I want to start today with an exercise, don’t worry it’s not cardio or anything like that but I want to get you thinking before we really dive into this today.  If I asked you to tell me what the central part of your Christian faith is could you do it in a sentence?  If we took a moment and I asked you about your journey as a Christian how would you describe it?  When you think about your relationship with God what comes to mind?  Is it love?  Is it church?  Is it the Bible?  Is it all those rules and things you can or can’t do anymore?  Maybe it’s sin?  Do you immediately slump your shoulders and think; “Ugh, Sam I know where you are headed with this already…I really need to do better.”   What is it?  I want you thinking about this, because that thing that comes to your mind, is probably the thing that you are making a big deal of in your faith, and I want you to understand something as we get started today, if the thing you are thinking of as most central to your faith isn’t Jesus, a blood-stained cross, and an empty tomb you may be making things a lot harder than they have to be.  Our spirituality doesn’t have to be as complicated as we make it.  We overcomplicate things by making a big deal out of parts of our spiritual journey without making the biggest deal out of what matters most.  Which is the enormity of God’s love…it’s all about Jesus, a blood-stained cross, and an empty tomb.  So, I want you to keep this thought in your mind, what do you focus on when it comes to your spiritual journey?  What do you make the biggest deal out of…this is the big question we will tackle this week but since this series really is a building process, so let’s think back to where we have already been for a bit.

Two weeks ago we kicked off a brand new series called Redeemed and Forgiven and I told you this is going to be a really big deal and it’s something we are really excited to jump into with you all here at MRC.  I think even two weeks in you can probably see why this series has the potential to be such a game changer for us.  It’s an intentional building process to get us to a place where we can answer some important questions.  Like how do we live like we have been redeemed and forgiven? How do we take our freedom and apply it to life? How do we live with courage when we face so many challenges in our lives…because life is hard isn’t it?  So how do we live with courage while facing sin, pain, stress, fear, harmful relationships, negativity, and all that goes on in this world…forget courage for a moment, how do we live with joy, and peace with all of that stuff pushing against us.  Well that is the goal of this series to get us to a place where we can truly live as “The Forgiven and Redeemed.”  I told you that first week as we kicked off the series that I see this as a journey through our faith, looking at the process of going from “I asked Jesus into my life, and am doing some good Christian activities because I know I should do those things”, to actually living out and experiencing the life we read about in Scripture that a disciple of Christ could and should be experiencing, you know that abundant life, that life and life to the full.  This is so important because for so many of us, we want to live out and experience the kind of life that is described in our Bibles but it just isn’t happening, and we are really diving into it here this fall.

So let’s think about this as a building process, and where we have already been in the first two weeks.  If you remember I kicked the series off talking to you about the thing we must understand before we can ever even begin this journey into transformation.  Do you remember what it was that we must wrap our minds around to experience life and life to the full?  It’s God’s grace.  When we truly experience it, we can’t help but live different.  I hope that talk impacted you, because I think it’s easy for us to define grace and talk about it with others.  We can sing about it every Sunday in our worship songs, and read about it all through scripture, but to truly experience grace is different than defining it…and it’s so important because when you truly experience God’s grace you can’t help but live differently.  The scripture that talk really centered on was this prayer from Paul…I love this and wanted to bring it up again today.

Ephesians 3:16 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. NLT

That is where it all starts for us, getting to this place where we wrap our minds around God’s grace…where we can center on the magnitude of His love for us…and truly grasp just how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love actually is.  Then last week Ken stepped into Part 1 of this series, which is all about the thing that we all need which is transformation.  I loved his talk and really felt that it centered on the transformational power of God’s grace that built off the introduction but he also brought in the second part of our faith, and I think this is so important for us to see.  Do you remember what Ken told us last week?  He said that “there are basically two parts to Christianity.  Part 1: Is ‘God’s grace.’  It is about God sending Jesus to die for our sins.  If we believe that Jesus is the Son of God, scripture says, He will transform us spiritually.  Part 2: is called, ‘Your will.’  This is about us submitting our will to God’s will.  It’s about us responding to Jesus by making choices to stop sinning.”  I loved that because it’s so clear, and so true!  I loved how he showed us these two parts of our faith, then took us to Scripture and showed us how Paul talks of both here in Colossians.  Check it out, Paul is helping us see we need God’s grace and to submit to God’s will over our own.

