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Gospel Renewal-Full Sermon Transcript

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PASTOR: MATT DENNINGS

SCRIPTURE READING

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

—Romans 3:21–26 ESV

INTRO

We are continuing our series today, Vital: Gospel Distinctives for Our Day, in which we are taking five weeks to walk through distinctives of the gospel that we believe are vital for us to hold on to and grasp as the church, if we are to continue to grow and be healthy as a church, and be fruitful, and to multiply, and to honor God in this next season in our life together. And so, we hope that this series as a whole will help better equip you with the gospel so that you will be able to better navigate our times with the gospel. And so, if this is the first week that you’re jumping in, this is a perfect time to be jumping in, because we hope that this will even define and highlight some of the core distinctives of what it means to be a part of Emmaus.

Last week, we looked at the distinctive of conversion, which is a word that means that we have to be born again, that there is a supernatural reality that God does in us to allow us to have eyes that are opened to see him, to have this new life within us that is this supernatural reality. And so, we hold to that distinctive. And then, today, what we’re looking at is renewal. The question comes after we are born again, after we have this new life, what does that new life look like? And, we see that is a life of continuous renewal.

Here is the definition for renewal, just a basic definition …

re·new·al: the replacing or repair of something that is worn out, run down, or broken.

And, we were run down, worn out, and broken in our sin. Some of us, today, feel like when we walked in here we were worn down, run down, and broken. And, we again, and again, just as we came to Christ in need of Christ, so we continue in Christ, and are renewed in the same way in Jesus Christ, and through his gospel. But, quickly, before moving on with this idea of renewal, just to give us some biblical texts that give us the idea of renewal, first there’s Colossians 3:10 …

“put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”

—Colossians 3:10 ESV

And then, 2 Corinthians 4:16 …

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.”

—2 Corinthians 4:16 ESV

“he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit”

—Titus 3:5 ESV

You see, gospel renewal means that the work of God continues after we are saved. In other words, God is not done with us. God is not done with you, God is not done with me, God is not done with us.

You know, when I came to Christ … this kind of hits on a personal note for me. I guess you could say my conversion happened when I was in junior high, when my eye were opened and I repented of my sins, and I came to Christ for the forgiveness of my sins. I was in 7th grade, and I was just in a place where the church that I was at, at the time that I found [Christ], really didn’t know what to do with the gospel, to put it frankly. And, I languished for years, until college, actually. And, during that time I wondered, is this really all there is for the Christian faith? Which, is really just looking back again and again to that conversion experience.

And so, I wondered if there was anything more to this walk with Christ, to this spiritual life, to this Christianity that was anything more than maybe that night that I had a deep, emotional response to God. Is there anything more than that moment? And, I began to think that that’s all that there was. And, I became bored. I looked around at school, I looked around to my classmates who didn’t know Christ, and I began to realize that, in fact, actually I was more bored than them because I couldn’t do what they do, but at the same time I wasn’t experiencing this life that was promised. I wasn’t experiencing renewal. That’s what I was missing. That was the vital distinction of the gospel that I was missing.

And so, today we’re going to look at renewal, and what we’re going to do is take a little bit of a tour, a 35 minute tour through Romans, somewhat. And, we’re going to launch into renewal in Romans 3, which we just looked at. And, here’s what we’re going to look at. First, that renewal means that we are saved from the penalty of sin. We have been saved from the penalty of sin, that we are being saved from the power of sin, and that we will be saved from the presence of sin.

So, let’s pray before we dive in.

Heavenly Father,

We thank you that our salvation is not merely just a moment in time, and now we are just in this inbetween time treading water. But, in fact, we are now every day called to renewal, that we are called to new life, we are called to life in Christ, we are called to walk in freedom from sin, that we are called to walk by your Spirit, walk in your presence, to experience new life. And so, Father, this morning we ask that you would open our eyes, help us to grasp this truth, and to take hold of it. We ask in Jesus’ name, Amen.

I. GOSPEL RENEWAL MEANS WE’VE BEEN SAVED FROM THE PENALTY OF SIN (Romans 3:21-26)

Well, gospel renewal means we’ve been saved from the penalty of sin. We’re starting, again, in Romans 3, which we read in the scripture reading. And, Romans 3 gives us a solution to a problem. At this point in Paul’s letter to the Romans, the Christians who were in Rome - modern day, what we think of as Rome, the city of Rome, the Christians who are there, Paul has written them a letter - and, he’s at this point in the letter giving them a solution, which means that there’s a problem that comes before.

Now, just to give you an idea, you may be familiar with this passage, because this passage is a very well known passage. In fact, Martin Luther, the reformer, actually says that the center of - not just the argument of Romans - but the center of all of Christianity, and all of scripture, is summed up in this passage. Leon Morris, who is a scholar and commentator, wrote about this paragraph in Romans. He said this is perhaps the most important paragraph that has ever been written. And, the reason is because it defines the solution to the problem that Paul lays out, starting in Romans 1.

And so, we can’t really get an idea of this good, the good news of the solution, until we look at Romans 1. And so, I want to just go back briefly, Romans 1, Paul says that God has created a world that is made to reflect his glory. Now, you might be thinking, what is glory? Well, it may be helpful, first, to define that God is holy. And, what we mean by Holy is that God is perfectly beautiful, true, good, righteous, morally pure, he’s grand, he’s strong … every perfection you can imagine, it leads you up, as C.S. Lewis says, back up a sunbeam, up to the sun, who is God.

In fact, God, in his holiness, though, the question is, what happens when that holiness goes public? Well, when that holiness goes public, you could say, when that holiness goes outward, it is glorious. And so, when scripture defines God’s glory, when it talks about God’s glory, what it’s talking about, is that like the sun, imagine God and his holy being the ball of gas that we call the sun, and then you imagine that, we stand in the sunlight. That’s his glory, that we bask in his glory, that we stand in his glory.

And, God has made a world that is filled with his glory, that is emanating with the truth of who he is, and his holiness, and that goodness, and that truth, and that beauty, and that purity, and it is made and hardwired into this creation. And, the good news is that God created that world. The bad news is, then, as it says in verse 20 of chapter 1 of Romans … for his invisible attributes, namely his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made … And again, what he’s saying there, just like Psalm 19:1, when it says that the heavens declare the glory of God, that all of creation, when we look at it we can see something true about God, that he is glorious, that he is good, that he is beautiful. So, when you see the mountains, when you see that new picture, now, of the black hole, right? That should blow your mind, and it should make you think thoughts of God, of how huge he is, how powerful he is, and even the mysteries of God.

And, its says this right here, that we can perceive this, but then if you go down, jump down to verse 23 to get a clear statement, it says in response, we have God’s glory …  but we exchange the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, and birds, and animals, and creeping things … That’s language that goes back to Genesis 1. That’s language that goes back to say that we were made for this glorious creation, for this relationship with God, to know his glory, and instead we have rejected it, and we’ve turned everything on its head, whereas before, it was God, and then man was placed in creation, and creation was used, then, by man for the raw materials to glorify God, and said, now, everything is flipped on its head.

And so, now it’s creation rules over man, and then God is like this add-on. And so, man now takes worship of what’s meant for God, and he uses it to worship creation, and now man serves creation. And so, now our jobs are a place where we find our identity, our lives are the place where we find significance, and we find that over, and over again, we try to find satisfaction in things that actually can’t satisfy us. That’s why we sings songs after confession about expressing that we want to turn constantly, again and again, to lesser loves, cause we were made for a greater love. And so, God’s revealed in his glory, but we rejected his glory. And this is why, then, in chapter 3 as we read in the liturgy, starting in verse 10, it goes on to say … none is righteous, no not one, no one does good, not even one … And so, now our hearts are turned to find glory in ourselves and creation, rather than in God. We’ve rejected his glory.

And so, at this point … you may have thought that when we read that passage in the confession, you may have been like, man … not one? Really? Is it really that bad? What Paul is saying is, yes. It really is that bad in our sin, and Paul says if you understand the bitterness of how bad your sin is, then now you are ready to hear the sweetness of Jesus Christ. And then, he transitions into our passage. In verse 21, then he says … but now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law … you see, what Paul does here, is he transitions from using language like glory, which is good and beautiful and true and pure, and what Paul says is that now, that has been tarnished by man, and that is called unrighteousness. Unrighteousness, to reject what is true, what is beautiful, what is pure, what is glorious. And, he says, how though, there is one who has entered the world, and he lives delighting in what is good, and what is true, and what is beautiful, and he not only does that, but he also is going to bring you back to what is glorious. He’s going to restore you to it. He’s going to renew you.

And so, in verses 21 and 22, we see that Jesus is the one who is righteous, and he says he is a remedy for us, in verse 23, for we have … all sinned … and we ... fall short of the glory of God. He juxtaposes Jesus to our failure. Jesus’ righteousness to our own righteousness, Jesus’ obedience to our disobedience, Jesus’ desire for glory and for goodness and what is true. And we may say, what does it mean? Why is it so bad that we fall short of the glory of God? Why is this such a horrible thing? Well, what this is saying here is if God made a creation that reflects who he is, and is meant to just embody and be hardwired with who he is, it is the most satisfying reality we could ever imagine. The best thing that could ever be created is the world God created for us to live in, to delight in him and know him. And so, anything that tarnishes it, hatred instead of love, lust instead of fidelity, abuse instead of care and peace, these things tarnish. They corrupt. They pollute God’s glory.

And so, God says, I don’t just want to give you some half-baked remedy. I want to give you my glory. I want to give you my goodness, and I want you to see my beauty. I want you to experience my presence. And so, God says that takes a massive remedy. And so, specifically, Jesus Christ - who is the righteousness of God - then, it says in verse 24 and 25, especially, that God put him forward ... as a propitiation by his blood … And so, what God does here, is he says there is a reality, a pollution, a tarnishing of what is good, and he pours out. Propitiation means that God satisfies his wrath. Christ says, I will take their sin upon myself, and I will receive your wrath, so that it falls upon me and not upon them.

Now, I know - for a second here I have to say something - because, I know in our modern world, we tend to hear that idea of a sacrifice being made for sins, of God’s wrath being poured out … you see, God becomes both the propitiated, he’s the one who’s satisfied, and he becomes the propitiation in the Son, he becomes the one who is the propitiated, the one who actually satisfies the wrath of God, the propitiation, the object of that wrath. And, I know in the modern world, we think, oh this is just some kind of archaic, religious idea of wrath. But, I actually think it’s a very modern idea. Because, today, I think of it as simply - and I get it, why we tend to recoil at this - but then, I just turn on the news. Then, I go onto social media, and I realize that we, as human beings, is we’ve lost this idea that there is this actual standard of glory, and of goodness, and of holiness, and now we’ve kind of made it a catch-all for whatever you think it might be, then we all are, at the same time, pouring out and expecting propitiation for our wrath, for the injustices and the brokenness as we define it, all around us. And, just go on to social media to see it just fulminating and being poured out. The wrath is constantly coming.


You can read books like Jon Ronson’s book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, and you can read of the accounts that began happening five years ago, that are of individuals being torn apart, their reputations being shredded, their lives being ruined. See, here’s what I’m saying. We may say, as modern people, that we don’t believe in wrath, that we don’t believe in hell. But, we will very quickly pour out our wrath on individuals who do not agree with us, and do not measure up, and then we will banish them and socially ostracize them to a hell of our own making. See, there, the bad news is there’s no redemption. But, the good news here is God says there is a wrath, there is a standard of justice, it must be poured out, it must be cleansed, it must be gotten rid of, but your bad news is, you would be under that wrath. And, we all feel it. That’s why social media, when you go on it, you’re depressed, right? Because, you walk away going, oh, that’s me, I’m just going to back up now, pretend I didn’t go in there. Right?

And, he says, but the good news is now, that that you can look straight into your sin, you can look straight into your brokenness, you can look straight into your dependencies, and you can say yes, that is me, and he says, I have a solution. It is my grace, found in the son of God. And so, God pours out his wrath in Jesus, and the gospel gives us a better news. It’s called the great exchange, saying that Jesus exchanges his righteousness for our sin. It’s put like this by John Stott, who is a scholar who just passed away a few years ago, in his commentary in Romans he sums it up like this, this is great …

““The righteousness of God” is God’s just justification of the unjust, his righteous way of pronouncing the unrighteous righteous, in which he both demonstrates his righteousness and gives righteousness to us. He has done it through Christ, the righteous one, who died for the unrighteous. And he does it by faith when we put our trust in him, and cry to him for mercy… The gospel reveals “God’s righteous way of ‘righteoussing’ the unrighteous.”

—John Stott, Romans


See, God doesn’t just pass over things, he doesn’t just flippantly say, we’ll just sweep that under the rug. But, he actually deals with it. He takes on the penalty of our sin, and now the decision for us is … do we want the renewal that comes when God covers the penalty of our sin? See, let me just be clear. Either Jesus Christ will bear the the wrath for your sin, or you will bear the wrath for your sin. And, God says, let me renew you. Let me forgive you. Let me wash away your sins so that you might live - not trying constantly to overcome your shame and overcome your guilt, and overcome all of the things that are rattling in your mind and trying to run from them -  to stop living running from something, and start living running to something. Run to Christ.

And so, gospel renewal means that in Jesus Christ, God has saved us, by faith, from the penalty of sin, to live a new life. And, it is in that new life that we also are being saved from the power of sin. So, the second point, the first that gospel renewal means that we have been saved from the penalty of sin, but then the second, gospel renewal means that we are being saved from the power of sin.

