DECORATE YOUR DOORPOST

DECORATE YOUR DOORPOSTDECORATE YOUR DOORPOST

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 CSB

4 “Listen, Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. 6 These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. 7 Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol on your forehead. 9 Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your city gates.

We have been looking at what the Bible says about discipleship, and we stopped off last week at a station rarely visited by those who study this topic. This week we are staying in the Old Testament as well. Today’s text in Deuteronomy 6 is famous because it is part of a confession of faith for Judaism called the shema. Verse 4 in Hebrew is recited as part of this confession of faith. It sounds like this: “SHEMA YISRAEL, ADONAY ELOHENU, ADONAY ECHAD.”

Jesus also pointed out the significance of today’s text when he quoted it in response to someone who asked what the greatest commandment in the Law is. Jesus recited verses 4 and 5. Loving the Lord with all that we think and feel (all our heart) and all that we say (all our throat) and all that we do (all our strength) is the greatest commandment because it is the very foundation of what it means to be a disciple.

Every born again believer in Jesus Christ wants to be a disciple in that sense. We want to be more than merely church members. We want to be more than merely professing Christians. We want to love God with everything we are, and declare that love by everything we say and do. Today’s text gives us some specific instructions as to how to become that kind of disciple.

Becoming a disciple is a one-time decision. But being a disciple is not. Once we jump the hurdle of confessing Christ as savior, our battle in life will be reduced to this one thing. Being a Deuteronomy 6 disciple is a decision that we will have to make every second of every day of the rest of your life. Fortunately, here in this text we have some guidelines that will help us in that battle.

The disciple internalizes God’s word (6).

These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart.”

When God’s word is treasured in our hearts, it protects us from failing him (Psalm 119:11). When we just know the words with our heads, they may not protect us from sin. But when we have those words in our hearts, they can keep us from stumbling.

We have to learn God’s word as it applies to us. We cannot stop after we learn the Bible as history. That’s a good start, but it is not enough. God’s word has to be internalized.

The book of Acts tells us the story of seven sons of a Jewish chief priest, named Sceva. They were not believers in Jesus, but they knew that Paul was performing miracles in Jesus’ name, so they decided to cast out some evil spirits by invoking the name of Jesus and Paul. But it didn’t work. The evil spirit responded to their command by saying “I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” (Acts 19:15).

The problem with the sons of Sceva is that they wanted the power of the gospel without believing the gospel. They wanted the power of the Holy Spirit without internalizing the word of God. You cannot do that.

You internalize the gospel by believing it. You internalize a command by obeying it. Jesus said “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21). He asked those people who were not internalizing his words “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46).

One of my goals for this congregation is that we become more familiar with exactly what Jesus commanded, and how we can obey his commands. This series on discipleship is the first of several, where I plan to take each command of Jesus, and teach how to obey it personally, and as a congregation.

The disciple normalizes God’s word (7).

Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

There are a great many religious people who are quite good at compartmentalizing the faith. We used to call those people “Sunday Christians” but today they are more like “Sunday morning between 11 and noon Christians.” They come for the show, and go back home with no appreciable difference. They have placed all their religious experience in a small box, and are careful not to let any of it out into the air to expose it to the rest of their weekly schedule.

Today’s text prescribes the exact opposite of that attitude. It encourages Israelites to make learning and trusting and obeying God’s word the main item on their agenda for every hour of the day. They are to wake up with God’s word, eat it for breakfast, work at it at work, work at it at home after work, and go to bed with it at night. They are to make God’s word the topic of every conversation, the focus of every thought, the therapy for every problem, and the center of every relationship.

Making God’s word the main item on our agenda every hour of the day is how we live up to our promise to be his disciples.

The disciple also personalizes God’s word (8).

Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol on your forehead.”

You personalize the word of God when it is God’s word to you as an indication of a personal relationship. Jesus told about people who will be standing before him on judgment day, and he will reject them. They will say ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, drive out demons in your name, and do many miracles in your name?’ Then he will announce to them, ‘I never knew you.’ (Matthew 7:22-23). They thought that doing great things in Jesus’ name is a substitute for a personal relationship with him. It is not.

The Lord wanted the Israelites to symbolize their personal relationship with him by how they treated his word. He told them to strap his word to their hands and to their heads. That way, nothing they ever did, and nothing they ever thought would be outside of the boundaries of his word.

For example, the Israelite goes about his daily walk, and he walks upon a Canaanite practicing his pagan religion and worshiping a pagan god. Should he be tempted to think like this pagan? He reaches up to touch his forehead. He feels that portion of God’s word bound onto his head like a hat. He remembers that he is supposed to Love the Lord his God with all his heart. No room for idolatry there.

Another example, the Israelite goes about his daily walk, and notices a coin left out in the open. His hand reaches for the coin, but stops. His hand has the word of God bound to it. God’s word says do not steal. He remembers that God has already provided for all his needs. He can walk away from that “free” money because he knows that it would not be free. It would come at the cost of betraying his relationship with God. That is too high a price.

