Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

Living ‘in-Christ (3) –

Bible Reading

  • Colossians 3:1-11

Introduction

In 1976 Dr Francis Schaeffer wrote a book with the title “How should we then live”.  The question is by what standard should we live.  Dr Schaeffer said when we base society on the Bible, on the infinite-personal God who is there and has spoken, it provides an absolute by which we can conduct our lives and by which we can judge society. This leads to what Schaeffer calls “freedom without chaos.” When we base our standard on a value system rooted in the belief that man is his own autonomous, independent measure, all values are relative, and we have no way to distinguish right from wrong. 

How should Christians live?

The story was told of a pastor who found the roads blocked one Sunday morning and was forced to skate on the frozen river to get to church, which he did. When he arrived, the elders of the church were horrified that their preacher had skated on the Lord’s day. After the service, they held a meeting where the pastor explained that it was either skate to church or not go at all. Finally, one elder asked, “Did you enjoy it?” When the preacher answered, “No,” the board decided it was all right! 

We might ask, “By what principle?”

By what principle?

The great controversy of Colossians stems from the influence of Gnosticism, as well as Judaism upon the Christian congregation.

We met the Gnostics who contended that the only way to salvation comes through some mystical separation from earthly life in search of the way out of this world into the next.  Some adhered to a strict lifestyle, denying themselves all psychical enjoyment, claiming that they receive messages from angels and have seen things other couldn’t (Colossians 2:18, 23).

Another group in the congregation was the Jews.  Some commentators think that we should think of Jewish gnostics.   Their own brand of Christian living was tainted with the rules and regulations as defined by the Pharisees.  Their mortality was one of what one eats and drinks, whether or not you celebrate New Moon festivals and Sabbath Days.  Their morality is summed up in “Do not handle, do not test, do not touch.” (Colossians 2:21)  

The members of the congregation who did not meet their standard of living were regarded as spiritually underdeveloped; they were disqualified from the prize.

The regulations of both the Gnostics and the Jews indeed had an appearance of wisdom and humility.

The question still remained, “By what standard?  Why?”

The Apostle Paul writes:  

Put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, (Colossians 3:5–6, NKJV)

He continues:  

But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. (Colossians 3:8, NKJV)

Do you want to ask the question, “By what standard, Paul?

What is the difference between what the Gnostics and the Jewish Pharisees said?  Is it not just the same thing? The Gnostics called for humility, harsh treatment of the body, withdrawal from the evil world.  The Jews called for a holy life of “do not taste, do not handle”. Would the Gnostics and the Jews not agree with Paul’s call against fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.  Add this this anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, and filthy language.

Let’s go back to the elders and the skating minister:  by what standard did he think it was good to skate to church, and by what standard did the elders condemn him?  And by what standard was it okay if the minister did not enjoy it?  They apparently had different standards.

If we even go back to Dr Schaeffer, we might understand something.  If we base society on the Bible, on the infinite-personal God who is there and has spoken, it provides an absolute by which we can conduct our lives.

What is this absolute principle which God gave us to live by?

‘Without-Christ’ and ‘in-Christ’

‘Without-Christ’

When salvation is based in adhering to certain sets of rules, one finds oneself in what the Bible describes as living in shadows, in false humility, having an unspiritual mind which exhibits itself in pride, having a fleshly, or worldly mind.  All these efforts come to nothing and lead nowhere.  It cannot mortify sin.  Why? Verse 19 gives the answer:  

They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow. (Colossians 2:19, NIV)

Good works are not bad, but it achieves nothing for eternity.  

In essence, this describes life without Christ.

So, let’s be practical.  When it comes to things eternal, the things you hold dear because you value them as the things which will be able to tell God why He should allow you in heaven, what precisely are they?  Why do you think they are meeting God’s standard?  By what standard do you measure and value these things?

Do you read the Bible regularly because God might give you a golden star on the forehead if you did?  Do you pray to get another star of approval?  Do you come to church for the same reason?  Have you stopped swearing and telling dirty jokes because, by your standards, it is not good?  If this the case, you are in the same boat as those we read about in Colossians 2: they have lost connection with the Head. Don’t you think you should reconsider your case in the light of what the Bible teaches?

‘With-Christ’

Paul contradicts the life of self-improvement and DIY righteousness with the life ‘in-Christ’. 

For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:3, NIV)

To understand the difference between BYO, DIY and fleshly, dying, worthless righteousness and God-glorifying righteousness something radical must happen.  It is extraordinary radical, but it is the only way.

