December 30, 2018
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts at 14:10 in the audio file.
Or, On Being Filled with the Fullness of God
It is easy to be pessimistic. Not everyone is pessimistic, some are more prone to it than others, but it is the easier angle. Seeing what’s wrong is natural; and there are a lot of things that are wrong. Confidence that things will work out (by God’s grace) is a learned virtue, and joyful hope requires faith. Faith is hard. The world, the devil, and our own sinful hearts pull against faith.
Yet “without faith it is impossible to please [God], for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:8). Believing that Christ is God and that God raised Christ from the dead is the way to salvation (Romans 10:9); it’s the only way. Faith is the way of life. “For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame'” (Romans 10:11, quoting Isaiah 28:16). Our faith is the victory that overcomes the world (1 John 5:4).
Faith takes more than comprehension like investment takes more than strategy; you’ve actually got to transfer the money. What we believe is truth, God’s Word, but faith means that we have conviction about it. Believing means being convinced, it means being compelled, it means staking our lives on what God has said. Faith is the conviction of things not seen, and by faith the people of old received their commendation (Hebrews 11:1-2). If we want to please God and be commended by Him, we also must do more than learn about faith, we must live by faith.
Pessimism is easier. Pessimism is a kind of anti-faith, a living by sight of all the problems and the unfinished business. There’s a universe of chaos around us, so complaining about it, or making peace with the status chaos, seems to make a lot of sense. But it takes real faith, even if only the size of a mustard seed, to move mountains, said Jesus (Matthew 17:20). Without faith we’d rather just set up camp in the shadows of the foothills.
The apostle Paul told the Philippian believers that even though he desired to die, which would be better because it would bring him face to face with Christ, he also was convinced that staying would enable him to work “for your progress and joy in the faith” (Philippians 1:25). Progress and joy in the faith…what a thing that we should want to be said of us.
The advance of faith is a week by week effort at TEC. The goal is not to make you question and doubt your faith every Sunday, but instead to build you up in the faith, in your faith. We want you to leave boasting in the Lord more than when you came in. We want you to go out having received God’s blessing again. We want you to head into your week more full of God than you were.
Next Lord’s day we’ll start a short series on how our liturgy, our order of service and worship, aims to increase our love for God and each other, and also how worship and discipleship belong together. For this morning, though, as we prepare to tie a bow on 2018 and open up 2019, I’d like to consider the core convictions that we hold as a church and that we’re trying to pass on to the next generation.
In September our L2L group leaders and wives discussed this issue, and there were three central, fundamental, core values or convictions or themes that came out fairly quickly and that were agreed upon. These three beliefs are not new, but they are things we keep returning to, and they are more than bookish, they are heart satisfying and body building.
What are the core convictions we hold at TEC?
It’s part of our church’s name. We did have one Sunday evening series a few years ago on the doctrine, and there was one epic ellipses, “If I hear the word Trinity one more time….” But our world revolves around the Trinitarian sun.
God is who He is, and we are to worship Him as He is, not as we imagine or prefer. The fact is: our God is Triune. “God minus creation would still be God, but God minus Father, Son, and Holy Spirit would not be God” (Fred Sanders, The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything, 70).
Even though the word “Trinity” isn’t found in the Bible, the truth of the Trinity is clearly revealed, starting in Genesis 1 and 2. That means we must receive it and teach it, even if we don’t fully comprehend it. It’s even part of the Great Commission in Matthew 28.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19, ESV)
Why so much Trinity stuff? Is it really necessary? Isn’t the the incarnation of God as a man difficult enough to explain to people? Isn’t the cross enough of a scandal and offense? Isn’t the call to take up your cross and lose your life demanding enough? Apparently it’s not enough according to Jesus. We get to know who we’re identifying with and how that identifies us.
What does it mean to be “godly”? It means more than thinking clean thoughts, or saying Bible verses in our heads. Being godly means being like God in loving communion and unity. Godliness is not an isolated virtue, nor is it an impersonal one. Love is so powerful and so great because God is love, and that was true between the three Persons in the forever time before Adam and Eve.
We are not machines that run on blood. We also aren’t heads merely meant for stuffing with theology facts and Bible verses. We are whole human beings meant to know our God and trust Him and love Him and then reflect Him. In light of the Trinity that includes reciprocal (between He and us) and reflective (between us and one another) love.