II. GOSPEL RENEWAL MEANS WE’RE BEING SAVED FROM THE POWER OF SIN (Romans 8:1-14)

If we follow Paul’s argument, it’ll eventually bring us to chapter 6. So, if you have a Bible, turn to chapter 6 of Romans. And, verse 1, verses 1-4, it says this … What shall way say, then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? … So, now you have this issue that, okay, the penalty of sin has been done away with and now you’re living life, and he says, people keep saying, well, if it all grace and it’s covering you, then now what’s going to happen is, people are just going to start sinning and going ...ah, there’s grace. I’m good. And he says, so are we supposed to just go on sinning so that grace may abound? … By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? … Catch that? How can we? … Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life …

So, what’s Paul saying here? We saw this demonstrated, actually, two weeks ago, here at the 11:00 service, we had nine baptisms on Easter. And, baptism provides a picture of what happens when we place our faith in Jesus Christ. When we place our faith in him, when we look - and by faith, I mean that we trust that God’s remedy for our problem - God’s solution in Romans 3:21-26 is the solution that I need for my problem, which is defined in the first two and a half chapters of Romans. Paul says, if you see, then you place your faith in Christ, that his sacrifice for your sins is what you need. And he says that when that happens, just as Christ died, going under judgement … see, when it says that he was baptised - this is why Paul uses this imagery of baptism - he’s saying something very specifically. Because, here’s what happens in baptism …

In baptism, we might just think, oh, it’s water. And so, sometimes one aspect of baptism is that it means, like, a cleansing for sin, like a bath. If you don’t know what I’m talking about with a cleansing in water and a bath, then perhaps you have some other things you need to work on. But, when we go down for cleansing, but also it’s actually hitting on an imagery that’s all throughout scripture. It’s very precise, and it’s this … throughout scripture, water is a symbol of judgement. Specifically, if you think about what happens with Noah, God’s first major response to sin after the Fall, with Noah. What does he do? He floods the world. And, Noah, who is righteous, builds a boat - it’s an ark - and he passes through the flood, through the judgement waters, that cleansed the world of sin, and he passes through the judgement waters through the ark, and he comes to the other side.

And then, also, you come to the Israelites in Egypt, during the Exodus, when they come out, it says, before they have the passover, the say, if you’re going to be covered by the blood of the Lamb, then put blood over your doorpost, and those who do it are now covered by the blood of this lamb, the sacrifice for sins, which Paul is pointing back to and using that imagery in the sacrifice for Jesus. And, he says, then, what they do is they head out into the wilderness, and Pharaoh and his army start catching up to them to kill them. And, what does God do? He parts the Red Sea, and those who are covered by the blood of the lamb walk through the waters. Those who are not, then the waters come down in judgement upon them, and they die. Then, when we get to Revelation - just so we can go through more - but you go to Revelation and fast forward, it says at the time, when the city of God fully comes to the new Jerusalem, that the sea was no more, that the sea was no more. And, the reason why it says that the sea is no more is because it’s saying that evil no longer exists. Now, there’s a river running through, but there’s no longer this chaotic sea, where sin abounds.

And so, the judgement waters, at that point it says if you, a Christ goes under in death, he then goes under judgement of God, but then he’s the one who’s raised in newness of life. And, Paul says, if you have been baptized in Christ, you also have gone under the waters of judgement - I always joke that when I do baptism I like to hold people there for a second, just to make them wonder … am I really going to be resurrected with Christ? You are! Born in newness of life! Right? Just to make sure they get it, hammer it home - but then, we’re raised to this newness of life. And, he says, if that has happened, that means you died already, and now the resurrection is yours. In the same power, here, he says the glory of God that raised Jesus from the grave. Later on in chapter 8, he’s going to say, the Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the grave, that now the glory of God, and the Spirit of God has come to dwell within you, and raise you to newness of life.

And so, it’s not saying just some act of baptism, it’s saying that now your life is fundamentally different. It’s fundamentally different. We walk in newness of life. And then, Paul sums this up, then, in verses 10 and 11, saying … for the death he died, he died to sin once for all, but the life he lives, he lives to God, so you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus … You are freed from sin. You have been freed from guilt, you have been freed from sin. The grave no longer has any power over you. Because, the one who walked in the judgement and then walked back out of the grave, you have become one with him. And, if you are one with him, then not only have you died with him, but you are risen with him, and that power dwells within you.

See, renewal in the gospel is not just about one moment when you’re forgiven of your sins, and your guilt is erased. It also means that now you walk, and you live with a new power that says you are a new being, you are a new creation, you have new life within you as well. Now, I know as I start to say this, because I’m starting to talk about now, that we have the power, we are being freed from the power of sin. And, I know as I start talking about this, you’re like, man, Pastor, you’re starting to make this sound really, kind of, too easy, right? And, I think one of the things is that when we think about sin and overcoming sin, what we tend to do, is we tend to turn to introspection, we tend to become overwhelmed and just thinking about the ways in which we’ve failed. But, here’s they that I want you to hear. Gospel renewal comes not from our feeling more guilty, not from our beating ourselves up more, not from ourselves demanding more of ourselves and saying I just need to do better. Gospel renewal comes by God’s means, and God’s means that he has given are two-fold here in what Paul says. And, these are the two ways that you overcome and are freed and find renewal and freedom from the power from sin.

The first is identity in Christ. See, one of the things in our sin, and just - I guess I should say a side note - I’m not talking about … it’s a different approach we need to take a little bit if you’re saying, I’m continuing in sin, and I just don’t care what God thinks, and I desire sin, and I’m just going to continue down that road. That is a dangerous place to be. So, if you’re thinking, okay, I’m a serial killer, I’m about 20 people in now, and I’m just going to continue, so I’m going to apply grace here, this isn’t the way you apply grace, okay? This is talking about those sins that are ongoing, those attitudes of the heart, those words that keep coming out, the attitudes and the emotions, and the thoughts. And, this is what the first thing is, identity in Christ.

Here’s the thing about your baptism. Paul goes here because he has a paradigm, which is in the baptism of Jesus. And, he says, if you’re one with Jesus, then you can look at the baptism of Jesus, to see how the Father looks at you. See, often in our sin when we have these attitudes and we have these things that come out, what do we do immediately? We start beating ourselves up, and in fact we tell ourselves, oh God … we just think God is, like, maybe a parent who shamed us too much, or a friend, or someone in our life who has just poured scorn and shame on us, and we immediately think … God thinks about me that way.

And, what he says is that the baptism of Jesus Christ, what you see is that Jesus is baptized, and then he comes up out of the waters and what happens? The Father speaks from heaven, saying ... this is my son, in whom I am well pleased. And, why is that important for you? Because, if you are in Jesus Christ, the Father sees you as the other side of that baptism. He sees you as one with his Son. He looks at you, he delights in you. He looks at you as his child, and he says, this is one in whom I am well pleased. You see, so often we only look in the mirror of our sin, and that just beats us down again, and again, and again. And, what God says, is allow me to be your mirror. Allow me to tell you how I see you. Allow my grace to overcome your sin.

But, it’s not only the identity, it’s also that there is a power that we have in the Spirit of God. The good news of the gospel is more than just a legal declaration. Again, it’s also new life within you. At Jesus’ baptism, as well, the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus. And, in Christ, you also now are sealed as Ephesians 1 says … with the Holy Spirit. That means God cultivates within you a renewed desire. This is the reason why he’s called the Holy Spirit. Because, that holy character of God that now is all this glory around us in creation, now God puts his Holy Spirit in you, cause it doesn’t just sit in the holy of holies in a temple somewhere in Jerusalem, but now it is in his redeemed people, and we are the temple, and how his Spirit is within you. And, it cultivates within you a desire for God’s holiness, and to please him, and to be obedient, and to find life in him, and we become a slave of the Spirit. We become a slave of Christ, we become a servant for God’s desires.

And, here’s the thing. I know as soon as I say that, some of you … I’m not a slave of anyone. But, catch what Paul says in verse 12. He says, you can’t just say I’m not a slave of anyone. In fact, in verse 12, it says … let not sin, therefore, reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions ... See, what Paul says is, you will either be a slave of the spirit of this age, and of the fleshly desires that are within you, or you will be a slave of the Spirit of God. As Bob Dylan said, everybody’s got to serve somebody, right? And, you will either serve the flesh of the world and the devil, of you will serve the Spirit of God.

And so, Paul says, like in Galatians 5, to walk, keep in step with the Spirit, to cultivate the presence of the Spirit. Paul struggled with the power of sin as well. That’s why in the next chapter, in chapter 7, he says, for I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. So, just so you know, the Apostle Paul is right there with you. Right after this, when he says you must walk in the power of the Holy Spirit, you must walk in light of your identity in Christ, he goes straight into the fact that he’s like, I get it. I’m a human being, too. I don’t do what I want to do, and I do what I don’t want to do. But, does Paul give up? Does Paul just beat himself up? Does Paul just say, I’m done with this, or it’s not for me? What Paul says, then in chapter 8, he reminds himself of his identity in Christ, and he points himself, he turns to the power of God’s Spirit, and he says this in verse 1, he says … there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, for the law of the Spirit of Life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.

You see, Paul said in chapter 6 that you must consider yourselves dead, that you might walk in newness of life. And, what Paul says here is, you must consider yourselves alive by God’s Spirit. You must walk in God’s Spirit. God is setting you free from the power of sin, if you will walk in his Spirit. God is giving you new life, desire for his goodness, his beauty, his truth, and to know it, to walk in light of it, if you will turn to his Spirit. If you will stop just trying to force, bury yourself in the grave, to say God, I’ll punish myself for this one. He says, I’ve already punished my son. You’re one with him. It’s over. Look to him, confess your sin.

This is why every week we confess our sin, because we confess our sin knowing assurance is coming, which is just another form of confession. I confess what I’ve done, and then I confess what God has done. And, I turn to him, and I walk in newness of life, and Paul says, the promise is sure if we do this, in verse 11 of chapter 8, he says … if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you … He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through the Spirit who dwells in you. God will do this work. God will empower you by his Spirit, and he’ll do it without just beating you up, and making you this cantankerous, bitter person, who’s like, I’ve got my good works, but nobody likes being around me.

This is what 18th century preacher, Robert Murray McCheyne, he sums this up so incredibly well in a letter. He says …

““The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9) Learn much of the Lord Jesus. For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ. He is altogether lovely. Such infinite majesty, and yet such meekness and grace, and all for sinners, even the chief! Live much in the smiles of God. Bask in his beams. Feel his all-seeing eye settled on you in love, and repose in his almighty arms… Let your soul be filled with a heart-ravishing sense of the sweetness and excellency of Christ and all that is in Him. Let the Holy Spirit fill every chamber of your heart, and so there will be no room for folly, or the world, or Satan, or the flesh.”

—Robert Murray McCheyne

He says, look to Christ, be filled with his Spirit. Walk in newness of life. God is renewing you. He’s freeing you from the power of sin. Delight in your savior, walk in the Spirit. And, we do this in the present, and it’s a fight worthwhile, because of the future promise that we have.

Last point, gospel renewal means we will be saved from the presence of sin.

III. GOSPEL RENEWAL MEANS WE WILL BE SAVED FROM THE PRESENCE OF SIN (Romans 8:18-25)

Paul, then, continues in Romans 8 with this promise. In 8:18, he says this … for I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us … the present sufferings. Paul is not just saying, you know, the, you know, my elbow’s been hurting lately, and so, like, maybe I have, like, an arthritic elbow now. Just add that to the list of the things I’m discovering. And so, now I have this pain. There is that suffering. But, he’s saying, also the suffering of Christ being formed in you, the suffering of the power of sin being put to death in your life, that suffering, that pleading before God for life, he says, none of this is … worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. What is that glory? Go back to chapter 1! He’s saying, I’m bringing back in Christ the glory that was lost in the Fall, and I’m bringing it in IMAX form, right? There’s going to be no diminishment of it. I’m bringing it back in full.

One day, all will be made new, completely renewed to a perfect display of God’s glory, and that is what we are pilgrimaging toward. Do you realize that’s what we’re journeying towards? That is the sure promise, that one day we will close our eyes in death, and in the twinkling of an eye, we will open them and we will see this in fullness. Everyone who’s gone before us that we know and love, in Christ, that is their reality. One day we’ll be completely renewed. And, the promise that we will be saved from the presence of sin guarantees complete renewal. And, it is exactly the hope that we need in our day.

Two future guarantees of gospel renewal. The first, a city with sure foundations guarantees redemptive progress. Here’s what I mean. I don’t know how else to say this. Modern, secularism’s confidence in unlimited progress is misplaced. I love the quote from Martin Luther King, Jr., you probably have heard it …

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

—Martin Luther King, Jr.


That is a true statement. Now, right now it’s being used a lot because we take this, and we say, listen, justice will flow down like rivers … but, here’s the thing, all this is rooted in a biblical worldview. All of these statements are rooted, in fact, MLK did not come up with this quote. It comes from a 19th century sermon by Theodore Parker, in the middle of a sermon. And, Luther takes it, and he uses it, MLK uses that in the middle of a sermon himself. And, then we take it, we unhinge it from the fact that this is rooted in the fact that we have a holy God who made a glorious world, to reflect his glory, and then was rejected by his creation. He’s renewing his creation through his glorious ones, so that we might desire glory, and he’s bringing back that fullness of glory one day. It is a sure thing, it will happen, so the ark is true, it will occur.

But, you remove that, and you start going in all different directions and demanding different outcomes, it can not be a sure thing. We don’t know. History has ebbed and flowed. It’s been ups and downs, where civilizations step backwards, they step forward. How do we know we’ll always progress? The way we know, is the guarantee is found that God is bringing renewal, and he has promised us a city with sure foundations, and that guarantees redemptive progress. It says this in Revelation …

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more … [There you go, no more evil. Now you know why it’s there. God’s not against oceans, okay?] ... And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” …  [He is renewing all things] … Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

—Revelation 21:1–5 ESV

We have the confidence that all things, as Paul will say later in chapter 8 … will come together for the good of those who are in Christ Jesus … because, this progress, this end, this outcome, this city, the New Jerusalem, is sure, because God will do it. He has secured it already in Christ, and Christ is coming again. And, when he comes again, he will bring his glorious kingdom. And, the end of pain, and sorry, injustice, illness, loss, depression … it’s coming. It’s coming. It is sure, and it is coming with Christ. He will restore all things in the presence of a holy God. All things will be as they should be, and every chapter will be better than the last.

