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Monday, November 11, 2013

Consecration (Ephesians 4.17-25, John 17)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - November 10, 2013
Text:Ephesians 4:17-25; John 17

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft
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."

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: "Gather Us In" (Jeffrey Honore)

Hymn of Praise: "I Sing the Mighty Power of God" (ELLACOMBE)
Song of Praise: "Jesus, All for Jesus" (Robin Mark)

Word in Music: "Consecrated, Lord, to Thee" (Craig Courtney)
Offering of Music/Doxology: "The Stand" (Joel Houston)
Hymn of Sending: "Take My Life" (Tomlin/Giglio)
Postlude: Solemn Recessional" (Colin Mawby)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon, not used in the service. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

Today is Consecration Sunday. I realize that the word consecration is not one we use in everyday language. And it may be that if you recognize it at all, the only thing you know about it is that it’s the pledge card Sunday. There is a reason we use words like ‘stewardship’ and ‘consecration’ though. If all we were focusing on or interested in was money, budgets, and pledges, we’d just call it “Budget Sunday” or “Pledge Sunday.” But there are deeper and more important things at work, and they apply in many (even all?!) areas of life, not just that of money and finances.

One example of that was last week’s sermon. It was our “Stewardship Sunday” but I talked about my own health and weight-loss. Ultimately, that was a stewardship issue for me, and the point of sharing that story wasn’t primarily to talk about weight-loss, but to talk about how God’s transforming power had intersected one area of my life. One of the things I kept coming back to last week was that God was not only in the salvation business, but also in the transformation business. I was saved long ago, but this area of my life is newly transformed and I give God all the credit for that.

Today’s topic of consecration is related. It goes hand-in-hand with stewardship and transformation and I’ll try to talk about it with words and images that are more familiar because it is something of vital importance to our lives.

Our call to worship today was from John 17, the long prayer Jesus prayed the night just before his arrest. He prayed for himself, his followers, and those who followed after, like us. And in that prayer he used the word we translate “consecrated” – or sanctified or made holy. That’s what ‘consecrate’ means: to make holy. But that doesn’t really help, does it? We’ve heard the word ‘holy’ but it is just as mysterious as ‘consecrate.’ Here’s my simplified version, which I have shared before. The concept of holy or sanctified or consecrated literally means “set apart” but that can be misleading because our minds tend to go to the idea of separation. We think, if I am to be “set apart” then I must withdraw or separate myself from others who are not set apart. But Jesus’ prayer makes it clear that he doesn’t mean for his followers to be separated or withdrawn from the world, but sent INTO it! A better understanding of holy or sanctified or consecrated is “made distinct for God's use.” 

And Jesus speaks of TRUTH. That’s the connection with today’s passage in Ephesians, which also speaks of truth and describes a consecrated life in some detail. Jesus prays for his followers, present and future, to be consecrated IN TRUTH and sent INTO the world. Truth is what makes them distinct as Jesus-sent missionaries living life in the world around them.

That’s the core message this morning: that Jesus desires people not just to be saved from sin, but to follow him as consecrated men and women, and that means that we are to be distinguished by truth for the sake of mission. And everybody has a mission. Said even more simply, Jesus’ desire for each of us – you and me – is that we not only be FACING in the right direction (toward God), but also MOVING in the right direction.

The Old Path: futile, false, and rebellious

So the passage in Ephesians 4 breaks up into two main sections on the topic of how we live life, or as it is put in Ephesians, how we “walk” (v. 17). The first several verses (17-19) describe the OLD way of life, the old walk. There are a series of descriptors for this old way of life, which is likened to the Gentile or unbelieving way of life:
  • In the futility of their mind
  • Being darkened in their understanding
  • Excluded from the life of God (two reasons given: ignorance and a hard heart)
  • Have given themselves over to self-centered sensuality and impurity
The result of not having the light or life of Christ is a “darkened understanding” that is at once an ignorance and a misleading blindness. That FALSENESS is tied to both a FUTILITY and a REBELLIOUSNESS that spirals into further darkness. The point here is that even those who have been “saved” by faith in Christ still face the temptation to lead this kind of life. That path is still there, as dark, dangerous, and futile as it is. But v. 20 appeals to us: “But you did not learn Christ in this way!” There is another path that leads to life!

