Remember Who You Are

Sermon Summary: Remember Who You Are
Galatians 4:21-31

What we believe about who we are (identity) drives how we see the world (worldview) and how we live (lifestyle/morality). Paul is address this identity-issue in today’s passage: he’s reminding the Galatians church that as believers in Jesus Christ they are “Children of Promise.”

He compares the children of Hagar with the children of Sarah, making it clear that those who put themselves “Under the Law” are children of Hagar the slave. Instead, we who believe in Christ are born of the Spirit and are children of Sarah, we are children of promise.

It’s worth considering why anyone would desire to put himself under the law. There are three main reasons to consider.

  1. Putting yourself under the Law makes life clear-cut and simple. Under the Law, life is black-and-white and you only need to learn what God wants you to do and teach others to learn God’s Law too. The problem with this is that God’s Law never changes hearts, it shows the hearth’s guilt before a holy God, so life turns out to not be so simple and clear-cut afterall because we aren’t able to do what we know we should do.
  2. Putting yourself under the Law promotes Holiness. Holiness is a good thing, and we’re all called to pursue it. The Law is good and reflects God’s standard. Again, the problem with the Law is that it can’t bring about what it demands. Where the Law tells us to fly, the Gospel gives us wings.
  3. Putting ourselves under the Law is natural. We all want bad to be punished and good to be rewarded. Grace and mercy are, in many ways, unnatural. Since God is a good Judge, He upholds the Law; since God is loving He took the punishment we deserve.

As Children of Promise, we look forward to the coming of the New Jerusalem. We are people of faith, who live with God’s promises in mind. Although Jerusalem represents the holiest place on this earth, Paul is emphasizing that in comparison to the New Jerusalem (read Revelation 21) it looks like a landfill. In light of the great promise that lays ahead, the Old Jerusalem becomes like Hagar… a substitute that relies on the effort of man instead of the miraculous work of God.

This couldn’t be more practical. We all know people who keep making a mess of their lives; really, who isn’t guilty of doing that to some degree or another! Bad decision after bad decision. Beer after beer. Needle after needle. Partner after partner. Website after website. Lie after lie. We command ourselves to stop, to be less addicted or proud or selfish or judgmental. We keep saying it’s going to be our last time… but it’s not.

Surely counselors and doctors and medicine are wonderful blessings that God has provided, so I’m not saying to avoid those, but we must recognize that they cannot change our hearts… only God can do that, and He does that through faith.

Christian: Remember who you are… a child of promise… a person who walks by faith. Embrace grace – the grace the God has given you, and the grace He is calling you to give to others.

If you are not a Christian, please do this: Look deep within your heart and confess to yourself what you see, then ask yourself what you will do with your sin. How will you stand before a Holy God? How “good” is good enough?

The Great News of the Gospel is this: God loves sinners! He loves sinners so much He died for them, for you and for me, so that we could be forgiven, redeemed, and made innocent so we can stand before a Holy God.

2012: A Year Longing for Peace

The following is a summary of a sermon I preached at Emmanuel Baptist Church on December 30, 2012.

As we spend time looking back at 2012, one of the clearest themes that stands out is a longing for peace.  In some cases this peace is present, acting as a foreshadowing to a more lasting and richer peace that is longed for.  In other stories, there is a clear longing for the peace that it is painfully absent.

Without understanding from where our peace comes, we will always search but never find, long for it but never be filled.  Too often, we find ourselves searching for peace from false peace-givers: money, power, fame, recognition, pleasure, success, good grades, and even family.  These can be good things, but when we look to them for what only God can give then we turn them into idols and false peace-givers.

In John 14:1-3 Jesus tells his disiples, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

First, Jesus tells them to not let their hearts be troubled.  The word translated as “troubled” also caries the idea of “being shaken.”  As Jesus spoke these words, they had just finished the Last Supper in the upper room in Jerusalem and Jesus knew he was about to be betrayed, arrested, and crucified.  He had just told the disciples he was going to be killed, and then he tells them to not be shaken, to not let their hearts be troubled.

Next, Jesus affirms their faith in God and tells them to trust in him.  He’s transferring their faith in the Father to faith in Him, the Son, and then later (in v.18) promises to send them the Holy Spirit.  God is utterly and completely trustworthy.  They do not need to be shaken or troubled even though they’re walking down a very troublesome road (remember, these men were most likely teenagers and young men who had left everything to follow Jesus).

In order to give them peace and keep them from being shaken, Jesus points their attention heavenward, he reminds them of the big picture.  Throughout the Bible we see that God’s peace is God’s presence.  Whenever people long for peace, they receive the promise of God’s presence.  Peace doesn’t mean an absence of suffering or adversity; it means that God is with us (2 Cor. 4:8-9, 14).

