Sunday, May 21, 2017

God's Perfection (Ephesians 1, Philippians 1, Romans 12)


Sermon by: Robert Austell; May 14, 2017 - Luke 2:21-24,36-40; 2 Timothy 1:3-8a

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 



:: Scripture and Music ::
Singing Together: Our God Saves (Brown, Baloche)
Confirmation Song: Now You Make it Your Own (Austell, Dawson) - lyrics+video after sermon below
Singing Together: The Wonderful Cross (Watts, Tomlin, Reeves)
Offering of Music (Choir): Revelation 19 (LaValley, arr. Schrader)
Hymn of Sending: It is Well (DiMarco, Spafford)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks  the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

Today’s sermon is for the Confirmation students.  It’s the story of God working in time and out of time to bring about the salvation of His children.  It is a promise to those who have trusted Jesus Christ and committed their lives to him – that means this sermon is also for you, if you have trusted Christ and made that commitment.  The promise is that God is working on you and in you, perfecting you until you are transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ.  God is getting each of you ready for Heaven.  Finally, the sermon is for you, even if you have not yet trusted Jesus Christ, because it describes the great love and purpose with which God pursues His children. 

God Chose You in Christ (Ephesians 1:3-4)

Today I’m simply going to talk about three different passages from the Bible.  The first is Ephesians 1:3-4.  There Paul writes:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.

This is the truly mind-boggling part!  God, who exists outside of time and space was pleased to choose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.  This is neither the time nor place to get mired down in discussions of fate, predestination, free will, temporal mechanics, or if-God-chose-me-what-about-the-other-people.  Today’s message is directed at YOU.  If you are a Christian, the Bible says God not only knew about you before the world was made, but God chose you for the purpose of salvation and being perfect in His presence – “holy and blameless before Him.” 

It’s that purpose of God that we are focusing on today… God’s perfection.  Why did God create human beings?  Genesis says that it was because He was pleased to do so, for mutual relationship, and for humanity to worship God.  Even with Sin and the Fall and all that seemed to mess that plan up, God’s plan was bigger – when the time was right, He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross and accomplish salvation for all who believe.  That means you, confirmation students.  That means you, brothers and sisters in Christ.  That means you, who may not know Christ, but who would believe in him.

And these words in Ephesians not only say that God purposed to rescue us from sin; God’s purpose all along is that we might be made perfect to stand in His presence to enjoy relationship and worship of our God and Father.

God Told His Story to You (Philippians 1:3-11)

The second passage I want to mention is Philippians 1:3-11.  In short, this passage reassures us that God does not leave us on our own to accomplish either our salvation or the perfection of our lives.  This passage says that God is at work in you, willing and working in you to make you perfect.  There are two handy theological words to describe all this.  The one is “justification,” which describes the instant right-standing granted to us by the grace of Christ.  Christians are justified by the crucifixion of Jesus Christ – we are forgiven and viewed by God as having the perfect righteousness of Christ.  The second word that describes God at work in us is “sanctification” – God has not only declared us holy in Christ, but is MAKING us holy through the work of the Holy Spirit. 

All that is a complicated way of saying what Paul says pretty simply in Philippians 1:6 – “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” 

God not only chose you and made you for salvation through Jesus Christ; God is in you, working on you to mold and shape you into the likeness of Christ, to do what the old children’s Christmas hymn says, “fit us for Heaven to live with you there.”

This assurance of God-at-work is both testimony to what is going on in the lives of these confirmation students and hope for all of us as we look ahead.  Each of these students have been loved and raised in the church.  Like the young Christians to whom Paul was writing in Philippians, the seed of the Gospel was planted by parents, Sunday school teachers, VBS after VBS, youth advisors, church services, summer camps, and friends.  And now in hindsight we can see how God has been at work to cultivate faith, belief, and commitment.

