SermonsDiscover the Joy of Leaving Laodicea Behind
Jesus chastised the religious elite of His day for their confidence in predicting things like the weather, but not being able to discern the signs of the times. In fact, He called them hypocrites. Remember? “When it is evening you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red’; and in the morning, ‘It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times” – Matthew 16:2-3. I wonder if He would say the same about His church today? After all, it appears we all seem to know everything about everything. Just ask us.
It seems we resemble those that Isaiah was called to address.
Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and prudent in their own sight – Isaiah 5:20-21.
But there is one prophetic statement of Jesus regarding the times before us that is hard for many, including me, to understand. That is until today. Jesus said “because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold” (Matt. 24:12). Got that. He also promised that “a man’s enemies will be those of his own household” (Matt. 10:36). How is that possible? How can our love for our spouse or children grow so cold we will treat them as enemies to the extent of hatred and betrayal? (Matt. 24:10). How can that be true? What sort of perverted human would turn on his own family for the sake of himself? What kind of depraved mind or personality disorder would produce sociopaths with a love this cold?
In a word, it’s called narcissism. And it is the ultimate end-time personality disorder.
One of the vital truths regarding our desire to follow Christ is to fully understand our union with Him. After all, we are invited to become one with Him and are described in Scripture as being “in Christ.” In Romans 8 we are called “children of God” that are “adopted” into His family and are now “joint heirs with Christ.” Romans 6 tells us our old man has died and Christ now lives in us in the Presence of the Holy Spirit. But do we really understand the implication of what this means?
Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology, states “Union with Christ is a phrase that summarizes several different relationships between believers and Christ, through which Christians receive every benefit
of salvation. These relationships include the fact that (1) we are in Christ, (2) Christ is in us, (3) we are like Christ, and (4) we are with Christ.” Ok, I’ve got that. But is there more to this union with Christ than dry theology? Can I really experience union with Him? And, if so, how is that done? What do I have to do to experience the fullness of my union, my relationship, with Christ?
Great questions. And the simple answer is, “Yes, you can know the wonder of our union with Him.” And the wonder of it comes with the invitation of Christ to be joined with Him.
Consider the following invitation found in Matthew 11:28. It is a familiar passage:
“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Now, let’s see what it means by defining a few terms.
“Come to Me, all you who labor (to be worn out, fatigued, faint, weary) and are heavy laden (to overload, heavily burdened, like with the freight of a ship), and I will give you rest (to cease from labor, to refresh, relax, loosen, to be at peace or rest).”
Do you see the trust relationship implied in this invitation? Do you see Christ’s invitation to let Him carry your troubles and you rest in Him? To be united in Him?
Many of us struggle with this and ask how is that accomplished? How can I truly experience rest in Him? Is it just a mental thing? Or is it some sort of resolution I make and then fail at when things get uncertain or tough? Is it a mantra I go over and over again in my mind, like “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can”? Or is it something else?
Oh, it is definitely something else. Let’s look at the second invitation.
How does one receive the Holy Spirit? Simple. As Peter said in Acts 2:38-39, you “repent” and “believe.” Which just happens to be the same requirements for salvation. After all, the guarantee of our inheritance in Him is the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14). This is a truth most Christians know and understand. No Holy Spirit, no salvation. It’s as simple as that.
But how does one experience the fullness of the Holy Spirit? How do we find our joy in Him? Or, how do we experience the “unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8) as a daily, living reality? How is that possible?
Consider the following:
Every believer has received the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is only received by repentance and faith in Jesus at salvation.
There is a fullness of the Holy Spirit that is usually greater than what is experienced at conversion. Your own experience confirms this truth.
As there are certain conditions for receiving the Holy Spirit, there are also certain conditions for experiencing the fullness of the Spirit.
They are primarily found in Romans 6 and 12.
Let’s dig a bit deeper, shall we?
When Jesus began His earthly ministry, His initial message was the same as John the Baptist. He said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17). And throughout the next three years, one underlying theme in His teaching was about life in His Kingdom. When Jesus sent out His disciples to preach His message, He said, “As you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand’ ” (Matt. 8:11). Jesus even told those close to Him why He spoke to the crowds in parables. And His answer had to do with concealing from some the knowledge of the kingdom of heaven. He said, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” (Matt. 13:11).
Finally, He shared parables specifically pointed to revealing what the kingdom of heaven, His Kingdom, was like. He said it was like a “man who sowed good seed in his field” (Matt. 13:24). Or, it was like a “mustard seed” which, being small, grew into a tree “so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches” (Matt. 13:31). Jesus likened His Kingdom to “leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened” (Matt. 13:33). And to express how wonderful His Kingdom is for those who possess it, He said it was like a “treasure hidden in a field” (Matt. 13:44) or a “pearl of great price” (Matt. 13:46) that was worth all one had on earth.
Jesus then asked His disciples, “Have you understood all these things?” They said to Him, “Yes, Lord” (Matt. 13:51).
I wonder what our answer would be today? Do we understand His Kingdom? Do we fully know what it means to follow Him? Can we honestly say we are proficient in following Jesus?
