In 2nd Chronicals we read: if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves & pray & seek my face & turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven & will forgive their sin & heal their land. Scripture doesn’t get much clearer than that. The very first step always begins with ourselves. We, the ecclesia, the church, the body of Christ, the people of God are partakers in a process of sanctification that will fit us for heaven. Remember, without holiness none of us will see God & on our own merit we have nothing to recommend us. All our righteousness is as filthy rags.
This message is for those who bear God’s name. Christians very identifiably bear God’s name. It is a hard message when we look at the world around us but some of the hardest messages in scripture are not for the ungodly who are behaving as their worldly nature dictates but for God’s people who are not behaving according to their new nature. All around us we see the results of a world deep in sin. I have heard the hunger in people’s hearts to make a difference, to reach out & minister, to bring the gospel light into hearts drowned in darkness ~ & these are good desires, Godly desires. Only one thing impedes us: ourselves. I will tell you plainly, God will not use a dirty vessel. In the world we have rules & there are consequences to breaking them. Science is governed by a set of laws & you break them at your peril. The same is true of spiritual matters. There is a sequence to be followed. God is not addressing just anybody. He is addressing His people. If you call yourself a Christian then you are very particularly God’s child. He knows your name & he has a purpose for you that no~one else can accomplish so when he speaks specifically to His people you had best prick up your ears & listen.
One of the hardest things I think for any Christian but especially for one who has been a Christian for a number of years is to remember that they are a sinner saved by grace. Now I do not mean this in the theological sense. We all know that if we say we have no sin the truth is not in us. Satan is much more subtle than that. How fatally easy it is to compare ourselves to our unsaved neighbour & subtly think ourselves better than they are. The truth is we are not & there but for the grace of God go you or I. I mention this because the first spiritual perquisite is humbleness. A humble & contrite heart God will not despise. Humbleness allows us to see ourselves as we truly are. Only then can we move to the 2nd step & pray with a genuine heart, an honest heart, a heart that will break for its own lack of purity.
Prayer is a seeking God’s face & when we do this truthfully our sinful state is revealed to us. Painful as it might be it is necessary in order to accomplish the third step, which is to turn away from our wicked ways. Sin blocks us from God’s grace & blessings. Only when we see sin as God sees it can we turn from our sin, repent, and enable God to act effectively in our lives & the lives of those we seek to reach.
God is under no obligation to hear the prayers of sinners & unbelievers so if His people will not stand in the gap & intercede on the world’s behalf then no~one will. If we are not prepared to cleanse ourselves then our prayers are of no avail. How much hangs on our obedience! Look at the little word then. It is only after we have humbled ourselves, only after we have prayed, only after we have sought God, then, & only then does God act. Then he hears from Heaven. Then he offers forgiveness. Then he heals. We in Australia have been abundantly blessed by the Lord with material things ~ & in many ways that is a great pity because we have not so much desired spiritual blessings. Can it be said of us, ‘I know your works. You are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So because you are lukewarm I will spew you out of my mouth. The word spew is emeo ~ to vomit, as in to heave out violently. It speaks of utter revulsion. In short, lukewarm Christians make Christ sick. Remember this admonition was given to believers, believers too who thought that they were spiritually rich.
Friends, the time for complacency is long past. The time for hankering after the things of the world is past. We have prospered materially but have we prospered spiritually? The very first commandment is to love God. This is not the sort of spirituality we have grown accustomed to, the sort that says moderation in all things & discourages passionate people as zealots. That is worldly thinking. Our standard is to be a scriptural standard & what does scripture say? To love God with ALL our heart, & ALL our mind, & ALL our strength. Scripture is clear that there are no unregenerate hearts in heaven. All who enter therein are there only by the grace of God & the shed blood of Christ in whom they have trusted. God wants our passion & why not? He is very passionate about us.
We must be very clear as to what the scriptures say for "not everyone who says, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into Heaven.’’ Again this is an admonition that was addressed to those who identified themselves as God’s people. And what does God say? "Depart from me for I never knew you.’’ These were people who might have expected to find themselves in the kingdom. They were exercising spiritual gifts. They were acting in God’s name. They caste out demons & performed miracles but they had unregenerate hearts.
