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Gospel Identity-Full Sermon Transcript

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PASTOR: FORREST SHORT

SCRIPTURE READING

“Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

—2 Corinthians 3:12–4:6 ESV

INTRO

Well, good morning! My name is Forrest, I’m one of the pastors here. And, it’s fitting on Mother’s Day, that we should talk about identity. Because, certainly, it is a temptation to make motherhood - and a myriad of things - our primary identity. We’ve been in the midst of a series called Vital, and what we’re exploring in this series, after we’ve come out of the book of Philippians, is the aspects that are crucial to our mission as a church. We’ve come through a season where we’ve experienced much grace, that God has given us much grace to merge two congregations together, and now we find ourselves doing life together and on mission together. And so, we thought it would be good to come back to what is central to Emmaus, what is central to the church, the biblical church, the people of God.

And so, we’ve looked at gospel conversion, we’ve looked at gospel renewal, and this morning we will look at our gospel identity. Many of you may remember this quote, Matt shared it about a month ago in one of his sermons. This is from Count Zinzendorf, he is not a vampire.

“Preach the gospel, die, be forgotten.”

—Count Zinzendorf (1700-1760)

Now, if you’re like me, you probably have mixed feelings about that quote, right? Preach the gospel … amen. Yes. This is the good news. I’m all about that. Die … I’m a little less excited about that one, but I do realize it’s a reality that’s coming. Be forgotten … that’s terrible. Like, really? Preach the gospel, die, be forgotten … is that what this is all about? That one stings a little bit, right? To be forgotten. Why does it sting? Let’s see if we can unpack it a little bit.

Here we are on Sunday morning, again, after one more week. We made it. We’ve made it through one more week. One more week of work, one more week of caring for the kids, one more week of marriage, and laundry, perhaps singleness, a paycheck, bills, maybe a little bit of downtime. And, perhaps, one more week of wondering if we’re really accomplishing what we hope to accomplish, if we’re really making a difference in anyone’s life, if the 50+ hours we put in at work really matters in the grand scheme of things, if all our effort to make our house a home, is worth it … if my life is really going to matter when it’s all said and done.

I mentioned on Easter Sunday, my grandmother used to love the soap opera, Days of our Lives, and I still remember the intro to that soap opera … Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives … That’s how it can feel, right? One day after the next, another day, another week, another month, another year, the kids are growing up … or, the kids have already grown up, moved out the house, I’m finding more wrinkles and more grey hair, and people I know and love are starting to pass on. It all feels like it’s fading quickly, and our accomplishments with it. And, to hear that we will just be forgotten feels like too much. It feels like too much to bear for all the work we put in.

And, I think the issue, here, the reason being forgotten stings, is an issue of identity. Now, when we say identity, what do we mean by that? It’s answering the question, who am I? But, I think even more specifically, our identity is where we locate our significance. It’s where we locate in our lives what we feel matters the most about us, what is most important about us. If our identity is rightly located, being forgotten loses its sting. But, often, our identity is misplaced.

In fact, what we’re going to see, is that before Christ, all of our identities are misplaced. And, here’s four areas we tend to place our identity, naturally, without even thinking about it, this is where we go.First, our performance, I am what I do. So, this could be our work, this could be sports, this could be some craft that we’re a part of, this is could be a business we’re building. That’s my identity, that’s where my significance is. I am what I do. Secondly, possessions, I am what I have. So, what I drive, what I wear, what I live in. Third, pleasure, I am what I want … foodie. Any foodies in here? We just went to Nashville last week, and my clothes are fitting a little bit tighter. It was so worth it, though, right? Our desires. I am what I want. Or, we’re travelers, we love to travel, or perhaps we’re gamers, we’re waiting for the next version of our game to come out. Fourth is popularity, I am what others think of me. So, I want to be intelligent, I want to be stylish, I want to be ironic. Right? Whatever we want to project, that’s what’s most significant about me.

And, the danger here, is that our self worth and our security, and our satisfaction, become tied to things that can be and will be taken away at some point. But, notice the language Paul uses in the text. In verse 12, he uses this language of hope. He says … we are very bold … or, a little bit later down in chapter 4 … we do not lose heart … So, Paul obviously is saying that we as believers do not have to live with this sting of being forgotten, that that somehow devistates us. And, I think the missiologist, Leslie Newbigin, he has a good quote that reorients us, I think, to the biblical reality of where we should actually find our identity. He says this …

“I am suggesting that the gospel is to be understood as the clue to history, to universal history and therefore to the history of each person, and therefore the answer that every person must give to the question, ‘Who am I?’ In distinction from a great deal of Christian writing which takes the individual person as its starting point for the understanding of salvation and then extrapolates from that to the wider issues of social, political, and economic life, I am suggesting that, with the Bible as our guide, we should proceed in the opposite direction, that we begin with the Bible as the unique interpretation of human and cosmic history and move from that starting point to an understanding of what the Bible shows us of the meaning of personal life.”

