Sunday, October 31, 2010

God's Glory Alone (Ephesians 3.20-21)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
October 31, 2010
Some Music Used
 Holy Art Thou (Handel)
Lion of Judah (Robin Mark)
Blessed Be Your Name (Matt Redman)

God's Glory Alone
Texts: Ephesians 3:20-21

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Sometimes the spoken version of the sermon varies from the written version.  This is one such Sunday and I commend the audio/spoken version.  I have included the written version below for all the "glory" references, but hope you will listen to the audio.

An amazing number of verses in the Bible speak of God’s glory. The Old Testament is full of the manifestation of God’s glory: as a cloud, as the Spirit, in visions, and in person.
  • Numbers 14:21 – [the Lord said] ...but indeed, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord.
  • Deuteronomy 5:24 – “You said, ‘Behold, the Lord our God has shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice from the midst of the fire; we have seen today that God speaks with man, yet he lives.
  • 2 Chronicles 5:14 – …the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God.
  • Psalm 72:19 – And blessed be His glorious name forever; And may the whole earth be filled with His glory. Amen, and Amen.
  • Psalm 79:9 – Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of Your name; And deliver us and forgive our sins for Your name’s sake.
  • Isaiah 6:1–3 – In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.”
The New Testament frames what God is doing now and forever with this same terminology.
  • Romans 16:27 – …to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen.
  • Ephesians 3:21 – …to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.
  • Philippians 4:20 – Now to our God and Father be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
  • 1 Timothy 1:17 – Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
  • 2 Timothy 4:18 – The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
  • 1 Peter 4:11 – Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
  • 2 Peter 3:18 – …but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.
  • Jude 25 – …to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
  • Revelation 1:6 – …and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
  • Revelation 5:13 – And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.”
  • Revelation 7:12 – “Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”

I’d like to start with you by looking at several passages of scripture that describe why we are here – as a church and as human beings. Then, I’d like to look at how our vision and purpose squares with scripture as a “picture” of who we are and who we want to be. Finally, I’d like to offer an analogy and a challenge for our life together as God’s people.

God’s Glory Alone

Today we pick up one last great theme from the Reformation – “God’s glory alone.” It is the core biblical teaching that all of creation, all of history, and all that is exist for the glory of God. We are not here for ourselves or human accomplishment, achievement, or advancement; rather, we are here for God. Simply pondering the great assertion of “God’s glory alone” has great implications for why we are here today – our purpose – as well as for our vision for tomorrow.

In the past several weeks we have talked about salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. This is the story and salvation attested in Scripture. In Romans 5:1-2 we see the connection and conclusion of all we have talked about, framed in terms of the glory of God:
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2)
All that God has done, encompassing both our sin and our redemption, finds completion in God’s glory. That is our future and our hope. As significant as grace, faith, the work of Christ, and Scripture are, they are all a footnote to the glory of God.

Revelation paints as vivid a picture as we can handle. The creatures of Heaven gather to worship God in His glory. The representatives of the people of the world lead the way in falling to worship God in His glory. The great multitude of Heaven, from every tribe, tongue, and nation all shout with praise. All that can compare is the crashing sound of the sea and the roar of thunder. And all of Heaven and creation sound together:
Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come… Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God… Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns. (Revelation 4:8; 19:1,6)
But the glory of God is not just a future reality. We heard from Ephesians about God’s glory expressed in the life of his people, the Church:
Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)
That our purpose and the church’s purpose is the glory of God has great implications for our day to day life as Christians. Whatever we do, whatever we become, all the credit, thanks, and glory belong to God, who sustains us, answers our prayers, empowers us for ministry and life, and who saves us in Jesus Christ.

God’s Vision for Good Shepherd

As you can imagine, such “purpose-statements” as these from scripture should shape who we are, both as individual Christians and as the Church.

In 2002, after reading scripture, praying for wisdom and discernment, and sharing what we saw as the biblical strengths of this church body, the elders verbalized this vision for Good Shepherd. You can find it on the back page of every newsletter:
Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church is a loving family,
JOYFUL in the worship of God,
FAITHFUL to share and follow Christ,
HUMBLE vessels for the Holy Spirit,
STANDING on scripture as the Word of God,
COMMITTING all that we are and all that we have,
To the glory of God, our Father.
All those are biblical principles as well as distinctives of this church – our worship, our discipleship and evangelism, our dependence on the Holy Spirit, our commitment to scripture and to God. And the adjectives… again descriptive of us and faithful to who God wants us to be – joyful, faithful, humble, standing firm, committed. And all of it – all of us – see the ultimate goal to be honoring God and bringing him glory.

