Monday, December 28, 2009

Resolutions

When New Year's Resolutions Meet the Reality of Sin and What to do about it.

Message given at Hillview Baptist Church on 12/27/2009
Audio version

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When it comes to resolutions we like to think of things that we would like to happen in the near future. I resolve that we need to get on board with God and His purpose for our lives. So often we tend to seek out our own way, our own place, our own pleasure, our own desires. We are self-centered to a tee. Even our new years resolutions are ego-centric strokes that make us feel good that we are committing to some self-improvement. This year may I suggest something different. I say it is not about self-improvement, but rather it is time to kill the self. No I did not say kill yourself. I said kill the self. Do I have your attention? Good!
There is something that has a hold of you and is destroying your life. It robs you of joy, peace, and right living. It is a destructive force that has been the root death and wasted lives through out the history of human kind. It is black as the darkest corner of the universe. It is a black hole from which no one escapes, no one comes back from, no light can be in that place, it is hidden form the world most of the time, as you dress up in your Sunday best you cover it's dark blot on your soul.
Worse than cancer it eats away at your very being. It is worse than the flesh eating strep virus which leaves raw open, pus filled gaping wounds. It's stench is more foul than the deepest place of rotting flesh and death filled tombs. Smells like death in this place this morning. Too hard of words? Maybe, but I cannot hold it in any longer. This is the truth unvarnished and in the raw this morning. It is not for the faint of heart. It is not to feel good. It is about resolutions. Will you or will you not choose this morning to finally release the darkness that has overcome you?
It comes in a nice package that says try me I will give you a way, a place to belong, pleasure you cannot know, and your desire. You name it you can have it. Cheap grace indeed. You are in debt financially, physically, and spiritually. There is no way out. You are a hopeless case. Did you get that? Hopeless! You cannot pay back what you owe. You cannot work your way out of this pit. It is the end for you. Dead in your trespasses. You say, "But BJ what about Jesus?" Really! Is Jesus your savior? I say show me. I do not see it! Every once in a great while I see a glimpse. I catch a brief fleeting breath of life. It smells sweet! But now all I see is death and decay. No Death and decay is to optimistic it is worse than that.
Let me say everyone of you has this darkness eating away inside you. If you deny it I am calling you out as a liar. You are either in self-deception or you are in self-preservation. The end result is the same you come out smelling like death. It is only by the pleasure of God that he does not reach down right this moment and completely annihilate you. Oh God we have sinned. We have dishonored Your Name. We have profaned what is called righteous. We have exchange truth for a lie. We have shed the moral constraints that you have given that we might be free; only to discover our bondage is destroying us. You are right when you judge us Oh Lord. You are Holy when You judge us Lord. We are grass to the furnace. I beg of you Lord give us more time. Allow us this grace that we might turn our lives over to you and let you be our light, our rescuer, our Lord.
We are now 4 days beyond the darkest day of the year. The light is returning and each day is going to grow lighter and lighter. With the brightness of the day comes new life.
We are now in the darkest days of the Christian faith. We have hit a winter solace if you will in the life of the church. On leading indicators of the Church we can honestly say that we are in decline. The Church which is supposed to be a light a city in the hill is diminished in her Glory. Why?
It is the loathsome darkness that is within us. We all have tasted it. We have enjoyed it's simple pleasures, we have all mourned over the way that it is destroying our lives. You might be wondering what I am talking about. Are you ready? It is Sin!!!
Sin is destroying our lives, our families, and our churches. It has wrecked havoc on well meaning good intentioned people. Sin has destroyed families, careers, relationships, marriages, and yes churches. I realize that was a dark harsh introduction, but let's face it. Sin is a dark harsh subject. I am weary of hearing about how God Loves, and redeems from sin, while all the while his people are not willing to part from it. It is like the days of old when Israel had her idols of worship. We also have our idols of worship. Don't believe it? Think over the last year. What would you say characterized your life's focus? What is the main thing that held your attention. Can I just say that if it was not God then that thing is an idol. Lest you think you are off the hook, let me ask you what was the second thing? The third thing, and down the list. Let me ask you this, does your focus on these things bring glory to God? If not then it is an idol. Anything that is not of God is an idol and your focus on it your worship of it constitutes idolatry.
Sin perverts that which is good and turns it to self-centered pleasure and happiness. Don't get me wrong I am not here to through cold water on the Joy of the Lord. As if I could even if I tired. The fact is that if you have the joy of the Lord then this sermon would not convict you. You would have His Peace in your life and no darkness would overcome it.
Hold up your hands. Palms toward your face. Look intently into the palms of your hands. Notice the creases, notice the fingers. Look at the finger print. My friends God gave you those hands. They are a gift from Him. Why do you use them for things that do not give him glory. Why have they become instruments of unrighteousness! Put your hands down.
