Avoiding the Desert (1 Corinthians 10:1-13)

In John 8 we read the famous story of the woman caught in the act of adultery—a story so famous that even those who know little about the Bible know that one. They even quote it sometimes because it contains one of the best zingers of all time. Jesus said, “Let he among you who is without sin cast the first stone.” With that, the would-be executioners drop their stones and leave, oldest to the youngest.

Jesus—the only person in history who by that criteria had the moral authority to execute the woman—chose not to do so. Instead, he allowed himself to be executed for her when he went to the cross on her behalf. He took her place, and ours, as well. No wonder the hymn writer said, “Amazing pity, grace unknown, and love beyond degree.” Quite significantly, the last thing Jesus said to the woman in this encounter was, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” Jesus says the same thing to people today, “Go and sin no more.” 

Unfortunately, many believers take that statement to be a suggestion rather than a command. They regard it as helpful advice rather than holy admonition, which is dangerous. Perhaps we think to ourselves, “Grace is so amazing, once I receive it, nothing else matters. God will keep loving me, forgiving me, and regarding me as his child.” Whatever truth there may be to such notions, that’s not how the child of God thinks! The Christian life is not a moral free-for-all. Jesus was tortured and executed for sin; that’s why we no longer play around with it. Jesus still says to the rescued child of God, “Go and sin no more.”

Could it be, then, that some believers have misunderstood grace? Could it be we’ve forgotten that “belief behaves”? Grace is not only God’s unmerited favor toward his people, it is also a power from God that enables them to live a godly life. The Apostle Paul writes, “For the grace of God that brings salvation…teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (Titus 2:11-12). So, grace is not some coupon we can cash in to sin at a reduced rate of consequences.

Having expounded upon the grace of God in Christ, Paul anticipates an important question in Romans 6:1-2: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” Or again, Jude 1:4 says, “[It is] godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality.” That’s a truth modern evangelicals need to hear. It was certainly a truth the believers in Corinth needed to hear. Like many people today, they understood the grace of God to be little more than fire insurance from hell.

That’s why their church was in chaos, marked by envy, strife, factions, worldliness, irreverence, and in some cases, outright immorality. So, Paul turns up the heat on them in this passage, giving them important lessons from Israel’s checkered spiritual history. He reminds them of a truth believers need to embrace today as well: The grace of God in Christ is not a license for immorality, but our motivation for holy living. Fortunately, God always provides a way out of the spiritual traps that can so easily ensnare us.

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

Salvation Made Visible (Mark 2:1-12 and Selected Verses)

In Mark 2:1-12, Jesus famously healed the paralytic, a man lowered on his mat through someone’s roof because of the crowd. Before Jesus restored his legs, however, he restored his soul, declaring the man’s sins forgiven. Some folks in the crowd fussed at Jesus for saying such a thing because only God himself can forgive a person’s sins. Therefore, Jesus told the man to take up his mat and walk home, in full view of the crowd. To everyone’s amazement, he did. The visible miracle (the healing of his legs) authenticated the invisible miracle (the forgiveness of his sins). In a dramatic display of his own power and authority, then, Jesus made the man’s salvation visible to everyone.

This story teaches us a lot about Jesus, but it also illustrates how God wants a believer’s salvation to be made visible in our day, too. He wants it to be verifiable. He wants it to be evidence by a changed life. The theological word is “sanctification,” which means to be set apart. This message looks at the doctrine of sanctification—the process by which God shapes a believer’s character over time to be more like Christ’s. While justification speaks of the beginning of our salvation, sanctification speaks of the continuing of our salvation. Like the two natures of Christ, they are distinct theological realties, but they cannot be separated.

Justification is about Christ’s work for us on the cross. Sanctification is about Christ’s work in us by the Holy Spirit. Justification is about Christ’s completed work in making us his children forever. Sanctification is about Christ’s continuing work in making us godly in life. Justification is about removing the penalty of sin in our lives. Sanctification is about breaking the power of sin in our lives. Justification is about forgiveness, so that we can come to God. Sanctification is about holiness, so that we can become like God (in character). Justification calls us to believe. Sanctification calls us to behave.

