“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
(Revelation 21:1-5, ESV) Continue reading “The New Jerusalem”
You have no right to give up on yourself when God has no intention of giving up on you.
19 And all the people said to Samuel, “Pray for your servants to the LORD your God, that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask for ourselves a king.”
20 And Samuel said to the people, “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart.
21 And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty.
22 For the LORD will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for himself. – 1 Samuel 12:19-22
Introduction: Christian Realism
The fact that we are now Christians does not mean that we can no longer sin. It is true that if anyone is in Christ the old has gone (i.e., it is on its way out) and the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17), but we are not yet perfect (Philippians 3:12).
8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. – 1 John 1:8-10
21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.
22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being,
23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. – Romans 7:21-23
For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. – Galatians 5:17
Steps to Dealing With Spiritual Failure
Remain Positive. “Do not be afraid.” (Verse 20a)
“The Lord said to Joshua, ‘Get up! Why have you fallen on your face? Israel has sinned . . . Get up! Consecrate the people…’” (Joshua 7:10, 11a, 13a)
Our sins should grieve us but not discourage us. “A living dog is better than a dead lion.” (Ecc. 9:4)
You may be a filthy cur, but at least you’re still alive. And the fact that you are still alive means that God is still giving you a chance to repent. Therefore, instead of wallowing in despair, get up and make things right! The thief on the cross was at the very brink of death but even he had a chance to repent. God is merciful. Do not be afraid! Get up! Your sins are great, but God’s grace is greater (see Romans 5:20).
Acknowledge Your Sin. “You have done all this evil.” (Verse 20b)
“Return, faithless Israel, declares the LORD. I will not look on you in anger, for I am merciful, declares the LORD; I will not be angry forever. Only acknowledge your guilt…” (Jeremiah 3:12)
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)
Don’t Give Up. “Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord.” (Verse 20c)
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, – John 6:68
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. – John 6:37
Keep on Serving. “But serve the Lord with all your heart.” (Verse 20d)
“What God has made clean, do not call unclean.” (Acts 10:15)
“Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.”
Guard Yourself Against Idolatry. “And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty.” (Verse 21)
“All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit. Their witnesses neither see nor know, that they may be put to shame. Who fashions a god or casts an idol that is profitable for nothing?” (Isaiah 44:9, 10)
“Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or consult the Lord!” (Isaiah 31:1-2)
“For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” (Jeremiah 2:13)
“Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” (1 John 5:21)
“Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)
“Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things.” (Psalm 119:36-37)
Conclusion: The Lord Will Not Forsake His People
You have no right to give up on yourself, for the Lord has no intention of giving up on you.
For the LORD will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for himself. – 1 Samuel 12:22
What is at stake in our holiness is the greatness of God’s name. If God gives up on us and leaves us in our sins, then it is not only us who fail, it is God himself who fails. But God will not allow his name to be besmirched by failure. He will not allow himself to fail! He will save his people from their sins: completely from the penalty of sin, gradually from the power, and ultimately from the presence of sin.
22 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came.
23 And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.
24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land.
25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.
26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
28 You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. – Ezekiel 36:22-28
Sermon preached at Ikthus East
The Porch, Lopue’s East
Bacolod City, Philippines
May 13, 2018 Sunday 10:00 a.m.
“In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15)
For a minister, a sabbatical is a time to rest in order that one may gather strength for the work of ministry. In other words, a sabbatical is a strategic retreat. A minister engages in a season of rest not in order to abandon the work God has given him, but in order to refresh his own soul so that he may return to the work with renewed strength and vigor.
For we need strength from above if we are to do the work of the ministry. On our own, we lack the strength (2 Corinthians 2:16). That is why we always need to pray, “Strengthen the work of our hands.” (Psalm 90:17). And that is why we need to have times of refreshing for our own souls. If we are burned out and stressed out, how can we minister to others?
