Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church Message for Sunday:
‘On Your Way to Heaven, Leave the Baggage Behind’
© May 19, 2013, by Steve Mickelson
Let us pray…
The biggest impediment to a non-Christian’s acceptance of the gospel of Christ is the excess baggage, in the form of the cultural practices and values that the person carries. These natural or worldly values cloud the person’s vision of spiritual world, which are perceived by faith and trust. This is what Paul meant when he wrote in his letter to the church in Corinth, 1 Corinthians 2:14-16 (ESV):
14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
Ironically, this lack of spiritual trust or perception, at times, caused problems amongst the disciples in understanding the message of our Lord. You may recall John’s account of the Pharisee named Nicodemus. Here are two definitions of a Pharisee (noun):
1. a member of an ancient Jewish sect that differed from the Sadducees chiefly in its strict observance of religious practices, liberal interpretation of the Bible, and adherence to oral laws and traditions.
2. a self-righteous person; a hypocrite.
Back to Nicodemus, let us read from John 3:1-14 (ESV):
You Must Be Born Again
3 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
While Nicodemus acknowledged Jesus in this passage as a Rabbi and a teacher sent by God, he chose to visit our Lord at night, so as not to be seen by other Pharisees. Here a ruler of the Jews, whose understanding of the miracles and teachings of Christ are limited and restricted by a legalistic interpretation and understanding of these events. What is clear in this account is Nicodemus lack of spiritual insight evident by his question to Jesus about one being “born again” which describes a spiritual transformation, symbolized by baptism in the water. Christians will often demonstrate their faith by being baptized or immersed in water, after making a decision to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. It is the act of faith in the power of the Holy Spirit that makes one born again, not being immersed in a body of water.
Imagine an inmate locked inside a prison, where there is no available pool, river or even bath for immersion, making a decision to confess past sins and a sinful nature, accept gifts of the salvation from Jesus, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This raises the question, “Does the absence of a body of water to baptize this prisoner, prevent the person from becoming a Christian?” After all, did the Holy Spirit not come upon Christ until after Jesus was baptized by John, the Baptist?
Well, for those of you who heard the lesson on the Day of Pentecost shared here at BLCF on April 14, you may recall that the Holy Spirit came upon about 120 believers cloistered in a room for 10 days after Christ’s ascension, 50 after his resurrection. The account describes the Spirit arriving like a mighty wind, with each individual alighted by a flame-like glow. The detailed account of the Spirit’s arrival gives no mention of water baptism of those believers or of the 3,000 additional converts who received the Holy Spirit after hearing the Apostle Peter’s sermons and being convicted by the Spirit. The believers were baptized in the Holy Spirit, not in water.
Nicodemus did not understand, asking Jesus “How can these things be?” Jesus expressed a concern that this religious leader of the people of Israel not understanding something that is of the Spirit. For God, Heaven and even Jesus before he came to earth are not of the world, but of the Spirit. How can one teach about things that are Holy and of the Spirit, when they have trouble understanding the Spirit’s purpose and actions in the world? It was evident that Nicodemus’ problem was the absence of belief or lack of faith.
Nicodemus has had a head knowledge of God and the Holy Scriptures but lacked the faith to receive the Spirit’s help in understanding God’s purpose and plan. He was a captive, held prisoner by following the letter of the law, and not allowing the power of the Spirit to set him free from the captivity of legalism, Galatians 3:23-29 (ESV):
The Law and the Promise
23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
So Christ came to the world, not to end or replace the law, but to assume the guilt, judgment, and punishment under the law for everyone’s transgressions, Matthew 5:17-20 (ESV):
Christ Came to Fulfill the Law
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
In other words, the standards of the law are so great, no one can be considered righteous enough to enter Heaven. But God has a plan to enable us to overcome the guilt of sin by faith in Jesus, Romans 3:21-26 (ESV):
The Righteousness of God Through Faith
21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
And by receiving righteousness through faith in Jesus, we must keep out faith and trust in Christ, Colossians 2:6-14 (ESV):
Alive in Christ
6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. 8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.
11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,
12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.
13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,
14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
There are many ways that the excess baggage we carry could hamper our walk in the Spirit. If like Nicodemus, we tend to rely strictly upon the letter of law, we will hamper the work of the Spirit in our faith walk. Satan uses such baggage to draw believers away from the Lord. Thus admonition: See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.
Even after God sent Jesus to die for our sins and overcome the law, we still hear those who non-spiritual questions, for example: What is the proper attire for church, do I wear a suit and tie; or when in prayer, is it necessary to cover one’s head; must we observe a diet that is in agreement with the law; and so on? The original Mosaic Laws, or God’s Ten Commandments, had literally hundreds of additional laws added by people to it over the years, which is not what God had intended, otherwise, Moses would have been given additional tablets to Moses. Even Jesus tried to shorten the ten down to two; loving God and loving your neighbour. To test whether the law is given from God and being of the Spirit or from man and being of the world; we should ask whether it matches one of God’s Ten Commandments that Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai or either of the two given to us by Jesus. If the answer is no, then the law came from man, not from God, and observing such a law may be more important to other men than it is to God. And Jesus said that we cannot go to Heaven on good works but by faith.
Keeping any of His laws is meaningless without faith, as many people have a tendency to muddle and confuse God’s Law with worldly laws. That is why God provided a Spiritual solution to a worldly problem of sin.
Satan would love us be preoccupied as to whether we eat pork, or cover our heads in prayer, or should we be baptized in water, or ask which is more important: whether we observe the Sabbath on a Saturday or Sunday? All of these types of questions act to distract us from worship and perhaps even diminish our faith in Christ. Let us keep our focus on our faith in Jesus and our growth in the Spirit while observing God’s Laws. All the other things in this world are of little importance to God, except our faith in Him, which God desires most from us. To grow our faith, let us discard the excess baggage of the world, focus on the gift of the Holy Spirit and gospel of the Lord.
Let us pray…
Hymn #40: To God Be the Glory
Benediction: Ephesians 1:3-4, ‘Spiritual Blessings in Christ’:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.