Selfless Living, 27 January 2019

Selfless Living
Series—Romans: Walking in the Spirit
Romans 14

Series Overview: The book of Romans guides us into a life of freedom as we follow Jesus by being filled with the Holy Spirit.

Big Idea: The Holy Spirit will lead us to live for God and others rather than judging, condemning, and living selfishly.

I have four prayers for First Alliance Church. I announced them the moment we arrived more than three years ago and I continue to pray for them.

I pray for
passion…for Jesus, the lost, one another, the widows, strangers, orphans, and poor. I can’t make you passionate, but I can pray the Holy Spirit awakens you.

I pray for
direction. This is not my church. This is not your church. This is God’s church. Jesus is our Senior Pastor. I want nothing more than to listen to and obey Jesus.

I pray for
protection. We have a real enemy who wants to steal, kill, destroy, and lie. God is greater.

I pray for
unity. This one is related to protection because the enemy loves to bring division. Unity is fragile. Without grace, love, and truth, things can go south in a hurry.

One thing I love about praying for unity is it’s Jesus’ prayer. In fact, the only prayer I know that Jesus prays specifically for us is found in John chapter 17.

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:20-23)

Jesus prayed that we would be one. This is why I pray for unity…not only within First Alliance Church but throughout our city. This is why we join other churches for worship—to answer Jesus’ prayer. This is why I pray with other pastors at MERGE once a month. This is why we have Home Missions partners to love our community together. This is why we seek to bless other Christians, be they counselor Jane Ginter, the Monroe Vineyard Church who is opening a coffee shop, the Toledo Vineyard Church who needed a place for a small office, our Faith Missions workers, or virtually anything we do with our Christian & Missionary Alliance family. It’s about unity…but not uniformity.

I know this will come as a shock to some of you, but God made each of us different. You are uniquely created by Almighty God with value, dignity, and worth. There is no one like you on the planet. We’ll talk more about this next Sunday, but for now I want you to think how different you are from the person sitting next to you. Maybe you look different. Maybe you think different. Maybe you smell different! We are all different, and if you’ve ever spent more than five minutes with another human being you understand why unity is so fragile, why Jesus prayed for us, and why todays passage from Romans chapter 14 is vitally important to us all.

Who’s the most selfish person you’ve ever met? Perhaps your mind reached back to that sibling or childhood friend who wouldn’t share their toys with you. Maybe it’s a co-worker or neighbor. Could it be the person in the mirror?

If we’re honest, we’re all selfish. Our natural response to most any situation is what is best for us. If our own humanity didn’t cause enough selfishness, we’re bombarded by messages every day telling us it’s all about us. Satisfy your needs, your thirst, your desires, your pleasures. You deserve it.

This might all be ok if you were the only person on the planet, but any group of two or more—much less hundreds like First Alliance Church—requires looking beyond our own preferences and conclusions.

We’ve been looking at the book of Romans during the beginning of this year. With our without new year’s resolutions, we can let time fly by or be intentional about growth, about transformation, about walking in the Spirit. Every moment is an opportunity to follow the flesh and the world or be filled with the Holy Spirit, living as God’s children and pursuing His Kingdom.

Jesus taught us to pray, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The Kingdom of God is advancing. We see brilliant moments when heaven kisses earth—the birth of a child, a prisoner being visited, the sick being healed, the hungry being fed, the lost becoming found, generosity multiplying, artists creating, …

Of course, we live in a fallen world where the kingdom of this world is also present. The tension is real between good and evil, god and satan, this world and the next.

We’ve repeatedly said growth involves suffering. Transformation involves trials. Surrender involves sacrifice. But it’s worth it! Jesus is worth it! Being filled with the Holy Spirit, used by Almighty God is worth it!

Perhaps nowhere is the battle between the kingdoms of God and satan more evident than in relationships. I’ve seen people deeply pious, religious, and committed to God, yet they miss the second part of Jesus’ command: loving their neighbor as themselves.