Jesus himself took time out from ministering to the crowds in order to be alone and to rest and refresh his soul.
Thus, we read in Mark 1:35, “Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, he went out and departed to a solitary place; and there he prayed.”
In Mark 6:31 we read, “And he said to them [his apostles], Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while. For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.”
But we must make sure that we make good use of this season of rest. We must make sure that the time is well-spent in gathering spiritual strength for the work we have to do when we return to it.
How do we that? By making use of this time of rest to find peace in our hearts, and renew our trust and confidence in God. The formula here is quietness plus confidence equals strength.
The work of the ministry – just like any other work – has its own stressors and troubles that eat away at our peace and, in the process, weaken us. If there are fears and worries that have ensconced themselves in our hearts, a sabbatical is a good time to face these fears and worries and dissolve them with the peace of Christ.
Freed from the daily grind of ministry, we have more time to cultivate a deeper relationship and fellowship with Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.
Whatever it is that troubles you, the Lord has promised, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
Just like all believers, a minister must live by faith. But ministers, being human like the rest of us, are also assailed by doubts and temptations. They too have burdens to carry, and they too sometimes wonder where is God when they need him the most. It is one thing to know in one’s head that God will never leave you and will never forsake you. It is another thing to deal with the disappointment you feel in your heart when it seems God has let you down. Doing so is difficult, regardless of the number of Bible verses you’ve memorized!
That’s why we need times of rest in order that we may renew our confidence and hope in God.
Just like Elijah. After experiencing a great victory at Mount Carmel against the 450 prophets of Baal, he fled because of the threats of a woman (Jezebel)! He was afraid, discouraged, and depressed, so much so that he wanted to die.
We read in 1 Kings 19:4-8, “But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tee. And he prayed that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!’ Then as he lay and slept under a broom tree, suddenly an angel touched him, and said to him, ‘Arise and eat.’ Then he looked, and there by his head was a cake baked on coals, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank, and lay down again. And the angel of the Lord came back the second time, and touched him, and said, ‘Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you.’ So he arose, and ate and drank; and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb, the mountain of God.”
Elijah rested and slept, but he also arose and ate. And if I may be allowed to interpret this figuratively, the lesson we can learn from this incident in Elijah’s life is that we must make good use of this season of rest to strengthen our faith by nourishing our souls with God’s Word. Of course, a minister is always studying God’s Word. But during a sabbatical we meditate on God’s Word not for the sake of preaching to others but to nourish our own souls.
For God’s Word is the food that strengthens faith. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” (Matt. 4:4) And “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.”
So there you have it. Make use of this season of rest to find peace in Christ, especially through prayer, and to renew your faith through feeding on God’s Word. In so doing, you shall be gathering strength for the work you are called to do when you return to it. During a sabbatical we are called off from the busyness of working *for* the Master in order that we might spend more time *with* the Master.
“But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)
(A devotional message given during the Ikthus East Family Retreat at Cabacungan, Negros Occidental on March 30, 2018)
See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.
To boast in the cross is oxymoronic to the people of Paul’s time because the cross was the ultimate symbol of humiliation. Not only was the cross one of the most cruel instruments of torture, it was also one of the most shameful methods of punishment. To be crucified on a cross is to display yourself to the whole world – stark naked at that – as a lowlife criminal, the worst of the worst. Yet, Paul reveled in the fact that he was a follower of the Crucified One – someone the world considers loathsome, despicable, and repugnant. And we too follow Christ because, despite what the world thinks of him, we know that he is the spotless lamb of God who took upon himself our sin and shame so that we may live forever in God’s presence blameless and spotless through his blood that cleanses us from all sin – the blood that he spilled on the cross. Yes, he died on the shameful and cruel cross – but he did so for our sake. That is why for us this ugly symbol of death has become a sacred and beautiful symbol of love and life. That is why we boast in the cross. But I am getting ahead of myself.
