it.  All of this is “through faith,” our faith in Him.  This living hope and inheritance from God cannot be earned or purchased by the power of this world.  It can only be the gift of God to those who trust Him.

Our Thanks Endure Even Our Various Trials

In verses 6-9, Peter acknowledges that Christians go through difficult things, even though they have much to be joyful.  It is easy to be so focused on making people look happy that we can forget that there is a time to cry, and a time to mourn.  We must deal with the difficult things of life, not by shutting them down, but by overcoming them.  They devil is trying to disqualify us through those trials and tests of life.  But God allows them for the purpose of proving that we qualify and ultimately making us stronger.

So let’s look first at how the trials of life can grieve us for a little while.  Do not make light of the emotional side of trials.  They are difficult and tend to weigh us down with an internal heaviness.  God does not call us to be unfeeling automatons, or robots.  As we grieve and yet remind ourselves of the goodness of God, our faith in God can be deepened.  We can also understand the depths of God’s love towards us.  Trials also help us to see the depths to which our enemy will stoop in order to try and disqualify us.  If we shed tears in this life, then we can shed them knowing that God sees them and will keep a record of them.  He will right every wrong and then bring us to a place where we will cry no more and have pain no more.  And, on that day, He will reward us for those tears and pains of this life that we endured while hanging on to the promise of eternal life, our living hope.  The enemy, however, wants to drown us in our sorrows and difficulties.  He wants us to blame God for our pains, so that we will lose faith in God and walk away from our inheritance.

Peter reminds us in verse 7 that these tests prove our faith.  Have I really trusted in God?  If God stepped in and removed every difficult thing in our life then we would never truly know if our faith is founded on solid ground.  In a sense many people say, “God I trust you, if You keep everything from hurting me.”  This is not trust.  Yet, Job said, “Even if God slay me, yet I will trust Him!”  Some follow Jesus because of what they obtain in this life: people who care for you, and love you, among other comforts of life.  But what about when I lose all of those things?  Like John the Baptist sitting in prison about to lose his head, we can begin to question and waver in our faith in Jesus.  Thus the picture of trials being a refining fire is used by Peter.  The trials are called various because there are innumerable ways to be tried in this life.  Some are seductive, with hidden motives, and we can enjoy their presence to some degree.  Others are brutish, with the obvious motive to overwhelm and destroy us.  Typically we do not enjoy these.  But our faith, Peter says, is more precious than gold.  We are tempted by things that are really not as precious as we think.  The truth about our faith will be made clear at the “revelation of Jesus,” which is His Second Coming.  This will be our glory and honor in the day that He returns: we world will see that we belong to Him.

In verse 8 He commends them for their faith and love for Jesus.  They are keeping their eyes on Jesus even in the face of trials.  Peter had seen Jesus with his own eyes.  But then Jesus was taken into heaven and now Peter no longer can see Jesus.  He must use the eyes of faith, trust.  Even harder it is for those who had never seen Jesus in the flesh.  They are taking the witness of Peter, and the Holy Spirit.  They have come to love this Jesus that they have learned about.  They are not about to be scammed out of the inheritance they have in Jesus.  So also, keeping our eyes upon Jesus, we await that day when He will split the clouds and return to earth.  Even if I die, I do so keeping my trust upon the one who said, “He who believes in me, though he may die, he shall live.”  Our love for Jesus is birthed in the love that He had for us.  He died in my place even while I was still a rebel against Him.  He did so to make an inheritance for me with Him.  He paid the price that I might sit with Him at the Father’s table.  He purchased us back from the place of slavery to which we had sold ourselves.  And, He does this to make us His beloved ones.  In the words of Paul, “[love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never fails. 

So this love that Jesus has for us and that we have for Him fills us with a joy that is inexpressible and full of glory.  In the face of our own death, His death and resurrection assures us that He loves us and will keep His word.  The daily joy that we have as a Christian should never be based upon the earthly joys and comforts that we have.  Yes, we should be thankful for any such things that we experience.  But they must never be the foundation of our joy.  The foundation of our joy is the relationship of love that Jesus has given to us.  As the old song says, “I’ve got something the world can’t give, and the world can’t take it away!”  It is called inexpressible or unspeakable because it goes beyond the ability of words to fully express.  Not that we don’t express our thanks, but that they too fall short.  “O, for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemers praise, the glories of our God and King, the triumphs of His grace.”  So we continue to describe to people that which can never be fully expressed.  Such is the joy of the believer.  It is also described as “full of glory” because it is given by God Himself.  Glory is often described as brilliant light in the spirit realm (within Scripture).    God has given us Himself and the glorious shining of God sits at the center of our heart and life like a blazing sun.  Thus our joy and faith in Him, which is set on fire by the blazing glory of God, cannot be extinguished by the devil. 

