This past Sunday we talked about what it means to be a follower of Christ by slowly unpacking Matthew 16:24-25 which reads:
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”
In this passage we focused on words like “desires” and “deny himself” and “take up his cross” in order to try to know exactly what following Jesus actually meant for His disciples then, and what it means for us today. We then spent some time in Matthew 10 going over the costs of following Jesus and the one specific aspect of discipleship He emphasized. And that, unfortunately for many in the church today, is evangelism.
I don’t know about you, but one of my biggest regrets as a Christian is the fact my prayer life is not what I know it could be. Statements like “pray without ceasing” (1 Tim. 5:17) have often led to guilt and self-condemnation because of my lack of doing just that. But my biggest blind spot as a Believer is probably my lack of witnessing or evangelism. In fact, almost everyone that I talk to wishes they had led more people to Christ. Do you feel the same?
The Scary World of Evangelism
Then we are faced with what Jesus said in Matthew 10:27 and the verses that follow. He said, “Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops.” Ouch. This is a clear command from our Lord to tell others about Him or to practice evangelism. Even though we may claim, “Hey, that’s not my gift!” — Paul told Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5) even though Timothy may not have been called to be an evangelist. Timothy’s calling may have been to be a pastor or a teacher (Eph. 4:11), but Paul said in spite of his innate limitations, he was to perform the function of an evangelist to fulfill his ministry to the Lord. After all, God gave each of us the Holy Spirit in order to change us from who we think we are into what He knows we can be. And that also applies to our fear of telling others about Him.
The verse we are using to focus our prayer today is Ephesians 3:1-2, which reads:
For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles— if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you – Ephesians 3:1-2.
And the word we want to focus on is, heard. Think about that for a moment.
To hear something is to be on the receiving end of a “giving and receiving” transaction. Someone must proclaim a message in order for someone else to hear that message. There’s both a pitching and a catching, to use a baseball analogy. In this passage, Paul is speaking to the Gentiles who “have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to Paul for them” which means, by definition, someone must have spoken that truth in order for them to have “heard” the same truth. Someone must have gone out of their way, taken an interest in their lives, possibly suffered, as a Jew, some sort of societal sanction for talking to an unclean Gentile in order to tell them about the grace of God.
We see in the book of Romans, right after it says “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10:13), there is a clear sequence in evangelism that demands a verbal proclamation of His truth. It follows, “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Rom. 10:14). Did you catch the second sentence in this verse and the pointed question it asks of each follower of Christ? How shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And who is to tell them about Jesus? Not just the hired holy man. Not just the paid professional. Not just the pastor, preacher or priest. No, the command is to each of us to “Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops” (Matt. 10:27).
For me, since we are just a few days away from the end of a decade and the beginning of a new year, and since this is the customary accepted time for making resolutions, I can’t think of a better time to commit to the Lord that we can be counted among the ones who proudly proclaim His message so others can be blessed to hear. Which means, as uncomfortable as it may seem, we will commit to Him to open our mouths and actually be bold and overt when it comes to telling others about the love we have in Christ. This is not designed to bring guilt, but to help us fulfill the Great Commission and become faithful followers of Him.
The problem with much of the church today, and maybe even with you and me, is our love for Christ is not to the point where it naturally bubbles to the surface and we are irresistibly compelled to talk about Jesus. Maybe that’s because our relationship with Him is at arm’s length, more stoic than passionate. Or maybe it’s more like a work associate than an intimate family relationship with someone we love. And if so, that needs to change.
The truth is, what we love, what’s in our heart, what is the center of our being, what brings us passion and love and joy, whatever that may be, we will naturally speak about. We can’t help it. It just bubbles to the top of every conversation. Evangelism should be the same way. It’s not to be something based on duty, it should be something that springs forth from love.
Time to Pray
As we begin praying today, ask yourself how many people have heard about the love of Christ from your lips. If that number is embarrassing or shameful, or something you’re not satisfied with, now is the time to ask the Holy Spirit to create in you a hunger to tell people about Him. Jesus prayed for you regarding that very desire. He said, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Matt. 9:37-38). You and I can pray the same. Right now. Today. We can ask Him to help us become His laborers to bring in those He has chosen for harvest. And in doing so, we can bring glory to His name and do what a true follower of Jesus is called to do.
Pray this along with me and let’s see what amazing things our Lord can do in our lives and in the lives of others in the days to come.
We have looked at what it takes to become a Faith Prepper over the last few weeks. We did this by learning to pray at all times by letting the Holy Spirit, through God’s Word, direct your prayers. And we also spent some time learning how to trust at all times by allowing your faith to grow by having it exercised in often unpleasant situations. But even with all of this, we still are plagued with a few questions.
How do we go from talking about faith to living by faith?
How do we learn to trust the Lord in all things?
How do we know and understand His will?
What are the practical steps we need to take to surrender our all to Him?
And how can we go about doing just that?
The answer, according to Scripture, is found in the single word, surrender. It means “to yield, give up or over, submit, abandon, relinquish, cede, waive, or capitulate. From the Christian perspective, it means to relinquish ownership of what we consider ours: our property, rights, time, decisions, future, independence, basically our life.