I must give you a little background before I proceed. Paul in this letter is very angry because some people were preaching a false gospel, and the Galatian Christians were falling for it! He’s angry because the gospel is being distorted and salvation itself is at stake. The Judaizers were teaching the Galatian Christians to boast in self rather than in the cross, to rely on their ability to keep God’s law (e.g., circumcision) rather than to trust completely in the finished work of Christ.
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your very eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
1. What Does It Mean to Boast in Self, and Why We Shouldn’t.
To boast in self is to rely on our own works to save ourselves.
Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches…”
They rely on human wisdom, ability, and resources to save themselves.
We shouldn’t do this because –
It exalts self rather than God.
The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men,, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.”
It nullifies God’s grace.
I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose [in vain].
It condemns people to hell.
For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law.
For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”
2. What Does It Mean to Boast in the Cross, and Why We Should.
To boast in the cross is to completely rely on what Christ achieved on the cross for our salvation (Proverbs 3:5-6).
(11) Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” (12) But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them. (13) Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” – (14) so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
We should do this because –
It glorifies God.
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robes of righteousness.
And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
(1 Corinthians 1:30)
Turn to me and be saved all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance. Only in the Lord, it shall be said of me, are righteousness and strength; to him shall come and be ashamed all who were incensed against him. In the Lord all the offspring of Israel shall be justified and shall glory.
(Isaiah 45: 22-25)
It magnifies grace.
But God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ Jesus – by grace you have been saved.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
It changes lives.
For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. (Galatians 6:15)
If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations – “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used) – according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
In other words, so-called religion might lead to external change, but cannot change the heart and its lusts.
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17)
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?
How do we live in a way that exalts the cross of Christ? How do we show that our boast is in the cross of Christ? We do so by –
believing in Christ alone for salvation.
Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
living for Christ not for the world (Gal. 6:14b-15)
And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Gal. 5:24)
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Cor. 5:17)
being ready to suffer for Christ (Gal. 6:17)
Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one – I am talking like a madman – with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.
(2 Corinthians 11:23-28)
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.
(1 Peter 2:21)
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.
Are we boasting in the cross, or are we boasting in self? Are we relying on what Christ has done for us or what we can do for ourselves?
The Porch, Lopue’s East
Bacolod City, Philippines
March 25, 2018
An Ikthus East Sermon
The Porch, Lopue’s East
(1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, NIV)
“Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”
As most of you know, we’re studying the book of 1 Thessalonians. We’re now in the 4th chapter, which teaches us about pleasing God. We’ve learned that we can please God by (1) being holy, (2) by loving our brothers and sisters in Christ, and (3) by working hard. We’re now in number 3: we please God by working hard.
Work is such an important part of our life. A large chunk of our life-time – maybe 30% – is devoted to work. So it won’t come as a surprise if the Bible has a lot to say about work because God is interested in all aspects our life, and if so, he surely must be interested in what constitutes such a large part of it.
There are three things I’d like to share with you regarding the subject of Work based on our text: First, Why Work? Second, How to Work. And, finally, The Results of Work. Or we can put it this way: The Reasons for Work, the Recipe for Work, and the Results of Work. Since we don’t have time to cover all of these points, I plan this morning to focus only on the first point: Why Work? And in relation to that question, here are some answers. Why Work? Because (1) We were created to work. (2) We were saved to work. (3) God himself worked. (4) Working is the best way to wait for the Lord’s return. Continue reading “Why Work?”
8:00 a.m. service
January 14, 2018
The Porch, Lopue’s East
Bacolod City, Philippines
1 Thessalonians 4:1–2
 Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.  For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. (ESV)
1 Thessalonians 4:9–10
 Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another,  for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, (ESV) Continue reading “Brotherly Love”
Text: 1 Thessalonians 4:1–8
 Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.  For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.  For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality;  that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor,  not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God;  that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you.  For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.  Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. (ESV)
Introduction (verses 1-2)
Holiness is a difficult topic to speak on because we are quite conscious of our failings in this regard. When Peter drew near to Jesus, he said, “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man.” And Isaiah, when he saw the Lord’s glory, said, “Woe unto me, for I am a man of unclean lips.” Nevertheless, we must speak on this topic because it is critical for our spiritual well-being; but we do so only because the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin, and because the grace of God sustains us.
