Hey everybody. It is good to be writing another post. I would love to post more, and I am continually trying to figure out a way that I can do that. But I am writing this today because I realize that I can no longer be silent about some things that are going on locally in my area and nationally. It is a heavy subject because it deals with racism.
If you did not know, I am a white man. Therefore, I do not fully understand what it must be like to be a black person in this country. I also do not want to negate the racism that exist among other races. We see racism in our country toward Hispanics, Asians, and Middle Eastern peoples. However, more often than not, the issue is a black and white issue. We have fought this battle since before America was even America. Slavery was abolished but the black person in this country was still treated as less of a human. The civil rights movement brought this to the forefront of our nation and caused laws to change for the better. However, even in the midst of that, racism toward and the mistreatment of black people has continued.
So I am not black, and I may not fully understand, but I want you to know that I see you, I hear you, I value you, and I mourn with you over what goes on in our country. In saying that, I realize it is going to take work. It is going to take time and hard conversations for me to begin to understand. I read a post online about a black man who was fearful in certain situations simply because of the color of his skin. The one situation at the forefront of our minds is when approached by a police officer.
I have been around police officers a lot. I have known a lot of them. I have some in my family. I have even been pulled over by a few. When I have been pulled over, I have never been afraid. The closest thing I have ever had to a “run-in” with a police officer was when I was pulled over for speeding one night pretty late, and he did not believe the truck was mine. I realize now that a lot of kids drive brand new or close to brand new trucks when they turn sixteen, but that was not always the case. While I was in college, I had a good job though and I bought a truck. He questioned whether it was mine, but he was quickly ok when I showed him my license and registration. That is nothing, I know. I tell that story to show that as a white man, I have never had the fear of what might happen to me in that situation.
My wife is Puerto Rican, and I remember her dad telling me the story about when they moved to the where they live now. He had a Puerto Rican flag on his van, and he kept getting pulled over. He was not doing anything wrong. They just stopped him to question him. He decided to take the flag off his van and no longer got stopped. That kind of stuff just baffles me.
I think that I want to see this issue through rose colored glasses. I want to think that it is not as bad as it seems to be. I want to believe that most people think like me. But I am realizing more and more that this is not that way because I was white and did not truly understand what people of other races go through. the case. Therefore, I want to speak out. Whatever audience I have, I want them to know where I stand on this issue. It is never okay to treat someone like they are less of a human because of the color of their skin, their cultural background, their religious beliefs, or their personal beliefs. Nobody deserves to be shot and killed because of this. Nobody deserves to have someone kneel on their neck for any amount of time. Even when a crime is committed, there are ways to restrain people, even those who resist, that do not include this kind of violence. We must be better than this.
I am not only talking about police officers, but I realize that is on the forefront of everyone’s mind currently. What I would say to that is that we cannot throw every police officer into this group. I spoke with a police officer yesterday and told him that I felt bad for him and others like him that are good cops who care about people regardless of skin color. I feel bad because now they are cast in a bad light because of the actions of others who wear the uniform.
I can no longer ignore racism. As I said earlier, I used to think that we were making too big of a deal of certain situations and that it was not as bad as it seemed. I realize now that I thought that way and viewed things
How can we respond? If you have watched the news recently, then you have seen the right way and the wrong way to respond. Protesting is a great way to show how important an issue is and that something needs to be done. Riots, looting, destroying businesses, and beating people is not the way to respond. Violence is not the answer. We want the violence to stop. Speak up! Let you voice be heard! Show others and teach others about the evil of racism and how we should treat each other as equals. In my house our desire is see everyone equally because we realize that we are all created in the image of God.
So, it does not matter what color your skin is. It does not matter what culture you come from. It does not matter what your religious beliefs are, at least in this instance. I have some strong convictions about religious beliefs. It does not matter what your personal beliefs are. Your life matters! So, although I may not be the same race as you, the same culture as you, or believe the same way you do, your life matters to me. I see you, I hear you, and I value you.
