Admiring Jesus seems to be a great pastime of practically everyone.
Mahatma Ghandi, who through peacful protest and hunger strikes changed the face of India and the world, admired Jesus, and claimed to gear his methods after the Lord’s sacrificial life.
Then Martin Luther King, Jr. patterned his movement after Ghandi’s.
Mohammed admired Jesus, and considered Him a prophet. To this day, Muslims call Jesus a prophet.
In fact, I’ve never met a person who would not say that they admired Jesus, at least until His gospel rips open their heart and separates the real admirers from those who admire from ignorance.
But my real point in this message is not to cast stones at those who are outside the church of Jesus Christ, who are outside the body of Christ, yet claim to admire Jesus.
To The Unbeliever
If you are not a Christian, a believer in Jesus Christ, if you have not believed in Him as Savior and Lord, I urge you to do so. I urge you to believe the truth that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, Jesus, to be crucified to pay for our sins. And that He rose again from the dead. So that if you believe in Him, you will be saved from Hell, and given eternal life even now, and when you die, you will go to be with the Lord in heaven forever.
That’s the Good News, the Gospel, and if you will believe in Him now, He will indeed save you and make you His child.
To The Believer
But the admiration of the unbeliever is not my real subject here. My subject is the believer, the Christian whose Christian life is stifled by limiting it to admiration and even worship for the Lord.
Within the Body of Christ there is a normal and good thing that we call worship. Worship has been described as giving God His due, to ascribe worthiness to Him, to bow down and recognize and praise Him for all that He is.
And this is right and good and biblical. And at least to some extent, it is incorporated into most meetings of the Church, and rightly so. We sing worship songs, we pray things like, “We worship you, Lord. You are worthy of our worship and so we praise you.”
And this is as it should be.
But sometimes our worship is more of a calculated admiration for the Lord, than love for Him.
And so my real point is to encourage those IN the Body of Christ, to not only admire Him, and worship Him, but to go beyond admiring worship of Jesus, to a new level of loving Him.
There are those believers who have been born again, basically love the Lord, basically know their Bibles, and know for a fact that Jesus is God, that He is good, that He is righteous, that He sacrificially gave His life for our sins, that He rose again, that He is Lord over all, and that He deserves all the glory and honor that He could ever receive.
But with all that born-again admiration, with their cries of “we must glorify God in all we do”, with their exhortations of obedience, obedience, obedience…with all that, I often see a lack of loving intimacy with this admired Savior.
Why is that? I think it’s for two reasons.
1. Many travel in theological circles that are Law-oriented.
They see the Christian life, not primarily as a relationship or fellowship with our Friend and Brother and Savior Jesus, but as a life of rules and regulations. They know Jesus loves them, but somehow think that the degree of that love is dependent on our performance. You will find them emphasizing the verse, “If you love me you will obey my commandments.” But you won’t often see them quoting the verse, “...[nothing] shall be able to separate us from the love of God which Is in Jesus our Lord.”
So some lack this intimate loving relationship with Christ, just because it is considered sort of selfish and distasteful in their theological circles. Sort of mystical, sort of anti-good-doctrine. They use derogatory terms such as “touchy-feely” or “kum-ba-ya around the campfire emotionalism".
If you are one of these, please keep listening.
2. Many are scarred by a perceived lack of love in earlier times of their lives.
Now, don’t think I’m getting all "psychological" here.
And particularly, if you belong to Category 1, the Law-oriented type, I know the hairs are standing up on the back of your neck at the very mention of our past lives affecting our walk with Christ.
But here is the simple fact: We are fearfully and wonderfully made, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. And when we are born again, and come to Christ, and we become new creations in our spirits…we sometimes still have a lot of renewing of our minds that are needed.
Many times a perceived lack of love, or perceived rejection of some kind by parents, or peers, or a teacher, for example, can make us instinctively feel that we can’t really be loved. And that carries over into our feelings about whether God can really love us. And that can keep us from really having the intimate and loving fellowship with Jesus that we may want to have.
And then sometimes a mis-guided kind of cold-steel theology is piled on to make it even worse. Maybe well-intentioned folks say things like, “You don’t just feel unworthy, you are unworthy. Get over it. You’re a Sinner. You’re a worm and a jerk. Don’t let these Dr. Feelgood softies make you think you’re loveable. Just pull up your bootstraps and start obeying. Bring glory to God. It’s all about Him, it’s not about you, you selfish pig. Start performing, and see if you can bring your level of performance up to where it should be -– in the power of the Spirit, of course.”
And the implication is that if you perform well enough, THEN you might be loveable, at least a little.
But of course it’s all hogwash. If you feel unloved, you feel unloved.
Now please get this:
The only way you will ever feel loved by God, is through understanding from His Word, through the Spirit, that you were loved by Him long before you were “loveable”. And He loves you because He chooses to love you. And there is nothing you could ever do to make Him love you more, and there is nothing you could ever do to make Him love you less.
