Fellows - when we saw and heard from him three days ago, Pastor John in his latest serving of Freedom in Christ further delved into the crucial question: “How do we live by the Spirit?”
He began by reading out of Paul's Letter to the Galatians, which by now is the letter in the New Testament you fellows are surely most acquainted with! Let us here read Galatians 5:16-25 “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”
To help set the stage for our understanding of what needs to happen in our spiritual lives, Pastor John flashed a picture of a sun-baked patch of ground with a single green shoot sprouting through the cracked clay: a break-through. The parched ground is as our spiritual lives subjected to the merciless pounding of the rays of worldly concerns. The sprout is our abiding faith. So it gives birth to the prayer “God, please break the things that keep us chained to sinful ways.” In short, a breakthrough is such “a sudden dramatic important discovery or development.”
How might we further describe the parched terrain through which we dearly need to break through? Pastor John again quoted from the letter to the Galatians, chapter 5: 19-21 “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
The “sinful desires” that the Apostle Paul listed are a set of actions that keep us bound, trapped below the parched clay as it were. Pastor John further described the qualities of the soul thus trapped through a couple of analogies.
He flashed us a picture of a delicious-looking red apple, and then the same, cut open to reveal extensive repulsive rot. Not nice. We are warned in this stark way not to be deceived by what is on the outside, but to concern ourselves with what is inside. So, the “Fruit of the Spirit” quoted above is about what is inside. Again, as in our after-sermon discussions three days ago, we must emphasize that we are not talking about nine different fruits, but rather, nine aspects of the same “fruit” (singular) of the Spirit.
Pastor John's second example began by reminding us of the Apple Corp. logo. Then he told us the story of the fake Apple I-watch, a $30 knock-off item trying to simulate a $200 original. After only a week the bogus I-Watch broke down. Reason: alas, the INSIDE components were not from a real I-Watch. This is another of Pastor John's ways to illustrate a crucial feature of our spiritual lives. We must be concerned with character (what is INSIDE ourselves) over external behavior. If the inside is changed and made right, the outside will inevitably follow suit. If through our prayers to the Father we are filled with the Holy Spirit, it will be expressed through the nine facets of the fruit. None of the nine facets are actions; they all are character.
Christian lives are filled with the Spirit: We humbly pray: “God, make your voice the loudest in my life” as we seek to empty ourselves of the worldly garbage. How do we do this? We each of us admit to the Father: “I am powerless over (such-and-such). Then we implore Him with a desperate heart: “God fill me with the fruit of the Holy Spirit”. This doesn't happen overnight.
But, it does happen; teacher Rand can assure you of that!
Just as from a tiny sprout a tree keeps on growing, in the everyday part of our lives is when the fruit grows as we stay in the Word, as we are ever-prayerful.
Pastor John also told us the story of the chicken farmer who found an orphaned baby eagle. He set it with the baby chickens of his flock. As it spent all its time with the chicken chicks, the eaglet grew up acting a chicken. One day a hunter came by the chicken farm, and saw the young eagle acting like a chicken. The hunter said that in its nature the great raptorious bird is eagle-like. But despite his attempt to get it to assume its true nature, the young eagle always flew back to be with the chickens it had grown up with. “Look at the sky..” the hunter, like Pastor John, would say again and again. But always the young eagle flew back to the chickens. Eventually the hunter took the magnificent bird to a cliff. No chickens there! Now, finally the young eagle flapped its wings and flew away.
The eagle was no longer bound by its past life. Being filled by the Holy Spirit is like that. We read from the Book of Isaiah 40:31 “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
Today we learn that we must remember God's voice and make it the LOUDEST in our lives.
Fellows, Lord's Day last Pastor John read from Paul's Letter to the Galatians chapter 5 verses 16 through 18 “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”
In this ninth installment of Freedom in Christ, Pastor John reminds us by reference to the Holy Spirit that God is “triune” that is, three persons in one. This divine reality may seem alien and weird at first, but surely best understood and appreciated if you think of it this way: The Father above, the Son beside, the Holy Spirit within. This time, Pastor John laid out for us how we truly have freedom that the Christ came down to earth for us to have, if we are indeed “indwelt by the Holy Spirit”.
