Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Test of True Belief

Last week's message covered enjoying God and how living a joyful life and glorifying the grace of God in all his excellency is not two roads travelled, but actually one in the same. We saw how they intricately correlate with one another in this manner; living with supreme joy in the Lord is ultimately what glorifies the grace of God. So we see that one is used to accomplish the other.

This message marks the end of a six week investigative series at the Bible study and so I wanted to end on something that would get at the heart and truly challenge what both you and I believe in. The Test of True Belief is a great way for people who claim to be Christians to scrutinize their lives and test the faith they claim to live in. This is great for all Christians to do every so often to keep ourselves in check and reassure ourselves of our lifestyles.

To set the stage, I'd like to start by introducing the test by creating a basis of scripture to build upon, so I'll be pulling from the book of Matthew in chapter 7. Verses 13-14 say this:

"Enter through the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and easy is the road
that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate
and hard the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."

This scripture tells us that, despite what the surveys may say, the number of
people going to heaven is not large, but select. So many people in today's
world check Christian under the religious preference box, but is it a lifestyle for those people full of passion reflecting Christ's love in everything they do? If so many people are claiming Christianity but only a few will make it, how can I make sure I'm truly saved? This is the major question at hand, and that's what we're going to look at soon enough.

The second piece to these verses that sticks out to me as I study it is how it describes the way to destruction as wide, broad and easy, while the path of life is called small, narrow and hard. What does your life show evidence of? The road of a true Christian is marked by periods of struggling, suffering and hardships at our own expense for others. Just as Christ struggled and suffered at his own expense for us, so too does he call us to do the same for others. If your life is comfortable and easy all the time, are you living a life of service to God and others as we're so called to do?

The second bit of scripture that I'd like to use to set the stage for this message comes a little further down from Matthew Chapter 7 verses 21 through 23 where it says:

"Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles? Then I will tell them plainly, I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!"

As we begin to pick this apart, realize first that this is Jesus talking; the God-man who every man MUST go through to gain entrance into heaven. Jesus says Many who say to him Lord Lord, will Not enter the kingdom of heaven. Those people saying Lord, Lord are those who consider themselves Christians. Many people then, and in today's world who claim to be Christians will be turned away at the day of reckoning when Jesus comes back to judge those on earth!! The obvious question is Why?! These people do good things in the public eye, go to church, go to Bible studies, read their Bible, etc.... so why will they be turned away by Jesus?! That is yet another thing that we will see as we search through some false assurances and true belief evidences in scripture.

  • Before we continue on, I just want to make it clear that my hope for this message is not to scare anyone away, or judge anyone at all, but to love; I love each of you with the love of Christ, so I want you all to test and evaluate yourselves so you don't waste years of your life in blindness.

Basically I'm modernizing the Apostle Paul's warning in 2 Corinthians 13:5 when he says:

"Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith, Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? Unless indeed you fail to meet the test."

Test yourselves, ask the hard questions. Challenge your beliefs, why you believe what you believe, where's your faith in, what does your lifestyle portray..... So in this message I'm going to walk you through this test and challenge my own and your beliefs. Remember that false assurances are not always by man's mind alone, but are often put in our minds by Satan; he does this because a man's false assurance of going to heaven translates into an assurance for Satan of another soul for eternity. So let's battle that deception with some cutting truth from the Bible.

1) First Challenge: Complacent in Sin 1 John 1:6-- False assurance

"If we claim to have fellowship with him, yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth."

  • This person says they're a Christian, yet their life shows no change from before they were saved. An outsider looking in would not be able to tell any difference between the lifestyle of this person claiming to be a believer and any non-believer.

Desire for Godliness 1 John 1:7-- True Belief

"But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin."

  • This person, although not walking perfectly (as we are all sinners and none can walk perfectly), possesses a desire to be more like Christ that formulates the actions of their life. There is a distinguishable difference in this individual.

2) Second Challenge: Trust in Self 1 John 1:8-- False assurance

"If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us."

  • Notice the word truth; Jesus is is the way, the truth, and the light, so if the truth is not in us, in effect, Jesus is not in us.
  • This challenge reveals a prideful and self-righteous person with no need to trust in Christ, therefore, feeling like they have no need for a savior.

Trusts Only in Christ 1 John 1:9-- True Belief

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."

  • True faith realizes that we are sinners and dirty, but also recognizes, then, the greater need for Christ's salvation. This person realizes that they cannot save themself and need Christ to atone for his/her sins.

