Freed from Sin, 28 October 2018

Freed from Sin
D6 Series—Romans: Faith’s Foundations
Romans 6

Series Overview: Romans is packed with the gospel and truths about our spiritual condition.

Big Idea: We are no longer slaves to sin, but rather servants of the Most High God.

We live in a very divisive society. Have you noticed? Dan Rogers likes to say everything seems to be binary. You are either a Republican and hate Democrats or you’re a Democrats and hate Republicans. The same can be said for Wolverines and Buckeyes or any number of categories. Where’s the nuance?

The older I get, I see less black and white and more gray. There is a middle. Compromise is often a possibility. For that matter, my dad taught me to always root for the Big Ten so this Wolverine boy even cheers for that school to our south…except the Saturday after Thanksgiving, of course!

Life can be very gray—and I don’t mean scarlet and gray—but there are some realities which are mutually exclusive and either/or. Jesus famously said,

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. (Matthew 6:24a, Luke 16:13a)

While he was speaking of God and money, a similar statement can be made of God and sin. You can serve God or sin. God or the world. God or self. We must choose. Daily. Hourly. Moment by moment.

Today we continue our series
Faith’s Foundations, a run through Romans. We’re looking at the sixth chapter of this incredible book written by Paul to some of the first Christians in Rome. To quote Joshua 24:15, “choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.”

Last week we looked at the binary choice we have to make for our sins—eternal punishment or accepting the grace of Jesus. He died for us. Our only hope is not in our pathetic good works, but in the saving faith in Christ’s death and resurrection. Praise God for His amazing grace, unmerited favor, gift of salvation. Hallelujah!

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? (Romans 6:1-2)

Paul faced two extremes which are still rampant today, legalism and license. Some were preaching the importance of good works as if they could ever save us from eternal separation from a holy and perfect God. Others were saying since we have grace, let’s just do what we want because Jesus paid the price for all of our sins. Rather than legalism or license, we are to experience liberty.

If we set aside Judgment Day and eternity for a moment, sin is never beneficial. Think about your most troublesome sin, your most annoying temptation. Maybe it’s worry or gossip. It could be porn or unbridled anger. Perhaps it’s envy or workaholism. Whatever it is, how has it brought peace, joy, and satisfaction to your life? Exactly! It hasn’t! Sin only brings temporary pleasure. Like eating chocolate-covered poop, what follows is never worth it! Sin leads to death—death of relationships, finances, and sometimes even physical death. We have a real enemy who wants to steal, kill and destroy. He tempts, then accuses. He never plays fair!

Last Sunday we celebrated the joy of experience grace—forgiveness, peace, reconciliation with our Creator, hope…

Our response to God and the gift of the cross and empty tomb should never be the pursuit of sin, but rather the pursuit of God. You don’t say thank you for a gift by abusing it. You take care of it. You express your gratitude. You respond in love and kindness.

Jesus died for our sins. He set an example for us to follow—dying to sin. This doesn’t mean we accept Jesus and never sin. The battle continues, but our allegiance is no longer to satan and sin, but to our Savior and salvation. We have died to sin.

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:3-4)

The book of Ephesians is filled with a wonderful phrase—in Christ. It means that we are united with Christ. Everything that can be said about Jesus can be said about us. Water baptism brilliantly shows physically the spiritual reality of discipleship—dying to our self and sins and old nature in the water grave and emerging out of the water as new creations, resurrected and following Jesus Christ with our heart, soul, mind and strength.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. (Romans 6:5-7)

Baptism is a symbol of dying and rising, but there’s another layer of meaning. For Paul, baptism is an exodus image, a Passover image. Coming through the waters is an image of slaves getting freed.

Do you want to be a slave to sin? That’s how most people live, addicted to sin. It may or may not be alcohol or drugs, but any sin can control us, rule us, enslave us.

But Jesus has conquered sin. Jesus has conquered death. Last week we looked at the doctrine of justification by faith which is a part of the powerful gospel through which we are transformed into renewed human beings. The Messiah died and rose as a representative of his people, creating a new reality for the rescued, forgiven, and freed who follow him.

I know it feels as though we are still dragged down by sin, but Paul says remember who you are in the Messiah. We already stand on resurrected ground. We are set free from sin. We are not free
to sin! We are to know this. We are to fill our minds with this truth.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. (Romans 6:8-10)

This is such great news! Jesus has conquered death. Once for all. He died to sin. If we die with him, we will also live with him…for the glory of God. We were made by God, for God, and for God’s glory.

A.W. Tozer, in writing about “The Deeper Life,” said,

To enter upon such a life, seekers must be ready to accept without question the New Testament as the one final authority on spiritual matters. They must be willing to make Christ the one supreme Lord and ruler in their lives. They must surrender their whole being to the destructive power of the cross, to die not only to their sins but to their righteousness as well as to everything in which they formerly prided themselves.
If this should seem like a heavy sacrifice for anyone to make, let it be remembered that Christ is Lord and can make any demands upon us that He chooses, even to the point of requiring that we deny ourselves and bear the cross daily. The mighty anointing of the Holy Spirit that follows will restore to the soul infinitely more than has been taken away. It is a hard way, but a glorious one. Those who have known the sweetness of it will never complain about what they have lost. They will be too well pleased with what they have gained.

That’s radical! But doesn’t it make sense? We can serve sin or God? But not both.

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:11)

Some translations say reckon yourselves dead to sin but alive to God. This is an accounting term. We must calculate ourselves, add it up. The Messiah has died and been raised. We’re in Christ so therefore we have died in him and are alive to God. This is our status. Reckon it. Count it. Deal with it!

Paul doesn’t say sin less. He does say manage your sin or try to avoid it. He says count yourselves dead to sin. But you can’t just eliminate something from your life. You must replace it with something else.

I’m told many alcoholics turn to smoking or even gum when they are trying to rid themselves of the bottle. If you want to stop eating donuts, keep some carrots handy. Die to sin…and come alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. (Romans 6:12-13)

We are to offer no part of ourselves to sin. This means our heart, soul, mind, and strength; our eyes, ears, mouth, hands, feet, thoughts, attitudes. God wants it all.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ (Mark 12:30)

Jesus says all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.