The second thing, glorified bodies guarantee the end of sinful tension in our lives. This is the last one. The modern world tells us that we’ll always be the way we are. The reason I was reading Robert Greene, I really like Robert Greene’s work - some of you know who I’m talking about - but he has a new book on human nature. And, he says multiple times throughout, you cannot change human nature. However someone is, you cannot change their character, you cannot change them. And, in fact, most social sciences, most behavioral therapists, they’ll actually tell you, you know what, on the whole, that will that is at the center of a person, you really can’t change it. You really can’t change it. The problem is that that’s not rooted in a Christian worldview. See, what happens when we believe that we cannot change, that there is no renewal, that we are just what we are, so whatever we desire, even if we’re embarrassed by it, if we’re ashamed by it, that we just might as well give in to ourselves so we can feel better about it.

And the problem is, again, that means there are a thousand standards, a million infinite standards out there of what it means to be a human being, what it means to grasp true beauty, to grasp true purpose, to grasp true knowledge and truth. And, as we live, just grasping at any way of life, and all the choices that are out there, and finding again and again that it’s not satisfying. Because, here’s the only way that you can live without the tension, is to just give in, to tell yourselves, well, whatever conscience or whatever I have inside of me that’s telling me to slow down, or this isn’t really satisfying, I just have to bury that, cause that’s some repressive thought that was given to me by some institution, and burrowed down into me, and I have to release that.

But, here’s the problem, is that this is not freeing. As we’ve been living this out, it’s not freeing the modern person to experience any more fullness. In fact, there’s a book quote by Kent Dunnington, in Addiction & Virtue, he’s a counselor, a psychologist. He says this …

“The absence of a shared or ultimately justifiable telos makes modern persons uniquely bored. Because one can do anything, there is nothing to do. It is not only, as in the case of standard boredom, that a particular way of life seems pointless. Rather, the search itself seems pointless, and therefore boring: “Hyperboredom” names the paralysis brought on by modernity’s inability to justify one commitment over the others.”

—Kent Dunnington, Addiction & Virtue

You see, when we live without a standard, just pursuing whatever we can find, we actually find ourselves to be quite bored. We actually find that everything tastes quite bland after a while. Then, on the other hand, then we say, well if I’m going to live in this body, and I have this tension with sin within me, and I’m under knowing God’s truth, what am I to do with that? Well, one, point to … to continue to go back to what God … God knows this. God knows this, and he’s remedied it. He’s addressed it in Jesus Christ, and has sacrificed for sins once and forever. And, his grace is continuously coming to you and covering. And so, now that means that you can continue to live your life even with that tension, and you don’t have to live as a hypocrite as you go before God, you go before others, and you confess and say, here’s my sin. I want to grow. And, you ask God’s Spirit to do a work in you.

That is not hypocritical. That’s just … that’s life. That’s life in Christ. Hypocritical is pretending as if it’s not even happening. But, here’s the thing, here’s the thing that pulls you through, is hope. As it says, then, in verse 25, Paul says after verse 18, it says … but if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience … we endure, we have patience. Because, we know this truth, that he will end the tension. It says this in 1 John 3:2, this is the best simple summary of the fact that one day we will have glorified bodies and be done with the presence of sin. It says …

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”

—1 John 3:2 ESV

Do you realize that? You will one day be like him. You will one day fully desire, you will not have these desires in you that are fighting and causing this tension within you, and these doubts within you, and this toiling within you, but one day you will be freed from this fleshly cage, with all of its desires, and you will be in a renewed body - so your body’s not all bad … fleshly cage makes it sound like matter is all bad - matter is not bad. God is redeeming all things. You’ll be in this glorified state where your desires will be renewed, and that tension will be gone. The tension is not just something to be forgotten or pretend it’s not there. What God is calling us to is to look right to his redemption and the promises of how he’s going to remove it, and there you will find joy, and there you will find hope, in actually dealing with the sin that is in your life.

We have the privilege of living as a hopeful people, living before the world, lives anticipating complete renewal. Do you realize that? We, as a church, live lives patiently enduring, realizing that there is renewal that God has done, he is doing, and he will do. And, as we see the witness to one another when we see God renewing one another, we know that it’s just a downpayment of the reality that is to come. And so, when the presence of sin will soon be no more, then the gospel has, is, and will renew you. Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father,


Lord God, you alone have saved us from the penalty of sin. You, alone, are freeing us from the power of sin, and you alone are our sure hope that one day we will be completely removed from the presence of sin. Renewal is yours. Renewal is part of the good news of the gospel, Father, don’t let us miss this distinctive. Father, don’t let us think that in the weightiness of being human and being new creations in Christ in this world, yet, that we don’t just give up on renewal. That, Father, we don’t just look around the world around us and just thumb our noses at it. But, Father, we would see the work of renewal you are doing around us and through us, as well, and Father, the renewal that starts with us would go outward, would glorify you and the world around us. Give us a willing Spirit to live in light of these truths, fill our imaginations with your glory, compel our will by your Spirit, fill us with hope that in Christ all things are being renewed. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.


Sharing our Riches in Christ-Full Sermon Transcript

Link to Blog

PASTOR: MATT DENNINGS

SCRIPTURE READING

“Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen. Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”

—Philippians 4:14–23 ESV

INTRO

Well, I’m back again. Well, today we get to finish our series in Philippians, and what’s interesting as we hit this last section, it’s easy, sometimes, to read scripture and to go, oh, are these just kind of some historical factoids at the end of a book? Isn’t that nice. But, what we’re going to see, is that Paul actually ends this letter in the same way that he actually began the letter, with the theme of partnership in the gospel, specifically this idea of stewardship. Stewardship. It may be a word you’ve heard before, which means, essentially, how we use our time, talent, and treasure, to bless and glorify God, to bless others.

One of the things that I think will help, a story that I once heard that will help us get, kind of, the thrust of this text, as Paul is ending this letter to the Philippian church. It’s a story I once heard about a boy, and his grandma, and a few other family members. And, the boy and his grandma, they decided to play Monopoly as a family, which - pastorally - I never advise families to play Monopoly together. It always ends up with someone at 1 a.m. calling grandma a cheater, and calling grandpa a liar. But, anyways, as they played the game, the boy was intense. He was intense, and he was lapping everyone around the board, he was gobbling up all the properties that he could get. And, he was kind of haughty about it the entire time, kind of in everyone’s face. And, when he won, he was gloating over his stacks of cash and how well he had done, and the whole family just kind of trickled away. And, when they were done, the grandma leaned in, after the family had trickled away, and she said, now, listen closely, cause I want you to learn the real lesson of the game. The real lesson is this: that now everything goes back in the box. That now, everything goes back in the box.

The point she wanted him to grasp, is that Monopoly, in many ways, is like life in miniature. The game of life, if you want to call it that, is about more than how many times you can pass go. At the end of the day, it’s about more than what you can aquire. It’s about more than the stacks of cash. It’s about more than the property. Life is meant for something more. Life is meant for something that lies beyond the box. Because, one day, it will all go back in the box. We’ll go in a box. Sometimes I feel weird as a pastor, cause I have to, like, talk about these things. Like … by the way, you’re going to die one day. Everyone’s like, why do you have to talk about that? I’m like … facts are stubborn things. We will one day, it will all go back in the box.

And, the question that Paul is surfacing here, which is, did you invest your life in what is most important? Did you invest your life in the things that are beyond that box? What lies beyond it? And, today, we’ll see that the only goal in life that will satisfy you, is a life stewarded for the glory of Jesus Christ. So, let’s pray, and then we’ll jump in.

Heavenly Father, we thank you for this text this morning. Father, we so often think fleeting or small things of your Word, and especially of the endings and beginnings of these letters. But, Father, help us to see, today, that these are more than just historical facts, but these are truths, eternal truths that you have put in the hearts of your people, and that you are using to communicate your Word, your very being, what is true of us as human beings as your creatures, what it means to find life in you. We ask that, for each of us, you would give us wisdom in how to apply this text, and discernment, and where that is needed. And, Father, we ask that you would do this by your Spirit. It is in Jesus’ name that we pray, amen.

  1. WHAT IS STEWARDSHIP? (vv14-16)

What is stewardship? I want to take a little bit more time to get into this before we jump in. What’s interesting, is Paul - as I said - began his letter to the Philippians, calling then partners in the gospel. If you go to chapter 1, verses 3-5, right after the intro, he launches into the main body of his letter with this … I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine, for you all, making my prayer with joy … why? … because of your partnership in the gospel, from the first day until now … They have constantly been partners with Paul in his ministry of the gospel. And, when we get to the end of the letter, Paul comes back to that theme. He says, then, in verse 14 … Yet, it was kind of you to share my trouble. And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only.

So, Paul now ends with this theme of stewardship, with this theme of partnering. Now, what’s interesting, is that the word that is used there, is a word that, if you’ve been around churches and whatnot, you’ve probably heard this word before. It’s the Greek word koinonia. And, the Greek word koinonia means, like, a rich, by God’s spirit indwelling in his people, kind of fellowship, a fellowship that only happens by God’s spirit bringing people together. And, Paul uses that, both in verse 14 - this is what we can miss in the English translation - in verse 14, when he says … it was kind of you to share my trouble … that word share is a compound word of with, in koinonia. That, you’ve fellowshipped with me in my suffering. Then, he comes back to, you’ve koinonia’d again, in your partnership in the gospel with me.

So, what is Paul saying here? What Paul is saying, is that when you are stewarding your finances - cause Paul is here, largely, talking about them sending him finances as we’ll see throughout his ministry. As you are sending me finances, you are not just sitting on the bench somewhere as a passive observer in my ministry. That is, as you stewards the resources that God has given you - and we’re going to expand this into your time, your talent, your treasure. As you steward those things, you share with me in this ministry. You share in my trouble. You are a partner with me. There is not, kind of, I’m in the game, and you are on the bench, and you’re over there. No, what stewardship means is that God has gifted his entire body with a diversity of giftings, and everyone’s in the game, and everyone has a part to play. Everyone shares in this ministry.

Now, stewardship is the most powerful means that God uses. Cause, the question, I should just say … why does God have us steward our finances? Why does God have us steward our time? Why does God have us steward our talents, our giftings? Why does he have us invest them into these things of this world? You go, well, pastor, you just talked about how everything goes in a box one day, and it’s gone, or whatever. Why do we invest in these things? Why do we spend time? What does this mean?

Well, stewardship of our lives is the most powerful way to align our hearts with God’s eternal kingdom. In other words, stewardship is the way that God trains us to love the things he loves, to value the things he values, to prioritize the things that he prioritizes. He does it through stewardship. Emmaus put out a Lent devotional, and each week we’ve been looking at a discipline. And, of course, this week is stewardship. And, it says this to kind of sum it up …

“Stewardship is the voluntary and generous offering of God’s gifts of time, talents, and treasure for the benefit and love of God and others. In stewarding our possessions we recognize that nothing really belongs to us. Rather, everything we have we’ve received from our Heavenly Father’s hand for His use through us. As we steward our resources our grip on things loosens and our hearts are freed; our mindset is transformed from one of possession to one of participation in God’s work of redemption.”

—The Emmaus Lent Devotional Guide

Stewardship is more than how we merely use our time, our talent, our treasure. Stewardship is how we learn to invest our very lives in what matters, and what is eternal. Cause, if you think about it, what is time, but the way that we measure our days, our every breath, our every moment? What is it for? If you think about it, our talents reflect the image of God stamped on us, to make an eternal dent in the universe. Our treasure, our resources, and money, and possessions, is meant to point us to a greater, a truer, lasting source of riches. In other words, stewardship is how we learn to invest our whole selves in something bigger, more satisfying and longer lasting than that box.

So, what’s interesting, is Paul - as he goes through here - there are many places that you could go in scripture to look at this theme of stewardship. But, as Paul is talking about stewardship here, he lays down, kind of, some principles that are, kind of, assumed, as he’s going through and talking to the Philippians.

And so, the first principle - I almost wanted to call this Kingdom Economics 101. What are the principles of stewardship that Paul lays down here? And, the first one is this. Stewardship is about practicing generosity vs presuming generosity. Look at verse 14 … Yet it was kind of you to share in my trouble … Notice Paul says it was kind of you. Paul doesn’t say, yeah, you were supposed to do that, right? Yeah, it was your duty to do that. Paul said, it was a kindness that you do this. And, why is that? Because, Paul knows that, ultimately, he doesn’t have to beat around the Philippians with these expectations that are sourced in him, but he knows that, ultimately, everything that’s provided, is provided by God. He, Paul, and we … at the end of the day, we don’t deserve anything. But, we receive grace and mercy, and that doesn’t change with stewardship.

So, out of the gate, like Paul, we need to highlight that stewardship is an act of kindness. In other words, it’s not a paying of dues. It’s not as if God’s grace comes with an invoice, and now this is the way that you pay me back, this is the way that you keep yourself in the kingdom, by investing your time, your talent, and your treasure in this way. But, in fact, it is of generosity, it is of grace.

Now, the second principle is that stewardship is about partnering with people vs purchasing of products. If you read verse 15 … And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with in giving and receiving, except you only … Paul says that, what happens, is you partnered with me. There wasn’t this kind of idea that it’s like, when you partner with me, that you’re actually just getting some kind of a service, or a good, or a product. But, what he’s saying here is that God’s kingdom is about partnering with God and his people, not purchasing a product. Why? Because, the kingdom of God is about people, not about products. When we stewards our finances, it reminds us of that as we partner with one another in what God is doing, that God’s kingdom is about people.

The third principle in this first point … stewardship is about long term vs short term commitment. Verse 16, he says this … Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Now, if you go back to Philippi when it was actually planted - this church that Paul is writing to here - if you go back to Acts 16, you can read the account of when Paul actually planted that church. Then, if you continue on to Acts 17, you’ll read about how after he left Philippi, Paul went on to Thessalonica, and there he planted a church, and as he was there, it was actually - it seems to be - slow going. Imagine that, the book of Acts with a slow growing church. We always think that it’s, like, explosive growth in the book of Acts, but Paul was actually there for quite a while. And he says, while I was there, right after you became Christians, you had no working categories or anything, at this point you joined in with me, and for the long term you invested what God was doing there.