Colossians 3:1 So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. 2 Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ — that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective. 3 Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life — even though invisible to spectators — is with Christ in God. He is your life. 4 When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you’ll show up, too — the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ. 5 And that means killing off everything connected with that way of death: sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust, doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That’s a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God. 6 It’s because of this kind of thing that God is about to explode in anger. 7 It wasn’t long ago that you were doing all that stuff and not knowing any better. 8 But you know better now, so make sure it’s all gone for good: bad temper, irritability, meanness, profanity, dirty talk. 9 Don’t lie to one another. You’re done with that old life. It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire. 10 Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete. MSG

I love this and I hope you are seeing this and beginning to catch on to this new life we can now have because of Jesus and what He has done for us on the Cross.

But, and there is always a but isn’t there?  These concepts aren’t always easy to accept and walk in, are they?  I mean, as simple and clear as they sound, and as easy as some of the words and phrasings our to define and even share with others…they aren’t necessarily all that easy to live out.  I mean if they were simple to live out our lives would look really different, wouldn’t they?  So, this gives us a lot to talk about today because we know or at least we are starting to wrap our minds around the transformational power of God’s grace which is so good and so big and so amazing, but there are things still blocking us from truly living out this abundant life that could be lived by centering on the Gospel message.  Which is us accepting and understanding the magnitude of God’s love for us…you know a love this big…

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. NIV

This is why we worship.  Paul would say this is why we praise God!

Ephesians 1:6 So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. 7 He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. 8 He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding. NLT

You know this is what it’s all about.  I don’t know about you but that sounds pretty simple, and so much of Christianity seems to be a lot more complicated than that, which is what we are getting into today, we must center on the truth.  It is this clear.  It is this simple.  I like to say that at the very center of our faith is Jesus, a blood-stained cross, and an empty tomb.  I think we try our best to put a lot of other things in there, but at it’s core this is what it’s all about God loving us this much…pouring out His glorious grace on us, purchasing our freedom with the blood of His Son.  He forgave us our sins…showering us with kindness.  This is what it is all about, and I don’t think we can talk about it enough.  I also don’t think we can make a big enough deal about this, but it leads us into our discussion today because for so many of us we don’t magnify Jesus and what He did for us, what we tend to do is make a bigger deal out of things that we just should not be magnifying.  It’s kind of sad but it’s important to see.  We live in a world at war and the enemy is really good at deception and is doing anything in his power to ruin the Gospel and I would say that anytime we make a bigger deal out of what we did, or really anything other than Jesus and what He did for us we are endanger of ruining the Gospel.  We need to see this, we typically aren’t making a big deal out of God’s love and Grace and Kindness in our lives and this is where we see so many people struggling, frustrated, confused by all the complexities of the religious rules and regulations and just weighed down by their faith.  You know…the faith that should be taking them to abundant life, joy, freedom, victory, and life to the full is instead crushing them.  How does this happen?  Well, we don’t focus on God’s grace, we don’t keep it simply about Jesus, a blood-stained cross, and an empty tomb…we add to it, and any time we add anything to the Gospel we have problems.  We can ruin God’s amazing gift to us…and that is something we need to clear up and talk about as we start this journey towards true spiritual transformation in our lives.

