Allen Jackson - Expressions of God's Power - Part 2
Hey, we're continuing our discussion on the church as an expression of God's power and authority. You know, for a long time as a young person, I thought that going to church made you a church person. The goal isn't sitting in a building. The goal is a relationship with Jesus. That's a unique opportunity. It means the power or the creator of heaven and earth is present within me to bring about transformation from the inside out. I'm not captive to my habits. There's a new authority in me. Enjoy the lesson.
The pressure that is in front of us is real, and you won't make it by yourself. You won't be able to stand by yourself. It's like tug-of-war, and you're the only person on the rope. You'll be in the pit. Say, "Well, I'm pretty strong". Bless your heart. You're not as strong as all the things that will be pulling and pushing against you. We need one... it's not just my opinion, folks. It is a biblical principle. Now I wanna add one more thing to this. We're talking about the church, and who God is calling us to be. Please understand, I'm inviting you to a change. I'm not inviting you to status quo. A decade ago or two decades ago, you identified your correctness in your relationship with God by the label of the place you attended.
Are you a Christian? "Absolutely I am; I go to this church. Absolutely I am; I belong to this group of Christians. And they're a right group, they're an upstanding group, they're an orthodox group and by my affiliation with them and my general acceptance of their principles, I assume that I'm in good standing". I'm not going back to revisit that. I'm willing to say to you that's not adequate today for the challenges that are before us. I'm not willing to argue that it was ever adequate, but I don't wanna go visit that debate today. I wanna tell you the world has changed. The things that are contributing to the stability in the world are changing.
The forces that are trying to shape what's right and wrong, good and evil, to define the future of your children and your grandchildren, have changed. And if the church doesn't find its voice and stand up, we will lose the freedoms that we currently hold, however diminished you may perceive them to be. It's time, church. We struggle with the most basic things. We struggle with the most fundamental things. The definition of marriage, the definition of family, whether we're male or female. Those things are all being challenged. Are you watching? We're in an election cycle again. I'm asked occasionally to give a little commentary. I'm amazed at the questions they ask. They come to me for a Christian perspective and, typically, it's for a Christian audience, because there is confusion in that audience. Like, "Can Christians support someone who is of another faith"?
Apparently, it's a question. "Well, they're smart, they speak well". And they worship another god. Would you raise your hand to put yourself and your children under the authority of an idolater? Would you do that? Not if you have any awareness of Scripture. Not if you believe spiritual things have any reality. Now, if you don't believe those things, sort it out. But if you imagine that there is a God who created the heavens and the earth and that you cannot be holy and blameless in his sight, apart from the person of Jesus, anyone who diminishes Jesus to a less stature than that, I will not serve. And I would encourage you not to do so either. We've been invited to a new kind of life. I'm not gonna finish your outline so you can relax. I doubt you were very tense anyway.
Ephesians. I took a big chunk from that chapter because Paul's talking to the Ephesian church about a new kind of life. Do you remember the backstory of Ephesus? Extraordinary miracles there. That's the language that Paul... God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, even handkerchiefs that he laid his hands on. People were delivered from unclean spirits with enough frequency and enough public attention that the sons of a Jewish high priest tried it, and their outcome was not so good. In fact, they were humiliated in a very public way, enough so that it caused a repentance across the city and they brought, in today's dollars, millions of dollars' worth of things that they had used in the occult and burned them in a public bonfire.
I mean, there was a moving of the Spirit of God of enough significance that it was totally transforming the way people behaved. The church was being the church. And then there was a demonic response. The people that worshiped the god of Ephesus, Artemis, stirred up a big problem, and it looked as if Paul might be physically torn apart if the mob could put their hands on him. That's a demonic response. You can understand that when the Spirit of God begins to move, there'll be demonic resistance. Don't be surprised by that. The Bible tells us about it. Now you can have a little seminar and say, "We don't believe in demons," but it won't protect you from the demonic response.
So Paul's writing now to this group of people. They have all of that in their experience portfolio. They've known Paul in that way. They've seen him navigate those things. They've seen what it's done in their city and the hundreds and hundreds of people that have been transformed by it, and yet when Paul writes them a note, some season later, this is what he has to say to them: "I tell you this, and I insist on it in the Lord," that's pretty strong. "You must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking". He's writing to Christians. He said, "Listen, I insist, you must..." He's not saying, "May I make a suggestion? Let me offer a little advice".