I believe the problem in our world is not “those people” who don’t know Christ. It’s those of us who call ourselves Christians and yet act nothing like Jesus. We may look religious on Sunday morning, but return to our sin on Monday. We give our leftovers in the offering plate if there’s anything left over after our binge shopping on Amazon.

Let me put it this way: my wife wants me to be faithful to her. 24/7/365. Is that unreasonable? What if I told her I would be devoted to her on Sundays but acted differently during the week?

Perhaps Jesus’ half-brother, James, says it best.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. (James 3:9-12)

What will it be? Sin or grace?

For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace. (Romans 6:14)

Paul wants us to know the truth so the truth can set us free.

He wants us to have orthodoxy—right thinking—so we can engage in orthopraxy, right living.

We are dead to sin and alive to God.
We are to refuse sin’s reign in our lives.
We are to offer ourselves to God…completely. 100%

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. (Romans 6:15-18)

We can be slaves to sin or righteousness. It’s one or the other.

Obviously the word “slavery” has nothing but negative connotations in our culture. Tragically, there are more slaves on our planet today than at any time in history. A slave is subject to their master. Sin is a terrible, destructive master.

Becoming a servant of the Most High God, on the other hand, is a blessing, a privilege, a liberating, life-giving, satisfying experience.

I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. (Romans 6:19-22)

I love the contrast—death or eternal life. What do you choose?

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

This verse is often used to speak of non-Christians, but it was written to Christians.

When you serve a master, you can expect to be paid wages. Sin pays death. God pays holiness and eternal life.

The fruit of sin is shame.
The fruit of God is joy.

Death or the gift of God. What do you choose?

So What?

So much of what Paul seems to be addressing is the abuse of grace. If God forgives all of my sins, why not just eat, drink and be merry? In a word, death. Again, all sin leads to death of one kind or another. Words like holiness and righteousness have been abused to convey holier-than-thou and self-righteousness. That’s not at all what Paul’s talking about. He’s saying we need to choose—the world or God?

Later in Romans, Paul will write,

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. (Romans 12:1)

The problem with living sacrifices, of course, is they can move! They can get off the altar! We are to surrender to God, yield, live for Him, not because He’s a control freak, but because He knows us, loves us, and is the source of all life, hope, freedom, and peace.

We are to know we have been crucified with Christ and are dead to sin.
We are to reckon this to be true in our lives.
We are to yield and surrender our bodies to be used for God’s glory.

Once again I want to give you an opportunity to respond. There’s not one of us in this room who has lived a perfect week. We all sin and fall short of God’s glory. Where have you failed? What part of your body have you not fully surrendered? Maybe it’s your negative tongue, lustful eyes, or gluttonous stomach. Perhaps it’s an anxious and fearful heart or envious attitudes. Your feet might be taking you to unhealthy places or your hands are holding tightly onto your agenda and will rather than trusting God with your future.

Don’t think you can do it alone. You need the Holy Spirit. You also need other people. Celebrate Recovery meets on Wednesday nights not only for addicts but anyone struggling with grief, loss, pain, or temptation. That’s all of us! We have small groups that meet throughout the week.

We no longer have to be slaves to sin, but rather we are invited to become servants of the Most High God.

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

Abundant Grace, 21 October 2018

Abundant Grace: Justified by Faith
D6 Series—Romans: Faith’s Foundations
Romans 5

Series Overview: Romans is packed with the gospel and truths about our spiritual condition.

Big Idea: Because of God’s amazing grace, we can be justified by faith and have a right relationship with our Creator.

Clichés. We probably hear them every day. We probably say them every day. But do we understand them?

This past week Heather and I were blessed to be able to host a Japanese engineer in our home, a student at the University of Toledo’s American Language Institute. If you want to really confuse an English student, throw some clichés at them!

Cat got your tongue?
Read between the lines
He has his tail between his legs
Kiss and make up
Someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed

They don’t translate well!

Today we’re continuing our series Faith’s Foundations, a run through Romans. Our text from chapter five is filled with phrases that can easily become clichés or Christianese. It’s essential we understand them…and apply them to our lives.

The Bible is filled with words which are uncommon in popular culture. Of course, the Bible was originally written in Hebrew and Greek—not English—so our Bibles contain translations of ancient languages. There are three words I want to define before we engage our text in Romans.

Grace is

- the freely given, unmerited favor and love of God.
- the influence or spirit of God operating in humans to regenerate or strengthen them.
- a virtue or excellence of divine origin

We’ve sung a lot about grace today.

Faith is

- confidence or trust in a person or thing

belief that is not based on proof
- belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion


- to acquit, declare righteous, declare innocent or guiltless, absolve
- the opposite of condemn.

Justification by faith means God declares the believing sinner righteous by faith because of Christ’s finished work on the cross.

It is the righteousness of Jesus plus the subtraction of sins.

It is an act, not a process.
God does it, not us.
We are not made righteous, but declared righteous.

Under the law, righteous came by behaving.
Under the gospel, righteous comes by believing.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2)

What’s the therefore there for? Chapter 4 talks about how Abraham was justified by faith.

The Chamula people of southern Mexico have no single word for faith in their language. Needless to say, this passage was difficult for translators. Their understanding of faith is “taking-seriously-what-God-has-0obligated-himself-to-do.” Romans 5:1 could then be paraphrased, “Therefore, since we have been justified through taking seriously what God has obligated himself to do, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” That’s a mouthful, but what a brilliant reality!

They say the longest twelve inches is from the head to the heart, and I desperately want you to grasp how amazing God’s grace is, that God would send His precious son to die for us, for our sin, for our unrighteousness, for our junk.

Justified by faith
Peace through Christ
Access by faith into this grace

We have salvation, yes, but so much more.

By grace, we become children of God. Kids of the King! Joint heirs with Jesus!

Some translations of the Greek word for access,
prosagogein, are “brought into” or “been allowed to enter.” Through Jesus, we are ushered into the very presence of Almighty God. That’s incredible! The curtain of the temple that separated humans from God was torn from top to bottom while Jesus surrendered his life on the cross.