The disciple also publicizes God’s word (9).

Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your city gates.”

The title of today’s message comes from this verse. It reminds us that our Lord is not the author of a private religion. If you cannot advertise your faith, you might want to reconsider that faith. Jesus said “everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33).

The Israelite who wanted to show his relationship to the God of his ancestors had to begin by showing that relationship to those who entered his home. He was to write God’s words on the doorposts of his house. Everyone who looked at his house would see clear evidence of his commitment. It was a decoration, but it was also discipleship. It established the boundaries of that person’s family life. It defined the husband and wife. It set the children apart as belonging not just to that couple, but to their God.

But notice that it was not just the house door that was to be decorated. It was also the city gate. “This house belongs to the Lord” is not enough. This city also belongs to the Lord. God’s word is not just the foundation of our families, it is to be the law that rules over our governments.

Jesus said that we are the light of the world. That light was never intended to be a pen light, showing on our personal lives and families alone. It was intended be a floodlight – to shed God’s truth to the world. In fact, it was in the very context of Jesus’ teaching that we are the light of the world that he told us “a city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14).

God’s word was intended to be publicized. He wants us to believe it and trust it as individuals, but that is only the beginning. He designed discipleship to happen when we share his word with others.

God has provided us with numerous opportunities for sharing his word in this generation. In fact, at no time in history have we ever been in a place where we can communicate to more people faster and more efficiently.

But I have to warn you about something. We Americans (and a lot of other people in the world too) have learned to be quite lazy about this aspect of discipleship. We have learned to be very efficient Sunday morning Christians. People observing us at church see something altogether different than the person they see at work, at our homes, at the football game, or on the internet. That is precisely why we need to come back to Deuteronomy 6. God’s kind of disciple is not someone who compartmentalizes. A disciple of Jesus Christ is someone who internalizes, normalizes, personalizes and publicizes God’s word 24/7.

TIME TO TASSEL

TIME TO TASSEL - 01

TIME TO TASSEL

Numbers 15:37-41 CSB

37 The Lord said to Moses, 38 “Speak to the Israelites and tell them that throughout their generations they are to make tassels for the corners of their garments, and put a blue cord on the tassel at each corner. 39 These will serve as tassels for you to look at, so that you may remember all the Lord’s commands and obey them and not prostitute yourselves by following your own heart and your own eyes. 40 This way you will remember and obey all my commands and be holy to your God. 41 I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God; I am the Lord your God.”

Before he ascended, Jesus gave his great commission to his followers telling them to make disciples of all nations. But that is not the first instance where believers are commanded to make disciples. I want us to spend a few weeks examining what the Bible says about the act of discipling. I think there are some passages of scripture that are not so well known, and these can help us get a tighter grip on what it means to be a disciple, and to make disciples. I also think that once we have that foundation, we will be better able to see the significance of the passages we normally go to on discipleship and discipling.

It would be helpful for me to define some terms that I plan on using in this series of sermons. I will try to use these words consistently so there is no confusion.

Disciple – A disciple is a student of someone. In its richer religious use, the term indicates that disciples desire not just to learn from the teacher, but to become like their teacher. Jesus said that it is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher – and that is enough for us as well. We can never become like Jesus in some ways, but we can become like him in other ways. We should always strive to become disciples in that sense.

Discipleship – I’m using this word to indicate everything the Bible teaches on becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ. It is a major theme of the New Testament, even though the noun disciple and the verb to be or make a disciple are not found after the book of Acts. Other terms take their place, but the theme of discipleship runs all the way to Revelation. It is also the theme of today’s message from the Old Testament.

Discipling – This word describes the process of making someone a disciple. This is something we want to study in this series as well.

Today’s text from the book of Numbers gives us some foundational thoughts about discipleship. Follow along with me as we trace these thoughts.

The passage describes the tassels that the Israelites were commanded to wear on the corners of their robes. When anyone saw the tassels, they would identify the wearer as an Israelite, a follower of the God of the Bible. The tassels had no purpose other than identification. But identification is a major aspect of discipleship. Identifying as a member of God’s kingdom is testifying to the authority of God’s king. Identifying as a member of God’s family is testifying to your relationship with your heavenly father. Identifying as God’s servant is testifying to your intention to obey him and follow his instructions, not to do your own thing.

God told Moses that it was time for his people to put on tassels. What can we learn about discipleship from this text?

Discipleship is generational (38).

God told Moses that the Israelites were to make tassels, not just for a select few adults now living, but it was to become a practice “throughout their generations.” Timothy picked up his faith from watching and listening to Lois and Eunice. Faith is designed to be passed on from generation to generation. We learn how to be a disciple of Christ at the same time we are learning how to brush our teeth, make our beds, read and write. And we can learn discipleship in the same context as we learn these other things.