That’s my goal; that’s the goal of our elders; and I believe that’s your goal as members of Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church… to bring glory to God. That is the biblical example for the body of Christ in Ephesians; that is the biblical picture of heaven itself in Revelation. We are to be people completely heart-set on loving and bringing glory to God, our Creator and Father.

And so, not only all that we are and all that we have, but also all that we do and all that we want to be… may it be to the glory of God!

An Analogy for Our Life Together

I still remember the significant discussion we had about one particular line in our vision statement. It’s the one I just quoted – “committing all that we are and all that we have.” Isn’t that a little extreme? Isn’t that excessive and unrealistic? It does sound idealistic, but I would suggest that “to the glory of God” deserves nothing less from us.

Let me offer an analogy for our life together. And this isn’t one I made up – the Apostle Paul thought of this one. (Actually, God used it first with Israel in the Old Testament!) Our life together as God’s people related to God through Christ is like a marriage relationship. Remember those verses about wives submitting to their husbands and all? Those are not primarily about marriage – rather, Paul is talking about the Church and her relationship to Christ!

Think about the vows people take when they marry – to have and to hold, to love and to cherish, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer. Many of the older wedding vows included phrases like “with all that I am and all that I have I pledge myself to you.” A marriage is an all-out commitment between two people.

So, our relationship to Jesus Christ through his bride, the Church, is also an all-out commitment. Just as I didn’t just vow to be financially involved with Heather when we married, so church membership isn’t just about a yearly pledge. And just as a healthy marriage isn’t just about getting meals on the table, mowing the grass, and sharing a checkbook, so our relationship with Jesus Christ through the Church is more than attendance, committee work, and cookies before church.

All those things are parts of life together, but at the heart of it is an all-out commitment of one person to the other. And just as those “high moments” in marriage inspire us to be and give our best, a relationship with Jesus Christ in his Church can inspire us to be and give our best. That’s why the Bible talks about giving “first fruits” to God. As the one who loves us most, God’s desire is not for our leftovers, but our hearts, our love, and our best.

The Bible also gives us specific examples of what this all-out love of God with heart, soul, mind, and strength, looks like in different areas of our life. Let me name just a few:

Stewardship

When the Bible talks about tithing, it is giving a specific application – an example – of what it means to love God with all we are – heart, soul, mind, and strength – in the area of personal finances or “treasure.” These instructions are not unlike what I might suggest to a particularly hard-headed husband who doesn’t quite get all the stuff about communication, active listening, and expressing feelings. But it does help him to be reminded to get his wife a card and present each year for Christmas, her birthday, and for their anniversary – it’s just a GOOD IDEA! The tithe is like that – 10% of our income, given to God. It’s not the be-all and end-all of what it means to be a Christian, but it is part of a loving and committed relationship to God.

Music, arts, crafts, worship, and prayer are described in the Bible as practical examples of loving God with all we are – heart, soul, mind, and strength – in the area of our gifts and talents. By “offering” these to God, we are giving our minds, hearts, spirits, and attentions exclusively to God.

Discipleship

The call to discipleship – to follow Christ – is an example of what it means to love God with all we are – heart, soul, mind, and strength – in the area of priorities and choices. This day I will make choices and set priorities. They will either involve choosing my own agenda, my own course, my own ambitions, or they will involve choosing to follow Jesus Christ.

Sabbath Rest and Worship

The biblical pattern of observing the Sabbath – one day in seven – is a practical example of what it means to love God with all we are – heart, soul, mind, and strength – in the area of our time. One of the Ten Commandments is to honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy. That is a “first fruits” gift, setting aside the first day of each week for worship and service to God and for rest. And all of the Commandments require an ordering of our life in joyful submission to God.

Our Utmost for His Highest

No guilt – don’t be bullied into giving yourself to God. Be wooed and won by the height, breadth, width, and depth of His love for you.

One aspect of a marriage relationship that allows us to respond with generosity and enthusiasm to one another is trust. If we trust a spouse with our hearts, we are willing to give our hearts and more. The entire story of the Bible revolves around the faithfulness of God. He is worth trusting! God is worth ENtrusting yourselves to! God is the One to whom it is worth entrusting your time, treasure, love, goals, families, and adoration!

That is the Good News of the Bible: that God is utterly trustworthy and loves you with an unswerving, mighty, and tender love.

