Sunday, 19 July 2009

Sunday Sermon

This morning I am not having church with our family in Christ at BCC. I, and our four children, are stuck at home, miserable with severe colds. This is the third time I have missed gathering with BCC since Jef began as Pastor there in February. The other two times I was visiting another church (for the Brigades' beginning of year service) or visiting family in Albany. Somehow, being sick seems like a poor excuse, especially since I am so excited about listening to and learning from our present sermon series, spending eight weeks on Ephesians.

Of course, I have an advantage that everyone else in our congregation doesn't. I'm married to the Pastor, and he's the one preaching on Ephesians 2 this morning. Normally, if I miss a sermon because I am helping with Sunday School or whatever, I can listen to it on CD later on. But last night I had the privilege of listening to Jeff practice his sermon. Jeff and I enjoyed a conversation about it as well. This morning, as I lay in bed and watched Jeff get into his "preachin' garb", I was filled with thankfulness. Why would God be so merciful to me as not to punish me for the apostasy of my rebellious years, when I rejected everything that His Word had to say? Why would God be so gracious to me as to provide me with a husband who would one day be led to study that same Word intently for three years at theological college, in order to become a Pastor who preaches and teaches from that Word, the Bible, almost every Sunday? It is not just my salvation that I have to be immensely thankful to God for! It is His providential loving kindness to me that has granted me a husband who teaches me, leads me, and edifies me as we seek to follow the LORD our God together.

So this morning I am spending time with my Bible open, thinking about Jeff's sermon, while the kids attend "TV Church", (as Mrs Smith calls it,) in the room next to me, watching Matthew on DVD.

Ephesians 2 provides a before and after picture of Christians:
1. Before, we were dead in sin; now, we are alive in Christ.
2. Before, we were far from God; now, we have been brought near to Him in peace.
3. Before, we were divided, Jew from Gentile; now, we have been made one, unified as the people of God.

Yet, as we know, our lives often do not look like the after image here. We ask ourselves,
"Why do I still give in to sin?"
"Why do I not feel close to God?"
"Why don't I get on better with other Christians?"

Jeff likened this situation to that of a newly qualified teacher, who has their BEd, and their Teacher's Certificate, but has yet little experience. While they are a real teacher, they are not a mature, effective teacher. The same is true of us. If we are Christians, who trust in Jesus Christ and follow Him as our Lord, accepting that He has died in our place for our sins, then we do live in the after scenario of Ephesians 2. However, this scenario relates to our standing in Christ, which has been bought for us; not our sanctification, which reflects our gradually increasing likeness to Christ. We are still a work in progress.

Philippians 2:12b-13 tells Christians to "continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose." Salvation is hard work, even while it has been achieved for us already! A bit of a conundrum, that. James said it in a different way, when he warned (James 2:14-26), "What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such a faith save him? ... faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. ... faith without deeds is useless... You see that [Abraham's] faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. ... You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. ... As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead."

Of course, "works" or "good deeds" are unable to achieve salvation in and of themselves. That is not what Paul and James were exhorting Christians to understand. CH Spurgeon explained this eloquently. Although his language of 1914 may sound archaic to our modern ears, the truth of his statements remains, as he titled the sermon that contains them, "an unalterable law":

"It, beyond question, is your duty to repent of your sin. If you have disobeyed God, you should be sorry for it. To cease from sin is but the duty of the creature, else sin is not the violation of God's holy law. But be it known unto you, that all the repentance in the world cannot blot out the smallest sin. If you had only one sinful thought cross your mind, and you should grieve over that all the days of your life, yet the stain of that sin could not be removed even by the anguish it cost you. Where repentance is the work of the Spirit of God, it is a very precious gift, and is a sign of grace; but there is no atoning power in repentance. In a sea full of penitential tears, there is not the power or the virtue to wash out one spot of this hideous uncleanness. Without the blood-shedding, there is no remission.

But others suppose that, at any rate, active reformation growing out of repentance may achieve the task. What if drunkenness be given up, and temperance become the rule? What if licentiousness be abandoned, and chastity adorn the character? What if dishonest dealing be relinquished, and integrity be scrupulously maintained in every action? I say, 'tis well; I would to God such reformations took place everywhere--yet for all that, debts already incurred are not paid by our not getting into debt further, and past delinquencies are not condoned by future good behaviour. So sin is not remitted by reformation. Though you should suddenly become immaculate as angels (not that such a thing is possible to you, for the Ethiopian cannot change his skin, nor the leopard his spots), your reformations could make no atonement to God for the sins that are past in the days that you have transgressed against him."

While our actions cannot achieve our salvation, we are still called to live a godly life. We must live out the faith we profess. We must choose, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to act in ways that are compatible with our spiritual condition. In Ephesians 2, this duty of Christians is based in what Paul wrote in (one of my favourite verses) Ephesians 2:1, which says, "For you are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for you to do." Paul says that our response to the gospel, choosing to live in ways that are good, for God's glory not our own, is one purpose of our renewal through Christ.

