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LIVING WORTHY OF THE GOOD NEWS
Pastor Dave Strem with James W. Skeen
HOW DO WE GAUGE SPIRITUAL HEALTH?
Where do you stand spiritually? Where are you with God? Where do you stand on His chart? How do you measure that? When gauging physical health, you may put a hand on the forehead and feel for a fever or look at a thermometer. But how do we gauge spiritual health?
There are three usual ways that we measure spiritual health and all three lead to faulty diagnosis. The first way is we look at others around us and compare ourselves to them. "Well, I'm doing as good as they are. I'm doing as much as they are." The unfortunate thing is that God does not grade on a curve. And if you are hanging around with a bunch of spiritual losers, you will look as good as they are. But does not that also make you a spiritual loser?
Some of the most successful people using the world's definition of success-money, power, and status-are spiritually dead or very anemic. They do not have a place for God or His ways in their busy lives. But in the thinking of many, money, power, and status are signs that God is blessing them. They suppose that "gain is godliness." In other words, the more material possessions and status one has the greater the assumed blessing of God is on that person. It can be very deceiving to use this criteria. Some of the godliest people in the bible had little wealth. Human comparison is not a good way to measure spiritual life and vitality.
THE SECOND FAULTY WAY
Another faulty way to measure spiritual health is to compare oneself to the rules and commands used by those you hang around with, maybe even attend church with, maybe even the Ten Commandments. The folly is apparent when we realize the standards we follow are human inventions and traditions. Just look at the Pharisaic leadership that eventually consented to murdering Jesus because He was a threat to their status and religion. Jesus reserved His harshest criticism for these men. But what if we are trying to follow legitimate biblical standards and commands, like the Ten Commandments? That seems like a safe way to figure it out, doesn't it? "Well, I have not killed anyone this week, so I am doing good there. I got one point. I am not cheating on my wife right now, so I am 'ok' there, and I have not told any lies to get anyone else in trouble. Ummm, I must be doing well."
The problem with measuring yourself by those kinds of standards is that you start focusing on those standards as your measuring stick for spiritual health. The Pharisees were considered by many to be what Judaism was all about, the finest examples of their religious history. By keeping the religious rules they were recognized as spiritually superior and good. In the eyes of others also trying to keep these rules and commands they were good and uncommonly righteous. But Jesus actually said they were children of the devil.
Being a Christian is not about being 'good' at keeping rules and regulations. Do not misunderstand me. It is right to be good. I want to be good. Katie wants me to be good. I want my kids to be good. God wants me to be a good person. But as we will see, God has a different view of what it means to be 'good'. Using rule keeping as our standard, we can conclude that being a Christian is not about being 'good', it is about being good for something. It does not stop with just obeying all the rules.
THE THIRD FAULTY WAY
A third faulty way to measure oneself is by having an erroneous view of grace. "I am saved, I have my eternal salvation taken care of, all my sins from the past are taken care of, all my sins from the future are taken care of, I am saved, I am saved, I am saved. This is wonderful. This is great. And so what if I have crossed the line, I am forgiven." Paul encountered people with this view and he corrected them. "Shall I continue to sin so that grace can abound?" The answer is an emphatic, "No!"
It is a drastic spiritual error to interpret God's grace offered through Christ Jesus as a license for indulging sinful desires. "I am forgiven anyway, and it does make me feel good, so why not?" Christian salvation is not just about escaping hell and a Christless eternity, but it also involves becoming like Jesus Christ. In other words, salvation is much more about acquiring positive aspects than escaping the negative. Escaping hell is escaping the negative. Growing in our love for God through Christ and doing His work are the positives salvation was designed to produce. Do not use God's grace to excuse your sin!
HOW GOD MEASURES US IS MORE IMPORTANT
If the above three measuring rods lead us in a wrong direction, then how are we to examine ourselves. How we measure ourselves is not nearly as important as how God measures us. If God was to ask you the question, "How are you doing?", what would you say? You know you cannot snow Him. You end up saying, "Well, why don't you tell me?" He is the one who knows and He knows us better than we know ourselves. How does God measure us? How does God measure our spiritual health? That is the question the remaining portion of this paper will address.