Now, why is that important with stewardship? Because, often, this is actually what genuine gospel transformation looks like. It looks like slow, long term growth. One of the things that i think we miss sometimes is how much in scripture, especially if you look at the parables of Jesus, how does he describe growth? How does he describe the expansion of the kingdom? He uses agrarian examples, right? It’s like fruit growing, it’s like the grass growing. And, whoever thought it was exciting to go out and go, I’m going to go out and watch the grass grow today, right? This is going to be really exciting. The fact, is that growth is slow, and it happens many times over long seasons, and of course, just like when we grow and we have these sudden, kind of overnight, like, your four year old suddenly goes through a new size of shoes of whatnot, and you have these explosive points of growth, overall those are kind of blips, and overall it’s just a slow trajectory of steady growth.

But, often, we lose the value in that. But, stewardship and committing stewarding over time, for the long term, helps us to hold on to that. Stewardship makes us think long term versus short term, cultivating in us a healthy patience and a trust that God is at work. So, what is stewardship? It’s the call to invest our whole lives towards something bigger than ourselves. Stewardship is about practicing generosity versus presuming generosity, partnering with people versus purchasing products, and it’s about long term versus short term commitment. So, that is what stewardship is. But what motivates, or why, do we steward?

II. THE MOTIVATION OF STEWARDSHIP (vv17-18)

The motivation of stewardship. Paul is very careful in how he phrases verse 17. Look at verse 17, it’s actually, at first, if you read it and you think about what does he mean here, it’s a little bit confusing on the surface … Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit … So, Paul says, I don’t seek the gift, I don’t seek these finances from you, but I’m seeking fruit that increases to your credit. Why does he say this? Well, in the ancient world, the way that gifts would work … we tend to think of gifts as something that’s more, kind of, altruistic, right? Like, I give you a gift, and there’s no strings attached. If there’s strings attached, it’s not really a gift, right?

Well, in the ancient world, that’s not how gifts worked. And so, what Paul’s saying, is right after saying that when you first became a believer, I gave you the gift of the gospel - in Acts 16 - then, in Acts 17, when I continued on, and you started financially giving to what I was doing, and from that day until now, you’ve been doing that. Paul says, I want you to understand that you’re not doing it because you have some obligation to repay my original gift to you. Because, he saying I give you a gift, you give me a gift, and I’ve got to give you a gift, and then … it just never ends, right? We know how that works. We know Christmas.

And so, here’s something that’s helpful …

“In antiquity it was taken for granted that gifts are accompanied by obligations and should elicit some form of return… they did not share the modern idealization of the unilateral gift, which has such a powerful hold on contemporary notions of ‘altruism’.”

—John Barclay, Paul & the Gift

So, again, today a gift is defined as no strings attached, but in that day, that wasn’t how a gift was defined. And so, if the cultural expectations were different in Paul’s day, he’s saying he doesn’t want their motivation to give financially to be because of an obligation to him. He doesn’t want it to be one of obligation. He doesn’t way to say I gave you a gift, and it’s only proper, you know, that you give me a gift of equal or greater in return, right? But, instead, he wants their financial giving to be a fruit of a life overflowing from their life in Christ. And so, this is the first principle under the motivation of stewardship. Stewardship is about overflowing fruitfulness vs obligatory gifts. Because, we receive righteousness, we don’t achieve it. We can never pay it back.

Think about that. If God said, here’s the gift of salvation. Now, when you get around to it, we’ll take out a 30 year mortgage and you can pay be back. That’s not how it works. There’s no way we could ever pay God back for the gift of salvation. And so, we are not under an obligation to pay it back. This is why, by the way, you may have wondered this. When we do our - it’s called a liturgy - the order of our service, when we get to our offering every week, we say something along the lines of … we give as an expression of our thankfulness for grace, rather than to purchase grace. You guys heard us say that a lot, and you probably hear some kind of a theme consistent with that, or similar to that, repeated every single week. And, you might be going, why do we say that every single week? And, we say it every single week because we want to, by the repetition, work that truth down into our hearts. Because, it is so hard when we live in a world of everything is … you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours … and obligations to return things. We have a free gift of grace from God.

And, God says, you are under no obligation to return that, to repay that. And so, we have to again, and again, say that to ourselves so that it works down from our heads into our hearts. And, we have a free and a great salvation. That inner motivation takes a lifetime of repeated training, until eventually our hearts say … I don’t have to give, but I get to give. I don’t have to, but I get to. And, Paul continues in verse 18. What’s interesting in here, is he says, describing their offering, he describes it then, using language from Leviticus. So, read verse 18 … I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God … Did you catch that? A fragrant offering? A sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God?

Paul says he uses this Levitical language, language from the Old Testament law, when they would have to offer a sacrifice for their sins, and Paul says that, now though, instead of offering because you are under an obligation to deal and pay for your sins, instead, now, you are under the banner of grace, cause Jesus Christ has fulfilled that offering system, and that sacrificial system. And so, now you are offering to express the grace that you have received. And so, now you are offering to God. And so, the next principle. Stewardship is about pleasing God vs placating God. The Spirit of God has given us a desire to preach the gospel with our wallets, our schedule, our energy, our skills, and our talents. And, when we stewards our resources, we fan that into flame. And so, we spend our life offering the beautiful and unique offering that only we, with our giftings, can present to the God of the universe, and that preaches the gospel to our souls of how beautiful the grace is we’ve been given in Jesus. And, stewardship is a way to channel that light to God, and express that delight to God.

God has not rejected us, but has accepted us through the perfect offering of Jesus Christ. Seeing us in our sin and brokenness, God overflows with grace and love towards us, because that is who he is. And so, stewardship isn’t motivated by an overwhelming sense of guilt, but an overflow of grace. So, why steward? Because, it is an expression of the gospel, that God has fully paid the price of our redemption, and therefore we give not to placate God, but to please God.

So, we’ve covered what stewardship is and why we steward, but what happens when we stewards? What happens when we invest our lives in the things that God values?

III. THE RICHES OF STEWARDSHIP (vv19-23)

Lastly, the riches of stewardship. So, here’s the question for us. If we’re honest, I know that sometimes when we heard these things like stewardship, investing our finances, offering our finances, offering our time, offering our talents for the uses that God has called them to … I know that in church we’re just supposed to nod our heads and say amen, right? We’re supposed to go … yeah, yeah Pastor. But, why is it so hard to do it? Why is it so hard to actually begin doing it?

Well, it’s interesting because Paul goes right there. In verse 19, he says … And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus … See, Paul rushes right in and says, I need to address something that I know you’re assuming. If I give of my supply, then what supply will I have left? If I give of my money, what money will I have left? If I give of my time, what time will I have left? If I give of my talents, what talent, what time for my talents and investment will I have left?

One of the main reasons that we don’t steward, is that we fear that we are losing our riches. We fear that in stewarding our resources, that we are losing our riches. But, do you see what Paul says here? He says that it’s in stewarding that we actually gain and discover true riches, that we actually discover true riches. It’s like playing Monopoly, when everything is focused on the board. It’s easy to forget that everything will actually, at the end of the day, go back in the box. So, we go around and around, year after year, pursuing riches that will not last. Things that will not last. But stewardship, Paul says, frees us from false riches to discover true riches, to what lasts beyond the box.

Now, what are these true riches? I had to think about this for a while, because I could obviously say, well, and my God will supply you every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. There you go, your riches are in glory, in Christ Jesus. You go, yeah, that sounds good, okay. But, tangibly, what does that mean? What does that tangibly look like? And, I had to think about this for actually quite a while, because I was looking at it going, what is Paul really talking about here?

And, I realized it goes back to how Paul began this section in chapter 4, this last section. And, it’s a them we see again, and again, in Paul’s letters. He says this in 4:1 … Therefore my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved … So, Paul comes back and he says, the way that you know true riches … See, Paul, again and again, when he says I’m investing, I’m laying down my life, I’m pouring myself out as a sacrifice, all these different ways he explains it and describes it in all of his different letters. He never says I’ve done this so that then you’ll pay me. He never says I do this so that then maybe you will supply me with a nice little carriage or a car, you know, or that you will supply me with a house. He always says, again and again, my riches are you. My riches are that I get to be on the front lines of seeing you know Christ. You are my joy, you are my crown. Again and again, Paul highlights that. True riches, in other words, tangibly, is most found when we see others see Jesus. When we see others grow and know Christ.

Now, why is that? In some ways, it’s so simple it’s obvious. Because, the one thing that won’t perish is people. Eternal souls. Now, Jesus didn’t come for things, he came for people. Now i know theologically, you know, things are redeemed and the physical world is, like, you know, refined and everything. But, what I mean is, that, like, today at lunch I’m not concerned about the redemption of my sandwich, right? Like, Jesus didn’t come to save my sandwich. Jesus came to save eternal souls, he came to save people. True riches, then, are discovered when we invest our lives in the eternal life of others, in others seeing Christ for the first time. And, I think one of the things that I realized while doing this, is sometimes we forget how beautiful that is. Sometimes we forget how beautiful it is when we’re in someone’s life. You remember that first time when you first saw Christ for who he is. When you first realized the grace that you had been given. Have you ever been in someone’s life where you had a front row seat to see their eyes opened for the first time to seeing the beauty of Christ? It’s riches.

This hit me recently. I was actually at a presentation, and Larry Thomas - Larry’s here - he was doing a presentation on a ministry that they do internationally. It’s a medical mission, and one of the things that they do, is they do these cataract surgeries. And, what they have, is they go into these villages, and there are many individuals who have never really been able to see a day in their life. And, there’s a video that they showed of this one gal named Lalise. And, it starts the video where Lalise’s eyes are bandaged, and her whole life she’s been blind. And, it was a simple cataract surgery that actually allowed her to see, but she couldn’t get it. And, they captured it on video. At that time, she had a baby. She had never seen the baby. And, this captures the moment when she opened her eyes, and for the first time, she saw her child. The first time that she saw this child that she had never seen. And, in that moment, when I saw that, I said … that’s a picture. We forget so often how beautiful it is when we open our eyes for the first time, and we can see Christ for who he is. That look, that freedom, that removal of guilt that comes with that.

And, here’s the thing … when you see that, just like when I saw that, I wanted to be like, Larry … here’s my wallet. Take whatever you need, right? More of that. More of that. In the same way, that when we see others see Christ for the first time, we don’t anymore hoard, we aren’t sitting there with our stacks of cash on the board, and we’re not thinking about how many times we can go around the board. We just push it all to the center, and we say … take it. Take it, because I want to see more of this. I want to see eyes opened. And, what Paul is saying, is this is true riches. These are the faces that will be on the streets of the new Jerusalem. The grace cannot hold it. And, Paul says, your life can be given to this. The effect of living as a people, as a church, as people who steward everything, who say there is something beyond this world that is worth my all, verses in this world. It’s something that stands out.

In fact, you see it here in verse 22. Paul closes by saying … All the saints greet you, especially … Paul wants to highlight this. Paul is in a Roman prison, in the palace of Caesar, at the most decadent, established, powerful city in the world, and he says, by the way … especially those … who are in … Caesar’s household. He’s seeing people come to Christ while he’s starving in prison, while he’s in chains, he’s in tatters … but, what they see, is they see this partnership going back and forth, and they see that him and the people who he’s speaking to, they have something that’s worth more than anything in this world can provide. And, their eyes are opened.

If you read, there’s a letter about 70 years after this letter that Paul wrote to the Philippians. Another letter is written to the church at Philippi. It’s by an early church father about 120 AD named Polycarp. And, Polycarp writes them a letter, and in the letter he goes on and on in the first chapter, where he says … again, this is 70 years later, where he says, you’ve been known for your sacrificial giving, since the beginning, since Acts 16, what Paul’s talking about here. He says, you’re known for overflowing with this joy in Christ, and that’s still here, today. Do you see what happened? Their children in the church in Philippi saw this in their parent’s lives. The community saw this in their lives, and they saw that this isn’t just a game. Jesus isn’t just for Sundays. He’s more than a weekend thing. His kingdom is coming, and it’s worth everything we have, and we are all in.

And so, they saw that one generation after another generation after another generation, and their legacy was not whatever went in the box. Their legacy was something that could not be extinguished by the grave. But, by eyes that were opened. Can you imagine, Emmaus, if it’s 70 years from now? Imagine this, 70 years from now, if you were able to come here, maybe some of you who are in this room who right now are babbling, will still be alive and be in this room. But, most of us will be gone. Can you imagine coming in here and you see that all that has happened is that there is still just a love for Jesus? A love for Jesus, because they say, what I learned here is that the most valuable thing I can give my time, my talent, and my treasure to, is something that lies beyond this world. It preaches the gospel.

It says that Jesus is everything. And, it starts with how we steward our time, our talent, and our treasure today. One of the things, obviously as I’m talking about this, I always feel weird talking about stewardship, because obviously at some point it’s like … okay, as the pastor, when is he going to ask me to volunteer for something, right? And, I want you to be able to invest your time, talent, and treasure here confidently, I do. I want you to be able to invest your time, talent, and treasure here as well as everywhere else where the Lord has placed you with influence. One of the things, though, is when we do it in the local church, is that we learn to do it. And, what happens is we actually take steps that commit us to doing it, and then as we commit to it, we start to do it in all other areas of our life as well. It’s almost like if you don’t do it at home, you probably aren’t actually doing it elsewhere. There’s probably a lot of talking, not a lot of doing.

And so, one of the things that I want to say, is that Emmaus, this is why again, and again, we come back to that Emmaus is about more than just building some kind of a platform. Emmaus is about more than just one person, or persona. If there’s one persona, it’s Jesus. One of the things we ask ourselves again, and again, and again as elders, as the three of us pastors, we’re asking ourselves this. If 100 years from now Emmaus is still here, who gets the applause? Is it Jesus, or one of us? Who gets the applaus? Who’s this really for, what is this really about? And, we constantly challenge ourselves.

In fact, one of the mottos I’ve tried to grab onto, lately, is from a guy named Count Zinzendorf. I don’t know if I want to steal more his motto, or his name. But, it’s this … he says …

“Preach Christ. Die. Be forgotten.”

