Blessed to share at a school chapel for little kids today. Lets me see just how difficult it is for me, an aging adult, to boil down the truths of the Bible to be accurate and yet capture the main point, the real emphasis, of our text.
What do our little ones need to know, as they begin to grow in understanding and experience? Here’s the secret I shared today: nobody’s good. Nobody’s good (Jesus excepted).
All of us to varying degrees and for various motives try to be good. We often tell our kids to be good. But then we do bad things. Sometimes our bad is inside – just bad thoughts. But even bad thoughts taint good deeds.
We try to hold up standards of other people like they are good, to be attained to. So we have Abraham, Moses, David. We look to Peter or Paul. Of course, each and every one of those saints just mentioned were well-documented sinners. Big sins, even… murder, lying, abandoning Jesus. So the very best people in the Bible were not good, not in all their actions. Not in themselves.
It is amazing that we continue to hope in ourselves. We shouldn’t. Our hope can’t be in ourselves. Our hope can’t be in our goodness. The Bible even famously says that our best deeds are like filthy rags before God.
One of the most comforting ways to think about this to me is to look at the armor of Ephesians 6. Paul there writes that we are going to need to fend off the arrows of the adversary, of Satan. What are those arrows? I don’t think it is out of line to consider that Satan is the accuser. His arrows are arrows of accusation. “You aren’t good enough. You don’t deserve to be in heaven. You are a failure, give up.”
What protects us from those arrows?
First, try putting on the clothing of your good works. Filthy rags, right? Even if they aren’t as filthy as the next person’s, rags are no protection from arrows of accusation. Even our best works have threads of ill motive, have pieces of imperfection. It is in this sense that a little leaven flavors the whole lump.
What we need is armor. Armor from the accusations of the accuser, from the deceptions of the deceiver. Hmm. Good thing that’s what we get!
Paul says in Ephesians 6:11-17 to ‘take up the armor of God.’ That would be God’s armor (not mine). Pick it up, put it on, believe it, this is your help, this is your defense, this is your protection.
What is our protection?
The belt of truth, which is the reality that we are sinners and yet Jesus in love came and died for me.
The breastplate of righteousness, Jesus’ righteousness. I’m protected not by my goodness but by the goodness of Jesus Christ, given to me. Huge armor right over my heart.
The shoes of the readiness of the gospel of peace. Jumpy joy that the good news is that we are at peace with God. Accuse away, devil. We are at peace with God, right with God, even when we aren’t good. By believing in Jesus.
The shield of faith. Yes, arrows hit up against our trust that what Jesus has done is true. This is our hope.
The helmet of salvation. Jesus has done it. He has saved us. This guards my head. I don’t save myself. I trust in the one who is the savior.
The sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. The spirit comforts me with the growing knowledge of what Jesus Christ has done. Jesus is the Word, and he proclaims that we have a relationship with God based not on us, but on him.
Do you see? In come the accusatory, deceptive darts of the devil. If we’re trying for protection in our works, we’re toast. If we rest in the protective armor of what Jesus has done, we stand.
This is what being a Christian is: that you hope in somebody just giving goodness to you. Not just someone, actually. Jesus. This is what God promises us. It is a covenant: a big, solemn, serious promise. He promises that he will forgive us of all our sins, every one we have ever done in the past, or do now, or will do in the future. He says he will remember them no more. And then he gives us, in Christ, beautiful clean washed clothes of his goodness.
So hold on to the secret: there’s no one good. Except for Jesus. That’s really good news, because his goodness will protect us as we trust in him.
I have enjoyed poking around a bit with a non-sequitur recently. That’s a latin term that literally means ‘does not follow.’
So you could be talking about elephants and ask how big their wings are. Or when speaking of how fast a car can go, ask which color makes for a faster car.
Uhh… that just doesn’t follow.
So here’s mine. Consider Jesus’ teaching on the Sermon on the Mount:
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:24-27)
Great imagery. Housebuilding. Rain and storms and blowing and beating and houses that stand and fall.
But the question is, who works harder? Who do you think works harder in building their house?
If you’re not on the lookout for my non-sequitur, you might slip and say… the one who builds on the rock. I mean, he’s building on the foundation, he’s the Christian, he is building something that will last. That other guy, he’s building a shoddy piece of work that won’t even last a single storm.
And if you say that… you missed the point of Jesus’ teaching.
Because the point has nothing to do with effort. Nothing at all. There is no comparison between the two builders in that regard at all. There’s no reference to sweat, labor, effort. One might work much harder… or they both might work the same. That has absolutely nothing to do, in this teaching, with the point.
The point — and the only thing that matters — is… who you are building on. You can put forth extreme effort and not be on Jesus, and the house falls, or put forth little effort, and have the same result. There just isn’t a distinction made.