How's this? Pastor John began, as he normally does, to teach us through illustration:
When teacher Rand was still a young man, at a time far back in the mists of the 20th century, there was a big tennis star from Sweden named Bjorn Bork. As Pastor John recited, Bork won eleven of the “Grand Slam” tennis tournaments and quite dominated the sport for a while. But his domination required not only strength and talent, but also EFFORT.
Then, quite unexpectedly, he hung up his tennis racket and quit the game. Eventually he told people “I just didn't enjoy tennis anymore” Why was this? “I was just burned out” he said.
“Burnout” is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion brought on by too much effort. Burnout is not about results good or bad, but about the EFFORT. It most often occurs in situations we can't control.
By contrast, how is it when we are filled with the Spirit? Just as Pastor John told us: what matters first is not effort or determination but TRUST. This is the real meaning of “in God we trust”.
Pastor John read from Galatians chapter 5 verse 25: “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”
This means that we should open our eyes (and ears and heart) to accept wisdom through the Spirit. Because of the dark, fallen world in which we live this means war – what else could we expect. As Christians we must expect spiritual war throughout our earthly existences – today until the last breath of each of us.. It is ot bad people but the evil forces behind them. To survive we must be constantly in the Word.
Read from Paul's Letter to the Romans 8:6-7 “The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so,”
and also from
Romans 12:2: “ Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
By this renewing our minds – day in and day out - we can be transformed into what we are supposed to be. By contrast, if we fill up on the empty spiritual calories of this world...
I don't believe that there is one of us who doesn't know immediately what “empty spiritual calories of this world” means. But anyway, Pastor John urged us not to put ourselves in places where we will fail. Remember that video clip about the chicken nuggets being made in front of the first-graders? Even when they were fully aware of the “gross” nature of the chicken parts from which the delicious-looking nuggets were made, they chose them anyway.
Sin is like that: surrender to “guilty” pleasures. By contrast:
In Matthew 4:4 “Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
The word. Pastor John gave us a little lesson in the Koine Greek in which the New Testament was written. In the verse from Matthew above “word” is not from the Greek “logos” meaning “written word” but from the Greek “rhéma” meaning “living word”. We heard the story of the atheist studying from the Bible for some weeks with a Christian. For long it made no impact on him. Suddenly, he jabbed at John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life”. This startling change came about not through the will of the Christian or of his atheist friend, but through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which the atheist did not resist. It is through this amazing power of the Holy Spirit that we are able to overcome the darkness, the evil spirits, of this world. Not through our own effort and determination, which can only succeed for a short time before we have burnout, but through our humble acceptance of the Holy Spirit.
We must have the right attitude. It is not our self-centered saying “God, you owe me” but “God please be with me for I cannot do it of my own” Pastor John illustrated it further through a famous old story about an old Cherokee chief teaching his grandson about life:"'A fight is going on inside me,' he said to the boy. 'It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil–he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.' He continued, 'The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you–and inside every other person, too.' The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: 'Which wolf will win?' The old Cherokee simply replied, 'The one you feed.'”
Sin is like that: feeding “guilty” pleasures at the expense of your soul.
Pastor John told the old story of the Eskimo knife carefully coated with blood and left where wolves who compete for prey with the eskimos, would find it. According to the story, wolves lick the blood, the guilty pleasure that they cannot resist. They cut themselves on the blade without realizing it. It leads to their destruction the same as sin leads to ours. It feels good, looks good. But it is a matter of life or death. By contrast, being filled with the spirit of God is like filling a sail with wind. But: is our sail properly pointed? Not being oriented to the Word that our sails be filled with the Holy Spirit is how, trying to do it by our own power, we become powerless and burned out. It is the same power that spoke the universe into existence and raised Jesus Christ from the dead. It is the power to overcome anything and everything.
By daily staying in the Word we keep our sails turned to be filled with the Holy Spirit. When we are oriented thusly, the attractions of this world grow dim. And, as C.S. Lewis (the author of The Chronicles of Narnia) once said, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
In such a circumstance we know for sure as the Apostle John said (1 John 3:2-3). “soon and very soon I will see the King”
Just three days back Pastor John spoke to us once more about the true freedom that we have in the Christ. Freedom is the opposite of slavery, so if we hold freedom in the Christ as the greatest good, and one that we don't have except that...