—Count Nikolaus Ludwig, Reichsgraf von Zinzendorf (1700-1760)

Preach Christ. Die. Be forgotten. Don’t you love that name? Count Nikolaus Ludwig, Reichsgraf von Zinzendorf. It can be my new title. But, think of it … preach Christ. Steward Christ. Give yourself to Christ. I know I used to think … and then be forgotten? Like, die and be forgotten? What does that mean? Well, it’s all going to be lost anyways. In fact, if you want to have a legacy and something that lasts, I mean, I think about, like, when baseball’s gone, the legacy of Babe Ruth is gone. There are countless rulers who were mighty, who had a legacy and a country, and when that country was gone, their legacy was gone. Your legacy can only be as big as what it is in, and if your legacy is in Jesus Christ, it never diminishes. And so, invest your life in Jesus. Invest your life in what he is doing. Invest your life in souls.

But, for that to happen, for Emmaus to remain a church that is about Jesus and Jesus alone, one of the things that we have to all put our arms around and understand, is it means everyone has to lean in with their giftings. Everyone has to lean in with their time, everyone has to lean in with their resources. We all have to lean in. One of the things in 1 Peter, I should have had it here … but, 1 Peter that we come to again and again with the volunteers on Sunday mornings, is that it says that some of you are gifted with hospitality, some of you serve in other ways, some of you speak, some of you pray, some of you heal, some of you … all of these giftings, Peter says, and he says if that’s happening, if that’s happening in the local church, what will happen is it will bring glory to Jesus Christ.

Why is that? Because we know to … we’re alive in 2019, just watch a couple TED talks and you can figure out how to put something together and make it work. But, it is a supernatural grace and a movement of God when his people, with all these diverse gifts, all these different people who have no reason to be together, come together with all the parts working in unison, and you say, there must be something else there that motivates it. Something beyond the box, something beyond this world. Or else, it just has to be done in the flesh, and then continued in the flesh.

One day everything will go back in the box. What riches will remain? What will remain? Each of us is called and equipped for this time. Don’t miss out on true riches. What gifts has God given you by his spirit? What time has God given you to invest in others? What resources has he given you to be invested? So that we would see eyes opened to what lies beyond the box.

I have to read the words of Jesus. He says …

““Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

—Matthew 6:19–20 ESV

Emmaus, don’t live for the box. Steward the riches you have in Jesus Christ, sharing them with others, and find a richer life in him. Let’s pray.

Lord God, we thank you for the riches we have in Christ. Father, open our eyes to where we are living not just for the box. Spirit, grant us wisdom, each individually, for what this means for us, and motivate our hearts to action, not through an oppressive guilt, but through an overflow of gospel grace. We ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.


Guarded in Christ-Full Sermon Transcript

Link to blog

EMMAUS REDLANDS SERMON TRANSCRIPTION

PASTOR: MATT DENNINGS

SCRIPTURE READING

PHILIPPIANS 4:2-9

2 I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. 3 Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

INTRO

Well, good morning. It’s good to be with you. My name is Matt, and I am the pastor for Equipping here at Emmaus, and we are continuing our series in Philippians, and we are in this final section of Philippians, where we are looking at, what does it look like to experience life in Jesus Christ? And, if you were here last week, we were looking at the previous section here in Philippians, especially verses 20-21 of chapter 3, and we saw that part of finding this life in Christ, is living as citizens of heaven, and being transformed into the image of Christ. And, we went and we actually read straight through Revelation 4-5, and we looked at this future picture that is already ours in Christ. And, we celebrated these things, and we looked at how Paul is bringing the Philippian church to this kind of mountaintop reality, and experience of what they already possess in Jesus Christ. And, the fact that one day heaven will descend to earth, and all things will be made new.

And now, today, he brings us back down to earth. And, he goes immediately into this conflict, as he comes back down to earth in verse 2. And, you may be wondering as you read it, man, why is Paul such a downer, man? Like, he gets up there, and then he brings us right back to this conflict. What is going on? Well, one way we can put this, is that Paul has been focusing the Philippians on this … what… this reality that is true because of what Jesus Christ has accomplished. This transformation, this reality that Jesus is making all things new, this what… he says, focus your eyes there.

But then, he says, the number one that that will thwart experiencing that what… the number one thing that will cripple the church, and take their eyes off of that reality, is our conflicts over the how. The how of how we live out that reign of Jesus, the how of our different ideas, of what it looks like to follow Jesus, instead of focusing and uniting over what is true, because Jesus reigns, we often divide over how to live out Jesus’ reign. And, Paul says, Satan loves to use that diversion of our focus to steal our hope, and to completely zap us of all of our passion for the gospel. Channeling it, instead, into seething anger at one another, and a life riddled with anxiety.

So, today, we’re going to look at that. We’re going to look at how we keep our focus on what Jesus has done in order to guard us from simply just beginning to fight over the how’s, forgetting the messiah, and focusing, instead, on – you could say – the methodology. And so, we’ll look at why the how so often takes over the what.And then, we’ll look at two habits that will guard us from going that way. Before we do, let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the realities that are in this text that Paul is pointing us to. The fact is, that what Jesus has accomplished on our behalf is really beyond our full comprehension. And, so often, instead of turning to you and looking to Christ, we turn, instead, making him an idea, and turning instead to just the practical ways that we can try to live that out. And so, Father, we ask today that you would help us to see Jesus clearly, and what you have accomplished in Christ, and so that, Father, we would cherish him. And that, from that, the how’s would take care of themselves. We ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.

I. WHY THE HOW TAKES OVER THE WHAT (vv2-3)

Well, why the how takes over the what.Now, what’s interesting in this, in verse 2, Paul addresses these two women in the church. And, he’s telling them to agree in the Lord, because there’s some kind of conflict that has arisen between them. Now, at the same time, what’s interesting is, Paul doesn’t tell us exactly what these leaders – these women were leaders in the church, influential in the church – what exactly they were fighting over. But, we do know that, in some ways, we could say the issue we know isn’t some, like, horrible moral issue. Because, Paul tells them to agree in the Lord. In other words, one of them is probably not having an affair with the other one’s husband, right? We can probably rule that out, because Paul probably wouldn’t just say … agree in the Lord, right? We also know it probably isn’t because of how Paul has addressed wrong thinking, bad theology, heresy in the church. Paul will directly address that. And so, most likely, this isn’t some issue of heresy in the church either, because Paul, again, would not just say … agree in the Lord, because they wouldn’t understand who the Lord is.

And so, this is something else. And, what it seems like – because, the details here seem to be about their previous ministry together – it seems that these two leaders are fighting over how the church should go about being the church. Different ideas, different methodology, different approaches. This is why, again, the only detail we have is that they’ve labored side by side in the gospel. So, while in the past the what that Jesus has accomplished bonded them, they had their eyes on Jesus, they saw, as Paul says, that their names are written in the book of life, they saw that Revelation 4-5 vision. And, that’s what bonded them, that’s what gave them passion, that’s what united them in mission, and in ministry together. But, now they are fighting between themselves over the how, over the methodology, over where they put their energy and focus. And, Paul knows soon, the problem is that it will not only divide them, but it will divide the church, and it will ruin the church’s witness to the gospel.

Now, these women, again, were important leaders in the church. Their example mattered to those in the church. As the African proverb says, “When elephants fight, it is the grass the suffers.” It’s helpful, huh? And so, you can imagine as they’re fighting, it’s only trampling those around them, and Paul knows it. And so, their actions are beginning to take the church’s focus off of what Christ has accomplished. The gift of salvation that is theirs, what unites them as sisters in Christ, and they’re quibbling over how, and of different opinions on how to proceed.

And, I think it goes without saying that this wasn’t just a problem in Paul’s day. It is a threat in our day, as well. Throughout church history, this has been an issue. And, one of the things, is that it’s kind of counter intuitive, because I think this happens, actually, in a way that we don’t expect it. We assume this only happens – if you think about it, if I said, a church is going to end up quibbling and dividing over, kind of, the methodology and the how’s, you would probably immediately assume that, I don’t know, it’s an unhealthy church, you know, they have bad theology, they have poor structure in their church, they have all kinds of those problems.

But, actually, this tends to happen in churches with very strong theology, very high biblical convictions, just like the church at Philippi. It goes something like this … God raises up a group of people, who take hold of what Jesus has done, who live as citizens of heaven with strong convictions about the word of God, strong convictions about what it means to follow Christ, and that our lives should be given to God, we should be walking in obedience to Christ. These are all good things. In churches like this, things go well, very well, especially for a season, until a subtle shift begins to happen. And, this is a shift that’s seen throughout church history, this dynamic. As solely God’s way, we have these high convictions, this is God’s way, I see it here, some principles here in scripture. And then, we kind of figure out a way to live that out practically.

But then, God’s way becomes our way. And then, our way slowly becomes the way, and the only way. Our modes of worship, our methodology, our way of doing ministry, our way, becomes the way to worship. Our methodology becomes the methodology. Our approach, becomes the approach. Instead of it being a way, it becomes the way, and we begin to judge when this takes hold, all other groups with an air of spiritual pride, and begin to look down on others.

And see, the problem is, when that happens – and, again, this only can happen where there’s a high conviction – it’s a counterintuitive reality, which is, then, if you think about it, this is how Satan can make an inroad. You get all your thinking lined up, and you get it straight. And, it’s at that point that it has to filter through your heart, and move into your hands, that Satan seizes that opportunity, and he makes sure that he just takes it a little bit off course, in the trajectory, and spiritual pride enters in. And, what happens, is – see, in a healthy church, what happens is, discipleship happens, and discipleship is just a term that comes out of the Bible, that means that you’re going to be formed as you follow a specific way. You’re going to be changed, and you’re going to become like who you follow.

And, in healthy churches, what happens is as we have someone we follow, who disciples us – we follow Jesus, ultimately – and, eventually, we become more and more like Jesus. We become more, and more mature, like those mature disciplers that we’re following. But, in a church like this, what happens is this poison is discipled into us. And, what happens is, Paul knows this, that slowly, it makes its way, not just our way, but it becomes my way. And, my way, becomes the way, over and against your way. And, what Paul knows, is that Philippi starts with a high conviction around the gospel. And, in these two leaders, as time as gone on, what has happened, is it has become our way, which is the way. And, somewhere along the way, it became my way against your way, and it’s tearing the church apart.

It threatens to tear the church apart. Over and over throughout church history, this is why great tragedy of church history is that rival is almost always followed by schism, and by divisions. The church at Philippi had experienced renewal, because they took hold of what Jesus had done for them. But, as so often happens in at least these two leaders, it was leading to a schism, to division. Why? It’s simple, but it’s profound. Because, they lost their focus on the what and they began focusing on the how.

And, this could easily happen to us as well. Our hearts become cold towards what Jesus has done, and while burning with white hot intensity over opinions over what we should be doing. And, there’s nothing wrong with having a white hot intensity, just to hear me clearly, with about what it means to follow Jesus, how we should follow Jesus. The problem is, is when that takes the place of a love for Jesus, and a passion for Christ.

Now, I want to spend – because I think Paul jumps in right here – to two practical habits that help guard us as a people, each of us individually, and as a church from ever going down this road. But, first, I just want to make two quick clarifications, and the first one is this: this isn’t just a problem for leaders. This is not just a problem for leaders. This is a heart issue for everyone in the church to guard against, because we are all called to lead, to lead and serve the church forward with the gifts that God has given us. And so, this applies to all of us. Because, all of us are going to be called to take the what that Jesus has done, and work that out, in some way, in a local body of Christ.

And so, this applies to all of us. This is why, right after addressing Euodia and Syntyche – say that 10 times fast, right? Paul says, in verse 3, essentially, church, help them to focus on Jesus. He says, my true companions, help them to focus on Jesus. In the Greek, sometimes they translate yolk fellows. He’s saying, those of you who are bound together, who are yolked together in Christ, understand that this applies to you as well. You are one with them. And so, I’m not just saying this to publicly humiliate them, to kind of brow beat them so that they’ll just stop their bad behavior. But, I’m saying this because I want you to see it, and I want you all to see that this is something that lurks right under the surface in all of our hearts. Because, there is a lion who prowls around looking for someone to devour.

So, this applies to every single one of us. He’s saying, you know this when you see it. You know it’s ugly, you know it’s graceless, and it doesn’t look like Jesus, does it? We all know this, yet he’s saying, before you only look across the aisle or you look across the lobby, and you think about that person, I hope they’re listening right now, take a moment to look in the mirror. Take a moment to look in the mirror and ask yourself, are there places where now, I am more passionate about my opinion about how the initiatives the church should take, how the church should operate, more so than Jesus?

So, the first clarification, again, is that this applies to all of us, not just leaders. The second, is this: that Paul is not saying, how we live, how we do ministry, our methodology as a church, isn’t important. I just need to pause and say that. It is very, very important. In fact, I should actually say here, my title is Pastor for Equipping, and largely what I do, my role at Emmaus, is thinking how we navigate our changing cultural times with theological fidelity and whatnot. A lot of the strategy and the practical thinking is something I do every single day. And, I love doing it. It is vastly important that we think about this. The issue becomes when it becomes the main thing.

You see, as a church, we must keep in focus what Jesus has done. That should be our main focus, that should be our driving passion, that should be what draws us together, and what unites us, not just some kind of methodology or practical way of going about things, but the fact that we are all brothers and sisters, as Paul says, who have our name written in the eternal book of life. And, that’s not a threat. All of our names are in there, and that’s not a threat to us, because one day we will be united forever in God’s presence, and that is the source of our joy. And, none of us, when we get to heaven, are going to go … this isn’t how I would do it, right? So, you don’t want to be that guy. You don’t want to be the guy who gets there and goes … I have a suggestion … that I think you’re wrong.

And so, the issue is – and in fact, think about it – if we lose focus, if we leave Jesus behind, what is the point of being a church? What is all of this? What are these buildings? What are the things that we’re doing? What are the songs that we’re singing? What are the things that we’re tithing towards, that we’re investing in, we’re giving our time and our talent and our treasure to, if it is not Jesus? If it is not the gospel? And so, Paul says, always keep that front and center, or else, if it happens that you just orient around just methodology, then what happens is the church has nothing to witness to, except a bunch of strong willed, opinionated people. And, the church … well, I’m not going to say it … the church doesn’t need any more of that, okay? I said it. I said it, I said it, to he who has ears let him hear. And, if that’s the case, then the issue is, that what we began in the flesh, we will have to continue in the flesh. Because, the growth that will happen, will only be around what man is able to do, and it won’t be rooted in the beauty, the eternal reality, the divine power, entering into this world, in Jesus Christ.