This is how God intended discipleship to happen among the Israelites. Every boy and girl would be identified as a member of God’s kingdom from the very beginning. Being a follower of the God of the Bible was to be as natural as breathing. If you had asked that boy who he was, he would say “a follower of the LORD, just like daddy.” If you asked that girl who she was, she would say “a follower of the LORD, just like momma.” If you had asked that young couple what they were doing, they would say “we’re raising a family of followers of the LORD, just like our parents did.

One of the absolute joys of being a parent is seeing your child confess faith in Jesus Christ, and demonstrate that faith with the sign of water baptism. One of the absolute heartaches as a parent is to see your child hesitate or reject that faith. This is only natural. Discipleship is designed to be generational.

Discipleship begins with repentance (39).

The tassels were to prevent the Israelites from prostituting themselves by following their own hearts and their own eyes. This shows that even though God wanted their discipleship to be generational, that did not mean that it was going to be automatic. No, the natural inclination of these Israelites was going to be rebellion and independence from God.

Jeremiah (17:9) tells us that the human heart is more deceitful that anything else, and desperately sick. We do not naturally seek God. We do not naturally want to do what God wants. That is why each one of us has to go to the cross. Discipleship has to begin with repentance. We have to admit that there is nothing good in us before we can hope for anything good to become of us.

The Bible proclaims that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We begin at that point. We do not begin as a blank slate with nothing written on it. We begin as a defiled slate, with nothing good on our hearts to commend us to a holy and righteous God. So, the first thing we must do is come to God and confess that we are unworthy of him.

If we do not begin here – in repentance – there can be no progress in our discipleship. If we don’t confess “LORD, my heart wants to love the wrong thing, and my eyes want to see the wrong thing” – then we will never find grace.

Discipleship is a response to who God is (41).

Verse 41 begins and ends with the same statement: “I am the Lord your God.” True disciples come to God not because of who they are, but because of who he is. Knowing who we are without God only brings shame and despair. But knowing who God is enables us to lift up our eyes and hope for a better day.

When God told Moses to go to Egypt and rescue the Israelites from bondage, Moses told God that they were going to ask him what God’s name is. God told Moses to tell them “I AM WHO I AM.” He then went on to tell Moses to identify him as “The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”

He is the God who created all things. He is the God who calls people to himself. He is the God who intercedes in people’s lives, and rescues them. He is the God who calls one person to build an ark, and another person to become a father of a multitude.

Our discipleship may lead us to do many things that we do not have the power to do. But we take up the challenge to do these things because of who God is, not because of who we are.

Discipleship requires devotion (40).

Our walk in the way of righteousness begins with out confession that we are anything but holy. But after being plunged into the cleansing fountain we are ready to be holy to our God. We have devoted ourselves to becoming a living sacrifice that pleases God.

As we saw when we looked at Romans 12, this devotion cannot begin with us. Our minds are not formatted for renewal. But if we make the choice to present our bodies as living sacrifices, he will transform us by renewing our minds.

Discipleship requires specific obedience (39-40).

The tassels were visual reminders of the things that God had commanded the Israelites to do or avoid doing as God worked out the process of discipleship in their lives.

Note how Moses said this in verses 39-40:

  • These will serve as tassels for you to look at, so that you may remember all the Lord’s commands and obey them…

  • This way you will remember and obey all my commands…

If the Israelites merely wore the tassels, without allowing those tassels to remind them to obey the Lord’s commands – wearing the tassels would just be another meaningless ritual.

Rituals become meaningless when we refuse to attach to them the meaning originally intended. This is what happened to the tassels. They became a sign identifying an Israelite, but they lost their connection to the commands. That was not what God wanted to happen.

Because there were so many rituals in the Old Testament that became empty like this, Jesus did not give his church many rituals. He did not want his church to follow rituals without purpose.

He did make two exceptions. He gave us the ritual of baptism, and the ritual of the Lord’s supper. Both of these rituals highlight what Christ did for us.

The tassels were to remind the Israelites that God had commanded them to do some things for him. To be a disciple of the God of the Bible is to obey him in some very specific ways.

Now, you might say “Well, that was the Old Testament, and the New Testament does not command us to obey, it just asks us to believe.” No, that is not correct. When our Lord gave his great commission, he told us that we would make disciples by teaching people to obey what he commanded.

The New Testament teaches that “whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life” (John 3:36 ESV).

Grace and obedience work together in the discipleship process. Without grace there can be no obedience. Without obedience, there is no proof of grace. So, we say “salvation by grace alone” but we must be careful when we say that because true grace never stays alone. It produces obedience.

This is why James taught that faith without works is dead, being by itself (James 2:17). True biblical faith is never by itself. It is accompanied by God’s power and produces a life of discipleship focused on obeying Christ.

This is what God wanted for his children in the promised land. This is what he wants for his disciples today. He wants us to come to him for salvation, and then commit to living lives that draw others to his saving grace.

Jesus did not command us to put tassels on our clothing. But he did command us to be his disciples, and to make disciples of all nations.

