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James Merritt - The Defining Moment

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    James Merritt - The Defining Moment
TOPICS: Ephessians Bible Study

All of us have had experiences that altered the path of our lives. As a matter of fact, psychologists refer to these events as defining moments. And we've all had what we would call defining moments in our life. These are the moments, they shape the place that you live, they shape the profession you pursue, they shape the person you become. We all have them. You look back on your life, you've had yours, I've had mine. For example, the moment that a 19-year-old girl stood up in a classroom at Truett McConnell College and turned around and looked at me, it was a defining moment. Four decades later, three sons and four grandchildren, my life was complete changed.

There was another moment, it was an ordinary moment, I was standing in front of a post office at Stetson University in Deland, Florida. I reached into my post office box, opened up an envelope, and it told me my score on my law school admission test, and I realized that my dream of being a lawyer could absolutely come true. But an ordinary moment turned into a defining moment, because at that exact moment was when God said to me, "You're not going to law school, you're going into the ministry". And two seminary degrees and five pastorates, and countless spiritual conversion stories later, my life was completely changed, defining moment.

The moment that I saw my first son delivered, and then my second son delivered, and then my third son delivered. And I realized that I had the greatest responsibility any man will ever have, and that is to be a dad. My life completely changed. Those were defining moments. We all have them. Rose Kennedy, the matriarch of the Kennedy family once said this. She said, "Life is not a matter of milestones, but moments". That's so true. Life is not a matter of milestones, it's a matter of moments. I mean, think about it. When you look back on your life, you know the memories that will stand out to you? They're moments. They're like Kodak pictures, they're like snapshots in time.

Now, there are defining moments that have earthly consequences. But then there's defining moments that have eternal consequences. There's that defining moment that something happens to you and you know it's going to last forever. To me, you've heard many times, my the defining moment was in a movie theater about 35 miles from here in a little town called Gainesville, Georgia. I didn't realize it then. I placed my faith and trust in Christ in that theater, and it was the defining moment of my life. I didn't really understand all that happened to me, I still don't understand all that happened to me, but I look back now and I realize that what happened to me at that defining moment was unbelievable.

And that's why we're in a series, today if you're a guest of ours, we're in a series in the Book of Ephesians, that we're calling unbelievable. It's a letter that Paul wrote to a community in Ephesus, it's just outside of Turkey. In that letter, Paul basically tells these believers in this church that God is an unbelievable God, and that he has actually want done on the one hand, he has done unbelievable things for us, and because he's done unbelievable things for us, he wants to do unbelievable things through us. And so for three chapters, what Paul did was he took a lot of time to explain what God has done for us, how God had a plan that was formed before the creation of the world. It was a plan to adopt people into his family. It was a plan to send his Son Jesus Christ to die for our sins, so that the Holy Spirit could live in us. It was a team effort.

God the Father said, "I want you, I wanna adopt you, I wanna choose you, I wanna forgive you". To make that happen, God the Son said, "I'll go make that happen. I'll do for them what they can't do for themselves. I will die for their sins". And then the Holy Spirit said, "Well, let me chip in. They won't come to you unless I help them, so I will draw them to you. I will convict them, I will convince them, I will convert them, I will change them". And because of all of that, many of us listening right now have had the defining moment. But here's what Paul does. He does us a big favor. He says, "I want you to go back to the defining moment in your life, if you've had it, when you realized you were a sinner, you needed a Savior, that Savior is Jesus, and you decided to trust Jesus as your Savior". He said, "Do you really understand what happened at that defining moment? Do you understand why that is the defining moment in your life"?

And I'll be honest with you, most of us really have not thought about it. Oh, we say we're quote unquote saved, we say we've been forgiven, we say we've received eternal life, but it kind of sounds like pie in the sky kind of stuff, and Paul says, "Wait a minute, time out. Do you understand what really happened at that exact moment"? And I wanna share with you, this is such an exciting message for me, because it made me go back, all those years ago. When I sat in that little musty theater, and I watched that movie screen, and I saw Christ being crucified, and asked Jesus to come into my heart. And it made me, you mean, that's what really happened to me at that moment, it really, really is. So what is the defining moment? What are the steps you take that have the defining moment in your life?

