Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Significant Servants, September 6, 2009

When a brother or sister in Christ dies, we comfort ourselves with the fact that death actually brought them to a new life. One life ended and another life, a better life, a glorious life began. We can only experience that life when the life we have comes to an end. That is why the Revelation calls the death of a saint “blessed.” 1 Corinthians 15 uses the metaphor of a seed to describe the process. The seed goes into the ground and bursts forth with a new and greater existence. In the same way, we die and our bodies are planted in the ground. At the right time God will call us forth with new life, transform our lowly, mortal bodies into glorious, immortal bodies and bring us into his presence forever.

Something very similar to that happens when we are saved. We are crucified with Christ and then raised to walk a new life in Christ. Salvation is not just an act of inner therapy or a self-esteem building exercise. It is a death to sin and to the life we have without Jesus that allows us to be raised to a new life with Christ, one which evidences the presence and power of God.

You had a life without Christ. It may have been a good life in human terms, or it may have been severely broken by sin. But it was not the life God intended for you; a life in which you sought your own purposes, goals, pleasures and ambitions. Then the Holy Spirit began to bring you under conviction of sin and woo you to the Cross, the only place where salvation is found. At that point, you died. No, your heart continued to beat and you never stopped breathing. But you died. The life you had without Jesus Christ was gone.

Here’s the point of all this: when you died, your old life was gone. But like physical death ushers believers into a greater glory, the death you died with Christ brought to you a whole new life. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” We come to Christ and die. The old life is gone. That is when the new life of Christ begins, a life in which Christ lives in you.

Oh, on the outside you are the same person. Your hair color does not suddenly change and you don’t grow taller. But your soul, your spirit, the inner you is a new creation of God. You now have different abilities – spiritual abilities given you by the Holy Spirit. You live your life by the resources of God. You have new priorities, set by God. And, as we have studied, you have new purposes, God’s purposes.

What I have described is standard operating procedure for a person who is redeemed by the blood of Christ. It is not an option for the super-duper extra-special saint. This is basic, entry-level Christianity. There is no provision made in scripture for anyone to receive salvation without experiencing the death I have described. Salvation, in the New Testament, is being crucified with Christ and then being raised to walk a new life in him. It is a death that brings new life. You do not add Jesus to your life and then continue on the way you have always gone. Many people have a religion, even a church experience. But unless you have died to sin and been raised to a new life in Christ, you do not have salvation. If what I have described here is foreign to your experience, you would do well to examine yourself before God and ask if you have ever truly been redeemed

That is not to say that if you still struggle with sin, you are not saved. Even those who have this new life still have struggles with the old nature. Our new life has been irrevocably given to us in Christ, but it comes into our experience in stages. It is a process, not a single point in time. At the moment you turn from your sins and trust Christ, your spirit is quickened and you are made alive in Christ. You die with Christ and receive his eternal life.

Then, as we live our lives, God goes to work to transform us, to make us like Jesus Christ. This is a lifelong process. In Luke 9:23, Jesus told us that we must take up our crosses daily to follow him. Every day you must renew your death with Christ, renewed your commitment to be a living sacrifice. The sinful nature never gives up. It is always looking to derail us, to draw us back into the life of sin. We must die daily and gradually become more and more like Jesus Christ. This process of sanctification starts at conversion and only ends at death.

But one day all our struggles will be over. When Jesus calls us from the grave and transforms our bodies into glorious, immortal and sinless bodies, the process will be over. We will become like Christ, receiving the fulfillment of all that we have been promised, all that was purchased for us at the cross. It is only in that day that the struggle with sin is finished. our bodies die and life on this earth ends. It is at that death that life eternal is consummated.

Christians are not sinless or perfect. But we have been made new in Christ. There ought to be evidence of the life of Christ in the life of the Christian. In Christ we have access to all the riches of his grace and to the power of Holy Spirit who dwells in us. Before Christ, we lived by our own sense of right and wrong, or by what people in the world said was right. In Christ, the Holy Spirit works in us to produce the righteousness of Christ and bring us in line with the holiness of God. Before Christ, our priorities were like everyone else’s; we sought personal happiness and fulfillment. But in Christ we have new priorities. We want to know Christ and serve the interests of the Kingdom. And before Christ our lives were lived for human purposes. Now, in Christ our lives are focused on the purposes that God has set for us.

God’s Universal Purposes

What are those purposes? God’s sovereignty is so complex, it is hard to boil it down to simple categories. He does so much that we will never understand or even comprehend. But there are certain consistent purposes which we see revealed in scripture which guide the activity of God in this world. I see three universal purposes consistently displayed in God’s work. We will examine those.