Now I have not brought these scriptures to your attention to point fingers or sit in judgement. Scripture says we are to search ourselves before God & assess our spiritual condition. Some of the tools for doing this are to be found in the first epistle of John & I shall address those 11 points in the 2nd half of this message. I admit to a weakness for the writings of John but then I’m a lit major & the beauty of the language makes the difficulties of the epistle irrelevant so I am much indebted to John MacArthur who has helped me categorise & clarify this wonderful little book that addresses the issue of how to assess our spiritual state & know that we have been truly converted. God, in his grace & mercy, doesn’t want us floundering around fretting as to whether we are saved or not. He wants us to have complete assurance, as those first apostles did, & so John sets out a list of attributes of the person who has experienced genuine salvation. Jonathon Edwards calls these attributes ‘holy affections’.
Now I am going to be brief so earnestly encourage you to study this for yourselves. So what are these holy affections? You can follow through in the epistle starting with Chapter 1 verses 2 & 3 where John speaks of fellowship with Christ & the father. All true believers evidence love of God & his son Jesus Christ. In Galations Paul describes it thus: It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. Is it Christ who lives in you? Are you drawn into communion with the one who loved you enough to die for you?
Two. Are we sensitive to the sin in our own lives. Not other people’s sins but our own & the sin in the world around us. If Christ lives in us then our sin grieves the Holy Spirit & we will be impelled to address our sin, confess it & seek God’s cleansing. Do we look forward to that time when Christ will completely free us from the burden of sin?
Three. Chapter 2. By this we know we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. God desires our obedience. It is tangible proof of our love for him. This is obedience of the heart & mind, a gracious surrendering of the self to Christ & not legalism.
Four. 2:15 defines the world. It & everything in it belongs to Satan. The Greek term for the word world is kosmos & it implies false religion, errant philosophy, immorality, crime, materialism & all the rest of it. You see & hear it all around you on R------ Island on any day of the week. Christians do not love the world, nor do they love the things that belong to the world. The regenerated man hungers for the things of God.
Five: Do you eagerly anticipate Christ’s return? 3:3 ‘We know we will be like Christ, changed in an inkling.’ True believers long for this, hope for it know it for our true destiny. We know our citizenship is in heaven.
6: Chapter 3: moving on from verse 3. Sin is complete lawlessness. The Greek term is anomia & it means to live as if there were no law, no absolute right or wrong. That we have been saved from the bondage of sin does not give us license to sin. Rather it creates a desire in us for holiness. A decreasing pattern of sin coupled with an increasing desire for holiness is a sign of the new life, of Christ abiding in us.
7: Our love for our fellow believers is another sign of the new life in us. Jesus himself said that this is how we will know that we are the redeemed ~ by the love we have one for another.
8: Are you experiencing answered prayer? Remember we discussed earlier that sin blocks our communication line to God. If we are experiencing answered prayer we can be assure our communication is free from sin. Psalm 66: 18 tells us that God doesn’t even hear the prayers of those who don’t know him.
9: 4:13 Then there is the ministry of the Holy Spirit. He illuminates scripture, brings scripture to mind when we need it, leads us into praise & worship, points us towards Jesus. John actually calls the 10th sign a test. The church’s lack of strong teaching & deception into worldly thinking & relativism on this point is responsible for much trouble amongst Christians but the sheep know the shepherd’s voice & are able to discern spiritual error. For us, with so many lay preachers up the front, this is a primary concern. The spirit of God helps us discern error & false teaching. People, it is imperative you know your scriptures & discern the teaching & leading you hear from up here.
Lastly, have you suffered persecution for your devotion to Christ? Even in a world sliding fast towards the gates of Hell we in the west are unlikely to be martyred for our faith but there are plenty of subtle ways we may be persecuted. Are you mocked for refusing to party to excess with friends or neighbours? For not participating in certain activities? For attending church each week? This is as it should be. Those who belong to the world live & act according to the world & because they love the darkness they hate both the light & those who belong to the light. If you are persecuted, rejoice! It is Godly assurance of your salvation.
It is really very simple in the end. Those who belong to the world are like their father, the Devil, & their character & behaviour reflects to whom they belong. The flip side of this is that those who belong to God are also marked with the characteristics of their Heavenly father. Dearly beloved, may I encourage you today to seek a more passionate walk with our Lord & Saviour, a greater personal holiness, a deeper commitment. Why? Firstly because God desires it & that should be all the requirement we need but secondly it is mesmerizing. Jesus is the holiest man who has ever lived & sinners flocked to him like moths to a candle flame. They couldn’t resist him. If we truly desire to reach the unsaved we don’t need more programmes, more outreach, more anything except more personal holiness. Only Christ can make us more holy but we must actively thirst & hunger after that righteousness for then all else will be added unto us. That is the promise.