As we contemplate our purpose as Christians and as a church family, may we be found faithful in all we say and do to honor and bring glory to God, who gives us life and hope. God’s desire is for us to be a family bound together by a common love for Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. God’s desire is that we be filled with His Holy Spirit – filled with thankful and responsive hearts that are so moved by God’s goodness to us that we respond with our very utmost for God’s highest. Amen!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Christ Alone (Hebrews 1.1-4)

Sermon by: Greg Joines, student pastor
October 17, 2010

Christ Alone
Text: Hebrews 1:1-4


Due to a wiring issue in the sanctuary, we had to evacuate during worship and call the fire department.  Greg continued the service outside and we had planned to videotape the sermon anyway, so here is the 11:00 sermon with a few sirens.  Thank you to Kathy and Caleb for videotaping, and for affirmations during the sermon.  :)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Grace Alone (Ephesians 2.1-10)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
October 17, 2010
Some Music Used
O For a Thousand Tongues - One Great Love (David Crowder)
Your Grace is Enough (Chris Tomlin)
Now Behold the Lamb (choir; Gwen Ingram, soloist) (Kirk Franklin)

Grace Alone
Texts: Ephesians 2:1-10

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**
“The true treasure of the Church is the Most Holy Gospel of the glory and the grace of God.”  ~ Martin Luther, 95 Theses (#62)
Did you watch “Who Wants to Become a Millionaire?” when it came out? Or maybe some other big game show… Did you ever read stories about pirates and buried treasure when you were a child? What about “Aladdin and the Magic Lamp?” Or think about those Indiana Jones movies! Treasures fascinate us, whether they are hidden or it takes beating the odds to get them. And our minds just run with the idea… how much treasure can you imagine? How big a reward or a payoff can you contemplate?

Now, what if there were a treasure that made all those pale in comparison… including the million dollars, the magic lamp, and the Holy Grail. Would you be interested in hearing more?? Jesus even alluded to it once… telling a story about a man that sold EVERYTHING he had in order to buy this one pearl of great price.

Today’s scripture passage talks about this treasure. But, the real focus for us today is not on the treasure itself, but how we find it. How would you imagine we would find such an enormous and valuable treasure? The treasures we know about suggest answers… we’d have to know a lot – answer a lot of questions; we’d have to endure some great challenge; or we’d have to brave dangers like Indiana Jones. At the very least, we’d have to follow my father’s timeless advice, “Son, there’s no such thing as a free lunch!” He taught me that one has to earn something of value – and that almost always involves hard work.

Before I get to how we get this treasure, let me describe the treasure to you.

The Great Treasure

Hopefully, you’ve guessed by now that the enormous treasure I’m talking about is something spiritual and God-related. To say it’s spiritual, though, does not imply that it’s invisible, imaginary, or symbolic. This treasure is very real, and extraordinarily enormous. In Ephesians, Paul describes it in three parts – all making up the treasure that is salvation.

First, the great treasure is that God makes us alive (v. 5). This is not just to say that we are “alive like never before” or “full of life”. No – Paul goes out of his way to very clearly say that because of sin we were dead. This death was a result of and marked by wrath, lust, and selfish desires. You might ask, “Well, is that still not some form of life?” Paul would say no. Life without God is not life. In our sin, we are dead to God and dead to one another. That’s it. And no glimmer of hope is given – we are simply dead men and women walking this earth. And Paul says that even while we were dead, God acted. God acted out of His nature – being rich in mercy. God also acted because of his great love for us. And so, though we were dead to God, He made us alive together with Christ. Paul is clear to link this amazing act of God to God’s mercy and love and to Jesus Christ.

What a treasure!!… death to life, because we share in Jesus’ own resurrection from death to life. What would you do – how much would you pay – for a treasure such as this? But there’s more!!…

Secondly, God “raised us up” with Christ (v. 6). More than breathing life into our dead frames, God has raised us up – like the invalid beside the pool of Bethesda. God has a purpose for us, and has made us alive in order that we might rise and walk… that we might rise and LIVE. Further, in the way we use “raise up” to describe parenting our children as they grow, God raises us up for spiritual growth and for union with his Son, Jesus Christ.

What a treasure!! We are not only brought from death to life, but share in life together with Jesus Christ. What would you do – how much would you pay – for a treasure such as this? But wait – there’s even more!!…

Thirdly, God seats us with Him in the heavenly places (v. 6). Jesus alluded to this reality when he told his disciples that he was going “to prepare a place for you” in the Father’s house. Not only do we have life and relationship with Christ, but we have a home and a place secured in Heaven in the presence of God.

Now, there’s so much more that can be said about our salvation and about this great treasure of salvation. But do you get a sense for it’s magnitude and scope?? What a treasure!! We are brought to life, united with Christ, and reunited with our creator and Heavenly Father! What would you do – how much would you pay – for a treasure such as this??

