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Why is death important to the Christian? – Part 1

I’m sure most of you reading have had a near death experience at some point in your life. Some have wilder stories than others, but I’m sure you have had one.

While I’ve hung from the side of mountains, seen sharks while surfing, and encountered some shady characters in my day, my most harrowing near death experienced occurred when I was 16. A couple of my friends and I were driving to our friend’s house. He’d challenged me earlier to scare him, and up to this point, I hadn’t succeeded, so I took it one step further. I began doing what you shouldn’t do in a car at 70 miles an hour, I was shaking it back and forth.The car couldn’t handle it and it ended up sliding out. When it did, I immediately tried to correct it by turning the wheel the opposite way instead of into the slide. I learned later that is what you are supposed to do — turn it into the slide so that it spins around. I didn’t know that then, so when I tried to correct it, it caught and propelled us head first into a palm tree. After slamming into the tree, the car went airborne for a moment and then landed on my side, shattering my window, and leaving me hanging by my seat belt. By God’s grace, we were all okay, and we were able to climb out the passenger side of the car.

By far that was my most harrowing near death experience. I literally could have, and probably should have, died in that accident.

Thinking about my experience and you thinking about your experience brings death to mind, but most of us don’t think about death on a regular basis. We push it to the back of our mind and only let the thought come to the forefront every now and again. As Christians, however, we must think about death, and we must do so often. I know that probably sounds weird and morbid, so let me explain.

For Christians, death is not only how we gain a relationship with the Father, but it is also how we are able to worship God on a daily basis. If you have been in church any length of time, that last phrase might bring to mind Romans 12:1-2. Paul, the late apostle and missionary, writing to the Romans says starting in verse 1,

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Ro 12:1–2)

As you look at these verses more carefully you notice Paul begins verse 1 with an appeal to action. We will get to what he wants us to do in a moment, but first I want you to notice the basis of Paul’s appeal and that is the “mercies of God.” “The mercies of God” is what he uses to motivate the Romans and us to give our bodies as a living sacrifice.

The Mercies of God

The mercies of God” is an interesting phrase. One we need to consider because it quite literally is the bridge that allows us to move from sinner to saint; it is what allows us to go from those who live in rebellion to God, to those who are able to live for God.

To what do the mercies of God refer?

The phrase is shorthand for and representative of Paul’s argument up to this point in the letter to the Romans. Essentially it tells us that:

The Death of One Man Leads to the Life of Another (vs. Ro. 3:23-25a; 5:1)

More specifically, Jesus’ death allows us to experience life and a restored relationship with the Father.

Hearing that some of you might be thinking: Why was that necessary?

Why was it necessary for Jesus to die?

Jesus’ death is explained by the mercies of God. Up to this point in the letter, Paul has not only proven we are sinners, but he has also proven our sin has damaged our relationship with the Father. Essentially making it impossible for us to desire Him and His ways. As a result, we have rejected the Father’s way for our own way. That is what it means for us to be a sinner. It means we completely reject God and His way of doing things.

Because God is holy and loving, He must do something about sin. On the one hand, means He must destroy sin. Since we are sinners, that means we deserve to face God’s wrath. But on the other hand, God’s love and His desire for us to experience His love, drives Him to make a way for us to have a relationship with Him. He does that by sending His Son Jesus to die for us. We read about the progression from sin to God’s love in Romans 3. Starting in verse 23 Paul says,

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” (Ro 3:23–25a)

While we are sinners, it is God’s love, it is His mercy and grace that drives Him to give us what we don’t deserve — salvation through Jesus’ death on our behalf.

According to Romans 5:1, those who believe that Jesus is their Savior — that He died in their place, satisfying God’s wrath against them — will experience peace with God.

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ro 5:1)

Again, experiencing God’s love and a restored relationship with Him is made possible by God’s grace, and it is what Paul refers to as the mercies of God. Essentially, packed into that little phrase is the gospel message. It is the idea that the death of one man leads to the life of another, and that death occurs because God is gracious and merciful.

Thus, in order to experience that life, we must think about death. The death of Jesus and what that death means for us.

Christians, however, not only need to think about the death of Jesus, we must also think about our own death on a daily basis because:

Dying to Self is the Key to Worshipping God Daily (vs. Ro.12:1)

Look at the second half of verse 1. After Paul presents his appeal, he tells us what he wants us to do and why. He says we are:

“to present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is [our] spiritual worship.” (Ro 12:1)

While different sacrifices were offered in the Old Testament, they all involved death in some way or another, either the death of an animal or the death of your ability to possess the thing you offered to God.