Open your mouth! Stick out your tongue. Bet your mother told you it was impolite to do that and now the preacher is telling you to do it. Your tongue is a gift from God. Why are the words that roll off of it so destructive. Why is so much cursing, vanity, self-serving words the mainstay of our communication, What has happened to the words of peace, love, compassion, sacrifice, edification. I have a chance to meet with couples in my job as a counselor. And the destructive hurtful things that Christian couples say to each other breaks my heart. Why do we talk that way?
Hold up a mirror. If you do not have one then borrow one or recall looking into one this morning. You can do this at home if you like. Go ahead I will give you a moment. Look into your eyes. It is said that eyes are the window to the soul. Science teaches us that the retina of our eyes (that gives us the ability to see) is actually a part of our brain. The connection is so close that the body can move as an object moves toward us before we have the opportunity to see it, that is process seeing the object. This close connection between the brain and eyes, the soul and it's window to the world makes them a very special gift of God. Why then do we allow such filth, and ugliness to flow forth from the world into the content of our brains and pollute our souls with such unwholesome sights. You are committing soul suicide when you do not guard your eyes. What are you watching, does it glorify God?
Stand up. Look down at your feet. These are a special gift of God. They take us from place to place. Even our most sophisticated modes of transportation mostly rely on our feet to control and power them. Feet are very important in where we are going. Why is it that they take us to places God does not want us to be. Where are you going? Does this place bring glory to God?
I could go on, but as you are standing there consider this. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. Your body, this life, this existence is a precious gift of God. What are you doing with it? Are you using it to bring him glory or are you spending it on your own interests and desires. Sadly I must admit it seems that most (and really all of us at some point) spend it on themselves. What is in it for me. How can I get the greatest pleasure out of this.
So what is the cure? What can save us from this body of death? Turn in your Bibles to Romans 7. I want to look quickly at what Paul is writing in Romans 7. I have felt like Paul willing to do good and not being able. I longed to do good, be good, stay good, and yet for all this wanting it seemed that I was helpless to do it. Maybe you feel that way today. You see Romans 7 plays out a war between your will and your flesh. We fight against the flesh which is the root of evil desire. The flesh is sold into sin's power. It is the darkness that permeates our being that lives in the flesh. Sin abounds in the flesh. Sin is at home in the flesh, flesh is at home in sin. They are unified. This is why it is so dark. Darkness, death, unholiness are killing us. They destroy all that is good.
Then we have the will. The will desires to do good. There is a conscience there that says this is not right. We ought not be doing this. Some people will say it is the little voice that says don't do this. How many of you have started an resolution in the past? It starts out with this voice strongly advocating that you do (or don't do) something. You will to do good. You desire to do good. However you are powerless to bring about change in the flesh. You can have apparent victory for a time. But in the end the flesh always wins out. To be honest that is why resolutions fail. You will, but you see as Paul has stated:
So I discover this principle: When I want to do what is good, evil is with me. For in my inner self I joyfully agree with God's law. But I see a different law in the parts of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and taking me prisoner to the law of sin in the parts of my body.
Romans 7:21-23 (HCSB)
Do you feel like a prisoner? Paul concluded:
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this dying body? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I myself am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh, to the law of sin.
Romans 7:24-25 (HCSB)
And so most Christians are resigned to live in this life of war between their will and their flesh. They take solace in the fact that we have Jesus Christ to rescue us from our sin. Wretched men and women, living wretched lives, desiring wretched things, engaging in wretched acts, continuing in their wretched way. Always wanting to do better, but never reaching it. But thank God we have Jesus. He will take away my sin.
So is that it? Jesus came so we could live wretched lives and take hope that someday we will escape this wretched life and come home to Him? I say no way. If Jesus only came that we might live wretched lives then our faith, our religion, our hope is nothing more that nice idea with some fantasy hope that someday it will all get better. Where is the power in that? Why do we still struggle to live out the life that God desires? Didn't Jesus come to save us from our sin? Or Is this all a fantasy with a someday hope to make us feel better in our sin? I say no. No more feel good thoughts, while living in sin, I say no more fake hopes in some future redemption, I say no more wretchedness, I say no more wretched lives, I say no more war between my will and my flesh, I say no more prisoner to sin, I say no more failed resolutions, I say no more using my hands, my mouth, my eyes, my feet for putrid self-destruction, I say no more loathsome darkness and sin filled lives. It is time to say no! Amen? Amen
So what is the cure? Turn to Romans 8
Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus, because the Spirit's law of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. What the law could not do since it was limited by the flesh, God did. He condemned sin in the flesh by sending His own Son in flesh like ours under sin's domain, and as a sin offering, in order that the law's requirement would be accomplished in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh think about the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, about the things of the Spirit. For the mind-set of the flesh is death, but the mind-set of the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind-set of the flesh is hostile to God because it does not submit itself to God's law, for it is unable to do so. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God lives in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. Now if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, then He who raised Christ from the dead will also bring your mortal bodies to life through His Spirit who lives in you. So then, brothers, we are not obligated to the flesh to live according to the flesh, for if you live according to the flesh, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. All those led by God's Spirit are God's sons.