The Great Gift of God

Our natural inclination is to think such a great treasure must require a great effort on our behalf. After all, “Millionaire” contestants have to answer a series of hard questions, and even with lifelines, it’s no easy feat. Indiana Jones had to do the near-impossible to find the Holy Grail, and it’s just treasure because Jesus touched it. How much more significant and enormous is the treasure of salvation – life, fellowship, and a home with God through that same Jesus Christ?! And then there are my dad’s words. Surely, for something of such value, I must work extremely hard to earn it.

The medieval church wrestled with just this question. And as generation after generation of hard-working theologians, priests, and commoners wrestled with the great treasure of God’s salvation, it simply became accepted that to attain to this salvation, one had to earn it.

At this point, a young monk interrupted the progression of religious teaching and life to insist with great conviction that we could not earn such a great treasure. In fact, he said, salvation was not a product of human will or work at all – it was a gift of God.

This man, Martin Luther, was not merely stirring up trouble or trying to launch the Protestant Reformation. He was testifying to God’s own revelation in scripture – that salvation is not only an expression of God’s mercy and an act of God’s love; it is offered to us freely as a gracious gift. And Martin Luther clung to this gift as reality because it was God’s own truth and because he knew that if reality were anything other than this, then we truly were lost.

In these same verses in Ephesians, Paul writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (vv. 8-9)

Paul has already mentioned grace several times in chapter 2, one time jamming it into the middle of the first two parts of the treasure – being made alive and being raised, and another time as the explanation of being seated with Christ in the heavenly places.

Martin Luther’s great slogan from the Reformation was this:

Justification (salvation) by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone.

Grace alone – that is Paul’s assertion in Ephesians… that God has made us alive, raised us, and seated us in Heaven by grace – a gift we do not deserve.

Finally, Paul addresses the place of our “work” – and again relocates work in the person and power of God. What we DO is not us working our way to God, nor is it cause for boasting. Rather, what we do is for God’s glory and is an expression of who we are as God’s creation and child. We are God’s “workmanship.”

The Poetry of God

I don’t normally speak Greek to you, but try to explain what things mean out of study of the Greek. But here’s one worth knowing in the original… the Greek word translated as “workmanship” in verse 10 comes from the Greek word poeima. Does that sound like an English word you know?? We get our word “poem” from poeima. Another way to translate this verse would be to say that we are God’s “poems,” created in Christ Jesus for good works. We are God’s “works of art,” made so that when we work people will see God’s handiwork in us and God will be glorified. Paul writes that God prepared us in this way “so that we would walk in them [these works].” In other words, when we do good works – loving others in Jesus’ name – we are simply being who God made us to be: His poems… His works of art.

What do you do with a Gift?

All this talk of treasure and work and gifts has been to elaborate on the simple (if profound) truth in God’s Word: that the enormous treasure of our salvation and inclusion in God’s family is a precious and free gift of a loving God.

How do you apply such a truth to life?? I think we start with this question:

So what do you do with a gift?

I can think of several answers to that – at least several positive ones that don’t involve spurning the gift or the giver.

First, if offered a wonderful gift, we can receive it.
Second, we can say thank you.
Third, we can enjoy the gift.

Simple, right? But that’s the heart of the Christian life. In order to know, celebrate, and live in the joy of God’s salvation, we must receive God’s gracious gift of life and family in Jesus Christ. And beyond that, if we truly understand what we’ve been given, gratitude is the easy and natural response – and the compelling motivation of the Christian life. And finally, God’s intent is that we might enjoy the life and gift and freedom He’s given us.

It sounds simple – but when Martin Luther reminded the world of this scriptural truth, it stood the world on its head.

It sounds simple – but when those of us who are so wired to work and attain and earn and achieve hear it, it stands our world on its head. Thankfully, that’s a good thing. May God give us ears to hear and hearts to receive His Word. Amen.


Monday, October 11, 2010

Faith Alone (Romans 3.21-31, Philippians 3.7-11)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
October 10, 2010
Some Music Used
Come People of the Risen King (Getty/Townend)
'Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus (choir) (Youngblood)
Be Thou My Vision (arr. Youngblood)
Faith Alone
Texts: Romans 3:21-31; Philippians 3:7-11

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Today we are in the second of five sermons on “Themes from the Reformation.” Today we are looking at faith and asking the question, “Is there a ‘good work’ that brings about salvation?” As a reference point, let me remind you of the great catchphrase from the Reformation, which was a period in history in the 16th century where a return to biblical literacy and theology was emphasized and the Church was affected dramatically. That catchphrase was:

Justification by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone. Today we will look at passages in Romans and Philippians to try to understand the role of our faith in justification, or being right with God.