Think about the sacrifice of a lamb. When it was handed it over to the priest, the one who handed it over didn’t expect to get it back. It was gone, quite literally. The priest not only killed it, but he also burnt it, which killed your ability to use the lamb for your own benefit.

In a similar way, that is what Paul is calling us to do. Except he isn’t calling us to offer a lamb, he’s calling us to offer ourself as a sacrifice. In other words, he’s calling us to die to self each and every day. Hence the idea Christians must think about death daily. Not physical death, but the death of self, the death of our own desire, the death of doing things our own way instead of God’s way. Commenting on dying to self, one author says,

“God does not ask us to bring in our livestock and burn it on the altar; he asks us to give ourselves, to put ourselves alive on the altar. To be a Christian means to live a life of sacrifice, a life of presentation, making a gift of ourselves to God. Some people think that all it takes to be a Christian is to scribble a cheque or to give a few hours of service here and there on special projects for the church. But that’s not what believers are called to. My life is to be set apart and consecrated to God. That is what is acceptable to him; that is what delights him; that is what pleases him; that is the appropriate response to him and for him.”


R. C. Sproul, The Gospel of God: An Exposition of Romans (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 1994), 195.

When we offer ourselves as a living sacrifice, we end up worshipping God

In reality that is what it takes and means for us to worship God. It takes us dying to self. Unless we are willing to die to self, there is no way we are going to be able to live for God. That’s because our heart can’t exist in limbo. It’s either going to be devoted to one or the other. It’s either going to be given to God or to self. That’s why we must be a living sacrifice. Why we must kill self in order to worship God. But, as my father-in-law likes to say, there is just one problem with being a living sacrifice

“Living sacrifices have a habit of crawling off the altar.”

After a while, our self has a tendency to take back over. That takes place because we haven’t yet been freed from our sinful nature. As Christians, we do have the ability to follow God and not sin, but our sinful nature is there constantly pulling and tugging at us, making it difficult for us to follow God. The tension we feel as Christians to please self and follow God is not going o end until Jesus returns. Until then, we have to daily die to self so that we consistently remain on the altar as a living sacrifice.

But how? How do we daily die to self? We will discuss that in more detail next time.

Question for Reflection

Do you see the necessity for Jesus to die on your behalf?

Do you see why it is important to die to your own selfish desires?

Resource

Post developed from my sermon: Why is death important to the Christian?

What Does it Look Like to Live in a Manner Worthy of the Gospel of Christ?

When you think about what it means to be a good citizen of our country someone like Louie Zamperini may come to mind. A while back I read a book by Laura Hillenbrand entitled Unbroken in which she chronicles Louie’s life.

Louie was drafted into the armed services in his twenties to fight in WWII, and he ended up in the Air Force. Before Louie accepted his draft orders, he was an amazing runner, an olympic hopeful, someone who was on pace to run a mile in under 4:00 minutes. If you are wondering, that’s fast, really fast! You have to sustain a speed of 15 mph in order to run a 4 minute mile.

Even though Louie was fast, he believed serving his country was more important than his own hopes, dreams, and aspiration, so he took up the fight alongside his fellow servicemen. I don’t want spoil his story for you. Let’s just say his time in the Air Force was no cake walk. A downed airplane, lost at sea, POW camp, and ultimately forgiveness. These are the threads that run through the book and Louie’s life.

When we look at a man like Louie, we can all agree that he is a good citizen of this country. He put others first. He considered the welfare of the nation over his own. He is someone who lives in a manner worthy of being an American. 

But what about a Christian?

What does it look like to live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ?

Paul tells us what it looks like to live in a manner worthy of the gospel in his letter to the Philippians. Beginning in verse 27 of chapter 1 we read, 

“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that [I want you to take note of what comes next because this is where he starts to tell us what it means to live in a manner worthy of the gospel] you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.” 

(Php 1:27–30)

From the text above, we gather that living in a manner worthy of the gospel looks like us:

(1) Standing firm with one another in the faith.

In order for that to happen, we must not only understand the core doctrines of Christianity and the gospel, but we must also be willing to contend, to strive side by side for the truth of the faith. We must work together to spread the gospel and promote our faith, even in the face of persecution. Persecution is going to come. When it does, we must be ready and willing to take it head on. In order to do that, we need others standing next to us. No soldier goes into battle by themselves. We must not enter into the battle alone either. To be sure, living out the Christian faith is to live in the middle of a war, a spiritual war. We must not be naive or ignorant of that. We must come together, then, with one another striving side by side for the faith.