—Leslie Newbigin

You see how he flips that on its head, biblically. In a sense, you’re starting, when you start with self, you’re starting with the wrong thing. Our identity, our significance, the truest thing about us does not come from within. It comes from without. It is not a story we write for ourselves, but a cosmic story that is being written by the Creator, that we are drawn into by his grace. This is the beginning of what is most significant about us. This is the foundation. If we miss this, we are off completely as we begin the journey of life.

So we see, I think, three basic points here in Paul’s text. They’re really like 9,000. This text is so rich. I was just telling Raymond, we had to leave a lot on the cutting room floor of this one, it’s such a beautiful text. But, we’re going to go through it in this way. First, we’re going to look at living blind - that reality - seeing the light, and then becoming who we are.

I. Living Blind (3:12-15; 4:3-5)

So, let’s look at living blind. In chapter 3, Paul begins contrasting the old and the new covenants. And, in verses 12-16, he uses this veil imagery. Let’s look at it … Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts … So, what Paul is doing here, is he is drawing from the story that we read about in Exodus 34:29-35, where Moses has gone up to the mountain, and he’s received the law for the second time. And, when he comes back down from the mountain, he is glowing from the presence of the Lord. And, what we see as you continue to read in those few verses, is that he goes in to be with the Lord, and then when he comes out to speak with the people, he covers his face, he veils the glow that’s there.

In verse 14, Paul says that the veil on Moses’ face is metaphorically to have been over the minds of the people of the old covenant. Continue to track with me, I promise there’s payoff here. So, he’s using this metaphor for being veiled, essentially, to Christ. And then, he brings it to the new covenant in chapter 4:3-4. Let’s read that … And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God … Oh man, this is so good. I’m not there yet, I’m just remembering everything I’ve looked at. It’s rich. What he’s saying is - essentially - and, this is somewhat reductionistic, but I think it gets across the heart of what Paul is saying. So, we are living blind when we do not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God. We are blind when we do not live all of our lives before Christ first and foremost. In everything that we do, right? Paul says later, whether we eat or whether we drink, do all to the glory of God. He’s saying, everything you’ve been given - your taste buds, even down to that minutia, is meant to be for the glory of God.

And so, if we’re not doing even the most foundational things in life before Christ, we’re living blind. And so, he goes on to say, verse 5 of chapter 4 … For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants … See, when we live blind, we proclaim ourselves. When we live blind - not before Christ - the story starts with us, rather than with Jesus. This is a good understanding of man’s first sin in the garden. If you remember the temptation that Eve succums to, Genesis 3:5 …

“For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God”

—Genesis 3:5 ESV

And, what first humanity was saying there, is I can live for myself rather than for God. I can live for my own name, rather than his. I can live to build my own legacy, rather than his. You see, the fall reversed God’s intended order. And, this had serious consequences. Later in Chapter 3, in verse 19, we see that rather than the abundant productivity that was enjoyed before the fall, and walking in perfect fellowship with the Lord, now you’re going to work in the midst of thorns and thistles. Chapter 3 verse 19 …

“By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return”

—Genesis 3:19 ESV


So, God says now, we struggle to make a name for ourselves by toiling in the dust until we return to dust. Are you depressed yet? Let me put it this way … if we live for our own name, the dust wins. Being forgotten stings. If we live for our own name, the dust wins. This is the reality of life apart from Christ, where self is the most important thing. Struggling, fighting, laboring for significance in the midst of brokenness, and all the while feeling like we’re losing the battle because we are.


In a few generations, the truth is, we will be forgotten, even by our own family, and the dust will win. I can’t tell you about my great, great, great grandparents. I don’t know anything about them. See, when we come to Christ, we’ve been formed by life in this fallen, broken world. In this world where self is center, and we’re toiling away in the dust, what we know, then, before Christ, without living before Christ, in our blindness, what we know is toiling and fighting for our significance day after day. And, it’s the only way we know how to live. In short, our identity apart from Christ is always, 100% of the time, misplaced. It is not what is most significant about us.

