How do we know beyond doubt that we have truly entered into this grace-gift of “life in Christ?” In the face of all kinds of opinions about what constitutes true Christianity, how do we know if we truly are “in Christ”… and how do we evaluate our own walk? If we listen to the patter on the street (internet posts, magazine articles, FaceBook debates, etc.) the test is sincerity. As long as you’re sincere…you’re good to go! And it isn’t merely the test for Christianity. It seems to be the test for all spirituality.
Now, I’ll admit that sincerity is a good and noble thing, but if the basis upon which our sincerity rests is wrong, profound sincerity does not make it right! If I sincerely believe that a homemade bridge over a raging river is safe for my vehicle to cross --- yet the engineering study says that the materials used in the bridge’s construction are only sufficient for foot traffic --- which premise will ultimately win, sincerity or facts?
So, how do we know if we have truly entered into this grace-gift of “life in Christ?” Paul and James, in particular, offer wisdom on this subject. The text for today is actually all of chapters 12 through14, and part of chapter 15. I’ll only be reading selected verses. Here’s the starting point….
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1,2)
While it’s absolutely true that God declares us totally righteous when we surrender our lives to Him, that is only the first part of the salvation journey. God also initiates an on-going process in our lives; a process that Anthony talked about two weeks ago in the message on sanctification. In this part of the journey we participate….and, as we’ll see today, it really isn’t optional.
At salvation, God sends His Holy Spirit to live in us, and it is the Holy Spirit’s internal influence that begins the transformation process in us. But it’s just the beginning, and Paul continually reminds us to be filled with the Holy Spirit, moving along a continuum from “indwelt by the Spirit” to “being continually filled by the Spirit.”
The goal of this internal action of the Holy Spirit is to radically change our lives! God doesn’t leave us in the state He finds us. The love of God is pure, and the power of His Holy Spirit is pervasive, so much so that He draws us out of our place of woundedness and brokenness, and gradually brings us into a place of health and usefulness. And this process was never intended to be optional.
This surrender to Christ must, in time, show itself in service for God, not to secure His salvation but to display His presence. Both Old and New Testaments (including the teachings of Jesus) underscore the principle that “obeying His commands and decrees” is the evidence of His Spirit within us, thereby proving that we have been saved and reconciled to God. Let’s look at a couple times where God laid out the basic definition of who a disciple is.
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” Matthew 16:24-26 (NIV)
Jesus begins by saying, “If anyone would come after Me,” he will:
- deny himself—put aside selfish ambition; no longer live to please self
- take up his cross—endure personal loss, whether through opposition or disappointment or pain
- follow Me—continually be transformed into the likeness of Jesus’ life and teachings in all aspects of practical daily living.
All disciples put Jesus ahead of the desires/demands of family and of self. All disciples choose to die to their own rights. All disciples hand over all that they have….every resource (whether time, relationships, preferences, money, possessions, or goals) to Jesus.
Anyone who tries to add Jesus to the life they already have, while maintaining control of their life, is not a disciple and, therefore, not a Christian. Genuine Christians, realize they are “not their own, but bought at a high price,” and they order their lives accordingly. If we were to continue reading on through the next several chapters of Romans, we would find Paul giving specifics, as to what the evidence of service looks like (Rom 12:1 thru 15:13). Let me summarize what Paul describes!
1) Righteous believers commit themselves to God. That is what the first two verses in chapter 12 talked about (“offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God).
2) Righteous believers serve one another. “So you see, it isn’t enough just to have faith. Faith that doesn’t show itself by good deeds is no faith at all—it is dead and useless.” (James 2:17)
3) Righteous believers obey authority. ”Obey the government, for God is the one who put it there. All governments have been placed in power by God. So those who refuse to obey the laws of the land are refusing to obey God, and punishment will follow.” (Romans 13:1-2)
4) Righteous believers love their neighbor. It’s easy to become completely immersed within a “Christian Bubble” and alienate ourselves from the rest of our city— judging, and shaming and avoiding the world around us. Our lives as Christians should not be characterized as us versus them. It does not help us to love well. Let’s not be shocked when people who are not following Christ act like people who are not following Christ. God loves everyone. It’s a message that is radical, controversial, and, some would even say, absurd. But according to the Bible, it’s true, and as followers of Christ we should boldly say the same thing.
5) Righteous believers depend upon Christ. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
Grace in Graceless Places, a book currently being used in our men’s Wednesday night study group, offers the following observation: “The essence of a true and sincere relationship with God, through Jesus Christ, is that we are transformed into the image of Christ and we begin to think as He thinks and do as He did. When we do this, our defining life-narrative moves from ‘me and my wants’ to ‘Him and His Glory and mission.’
This is the path to living a fulfilling life; one that is rich in spiritual blessing.