Racism is demonic. That’s the title of an article I read recently, and there was a quote in the article that I found particularly convicting: “Nothing would delight the Devil more than for Christians to believe that racism in America, and particularly in the church, has been dealt with.” For too long, I thought this way because I wanted it to be true. It is not. We still need to fight this fight.
If you have Netflix and enjoy true crime documentaries, they have some good ones. I just started a new one called “Trial By Media.” I have only watched an episode and a half, so I am not ready to make a judgment on it. I just enjoy true crime documentaries. I like to learn about events that happened: where they happened, when they happened, to whom they happened, and why they happened. I understand that documentaries are skewed in that they typically have an agenda or are presenting with really only one perspective. However, a good documentary will give you both sides and kind of let you make your own opinion. That’s really the way it should be, right? Let’s get all the facts and then make an opinion.
That’s what drew me to this documentary. The premise seemed to be the media’s role in people’s opinions about crime or situations. What led me to write today is twofold. First, not just in matters of crime but in politics, the media plays a big part in how people view situations, whether you want to admit that or not. Second, the episode I am currently watching on Trial By Media deals with racism, specifically in crime. Unless you live under a rock, these two issues are huge in our country right now.
We are living in the time of COVID-19, a mutated deadlier strain of the coronavirus. But how do we get our information about this situation? Mostly from the media but also politicians and even scientists. The agendas abound in all of those arenas. We just want to know who to blame. We want to give out facts. We want to cause panic. We want to have our candidate elected (…wait…a deadly virus is something we politicize to help our candidate get elected? Unfortunately yes.). We want to keep people safe. We want to sell a vaccine. We want to use this situation to push our own agenda, whether it is to truly help people or not.
All of this to say that we form opinions based on what “someone” tells us only later to find out that it was not portrayed accurately. I love conspiracy theories. I like to research them and find out the truth. (Are you getting a theme with my love of documentaries and conspiracies? I just want to know the truth.) In this case, I do not believe the conspiracy theories that the virus is made up and just a ploy by the government to control us. I know the virus is real. I know that it makes people very sick. I know that it is deadly. I also know that it is not “as bad” as it was originally portrayed (i.e., the recovery/survival rate is higher than originally thought, etc.).
Still…we panicked, bought all the toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and Lysol, and locked ourselves away for months. Why? I think it all started with the media’s portrayal. Shocker, I know! We watched what was going on in other places and heard uneducated opinions from pundits and then we freaked out. Whether we would like to admit it or not, the media played a big role.
The same goes with politics. You watch the media that caters to your views, right? When we are subjected to news that differs from our viewpoint, we immediately write it off. Everything “our” party does is great; everything the “other” party does is horrible. Where are these views expounded and repeated over and over again? The media in all it’s mediums.
Now on to how the media form our opinions in the area of racism. I am not a racist. (Notice that there was no “but” there. I always say a racist says “I am not a racist, but…” That’s not me.) Recently, we have heard about an event that happened months ago in which a young black man was shot and killed by a white man after being pursued by that man and another white man.
My first reaction to that news was this is horrible! If it was a racially motivated thing, it is even worse! But I withheld my comments and judgment because as I said above, I like to get the facts and know the truth. Honestly, I still do not know everything so I will not make a judgment on this particular case. However, I will say this: no black person deserves to be mistreated and definitely not shot and killed simply because of the color of his skin. This goes for any race: period. What happened in this case is still unsure. But we can’t wait for all the facts and must make a rush judgment. Then if we don’t make a rush judgment, we’re racist or at least unsympathetic.
Things are not always as they seem, and they are usually not anything like the media portrays. All of this rambling to say: when you read something on social media or the internet, when you see something on the news, or even when you hear something from someone about an illness, an insect (thought I forgot about the mad hornets didn’t you), political candidates or agendas, or crimes (in general or with racial overtones), make sure you know all the facts before you speak out for one side or the other. The Bible says this: “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” – Proverbs 17:28 Similar to this is a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.”
