Sunday Night Live Sermons
THE CHANGES GOD MAKES
17th August 2003
Shane Warne has been in the news again, not for his spin bowling prowess, but because several women have complained accusing him of sexual harassment. To many people this is just Shane Warne being his natural self. One of his friends defending him, said that it was only Shane "doing what comes naturally" and is not a matter of public concern. It is a matter of public concern when members of the public are harassed. But it is obvious that acting naturally ends up by hurting many people, not just the other women, but his own wife specifically, the community in general and also God. I once terminated a middle-aged female employee for sending sexually explicit e-mails to men. These people do what comes naturally. They do not consider the rights of other people. They do not discipline themselves. They do what comes naturally, hurting themselves, people they love, society and God. We should not be surprised at this. We have had thousands of years of personal experiences all ending in the same morass. We have the witness of the Scriptures concerning the human condition which causes such sin.
1. THE HUMAN CONDITION.
From the Book of Ephesians, Paul describes what it is like for us to live naturally. If we are going to live naturally, we ought to face the reality of what that means. Christians are realists. So is God. He knows our situation when we live apart from Him. He knows the mess we are in, and in His love, mercy and grace, seeks us to come back to Himself. These verses describe perfectly the human condition, what we are like when we are apart from God:
"In the past you were spiritually dead because of your disobedience and sins. At that time you followed the world's evil way. You obeyed the ruler of the spiritual powers in space, the spirit who now controls the people who disobey God." Ephesians 2:1-2 All of us once lived according to our natural desires. We were destined to suffer God's anger. Just look at that human condition. We have an old saying: "Things are crook in Tallarook." Things are crook in Tallarook, but also in London and Beijing. Things are crook also in Vancouver and things are crook wherever people are because the human condition means that if ever you could find a perfect world, immediately you went into it you would mess it up. Albert Camus the famous 20th Century French writer said, "He who holds hope for the human condition is a fool." George Orwell in "1984" said, "The only good human is a dead human." Songs echo this sentiment:
"I've looked at life from both sides now,
From win and lose, and still somehow,
It's life's illusions I recall I really don't know life at all."
Paul puts it bluntly: "In the past you were spiritually dead because of your disobedience and sins." That is the natural condition of people away from God. Do you see why? Because disobedience is wilful antagonism against the way of God. You are spiritually dead either because of your spiritual rebellion or because of your personal failure, either by positive attack against God or by negative deflection from Him. You have rebelled against the Creator. Either way, you are spiritually dead. Notice the second thing about the human condition. You are not only spiritually dead, but you are morally enslaved.
Paul says v2-3 "At the time you followed the world's evil way. You obeyed the ruler of the spiritual powers in space, the spirit who now controls the people who disobey God. Actually all of us were like them and lived according to our natural desires, doing whatever suited the wishes of our own bodies and minds." That is why the decision to allow church leaders to live in immoral homosexual relationships is against what the Bible teaches. There is no way we can "live according to our natural desires, doing whatever suited the wishes of our own bodies and minds." The gay and lesbian community has elevated Oscar Wilde, who wrote "The Importance of Being Earnest" and "The Portrait of Dorian Gray." They have made him a folk hero because he was caught in a homosexual liaison, sentenced for breaking the law to two years jail on a charge of sodomy with a young man. While he was in jail he wrote a book entitled "De Profundis".
Gay and lesbian people laud him as a victim vilified by the community. But they have never read his book. If they did, they would read a different story. Oscar Wilde writes: "God gave me everything fame, fortune, friendships, family, but I let myself be lured into long spells of senseless and sensual ease. Tired of being at the heights I deliberately went to the depths to search for new sensations. I grew careless of the lives of others. I took my pleasure where it pleased me. I forgot that every action of every day makes or unmakes character, and therefore what one day is doing in your secret chamber will another day be told from the rooftops. I was no longer lord over myself. I was no longer captain of my own soul and I did not know it. I allowed pleasure to dominate me, and I ended in horrible disgrace."
That is the end of living according to natural desires: spiritually dead, morally enslaved. We are eternally condemned. Verse 3 finishes. "In our natural condition, we like everyone else, are destined to suffer God's anger." The just sentence for the sin we do is death. "For sin pays its wage - death." Outside of God, there is no other alternative except death.
2. THE DIVINE RESPONSE.
If Paul had ended here he would be the most miserable of realists. But he continues: "But God..." Those are the greatest turnaround words you will find anywhere in literature. For we can do all manner of evil "but God" does something else. God makes the difference. The picture comes out altogether different. We were people who were living in deep, dark caves, but God turned the cave into a tunnel and brought us out into light and life. Why does God do that? "But God's mercy is so abundant and His love is so great, that while we were spiritually dead in our disobedience, He brought us to life with Christ." Then follows three things God has done.