And so, again, Paul is not saying that how we do things is not important, it is. But, Paul has summed this up elsewhere, very well. He says this – you probably know this passage from 1 Corinthians 13. He says …

… If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing …

The things he lists there, that is a very robust ministry resume, very robust. Prophetic gifting, good teachings, strong faith, sacrificial living. All good things, but he says they’re nothing, nothing if it’s not filled with the love of Christ, if what is more important is not what Jesus … the what that Jesus has accomplished on our behalf. Because, Jesus is more of our ideas about him, Jesus is more than a methodology. Jesus is the messiah who lives and breathes in us, and among us. And, if I want to know him, if we want to know him, we have to be a people with habits that soak our hearts in what Christ has accomplished on our behalf.

And so, Paul is going to give us two habits. Now, I wanted to say something. These two habits are going to sound simple, and they are simple. Yet, at the same time, the results, if we have these habits in our life, are profound. Profound. And, if we fail to do them, the results will be profoundly disastrous. If we practice them, the results will be profoundly redemptive.

I remember, just as a way to give a little bit more of a push on this, I remember when I started seminary – so that’s, like, where they send pastors to become really arrogant … No, I’m just kidding, sorry. No, where they train pastors to learn, you know. Anyways, when I want to seminary – that’s the problem seminary can become. When I first entered seminary, there was a first class that I had, and I just got married a month earlier. And, it was a class called family and ministry, and the professor walked in that day, and he said, listen. This is a class about how to practically be thriving parents, and having a thriving marriage in ministry, and how your family kind of joins you in ministry. And he said, listen, if you can get into grad school, you should have no problem getting an A in this class. It’s going to be really simple. He said, but if you don’t take what we learn here and actually apply it to your life, he said, you’ll be calling me in 10 years, asking me, where did my family go?

Sometimes, the most simple truths are the most important and profound, yet so hard to apply. And so, again, these are going to sound simple, but at the same time, they are profoundly redemptive when they are at work in our life.

II. HABIT #1 | THANKSGIVING BEFORE THE FATHER (vv.4-7)

So, here’s habit #1: thanksgiving before the Father. Paul says … rejoice in the Lord, always, I say, rejoice …in verse 4. Now, in all the complexity, Paul says, in all the pressures and all the concerns and all the conflicts of life, Paul says, rejoice. Now, you might be wondering to yourself, how can Paul say that? I mean, if you think about it, life throws a lot of stuff at us that doesn’t exactly prompt rejoicing, right? But, Paul says, in everything and always– later he’s going to say everything, here he says always rejoice, later he’s going to say, in everything, be thankful.

And so, you may be asking, really? In everything? When I get into an argument with my spouse or my boss, really? And, Paul would say, is that, does that fall under the banner of always and everything? And you would say … yeah. And, he’d say, yeah, yeah, rejoice. Right? He said, always to rejoice.

Now, the question is, how can Paul say that? In all seriousness, how can Paul say that, as a blanket statement, to always rejoice? Paul can say rejoice always, because of what Jesus has done. Paul can say rejoice always, because of what Jesus has done. He has reconciled us to our Heavenly Father. This is why, if you read, then, in verse 6, this is why he says …

do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your request be known to God …

See, Paul doesn’t just say, you know, kind of, when you have a problem, kind of let it be known to the universe, or just kind of think happy thoughts, or just maybe go and kind of have a cathartic moment on social media and rant about it, or just kind of talk about it, talk it out amongst yourselves. This isn’t just, kind of, sentimental, kind of flippant advice. But, Paul is rooting this in Jesus, what he’s just said is true in Jesus. And what he’s saying is, no, no matter what it is, we can go to someone. You can always rejoice, because you can always go to someone who is there, and someone who is able to do something about whatever it is in your life. And, as Paul says in verse 7, there is no greater peace in the universe than that. There’s no greater peace than to know that the God of the universe is there, and because of what Christ has accomplished, we now can enter into his presence.

Before this morning, we were praying for those of us who are in the band and whatnot up here, and we were praying, and just the reality was weighing down on me, and I think on the room, that we are about ready to walk into the presence of a holy God, and how dare we. We can, and we rejoice because Jesus has granted us access, and he’s gone before us. And, that is always true. Nothing can take that away.

At the same time, let me illustrate this, cause I think this is kind of hard for us to live. My daughter, she’s 5 now, she does something that I used to do as a child. Do you ever have that, if you have children, and you’re like … oh, jeeze, there I am, right? And, when I was a kid, I was very intense, and any time I would try to do something, I would be like … grrrr … and I would just, like, break things. Like, I can’t blow up this basketball so I’ll just, you know … stab a sharp stick into it. That should solve my problems.

My daughter has the same intensity, and so she’ll especially be, like, let’s say building a Lego castle or something. And, she’ll try to actually build these really elaborate designs. I’m like, that’s pretty impressive, honey, I can’t do that and I’m 34 .. But, she’ll get so far into it, and she gets stuck, and you’ll just hear from the other room … aarrrghh ... and she gets really frustrated. And so, we’ve trained her, my wife will kind of give me that, like … this is where you understand her, and I don’t understand what’s going on, right? Cause, it’s you. She’s your child. And so, I go in there, and say, honey, we’ve tried to teach her, you know, you can call out to us and ask for help. Like, when you hit these roadblocks, like, come to us, we love you. We want to help you, we want to help you get to that next level. I want to help you figure out the Lego thing, and go to the next level up ones. But, we love you, we’re here to help you, you can call out to us. And of course, with some coaching, when she hits a wall, now she comes to us. So we’ll hear the … aaarrghhh … and then you’ll hear … Papa? Mama? And, we come in … I love you, I want to help, I’m here.

And, of course, over time, as we’ve seen this, there’s just this peace, more and more as she hits these walls, we see this more and more, just this peace, because she knows she’s not alone. She knows that we’re disposed to help her, we’re predisposed to that, that we love her. In fact, the other day, I had, like, this plumbing thing. It was, like, a weak or so ago, and I was grumbling about it. And she goes by, and she goes, Papa, you should ask Mama for help. I was like … thank you, child. She’s become the teacher.

Yet, while it’s simple, how often do we live lives riddled with anxiety? How often does that look like us? Whatever area of life it might be, that instead, we’re alone, we think that we’re just alone in a room, alone in the car, alone in whatever situation it is, and we catch ourselves, it looks just like that … aaarrghh … right? Just, crying out to the universe as if no one is there, or grumbling to others, because they seem more tangible than our Heavenly Father. But, in our crying out, here’s the thing to consider … in our crying out, what do we really want? What do we really want in our crying out? What do we really want in the midst of our anxiety, in the midst of our worry? We want our Father’s presence. It’s not always that we just want a solution, it’s not always that we just want a quick fix, but often, it’s just that we want our Heavenly Father to draw near. You know, often, when I go in to my daughter, by the time we get done making the Lego castle or whatever, she almost doesn’t even care about the Lego castle. She cares that I’m near. She cares that I’m with her. And, how often do we miss our Father’s presence, and enjoy his nearness. In everything, we can cry out with thanksgiving, because one thing is certain: because of what Jesus has done in everything, our Heavenly Father draws near to us as his beloved children. And, in that, we can always be thankful, Paul says. He is always near. You can cry out to him.

Now, we should consider why Paul is saying this. Because, if we make it a habit of not going to our Father, and enjoying what Christ has given us, then our lives will be full of anxiety. They’ll be full of fear, they’ll be full of worry. And, here’s the thing: we’ll begin running to one another, we’ll begin expecting the church, we’ll expect the things that should point us to Christ, that should point us to our Heavenly Father, we’ll expect them to figure out the how’s. How to solve those things, how to remedy life, in other words, to do what only God can do, and to subtly and slowly replace him. And, the expectations for one another skyrocket, and all of our energy will flow to fighting over who has the better, the slicker how, rather than simply enjoying what Jesus has given us: reconciliation to a Father who is present, and listening.

So, Paul says, make thanksgiving a habit. Make thanksgiving, of going before your Heavenly Father, a habit. Again, simple, yet profound. You know, one of the ways you might be thinking, how do I really get going with this? Well, here’s a little tip I learned in undergrad. I did a lot of writing, that was what my undergrad degree was in, Creative Writing. And, I had a professor who told me when I would get stuck, he’d say, here’s how you break it: just start writing about what makes you angry, and try it, okay? If you’re stuck, you’re like, God what do I … I’m trying to think … just think, talk to God about what makes you angry, and write. And, you’ll become Hemingway, or Stephen King, like, within seconds, okay?

So, it just starts flowing, because you’re like, wow, I’ve become verbose. I have ideas. And so, when you go before the Lord, bring the things that are right there in front of you. As you go throughout your day, it’s like you see life through this windshield that is all these worries and anxieties and complexities. Well, just, right away when you get up, take those before your Heavenly Father, and say, Father, this is what I see. This is what’s in front of me, and bring it before him, and then just pause every now and then and insert – but Father, I am thankful for ____ . I am thankful that you brought me into this life, because I know even though I don’t know the way out of it, I know you’re sovereign, and you’re going to show me a way through, and you’re going to be with me. Or, I just, I know you’ll be with me.

But, bring them before the Father, and then bring your strife with one another – because it happens – bring the relationships before God, and then remind yourself of this reality Paul’s reminding them of, which is Father, I’m struggling, my heart is cold towards them. Warm it by reminding me that both of our lives are in the book of life. And, just start there. But, ask God to change your view of them.

Thanksgiving, a habit. If you make it a habit, God will guard your hearts and your minds with the peace of Christ, and what he has provided.

III. HABIT #2 | HOSPITALITY TOWARD OTHERS (vv8-9)

The second simple yet profound habit, is hospitality towards others. Finally, Paul says in verse 9, practice the what. Literally, you have to train, Paul says. Literally, you have to practice, literally, you have to rehearse the what of Jesus’ kingdom. Did you catch that? We are called here by Paul, and in several of his other letters – you can look in 1 and 2 Timothy he does this, he says, you need to train yourself for these realities. Why does Paul say that? Because, here’s the thing, all day long, whether you realize it or not, you are training and equipping yourself, going through the motions and going through the exercises of what the world says is true, just, pure, noble. We spend every day of our lives going through the motions of what the world does. And, in fact, we are strengthening those muscles. And, what Paul says you need to do, is focus on what Christ has done, and strengthen those muscles. And, you need habits in your lives to do that.

Now, Paul says, in verse 8, to think about what Christ has done. But then, in verse 9, he says, and practice what Christ has done. Now, as I was looking at this, I was like, are those two separate things? Do I think something, or do I practice something? How do I … do I think it, do I practice … and I think they’re the same thing, two aspects of it. And, there’s actually a quote from Aristotle, that I think actually captures the dynamic that Paul is going for here, which says this, “The soul never thinks without a picture.” Paul is saying, in order to be a people who keep our eyes on what Jesus has done, to think right things with our minds eye, and to see Jesus correctly, we need practices, that picture for us, what is true in Christ. And, to think right thoughts, we need practices in our lives that picture the truth of Jesus, to take it from our head down to our hearts. It’s serious business that that happens.

Probably a quote that stuck with me the most, it’s one of those youth pastor things someone threw out there, but I can never get it out of my mind. They said, you know what the distance from heaven to hell is? It’s the distance from your head to your heart. He says, we need practices that take it from our head, and just assenting intellectually, down into our hearts so that we live it. Practices that help us think with a picture of what is true … of whatever is honorable… Paul says … of whatever is just, of whatever is pure, of whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable … we need practices in our lives that help us, and there is no greater practice that helps us picture these things, than the practice of hospitality.

Hospitality, simply put, is welcoming others, having practice, a habit in our lives of welcoming others, as Christ has welcomed us. This is from the Lent devotional, which, by the way, is available on the app, you’ve probably seen some slides for it today. But, you can get it on the app, you can get it through our email, you can find it online on the website. But, every week we’ve been walking through a different discipline, and this week the discipline is hospitality. And, this is how it’s defined: Hospitality creates a space, a grace filled space, where a friend or stranger can enter and experience the welcoming Spirit of Christ in another.

Hospitality is a way of expressing love for others as God has shown us love in Jesus Christ, while we were yet sinners. Biblical hospitality, when rightly practiced, challenges our assumptions of others, and surfaces unhealthy biases towards others, reminding us of the welcoming grace we’ve received in Christ. Hospitality is welcoming others into our lives, our personal space, our bio-families, our bachelor pads, our bachelorette pads, meeting someone at a coffee shop, making space in our lives for others as God has welcomed us into his family through the work of Christ.

Here’s the thing, so often we live busy, disconnected, isolated lives, amen? Busy, disconnected, isolated lives, and our lives seem more driven by the chaotic swirl that we call life, right? But, that’s not what life is made out of. Life is not made out of the swirly, chaotic cocktail of our daily schedules, of our coming and going, of all of our actions and our getting two things and doing things because we are human beings, not human doings. We are created for deep relationship with God, and with others. And, nothing pulls us out of the chaos of our daily lives, and slows us down to focus on what we have in Christ like a habit of hospitality. Of making room in our schedules, of literally carving out space with time, and space with space, space with our meal plan, space for others to come into our life, just to merely say, I want to welcome you in, because I’ve been welcomed in to something really great. And, that’s just overflowing out of me, and I want you to know it.

This helps us to rightly think about our welcome in Christ, by picturing it so well. One of the things, as a pastor, as I, I do get to think a lot about the Bible. Think about it, I get to fill my head with a lot of thoughts, a lot of thinking, a lot of theology. But nothing, I don’t think, over the years, has helped me actually grasp some of the more profound theological concepts that we throw out there, like candy a Memorial Day, like reconciliation. Like having my home open in a habit of hospitality. Nothing helps me grasp that, like seeing someone else welcomed into my life, life sacrificing time for others, making room for others.