(2) Living in unity with one another.

Following up what he just said beginning in verse 1 of chapter 2 Paul writes,

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” 

(Php 2:1–2)

Now, one of the things I believe Paul is trying to get across here is that the gospel should bring us together, and it should do that because we are all saved in the same way. We all need all of Christ’s righteousness credited to our account. That’s because we are all bankrupt sinners who can do nothing to get ourselves out of debt.

Along with holding our need for Christ’s righteousness up as a means to bring us together. Paul also brings the Spirit into the equation. He says that we all have the same Spirit working in us. The Spirit provides us with encouragement and comfort. He helps us to grow in our Christian walk. As well as equips us for the work of ministry among other things.

Having experienced the same salvation, encouragement, comfort, and work of the Spirit, we should all live in unity with one another. No one is better than anyone else. We are all in God’s family. We must all live as family. We must live as those who are unified with one another.

(3) We must consider others to be more significant than ourselves.

Paul is not only hinting at that idea in verses 1 and 2, when he calls us to unity, but he is specifically telling us that here. We can’t think ourselves better than someone else and then seek unity with them. It doesn’t work like that. Paul is not only hinting at this idea in verses 1 and 2, but starting in verse 3 he explicitly tells us that we must consider others more significant than ourselves.

After telling us what we must think of others, he follows that up with the example of Christ. Let’s look at that. Paul writes,

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

 (Php 2:3–11)

Now there is a lot in there, but for the sake of today’s post, what I want you to see is that we must have the mind of Christ.

One thing that having the mind of Christ means is that we don’t think of ourselves as more significant than others. Instead, we humble ourselves. We think others more significant than us. That type of thinking should lead us to care and sacrifice for others. 

I believe, if we all took this command to heart, then conflict and disunity in the church would cease. But conflict continues, which tells us that we haven’t taken this command to heart. Instead, we continue to think about and do what is best for self.We care more about our own comfort, desires, and wants than others. But if we want to live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, then we must humble ourselves, counting others more significant than ourselves.

Closely related to the last and contained in that grouping of verses is the idea of self-sacrifice, which tells us that living in a manner worthy of the gospel mean that:

(4) We must serve and love others self-sacrificially

Jesus is the prime example of self-sacrifice. Paul is explicitly calling that out in these verses by telling us that Jesus left His heavenly home, came to earth, and died for us. Jesus is, then, the chief example of self-sacrifice.

When it is hard for us to serve or love others, we should think about Jesus. How He loved and served us when we were unlovable. How He gave Himself for a people who were His enemies, so that we might experience the blessing of salvation. That’s self-sacrifice. That’s counting others more significant than yourself right there. Jesus died so that His enemies could experience the blessing of eternal life.

If we want to live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, we must do the same. We must serve and love others self-sacrificially.

Lastly, we learn that those who want to live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ must shine as lights.

(5) We must live in such a way as to shine as lights in this dark world.

Look at the text starting in verse 14,

“Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.” 

(Php 2:14–18)

In these verses, Paul shares a number of things with the Philippians. One of which is that he wants them to live in such a way that they are able to shine as lights in this dark world. When the world looks at us, they should see a people who are different.

What differences should they see? Paul points out some of the differences that should be apparent in the lives of those who are Christians. He says that:

  • They don’t grumble, nor do they dispute with one another.
  • They live in such a way that they are considered blameless and innocent.
  • No one can bring a charge against them.
  • We also see that they hold fast to the Word.
  • In other words, they aren’t wishy-washy about their faith, about their beliefs. They don’t allow the culture to sway them one way or the other.
  • As well as they are a people who are consistently growing in Christ.

These, then, are some of the ways that we might shine as lights in the world and live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.

Question for Reflection

  1. Are you living in a manner worthy of the gospel?

Resources

Post developed from my sermon: What Does it Look Like to Live in a Manner Worthy of the Gospel of Christ?

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What’s the Pastor and Church’s Goal and Purpose in the Work of Ministry? – Part 3

Some of my readers may know that I attended the University of Georgia for my undergraduate studies. When I entered the University, I hadn’t declared a major. Eventually, I landed on Biology. Why I landed on Biology as my major I don’t know. I’ve never worked in my degree field and the classes I had to take were much more difficult than those in other majors. But that is where I landed.