GETTING RID OF FOREIGN GODS

GETTING RID OF FOREIGN GODS

Joshua 24:14-24 CSB

Therefore, fear the Lord and worship him in sincerity and truth. Get rid of the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and worship the Lord. 15 But if it doesn’t please you to worship the Lord, choose for yourselves today: Which will you worship—the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living? As for me and my family, we will worship the Lord.” 16 The people replied, “We will certainly not abandon the Lord to worship other gods! 17 For the Lord our God brought us and our ancestors out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery, and performed these great signs before our eyes. He also protected us all along the way we went and among all the peoples whose lands we traveled through. 18 The Lord drove out before us all the peoples, including the Amorites who lived in the land. We too will worship the Lord, because he is our God.” 19 But Joshua told the people, “You will not be able to worship the Lord, because he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions and sins. 20 If you abandon the Lord and worship foreign gods, he will turn against you, harm you, and completely destroy you, after he has been good to you.” 21 “No!” the people answered Joshua. “We will worship the Lord.” 22 Joshua then told the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you yourselves have chosen to worship the Lord.” “We are witnesses,” they said. 23 “Then get rid of the foreign gods that are among you and turn your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” 24 So the people said to Joshua, “We will worship the Lord our God and obey him.”

Over the past few weeks, we have been looking at some of the good habits of the victorious Christian. We can find those habits described in the New Testament – like the habit of letting God renew your mind, or passing on your faith. But there are also some good habits described in the Old Testament – like returning to the LORD.

Today’s habit is described in the Old Testament book of Joshua. Joshua 24 records a crucial moment in the history of the Jewish people. They had entered into the promised land, and had settled there. But their fighting was not over. No, Joshua told his people that they had a choice to make – and a choice to keep on making.

Like those Israelites, you and I have the same choice to make. We can delude ourselves into thinking that idolatry is an ancient temptation, and that we are beyond it. Nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, we are living in a generation profoundly polytheistic. You only have to look at the news headlines and social media posts to see that people are following numerous paths, and all those paths compete for our attention and allegiance. The gods of this generation may not overtly name themselves, or demand sacrifices or ritual ceremonies, but those gods are very much alive. They are reflected in the number of their adherents.

It is precisely for that reason that this text can speak to us this morning. We face the same choice that these Old Testament Israelites faced. We would do well to look at the choice they had to make, and see what choice they made, and why it was important that they make it. The habit they needed to develop is the habit of getting rid of foreign Gods and staying true to the one true God.

Joshua encouraged his people to get rid of all the foreign gods and serve the Lord exclusively (14-15).

Moses had instructed the Israelites not to “worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14 NIV). He told them to “Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name” (Deuteronomy 6:13 NIV). A few chapters later, Moses repeated himself, saying “Fear the Lord your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. He is the one you praise; he is your God” (Deuteronomy 10:20-21a NIV).

Jesus had the very same attitude. Some people today talk about Jesus as if he would accept anybody’s religion as long as they were devout. But the Jesus we read about in the New Testament quotes Moses when he says “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only” (Matthew 4:10 NIV).

Joshua encouraged his people to serve the LORD exclusively, but it was not a simple choice for them to make. Opposition gods are everywhere. Here is a short list of Egyptian gods and goddesses.

  • AMUN-RA: the King of gods

  • MUT: the Mother Goddess

  • OSIRIS: The King of the Living

  • ANUBIS: Protector of the Dead 

  • RA: God of the Sun and Radiance

  • HORUS: God of Vengeance

  • THOTH: God of Knowledge and Wisdom

  • HATHOR: Goddess of love and beauty 

These are just a few of the major deities of the Egyptian pantheon. These gods and goddesses had been part of everyday life for the Israelites when they were slaves. They had been born into a culture that venerated these multiple gods.

Joshua’s instruction for his people was to “Get rid of the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt” (14). Now, why did he have to say that? I mean, didn’t the Israelites leave Egypt? Didn’t they cross the Red Sea on dry land? Didn’t they wander in the open country for forty years, and then cross the Jordan into the promised land? Yes, they left Egypt. But the problem with getting out of Egypt is that Egypt does not automatically leave you.

The Israelites had lived in Egypt for over four centuries. They had learned to walk like an Egyptian, talk like an Egyptian, think like an Egyptian, worship like an Egyptian. They needed to present their bodies to God as living sacrifices and allow God to transform them by renewing their minds. But as long as they held on to those Egyptian gods and goddesses, their worship of the one true God would be unacceptable.

It is one thing to destroy an idol. You can do that quite easily. It is another thing to stop trusting in the god that inhabits that idol. You see, if you don’t dump the god or goddess that that idol represents, you are liable to get sentimental and remake the idol. All it takes is a bit of wood or stone. In my travels, I’ve seen the poor make idols out of cement, or use a plastic baby doll. So Joshua challenges his people to get rid of – not just the idols, but the foreign gods.

Now, let’s look at the “gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living” (15). Some of the Israelites were probably not tempted to worship the gods associated with their slavery in Egypt. But they would be tempted to worship the shiny new gods of the land of Canaan.