Romans chapter fourteen begins…

Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. (Romans 14:1-3)

Until recently, Paul’s specific message was deeply contextual. After all, whoever cared about another person’s diet? These days it’s almost impossible to prepare a meal for someone without asking if they’re vegetarian, vegan, keto, dairy-free, kosher, nut-allergic, …

Paul is most likely referring to the controversy surrounding the eating of meat sacrificed to idols or even pork. We might call it a gray matter, something which is “disputable.” Someone once said there are close-handed (clear) and open-handed (disputable) issues. For example, Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead would be two close-handed issues. We don’t debate them. They are crystal-clear from the scriptures. Murder, adultery, drunkenness, lying, stealing, envying people who live in Hawaii on a cold day like today…!!! These are close-handed, clear issues. There’s no debate.

But there are open-handed issues which are not essential. They don’t define heresy. They are disputable matters and they must be considered with humility and prayer. Of course, what is close-handed and open-handed can be a disputable matter! Here are some examples of what many would consider open-handed, disputable matters:

Can a Christian dance? Should a Christian dance? What about square dancing?

Can a Christian go to the movies? Should a Christian go to the movies? What about an R-rated movie? What about
The Passion of the Christ which was rated R?

Can a Christian smoke? What about vaping?

Can a Christian drink a glass of wine? What about a beer?

Can a Christian purchase Christmas gifts with a credit card that is nearly maxed out?

Can a Christian work for pay on Sunday? Besides me! What about attending a soccer game on the Sabbath? What about playing in a soccer game on Sunday?

Can a Christian drive a nice car? Wear expensive jewelry? Own a vacation home?

This chapter of Romans is encouraging me because I’ve seen people argue and leave churches and break off relationships and judge one another over the silliest things. Again, unity is fragile. Our enemy laughs when he sees us condemn one another over peripheral issues. My boyhood pastor used to say, “There are some things the Bible is silent about and we should be, too.”

Donald Cole was a missionary, pastor and commentator on Moody Radio In his youth, Pastor Cole was raised in a church where going to a movie theater was considered sinful. However, his family participated in Halloween trick-or-treating.

As an adult, when Pastor Cole travelled he would often stay at the house of a friend or colleague. Once he was staying with a Christian family on Halloween. His host conveyed their concerns about the evils of celebrating Halloween and the importance of shielding their children from the spiritual dangers associated with Halloween.

“So what alternative plans do you have?” inquired Pastor Cole. The parents enthusiastically replied, “We take the kids to the movies!”

There are disputable matters…and often they are based in preferences, traditions, and culture. There’s nothing wrong with having opinions, but if something’s not clear in the Bible, we must be very careful about how we express those opinions.

We need unity. Not uniformity, but unity. We must always focus on the essentials of our faith…and our own conduct. Love the sinner, hate your own sin!

Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. (Romans 14:4)

What right do you have to judge someone over a disputable matter? God will judge each of us as individuals. When you point the finger, there are three pointing back at you.

We need to judge our own sins, not those of others.

Paul continues,

One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. (Romans 14:5)

Paul moves from diet to the sabbath. The day of the week is not what’s important, but rather that we take a sabbath, that we rest, that we trust God. My sabbath is usually on Saturday. Yours might be Sunday. Paul’s saying don’t be legalistic. And don’t judge! You’re not God!

Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. (Romans 14:6)

It's not what’s in the stomach but what’s in the heart that really matters.

For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. (Romans 14:7-9)

We can’t live apart from Jesus. If you’re in a relationship with Jesus, if you’re praying, seeking to honor God, studying the truths of the Bible, and looking out for the best interest of others, there’s freedom. There’s never freedom to sin, but there is freedom to live. And while it may be ok for you to do something, be sensitive to those around you.

Perhaps the most obvious example is drinking alcohol. If you can drink a glass of wine in good conscience before God and you know your brother or sister is an alcoholic, it’s not ok to drink with them. We must be sensitive and not cause others to stumble.

If you’re not sure if something is right or not, it may indicate it’s not ok. If you have to think of ways to defend yourself, maybe you should avoid it in the first place. It’s really not enough to think WWJD—What Would Jesus Do? Instead, we can be filled with the Holy Spirit, surrender our will and desires to the LORD, and live in ways that undoubtedly bring Him honor and glory. Just because another Christian does something doesn’t necessarily mean it’s ok for you to do.

