“Self- Test: How Christian is my walk?”

Sermon for 21 March 2004

Texts: Matt. 5:1-16; Eph. 2:1-10 & 2 Cor.5:17-6:2

 

Big Idea: You can assess your life for its Christian quality.

Purpose: To explain the three qualities of being alive in Christ.

Question: How can I know my life style is Christian through and through?

 

            If you’ve been made alive in Christ, if you are included in the life of God, at least three qualities will be evident in your present walk.  The first quality of life is resurrection power, by this you know that you’ve been raised in Christ (Eph. 2 and Romans 6).  Secondly, if you know your life to be a divine creation, then your life is being formed by the indwelling Christ (2 Cor. 5 & 6).  And, thirdly, if you are living a fearless, secure existence, bold to suffer for Christ and for His Kingdom, then your life presently reflecting the truth of your exalted position with Christ.  There it is: resurrection power in Christ, formation by Christ and  exaltation with Christ.  Now I want to be sure that you don’t confuse my topic (the qualities of a Christian life) with assurance of salvation.  If you confess with your lips and believe in your heart that Jesus is the Son of God, that He died for your sins, rose from the dead and is seated at the right hand of the Father in glory, God’s Word confirms your salvation.

 

            Resurrection power is an essential quality of the Christian walk.  The intervening and wonderful power of God that raised Christ Jesus from the dead, the same power that vindicated our Lord and lifted Him to the place of exaltation beside the Father, is yours by virtue of your union with Christ.  This union occurs by grace and through faith.  If you have been made alive in Him and are even now included in the life of God, you have resurrection power.  It takes divine power comparable to that which we’ve witnessed in a missile launch to change a person.  It takes costly energy, blast off power even, to raise us to that higher plane of life, the life of God in resurrection power.  Something has to overcome the force field of your former life and you, and you as a Christian, have experienced that lift off, that spiritual surge and that propulsion.  Looking back, you also have a clear sense of having left something behind.

 

            That which is left behind is your former life, a relatively powerless life.  If you are truthful about it, ordinary, pre-saved life is marked by futility and frustration.  It is, in Paul’s terms, a life tyrannized by death and fear--in other words, a death controlled existence in which various fears dominated your thinking (fear of rejection, loss of significance, fear of powerlessness, fear of helpless dependency and the decrepitudes of life brought through accident, illness or aging).  Prior to life in Christ, all our lives were more or less controlled by external forces and internal drives over which we had little power--everything seemed subject to death and decay, to plain old wearing out and winding down.  What we, as the unsaved, didn’t know is that our former condition was a direct consequence of being out of relationship with God the Father.  We were actually alienated from our proper selves and, we feared, alone in an indifferent universe.  While none of this is ultimately true, it was a reality to which we subjected ourselves.  The character of life in which we walked[1] then was compounded of fear and isolation--part of our condition of being cut off from God’s life/purpose/kingdom.  This godless “life” is also in synch with the current world system, regardless of the age under consideration.  Every godless world system promotes itself as good, mature and healthy when, in fact, we know, if we are in Christ, every one of those systems is bad, if not evil; immature if not infantile and unhealthy if not downright lethal and toxic.  In a godless world system legitimate human needs quickly run amuck and living in its terms is accurately described as a death march-- something more suitable for mindless zombies than for flesh and blood children of God.[2] 

 

            We are told that we used to live lives subject to the prince of the power of the air.  This is another way of talking about our former life which elevates the vanity and weightlessness of life without God.  The air refers to a region between heaven and earth--not the atmosphere as we know it--and that “space” represents the godless in-between, the ambiguous and unformed region which is “ruled” by windy storm gods and as such is a representation of rebellion.  The air, then, is a region where disobedient spirits dwell hoping to foment unbelief and confusion on earth and so to deceive some into thinking that Satan is more powerful than he actually is, more powerful even than God.[3]  The air mirrors the condition of our former life, the unredeemed existence.  It also expresses metaphorically what we are constitutionally apart from God.  The prince of the power of the air wants you to remain stuck in your former life, your old ways and old habits so that he can mock God and continue to deface the image in which you were created!  That everyone, pre-conversion, is in a like condition speaks to our pervasive depravity.[4]

 

