Authentic Relationships

Spiritual maturity happens in the context of relationships.

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During Lent we’ve been studying several of the foundational habits and practices of disciples.  Through our Sunday teaching and our Foundations book we’ve discovered that one of the most important practices we undertake in discipleship is relationship building.  Relationships are at the heart of following Jesus and, in fact, the disciple of Jesus has three relationships we tend to: our relationship with God, our relationship with the church family, and our relationship with those who don’t know Jesus, yet.  Each is vital and each must be given the appropriate attention.

I’ve spent this morning reading and reflecting on 1John.  I didn’t intend to read the whole book, but my devotions led me to one confusing verse and I needed to put it in context.  And as I read through the entire book I was reminded of the high value of relationship among church family.  In fact, John equates spiritual maturity – living as Jesus did – to the depth of our love for one another (2:9; 2:6).  The way we love one another in the church family provides the evidence that we are walking in the light.  Conversely, “anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister (God’s family) is still in the darkness” (2:9).

Since spiritual maturity happens in the context of relationships, I thought it would be helpful to list the ways John evidences as the fruit of church family love.

How do I live as Jesus did among my brothers and sisters in Christ?

  • Practice sincere love for one another. In 1John 2:10, the author uses a variation of the word “agape” to propose godly love for one another.  This is the kind of love God has shown the world in Jesus and the type of love he calls us to in the Great Commandment (Matthew 22).  The love we express to one another in the Body of Christ reflects the exact love that God expresses to each person and to the entire world.
  • Speak well of the church family. In chapter 3, John reminds us that the love of God has been lavished on us and we are God’s children.  There was a time when we did not belong to God.  In fact, we were under God’s wrath.  But through Jesus we have been adopted into God’s family.  In his grace, God has lavished us with his love.  So since we are each recipients of this love, let it be expressed in community.  As we treat one another well; show respect even in disagreement; recognize that Jesus died and rose for each of us – we express unity.  When you or I abuse one member of the family, we are abusing the whole.
  • Pay attention to the real enemy! We are not the enemy.  The enemy is personified three ways by John: the antichrists, the world, and human nature. The antichrists (2:18) are those who don’t really belong to the church family and tend to stir up trouble.  They lie, propagate unsound doctrine, and sow confusion.  Secondly, the enemy of the family of God is the world and the viewpoint of the world as it relates to God (4:5).  Thirdly, is the potential for our human nature to have sway over our relationships (2:15-17).  Our human nature left unchecked and unchanged by Jesus is ruled by our lust and pride and their selfish desires which separate.  Pay attention to the things that separate us from each other; pray for each other; and keep each other accountable (5:16).
  • Sacrifice for one another. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (3:16).  This verse, often associated with patriotism, has nothing to do with patriotism and everything to do with how the church family expresses love for each other. John is teaching the church how to be the church and be different from the world.  And, in this context, it’s about sacrificing for each other – “if anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister (church family) in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” (3:17)

Loving one another like this is not natural.  We are accustomed to individualism.  Love like this is also risky.  It pushes us to invest deeply in each other.  John, aware of these challenges, writes, “Perfect love drives out fear” (4:18).  If I love you, I am not afraid of you.  If I’m not afraid of you, I can take risk in expressing my love to you.

Lent is a season of soul searching and reflection.  It is also a season of growth.  As you reflect on your relationship with your church family challenge yourself to ask, “Where am I growing?”  Are you loving one another greater than you did last year, or even yesterday?  Are you speaking well, even in disagreements?  Are you working hard at keeping the enemy at the gates?  Where have you noticed God inviting you to live sacrificially for the benefit of another disciple?

While it is indeed challenging to live in community, we have help.  We are each filled with the Holy Spirit and it is he who spreads the love of God in our hearts and connects us together as the church.  And everyone will know we are Christians by our love for each other.

Jesus Brings You to God

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It’s baseball season! Pitchers and catchers showed up at Spring training last week and full rosters report this week. That means the Pirates are in Bradenton getting ready to go all the way this year! Baseball always lends itself to good sermon illustrations. And this morning is one of those cases.

In baseball, there is a thing called a “sacrifice.” It is when the batter hits a ball that is caught or fielded in a way to throw out the batter, yet the runners already on base advance to the next base or to home plate.

The batter is out, but the result was good for the team.

This morning we are going to talk about another kind of sacrifice. One that doesn’t contribute to the winning of a ball game, but one that accomplished infinitely more – salvation to all who will call on God.

We are going to look at one verse in Scripture. And while we will reference others, we will focus on this verse. Please turn with me to 1 Peter 3:18. Here’s what it says:

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit.

Peter is writing to a group of Christians who are experiencing persecution because of their faith. Peter reminds these disciples that when they suffer for doing what is right – they are blessed (3:14) and shouldn’t fear.

This text about suffering and persecution is critically important in light of world events. Current reality is that in certain areas of the world Christians are being brutally persecuted; beheaded, set afire, tortured, raped all because of Jesus by people who literally despise Jesus and the cross.

In the context of 1Peter it would have been a similar experience. In the East in places like Asia and the Middle East, Christians are persecuted violently and killed. In the West in place like Europe and the US, Christians are persecuted because of ideology. And in the context of 1Peter, we have this word of hope. Jesus has suffered and his followers should expect the same. But Jesus overcame and so will his followers.

