Two Stories.

“I think I am going to leave my wife and get a divorce.”  I was surprised to hear this because this couple had been a part of church for years.  I asked him why?  He went on to say, “We tried it and it didn’t work.”  I was still confused so I asked about ‘it’?  What do you mean that you tried ‘it’?  He said, “We have been attending church and our marriage hasn’t gotten any better.”  In that moment I realized what he thought.  This man thought, if we attend church, somehow magically, like a genie being released and giving you a wish, God would do all the work and change my wife and make things better.  He never addressed how he went out of his way to surrender his life to Jesus.

Years ago, I got an email.  We knew the lady who emailed, but not well.  We knew that as a little girl, her parents raised her in church.  Now years later, after her divorce, her kids loosely attended churches in the area.  The lady shared with me that she was confused and depressed and wanted my help.  I asked, what is going on?  She explained that she went out one night, met a guy and got pregnant.  Her question for me was, “Why did God allow that?”  In that moment I realized what she thought.  This lady thought, I can do whatever I want and if God loves me, nothing bad will happen to me.

These stories break my heart because somehow, people who Jesus loves and died for, have completely missunderstood grace.  And because they missunderstood grace, their lives were more of a struggle and they blame God for it.  What’s happening?

Do you remember a couple of weeks ago I said there are two parts to Christianity?  Part 1 is called, ‘God’s grace.’  That part is what God does.  He sent Jesus to die for you and take your punishment.  And anyone who believes that Jesus is the Son of God, scripture says, is transformed spiritually.  They are now called children of God.  That’s grace.

Remember I said there is a part 2?  That part is called, ‘your will.’  That is when you accept what God has done for you and you then surrender your life to God.  You read scripture and that becomes the foundation to how you live.  You make a decision, a choice, to submit your will and follow God.  That means we make changes to how you live to honor God and live in freedom.

What happened in these stories is this.  They knew about part 1, ‘God’s grace.’  However, they avoided part 2, ‘your will.’  That means they continued to live in a world where they could do anything they wanted, maybe even walk in sin, and expected God to make everything okay, no negative ramifications.

That way of living, ‘I got God’s grace, now I can do anything I want,’ is talked about in scripture.

This exact question is in the Bible.  Let’s read it.

15 Since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning? Of course not! 16 Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living. 17 Thank God! Once you were slaves of sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching we have given you. 18 Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living. NLT Romans 6:15-18

Did you see it?  God’s grace set you free.  That’s part 1.  Then the question.  Now that I am new and redeemed and set free from the rules, can I continue to do whatever I want, even sin?  Paul says, “Of course not.”  Here’s why.  There is something spiritual going on.  There are two kingdoms.  One kingdom is a kingdom of sin, darkness and slavery.  The other kingdom is the kingdom of God, light and freedom.  Both kingdoms have power and both kingdoms are at battle with each other inside you.

You already know this don’t you?  It’s why in every movie there is a battle between good and evil.  Star Wars shows the battle between the Jedi and the Sith.  It’s why in many cartoons there is an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other shoulder.  It’s why every day you walk into life and you know what the right thing to do is, but you don’t always do it.  It’s why everyone says, “I don’t know what do to because I feel like…”  They say that because they know what the right thing to do is, but their feelings are leading them away from doing what is right.

For example, we know if someone hurts us, we are supposed to forgive.  But instead of forgiving, what do we do sometimes?  We hold onto that hurt and try to use it against them – right?  It feels good to hurt them and make them feel as bad as we feel.

For example, you know if you face challenges in school or work or in life, you are supposed to face those challenges.  Instead of facing those challenges, what do we do sometimes?  We avoid them, complain about them or we just check out – right?  It feels good to avoid any kind of responsibility.

You and I live in that battle everyday.  Sin vs God.

This is why when you hit middle school and high school, you have decisions to make.  Truth is, those decisions are with you as you get older, too.   You know what your parents want you to do.  You know what the teachers want you to do.  You know what is right.  But there is something inside you that really wants to do the easy thing, check out or do what you see your friends doing because it looks like so much fun.  What is happening?  There are two kingdoms in a battle and you are in the middle of that battle.

Now that battle inside of you, is in everyone.  The apostle Paul felt the same battle we do and he wrote about it.

21 I have discovered this principle of life – that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong.

Let’s stop right there.  He isn’t supposed to write this in the Bible is he?  Shouldn’t he say that he is perfect?  Absolutely not.  Paul is being real.  Paul faced the same battle you face.