Except that we are naturally slaves to any number of earthly entities or phenomena or things. We respond to their stimuli, we give in to their demands so that our basic cravings will be satisfied. That fellows is slavery. Really now: who among us escapes slavery – of his own power?
So then, fellows, here is the famous question: if we - each of us - is a slave to something, just what are YOU a slave to? Think about it and discuss this amongst yourselves, discuss with your family members.
Then, read from the Apostle Paul's Letter to the Colossians, chapter 1, verse 13 “For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves,”
So then, fellows, if you understand that your slavery of whatever type or kind is within the dominion of darkness, and if you believe in Jesus the Christ as your savior, your redeemer from the slavery, from the sin, from the darkness, then you are brought into His kingdom. That's
Freedom in the Christ!
Pastor John expounded upon this point at length. He read from the Letter to the Galatians chapter 4, verses 8 and 9: “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?”
As Paul says, it is possible to be misled, to drift away from the Truth. It is possible fellows to lose the salvation we have gained from slavery, from the dominion of darkness, if we don't constantly stay in the Word. Let us face it: we are by our innate sinful natures prone to stray. Like (stupid!) sheep. Yes, it is an unflattering comparison, but the (sad?) reality is our inner natures are not fundamentally different. That's why the Christ relied so heavily on the shepherd metaphor during His three years of earthly ministry. So then, as well as weekly worship, we need daily quiet time – QT - fellows, reading the Word of God, and thinking about it, meditating on it. Breakfast is secondary.
Pastor John went on further in Galatians, chapter 5, the first six verses: “ It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”
Again, Paul was reminding the Galatians that you cannot EARN salvation – not through trying to adhere to the Mosaic law or any other rule book or set of good deeds. Otherwise the Christ died on the cross in vain. Should we be so forgetful? And we must not imagine that the particular set of human weaknesses that each of us has makes any of us ineligible for salvation, anymore so than the prostitute or the tax collector of Jesus's earthly ministry. Pastor John read from Paul's second Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 12 verse 9: “But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me."
While it was baking out-of-doors last Lord's Day, Pastor John gave us his seventh installment in Freedom in Christ. He began as is right by setting the tone from passages of Scripture. In this case, he read from the Book of Galatians chapter 3, verses 26 through 29: “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
Then Pastor John went on to chapter 4, verses 4 through 7: “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, 'Abba, Father.' So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.”
Keep this in mind as we go on: getting adopted...becoming heirs.
By now in this series surely Pastor John has driven home to us the central lesson that being a child of God is through faith; as we believe, so we are. Pastor John illustrated the intimacy of the point through a facet of elementary sheep husbandry. Sheep identify each other primarily through their sense of smell. To us, all mommy sheep “ewes” look alike, and all baby sheep “lambs” look alike. But their powerful olfactory organs give them the necessary sense of individual discrimination. The sheep husbandsman knows that a ewe will look after her own lambs because she knows her own by their unique odor. Lambs who don't pass her smell test are not welcome to her care. In the case of a ewe who has lost her lamb, and a lamb who has been orphaned, the sheep husbandsman gets around the odor barrier by using a lamb coverlet of the deceased lamb to initially cover the strange lamb. In that way the smell barrier is overcome, and the ewe will accept the strange lamb as her own.
Very similarly, when Jesus died on the cross he gave us the covering we needed to approach God, so we would not be rejected by the Father. When we believe and follow the Christ we are "putting on" Jesus to mark ourselves as such. Pastor John recalled the time when as an adolescent he dressed up in the uniform of his favorite basketball team by way of his decided identification with them. So it is with us: we seek through our behavior, not to “earn” salvation which was already won for us by Jesus's sacrificial death on the cross, but to imitate Him in eternal gratitude.
In this present age that the Christ came to bring to an end, people divide themselves in all kinds of different ways and try to lord it over each other. By contrast, in the new age brought by the Christ, all people are fundamentally equal even if different: male female, race, class, ethnicity etc.
To further drive home the point about the quality of our relationship in Christ, Pastor John first read from the Book of Romans chapter 8, verse 15: “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, 'Abba, Father.'”
In earthly adoption the parents choose the child, not vice-versa. So also: God chooses us.
The “prodigal father” says in face of his errant son's shame “no, you are my child”
...if you come humbly to Me.
