Allen Jackson - The Church of the Redeemed
The topic for the weekend is "The Church of the Redeemed". Church of the Redeemed. On a typical weekend around here, we'll have people from between fifty and sixty different Christian traditions, denominations. All the way from the orthodox churches to people who've never been in a church before in their lives. And I think that's a good thing, but it doesn't take very much dialogue, and we can start to get pretty heated up defending the turf from which we come. And I don't think that's evil.
You know, we grow up with some church setting and it kind of puts in you a sense that this is the way church should be, whether it's a style of music, whether it's how baptism is done or when it's done, or what the podium should look like, or how we receive Communion or when we receive Communion, or you have some subset of rules that you're sure make you holier than the people that don't keep those rules, because you know, the deal with religious rules, right? Mine make sense and yours are stupid. And so, we tend to kinda divide ourselves or recognize ourselves and our entry into the kingdom of God based on those affiliations. "Are you a Christian"? "Yes I am. I go to WOC".
Well, I wish that was the qualification. It would be job security for me. But it really has very little to do with it, if anything whatsoever. A laminated tag from WOC won't get you past the gate. It has to do with the person. When we gather, and we will one day before the throne of God with men and women from every nation, race, language, and tribe, the one unifying theme of all those who gather will not be some denominational affiliation or a translation of the Bible we read. It will be that we belong to the church of those redeemed by the shed blood of Jesus of Nazareth. It'll be "The Church of the Redeemed". And every other label and every other identifier and every other thing that would bring cohesiveness to us will fade into the distance before the reality that our participation is secured by our relationship to Jesus of Nazareth, and we have been redeemed through his blood.
We are the church of the redeemed. And the more people who participate in that in our world, the better. That's our assignment. It's no more complicated than that. We're here to welcome people into the church of the redeemed. People say, "You just want the church to grow". You found me out! I don't want just this church to grow. I want every church that's under the lordship of Jesus of Nazareth to flourish. So I brought you a verse. We'll start with a simple premise, Matthew 16. Jesus is speaking. He said, "I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it".
Now, church was not a meaningful part of my life as a young person. We went to church every weekend, but it wasn't meaningful and we certainly didn't learn how to be Christians there. My spiritual formation did not take place within the organized church. That's not the way I came to faith. That wasn't where my baptism took place. My meaningful spiritual watershed moments were not as the result of activity within an organized traditional church, so when I got to adulthood, I didn't really value the church. I saw it more as an encumbrance or an impediment or a hurdle or something to be negotiated, rather than something that would facilitate spiritual growth.
So when I began to sense that God was inviting me to serve the church, I thought he'd sent the email to the wrong address. "I don't even value that place. It hasn't helped me. Why would I do that"? And it was a real struggle within me. I couldn't get alignment between that, until the Spirit of God caused that verse to come alive in me. And I realized that God wasn't talking about religious organizations or gatherings of people, but there's a Jesus initiative in the earth, and the label Jesus chose for it was the church, and that Jesus is in the church building business. And although hell itself might try to stop it, they wouldn't succeed because the Jesus initiative has all the power and the weight and the wisdom and the authority of the kingdom of our God behind it.
And bit by bit, I began to reorder my heart and say, "God, if there's anything I can do, if there's any way, if there's any place I can hold, any space in which I can stand, if there's any possible way I can use my strength or my life to strengthen your church, I'm in". I'm an advocate for the church. It's not perfect. It's comprised of human beings, and as long as you keep gathering us into groups, there's gonna be leaks. 'Cause we are a sloppy crew. Yes, I'm talkin' about you, and me. In fact, look at the person on your right and say, "You look pretty sloppy to me". Now the person on your left, "How'd you get in here"? We identified everybody accurately?
Folks, that's the truth. Church is not a perfect place. We're not the Hall of Fame of Christians. People don't come here to observe righteousness on display. If they do, they're severely disappointed when they wander around or when they try to park next to you. We're far more a hospital. We come here because we believe God is restoring people, and we present ourselves regularly because we are a people in need of restoration. Jesus is building his church. In fact, the church is the ultimate Jesus initiative. If you wanna do something for Jesus, find a way to strengthen his church in the earth. It's all built on this premise.