Here's what Paul tells us. We're in Ephesians chapter one. And by the way, if you brought your notebook today, it's on page 22, just look in your notebook that you brought. It's on page 22, you could look on with me. The first step of having the defining moment is this, is when we believe in the grace of God. That's the first step to having the defining moment in your life. We believe in the grace of God. Now, Paul is taking all these believers back to that point in time when they said, "You remember that time in your life when you made a decision to go from death to life? And you made a decision to go from darkness to light? When you put your faith and trust that Jesus was the Son of God". He says, "Here's what happened". Listen to what Paul says. He says, "And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation, when you believed, you were marked in him with a seal the promised Holy Spirit".

Now I know that's kind of deep. We're gonna unpack that for a moment. He said, "Here's what happened". When you decided to surrender your life to Christ, whenever that happened, it actually was a two-step process. First of all, he said, you heard the message of truth, the gospel of salvation. Now that word truth is a key word throughout the Bible. Because whenever the Bible talks about truth, it doesn't just mean something that's not a lie. In the Bible the truth refers to something that's real, it's actual, it's not false, it's not imaginary. Let me give you an illustration. It is true that there is a cartoon character named Mickey Mouse. That's a true statement. But Mickey Mouse is not real. Mickey Mouse is a fictitious character. He's in our imagination. That is not what the word truth refers to here. The message of the gospel is not just a reported truth, a rumor that there was a Jew named Jesus Christ that died on a cross.

No, he was a real figure. He actually lived. He walked, he talked, he breathed, he taught, he hurt, he had pain, he was beaten, he was scourged, he actually died, and he was raised from the dead. And Paul says the first step to having the defining moment in your life is when you accept the gospel of salvation, not just listening to it, not just hearing it, but coming to the realization, you know what, this is true, this is real, this is not once upon a time and they lived happily ever after. This is actual stuff. There was an actual historical figure named Jesus, and that an actual historical event, he died on an actual cross. He was buried in an actual tomb. And he was actually raised from the dead. And Paul says the defining moment in your life is not just when you hear the message of truth. You don't just hear the gospel of salvation, but you actually believe in the grace of God which brings salvation. That's why Paul said, the qualifying condition of having this defining moment in your life comes when you believe, when you believe.

Now, why does he say that? There are three kinds of people in this world. There are some people who's never heard the gospel, in fact, far too many. There are a lot of people who have heard the gospel, but they have rejected the gospel. But then there are people who have heard the gospel and they believe the gospel. Now let me stop right here. There's a difference between hearing the good news of the gospel and believing the truth of the gospel. Let me give you an illustration. About two weeks ago I got a call from one of the guys that I mentor. And years ago, and he said, "Hey Pastor," he said, "I'm mentoring a young man myself, he's in the car with me, he wants to ask you a question. I'm gonna put him on the phone". And I said, "Sure". He got on the phone, he said, "Pastor," he introduced himself. He said, "Pastor," he said, "I've got a question". I said, "Sure, fire away". He said, "What about people who have never heard about Jesus"?

I can't tell me, honestly, I've heard that question many times, and it's a great question. And I've had to learn over the years to give a short answer than a long answer. So if you've ever asked that question, "Yeah, hey Pastor, what about those people who'd never heard about Jesus"? Well, here's my short answer. I don't know what I don't know, but I do know what I do know. So here are two things that I do know. I know these things to be true. Number one, the only way to God is through Jesus, I know that. On the other hand, I also know God is just and God always does the right thing. So I said that to this young man, and I said, "Now let me be more specific with you". He said, "Okay". I said, "Look, God knows the intent, and God knows the heart of every single person. So I have to just leave all these people who have never heard about Jesus. I just have to leave those people to God, knowing and believing and trusting whatever God does, it will be the right thing".

