Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

Living ‘in-Christ’ (4)

Bible Readings

  • Proverbs 10:18-32
  • Colossians 3:5-17

Introduction

My dear friends in Christ,

Successful advertising companies design their ads after careful market research, more so about the potential buyers.  Not only do they know their product, but they know who they want to buy their products.  

To get us to buy a product, they persuade us of two things:  you need something, and you deserve that thing.  Their product is always “better”, “bigger” or “faster”— but we’re not told better, bigger or faster than what! The clincher in the ad is using the words like “you deserve it!”

I sometimes wonder if most of them were looking over the shoulder of the serpent in paradise. The appeal then was on the desire to get what they thought they did not have!  The Bible tells:  

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. (Genesis 3:6, NKJV)

When our first parents fell, the floodgates opened, and sinful desire became like a bottomless well which never runs out of enticement.

We got engaged in the war of Satan, sin and the flesh.  We need a lifeline out of this enslaving mess:  someone to destroy Satan, someone who is victorious over sin, and to help us overcome fleshly desire.  There is only one possibility:  Jesus Christ! We need to live ‘in-Christ’.

The sermon today is still following the theme of Living ‘in-Christ’; the title is Put your mouth where your heart is. Remember these three main points:

  • When the heart is full of lust, the mouth is full of falsehoods 
  • When the heart is a fire, sparks will fly out of the mouth 
  • Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life

When the heart is full of lust, the mouth is full of falsehoods

It is clear from our reading from Colossians this morning that those who received salvation in Christ have received a new address.  Because they, by faith, are ‘in-Christ’ they are principally seated with Christ at the right hand of God (3:1).  They are ‘in-Christ’, they died with Him (3:3), they rose ‘in-Christ’ into a new life Christian, and ‘in-Christ’ they will one day appear in eternal glory (3:4).

However, no Christian is exempt from battle with sin. The war against sin has been won ‘in-Christ’, but the battles are ongoing.  Therefore this verse:  

Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Colossians 3:5, NKJV)

The truth of this verse is important because when the heart is full of lust, the mouth is full of falsehoods.  

The expression ‘evil desires’ in verse 5 is a manifestation of the sin which dwells in man and which controls him; it is the persistent root in us to seek our wills instead of the will of God. This desire arises out of the world, make up its essence and perishes with it.  It is like a wildfire:  if not kept under a lid, it will destroy and devour.  

The essential point in sinful desire is that it is an impulse, a motion of the will. When sinful desire in whatever forms knocks on my door it promises satisfaction and enjoyment; it persuades me that if I don’t give in to its demands, I will be unsatisfied, deprived, unfulfilled.  It convinces me that life without fulfilling the desire is unfair.  It is nothing less than anxious self-seeking. It bursts upon us with the force of immediacy.

This is the old life without Christ.  Paul writes: 

… we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. (Ephesians 2:3, NKJV)

Those who received Christ, who live ‘in-Christ’ “set their hearts” and “set their minds” “on things above” (3:1-2).  It follows as a necessity for those who once were dead in sins of the sinful nature, but who are made alive with Christ (2:13).  Because we are forgiven, because we are rescued, because we are ‘in-Christ’, we must “put to death” our sinful desires.

The Bible warns us that the earthly nature (3:5), the way we used to walk (3:7), the old self (3:9) will keep rearing its head. If our minds are set on earthly things (3:2) these evil desires will pounce on us and severely impede on our Christian progress.  We will be limping along, and our lives will bring dishonour to the Name of Christ who died and rose for us.  No, our lives should be ‘in-Christ’.  

The Bible here uses very explicit language to warn us:  giving in to the desires of the flesh—which is born in the deception of satan—is idolatry, and idolatry is invoking the wrath of God.

The essence then is to mortify these desires in the power of the resurrected Christ.  Our verse says, “Put to death.” 

There is a dire warning about desires.  Jesus told the parable of the seed.

Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. (Mark 4:18–19, NKJV)

Paul writes in Galatians 5

For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. (Galatians 5:17, NKJV)

Keep in mind, when the heart is full of lust, the mouth is full of falsehoods.  It is only when there has been a change of heart, a change of mind, that there will be a change in life.