Here are some of the gods and goddesses who opposed him in the promised land.

  • Ashtoreth (Canaanites)

  • Baal (Canaanites)

  • Baal Peor (Moabites)

  • Baal Zebub (Philistines)

  • Chemosh (Moabites)

  • Dagon (Philistines)

  • Milcom (Ammonites)

  • Molech (Ammonites)

Joshua encouraged his people to get rid of all the foreign gods – old and new – and serve the Lord exclusively

The Israelites know that only the Lord has shown himself powerful enough to save them (16-18).

Notice how the Israelites respond to Joshua’s challenge. They said “We will certainly not abandon the Lord to worship other gods!” (16). They knew that to follow any of the other gods would be to abandon the one true God. He is owed exclusive allegiance.

But they go further than that. They know that following God exclusively is necessary because he has shown himself powerful enough to save them.

First, he miraculously saved them from slavery in Egypt. They said “ the Lord our God brought us and our ancestors out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery” (17).

Second, he showed his power by undeniable miracles while leading them.

Third, he miraculously protected them through the entire generation of wandering and the next generation of conquest.

Fourth, he drove out before them “all the peoples, including the Amorites who lived in the land” (18).

So, the Israelites were convinced that their God alone was worthy of worship and was powerful enough to eliminate the need for any “plan b.” They didn’t need any other gods to fall back on.

They had made an important declaration. Now it was Joshua’s turn to warn them that following the one true God in a polytheistic environment was not going to be easy.

Joshua reminds the Israelites that serving the Lord requires firm commitment (19-22).

Joshua warned them that they “will not be able to worship the Lord, because he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions and sins” (19).

If you transgressed under the other gods, there were ceremonies and rituals and sacrifices that would automatically set things right. You could pay a priest or shaman and they would get you forgiveness. But Joshua warns the Israelites that they have to dump that whole process because the true God is jealous and would not forgive someone who stayed connected to those other gods.

Not only would such a person not be forgiven, he would invoke the wrath of God. God would harm him – even destroy him (20). Serving the Lord requires firm commitment. He will not tolerate hypocrisy.

Joshua and the Israelites agree to get rid of all their foreign gods (23-24).

So, Joshua tells the Israelites to “get rid of the foreign gods that are among you and turn your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel” (23). They agreed to do so. They said “We will worship the Lord our God and obey him” (24).

That was not the end of the story. Idolatry continued to plague the Israelites throughout their history – eventually leading to their exile and captivity among the Gentile nations.

What I see in today’s text is a general principle from Scripture which is just as true today as it always has been. God’s people will always be tempted to add other gods to our pantheon. We will always be tempted to take on some priority other than the gospel of Jesus Christ, and we need to habitually fight that temptation.

Our advertisements reveal that we are enamored with the pagan god SELF. We are commanded to take care of SELF, to treat SELF well because SELF deserves a break, to respect SELF, to pamper SELF, to make SELF first priority.

Meanwhile, our Lord told us that if we want come after him, we will have to deny SELF, and take up our cross, and follow him (Matthew 16:24).

The apostle Paul taught that we should be bearing the weaknesses of those without strength, not concentrating on how to please SELF (Romans 15:1).

James taught that we should be humbling SELF in the presence of the Lord (James 4:10).

Peter taught that we should submit SELF to human authorities because it is God’s will (1 Peter 2:13-15).

When our LORD left us to return to heaven, he gave us one great commission – to make disciples for him. There are a whole lot of others things that will compete for our time and energy, but we need to seek first his kingdom and righteousness. When something else jockeys for the top position, we need to put that god back in its place, because he told us “Do not have other gods besides me” (Exodus 20:3 CSB).

Folks, we have to dump those idols. We have to keep dumping, demolishing, burning, and getting rid of those gods. If we want to live in victory today, and be a part of his coming kingdom, we have to remove every commitment that challenges our Lord’s primacy.

RENEWING YOUR MIND

RENEWING YOUR MIND

Romans 12:1-8 CSB

Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. 3 For by the grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think. Instead, think sensibly, as God has distributed a measure of faith to each one. 4 Now as we have many parts in one body, and all the parts do not have the same function, 5 in the same way we who are many are one body in Christ and individually members of one another. 6 According to the grace given to us, we have different gifts: If prophecy, use it according to the proportion of one’s faith; 7 if service, use it in service; if teaching, in teaching; 8 if exhorting, in exhortation; giving, with generosity; leading, with diligence; showing mercy, with cheerfulness.

All the scriptures we are looking at this month highlight habits that we should have – things that we should keep doing as Christians. As a theme verse for the series, I noted Paul’s instruction for the Philippians to keep on doing all that they have learned from him (Philippians 4:9). My point is that the Christian life has a beginning, but we cannot say that now that we are converted, we can just stop serving God and rest on our accomplishment. The Christian life is a life – it is a permanent path that we are walking on (Psalm 1). It is a life that we are passing on to our relatives and friends (2 Timothy 1). It is returning to the Lord – over and over again – so that we always stay with him (Deuteronomy 4).