To be holy is to be set apart for God, to be devoted and consecrated to him. To live in such a way as to always please him, in thought, in word, and in deed. Who is sufficient for these things? To be holy is a life-time task and it will never be completed in this life. But God will be with us all the way. He has given us his Holy Spirit to empower us, and he has given us his Word to encourage us as we walk in the path of holiness.
- Holiness is God’s Will for Us: (verse 3)
- Because God is holy;
“YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY” (1 Peter 1:16)
- Because Christ died to make us holy;
“[HE] GAVE HIMSELF FOR US TO REDEEM US FROM ALL LAWLESSNESS AND TO PURIFY FOR HIMSELF A PEOPLE FOR HIS OWN POSSESSION WHO ARE ZEALOUS FOR GOOD WORKS.” (Titus 2:14)
- Because without holiness we won’t see God.
“STRIVE FOR PEACE WITH EVERYONE AND FOR THE HOLINESS WITHOUT WHICH NO ONE WILL SEE THE LORD.” (Hebrews 12:14)
- Holiness is Our Responsibility (verses 4-5)
- God works in, but we work out!
“THEREFORE, MY BELOVED, AS YOU HAVE ALWAYS OBEYED SO NOW, NOT ONLY AS IN MY PRESENCE BUT MOUCH MORE IN MY ABSENCE, WORK OUT YOUR OWN SALVATION WITH FEAR AND TREMBLING, FOR IT IS GOD WHO WORKS IN YOU, BOTH TO WILL AND TO WORK FOR HIS GOOD PLEASURE.” (Philippians 2:12-13)
- We must add to our faith
“FOR THIS VERY REASON, MAKE EVERY EFFORT TO SUPPLEMENT YOUR FAITH WITH VIRTUE, AND VIRTUE WITH KNOWLEDGE, AND KNOWLEDGE WITH SELF-CONTROL, AND SELF-CONTROL WITH STEADFASTNESS, AND STEADFASTNESS WITH GODLINESS, AND GODLINESS WITH BROTHERLY AFFECTION, AND BROTHERLY AFFECTION WITH LOVE.” (2 Peter 1:5-7).
- Don’t let sin reign in your body (Romans 6:12-13)
“LET NOT SIN REIGN IN YOUR MORTAL BODY, TO MAKE YOU OBEY ITS PASSIONS. DO NOT PRESENT YOUR MEMBERS TO SIN AS INSTRUMENTS FOR UNRIGHTEOUSNESS, BUT PRESENT YOURSELVES TO GOD AS THOSE WHO BEEN BROUGHT FROM DEATH TO LIFE, AND YOUR MEMBERS TO GOD AS INSTRUMENTS FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS.”
- Holiness is a Serious Matter (verses 6-8) “The Lord is an avenger in all these things.”
- To be unholy is to reject God’s call.
“THEREFORE, AS THE HOLY SPIRIT SAYS, ‘TODAY, IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS AS IN THE REBELLION. ON THE DAY OF TESTING IN THE WILDERNESS, WHERE YOUR FATHERS PUT ME TO THE TEST AND SAW MY WORKS FOR FORTY YEARS. THEREFORE, I WAS PROVOKED WITH THAT GENERATION, AND SAID, THEY ALWAYS GO ASTRAY IN THEIR HEART; THEY HAVE NOT KNOWN MY WAYS. AS I SWORE IN MY WRATH, THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST.” (Hebrews 3:7-11)
- To be unholy is to disregard God.