Even though I was a Biology major, I had to take a number of classes in other disciplines. English Literature, Psychology, Sociology, Philosophy, and Spanish to name a few. While I wished I didn’t have to take those classes when I was in college, thinking back I now see that there was a method to the University’s madness. There was a sort of unity in the diversity. The subjects they selected were designed to work together to make me a well-rounded student. Teaching me skills I didn’t have and helping me hone the ones I did possess.

The church works in a similar way. While there’s not a diversified list of classes we have to take, there is a diversity of gifts that exist within the church. Within that diversity, there should be a unity. In our unity we should be working towards one goal. What is that goal?

What is the purpose and goal of ministry in the church?

At the end of verse 12, we learn that the purpose and goal of ministry is to build up the body of Christ.

Think of the body of Christ as a building, not the church building, because the church isn’t a building, it’s the people. But for the sake of illustration, think of the church as a building.

In order for a building to become a home for someone to live in, many different things have to take place. The foundation has to be poured. Walls need to be erected. A roof has to be put on. Plumbing and electricity has to be installed. Storage and furniture have to be placed within, among other things. All that has to take place in order for a building to become a home, at least in a first world country like the United States.

None of that stuff takes place on its own, nor does one person do it. A lot of work goes into building a home by a bunch of different people, who are all gifted in different ways.Concrete workers, framers, and roofers; electricians and plumbers; cabinet and furniture makers. As well as painters, people to lay the floor, and those who design the interior. All these people and more have to contribute their part in order for a building to become a home.

Something similar has to happen in the church. The saints, equipped by a pastor, must all, and I stress the idea of all, all must use their gifts to build up the body of Christ. So we must all be actively engaged in the area of ministry with which Jesus has called us.

Now, we all have a good idea of what a home looks like. But What should the church look like? In other words,

How do we know when the building has been built?

Look at the text starting in verse 13,

“until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” (Eph 4:13–14)

Now, there is a lot here, so let’s break it down into it’s component parts just like you would a building project.

First, we see that we are working towards:

(1) A unified understanding of the faith and a deep intimate knowledge of the Son of God

What this means is that,

We should all have a likeminded understanding of the core convictions of the Christian faith. 

The core convictions of the Christian faith would represent things like:

  • What is the Gospel?
  • Who is God?
  • Who is man?
  • What is Scripture?
  • What does Baptism and the Lord’s Supper represent?
  • How we are live as followers of Jesus?
  • Among other things.
  • These are the core convictions of the Christian faith.
  • We should all be helping one another gain a competent knowledge and understanding of these things.

Along with that,

We are also to help others gain a deep intimate knowledge the Son of God. 

The knowledge Paul has in mind is not just head knowledge. It is not just something we can gain from a book. Instead, it is knowledge we must gain from one another as we live in community together. This is why I believe Paul begins this chapter stressing unity. We must be unified with one another so we might enter into one another’s lives and see, hear, and experience the Son of God actively working. When that happens, our knowledge of the Son of God will be deepened. It will become more than book knowledge. It will become an intimate knowledge.

Chuck is a man in my congregation, and I asked Chuck before sharing. I have known Chuck for 6.5 years. The whole time I’ve been at Sycamore. We have gathered together in our Friday morning men’s group for the last 6 years.

When we first started getting together, Chuck wasn’t the easiest person to get along with. It was hard to have a discussion with him. He would get defensive and even angry at times. But over the years as our group has pressed into him, speaking the truth in love as Paul tells us to do in verse 15, and praying for him, using our gifts to minister to him, Jesus has changed Chuck. So much so that I now look forward to getting together with him. I find our discussions to be a time of encouragement, blessing, and learning.

But here is the thing, if I wasn’t actively using my gifts, if I wasn’t getting together with him week in and week out, if I wasn’t speaking the truth in love, then I wouldn’t have seen this brother change. My sanctifying knowledge of Jesus wouldn’t have been deepened. It would have remained theoretical instead of becoming concrete.

So what Paul wants us to see and what I want you to see is that we not only need to be unified with one another, but we must also enter into one another’s lives actively using the gifts we have been given by the conquering King. If we do that, we will not only be unified in our understanding of the faith, but we will have a deep intimate knowledge of the Son of God which will serve to sustain and drive our ministry to one another even deeper.