Does it honor God? Worship is more than singing songs. It’s more than an hour on Sunday. It is a 24/7 lifestyle. Whatever we do can be an act of worship if we live for the Lord. Your work can be worship. Your hobbies can be worship. Your rest can be worship. If you’re married, your sex life can be worship. Everything we do—if done for the Lord—can be worship.

You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.
It is written:

“ ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will acknowledge God.’ ”

So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. (Romans 14:10-12)

[click here for more on God's judgment seat]

Why do we judge? I think it’s usually insecurity, a form of pride. If I condemn you, I’m apt to feel better about myself. When I put you down, I feel lifted up, even though I’m actually the one in sin. If your real motivation is to help someone grow in godliness, I doubt judging will ever produce that result. Have you ever changed your behavior because someone was condemning you?

Dallas Willard noted, "
Condemnation always involves some degree of self-righteousness and of distancing ourselves from the one we are condemning. And self-righteousness always involves an element of comparison and of condemnation…It is extremely rare that anyone who is condemned will respond by changing in the desired way."

This does not mean we shouldn’t care about the dangerous behavior of others. There is a time and place to humbly admonish one another, but never for the purpose of looking down upon a brother or sister, and not over disputable matters. May it never be! Instead, we need to encourage one another, help one another, lovingly challenge one another to follow Jesus rather than the world.

Someday you will stand before God and give an account of…you. Not me. Not your neighbor. Not even your spouse or kids if you have them. Each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. (Romans 14:13)

Does this sound familiar? Does it sound like Jesus? You may recall he said,

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (Matthew 7:1-2)

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5)

Obviously the early Christians were judging one another. Some things never change!

We need to judge our own sins, not those of others.

We are to be sensitive to our weaker spiritual siblings. We are to help others flourish (Thomas George). They are image-bearers of Almighty God. We never know the darkness and chaos of someone else’s life (let’s not add to it!).

Paul spends the rest of the chapter reiterating the main point: don’t judge, yet be sensitive to others. Don’t cause them to stumble.

It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall. (Romans 14:21)

Perhaps the best way to summarize, then is to go to Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Philippians 2:3-4)

Yeah, that convicts me, too…every time I read it!

So What?

I struggle with this.
I judge people for being too legalistic.
I judge people for being too liberal.

I’m a very selfish person, and that never leads to unity. It never leads to love.

Earlier this month,
Lifeway released the results of a survey that analyzed why young people leave the church. If you look around the room, I’m younger than most of you…and I’m a grandpa! They say the church is always one generation away from extinction and I’m deeply committed to helping the next generations encounter Jesus Christ. With all due respect to you senior saints, hopefully you know Jesus by now. But your kids and grandkids and great grandkids are lost with Christ, battling depression, anxiety, addiction, and loneliness. So why do they leave the church?

1. Moving to college and no longer attending
2. Church members seeming judgmental or hypocritical
3. No longer feeling connected to people in their church
4. Disagreeing with the church’s stance on political or social issues

Take a look at number two. Take look at number four.

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. (Romans 14:13)

In the words of Billy Graham,

“It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge and my job to love.”

Credits: I’m grateful for the research and assistance of Doug Oliver.

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

Transformed Living, 13 January 2019

Transformed Living
Series—Romans: Walking in the Spirit
Romans 12:1-8

Series Overview: The book of Romans guides us into a life of freedom as we follow Jesus by being filled with the Holy Spirit.

Big Idea: We can know and do God’s will when we are transformed by the Holy Spirit from worldly to godly living.

One of the most common questions I get asked as a pastor is, "How can I know God's will? Do you want to know God's will? Do you really want to know God's will?

Walking in the Spirit and today we’re in chapter 12, another passage packed with inspiration and information for the purpose of transformation: transformed living.

One thing I’ve noticed about humans is most don’t like change. It’s easy to get comfortable, in a rhythm. The problem is, if we aren’t changing to become like Jesus, we’re stuck—at best—and likely losing our faith, backsliding, drifting.

In Romans 11, Paul talks about how we have all been disobedient to God, yet He has extended His mercy to all followers of Jesus.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)

One of the most common questions asked by Christians is, “How can I know God’s will?” We know Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done,” but what does that really mean? The answer is found in these two verses. We must be transformed. We must…change.