Romans chapter 5 and verse 8. Says, "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. And since we've now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him"! Let's start with that last phrase. It's not one we like to talk about a lot, the wrath of God. God's anger. God's justice. God's judgment being visited upon humanity. That's what the wrath of God means. It doesn't just mean God gets mad and stomps his feet. It means human beings are going to encounter the judgment from a just, righteous, holy, pure God. I'd rather talk about grace and mercy. I thought God was a God of love. He is! And I'm an advocate for grace and mercy, but I'm an equal advocate for the justice and the judgment of God.
Well, I thought those were Old Testament concepts. 'Cause I mean, we've read the Old Testament, God's kinda grumpy. I mean, when he's not happy with somebody, he goes after him pretty hard, but when he got to Malachi, he took a Prozac and he wrote the gospels. Well, it's true that the gospels are the Jesus initiative, stepping into time, but you need to... you don't wanna miss the culmination of that Jesus story. There's two components to it. One centers on the cross, and the horror of the cross is God's judgment upon our sin and godlessness. Right? It's so horrific that if it were accurately portrayed, we couldn't look at it. But the wrath of God doesn't conclude.
People say, "Well, the New Testament's a book of love". Well, it is, I agree, but so's the Old Testament. But have you read the Book of Revelation? That's the last chapter of the Jesus story. And I'm telling you, the Book of Revelation's pretty intense. And the real tension in the Book of Revelation isn't the battle between good and evil and heaven and hell. The outcome of that's settled pretty quickly. The real intensity in the Book of Revelation is the judgment of God, the wrath of God that Jesus brings back to the earth. The Book of Revelation is the Jesus story. So the wrath of God is a real thing. So there's a very important question you wanna ask: What's necessary for me to avoid that? I mean, I grew up in a barn in Tennessee; I'm not real complex. If there's two lines, one has the blessings of God and one has the wrath of God, I'd take this one.
Well, we're told in that passage, did you read it? God demonstrated his love for us in this; while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. We have been justified by his blood. How much more were we saved from God's wrath? What is it that enabled us to be saved? We know the word "saved". The Bible says you confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that Jesus is Lord, you can be saved. But the biblical word for the outcome of being saved is to be justified. It has something of a technical meaning in Scripture. To be justified is to be acquitted. It's to be declared guilt-free. Therefore, you would not be the recipient of wrath or judgment. Because you're not guilty; you've been justified.
Now, how did that happen? 'Cause you attended the right church? You endured enough sermons? You collected all the outlines? You acted like you were paying attention? How would you do that? Well, it says it's a gift that God demonstrated his love for us. Isn't that amazing? That Christ died for us? We've been justified by his blood, not something we've done, we can earn, we can qualify for. It's not merit-based. We receive the gift of righteousness. We are justified. We are declared not guilty before God. Now, that's the heart of the Christian story, that no person need step out of time into eternity concerned about bearing the weight of their ungodliness. They can receive the free gift of salvation and be justified before the Creator. That's the message we have. We don't have a message of good preaching or good singing or a nice building or a nice parking place, or a better picnic than somebody else has. We had a message that you can stand before the Creator of all things guilt-free.
The Bible talks about it very openly and very candidly. This isn't the stuff of the pagans or the ungodly or the immoral. In fact, this talk is prepared for the church, for those of us that sit in the walls of church on the weekends. This isn't about the ungodly or the immoral or the pagan. This is for those of us that fill church. If I might make a suggestion, don't pencil in people's names on the margins of your outline that need to hear this. Every time you do that, write your name in bigger letters. 'Cause this is a really "for me" lesson. For me and for you, this is a for me lesson. Two passages of Scripture I wanna share with you that they identify these boundaries for us.
Galatians chapter 5, it's written to a church, so it's written to a group of believers doing life together under the lordship of Jesus of Nazareth, and Paul writes them this note. He said, "The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and the like. I warn you, as I did before..." Again, this isn't threatening. This isn't something they haven't heard before. He said, "I've told you this over and over and over again. And I'm telling you again". Why would he have to repeat it? 'Cause apparently they're havin' a hard time holdin' onto it. "I warn you as I did before that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God".
