“But do you live for Him?”
Sermon for November 21, 1999
Text: 2 Cor. 5:17-6:1
Some of you have heard no doubt about the fluke Samantha went through. She failed to pass her driving test because she didn’t pass the visual exam. The good news is that she went to the eye doctors and passed the screening test there with flying colors. Now I took advantage of this circumstance to have my own eyes checked and I discovered that since I took my first prescription for eyeglasses my eyesight has declined somewhat—normal, he said, for someone my age. Nice. Anyway, I was taken with the manner in which the good doctor tested my eyesight. What I remember is him saying, “Look straight ahead. Now tell me what you see.” By repeating this process over and over, he was able to obtain an assessment of my vision and prescribe some stronger glasses for me so that I will “see” better.
Perhaps we need some of that assessment as Christians. If I were to say, “Look straight ahead and tell me what you see.” I would obtain very different results. Some might say, “I see the world.” Others, “I see others.” Then, “I see myself.” And, finally, some might say, “I see the Lord Jesus, or God.” Now, as you can imagine each of these responses is indicative of your spiritual condition. Those who see the world are running the risk of spiritual smugness. They will be tempted to excuse the mess in their own lives because their eyes are fixed on the bigger, more obvious mess out there. “I’m not so bad,” they say to themselves, “I’m a good person. Boy, are those people really lost.” The folks whose eyes are fixed on others are still playing a comparison game. They want everyone else to change. Self-analysis is a great weakness in them—everyone else’s sin looms so large, they never get around to cleaning their own house. The people who look at themselves may not so much be vain, as full of self-pity. Having been victimized, they continue the process by further victimizing themselves. They may also be angry and bitter because life is so unfair to those whose eyes are fixed on themselves. It is their obsession to be either self-protective (“I’ll never let anyone hurt me like that again.”) Their strategies to achieve this may be either vindictiveness (“I want to hurt them so bad that they feel all the pain I’ve been put through.”) or personal remoteness. They isolate themselves and become hard, cold and uncommunicative. Looking at the world, others, and myself are all examples of potentially unhealthy spiritual conditions that can afflict Christians and can rob them of their testimony. Each one of these, done properly, brings balance and health, but done improperly, they can result in moral smugness, pride and self-deception. And if that occurs we need to have our vision corrected.
May I suggest that if we are afflicted with distorted vision in any of the ways that I have described, we purify our minds by choosing to the following: look to Jesus and at ourselves. It is painful, but necessary to consider whether if charges that we were Christian were brought would there be enough evidence to convict us. What can we say to a watching world? What can we say when Christians hold their “witness,” or testimony in such contempt as to behave in a worldly and unrighteous manner? And how can we counsel and guide each other when a brother, or sister slips into sin?
Friends, I t is painful to read the Barna Reports and to learn that people who claim to be evangelical, born-again believers and people who say that the Bible is authoritative for them are practically indistinguishable from unbelievers when it comes to divorce and extra-marital sex. How can this be? One possible answer is that what we have among those who call themselves Christians are half-hearted believers. They are willing to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior, that’s the part that they have down, but they are unwilling to live for Him as their Lord. Among them are those who are glad to receive forgiveness of sins, but not glad enough to give up sinning. They are glad to be justified by His atoning blood, but not glad enough to live pure, righteous, holy lives. They are glad to receive the promise of eternal life, but not glad to live with the abandon that such hope secures. They treat Christianity as if it were hell insurance, but hold back from living as if heaven really were on their minds. What these half-hearted Christians need most is to add living for Jesus to the confidence they have in salvation. And this, of course, is the heart of the message that God has for us in 2 Cor. 5.
On the most apparent level, the Apostle Paul is defending his calling and his entire devotion to the purposes of God. I dare say that these two things are here, one and the same thing! He wants the Corinthians to exult in his “living for Christ” and so to be able to answer his opponents and critics. Some believers may be puzzled by the intensity of this matter because their tepid faith stirs up no opposition, sparks no criticism. In an effort to be pleasing, there is a plain temptation to avoid all controversy. But if the experience of Paul is anything to go by, and it certainly should be something to go by, we would find ourselves sharing in the turmoil that a dynamic faith induces. Paul demonstrates that the genuine Christian can, and must act from pure motives. One test of the authenticity of your life is its manifest holiness, and a righteous shrinking from wickedness, immorality and evil. Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:12: “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” Jesus said: “Blessed are you when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake.” (Matt.5: 11) And, again, “Verily, I say unto you, there is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands for my sake, and the gospel’s, but he shall receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses, brethren, and sisters and mothers, and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the world to come eternal life.” (Mark 10: 29-30)
Paul, as you may recall, was considered out of his mind, or “mad” for his utter abandon to the purposes of God in service of Christ Jesus. Are you? Again, something similar was said of our Lord (Mark 3:21). Why did Paul appear mad? Because he totally rejected the motives which rule common men, and all of the unsaved. He purposed to do all for the good of others . . .now, that’s different. Peculiar, even. That signals a spiritual generosity, which is regal, if not divine; it is the self-expression of a selfless man! It is the character of a redeemed man, one who has died to self and one who has learned to carry his cross. Paul lived in triumph; many around him were mired in hopelessness and defeat. Such are the benefits of living for Christ, of adding to one’s assurance of salvation the fire of a passion for purity. To want to be like Jesus is an astounding aspiration, a good goal, but what it means far surpasses glib religiosity, easy grace. To be like Jesus is to aspire to be pure, as He was pure. It will never suffice to be good, one must aim at sinlessness . . .the cry of a fully redeemed heart is terrifying. It says, O, God, I would be made holy as well as whole . . .perfect, not just better. O, God, do not merely allow me to experience grace, rather cause me to embody it! I would be like Jesus. That is madness, passion, true life . . . faith that God could dare such a creation in me transforms religious conventionality into a dimension of magnificent, irradiating truth. O, God, I want a towering, heroic faith like that! I don’t want to smolder; I want to burn . . .to flame out with your implanted glory. I want to be your living signature like Him, constrained by the love of Christ as He was constrained by the love of the Father.