When I was 16 years old, one of my favorite bands was The O.C. Supertones. If you have never heard of them, they were a very energetic ska band that infused the ska sound into rock and roll and rap. Their live show was awesome! They, like most of the bands I liked around that time, no longer exist. Still, thanks to Amazon Music, I can go back and listen whenever I want.
One song I loved that they sang was one off of their album Loud and Clear called “Wilderness.” Here’s the chorus:
“Have you ever held in doubt What this life is all about Have you questioned all these things that seem important to us Do you really wanna know Or are you a little scared You’re afraid that God is not really exactly what you’d have Him be What should I hold to and what should I do How do I know if anything’s true I’m somewhere in-between Canaan and Egypt A place called the wilderness”
I honestly just like the song because of the sound. The guitar riffs, the horns blaring, and the quick lyrics just appealed to me. It wasn’t until much later that I came to appreciate this song on another level.
When I was 16 years old, Jesus saved me. I had prayed the sinner’s prayer a few times before that. I had even gotten “baptized” (I put it in quotes because getting dunked in a tank means nothing if Jesus hasn’t saved you). At 16, something different happened and I knew it. Jesus didn’t just save me at 16; he called me. His calling was clear to me at that time. I was going to be a pastor of a church. All believers are called my God; I understand that. But my calling was in the direction of proclaiming God’s Word as a pastor of a church.
I ran from that calling for over a year. This led me to make some bad decisions. I would try to silence the call by filling the void with other things. I would listen to other voices that told me what I wanted to hear. This led to choosing a college and a career path that was not in God’s plan. The whole time, God’s call was getting louder, and I could fight it no more. So I transferred to Bible college and began pursuing the path God had for me.
Fast forward to 20 years old, God calls me to a loving, godly church. I came on staff under two staff members who would help train and guide me, as well as letting me experience what it meant to be a pastor. I considered it to be somewhat of “on the job” training if you will, and I am forever grateful for what I learned.
Fast forward to 25 years old, God calls me to a church as the pastor. Nine years after Jesus saved me and called me, I am finally where I have been called. The people of the church loved me and my family. They were gracious in allowing a “first-timer” to come in. They worked with me through success and failure. When I had good ideas or bad ideas, when I handled things correctly or incorrectly, no matter what, they stood with me.
Fast forward to 33 years old, I’m no longer a pastor. There were a few situations that led to my departure from the church where I was pastor. One of those situations was for the last year or more of my pastorate, I doubted God’s calling on my life. Honestly, I doubt it now. I’m in the wilderness. Like the Israelites, I’m not back in Egypt, but I’m also not in the Promised Land.
My pastor is preaching through a series for Christmas called “Emmanuel: God With Us,” and he is currently in Exodus where the Israelites are wondering in the wilderness. In the midst of being in the wilderness, they can have hope, peace, and joy because God is with them. Our Sunday School class just started Numbers and still the Israelites are in the wilderness. In the midst of being in the wilderness, they have the visible presence of God. “Where are we supposed to go? What are we supposed to do?” Just follow the cloud and the fire. Just listen to what God says.
Oh that I wish that we could have a pillar of cloud and fire today. But this truth remains: God is with us, even in the wilderness. God is with me, even in the wilderness! I don’t know what his plan is for me. I have tried blogging, writing books, podcasts, preaching, singing, but I have taken a step back to seek what it is God wants me to pursue. Please pray along with me that I will trust God in the wilderness and that I will follow him as he leads me out.
I want to begin by asking a question: are you saved? In answering that question, I assume that there are several different responses. There are those who immediately answer, “No.” You know that you are not saved, and that is okay. I am glad that you are honest enough to admit that. Just know that you can be saved today. There are also those who immediately answer, “Yes.” However, there is no evidence of salvation taking place in your life. Oh, you might be a member of a church, you might have been led in a prayer, and you may have even been baptized, but you have not truly experienced the salvation that Jesus offers. You, too, can be saved today if you will be honest with yourself and admit your need for salvation. Finally, there are those who immediately answer, “Yes,” and they are genuinely saved.