Let me start with an analogy to set a framework for us. Consider the lights that are on in this room. I can say honestly that we are being illuminated. I can even tell you that I switched the lights on this morning when I arrived. Now here is the question that bears on faith: Where is your illumination coming from? Is it from me because I flipped the switch? Is it from the power company? Is it from the lights themselves? Yes – it is from the lights themselves – they have the filaments and the power in them and are providing the illumination. And similarly, the power for salvation resides in the power of God.

Okay, enough with the analogy. If that’s helpful to start to frame the meaning and purpose of faith, then I am glad. If it falls short (and indeed, no analogy is perfect), then let’s move on to God’s revelation about himself.


Workin’ our Way to Heaven

Can we “work our way to Heaven?” Everything in our culture and upbringing tells us to “climb the ladder” to success and work if we want a payoff. The message of God’s grace flies in the face of that mindset, making our heads spin, yet warming our hearts with faith as we realize how much God loves us and provides for us. If the message of “God’s grace alone” was not sufficient to put our ‘works’ in perspective, then consider Romans 3:23. It’s the “clincher” when it comes to earning our own salvation:

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…

This verse is describing why there is no difference between those who had God’s Law (the Jews) and those who did not (the Gentiles). Sin is the great leveler, because no human being will (or can) do the work necessary – or BE righteous or holy enough – to come into the glorious presence of God. This isn’t meant to be discouraging or cynical. Rather, it is a reality check for all those who miss Jesus Christ for the hamster wheel of earning God’s pleasure.

Martin Luther, whom I mentioned last week, confronted the “works righteousness” mindset of his day after studying Romans and realizing both the full impact of sin in our lives and the amazing provision of God’s grace. Luther’s bold proclamation of God’s grace and the futility of our own works restored us to a biblical perspective on our own faith and work. Paul says in Romans that the reality of sin has several important consequences:

1. If left to ourselves and our own strength and righteousness, there would be no salvation;
2. Because our own strength and works cannot save us, there is nothing to boast of in and of ourselves – rather there is a humility that characterizes those who have experienced God’s grace;
3. Because good works are no advantage for salvation, God’s promise of salvation extends not only to Israel, but to the whole world

Paul makes such a strong case for the inability of good works of the Law to save us, that we would be prepared to accept the phrase he writes in verse 31… that God has now nullified the Law. But he then exclaims, “May it never be!” So there must be more to the picture…


Where’s the Power?

In the midst of all this exclusion of human works as the basis of righteousness, Paul also writes about the righteousness of God shown through Jesus Christ – through HIS works of obedience. Christ’s righteousness was demonstrated in his obedient death on the cross, offering the sacrifice necessary to satisfy God’s holiness.

If all that is hard to wrap your head around, consider this. My kids know that when we spill juice in our house that it must be cleaned up. We simply don’t allow it to stay there, get sticky, and attract flies and ants – that just wouldn’t be right. Now more than once, when my kids were little, they knocked over whole cupfuls of juice, milk, or some other liquid. Sometimes by accident because their motor skills are not completely developed, sometimes on purpose while fussing – either way, there is now a problem to be addressed… the milk slowly headed toward the edge of the table. Now that’s like sin – it’s not a sin that they spilt their drink… but it’s like sin in that there’s a situation that I will not “let be.” That I will not leave puddles of milk or juice around my house is like righteousness – it’s just not right to do that unless you are cultivating an ant colony. Now here’s the thing – while a two year old is very capable of spilling a quart of milk, she is not capable of cleaning up a quart of milk, even if I hand her paper towels. And so, I must make things right.

In a limited way, that is a picture of our predicament before God. We have sinned – fallen short – and we cannot fix the problem. We lack the tools, the will-power, the obedience, and the scope to “undo” our separation from God because of sin.

But God has acted for us and for our salvation. He has acted to make things right by becoming a human being, living a perfect and obedient life without sin, and dying on the cross to make right all that sin had made wrong. Paul writes of God in verse 26 that “He would be just and the justifier.” God would not and could not waive the requirements of his holiness – of being a just God. But, in love, God could and would become the one who makes things right – making us “just” through Jesus Christ.

All this is to say, in rather theological terms, that the POWER for salvation does not rest in us or in our good works, but in Jesus Christ, who is God-in-the-flesh. Good works, or righteousness, IS required by God’s holiness… and the only one who can and will satisfy it – God himself – DOES satisfies that requirement.

