Saturday, May 05, 2007

Saturday Sermon: Conforming Christianity

Romans 8:28-29, 12:1-2 / 2 Corinthians 3:18

We are calling this series the Highway to Holiness, and what we are talking about is discipleship, sanctification, the obstacles we face, the opportunities we have, going from being saved to being sold out for Christ, and walking in the fullness of God. Please understand that we are traveling someplace, not a place where we are just looking at negative examples, and having to try harder. I realize that some of these last four messages may seem like simple moral exhortation, but this isn't the end point of all this, it is to show what types of things we look to instead of Christ, and we must do the long task of legwork first.

We have looked in detail at four OT types that show us believers who may be saved but they aren’t sold out. We saw that Careless Christians are not really walking in any fullness. Crisis Christians have achieved some things but they let other things rob them of God’s fullness in their lives. Compulsive Christians have seemingly great victories but they have to because they unnecessarily put themselves in harms way. They are in and out of God’s fullness. Compromised Christians are believers who actually do have a heart for God and do many good things. Their personal life is usually straight and narrow, but they forfeit the fullness because of their alliances with others. It is not that we cannot partner with people at all, but that we must separate when we know they want to do things outside of God’s will.

Careless Christianitylooking for an opportunity outside the will of God leads to idolatry while you think it is the favor of God – they get taken from, taken away, taken over, and taken out. They lack a desire for purity. You’ve got to care about it.

Crisis Christianityrebellion against the authority of God leads to false repentance while you think it is loyalty to God – they lose their place and they die after the altar or even at the altar. They lack a devotion to purity. You’ve got to be committed to it.

Compulsive Christianitymisusing the power of God leads to an immature and impatient faith while you think it is victory and vigor – they lose their strength, lose their witness, lose their leadership, and die with the enemy. They lack a discipline to purity. You’ve got to cultivate it.

Compromised Christianityaligning with people away from God leads to assuming that we can help others we shouldn’t and that we can survive and thrive by strengthening ourselves in the flesh. We do bad to do good; we are lead away from God and havoc happens to others around us. They lack a discernment of purity. You’ve got to be cautious about it.

Now Jesus doesn't have us jump through hoops to get to Him; we are the ones who put the hurdles up. You can prayer for power to overcome them, and you should pray but if you aren’t dropping those other things you aren’t ready for this yet. In the light of what we are discussing today, God will bring those other areas back up for you to drop before He will let you move on.

Trouble is, sometimes you just want the sense of control that comes from having everything go according to plan. You believe that if it follows your plan, it will work out best overall for yourself and those you care about, progressing as it should. When it doesn’t you fall into one of the four traps we have already looked at. And so you try and pray your way out of it. So you pray, trying to convince God that you have it right, that you know the way to go, trying to talk God into giving your plan a divine blessing. Once again, we forget who is God here.

Knowing God isn’t just a matter of knowing a lot about God, or praying a lot to God. A library full of books is not as important as a closet full of prayer if you want to be man full of the Spirit, but you can pray all day and if you don’t obey, then your prayers were only empty words. The truth is that we are already complete in Christ, and we have already been given every spiritual blessing in Him, and already have been filled in Him. The problem is that you have it but then you hinder it. If you’re not going to care about it, it if you’re not going to be committed to it, if you’re not going to cultivate it, if you’re not going to be cautious about it, then you’re not going to keep it, in the sense that you won’t walk in it. If you don’t have a desire for it, a devotion to it, a discipline in it, and discernment about it, then you will lose it.

Now we are going to talk about being transformed out of these things and moving on in God. Today we will discuss the first part of that process, which we will call Conforming Christianity. It is realizing the purpose of God in conforming our character to Christ. It is not simply recognizing that we are going to be conformed, but actually allowing situations and circumstances we are in to help us focus on Christ. We see through them as if nothing else can stay our gaze and we are able to see Him more sharply and more clearly and then we are more conformed to His image, which is the will of God. We renew our minds to this truth of transformation; we see Him and we are transformed into His likeness by the Spirit of God. We learn to behold Him and His glory, and in that process we are changed.

These other hurdles are the things we look to instead. However, if we see these and use these not as obstacles but opportunities we will be acting more like Christ and becoming more like Him whether it be in suffering or other things such as what we have discussed in this series. Satan’s purpose in them is to distract us, but God’s greater purpose in allowing them is not to distract us, but to focus us on Christ in spite of them, see Christ in and through them. That is why trying to be a modern day monk doesn’t work, we must allow God to put the environment around us to use. It isn’t that we zone out, it is that we zoom in. If we are always running away and/or simply practicing suppression it can never serve to destroy the flesh. If it never rises we can never cut it off in the sense that we never see God work though them by us not having these things distract us from our gaze on Christ. But this isn’t tunnel vision it is funnel vision. Not where we don’t pay attention to our circumstances, Jesus didn’t do that, He engaged His world around Him. It is where we filter every circumstance though the light of Christ.