3) Third Challenge: Loves the World 1 John 2:15-17-- False Assurance

"Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world, the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does, comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever."

  • This is relatively self-explanatory; this person makes idols out of the things this world has to offer and values them above God in their life.

Love for God 1 John 2:17-- True Belief

"The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever."

  • Doing the will of the Father is simply accepting that God is Lord of your life and more valuable than any worldly desire. This person recognizes that all things this world has to offer will soon perish and not satisfy, but the satisfaction God gives us leads to perpetual and eternal life in his presence.

4) Fourth Challenge: Lives for Self or for Christ? 2 Corinthians 5:14-15

"For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again."

  • Christ died that we might live IN him FOR him.
  • The challenge here is for you to analyze your life and ask yourself this; Who is on the throne in my life? Am I living for myself, or am I living to please Christ? Are you living to fulfill your plan for your life, or are you living according to the purpose that Christ has called you to do?

5) Fifth Challenge: Fruit of the Flesh Galatians 5:19-21-- False assurance

"The acts of sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God."

  • Do the things, any of them, of this scripture characterize your life?

Fruit of the Spirit Galatians 5:22-23-- True Belief

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law."

  • You will never be perfect, but is there a growing trend of these things in your life?

Those five challenges are major things that any person who calls themself a Christian should test themselves with as Paul calls us to do; we test ourselves to make sure that we are truly in the faith and not living a lie in a false assurance. In concluding this message, I would just like to make a few final points of clarity. It is vital to understand that these "fruits" do not earn your salvation, for no man can earn his salvation. These "fruits" simply offer evidence for yourself that you are truly in the faith. So as you have now went through this test, I urge you, don't try to be saved by bearing these fruits; have faith in the Gospel of Christ first, and these fruits will follow your transformation. Understand that you are a sinner and have a true need for Christ as your savior, accept that, and then live in the Gospel of the grace of God.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Enjoying God

A week ago at our last meeting we talked about Jesus' sufferings which he endured in three different ways, being physically, emotionally and spiritually and how our minds, hearts, and souls are healed by his wounds.  It was by the scourging of Jesus Christ we were healed, meaning Jesus HAD to come and suffer for our sins to be atoned for; there was no other way.  

Since we've been spending the last month talking about what's missing in our lives and suffering, in this world, our lives, and of Jesus Christ, I want to kind of switch the tone and discuss the frequently asked question by non-believers of, "Why are Christians always so joyful and happy?!"  (What is it?  What do they have that I don't?)

Today's topic is Enjoying God; how, when, why and all other aspects of the subject.  In previous weeks, we've talked about fulfillment and peace God offers by way of opening our eyes to seeing what our purpose of creation is..... so this begs the question, WHAT IS OUR PURPOSE?!?

We have two purposes bestowed upon us by the Creator:
  1. To be a living testament and supremely display the glory of the grace of God in all his excellencies.
  • Being a living testament is not merely talking the talk, but it is walking the walk; it is waking up each day and choosing to submit to God and allow others to look at your life and see a reflection of Christ.  When you think of the word display, the most pure and simplest form is when you're a kid and you have all your trophies in a display case at home and when people come over, what do you do?! You point everyone to the display case of your glory, you tell people, "look at what I've got, check this out!"  And so God wants us to display his grace in the same manner; he wants us to point everyone that we come in contact with to the cross and the glory of God. 
      2.  To be joyful and delight in the Lord with all our heart.  He wants us to be joyous in him!
  • Despite what people think, God is for us and not against us! He actually wants us to live a joyful life; the key is, he wants us to be joyful in him.  He doesn't want us to find joy and delight in worldly things like relationships, alcohol, drugs, or anything secular from the Lord because there is no true joy in such things.  He wants to protect us and give us true joy as you'll see later in the message.
Often people think these two purposes ordained by God are two separate ways of life.  People think that they want a life of joy, they want to be happy, but how can we do that and live a life of service dedicated to glorifying God's grace at the same time.  People think that there is no joy in living life to the service of God.  