I love you all deeply, but none of you has yet achieved perfection. We are all in need of what is called sanctification, the process of being set apart, consecrated, made holy. There are actually two aspects to sanctification for the Christian.

First, there’s positional or internal sanctification. All believers are sanctified or set apart unto God when they receive Jesus as Savior and LORD. In another book, Paul, the writer of Romans, said,

“…you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justifed in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:11)

Tragically, this is where so many Christians stop. You’ve heard me call them vampire Christians—they just want Jesus for his blood. He’s their Savior but not LORD. They
think they’ve been given a Get-Out-Of-Hell-Free card because they prayed a prayer and do religious things, but they’re nothing more than modern-day Pharisees. They’re not walking in the Spirit.

The second type of sanctification is progressive or eternal. This is the state of growing in divine grace as a result of Christian commitment after baptism or conversion. This is what Paul is describing in Romans 12:1-2.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)

Sacrifices are rather uncommon today, but at the time of this writing, the slaughter of animals was a part of life for many, killed and placed upon an altar. The problem with living sacrifices is they can wiggle off the altar!

This is such a challenging text because Paul is basically saying to surrender our bodies…and our minds. See, we often make the mistake of thinking Christianity just about our soul, but we are multi-dimensional creatures…and God wants all of us.

Do you want God? Do you really want God?

Let’s face it, in the next life it will be easy to follow God. Satan will be removed, temptation will be a thing of the past, we’ll be forever in God’s presence…but we’re in this world now. We’re expected to live as citizens of heaven while being in Toledo, Ohio!
What does Paul mean when he speaks of the pattern of this world? One of Jesus’ best friends, John, described it this way:

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. (1 John 2:15-16)

Let me break this down a bit.

The lust of the flesh refers to our comfort, prosperity, sexual activity, eating, etc.

The lust of the eyes includes greed, coveting, jealousy, envy, etc.

The pride of life
involves pride, the quest for fame and power, desiring a sense of importance, or what we call “the American Dream.

This is what it means to follow the pattern of this world. This is why I meet so many Christians in this country that are different than their non-Christian neighbors. Most of us are pursuing the American Dream instead of God’s dream, God’s will.

Most of us are too busy to pray.
We’re too comfortable to fast.
We’re too greedy to give generously.
We’re too distracted to study the Bible.
We’re too prideful to serve.

If you want a wake-up call, here’s the very next verse from John:

The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:17)

So how do we begin to do God’s will? It begins with renewing the mind. All of our actions begin in our head. Here are two simple steps:

Fill your mind with God’s truth. Study the Bible.

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. (Psalm 1:1-2)

Focus your mind on good things.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)

This can be really difficult in a culture of cable news, Facebook posts, and online porn.
Paul continues to describe what it means to renew our minds:

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. (Romans 12:3)

I think pride is the root of most, if not all, sins. It manifests itself through both arrogance and insecurity. It got satan kicked out of heaven. It’s what drives us to seize power and control. It seeks comfort and safety. Pride may be my greatest sin throughout my life.

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. (Romans 12:4-5)

I’ve heard people say they love Jesus but not the Church. That’s like saying you love Christ but hate his Wife! The Church is imperfect, yes, but it is the Body of Christ. A Christian without a church is like a football player without a team. We need others!

I need you. You need me. We belong together. We need to love and serve one another, not only for the sake of the members of the church, but also for our mission field: Toledo and beyond.

We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. (Romans 12:6-8)

This is not a comprehensive list of spiritual gifts, but one of several in the Bible. The Alliance affirms all of the spiritual gifts mentioned in scripture. In fact, one of our seven core values states

Without the Holy Spirit’s empowerment, we can accomplish nothing. - 1 Cor. 2:4-5

A quick note about prophesy, it is not necessarily predicting the future, but rather forth-telling or revealing God’s truth. Perhaps you’ve heard God speak to you about someone or something and didn’t know what to do about it. We’re hosting a three-week seminar on Wednesday nights beginning February 27 to discuss the spiritual gift of prophecy, what it is, how to use it if you have it, and how to avoid misusing it as so many have done.

I want you to see a living example of what happens when a family is filled with the Spirit, surrendered to God, using their gifts, and
being the Church.


