Several weeks ago we began a series talking about the Mission. I must admit to you that as I look back over the past year of being a church I think that while we’ve seen some really cool things happen and while I’m very optimistic about where Cornerstone is headed, there are times when I simply feel a year older. Part of that I think comes from the simple fact that all of us in leadership are inexperienced at doing what we’re doing. All of us have at some time or another been in a leadership role of some sort in various churches. None of us, however, has ever taken the responsibility for the leadership of a church on this level.
So we approached this whole church planting thing with the appropriate excitement, but also with not a small amount of naiveté. I know that for my own part I was not entirely sure how to lead well. In that area I think that I am growing, but certainly have not yet arrived.
That being said, I think that we have a very clear mandate from Jesus to go into all the nations and preach the gospel, baptizing people into repentance and teaching them what it means to follow Jesus. When I began this series I spoke of the mission that God is on. We walked through the overarching narrative that ties all scripture together. The cool thing about the Bible is that although it was written by many different writers over thousands of years, there is one clear narrative that flows through it.
The Bible is God’s story of redemption. When starting in Genesis we see that God establishes quite early on the characters and the conflict in the story. The next 64 books deal with how God is working to restore all things, to reconcile all things, to make it all right again. God is working through the conflict to bring about a satisfactory resolution. In the book of Revelation we see the end result, that every tribe, every nation, every tongue would be represented before the throne of God in Heaven, that all followers of Jesus from every walk of life would be gathered before the Father in ceaseless praise. This is how the story ends. God’s desire is to draw all people to him. (2 Peter 3:9)
Then we moved into the person of Jesus. Jesus is incredible. Jesus changes everything. The fact that Jesus came to earth at all shows how desperate God is to restore the relationship between himself and humanity. John says that Jesus is in fact God, that God and Jesus are one, they are the same. And yet, Jesus is distinct. While being God, Jesus became a man. He lived a life that was not only sinless because we would need a perfect sacrifice, but is the example we have that shows us how we are to conduct our own lives. Dying on the cross he not only set us free from our sin, but he washed us so clean that the Holy Spirit, God’s own Spirit, a perfect, unique yet equal part of the God-head, could actually replace our spirits, that we might be able to be one with God even as Jesus, the Spirit, and the Father are one. (John 17)
Today I want us to work through what that means for us as a universal body of believers, as the “big C” Church, the Body of Christ.
If you have been saved, if you have given your life over to this person Jesus and told him “I will follow you,” then you are a part of the Church, this world-wide group of people who call themselves Christians. This means something important. This is not just a label that we put on ourselves and say “that’s me. I’m one of them.” This is, in fact, a statement about the way you will from that day forward choose to live your life. No longer will you associate yourself with the way you formerly did things. Instead you will embrace a new way of life, a new way of reasoning, and a new way of responding to life’s situations.
Far too often we think of Christians simply as people who are going to Heaven. While this is a true statement, there is much more to it. This past Thursday and Friday several of us had the privilege of attending the RightNow conference in Dallas. This is an event we’ve attended for several years now and has always been not only very encouraging, but also helpful in clarifying who we’re supposed to be as individuals and as the Church. This year the theme was about unleashing people to fulfill their God-ordained purpose.
I woke up Thursday morning early and had a hard time going back to sleep. I kept thinking of the scripture in 1 Peter 1:13-21. In this passage, Peter cautions the believers to be “sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” He then goes on to remind the disciples to be holy.
Holiness is one of those things that we tend to have a hard time with. Even as we read this passage I think we say to ourselves, “but we can’t really be holy like God is holy, can we?” What I want to talk about today for a bit is this concept of sanctification. Peter deals about this idea quite a bit in his two short letters. In 2 Peter 1:3-4 he says that God’s divine power has given us everything we need. We’ve been given everything we need not only to be able to deal with life, but to develop godliness. We’ve already been given everything we need. Going on he says that we’ve been granted his “precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature…”
We have been given God’s promises so that we may become partakers of the divine nature, that we might partner with God and share with him in his triune nature. This is remarkable. It can’t be overstated enough. If we look back at John 17, Jesus’ prayer in the garden, we get a glimpse of what we have to look forward to. Jesus prays that we may be one even as he is one with the Father and the Spirit. We are partakers of the divine nature. So for Peter to exhort us to be holy as God is holy is not only possible, but necessary. Without holiness, we have no chance at intimacy with the Father.
But there remains a problem. On our own we can’t make ourselves better at all. Paul says that our righteousness is as filthy rags. I think it’s easy for us to understand that when we mess up, God is not pleased. What we struggle with, however, is that on days when we do everything right we still don’t measure up. Our righteousness, the best things we do, if we don’t also have the saving work of the sacrifice of Jesus, still leaves us condemned before the Father.
So what option remains for us? This is the process of sanctification, being made holy by God. Every situation, every circumstance is used by God to make us more holy. Every opportunity we have and every failure we endure will be used by God to shape us into his image. We are being shaped into God’s image. He is making us more and more like him. You see, sometimes we underemphasize the seriousness of our sin. It seems that often we treat God’s patience with us and love for us as his acceptance that we will fail and he’s ok with it. We tell ourselves even that God tolerates our sin because he loves us so much.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. Just because we are saved doesn’t mean that God tolerates the sin in our lives. On the contrary, salvation brings about a cleansing we have never before encountered. You see, God accepts us where we are, but refuses to leave us that way. God is serious about sin and is violent in his pursuit of its eradication. God’s grace and mercy does not make sin ok. So from the moment we enter into God’s salvation through Jesus, he begins the long and painful process of making us more and more like him.