You have to die!  

You have to die and take into that grave all efforts of self-righteousness.  It is clear Biblical language:  

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature… (Colossians 3:5, NIV)

But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these… (Colossians 3:8, NIV)

Words in these verses refer back to Colossians 2:11 where it talks about the fulness of the work of Christ who, in our place, “put off the sinful nature” by dying for us (v.12).  When Christ took away or cancelled the charges against us by nailing it to the cross, He fulfilled what we never could or will by own effort.  

This is the Good News of the Gospel:  we don’t need to try to get ourselves up to scratch to meet God’s standard; He sent his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, to do it on our behalf and in our place. But to get any benefit from this rescue mission, we need to, by faith and deed, die with Him.  We need to attend our own funeral; we need to get rid of the filthy, sins-stained clothes, and clothe ourselves with the righteousness of Christ.  

It’s only when we understand that by dying to sin in Jesus Christ, we receive a heavenly address which enables us to set our minds on holy things.  

A radical change

In chapter 2 Paul referred to self-helpers, who have cut themselves loose from Christ.  He calls them puffed up and unspiritual without any hope because whatever they try to improve themselves is actually only exposing more obstacles, digging their graves just deeper.  Remember what Dr Francis Shaeffer said about life without God?  

… all values are relative, and we have no way to distinguish right from wrong… Because we disagree on what is best for which group, this leads to fragmentation of thought, which has led us to the despair and alienation so prevalent in society today.

For those who are ‘in-Christ’, those who died with Christ, those who rose with Him to a new life, those who received their address in heaven, there has been a radical change, anchored in a sure and eternal hope.  

What have they become?  

God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved… (Colossians 3:12, NIV)

God’s chosen people! God’s holy people! People God dearly love!

Conclusion 

Therefore, and based on this truth only, we say life with a nature dead to natural yearnings, displayed in how we now suppress unholy desires and the way we speak—aspects we will look at next week—is miles opposite to self-improvement.  It’s opposed to “do not handle, do not taste, do not touch  because a life saved by grace is a new life in Christ—it abhors what is contrary to God’s will and anything that would dishonour to his Name.  

By this standard, we need to live.  Amen. 

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 28 October 2018

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Life as adopted child in God’s holy family (2)

Bible Readings

  • 1 John 4:7-21
  • 1Peter 1:13-2:3

Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, let’s just quickly recap what we have learned over the last few weeks from 1 Peter 1. 

  • The elect of God, in Jesus Christ, through the renewing work of the Holy Spirit, received a hope which is anchored in heaven, guarded by God till the return of our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • We know this is true because the prophets of the Old Testament wrote down what they researched—driven by the Holy Spirt—and all of what they prophesied focussed on Jesus Christ.  The apostles continued in this line and preached from those prophesies because Christ Himself taught them the meaning of the prophesies:  they saw Him, walked with Him, listened to Him saw Him die, and met with Him after his resurrection.
  • The Holy Spirit uses this holy inspired Word of God about Jesus Christ to create new birth: undeserved sinners are born into the heavenly family of God.  They are rescued from the emptiness and hollowness of not knowing God, into a relationship with Him through the preaching of the Word through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

We continue today with more marvellous news.

God’s redemptive work endures forever 

This is a glorious truth of the Gospel:  not only is the Gospel by nature the enduring Word of God, it’s effect is enduring.  Simply speaking:  The new birth brought about by the gracious work of the Holy Spirit is not fleeting with short-lived effects.  

When the Spirit has given a sinner new life, that sinner can bank on the fact that the Spirit will sustain that new life till the end of time.  This is what we refer to as the perseverance of the saints.  For this we must give God all glory.  No matter how severe the test, how dire the refining, how dreadful the persecution, how terrifying the opposition, God will not withdraw the grace He once poured out by his Spirit: it is based on the eternal redemption of Jesus Christ.  To sustain us in times of trial and tribulations, his enduring Word—the Bible—is our bread, our light, our lamp, our compass, our comfort, and indeed a hammer to crush the hardest of heart.  That’s why we need to immerse ourselves in its message and live by it.  

What Paul says about Israel is indeed true about people who associate with the church, and even have their names written on the rolls of the church:  

But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” (Romans 10:16, NIV)

My dear friend, has the Gospel come to you in a saving way, giving you new birth and new hope?  Then cling with all your life to this truth:  What God has begun, He will complete.  The words of this Hymn might be yours:

What from Christ that soul shall sever,
Bound by everlasting bands?
Once in Him, in Him forever,
Thus th’ eternal cov’nant stands;
None shall pluck you,
None shall pluck you
From the Saviour’s mighty hands.