But I have a confession to make. The title I chose for today’s message is misleading, because…

We cannot renew our minds (2).

Let’s take another look at verse 2 so I can explain what I am talking about.

• Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.

There are two options described by Paul for the Roman Christians. They can either be conformed to this age, or they can be transformed by the renewing of their mind. But did you notice that both of those options are passive?

An action that is passive is one in which the subject is being acted upon by someone or something else. Paul told the Romans not to be conformed to this age. Being conformed means that all the Romans had to do was passively allow the age in which they lived to conform them to its standards.

Likewise, the Romans could passively choose to be transformed by the renewing of their mind. But they could not actively renew their mind. They had to submit to God’s will, and let him renew their mind. In fact, if they did not submit to God, they could not even “discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.” So, the Romans could not renew their own minds. Neither can we.

But this passage does teach us how we can cooperate with God and let Him renew our minds.

What we can do is present our bodies to God (1).

Let’s take a closer look at verse 1.

• Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship.

First, let’s take a look at that first word: “Therefore.” What is the “Therefore” there for? It draws our attention to everything that Paul had said previously in the book of Romans.

In Romans 1, we learn that the gospel is the power of God which can save everyone – Jew or Gentile. But the Gentiles rejected that gospel and chose idolatry instead.

In Romans 2, we learn that the Jews also rejected that gospel and chose an outward religion instead of the inward circumcision of the heart.

In Romans 3, we learn that everyone is a sinner, but that anyone can be saved by faith in Jesus Christ as the world’s redeemer.

In Romans 4, we learn that Abraham is an example of this kind of faith.
In Romans 5, we learn that Adam’s sin resulted the death penalty to everyone, but that Christ’s obedience will result in a resurrection unto permanent life for those reconciled through his death.

In Romans 6, we learn that we can now present our current mortal bodies not as slaves to sin, but as slaves to God. We also learn that even though the wages of sin is death, the gift of God is permanent life.

In Romans 7, we learn that the flesh and the law cause us to struggle with sin in this life.

In Romans 8, we learn that the Holy Spirit can help us overcome those struggles, and that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.

In Romans 9-11, we learn that not all natural descendants of Israel are the true Israel. Instead God’s people are those who put their faith in Christ. We learn that “A partial hardening has come upon Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (Romans 11:25).

So, everyone – Jew and Gentile alike – depends on something for their redemption. Paul calls that something “the mercies of God.” We cannot transform ourselves from sinners to saints. God has to do that. All we can do is present our bodies to him as a living sacrifice. This is what true worship does. It says “God, I have faith in you to make me become something holy and pleasing in your sight. I cannot renew my mind, but you can. I cannot change my habits, but you can. I cannot even figure out for myself what you want, but you can reveal it to me.”

Now, why would God want to do that for us? The answer is “the mercies of God.” He is merciful. He looks down on his poor, ignorant, dependent children and chooses to treat us with his mercy. God’s ultimate act of mercy will be seen when we are raised to permanent life when Jesus comes again. But we don’t have to wait until the second coming to show the world that we are recipients of his mercy today. We can cooperate with God and let Him renew our minds.

We can also think sensibly about our function in Christ’s body (3-8).

Verse 3 encourages us to “think sensibly, as God has distributed a measure of faith to each one.”

God’s mercy has endowed each of us with a measure of faith, and a set of spiritual gifts by which we display that faith. The whole body of Christ functions properly when all the gifts are displayed.

But the body of Christ can become dysfunctional when certain gifts are regarded as more important that the other gifts.

For example, this passage lists four gifts that are traditionally understood as defining church leadership: prophecy (6), teaching (7), exhortation and leading (8). What we have done traditionally in our churches is that we have propped up these gifts by requiring a formal ordination process and giving people titles that reflect that process.

Now, I believe in properly trained church leaders. As a missionary, I trained people overseas to become church leaders. I teach seminars online to train people as church leaders now. I am currently an ordained minister, and a member of the Eastern North Carolina Conference ministerial committee which evaluates candidates for ordination. But I also believe that Paul’s warning here applies to us.

There is no function in the body of Christ which is more important, or more essential than any other function. When we start thinking of our gifts more highly than we think of others, we are liable to get proud. Pride goes before a fall.

Also, the miracle of the body is that it has many parts, and all of them are designed to function in tandem with all the others. Paul implied this kind of relationship when he said “we who are many are one body in Christ” (5a).

But Paul went a little further. He said that all of as individuals are members of one another (5b). That’s why we can’t get the big head and ignore other members as less important than us. Each of us has a gift that the other members of the body needs. And they have gifts that we need.

That’s why there are so many reciprocal commands in scripture. These are the commands that can only be obeyed in conjunction with other believers.