Karl Barth wrote,

“Into the depth of our predicament the word is spoken from on high: By grace you have been saved!  To be saved does not just mean to be a little encouraged, a little comforted, a little relieved.  It means to be pulled out like a log from a burning fire.  You have been saved!  We are not told: you may be saved sometimes, or a little bit.  No, you have been saved, totally for all times.  You?  Yes, we!  Not just any other people, more pious and better than we are, no we, each one of us.
This is so because Jesus Christ is our brother and, through his life and death, has become our Savior who has wrought our salvation.  He is the word of God for us.  And this word is: 
By grace you have been saved!"
We have peace with God! This is not merely the absence of conflict, but shalom: every kind of blessing and good.

Jesus is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). Through Jesus, we are reconciled to our heavenly Father. We have peace with God…even in the midst of turmoil and sufferings.

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Romans 5:3-4)

This is a remarkable sequence. I thought about spending the whole morning on these two verses, though next month our series “When Life Gets Hard” will revisit them. At first, it sounds crazy to glory in our sufferings, but Paul does not say we glory because of our sufferings. He doesn’t say rejoice because of our sufferings. He says rejoice or glory in our sufferings, explaining an important sequence.

The first question we ask in the midst of suffering is…why? I’m here to tell you it’s not meaningless. According to this text, it’s ultimately hope. Suffering produces hope? Usually hope is what we need when suffering. Let’s unpack this briefly.

Suffering produces perseverance. This might best be illustrated in exercise. Several years ago, our oldest daughter wanted to train me for the Ann Arbor Turkey Trot, a 5K race. I told her I had never ran more than a mile and thought more than 3 miles would be impossible. She insisted, saying if I worked up to it, I could eventually run 3.107 miles without walking or stopping. She was right. The suffering of those first days of training strengthened my muscles and allowed me to persevere through longer runs—or more accurately jogs! Suffering produces perseverance.

Perseverance produces character. This makes sense, right? As you develop the ability to endure through difficult circumstances, your character is strengthened. You learn to trust in God more fully. You may grow more patience and willing to surrender control. You become rooted in prayer, in dependency upon God. Perseverance produces character.

Character produces hope. As we lean into God, we realize His resources are never-ending. We recognize our efforts are nothing compared to His abilities. As we advance on our knees, praying without ceasing, our understanding of our awesome God reveals promises, increases confidences, and assures us of the reality of His presence and power. Nothing is impossible with God. His love never fails. Character produces hope.

Therefore, we can glory in our sufferings. We’re not supposed to like our sufferings—I don’t—but we can see them as growth opportunities, chances to draw closer to God, moments to live by faith, not sight. Although you might not have any idea why your life is the way that it is, someday you might look in the rear view mirror and praise God for the way this season has shaped you into the image.

Remember, as Thomas George often says, you were made by God, for God, and for God’s glory. It’s not all about you! It’s not all about me! It’s all about God and His glory! We can have hope of the glory of God. The purpose of our creation will be ultimately realized. As sinners, we fall short of the glory of God, but through Christ, we can boast in and experience the hope of the glory of God.

And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:5)

This is a fantastic verse! Paul has moved from faith to hope to love. The Holy Spirit is given to every believer at their new birth and his love for us continues to live in us. Faith, hope, and love.

The opposite of faith, hope and love is doubt, despair, and hatred. We’ve got enough of that in our world!

Now Paul elaborates on justification by faith and grace.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)

I get so excited about this passage! Jesus didn’t die for us because we were so good, but because we were so bad. That’s grace. We don’t deserve it. We can’t earn it. We’re not good enough. We’re not smart enough. We’re not rich enough. We’re not powerful enough. We’re not beautiful enough. We’re not educated enough. We were just pathetic sinners. We brought nothing to the table, yet God sent Jesus. Jesus died for us. That’s amazing grace!

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:9-11)

We have received reconciliation through Jesus. I love that word, reconciliation. We have it with our Creator. We are invited into a relationship with Almighty God despite our sin because of Jesus.

Even in our sophisticated, 21
st century world, men, women and children around the globe are doing things to try to appease god, hoping their good works will produce karma or favor. Human efforts toward our Creator are pitiful! Picture 28-time Olympic medalist Michael Phelps’ two year-old son challenging dad to a swim race. Imagine LeBron James’ 11 year-old son trying to go one-on-one with his dad. Ludicrous!

Now imagine those boys instead going with dad to lunch. Eating with a legend? Just dining with dad! We have been reconciled to our heavenly Dad. We don’t need to try harder or out do Him. We can’t impress Him or outlast Him. We can’t out think Him. We can’t do anything to earn His love or affection or approval. He just loves His kids!

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned— To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come. (Romans 5:12-14)

Sin always leads to death—physical death, the death of relationships, spiritual death. Since Adam, we’ve all been sinners.

But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! (Romans 5:15-17)

God’s grace is infinitely more good than Adam’s sin was evil.

Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:18-19)

Are you getting the picture? Jesus reversed Adam. This does not mean everyone will be saved, unfortunately, but that salvation is available to everyone. Like any gift, the gift of God’s grace must be received. Have you received it?

The chapter concludes…

The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:20-21)

The law just showed how sinful are sin was, making grace even more profound.

So What?

There are two groups of people here today.

Some of you have never received the gift of God’s grace. You’ve tried to be good and failed. You’ve tried to be in control and have gotten frustrated. I’ve got great news for you: grace!

I often say one of the great differences between Christianity and any other religion I’ve ever seen is grace. Unmerited favor. It’s the greatest gift ever, offered freely for you to receive. Let go and let God. If you’ve never done that, I urge you to simply say, “Jesus, I’m a sinner. I’ve made a mess of my life. I believe you died and rose from the dead to offer salvation and forgiveness and reconciliation with my Creator. I surrender all. Be the leader and LORD of my life.”

