This morning is the concluding message of a progression of teachings which I started back in January. Theses teachings have followed the journey of every person who starts out far away from God, but through the revelation of God’s Word and the power of His Spirit comes out of spiritual darkness into God’s light.
We started with Before Christ, and in that series we explored the Bible’s teaching about who we are, who God is, and who Jesus is. If you want to know God these are the questions that you must search out answers for.
Next we endeavored to Follow Christ. During this series of messages we talked about the nature of sin, the good news that Jesus brought and the faith that is necessary to begin to know God personally. It is such an important message that I want to repeat the jist of it.
“To place your faith in Jesus and receive his gift of eternal life you must:
- Recognize that God created you for a love relationship with Him. He wants you to love Him with all your being.
- Admit you are a sinner, and that you cannot save yourself.
- Believe Jesus paid the penalty for your sin by his death on the cross and that He rose from the dead in victory over death.
- Confess (agree with God about) your sins that separate you from Him.
- Repent (turn away from) your sins.
- Ask Jesus to save you by His grace, which is an undeserved gift.
- Turn over the control of your life to Jesus.”
From there we turned our attention to being With Christ. This journey of following the Lord is meant to be shared with others. We have been called to share life together as a family and together to discover who the Lord has made us to be. The changes that the Lord wants to bring us through are huge, but He hasn’t left us to do that by ourselves. We are a family brought together by God’s gift in Christ Jesus and his perfect plan.
Beginning with Easter Sabbath we directed our attention to what we do For Christ. Because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, we have a purpose and a mission. Our purpose is to live for the glory of God. Our mission is to connect people to Jesus and help God change their lives. Jesus put it this way, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:19)
Our final mini-series this spring is to be Like Christ. Two weeks ago Pastor Liz highlighted the process of spiritual maturity by showing us how the Word of God is like a mirror. It shows us who we are and reveals where God wants us to grow. Last week I talked about how we grow spiritually through the law of seed and harvest. When we plant the Word of God in hearts that are ready to receive it, the Lord does the amazing work of making changes in us so that we become more like him.
Today I want to continue to talk about the harvest that comes from our faith in Christ. The seed, as we talked about last week, is the Word of God. The fruit or the harvest is the character or the very nature of Jesus. If you remember from last week I said that one of the fruits of faith in Christ is the desire to follow and obey God’s will. That is the first fruit. Yet it is only the beginning. The character that Jesus lived out was that he had not only the desire to do God’s will, he also had the ability to carry it out. True faith in Christ always points us first in the desire to do God’s will and leads us into the reality of obedience to Christ in the real world right where we live.
The Desire to Do God’s Will
There is a story told about a child who was having a hard time obeying her parents. She was told to sit down, but she had no desire to sit down. After a time of a battle of wills, the child finally remained sitting. However, her parting words were quite revealing. She said, “I’m sitting on the outside, but I’m standing on the inside.”
Our default nature as humans is disobedience. We were born with it. Our parents gave it to us, and they received it from their parents and so on. One of our winter grow groups was a class on biblical parenting. The main truth which came through loud and clear was that the primary job of parents, given to them by the Lord, is to teach their children obedience. It is not to make them happy or to give them everything they want or need. Teach them to obey.
God is a good Father, and He is trying to teach us to obey Him. In order to do that most effectively He must move us beyond obeying just because He requires it or because of the consequences of disobedience. He must transform us into those who have embraced His will in the core our hearts. God describes his plan this way, “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:33, ref. Heb 8:10; 10:16) God’s will or His law was never meant to remain on tablets of stone, but to be written on our hearts so that we would have the desire, in ourselves, to obey.
This desire to obey begins with God’s work in our hearts. Our default sinful nature only wants to do our own will instead of God’s. The Bible teaches what is very different from what our culture teaches. We are not good people, nor, in ourselves, do we want to do good. Instead, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5) Any desire that humans have to do good is because of God’s work in them and in the world. Left to our own devices, our sinful nature takes over and directs us increasingly toward evil.
Yet as the Lord does His work in our hearts and cultivates faith in us, the first fruits or the first results are the desire to do God’s will. This is evidence that we are, in the words of Paul the apostle, “a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17) in Christ. It does not mean, however, that we have been freed from the influence of the sinful nature. Here is Paul’s take on his desire to do God’s will and the ongoing power of the sinful nature.
“For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” (Romans 7:14-20)
This is everyone’s testimony. All too often don’t do the thing we want to do but the thing we hate to do. Even so, it reveals that our true desire is to do the will of God. It reveals that our heart belong to the Lord. We agree that God’s will and ways, His law is good. The Lord has written His law on our heart. The old heart that only wanted to do evil has been reborn with a love for God’s law and a desire to do what is right in God’s eyes. Every spiritual battle we face ultimately comes down to whether or not we say yes to our spiritual nature in Christ or we give in to our sinful nature. We have the desire to do God’s will, but how do we gain the ability to do it?
The Ability to Do God’s Will
At the end of Romans chapter 7 Paul answers this question for us. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25) Jesus obeyed the Father perfectly, and therefore he is our ongoing daily help for our own obedience to God. The Bible tells us that Jesus, “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:8) Jesus is our example as well as our helper. In the same way that he was obedient by remaining connected to his Father, likewise we will be obedient by remaining connected to him. Last week we looked at Jesus’ words to us to “abide” (John 15:4) in him. When we abide in Christ we bear the fruit of obedience.
Let’s look more closely at Jesus’ example of obedience. It says that he became obedient to the point of death. We must ask ourselves: to what point am I willing to be obedient? There are many different stops along the way to obeying God’s will. The first of these stops can be characterized like this: I obey to the point where I feel like it. As long as doing God’s will produces good feelings in me, I am willing to go along with it.
The next stop along the way to obedience I will describe like this: I obey as long as I can expect to get something in return. If there is something in it for me, then I am willing to face certain unexpected twists and turns.
Another stop along the way to obedience is this: I obey as long as it’s convenient. Hardships prove to be too much for me to stay on the journey with the Lord. If he asks me to face challenges, then I am out.
There are those who are willing to face certain hardships, but when persecution for the sake of Christ starts, they fall away. I obey until I have to face persecution. In the face of ridicule, peer pressure, loss of opportunity or job, loss of respect, or loss of freedom, obedience to Christ flies out the window.
After all these the final stop on the path of obedience is the point of death. I obey to the point of death. This is the point where Jesus himself walked and which he leads those who desire to follow him. It’s not like this is a big mystery. Every book in the New Testament assures Christ-followers that persecution and death are a real possibility. If not death in the physical sense, the Bible talks much about dying to our self.
Because the Lord lived out obedience, he is our hope and our help to obey God. He gives us the ability to do God’s will. This ability starts with the desire to do God’s will. It is not completed until God’s will is manifest or made apparent in our lives. As we look closely at Jesus and how he obeyed, it reveals to us how we obey. He was tempted in every way that we are, yet he stayed true to his Father in heaven – even to the point of death.
So then what it means to obey the Lord is that we obey him all the way. How we obey the Lord is that we abide in him. But the remaining question is why. Why should we obey the Lord? Because we love him.
The Lord said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (John 14:15) The Bible declares that “the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13) The core of God’s nature is love, and when He places that within us, nothing works more powerfully in our lives. If we lack the ability to do God’s will, as Christ-followers, it is because we have forgotten our first love. “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
The love of God is not the weak, flighty kind of love which is portrayed in our movies and books. It is unconditional, never-wavering, never-failing in commitment, always present. This is in fact the fruit which God is growing in us. We are like Christ when, by the power of his love working in us, we obey his commands.