Now again, he's writing this to the church, to people that have made a profession of faith, they've been baptized in water, they've been filled with the Spirit, and he said "If you practice these things, you will not inherit the kingdom of God. I'm tellin' you again," he said. Parallel passage is in 1 Corinthians chapter 6. Says, "Do you not know..." Now, we've read our Bibles enough now that when you bump into that phrase "do you not know," what's the answer? Probably not. I've told you, but you can't seem to remember. "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God"? And again, he's writing to a church. "Do not be deceived..."
See, if you've never known the truth, you can't be deceived. "Don't be deceived; neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers or swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God". And that is what some of you were. Boom! That is the list of folks from whom God recruited the church. There's just something freeing in that. It helps us get over our pretentiousness. Folks, this is not the "hall of fame of the perfected". This is the "transition hall". That is where we were, and we've met Jesus, and watch what happened. It says, "You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified," there's that word, "in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God".
And if we take those two passages, there's some conclusions we can draw. Pretty simple, big stroke stuff. One, there's a universal struggle. Those of us in the church as well as those without the church have a tendency towards these ungodly expressions. And we're dishonest if we pretend we don't struggle. It is so quiet today. It must be baptism weekend. It's a universal challenge. Secondly, all of us from those lists could identify some points of vulnerability. Here's the good news: we're not vulnerable on all of those points. But when you read those lists, there's two or three of 'em that make you a little less comfortable. 'Cause you think, "Oh, you know, that shows up in my arena a little more frequently".
We have points where we're vulnerable. It's why religious rules are so appealing. I'll make sets of rules that are not real problems for me. Like, I think it probably makes you unclean to eat mushrooms. And I can preach that sermon with passion. But if you talk to me about the immorality of eating too much sugar, I'll talk to you about the necessity to practice moderation in all things. 'Cause after all, God created sugar, and I'm just honoring him when I consume sugar. Leave me alone. And we all have that tendency. We have points of vulnerability and we tend to like to bang the drum with the places that we don't feel vulnerable or we feel superior. We need to have compassion to help one another when we recognize those places where we need that encouragement.
And a third observation I would give you is to be sure you recognize the distinction between temptation and being a practitioner. We're all tempted, folks. To pretend like we're not is a lie. We all struggle with temptation. We're all presented with often very appealing invitations to expressions of ungodliness. But the temptation doesn't make you evil. Jesus was tempted. Well, the Bible gives us a solution. Now, here's the good news. We wouldn't need a solution if it weren't a problem. So, you're two-thirds of the way towards a better outcome if we can just acknowledge, "Hey, I got a problem. I pull it together for a few minutes on the weekend, but I have a hard time gettin' off campus in the traffic without letting my emotions boil up".
Well here, we got just a couple of minutes. Let's look at the solution. Romans 6: "In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus". Now, this is a personal assignment. Count yourselves dead to sin. This isn't something Jesus is gonna do for us. We're gonna count ourselves dead; "Therefore, don't let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Don't offer the parts of your body to sin as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, those who've been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness".
Count yourselves dead to sin. The old school word for it was we were overcomers. You have to overcome sin. Count yourself dead to sin. Doin' funerals is a part of my job description, so I've been to the funeral home a lot. But on top of that, for three generations my family was in the funeral business. Used to go visit my grandparents. We'd play hide and seek in the casket room. That explains a lot, doesn't it? So, I've been around folks that were dead, and my dad was a veterinarian and not every patient made it, so I've been around a lotta critters that were dead, and you can have the meanest dog and when it's dead, not so scary. When you're dead to sin, when you're dead to something, it has no attraction to you any longer. And it elicits no reaction from you. Doesn't require any expression of your will. Doesn't take any focus. When you're dead to it... I like chocolate.
Folks, when I'm dead, you could float me in a room full of M&Ms, they will not be a temptation. And the Bible says to reckon yourself, count yourself dead to sin. So the target is to continue to give increasing place to the Spirit of God within us until those things that are points of temptation diminish to the point that they're no longer attraction to you. They don't even get a reaction from you. I can give you example after example. Our time's a little short today. We'll work on this some more. But if the Bible gives us the prescription, it is possible to achieve it. The simplest answer is you, if you have a lion and a puppy, how do you help the puppy overcome the lion? You start starving the lion and feeding the puppy.