• Be devoted to one another
• Give preference to one another
• Be of the same mind toward one another
• Love one another
• Build one another up
• Accept one another
• Greet one another

[And that’s just the ones appearing in Romans!]

Also, the imagery of the body shows us that you cannot practice your gifts apart from others. A severed limb no longer functions at all.

Paul encourages the Romans to learn what their function is, and to use that set of spiritual gifts “according to the proportion of one’s faith” (6b). They should not all try to be like preacher so-and-so, or deacon what’s-his-name.

It is a matter of trusting God, really. It is trusting that God had a purpose for putting me in the congregation – a role for me in the community that he did not design for anyone else.

It is also freeing to know that my relationship to Jesus is not tied to the same result that someone else gets in her ministry. As hard as I try, I might not have the same effect on others that she does. But if I am thinking sensibly, I’ll realize that I am not supposed to evaluate myself based on her achievements.

So, I want to conclude by saying that there is some things we can do to present our bodies as living sacrifices, and if we do so in an attitude of trust, God will renew our minds regularly. Mind renewal is passive. We cannot do it ourselves. But body presentation is active.

Become living sacrifices for God (1)

This is not an exhaustive list, but it is a good start.

• First, decide where God wants our feet to go, and sacrifice all other destinations. There are places we can go that we shouldn’t go. We are aiming for the permanent path. That means there are places we cannot stand – directions we cannot walk.

• Second, decide to bend our knees. Be always in an attitude of prayer and humble submission to our king. Someday every knee will bow. Today our knees should bow.

• Third, decide to surrender our appetite and desires to the kingdom. Seek first the Lord and his righteousness.

• Fourth, decide to use all your strength for the Lord, and stay strong not for yourself, but so you can be strong for him.

• Fifth, put God’s word in your brain. Memorize scripture, and meditate on it. Hide the word in your heart so that you do not sin against him.

As I said, it is a short list. But as we focus on presenting ourselves as living sacrifices to God, we set him free to renew our minds day by day. Before long, we will begin to discern what God wants us to do, and what he wants us to say. We will understand how he wants us to serve him and one another in his body.

“God, we have faith in you to make us become something holy and pleasing in your sight. We cannot renew our minds, but you can. We cannot change our habits, but you can. We cannot even figure out for ourselves what you want, but you can reveal it to us. We surrender to your mercies. Renew our minds. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

A WITNESS ESTABLISHES FACTS

A WITNESS ESTABLISHES FACTS - 01A WITNESS ESTABLISHES FACTS

• Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Essentially a witness (Greek μάρτυς) is someone who attests the fact or truth of something. The word originates in a legal context. In the New Testament, the focus is on the act of testifying, not of what the witness has seen, but of what the witness is saying. There are two other words in the NT for eyewitness.

• Luke 1:1-2 Many have undertaken to compile a narrative about the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as the original eyewitnesses (αὐτόπται) and servants of the word handed them down to us.

Αὐτόπται is the plural of αὐτόπτης. It comes from a combination of the Greek word for self and the word for see. An eyewitness is someone who sees something himself or herself.

These eyewitnesses that Luke consulted in writing his Gospel were the people who had actually seen Jesus and observed what he had done. Jesus chose not to use this word because he was calling on all believers to be witnesses – not just the eyewitnesses.

Peter was one of those eyewitnesses but he used a different word.

• 2 Peter 1:16 For we did not follow cleverly contrived myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; instead, we were eyewitnesses (ἐπόπται) of his majesty.

Ἐπόπται is the plural of ἐπόπτης. It is the combination of the prefix for over and the verb for see. Peter was emphasizing the crucial role of the first witnesses of Christ – the leadership role of establishing the church.

The eyewitnesses were very important because they laid the foundation for the generations after them. But they were not the only witnesses. We have the same Holy Spirit they did, and we share the calling to witness. But I want to study what is means to be a witness today. What does it entail? What do witnesses of Jesus do?

I want to begin my study in Matthew 18. The word witness appears in verse 16.

• Matthew 18:16 But if he won’t listen, take one or two others with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established.

Let’s back up and read the chapter to this point. {All texts are CSB version}.

Who Is the Greatest?

• Matthew 18:1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “So who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

The section heading comes from this verse. Jesus had made it clear that he was a king of a coming kingdom. The disciples assumed that since Jesus was using a political term like that, then if Jesus was going to be king, each of them would have a position of authority as well.

• Matthew 18:2 He called a child and had him stand among them.

What could Jesus mean by this? Maybe the disciples thought that for some reason, this particular child would be greatest. Maybe he would grow up to become a great teacher, healer, or leader? No, it was not this particular child who would be greatest.

• Matthew 18:3 “Truly I tell you,” he said, “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Those disciples each assumed that he had a solid place in God’s kingdom by virtue of their choosing to follow Christ. But Jesus popped their balloons. He said that they had to turn and become like children or else they would not even enter the kingdom, much less lead it.

• Matthew 18:4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child – this one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

The kingdom will have a different way of measuring greatness. The kingdoms of the world measure greatness by personal power or attainment. Christ measures greatness by personal humility and deferment to others.