When the heart is a fire, sparks will fly out of the mouth 

Little wonder then that Paul 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)

The heart is the wellspring for the words of our mouths. Anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language as to verbalise the thoughts of the heart.  When Paul practically applies this principle he uses a very familiar example:  Do not lie to each other. 

Why do we lie?  Invariably, we lie to either protect ourselves or to gain something unlawful.  Why would that be?  It’s purely because the desire to self-seeking has reared its head.  Sinful man will do the distance for as long as his self-interest is at stake.

Christians need to continually flee from this evil.  We need to remind ourselves to put off the old self and put on the new self (3:9-10).  We are called to display the image of our Creator who renewed in the image of Christ.  This means sanctification.  God made us his chosen people, and He calls us holy and dearly loved.  We are made new ‘in-Christ’, and we need to continue to live ‘in-Christ’.  There is no option.

You might have heard people saying something like, “I tell things the way they are; it’s in my nature.”  Or, “It just comes naturally to me to jump in, do things, and later feel sorry.  That’s the way I am.”

Some of us can indeed be a bit fiery, direct, stubborn and abrupt.  Honesty is a good thing, but there is also such a thing as a character being changed and renewed by the work of the Holy Spirit.   It must be true of any Christian! No Christian can hide behind old sinful traits.

Verse 11 almost seems out of place in this chapter.  It reads:  

…there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all. (Colossians 3:11, NKJV)

What does it say?  At least two things:  

  • don’t hide behind your heritage when you get worked up and upset.  “I’m of Scottish heritage!”  “I am a Scythian!” (They apparently were fairly barbaric and could easily use their culture as an excuse for what might be unacceptable to others cultures. The once fiery, direct, stubborn and abrupt must put those things to death, because irrespective of your background, the demand is to live like a Christian.
  • always regard others in the family of Christ as your brothers and sisters, and treat them with the love of Christ, consistently putting them first. 

… bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. (Colossians 3:13–14, NKJV)

The injunction is to take off the old, and to put on the new:  

put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; (Colossians 3:12, NKJV)

Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life

How do we mortify the desires of the flesh?  How do we overcome sin?  How do we have victory over Satan?

  • Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom.  Dwell on the Scriptures.  Read it, know it, study it, and live by it.  It will drive you to live ‘in-Christ.” 
  • Teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. Let the Word be your standard when you want to criticise others.  And let’s be honest, it will be impossible to quarrel over petty nonsense if we sing together with grace in your hearts.  Right?
  • And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. (Colossians 3:16–17, NKJV)  Set your whole life up to honour God and live in thanksgiving.

These things will guard your heart as the wellspring of life.  

Amen.  

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 4 November 2018

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Doing Good (1)

Lost in spite of being good

 Scripture Readings

  • 1Timothy 1:1-12
  • Philippians 3:1-11

 Introduction

Brother and sister in Christ Jesus,

Today we commence a series of sermons under the heading “Doing Good.”

Protestant Reformed Christians some time shy away from the whole idea of good works.  “Are we not saved by grace and not by good works?  We don’t deserve our salvation and therefore we only talk about grace.”

I think it was John Calvin who remarked that although we are saved by grace alone and not be good works, grace is never alone; it is always followed by good works.

Deep down in everyone of us there is a desire to be good.  Somehow we know it is good to be good.  We send our children off to school saying “be good”. We end a telephone conversation and might say “be good”. What exactly we mean both us and those we speak to do not really know, but we agree that we should be good.

We may even confuse being good with being Australian.  We, as a result, developed the expression when we think that general consensus would not allow certain behaviour that something is “un-Australian”.  When someone cheats his fellow-Australian, he is “un-Australian”, or when the tax man finds out we cheated on our form and fines us, we define that as un-Australian.  Australians are not that generous when it comes to drinking and swearing, because let’s face it, Australia is a beer-drinking and swearing nation.

The problem is defining “good”.  What is our standard for “good”?

Paul’s evaluation of himself before his conversion

Before Paul became a Christian every good Jew would pat him on the back and say, “Good on ye, Mate!  You’re an example of a good man!”