I’m not so sure. And maybe you aren’t either.
When Jesus instructed His disciples, and the others, about what it meant to follow Him in Matthew 16:24-25, He spoke of “desire to come after me” and then “let him deny himself.” We looked at desire in our last message, and now we will turn our focus to what He meant by “deny himself.” Note the requirement and sequence in the verse below. First, there must be desire (“if anyone desires to come after Me”). Then, a denial and the corresponding action showing the commitment to deny himself (“take up his cross”). And finally, the invitation to “follow Me.” Jesus shows surrendering to Him must follow in this order. In essence, first meet the conditions, and then come “follow Me.”
Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” – Matthew 16:24-25.
The word deny (aparnéomai) when followed by the pronoun heautón (oneself, himself) means “to deny oneself, or to disown and renounce self and to subjugate all works, interests, benefits, and enjoyments to another.” The word is also translated “to speak against, contradict, to avoid, reject, nullify, to stand firm against, resist, oppose.”
When Jesus said we must “deny” ourselves, the impact of our denial affects all areas of our life.
On any given Sunday, if a pastor asks by a show of hands how many in the congregation consider themselves followers of Christ, most would raise their hands. But if he followed up that question with: “And how many of you know what it means to be a follower of Jesus today?” – the number of raised hands would drop considerably. Maybe even to none. Why? Because our view today of following Jesus is a far cry from what it meant in the time of Jesus. Think about it for a moment. Today, following Jesus means agreeing to a set of doctrinal facts, going to church regularly, tithing, volunteering for some service ministry, adhering to a moral code, and reading and praying as often as we can. But in the New Testament, following Jesus meant something quite different.
Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24). Note the components of His invitation. First, it begins with a conditional clause, if, like a classic if / then statement. “If you desire to come after Me, then these are the conditions.” Next, we have self-denial or self-subjugation to God. “If you desire to come after Me, the first condition is to deny yourself.” And finally, we are now privy to the degree to which self-denial must take place. “If you desire to come after Me, the first condition is to deny yourself even to the point of death, and a horrific death at that.” And only then does Jesus say, “and follow Me.” First, meet the conditions, and then “follow Me.”
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.
We have previously looked at how to pray at all times and in all circumstances by letting the Holy Spirit, through God’s Word, direct our prayers. But next on the Faith Prepper list of required spiritual skills is learning how to trust Him at all times by allowing our faith to grow by having it exercised in often unpleasant circumstances. After all, faith grows when it is tested. And testing is usually unpleasant during the process but wonderful at the end.
The Greek word translated “faith” in the New Testament is pístis and means: “to win over, to persuade. Subjectively it means firm persuasion, conviction, belief in the truth” This definition is used over 250 times in the New Testament alone. Everything in the Spirit is based on faith and everything of faith is designed by God to bypass the senses. Everything.
In addition to this, all faith is not justified by merely having it. But all faith is justified by the action it produces. In other words, faith by itself is worth little. But faith, accompanied by actions or works based on that faith is alive and real. This is exactly what James was trying to tell us in James 2:14-26. Read it for yourself.
One of the attributes of becoming a Faith Prepper is learning how to trust God as His Word. I know many of us will say that we do. When pressed, almost al believers will state the mantra, “I believe everything God says, start to finish, from Genesis to Revelation.” After all, that’s the expected answer. To say anything less would make us seem like a lukewarm believer.
But the truth is, most believers, maybe ever you, don’t truly take God’s Word as the final authority in your life. How can I say that? Because God’s Word speaks to just about every issue we face today yet the church seems to be divided up into various opinions that differ greatly from one another. If God’s Word doesn’t change and is always true, how can that be? If God’s Word says something is wrong, for example, how can any believer who claims God’s Word as the final authority in their life, have a different opinion than what the Word says? It seems inconsistent, doesn’t it? Hypocritical.
As the adage goes, the Scriptures are true about everything it teaches. And it teaches about everything.
To test whether God’s Word molds your opinions or whether your opinions are determined independent of God’s Word, I have listed a number of controversial issues below. What is your opinion on these? And whatever your opinion is, does it line up with the Word of God? If it doesn’t, who is wrong, and what are you prepared to do about it?
When we look at the content of the prayers of the early church we are amazed they didn’t pray like much of the church does today— for the little answerable “fix”. Instead, they prayed for Kingdom matters, what we call Kingdom Prayers. Let me explain.
A “little answerable” is a prayer for a little “fix” that is often related to our sense of entitlement from God. These can be called horizontal prayers. We lose our job so we pray for a new one. A loved one is sick, so we pray for their healing. We don’t have enough money to make it through the end of the month, so we pray to win the lottery. And on the surface, these seem like proper, loving, spiritual prayers. But that’s not how the early church prayed.
A Kingdom prayer, on the other hand, is praying for something that has lasting value and importance in the Kingdom of God. For example, look at the following prayers and note what they are asking for (and what they are not): Ephesians 1:15-23; 3:14-19, Romans 15:5-6, 13, Philippians 1:9-11, Philemon 1:4-6.