Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church Message for Sunday:
‘Cherishing HIS Gift’
©September 8, 2013 by Steve Mickelson
BLCF Call to Worship: Responsive Reading #632: ’God’s Redeeming Love’ (- taken from John 14 and 16)
Opening Prayer Hymn #102, Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus
Let us pray…
It was not that long ago that my son Jeff purchased his first pair of prescription lenses. Unlike the lenses available in my youth, the frames and comfort available for the youth today are far better today. However, I found it interesting that Jeff’s comments regarding what he could now see with his new glasses were identical to my own and my first pair. Jeff marvelled at the fact that he could now see the individual leaves on the trees. No longer were the leaves a clump of green. Before he had glasses, Jeff’s view of the world could be characterized by the expression of “not being able to see the trees for the forest”. The improved focus brought a better understanding as to the detailed nature of each tree.
At times, our view of our surroundings often lack clarity and we miss an appreciation for what it is we see. Sometimes we need to focus on the small details like the leaves to understand the whole tree. In other words, while it is good to be able to get the big picture or the general overall view of one’s circumstances, often it is more important to see the small details, so that we correctly understand what it is that we see.
Now to see the gospel of Jesus and the details in the Bible, God has provided us with the Holy Spirit, so that we may view both with a spiritual perception or. Without the Holy Spirit our vision is missing the spiritual details and our understanding is greatly diminished. For non-believers, it is a matter of receiving, by faith, the gift salvation through Jesus and then receiving the Holy Spirit. We have in the Holy Spirit, the Lords perfect prescription for our spiritual nearsightedness.
And for believers in the gospel of Jesus, it is allowing the same Holy Spirit help see the path that God has intended us to follow.
We need to appreciate what we see, as God intended it to be seen, from a spiritual perspective. In our faith walk, as believers in the Resurrected Christ, we need to allow the Spirit’s guidance to help us see the scriptures from a Spiritual rather than worldly perspective. The Holy Spirit allows us to see and understand the Lord’s Way and truth, as well as to see the path which he desires us to follow.
When asked their opinion as to which chapter in the Bible is the most important, Biblical scholars can give one of a variety verses, including Psalm 23, John 15, or Revelation 5. Many Biblical scholars choose a chapter from the Book of Romans.
Why Romans? Here are a cross section of scholars and their reasons for choosing Paul’s epistle:
- Ray Stedman: “the most powerful human document that has ever been penned.”
- John Piper: “Which of us, who has tasted the goodness and glory of God in this great gospel, does not count the book of Romans precious beyond reckoning? . . . there is no greater exposition of the Gospel of God than the book of Romans.”
- Donald Grey Barnhouse: “Every movement of revival in the Christian church has been connected with the teachings set forth in Romans.”
And within Romans, which is the greatest chapter? Opinions differ, of course, but most will answer, “Romans 8.”
Romans Chapter 8 includes the following familiar verses, which give us a better understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ:
- 1-6) Life in the Spirit: 1There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.[a] 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you[b] free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin,[c] he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
- 12-17) Heirs with Christ 12 So then, brothers,[d] we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons[e] of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
- 28) Future Glory: 28And we know that God causes all things to work together for good[f] to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
- 31-39) God’s Everlasting Love: 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be[g] against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.[h] 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
- a. Romans 8:1 Some manuscripts add who walk not according to the flesh (but according to the Spirit)
- b. Romans 8:2 Some manuscripts me
- c. Romans 8:3 Or and as a sin offering
- d. Romans 8:12 Or brothers and sisters; also verse 29
- e. Romans 8:14 See discussion on “sons” in the Preface
- f. Romans 8:28 Some manuscripts God works all things together for good, or God works in all things for the good
- g. Romans 8:31 Or who is
- h. Romans 8:34 Or Is it Christ Jesus who died… for us?
Paul is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest proponents of the Christian Faith in general, and specifically the Gospel of Christ. Paul’s contribution to spreading the Gospel of Jesus included authoring over half of the books of the New Testament, as well as performing the Lord’s Great Commission by actively spreading the gospel of Jesus. The Great Commission, which in the Christian tradition, is the instruction of the resurrected Jesus Christ to his disciples, that they spread his teachings to all the nations of the world. It has become a tenet in Christian theology emphasizing missionary work, evangelism, and baptism.