In the passage we are looking at in this post, Nicodemus, an elite religious leader, comes to Jesus with a question that we have all. How can I be sure that I am a part of God’s kingdom and will spend eternity with Him in heaven? Jesus answers it by telling us that to be sure that we are truly saved, we must be given new life that leads to the transformation of our life.
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
You Must Be Born Again (1-7)
Now Nicodemus comes to Jesus, as I said, with a question that all of us want the answer to. But when you look at verse two, you may be wondering what question? There is no question there, right? Not to us, but Jesus certainly answered one. So what question is implied in Nicodemus’ statement? How can I be a part of God’s kingdom? Or how can I go to heaven? You see, Nicodemus recognized where Jesus had come from and where His power came from. So he knew that Jesus would know the answer to that question.
But Jesus kind of jumps ahead and answers the question before it actually gets asked. He says, “If you want to be a part of the kingdom of God, you have to be born again. In fact, it is impossible to be a part of the kingdom of God if you are not born again.” I can see Nicodemus chuckle a little bit and then say, “What? How can a person be “born again?” Are we supposed to crawl back into the womb and go through that process again?” Jesus then proceeds to explain what He means when He says “born again.” He tells Nicodemus that He is not talking about physical birth here. In fact, the word that is translated “again” also means “from above.” So Jesus is talking about a spiritual birth.
Jesus says unless one is born of water and the Spirit that He cannot enter the kingdom of God. This shows us, using the Old Testament teachings as reference, that we are in need of cleansing. So not only do we need to come alive spiritually, but we also need to be entirely renovated, completely changed. Jesus then tells us that this cannot happen on our own. He says that every attempt we make to try to be changed in this way will fall short, because whatever efforts we make in the flesh will result in fleshly results. To get the spiritual results that we want, we have to have the Spirit of God act. Only that which is born of the Spirit will produce the change that results in being born again.
We have to be given spiritual life. And notice that this is not optional. In verse seven, Jesus says you must be born again! In the Greek language the word used for “must” is a very strong term that emphasizes the necessity of what it is being talked about. So Jesus tells Nicodemus that to be a part of the kingdom of God, he must be born of the Spirit or born again.
Being Born Again Requires Transformation (8)
Now as we have already alluded to, being born again causes changes to occur in a person’s life. But here in verse eight, we see that clearly. This verse, at first glance, is a little difficult to understand because there is a certain word play that is occurring in the Greek language that cannot be adequately expressed when translated into English. But what Jesus is saying here is that just like the wind blows this way and that way and cannot be controlled, so it is with the Spirit. The Spirit’s work in the human heart can neither be controlled nor predicted. When we are sharing the gospel with someone out of obedience, we do not know if the Spirit is at work in that situation to sow the seed, cultivate what has already been heard, or to bring that person to a relationship with Jesus Christ. His work cannot be controlled or predicted by us. Also, you may have heard the gospel before but were not stirred by the Holy Spirit. However, today you are!
But here’s the important thing that we need to realize. If the Spirit has done His work in a person’s life and they have truly been born again, there is undeniable and unmistakable evidence! As Jesus said, you cannot predict or control the wind, but you can hear its sound. In other words, you can experience the effects of the wind. In the same way, the effects of the Spirit’s work can be seen in the transformed lives of those who have been born again. So we might not be able to predict or control when and where the Spirit works, but we know that when He shows up, everyone will know. So do you claim to be born again? Do you call yourself a Christian and expect to see the kingdom of God when you die? Jesus says that if you are born again, there will be undeniable and unmistakable evidence that is seen in the transformation of your life! If there is no change in your life, then nothing happened. When you truly get saved, your life changes!
This Transformation Comes by the Son, the Cross, and Faith (9-15)
How can this happen? First, it is because of Jesus. Without Jesus, there would be no salvation. It is Christ who came from the Father to seek and to save that which is lost. Now think about it, would it not make sense that the one who came from heaven knows how to get there? Jesus is saying, I am the Son of Man who has come from heaven and I am the only way there (John 14:6).