So what we need to talk about today is what Jesus has accomplished to bring you into a relationship with God.

And here is the point that Peter wants to make – Jesus suffered on our behalf. And his suffering and death is the very act that reunites you with the Father.

Jesus, God in the flesh, was the Suffering Servant. His coming had been prophesied hundreds of years earlier. The prophet Isaiah said the future Savior would be “a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53:3). He was to be the willing lamb led to the slaughter. Isaiah wrote of Jesus: “it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer.” Why? To pay for human sin and make salvation possible.

Though fully God, Jesus also took on the same humanity as we have, in order to accomplish his saving grace. He also experienced the suffering and pain that humans do. Jesus confronted disappointment, felt pain, became hungry and tired, faced temptation and apprehension.
Jesus endured torture and finally hideous torment on the cross. Jesus had suffered through the entire human experience. Think of it: God in the flesh shared our human pain. The suffering and death of Jesus once and for all put to rest the idea that life must be fair, or that God is unfair. No one could accuse God of hiding himself or not caring.

Then he takes us beyond Christ’s example to the uniqueness of His substitutionary death.

The substitutionary death refers to Jesus Christ dying as a substitute for sinners. The Scriptures teach that all people are sinners (Romans 3:9-18, 23). It’s the nature we are born with. A Biblical worldview makes this point in Genesis 3 when the first humans chose to sin. They were our representatives and so the human race fell into nature of sin. It is our nature to sin that cause actions of sin. The penalty for our sin nature and sin actions is death. Romans 6:23 reads, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Death, physically and eternally is punishment for sin. So without Christ, we are going to die and spend an eternity in hell as payment for our sins. Death in the Scriptures refers to a “separation” – separation from God. Everyone will die and there are consequences for sin – both in nature and in actions. The death spoken of here refers to the life in hell. However, the second thing this verse teaches us is that eternal life is available through Jesus Christ. This is His substitutionary atonement.

Jesus Christ died in our place when He was crucified on the cross. We deserved to be the ones placed on that cross to die because we are the ones who live sinful lives. But Christ took the punishment on Himself in our place—He substituted Himself for us and took what we rightly deserved. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). Here again we see that Christ took the sins we committed onto Himself to pay the price for us. A few verses later we read, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18). Not only do these verses teach us about the substitute that Christ was for us, but they also teach that He was the atonement, meaning He satisfied the payment due for the sinfulness of man.

We can only pay the price of sin on our own by being punished and placed in hell for all eternity. But God’s Son, Jesus Christ, came to pay for the price of our sins. Because He did this, we now have the opportunity to not only have our sins forgiven, but to spend eternity with Him. In order to do this we must place our faith in what Christ did on the cross. We cannot save ourselves; we need a substitute to take our place. The death of Jesus Christ is the substitutionary atonement.

Christ’s suffering involved “the just for the unjust” (or, “righteous for the unrighteous”). Only Christ is just or righteous. None of us, when we suffer, can truly say, “I don’t deserve this!” We do say that because we erroneously compare ourselves with other sinners and think, “I’m a good person! I don’t do drugs or cheat on my mate or murder. I’m basically honest and law-abiding. Why should I suffer when scoundrels get away with murder and enjoy a good life?”

But our problem is, we’re comparing ourselves with the wrong standard! If we would compare ourselves with the absolute righteousness of God, we would see that the only thing we deserve is hell! Each of us has broken God’s commandments and laws over and over and over. We put other gods before the living and true God. We make idols for ourselves. We take His name in vain. We don’t keep His day as holy. We dishonor our parents. We murder, commit adultery, steal, lie, and covet. If we think we don’t, read the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus shows the self-righteous what the true standard of the law means. We are unrighteous; only Jesus Christ is righteous.

God, in His perfect justice, cannot just shrug off our sin. But He took our sin and put it on Jesus Christ, the righteous, to bear the penalty we deserve. The purpose was that Christ might “bring us to God.” This is the idea for an admission to an audience with the Great King. You just didn’t stroll into the presence of a great king and say, “How’s it going?” You had to have someone to introduce you properly. Because the righteous Christ bore our sins, He can bring us into an audience with the Great King.

One other point: Christ’s death for sins was “once for all.” His death was sufficient to pay for all the sins we have committed and will commit.

The point is, if you’ve put your trust in Christ, then your sins are on Him and you have been reconciled to God once-for-all. God wants every believer to come to the place of full assurance where you understand that the basis of your acceptance with God is not your performance; it is His grace, that Christ died for your sins once for all and you have trusted in Him, not in your own good works.

We’ve covered a lot of difficult material. But I don’t want you to miss the clear application of this text for your life. Three questions we each need to answer:

Have I truly trusted in Christ as my sin bearer? To do that I need to view myself as unrighteous, unable to present myself to God by my own good works. The pervasive pride of the human heart always wants to earn salvation based upon personal merit or worth. But God’s way is always to humble our pride and strip us of everything in ourselves that would commend us to Him. We can’t trust in our own goodness or hope that God’s standard is not absolute holiness. That’s a false hope. Make sure that you have let go of all human goodness and trust in the righteous Christ who died for the unrighteous.