If we look in Matthew 28:16-20, we read the instructions the Resurrected Christ gave the disciples before His Ascension to Heaven, referred to as The Great Commission:
Matthew 28:16-20 (ESV) The Great Commission
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
This was not the first time that the disciples had doubts, and possibly misgivings as how to embark on such a Commission. Having received the power and blessing of the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room, at Pentecost, one would think that understanding the Lord would not be a problem, particularly for the eleven disciples, who had first hand exposure to lessons that Christ taught. But many times we read those students of Christ would take a parable for a factual story or tend to mistakenly take either a literal or worldly view on a statement intended to be strictly spiritual parable. Perhaps because of these doubts, and the tendency of both believers and non-believers, to take Christ word’s literally, when they were not intended, we see that the disciple Paul was called by Jesus, as Paul was on the Road to Damascus.
Paul’s conversion was significant to us, and Christ’s Commission in many ways. Paul was raised in the Jewish tradition, and had Roman citizenship. Interestingly, before his conversion, Paul was known as Saul of Tarsus, a non believer, employed as a persecutor of Christians, having watched the garments of those who stoned Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Saul’s profession was to see that believers in the Resurrected Christ arrested and eventually executed, as a threat to the State of Rome.
Several years ago, I had an interesting exchange with an American Customs Officer at Pearson Airport while passing through U.S. Customs on a business trip to the States. It was a year or so before 911, and Canadian visitors to the U.S. could enter if they provided two pieces of identification such as a birth certificate and valid driver’s license. The American Customs Officer, having noted that I was born in the US told me that I could get a US Passport, to which I replied that I was a Canadian Citizen. The officer replied that that did not matter, that being born on US soil entitled me to citizenship by right of birth. I tried to explain that in order to become a Canadian Citizen, I had to renounce my US Citizenship.
In the Rome of Christ’s time, a similar attitude of entitlement existed, based on your status of citizenship. On the top of this pyramid of class distinction was the Roman Citizen, which gave the person rights and freedoms under Roman law.
Next were the so called free individuals, though not entitled to the benefits of a citizen, they had many freedoms of travel in the Empire and to practice commerce, within limitations. This group included foreigners who did not have birthright. One way these individuals would be able to earn status of being a citizen of Rome, was to enlist in the Roman Legion or Army. If you managed to survive five years of service fighting wars and insurrections, you would be granted your status.
Finally, on the bottom rung of the Roman social ladder, we have the slave, who had no status or entitlement under law. The slave was considered to have equal status as chattel or property, and could even be put to death at the whim of the master, with no legal repercussions under Roman Laws. There was no legal protection for the life of a slave. A slave had to remain within the confines of his master’s property or suffer punishment or death. On rare occasions, slaves might be granted their freedom, at the whim or discretion of their master. A slave’s legacy to his descendants is enslavement, sadly this is their birthright.
In some respects, many Jewish believers viewed themselves as Citizens of God’s Kingdom, with a birthright to God’s favour similar to the Roman Citizen’s view of having a birthright to Caesar’s favour. A non-believer, under certain circumstances, could convert to Judaism, provided they were deemed acceptable. Any perceived history of violation of Mosaic Law, such as divorce, adultery, disease or even physical disability was believed justification to disallow conversion of the gentile and expulsion from the faith congregation for existing members. Such judgement should be reserved solely for the Lord.
In some respects, we tend to apply the same harsh judgement upon ourselves and others within Christ’s Church. This is why the Lord elected to send Paul to correct this mistaken view. If all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, who are we to judge or say who may or may not enter God’s church? Remember the criminal who was crucified beside Jesus at Cavalry? He was given the promise to join the Lord in Paradise within the day, because of his faith, in spite of his transgressions.
Though we were still sinners, Christ died for our sins, giving all the gift of salvation and sanctification, without discrimination or qualification. This removes any restrictions to receiving God’s gift to the Jew and Gentile, Greek and Roman, man and woman, alike. As we are all born into slavery of sin, what sins we have committed, and what good deeds we have done does not cut it with the Lord, we all share the judgement of death.