And I said, "Now, by the way, that's why we believe in evangelism, that's why we believe in missions, that's why we believe in going around the world and going to people who have never heard the gospel, and share the gospel". He said, "Okay, I get that". I said, "Yeah, but I want you to get this. This is more important than your question. I want you to hear this". I said, "I would far rather be a person who has never heard about Jesus than to be a person who has heard about Jesus and rejected him. I'd far rather be a person who's never heard about Jesus, than to hear about Jesus and reject him". So let me just make it plain. It is better never to hear the gospel, than to hear the gospel and not believe the gospel. Because the moment you hear the gospel, you are responsible to believe the gospel.

Paul said, "When you heard the word of truth, and you believed, that was a defining moment". But now that leads to a second thought, I wanna go back to it. What does it mean to believe? I mean, how do you know that you truly believe? I mean, listen, let's be honest. Everybody in this room knows somebody, you may be thinking about them right now. They say they believe the gospel, they say they believe in Jesus, but they're not living like it. There's no fruit in their life, and what fruit there is is rotten. And you go, "I don't understand, they say they believe, but I look at their life and it doesn't match up". Well, that's why there's a difference between belief and faith. It's okay, I don't understand. We can believe something to be true, without it making much difference to us. But we place our faith only in something that is vital to the way we live.

So how do you know that your belief is really faith? Well Paul tells us. He says, "Here's how you'll know it". He says, "You are marked with a seal of the Holy Spirit. You are marked with a seal by the Holy Spirit". In other words, here's what he said. He says, here's how you know you truly believe, when you believe in the grace of God, the Spirit of God comes and lives in you. And when the Spirit of God comes and lives in you, here's what he does. He empowers you, and he equips you, and he enables you to live a godly life. So here's the point. When I placed my faith in Jesus, I didn't know all this when I placed my faith in Jesus. But when that nine-year-old boy gave his heart to Jesus, at that moment, the Holy Spirit of God came to live in me. And here's what the Holy Spirit said. "James, I am coming to live in you right now. And I am never let you going to go back to being you. I am never going to let you go back to being you".

See, when you truly experience Jesus Christ, when you really hear the word of truth, and you truly believe, you're not just different. Let me tell you something. You can't help but be different. We all know people who claim to be Christians, they claim to be followers of Christ, but there's no fruit in their life. As a matter of fact, there's some who say they believe in Jesus, but they're willfully and defiantly living an ungodly lifestyle. Now let me just make something plain. Hear me when I say this. I am not implying that I have the authority to tell somebody if they're a Christian or not. I don't have that authority. I don't know a person's heart. I don't even know my own heart. I can't say definitively, somebody says to me, "Well, they really are a Christian," I can't definitively say, "No, you really aren't a Christian".

However, here's what I can tell you. If there's no fruit in your life, if your lifestyle is denying what you say you believe, this is what I can tell you. Your lifestyle should give you no comfort from Scripture to assume that you are a Christian. The defining moment begins when you truly believe in the grace of God. Now, I haven't really told you anything you already heard. You've heard that a thousand times. However, here's what we don't get. But what happened after that? I mean, you know, you didn't just get a ticket to heaven, and God says, "Okay, I'll see you later". Paul says, "Oh no, there's something else that happened". When you believed in the grace of God, when we received, when we believed the grace of God, we received the guarantee of God, we received the guarantee of God.

Now, look what happens. Here's what Paul says, and this is so important for some of you today who are struggling with your relationship to God. He says, "Look," he says, "when you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit, guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession". Now Paul said, God is so good, and God is so gracious, and God knows the way we are, God, here's what God did. God said, "James, I'm not only going to save you, I'm not gonna only give you eternal life, I'm not only going to promise you when you die, you'll spend eternity with me. You know what, I know you're gonna doubt it, and I know you're gonna wonder at times, so I'm gonna give you a guarantee".

Do you know why God did that? Because from time immemorial, we've always wanted assurance, right? We've always wanted assurance. We've always wanted guarantees, why? Because you just can't trust other people. You know, people, I hate to tell you this, and I know this is gonna shock to you, but people lie. They lie, people don't always keep their promises. And so here's what we do. We demand oaths, sworn affidavits, surety bonds, guarantees, warranties, contracts, notarized signatures. Why do we want all that stuff? We want a guarantee that whatever you're promising me, I'm gonna get. Whatever you say is going to happen is going to happen. God says, "You know what, I'm not above that".