“DO NOT BE DECEIVED: GOD IS NOT MOCKED, FOR WHATEVER ONE SOWS, THAT HE WILL ALSO REAP. FOR THE ONE WHO SOWS TO HIS OWN FLESH WILL FROM THE FLESH REAP CORRUPTION, BUT THE ONE WHO SOWS TO THE SPIRIT WILL FROM THE SPIRIT REAP ETERNAL LIFE.” (Galatians 6:7-8)
- To be unholy is to despise the Holy Spirit which God has given us.
“OR DO YOU NOT KNOW THAT YOUR BODY IS A TEMPLE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT WITHIN YOU, WHOM YOU HAVE FROM GOD? YOU ARE NOT YOUR OWN, FOR YOU WERE BOUGHT WITH A PRICE. SO GLORIFY GOD IN YOUR BODY.” (1 Cor. 6:19-20)
“BELOVED, I URGE YOU A SOJOURNERS AND EXILES TO ABSTAIN FROM THE PASSIONS OF THE FLESH, WHICH WAGE WAR AGAINST YOUR SOUL.” (1 Peter 2:11)
Lord, help us to live according to your will. Help us to live lives that please you. Help us to be holy, because as your children we want to reflect your character. Help us to heed your warnings regarding sin and immorality, that if we sow to our flesh, we will surely reap death and corruption, because you are a God who cannot me mocked. And if ever we are in the grip of sinful habits that weaken our spiritual lives, that defile our consciences, and that harden our hearts against you, we pray that you will melt our hearts and free us from these sinful habits by the power of your Holy Spirit. Give us freedom from sin! We claim the promise of your son, Jesus Christ, who said, “Whom the Son sets free is free indeed.” We also ask forgiveness for the many times we have disregarded you and your call for us to live holy lives. We repent of our sins and we ask that you cleanse us from all unrighteousness by the blood of your Son, Jesus Christ. Lord, you are a merciful God to those who trust in you and who turn to you with broken and contrite hearts. Have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and make us holy. And we believe that you will do so, because we ask all these things in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ, who has promised never to leave us nor forsake us. Amen.
(Easter Sunday Message, 16 April 2017, given to the congregation of Ikthus East, Bacolod City)
Text: Romans 6:1-14
Introduction: The Christian’s greatest sorrow is the fact that he still has to struggle against the remnants of sin in his life. But Christ has not left him helpless in this regard. By virtue of his resurrection he has bestowed on us Liberating Grace. Grace is not only God’s showing favor to underserving sinners, it is also his supernatural power that gradually frees us from the power of sin in our lives, and will someday completely free us from the presence of sin in our lives. Liberating Grace is nothing less than the power of the resurrection at work in our lives, the same power that defeated sin and death and raised Jesus back to life.
1. The Power of Liberating Grace: Newness of Life (verses 1-4)
If we are saved by grace and not by works, does this mean we can sin all we want? No, because grace is medicine that cures the disease of sin. It destroys rather than feeds sin. Grace not only justifies a person, it regenerates and sanctifies her. God not only forgives the believer, he also gives her new life: He gives her the Holy Spirit who creates in that person a new heart that loves God and obeys him. That’s what baptism signifies: In Christ our old life died and was buried and we are raised to newness of life.
2. The Purpose of Liberating Grace: Freedom from Sin (verses 5-11)
Christ came to destroy the works of the devil. We’ve been set free and should not use our freedom to indulge the flesh because that would contradict the whole point of why we were given grace in the first place.
3. The Practice of Liberating Grace: Discipline the Body (verses 12-13)
Yes, we were given the power to escape the corruption of this world, a corruption brought about by lust or evil desires. But it doesn’t work automatically. We have to exercise ourselves unto godliness. There’s no substitute for this. At the end of the day, after we’ve prayed for God’s help and been encouraged by the Scriptures, we simply have to step out in faith in the power of the Spirit and just do it!