Think of it as if you want very much to talk to someone, yet there are distractions all around, it is noisy, hot, and there are people everywhere, and there is some distance between you two. Well you would have to concentrate more, wouldn’t you, in order to not be distracted, and by doing that you would be sharpening your vision, leaning your head in and squinting and listening intently and looking closely and carefully at the other person so as to make sure you understand them. You would find a way to move closer if you could. Jesus went away to pray, but came back and was never distracted from gazing at God. Think of David in Psalm 23.

Again if there are strong pulls against our gaze we must gaze more intently at Christ, thereby sharpening our vision and increasing our conformity to Christ. That is also why, when things are not as distracting, we must continue to gaze as intently as we have learned otherwise more conforming by critical type circumstances is necessary. This is how we begin realizing (making real cashing in on) God’s fullness but this is no magic formula you must be getting rid of the other before you make real progress on this. Those that are Conforming Christians are increasingly catching a vision of Christ and so thereby being conformed to His image.

In the midst of all this you must stop looking for an opportunity outside the will of God, rebelling against the authority of God, misusing the power of God, and aligning with people away from God. Only then you can begin to do this that we are talking of today. People want to try it on for size but they feel strangled when the garment of God is shrink fit to the size of Jesus and He and your old man can’t both fit in there.

(Colossians 1:5b-6 – ESV) The word “understood” here means that we become fully acquainted with something; we know it, we experience it, and we live it. The more you know, or experience the truth, the more it will bear fruit. You know it intellectually, and then live it experientially, and then it bears even more fruit. John 8:31 (NLT) – Jesus said to the people who believed in him, You are truly my disciples if you keep obeying my teachings. We can have a faith that forgets (2 Peter 1:8-9) or a faith that regrets (Mark 4:16-17). Faith is not works but faith does works. If you believe something you will act on it, because you have faith in it. True faith bears fruit. Faith acts.

Heard it and understood – it must be both to bear the most fruit. In Romans 10:17-19, Paul speaks of faith coming by hearing the Word. However in verse 19 he says that some hear the truth but do not understand, or know it. Some hear but don’t understand, they don’t really experience the truth, and they don’t live it. Faith comes by hearing but then true faith acts. Faith apart from works dies out (James 2:26) – we either act in accordance or we will eventually act in avoidance. We will actively pursue the faith, or soon enough we will actively lose the faith (Mark 4:24-25). What is your experience?

(Colossians 1:9-10 – ESV) It is not how much you know it is how much you grow. Contrary to what we most often think, it isn’t that we need an increase to be obedient; it is that we need to be obedient to see an increase (Mark 4:24-29). Even though the ground does the work in a way he cannot fully understand (vs.27) if that farmer doesn’t water and till the soil, the harvest will not come. When it comes, he is ready to reap, and to continue the cycle. If you stay put where you are at you will run out of food, we should be stirring up instead of staying put. Stir up the hope and stay in the faith. Learn who He is and He’ll show you what He does. Here Paul prays for an increase so that they will be increasingly obedient. Obedience and abundance spiritually go together. Paul was talking of abundance so as to obey, abundance for obedience.

As in Colossians 1:6 the increasing knowledge leads to using it, they were growing in their knowing and by more knowing they would have more growing and vice versa. It is the spiritual seed and harvest, coming to a full knowledge of His will and a full knowledge of His way. They had faith and love because of the hope of heaven, now Paul wants them to increase to a more fully mature understanding, not leaving the other behind but coming to a more full and more fruitful understanding of God’s will in all things. He is talking about learning to live, as Jesus would have them live, in all situations. God is pleased if we have faith in Him and we love one another, but He also wants us to get to know Him better and learn new ways to be fruitful, filled so full that we might be fully pleasing.

Instead of viewing God’s character in light of our circumstances, we should view our circumstances in light of God’s character. Because God’s character is unchanging and good, whatever circumstances He allows in the life of His children are for their good, even though they may not seem so at the time. Since His will for us is “good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2), that is how and why we are to renew our minds (Romans 12:1) the trials, disappointments, setbacks, tasks, and adversities we encounter are, from an eternal vantage point, the place of God’s kingdom and blessing.

This Romans 8:28-29 perspective can change the way we pray. Instead of asking the Lord to change our circumstances to suit us, we can ask Him to use our circumstances to change us. Instead of comparing ourselves with others, we must realize that the Lord alone knows what is best for us and loves us enough to use our present circumstances to accomplish eternal good. We can be content when we put our hope in His character rather than our own concept of how our lives should appear. We aren’t just saying the words or trying to live them they are now a part of us in practice.

