Allen Jackson - Expressions of God's Power - Part 1
I wanna continue the discussion we began in a previous session, really focused on the church. The church and the earth. Jesus is coming back to the earth for his church. He came the first time to offer himself as a sacrifice for any who would believe in him, but he's coming back again; bodily, he's coming back to the earth as a conquering King for his church. There'll be many imitations. There'll be many distractions. There'll be many expressions of things that are false: false teachers, false prophets, false apostles, false gospels, false Christs, even a false church. We're warned clearly, repeatedly.
So I wanna talk a bit about this notion of the church, remind you of what we've been called to. It's a glorious, amazing thing. In Ephesians chapter 5, in verse 25, you do have that in your notes. It says: "Christ loved the church". You really ought to stop there. "Christ loved the church". If you're mad at the church, you and Jesus have a problem. I didn't like church. It was a real problem when God came to invite me into the ministry. I didn't like church. To be honest, I didn't like Christians that much. You know what my problem was? There was so little of Jesus in me, I got uncomfortable around all those people. "Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her," the church, "to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless".
Wow, "Christ loved the church so much he gave himself up for the church that she might be presented into eternity as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy, blameless". Folks, that's more than a Bible study society. That's more than just barely making it over the threshold. That's not the "Well, how much do I have to do" club? "How often do I have to volunteer"? "How much do I have to give"? "I'm supposed to be there how frequently"? That's not what's being described in that passage. Jesus offered himself up for you and for me, that we could stand before the Creator of heaven and earth, holy and blameless, wow. We'll never do that on our own. We'll never be good enough or moral enough or kind enough or generous enough or smart enough. We had to have help, and Jesus raised his hand.
He said, "I will offer myself on their behalf. I'll be the sacrifice for their transgressions". And his objective, what he could see, in Hebrews it says he despised the shame. He could look past the pain and the suffering, looking for a church, a radiant church. Don't tell me the church is insignificant. Don't tell me we don't matter. Don't tell me we'll be fine if we're dispersed or distributed or silenced. We won't be. We're the expression. We're an expression of God's power and authority in the earth. Ephesians 1, verse 4: "He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight".
A radiant church is a church that is holy and blameless in the sight of God. You see, we can be holy and blameless in our sight. Oh, come on. You're like, "I'm pretty good". I mean, if you'll give me a minute, I'll explain why I've got some stains. I mean, it wasn't anything I did. I've been around some pretty stinky people, and they stained me up. I mean, it doesn't take us much effort at all to convince ourselves that we are holy and blameless, right? We can go there. We can justify about anything, where everybody's looking so innocent. How many of you know somebody that could justify just about anything?
Now, we're gonna get some buy-in. But it says that we're holy and blameless in his sight. In his sight, not in our opinion. In the light of God's justice, we can be holy and blameless. That's good news for our world, because none of us can be holy and blameless on our own. The motivation of Jesus's sacrifice was our transformation. Apart from Jesus's redemptive work, we have no way of achieving holiness or forgiveness. It's why Jesus is so important. It's why the Jesus narrative is so important. It's why your Jesus story is so important. It's why the people who know you and all of your fractured lives and your brokenness and your inconsistencies, to share with them how Jesus is transforming you. He's changing your "want-tos," he's changing your objectives.
Romans chapter 6 and verse 22. Says: "Now". Now's a timing word. When's it mean? Now. Clever group. "Now you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord". "Now you have been set free from sin". You can't be set free from sin unless you take what comes next. And we've become slaves to God. We've been set free from sin to become slaves for God. I have an objective with this little study. You see, I think we're gonna have to make some course corrections. We're gonna have to make some adjustments.
The church, the trajectory we've been on for several decades in American evangelicalism, has been pretty self-absorbed. We've had so much freedom and liberty and abundance and opportunity that we didn't really need God to sort those things out. Our kids had schools, and there was healthcare available to them. And there was enough order in our world and there was enough latent opportunities around us that we could add God as kind of a component, kind of a luxury item. But folks, the world is changing, dramatically, rapidly, swiftly. And those stabilizing voices and the things you've counted on, they are deteriorating before your eyes, day after day after day.
We didn't understand they came from a biblical worldview so we were silent and let our biblical worldview be put in the shredder and removed from the public square and taken out of corporate behavior and eliminated from the public justice system in place after place after place. And now we're watching chaos begin to emerge. It's growing rapidly. And the church is a bit addled and a bit confused and we're like, "Well, wow, wow, what"? We haven't been to church. We've gathered in our buildings and we've had our little songs and we've done our little studies and we've been a little puffed up because we could do exegetically correct, homiletically, appropriately hermeneutically, exact studies.