He's not leaving a third lane, a middle option. He's saying, "You must no longer live as the Gentiles do. Their thinking is futile, unfruitful, empty. They're darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. They've lost all sensitivity, they've given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they're full of greed". Gee, I'm glad we couldn't find any of those characteristics in our culture. Verse 20: "That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus".
May we stop there for a moment? He said, "You were taught that to be in Christ meant you were going to lead a different kind of a life than the people who were not. You can't live like the pagans, say 'Jesus' on Sunday morning and imagine you're a Christ follower". We've been taught to live another way. And then he's gonna identify some of these characteristics. "You were taught," verse 22, "with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires". You have to put off those deceitful desires. They won't evaporate. They won't just dissipate. They won't just dry up and be blown away by the breeze. You're gonna have to take them off like a jacket. And like, I understand those desires. I used to give them full expression, but I choose not to do that anymore.
"To be made new," verse 23, "in the attitude of your minds". You're gonna have to learn to think in some new ways. I have so many conversations with God's people and they go, "Well, Pastor, you know, I know what you read from the Bible. Let me tell you what I think". "Oh, would you"? "This is how I feel". I understand. I have feelings and thoughts, too, but I'm doing my best to let them conform, day by day, week over week, month after month, more completely to what I see the Word of God invites me to. I'm trying to change my mind. I don't want how I think being shaped by secular culture. I've been to university. I could have been a professional student. I could have lived in academia. I was okay with that. But I don't want that being what shapes my understanding of right and wrong.
One of the real points of freedom came for me, I was on a completely different track for a completely different profession, and I was in a fundamental biology class, and we did a couple of sessions on the history of science. Well, I'm an advocate for science, I believe in the scientific method; but I remember sitting in that class, and they talked about the individual that did some breakthrough work on genetics. He did it with pea plants in his garden, a priest, and discovered that genetics had an impact. First, he figured it out in peas. Then we went through a whole series of those kind of breakthrough ideas, and I thought, "Science is not a thing. It's a process".
And if the Lord delays 100 years from now, third-graders will laugh at our current batch of PhDs; because if we have the opportunity to keep learning and keep growing, and civilizations don't always have those opportunities, there are seasons of great regression as well. I thought why would I give my life to learning something when I could go step into the eternal principles of God that will shape us, no matter which culture ascends? No matter what's happening in the earth, there's a set of things that will be true. "You were taught," he said, "to be made new in the attitudes of your mind". What have you let shape the attitudes of your mind? Who's defined success for you? Who's told you what makes you secure? What is it you imagine exactly makes you valuable?
I want you to know how valuable you are. I want you to know you are precious in the sight of God, that Jesus offered himself for you. And when you believe that, you'll have the courage to start to say to your friends, "I'm so excited about Jesus. It's just amazing to me what he's done for me. Yeah, I'm with him". But if you imagine that their opinion or if they don't know him, and they're chasing some other goal, and you're not chasing that goal, and you're not willing to say, you know, candidly, "That goal is not my objective". "Really? Why not"? "I've set everything else aside for that. That is my life goal. How could it not be your goal"? "I discovered something, and it's changed me. I'll tell you more about it if you really wanna know".
You see, we've gotten so distracted. Our thinking has drifted so far. We're in such deep camouflage. We're like those people we see, the snipers we see in the movies, you know, they're in their ghillie suits. They're dressed like weeds, and if they're really still, you can't see 'em. That's been the church, right? You see another Christian, you kind of wink. But for God's sake, don't move, just... "I'm one of you". And if they look away... But you wanna be immobile before they look back. We gotta blend in. And Paul is saying something else to the Ephesian church: "Put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness".
I'm gonna walk into this group differently than I walked in before. I'm gonna walk in as a representative of righteousness and holiness. Not because I'm so good or I'm so special, but I'm coming with a new value set. I put off that old self. "So I don't know if I wanna do that". Therein lies the rub. Why not? What is it we're holding on to? "Well, I'm born again". Okay, okay, breathe. The question is about maturing, growing up. It's really awkward when you see adults acting like adolescents. When you see that, it's unfortunate. It may make a fun video, but it's not fun if you imagined you were there in the moment. And it's certainly not fun if you were dependent upon that person for a mature response.