22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. NLT Romans 7:21-25

Please hear me on this.  There are two kingdoms at battle with each other.  Both kingdoms have spiritual power.  Spiritual influence.  When you give yourself over to sin, Paul said, it opens you up to the power of sin that leads to death.  What does that mean?   It does not mean you physically die right now.  It means the kingdom of sin has power and influence.  You die spiritually.  By the way, this is just a repeat of the Adam and Eve story.  You slowly become disconnected from God and His grace and His power.  You become more and more selfish.  You make decisions based on what you think and how you feel.  And over time, each area of your life becomes a struggle, it dies.  For some, internally, they give up hope and check out.  For others, their relationships suffer.  Marriage, family, friends.  For others, they exhaust themselves trying to look like a success.  What is happening?  Spiritual death.

However, as Paul said, “Thank God for Jesus!”  He came and broke the power of sin and death in our lives.  When we believe in Jesus, we are spiritually transformed.  We are children of God.  The power of sin is broken over our lives so we can experience the power of God in our lives.  We become less and less selfish.  We make decisions based on scripture.  And over time, all the areas of our lives become less and less of a struggle.  Internally, we have hope.  Our relationships improve.  We no longer need to exhaust ourselves trying to look like a success.  What is happening?  A new power in control, God’s grace.

Do you see it?  Two kingdoms at war and both have spiritual power.  And the two kingdoms do not mix.

5 Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. 6 So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. 7 For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. NLT Romans 8:5-7

Two kingdoms are at war and both have spiritual power, spiritual influence.  And the two kingdoms do not mix.  That is why scripture says, …the sinful nature is always hostile to God…

Remember when we said, people struggle to fully grasp and be fully transformed by God’s grace?  We have been talking about that for a couple of weeks.  Today, I add to that list.  We struggle to grasp and be fully transformed by God’s grace because of sin.  We cannot choose to purposely walk in the kingdom of sin and expect God’s grace and God’s power to transform us.  We can’t openly and knowingly walk into sin and say, “God, come bless and protect me.”  God is there to redeem you when you confess the sin and turn back to Him – for sure.  But we cannot choose to purposely walk in the kingdom of sin and say, “God come join me in this.”

Let’s talk about sin for a second.  Some sin is just obvious.  It’s who we are and we embrace it.  We openly walk in it and embrace it.  I stole a car to rob a bank and to buy stuff at the mall kind of sin.  We end up on the five o’clock local news.

Some sin is more of a secret sin.  I lied to my parents, but they won’t find out.  I overeat but no one notices.  I compare my life to others, and it makes me so jealous inside.  We try to appear that we have it together but there is that sin that runs inside of us.

Some sin we get so used to we don’t even think it is a sin.  I feel so out of control that I try to take control of people around me and it hurts my relationships.  I check out of life and do the least possible.  I have no respect for any leaders in my life – ever.  I’m always negative and put people down but that’s just how my family is.

In all of it, opening ourselves up to sin, opens us up to the power of sin that leads to death.  Not physical death right away, spiritual death.

This is how scripture puts it.

16 So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. 17 The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. 18 But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.

19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. NLT Galatians 5:16-21

Did you see that?  Sin has implications in our lives.  It shows up.  We can’t hide it.  When we turn to sin, we are giving ourselves over to be influenced by sin.

The opposite is true too.  When we give ourselves over to God’s kingdom, we are giving opening ourselves over to the influence of God. Next verses.

22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! NLT Galatians 5:22-23

Giving yourself to God has implications in our lives, it shows up.

Before we move on I want to point those nine qualities that show up like love, you can’t produce those things.  Many Christians wrongly read that list and think it’s their job to go produce those things on their strength.  They read books, do fill in the blank discipleships, strive and struggle to be more loving.  It never works.  Scriptures say, the Holy Spirit produces these qualities.  We need to surrender our lives to God, then God through the Holy Spirit places those things in our lives.

Let’s walk through some questions to see how we are doing.

How are you at part 1 of Christianity: God’s grace?  Do you believe Jesus is the Son of God?  Have you experienced grace washing away your guilt, fear, stress, anxiety and sin?  Do you see yourself as a child of God?  Do you walk through life with unapologetic and ferocious courage?

How are you at part 2 of Christianity: Your will?  Do you tend to follow your desires, that means you do what you want when you want how you want?  Do you read scripture and surrender your will to God’s will?  Are you walking in open sin?  Are you walking in secret sin?  Do you think there might me a sin that you have become so used to, it’s just the way you live?  Do you blame your family for your sin?

Do you believe there are two kingdoms with power, and they are at war over you?  Do you feel the kingdom of sin pulling you toward sin?  Do you feel the kingdom of God pulling you towards living like God asked?  When you feel that battle, what do you do?

One of the reasons people don’t fully grasp or are not fully transformed by grace is sin.  What is showing up in your life?  Impurity, lust, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness?  Is it love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?

Please hear me.  There are two kingdoms with power, and they are at war over you.  And how you live today opens your life up to one of these kingdoms.

I want to close and remind you that the door to God’s kingdom is always open to you.