In the midst of such glorious joy, Peter says we are receiving the salvation of our souls.  In fact this is part of the joy.  I may endure a difficult trial, but it is part of me receiving something much better.  Verse 5 speaks of our salvation in the future, but verse 9 speaks of it as a present thing.  That is because we are in the process of receiving a salvation that will one day be completed at the second coming of Christ.  Thus we can look back to the day that we began receiving salvation, we can look around at our current salvation, and we can look forward to its completion at the Second Coming of Christ!  Amen!

Our Great Joy audio

Tuesday
Jun272017

Go and Sin No More

John 8:3-11.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on June 25, 2017.

Today, as I preach this sermon, the 43rd Annual Gay Pride Parade will begin in Seattle, WA.  Over the course of the last 43 years homosexuality has taken center stage as our society wrestles over how we should move forward.  What will be the laws that we will live by and by which individuals will be punished?  Of course churches and Christians are a part of this society and should speak the truth in love.  But even with this goal, we do not always agree.  Some have responded with acceptance to the degree that they have declared their approval for homosexuality, ordaining gay ministers and performing same-sex weddings.  Others have responded with rejection to the point of advocating the re-establishment of capital punishment for any such acts.

It is important to recognize that in the middle of this culture war individuals get chewed up and spit out, whether they are gay or a conservative Christian.  Christianity Today ran an article recently from a woman named Bekah Mason.  She is a Christian who has struggled with same-sex attraction throughout her life and tells her story.  She was raised in a very legalistic environment where even the idea that you would be attracted to the same sex was an “abomination” to God.  There was no room to talk about it and so she grew up holding it in and hiding it.  Later, when she entered college, she encountered a Christian group that was progressive.  This group told her that there was nothing wrong with homosexuality.  In fact, it was a gift from God.  She should completely embrace it and follow her “true self.”  This was too enticing not to embrace.  Thus she explored her true self and same sex relationships.  Over the course of time she realized that the progressive mentality was not the answer she had hoped.  She states, “Both legalistic condemnation and progressive license left me floundering.”  In one group she was rejected as an abomination before God and couldn’t even discuss it, and in the other she was encouraged to follow her “true self” rather than Jesus.  She could not resolve following self with the Gospel message.  Over time she came to embrace the gospel.  Though she was inclined to a sinful expression of sexuality, God loved her enough to help her lay it down and follow Jesus.  It didn’t matter whether her feelings ever changed.  If she needed to remain celibate then that was fine.  She was no longer under the tyranny of hiding her feelings, nor that of redefining sin.

Though the woman in this passage is not a homosexual, she too has a problem with sexual sin.  We find in it a reminder that it is not our job to sacrifice individuals in order to make a difference in society.  It is our job to be a redemptive influence in the lives of those whom we cross paths.

Love the Individual more than the Society

Do you love humans or humanity more?  I believe it was Dennis Prager who said that people who loved humanity more than humans scared him because they were capable of great evil towards the individual in the name of the group.  If we were to create an artificial intelligence (AI) how would it be different if we programmed it to work for the good of humanity rather than for the good of each person?  This mental exercise will help you to see that in order to save the system or the larger group, people are often sacrificed.  Individuals are crushed under the machinery of good for the many.  Now it is different if a person volunteers to lay down their life for the sake of others.  When our military men and women volunteer to put their lives in jeopardy in order to protect our society, it is a good thing.  But when people are forced into armies and sent to die for the sake of the empire or society of whatever size, then it is an evil. 

This is part of what we are seeing in this passage.  Only here it is not conscription into an army.  Rather a woman who has broken the law is used as an expendable tool in order to stop Jesus.  The religious leaders do not see an individual woman who has embraced sin and is lost.  They do not see someone in need of saving and help.  She doesn’t matter to them, but stopping Jesus does matter, at all costs.  He is going to mess up their society, and their position within it.  Thus the woman is merely a useful tool and this tactic is used to this day, whether in politics, business, or even in churches.  I’m reminded of Baronelle Stutzman, the florist from the Tri-Cities area of Washington State.  She would not do the floral arrangements for a same-sex wedding.  She had sold flowers to the gay individual for years.  But felt that going to the wedding venue and setting up the flowers would be too much of helping a person to sin.  Initially the man had no problem and went his way.  The two parted on friendly terms even though they disagreed.  It is when others get involved who could care less about keeping an amicable relationship that things turn to the bad.  All they see is a tool of leverage to reinterpret old laws and force social change upon others through new ones.  This was a golden opportunity to change society and send a message to all Christian business owners.  It is clear in the John 8 passage that Jesus refused to operate on that level.  If society was to be saved it would not be at the expense of a woman who was a sinner.  In fact, the heart of God displayed in Christ is very different from the heart of mankind.  Jesus would lay down his life for us rather than sacrificing any sinners.  The question for us as Christians is this, “Are we following the Pharisees' model or are we following the model of Jesus?”  We must learn to lay ourselves down in order to reach the lost and help them to reconcile to God the Father.