Your effort in your salvation is like speed and car color, or elephants and wings. It is a non-sequitur. Salvation is Jesus’ effort, and Jesus as the foundation. Faith’s object, not your strength.
May we guard our hearts such that we trust in Christ alone… even as we build.
As a pastor, therefore, my real authority — my true authenticity, whether in the pulpit, or the office, or in the confessional, or at the end of a piano at a cocktail party — lies in my fidelity to the Gospel, not in my assorted competences (real or imagined) in other fields.
(From Robert Farrar Capon, in The Mystery of Christ)
I really like this quote… even though I’ve never been at the end of a piano at a cocktail party… as it points to the continuing center of our only hope and our only wisdom.
Read some excellent, well-written thoughts this week, by Dane Ortlund. Here’s a piece:
I am a sinner. I sin. Not just in the past but in the present. But in Christ I’m not a sinner but cleansed, whole. And as I step out into my day in soul-calm because of that free gift of cleansing, I find that actually, strangely, startlingly—I begin to live out practically what I already am positionally. I delight to love others. It takes effort and requires the sobering of suffering. But love cannot help but be kindled by gospel rest.
Pastorally, my greatest desire is that our church stands on the truth, reality as laid out in Scripture. A great fear is that many seem to miss the true foundation, and rather stand on other things. Though many proclaim that they hold to the Bible, they don’t seem to hear the foundational core: the wondrous Gospel.
John Lynch, of TrueFaced ministries, does a fantastic job of pulling us back to the functional centrality of the Good News of Jesus.
If you haven’t heard of him, or read The Cure, then set aside 40 minutes or so and think about the implications of the Gospel, here.
I know some good news. Good news of the Savior, the Son of God, who came to earth as a man and lived perfectly, dying for our sins. Our sins, the sins of those who believe in Him, wiped out! Wrath averted! Debt paid!
This is indeed good news. But it surely skips over a huge part of the Gospel.
If what we have is Jesus, perfect sacrifice, dying on a cross for sin, then we don’t have enough.
Payment for sin gets you and I back to zero. Paying for bad wipes out bad. Where’s the good?
What about the radical, lifechanging, wondrous news of a resurrected Savior? Offhand, I think that means overwhelming good:
• Jesus Christ living in me (Galatians 2:20)
• The Holy Spirit poured out and dwelling in me (Romans 8:9)
• My Savior interceding for me right now (Hebrews 4:15)
• Me, born again (John 3), a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17)
• Resurrection promised of the same power that raised Jesus (Ephesians 1:19, 20)
Regeneration and union and a new heart and life itself… we have such a depth of riches. May our lives not look to our own power, with a dead Savior, but to the Savior who lives, and who is at work in us.
I’ve been marveling this week over the presentation of truth in Scripture. Over the different ways that the Bible teaches and instructs and pushes us toward reality – toward the truth of the Gospel.
An example is Peter’s walking on water, laid out for us in Matthew 14. Here’s the text:
Matthew 14:28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Look at this with Gospel eyes.
First, Peter wants to walk on water; he asks Jesus to command him to. And Jesus does.
Isn’t that amazing, just on its own? I’d apply that to us in our desire to do the supernatural. Not walk on water, exactly… but to bear fruit. Fruit is supernatural, isn’t it? Love, joy, peace, patience… they can’t really be produced by our flesh, they take the supernatural Spirit… that’s why it is called the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22ff).
So we have this new heart that desires supernatural fruit and Jesus says… yes.
So, Peter walks on water.
Wow! Wow! He actually does the supernatural. Not him, obviously, he has no power to do this on his own. But, obeying Jesus… it happens. Wow!
I know… too many exclamations, right? But that’s really fantastic, that Jesus really does enable the supernatural. He really does produce things in us that we cannot do on our own. You really can display the supernatural fruit of the Spirit… because Jesus produces it in you. Like Peter, the production of the supernatural isn’t an innate ability we’re given (he doesn’t go around walking on water without Jesus)… it is a connection to a Savior.
Then, Peter sees his circumstances… the wind… and fearing… starts to sink.
We too. We take our eyes of Jesus, and put them on our circumstances. We’re victims, responders, self-promoters, reactors, those who stand for ourselves and not for Christ. If it were really up to us… even with the command of Christ… we’d sink. We fear man. We fear for ourselves, that we’ll be taken care of. And we sin. Because sin is not perfectly following all that Jesus commands… and we don’t.
Circumstances do start to sink us. And our circumstances include our continued personal pride and failings… taking us away from the supernatural (fruit-bearing) and into the mundane (sin-sinking).
Then, Peter cries out for help… and Jesus immediately takes hold of him.
Wondrous, isn’t it? Peter’s 3 words – “Lord, save me!” Not pretty or eloquent but true. Peter already following Jesus… now crying out for rescue just to do what the Lord has commanded him. He’d fail without Jesus. He has already started to… and his response is to turn to Jesus! O that this might be us when we fail!