Second, it is because of the cross. Jesus looks forward to the cross here. If we look back to when the Israelites were wondering in the wilderness (Numbers 21), there was a time that they were complaining about the food that God was providing for them. So God sent poisonous snakes to them. This was not good for the people because one bite would kill them. So their leader, Moses, made a bronze snake and put it on a pole. Then he spread the word to all the Israelites that when the snakes would bite them, if they would look to the bronze snake, they would live! In the same way, Jesus, who had come to seek and save, would have to be lifted up for all to see on the cross. It was while He was on that cross that He took our sin upon Himself and paid the penalty for it. It was while He was on the cross that He said to those there and for all eternity, “Look and live!”
Third, it is because of our faith. Jesus came, yes. Jesus died on the cross for our sins, yes. But for that to be applied to our account, we must believe or have faith in Him and what He has done for us. Although it is the work of Christ that we believe in and although it is the work of the Spirit that causes us to be born again, we still must believe and have faith. Salvation is totally by the grace of God and is His work, but we still must receive what He is offering through His enabling power. But even then the focus is not on our belief but the object of our belief: “…whoever believes in him…” In all of this, Jesus points out that we not only receive spiritual life when we are born again, but we receive that spiritual life for all eternity. We, by being born of the Spirit, get to be a part of God’s kingdom for all eternity.
I want to offer two invitations. First, if you are a Christian, one who has been born of the Spirit and is living a transformed life, I want to encourage you to not only praise God for the salvation that He has given to you but to tell someone else about it. We need to be constantly praying for the unsaved people in our lives: those in our family, our friends, our co-workers, our neighbors, our waiter/waitress, our cashier. We need to pray that God would ignite a passion within us for sharing the gospel and that He would break our heart for the unsaved people around us. If we truly believe that everyone who is living apart from Christ has no hope, is without God, and is heading to hell for all eternity, we should be doing everything that we can to make sure that they know the good news that Jesus saves!
Penn Jillette, an adamant atheist, is an excellent illusionist. He is very outspoken against Christianity. However, he has a very touching story about an encounter with a believer who was very genuine with him and shared the gospel with him. This is what he said in response to this believer’s witness: “If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell and people could be going to hell—or not getting eternal life or whatever—and you think that, well, it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward…How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?
Maybe you have not been born again. Maybe you even made a decision in the past, but there was no change and you realize now that you really were not born again. I have great news for you. If you keep reading in John 3, you get to one of the most popular verses in the Bible: John 3:16. You know what that verse tells us? It tells us first of all that God loves you. But you, as well as the rest of us, have a problem and that is sin. Because of that God sent His Son Jesus to die on the cross for your sins. Finally, you have to believe in Him and receive Him through repentance and faith. Repentance means that you realize your sin, confess it to God asking for forgiveness, then you turn away from it. Faith means that you trust in the work that Christ has done on the cross to secure your salvation. But remember, this doesn’t just apply to you, you have to receive Him (John 1:12).
So far in our study of conversion, we have seen a beautiful picture of what happens in conversion from the Book of Ezekiel. It was then that we learned that conversion happens so that God’s glory will be known throughout the nations, entirely by His grace, and we are forgiven of our sin, given a new heart, given His Spirit to live within us, and he radically changes our wills. Then we turned to Romans and saw how God orchestrated conversion from beginning to end, and because of what He has done, if we are converted, everything in our life is working for our good and His glory (even if we can’t see it right now), nothing or no one can condemn us, and nothing or no one can separate us from the love that god has for us!