Did you notice spiritual gifts in use? At least five from Romans 12 are clear:

We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. (Romans 12:6-8)

serving (the needs of the mother and daughters)
- teaching (discipling the mother and children)
- encouraging (the four new daughters through their myriad of problems)
- giving (of their time, home and funds)
- showing mercy (to the mother who was incarcerated)

So What?

Do you want God? Do you really want God?

Transformed living is possible. It begins with renewing our minds and surrendering our bodies. Here are a few notes about the process of transformational sanctification:

1. Growth takes time.

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen. (2 Peter 3:18)

Transformation is a lifelong journey. It’s like a slow dance between the Spirit and us as the Holy Spirit guides and we respond. Don’t ever stop growing!

2. We must take obedient action by taking off our old self and putting on a new self.

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22-24)

3. We must remain submitted to God to experience lasting transformation.

…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6

4. We must remain humble. Christians often become prideful about how much they have been sanctified or transformed. How much you have been transformed is not so much the issue – rather the direction in which you are currently changing is much more important. 

…make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:5b-8)

5. Growth will likely lead to both troubles and a more abundant life.

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. (Mark 10:30)

Do you want God? Do you really want God? If so, as we sing this closing song, I want to invite you to the altar. The new year is still getting started. Today is the perfect day to publicly declare your desire for more of God, to surrender, to let go and let God, to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Credits: I’m grateful for the research and assistance of Doug Oliver.

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

Living in the Spirit, 6 January 2019

Living in the Spirit
Series—Romans: Walking in the Spirit
Romans 8

Series Overview: The book of Romans guides us into a life of freedom as we follow Jesus by being filled with the Holy Spirit.

Big Idea: We are free to live under the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit as we become like Jesus.

Happy New Year!

We’re returning to the book of Romans, a favorite of so many in our church family. We could easily spend a year in this book, but instead we’re taking specific chapters, getting an overview of timeless truths from this important letter written to some of the first Christians in Rome.

One common theme we will see is this idea of walking in the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit to become like Jesus.

Perhaps you’ve made new year’s resolutions…or didn’t out of fear of failure. If we’re honest, we probably all have areas in our lives in which we want to see growth. Well, if it involves weight, perhaps growth is the last thing we want! But seriously, where would you like to be a year from now? I’ve done a lot of reflection upon 2018 and would not be satisfied if 365 days from now I was the same person.

I want to grow! My ultimate goal is to become like Jesus. That’s what “Christian” means…little Christ. As I mentioned last Sunday, I will not become more like Jesus by trying harder. That’s a terrible myth. Instead, I need to surrender, confess my sins, and welcome the Holy Spirit into my life. The late Bill Bright used to talk about spiritually breathing—exhaling by confession and inhaling by being filled with the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is not a force. The Holy Spirit is not a ghost. The Holy Spirit is a Person, one Member of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Spirit. One God in three Persons.

We are all engaged in a real war between God and satan, good and evil. Make no mistake, the enemy is real. He wants to steal, kill, destroy, and lie, tempting you to make a mess of your life. On the other hand, our Heavenly Father has a much better vision for your life, one filled with love, peace, joy, and abundant life. Jesus is our example. The Holy Spirit provides the gifts, the fruit, the power to become like Jesus when we die—to our flesh, our sins, our pride—and let the Holy Spirit live in and through us.

In the seventh chapter of Romans, Paul describes the battle so eloquently:

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:21-25a)

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. (Romans 7:25b)

The struggle is real. But there’s hope. There’s power. There’s freedom!

After admitting the war between God’s law and the law of sin, Paul continues in Romans chapter eight, perhaps the most inspirational highlight of the book:

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was po
werless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4)

It is fitting that we are reading this on communion Sunday. Some churches remember the Eucharist or the LORD’s table each week, which isn’t necessarily a bad idea. But on the first Sunday of the month we are reminded of Jesus’ death and resurrection for us, demonstrating his love for us, freeing us from the law of sin and death. His death brings us life…abundant life and eternal life. And there’s no condemnation! Only grace! Hallelujah! Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, repentant followers of Jesus who have turned from their sin and followed Jesus can experience forgiveness, reconciliation, peace, salvation, and joy! The law can’t claim you, condemn you, or control you because of Jesus. That’s wonderful! It’s amazing! That’s grace!