Given that Paul has written of our unity under God as the body of Christ, the church, Jeff chose to focus the application in his sermon on our unity in the church. We perform "good works" when we take on an attitude of ownership and claim for ourselves a sense of belonging in the local congregation where God has placed us. These people (for me, at BCC) are our spiritual family. We belong here (God has not made a mistake in having us come to this congregation) and we need to choose to put in effort, be humble, persevere, and interact in ways that deliberately foster our family bonds. We should not think of ourselves as people who come along and consume, but do not contribute to the church. Even if we have only been coming to this congregation for a short time, or are new Christians, we should ask ourselves,
Do I acknowledge and accept my responsibility to serve my brothers and sisters in Christ here in this congregation? Do I do what I see needs to be done?
Do I ask for help if I feel unable to meet a need myself? Do I desire and seek to be empowered to serve?

One thing that everyone can do, whether we are old or young, speak English well or not at all, have been a Christian for years or just a few days, is to pray for others. We should all be praying for our congregation's elders, our pastor, our musicians, our Sunday School workers, the welcomers and those who work behind the scenes preparing the facilities and refreshments. We can pray for those people who are in the congregation with us on Sunday and those who usually are, but are not today. We can follow up these prayers by letting these people know that we have been praying for them, and seek to encourage them and build them up in their faith. These prayers and actions will demonstrate and build the unity between the believers in our congregation.

We should also be praying for those who God will bring to this congregation, who are not yet part of our family in Christ. We should pray that through some means, they will come to this church - and as we pray, we may well be moved to invite our friends and neighbours; and to speak to acquaintances and even strangers of the gospel and our church where they can learn more. We should pray that when they come, people from our congregation will make them welcome, and tell them plainly of the hope that may only be found in Christ and His completed work upon the cross - and as we pray, we may well be moved to act as witnesses to these people, telling them the story of how we came to a saving faith in Christ, and imploring them to place their trust in Jesus, also; and to open our homes and our lives to these people so that they can see the fruit of the gospel in us. We should be praying that new Christians will be discipled faithfully so that they grow in their faith and sanctification themselves - and as we pray, we may well be prompted to invite someone to pray with us, to read the Bible with us, so that we may grow in Christ together; and we may desire to share with another what we have been learning from our private devotions; and we may choose to ask another of what they have learned, so that they will be able to share with us and build us up.

Our lives must be a testimony to the reality that we live in, now that we are Christians.

We must know the basis for our standing in Christ. We must consciously take responsibility for our own growth in sanctification. And we must act as Christians: who have been saved by God's free gift of grace, through faith in His Son, and have become indispensable members of Christ's body, the Church.

We must deliberately and with determination live out the faith we proclaim.


Mrs. Edwards said...

Thanks for sharing what God revealed to you, even as you were stuck at home.

"A conundrum" indeed, but one that I'm am beginning to understand. Verses like Phil. 2:12-13 used to make me uncomfortable and a bit defensive--"Is it really suggesting that I must work for my salvation?" But lately I've seen the truth of the verse, that "work out" is not the same as "work for."

Thanks, too, for the Spurgeon quote. I'm still hoping to get a set of his sermons, but haven't yet, and always enjoy reading something he wrote.

Sharon said...

Yes, Finding this sermon led me to ask Jeff if we had more of his writings, and I found Morning and Evening, his devotional. Then I got distracted seeing Martin Luther's Tabletalk on the bookshelf. That has some hilarious quotes. And of course deep, make you think stuff as well.

You can read more sermons by Spurgeon here: Not the same as a paper copy, I know. Maybe a Christmas present?

Jeff decided Sam and Abi were well enough to attend evening church, where they just have dinner and sit and watch VegieTales (or similar) during the service. Still at home, Joshua and Anna and I had a very profitable Church@Home "service" at the dining table. We read Mark 7:24-30 (part of the reading for the night's sermon) and talked about Jesus extending the blessings of God's people to Gentile believers, such as us. We also talked about being brought near to God because of what Christ has done, from Ephesians 2. And we practised Galatians 3:28 with hand movements as a memory verse. "There is no longer Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus." Lastly Anna sang about who Jesus is to us, in her own words and to her own tune. I love seeing her moved to worship God in her own songs! It was a brilliant time together, and I am thankful God blessed us in the middle of our sickness.

Phil 2:12-13 is also about us working along with what God is doing by His Holy Spirit within us. It isn't like we are doing this whole sanctification thing on our own - something I am very thankful for!

~ Sharon

Meredith said...

Wow Sharon! If this is you when you are sick and with sick children, you must be truly amazing when you are well. Now I begin to understand how you home school, read abundantly, clearly do a wonderful job of being a wife and mother and still have time to think straight.

I thank God for the way He has blessed you - and for the way He blesses us through you. I hope you are all well soon.

argsmommy said...

I have to agree with Meredith! I have just a minor head cold right now and I have trouble reading a single sentence with enough focus, let alone write such a thoughtful and inspiring post.