I want you to know that this talk isn’t going to come from a text book, it just comes from the realities of our lives and I’m hoping it starts a conversation for you that you can continue to walk in as you engage God moving forward.  I’m hoping that it can simplify things that seem complicated as we start to really understand what matters, and maybe what we tend to make a bigger deal out of than we should.  We are going to list out 7 ways that we ruin the Gospel and look at the fact that in each case we are making a bigger deal out of something that isn’t Jesus, which always leads to a mess.  This list comes from my own experiences and observations and a lot of conversations with people who are just so beat up from years and years of religious oppression and there are more than these 7 but these are the seven we will talk about today.   So let’s get back to our big question we talked about as we got started here today.  Do you remember that?  I asked you to tell me how you would describe your Christian faith in a sentence or a word.  I did this on purpose because I think the way we ruin the Gospel is all about what we make the biggest deal out of…if it isn’t Jesus, a bloodstained cross, and an empty tomb…we are probably overcomplicating something so beautiful and making it so much harder than it has to be.  So this list could go on and on, but let’s get into the top seven ways we can ruin the Gospel.

#1 Way to Ruin the Gospel – We magnify and focus on our sin rather than what Jesus did to take our sin away.  So this has to be first, and we hit this pretty hard week one, but we need to see this.  God loves us and is pursuing us.  I don’t think we make a big enough deal out of what God did for us.  I think what we tend to do is make a bigger deal out of our sins and our issues and all the dumb things we have done, rather than what we tend to do with God’s grace and that is the problem.  When we make a bigger deal out of what we did, rather than what God did for us through His son Jesus it leaves us walking in guilt and shame and spending our lives walking in a weight that will never allow us to truly live a transformed life in Christ.

#2 Way to Ruin the Gospel – We magnify the rules and regulations.  This is so popular, we see good, God loving people who become so focused on “the do’s and don’t do’s” of our faith and it leads to a lot of hurts, and a lot of very miserable Christians.  Someone who does this I think for the most part means well, but they seem to need the instruction manual to try to live out their faith…they look to the rules and say ok, “Just tell me what to do and not do and I will do that.” but the thing often missed is the whole point to all of the rules and regulations in the Old Law Code was the fact that we all couldn’t measure up to it, we failed at it, which is why we need Jesus so desperately in our lives.  When we magnify the rules and regulations of Scripture, we tend to judge others while often overlooking our own shortcomings.  We can also live a very frustrated and defeated life as we try to live out a list of rules that no one outside of Jesus was ever able to live out…this leads to so many hurts, and so much pain as people feel judged and like they can’t measure up, it also leads to so much frustration in a person’s life because they are making it so much harder than it has to be and they can never measure up to this amazing standard they keep trying to measure up to.  Remember Jesus was constantly trying to simplify things for all those stuck in the religious law code!  He told you to just focus on loving God and loving others, right?  This is so important because we need it clear and simple!

#3 Way to Ruin the Gospel – We magnify spiritual activities and Christian busyness.  First I have to start by saying that there is nothing wrong with community events, programs, and all the stuff that churches can provide as long as they are pointing you towards God.  But for so many of us we make a bigger deal out of the busyness and clutter of activity rather than focusing on our relationship with God and as the schedule fills up with more and more for us to do, I want you to think about this…what is the first thing we tend to push out of that schedule…its typically God!  Busy sounds good culturally today.  It looks good and keeps a lot of Christians entertained, but in all that noise and clutter, and good Christian activity, we can ruin the Gospel.  We get really busy and feel really good about it for a time because it’s a good, wholesome activity and it looks good from the outside doesn’t it?  We feel good and may even look good doing it but in the end it’s damaging our souls.  It leaves us tired, and can burn us out, the Spiritual activity isn’t the answer, it looks good…but Jesus told us what the answer is right?

