Allen Jackson - A Mental Battle - Part 2
Hey, we're continuing our study. It was taken from 1 Peter. He said, "Do not be surprised at the painful trials that you go through". Well, maybe he's not surprised, but I'm still surprised. You know, I don't think I deserve 'em. I know I don't want them. I want everything to be easy. And I'm a Christ follower, after all. I'm a professional Christian. I go to church a lot, and life's still a struggle, and things aren't always fair, and unwanted things intrude on my life. So how do I process that? Well, it begins within me. And I think that's the invitation that Peter was giving us, and it's certainly our topic in this session.
How do we grow up in how we think about our lives? If we don't, if we hold a biblically immature position, it keeps us from becoming the people God has asked us to be. So I wanna invite you to begin to let the Holy Spirit help you unpack your current circumstance. Are we holding any ideas that limit what God could or would do in our lives? Are we holding emotions that aren't helpful? They may be real and the thing that caused that may be legitimate, but sometimes we hold destructive emotions or destructive ideas. Well, the Spirit of God is present to help us. We're gonna open our Bibles. Let me encourage you to open your heart. Maybe you wanna take a few notes. Most of all, let's get ready to say to the Lord, "I wanna follow you, even if it means I have to change my mind". Enjoy.
But the Christians in those early centuries said, "We're gonna stay with the whole Word, even if it's difficult to understand and even if we have to wrestle with some of the ideas that are in it. We're not gonna edit or censor the Bible to align more easily with what we think or understand". The battle was won in those early centuries, and we still have our Bible. If they hadn't won, we wouldn't have the text today. I'm not talking about King James versus NIV or New American Standard or whatever your preference is. I'm talking about the body of the text. What are we doing? Do we treat it as if it's important or valuable? Do we want the Bible to be conformed to the prevailing ideas of the day? Do we want to make it gender neutral? Do we want to blur the lines? It's very common.
There was another challenge they faced. It's called Gnosticism, from the Greek word "gnosis". It means to know. And it was a tremendous struggle, a greater struggle than the one that Marcy had introduced. Agnostics, still a word we use today, agnostics say they don't know if there is a God. Well, the Gnostics said the opposite. They said, "We know". In fact, they said, "We have a secret knowledge that most of you don't have". Again, a battle within the confines of the Christian community, not a secular battle. The Greek intellectualism, the secular culture, widely embraced gnosticism. In fact, they criticized Christianity. It was a mixture of thought that went into this. Some came from Egypt, some from Persia, maybe even some from India, but basically the idea was that spiritual things are good and physical things are bad.
You want to attach more significance to spiritual than you do physical. And it led to some very disruptive ideas within the Christian church. The Christian church was influenced by the prevailing thought of the broader culture. So if physical things are bad, then matter is a kind of a technical word. Matter is anything that occupies space and has weight. It's physical. If matter is bad, then God couldn't have created it. And if matter is evil, Jesus would never have taken a body of flesh. So the teaching proliferating in the church was that Jesus only appeared to have been in a body, that he never got hungry, he never got tired, he wasn't subjected to the things that you and I are subjected to. Expanded idea means that Jesus couldn't have died on a cross or been resurrected from the dead. It required the greatest minds and the greatest hearts of the church to put themselves on the front line to turn back that idea.
Now, some of this you know. Maybe you just weren't aware of it. The Apostle John addressed it in his gospel in the first epistle. John 1 and verse 14, John said, "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory and the glory of the one and only who came from the Father, full of grace and truth". In his first epistle, 1 John 1 and verse 1, John, he wrote, "This which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at, which our hands have touched, this we proclaim concerning the Word of life". John was pushing back against, refuting this idea that had infected the church. This notion that the church shouldn't talk about current thought and current events ignores the principles of Scripture.
We desperately need a God perspective on what's happening in our world. And this challenge is alive and well on planet earth today. It took about 150 years for the church to win this battle. It was not a weekend seminar. A hundred and fifty years. Would you give yourself to standing for the truth, for the faith of God, for advocating for Jesus and not see the victory in your lifetime and imagine that you weren't defeated? We have been so shortsighted. Again, I started by saying we've become absorbed in selfishness, comfort, and convenience. That's all about the moment. What's in it for me right now? Well, I don't like where I had to park, or I don't like the seat I had to sit in, or I didn't like the music.
Really, have we really devolved to that point in our worship of the King of kings and the Lord of lords? We can't stay there and be the church. We need to be in the world. There are other people who contributed. Obviously Tertullian from Carthage in North Africa, he wrote against Gnosticism. Clement and Origen, they lived in Alexandria. You know another battle that emerged wasn't about, it wasn't about our faith, wasn't about Jesus, but it was what was said about Christians. And there was a horrific set of things said about Christians in antiquity. They were broadly accused of being cannibalistic. They took the notion of the Lord's supper and they turned it back on us. They no doubt heard Jesus said, "Unless you eat my body and drink my blood".