And Jesus immediately grabbing him. He’s right there. The Son of God wouldn’t let Peter drown. Sink a bit? As a lesson? Sure. But go under? No way.
Finally, driving it home, Jesus says “O one of little faith, why did you doubt?” And they worship Jesus.
See, the whole lesson has been about faith. Faith, trust in Jesus, is the heart of the gospel for us. Faith leads us to want to bear fruit, to make effort for Jesus. But faith is the very ground we stand on… even when we’re walking on water. And faith is the means by which the supernatural – including bearing the fruit of the Spirit – happens. Faith in Jesus Christ. In His sure rescue. In His secure favor. In His ability, not ours.
Hope that as you live your life today, that you are doing the supernatural – bearing fruit. That you realize this is Christ’s power alone working through you, even as you follow his commands… and that when you start to sink… when failure comes… that you cry out to him… and that you continue to grow in your trust, moment by moment, that he’s absolutely everything.
We’ve been in 1 Samuel as a church. This week we saw that perfection was indeed required.
The mission was given, and Saul didn’t do it all. He didn’t kill the king, Agag. And so ch. 15 ended with old, feeble Samuel hacking away and completing the mission, doing what Saul didn’t. And Saul was rejected as king.
“Put yourself in Saul’s shoes.” Easy for me to take that thought and go completely sideways with it.
Something along these lines: “Doesn’t God require more of you than you are doing? Shouldn’t you be better than you are? God doesn’t want your fellowship, he wants your obedient action. Put yourself in Saul’s shoes – are you really, really, really paying attention to Yahweh your God? How are you doing with the 10 commandments? How are you doing with the Sermon on the Mount? Don’t you know that God doesn’t just desire perfection – he demands it! Take a good look at Agag, hacked to pieces, blood spattered on the ground.”
And I’m tempted to take another sideways step as I look at my life. Because I don’t see perfection in my behavior. Not even close. So here’s guilt. Or here’s blameshifting. And certainly renewed effort. Ending in continued failure, if I’m honest. But I need to be better. So honesty goes out the window. And I act as perfect as possible. Because if true holiness isn’t visible in my behavior, then putting on a show will have to do.
Dangerous misinterpretation, to put ourselves in Saul’s shoes. Why?
Because Saul was the first king of Israel. The first king of God’s people. Who he points to is the King. What he was to live up to was the office of the King. That’s the King of Israel. The King of Kings. We know him as Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ, you see, was utterly perfect.
Jesus Christ was perfectly obedient.
Jesus Christ so perfectly followed the Father’s will that he said that every single thing he did was from the Father. That God spoke perfectly through him, by who he was, what he did. That level of perfection to the mission.
There’s one and only one way for me to get that kind of perfection.
It is not through some sort of Holy Spirit anointing toward enabled behavior. Saul had an anointing. It is not by making myself the center, the hero, even with powerful help.
Perfection’s required… how can we get it?
It is through identification with the one who did perfection.
It is through union with the one who obeyed to the final dot, the final iota.
This union, which is the work of the Holy Spirit, is embodied in the new birth, is spoken of in the new covenant. The blood and body of the King, for us. His righteousness, ours. God looks at us… and sees the perfect obedience of this King… forever.
Instead of us being the hero… we have to be taken out… that we might live only through and in Jesus.
Thus Colossians 3:3: “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
And this brings us back to Saul.
Because what God desired was a humble heart, a broken heart, a heart that followed God’s ways. Following God’s ways means realizing that perfection would be God’s, that perfection would come from God. That’s the sin that God rejects Saul for… not his imperfection, but his arrogance, his presumption, his lack of humble dependence (see 15:23).
Humility of heart, the kind that forsakes self and trusts in Christ, will lead to great usefulness, fruit that truly exalts the one who is doing the work (our God), and a life of wondrous joy.
So perfection really is required. The perfection of Jesus Christ, our King. Thankfully, He’s entirely perfect. And our work is to keep our eyes on him and our faith in him… and not on ourselves.
He’s the hero. Now and forever. May we humbly trust our Lord and Savior… our perfect King.
A sun rising on those sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death.
His name is Jesus.
He comes because of the tender mercy of our God.
He gives knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sin.
And he does not only bring forgiveness of sins past, thereby giving you a chance to be better. He makes something true that wasn’t true before – he makes us holy and righteous.
Here’s what Zechariah says:
“that we… might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.” (Luke 1:74-75).
That’s the truth of Jesus Christ.
When the fullness of time came (oh, all the years spent in darkness!), God sent forth his son (oh, blessed sunrise!), born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4-5).
Praise God for the righteousness and holiness given us in Christ, that we are redeemed, adopted, and serve our God without fear all our days.