You know we spend a lot of time trying to understand grace around here. We do this because most of us have never experienced the amazing grace that we receive through Jesus. We probably tell people we know what grace is, but we have never experienced it. We have only ever felt the weight of all the things we aren’t doing, or what sins we are committing and to be honest, none of us can carry that weight of guilt and shame very well. We can’t live up to the ridiculous expectations that people put on us as Christians…or the expectations that we Christians put on each other, and sometimes even ourselves. It’s always amazed me how many of us have been hurt in this process. Whether you go to church or not, you have at some point in your life had a run in with this hurtful idea that you aren’t perfect enough, or holy enough to be part of the amazing club that can become our churches today. It’s like being at an Amusement Park when you are a kid, and your just not quite tall enough to do anything cool. I think what is most difficult to stomach is that most of the people pushing this judgment on you, well they aren’t perfect either. They have their own junk going on too, they just maybe keep their sins a little more private than you keep yours. So we feel the weight of guilt and shame and the hypocrisy of a person looking down their nose at you for your issues, when they themselves can’t live up to the same standard they are telling you to live up too! Whether you are a church goer or not you have felt the weight of judgment on you, that you believe is coming from inside our churches…and this can become a real stumbling block that keeps millions of people from a true relationship with Jesus. But what if I told you that, those casting judgment and pushing this case to be perfect aren’t that far from the truth? I want to talk about where this notion comes from. Where are good, God loving people getting this idea that we are to be perfect? Where in the world would this notion ever come from? I mean how dare they tell us we need to be perfect…or different right? Well, they aren’t far off, and they come about this pretty innocently. Who would ever say that there are actual expectations placed on us by God? Well for one, Jesus tells you that there are expectations on you. Last time I spoke to you we took a few of Jesus’ big one liner’s to help us see just who He is, and why He came, I’d like to start this talk looking at another one today. Well you want to know where the idea comes from that good God loving people think we must be perfect? Let me show you.
Matthew 5:48 “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” ESV
Wait, what did Jesus just say? Sam, did you just read this?!?!? I thought this was the grace church that makes sure I know I don’t have to be perfect, then you pull this out? Perfect…how in the world can we be perfect? I know, I can hear it too…doesn’t something like this make your chest tighten up? All the wounds, all the hurts, all the rules are popping back up in your mind…that feeling of being weighed and measured and coming up short is coming back isn’t it…I get it, you are trying hard to just breath here…let’s start there…just breath we are going to be ok here. Let me ask you a question, is there such a thing as a perfect person? Outside of Jesus who in fact is God in skin? The answer is no…we weren’t created to be perfect, so there must be more going on here.
This is an important thing to understand, and this may be the most direct way I have ever gone after it. I have often told you that a person who understands grace, who is in a loving relationship with Jesus would never abuse grace, or minimize what Jesus did for them on the cross right? It’s because a person who knows Jesus is in the pursuit of holiness. Jesus understands that you as human were not created to be perfect, and I believe this is talking about so much more than just robotic rule following and “not sinning.” That is what I want to talk to you about today. As we grow closer and closer to Jesus we experience holiness. Will you find perfection on this side of heaven? No, and the cool thing is that through Jesus, all those imperfections are covered up. So we don’t need to worry so much about this anymore, but there is a calling on us people who say we believe in Jesus to be holy. God expects all of us who believe in Him to be different from the rest of the world. He expects us to be like Him.
The apostle Paul wrote most of the New Testament and in one of his letters to the church of Corinth he writes something to them and to us that we must look at, and wrestle with.
1 Corinthians 1:2 To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ-their Lord and ours: NIV
Can you imagine how the people of the church of Corinth felt as Paul starts out this letter to them by letting them know that they were “called to be holy?” How in the world could this young church, or any of us live up to such a calling? This is an important question that we need to wrestle with and answer…because if you notice Paul isn’t just speaking to the church in Corinth but to all those who believe in Jesus. We were called to be holy. Is that even possible? First off, I think we need to look at what it actually means to be holy.
What does it mean to be holy? In the New Testament we read that “holy” people are to behave differently than others. They are to live with more wisdom than others. They aren’t going to give into their desires, impulses, and appetites anymore! They aren’t going to go with the crowd, they are going to live in a different way. Check out what Peter and Paul write here…
1 Peter 1:14-16 Don’t lazily slip back into those old grooves of evil, doing just what you feel like doing. You didn’t know any better then; you do now. 15 As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness. 16 God said, “I am holy; you be holy.” (THE MESSAGE)
Colossians 1:21-22 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him. ESV
This doesn’t sound very easy does it? If we aren’t careful we can feel very overwhelmed in this moment because you and I both know that asking us to live as Jesus lived isn’t a very easy thing to do! Those are some pretty large shoes/sandals to fill aren’t they! This seems impossible, almost scary to think that we are expected to live out this calling, to be holy!