4. The Promise of Liberating Grace: Sin Shall Not Have Dominion Over You (verse 14)
Grace is like a flickering candle floating in the midst of a raging sea. It’s always under threat of being swallowed up by the waves of sin, but lo and behold, it comes up again and continues to shine. The grace of God in us cannot die. It will suffer setbacks, it might even become comatose, but it will sooner or later wake up again. The power of grace consists in this: that no matter how powerful sin is, and no matter how weak grace is, sin cannot put grace to death. Grace can’t be killed! Because grace is the beginning of eternal life in the believer, it is the life of the Spirit, it is the life of Christ, it is the life of God himself, and therefore it cannot die. To be sure, it is but the seed of eternal life that we have received; it has not yet grown into the great and mighty tree that it will someday become. But even in its present state of weakness, it is stronger than sin and death, for in spite of sin’s mightiest blows, no matter how devastating sin’s kicks and punches, grace will always rise up after every fall! Sometimes grace is so battered by sin that only a mere flicker of life is left. But then the flicker goes on flickering and then becomes a tiny flame, and finally it becomes a mighty blaze that consumes sin till no trace of sin is left.
Yes, sin might win some battles but it has already lost the war, because you’re not left to your own strength to save yourself (relying on yourself is what it means to be under the law, which leads to the condemnation of death): you’re relying on God’s grace, which can save you to the uttermost because of Christ’s indestructible life that is in you. (Christ in you, the hope of glory!) Because Christ is risen, we will one day rise too, with bodies imperishable and untouchable by sin forever! Then we shall say, “Sin and death, where is your victory? Sin and death, where is your sting!”
(A message given during the Ikthus East Family Retreat last 12 April 2017 at Buenos Aires, Mountain Resort, Bago City, Negros Occidental, Philippines)
“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” (Psalm 127:1)
The church is God’s church, bought by Christ’s own blood; it is he who builds it up and who promises that the gates of hell won’t prevail against it. We are just God’s co-workers in this enterprise, but we do have a role to play (1 Cor. 3:9). That is why God gave apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, etc. to help build up his church (Eph. 4:11-13). And the church is not the building but the congregation of his people, the called-out ones.
1. God’s Church is Built Up by the Power of God’s Spirit.
The church is built up not by human wisdom, energy, activities, plans, programs and strength, but by God’s Spirit. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord.” (Zec. 4:6) So what we need are prayerful and Spirit-filled people who rely on God’s wisdom and strength to build up the church. That’s why being Spirit-filled is such an important requirement for being a leader in the church (Acts 6:3). A church might be externally successful but spiritually a disaster! We should not forget what the Lord said to the church of the Laodiceans, “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” (Rev. 3:17) Paul told Timothy, “Give heed to yourself,” (1 Timothy 4:16, 7b), i.e., take care first of your own spiritual life, and then you will save both yourself and your hearers. Spirituality comes first in building up the church. What we need, first and foremost, is the power of the Spirit. We who lead should learn what it means to be filled with the Spirit and to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit in our lives (Eph. 5:18; Gal. 5:22, 23). In this regard, prayer is necessary, because God gives his Spirit in response to prayer (Luke 11:13).