And so he was.  Look at his record.  He was in no way un-Jewish.  He was circumcised on the eight day.  His mom and dad took him to the priest not a day earlier and not a day later than what the law demanded.  By being circumcised he became part of the Covenant people of the Lord. You could say his life started in the temple – good start.

He did not become a Jew, he was born a Jew; he was not proselyte who converted to Judaism.  Coming from a good family, from the tribe of Benjamin, the same as king Saul.  Benjaminites were the smallest of the tribes, but they were brave warriors who stood up for what was right, and were very precise with the sword.  With their slingshots they could throw a stone at a hair and not miss. (Judges 20:16).  Of all the sons of Jacob, Benjamin was the only one born in Israel, and besides Joseph, Benjamin was the favourite son of Jacob. The blood of the Benjaminites filled the veins of Paul.

Calling himself a Hebrew of Hebrews he probably add to his linage the fact that he spoke Hebrews as first language.  It was quite common in Paul’s days for Jews to speak Aramaic or even Greek as first language.

Add to this that he made a choice to become a Pharisee.  These was the sect that absolutely devoted themselves to the exact observance of the Jewish law.  They were the most zealous supporters and interpreters of Old Testament law, and Paul had studied under Gamaliel, its most celebrated teacher.

He took his understanding and devotion of being a Jew to the point that he persecuted the church in his efforts to promote Judaism.

He was no half-hearted Jew. If anyone wanted to judged him in accord with the righteousness the law demands, he would have been blameless. As a committed Pharisee, he paid scrupulous attention to the requirements of the law, and no one could have charged him disobedience to it.  He was legalistically faultless.  A real good bloke; an example of good living; a real Jewish icon and role model.

“Good on ye, Mate!”  He could have earned a headstone with the words “Rest in peace” on it.

Paul as he saw himself after his conversion

Now you have to turn with me to 1 Timothy 1:13 and further.

The first thing he says about, now looking back on those “good old days”, is that he was the worst sinner of them all.  The this he added that he was a blasphemer, a persecutor and a violent man.

He knew what sin was.  As student of the Old Testament, there would be no doubt in his mind about sin and being a sinner. But according to his own standard he was not a sinner; he was a good Pharisee, always trying his best to be righteous, even more than the average Jew.

As blasphemer there was nothing good he wanted to know about Jesus Christ; there was nothing he wanted to know about any follower of Jesus.  Another translation of the word is to revile, or to stigmatise.  He did all of this because he supposedly was doing God a favour – or at least he found favour with the leaders of the Jews.

He persecuted the church.  Acts 9:1 says he was breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples, and should he find a Christian in Damascus, he got permission from the Jewish leaders to put them in prison.

He said he did these things because he was ignorant and he was unbelieving. He did not know the essentials of who Christ was, and as a result he did not believe in Christ.  This did not excuse him for what he did.  Jesus did not say to Paul, “You did not know, so you are not guilty of making fun of Me and those who believe in Me.”  Paul would later himself write that no one is without excuse.  But what he writes in 1 Corinthians 2:8

… these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit… The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. (1 Corinthians 2:10, 14, NIV)

Point is, although Paul knew the Scriptures of the Old Testament by heart, he did not see Christ in them.  The Spirit made it possible for him to see, understand, know and believe. He says in 1 Timothy 1:14

The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 1:14, NIV)

He stresses the point:  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  And he says “I am the worst.”  You see, when he was on his way to Damascus to throw Christians in jail, Christ appeared to him.  “Why are you persecuting Me?”  For all intends and purposes Paul could say that he was not persecuting Christ, because he thought Christ was dead and buried.  Our Lord said he was, because persecuting the followers of Christ was to persecute Christ.  At that moment something happened:  Paul spoke to Christ, “Who are You, Lord?”

This was a defining moment for Paul.  Christ revealed Himself to Paul.  He writes about it in Galatians 1:

I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles…  (Galatians 1:14–16, NIV)

Paul had this dramatic and definite change of course in his life.  First he saw himself as this super zealous, outstanding student of the Word of God, part of God’s people, a role model for every young Jew.  Maybe he dreamed about becoming a member of the elite Jewish Council.  Then, meeting Christ, he looked at himself and saw a pathetic, hopelessly lost sinner, an unbeliever, with books full of knowledge, yet knowing nothing.