Open your Bibles to Philippians chapter one. We are going to look at verse 27. Paul paints a clear picture of what spiritual health looks like. "Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit. Contending as one man for the faith of the gospel." To help us understand the central message in this verse we need to take out the subordinate clauses and see what we have remaining. What remains follows: "Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Stand firm in one spirit contending as one man for the faith of the gospel."
LIVE CONSISTENT WITH THE GOOD NEWS
Paul uses very specific words that give a vivid picture of how we are measured. Translating this central message in the Greek we end up with: "Live consistent with the Good News of Jesus Christ, committed and focused as a united team bringing others to a living faith in Him." Using this verse as our core starting point, we can see that God measures us in three areas of life. First, He measures us by our relationship with Him. Second, He measures us by our relationship to the body of Christ, to other believers. And thirdly, He measures us based upon our relationship with our neighbors, friends, and others outside the body of Christ.
Let us start off with the first sentence because the first sentence talks about our relationship with Him. The first word with significance is the word "live." The word that Paul uses for "live" is "politic." Paul is essentially saying, "Politic consistent with the Good News of Jesus Christ." This is an election year and we have had more politics than we want to have but Paul's use of the word does not have the negative connotations we give it today.
Just the mention of the word "politics" suggests lying and scheming to gain office. You know why? Because politicians tend to say what they want to do, not necessarily what they will be able to do. They promise to do more than they are actually able to accomplish. They have desires to fix this and fix that but when they gain office they learn they cannot fix them all and much of it ends up being a big hairball. They cannot get through them the way they thought they could. And to avoid scrutiny and criticism many maneuver and scheme behind the scenes. Paul uses the word in describing everyday behaviors not in any way related to political office. He is literally telling them to be citizens of their community with behavior characterized by the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Let me explain what I mean. You are all losers. Like that? You are all losers. You all do not measure up to God's standard. You all will blow it a number of times, a number of ways this next week. But God says, "I want to be with you and help you to become spiritual winners." Jesus says, "Abide in me and you will bear much fruit. You cannot do anything on your own, but together we can do some great things." Jesus has hopes and dreams for us that we can be better than we are because He has committed Himself to us.
SOME ONE CALLS OUT THE BEST IN US
I am better than I am because I am married to Katie. Katie makes me a better man. She calls out the best in me. She inspires the best in me, to be better than I normally would. I do not do some things that I would want to do, that I would naturally do, because I am married to Katie and it would be inconsistent with the husband that I want to be for Katie. The same goes for our spiritual lives. We deny ourselves certain things and actions because it is not consistent with who we want to be for God, with who we want to be as a Christian, a husband, a wife, child, or parent. It may not even be something obviously sinful. It is just not the best for what we want to become. And Paul says with one phrase the standard we are to live up to-"the Good News of Jesus Christ."
ONE AND ONLY
The word "politic" is teamed up with the word "consistent," which means "one and only." Paul is telling us to live consistent with the one and only Good News of Jesus Christ. This last week we had to get new tires put on Katie's car. But before I purchased the tires I checked the alignment to make sure the tires were not wearing, were not scrubbing, wearing out improperly. If the two front tires are not aligned to go straight, what will happen to them? You are going to be buying a new set of tires in six months, right? The car is out of control, it is harder to steer, and the suspension does not work the way it was designed to work. It messes up a lot of things. The car actually 'wants' to go in a different direction than you want. The end result is worn out tires.
ALIGN OUR HEARTS WITH GOD
Paul is telling us to align our hearts with God, with the Good News of Jesus Christ. To align our hearts with God means that we are responsive to His leading. God wants to take you places and show you things. "Oh, you have to see this." And so He turns His wheel this way and if we are not aligned with Him we start scrubbing and wearing down. We try to head off in a wrong direction. We fight His lead in our lives. God wants to lead you and you fight against Him. It is much better to be sensitive to His leading. "Lord, what do you want me to do? How do you want me to feel? How do you want me to respond to this situation? Lord, do you want me to follow this or just let it go? Lord, I want to go where you want me to go so I want my heart aligned with your heart."