The New Path: right, true, and obedient

In contrast to that old way of life is the new way of life with Christ. In vv. 20-24 we realize that salvation does not automatically result in transformation or consecration. Let me use the language of Ephesians to explain that, and then I’ll try to say it even more simply.  Vv. 20-21 teach us that if we have heard what Christ had to say – if we have really heard – then we have heard the TRUTH. See there at the end of v. 21: “truth is in Jesus.” And here is some of that truth in what follows: “In reference to your former manner of life (what we were just talking about), lay aside the old self.” This is the Jesus truth: if you have trusted and listened to Jesus then you must make a choice to follow him. And part of that choice is to leave behind the old way and take part in the new way.

There is more: that old self or way of life faces ongoing temptation and corruption. Against that, we must seek to be “renewed in the spirit of our mind” and “put on the new self.” Now, it’s not all on our own steam. God has done the hardest part through Jesus. See the end of v. 24: “…the new self… has been created in the likeness of God in righteousness and holiness of the truth.”

Let me try to say this even more simply.  If you have trusted God in Jesus Christ for salvation, then God has created a new you. That’s the miracle! That’s the thing we could not do for ourselves. Before that we had our back to God in futility and rebellion and all we could see was the one futile path before us. When God saved us in Christ, we saw God face to face and if we listen, we hear Christ’s invitation to “Come, follow me.” There is the new path. But that salvation has just opened our ears to the truth and opened our eyes to the new path. But we have yet to move. We still see the old and the new stretched before us. We must choose to follow and put on the new and walk in the new.

Even a few steps in, we still see and hear the old. I think of the ancient Israelites, who were rescued out of slavery, delivered through the Red Sea, and sustained in the wilderness. Yet they constantly remembered how it was before in Egypt and, more than a few times, complained and wanted to go back to the old and familiar place. It’s that way with us, too. I’d like to say that the further you walk after Jesus the further in the distance the old way becomes, but it’s more like there are constant detours and supposed “short-cuts” all along the way. And then, as I described last week, there are multiple situations of “putting on the new” in every aspect of our lives, whether health, finances, relationships, thoughts, or other things.

There is one word for all of this: consecration. That is the act of laying aside the old and putting on the new, with God’s help. The transformation I talked about last week is the kind of change that God is pleased to do when we submit to Him. But consecration is the setting aside for God’s purpose. It is saying, “God, this area of my life belongs to you; do with it what you will!”

In contrast to the FUTILITY, FALSEHOOD, and DISOBEDIENCE of the old way of life, a consecrated life or area of life is marked then by what is RIGHT, TRUE, and OBEDIENT. And we experience those things not by God zapping us or forcing us, but by submitting to God and asking for His help to trust and follow him, in relationships, finances, health, work, school, dreams, and more.

Path to Somewhere

And here’s the final part: Jesus not only makes possible a new life (salvation), but invites us on a path to somewhere (mission). You can see this in Ephesians 4 in v. 25: “Therefore, laying aside falsehood (the old way), speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.” There is an amazing parallel there with John 17. Jesus’ intent for his followers, present and future, was to consecrate them with the truth of God’s word for a mission in the world. So also Ephesians 4 says we are to speak the truth (of Christ) with our neighbors, with whom we are connected.

So here’s the big picture: God loved the world, which was lost in darkness, falsehood, and futility, so he sent His Son into the world as light and life and truth. Jesus, the Son came to rescue all who believed in Him, but not just for the sake of rescue and salvation, but also for a purpose and a mission, that like him we would be sent into the world of darkness, falsehood, and futility in love and with truth. If Christianity is just a ticket to Heaven for you, then you have not heard Christ’s message clearly. He saves to send as he was sent, which is to say he saves that we might go into the world and love those around us as he came among us and loved those in the world.

Consecration is the act of putting on that mantle, that new identity of being not just a Christ-believer, but a Christ-follower. It involves giving over every area of our lives to him – some we cling to more tightly than others, I know! But consecration is the first act of following. It is saying and doing what it takes to give to God our days, our dreams, our energy, our finances, our relationships, our work, our school, our everything… laying aside the old perspective and taking up the mindset of “God, this is yours; what would you have me do with it?”

As I said last week, though we are at a focal point for our church budget and capital campaign, these sermons are far broader than those things. It may well be that you need to hear about transformation and consecration around the area of personal and family finances. But it may be that God is speaking into an entirely different area of your life. I’ll leave that up to you and God. What I do ask is that you consider the path you are on – whether you are moving and where you are going. Is God leading? Is it characterized by what is RIGHT, TRUE, and OBEDIENT? Remember that Jesus not only was Truth, but he said he was the way – going before us; and he was and is the LIFE, come that we might have more life. May God give each of us ears to hear and hearts to follow.  Amen.

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