But we weren't being transformed. We weren't being changed. We weren't a believing church. We were an accumulating, we were gathering knowledge and getting facts and we were smug and self-righteous and we really didn't have this, to be set free from sin, we weren't that bad. There were worse people. I mean, we probably thought we needed a little forgiveness, you know, we needed a little polish because even silver, sterling silver, will tarnish without a little polish. Jesus didn't come just to polish us. He didn't come to hammer out the dents and put in a little Bondo, slap a new coat of paint on us. He came that we might be holy and blameless in the sight of God.
And to do that, their power will need to be brought to bear, authority will come in to play. We have to change kingdoms. We have to understand that we need forgiveness from sin or we got no shot, and that in order to walk in that freedom, we have to become willing to become slaves to God. The benefits you reap leads to what? It's in your notes. "The benefit you reap leads to holiness". "Well, now, wait a minute, you want me to be one of those..." Yeah, God intends that. He didn't forgive your sin so you could be a pagan with a clean conscience. He didn't forgive you of your past so you could be the most worldly amongst the people of God. He's forgiven us so that we could become slaves to him, which will lead us to holiness.
"And the result," don't miss the result, it's "eternal life". Eternal life. Not just a life without end. Your spirit has no end. When your body's done, your spirit will step into eternity. Eternal life in this context is life in the presence of God. Your spirit could spend all eternity apart from the presence of God. That's a desperate place, too desperate for me to even imagine. You wanna spend every waking moment you have under the sun being certain that your eternity is in the presence of God. And the presumptive attitude that "I said a little prayer, took a little dip in the pool, and therefore it's mine, it's all mine," is a very deceptive idea.
If we work with people and live next door to people and we socialize with people and we gather with them and we don't have the willingness to say, "You know, I'm pretty excited about Jesus in my life". If you don't say anything more than that, make 'em wonder why. I bet most of them never thought about being excited about Jesus. They're excited about the next vacation. They're excited about the kid's next ball game, they're excited about UT hanging another 50 on somebody. It's okay with me. But are you willing to say, "You know, I'm pretty excited with this Jesus thing. I've been thinking about him more and more".
First time you say it, it'll get really quiet. "Pass the cheese dip". But if you'll let that be known, people will begin to come up to you and say, "You know, I heard what you said, the thing about what you were excited. I don't understand. Could you tell me a little bit more about that"? "Well, there's a lot I don't know. Lord knows, I certainly don't feel like a Bible scholar, but I believe he's real and I found hope in that and I found peace and I, actually, I prayed a little bit. I mean, like, out loud, me. I, like, said a prayer. It didn't show up on Evan's caller ID 'cause, apparently, I wasn't in their directory, but I kept it up anyway".
You see, you can do this. I can do this. We haven't cared, 'cause we thought the government was gonna bring justice to us. Hello? We thought that somebody was gonna secure our future. We'd elect somebody and they're gonna make this right. So, we didn't really care. Folks, the government didn't take Jesus out of our schools. We didn't put enough Jesus in our kids and we sent our kids to school and there was no Jesus there. That's the truth. The government didn't take Jesus out of the corporate world, there wasn't enough Jesus in us and we've been hanging out in the corporate world, stacking bucks, and we didn't care if Jesus was there or not. We're the church. We are. That's awkward, isn't it? Scruffy, broken down, inconsistent.
If your friends have heard you swear more than they've heard you say, "I love Jesus," we've got work to do. If they've heard you express your enthusiasm and your joy about wickedness and ungodly things and selfish gratification more than they've heard us say, "God has been so good to me," we've got some work to do. "Well, Pastor, I'm an introvert". Oh, I see. That's in 2 Hezekiah 3, verse 11: "Introverts sit silently in the bleachers while those wacked-out people talk about something". I wanna add another layer to it. We have been overwhelmed with this notion of personal salvation, and I believe in that. I believe in the new birth, being born again, saved. I believe in that initiation point into the kingdom of God. But this issue really came front and center with the lockdowns. And it will be back.
The government never takes authority and yields it again. They'll take it with a crisis. But once they've understood you will yield to that expression of authority, they will create another crisis so they can exert that authority again. The labels will be a bit different, the causes will be a little different. Folks, we're very slow sometimes. It's because we walk too much in the dark and not enough in the light. So I wanna add a notion to this, that while we believe in that individual salvation that you have to make a decision about Jesus. The fact that your wife loves Jesus or your husband loves Jesus will not help you. The fact that your parents were godly people will not make a difference when you have to give an account.