So God says to those of us who place our faith in Jesus, he says, "I'm gonna give you the greatest guarantee that your faith will be rewarded, that everything I promised you, I'm going to give you". And he said, "That guarantee is the Holy Spirit. That's my guarantee". And he's described in two ways. He's described as a seal, and he's described as a deposit. Now, we don't, that doesn't really say a whole lot to us, maybe the latter part, but not the first one. Back in Bible days, that would've gotten your attention, because a seal was extremely important back in the day whenever a king would give an order or he would write a letter, he would take his ring, he would dip it in wax, he would seal the document.

So when you got a document with that seal, you knew, first of all, okay, this is an official document, this is not a forgery, this is from the king. It also could not be opened except, by anyone except to whom the document referred to, you knew its contents were totally protected, and you know whatever the king said in that letter was going to happen, because it came from the king. Well, seals are very important today, right? You know, if you wanna keep air out of a jar, you seal its mouth with this rubber ring lid. If you wanna keep oxygen from ruining wine, you seal it with cork and wax. If you wanna seal a deal, you sign a contract and you notarize your signature, why? Because that seal confirms that this document or this object is the real thing, it is authentic, it belongs to you, it makes it safe, it is totally secure, it closes the transaction permanently.

And God says, look, I told you this last week, that God has already given us every spiritual blessing that there is to have in Christ. But we also need no deed there. But we don't have all those blessings yet, right? I'm not in the eternal presence of God yet. Whatever house or mansion he's building for me, I'm not in there yet. I don't have the blessings of being with my mom and dad who went to be with God yet. So I've got some of these blessings that haven't come. And sometimes this doubt creeps in, and by the way, I have them to. I mean, is this real? Is what I preach really true? Am I really gonna get everything that God says? Is it really real? And then the Spirit of God in me speaks to me. And the Spirit of God confirms to me, and the Spirit of God says to me, "Hey, remember me? I am God's promise that the deal was made, the deal was sealed, the deal is safe, and the deal is secure".

We've been sealed with the Holy Spirit. But then he calls the Holy Spirit a deposit. Now that word was used of earnest money or a down payment on a piece of property. It was a first installment to guarantee everything else is going to be paid, except in this case, it's a little bit different. The guarantee is not separate from what is guaranteed. The Holy Spirit is actually the first portion of what is guaranteed. You know, when you make a deposit on a house, which we've all probably done at one time or another, and you sign a contract, you just guaranteed yourself two things.

Number one, you just bought a house, and number two, you gonna pay for it, right? You just bought a house, you just guaranteed, and you're going to pay for it. God says, "I wanna give you a guarantee. I'm putting my Holy Spirit in you, and I'm guaranteeing that home I've told that I'm building for you, that home is waiting for you. That life I told you that is eternal, it really is eternal. And everything that belongs to my Son, now belongs to you". So the Holy Spirit is God's good housekeeping seal of approval. We belong to him, he belongs to us, what he has is ours.

So just think about this. If you're a believer in Christ, you'll understand this. You ever have those times when there's just, you can't explain it? Sometimes it happens in church, sometimes it may happen when you're on the ocean, or you're just looking over a beautiful mountain, you know, mountaintops, or no matter where you may be, and this unspeakable joy just comes over you. It's just this joy of knowing, you know, there is a God and he loves me, and I love him, and I know him, and he knows me. Or you've had that experience where you've gone through a tough time in your life, you've gone through a storm or there's a spot on the x-ray or the doctor says it doesn't look good. And yet there's this peace that in your heart, that you know what, it's all gonna work out all right. And then there's those times you just have that experience, that boy, I just can't, I'm just overwhelmed by the love of God, I was just singing those songs awhile ago, I'm just overwhelmed by the love of God.