            We come now to our second grounds for assessing our Christian walk: the sure knowledge that our life now is a divine creation.  Let’s recall that in spite of our wretchedness and in the midst of our plight God chose not to abandon us--either to our godless fate as unbelieving pagans, or to divine judgment.  He is an active, productive and protective God.  And thanks to His blessed autonomy we dare proclaim that while we may fall out of fellowship through rebellion and sin, it does not appear that we fall out of His favor.  “For while we were yet enemies,” God acted on our behalf and sent His Son to die for our sins, and to satisfy divine justice once for all on the cross.  Grace extended is God’s unprovoked remedy for us.  He is ever the initiator.  He is an ocean of grace, vast, sufficient and abundant--teeming with life!  But even the ocean is a weak metaphor because as vast as it is, and many of us are deeply refreshed by that hugeness, even the ocean is finally finite--God’s grace is not.  And out of that ocean depth of grace, God found a way--His way, His plan, His exercise of absolute sovereignty--for us to avert His wrath and for His perfect justice to be satisfied.  He exacted payment by sending His Son to die in our place.  But, after that, yes, beyond the cross there lay even more grace: the grace of co-resurrection.  We die with Christ and we rise with Christ (as the ancient baptismal creeds instruct us).  But, beloved, here is the best part: we rose with Him then.  We are included in His resurrection then by our faith now.  And we may boldly declare today that where He is, we also are.  We are saved by grace, by what God has done.  Faith merely appropriates the benefits to our lives.  Salvation encompasses the whole Passion: the death and the resurrection (the twin events of Easter) and it also includes exaltation.[5]      Paul draws out the personal ramifications of this new Creation in 2 Cor. 5:17-6:2:

2 Cor 5:17  Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. . . . 2 Cor 5:21  He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.2 Cor 6:1  And working together with Him, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain--2 Cor 6:2  for He says, "AT THE ACCEPTABLE TIME I LISTENED TO YOU, AND ON THE DAY OF SALVATION I HELPED YOU"; behold, now is "THE ACCEPTABLE TIME," behold, now is "THE DAY OF SALVATION"--

 

To get there, we must be converted, born again to a new and living hope.  To live there, we must effect a transfer of allegiance--dumping our former “lords” of this world and canceling any and all allegiance to any except our Risen Lord.  You know that this has happened when love for the things of this world has died in you (1 John 2:15  Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 1 John 2:16  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 1 John 2:17  And the world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God abides forever. )  What exactly does it mean to love the things of this world?  No Christian would do that, would he? Probably not directly.  But love of the world can mean to envy the worldly, or to aspire to be like them (either to succeed, or to fit in . . .the glitz, glitter and the fame).  Even more, we are to repent of “vicarious sinning”--that is, we are to give up “sin as entertainment.”  Do not even give carnality air time and so purify your imagination of vain things.

 

            This brings us to the third test, the impact of our exalted position with Christ in our approach to life.  By grace through faith--hearing of the Word and adhering to the truth of it--we are saved.  As we come to rely on God as reliable, we begin to walk by covenant in place of convenience, in place of lustful desires, we develop a pure desire to please God.  He is changing us, by changing our desires.   Our walk in obedience to His commandments colors our lives.  And some day, we know, we will be exhibits of His glorious praise--causing angels to be amazed[6].  Christians, real ones anyway, are living demonstrations of all that an exalted life can be in Christ.  Of course, the devil doesn’t want us to know “life in Christ,” he accuses us and we accuse others.  We yield to self-doubt and suspicion and yet, here and there, life in the glory mode breaks through.  When we see evidence of Kingdom living and it takes our breath away.

 

            We may certainly be blind.  But our salvation is that regardless of our blindness, God sees how bad things are . . .how vain, empty, futile, frustrating an dishonest life can be, and all too often is--apart from our life in God!--and He acts to change things.  He responds to the situation by pouring out mercy again, unearned and unexpected.  He reveals Himself again as Ps. 90: 1 declares: Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. He is where we “live and move and have our being“[7]. (Acts 17:28)  He transposes our corporate identity from one historical level (the Old Testament “son of Man, servant and Son of God“) which elevated the remnant in Israel through Christ, who became the Elect One on our behalf (the Lord Jesus took on and accomplished all the tasks of Israel in God’s purposes in His own person) and arranged for us, through union with Him, to obtain blessing and honor, significance and purpose, meaning and praise and direction forever and ever.  Amen.  You see, the events of the Passion are historical on one level, but they are also above history--they occurred once for all time and included all of us all at once in the death of death and in the reception of the first fruits of resurrection from the dead.  God did all of that, praise be to His Name.