And it’s because of one thing...Grace.
There is a rest for the people of God, the Bible says, wherin they rest from their works! That doesn’t mean we don’t do works. We will, as God works them in us, and we walk by His Spirit. It means we rest from our works as means of gaining love and acceptance and fellowship with God, with Jesus.
Look at these verses from Romans Chapter 8:
Verse 10, “If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness.”
Verse 15-16, “...you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, "Abba! Father! The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God...”
Verses 18-19, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.
Verses 28-30, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.”
Here Paul adds a little logic: Verse 32, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?”
Verses 35-39, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?.... For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Continue to admire Jesus for all this, of course. And worship Him for all that He has done and all that He is.
But I want to encourage you to go beyond admiring worship to a love for Him that grabs you by the heart and shakes you, and makes you see the whole world through love-colored glasses, because you love Him more.
And how do you love Him more? Simple. Not easy, necessarily, but simple.
To love Him more, you must see more and more how He loves you. See, it’s very personal. You don’t merely admire Him as One Who loves. You love Him because He first loved you. And He still loves you, with a love that never quits, that is never affected by circumstances, that is never diminished by your failures. A love that, when you really grasp it, makes your love for Him threaten to burst your heart. A love that when you really grasp it, makes you say, “How could I NOT overflow with love for this Jesus, and His Father...and my brethren...and even my enemies?”
To love Him more, bask in His love for you. Think on it, meditate on it, marvel at it, accept it.
500 years before Martin Luther’s great meeting known as the Diet of Worms, a poem was written in Worms, Germany, in 1050 A.D. Frederick Lehman was deeply moved by this poem, and it led him to write a hymn in 1917, in Pasadena, California, part of which goes like this:
Could we with ink the oceans fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the oceans dry,
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky
O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure
The saints’ and angels’ song.
Friends, He wants to share that love with you today.
Don’t just admire Jesus.
Don’t even just worship Him.
He wants you to be in close, intimate loving fellowship and communion with Him. There is nothing standing in the way. Not even your sins. They are paid for. They are forgiven.
There are three things that have revolutionized my Christian life and walk: God’s unconditional love, God’s total forgiveness, and a Christ-centered life.
1. God’s Unconditional Love
“We love Him because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
This one thing alone revolutionized my Christian walk…knowing that God loves me no matter what. I do not feel insecure in His love for me. I am not afraid that He will stop loving me. And because I believe that I am secure in His love for me, His love compels me to keep pressing on, and I am better able to experience the blessings that come with it, namely the fruit of the Spirit…the love, joy, peace.
2. God’s Total Forgiveness
When we understand God’s total forgiveness, then we will be set free to receive His love. I think it would be almost impossible to receive God’s love if we do not believe that we are totally forgiven of past, present and future sins.
The Lord said that He will “remember our sins no more”. He paid for our sins. He is not looking to condemn us over and over again when we sin for “there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus…” (Romans 8:1). And “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)
Our sins are not just temporarily covered, but we have been permanently redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. He will not hold our sins against us. So we should walk in the joy of His forgiveness.
3. A Christ-Centered Life
We need to realize our new standing in Christ, that we are new creations, righteous, holy, Saints, “no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ” (Gal. 4:7; see also Romans 6:6-23).
2 Corinthians 5:17, 21 says, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold all things have become new….For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
When we “fix our eyes on Jesus” rather than on our sin, when we reckon ourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord, sin will not reign in our mortal bodies (Romans 6:11-12).
A Christ-centered life, rather than a sin-centered life has given me the spiritual strength that I need to live for Christ.
The largest responsibility for this lies with the Pastors (and the Seminaries which crank them out) not understanding the very nature of the New Covenant, and not understanding the centrality of Jesus Christ in every passage.
But the congregation, too, has a responsibility. Too often the congregation actually welcomes moralistic, performance-based preaching, while they suffer severe malnutrition because they are missing the Bread of Life, Who is Grace, Who is Jesus.
In not "rightly dividing" or "cutting straight" the Scriptures, they mix Old and New Testaments, Old and New Covenants, Natural Israel and Spiritual Israel, Law and Grace, Blessings and Cursings, and a whole hodge-podge of Theological Chili results, where one can't tell when the tomatoes end and the beef or beans begins.
7. The answer at least partly lies in a vigilant watch for legalism, and slaying it's dragons with the clear Word of God at every opportunity.
We may start with really taking Galatians at face value. If teacher or student gets a handle on the radical nature of Galatians, three things will be clear:
a. there is no law or performance involved in initial salvation
b. there is no law or performance involved in retaining salvation
c. there is no law or performance involved in God's loving His children, and bestowing His favor on those who have already been given "all spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus".
8. There are two useful personal tests for legalism, even when it's so slippery that it fights definition:
Do I think I'm "better" than some other guy or gal, or do I think I'm "worse" than some other guy or gal?