In this post, we are going to look at a before and after picture of conversion. We are still going to see some of the same things that we have seen the last two weeks, but there is more of a focus on the before than we have seen so far. What we are going to see this morning is that on our own, we are totally unable to be saved. God has to step into the picture to change things, and praise Him, He does! So as we look at this passage, we will see that although apart from Christ we are spiritually dead, with Him we are made alive, through Him we are saved by grace through faith, and in Him we are created for good works.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Apart from Christ, we are spiritually dead. (1-3)
This chapter starts off by describing the life of the unconverted. That means that this is the condition of everyone, because there was a time that we were all apart from Christ. So if you are not saved, this is your current condition, and if you are saved, this is your past condition. Paul tells us three things to describe those in this state. First, he says that if we are not saved, we are a corpse. He says that we are dead! This does not mean that if you are not a Christian that you are not really physically alive but that you are spiritually dead. Also notice that this is not a future death that is being described as in Roman 6:23 when Paul says that we earn eternal death. This spiritual death is something that is possessed and is a present reality right now. When looking at this death, or any other death in the Bible, we need to understand that what is meant is separation. Death in the most literal sense is separation from physical life. Then we have the spiritual death that Paul talks about here which is separation from God, and the eternal death that he talks about in Romans 6:23 being separation from God in hell for all eternity.
Now there are a few things we need to realize about being dead. First, we are all equally dead. In other words, one corpse cannot be more dead than the other. So if, apart from Christ, we try to justify our lives by saying that we are better than so and so, therefore God won’t be as harsh to me, then we are wrong. Paul says that we all either are or were dead. Second, we are all totally dead. We are not a little dead, some dead, or as we learn from the Princess Bride mostly dead. We are totally and completely dead. But the problem is that most people do not realize this. They are like spiritual zombies. They are the walking dead who do not know they are dead! Third, being totally dead, we are totally unresponsive. Just like a body in the morgue does not respond to physical stimuli, the spiritually dead person does not respond to spiritual stimuli. So we cannot, nor do we want to, respond to God in this dead state.
Maybe you are saying, “Richard, this is looking pretty bad for us.” I would agree, but Paul keeps going. We are not only a corpse. We are also controlled by what Danny Akin calls the “Trio of Terror.” First, we are controlled by the world. Paul says that we were following the course of the world. In using the word “world,” Paul is talking about the system of values and way of doing things. So the unconverted person, either consciously or unconsciously, is controlled by the values and attitudes of this world. It’s kind of like peer pressure. The world goes in one direction and because of the state that we are in we cannot help but follow the leading of the world.
Second, we are controlled by Satan. Paul calls him the prince of the power of the air. It is not that hard to connect these two, because in 2 Corinthians 4:4 Satan is called the god of this world. So the unconverted are in the clutches of this “ruler” and follow in his opposition to God. Third, we are controlled by “the passions or lusts of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind.” Lusts here refer to strong desires of every sort, and flesh refers to our fallen nature. So we are talking about any desire that is opposed to God and His will.
So we are a corpse and controlled, but we are also condemned. Paul says that we are “by nature children of wrath.” This means that we are those who are destined for wrath. Apart from Christ, we stand condemned. The sentence has been passed. And Paul is clear that this is true of all mankind. So we see that we are a spiritually dead person who is controlled by the world, Satan, and our sinful nature, and that we deserve nothing but God’s wrath. Even more, we cannot change a thing. We cannot make ourselves alive spiritually. We cannot overcome the world and the devil. We cannot change our nature. We just cannot do it! Maybe you say, “Richard, you are taking what Paul is saying too far.”
Well let’s briefly survey the New Testament and see what the consensus of God’s Word is:
Mark 7:7—we worship in vain.
Mark 7:9—we reject the commands of God.