What is faith, then? It’s trusting in Jesus Christ for salvation. Isn’t that just a good work – our ONE good work? No, it’s not, because the POWER for salvation rests in God through Jesus Christ. Christ has died already! Sin, evil, and death are defeated once and for all! Faith is the declaration – the trust – that Jesus has done what he said he would do.

Paul writes eloquently about faith in Philippians 3. He counts up all that he has done – all his good works and knowledge and abilities – and says that all of these things are rubbish (junk) compared to the value of knowing Jesus Christ as Lord. For in faith, Paul locates his salvation, identity, and purpose in Jesus Christ and in his righteousness – his ‘rightness’ with God. Faith acknowledges that the power for salvation is located in Jesus Christ, and in doing so, God connects us to Jesus – “to his righteousness… to the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings.” Faith says, “I believe and trust in Jesus Christ, who, through perfect obedience, has accomplished on my behalf what I could not. Jesus is my Savior and Lord.”

Is faith a work, itself? Yes, as is our worship, service, mission, compassion, and the rest. But they are not saving works – they are responsive or thankful works. They are works in imitation of Christ, who modeled love, service, forgiveness, and compassion for us. The saying “faith alone” does not mean that we are not to do anything for God – it just reframes our good works from works-for-salvation to works of gratitude and service.


Again… Workin’ our Way to Heaven

Back in Romans, Paul wrote in verse 31: “Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.” Paul does not do away with Law – he does away with the idea that our (spiritual) Law-keeping can save us. And the problem isn’t in the Law; it’s in us! Paul says that only one who is perfect in obedience can keep the Law. That’s what righteousness means – it is perfect obedience to God’s Law. And Paul’s intent is not to nullify this Law, but to ESTABLISH it. Righteousness IS the way to God; but only the perfect Son of God, Jesus Christ, was righteous. That’s Paul’s point: salvation is through the Law – through good works – but only through complete and perfect obedience (all the time) to that Law… and that is possible only through Jesus Christ.

So, to totally understand what Paul is writing here in Romans, we would say that yes, there is such a thing as “working one’s way to Heaven.” In fact, Paul would argue strongly that good works – righteousness – is the only way to Heaven!! He just wants to make absolutely clear that only Jesus has, can, or will accomplish this. Only Jesus Christ has ‘worked his way to Heaven,’ and not as some super-human, but as God become man.

And here’s the good news: not only has Jesus worked his own way (back) to Heaven. He has also made a way for us. Remember, he came all the way down to where we are; he has invited us to come and see him – to trust in him in faith; and he has gone to prepare a place for us that we might also be where he is.


Salvation by grace through faith…

There are two major applications of this biblical teaching on faith and works. First, I don’t think we can hear or contemplate enough that salvation is by grace through faith. Our salvation is a free gift from a loving God and is not something we earn or win. Our faith is simply a declaration that the gift that is our salvation rests completely in the power, love, and faithfulness of God working through Jesus Christ.

Second, if we can grasp that biblical truth, we can gain a proper perspective on “good works” in the Christian life. Our works are not a way to get to Heaven – that is a frustrating and futile approach to life, for the Bible indicates that we are incapable of generating the righteousness necessary to come into God’s presence on our own steam. Having understood God’s grace correctly, though, we are FREED to do good works – to love, forgive, show compassion, share the good news of Christ – because those works are acts of thankfulness and faithfulness. They don’t earn us something; they reflect the saving Lord who is at work in us and through us. We are not saved by works, but as scripture puts it, we are saved by God’s grace through faith FOR good works in Jesus Christ.

Let us love as Christ has first loved us.
Let us serve as Christ has first served us.
Let us forgive as Christ has first forgiven us.

Let us show forth Jesus Christ with the words on our lips, the works of our hands, and the attitudes of our hearts, for he is a Savior worth following and sharing. Amen.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Scripture Alone (2 Timothy )

Some Music Used
Every Promise of Your Word
Break Thou the Bread of Life

Texts: 2 Timothy 1:13-14; 2:2; 3:14-17; 4:2-4

Sermon by: Robert Austell


(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**


Today we begin a month-long focus on five key themes from Scripture that found fresh expression in the Protestant Reformation. My purpose is not that we have a month-long glorified history lesson, but that our congregation and those visiting with us hear freshly about faith, scripture, grace, Christ, and God’s glory. As I wrote in this month’s newsletter, these five basics were the primary themes of the Reformation and are perspective-changing, eureka, new start kinds of truths. This week we turn to God’s Word – the Bible – and consider the Reformation phrase sola scriptura, which translates as “scripture alone.”