Matthew 11:28 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. 29 Walk with me and work with me — watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. 30 Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” MSG

#4 Way to Ruin the Gospel – Magnify a person or spiritual leader to the spot where Jesus should be in your life.  So one of the things that we tend to do is look up to spiritual leaders and I think that can be ok and maybe even a natural thing to do.  But we can put them on a pedestal and elevate them to a place in our lives that they just should not be, because they are people too.  I think this can happen innocently because these leaders help us, but there is something we need to remember…we need Jesus not another person to walk with God for us.  A leader can help you, but their job isn’t to point to themselves but to point you to Jesus…now because they are people they often walk in insecurities and may like you putting them on that pedestal (and frankly it can make them feel important, and helps them keep a job) but the reality is Jesus should be on that pedestal not a person.  They can help you but we don’t go to them for our relationship with God we go directly to God for that…and we can do that now because Jesus went to the Cross, died for our sins, and tore down the divider between us and God.  That divider was there because of sin but when Jesus died on the Cross that divider was torn in two, from the top to the bottom, it isn’t there anymore, now God looks down from heaven and doesn’t see your sin but sees Jesus in you.  Jesus took care of the sin problem so we can walk personally with God!  When you magnify a person or spiritual leader to the spot Jesus should have in our lives it keeps us distant from God, not engaging him and entering into the beautiful intimate relationship with God that you could have.  Our spiritual leaders are important, but they can’t be the biggest deal, that must be Jesus, or we never truly experience intimacy with our Heavenly Father.

#5 Way to Ruin the Gospel – Magnify knowledge and facts over the heart.  So we all have different ways of thinking, different personalities, and different things we enjoy, and some people really get into the details of the Bible and enjoy digging into the history of it and love all the details they can find in Scripture and that is ok, but we can’t make all that information the biggest deal or things can tend to stay in our minds and not lived out in our lives.  If you make the biggest deal about who knows the most or can win at Bible trivia and pick a part every word someone says it can lead to a very pride-filled life that can hurt others, and also not allow you to experience what could be if those words were lived out in our lives and not just words on a page!  Listen to Paul here…

1 Corinthians 8:1-3 …You think that everyone should agree with your perfect knowledge. While knowledge may make us feel important, it is love that really builds up the church. 2 Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much. 3 But the person who loves God is the one God knows and cares for.  NLT

I love that.  Look at Jesus here talking about to his disciples about the religious leaders and how they build themselves up, and  who we should be building up here.  I think this Scripture really ties in well for both this way to ruin the Gospel and the last one about propping a person up to the spot Christ should be in your life.

Matthew 23:1-12  Now Jesus turned to address his disciples, along with the crowd that had gathered with them. 2 “The religion scholars and Pharisees are competent teachers in God’s Law. 3 You won’t go wrong in following their teachings on Moses. But be careful about following them. They talk a good line, but they don’t live it. They don’t take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. It’s all spit-and-polish veneer. 4 “Instead of giving you God’s Law as food and drink by which you can banquet on God, they package it in bundles of rules, loading you down like pack animals. They seem to take pleasure in watching you stagger under these loads, and wouldn’t think of lifting a finger to help. 5 Their lives are perpetual fashion shows, embroidered prayer shawls one day and flowery prayers the next. 6 They love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking in the most prominent positions, 7 preening in the radiance of public flattery, receiving honorary degrees, and getting called ‘Doctor’ and ‘Reverend.’ 8 “Don’t let people do that to you, put you on a pedestal like that. You all have a single Teacher, and you are all classmates. 9 Don’t set people up as experts over your life, letting them tell you what to do. Save that authority for God; let him tell you what to do. No one else should carry the title of ‘Father’; you have only one Father, and he’s in heaven. 10 And don’t let people maneuver you into taking charge of them. There is only one Life-Leader for you and them — Christ. 11 “Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. 12 If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty. MSG

#6 Way to Ruin the Gospel – Magnify the Church Service making it your only time with God.  For so many people who love God they leave their relationship with God in the church on Sunday mornings and are not spending time with God all week long, and all day long.  When we do this, we struggle to be the same person in every aspect of our lives.  We get stuck in this religious and robotic state of having a touch from God every Sunday and then plowing into another difficult week of life and wondering where God is in all of it…can I tell you something.  He is right there with you, but you need to engage Him…no one wants this to be fake, we don’t want to be stuck in religion, well we need to remember that God isn’t just sitting here in our church building…no He is with us all the time!  Our Sunday services are important, but we cannot make a bigger deal out of it than what Jesus did for us.  Remember what Jesus told us we need?  It’s Him!  A service enhances and inspires and can help us grow but we take what we are learning and apply it to our everyday lives!  We need to go to Jesus every day!