Jesus says that he is going to his Father’s house to prepare a room for his disciples.  In fact, there are many rooms, not just a few rooms for a few very special guests.  He’s going to prepare a place for us and will come to bring us to our forever home with God.

Jesus is our access to the Father.  Jesus is the fulfillment of the Psalmist’s longing to see God’s face (Psalm 27:8-9, 51:11, 69:17, 80:7).  Jesus is the preacher of peace because he brings us into God’s presence (Eph. 2:17-18).  And what’s most incredible is that God himself came to us because we could not come to him (John 3:16-17) – this is the meaning of Christmas!  Jesus Christ is the Messiah, Immanuel, God-with-us.

Don’t give up on peace, but make sure you’re looking for peace from the only One who can really give it.  If saying “Jesus is my peace” sounds trite and simple to you, then maybe you need to reconsider from where you’re pursuing peace.  Maybe you’re looking for peace from false peace-givers.  Or maybe you’re looking for peace from God’s gifts, but not from God Himself – remember that peace is a fruit of the Spirit, which means it’s a byproduct of a loving and faith-filled heart towards God.

God’s presence is our peace.  That’s not something we can look for through good health, happy families, a strong economy, or a godly president.  2012 had its mountaintops and its valleys, so will 2013.  The secret of having peace is searching for it in the right place.  Jesus Christ brings peace, because he brings us to the Father.  The Holy Spirit is our advance payment, rely on Him to strengthen you for the remainder of the journey until your peace is paid-in-full.


Sermon Summary: What Did Jesus Accomplish?

What Did Jesus Accomplish?
Ephesians 2:11-22

Through Abraham, Moses, and the prophets God revealed Himself to Israel and through the covenants He made with Israel salvation and redemption were made possible. God worked through Israel in a special and particular way, in order that all nations might receive salvation. Since the Gentiles (everyone who isn’t Jewish) were outside of the covenant they were “without God and without hope in the world” (v.12).

But Paul is boldly declaring that those who were far away have been brought near, those who were not children of the covenant have been made children of God, those who were without God and without hope are now able to claim that Jesus is their peace. Because God has reconciled both Jews and Gentiles to Himself, we ought to be reconciled to one another. Paul tears down any excuse for racism or prejudice through the cross.

Paul infuses the Church with hope, faith, and love by reminding the Ephesians what Christ did:

  • He took those who were far away and brought them near through His blood (v.13)
  • He became our peace (v.14)
  • He united us and destroyed the barrier and dividing wall of hostility (v.14)
  • He reconciled both Jews and Gentiles to God through the cross, and put an end to our hostility (v.16)
  • He preached peace to those who were far away and to those who were near (v.17)
  • He gave us equal access to the Father (v.18)
  • He is building us into a “dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (v.22 – aka: the Church)

Because of this, we ought to daily cling to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, remembering from where we came. We were without God and without hope, but Jesus Christ has become our peace. May we also proclaim peace to those who are far away and to those who are near. We cannot preach the peace of the Gospel to those who are far away if we all stay where we are! Some of us must go as missionaries, all of us must send missionaries. We must prayerfully pursue opportunities to proclaim peace to those who are near us throughout each day.

Questions to consider:

  • Is there racism or prejudice in you? Do you believe that people need to be like you if they’re going to become more like Christ?
  • Do confess that apart from Jesus Christ you are “without God and without hope?” (maybe God desires to remind you of this truth through your continued struggle against sin – to show you who you would be without Him!)
  • Would you be willing to go far away to proclaim the peace of Christ if He clearly told you to go? Are you willing to do all you can to support those who have received that calling?
  • Are you being faithful to proclaim peace to those who are near? Are you praying for opportunities to share the Gospel with your family/friends/co-workers/neighbors/etc.?

Sermon Summary: From Enemies to Family

The following is a summary of the sermon I preached at Emmanuel Baptist Church on 11/13/11.  Audio CD’s can be requested by contacted the church office.

Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be call sons of God” (Mt. 5:9).  As children of God, we should be people who build peace where there used to be conflict – Peace with God, and Peace with others.  God made peace with us through the Gospel and He sends us out as Ministers of Reconciliation.  The Gospel has turned us from enemies into family… and we are called to do likewise.

In 2 Corinthians 5:20-21 the Apostle Paul instructs Christians that they are ambassadors for Christ who must go out to proclaim to others, “Be reconciled to God!”   Reconciliation literally means, “To rejoin what has been separated.”  Jesus Christ took our sin upon himself, canceling our debt, and reconciling to the Father.  We have been reconciled to God, adopted as children of God through faith in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ.  This is the message of reconciliation we are instructed to share.