And so the rumors started and it had tremendous traction and influence. It made it a sacrifice to publicly identify with Christians. Christians were accused of having sexual orgies that were beyond the pale, and to be beyond the pale in the Roman world, that was something. You can make a list of things that are said about Christians today, some of them grounded partially in truth, some of them partially grounded in the failures of Christians who have been public, that cause you to want to be quiet about your faith. Folks, it's not new. We're not unique. The question is how will we respond? What will we do? We have lived in the shelter of this personal salvation that means I'm absolved of any responsibility to community or culture or the broader world. It's a heresy.
I believe in personal salvation or conversion or being born again, whichever label you prefer, but that's your entry into the kingdom. You pick up your assignment at that point. It's not a way of avoiding the broader world. There were responses to these confusing messages that came from the church. One was the canon of Scripture. They decided what books were in. One of their great responses to this myriad of confusing messages regarding our faith was to put together all the books that went back to the Apostles that had known Jesus and begin to think of it as Scripture. By 200 A.D., they'd identified the books that went back to the Apostles. By the late 4th century, the 27 books we know as the New Testament were put together and defended in that context.
Understand, there were many false gospels. There are many books written attributed to Paul or attributed to other disciples or apostles or followers of Jesus. By the late 4th century, we had a canon. Another thing they did to respond was creeds. The word "creed" comes from the Greek word "credo". It means "I believe". They put together concise statements of the fundamental beliefs of Christianity, and they learned them. Cell phone coverage was really spotty in the ancient world and there were places where you couldn't get a text and you couldn't get the Internet, so they put together these concise summations of the principle tenets of Christianity and would teach them to one another and to their children so that they would understand. They would have the fundamentals in their heart.
The Apostle's Creed perhaps is the best known today. In our New Testament, we find several summaries of essential truth. I put one in your notes. Ephesians 4, and verse 3, Paul's writing to the church in Ephesus, a secular, Greek-Roman city. He said, "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There's one body, one spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is over all, and through all, and in all".
Well, the Romans had a pantheon, dozens and dozens and dozens of gods. You could pick a god today and another one tomorrow and a collection for the next day. And Paul is trying to ground the believers in Ephesus. We need grounded in the Word of God. There's some things we say that are very destructive. "Well, I don't like to read my Bible". I got it, it's not an easy book to read. It's actually 66 books. It's written over a broad period of history from different cultures. It's not arranged chronologically. There's many things confusing about it. When you see the Lord, take it up.
In Acts chapter 15, there's a dispute in Antioch about the degree to which the Gentile, the non-Jewish believers in Jesus, should cooperate with the laws of Moses, because the Jewish believers had been keeping the laws of Moses for hundreds of years. And the idea was, look, if we've had to suffer these things, you should have to suffer these things too. And you can imagine it led to a collision as the gospel got further and further away from the land of Israel and the Jewish people. And Paul and Barnabas are in Antioch, and this emerges into a full-blown argument, so they decide to go to Jerusalem and ask the apostles. They're still there.
It's Acts 15:6. You've got it in your notes. "The apostles and elders met to consider this question. And after much discussion, Peter got up". You can read past this, but when Peter stands, he's the voice of authority. It's been broadly discussed. Everybody's had an opinion. We've heard the people from Antioch. We've heard from the Jewish community. We've heard from the non-Jewish community. There's no consensus. We can't sort this out. And Peter stands up. Peter that walked on the water. Peter that was on the Mount of Transfiguration. Peter that denied the Lord. Peter that was reinstated by the Lord. Peter that preached on the Day of Pentecost. Peter stands up, and he addressed them, "Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe".
He went from Joppa to Caesarea to Cornelius's house. And Peter very carefully says, "God made that choice. God sent me there. I didn't want to go there". "God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them, the non-Jews, by giving the Holy Spirit to them just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith". When Peter says God made no distinction between Jew and Gentile, he is standing against an idea that defined his people for hundreds of years. They were the chosen people of God and they knew it to the core of their being. And Peter, he's not sophisticated. He's not educated in the way Paul is. The words he writes with are simple words. He's had a change from the inside out.
Folks, I'm concerned for us. We've had this flimsy, whimsical kind of Christianity where we tell a story about some point in the past where we weren't so good, and we came to Jesus, and we made some marginal improvements. That's not what happened to the people that we know, how they saw their world change, how they interacted with their world changed. "He made no distinction between us and them. He purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No"! It's emphatic. He's already said it, but he gets to this point. You can see him lookin' across the room.
"'No! We can't do this,' he says. 'We believe it's through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.' And the whole assembly became silent". No kidding. "And now they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the miraculous signs and wonders that God was doing among the non-Jews through them. When they finished, James spoke up". This is the brother of Jesus and now the leader, the identified leader of the church in Jerusalem. So Peter the Apostle that has known him the best, or certainly known Jesus well, has issued his authoritative opinion.