So, here’s the reality … the reality is, even as believers, even when we come into the light, and we come to faith in Christ, the truth is, we still struggle with this, right? I mean, we know about Paul when he talks about indwelling sin, and the things i want to do I don’t do, and the things I don’t want to do I end up doing. We all know that battle, we know that wrestle. We know the struggle of, at times, living blind, living for self rather than for Christ. And so, as I was studying this week, I came across this little article by Paul Tripp - Paul Tripp’s an author and a pastor - and, he basically had a self glory diagnostic. How do we know when we are living for ourselves? And so, here are for things he said, and this morning, let’s do it. Let’s dig into our own hearts to see, are we living blind, or are we living before Christ?

Self-Glory Diagnostic (from Paul Tripp)

We parade in public what should be kept private

We are way too self-referencing

We talk when we should be quiet

We care too much about what people think of us

The Self-Glory Diagnostic. First off, when we’re living for ourselves, we parade in public what should be kept in private. So, we cannot stand for the things that we do that we feel are good, we cannot stand for them not to be on display. We have to let other people know about it. It’s a sign of living for self. Secondly, we are too self-referencing. We insert ourselves into every conversation. We insert ourselves as the heroes of the story. We talk about self. Self just overflows from us in our conversations. We don’t listen well, which is actually number three … Number three, we talk when we should be quiet. So, what that says, is, we are posturing our self as better, or greater, or more important than the one that is before us. Are we a people who listen well to others? Fourth, we care too much about what people think of us. Criticism destroys us and praise leads to a gigantic head.

See, these are good indicators, that if we see ourselves - and listen, check, check, check, check … all four. Right? We struggle with these things. We wrestle with these things. But, they are a dashboard for us, to help us see whether we’re living before Christ, or whether we’re living for self. So, that is the blindness.

II. Seeing the Light (4:5-6)

But, we see that the light comes, in verse 5 and 6, seeing the light. That’s our second point here, verses 5 and 6 …  For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ … This is creation language, in verse 6 … Let light shine out of darkness … Creation language, the language that’s used in Genesis. And, it gives us the picture that we are being, post-fall, recreated in Christ. And, it also brings to light the miraculous nature of our salvation. God has spoken it. That is the only way, that is the only way we can come into the light, is that God has spoken it. It’s through his word.

So, what we see, then, is from creation, fall, to new creation. That’s what Paul says in the next chapter, if you remember it. 2 Corinthians 5:17 … therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a … new creation - you didn’t say that with conviction, but it’s alright. By the time we’re done, you’ll have conviction about it. New creation. If you are in Christ, you are a new creation.

Here’s what I think the heart of this is, and how it plays out for our identity. To find out who you are, you must start with whose you are. To find out who you are, you must start with whose you are. See, this is the core of our identity. This is the core. This is what is most significant about us … not what we do, but who we belong to. Everything that we do should flow out of that. And, if our identity starts with whose we are, it changes everything.

My wife said I could share this story this morning. She actually helped me come up with it. Sometimes I brainstorm with my wife on how to illustrate things. My wife is adopted, and over the years of marriage, we’ve talked at different times and asked the question, do you want to find your birth parents? Is that something you want to do? And, we have some discussion around it, and then we kind of move on, and then we’ll revisit it a while later. But, she’s pretty much arrived at, you know, I don’t think I’m going to seek them out at this point in my life. There’s, by God’s grace, a lot of life ahead. But, what she says about that, is because I have a mother and a father who raised me. She says, I know whose I am, and that has shaped my life.

It’s the same thing with us. When we know whose we are, it shapes everything we do. Being in Christ shapes our life. The light coming in the midst of darkness, of living for self, and shining a light on the glory of Jesus Christ, wakes us up to whose we are. And, notice specifically the place of self in the light. This is big … For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake … Did we see that? Did we see the contrast of how we tend to proclaim self, how we tend to live orbiting ourselves, and now we see in the light of Christ, self serves one another so that we might honor Christ.

It’s a completely different way of living, isn’t it? I mean, how many of you as kids dreamed of just one day … serving a bunch of people. Probably didn’t take up your dreams. I mean, I had guitars and mirrors, and I was waving my mullet in the mirror with a guitar around my neck. I mean, I was the center of my dreams. I was the star of every dream that I had. See, this is not naturally the stuff of dreams, but this is the stuff you and I were made for. And, as we come to Christ, it begins to become the stuff of our dreams.

So, the place of self is service. It’s service to one another, for the sake of Christ, which brings us to our final point, becoming who we are.