This, especially, hit home for me, and I just want to paint a picture for how having a habit of hospitality in your life will profoundly change your heart. It’ll profoundly change especially how understand and relate to God, and how you relate to others. So, this really hit me in a way it hadn’t before this last Friday, just, what, two days ago? When, many of you know we’ve been in the process to adopt … I’m going to get emotional, man …

… We’ve been in a process for two and a half years of adopting Calvin into our home. And, finally, Friday, it was finalized before a judge. And, it was a pretty crazy moment, cause the judge, I was like, either she’s going to hit that gavel and be like, surprise! You’re going to jail for 30 years. Or, she was going to do what she did, which was, she declared from now on, his name is Calvin Michael Dennings, and he’s in your family. It’s a beautiful picture. And, at that point, there was a stack of paperwork in front of her that had his previous identity, kind of like the stack of paperwork we’ve been working through for two and a half years, and they took that, and they’re going to seal that, and it goes somewhere in a basement. And, there was a new stack of paperwork that says, this is now his identity, and they took that stack of paperwork, and right now it’s being processed, and becoming new birth certificates, and this new identity, and this new reality.

And, it took everything in me not to start weeping in that courtroom. So, I’ll just do it now, right? Not to week in that courtroom, because I realized, I fully realized what I hadn’t before, as he sat in my lap, that you’re now my son. And, this is now your forever home. You’re now my son, and this is now your forever home. Now, yesterday, that hit me and I was able to hold back the tears, but yesterday as I sat in my little writing shed in my backyard, it just hit me. It hit me like a ton of bricks, and, I mean, I ugly cried, as this hit me. But, it wasn’t just that it hit me … that beautiful moment of realizing this with Calvin, and realizing that now he’s our son and that we no longer have to worry about someone showing up and just removing him.

But, it hit me because there’s a beautiful reality that is underneath that beautiful moment. And, it’s that it’s true of me. That I have a Heavenly Father, who says, you are my son, and this is your forever home.

Now, I won’t pretend for a moment that I’ve never struggled with the adoption process. If anyone gets the credit, it’s my wife. She helped me process a lot at the beginning. This means I have to sacrifice my time, my schedule, my space, the last waffle french fry in the Chick Fil A meal … he always gets it. I had to wrestle with those realities. But, as we put into practice the simple act of hospitality, of making room for Cal, my heart changed. Because, it unlocked a deeper reality, by painting a picture of what it means to be adopted as a son of our Heavenly Father, in a way that I can never think myself there, in a way that I could never read myself there. My soul couldn’t really grasp, or think of the beauty of adoption, until I had a picture in that courtroom.

Now, while most likely you won’t be called to something like adoption. Some of you will, some of you won’t. But, we are all called to sacrificially welcome others into our lives as Christ as welcomed us into his. Because, when we make room for others through the practice of hospitality, God gives us a picture that helps us think with full hearts of the forever home that we have with him, that we are adopted into his family, and that keeps us focused on the whatand the how’s begin to just take care of themselves.

So, I encourage you to begin the practice of hospitality. You can begin, one, by downloading the Lent guide. There’s instructions, there’s scriptural readings, there’s questions to help you reflect. And then, also, on the sermon notes on the Emmaus app, you can download it, the Emmaus app through the app store, is out there, and the sermon notes that are in there. There is also a link to a great article on hospitality that has more biblical unpacking, or explanation of it, and then also some practical tips on how to get started.

But, either way, I would encourage you to develop creative ways with your family, with your roommates, with whoever it is in your life, develop creative ways to welcome others into your life as Christ as welcomed you, and to his. It will help your heart cherish Christ in a way unlike any other habit God has gifted us, by providing a living picture of what Christ as done.

So, let’s recap. We must guard against, one, the timeless problem of the how overtaking the what. Jesus is more than methodology, he is our Messiah. To guard against this, Paul gives us two simple, yet profoundly impactful habits to begin practicing today. Habit #1, thanksgiving before the Father. Because, it is God’s means of guarding our hearts and minds with peace through what Christ has provided. Habit #2, hospitality. Because, it provides a refreshing picture of the welcome, the what, that we’ve received in Jesus Christ.

So, Emmaus, as Paul says, practice these things. Practice the what that Jesus has provided. And, I promise, if we are saturated with the what, as a church,the how’s will take care of themselves, because we’ll be able to agree in the Lord that the God of peace is with us. Let’s pray.

Lord God, we thank you for what we have in Christ. Father, guard our hearts from forgetting the basics, and turning our life with you into an endless list of how’s. Keep us focused on our first love, and keep us at peace with one another. Spirit of Christ, give us wisdom in beginning the habits of thanksgiving and hospitality, so we live saturated in what Christ has provided together. We ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.


The Importance of Confession-Full Sermon Transcript

Link to blog

PASTOR: MATT DENNINGS

SCRIPTURE READING

Philippians 3:12-16

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

INTRO

Well, good morning. My name is Matt, I’m the Pastor for Equipping here at Emmaus, and this morning we are continuing our series in Philippians. And, last week, if you didn’t catch it, we turned a corner, kind of heading into the final part of Philippians. And, we saw that in this final part of Philippians, Paul is turning his attention to how we experience and know life in Jesus Christ.

And, so, last week in verses 1-11 of chapter 3, we saw Paul’s desire to what he says, he describes as gaining Christ, to be found in Christ, to know Christ. It’s Paul’s way of saying, I want to tangibly experience life in Christ. And, of course, as good church people, last week, we should say amen when we hear that, right? Yet, today, in verses 12-16, Paul says, before I go any further, let me clarify something. He says in verse 12, and I’m paraphrasing here, he says, listen, I haven’t obtained this life fully. The it, in verse 12, is pointing back to verses 8-11, when Paul describes as being found in Christ, in knowing Christ, in living in Christ, and Paul is saying, before I go any further, listen, I haven’t obtained this life fully. I’m not a finished product, I am not perfect.

In other words, Paul says, left to myself, even though I desire to live in Christ, I find over and over again, I fall short of that. And yet, Paul says, the reason why he keeps fighting, pressing, training, is because Jesus Christ has made him his own. And so, therefore, he has this hope that as he presses forward, he will find this life.

Now, as I’ve meditated on this text, I’ve thought, often, why does Paul say this? Why does he go here? Because, this is a bit of an aside from his main argument here. And, part of why I wonder this, is because it’s somewhat repetitive in the language of what he’s just said, one, and two, as I think of that, I think, why do I need to hear this? Why do I need to hear these words from Paul? And, I realize, because even though Paul says that he lives and fights past this reality that day to day, he falls short of the glory of God, that day to day he sins, day to day he fails, the hope that he has in the midst of that is the fact that he belongs to Jesus Christ.

And, I realize when thinking through that phrase, that practically I often live, not as if I belong to Christ, but as if I belong to my failure, as if I belong to my sin, as if I belong to my shortcoming. Like Paul, I desire to live out verses 1-11, to be found in Christ, to have this life in Christ, to know Christ. Yet, like Paul, I also know what it’s like to fall short of that desire. And so, instead of living with this sense that I belong to Christ, I feel more and more like I belong to my sin. Anyone else know what that’s like?  I’m not sure if I’m just alone here, doing a monologue.

Today, we’ll call this tension, the human tension, the human tension that we live with. The universally experienced tension between who we long to be, and we really are, if we’re honest. Like Paul, if we are to know Christ, we have to deal with this tension that we all have deep down. Because, often, it seems like, as Christians, the only way that we can grow, the only way that we can progress, the only way that we can kind of ascend, however you want to describe it, that we can go on deeper into our faith when we live with this nagging reality that, do I really belong to Christ, or do I really belong to my sin?

It seems that the only options on the table, are to either live hypocritically and to pretend that I have it all together, or on the other hand to live hopelessly, and to just give up altogether. But, what Paul says in these five verses unlocks a third way, a better way, a gospel way, a way of hope found in Jesus Christ, that we can live with confidence that we belong not to our sin, but belong to Jesus Christ, wholly.

So, what we’ll look at first is the human tension, we’ll unpack it a little bit further, then the mistaken ways of resolving that tension that we often turn to, and then, lastly, the gospel key to resolving that tension, between who we desire to be, and who we find ourselves to be. But first, let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the truths found in this text. We thank you that here, we see Paul saying things like us, when we’re honest with ourselves, that we have not obtained, fully, this life that we desire. That, we cannot, in and of ourselves, perfect ourselves, but underneath all of this, we belong to Jesus. Lord, we thank you for this truth. Help us to grasp this and the importance of it, and to bring it home to our hearts, so this isn’t just a mere intellectual exercise, but that we would walk away from here knowing that we are your beloved children, if we are in Christ Jesus. And, it is in his name that we pray, amen.

THE HUMAN TENSION

Well, the human tension. Paul puts his finger, again on a tension that is at the center of the Christian life, and human experience. But, there is a gap between who we long to be, and who we are. And, I think in some ways, we know this already. If I just bring up, hey, January 1st until now, how are you doing on that new diet, right? How are you doing on that new exercise routine, how are you doing on your finances? Right? We could go on and on, we know that this is a human reality. That, there are all these areas that, who we long to be, we desire to be, and honestly, we know we should be. But, then, we keep falling short of it. It could be ways that we parent, it could be ways that we interact with others. But, how often do we slow down to think about that dynamic in relation to our spiritual life and our growth?

We sense we should want to know God and live accordingly, and yet, while I feel I want it, I fail to obtain it, Paul says. I’m not already perfect, Paul says. It probably sounds like your journal entry, doesn’t it? God, I want to be patient with others, but they keep … being people. Right? God, I want to stop giving into temptation, but I give in. Here I go again. I’ve given in again. God, I want to start investing my time and energy into blank, whatever initiative, whatever good thing. But, but, but … And, there it is.

While we have these desires, then there is this, I desire this, but … And, if you go long enough in trying to live out this tension, what seems more true of us, is what comes after the but. But, I failed again, I’m a failure. But, I’ve fallen short again, I fall short. But, I blow up again. Yet, Paul says, the way we address the tension, is not by looking to something within ourselves. Rather, to the work of Jesus Christ. He says, Jesus has made me his own. Right after saying, I’ve not lived up to this, I have not perfected myself. And, remember, this is after verses 1-11, where he says, isn’t this great? We have this salvation in Jesus, and we can grab onto this, and we can live this way. And then, he comes to verse 12, and says, let’s just be honest for a moment. And, I want to clarify, this is not something that you are going to, in this life, 100% perfectly attain.

It reminds me of an old story of, there’s a Victorian age preacher in London named Charles Spurgeon, many of you may have heard of him, he’s called the Prince of Preachers. Isn’t that an amazing title? What, me? But, Charles Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers, and he was at this conference, and this man came up to him, and he said, Charles Spurgeon was preaching on this fact that, of what it means to grow in holiness. And, this man said, no, no, no, we should reach perfection. And, it was this thing called the perfectionist movement. And, Spurgeon kind of debated with him for a minute, and he saw it wasn’t going anywhere.

And so, it was at this conference, and so, the next day, all the individuals are in this conference center, and they’re eating their breakfast. And, Spurgeon sneaks up behind the man, and he takes a cup of milk and just pours it over his head. And, the man jumps out of his seat, and all these expletives come out, and he starts yelling at Spurgeon. And, Spurgeon goes, there’s the old man! Right? And, what he’s drawing out there, is he’s saying, we have this reality that Christ has made us his own. And, we are not going to reach perfection this side of being fully perfected in Christ, and the new kingdom.

It’s God’s grace, given to us by Jesus Christ, that we receive by faith, and trust in that grace, that allows us to grow in holiness, that allows us to grow in Christ’s likeness. We relate to God as sinners who have been made holy, not by our work, but by his.

You know, it looks something like this. I like visuals, and so this is a chart we’ve used before in sermons, but it looks something like this, that the gospel tells us that no matter the depth of our sin, and the gap it creates between us and God, Jesus has bridged the gap in his life, death, and resurrection. And so, after we come to Christ at this time of conversion, what begins to happen, is God’s spirit works within us, he’s made us a new man, he’s made us a new creation. And so, now he’s doing this work. And, as we grow in our awareness of God’s holiness, and we grow in our awareness of our flesh and our sinfulness, our dependency on the cross enlarges, and Jesus gets bigger, Jesus gets better, Jesus gets more and more beautiful. We depend on the grace of God more and more, and we breathe it in, and we breathe it out like oxygen.

So, yes, we sin, we fail, we fall short of the glory of God. But, the gospel says something else about me comes after the but now. What is most true of us in Jesus Christ. Yes, I have done shameful things, yes, I have sinned. But, because of Jesus Christ, I am now a beloved child of God. What comes after the but now? I am a beloved child of God. The gospel gives us hope to press on, because there’s no sin we might commit, or become aware of, that God’s grace cannot cover. Neither height nor depth, Paul says. No matter how far down that arrow goes, the cross goes, and bridges us right back up to God’s holiness. By God’s grace, Christ makes us his own. We belong to him.

Now, this all sounds good, right? The question is, how do we live this? Okay, this sounds great theoretically. Pastor, how do I begin to enter into this, take hold of it, to live it? We’re going to go there. What I want to do first is – cause I think we know this better – which is, the mistaken ways that we attempt to resolve this very tension, this very gap between us and God. This very tension between who we desire to be, and who we find ourselves to be. So, the second point is looking at the mistaken ways of resolving the tension.

THE MISTAKEN WAYS OF RESOLVING THE TENSION

Paul ends this section, verses 12-16, with a very revealing statement. He says this, after saying all these things, he says …

Only let us hold true to what we have attained ...

So, he says all these things, that we are going to grow into Christ’s likeness, and after, he says, but only let us hold onto what we have attained. Hold those things true. Now, why does he have to say this? Well, I think if we’ve lived a little, we know exactly why he has to say this. He has to say it because we’re constantly trying to claim that we are where we are not yet. We’re constantly trying to claim that something is true of us, that frankly is not true of us yet. Rather than resolving the tension of our sin, that process of seeing the cross get bigger day by day in our life, we try to microwave it. Instead of God’s transformative grace, we try to do it quickly, and we resolve the tension of our sin by what comes naturally to us.