I ask myself what many good churchgoers see when they look at themselves in the mirror.  They attended Sunday school; they made profession of their faith and became members of the church; they were baptised and they take communion on a regular basis; they put money in the plate; they might even have taught Sunday school; they support missionaries; and they are on the rosters of different activities of their congregation.  They help those in need, visit the sick in hospital, and even attend prayer meetings.  They hardly say any bad word about anyone and is loved by all.  All these things are good things, and quite frankly, anyone who calls himself a Christian and do not do these things is fooling himself.

But in the end, what is it that put us right with God? There is this day that all of us, on God’s appointed time, will stand before Him, looking Him in the face, and then we will have to explain why He should allow us into his eternal heaven.

“Lord, I have done all these things, I don’t need to tell you about all the good things I have done.  I never mixed with those who hate You, and I tried my best.”  Our God will want to know if we trusted in Jesus Christ only for righteousness.  In other words, God will want to know what we did with his gift, his Son, who was sent into the world, not to make as better people, but to make us new.

Our flesh, our old nature, the one we are born with, is one that can never please God, no matter how good we are or how hard we try.  Jesus said:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:21–23, NIV)

This tells us that God know no one who come to Him, unless that person comes in the Name of Jesus Christ;  He is our advocate; He is our righteousness; and He is the only one ordained by the Father who is the door through which we must go to enter heaven’s door.

What now?

This is the dead end, the cul de sac, for anyone who is honest and sincere about life, and about eternal life:  I am sinner, lost, unbelieving, not knowing God; all along I thought I had it all!

Honesty can sometimes be very painful; it drags one off of the throne of one’s life and smashes you to bits before the Holy God.  There is another possibility:  many have been at the point of understanding the consequences of not following Jesus Christ, but found the price is just too high.

Paul, by God’s grace, took his pride, his standing in social circles, his model life, the confidence the Jewish leaders put in him, all the good things he and others thought about himself, and weighed it up against value the of knowing Christ.  It became worthless.  He turned his back on those things, not because they were bad in themselves, but because as far as salvation in concerned, everything he considered valuable was worthless.  He became a fool in the eyes of his fellow Jews, and now like they did with Jesus and the Christians, they derided and mocked him.

That’s the cost of discipleship.  Oh, that God would give you the grace, if you have not done so yet, to not stop at this point.  My friend, go all the way – it is worth the while. Listen to what Paul says:

I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. (Philippians 3:8–9, NIV)

Did you hear the crux of this verse:  that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ.  His good works counted for nothing in the sight of God; Christ’s good work of obtaining and providing freely by grace a righteousness that satisfies his Father counted for everything.

Now, with his life direction having changed completely, he says:

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like Him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10–11, NIV)

He just want to know Christ – even if it meant that he would suffer like Christ – but by knowing Christ he would attain everlasting life through the resurrection of Christ.  And at that point he could stand in the presence of God and know that God will indeed allow him into heaven – he knew Christ, trusted Him completely, obeyed Him with an undivided heart – all along clinging to the sure knowledge that becasue this is the case, heaven is a place to long for, live for and die for.

Conclusion

What now?  May I ask you this question, my dear friend?

It was nearly midnight in a church hall.  Some members of our congregation got together for some games and fellowship as we waited for the new year to begin.  About 11:45 we all sat down and I conducted a devotion.  The reading was from our text this morning. “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.  I want to be found in Him.”

I dropped the hint that maybe we should take these words a our New Year’s resolution, but also made it clear that we can only face the future if Christ is indeed our only righteousness. Very simply I invited those who do not have this sure knowledge in their hearts to trust Jesus Christ as Saviour.  The next day I heard that a young man, who was there the previous evening with his godly parents, realised that he was lost without Christ.  God made it clear to him that he needed to know Jesus.  That New Year’s day he committed his life to Christ, and his life changed – he began to live.  By God’s grace he is still standing strong.

What about you?

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 2 March 2014