Do you know what all those experiences are? God says, "That's my down payment. That's my deposit. That's just my reminding you that everything you're experiencing here is just a down payment on what you're going to get for all eternity". So when we believe in the grace of God, we receive the guarantee of God, we are sealed, we are deposited by the Holy Spirit. Now, I could stop right there, and you say, "Boy that was pretty cool". But the third part of the message to me is the most important part and the one that I'm gonna guarantee you, no pun intended, you're gonna really learn something. 'Cause I'm gonna share with you something that if you don't get this down in your heart, you're gonna be disappointed at times in God, and you're gonna kind of feel like, you know, I don't know why God didn't come through, when he really did, but it doesn't look like he did.

And you gotta get this down in your heart and understand why really all of this took place. Are you ready? When we believe in the grace of God, and we receive the guarantee of God, then the most important thing of all happens, and this is what really makes the defining moment the defining moment. Ready? We achieve the glory of God, we achieve the glory of God. Now watch, I'm gonna teach you something. Think about what God has done for you. I'm talking about before this world was even created, we talked about it last week. He chose you, he adopted you, he redeemed you, he forgave you, by sending his Son to die for you. Then he sends his Holy Spirit to live in you. It's more than just a story that seems too good to be true, it really is just unbelievable.

I mean, think about it. You mean God really loved me enough to send his Son to die for me? Yes sir, yes ma'am. And you mean God the Son really loved me enough, me, with all my faults and failures, to die for me? Yes ma'am, yes sir. And you mean the Holy Spirit of God loved me enough to come and live in me and change me into what I need to be? Yes, he really did. That's just unbelievable. It is. But the question now is not just how it happened, but why it happened. Why did God come? Why did Jesus die? Why does the Holy Spirit live in you? Why has God forgiven you? Why has God given you eternal life? So here's what we think. Well, I know why he did. He did it for our good. Well, he did do it for your good, but that's not the primary reason. He did it give me joy and peace. Well, he did, but that's not the primary reason.

Now, I'm about to tell you the reason why God does everything. And you better get this, or you're gonna be really disappointed in God at times, I'm just telling you. The reason why God does everything God does is, Paul said, "To the praise of his glory". Now I hate to burst the bubbles in this room, but God's number one concern is not what's good for you, it's what brings him glory. If that makes you mad at him, take it up with him. His primary goal, his primary motivation is to bring himself glory. See, the plan was always centered in the grace of God, but the purpose was always for the glory of God. Everything that God does is only secondarily for our good. It's always primarily for his glory.

Now before you say, "I don't like that, I'd rather be first, I'd rather come before him". Calm down, chill out. Whatever God does for his glory will always be for your good. If that means the cancer takes you and you don't make it, it's all right. That means if you do everything to save the marriage, but the marriage goes down the tubes, it's okay. That means if you have to go through the experience of a dream unrealized, that's all right. And this is how you'll really know that you're walking with God the way you ought to walk with God. Some of you are not gonna like this, so I'm just telling you. The way you'll always know you're really walking with God is when you can honestly look at yourself in the mirror and say, "God, I'm a lot more concerned that you're glorified than I am that it's good for me. I'm a lot more concerned for your glory than my good, 'cause I know ultimately if it's for your glory, it will be for my good".

'Cause everything is to the praise of his glory. By the way, this is the third time that Paul uses that phrase. I mean, he's kind of obsessed with it, right? In verse six, Paul said, "Every spiritual blessing is to the praise of his glorious grace". He said in verse 12, "When people put their hope in Jesus, it might be for the praise of his glory". Now let me stop right here. This is where some people, particularly these new atheists, and these unbelievers say, "What an egotistical God! What a self-centered God! All he cares about is his glory. You want me to worship that kind of God"? Well here's the problem. There's a difference between the glory of God and the glory of humans.

You say, "What do you mean"? Well, it's not just what God has that we should give him glory for, it's not just what God deserves. You know why God deserves all the glory and we don't deserve any of the glory is because of who God is. See, if I said to you, "Hey, would you make the sun light"? What would you say to me? "I can't make the sun light, it is light". Okay, how about making the sky blue? Well, I can't make the sky blue, it is blue. "Okay, how about making the water wet"? he says. "Can't do that, it is wet". You don't make God glorious, he is glorious. And because he is glorious, we are to give him glory.

Now let me tell you what that means. At the end of the day, not only is your greatest purpose in life, listen to me, not only is your greatest purpose in life, your only purpose in life is to glorify God, period. Your purpose in life's not to make money, it's not to get that killer deal, it's not to drive the car, it's not to have the house, it's not to have the jewelry, it's not to have the biggest retirement account, that is not your purpose in life. All those things may be blessings of God, that's all well and good. Your only purpose, your greatest purpose, your sole purpose in life is to bring glory to God.

One of my favorite authors, J.I Packer, put it this way. He said, "The only thing that God is bound to do is the very thing he requires of us, to glorify himself". And the reason why your salvation and my salvation is so glorious is not just because of the grace that comes to us, and the goodness that's placed within us, it is because when we give our lives to Christ, we're giving glory to the one who gave us grace and gave us goodness. And though you may not realize it, and I didn't when it happened to me, the defining moment, the reason why the defining moment of any person's life is when they trust Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior is because at that exact moment, you don't just believe in the grace of God, you don't just receive the guarantee of God, you achieve the glory of God.

So let me kind of give you a great illustration of, then you'll say why you're here on this earth. I'm gonna throw some names up, and if you've ever heard of these people, or these organizations, I want you to just raise your hand, okay. How many of you ever heard of Jack Tinker & Partners? Nobody, okay. How about this one, Doyle Dane Bernbach? Anybody ever heard of Doyle Dane? Hmm, okay. How about this one, BBDO? No takers. How about Foote, Cone & Belding? All right, we're four for four. How about J. Walter Thompson? Nobody, hm. Well, join the club. I'd never heard of any of these people, any of these companies, any of these organizations. You know what that tells me when I found out who they were? Their mission was accomplished. They are five of the most successful people and organizations in the history of American business.

You say, "But, I've never heard of them". Let me tell you why. Every one of those names up there represent advertising agencies. Their job is not to make a name for themselves, their job is to make a name for others. Their job is not to shine the spotlight on themselves and their companies, their job is to shine a spotlight on the clients they represent and their products. So you say, "Man, I've never heard of these people". Yeah, but you may be familiar with their work. Okay, for example, have you ever heard this phrase, "Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is"?

Have you ever heard of that? Yeah, that was the work of Jack Tinker & Partners for Alka-Seltzer in 1976, never changed. How about this one, "We try harder"? Yeah, that's Doyle Dane Bernbach. They gave Avis Rental Car that slogan in 1962, and it put them on the map. Oh, how about this one, "Mm, mm good"? Heard that one? Yeah, it's the only add Cambell's soup has ever produced. BBDO came up with that. They've used it since 1935, and they're the number one soup seller in the world. Listen, we hear this one, comes around once every year at Christmastime.

"When you care enough to send the very best". Yeah. Hallmark Cards started using it in 1934, courtesy of Foote, Comb & Belding, hasn't changed. And if you still haven't heard of any of those, I know you've heard of this one, if you're a parent. "Snap, Crackle, and Pop"! Right. Your kids eat Rice Krispies, that's the work of J. Walter Thompson. Now listen to me. Those are all successful products. Those are all successful ads. Those are all successful companies. You know why? 'Cause they got it from the very beginning. They knew where the spotlight was supposed to be shining. It wasn't supposed to be shining on them, it was supposed to be shining on their client and their product.

You'll finally realize you have achieved what you need to achieve, you'll finally realize what life is all about when you understand the purpose of your life never has been, is not, and never will be to shine the spotlight on you, it's always to shine the spotlight on him. We didn't get put here so we'd have the Mercedes, and the Rolex, and the beach condo, and the lake house and the boat, and I'll repeat, there is nothing wrong with any of those, and if you own them, or want me to use them, I'll be glad to do so.

That is not the purpose of your life. Your purpose in life was to shine the spotlight on him. And the defining moment in life is when we hear the word of truth, we believe in the grace of God, and at that moment we receive the guarantee of God, because then we achieve the glory of God. Here's the last thing. If you're one of those people like me, and you say, "Pastor, I have experienced the defining moment in my life," we have a responsibility to give other people who haven't the opportunity to have one as well.
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