John Calvin explained the relationship between justification and sanctification using the sun as an illustration. He said the sun’s heat and the sun’s light are two distinguishable things. They are not the same, but they are always found together. They both flow from the nature of what the sun is. Moreover, we cannot have the sun’s heat without the suns’ light in the same way that we cannot have justification without sanctification.

Sanctification, then, is progressively growing in the grace we have freely received in Christ. It is the continuing work of God in the life of the believer, making us holy in practice, not merely in position. As Maxie Dunham has said, “We don’t buy a violin today and expect to give a concert in Carnegie Hall tomorrow. Similarly, we may be converted to Christ in a moment, but…walking as a Christian requires discipline and is a lifelong undertaking. As Christians, we do not emerge from our conversion fully grown; we must grow.” The Apostle Peter would agree: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). In short, belief behaves.

When we embrace Jesus as the Savior who justifies us, we are at the same time embracing Jesus as the Lord who sanctifies us. The key to sanctification is living up to what we have already attained in Christ (cf. Philippians 3:16).

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

The Weeping King (Luke 19:28-44)

Leaders try hard not to cry in public. Instead, they seek to project a measure of strength and courage in difficult situations. They usually want to send a message that everything is under control. Crying just unnerves the people who have to watch it. Therefore, politicians and public figures try to stuff their tears and stifle their emotions. If, for some reason, they do ever cry in public, they strive to “leak a little,” not gush. 

As Jesus rode into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, he cried openly in front of the masses. Luke 19:41 says he wept over the city, and the word for “wept” in the original means to sob or to wail. It was a great lament, not a little sniffle. But why was Jesus so upset? His answer was both bold and blunt: “because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you” (Luke 19:44). God came to his people in the person of Christ, but they did not recognize him and submit to his authority. Rather, they tried to leverage that authority for their own ends.

Luke’s account of Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem is a spiritually challenging passage—one that ultimately reminds us that to receive Jesus is to receive God, and to reject Jesus is to reject God. Knowing that some people would reject him at great cost to their own eternal well-being, Jesus wept for their souls. Indeed, his tears were an ominous sign that the week ahead would be a long and difficult one for him.

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

The Gospel Unchained, Part 8: Be Useful to God (2 Timothy 2:20-26)

A man used to visit the old general store out in the country. The owner of the store had a clerk named Jake, who seemed to be the laziest man in the whole world. One day the man noticed Jake was gone, so he asked the owner, “Where’s Jake?” “Oh, he retired,” said the owner. “Retired? Then what are you going to do to fill the vacancy?” The owner replied, “Jake didn’t leave no vacancy.”

That may have been bad grammar, but it was an astute observation. Because Jake was incredibly lazy, he wasn’t very useful to the owner, and, therefore, he wouldn’t really be missed. We do well to ask ourselves the challenging question: “What kind of vacancy would there be in God’s kingdom if we left?” 

Scripture indicates wants all his people serving Christ in some way. In fact, he’s given gifts to each believer to be used in his service. And yet, for so many who claim to know Christ as their Savior, their faith is like football—an occasional Sunday spectator sport. They’re not serving Christ day by day. But those who truly know Christ can’t be happy sitting in the stands. We want to be in the game.

We may need to sit out from time to time to catch our breath. We may need to go to the trainer’s room once in a while if we’re hurt. We may even need to be on the injured-reserve list for a period of time, until we get healthy. But our desire is to get in the game and be of some use to our team and our coach.

The teaching in 2 Timothy 2:20-26 reveals the kind of person God loves to use. We might think God uses only people who have impressive gifts and abilities. Spiritual gifts certainly play a part, but they’re not the main feature in being used by God. Paul tells us in this passage God loves to use those who are cleansed, kind, and committed.

The apostle uses two more images or metaphors to make his point—the “vessel” (v. 20) and the “servant” (v. 24) The calling of the vessel is to be cleansed to be useful to the master. The calling of the servant is to be kind and committed so that some will be saved and delivered from their bondage. When it comes to God’s calling on our lives, believers are not to leave any vacancies.

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.