Some of you have received the gift of God’s grace. You’ve confessed your sins, repented of your selfish ways, and surrendered to Jesus Christ. You need to worship, praise God, life your voice, offer thanksgiving to God. Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)


To whom much is given, much is required. We have been showered with extravagant grace, unmerited favor from God. Now we go and extend grace to others. We forgive those who do not deserve to be forgiven. We are kind and generous to those who are not kind and generous. We bless those who curse us. We pray for our enemies. May we be a people of grace, conduits of faith, hope, and love.

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

The Cure for Sin, 14 October 2018

The Cure for Sin
D6 Series—Romans: Faith’s Foundation
Romans 3:10-31

Series Overview:
Romans is packed with the gospel and truths about our spiritual condition.

Big Idea: The only hope we have as sinners is not our works, but Jesus.

It was almost exactly one year ago that my body started doing strange things. One day I felt great, the next I had a fever. The next day I was fine. Then my temperature would go well past 100 degrees…at times around 104. What was happening?

It took days in the hospital before I was diagnosed with Malaria, an unwelcome souvenir from my time training pastors in Africa months earlier. It was such a relief to know the problem. It sounds odd to say, but I was glad I tested positive for the disease because it took the guesswork out of the situation and we are able to proceed to treatment.

I was also relieved to learn of the treatment—essentially some medicine which took effective in minutes, curing me of this debilitating illness that could’ve eventually taken my life.

Whether you know it or not, you are sick. You were born with a deadly disease. It is responsible for everything that’s wrong in our world—homelessness, addiction, divorce, violence, corruption, greed, abuse, and anything else you’d love to eliminate. The disease we all have is called sin.

Contrary to the self-proclaimed experts who have never had children, we are not born good and innocent. Nobody has to teach us to say, “No!” But what do we do about it? What is the cure for sin? I’m so glad you asked!

Romans chapter three paints an awful portrait of the human condition featuring a collection of Old Testament quotations (Psalm 14:1-3; 5:9; 140:3; 10:7; Isaiah 59:7-8; Psalm 36:1).

As it is written:
“There is no one righteous, not even one; Romans 3:10
there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God. Romans 3:11
All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.”
Romans 3:12
“Their throats are open graves;
their tongues practice deceit.”

“The poison of vipers is on their lips.”
Romans 3:13
“Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
Romans 3:14
“Their feet are swift to shed blood; Romans 3:15
ruin and misery mark their ways, Romans 3:16
and the way of peace they do not know.”
Romans 3:17
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Romans 3:18

These are not all word-for-word quotes from the Old Testament, but they convey the message quite clearly: we are all under the power of sin. We’re born with it. We practice it. It’s a deadly disease. The entire human race is lost in sin.

Are you looking for a loophole? An exception? Look again!

“There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is
no one who understands;
there is
no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is
no one who does good,
not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12)

The Jews were given the Law to follow. It contained dietary restrictions, …

Paul’s Roman audience was wrestling with Jew/Gentile relationships and distinctions. Many early Christians were Jews—like Jesus! As the faith spread to graft in Gentiles, numerous questions arose such as whether or not a kosher diet was required.

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. (Romans 3:19-20)

It was impossible to follow the Law perfectly. Even the most self-righteous Jew sinned (perhaps most of all because of their self-righteous pride!). Being devoted to the Law wasn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but legalism and judgment arose as a result. The Law revealed sin and the need for a savior.

The only cure for sin is…Jesus.

Like my Malaria meds, Jesus changes everything! Hallelujah!

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:21-24)

The Law cannot provide salvation because nobody can keep the Law perfectly. Righteousness is found only through faith in Jesus and his work on the cross. We all sin. We all fall short of the glory of God. The original Greek means “to miss the mark.” It’s like shooting an arrow that doesn’t even make it to the target.

God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement,
through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:25-26)

God is just. He always does what is morally right and fair. As much as we might want Him to bend the rules and excuse our sins, it’s impossible. Payment must be made. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was sufficient. We are all justified by the same God through the same way, faith in Jesus. We all fall short and miss the mark, and we are all invited to humbly trust in and serve Jesus, embracing the redemption accomplished on the cross.

Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law. (Romans 3:27-31)

You are not a good person!
I am not a good person!
We might be better than some—we might sin less—but we are not sinless.

Two weeks ago I heard a former Muslim share her remarkable story. As she compared and contrasted Islam with Christianity, she expressed how the Qur’an says God loves the righteous…but no one is righteous…so no one is loved by God.

Islam and Christianity have a lot in common, but the differences are stark.

The Bible says God loves the righteous…but no one is righteous…so God sent Jesus!

Please don’t miss this, family. If you are a mature follower of Jesus, it’s great that you don’t sin as much, but don’t ever think for a moment that you are good. The prophet Isaiah declared,

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6a)

The actual Hebrew translation means our good deeds are like soiled feminine hygiene products! That’s not too impressive!

I’m not trying to dis, depress, or discourage you, but I can’t emphasize this point enough.

God is holy. We are not.
God is righteous. We are not.
God is perfect. We are not.
God is awesome. We are not.

Even the most godly among us are so far from God’s standard it’s laughable. It’s like trying to jump up and touch the ceiling. You might be able to get a little closer than I can, but none of us can even imagine being able to reach it on our own.

But Jesus is our lift! With him, we can touch the ceiling, but no person in their right mind would take credit for touching the ceiling as they stand on a lift! This is why Paul asked,

Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. (Romans 3:27a)

Family, we are commanded to do good works, but they can never save us. They are merely the expression of our gratitude, love and obedience. Our salvation is only by God’s grace. Unmerited favor. Jesus’ death and resurrection. Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus in Turkey,

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Once Paul has made that clear, he adds,

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)

We cannot save ourselves. All of our efforts, abilities, character, wise choices, kind deeds, church attendance, Bible study and memorization, financial gifts, and acts of service combined are not even close to being adequate. But while our good deeds can never earn our salvation, our salvation will result in good deeds. Even our good works are not of ourselves, but the result of God within us, the Holy Spirit filling us. The best we can do on our own is self-righteous, hypocritical religion worth nothing more than “filthy rags.”

Put that way, even the best of us is really not all that better than the most notorious criminal in our city. You might have a four foot vertical leap and they might have a four inch vertical leap but they’re both pitiful in attempting to touch the ceiling. And in reality, our separation from perfection is more like trying to touch the moon (in which case Jesus is our rocket ship!).