So that is the first thing we are working towards in our building project, a unified understanding of the faith and a deep intimate knowledge of the Son of God.

Next, we see that we are working toward:

(2) A church that resembles Christ in its thoughts, actions, and knowledge

Paul says in the middle of verse 13,

“to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” (Eph 4:13b).

A mature man is someone who is full-grown. We know someone is full grown when they meet certain standards, a certain measurement.

As our kids grow, we have to periodically take them to do the doctor for what is called a “wellness checkup”. At that checkup, our kids get the shots they need. The doctor asks us a bunch a questions about how they are doing and what they are eating. As well as she measures their height and weight. Our doctor uses all those measurements to tell us if our kids are maturing properly, and to instruct us as to what we are to be doing as parents to help them reach that goal of maturity.

Paul is telling us something similar here. On the one hand, he is telling us that we should all be working towards maturity. We shouldn’t be stagnant Christians. We should all be maturing in our faith.

But on top of that, Paul is also telling us that we should all be employing our gifts to help one another grow in the faith, just like parents help their kids grow into mature adults.

Just like our doctor has a standard of measurement against which she compares our kids, the church has a standard of measurement. That standard is Christ. I know it’s a tall order, but our job as the church is to help one another become like Christ in our thoughts, actions, and knowledge. So that is the second thing we are to do.

Now, we are almost done in our building project, but we have one last item to tackle. While you might view the last two points as the walls to the building, you can think of this last one as the roof. I say that because the other two hold this one up. We know that because Paul uses the connector “so that”. In this case, “so that” tells us the result of the last two. So let’s look at the result. Paul says in verse 14,

“so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” (Eph 4:14).

So the result is that:

(3) We should be a church that is able to discern and combat false doctrine.

The way we get there is by building each other up in an understanding of the basics of the faith and a deep intimate knowledge of the Son of God. As well as by being a church that is given to being like Christ in our thoughts, actions, and knowledge, and helping others do the same. Again, the only way to do that is if:

  • We are unified.
  • We are gathering together in community on a regular basis.
  • We are using our God-given gifts.
  • We are speaking the truth in love to one another.

If that is our focus, then we will build one another up in the faith to mature manhood. We won’t be a church that is tossed to and fro. A church that is easily deceived by false teachers.

But on the other hand, if we aren’t doing those things, then we aren’t going to reach mature manhood. Instead, we are going to remain children who are easily deceived and led astray.

So to get back to the question this series is seeking to answer:

What is the Pastor and Church’s goal and purpose in the work of ministry?

It is to use our God-Given gifts and connection to one another to build one another up in the faith and knowledge of the Son of God, as well as it is to help one another think, live, and know as Christ does, so that we will not be deceived and led astray.

That can’t happen if you only attend your church every now and again. That can’t happen if you aren’t involved. That can’t happen if you just come and sit in the pew and walk out the door. Sure you might learn something about God. You might grow a little bit in your faith. But you aren’t going to grow in the way God wants you to grow, nor are those around you going to grow in the way God’s wants them to grow.
You aren’t going to be protected from false teaching, nor are those around you going to be protected from false teaching.

So if you haven’t been involved, if you aren’t using your God given gifts, if you aren’t connecting with others in the church on a regular basis, if you aren’t sharing with others the work God is doing in your life, if you aren’t doing those things, then it’s time you start.

There are a number of ways for you to get more involved in the church.

Most churches have a Sunday school program. That’s usually an easy way to get involved because it only requires you to arrive at church an hour earlier than you normally would.

My church gathers on Wednesday nights for Bible study, prayer and fellowship. Your church may do something similar. I encourage you to explore the options your church has for corporate Bible study.

Friday mornings a few men in my church meet for breakfast and Bible study at a local IHOP. The point is for men to connect over the word. Explore the options your church has and get involved.

Other than attending church sponsored studies, you can get involved in people’s lives and serve one another by simple:

  • Inviting them to your house.
  • Going to lunch with them.
  • Grabbing coffee.
  • Etc.

Ministering to one another involves more than just fulfilling a role or performing a duty at the church. It involves us actually getting involved in the lives of others and sharing with them what we are learning from God.

Conclusion

So if you aren’t involved, I challenge you to get involved. To use your gifts in such a way that others are built up in the faith.

Question for Reflection

  1. Are you involved in the life of your church?

Resources

Post developed from my sermon: What’s the Pastor and Church’s Goal and Purpose in the Work of Ministry?