Growing up, the message I always heard in churches we attended was to live consistent with all the rules. This makes one good. Be consistent with Old Testament rules and regulations. But here Paul says, live consistent with the Good News of Jesus, with the gospel of Christ. What is the gospel of Christ? Many of us would easily understand if it said, "live consistent with the Ten Commandments" because those are rules. We are used to having a list, a checklist of all the things we need to do. But here it says, "live consistent with the Good News of Jesus, with the gospel." What is the gospel of Jesus?
Most of you learned it when you were in third grade Sunday School. "For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him, should not perish but have everlasting life." What is the principle element of the gospel of Christ? What is the principle element of John 3:16? God's love! His passionate love for you and me shown by the gift of His Son for us. He does not want you to perish but have everlasting life. He wants us to have life and not perish in our sin. It is with this great love we are to live consistent with. Paul tells us to live consistent with the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Many times people see Christians as miserable, depressed, burdened people. But Jesus came to bring us freedom. The gospel should bring spiritual and moral freedom. Without the grace of God, where would you be in your life? Without the grace of God, where would you be? You would have no hope for eternity. You would have no eternal purpose in life. You would just be living to die. Just waiting until death overtakes you. Jesus came to bring the Good News that this life is not all there is.
GOD'S FORGIVENESS IS AVAILABLE
That God's forgiveness is available to all who repent and want to follow Jesus Christ. Celebrate God in your life. Live consistent with the Good News. Let the Good News shine through your life. That is how we are to relate to God. That is how He measures us. Are we being better than we naturally would be because we are teamed up with Him? Is our heart aligned with Him relationally and can we celebrate God and His Good News? It is this that we are to live consistent with.
FOCUS AS A UNITED TEAM
Secondly, we are measured by our commitment and focus as a united team in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. You are measured based upon your relationship with other believers. He calls us a body. It means we are to have interaction with each other, we are to depend on one another. The word "committed" literally means "staked down." The picture is that we are anchored and holding on to each other. You have seen all kinds of trees blow over this last two weeks. Trees uprooted and just flopping over. Can you see the same kind of thing happening in the lives of men and women? Lives being uprooted and falling over. To avoid this "fallenness" we are to be "staked down" to one another, standing strong as the winds of life blow on us.
Did you ever notice that you rarely see a tree that is in the middle of the forest fall down? We saw trees falling down all around this place but you usually do not see trees fall down that are in the middle of a forest, surrounded by other trees. Why? Because they strengthen and help each other. They break the wind for each other. They share the load. And literally the roots of those trees grow together so that when one starts to be uprooted, the roots of another pull it down. The roots hold each other tight. "Staked down." In your own life, there are others around you that you know that may have started to lean and your role before God is to be the root to help them hold on. The storm is going to pass. It may have been blowing for a long time, but it will pass. Hold on to your family and friends. Strengthen them amid the storms of life.
TO BE FOCUSED
After "commitment" the verse continues with "and focused." To be focused means living on purpose. You have a reason for who you are and what you are doing. Living on purpose. Focused as a united team. As a church, our official purpose is equipping believers for worldwide ministry because we believe there is more to being a Christian than being saved. It is being a follower of Jesus Christ--to have your heart united with His and joining with other followers in proclaiming the Good News. On purpose we are to join together to declare the Good News to others around us.
"As a united team." What does that mean? In the Greek it is the word "sunathlountes." "Sun" means "with" or "together" and "athloutes." Know what "athloutes" means? It means striving. "Sunathlountes" literally means "striving together" or "striving with." You just saw the Olympics. It is drawing the literal picture of a team working together. Of, if you will, like a relay team or rowing team where each member does his or her part to accomplish the goal. In this church, we have a lot of rowing teams. We have a worship rowing team that works together every week. We have a children's ministry rowing team. We have a youth ministry rowing team. We have all kinds of small groups and ABFs (adult bible fellowships) that are all rowing in the same direction. That is "sunathlountes." That is a united team all going in the same direction with a common goal.