These two purposes are not separate roads travelled at all, but one in the same in which the two paths directly correlate.  Enjoying God emphatically is one way to glorify him, clearly showing us the direct correlation between the two.  Realize that the word emphatically in the prior sentence is not used in vain; God calls us to live a life of joy in him emphatically so that when others look at our lives, they can't help but notice there's something different.  Furthermore, enjoying God and delighting in him makes him appear infinitely valuable, causing others to wonder what it is that you have in life that they're missing.  The word infinitely tells us that God's value, glory, grace, joy and everything in him is perpetual; never ending, forever, in eternal abundance.  It's like this example guys, check this out:
  • God uses us enjoying his grace to magnify his glory; it's like using a telescope.  You use a telescope to magnify something in outer space that is great, magnificent, and intricate that the naked eye cannot see without help; you cannot see the true glory of things in outer space such as the Milky Way for what they really are without a telescope.  We are used by God as telescopes for non-believers to get a glimpse, just a taste, at the joy God's grace gives us, in turn glorifying his own self.  
It is through this that we see our two purposes in this world begin to merge together to become a singular passion of delighting in the Lord to glorify the grace of God.  Notice the conjunctive word is not and, but to; if "and" is used in that place, it still implies that the two roads can remain separate, but the word "to" implies that the second purpose is used to achieve the first purpose, drawing them together into one path travelled.
Psalms 16:11:
"You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore."
This is King David singing his praises to God saying, "God, you make known to me my purpose in life (you give me a reason for being created), in your presence I am completely full of joy, and at your right hand are pleasures forever."  So this message is essentially tracking what David says here; God reveals to us our purpose in this world, he gives us true joy, and (here's that theme idea of God and his spoils being perpetual again) at your right hand there is joy and pleasures eternally.  

People so often think there is little to no joy in a life as a Christian dedicated to singing God's praises and putting the fullness of his grace on display.  Ohhh how they are so blind and confused!!! Delighting in the Lord's grace and sharing it with the world is the maximum joy one can possibly obtain in this world.  
  • Think of how full of joy you are when anything good in your life happens; what do you want to do? Tell your friends so they can share in the joy and see what you've got!! You point them to your trophy case with your glory on display.  This is a self-centered joy that perishes along with the self-righteous glory that comes with it.  It's much the same when the Lord comes into you; you simply want to share what you've got and put it on display.  You make God's grace your trophies in your display case and point everyone you know to him.  This is the selfless joy that is perpetual along with the glory that is of God. (There's that idea of God being perpetual again!)
This is an example of delighting in the Lord and it walking hand-in-hand with glorifying the grace of God, keenly showing us that joy is the surest sign of the presence of God.  
Psalms 37:4
"Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart."
  • Here's that idea again of God wanting us to delight in him, and he will give us everything that our heart desires in an eternal fashion.  The catch here that non-believers can't really understand is that once the Lord is in us and we are a new creation, our desires of our heart are changed and become new as well; our desires our only with God and that is where our joy is found.  
The definition of joy is written as the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying.
  • I promise this is not a definition I formulated around what I've been teaching in previous weeks, so I hope you get as excited as I did at how perfectly this merges with the previous meetings.
If you remember, we talked a month ago about what we find satisfaction in and what truly satisfies our deepest need.  God is ultimately satisfying to us, therefore we gain ultimate joy.  This means that if we find joy from what satisfies our heart, and God is what satisfies the deepest need of our hearts, then he also brings us true and magnificent joy in life.  When we look for joy in the things of this world (money, drugs, relationships), we might feel a false and immediate joy that soon subsides and we're left with quite the opposite of what we're actually looking for.  
  • Antonyms to joy- misery, unhappiness, sorrow, grief.
Trying to find joy in worldly things actually ends up giving us quite the opposite; it brings us misery, grief, unhappiness and sorrow.  Transversely, however, when we find joy in God and our purpose of displaying his grace, we land in an abyss of never-ending joy that will not perish or subside.  We are satisfied.  But, even when you do try to find joy in the things of this world, hold on to the promise of in Nehemiah 8:10 where it says:
"Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength."
  • Even when you dessert him, God will still be there waiting to give you true joy, which comes with an offer of strength to get you through your screw-up.  
Joy that stems from God can take many forms.  Sometimes it shows through hearty laughter or leaping and dancing before the Lord.  Other times joy comes through a feeling of peace and well-being.  Even in the darkest of times, joy comes in the knowledge that the One greater than all else can comfort us until the clouds have passed.  
  • The mark, or evidence, of God-enthralled joy is the overflowing of it into the hearts and lives of others.  This is the idea that when you truly have God's joy in your heart and have become a new creation, you become so full of it that you have no choice but for it to overflow out of your heart and through your actions and words into the lives and hearts of others.  
So as you finish reading this and continue through your week, I want you to challenge yourself with these questions:
  1. Is there joy in my life?
  2. If so, what form does it take?
  3. (Here's the hard-hitter!) If I have joy, how have I been sharing it with others?