You’ll quickly see a tension between what might be called positional and practical reality. Followers of Jesus are forgiven, but we still sin. We are free from the law of sin and death, but we are still tempted to sin…and often succumb to those temptations.

We find ourselves, yet again, in the in-between. Even when we make progress in our spiritual journey, there remains a distance between our lives and the perfection of Jesus. Like a child whose muscles are developing and body is growing, we are not what we were, but not what we will become someday. Such is life!

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:5-8)

Every sin begins in the mind. Every act of kindness begins in the mind. Where is your mind? What influences it? We are bombarded by fake news, violence, fear, perversion, profanity, and evil every day, whether it’s from a screen in our pockets or a giant billboard on the expressway, cable news or Netflix.

At the risk of sounding old-school, we must get our minds on God. True believers read the Bible. They study it. They put it into practice. The Bible is our authority, our truth, yet so many of us don’t fill our minds with it. This isn’t a pastor thing, it’s a Christian thing.

As we begin this new year, let me remind you of some great resources we have made available to you.

Mission 119. This daily devotional offers a passage of scripture, a twelve-minute audio by Alliance pastor John Soper, and downloadable resources for further study. And it’s totally free! Year 2 began last week, but even if you’ve never accessed it, you can get started today. You can easily catch up on the five days you missed last week since it’s a Monday through Friday format. In three weekends, you’ll be right on track! I’ve been thrilled at the positive feedback on it. I usually read the passage of the day while I’m still in bed…and listen to the audio during my commute. If you struggle with reading, you can even listen to the scripture passage each day.

Right Now Media. They sometimes call this Christian Netflix. It’s not a vast library of movies, but it is packed with Bible studies for individuals and groups, great content for children, leadership resources, …and it’s all available for free on most any screen in your pocket or home. If you’d like an invitation, note it on the Connection Card.

D6. Parents, grandparents, and guardians, last year we began offering take-home resources and weekly e-mails to equip you to train the next generation in the ways of the LORD. Discipleship cannot adequately occur through one hour a week. I have never seen a tool like D6 to help you and your family know and follow God. Some sermons, small groups, and Sunday School classes are thematically synced, too, to help our entire church family grow together, regardless of age, focused on the same scriptures.

4. Speaking of
groups, we have a growing number of small groups, Bible studies, and Sunday School classes that meet on Sundays and throughout the week, here on our church campus and in homes and public spaces. A complete list can be found out our Information Center in the lobby as well as at the bottom of the weekly FAC Focus e-newsletter. If you don’t get that in your inbox each Wednesday, please fill out a Connection Card and you’ll receive it…spam-free!

Home Missions partners are local ministries doing great work in and around Toledo. They are always accepting prayers, donations, and volunteers. Our next Home Missions Sunday is in two weeks, January 20. Following Jesus is so much more than just agreeing with a mission statement or having Bible knowledge. The true measure of our spiritual maturity is love…how well we love God and how well we love others, even our enemies. Serving through FAC and its home missions partners is a great way to put your faith into action.

But it all begins with our minds. Will you live for yourself in 2019 or God and others?

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. (Romans 8:9-11)

That’s a fantastic promise! Christ was raised from the dead and after we die, our bodies will be resurrected like his! In the meantime, the Spirit of God lives in us! That’s just incredible! This is what it means to be controlled by the Spirit. We die to our selfish desires and follow Jesus.

If I have one desire for 2019, it’s that I would decrease and Jesus would increase. I pray that 52 weeks from now, you would see more Jesus and less Kirk. It will only happen if I
live under the control of the Spirit.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:12-13)

This is an awkward in-between time. We’re citizens of heaven, yet we’re living in a sinful culture, influenced by the world, the flesh, and the devil. Here we’re told to put our flesh to death. This doesn’t mean the body is evil and must be destroyed, but rather it is prone to sin.

I’m proud to be a USAmerican, but does my life look more like Jesus or my non-Christian neighbor? If I’m living according to the flesh, my culture and comfort will take precedence over Jesus’ call to surrender, sacrifice, give, love, forgive, and extend grace. Remember, Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good. He came to help dead people experience life, but first we must die to our will, our desires, our agenda, our flesh.