This second core conviction must be the confession of every Christian. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). The God-Man, Jesus, born of the virgin Mary, raised in Galilee, is the one whose wisdom invented all things, whose power produced all things, and whose honor all things point toward. He is the Messiah, the one who bore our sins, He is the Master, the one with all authority on heaven and earth who requires that we obey everything that He commanded.
This also is more than a point of argument with other religions, though we shouldn’t ever yield His preeminence. It is also more than a pushing down of pride, though when properly recognized it does prohibit us from exalting our own power and from arrogantly boasting that we will do whatever we want (cf. James 4:15).
As faith in the Trinity means holding conviction about love, so also faith in the Lord Jesus means holding conviction about perspective. We stand as His subjects/slaves, but also as His grateful dependents and representatives.
What I mean is this: the lordship of Christ puts us on our knees and, from there, we can see the whole world. When we are humble under His mighty hand we anticipate when He will exalt us. We don’t have to hold onto our anxieties because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:6-7). The problem with pride is that it keeps us from seeing that all is ours—the world or life or death or the present or the future—if we’re with Him (1 Corinthians 3:21-23).
The lordship of Christ does the opposite of narrowing our view, it opens up our eyes to all the things He cares about, to all the things He’s given us, and to all the things He’s glad for us to do in His name.
We are against the teaching that good happens only in our heads and in heaven. We are for the teaching that good happens in our heads and in heaven as well as through our hands on earth. Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth, and He blessed His image-bearers to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish…and over the birds…and over every living thing that moves on earth” (Genesis 1:28, NASB).
The Church, and by sub-implication every local church, does not boss the world or any other sphere in the world. But Jesus does. Jesus has not said that He doesn’t want us to recognize Him in public; it’s the opposite (see Matthew 10:32). Jesus is Lord of education, and abortion laws, and adoption practices, and business plans. Jesus is Lord of Google and Facebook and the Internet. Jesus is Lord of your diet and your exercise. Jesus is Lord of all, and we believe it.
Jesus taught and embodied this conviction.
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:25)
This is what the seed was made for. This is what Jesus came for. This is the motivation for every disciple to die daily.
Paul put it this way:
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2 Corinthians 4:8–12)
This is the evangel lived out. It is always appropriate to remember that our dying can’t atone for another man’s sins, but our sacrificial labors do have resurrection power in them. This is the way of love: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
These are core convictions that all aim toward the same thing, and it is higher than our being correct or our being obedient. These core convictions lead to the core blessing, to being filled with all the fullness of God, that Jesus’s joy would be in us and that our joy would be full (John 15:11).
Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians at the end of chapter 3 is too big for us to hold in our heads. He prayed, and we also pray, for Spirit-empowered power (verse 16), for Christ’s dwelling in us (verse 17), for being planted in His love (verse 17), for a better view of the dimensions of Christ’s love that surpasses knowledge (verses 18-19a), all with the goal:
that you may be filled with all the fulness of God. (Ephesians 3:19)
The NASB says, “that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” We are not eking out our Christian lives, we are not barely getting by. God has given us His Word, His promises, His Spirit, His very self, that we would be sharers of the divine nature:
by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. (2 Peter 1:4)
Life with the Trinity, for the Lord, following the way of the cross, is the way of fullness.
Beloved, you are the body of Christ. Our true and living God is transcendent, He is beyond us, and yet it is the reality of His Triune nature that overcomes fragmented souls and broken relationships. He says that we belong. Our sinless and merciful Lord is sovereign, He could destroy us in His justice and power, and yet by His ubiquitous authority He consecrates us and makes all our work meaningful. And we have heard the word of truth, the gospel, of the death of Christ for the life of the world, and it is bearing fruit and increasing among us. The increase is not just in number of gospel converts, but the increase of a gospel culture, in which husbands and fathers, wives and mothers, leaders and servants, let the death of Jesus do its life-giving work in those around us.
These convictions are not incidental, they are the core of our faith and practice. They do not make us special, but they are special to us.
You may or may not be a New Year’s resolution making person. This past year we wrestled with Paul’s coaching of the Corinthians that they should run to win, that such a high pursuit demanded them to be self-controlled in all things. So don’t run aimlessly. And also, pray to be strengthened with power in your inner being, and pray for strength to comprehend along with the whole church body the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. That will make for a very full year.
May [you] have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:18-19, ESV)