The Glory of God

God is always working to display his own glory. If I did that, I would be an arrogant megalomaniac. It is not my right to receive the praises of creation. But it is God’s! He is the Creator and sustainer of all that is. He is the rightful Lord of all and it is right and good that all glory would go to him at all times.

Creation itself manifests the glory of God. Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” God revealed his existence and his sovereign power when he spoke this world into being. There is a majesty and beauty in the world God made that moves us to praise him.

I had just graduated high school and was on a trip with my youth group. One day we climbed the Chimneys, a couple of mountain peaks a few miles from Gatlinburg, Tennessee. I was in great shape at the time and I got out ahead of anyone else. I reached the top about five minutes before anyone else and was alone on the mountain. I was not walking with God at the time, but the grandeur of that place moved me to worship, to consider the glory of God. The heavens declare the glory of God.

God is to be glorified in this world by all that he has made. He, as Creator, has the right to expect that his creation will honor him. Psalm 57:11 explains the way things ought to be. “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!” God is exalted, seated high upon the throne. He is at work in everything he does to display his glory in this world.

What is our response to this? It is simple. We glorify him. God works to glorify himself in this world, so we should give him the glory he deserved. Psalm 96:8 instructs us to “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name.” We are to enumerate the glories of God, to spell them out clearly so that all will know that our God is great, that he is exalted above all gods and that he is powerful, sovereign, holy, loving and merciful.

But it more than just words that give glory to God. It is crucial that our tongues give him praise. But it is more important that our lives do so. Human beings are the only part of this creation that resists the glory of God or tries to rob it from him. As Satan did in the ages past, we try to ascend to the throne and become like the most high. We try to receive glory instead of giving it to him. It is by abandoning our own ambitions and goals and giving ourselves fully to him that we give him the glory he deserves.

A People Redeemed

One of the chief ways that God glorifies himself is by redeeming a people for himself from among this world’s sinners. Revelation 7:9-10 describes a group of people who gather around the throne of God. After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” Before Jesus left earth, he told his disciples that they would be witnesses to the end of the earth. It seems that the command has been fulfilled. From the ends of the earth a people has been gathered to God, redeemed by the blood of Christ and devoted to the praise of his glory. Verse 15 tells us the eternal purpose of this group. “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.” These people spend eternity praising God and serving him.

God is at work now in this world to redeem those people. In fact, all of history hinges on this purpose. God prepared the world for the coming of Christ and that fateful day at Calvary when our sins were paid for and salvation was won. In the Old Testament, God displayed his power to free his people from Egypt and bring them into the Promised Land. That was his great saving act. Everything else that he did among Israel was based on that act of redemption. In the New Testament, it is the cross of Christ that is central. God poured out his wrath against our sin on Jesus and we are forgiven.

So, how do we respond to this? It is simple. God has ordained that the salvation that is wrought by his sovereign grace is proclaimed by human voices. He could have appeared to people in dreams and visions to proclaim his grace. He could have sent angels to tell people the good news. But he told us to go into all of the world and make disciples. When we understand this purpose of God, there is only one fitting response, and that is that both individually and as churches we would faithfully proclaim the message of salvation in Christ.

In the Image of Christ

But God’s work does not stop at redemption. Too many Christians only think of faith as a point in time in the past and future glory. But God also has a purpose for us today. Those he redeems by the blood of Christ he transforms into the image of Christ. Romans 8:29 says that “Those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” In 2 Corinthians 3:18 God tells us, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.”

That is what the last half of the Great Commission is all about. Our task is to make disciples; a two-step process. First, we are to evangelize the lost and baptize them into Christ. Then, when people have been converted to Christ, we are to teach them to obey everything that Christ has commanded them. When we teach God’s Word, the Spirit of God uses the Word of God to do the work of God among us.

And so, that is our response to this purpose of God. We teach the Word. In all we do, we teach people what the Bible says. And we do not just convey information, we proclaim life-changing truth and call people to submit to it and obey everything that is taught in it.

The First Step

This is the first step in becoming significant servants of God. When God was going to do a mighty work, he revealed his purposes to his people. Those people had to submit their lives to the purposes of God instead of to their own. If we would see the power of God in our lives, we must yield ourselves to the purposes of God. We have studied three universal purposes that the Scriptures show us govern all of God’s activities in this world. We must yield our lives and our churches to the service of these purposes. God may have individual purposes which he will work among us, as he did in the biblical days. Those God will make plain to those who seek him. But our first duty is to submit to the revealed purposes of God. If we are serving God’s universal purposes, all other things will be made plain. If we are not serving the universal purposes, we cannot ask God to reveal individual purposes.

The first step could not be plainer. If you want to be a significant servant of the Living God, yield to his universal purposes for your life.

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