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8:14-17)

We are to live as children of God. Are you a child of God? How do you know?

Some of us have been told the lie that if you just pray a magic prayer, you’re done. You’re in. Any such prayer or “decision” is just the beginning. Children of God are led by the Spirit, filled with the Spirit. They are living in the Spirit. They are walking in the Spirit. They have the Holy Spirit…and the Spirit has them! That means we daily die to ourselves. Their body becomes the very temple of the Spirit. If you think that sounds uncomfortable, it surely is! Never are we promised endless rainbows and lollipops! Paul tells us we will share in the sufferings of Jesus. That’s the pathway to glory.

The vast majority of us have never endured the sufferings of Jesus. If someone wished you “Happy Holidays” instead of “Mary Christmas,” that’s doesn’t count! Paul knew suffering, the early church knew suffering, and today millions of our brothers and sisters in other nations are experiencing torture, imprisonment, and martyrdom because they refuse to follow Jesus.

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:18-21)

Do you see Paul’s perspective? He’s not in denial about his present circumstances, but he doesn’t whine and complain. He knows freedom is coming. Life is coming. Liberation is coming. Even creation knows it. Someday suffering and death and pain will cease.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8:22-25)

I’m so impatient. I want things now. I want Jesus to return, satan to be defeated, and a new resurrection body! Regardless of your present circumstances, hope is real. God always keeps His promises. It will be worth the wait!

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27)

I love this passage. Have you ever tried to pray and you didn’t know what to say? I’ve had that happen many times, and I usually pray, “Holy Spirit, groan on my behalf; intercede for me; may God’s will be done.”

One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is tongues. There are two different types of tongues: known languages and heavenly language. Some Christians are given the supernatural ability to speak human languages they’ve never learned, usually for the purpose of evangelism. This occurred in Acts 2:6. The heavenly language tongue is a spiritual gift which requires someone with the spiritual gift of interpretation to understand, though some speak it privately without an interpreter.

I have asked the Holy Spirit to give me the gift of tongues, but I have never received the gift. The Spirit has given me other gifts and I’m content with them since nobody has all of the spiritual gifts. I mention this controversial gift fully embraced by the Christian & Missionary Alliance because some people when they pray are unable to use known languages to express their heart to God, yet the find themselves speaking words they don’t understand. This might be similar to the groanings the Holy Spirit prays. Note it’s all in accordance with God’s will.

We must live through God’s strength.

Now we come to one of the most famous and misused verses in the Bible.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30)

Take some time and unpack those rich verses. Remember, this is in the context of suffering. Nothing surprises God…and the suffering of His children is never in vain. There’s a rich chunk of theology here, that those that walk in the Spirit are called, justified, and will someday be glorified. We will receive a reward for our devotion to God…eternity with Him.

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? (Romans 8:31-35)

I’d love to preach an entire sermon on this paragraph! If God is for us, who can be against us? The Holy Spirit intercedes for us. Our High Priest, Jesus, is also interceding for us. Nothing can separate God’s children from the love of Christ. We can live confidently in God’s never-ending love. If God is for us, how can we worry? How can we be fille
d with fear?

As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” (Romans 8:36)

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39)

If we walk in the Spirit, we can live victorious, free from sin, defeat, death, discouragement, condemnation, and fear. Nothing can separate God’s children from the love of God. Hallelujah! If God is for us, who can be against us,

I want to you think about your relationship with God. Who’s the pilot? Are you frustrated from disappointment and failure, trying to be in control? Live under the control of the Holy Spirit. Do you feel distant from God or find yourself trying to fit in with the world? Live as a child of God. Are you weak and tired? Live through God’s strength? Are you insecure or feel unloved? Claim the promises of Romans 8 and know that you can
live confidently in God’s never-ending love.

That love was not just a mushy Hallmark card, but demonstrated with blood, sweat and tears. Jesus died to make everything in this chapter possible. He endured suffering knowing glory would follow, and the same is true for us. Your story’s not over. I want to encourage you in this new ye
ar to press into Jesus, surrender control of your life to the Holy Spirit, and seek first the Kingdom of God.

Credits: outline from D6.

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.