The situation Martin Luther and the other Reformers faced in regards to scripture was that the general public had become completely cut off from direct access to God’s Word. The Bible only existed in Latin, which only the educated could read, and which only priests had any real access to. And even priests and monks had developed a tendency over the ages to depend on commentaries and tradition rather than direct study and interpretation of the Bible.

The emphasis on “scripture alone” was not an attempt to remove the teaching office of the clergy, but a recognition that God’s revelation of Himself in scripture took clear precedent over any interpretation of human beings or group of human beings. “Scripture alone” meant that the Bible was authoritative for our faith and life as Christians, and capable of explaining itself in matters of interpretation.

Along with the rediscovered emphasis on the Bible as God’s divine revelation about Himself and about His promised and fulfilled plan of salvation, the Reformation brought about the translation and printing of the Bible into the common language, making God’s Word available to all who could read. Again, this was not to say that a trained and educated clergy were not necessary, but it made it possible to “check” church teaching and practice against the very Word of God. We will see in today’s scripture lesson that this was the pattern established by the Apostle Paul in the early church, and God’s intent for the way in which we approach and use his holy Word.


Guarding the Treasure

Paul was in prison and near the end of his life when he wrote his second letter to Timothy. He had proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ across much of the Mediterranean and had started churches throughout the known world. And he was concerned that his ministry continue – not for his sake, but for Christ’s sake.

In this letter to Timothy, Paul emphasizes the message of the faith – the teaching and stories of God, particularly as witnessed in scripture and in the eyewitness accounts of those who knew Jesus Christ.

He calls this collective message a “treasure” and tells Timothy to guard, through the Holy Spirit, the treasure entrusted to him. Paul describes this treasure as the “standard of sound words” and “the sacred writings” of Timothy’s childhood. With these two descriptive phrases, Paul is referring to what we know as our New and Old Testaments. The Old Testament is the collection of “sacred writings” of the Jewish people of Paul’s day. And the “standard of sound words” is the eyewitness testimony of the apostles and followers of Jesus Christ who recorded the Gospels and wrote the letters to the early church. While we will not take time to go through the history of the formation of the canon (the process whereby the books of the Bible were put together), we will note that Paul is by and large talking to Timothy about the content that would become the Bible we know today.

What Paul writes about that Bible – those sacred writings and “standard of sound words” – is that it is a treasure worth guarding and passing on. It is not to be hoarded or holed away, but guarded as to its content and proclamation, and entrusted from each generation to the next. For it gives its readers and hearers “the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” And it is, as Paul will describe, the inspired Word of God, revealing God’s gracious salvation in Jesus Christ and his plan and provision for the human race.

Entrusting the Treasure to God’s People

Paul instructs Timothy to entrust the Treasure of God’s Word to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. That Paul invokes “many witnesses” only verifies that the stories and messages he has proclaimed about Jesus Christ are true and consistent. Paul goes on to give Timothy several reasons for entrusting God’s Word to succeeding generations.

First, scripture is “inspired by God.” Some translations read “God-breathed.” It is not just the collected writings of holy men, but God’s Holy Spirit working through human hands to record God’s desired revelation of Himself. This makes the Bible a unique thing – it is not a human document, but a God-document… God’s words and God’s Word to us.

Second, because God has inspired scripture, it is profitable for those who read, hear, and obey it. Paul is still using treasure-language! Putting the treasure into play, entrusting it to succeeding generations will generate profit – we will be blessed and made rich by exposure to and reception of the treasure of God’s Word. And Paul writes that Scripture is profitable for a variety of purposes: teaching, reproof, correction, training in righteousness; and making us adequately equipped for every good work.

Third, Paul goes on to challenge Timothy to preach this Word all the time – in season and out of season. Again, Paul says that doing so will reprove, rebuke, exhort, and instruct.

The Bible is the collection of sacred writings and the standard of sound doctrine inspired by God’s Holy Spirit and written that we might be challenged, changed, and conformed into obedient and faithful children of God. The Bible is the treasure-house containing the promises and the gracious gift of God found in Jesus Christ. It is through scripture that we know God, hear God, understand God, and respond to God.

Accordingly, we organize our entire worship around God’s Word. Notice in the bulletin that we gather, proclaim, respond to, and go out bearing God’s Word. We do so because we only know God through Jesus Christ, as witnessed to in the Bible.