Let me illustrate this, because I think this will be helpful, before unpacking this further. In college, I made the regrettable decision of living in one house with 10 guys. And, one night … I’m a little bit of a neat freak, and 10 guys in a house is not a healthy place for a neat freak to live. And so, one night, though, I come down in the middle of the night, and I turn on the lights to the kitchen as I go in to get something, and there are cockroaches everywhere, everywhere. They’re having a little fiesta, right on my kitchen floors. The counter, everything, they’re everywhere.

So, I turn on the light, and what do they do? They … you know, they go and hide. So, I did what any sensible person does when they see that kind of infestation. I turned off the lights, and I tried to forget I ever saw it, right? And, I tried to go back to bed and had nightmares. In fact, even though I knew there was a hidden infestation, when people came over, I would actually … Because, I was actually insecure about it, when I cleaned the house, I would actually be standing in the kitchen talking, and I would actually bring up, like, isn’t it crazy how clean this house is with 10 guys? And they’d be like, yeah, this is amazing. Look at these countertops, right? And, this went on for about a year, until one morning somebody poured out a bowl of cereal and they got, you know, like, a special little prize in their cereal. And, I said, yeah, that’s been going on for a while.

Now, this illustrates more than probably why the CDC should not allow 10 20-year-old men to live together in one place, without supervision. But, it illustrates what we tend to do with our sin. At some point, you see, the light’s going to be turned on. And, I don’t know if you know that moment, but you see the infestation for what it is. And, of course, as soon as the light goes on, everything in you just kind of recoils and hides, right?

The light could come through a relationship. This is why it’s so tough that first year of marriage, right? Cause, you’ve been able to just kind of avoid it, and all of a sudden, now someone’s right there with you, and they’re like … did you know you have a massive infestation? Right? The light could come on through a circumstance that stirs up ungodly attitudes, just kind of, like, speak that comes out of you, that you’re like, where did that come from?

An illustration that we’ve use before, is that it’s like you have water that’s kind of all dirty. Like you have all this stuff polluting you, clouding you, this sin that’s in you. And, when life is kind of nice and stable, the water, if it sits there long enough, and it’s not disruptive, just kind of settles to the bottom. And, if you look at that water from the side, you go, wow … look how pure that person is, right? But, what happen when something comes along and bumps that table? All of a sudden, it stirs it all up. Something stirs your life, and it just makes a mess, and you go, where did this all come from?

Relationships, situations, or it could just be, simply, that God’s spirit turns the lights on in your heart, and you see for the first time. And, when that happens, we feel the tension of our sin. We feel this human tension. We feel this tension between, this is not who I want to be, but yet, this is coming out of me, this is who I am. And, it’s a tension we want to escape, it’s a tension we want to avoid, it’s a tension that we desperately want to silence. Because, we are seeing what we are really like. And, frankly, we’re seeing what the Bible has already told us we are, that we’re sinners in need of grace.

But, seeing our sin, we tend to resolve the tension the way I solved my infestation problem. And, these are the two mistaken ways we tend to resolve sin. The first is pretending, and the other is by performing. And, they both cut us off from experiencing the power of God’s grace. And these, by the way, this is another chart – like the last one. These charts, by the way, come from a book called The Gospel Centered Life, it’s linked in the sermon notes. I’d highly recommend it, if you’d like, about an 8-week study, kind of going deeper into the gospel, again, the gospel centered life.

But, by pretending, here’s what I mean. When I turned off the lights and pretended my sin wasn’t there, and I pretended like it would go away, we also tend to hide our sin from God and others, by pretending everything is okay, by just pretending it’s all okay. It may look like lying, it probably means that there are habits of, kind of, avoiding and withdrawing, especially from other people who might hold you accountable, or who know you best … isolating yourself. Honestly, a sign, often, of pretending, is actually exhaustion. And, the reason for that is because, if you’re pretending, what we tend to have, is we tend to start living, almost, two lives.

There’s kind of, like, your good church life, I’m around Christian life. And then, there’s this other life, which you may actually, in your heart of hearts, feel like, here’s my real life. Here’s when I really am who I am. And, we tend to split those, because we’re pretending, and we’re dealing with that tension by separating them, and it’s exhausting. Because, what happens, is after a while, you’re constantly trying to remember, was I there, or was there … I’m trying to tell this story, where was I, what was I doing? And, it’s exhausting because you can never really remember, how was I acting, how should I act now, where was I, what was I doing? What was the story? Do I have it straight?

There’s a line that captures this by Mark Twain, that’s really well said. He says, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” Man, there’s no exhaustion in that. It just comes out. If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything. But, when we pretend, the result is that we think by pressing on, and catch this, we often think that by pressing on, what Paul actually means here, is to pretend. Functionally, what we think, is Paul means to pretend. We could call this fake it until you make it spirituality. And, it leads to burnout. It leads to hopelessness, as if life in Christ is only available to the spiritual elite.

But, pretending we do not have sin will not solve our tension. It will not clear out the infestation, but rather it makes us feel more hopelessly like we belong to our sin. Now, the second way, we have pretending, and we also have performing.

And, by performing, I mean, like when I cleaned the counters, without cleaning the infestation. It’s performing for everyone. Everyone expects a clean house, and no bugs, and no filth, and so I’m trying to perform to live up to that expectation. And so, I constantly scrub the house, and do everything but deal with the actual cockroaches, because that was just nasty.

But, we tend to bury our sin in busyness, to impress God and others, as if by pressing on, again, Paul means to perform, to put on our best moral performance. If perform well enough, and busy enough, and if we meet everyone’s expectations, then we expect that that tension that we feel deep down, will go away. But, it doesn’t. And, often, we end up living as hypocrites and perpetuating a culture of hypocrisy. It starts a cycle. What happens, is, we feel like a hypocrite because we’re living one way, when we, in fact, know that we don’t actually measure up to this.

And, as we feel like a hypocrite, then we feel like we belong to our sin. And, because we feel like we belong to our sin, and we don’t belong to Christ, then that just furthers us into this constant habit of performing, because that’s all we know. And then, as we perform, we feel further like a hypocrite. And, on and on, the cycle goes. Dietrich Bonhoeffer captured this dynamic well, when happens in a community. He says, “Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So, we remain alone in our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. He who is alone with his sins is utterly alone.”

Some of you this morning are in this place of just performing. Some of you, also, may be in the place of pretending. And, either way, what you sense right now is that there’s a me that feels like it needs to be acting in some certain way. And then, there’s the real me. And, you’re on the cusp of burn out, you’re on the cusp of hopelessness. If you’re performing as if everything’s okay, it will not solve the tension. It will not make the infestation go away. Rather, it will lead you deeper into hypocrisy, and deepen that sense that you belong to your sin.

Both pretending and performing fail to deal with the tension of our sin, and both, in the end, only make us feel like we belong to our sin. Because, both cut us off from the work of the cross. So, how do we resolve this tension? We’ve seen what it is, we’ve looked at the mistaken ways that we deal with it. So, what is the way that we deal with this tension? So, the third point, the gospel key to resolving the tension.

THE GOSPEL KEY TO RESOLVING THE TENSION

How do we resolve it? Honestly, sincerely. We see right under our noses, in verses 13-14, Paul says, brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But, one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind, and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Jesus Christ. Paul says, I’m not going to pretend, I’m not going to perform, and act like I’ve perfected myself in some way.

And, think about that. This is a guy who’s an apostle. If anyone had the weight on his shoulders to try to live up to expectations, and to try to perform for other people, or try to just go through the motions and pretend, it would be Paul. People were constantly slandering him, saying, look, he’s not really an apostle, he’s just an imposter. Can you imagine if Paul had any little bit of a sense in himself that he was leaning into being an imposter, and not really living out the things that he was proclaiming?

Paul says, I’m not going there, and I’m not going back to the old ways of relating to God. For Paul, that was actually going back to the old system, the old covenant, the old way of relating to God. For us, that may be saying, I’m not going back to the old way of pretending and performing anymore. Instead, in verse 14, I’m going to press on toward the goal. What does that look like? Well, that first chart again. Pressing on, Paul is saying, saying, I’m going to do whatever it takes, in Jesus Christ, to know Christ.

Back in verse 11, he actually says, by any means, I will use anything that will help me, any means in any way, so that I may know Christ, and I may grow in this reality. And, that happens by doing whatever it takes to see the cross get bigger. Now, that, for Paul – and here’s the thing, don’t miss this – when he says, in verse 14, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Jesus Christ, doesn’t that almost, at first, seem a little vague? That’s kind of a weird English sentence, first, and second, what does this goal mean?

And, what he’s talking about, is like that first chart, that as he progresses in the Christian faith, if you mature, you are going to realize more and more and more the depth of your sin. You’re going to, then, as you realize the depth of your sin, realize how much holier than you ever knew before, God is. And so, what Paul is saying, when I’m pressing on, is I’m going to truly mature, which is, I’m going to see more and more and more how big and wide and deep is the cross, and how good God’s grace is. This is God’s will for you. This is the goal of Paul, that he would more and more and more see the beauty of what Christ as accomplished on his behalf, and live into that.

See, the ironic thing about being a mature Christian, is that it’s not about perfection. The ironic thing about becoming a mature Christian, that is coupled with an increased awareness that you are not fully mature, that there’s always more growth. For Paul, that straining forward to what lies ahead, is more and more of a sense that he belongs to Christ by grace. That, as he becomes more and more aware of how sinful he is, he simultaneously becomes more and more aware of how much love and grace he’s been given in the cross.

This is summed up well by a pastor in New York City named Tim Keller. He says, “The gospel is this, we are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dare believe. Yet, at the very same time, we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” Do you believe that? That’s what pressing on looks like. Putting aside pretending and performing, and looking straight at our sin, and then straight to Christ. So, how do we do that? We talked about what it is, how do we do that?

Well, the key that gospel provides for doing this, for pressing forward, is the discipline of confession, or the habit of confession. It’s something that we went over this morning in our liturgy. And, when we got the point of confession. If some of this is sounding familiar, it’s because it was right there in a nugget form during confession. Notice Paul confesses two things in this passage. First, Paul confesses that he is unable to save himself, or perfect himself. The gospel frees him to be honest. The second thing that he confesses, though, is Christ has made me his own. The gospel provides a way forward, a hope.

See, the discipline, the habit of confession, is simply going before God and confessing both of these truths. And, when I say a discipline or a habit, I mean, for me, this looks like early in the morning, I’m an early riser. For you, it might not be beginning of the day. Although, I think there is something about the beginning of the day that’s helpful. But, rising early and opening up God’s word, but taking out a piece of paper and writing down, and thinking before God, of what are … literally, I get specific … and, write down the specific things, the sins that, over the last day, have come out of me. And, I go before God and bring these before him, and I ask for his forgiveness. And, as I do so, I confess two things. I confess that I have sinned, and I also confess that I belong to Jesus Christ, that God has closed that gap.

Now, I should say this. You may think that such a habit, one, is maybe unhelpful or weird, I’ll just say it. Or, that it’s legalistic. And, one thing that I want to say in response to that, is I would like us to consider for a moment how often, throughout our day, we tell ourselves, or we confess to ourselves, things about ourselves, and things about God, without training ourselves to do that in a healthy way.

And so, when we sin, what do we do? Man, I remember, so often I would be like like, oh, stupid, stupid, when I did something. And, this comes out. And, the thing is, when I go [to confess], it’s like, yes, I can look at this. This is what I’ve done. But then, simultaneously, this is not who I’m called to be in Jesus Christ. And, there’s grace here, and I can begin to grow out of this sin, versus just beating ourselves up. And so, what I would ask you, is if you don’t have any kind of a habit of training your heart, and training your mind to point yourself to Jesus Christ in the midst of your sin, then plan some kind of a habit, plan some kind of a habit.

Let me ask you, though, do you slow down regularly, to specifically confess both your sin, and who you are in Christ, before God? Do you have a habit of simply doing those two things together? I guarantee it will transform your life. It will transform your walk with Christ. It’s an important question, because I think we live our lives so on the go, go, go, go, to the next thing, constantly downloading information in a digital world, that we forget what is actually true of us. That, we are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared hope, Keller says. Yet, at the very same time, we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.

I encourage you, this week, to pick up the Lent devotional or download it, if you have not already. In it, you will find, for this week, instructions for how to begin a habit of confession. There are scriptural passages you can go to there, Psalm 51, Psalm 139, that will help guide you in forming a habit of confession. And, I guarantee, knowing Christ has made you his own, despite knowing – and think of this, Christ made you his own full well knowing, Christ knows from age 34 right now, on March 17th, 2019, until whenever my life ends – Jesus is well aware of the sin that I will accrue to my account, put it that way. And yet, even in the midst of knowing those thing, he makes me his own. Knowing that truth will lead to a life that increasingly looks like Christ, because you will grow in your appreciation, your love, your longing, your dependence upon Jesus.

CONCLUSION

Let me recap. Every human being first lives with a tension, that because of sin, there’s a gap between who we long to be, and who we really are. Second, don’t fall into the trap of trying to resolve that tension by pretending and performing. It will only lead to hopelessness or hypocrisy. And then, finally, instead, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, press on by developing a discipline of confession, confessing your needs before God for his grace in Jesus Christ.

Emmaus, bring your sin into the light, and don’t pretend like it isn’t there, or try, by performance, to fix it. But, let the cross do its work. Let the cross, and the resurrection, and the indwelling power of God’s spirit, do its work. Something I haven’t unpacked, and I probably should have, is the power that God’s Spirit works in when we go before God’s Word. We acknowledge our sin and humility before the very presence of a holy God, especially when we’re going through scriptures, seeing these descriptions of a holy God. And, we’re just realizing, this is not me when I’m honest with myself, God’s spirit uses that to radically change us, to break free from living as if we belong to sin. We can begin living with confidence that mind, body, and soul, we belong wholly to Jesus Christ. Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the life that we have in Christ. Father, reveal to us where we are missing out on all we have in Jesus. Show us what we have gained in him, that we might belong to him as your beloved. Spirit of Christ, help us, help us, Spirit, to turn from ourselves through confession, to die to ourselves so we might turn to Christ, and live in light of the hope we have in him. It is in Christ’s name we pray, amen.