With all these glorious things in mind the Word calls us to live as adopted children in his holy family

Verse 13 begins with “therefore”.  The good news of grace and new life we spoke about up to this point in time from the basis for what follows—“therefore”.

Prepare your minds for action

To “gird the loin” was a metaphor the people in the Middle East at that time understood well. These people normally wore long gowns, and when someone prepared for any strenuous activity, he tied his robe securely (by using a belt, for example), to make sure that his robe would not be in the way. The metaphor therefore came to mean “be ready for action”; or these days we say, “Be focussed!”

After the new birth and the outpouring of the grace of Christ righteousness, new Christians begin living a new life.  Their thinking is now different.  

The old mind was in control of the worthless things of this world.  Some translations use the word “sober-minded”; this is the opposite of being under the influence such as the sinful mind.  Other translations choose the expression “self-controlled”.  

The idea is something like this: the army officer is addressing the soldiers.  The command is always, “Attention!”  The mind of the soldier should be fixed on the officer, because his command is important.  How many times did you hear your dad say, “Do you understand?”  Your mind needs to be in the right place.

The same applies to the Christian.  When God speaks, we jump to attention and pitch our ears with focussed minds to what He says.

A hope which sees the end from the beginning

Peter then uses very interesting words one following the other.  The first describes completeness or something final.   Our Lord used this word when He said, “It is finished. 

Sometimes we need to very careful with Greek words and avoid similar sounding words in English as if it always means the same; yet, this Greek word finds its way into the English language in words like tele-vision, tele-phone and tele-gram.  What the “tele” in these words does is to connect two things which are far apart with one another, to mean completeness:  one speaks the other listener, and although they are not with one another they share in the same conversation. 

When Peter uses the next word, “hope”, we begin to understand what he has in mind.  It is as if he says: make your hope a reality.  Be so attuned to what your Officer-in-Command says that what he is talking about will control your life from beginning to end, and from the end to the beginning. Our minds needs to be so attuned and focussed on the Good News of the Gospel that our hope for the day of the return of Christ actually shapes our daily walk, now and here.  

This is where Peter is going in the next phrase:  not only did we received grace when we received “great mercy” by receiving a “new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1Peter 1:3); but Christ will return (He will be “revealed”- 1 Peter 1:14) and give us even more grace!  This must drive us; our minds must be focussed in Him, our hope.

The reason:  we must be obedient children

To be born again, to be given a new life, is the language of the Bible to describe adoption into the family of God.  Once we were not children of God; our minds were shaped by our sinful, corrupted heart; we were controlled by the desires of fallen nature, we lived in ignorance, our lives were meaningless and hollow.

We need the say more about the reference to “when we lived in ignorance.”  We know an expression, “Ignorance is bliss”; but, there is another, “Ignorance is no excuse.”  Peter uses this word not be mean “innocence”; he uses it in the same sense as the prophets who referred to stubbornness.  Ignorance in this sense implies knowledge, but a stubbornness to turn one’s ear from the knowledge and continue living as if you did not hear it.

But grace changes everything:  those who are receiving the Gospel call to receive Christ, also receive the grace of the Holy Spirt in spiritual new birth.  The hollow life of what lies behind is changed into the life of an obedient child.

A homeless person who lives on the streets has the right to make his own rules:  he can sleep in when he wants, he determines if he wants to take a bath, shave his beard or comb his hear.  He even has the freedom to have a meal when he wants and where he wants.  But is a filthy life, the food is poor, and his clothes smell. 

But once he is taken in and cared for by someone who cares for him, someone who is even willing to adopt him as his own child, he understands that what he considered as freedom, is what made him a beggar.  Now in the new household, he lives according to do the bidding of his new father who took him in.  

Our old sinful life was unholy, because our owner then was the father of sin.  Under God there is a radical change:  the sinful life is traded in for a holy life.  Because our Father is holy, his household must be holy; his children must be holy.

Living as aliens and strangers

This, then, leads to the logical conclusion: we are born from above, our hope is from above, our grace is from above, our home and address is in heaven—therefore, we have no place in this world anymore.  We are strangers and aliens.