So What?
Last week we talked about a variety of sins mentioned in the first chapter of Romans. I want to modify an expression I’ve heard many Christians make.

Love the sinner. Hate your own sin.

It amazes me how often I hear people criticizing others, especially Christians condemning non-Christians. Where in the Bible does it say we are to judge non-Christians? You and I have enough of our own mess to clean up! There is a time and place to admonish one another in love within the family, but expecting non-Christians to behave like Christians is ridiculous!

Pastor Tim Keller was recently interviewed on television. Quoting Francis Schaeffer, Keller said, “If you preach judgement without tears, you don’t have Jesus’ spirit.” He explained how Jesus delivered messages of judgement with compassion, and how God “doesn’t enjoy judging people.” He added, “We’re not supposed to enjoy condemning people,” adding that most parents don’t enjoy discipling their children, but many Christians enjoy condemning people.
Instead, we are privileged to share the gospel—good news—and let people know help is available. Hope is available. Jesus loves them—and you—enough to provide an alternative to eternal death. Jesus died to reconcile us to our Holy Heavenly Father. Peace, joy, meaning, purpose, forgiveness, and love are outrageously offered to us as a gift from God if we merely repent and believe, accept and receive, surrender and follow.

The longer you are a follower of Jesus, the more tempted you may be to think of yourself as a good person. Without Christ, we are all hopeless, helpless, and dead. But praise God, we are invited to follow Jesus, be filled with the Holy Spirit, and experience abundant life here and beyond the grace.

One More Thing

Somehow many people have been led to believe if they just pray a prayer, they’re given an automatic Get Out Of Hell Free card. Just believe in God and do what you want. Jesus’ half brother wrote,

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. (James 2:18-19)

Jesus himself said,

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:21-23)

The cure for sin is God’s amazing grace through Jesus’s death and resurrection. Making Jesus both Savior and LORD requires a complete surrender, which should be our natural response to the gift of Christ.

These messages in Romans have been sobering. They’re not fun, but they’re true. Sin is real. Judgment Day is real. Are you ready?

It’s not easy but quite simple. Die.

Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good. He came to make dead people come to life. But they have to die first. They must surrender. They must get off the throne of their lives and let God be leader, king, master, LORD. It’s not a one-and-done thing but a daily surrender, picking up our cross each day and following Jesus.

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. Luke 9:23

In closing, let me remind you of this beautiful promise:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

That’s good news! Hallelujah!

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

The Curse of Sin, 7 October 2018

The Curse of Sin
D6 Series—Romans: Faith’s Foundation
Romans 1:16-32

Series Overview: Romans is packed with the gospel and truths about our spiritual condition.

Big Idea: Sin has destroyed what once was paradise, and threatens us every day.

If you recall the story of creation in the opening pages of the Bible, God created a universe so vast scientists have only scratched the surface on its size and beauty. God called it good.

What happened?

In a word, sin.

My name is Kirk and today we’re beginning a new series,
Faith’s Foundations, looking at selections from the book of Romans. Rather than a deep examination of every word, this will be more of a run through Romans, capturing the big ideas. I encourage you to read a chapter or two each week, digging deeper to mine for nuggets of wisdom and application.

Many a preacher has spent years preaching through the book of Romans. While each of the 66 books of the Bible is God-breathed truth, many people have their favorites, and Romans is often on their list.

Martin Luther said, “It is the chief part of the New Testament and the perfect gospel… the absolute epitome of the gospel.”

Samuel Coleridge, English poet and literary critic, called it, “The most profound work in existence.”

Warren Wiersbe writes,

“When you study Romans, you walk into a courtroom. First, Paul called Jews and Gentiles to the stand and found both guilty before God. Then he explained God’s marvelous way of salvation—justification by faith. At this point, he answered his accusers and defended God’s salvation. “This plan of salvation will encourage people to sin!” they cry. “It is against the very law of God!” But Paul refuted them, and in so doing explained how the Christian can experience victory, liberty, and security.”

The year is AD 57. Saul, the great Jewish leader and persecutor of Christians, has converted to follow Jesus. His name is changed to Paul and he writes from Corinth in Greece to early Christians in Rome, Italy, a place he had never experienced but one he was hoping to visit on his way to Spain after delivering money to the Jerusalem church.

I must confess I wrote this sermon and felt very unsettled by it. There’s a lot of bad news, quite frankly. Our text for today is not the warm, positive, happy stuff that tickles the ears, but sometimes the truth hurts.

After further wrestling, I felt led to change the order, so if you turn to Romans chapter one, we’re going to jump ahead and then back up…not unlike a movie that time shifts. Romans 1, beginning with verse 18. Paul’s talking about sinners who have rejected God.

Rather than teaching evolution—the idea of humanity advancing through increasingly favorable characteristics, our passage today teaches devolution, starting high and sinking because of the curse of sin dating back to the Garden of Eden and Adam and Eve. First, Paul describes the devolution of intelligence.

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1:18-20)

God’s wrath. I told you this isn’t pretty! Paul’s saying God has revealed Himself to people yet they reject Him.

Paul’s writing about general revelation. Even people who have never touched a Bible can look around at nature and acknowledge this couldn’t have been an accident. Someone must be behind the universe. It says truth is plain and clearly seen—a paradox given the reference to God’s invisible qualities! They are also understood, ongoing, and it reveals God’s eternal power and divine nature.

We are born with some understanding of right and wrong.
We are born with the ability to choose right and wrong.
But our moral standards are always better than our behavior.

This is devolution of intelligence. Next, we see devolution from ignorance.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. (Romans 1:21-23)

You might recall the first two of the Ten Commandments: no other gods and no idols. Those sound so simple, yet every day I want to make myself god. I want control. I might not worship statues of animals, but there are other things I’m tempted to worship, things to which I give my time, money and energy which might not glorify God. It’s easy to replace God with the worship of success, wealth, or even family. It’s tempting to devote too much time, money and energy to even good things like travel, leisure and career while subtly turning them into idols above God.

Indulgence is the next step of devolution.