I bet the people reading this letter felt the same way. Good grief Paul, you come preaching this amazing message of Jesus, and grace, and love and mercy…that message that we are all sinners, but through Jesus we don’t have to carry the weight of the world anymore! And now you put the weight of the world back on us all! What are we going to do with this! Paul was confronting this young church plant of his with a calling that I’m sure they felt very unqualified to fill, just like you and I.
Paul is literally telling them that God expects his people to be different from the rest of the world. He expects us to be like Him! Wait a minute Sam, you are the grace guy…and now you are saying that there are expectations…that’s not what we signed up for! I understand where you are coming from, I have felt the weight of all the rules of religion too. That’s not where I’m coming from…I am not telling you to focus on not sinning, and keeping the rules. I am telling you that as Christians we were called to more than just being like everyone else. We were called to be holy…and that is not an easy thing to do in the world that we live in.
As we follow along with the Paul’s letter to the church of Corinth, we learn that Paul sees that they are doing some really awesome things! You can read about those things in 1 Corinthians 1:4-7, but they are also doing some things that they should not be doing as well. They are fighting about doctrine and theology. They are ranking each other and searching for positions. They are dealing with sexual immorality. They are fighting amongst themselves and suing each other. They are dealing with issues over whether they should get married, engage in sexual activity or not. They were eating food that they shouldn’t be eating and even fighting over whether the women should be wearing head coverings or not.
Well if you have been around a church congregation for any amount of time you know that things like this can happen. You get a bunch of imperfect people together and well, we do what comes natural to us. Our human natures are inclined to indulge in arrogance, jealousy, egotism, and the list goes on…now I want you to hear me say something here…These qualities don’t go away when we become Christians. They actually come out whenever we get together in community. Even in a group of redeemed people inside a church!
Paul does a great job of reminding his friends in Corinth that God didn’t start with perfect people when he chose them to be his church!
1 Corinthians 1:26-29 Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things-and the things that are not-to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. NIV
Many people look at the church and expect people to be perfect. Hey Jesus said be perfect because I am perfect…and the church is a hot mess! This often becomes their reason for never becoming part of a church community, because it isn’t perfect and it’s full of hypocrites, all this really does is give them the excuse they need to keep living the way they want to live. Yet when I read the Bible I’m seeing something completely different here…I’m seeing the miracle of what God does in the church! Think about how cool this is; God intentionally brings together imperfect people to serve and glorify him! He doesn’t restrict the membership to the world’s elite! He intentionally calls the weak, the misfits, the underdogs into his service and demonstrates his amazing power through them! That is great news to someone like me! J
So if you are following me here, you are thinking to yourself. How in the world is God’s power being demonstrated through the Corinthians if they are as messed up as you said? Well that is what Paul is getting at! Paul is saying that these people are not yet the people that God wants them to be!
Up to this point they are kind of like half in and half out. They are drawn to the things of God but they aren’t yet willing to give up the things of the world. Does that hit home with you anyone today? They are searching for some kind of middle ground where they can keep one foot with God, and the other living the way they have always lived and it just doesn’t work that way!
Romans 7:14-24 I can anticipate the response that is coming: “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not. Isn’t this also your experience?” Yes. I’m full of myself — after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. 15 What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. 16 So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary. 17 But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! 18 I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. 19 I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. 20 My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. 21 It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. 22 I truly delight in God’s commands, 23 but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. 24 I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? (MSG)
Paul puts on paper here what each and every one of us deal with…we want God but we struggle to give up the things of this world. It’s the battle inside each and every one of our hearts. His purpose for writing this letter to Corinth and to us is to explain to us how we can move from this middle ground to the ground a Christian is to be standing on, living the life that God intends for us. A life of holiness a life that is different from the ways of this world.
Is this a surprise to you? I think there is a couple things that are very surprising to people here:
- Christians still struggle with human passions that aren’t in line with the will of God. Some people assume that the moment you ask Jesus into your life everything is done and you are automatically perfect and holy…well it doesn’t work that way.
- People are even more surprised that God can change all that! God has an answer for this battle between our desires and our hearts for God’s will for our lives!
So as we read through these words of Paul, and we see the challenge we are all in, the question is how in the world can we ever measure up to the calling that God has given us to be holy.
Romans 7:25 The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different. (from THE MESSAGE)
God calls you and I to be different. He calls us to be holy. He assigns us with the task of representing him to the world. We are to model to the world God’s character in everything we do. The only way we can be all of these things is if God himself enables us and that is exactly what God does!
Let’s go back to our letter to the church in Corinth and look at what Paul says to them…
1 Corinthians 1:30 God alone made it possible for you to be in Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made Christ to be wisdom itself. He is the one who made us acceptable to God. He made us pure and holy, and he gave himself to purchase our freedom. 31 As the Scriptures say, “The person who wishes to boast should boast only of what the Lord has done.” NLT
Paul is showing us how we can measure up to this scary expectation of holiness…it’s found in and through Jesus! God can be the source of our life in Christ Jesus. We can’t figure it out on our own…so Jesus becomes our wisdom. We are pulled and tempted to continue to live as we used to live so in Jesus we are made righteous. We are assaulted every day of our lives by a world pulling us away from God…away from holiness, so in Jesus we are made holy. We are weak and at times will fall to the appetites of our selfish desires but through Jesus we are redeemed. We live in victory day by day, because God continues to win victories in our lives.