Romans 8:1-14 (HCSB)
The whole chapter of Romans 8 is rich with how to live by the Spirit. Let me just point out some of the highlights and you go home and look it over to see what God's plan is for you.
Therefore we have been released from the letter of the law. We (those who have committed themselves to Christ are free from sin and death. It is an established fact. You cannot undo it. You cannot destroy it. It is truth. So the first question is have you received Christ as your Lord and Savior. If not then your first resolution must be to Him. You must resolve to make Jesus Christ your Lord and your savior.
The Spirit's law of life is fulfilled in Jesus Christ sacrifice. He died on the cross for you and for me. He did not do that in order that we could live out wretched lives and then someday go to heaven. He did it so that we could be released from sin.
Notice the change from Romans chapter 7. In Romans 7 we have the inner man (the will) fighting against the flesh. In Romans 8 we have the Spirit joining in. The battle it seems is won or lost in this: What do you have you mind set on? The Spirit or the flesh. You see the battle to conquer the flesh is not won by will power. Romans 7 makes it clear that is a losing battle. No it is one by setting your mind on the Spirit. When we set our mind on the flesh we have death, we are unable to please God, we are hostile to God, and we continue in deadness. On the other hand when we set our mind on the Spirit then we walk in the power of Christ's righteousness. We are made alive, and we are at peace with God! Now tell me which life do you want? The wretched life of Romans 7 or the Spirit filled life of Romans 8. I resolve to live the Spirit filled life! Will you join me?
Romans 8 outlines some key elements that are need to live this kind of life. After repentance we must acknowledge and accept that there is no condemnation in Jesus Christ. All to often we want to continue to beat ourselves up over past sin. You are free accept that freedom and move forward. Next you choose to walk according to the Spirit. You walk with the Spirit. You and God's Holy Spirit are interconnected and no thing that you do is done without the awareness of God's Holy Spirit. Next you set your mind on the Spirit. There is a very important distinction between setting you mind on the Spirit and setting your mind on the flesh. When a person continues to set their mind on the flesh either in indulging in sin or in the will power to avoid sin, They are setting their mind on the flesh. That is important enough that it bears repeating. When a person continues to set their mind on the flesh either in indulging in sin or in the will power to avoid sin, They are setting their mind on the flesh. You can be desiring to do a good thing (avoid sin) and still be setting your mind on the flesh. You cannot overcome the flesh by trying harder. The only way is to set your mind on the things of God, prayer, Bible reading and study, attending church, fellowship with other Christians, worshiping God, and so on. We need God to overcome our sin and Christ's sacrifice coupled with the indwelling of God's Spirit in you allow you to be adopted into his family. We are God's Children and He is our daddy, our father. We must pray in the Spirit. At times that means we do not know what to say, but can only let out a groan. That is OK because God's Spirit is right there to interpret our unintelligent groans into words of power before God. What is more when we pray in the Spirit we pray according to God's will because the Spirit of God knows our heavenly Father's will for our lives.
There is much more that I desire to share with you about Romans 8, but at this moment I would like to wrap this time up with a time of commitment. If you would stand with me. Some of you have already made some resolutions for the next year. I do not want to dissuade you from these. But let me suggest to you that if you are doing this in a Romans 7 manner where you will yourself to do good, the end result will be wretchedness. If however you resolve to set your mind upon the Spirit of God, You will have power to put to death the deeds of the flesh and experience lasting spiritual victory in your lives. There is an added bonus.
And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, then He who raised Christ from the dead will also bring your mortal bodies to life through His Spirit who lives in you.
Romans 8:11 (HCSB)
By setting your mind on the Spirit you will have life in your mortal bodies. To me that is real resolution. The power of God's Holy Spirit working in your life to bring about those long desired resolutions, but in his way, his power, and his time. To God Be the Glory.
Will you resolve with me to make this new year one in which you receive the release form condemnation of sin through turning to Christ. Will you resolve to abandon the losing war in which you will to do better only to lose out again to the flesh. Will you resolve to set your mind on the Spirit of God. Will you resolve to allow God to direct you way, have ownership over your hands, mouth, eyes, and feet. If you do and place your trust in Him, if you set your mind on His Holy Spirit, then this will truly be a blessed year. Let's Pray.