We are measured by our joint unity, by our connectedness, and by doing and living together in accordance with the Good News of Jesus Christ. You can be a Christian, you can be saved and not be part of a church. But God measures you, God calls you to be part of a local fellowship of believers so that you can be strengthened, so that you can grow, and so that you can strengthen and help others to grow.
Each of you has been given spiritual gifts to use for that purpose. That is what we are about, and you can be at this church, you can be someplace else, but you need to be in a fellowship of believers somewhere. You might say, "Well, I do not like those people or those people." It is not a question of whether you like them or not. It is God's command to join a church, a fellowship of believers, because they will strengthen your life and you can strengthen theirs. We are all in this together.
MEASURED BY OUR RELATIONSHIP TO THOSE OUTSIDE THE BODY OF CHRIST
And then thirdly, you are measured by your relationship to those outside the body of Christ. You are called and held accountable for your relationship with them, bringing others to a living faith in Him. I know most of you do not want to hear this point. You are called by God to share your faith with others.
How did you come to Jesus? It probably came about because some regular people either brought you to church or shared Jesus with you. God does this work through normal, everyday people.
Last year we had a young man start coming to play with one of our youth worship bands. He was not a Christian, but he came because he liked the music and wanted to play with them. He came to Christ because of it. Then, because it seemed like a good thing, he liked it, he told his mom about it and she started coming and she received Jesus two months ago. She died last Friday. Just in time. This young man is not a Bible scholar. He does not know a lot of the doctrines of the church but who cares? Yes, it is important to know God's word so that Satan cannot deceive us, but it is much more important to know the One whom the word talks about and points us to.
This young man knew that Jesus is real and that God is life and he told his mother about it. That made the difference. Is it hard? Oh, you better believe it is hard to tell your mom about Jesus, to tell your parents about Christ, to talk to anyone in your family, to talk to your friends. It is hard because it is so important and there is a spiritual battle going on. There is a race for the spirits, for the souls of those around you. And some of you are sitting on the bench watching them go by. We are not called to be spectators. We are called to be "sunathloutes," co-workers in spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ.
This lady who accepted Christ saw a difference in her son. It was a living faith. It was not that he explained the great doctrines of the church to her. He explained the person of Jesus to her. It was his living faith that makes the difference. Life lived is more important than words. It is not your education, it is your experience with Him that matters most.
Tell them your story. Tell them where you have been. Tell them what God has done for you. Tell them the real difference Jesus has made in your life and how you have learned to trust Him. Your life speaks louder than your words. You can say all the right things, but if you do not have the life that backs it up, they will walk away from you. People are hungry for a real faith and a real God that makes a real difference in the lives of real people. Bring others to a living faith in Him, not to a religion, but to a relationship with the Father. Do not lead them to church, lead them to God.
Jesus taught us to pray, "Our Father, who art in heaven." He wants us to have a relationship with God. He did not lead the people to the temple or the sanctuary. He met them at these places but then He introduced them to His Father. We are called to do the same thing. How you doing? Are you living consistent with the Good News of Jesus Christ-consistent with who He is and what He has done. You want to do better? You do not have to read Shaeffer's systematic theology. What you have to do is talk to God and reflect on His word. Talk to God and reflect on what He has for you. As you grow healthier, we grow healthier. That is how the body of Christ prospers.
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THE AGE OF THE CHRISTIAN ROMAN EMPIRE - The Lessons for the Modern Age | LIVING WORTHY OF THE GOOD NEWS - Philippians 1:27 | JESUS - THE SERVANT KING | BELIEVE AND FEAR NOT - Isaiah 40 | VIOLENCE IN THE HEAVENS |PONTIUS PILATE AND HIS DILEMMA
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James W. Skeen