So can people really be changed spiritually and morally?
Paul isn’t messing around here, and he is very clear. He is saying that God can and will change us spiritually and morally so that we can be holy people. A big part of what Jesus is doing in your life is implanting God in our lives so that God’s own qualities (wisdom, righteousness, and holiness) become our qualities as well.
This is such a big deal…when a person asks Jesus into their hearts a couple of things happen, their sins are forgiven, the second is we are filled with a desire to seek his will and serve him. So we celebrate what God does for us in forgiving us of our sins. We celebrate what God does in us in renewing us to where we were before sin. This is an amazing change that takes place in our lives but most people think that God stops right there. That from this point on we spend the rest of our lives as a person trying to live for Christ. The problem is that if it stops there it leaves us with the idea that a Christian must deal with the struggles and failures of his issues for the rest of this life…but it’s about more than us failing or succeeding in our moral living. It’s about beginning on a journey of spiritual growth that lasts a lifetime. This spiritual growth is the pursuit of holiness. Holiness comes when the Holy Spirit sets us free from the ways of this world. It’s something that we will work on all the days of our lives. We need the Holy Spirit living and active in our lives! When he is, we will live differently. Our actions will change. We will continue to move towards holiness.
How do I get the Holy Spirit then? Paul actually challenges the church of Corinth and all of us to get past ourselves and receive the fullness of Christ’s spirit within us. He calls us to more than just rule following, and not sinning…he calls us to live a life in God’s service. This is only possible with the Holy Spirit living and active in our lives. How can we receive the Holy Spirit? Paul tells you how.
1. The first thing Paul says is that we need to realize that everything good we have is from God.
1 Corinthians 4:7 For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? NIV
With this mentality, we start to understand that this is all a gift from God, we can’t earn it, attain it, and we don’t deserve it. Our gifts, strengths, and talents have been given to us by God.
2. We must embrace this idea that we have been called to live like Jesus. If we truly want the Spirit of God in our lives, we must be ready to live like Jesus lived.
1 Corinthians 11:1 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. NIV
3. Paul says that we can’t continue to indulge in sin.
1 Corinthians 15:34 Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God-I say this to your shame. NIV
He isn’t pulling any punches here…you are called to be holy and you need to move towards holiness. If you are not, and you are continuing to sin…Paul thinks you need to come back to your senses.
4. Lastly Paul says you have to be ready to die.
1 Corinthians 15:35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” 36 You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. ESV
Paul says that Christians can’t be afraid of death…that it’s actually the gateway to eternal life with Jesus. This is why no one could bother Paul! He was unshakable because of his focus and passion for Christ. Think about it, how do you derail someone from a mission where no matter what you do to his earthly body it doesn’t matter to him anymore!
As much as this speaks to physical death is every bit as much as I believe it speaks to the death of our self-interest. (which we have learned is the essence of sin) The death of our ego can be painful…but when the ego dies and Christ begins to live through us, the world is transformed through The Holy Spirit living and active in our lives.
I told you at the beginning of this talk we spend a ton of time talking about grace. I believe that is so important for us as we begin break free from religion…and work past not sinning and into a loving relationship with Jesus. As we engage God though a couple things begin to happen in our lives. First we celebrate the fact that our sins our forgiven…so we celebrate what God has done for us. We also celebrate what God is doing in us…that is giving us a desire to seek His will and serve Him. But it doesn’t end there…yes all of our sins are forgiven, yes it is all about what Jesus has done in our lives…but the last part of our salvation is the journey that we will spend our entire earthly life on…that is the spiritual growth process that will last our entire lives…that comes as the Holy Spirit moves in and we pursue holiness.
Should that worry you? Should it put an oppression on your life? NO! Should that make you feel like your entire life is now about not sinning. NO! We have to stop trying so hard to do something that we can’t do on our own. We need to allow the Holy Spirit to reign supreme in our lives…Paul gives us the road map to do this!
There really is a challenging call on our lives, to be holy as Jesus is holy. Those are big shoes to fill…and the reality is that you can’t fill them on your own. Where we get into trouble is that we end up focusing so hard on what we need to do, that we forget that God does the work through Jesus’ final work on the cross…and through the Holy Spirit who dwells inside of us, when we allow Him to!
This isn’t scary when you stand in God’s love. It won’t intimidate you when you know that Christ did all the heavy lifting for you. It won’t oppress you to be holy when you realize that as you engage God, the Holy Spirit will be your guide. You will be drawn towards holiness. It’s time for us Christians to begin to model Jesus to this world! We can do this, but not on our own!
Remember the spirit of religion will push in and make this scary and oppressive…but God makes this journey towards holiness a pure joy. You won’t get it right every day…and that is ok. The moment you realize this, I believe the pursuit of holiness becomes much, much easier…because it isn’t about you anymore but all about the worship, focus, and love of our amazing Heavenly Father.