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. (Romans 1:24-25)

It says “amen,” so let’s pause for a moment. Does this happen anymore? The media has had a field day with people—many so-called godly people, including pastors, who have gone out of control.

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error. (Romans 1:26-27)

Is homosexuality in the Bible? Here’s but one example. Do I need to help you understand what Paul is saying? I don’t write the mail, I just deliver it!

When we continually reject God, at some point He rejects us. He “gives us over” to our sinful desires, our shameful lusts. I’ve heard some people describe their behaviors and say, “I don’t feel any guilt or shame so God must be ok with it,” unaware that God has left them. There’s no conviction because there’s no Holy Spirit! That’s a scary place to be!

I must add no person is hopeless. No one is beyond God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness. Prodigals can always come home. Hallelujah!

But when God gives you over to your sinful desires, watch out!

Sexual sins—both heterosexual and homosexual—are frequently highlighted in these discussions, and for good reason. Elsewhere, Paul wrote,

Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. (1 Corinthians 6:18)

I must add sex is a beautiful gift of God, but like any gift it has boundaries. A new car is great, but don’t drive on the left side of the road (unless you’re in England!). Medicine might be useful, but don’t down the whole bottle. Sex is wonderful…in a marriage.

But family, the list of sins goes far beyond sexual immorality.

Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. (Romans 1:28)

Here we come to devolution through impenitence, the opposite of repentance, having no shame or regret. They not only commit sin, they virtually celebrate it.

It’s as if God just throws in the towel and says, “You’re on your own.”

They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. (Romans 1:29-30)

That’s a harrowing list! Who does that remind you of? None of you, I’m sure!

There’s one phrase in there that I’ve always found fascinating: they invent ways of doing evil. That’s a whole new meaning of the word “creative!” When I first heard about partial-birth abortion this phrase came to mind. Who could imagine such a procedure on a baby just moments from birth? It’s like something from Nazi Germany. Thank goodness it was banned in 2003.

Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (Romans 1:31-32)

It’s as if they say, “Let’s have a festival, throw a parade, celebrate our sin!”

Imagine the Father’s heart.

Who is Paul describing in all of this? It could very well describe our world today, couldn’t it? In virtually all western nations, there is a significant decline in Christianity, whether you measure church attendance, baptisms, Bible reading, or whatever. Some have declared their opposition to God, but I think far more have simply drifted away from God as a true priority in their lives. This week I was listening to a podcast about a church plant—a new startup church—and the host was troubled by the reality he considered himself to be a Christian, but he hadn’t been to church in over a year. He wasn’t even sure why he stopped feeding his faith, but I bet he just got busy with work, social media, entertainment, friends, and life.

It's a slippery slope, family. One missed Sunday becomes a month becomes a year. One day without listening to God through the Bible can easily become a dusty book. Disciples of prayer, fasting, solitude, silence, celebration, worship, and giving are radical, counter-cultural, and easily lost. Temptation lurks all around, and so many people “out there” used to be “in here.” Let me be clear, the goal isn’t going to church. We
are the church! But the goal is to love God, love others as we love ourselves, and make disciples—and you simply can’t do that alone. Following Jesus is a team sport. It’s a family matter.

So what are we to do with these frightening words from Paul? What are we to do about the crazy world in which we live? Should we just all move to South Carolina, take over the government, and succeed from the Union? I actually heard someone suggest that several years ago!

No! We are to lean into God, acknowledge His holiness, repent of our sins, and be fully engaged in His mission…to seek and save the lost. We’re on a mission from God! As we noted last Sunday in stating one of the core values of the Christian & Missionary Alliance,

Lost people matter to God. He wants them found.

So let’s go back to verse sixteen of Romans chapter one.

Paul says,

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. (Romans 1:16)

What is the gospel? We’ve examined this before.

Tragically, when many hear “gospel” they jump to personal salvation. They might say, “The gospel is I get my sins forgiven” or “I get to go to heaven when I die.” The gospel is first and foremost about Jesus, not us. We benefit from the good news of the gospel, but it is fundamentally about King Jesus the Messiah. The original readers of Romans never would’ve thought of the afterlife when Paul mentions salvation, instead bringing to mind deliverance, whether personal or national in the Roman empire.

The gospel is good news
In a word, the gospel is Jesus.
In three words, the gospel is Jesus is LORD.

One of my seminary professors, Scot McKnight, has said,

“…the word gospel was used in the world of Jews at the time of the apostles to announce something, to declare something as good news — the word evangelion always means good news. “To gospel” is to herald, to proclaim, and to declare something about something. To put this together: the gospel is to announce good news about key events in the life of Jesus Christ. To gospel for Paul was to tell, announce, declare, and shout aloud the Story of Jesus Christ as the saving news of God.”

Good news needs to be shared, declared, shouted. We need to proclaim King Jesus in our words and deeds to our city and world.

Do you know Jesus?
Do your friends know Jesus?
Do your neighbors know Jesus?
Do your enemies know Jesus?

This is really serious, especially in a culture filled with violence, suicide, overdoses, and fatal accidents. I’m not trying to be morbid, but merely point out tomorrow is not guaranteed for any of us—ourselves or those around us.

For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (Romans 1:17)

The righteousness of God is the theme of Romans. It may sound distant to our modern ears, but you’ll hear it often. The idea of righteousness is used over sixty times in this letter. Some scholars view righteousness as the gift of right standing given by God to those who believe. Others see it as the activity of God by which He saves His people. Suffice it to say the theme involves the act of God giving and humans receiving. As the gospel is preached and people repent and believe, transformation occurs. A new relationship is established between us and Holy God. It’s because of faith—by faith unto faith.

“The righteous will live by faith” may seem obvious and insignificant, but those in Rome would be very familiar with this phrase, a quote from Habakkuk 2:4. Life before God demands our complete allegiance to God. It means we trust Him and are given a new life and a new lifestyle.

Why does Paul make such a big deal about righteousness? It’s because the Roman world was filled with unrighteousness. Perhaps not unlike ours, the news was not good, the people were not godly, the world seemed to be headed in the wrong direction.

So What?