At some point, there'll be a tipping point. The puppy will have more energy than the lion. And when you recognize points of vulnerability in your life, don't do anything that gives strength to those points of vulnerability, whether it's about location, it's about what you watch, it's about the friends that you choose with your discretionary time. Begin to consider yourself dead to sin. Don't do things that fuel that. And do whatever you can to fuel godliness in your life, true godliness. Let's add one more passage to it. Romans chapter 8: "Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit," capital "S", the Holy Spirit, "have their minds set on what the Holy Spirit desires".
So, we're gonna have to recalibrate what we think about to start to think about things that are important to the Spirit of God. "The mind of the sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It doesn't submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God". So we don't wanna give control to those ungodly thoughts. I don't think we're conscious, it's impossible to be conscious of all the ways messaging is coming at us 24/7 that lead us towards ungodly things, ungodly decisions, ungodly conclusions, ungodly utilizations for our time, ungodly thoughts. And we're being invited here to let our mind be controlled by things that are fueled by the Spirit of God. We're gonna have to find new sourcing. We're gonna have to cultivate some new habits.
And first of all, we're gonna have to decide that the practice of giving license to ungodliness in our lives really has no consequence because after all, "I've repeated the prayer and been dunked in the pool, and I sit in church with some frequency, so the rest of this stuff doesn't matter". It does matter. At the very least, it diminishes your opportunity to make an impact for the kingdom of God, and it opens you to expressions of ungodliness and wickedness that will diminish your life. If it's left unbridled, it will cause you to forfeit the kingdom of God. This is serious. Now, we don't wanna deny it, we don't wanna hide it, we don't wanna act like it's not true. We're all in the same boat. Every one of us. That's why we need to encourage one another daily. We need a hand up. Don't yield to that. Don't give in to, don't act like we don't know what it's about. We do.
The biblical term is "overcoming" that carnal earthly Adamic, that old nature, that part of our person that is hardwired towards ungodliness. You don't have to teach me to be selfish. I have a PhD before I ever got to school. All right. My parents tried to teach me to share. I'm still workin' on it. It's hard for me. A pound of M&Ms for me, one for you. Not one pound, one M&M. After all, sugar's not good for you. I'm just thinkin' out for you, lookin' out. We all have that tendency.
Now, I brought you a prayer. I truthfully, I wanna pray for you, but I think it's more valuable today to give you this prayer. Because what I'm really inviting you towards is an imagination of the implementation of a new set of life responses. A new set of thoughts, a new set of habits, maybe a new set of friends. I will not give my discretionary time, I don't have a lot of discretionary time. But I will not give my discretionary time to people who encourage me in ungodliness. It's too important to me. I wanna be around people that will encourage me to honor the Lord. When God began to invite me towards serving him, I had a problem. I didn't like Christians and I didn't like church.
Now, I had reasons: Christians were hypocrites, churches were boring. But the real problem wasn't Christians and churches, it was what was inside of me. I had to change. And if you're mad at Christians and you're mad at churches, begin to ask the Spirit of God to help you change. Here's my suggestion: take this little prayer and say it repeatedly for several days. If you're gonna learn a new exercise or you're gonna learn to expand your menu and eat new foods, if you're gonna pick up a new habit, you're gonna have to practice it for a few days and push through the awkwardness of it, the lack of familiarity around it. It won't feel affirming or rewarding initially, and the same is true when you begin to invite the Spirit of God to help you. You're more comfortable in your routine and your habits.
Even if they're leading you towards destructive places, they're familiar. I know sometimes I've prayed with people and in a moment's time, their lives, they've had a 180 degree reversal and they walk a new direction. That's wonderful. But doesn't happen every time. In the majority of the cases, we have to begin to put to death, to crucify our old nature, and say "You will not dominate me. I recognize you. There's a power in me, there's an authority in me now that says you no longer own me and you will not dominate me. In Jesus' name, you hush". Won't you stand with me? We'll read our prayer together. Have you found it? It's at the back bottom of your outline. If you've ignored everything else, it's worth the prayer. Let's read it together:
Heavenly Father, I thank You that I have been justified by the blood of Jesus. Your grace and mercy have written a new future for me. In humility today, I ask for Your forgiveness. I repent of every action which I have tolerated that is displeasing to You, I choose to say yes to Godliness, purity and holiness. Holy Spirit, help me, if there is any harmful way help me to see. I choose life, in Jesus' name, amen.