And the hope for all of us as we look ahead is that God is not finished with us.  He will continue to cultivate and grow our faith, belief, commitment, purity, and holiness until the day we stand before Him in Heaven.

It’s such a great promise and such a relief!  We don’t have to get our act together to get into Heaven.  God has given us that gift in Christ.  Rather, God’s additional gift is that he continues to participate in our lives to cause us to become more and more like the one whom we call Savior.

Each Day You Will Follow (Romans 12:1-2)

All I will say about predestination and free will this morning is that the Bible makes it clear that there is a mystery – God is sovereign over everything, including our salvation AND He invites and requires our participation in life and salvation.  This work that He is doing in our lives is not the tinkering of a great inventor on inanimate robots; it is the interaction of a Father and a child. 

In Romans 12, the Apostle Paul urges us to present our bodies as a living and holy sacrifice.  He goes on to challenge: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  These are concrete acts of commitment on our part.  This is what the confirmation students are doing today.  Most, if not all, of them trusted Jesus as their Savior a number of years ago. But in addition to making absolutely clear what they believed, we also made it very clear that being a Christian means being a follower of Jesus Christ, and that means committing our lives to him completely.  Each of them has made that conscious decision, marking it in a memorable morning on our retreat this past February.

That’s what Paul is calling for in these verses in Romans – commitment.  Again, it is not so that we can earn our way to Heaven or clean ourselves up enough to please God.  Instead, and here is the great and mysterious connection between our will and God’s will… it is “so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Our commitment to God helps us see and understand God’s commitment to us.  That is important enough a statement that I’ll repeat it: Our commitment to God helps us see and understand God’s commitment to us.

God’s Perfection

So, what does scripture teach us?

It teaches that God created us with purpose. 

It teaches that God intervened in human history to provide a means of salvation through Jesus Christ – and that to accomplish His eternal purpose.

It teaches that God continues to be involved in the lives of His children, to lead us, mold us, make us, and shape us into the likeness of His Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ.

It teaches that our part in God’s plan is to respond to the great gift of grace by offering ourselves whole-heartedly in obedience and service to our Lord.  In doing so, we realize more and more how much God loves us.

God’s purpose is perfect.  God’s purpose is for you – for your life and your salvation.  He who began this good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus – that is what is good and acceptable and perfect to God.

You are God’s perfection!

Now You Make it Your Own

To the confirmation students:

As I said earlier, God planted the story and the seed in your hearts.  For some of you that began as far back as you can remember.  The Bible said it began before the world was made!  When you were little children, you depended on your parents for everything, including your relationship to God.  You have all shown that you are old enough to hear Jesus’ call to “Come, follow me” for yourselves.  So now you take your parents’ faith and training, your church’s teachings, the testimony of the Bible, and God’s timeless purpose for you, and you make it your own.

Today you have publicly confessed and demonstrated your faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  I charged you to “remember your baptism” – for all baptism is a witness to the saving event of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and to God’s eternal purpose and plan for your lives.

Though you are still young and have some years before you are adults in the world’s eyes, you are adults in your faith – choosing for yourselves to trust and follow Jesus Christ with your lives.  Know that God goes before and behind you, above and below you, working with and within you for His perfect will. Amen.




Now You Make it Your Own
By Gerrit Scott Dawson and Robert Austell, 1997

God chose you in Christ before the world was made
He came here for you... the Word was enfleshed
In Jesus, on the cross, your sins were laid
So dying, then rising with him, you are kept

Long love foresaw this day
Parents vowed before the throne
Friends in Christ showed the way
... now you make it your own

God told his story through those in your home
Christ showered love as water was poured
The Spirit brought friends, you’re never alone
So in the Church, you share one faith, one Lord

Chorus

The world will insist that you turn its way
But dear ones resist, remember this day!!

Before God and us, you make holy vows
The name of Jesus you confess in Word
And in your heart.  Each day you will follow
The Savior whose call to serve you have heard

Chorus






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