Surrender, like most things, is a choice.
The classic passage on total surrender is found in Galatians 2:20. It reads: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
But there is so much more.
Everybody Serves Somebody
In order to surrender our life to the Lord, we must first recognize we are created as a triune being. We consist of three parts: mind, body, and will. Total surrender comes when we purposely and with intention surrender all parts of ourselves to Him.
First, we must surrender our mind.
For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every (what) thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ – 2 Corinthians 10:4-5.
Next, we must surrender our body to the Lord. And then finally, we must surrender our will to the Lord.
Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” – Luke 9:23-24. Note both “desire” and “deny himself, and take up his cross daily”. This speaks of both the surrender of the will and the body or flesh.
Remember, you are not filled with the Holy Spirit because you desire to be filled nor because you confess your sins or present your body a living sacrifice— you are filled by faith. So it is with a surrender to the Lord. If we are willing but find your flesh weak, God is strong and will complete what you are unable to do. What God is initially looking for is your willingness to be all His. It all begins with desire.
One final note, if you believe God is good and He is sovereign, can you give me one reason not to fully submit and surrender yourself to Him?
Me neither. Other than pride. And that’s not a good thing.
So where are you in your journey to surrender your life to the Lord? Have you surrendered yourself and left your life in His hands? Or have you, like many today, surrendered one moment and then snatched it out of His hands the next? Are you tired of the endless struggle and sense of failure? If so, then keep listening.
The following is a study on How to Surrender Your Life to the Lord.
To download the slides to this message, click – HERE
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The following is from Robertson McQuilkin in the book, Five Views of Sanctification. This was written as a defense of the Keswick view of sanctification and I find his words incredibly enlightening. In fact, I read this as the opening statement before my sermon on How to Surrender Your Life to the Lord that I preached this past Sunday.
I hope it proves to be a blessing to you.
Average is Not Normal
Average is not necessarily normal. For example, the average temperature of patients in a hospital may be 100 degrees, but such a temperature is not normal. The average score for a group of friends on the golf course may be 85 for the day, but par may be only 72. So it is with the Christian life. The average experience of church members is far different from New Testament norms for the Christian life.
The normal Christian is characterized by loving responses to ingratitude and indifference, even hostility, and is filled with joy in the midst of unhappy circumstances and with peace when everything goes wrong. The normal Christian overcomes in the battle with temptation, consistently obeys the laws of God, and grows in self-control, contentment, humility, and courage. Thought processes are so under the control of the Holy Spirit and instructed by Scripture that the normal Christian authentically reflects the attitudes and behavior of Jesus Christ. God has first place in life, and the welfare of others takes precedence over personal desires. The normal Christian has power not only for godly living but for effective service in the church. Above all, he or she has the joy of constant companionship with the Lord.
But what is the average Christian experience? Church members typically think and behave very much like morally upright non-Christians. They are decent enough, but there is nothing supernatural about them. Their behavior is quite explainable in terms of heredity, early environment, and present circumstances. They yield to temptation more often than not, lusting when their body demands it, coveting what they do not have, and taking credit for their accomplishments. The touchstone for their choices is self-interest, and though they have a love for God and others, it does not control their life. There is little change for the better; in fact, most church members do not expect much improvement and are little concerned by that prospect. Scripture is not exciting, prayer is perfunctory, and service in the church demonstrates little touch of the supernatural. Above all, their life seems to have an empty core, for it does not center around a constant, personal companionship with the Lord.
Remember these truths as you go to worship this Sunday. And, for the honor of Christ, please be different than you have in the past. After all, as the mantra goes, “If things are going to change, you’ve got to change.”
So change and let’s leave Laodicea behind.
Today, before we pray, we will look at some qualifiers in this passage and elsewhere in Scripture. What do I mean by qualifies? They are simply statements in the Word of God designed to let the reader know the promise is not meant for everyone. It is a blanket divider that separates those who are predestined to hear and understand, and those who are not. Let me show you how this plays out in Ephesians 3:1-2, which reads:
For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles— if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you – Ephesians 3:1-2.
Paul begins by describing himself as “the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles” and then goes on to divide the Gentiles into two camps (Eph. 3:1). One, those who “have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you” (Eph. 3:2). And two, those who have not heard. Or, by implication, have not heard and believed. So Paul is saying the “dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you” only means the Gentiles who have heard of this or have had their spirits quickened to the truth. It is a truth proclaimed for everyone, but applied to only some. Just like salvation and so many other aspects of the Christian faith.
Not Everything is for Everybody
Consider the following examples:
Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them (My sheep) eternal life, and they (My sheep) shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them (My sheep) out of My hand” (John 10:27-28). Note the qualifier. Not all sheep belong to Jesus and not all sheep hear His voice. Only His sheep hear His voice and are given the promise of eternal life and eternal security. All created sheep, in this case, humanity, is divided into two categories: Those that are His and those that are not. And all the promises of eternal life are reserved to only one category— those that belong to Him.