Matthew 6:6 “Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace. MSG

#7 Way to Ruin the Gospel – Magnify yourself, make it all about you.  This is such a sticking point for so many of us…it can be confusing right?  “I mean what do you mean Sam, don’t make it about me?  Who else would this all be about?”  Well it’s actually about God and His amazing love for us and it does really start with you realizing you need Him in your life which is all about you, but as the life change comes through spending time with God there is a shift in your focus, right?  I mean we just read it, Jesus told you it would happen…that as you spend time with Him the focus will shift from you to God and you will begin to sense His grace.  This is so huge, and is so key to us finding our true selves in Christ…but it is a little challenging to understand…to find yourself, you must forget about yourself and find Jesus…

Matthew 10:39 If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me. MSG

The result of keeping the focus on yourself is a frustrating life never getting to stand in your true self which can only be found when the biggest deal is being made of Jesus.

Well I could do this all day but I’m going to run out of time.  I wanted you to see something here today.  The truth is that our spirituality doesn’t have to be complicated although we can make it complicated.  The truth is salvation is not hard for you to obtain (you simply believe, accept Jesus, and begin your journey which you can do today) but we can make it more complicated than it is.  I wanted you to see the beauty of the Gospel today and the amazing gift that it is and just show you a few ways that we can actually ruin this amazing gift.  We do this by making a bigger deal out of things that should not be.

  • If your sin is a bigger deal to you than what Jesus did for you, you will never be able to experience this new life in Christ which has been given to you by your loving Father in Heaven.
  • If you look at the rules and regulations and your ability to follow or inability to follow them and make them a bigger deal than what Jesus did for you, then you simply can’t experience Grace.
  • If you make a bigger deal out of good Christian busyness and activities than you do Jesus and what He did for you on the Cross you will do a lot of good things, don’t’ get me wrong, you will be very productive…but you just will never experience all that could be if you were to make the biggest deal out of what Jesus does…rather than what you do.
  • If you are looking to your spiritual leaders and living off of their relationship with God rather than engaging God personally as your Lord and Savior you are missing out on the beauty that a personal relationship with God that you can live in each and every day.
  • If you are taking a lot of Biblical knowledge and determining that, these facts and insights are Spiritual growth without living this stuff out you can be stunting your growth, hurting others, and ruining the beauty of the Gospel Message.
  • If you are only spending time with God in Church on Sunday and then leaving God there you are not able to experience the beauty of this abundant life that can be lived with God now in all aspects of your everyday life…work, home, school, and when you are at play.
  • If you are focused on yourself you need to really hear Jesus’ warning, that if the focus stays on you, you will never find yourself which will keep you from experiencing the fullness of this New Life in Christ.

I want you thinking this through for yourself right now.  When you think about your faith is it hard?  Is it too complicated to put to words?  Do you realize that it shouldn’t be?  Jesus did the complicated and hard stuff so that you could experience all of life with God.  If you close your eyes right now and took a moment, how would you describe your Christianity?  What do you think about when you think about what your faith is.  For some of us we think Church, some think sin, some think of a leader who led them to their faith, but we all must get to a place where the list starts and ends with Jesus and what He did for us on that Cross…that should be the list.  Listen, what God did for us through His Son is the most amazing thing that could ever be, it is the game changer in our lives…but we can ruin it.  The way we ruin it is by magnifying other things, and we need to understand they aren’t the big deal.  God and what He did for us through His Son Jesus, that is the big deal, and when it becomes the focal point we can walk through life differently, we walk through life truly living out this New Life in Christ…and frankly that is when things get fun.

So, ask yourself today…What is the big deal?  Is it Jesus, a Blood-Stained Cross, and an Empty Tomb or are you adding something to the Gospel that should be there?