You will begin to see a passion for the glory of Christ played out through circumstance, where we will see Christ in and through situations, increasingly learning to be catching a vision of Christ and so thereby being conformed to His image (2 Corinthians 3:18). As you behold Him, you become like Him. In Romans 5:1 we see that as Christians we have peace with God, and now we are working out from that grace and believing it in faith. The problem with life is handling the curveballs. Jesus didn’t let circumstances get His gaze off of God the Father and we see Him as contrasted with the disciples. As we are conformed it is not that we don’t respond to the situations or are passive about them, no Jesus didn’t do that. He wasn’t a stoic; He was full of godly passion and joyful life. It was just that He saw opportunity to glorify God in all He did no matter the situation. Oh the glory of Christ!

Don’t look down on the disciples but look up to Christ. Just as with our Romans 3:10-18 example we see how we are not as Him and so we love Him and His grace more, and ask for the Lord to make us more like Him, and He gives us opportunity to do just that in our circumstances, proving it to us. Don’t look down on yourself look up to Christ. When we fail He still loves us and gives us grace and when we succeed He gets all the glory from us as we realize that it must be Him who is doing it. This is true Christianity, this is truly giving God the glory, this is what God has intended for us, this is the way of Christ. You see yourself and what you might want to do, and see Christ and know what He would do or not do and you look to Him worshipping Him for being so much more than you and you are changed a little.

We must look up to Christ and be lifted out of our spiritual fog. We must go from haze to gaze. You see, when we were spiritually dead, the Enemy blinded our spiritual eyes (2 Corinthians 4:4). Then God said let there be light and we were born again (2 Corinthians 4:6). Even so, as believers we still see as through a dark glass (1 Corinthians 13:12). However, we can increase our spiritual sight even through the dark glass as we behold Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18). As you behold Him, you become like Him. Romans 12:1-2 you present yourself to God in those situations and you will prove His will by your life. We need to stir up the gift of God. Allow situations to allow you to catch a glimpse of Christ. When we are witness of Him we become a witness for Him.

May you be a witness to the Lord Jesus Christ in all that you do!


Susan said...

Love your ability of putting all this into the right words. I concur with everything you have said. Our Pastor is currently doing a series on "Unaltered Christianity". We need to get back to the simple truth that Jesus did it all, believe it, and then walk in it. WE want to muddy up the water and make it somehow complicated.

Even So... said...


Anonymous said...

Excellent post!!! I really needed to read this today. I am being refreshed, renewed and refilled. by the power of the anointing through you, SLW and my Pastor, George Sawyer. Thank you, Lord. Blessings to you.

Unknown said...

Greetings Even So
I wonder if this might interest you:
As St. Augustine wrote against the Pelagians, man is completely unable to avail himself in meriting the free grace of God, but his natural will can cooperate with this prevenient grace when it is quickened by the Holy Spirit.

And St. Augustine wrote against the Manichaeans, the mystery of election is in the hidden counsels of God and singularly unto salvation (not "double" unto reprobation); yet, anyone that enters hell does so by their unassisted "free" choice.

Calvin: God's sovereignty determines the will.
Catholic: God's sovereignty includes free will.
Calvin: Predestination as predetermination.
Catholic: Predestination as infallible foreknowledge.
Calvin: God desires only the salvation of the elect.
Catholic: God desires the salvation of all.
Calvin: God provides grace only to the elect.
Catholic: God provides grace to all, though not all accept it.
Calvin: Christ died only for the elect.
Catholic: Christ died for all men.
Calvin: God predetermines some for hell.
Catholic :Men merit hell by their own wickedness.
Calvin: The elect include all those born-again.
Catholic: The elect are those who persevere to the end.
Calvin: Grace co-opts human free will.
Catholic: Grace perfects the free will that cooperates.
Calvin: Those in grace (born-again) can't fall away.
Catholic: Those in grace can freely sin and lose grace.
Calvin: The elect will unfailingly persevere.
Catholic: The elect are those who have persevered.
Calvin: The elect are assured of their salvation.
Catholic: Yes, but only God knows who they are.
Calvin: Predestination eliminates merit and guilt.
Catholic: Predestination includes merit and guilt.
The Pelagian heretics held that man alone (apart from God's grace) is responsible for his salvation. Calvinists start with the opposite premise that God alone is responsible for man's salvation.

I understand more clearly the difference between Calvinism & Catholicism. I was saved, I am saved, and I am being saved. Yes, but only God knows who they are.

Peace Be With You

Marcian said...

Another great post as usual. I wanted to let you know that my blog has tagged you...