When speaking about the coming of the Holy Spirit, Jesus divided those following Him into two categories: Those who love Him and keep His commands, and those who don’t. He said, “If you love Me, (then) keep My commandments. And (the result of loving and obeying Him) I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:15-17). Of those to whom Jesus spoke these words, some received the promise and some did not. Why? Because of the qualifier, the requirement that must be met. Some of those who heard this statement loved the Lord and obeyed His commands and received the promise of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). And some, who did not love Him but were there for some other reason, did not receive the promise. It was not universally applied to everyone. There were conditions that had to be met.
Then again, in His seven letters written to the seven churches in Asia Minor Jesus once divided those following Him, by the use of a qualifier, into two categories by using the phrase “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches (Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). In other words, some will understand the true impact of His message, and some will not. These statements were spoken to everyone but did not apply to everyone. Some heard and embraced “what the Spirit says to the churches” and some did not. The message proclaimed to everyone was, obviously, only meant for a few. Just like the “narrow gate” and “wide road” that leads to either eternal life or destruction (Matt. 7:13-14). People are divided into two categories. Always. Those who approach Christ on His terms, and everyone else. It is just the way it is.
Time to Pray
But for us, we have been chosen in Him before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). We have been granted the supreme privilege of being called sons of God and heirs with Christ and of being able to cry out “Abba, Father” to the Creator of All (Rom. 8:15-17). And we are not of those who consider the message of the cross foolishness or moronic. For us, it is the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:18).
So when you pray today, remember what you have already been given. Remember who you are and what price your Father paid for your redemption. Remember, no matter what the world may say about you and your failures, shortcomings, or sins, you have been predestined, chosen beforehand in Him, to “adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself” (Eph. 1:5). And finally, remember you were chosen by Him simply because He wanted you. Or, as Ephesians 1:5 states, “according to the good pleasure of His will.”
Now, armed with a boatload of things to be thankful for, spend some time with Him in prayer focusing on these very verses. And enjoy Him today.
Yesterday we were introduced to the Greek word “mystery” mustḗrion and how its use in the New Testament is different than what it means in contemporary English. For us today, mystery means something not known or unknowable. But in the Greek, where it is used in these passages, it means something that is known or knowable but not to everyone. It is knowledge or truth that is known only to those who it was meant to be revealed. Not to everyone, but to the elect.
But there is more we can learn about this mystery.
When Paul speaks of both Jews and Gentiles being created into one new people, the church, he is revealing something given to him “by revelation” (Eph. 3:3) that will allow us to understand his “knowledge in the mystery of Christ” (Eph. 3:4). And this revealed knowledge has been, in other ages, hidden from “the sons of men” but is now “revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets” (Eph. 3:5) and, as such, it is now being communicated to us.
What is this incredible mystery? You got it. That “the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel” (Eph. 3:6).
Let’s look at the first promise: fellow heirs. Being a “fellow heir” means the Gentiles are now heirs with Israel and equal beneficiaries of all of God’s blessings a person receives, and will receive, in salvation. There is no longer any distinction in the eyes of God. Both groups, Jews and Gentiles, are now melded into one body by the new birth and “fellow heirs” of all that God has for His children. Can you imagine what that must be?
And again, since most of us are Gentiles, this mystery is the key to unlock our “acceptance in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:6). And now, since it has been revealed to us, it should bring us to our knees in praise to our Father who planned our reconciliation from the beginning.
One more point before we go to the Lord in prayer. In the Old Testament, there were many clues to this mystery. We see one in God’s promise given to Abraham in Genesis 12:3 where God says, “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” The phrase “all the families of the earth” would naturally include both Jews and Gentiles. But for centuries the Jews believed this could only be accomplished by Gentiles first becoming Jewish proselytes. In other words, a Gentile could approach God, but only after first becoming a Jew. This led to arrogance and a perceived Jewish monopoly on God’s grace. But that wasn’t God’s plan. He had something much better, a mystery to them but now a truth revealed to us.
Time to Pray
It addition to thanking God for allowing you, as a Gentile, into His Kingdom with full standing as a son, you might also want to think about other mysteries of His character He wants to reveal to you. God’s wisdom is inexhaustible and I personally believe one of our greatest joys will be spending much of eternity learning more about Him. Are there things about God you don’t know? Are they a mystery to you? If so, that means these mysteries are knowable and known to those He chooses to reveal them. And that person, according to Scripture, is you.
Remember, the only difference between the intimacy we have with the Lord compared with the spiritual lives of Paul, James and John, Peter, or even Billy Graham, is the time we spend with the Lord compared to the time they spent with Him. Nothing more. God does not show partiality and He does not like one of His children more than another (Acts 10:34). So the only thing holding us back from the relationship with God we always thought possible, but just seemed out of reach, is the time we spend with Him. And that is something that can change. Right now. Today.
This Sunday morning we will be looking at what it means to surrender your life to the Lord. But, more than just trying to understand what the concept of total surrender means, we will ask the “how” questions in order to learn specifically how to submit and surrender and receive the promise such actions hold. We will take a step-by-step approach to this all-important subject and, hopefully, learn some tools we can apply to other promises in the Scriptures.
I am looking forward to seeing you tomorrow.