You know I grew up around church. If there is one thing that I know is that we Christians sure know a lot about the rules. We know what we should wear. We know what we should say, and we know what we should do. We grasp all the rules and the regulations of the Christian faith, and in many ways we focus on them…if we aren’t careful, we focus on them too much. This leads to some really sad results in our churches today. First someone who isn’t part of the church walks in and they don’t know all the do’, and they surely don’t know all the don’t do’s…so they end up on the outside looking in at a bunch of people that all talk the same, wear the same clothes, and they feel left out. They also end up feeling judged, because what tends to happen is the person that follows the rules walks around feeling very good about themselves, and the person that doesn’t live up to all the rules, well they feel like less. They feel like they don’t add up, and they often walk away from the religious person very tired, and realizing that they just aren’t good enough for that church club that seems to form each and every Sunday. My heart aches for the millions of people around the world who have been gut-punched by religion somewhere along the line in their life. It often leads them further from God than where they were before they walked through the church doors.
I think here at MRC we often can come across as the church who really mocks and makes fun of the religious person…and well, I can’t deny that, or defend myself from it because that is true. The reality is that as much as we hurt for those who have been crushed by religion, we also carry a heavy burden for those who have been caught in the trap the enemy laid out inside a religious system. We hurt for the person who is stuck in religion. Here’s why…they are good people. It’s just that they are focused on one small aspect of Christianity…and not the most important part of Christianity. This person who is wearing the right clothes, saying the right things, and is completely focused on all of the rules (you know, the things they believe they must do for God) is in every bit as much danger as the non-Christian. They may just never know it because they are doing good things. They see no need to change because they feel good! Here’s the thing, these rules and regulations are easier to focus on, because they are black and white. You know what I mean? It is concrete, black and white, and it is something that we humans can easily wrap our minds around. The tragedy is that we can lose sight of the truth of Jesus, the crazy love, the grace, and the acceptance that we have been given when we live in Christ rather than trying to live to earn salvation. Isn’t it easier if our church would just give us a list of things to do rather than ask us to spend time with God and begin to live in the truth of love and grace? If we aren’t careful we lose focus and the primary focus of our lives becomes about the religious system we are in rather what should be central. When that happens we can miss the very reason Jesus came to this earth.
Romans 7:4 When Christ died he took that entire rule-dominated way of life down with him and left it in the tomb, leaving you free to “marry” a resurrection life and bear “offspring” of faith for God.(MSG)
So if this scripture is true, then I’m assuming that Jesus came to this earth and died on the cross so that we can walk in freedom, so that we don’t have to focus so hard on rules and regulations…but completely on Him. I know, I know there is someone in the audience getting very uncomfortable with me saying things like this today. I get it, you are thinking that I am telling everyone to go out and rob banks, do drugs, run to strip clubs, because it’s now a free for all! I hear you, you think all of Dillsburg is going to turn in the Wild West, because Sam said Jesus took the rules away. Well the reality is that people who are entering into a truly loving relationship with Jesus…who are grasping what grace is aren’t looking for loop-holes or ways to abuse the freedom that Jesus provide. You know why? It’s because they are spending each day, growing closer and closer to Him. They know that they will fail at times, but they spend each day pursuing holiness and the focus stays on Jesus, not on the rules.
Jesus changed everything! Many people walk through life believing that Jesus came into this world to restore our obedience to God’s law. Obedience was part of Jesus mission but it was not the most important part! What Jesus did was bring love, forgiveness, and mercy. When we live in Him, we live in grace. Jesus tipped the scales and smashed the way things were done. Before Jesus, it was all about what we do and what we don’t do…but now everything becomes about what Jesus did for us. Can you see the shift? Jesus was about bigger things than rule following obedience…because love is bigger than obedience! This is huge.
I’m not saying life because lawless and rule-less…what I’m saying is that our focus shifts from what we do to what God does…Paul says it well here.
Romans 3:31 But by shifting our focus from what we do to what God does, don’t we cancel out all our careful keeping of the rules and ways God commanded? Not at all. What happens, in fact, is that by putting that entire way of life in its proper place, we confirm it. (MSG)
So this is huge, we can miss Jesus. We can miss why He came and what He does and we can make all of it about us. When it’s about you, you will be left wanting more, and wondering why that is.