Now James stands as the leader of the church in Jerusalem. "Brothers, listen to me. Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself. He did call us to be a chosen people," he said. "The words of the prophets are in agreement with this. Now, it's my judgment that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. We should write to them telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, and from the meat of strangled animals and from blood". Folks, there was a battle about to tear apart the fabric of the church, and we're not out of the book of Acts yet. And it didn't stop there.
The first Ecumenical Council of the leaders of the church beyond our New Testament took place in 325 A.D. The council of Nicea, it's in Turkey, modern-day Turkey. It was called by the Roman emperor, by that time the Roman emperor, the first Roman emperor to acknowledge Christianity for himself, Constantine. The church leaders who arrived at that first Ecumenical Council arrived bearing in their bodies the marks of their faith. There was a number of emperors who persecuted Christians by either cutting their Achilles tendon or putting out an eye. So that first gathering of church leaders showed up lame and blind. The issue dividing the church that caused them to gather was Arianism.
You think: it's a big word, I don't care about it. You should. At the heart of Arianism was the idea that Jesus is not divine, he was created. Maybe a good man, maybe a miracle worker, maybe a teacher. We should pay some attention to him, but he's not the divine Son of God. Sound familiar? The diminishment of Jesus. And they recognized it for what it was. If it was left to proliferate within the church, we'd be destroyed. Have you heard of the Nicene creed? It's one of the oldest creedal statements in the Christian church. It dates back to that period in the 4th century. I brought you just the first lines. I think with that bit of background, you'll understand what they were trying to establish.
"We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth, and all that is seen and unseen. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from light, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation, he came down from heaven". They didn't want there to be any equivocation. And what have we done? We have a church face and a work face and a recreation face. Folks, God is shaking us. You see, the challenge with this battle, with this mental battle is it comes in the name of Christ. That's the fundamental challenge.
If a person comes in the name of the devil, we've got perspective. But when someone comes in the name of Jesus and says, "This is a new theology, a new morality, a new gospel, a new Christianity," we have to be aware enough to say, "There is no new Christianity". There's only the old one. And we, you and me, we're to contend for the faith once delivered to us by those who preceded us. They fought this battle in the first 400 years and they won. It's why we have a church in the earth today. What will we give to our children and grandchildren? Our struggle today, one principle component of it is relativism.
Now, to be candid with you, I think we've lost to a great degree our sense of the fundamentals of the church, who we're to be, what's necessary to believe, what our role in our world is to be. It's understandable. It's easy to be bewildered by the array of answers available in the marketplace of ideas today. You can just throw up your hands and say, "You know, they're all valid options. I don't want to deal with it". We're lazy. What did Peter say? "Prepare your minds for action. Be self-controlled". Do the work to understand. Think. Don't spend your time just thinking about your hobbies or just thinking about how to multiply your wealth. Don't just think about what you want for your children. Think about the eternal kingdom of God. Apply yourself.
Folks, the church matters. And I don't mean a congregation or a building. I mean the people of God. We've been entrusted with a message that makes an eternal difference in the lives of the inhabitants of planet earth. We shouldn't be surprised, Peter said, that we have an adversary that seeks to disrupt our momentum. We have an adversary without and we have a battle within because we have an earthly carnal nature, and the battlefield for much of that is our mind. We've been very unaware of this. We've accepted a lot of sloppy Christianity. We've wanted to know what we needed to do to get an entrance ticket, and we've been very little concerned beyond that. But God is helping us. He's awakening us. He's giving us new courage and new boldness.
I'm more hopeful for the church than at any point in my journey up til this point. The threats beyond us are not a tremendous concern, because if we will yield our hearts to the Lord, he will bring victory to us. You don't have to be frightened in this world. God will take his people through. But it's not casual or accidental or infrequent. How often do I need to be with God's people? As frequently as you can be. I brought you a prayer. We're gonna work on the next section of this sometime, whenever we get together next.
Why don't you stand with me? Let's read this prayer together. A prayer, church. In my imagination, it's not just a prayer we pray while we're here. It's kind of a prayer for the week. You know, they roll them into those battle plans that we've been sharing with you, some prayers to pray every day. Because in my life, I find that my best ideas, my best insights usually come after a meeting. You ever find that? I'm brilliant after the fact. And a lot of times, I feel that way about church. You know, when we're together, we're kinda caught up in the moment, but after the fact there's more space for me to listen to what God would say or do in my life.
So taking these prayers and using 'em on a daily basis or whatever your devotional pattern is is an invitation to the Spirit of God to bring change to you and awareness to you and to help you. You'll find your own voices to pray, but borrowing prayers is a great way to open the door as an invitation to the Spirit of God. Let's pray this one together.
Heavenly Father, our hope is in you and in you alone. We boldly declare Jesus is Lord in our world. Through him all things were made. He's the faithful witness and the ruler of the kings of the earth. We submit ourselves to his authority and leadership. Through faith in Jesus, our sins are forgiven, our strength is renewed, and our hope is secure. Holy Spirit, grant us a revelation of Jesus that will bring victory to our lives. In his name, amen.