It’s easy to think these verses apply to “those people,” the drug dealers and prostitutes and whatever. The reality is my heart is wicked. My hands are dirty. I’m greedy. I’ve committed murder and adultery by Jesus’ definitions. The pride and arrogance that got Lucifer kicked out of heaven is in me. I’m a self-righteous recovering Pharisee. I fail to love others, instead caring about my best interests.

God’s standard is perfection. That includes what you did or didn’t do today as well as every moment of your past. I want to ask you one simple question: are you right before God? One day you and I will stand before the Almighty and have to give an account for how we lived this one life—how we cared for the poor, treated the orphan, welcomed the stranger, visited the imprisoned, spent our money, invested our time, loved our neighbor. It’s sobering to think about, but Judgment Day is coming. I don’t like to talk about it, but because I love you I must. The reality is we all far short of God’s mark of perfection. One sin or a million, big or small, it doesn’t matter. We’re all hopeless…without Jesus.

The bad news is we’re all messed up.
The good news—the great news—is Jesus loved each of us enough to die on the cross for us. He offers to pay in full our debt, our punishment for our sins. He offers to clean our slate if we repent and believe, turn and follow, seek and surrender.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

This includes heterosexual sins, homosexual sins, greed, gossip, self-righteousness, murder, abuse, addiction, lying, deceit, theft, porn, rage, drunkenness, whatever! Hallelujah!

The righteous will live by faith and we can only be righteous because of the body and blood of Jesus, the perfect sacrifice we remember today.

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

Launch, 30 September 2018

Series: FAC-DNA
Romans 12:4-8

Series Overview: God has placed us uniquely in our city and world for such a time as this, a Christ-centered, Acts 1:8 family.

Big Idea:
What can our church do to open the door to service more widely, launching leaders, groups, and churches?

My name is Kirk and today we conclude our series FAC DNA. We’ve been looking at why we exist, why our Christian & Missionary Alliance family exists. Our president, Dr. John Stumbo, has called us a Christ-centered, Acts 1:8 family. We are all about Jesus Christ. He is our Savior, Sanctifier, Healer, Coming King, LORD, and Senior Pastor. We are a family, a mosaic of different people from different backgrounds united at the foot of the cross as God’s children. We are commanded to love God and love others as we love ourselves. And we’ve been commissioned to make disciples of all nations, beginning with Jerusalem—or Toledo—and also Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth.

The “how” of being a Christ-centered, Acts 1:8 family has been expressed in four verbs:

We love.
We proclaim.
We reach.
We launch!

Stumbo video transcript:

Four verbs. We’re called to love, we’re called to proclaim, to reach, and the fourth is to launch. For us to do that loving, proclaiming, reaching kind of work, we need to continue to launch, and I don’t know how many things I’m saying when I say that word.
I am pleased to report that I love seeing evidences of when older leaders such as myself start to make room for
younger leaders who are rising among us and give them a voice, an opportunity, a chance to speak in or to in some way engage more fully in a position, or on a platform with a microphone, or in some way to have a greater voice.
I’ve been pleased to see when men are using their influence to allow an open door for
women to have a ministry access—completely within our polity to do so. But often women have been shut out from ministry opportunities, and so it’s fun to see men help women be launched in ministry.
And it’s also exciting to see when those like myself, of a Caucasian background, that have some measure of privilege for why we get to do what we do, to use that influence to open doors for those who come from
other cultures, who may not have as much natural access to ministry opportunities as we do.
And so, I’m not claiming by any means that we have totally arrived at launching various sectors of the Alliance family, but I am saying that I do see evidence of that from place to place, and I rejoice in that and want to just be an advocate for those of us who would use our current positions of influence to give others access to ministry opportunities that we may have just taken for granted, but they can’t take for granted because they haven’t been given them. So, launching . . .Christ-centered, Act 1:8 family—called to love, proclaim, reach, and launch. It takes me back to a need for the Holy Spirit to be fully at work in my life and yours as well.
May we commit ourselves to these kinds of things, for these are the kinds of things that the Church must be doing as we prepare for, and rejoice in, the return of Christ.

One of the Alliance Core Values states:

• Completing the Great Commission will require the mobilization of every fully-devoted disciple. Matthew 28:19

We’re all about making disciples—reproducing Jesus. The word “Christian” means “little Christ” even though many Christians act nothing like Jesus…but that’s the goal. As we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we will become like Jesus and have been commissioned to reproduce that Christ-likeness in others.

I was raised in a small church in Michigan and was led to believe the pastor’s job was to do all of the ministry and the people in the congregation just sang songs, tried to stay awake during his sermons, and paid his salary. Essentially, he was the hired hand, the professional to do the ministry. Boy was I wrong!

Church is a team sport. I’ve heard some people say they love Jesus but they hate church. I understand what’s behind that, but how offensive would it be for me to say to someone, “I love you but I hate your spouse!” We were not created to be independent, autonomous individuals. We were created for community, for interdependence. In fact God exists in community—one God in three Persons, something we call the Trinity. It’s a mind-blowing reality, but suffice it to say we need one another—and everyone matters.

Paul, one of the greatest leaders of the early church, said it so beautifully in his writings to the Christians in Rome:

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 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 12:4-8)

If you are a follower of Jesus, you’ve been given a gift by God—maybe more than one. It’s not for you, but for us—the church—in order to build God’s Kingdom and let the world know about the King and His return.
I said church is a team sport. You can’t play football by yourself. The greatest football player of all (Jim Brown?) could never win against even a little league team. It’s not like golf or tennis where one person can play alone. Every football team has different people playing different positions and if they coordinate and work together they move the ball down the field and will eventually score. Let me state again
• Completing the Great Commission will require the mobilization of every fully-devoted disciple. Matthew 28:19

Making disciples of all nations means we all need to get in the game. We all need to discover our roles and play them with passion for God’s glory. I need you. You need me. We’re on the team together. We’re family.
Perhaps you’re wondering what it looks like to be on the team. The Bible is filled with many examples. Here are just a few:
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. (1 Corinthians 12:4-6)

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines. (1 Corinthians 12:7-11)

That’s not a comprehensive list, but it’s a good one. Wisdom, words of knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, discernment, tongues, interpretation of tongues. Other scriptures talk about leadership, teaching, helps, mercy, apostleship, administration, evangelism, shepherding or pastoring, giving, serving, and exhortation. Do any of those sound like you? These aren’t the same as talents or skills, though they may overlap. These are ways in which the Holy Spirit can supernaturally work through you to bring glory to God.