 

            We are still in the vicinity of our third ground for knowing our lives are Christian: exaltation.  We know we are exalted in Christ, when we approach the beatitudes with yearning and joyful appropriation.  I mean when we read all of the blessings of all the beatitudes we say inwardly, “Yes, I’ll have more of that. . . and that. . . and that, too.”  We earnestly desire all the attributes of the blessed because of who we are in Christ 

 

            Thus these wonderful affirmations become a litmus test for our aliveness in Christ!  You know by how your heart responds, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, to the teachings of the Son.  Those who are grafted in, warmly receive them--even if we’ve not perfected any of them, we earnestly desire them in their fullness.  Exaltation is our position with Him even now, in the heavenlies (or, in the realm where God rules and reigns), we are seated with our Lord—by faith.  Exaltation is sharing in His power, glory and honor so that we have absolute confidence in who He is, and, as result, who we are in Him and in the success of all that He is undertaking both now and in the age to come.

 

            By resurrection power, by the sure knowledge that we are a new creation in Him and by our exaltation with Him shining through our lives, all three make us powerful, fresh, bold, fearless and secure.  If our lives reflect these qualities, we may be sure our “walk” is a Christian one.  All that is left then is for us to pray for the strength to act as who we really are in spite of opposition, in the face of all we face, to the glory of God and to the honor of Christ our Lord and Savior.  Thanking God for all He’s done, praising God for Who He is, we shall persevere and obtain the crown.

 

                                                                                                Amen.



[1]   Walking in this context is a Semitic idiom.  See Deut.5:33, Ps. 1:1 and Isaiah 30:31 and it has to do with conforming ourselves to the apparent godlessness around us.  Everyone seemed to be in a “separated” condition from God and this separation was seen as “death”--not physical death, of course, but spiritual death.

[2]  It is perhaps helpful to point out that sarx, typically means “life without God,” or worldliness and not simply “fleshliness” when we come across it in Paul’s writings.

[3]  Please note that one reason why Satan has so little prominence in the New Testament is simply: he is a defeated foe.  The power of sin and the evil of this present world are emphasized more because that is where the battle now is joined and, by those in Christ, won.

[4] Rather than say our “total depravity,” pervasive depravity gets the idea across more clearly.  It is helpful, but somewhat difficult given the beautiful bible story pictures we experienced in Sunday School, to recall that the Israelites are not depicted in Scripture as beautiful people--they were vile idolaters when God redeemed them.  John Calvin’s “total depravity” pointed us in the same direction.  However, it was commonly misunderstood to mean “total worthlessness” and that is not accurate-we are all in bondage but that does not mean we are without value.  Still, our value is not the originating cause of God’s redemption--God redeemed us out of His own character.  He did so because of who He is and out of His own integrity.  That’s grace, both sheer and unmerited.

[5] This marvelous doctrine is implicit in Matt. 16:24-25 and explicit in 1 Peter 2:1ff: 1 Pet 2:1  Therefore, putting aside all malice and all guile and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, 1 Pet 2:2  like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation,1 Pet 2:3  if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.1 Pet 2:4  And coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected by men, but choice and precious in the sight of God,1 Pet 2:5  you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.  So, for us who believe, being in Christ becomes our whole reality, a spiritual environment entirely of the Father’s new creation (i.e. a spiritual house that never existed before).

[6]  But there are many road-blocks to the free and full conversion envisioned here. I want to mention only two: 1.) On the whole, we moderns don’t tend to believe that we are as bad, or as bad off as Paul makes out--that is, until a friend commits suicide, your world falls apart, the natural evil of disease or disaster comes upon you!  And 2.)  We don’t really believe that the good news can be as good as it sounds--but it is.  It is true that we don’t ordinarily see “life without God” for the separation, death and robbery, that it is.  We are half-hearted creatures of weak desires, too soon satisfied by far too little--as C. S. Lewis has written .  Offered infinite joy, we settle for a job promotion, or simply some more perishable stuff.  Most of the time, we struggle to see life as brief, brutish and meaningless without God.  And all the while that there’s no “life” in us, we really don’t know what we’re missing!  The sad fact is that plain old “decency and goodness” keeps as many people out of heaven as does blatant wickedness--those who prefer to be in control, making their own decisions are just as excluded as the unrepentant.  The beauty of a submitted life, of a fully trusting in God life has to be shown to us or we will never know that such a thing even exists.

[7]   Here is as fine an example of revelation to the Gentiles as one might hope to find!