Can I ask you a question today? What is the essence of sin? You see most people when they think of sin will tell you that sin is the breaking of God’s law. Which is true…but the question then becomes why do we sin…what is at the very center of why we sin?
The essence of sin is self-interest. It’s very important you see this, and it will come up from time to time today.
Isn’t it interesting that you can do everything right; you can follow all the rules and be a devout, law abiding person and still be sinning against God? You can do all the do’s and not do all “the not do’s” and still be far from God. That is why we need the Holy Spirit transforming our minds to the ways that God thinks.
Do you remember the Bible story Ken told us last week? You know the really crazy, Jerry Springer story? The one with Abram and Sarai and her made servant Hagar? It started with God revealing his plan to Abram in Genesis 12:2.
Genesis 12:2 “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.” NIV
Then time passes, and more time passes and Abram and Sarai, well they are getting old and they still aren’t having kids. It’s hard to make a great nation if you don’t have kids. So Sarai tells Abram…her husband to go and sleep with Hagar her servant and so that they may finally have a child and Abram does it! That is crazy! Ken was right, this is an absolute Springer moment! The implications of this story were amazing. Ken told you by not waiting on God to fulfill their promise Abram created his Ishmael…and to this very day the nation of Isaac fights with the nation of Ishmael. It’s pretty incredible that we still can see result of that action today!
Here’s two very interesting thoughts from that story…
1. What if I told you what Abram and Sarai did was right? Well as a crazy as it sounds to you and I and the culture we live in, what if I told you that it was actually the right thing to do in the culture they lived in? I’m serious! This was not just legal, but normal for those times. Abram and Sarai did everything right here. They followed all the rules. They did everything according to the law cod of their time, yet they interfered with God’s will for their lives because they didn’t believe God would come through for them miraculously. They were so excited to have an heir to fulfill God’s promise that they made their own way to do what God had already assured them he would do.
2. Abram got through Hagar everything he got from Sarai except the most important thing. God had promised Abram a son where this great nation would come from. Sarai had Isaac who had 12 sons. Hagar had Ishmael who had 12 sons. Isaac’s twelve son’s had families, became kings with kingdoms, and they owned great sections of the Middle East. Ishmael’s twelve sons did the exact same thing. So Abram got everything from Hagar that he got from Sarai…except the most important thing. His long awaited descendant Jesus.
Here’s the difference- Ishmael is the product of Abram doing exactly what the law told him to do. Isaac is the child of God’s fulfilled promise. It just took a simple biological act to make Ishmael, but it took an act of God to produce Isaac! This is huge!
This crazy story of Abram and Sarai is a great example of how you can do everything right and still be far from the heart of God.
So here we go, I want you to hear this…and for some of you this might be difficult to hear. You can live each day doing right, following all the rules, and you can still be far from the heart of God. You can do what is right every day and still wonder why something in your life seems to be missing. Don’t get me wrong you are probably going to heaven and you probably appear to everyone around you as a very holy and good person but deep down at the places you don’t want to talk about at parties something is missing isn’t it? That something is what should be the very focal point of your life. That hole can only be filled by the finished work of Jesus on the cross. It’s not about what you do, it is all about what He did for you! There is one story in scripture that I feel really drawn to today…of a young man who has an encounter with Jesus, he is a good guy who struggles with this very concept…check this out…
Mark 10:17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good-except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'” 20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” NIV
I love this story but I think often times people read this and focus on money. They believe this is about this man’s selfishness and greed and they somehow decide that this is Jesus’ way of telling us we shouldn’t have money. This is about the condition of the young man’s heart not his bank account. Here’s the deal. This is a good person. This is a young man who is following all the rules. He is living each day by the commandments. He is the kind of guy that you would want your daughter to date. He is doing everything right. What is interesting is that something is still missing for this young man. He really amazes me as he walks up to Jesus…the only one who can do anything for his salvation and asks a question that if you really think about must have made Jesus just hurt for this poor guy. Or want to punch him right the nose…but I’d assume he had the first response. Remember the question he asks?
“Good teacher, what must I DO to inherit eternal life?”
I think this is an incredible moment that shows us the absolute treachery of religion. Here is a very good young man who loves God. He is doing his best to follow all the rules and he comes face to face with Jesus Christ, who is on the Earth to do the very thing this young man is trying to do for himself! If your Jesus is this insulting? I don’t know if insulting is the right word…tragic is more like it. This guy is blinded by religion. He is so caught up in what he needs to do that he can’t see what is happening literally right in front of him.
I love how Jesus respond’s to him. Jesus reveals this man’s heart by saying…hey man, you know the commandments just keep them! I think this young man is excited to hear this because he is keeping all the rules! Then Jesus exposes the true issues in this man’s heart and he leaves devastated. This story isn’t about rich people not being allowed into heaven this is a story about the condition of the young man’s heart!
This young man is doing everything right in his mind. He is following the commandments. He is making lots of money and is probably very successful in life. I believe that he loves God and wants to do what is right but here is the problem. He is completely focused on himself and what he needs to do to earn his own salvation. Jesus simply exposes a sin in his life and he is destroyed. Why because this guy’s whole world is wrapped around what he needs to do for himself. He doesn’t grasp that Jesus has just shown him that he isn’t perfect but that Jesus will take care of that for him, and soon! The guys focus is off isn’t it?
Let me ask you a question again. What is the very essence of sin? It’s self-interest.
This guy is doing everything right and something was still missing. He was following all the rules and still knew he needed something else. This guy just like Abram from our crazy story earlier is doing everything right but is still far from the heart of God.
So right at the end of the story we get such an amazing statement from Jesus. The disciples and everyone around him are stunned that he is saying how difficult it is for a rich man to get into heaven. Everyone is trying to figure this all out then we get the question…”So how can we be saved?”
Look at what Jesus says…
“With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
It is so interesting to me that we can read this over and over and over again. Then we can go right back out into our lives and try to earn our own salvation. While they didn’t understand it fully at this time, Jesus is letting them know something here…
It’s not about you. It’s not about what you do. It’s never going to be enough to do what is right. In the end it has to be about Jesus. It has to be about what He did and not about what you do. You can spend your entire life doing everything right and still wonder why you feel empty inside. What you actually need is Jesus. You can do everything right and still end up far from God.
It sounds crazy to think that you can do everything right and it’s not enough, right? You can follow every rule. You can go to church every Sunday. You can wear the right clothes and say the right things. You can follow all the commandments. You can do all of those things, but you cannot save yourself.
The essence of sin is self-interest…when it is about you and what you do you are missing the point of Jesus. You are missing the reason you are here at MRC each week! You are here to celebrate Jesus and the fact that because he did what he did…you don’t have to work so hard anymore!
It’s just not enough to do what is right everyday…it’s about living each day in what Jesus did! I wanted to end this service looking at these words from Paul that I can’t get out of right now. Listen to the words.
16 We know very well that we are not set right with God by rule-keeping but only through personal faith in Jesus Christ. How do we know? We tried it — and we had the best system of rules the world has ever seen! Convinced that no human being can please God by self-improvement, we believed in Jesus as the Messiah so that we might be set right before God by trusting in the Messiah, not by trying to be good. 17 Have some of you noticed that we are not yet perfect? (No great surprise, right?) And are you ready to make the accusation that since people like me, who go through Christ in order to get things right with God, aren’t perfectly virtuous, Christ must therefore be an accessory to sin? The accusation is frivolous. 18 If I was “trying to be good,” I would be rebuilding the same old barn that I tore down. I would be acting as a charlatan. 19 What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man. 20 Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I am not going to go back on that. Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God’s grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily. (from THE MESSAGE)
What is crucified with Christ is our self-interest. What if we lived in this truth…no more trying to please others, trying to please God, trying to live up to a set of rules that can’t do what Christ did. That my friends is a life of freedom, of love, and a life to celebrate…a life you didn’t earn, but that was given to you through Jesus and his amazing sacrifice on the cross. Doing what is right is never enough.