2. God’s Church is Built up by the Preaching of God’s Word.
Various programs and activities have their place in the life of the church. But when it comes to helping Christians to grow spiritually, it’s only God’s Word that can do that (Acts 20:32) That’s why preaching and teaching the Word of God is a top priority in the life of the church. In fact, this is the primary work of the ministry (Acts 6:4; 1 Timothy 4:6, 13, 15, 16). The Bible says, we should desire the sincere milk of the word that you may grow thereby (1 Pet. 2:2). 2 Timothy 3:16 says the Bible is sufficient for all aspects of the Christian life: it is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness. And let’s make sure that it is the Word and not human wisdom that we preach. (Col. 2:8, 3, 4) Human wisdom is valuable in its place, but when it comes to the Christian’s spiritual life it is foolishness because it has not power to transform one’s character or change the heart (Col. 2:20-23) It is the Scriptures that make us wise to salvation, i.e., salvation in its comprehensive sense: salvation from the penalty, power, and presence of sin. (2 Tim. 3:14-15; James 1:21). That’s why Paul admonishes Timothy, Preach the Word, be ready in season and out of season (2 Tim. 4:1-2). And Jesus commanded us to teach Christian disciples everywhere everything he has taught us. (Matt. 28:18-20) “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this Word there is no light in them.” (Isa. 8:20) No matter how helpful, inspirational, and valuable worldly wisdom is, it is darkness compared to the light that Scripture gives. Therefore, preach the Word! By the way, the Word of God is the Sword of the Spirit and the early church grew when the Word of God increased (Heb. 4:12; Acts 6:7). It is the Word of God that the Spirit uses to change lives. Let’s not lose faith in the power of God’s Word. When we lose the Word of God, we lose our uniqueness and our effectiveness as a church (1 Tim. 3:15).
3. God’s Church is Built up by Pursuing God’s Purpose.
We must ask ourselves whether we are aligning ourselves with the values of this world or with God’s purpose for the church. The world has its own agenda, and it has a lot of helpful things to say about worldly success because that is its agenda. So we have books such as, How to Win Friends and Influence People. How to Be Rich. How to Be Healthy. How to Succeed in Relationships and Marriage. How to Get What You Want. When it comes to these things, the world can offer a lot of helpful advice, and mind you these are not necessarily bad things. In fact, because God cares for you, he cares about these things. But as far as his primary purpose for your life is concerned, these things are peripheral and not central. God is not primarily interested in your worldly success. Many successful people are not Christians. Many of the most troubled people in the world are Christians who are very close and very faithful to God. We mislead people when we say that if you follow Christ you will inevitably be happy, healthy, successful and rich in this life. (By the way, there’s a difference between being happy and joyful. Spiritual joy can co-exist with godly sorrow. Happy are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.) God’s purpose for his people is for them to be conformed to the image of his Son, Jesus Christ. He wants them to be conformed to his character. (Rom. 8:28-29) That’s why Paul says, “I am in anguish until Christ is formed in you.” (Gal. 4:19; Col. 1:28, 29; Eph. 4:11-13)The internal is more important than the external. (2 Cor. 4:16) That’s why Paul says, Godliness with contentment is great gain, and he rebukes those who think that godliness is a means to gain (1 Tim. 6:3-6). Paul also teaches that he he has learned to be content whatever his circumstances might be (Phil. 4:11-13). What was important was that Christ was there to strengthen him in his circumstance, whether prosperous or adverse. The internal is more important than the external, and the spiritual is more important than the material. Jesus says to the church of Smyrna, I know your troubles and your poverty but in reality you are rich! (Rev. 2:9) And James says, “Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will fade away . . . But blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” (Jas. 1:9, 10, 12). So whether you’re rich or poor or experiencing trials or living a comfortable life, the important thing is you love God, you’re like Jesus who loved his Father and obeyed him even unto death. The important question to ask ourselves as a church is not “How can we be successful,” but “How can we become more like Jesus?”
P.S. What about the many promises about worldly success in the O.T.? “The Gospel mentions not riches, honours, beauty, pleasures; it passes these over in silence, which yet the Old Testament everywhere makes promise of. They were there then children, and God pleased them with the promise of these toys and rattles, as taking with them. But in the Gospel He has shown us He has provided some better things for us; things spiritual and heavenly.” (Thomas Goodwin) (1 Cor. 13:11; 2 Cor. 1:20; Col. 2:17; Heb. 11:39-40)
P.S. To be sure, even the physical and material creation will partake of the glory of the sons of God (the resurrection of our bodies), but in the meantime we groan and wait (Rom. 8:18-25).