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. (1 Corinthians 12:12-14)

I want to go back to Dr. Stumbo’s video because I’m sure we’d all agree it’s good for people to use their God-given gifts to serve God, but that’s not always reality.

First, there are those people who simply don’t want to use their gifts, for whatever reason. Spiritual gifts are not for you! They’re for God! If your gift is teaching, teach. If it’s giving, give. If it’s leadership, lead!

But unfortunately, some people have been told they should not use their gifts. Tragically, racism has kept some people from exercising their gifts. Older people have looked down upon people because of their youth (1 Timothy 4:12). And women have been treated as second or even third-class citizens in many churches simply because of their gender. Perhaps most alarming, the Bible has been manipulated and misused to defend slavery, ageism, and chauvinism. May it never be!

I know what some of you are thinking: I’m not a racist and I love to see our young serve Jesus, but the Bible says women can’t…

The role of women in ministry is a controversy for a number of reasons we simply don’t have time to unpack this morning. There are scriptures that restrict women, but questions remain whether those were universal or for a specific situation. We know God used great women throughout history including Deborah, Phoebe, Junia, Priscilla, Esther, Ruth, Miriam, and perhaps most of all Jesus’ mother Mary.

There are problematic passages in the Bible for egalitarian positions that say anything a man can do, a woman can do. There are problematic passages in the Bible for complementarian positions that say women should have limited roles in the church and/or the home. Why the confusion? Why is the Bible unclear? I wish I knew! I believe the grey areas of the Bible are meant to cause us to seek God together, guided by the Holy Spirit and the Bible.

I have studied the role of women in ministry extensively and the best way I can succinctly summarize my conclusions is I fully endorse the Alliance position. Here’s what is stated on the Alliance website:

Today, women serve with distinction in The Alliance on local church ministry staffs; as international workers, chaplains, and professors in our educational institutions; and on leadership teams in local churches, district executive committees, and the Board of Directors.
In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit came upon believers in a new way — both men and women. Peter explained the Pentecost experience in this way: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams” (Acts 2:17). The Holy Spirit has been poured out on women and men in the same way and for the same purpose: so that we will all be empowered to live in a manner that demonstrates the character of Christ and fulfill our roles in the mission Jesus has assigned to His Church. The gifts the Spirit gives that equip believers for ministry in and through the local church are distributed to both women and men. The completion of Jesus’ Great Commission calls on all believers, male and female, to be released and mobilized to put those gifts into action. While desiring both genders to be mobilized to exercise their gifts in a variety of ministries and leadership roles, The Alliance continues to affirm its understanding of Scripture that elders are male members of the local church. This includes the elected elders of the local church and the senior/lead pastor.
An Alliance statement on women in ministry states the following: “Women may fulfill any function in the local church which the senior pastor and elders may choose to delegate to them consistent with the Uniform Policy for Accredited Churches and may properly engage in any kind of ministry except that which involves elder authority.”
Launch What?

I’m proud to serve in a church and denomination which affirms Paul’s teaching to the church in Galatia:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26-28)

We will launch. We will launch people, sending them to love God, love others as they love themselves, and make disciples…of all nations. That means we are all called to be ministers, missionaries. Your mission field might be the senior housing centers where you visit shut-ins, the school where you teach or study, or the home where you raise children. Your mission field might be the office where you work, the park where you play, or the stores where you shop. One more time:
• Completing the Great Commission will require the mobilization of every fully-devoted disciple. Matthew 28:19

We want to launch you as individuals, but together we can launch, too. Throughout our 130 years, we have launched people into the vocational mission field where they serve across our city, nation, and world. We are praying God would raise up more people from our church to go and make disciples.

We have launched organizations, including Cherry Street Mission, Proclaim FM, Toledo Christian Schools, WLMB-TV, Toledo Urban Impact, and Claro Coffee Bar, among other things. Launch. This isn’t just something to do. It’s what we are to be.

We are to multiply.

The first command in the Bible was to be fruitful and multiply. Reproduce.

We are to reproduce and launch leaders.
We are to reproduce and launch small groups.
We are to reproduce and launch churches
We are to reproduce and launch ministries
We are to reproduce and launch businesses

Someone told me this week it’s hard to launch new churches because it means saying goodbye.

Yes, but that’s what is supposed to happen. Healthy things grow and reproduce.

As much as I love my three kids, I had to launch them into adulthood and the world. One has been launched into marriage and will launch our first grandchild in November.

Our DNA as a church must be loaded with multiplication, reproduction, launching.

Think of it this way, none of us will be here in 100 years. If we don’t multiply and launch people, leaders, groups, and churches, First Alliance Church will cease to exist. Even worse, if there are no children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, there will be no legacy.

I care about the future. I care about the future of God’s church. I want to everything possible to invest my life into others who will do the same for generations. That’s discipleship. 2 Timothy 2:2 describes four generations in one verse. That’s what it means to launch.

This past week I was invited to participate in an Alliance church planters assessment center. Heather and I were assessed as planters about twenty years ago and being on the other side of the table was fascinating. For three and a half days, I was consumed with the journeys of five couples from across the Midwest who are hoping to launch new churches.

Family, we have a great history of launching. Let’s not be the barren generation who ends it. Let’s love, proclaim, reach, and launch for the glory of God.

Family, we have a history of launching people and organizations, but I believe the best is yet to come. I’m praying God would raise up men and women from our church to serve overseas with the Alliance. I’m praying we would see new ministries launched from FAC. I’m praying we would plant more churches, multiplying God’s Kingdom in other parts of our city, nation, and world. Most of all, I’m praying all of us would be launched to do whatever God is leading us to do—as individuals and together as a family—to love God, love others as we love ourselves, and make disciples of all nations…for His glory!

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