“The love of Christ towards men” which is perfectly pictured in His death for them needs take hold of us. That is one meaning of constraint. But that constraint is also found in similitude of purpose. If He died for all, Paul asserts, then all have died—that is, those for whom He died themselves died in that death! Christ indeed died that we might, by faith, be so united with Him that we come to share all He has and is. So, as Christ, by His death, escaped completely the burden and curse of sin, we are to join in that liberation. The former life of sin of those for whom Christ died, that is, believers, has come to an end on that cross. So, like Him, we are dead to sin as we are to rightly reckon ourselves to be. The objective and historical death of Jesus Christ has currency with all who will by faith receive it. By that death, faithfully applied, we are altogether changed—we are that “new creature,” born of the spirit and of truth—and when we receive the truth of our situation, we realize that the old world has lost its power to allure, terrify and control. Our former circumstance, the influence of our surroundings and our upbringing, these influences which once ruled our entire life are radically demolished; they have “passed away.” (v.17)
“Old opinions, views, plans, desires, principles and affections, “Charles Hodges writes,
“have passed away; new views of truth, new principles, new apprehensions of the destiny of man, and new feelings and purposes fill and govern the soul.”
The old things are still here, of course, but completely changed. Their influences are altered. We see the men and things around us from yesteryear but they have become “entirely new.” For example, our fellowmen have become objects for Christian endeavor—wealth, which may have been an end in the days of our “flesh,” is suddenly become “instrumental,” to be used to serve God. The world becomes a spiritual school place, or the location of a pilgrimage that begins here and extends to heaven. We no longer live superficially, orienting ourselves by the appearance of things. All this inward contact with Jesus Christ, Him dwelling in us, utterly transforms our surroundings and our very selves. Self ceases to be the object for which we live, rather we live for Him who died for us and rose again. That is why we see with new eyes a portentous and brave, new world. What jubilance, it is the springtime of the soul again. We see everyone as those for whom Christ died and long for him or her to know Him, too.
Remember, those who look at others from the point of view of their own bodily life, with its needs, desires, and pleasures, can only see others as men and women of flesh and blood like themselves. But we, if we are converted, cannot look at, or judge any one in those terms any more. Even if Paul had once considered Jesus Christ a mere Jew from Nazareth, even if His real dignity was veiled by the flesh of the incarnation, he no longer looks upon men according to their appearance in flesh and blood. There is a real problem in so humanizing Jesus that we cannot scale the walls of fleshly apprehension. He is God in the flesh appearing. Similarly our conversion brings us to a deeper knowledge of our fellowman—now we see them truly as powerless to injure us, in peril of eternal death but with the reach of that splendid salvation which God has constructed us to proclaim. All this comes from the power of Christ’s love working within those who have by grace comprehended the purpose of His dying and rising. God is love—His world-embracing, redemptive action has its source here. The death of Jesus Christ and His love of the world express that redemptive action, maddening those who, having been seized by His purposes, seize upon those purposes to do others good no matter what! And, why? Because God has changed everything.
There is now “peace with God through Christ.” God has removed the hostility between Himself and us by means of the cross and the word of Christ. And we, having been reconciled, are not given the office of conveying to others the reconciliation we have received. It is truly given to us for them. It is a process, but it originates in an event. It is urgent that we do this—we proclaim the gospel to draw new believers into the forgiveness of sin, to provide peace for those who will receive it. Paul draws this obligation strongly. He reminds us that we are ambassadors, we have been granted authority to speak on God’s behalf. Is it any wonder that we must speak?! We beg others to receive reconciliation because the reconciliation that we offer is real. It was purchased at a real price. We do so with confidence because any neglect, contempt or injury done to us in the exercise of our office is actually an offense to the One who commissioned and sent us.
Looking on the Christ who is dying for us teaches us many things. We discovery the meaning of impurity by gazing on the Pure One. We measure our lack of love by looking on His fullness of love. We learn what sin truly is by looking upon the Sinless One who, nevertheless, bore the full penalty for our sins. He had no acquaintance with sin as we do, a knowledge that comes from committing sin, but His sufferings reveal awful nature of sin. He died purely as the innocent for the guilty, preserving forever the integrity of divine justice. Awesome, wonderful.
What is man that Thou art mindful of him? And the son of man that Thou visitest him? For Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory