Allen Jackson - The Life of A Christ Follower - Part 1
It's an honor to be with you today. We're going to continue our study on escaping the descent into paganism. It's what's happening around us. We've redefined marriage. We've redefined family. We're reluctant to say in public what defines a woman or a man. Folks, by definition it's paganism. We've stepped away from our Judeo biblical worldview and we've stepped into another place. It's time for the church to find our voice, to have the courage to have a faith conversation with our friends when we go to the ball fields, when we gather with our buddies for whatever purpose. For too long we've cut faith and politics out of our public discussions with our friends. We've got to change. We've got to be salt and light to let the Lordship of Jesus that we honor when we sit in a church building become a part of who we are no matter where we are.
That's our assignment. It's not a burden, it's a privilege. I recently sat down with some friends. They pastor in Belarus and in the Ukraine. When I heard their courage and their boldness, I was ashamed. We hide from so many Christian opportunities, and they are standing in the face of evil. Well, there's a greater evil rolling down our streets than Russian tanks or a threat from Putin. It's the threat of evil. And the church is here to be salt and light. Grab your Bible and a notepad. I believe God's inviting us to a new response.
I'm working through a little series under the general title of "Escaping the Descent into Paganism". And just so there's no confusion, I believe we're witnesses to our culture plunging into paganism. And it's not happening in some measured pace, it feels like we've reached that tipping point. We crash to the top of the roller coaster; you know, that point where even if you're in the very front seat on the experience you can't exactly see the bottom of where you're about to fall to. It feels like, to me, we're plunging down that decline. I don't believe that it will be resolved or turned around by a political movement, a party, or a politician.
I believe the only reversal to what we're watching will come because of the church of Jesus Christ is awakened and God pours out his Spirit upon people. Because of that I believe the church has a key role to play, and we're going to have to be awakened to something more than attending church and being polite and kind. We're going to have to understand what it means to be the people of God and to stand against the darkness. You know, this notion of the paganization of America, it was really startling to me when I sat down and began to think about it in an intentional sort of a way 'cause I arrived at the conclusion that Christianity is typically viewed in the public square as being a bit outdated, just a little out of fashion, maybe from another time.
And there's a host of voices that will say, are all too ready to point out the shortcomings of some expressions of Christianity and places where we have failed, and those are true. But to the degree that Christianity fails, it fails because of the brokenness of human character. It's not that our God has failed or that his desire for his people in the earth has failed. What was more startling to me as I worked on this topic a little bit was the degree to which paganism is typically viewed as chic. It's a bit sophisticated not to be bound by faith or the idea of a God, or a transcendent authority, or a higher power. We should be a measure unto ourselves. Well, the appropriate beginning point, it seems to me, is to acknowledge the life of a Christ follower and what that needs to look like, and I'll take just a moment with it.
I began this in a previous session and I don't want to recapitulate everything, but in Galatians chapter 2 and verse 20 it says, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me". That's a pretty good summary sentence for what it means to be a Christ follower. "I've been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me". I'll leave it to you to evaluate the degree to which American Christian and even American evangelicalism models that sentence. "I've been crucified with Christ". Now, clearly Paul's not saying that we were literally nailed to a Roman cross with Jesus. So he isn't obviously talking about a physical crucifixion, he's talking about something else, that we've identified with Jesus in his crucifixion. I can tell you this.
When anyone was nailed to a Roman cross, they were emptied of any self-determination. At the point that those Roman soldiers stretched you out and nailed you to that cross, I doubt you worried about what was for dinner. You weren't concerned if you were having a good hair day. You didn't care so much about the kids' sports schedule. Those so many other things that fill our hearts and our lives become very irrelevant. The notion is that when you were crucified, you were emptied of self-determination. "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me". It seems to me if you'll just peruse the list of bestsellers in a Christian bookstore or online, that we've lost that notion 'cause so many of the titles for us are about how to get what we want from God or get God to do what we need him to do, how to receive secret keys or hidden blessings or the best something for me tomorrow or today and I'm not opposed to the blessings of God, but we need to understand that to be a Christ follower means it's more about Jesus's agenda than mine, that it's no longer what I want and what I feel and what I think that gets to determine my decisions every day.
I have to begin with a desire to please the Lord because I've been crucified with Christ. And if you haven't arrived at that conclusion but you're sitting in a church and you think you're good to know with God, I'd like to ask you to invite the Spirit of God to help you understand yourself. I don't want you to take my word for it. I'm not the judge. I'm certainly not the jury. I'm not the arbiter. You won't stand before me. But I do not want you to stand before the judge of all the earth without having reconciled this for yourself, and please don't allow my ineffectiveness as a presenter to keep you from considering it. "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me".
See, I don't think faith discussions will be hard when you can make that statement. I think you'll talk to anybody anywhere at any time. You won't consider the cost, or the implications, or what they'll think, or what they'll say about you. I think so much of the timidity, or the reluctance, or the hesitancy that we've had has been because we haven't really allowed ourselves to imagine that we've been crucified with Christ. Folks, there's no such thing as a hyper Christian, a super Christian, a deluxe disciple. There's just one group. We're either Christ followers or we're not. So don't imagine yourself that you can be graded on a scale. There's not a gray area on this one. "I've been crucified with Christ. Me first no longer lives, and the life I live in the body I live for the cause of Christ".
Now, have we deteriorated so far from that? Has it that we've driven that out of our schools and out of the public squares and it's not welcome in the courtrooms or on our athletic fields any longer? Why are the principles of Christ not welcomed in the business arena? What has happened to us? And I'm speaking to the church. This message isn't about the ungodly folks, this is about those of us that sit in church buildings and hold, own Bibles. The pastor's wife that was with us Wednesday said she was one of 12 children, and she said in their home they had one New Testament that they all shared. They would read it when they wanted to and put it back in the location where it was to stay so the next person that wanted to read it would know where to find it. She said she was 17 before she had a Bible of her own. We're so privileged. How has this happened to us, this descent into paganism that we're watching?
It's happening so rapidly and on such a scale and such a magnitude it's disorienting, it's confusing. It's as if...why have we stopped speaking the truth? Why are we denying things that are obvious? It's because we've been cut loose from the moorings of a godly foundation. We've built our lives and our futures and our dreams on the sand and not on the rock of obedience to God's Word. Romans chapter 1 describes it. And if I could give you one note before we read this passage, I think it's inappropriate for us to imagine we're somehow unique, that we're the first generation to do this because that is clearly not the case. In Genesis chapter 6, six chapters into the story, God said, "I'm going to have to destroy the place because every thought of men's hearts is wicked".
Genesis 6, and it's repeated over and over through the Scripture. Clearly God's people have a difficult time maintaining perspective. And I think our generation is very tempted to connect what we're watching with the end of the age and the return of the Lord, and I believe we're nearing the end of the age and the return to the Lord, but what we're witnessing in the American church I don't believe is being driven by the end-of-the-age stuff. The global part of it and there's absolutely a discussion of it. What we're witnessing is the decline of our faith and the descent into paganism, and it's escapism to use eschatology to avoid the reality of our failure to be salt and light. Now, I believe the Lord is coming and I want to be prepared for that and I want to do everything in my power to help you be prepared, but let's not use that theological perspective to avoid the awkward reality of the pathway we're on today.
Romans chapter 1, it describes a downward progression. Says, "Although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened". That sentence really gives you the gist of what we're about to read. They knew there was a God, but they refused to do two things. They wouldn't give glory to him. They wouldn't acknowledge him as being beyond themselves. "He isn't omnipotent, he isn't omniscient, he isn't all-powerful, and he isn't all-knowing. We're the measure of this". That spirit has been unleashed amongst us for decades. It's been pumped into us in our educational systems to the highest levels of academia until we have become inebriated with it. We stagger with pride and arrogance and hubris.
"We can solve any problem we face. We'll just work together and solve our problems". There is no evidence in the history of human civilization that human beings will work together for the common good, and when somebody is pitching that notion to you without the transformational power of God they're being deceptive. We refuse to give glory to God and give thanks to him. And then it describes the outcome. Our thinking becomes futile, ineffective; and our hearts look foolish from the perspective of a creator. Our thinking becomes altered, and our desires are foolish and dark. "Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles".
So if we don't bow before idols that are carved in the image of an animal or a person, and I will grant you, we may not bow before a statue that's cast out of metal or carved from stone or wood, but I would submit to you that we have idolized people whose lives are blatantly ungodly and immoral. Because of accumulation or the perception of beauty or achievement in athletics, we have made idols of a different sort. Verse 24, therefore is a summary word. It says because of everything that's happened before. There's a very significant phrase: God gave them over. It's just if God said, "If that's what you want, by all means". "God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie". God gave them over, and then our choice was to take God's truth and say, "We would prefer a lie".
I watched this week while the nation struggled with the definition of what a woman is, and this isn't about a particular individual or a political party. I watched the whole nation. I read article after article, where they made every attempt to act as if that was something difficult. Six-year-olds that have had a puppy can explain that. It wasn't an inability to explain it, it was an unwillingness to be bound by a definition that God created us male and female. And that's not about an individual or a political party or an ideology, it is rampant amongst us. We've exchanged the truth of God for a lie because the lie gives us greater liberty, greater freedom. We're not bound by the constraints of the truth. "And we worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator".
We would rather have access to power, and privilege, and freedom, and opportunity, and accumulation than to submit ourselves to the authority of Almighty God. Verse 26, "Because of this," here's the phrase again, "God gave them over," this time, "to shameful lusts, and even the women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another, and men committed indecent acts with other men and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion". I'd have to say we're watching that happen. We have men competing against women in the sports, and they say, "Well, today I felt like a woman".