The fact that you sat in the midst of a church filled with people who love the Lord will not help you. Your membership card from whatever community of faith, whatever denomination, whatever label, your laminated ministry tag from WOC Next Gen Ministries, that might get you in. I'm kidding. Don't send me... Romans chapter 12 and verse 4: "Just as each one of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others". It's using the analogy of our physical person. It said there's a lot of components, and every component matters. And no component flourishes alone. You know that's true. Your little finger's valuable. It is. You don't believe it, you get a little paper cut on that thing, you'll take a sick day. "I can't be typing with that thing. It's throbbing".
Valuable as it is, if you severed it from the rest of your body, it won't flourish. It's done. And no matter how valuable you think you are, apart from the body of Christ, you are done. "Well, I'm born again". Okay, I'll address that in a moment. But you will not have finished your assignment, you'll not complete what you were created for. "Well, I've had a lot of success". I'm happy about that. God blesses us even when we're ignorant. "Well, I've achieved and accomplished and become and", I understand that. I mean, as magnificent as your heart is, that pump in the middle of your person, separated from the rest of your person, it's not overly helpful. It's far more valuable functioning inside of the body, than it is as a science experiment being dissected.
Look at 1 Corinthians 12: "If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it". Ephesians 4, it's talking about the ministry gifts that God placed in the church and he said they were to "prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ". The whole measure of the fullness of Christ is expressed in the unity of the body. And if you'll allow me, unity in the faith does not equal some squishy compromise of truth. It's not about negotiating away the principles of Scripture. Rather, we're united in our obedience to God's truth.
And I should also point out to you, 'cause it isn't clear if you glance at our culture, that maturity does not equal sloppy adolescence as an adult. The exuberance of youth has to yield to the responsibility of maturing. Amen, church? It isn't just about me and how to get blessed, and how to get what I want so that I can do what I want, when I want, for the duration of time I want. That's a very childish attitude in a human being or spiritually. This bit has become so much more real to me in these last months as we have traveled a bit. Talking to church leaders and being in churches across the country. There's a great deal of disparity, a lot of distinction and differences, in how we understand ourselves.
Well, we have the same book and the labels on our buildings are very similar and there are some forms of our worship that are similar. But when I'm with the church in Portland and Seattle, they imagine themselves very differently. Far more isolated, lots of different, and in city after city after city, I listen and somewhere along the way it became so clear to me that there's not a church in Seattle and a church in San Diego and a church in Detroit and a church in Philadelphia and a church in New York and a church in Murfreesboro.
There is the church. The church. And if I read this correctly, in Romans or Corinthians, if one part of us suffers, we all suffer. We're the church. There's not the church in the Bible Belt and the church in pagan California. May they drop into the ocean quickly. I don't mean it. We've been so casual with this. Folks, we are the church. And I found myself saying, "We'll be back. You're not alone. You do matter". Where we're living is plunging into paganism so quickly, we need your prayers. That's true. You've been downtown Nashville lately on a weekend? It's not the Athens of the South any longer. It's not the center of Christian publishing. It's Nash Vegas, we say, proudly. We're the church, salt and light. We're a body of people.
1 Corinthians 12:20: "There are many parts, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, 'I don't need you!' And the head cannot say to the feet, 'I don't need you!'" Let me give you the contemporary version of that. "I don't need anyone else. I'm born again". Based on that Scripture, you can't say that. You can't say that. "The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I don't need you!' And the head can't say to the feet, 'I don't need you!'" We have an assignment that requires cooperation. "Ohh, we're gonna have to work together". I know, I hate to break it. We're never gonna do this on our own. We weren't called to be a group of individuals, transformed by the power of God, his grace, and his mercy through the authority of the shed blood of Jesus, so we stand alone. We have been justified, sanctified, redeemed, to be included in the community of faith. We need one another.
The New Testament reveals to us that the church of Jesus Christ is a body, that we need one another. That's awkward, isn't it? Every part's important, though the parts that are more annoying and the parts that seem more valuable in God's sight, we've got to stand together. I wanna pray that God will use your voice and mine to bring healing to his people:
Heavenly Father, I thank you for the church. I pray that you will give us the wisdom to be a voice of encouragement and strength to those around us. May we have the willingness to forgive those who need forgiven, and to ask forgiveness where it's needed. In Jesus's name, amen.