So what does this have to do with the Church? Why does it matter when it comes to the mission of God?
Part of sanctification, part of being made like God is that we begin to develop God-characteristics and we do God-things. Since God is on a mission designed to redeem all people and reconcile all things to himself, we become the hands and feet of the mission. We are the agents that God left on earth to fulfill his purposes. We are the ones who have been called according to those purposes. Because of all of this, there seems to be a certain way that we are to behave. We’ve already said that Jesus called us to make disciples of all nations. Peter says that we have bet set apart, that we are a royal priesthood and a holy nation, in order that we might proclaim the excellence of God.
I want to illustrate something about God in this passage. Take note of the 1st verse. Luke says that when the day of Pentecost arrived “they were all together in one place.” These were the disciples. They were gathered in a room. Why? They were waiting for something to happen. Jesus had told them in Acts 1:8 that when the Holy Spirit came upon them they would receive power. So they were waiting. They had no idea what the power would look like. They didn’t know how it would manifest. They didn’t know what would happen. They just knew that Jesus had told them they would receive power. So they waited.
The other time in scripture we see the disciples gathered together in one place, they were in an upper room hiding behind locked doors because Jesus had just been crucified. They were afraid. It stands to reason that perhaps there was a bit of fear in this room. Though they knew Jesus was no longer dead, he still wasn’t with them. It’s possible that they were afraid.
But then something unbelievable happened. Verses 2-4 says, “…there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” The Holy Spirit filled the believers and God’s power showed through them in an incredible way. They spoke in languages they did not know. Why? God used these men to glorify himself. There were many people gathered because of the feast of Pentecost and they were from many different lands. They were all able to hear the gospel presented in their own language. They were all able to hear about the truth of God’s love and mercy.
When God’s Spirit fills someone he begins to use that person to draw others to himself. This is the mission of God. His desire is that all would come to know him, that everyone would inherit eternal life. We get to be a part of this mission. As God’s church, we get to be a part of the reconciliatory nature of God. Paul even calls this the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:16-21). God uses our transformed lives to bring about change in other people. The Church has been set apart, has been established as an embassy of the Kingdom of God in order to bring the Kingdom of God to earth.
So here we are: the people of God called out to deliver the message of God to the people of earth, to establish a foot-hold on earth from which the Kingdom of God can go forth, called to preach the good news of Jesus’ salvation to a people that are desperate for a savior. Here we are. We are a part of the Church, the collective body of Christians world-wide who have been tasked with taking the gospel to every tribe, every nation, and every tongue. Here we are.
Let’s make this a little more practical, a bit more specific. Next week we’re going to go even deeper into this, but for the moment let’s just look at our context. God, in his divine wisdom has placed us in Northeast Texas. Yes, we are a part of the universal church, but we are also here in this place, at this time. How does this relate to us? How does this relate to sanctification?
This past week we heard a pastor named Eric Mason from Philadelphia make a statement that absolutely floored me. While I understood it to be true, the fact that he said what he said was epoch-making for me. He said this: “God does not change context without changed people.” God will not change this city, this region, this state, this country, unless we are changed and changing people. If the Gospel has not transformed and is not transforming you, you will never be prepared for the kind of missional living that will be transformative to the culture around you.
Sanctification is vital! Holiness is important! God cannot use you unless you are becoming more like him. Why? Because you can’t do anything to change anyone. You are an agent of change, not the one who brings change. Only the blood of Jesus can change a person, and only the sanctifying work of God can continually grow us. The more like Christ you become, the more you reflect the glory of God, the more God can use you to effect change in the culture around you.
We have been placed in this area in this time frame because God wants to use us to bring about a change: a change in Kilgore, a change in Northeast Texas, and a change in our state, not to mention our country and the whole world. But in order to bring about change in Kilgore, we have to start with our own hearts. We have to look at ourselves and ask whether we are living lives that point to Christ or if we’re living lives that point to our own desires. We are Christians. We are people who claim Christ. We are the Church, the body of Christ, without Jesus, we’re just a gathering of people.
I want you to be unleashed for the Gospel. I want your life to be radically different from the majority of people around you. On Thursday morning I went to a session about clarity in vision, being able to clearly define what it is that you want people to do. While there was excellent information in that session and while I will be working through my notes and trying to every week develop more clarity in my preaching, I think that Jesus gave us our vision.
When asked what the Greatest Commandment was Jesus gave a simple response: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” It seems rather clear through this that Jesus wants us to love God and love people. It seems that if we make this our goal, perhaps God will do something incredible in our midst.
Our problem isn’t a lack of information. God didn’t hide any mysteries in the Bible. I think he wants us to understand the Bible. Our problem isn’t that we don’t have the information, it’s that we don’t know the information we’ve been given. We don’t take the time to study it. I think there’s a simple reason why, too. We know that if we do read it, if we do study it, we’ll feel guilty if we don’t do what it says. But that’s the key, isn’t it? We’re supposed to do what the Bible says.
Our problem isn’t a lack of information; it’s a lack of obedience. We have this mission that we’re on. We have this life we’ve been called to lead. It is a life that is set apart. Peter said we are a royal priesthood and a holy nation. We’ve been established for a purpose, to proclaim the name of Jesus, to make his name great. We know this is the mission, but we don’t really have the time. We know we’re supposed to live changed lives, but nobody really likes change. We know God wants to make us more like him but we’re enough like him the way we are now. We know that we’re supposed to be Kingdom-citizens proclaiming a Kingdom-life, but other things get in the way.
1 Peter 1:13-16
Be holy. God has set us apart as the Church to make his name great. Be holy, because we serve a holy God.