• Matthew 18:5 And whoever welcomes one child like this in my name welcomes me.

Neither of the disciples thought they were showing disrespect to Christ when they were arguing with one another about who had rank. But Jesus suggested that they were showing disrespect. They were refusing to welcome Christ. Jesus will be establishing the fact of his own existence and his purpose for the world – but he would be doing it through witnesses who are like this child.

• Matthew 18:6 “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to fall away– it would be better for him if a heavy millstone were hung around his neck and he were drowned in the depths of the sea.

Now, notice how Jesus turns the subject matter of the conversation. They had been talking about who was the greatest in the kingdom. Now Jesus introduces the subject of causing people who believe to fall away. What is the connection?

The first specific connection has to do with causing simple believers to fall away from the faith.

• Matthew 18:7 Woe to the world because of offenses. For offenses will inevitably come, but woe to that person by whom the offense comes.

These offenses are stumbling blocks that lead people away from commitment to Christ. Leaders are especially liable to this because people are watching them.

Then Jesus talks about how cautious we all should be about letting sin lure us away from our commitment to Christ.

• Matthew 18:8-9 If your hand or your foot causes you to fall away, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to fall away, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hellfire.

Notice that the hell Jesus talks about is not some shadowy underworld that people’s spirits supposedly go to when they die. What is this “eternal fire” (8) and “hellfire” (9)?

First, let me tell you what it is not. Hell is not life. Twice in these verses Jesus talks about those who “enter life” but he makes it clear that those in hell have not entered life. Hell is death – the second death. Whatever pains and sorrows and suffering and shame people will experience in hell, it will not be perpetual.

So, what is the “eternal fire”? It is the permanent fire. It is the fire that destroys permanently. Paul calls it “permanent destruction” in 2 Thessalonians 1:9. That is the final state of the lost.

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

• Matthew 18:10 “See to it that you don’t despise one of these little ones, because I tell you that in heaven their angels continually view the face of my Father in heaven.

Another reason we should be careful about being factual witnesses of the truth is that the little ones have angelic intercessors. If we mistreat people because we assume we are great, someone greater is there to right that wrong.

• Matthew 18:12-13 What do you think? If someone has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, won’t he leave the ninety-nine on the hillside and go and search for the stray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over that sheep more than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray.

The Shepherd is going to make sure that he ends the day with the same 100 sheep he began with.

• Matthew 18:14 In the same way, it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones perish.

The technical term for the one verse moral of a parable is the nimshal. The nimshal of the parable of the Lost Sheep is this verse.

So, such is the important task of those called to witness to the facts of the gospel. We cannot steamroller over the little people in our pursuit of greatness. If we do, we run the risk of not even entering the kingdom ourselves, and incur the wrath of angels, and God himself.

Restoring a Brother

• Mat 18:15 “If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother.

The end result that Jesus is looking for is RESTORATION, not excommunication. He wants us to restore the relationship so that at the end of the day, all 100 sheep are accounted for.

Note: you might notice that the words “against you” are not in some translations. The Greek words (εἰς σὲ) are not in many of the best manuscripts, and may be a copyist addition. I think it is important to note that we have a responsibility to restore those who are falling away, even if we are not personally offended by them.

• Mat 18:16 But if he won’t listen, take one or two others with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established.

The witnesses are there to help the brother who is threatening to leave to return to the fellowship. They are there to help establish the facts. Our role as witnesses of Christ is to establish the facts. We are all needed for that. There is going to be opposition to the truth of the gospel. There are going to be challenges to the Bible’s claims. People are going to question whether Jesus was real, whether what he said was true, whether he really died on the cross, and whether he really rose from the grave. Our role as witnesses is to weigh in on the side of all these facts.

• Mat 18:17-20 If he doesn’t pay attention to them, tell the church. If he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like a Gentile and a tax collector to you. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there among them.”

If it doesn’t work, and the sheep deserts, there is still something Jesus wants that small group to do: pray for restoration.

This first passage we have studied shows us that our role as witnesses includes evangelism, but it is more than that.

But we are not the eyewitness. The ones who saw Jesus are long dead. They left us a historical record in the Bible. Christians choose to believe that historical record.

We can also testify to what believing in Jesus has done in our own lives, and how he has changed us. We can also talk about how he has blessed others – perhaps even those in our own family.

Our witnessing should be conversational, not confrontational. Our goal is not just to “get the gospel out” but to reconcile people to God. We have to believe in the God of all one hundred sheep. That shepherd does not want to leave anyone behind.

Our witnessing is best done as a team. There is a reason that Jesus suggests bringing witnesses along. Agreement is a magical thing. It can help people see the other person’s point of view. It is collaboration, and that adds respect.

Also, our witnessing does not end once someone has professed faith in Christ. There will be challenges to people’s faith, and we will need to witness to the facts of the gospel and seek to bring the lost sheep back into the fold.