Now there’s a whole lot more in that direction that I could say; but our topic today is “scripture alone.” Our message is on the priority and the importance of recognizing that scripture stands above human authority. Is that merely a history lesson that we need to understand? Was it only the Church of Martin Luther’s day that set up structures and doctrines that competed with the truth of scripture?

No – if anything, I believe we struggle even more than the Church of the 16th century when it comes to looking to “other treasures” for our direction, illumination, and instruction about God, life, and salvation.

Other “Treasure”??

Paul knew human nature well enough to know that a time would come (if it weren’t already there!) when people would turn away from the sound doctrine. They would seek easier standards and teaching that accommodated their lifestyles and told them what they wanted to hear. Listen to 2 Timothy 4:3-4…
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths.

The language barrier between the common people in the 16th century and the Latin scripture led to some of this. But what about us? Are we immune because we can read the Bible for ourselves?

We can readily think of examples of false teachers or cults which distort biblical teaching or simply disregard it because doing so produces teaching more pleasing or more in line with the leaders’ motives. But for you and me, here today, I believe there is a more specific application for looking to “scripture alone” as God’s Word and our authoritative guide for faith and life.

More subtle than cults or false teachers is the mindset or the “worldview” we have. Our “worldview” is the interpretive lens through which we view everything around us and everything we do and think.

I suspect that most of us have a worldview that is, at times, alarmingly un-biblical. And I’m not just talking about questions of what I should eat or which movie I should watch. I’m talking about the big life-questions. Consider a few:

QUESTION: Where did I come from?

What would it mean to approach the question of where we came from with scripture alone as our ultimate authority for truth about reality? I’m not talking about ignoring science, but considering the authority you do or don’t give to scripture in relation to science. Minimally, even scientists who do not approach the question from a creationist perspective, but who do start with the presupposition that there COULD be a God come to radically different conclusions than those who deny the possibility of a God from the outset.

QUESTION: Why are we here?

If you are an average Oprah-watching American (even if you are a Christian), your gut response to this question may well be closer to a Dr. Phil answer than a biblical one. American pop psychology has ground into us notions of self-fulfillment and happiness that really are quite far from the sacrificial and self-giving model of Jesus Christ. What would it mean – as we seek employment, raise our children, offer our closest friends a shoulder to cry on, and look for someone to date and maybe even marry – to apply biblical teaching and standards in each of those areas? Do we raise children who get everything they want or who at least keep up with the neighborhood children, or are we teaching them boundaries, obedience, and respect of elders? Do we seek a job that will maximize our income, security, and leisure time, or do we look for a job that will offer us a place to work with integrity and with time and space for God and our family? What are our values and where do they come from?? Is God’s Word our treasure or is something else?

QUESTION: And what about being happy?

Since I mentioned self-fulfillment… how can I be happy in life? Do I look for that answer in the pages of scripture or in the latest movie or novel? Will living like the “Friends” from TV make me happy? Would the lifestyle of actors, rock stars, or politicians make me happy? Jesus talked about serving, giving, loving, and forgiving. What is my standard for truth and life?

QUESTION: And all the rest…?

And those big questions are just the start. What about politics, law, economics, family, retirement? Do we think there is a biblical approach to all these topics or is our faith relegated to a Sunday morning religious activity? What Martin Luther began was eventually called the “Reformation” because it so thoroughly changed life and faith. That’s what standing on scripture alone as the Word of God will do to our lives. It will reform us – change us and mold us into the likeness of the one to which it testifies… Jesus Christ.

A Biblical Worldview

Am I telling you not to listen to my words, but only to the Bible? No, there is a place for preaching by educated pastors who are afforded the time for intense study and explication of the scripture. But you have the privilege and the responsibility of the Word of God in your language. I am not infallible! But you can and should check what you hear from me or from anyone against the Bible itself. If you ever think I am at odds with scripture, come talk to me and if I am in error, I will change quickly and make it known.

And make use of the treasure you have. God’s Word should be so woven into your life and mindset that it is constantly reforming, changing, and shaping your thoughts and actions. Don’t be tricked by the culture’s “word” – in some cases, you may have heard that word since childhood. Rather, take every thought captive to the Word of God and stand on the treasure God has entrusted to us. It is as trustworthy as God is, and will not fail you.

If the whole concept of worldview is new to you, consider reading an excellent book that we studied on Wednesday nights a few years ago. It is by Chuck Colson called, “How Now Shall We Live?” It is thick, but pretty easy to read. It is thick because Colson touches on so many of the areas of thought and life affected by worldview. Or, I’d be glad to talk further with you.

Stand on scripture alone – it is God’s inspired Word to you, able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Jesus Christ. Amen.