In each verse is a verb which in Greek starts with the letters "syn" meaning "together with". Three things God has done for us "together with Christ." Each is a divine response we do not deserve, but which changes our situation completely. He has brought us to life with Christ: "He brought us to life with Christ. It is by God's grace you have been saved." We no longer stay spiritually dead, for God has brought us to life with Christ. Further, He has raised us up with Him: "In our union with Christ Jesus, He raised us up with Him." No longer sunk like people in darkness, despair and disillusionment.
For He has raised us up. No longer as enslaved people, but as conquerors. And further, He has made us to rule with Him: "In our union with Christ, He raised us up with Him to rule with Him in the heavenly world." There is another tremendous insight, that together with Christ we rule with Him. We are no longer condemned. No longer enslaved. What a wonderful response by God to our human condition. We were dead but God has made us alive. We were morally enslaved, but Christ has raised us to freedom. We were condemned eternally, but God has redeemed us and brought us to rule with Christ, forgiven, all because of God's mercy, love and grace. That is the change God makes. From what we are in our normal habits and behaviour, God can change us. Christians are examples of God's grace.
3. HIS AMAZING GRACE.
We were spiritually dead, morally enslaved and eternally condemned. "But God" changed all that. He enabled us to be different, to be changed. God makes all the difference in your life because of His mercy, love and grace. "He did this to demonstrate for all time to come the extraordinary greatness of His grace in the love He showed us in Christ Jesus." You cannot look down on other people's sins because it has only been God's grace that has brought about the changes in your life. God has made you different from other people, but that is no reason for pride, because it is God's grace and love has made the difference. The remarkable thing about the church is that within it there are many people who have been apart from God because of a particular sin, but God by His grace has brought them back to Himself. He demonstrates in you the changes He will make to any life committed to Him.
4. OUR NEW LIFE.
What enables God to change us is our faith. "For it is by God's grace that you have been saved through faith." These changes from God starts "by God's grace". We become Christians not by our goodness, might, purity or by our trying. We become Christians by His grace. When John Bradford, one of the Puritan leaders in England, saw a group of convicts being led out to be executed, he made his famous statement, "But for the grace of God, there go I." Many of us could say the same. We are examples of His grace. We "have been saved," not by our effort, but "through faith". He has resurrected us from the dead, with Christ, even though once we were spiritually dead. He has released us from slavery even though once we were morally enslaved. He has rescued us from eternal condemnation because He has enabled us to live and to rule with Christ. "By God's grace you have been saved through faith." It is your faith that has made you a Christian.
It is through your faith that you are put right with God. It is through your faith that your sins are forgiven. It is by your faith that you are recreated and become a new person. God's grace does it, but it is your faith that appropriates it in your life. Paul makes is very clear: "It is not a result of your own efforts, but God's gift, so that no-one can boast about it." You do not become a Christian by trying harder, by living a good life. You contribute nothing to your salvation except the faith that appropriates it. It is God's free gift to you. God gives you a good life. God gives you forgiveness and the gift of eternity. You do not earn it, or buy it, and you do not merit it by anything you do. You just accept it and now live serving Him. For that is the end of our salvation.
5. WE HAVE BEEN CHANGED SO WE MAY SERVE.
Paul concludes: "God has made us what we are, and in our union with Christ Jesus He has created us for a life of good deeds, which He has already prepared for us to do." Once God has changed us into His people, we now serve others on His behalf. We do not live to pamper ourselves, but to give ourselves in serving others. This is a great truth: "God has made us what we are." Christians do not stand proud of the changes in our lives. They are solely the result of God's grace. It is not our good deeds that make us Christians. But being Christian makes us do good deeds. It is not our good deeds that enable us to be saved. But because we are saved, we live a life of good deeds. The good life is not found in doing good deeds, but the good life is expressed in doing good deeds. That is the whole end of being a Christian: to live the good life. The good life is expressed in deeds of goodness to other people.
It is not the reason for our salvation, but the result. The good life is not in seeking sacrifices to please youself. The good life is in making sacrifices to help others. Have you found the changed life? Have you become an example of God's grace? It does not matter what you used to be like, God can remake and mould you, wash and purify you, release and redeem you for His kingdom. You can be an example of His grace through your faith, because Jesus has made you right with God. All you need do is receive it to yourself by faith. Have you discovered the grace of God at work in your own life? Have you expressed faith in Christ before other people? If not, do it now! Make a public commitment to Jesus Christ by faith and allow God to change your life. Repent of your sin, rely upon His grace, and have faith.