Right in the beginning of this letter Peter alludes to this fact:  he writes “to God elect, strangers (aliens) in the world.” (1:1)   

This world is not our home.  Your new home is where God reigns.  And we have the privilege to talk to our Father.  This is a beautiful expression:  we may call on God who is our Father.  “Our Father, who art in heaven.”  If He is in heaven, and our hope is in heaven, and our Lord Jesus Christ will be revealed from heaven, and we have the grace so see our present life as being governed from heaven, our lives now will be a life of “reverent fear.”  Being God’s child is always to have respect for Him;  He is your holy Father, and He is after all also our Judge.

Conclusion

This is only one part of our life as adopted child in the holy family of God. Next week we will, Lord willing, continue in this chapter where it talks about our relationship with other sinners who have been adopted as children.

I’m thinking of the words in Psalm 123:1-2 

I lift up my eyes to you, to you who sit enthroned in heaven. As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a female slave look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he shows us his mercy. (Psalm 123:1–2, NIV)

He has shown us mercy in Jesus Christ.  So, gird up your mind for action.  Just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 29 April 2018

 

Life as God’s adopted child (1)

Bible readings

  • Isaiah 40:1-11
  • 1 Peter 1:13-2:3

Introduction

The Bible, in our reading this morning, refers to being “redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers” (1 Peter 1:18)

Don’t we just all remember the joy of blowing and chasing bubbles? All the expensive toys could not compete with the exhilaration of try to catch and hold a bubble.  In the end everyone one of them bursts and disappears into thin air. And what about the balloons?  How long do they last?

We have examples of ostrich and emu eggs which we keep in a safe place in our home.  From a distance they look like the real thing — and they actually are; but look closely and you will see the holes on each end, made to blow out the contents.  It is impossible for those eggs to produce chicks.  They are empty and hollow.

I remember the first Easter egg  my neighbour across the street gave us soon after we arrived in Australia.  Where we come from, chocolate was a rarity, and our culture never took the story of the Easter chocolate eggs seriously.  Soon after church we got stuck into it and ripped the shining foil off it.  How big was my disappointment that the egg was nothing but a shell of a thin layer of chocolate! I thought we were going to have chocolate till Christmas.

Peter writes about a life outside of Christ.  It is a hollow, empty life.  It was worthless, and can only promise the joy of the moment.  In contrast, the Christian life is rich, and it is determined by the best of all riches, now kept and sealed up in heaven.

Up to this point in time we learned from Peter that Christians live this life with their eyes focussed on a hope, guarded by God in heaven.  This hope is anchored in the faith that Jesus Christ will be revealed then in more splendour that He had when He first came into the world to work out our salvation.

We also learned that this salvation had its roots in all of God’s revelation through the Scriptures and promises of the Old Testament, which was inspired by the Holy Spirit, whose ministry it is to, through the preaching of the Gospel, constantly help us to understand an apply the salvation of Jesus Christ.

God’s children are Redeemed by the precious blood of Christ

It is fair to say that the message of the Bible would be hollow and meaningless if the concept and reality of redemption was not central to it.

Let’s try to sum it up:  God made a covenant—a solemn agreement—with Adam and Eve.  They sinned against God and dragged all of their descendants into sin.  God promise them a Redeemer who would trample upon and crush the head of the serpent.  

In and through Abraham God made another covenant—a covenant of grace— with his people to be their God.  Through sinful covenant breaking, the people walked away from God and under satan became slaves to idols which could not save them.  Although God punished them, and even had them do slave labour in distant countries, He remained faithful to his promises and He Himself became their Redeemer.  “Redeemer” is a legal term, and meant that some close family member had to pay a ransom to get those under the curse of the law out of that curse, out of slavery into freedom.  This are classical verses to illustrate this:  

But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath He swore to your ancestors that He brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 7:8, NIV)

“I will deliver this people from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. Where, O death, are your plagues? Where, O grave, is your destruction? (Hosea 13:14, NIV)

It is this act of saving grace Peter is referring to when he says that we are redeemed:  the two components of saving love and the ransom price are prominent here.  In Christ Jesus the love, justice and righteousness of God comes together in the act of redemption.  The ransom price which would satisfy the wrath of God upon sin was the perfect sacrifice of Christ.  The reference to “the Lamb without blemish” not only points back to Passover night and the miraculous redemption out of Egyptian bondage (Exodus 12:5), but to all offerings which had to do with satisfying God’s righteousness over sin and broken relationships.  Christ was that ultimate perfect Lamb without blemish.  His blood not only washes away our sins, but it is the ransom, the price, which satisfied the righteousness of God. Of this sacrifice the writer to the Hebrews writes: 

Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. (Hebrews 10:11–14, NIV)

Christ brings us to God so we can believe in God.  Why?  Not only because He died for us, He also rose in our place to overcome death.  