If I think I'm better, I am not understanding Grace. I am not understanding "that nothing good dwells in me, that is in my flesh." (Rom. 7:18) True, I have a new spirit, a new nature, but "what do you have that you have not received?" Or as the common proverb puts it, "There but for the Grace of God go I".
If I think I'm worse, I am not understanding Grace, because I'm denying what God has done in making me a new creation, old things having passed away and all things becoming new.
Test 2 --
Do I think God will love me more if I perform in such-and-such a way? Then I don't understand
that by Grace, God loves me unconditionally. He set His love on me before I was even born. Nothing I do can make Him love me more, and nothing I do can make Him love me less. He loves me...period.
9. "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore, keep standing firm, and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery." (Gal. 5:1)
"But now we have been released from the law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit, and not in oldness of the letter." (Rom. 7:6)
"For through the law, I died to the law, so that I might live to God." (Gal. 2:19)
So you have to wrestle it to the ground like a strong dragon and force it to define itself, then stab it through with the sword of truth.
2. Legalism, as theological error, resists definition.
But we must wrestle some definitions out of it anyway, so we can spot it when it raises it's multiple destroying heads.
3. New Covenant Scriptures allude to legalism in three genres or forms:
a. legalism for INITIAL salvation, e.g., baptismal regeneration, or "you must be circumcised", or the most popular among pagans, "do more good than bad in your life".
b. legalism to RETAIN salvation, for example, the Seventh-Day Adventists, who officially teach salvation by grace, but then teach that we must follow certain laws and practices or we lose it.
c. legalism to earn God's love and favor after we're born again, too common even among Reformed believers, and may be the slipperyest dragon of all to wrestle a definition from.
4. All legalism can best be defined by what it is not, i.e., Grace.
If it's not Grace, it's legalism.
Grace is the element that most defines the New Covenant, a unilateral work of God which not only imputes His righteousness to us, but actually "reborns" our spirits, making us new creatures who love Jesus and hate sin in our new natures.
1 Cor. 4:7 says, "What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?" If it's not All of Grace, it's partly of legalism.
5. Legalism is more insidious, more destructive, and more evil than is commonly thought by believers.
It's not just a "difference of opinion" or a "different slant" on things.
Rom. 6:14 makes a profound statement that the Church in general has missed: "For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace."
Legalism literally robs us of the very ability to keep sin from being master over us. When law is used in any way in regard to the above three genres of legalism (for intial salvation, to retain salvation, or to earn God's love and favor), then one has "fallen from Grace" (Gal. 5:4), gotten on the ground of law, and two things happen:
1. One quenches the Holy Spirit by spurning His Grace, and
2. One inflames sin, since the law is the "power of sin" (1 Cor. 15:56).
When one gets on the ground of law, off of the ground of Grace, there are two typical results:
1. One thinks they are performing pretty well as compared with others, and becomes prideful, or,
2. One thinks they are performing poorly as compared with others, and despairs or loses the joy of their salvation.
O God, whose Name is excellent in all the earth, and Thy glory above the heavens; who on this day didst inspire and direct the hearts of our delegates in Congress to lay the foundations of our national peace, liberty, and safety; We bless and adore Thy glorious Majesty for all Thy loving kindness manifested towards this land and people; and we humbly beseech Thee to continue Thy goodness to us, that the heritage received from our fathers may be preserved in our time, and be transmitted unimpaired to the generations to come; that all nations of the earth may know that Thou, O Lord, art our Saviour and mighty Deliverer, and our King for ever. Grant this, we beseech Thee, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
- House of Bishops, A Book of Offices (Milwaukee: The Young Churchman Co., 1914), 82.
Loneliness is a universal problem. But there is hope... By Michele Rayburn
I never feel lonely when I spend time alone with the Lord, and when I practice His presence the rest of the time. When I am not "filled with the Spirit" is when I am the most lonely.
What a blessing it would be (what revival might even come) if all of us Christians would make it a priority to develop our Spirit life through close communion with Christ. Then our lives would be more fulfilling. And when we come together again, our fellowship with one another will be more fulfilling.
What the Church seems to be lacking today is the Spirit of Christ moving in our own personal lives the way God meant for it to be. We lack spiritual teaching that will draw us back to Christ. The teachings we often hear tend to be man-centered rather than Christ-centered.
We should keep our focus on Christ and imitate Him, instead of looking at ourselves and beating ourselves up about how imperfect we are. He’s not surprised by our weaknesses. Even before we were born, He knew how we would stumble. But we are "accepted in the Beloved". So we should keep our focus on Him. We should think on things like God's everlasting love for us, His total acceptance of us, and our security in Him.
I think that if we don't fully comprehend and receive God's love for us, we may feel unacceptable to Him when we fail. And that kind of alienation can also make us feel lonely.
When our own lonely heart is comforted by our communion with Christ, then we can fellowship with others in a way that will ease their loneliness.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5
It's so important to be sensitive to the fact that as brothers and sisters in Christ, we really need each other.
Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11