How can we plead with others to be reconciled to God if we ourselves leave a trail of conflict behind us?  The Gospel isn’t merely a pattern to follow or a good example to learn from; the Gospel is life.  Even if you could live at peace with everyone you know, there would still be “something” missing in your life… and you’d know it.  We need to be reconciled to God, and that is only possible through faith in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is the foundation for peace-making; meanwhile, peace-making is a fruit of the Gospel.

Bitterness and an unforgiving heart are directly opposed to the Christian’s calling.  We will never desire peace any more than we desire humility.  Are you willing to learn from Christ and make the necessary sacrifices in order to bring about peace and reconciliation?

“The peace that God secures is never cheap peace, but always costly. He is indeed the world’s preeminent peacemaker, but when he determined on reconciliation with us, his “enemies” who had rebelled against him, he “made peace” through the blood of Christ’s cross (Col 1:20). …We have no right to expect, therefore, that we will be able to engage in conciliation work at no cost to ourselves….” (John Stott, in The Cross of Christ)

One helpful reminder is the difference between Forgiveness and Reconciliation.  Forgiveness is one-sided: I’m responsible for it and I can do this without you doing it in return.  Reconciliation, however, is a two-way road: I can’t force you to be reconciled to me, it must be mutual.   While I can’t force reconciliation, I need to do everything I can to make it possible.

Jesus prayed, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sinned against us.”  Are we really willing to do that, or it is just something we say in church?  When we refuse to forgive and pursue peace with others then we need to remember how much we have been forgiven by God through the Gospel.

Please visit PeaceMaker Ministries’ website for the “Seven A’s of Confession” I shared in the sermon are listed on the website along with many other wonderful resources here: Foundational Principles in PeaceMaking.

A simple way to determine whom you need to pursue reconciliation with is to ask yourself this question: “Who makes you roll your eyes?”  God made peace with us through the Gospel, and He sends us out as Ministers of Reconciliation.  Do you bring peace where there is conflict – Peace with God, and Peace with others?

About two years ago I used PeaceMaker Ministries’ resources to teach a series in Youth Group called “Conflicted?” below are the links to those lesson summaries:

  1. The Gospel of Peace.
  2. Healthy Responses to Conflict
  3. How do you Resolve Conflict
  4. How Should we Resolve Conflict Christianly?

Sermon Summary: “Law & Gospel: God’s Commandments & Promises”

Law & Gospel: God’s Commandments & Promises
Galatians 3:10-14

Paul writes that, “all who rely on works of the law are under a curse” but that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.”  How amazing is God’s grace!  God did for us what we are completely unable to do for ourselves!  God doesn’t require us to be good in order to redeem us; to be redeemed you need to acknowledge that you’re a sinner.  We all fit that bill.

The Old Testament contains 613 commandments, or Laws.  Historically, the Church has taught that there are three “uses” of the Law: as a Curb, as a Mirror, and as a Guide.  God’s Law functions as a Curb in order to restrain society from falling into anarchy by giving basic functions for how people should relate to one another (don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t murder, submit to authority, etc.).  God’s Law is a Mirror that shows us that we are sinful and we need a Savior because we aren’t able to keep God’s Law perfectly and are therefore under a curse.  God’s Law is a Guide to Christians so they know how to live in such a way that honors their Savior and brings joy along the way.  Ultimately, the Law was given to show us our need for a Savior.

Don’t be like the person who couldn’t get the lid off a jar and then claims, “I loosened it.”  No… you didn’t.    The truth is, none of us can take any credit for saving ourselves.  Salvation is not a 50/50 proposition or a deal with God whereby we do the best we can and God “fills the gap.”  Don’t try to take credit for what God has done… you did not “loosen the jar” for God.

We must rely completely on the promise of God, not at all on our ability to keep God’s Law.  Are you trying to take partial credit?  Count on Christ’s righteousness, not your own.

  • Are you counting completely in Christ’s righteousness and not your own?
  • Are you trying to be “good enough” to earn God’s favor?  If you’re living by the Law, you are under a curse.  Sometimes church-goers are really “good” people who keep God’s commandments, but they’re trusting in their own goodness rather than in Christ.  Don’t fall into the trap of Law-keeping, trust fully in the promises of God! (Romans 3:24; 8:1, 38-39; Galatians 3:26; Philippians 4:17)
  • Christian, have you veered off course and started to think about the Gospel as something for “other people” but not as something you need to cling to daily?  The Gospel is everything… don’t forget that.
  • Does your life contradict the grace you have received?  You cannot “be the Gospel” (Jesus is the Gospel, not you!), but your life should reflect the grace and love that you’ve been given.