All of this begs the question, “Can a society be saved, and if so, in what way?”  When an individual is saved it can be in one of two ways.  Jesus saves this woman from dying that day.  However she would eventually die of old age.  The more important “saving” is that of her soul.  We don’t know what becomes of this woman’s life despite the speculation that has occurred throughout history.  But, Jesus is clearly concerned about her soul.  She is a sinner who is lost.  If she died that day then she would be without hope.  Salvation for her is the possibility of having eternal life.  Now when we look at a society, it can never be eternally saved.  Our founding fathers stated in many different ways that the constitution and laws they established would not be enough.  Each generation would have to engage the fight for freedom for themselves.  Societies can only be “saved” for a temporary time.  History bears this out.  Should people who can be saved eternally be sacrificed for the sake of a society, which can only be saved temporarily?  I think the answer is obvious.  No society will survive the Second Coming of Christ, or the White Throne Judgment.  So why would we sacrifice people to save them?  Society is important, but it is of secondary concern.  Individuals should always be our primary concern.  A Society that sacrifices individuals for its own sake is poor indeed.  If such a society is worthy then individuals will voluntarily lay down their lives in order to save it (whether they are judging rightly or wrongly).

Though the religious leaders are correct in their understanding of the Law of Moses and its punishment, they do not understand the heart of the God who gave it.  This woman was caught in the act of adultery.  There is no question about her guilt and the punishment.  But Jesus does not respond to them on that level.  He knows that they are correct in her guilt and the matter of the Law.  Yet, Jesus clarifies the problem by issuing the challenge for them to declare publically that they are without sin.  He who is without sin among you, should throw the first stone.  Of course, none of them are willing to make such a public statement.  Clearly only a sinless being can truly hold a sinner accountable for their sin.  One of the mistakes of modern thinking is that we think judging sin is bad.  No, sin itself is bad.  But it is bad form for a sinful person to carry out judgment on another sinful person.  Jesus takes time to remind them and us just who is the Judge of sinners and just when punishment should be given.  In Romans 2:16 Paul states, “God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my Gospel.”  You see the Pharisees had unwittingly brought the woman before the only one who could carry out punishment upon her.  Now, don’t be deceived, there is a day of judgment and the Lord Jesus will preside over that judgment.  However, it was not that day yet.  They have prematurely brought her before the heavenly court in order for punishment to be carried out.  Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed unto men to die once, but after this the judgment.”  Notice judgment before God follows death.  Yes, we do have to have some laws within this society of sinners so that we can live our lives.  But the punishment of sin is to be left to God once a person has died. 

When our focus is on condemning people and punishing them, we elevate the law over the top of the Grace of God.  Yes, God gave the law.  But He is not willing that any should perish.  He would even go to the extent of becoming a man himself and dying in our place in order to save us.  Or, as John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world that He gave His One and Only Son, that whosoever would believe on Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  This includes those who sin sexually.  As long as a person is a living breathing soul, they can still change.  It doesn’t matter how long this woman has been a slave to her sin of adultery.  She can change and Jesus knows that.  He is more concerned about her continuing to have a chance to change than he is about perfecting society by getting rid of her.  Notice his words to her at the end, “Go and sin no more.”  What she does with those words is an eternal decision that she will have a chance to make as long as she is alive.  For the rest of her life she would remember that strange man who saved her life physically and wonder if He could actually save her life spiritually.

Now this leads to my last point.  Jesus defends her physical life, without defending her morality.  He does not give some speech filled with moral pablum such as, “This woman has done nothing wrong.  Come into the First Century!”  He merely challenges their right to carry out such a punishment.  Christians should not advocate or give aid to the mentality that homosexuals should all be killed or jailed.  But we should neither give our aid to promote it.  Jesus is not promoting her adultery.  Rather, he is promoting her salvation.  He did it so that she would have a chance at redemption, whether that was immediately seized upon or later.  She would never be able to forget the man from Nazareth who saved her life and then told her to sin no more.  I would say that we clearly see Jesus defending her from her external attackers.  But, we may miss him coming to her defense against her internal attackers.  The inner life of our flesh and its sinful desires continually assail our mind and will.  This inner assault is even more insidious than that of the religious leaders.  When you tell someone that their sin is okay, you are refusing to help them against that inner onslaught.  You have actually left them to their worst enemy.  We cannot save people by protecting them to just keep on sinning.

So how can we maintain a faithful conviction regarding sin and also show love toward those who do not?  I guess my point is that we do so by keeping our focus on the soul of each individual we meet.  It is not my job to stop the Gay Pride Parade in Seattle next year.  But it is my job to care about the soul of each homosexual that I come in contact with, each and every day.  The gospel is that freedom which God gives to us, freedom from the self life and tyranny of our flesh.  We can embrace Jesus as Lord and Savior and know that regardless of our sins, He will accept us as we repent and follow Him.

Let’s love people more than we love America, or whatever society of which you are a part.

Go and Sin No More audio