However, if we confess our sins and accept Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, we are washed of sins, no ifs, ands or buts about it. In other words, through Christ, we are freed from the shackles of our sins, and are born again free from further judgement or persecution. We are exempt from condemnation and the judgement of death. In return, the only expectation of us by the Lord is to agree to undertake the Lord’s Great Commission. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 (ESV)
In his response to Christ’s Commission, Paul made three Missionary journeys to spread the Gospel. Paul’s work included visits and letters to Church’s to help clarify the Gospel message to many of the new Christian churches. This clarification was necessary, to bring a better vision and understanding of the important details found in the Gospel Message.
When we read John 8:34, we see a reference to being a slave to sin:
Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.
If we were to interpret the reference to a slave in John 8:34 literally, we might see someone in chains forced to do the bidding of a master. And take this view with the fact that an Angel of the Lord freed Paul, who was chained in a prison; it is easy to see that someone might tend to misunderstand what is being said.
Paul helped to clarify the meaning of enslavement caused by sin in Romans 8:2:
For the law of the Spirit of the life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.
But how is it possible that we, as Spirit led believers in the Resurrected Christ, confuse the meaning of the Lord’s Word?
The idea of mistakenly taking a literal view of enslavement could come from thinking confusing thinking that Jesus was talking about the Hebrews, who were enslaved in Egypt. If we recall how obstinate and ungrateful the people were after God freed them from Egypt, it seems that Moses was not chosen to free his people from enslavement to Pharaoh, but rather to end their enslavement to worshiping worldly idols such as the golden calf and separation from the Lord.
We see this in Nehemiah 9:1 and 16-17:
1Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth on their heads.
16“But they and our fathers acted presumptuously and stiffened their neck and did not obey your commandments. They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them.
The encouraging aspect of this verse in Nehemiah is the hope that in spite of all that they heard and saw, they chose to turn away from God’s leadership and return towards a life of slavery in sin, God still loves enough to forgive and not willing to forsake them.
The Bible is a powerful work, with themes and quotes often used in many of the great works of literature. Leaders, politicians and social activists have used the scriptures to illustrate their cause or to put “punch” in a speech.
When Dr. Martin Luther King, a renowned minister and social activist gave the speech where he said that the “ truth will set you free”, he was speaking more about social injustice towards the Black American, including a history of literal enslavement, rather giving a Gospel Sermon on spiritual freedom as found in John8:31-37(ESV):
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”
Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you.
Jesus speaks of believers or followers who desire to kill him because they have yet find the faith to accept the truth of his words. This is in line with what is said 1Corinthians 1:18:
“For the message of the cross seems folly to those on their way to destruction, but to us, the saved, it is God’s power.”
The challenge for us as believers and teachers of the Gospel, is to keep our focus on the words of the scriptures, and in that sense understanding what is written to be taken literally and what is written to be taken as a parable. This is where we need to allow the Holy Spirit to temper our understanding of the scriptures, rather than relying on our worldly knowledge to misinterpret God’s Word.
As the descendants of Adam and Eve, we all are born as slaves to sin. It is our birthright and legacy. Alone, we cannot overcome sin’s judgement of death. If, however, we have faith in God’s gift of Salvation from sins condemnation through the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf, confess our sins, and trust in Him. We are rescued from sin, no longer a slave to the world. The truth of the gospel of the ‘Word made flesh’ who is our Lord Jesus has set us free as found in Luke 2:68 (see front of the bulletin):
May the Lord God of Israel be blessed indeed! For God’s intervention has begun, and he has moved to rescue us, the people of God.
Even though our birthright is death through sin, we are also entitled through Christ, to being rescued from death, and to receive the gifts of salvation and sanctification, through the Holy Spirit, as heirs with Christ, we see in Romans 8:12-17:
So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
While our choice in faith does not preclude us from suffering, it does promise that we may share, with Christ, salvation and glorification as a reward for our faith.
The gift of salvation is free. Let us cherish God’s Holy gifts of forgiveness and sanctification through Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit, to convict and guide us. And may we honour these precious gifts by our keeping faith in the Lord and sharing His Gospel throughout the world. This is all the Lord expects in return. God has corrected our spiritual vision by way of the Holy Spirit. He has given the means to see, but it is up to us to use it in the manner God intended.
Let us pray…
Hymn #413: God Is My Strong Salvation
Benediction (Philippians 4:5-7): A Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.