III. Becoming Who We Are (3:16-18)

Look at verses 16-18. So, there’s this veil that Paul has spoken of, and then in verse 16 … But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit … Paul, here, is contrasting unbelieving Jews who still have a veil over their face, and are not able to see the glory of the Lord, with believers who are beholding the glory of the Lord. Now, what is glory? That’s an important question, because actually our hope here is connected to that, and our identity absolutely culminates in that.

So, what is glory? I believe it was a pastor named John Piper - who a lot of you know - that said, glory is God’s holiness gone public. So, God’s holiness is all that he is. Holiness means set apart, it means “other than”, so God’s holiness is everything that he is. His attributes, his character, all that he is, so his glory is all of that going public for us to see. Glory would be like the rays of the sun that hit us every day. Glory is not the ball of gas that - forget the clumsy description there - but the ball of gas that is the sun, the rays are the glory of God, the ball of gas, the substance would be the holiness of God. And, the rays point us back to the sun, and so it is with God’s glory. God’s glory that is on display, that we experience in many, many ways, points us back to substance, points us back to the Lord, points us back to the work of Christ.

So, what we see here, is we are being transformed from glory to glory into the image of the Lord. This is the work of growth in Christ, as we behold the goodness of God, the grace of God, the worth of God, the might of God as we make him the primary aim of our lives, as we walk in the light as he is in the light, we will be transformed into the image of God by the Spirit of God, powerfully at work within us. That’s what Paul is saying. That’s why we’re here this morning. So, this means in the darkness, with the veil, we are greedy people, because we are centered on self. But, as we behold the Lord with unveiled face, we are transformed from glory to glory, and greedy people are formed into generous people. And, arrogant people are transformed into humble people, and covetous people are formed into satisfied people. This is the work that the Lord is doing in his people. What was lost in the Fall is being restored in those who worship the Creator, and walk in the light.

See, we are all created in God’s image, and there’s a lot that can be said about what it means to be created in God’s image, but at its foundation, what that means - is really deep - is that we were created to image. We were created to image, to reflect God. This is what is most significant about me, and about you, that we are image bearers, the only aspect of creation that carries the image of God. And, what happened at the fall is that image was marred. Not done away with - we’re still image bearers - but it was marred, so that we are not naturally like the one we were made to image. We are not naturally generous, or forgiving, or humble, or gracious, but we are self-consumed. But, here we see that as new creations in Christ, that image is being restored from one degree of glory to the next, so that we are becoming what we were created to be. This is our identity.

So, what is happening? Paul says … For this comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit … this is a work of the Spirit. The only way self centered people are transformed into people who serve one another for the sake of Jesus, is the Spirit has to do that work through his Word. There is no amount of musicianship or eloquent preaching or anything else, or certainly gifts to the body, or anything else that could do that work. The Lord has to be at work in the midst of it for this to happen. I mean, think about Galatians 5 and what the fruit of the spirit is, the overflow, what should be present in us is love, joy, peace, patience, long suffering, gentleness … this is what it means to be restored into the image of God, when those fruits begin to define us, when people begin to see that in us. And, the church, the people of God, is absolutely crucial to this.

Now, I know church life is not easy. I get it. We’ve been pastoring for 20 plus years, and it at times is absolutely exhausting. But, it’s not exhausting because we all just display the fruits of the Spirit. It’s exhausting because we all live about half the time blind, because we’re telling stories that begin and end with us. And, I’ve got to tell you … well, I’m getting ahead of myself.

We tell stories that begin and end with us, and that’s what makes this so incredibly difficult. That’s also what makes it so incredibly glorious. He is using this body, he is at work in the midst of this body. No man can take credit for it. He is at work in the midst of the body, bringing about, restoring the image of God in us. He’s doing it through one another. And so, if you’re weary in the midst of the body, be encouraged. Be encouraged in the hopeful language that Paul uses here. God is doing this work.

Colossians 3:10 says …

“[We] have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator”

—Colossians 3:10 ESV

Which is being renewed. None of us are there yet. It’s being renewed. This is the struggle of the life of the body, but it’s the beauty of the life of the body, because we are being renewed in the midst of God’s people, right? Paul is writing ot the church in Corinth, who was - a lot of us know - they were a complete mess. I mean, if he can write with hopeful language to the Corinthian, I feel like we have a little hope here, Emmaus. I feel like, yes, we can say that God is doing it. What it means, is we are getting back our identity as God’s image bearers.