That is it, fellows: if you are stripped of all of your previous pretensions and come HUMBLY before the Father, you are ever His child!
Pastor John told the story of the father and son with a big fish. In the story, the son was obliged to catch a fish large enough to feed the entire family, or he was banished from the family. How about that for a father, fellows? You don't expect your earthly father to treat you that way. So also, your heavenly Father does not say that we are loved and welcomed only if we do this thing and that thing and the other thing.
No, j\it is just a matter of humility before God and then our ever grateful best efforts thereafter.
Having such a Father in heaven through adoption through belief gives us the right to cry out “I need you; I desperately need you!”
At the end of the service Pastor John recounted the story of an American couple who went to an orphanage in Russia to adopt a couple of Russian babies. The babies and toddlers were accustomed to little adult attention every day. Their normal cries for attention went unheard, unheeded. The American couple were shocked by this abnormal quiet, and the listlessness of the children. They arranged to adopt two of the inmates, and had to fly back to the USA to await the complex paperwork for adoptions being completed. On the last day in Russia, as the American couple were leaving the orphanage, the younger of the two tiny children they were adopting finally understood what was going on and believed that...
….somebody cared about him. He fell back in his crib and let out a cry of (???) that shook his whole body.
So it is with each of us. With our true Father in heaven. If we believe.
Three days ago, Pastor John took up an exceptionally difficult teaching task. His challenge was to show us how God, having foreknown man's sinful nature and its consequences of separation from His perfection from even before Creation, resolved to take upon himself punishment for man's disobedience. But how on earth was that?
We read from the Book of Genesis chapter15 verses1 through 17. “After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: 'Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.1 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.” Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.”He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”
Let us stop here for a minute, fellows. “Abram believed the Lord, and he (God) credited it to him as righteousness.” Did Abram follow some clever twelve-step procedure for getting himself to heaven? No. He believed the Lord. Simple sincere belief by itself made Abram righteous in the eyes of God. Okay, let us go on:
“He also said to him, 'I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.' But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?” So the Lord said to him, 'Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.' Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away. As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. Then the Lord said to him, 'Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites (the idolatrous, immoral people then in possession of Canaan) has not yet reached its full measure.' When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces.”
“a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces.” just what on earth was that about?
Pastor John now began to explain the meaning to us:
In western Asia thousands of years ago in Abram's time, making contracts and covenants often required walking through animals cut in two. This symbolized the expected punishment that would be upon the party walking between the split animal carcasses if that party violated the contract or covenant with the other party.
In Genesis 15 verse 17 above, in what way did God appear to Abram in his deepl sleep? As “ a smoking firepot with a blazing torch”.
So, God, not Abraham, walked between the split animal carcasses.
So, God would take on the punishment for disobedience by men of His covenants. Think about that for a minute!
So, we learn that the real purpose of the law that as imperfect human beings we cannot keep is to reveal what is in our hearts. In this way we have our noses rubbed in our imperfection and are humbled before a perfect, holy God. We read Romans chapter 3, verses 19 and 20: “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”
Remember the woman caught in adultery. The teachers of the law brought her before Jesus, thinking that they had a way to trap Him. If Jesus said to kill her he would have crossed the law of the Roman occupation authorities. If he said to free her He would have contravened Mosaic law which governed all good Israelites. Jesus evaded the trap by inviting those without sin to throw the first stone, which caused all of the woman's accusers to desert the scene.” Thepoint of the law was to reveal human frailty and imperfection. So when Jesus was writing in the dust at the scene, he knew that “whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped” so did He write “please shut up their mouths”?
Looking into a mirror after a hard days work will show a begrimed face. So in the same way the law reflects our dirty selves. We are that way at birth: sinful, selfish, dirty beings. Reflect on the property laws of a toddler!
We read further in Romans chapter 7: What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful."
So, the law does not produce the sin but helps us to understand how utterly sinful we are.
The individual who truly surrenders knows that he cannot get close to God of his own. See how high truly God is, how low we are. The dregs of Judean society: prostitutes, tax collectors and so on, were often the first to understand that. If we are self-righteous experts in scripture, we've missed the point. We are far behind those who know they are broken, at the gates of heaven.
The only acceptable worship is humility before the throne. Let us not, any of us, forfeit salvation because of any temporary earthly norm or attraction.