Some of you have suffered because of those circumstances. And it's just as unseemly when it's Christ followers. We refuse to grow up. I'm not suggesting we earn our way to heaven. I'm suggesting that as we grow up in the Lord, there's responsibilities that God would entrust us with. It matters. We "put on a new self, to be created like in righteousness and holiness". Then Paul gets really specific; he gets into the weeds of it. Verse 25: "Each of you must put off falsehood," he's talking to Christians. "Stop lying," he said. "Stop misremembering". "Speak truthfully to your neighbor, because we're all members of one body". They're lying to one another. "In your anger stop sinning".
Stop using your anger as a license for ungodliness. "Don't let the sun go down while you're still angry, don't give the devil a foothold". Some of you have sold him real estate. "Anyone who's been stealing, stop it". He's having to say this to God's people. We're not that different. This isn't the end-of-time pressure. This is human nature. There are some pressures that come with this season, but this set of things, folks, comes from our old carnal nature. "Stop stealing, go to work". Boy, that's not a message our culture needs. "Do something useful with your own hands, that you can have something to share with those in need". We've rewritten that: "Do something useful with your own hands so that you can pursue your own interests".
Verse 29: "Don't let unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but talk about what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen". Boy, that's a different way to be the life of the party. I know, you'll get uninvited from some places. You'll survive. "Don't grieve the Holy Spirit of God". Verse 31: "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger". We've institutionalized it. We scan our history, we go through our personal portfolios, looking for something we can be angry about, embittered by, enraged because of. We're told to offload those things, don't carry them. "But I wasn't treated fair". No kidding. They tortured Jesus to death so that you and I might have an opportunity to be holy and blameless in the sight of God.
And the only way of activating your account in that context is if you get rid of your bitterness, and rage, and anger. You're not entitled. I'm not entitled. "Well, there's a lot of people that tell me", okay, "Put off your old self". Verse 32: "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you". I mean, it is a handbook to the people of God. And it's in language that's very accessible to us. We've just lacked the intent. I'll go back to the quote with which we began. The inherited church, it's collapsing. The believing church, the faithful church, is gaining strength. If you want your faith to gain strength, if you want God's strength to be more evident in your family, begin to walk faithfully with the Lord.
Folks, the world is counting on the church. They don't know it. It is the hope of our world. You are. See, I understand the great challenge. We know intuitively we're not enough. We're not smart enough, we're not powerful enough, we don't command enough resources. No matter how many resources you command, you don't command enough. You understand, you've seen needs. You see gross expressions of injustice and you think, "Well, with my little voice, with my little self, I'm not gonna make any difference," so we just dial it way back. Well, your observation is correct up to a point. What we have discounted is Christ in you. Christ in you. We're ambassadors for the kingdom of God.
When the United States is an ambassador to some foreign country with a message to some petty tyrant that it hasn't gone unnoticed, that ambassador doesn't have the ability to turn back the tanks or to execute justice in that place. But when the message is delivered, if the tyrant doesn't heed the message, the weight of all the authority that ambassador represents can be brought to bear. The Marines are coming, and they won't say "Please" and "Thank you".
And you and I are said to be ambassadors for the kingdom of God. And when you see the Lord, you don't want to have to raise your hand and say, "Well, I didn't take my ambassadorial role very seriously. I thought of myself more as a covert operator". We need the church to be the church. Are you ready? Amen, stop waiting for an election. Stop waiting for another Congressional hearing. Stop waiting for the pastor to get more anointed. Stop waiting for the parking place you want so you can get into the building happy.
I wanna close with a proclamation, if you'll stand with me. Now, I gave you a copy of this because I wanna send you with an assignment. I wanna invite you to make this proclamation over your home. If you choose, maybe you make it over the place where you do business. I'm not saying you have to stand up on your desk on Tuesday at work. You can make it from behind the steering wheel of your vehicle. But if you'll allow me, I would like to make this proclamation over you this morning, which means you can just listen. But I wanna invite you to receive.
You know, posture matters. You ever talked to somebody, and they kept rolling their eyes? Did you wanna slap 'em... in a God-loving, Jesus-honoring sort of way? Posture matters, good and bad. And one way of simply saying, "I wanna receive," is to turn your palms to the Lord. You don't have to do that, but I wanna bring you a blessing this morning. It's not mine. I took it from Ephesians 3. I gave you the reference so you would know. But it is an accurate reflection of my desire for you today, wherever you happen to be hearing this:
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord's people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.