There’s a great, I think, illustration of this from a movie, the movie Hook. It’s an old movie. I don’t know if any of you guys saw it. But, there’s this one scene, and it’s - I watched it on YouTube again this morning, twice - I almost cried, both times. There’s this scene. If you remember it - super quick set up - So, Robin Williams is Peter Pan. This is a fictional story, by the way. Robin Williams is Peter Pan, and it starts with him, like, he’s just doing family life. He’s left Neverland, he’s beginning to age, and so he’s in the midst of raising this family, and he’s married, and he’s just … all of the realities of life are just coming to bear on him. He’s a tired dude. He has definitely left Neverland. And, he is in the midst of the wrestle of day to day life, and Tinkerbell comes back - also known as Julia Roberts - she comes back and she says, we need you in Neverland, we need you to fix this problem. We have an issue, and Peter Pan is the only one that can do this.

So, Robin Williams, through a series of events, ends up going back to Neverland, and he tells the kids, I’m back, I’m Peter Pan! But, he’s, now, wrinkled, a little beat up from life, and so this cute little kid comes up to him. And, he kneels down, and the kid’s looking at his face, like, he goes right up to him, he’s looking really hard at his face, and he pulls his glasses off and, like, sets them aside, and then he grabs Robin Williams’ face and he starts trying to smooth out the wrinkles, and he’s smooshing his face backwards and trying to get the bags out from under his eyes, and he’s not making the connection. And then, finally, he grabs his face right at the cheeks and he kind of pushes his face back and up a little but so that he has a smile, and he says … there you are, Peter. There you are. Right? That’s the Peter I was looking for.

See, what see here is that when we behold Christ and we are changed into his image, we know it in one another, don’t we? We can look at the other one and go, there you are. That’s what you were created to be. That’s who you are in Christ. That’s the love that you were created for, the joy, the peace, the patience, the gentleness, that’s you. And, that serves me and points me to Christ. See, that is what is most significant about me, and about you, that we are God’s image bearers.

See, when Paul speaks of this idea of glory to glory, there’s a huge narrative that’s in mind here. There’s this huge narrative of the glory, certainly the fading glory as Paul kind of talks about it, of the old covenant. And then, there’s this beautiful, transformative glory of the new covenant, where we are being renewed in the midst of it, through the work of Jesus Christ. And then, there’s is the ultimate one day, where we will see Jesus face to face, and we will be glorified. We will be like the one that we’ve longed for. We will be like the one that we were created for. See, the truth is, when we start with self and we tell stories, our own stories that center around us, what we don’t realize, is they may feel grand, but in reality they’re puny. They are so small in comparison to the reality of what you and I are made for.

See, what God is doing is global. Habakkuk says, the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the water covers the sea. How does that happen? It happens by his image bearers in the midst of the world, with unveiled faces, beholding Christ, and saying, that’s what I was created for. That’s what i was made for. And, as we’re drawn up into that story, we serve one another for Jesus’ sake, so that the world made know he set his son. That is what’s most significant about you, and me.

Listen, it may be true that we will be forgotten by our great, great grandchildren. But, the truth is, you are not forgotten by the one who matters the most, the creator and redeemer of all things. And, we have the cross of Christ that proves it, the resurrection of Christ that proves it, the ascension of Christ, now at the right hand of the Father, ruling and reigning over all things. Him? That one? The Creator of all? Has not forgotten you. We read it from Psalm 115 in our liturgy. I will remember my people. And, this morning, know this. If you’ve been living for yourself and your own story, there’s a beautiful grand narrative that your eyes can be opened to this morning. The veil can be lifted, and you can see the One you were created for, and you can begin to behold him and image him so that we go … there. That’s the person you were created to be, through Jesus Christ.

Let’s pray.

Jesus, we are thankful this morning for this truth. Lord, it’s so easy for us to get caught up in ourselves, to get caught up with our small stories that feel so grand. Lord, I pray that you would give us grace to see. Give us grace to behold the goodness of Christ. Lord, would you speak this morning. Would you speak and let light shine in the darkness, to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. There is no more beautiful picture, there is no more beautiful reality, that we were made for that. Lord, as we do the work of the church at Emmaus, Lord we confess and recognize, we do it imperfectly. And, Lord, we are hopeful people, because this is the work of the Spirit, who is renewing us and transforming us into the image of Christ. Lord, may we be a church that finds our identity there. May all of life and all we do flow out of that reality. And, Lord, as we come to the table again this morning, Lord, may we be reminded of whose we are, that we are yours, and nothing can snatch us from your hand. We ask this, Lord, in Jesus’ name, amen.