And we act as if we don't understand, as if we're unable to respond, as if we're confused, as if there's some sort of legitimacy to that; and the powerful amongst us, the gatekeepers that communicate with us and control the communication platforms threaten us, "Don't you dare challenge that. How dare you say something about that? How could you be so filled with hate"? And we're bullied into being quiet. I was ashamed when I heard about what the people of Ukraine were doing to defend their faith, and I thought of our timidity. Verse 28, "Furthermore, since they didn't think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God," here's the phrase again, "he gave them over," this time, "to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed, depravity. They're full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, and malice. They're gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant, and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless".
And verse 32 is the most uncomfortable perhaps. "Although they know God's righteous decrees that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but they also approve of those who practice them". I think that's where the church is so accountable. You say, "Well, I'm not participating". No, but we've approved of many who do. We don't want to have the awkward conversations. We don't want it to bring any disunity into our circle of influence or our sphere of influence so we'll find an excuse, we'll justify, we'll look away. We've majored in being overlookers, not overcomers; and I believe we'll have to give an account for our silence. It isn't just what we have actively engaged in, it's what we have passively allowed to take place around us on our watch.
The descent into paganism, the paganization of our nation; it's not chic, folks, it's destructive. It will destroy us. We will forfeit our freedoms and liberties if God doesn't awaken his people. Only the mercy of God and the moving of the Spirit of God will bring freedom and liberty to our children and our grandchildren. A politician can no longer do that. I'm grateful for godly men and women who are willing to lead in the places they can and do that, but they can't lead if the church isn't alive and vibrant and willing. It starts in our hearts. This is a main street issue. This is not about Washington, D.C. or the capitals of our states. It's not even about corporate boardrooms or the tech giants. This is about the hearts of God's people, and I think we've got to come back and revisit this notion about the opportunity to believe and what that means and why it's significant for far too long I think we've thought about our faith in terms of how do we get our eternity straight.
"I believe there might be a heaven and there might even be a hell, and I'd rather go to one than the other. So tell me what the essentials are, the basic minimum requirements; you know, like your daily minimum requirements how much green vegetables do you have to eat 'cause I don't want to eat any more than I have to. I'd rather have Oreos. But if I need to eat some, tell me how many I need to eat". I think we've treated God that way. "Okay, how often do I have to come to church? And does live stream count? And if I live-stream from home, is that better than if I live-stream from the lake? Well, I mean, I've been there 3 weeks in a row and the sermons are pretty mediocre. Does that mean I can have 3 weeks off and pray he gets better"? It's as if it's all a negotiation, and really that all emerges from this notion that what I really need to do is to say that sinner's prayer, that born-again, saved converted thing. I believe in conversion, the new birth, salvation. Absolutely it's a biblical principle.
If you've never experienced it, you need to 'cause sitting in church doesn't make you a Christ follower. Being kind, good, moral, generous will not get you a ticket into the eternal kingdom of God. It has to do with the person of Jesus. But we've misconstrued that idea if you think simply being introduced to Jesus and being birthed into the kingdom is the story. That you've been introduced to the kingdom and you've been given the opportunity to participate, but participate you must. And we've lost that part of the story and we found all kinds of reasons. "Well, you know, pastor, the church I grew up in, that's just not how we believe". Well, if you're as old as I am, the church you grew up in didn't believe in a lot of things that are defining our lives today. Or sometimes we'll make it about family systems.
"Well, you know, me and my people". Well, if you and your people are in charge of the kingdom of God, you just hang on to that standard. Well, if they're not really the arbiters of their kingdom of God, you better renegotiate. We have all this language and reasons why we are reluctant believers. "Well, you know, I didn't want to be a fanatic". I do. I want to be an over-the-top, all in, Kool-Aid drinking, I do. You know, I always liked sports and athletics, but I never really enjoyed watching. I don't like sitting on the bench. I wanted to be a participant, and I want to be a participant in what God is doing in this generation. I do.
So it comes back to this notion about believing what you believe and how you practice because usually belief is expressed in your behaviors. Belief is not theoretical. James reminds us of that in the New Testament. He says, "You believe there's one God. Good for you," he said. Even the demons believe that, and the demons shudder. So just the fact, you say, "Well, you know, I believe that". Isn't really the criteria, it's what have you done, what's the fruit of it, the evidence expressed in behavior.
Joel chapter 2 and verse 32. It's quoted multiple times in the New Testament, but I went back to get it from the prophet. Said, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved". Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. If you haven't called on the name of the Lord, you got no shot. I don't care what religious label you wear, what language you speak, how tall you are, whether you're male or female. It doesn't matter the color of your skin, your IQ, your bank account. If you haven't called on the name of the Lord, you won't be saved. So don't let anybody in your sphere of influence not process that. Annoy them.
In the Book of Acts, after Peter and John were threatened by the Sanhedrin, they gathered with the believers, the leadership of the church in Jerusalem and prayed for boldness. God smiled, the place where they were was shaken. Let's see if we have the courage to offer that prayer:
Father, I thank you for one another and the privilege of standing in this season. Give us a boldness to be advocates for you without fear, without hesitation. In Jesus's name, amen.