Through Him you believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and glorified Him, and so your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:21, NIV)

Christians are redeemed people.  They are not sinless, but they are saved sinners.

God’s Children are born by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God

We have to take a small step backward into Peter’s first chapter, verses 10-11.  These verses refer to the Old Testament, which pointed forward to Christ.  The apostles preached what the prophets prophesied;  it was “the Gospel” of Jesus and about Jesus “by the Holy Spirit” (v. 12).  There is an extremely close relationship between the work of the Holy Spirit and the Word regarding Jesus Christ’s work and ministry.  To see this we go to verse 3: 

In his great mercy He [God] has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, (1 Peter 1:3, NIV)

  How did this come about?  Let’s read verse 23:  

For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. (1 Peter 1:23, NIV)

The imperishable things refer back to the blood of Jesus Christ, our redemption and ransom price.  How do we know about this redemption?  Through the enduring Word of God.  The new birth of every Christian, without which our Lord declared that no one can enter or see the Kingdom of God (John 3:3,5) is the result of the ministry of the Holy Spirit which applies the redemptive work of Christ to our souls through the preaching of the Word.  The preaching of the Word is always connected and undergirded by the ministry of the Holy Sprit.  It is always related, and it as such the only God-ordained way by which sinners hear about redemption.  

Peter knew that very well.  He therefore declares the enduring  work and certainty of the outcome of the ministry of the Spirit through the preaching of the Word: 

For, “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:24–25, NIV)

When Paul writes to the Romans he said exactly the same thing:

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. (Romans 10:17, NIV)

To apply this we can draw a few conclusions:

  • The most important activity of the church is to make available the Word of God.  It happens through translation, printing, preaching and studying the Word of God.
  • Ultimately the fruit and growth is not in our hands, but it is the work of God through the Holy Spirit.
  • The message the church should keep itself busy with the message of the redemption from of sin, and the restoration to God through the redemptive work of the Lamb without blemish, Jesus Christ. Nothing more will do; nothing less will do.
  • When the Gospel is twisted to only present Christ as a example of moral living, it has forfeited the privilege of being servants in the hands of the Saviour.
  • Where this message is traded for social gospel, property gospel or feel-good pop-psychology, and when worship services have become therapeutic self-improvement sessions, the church stands condemned before her Saviour.
  • When the Gospel message has been reduced to a dry theological discussion which is aimed at discrediting the authority and inerrancy of the Scriptures, the church has failed its mission.  Souls will not be saved because it is not the Gospel which was preached by the apostles.

God’s redemptive work endures forever 

This is a glorious truth of the Gospel:  not only is the Gospel by nature the enduring Word of God, it’s effect is enduring.  Simply speaking:  The new birth brought about by the gracious work of the Holy Spirit is not temporary.  

What is said about Israel is indeed true about people who associate with the church.  

But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” (Romans 10:16, NIV)

But when the Spirit has given a sinner new life, that sinner can bank on the fact that the Spirit will sustain that new life till the end of time.  This is what we refer to as the perseverance of the saints.  For this we must Give God all glory.  No matter how severe the test, how dire the refining, how dreadful the persecution, how terrifying the opposition, God will not withdrew the grace He once poured out by his Spirit, based on the redemption of Jesus Christ.  To sustain us in times of trial and tribulations his enduring Word, the Bible, is our bread, our light, our lamp, our compass, our comfort, and indeed a hammer to crush the hardest of hearts.  That’s why we need to immerse ourselves in its message and life by it.  

Conclusion

There is the world which presents is with fleeting bubbles, the colourful bursting balloons, and the empty eggs — all examples of hollow promises and and empty way of life.  This will cost you your life.

And then there is the new life in Christ which is enduring:  it speaks of redemption, salvation, forgiveness, hope and and eternal home. This come free, because the price is already paid.  May God give us the grace to see life and follow it and set out hope fully on grace in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 22 April 2018

Born again – a new life!

“To be born again is to enter into a new existence, to have a new mind, a new heart, new views, new principles, new tastes, new affections, new likings, new dislikes, new fears, new joys, new sorrows, new love to things once hated, new hatred to things once loved, new thoughts of God, ourselves, the world, the life to come and salvation.”

~ J.C. Ryle