John 3:18—we are already condemned
John 3:19—we love the darkness
John 3:20—we hate the light
John 6:44—we cannot come to God unless He draws us
John 8:34—we are slaves to sin
Romans 3:10—no one is righteous
Romans 3:11—no one seeks God
Romans 3:12—no one does good
Romans 3:18—we do not fear God
Romans 6:17—we are slaves to sin
Romans 8:7—we are hostile to God
Romans 8:9—we cannot please God
1 Corinthians 2:14—we do not accept the things of the Spirit
Galatians 1:4—we are prisoners of this evil age
Galatians 3:10—we rely on the works of the law
Galatians 5:16-18—we gratify the desires of the flesh
Galatians 5:19-21—we follow the works of the flesh
Ephesians 2:12—we are separated from Christ; have no hope and without God
Ephesians 4:17—we walk in the futility of our minds
Ephesians 4:18—we are darkened in our understanding and alienated from God
Ephesians 4:19—we practice every kind of impurity
Colossians 1:21—we were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds.
2 Timothy 2:26—we are in the snare of the devil
1 John 1:6—we walk in darkness
1 John 1:8—we are self-deceived and the truth is not in us
1 John 1:10—His Word is not in us
1 John 2:11—we are walking in darkness
1 John 2:15-17—we love the world
1 John 3:4—we make a practice of sinning
1 John 3:8—we are of the devil
1 John 3:10—we are children of the devil
1 John 3:14—we do not love, so we abide in death
1 John 3:15—we are murderers
1 John 5:21—we are idolaters
Do you get the picture? The consensus of the whole New Testament agrees with what we have said so far. We are a corpse that is controlled and condemned, and there is nothing that we can do about it. Are you depressed yet? Don’t be! Because what we couldn’t do, God did!
With Christ, we are made spiritually alive. (4-7)
It is crucial that we understand the position that we are in and the wrath of God because of it before we can truly appreciate the rest of this passage. At the beginning of verse four, we have, in my opinion, the two greatest words in the Bible. They are the gospel in two words: “But God!” If it wasn’t for God stepping in and doing what He did, then there is no way that we would be saved. Praise God for the “but God” of verse four!
So what did God do? First, He “made us alive together with Christ.” Conversion is a spiritual resurrection! We who were once dead are now alive! Not only are we made alive, but we are also raised up with Christ and seated with Him in the heavenly places. Notice the parallel with Ephesians 1:20, “…that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places…” And if we look back at verse nineteen, Paul talks about the “immeasurable greatness of his power” that made verse twenty possible. So noting the parallel, we see that the divine power that can make an unbeliever have life, be raised, and be exalted with Christ is the same power that presently operates in us after conversion. So we have been given life! More than that, we have been united with Christ! More than that, our citizenship has changed from this world to heaven. John Calvin wrote, “It is as if we have been brought from the deepest hell to heaven itself.” Praise God for the “but God” of Ephesians 2:4.
But I want us to notice verse four and verse six because they give us the reasons behind why God did what He did. In verse four Paul tells us that God who is rich in mercy and because of His great love with which He loved us did what He did. First, let’s look at His love. We read in 1 John 4:8 that God is, by nature, love. That’s just His nature. So because of that, according to Romans 5:6-8, He sent Christ to die on our behalf and pay the penalty for us, even though we were in the condition we were in, which leads us to His mercy. It is in His mercy that He does not give us what we deserve. As we saw earlier, we deserve His wrath. But because of His great love with which He loved us and His rich mercy, He chose not to give us what we deserve. Instead, He stepped in and made us alive, raised us up, and exalted us with Christ in the heavenly places.
Salvation is obviously for our benefit, but we would be wrong to stop there because for God there is much more. The final and true cause of conversion is the glory of God! As we look at verse six, we see that conversion takes place “so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” So in other words, God is going to receive glory for all eternity by putting His work on display for all to see. So for all eternity we will proclaim “the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us.” This is a little different than mercy. In His mercy, He does not give us what we deserve. In His grace, He gives us what we do not deserve. So not only do we not receive His wrath, which we deserve, but we also receive His salvation, which we do not deserve. So God is glorified for all eternity because of the salvation that He has given to us! That is the final and true cause of our conversion. While it is for our benefit, it is ultimately for His glory!
Through Christ, we are saved by grace through faith. (8-9)
These two verses are some of the most popular verses in the Bible, and the message that they teach is extremely important in our understanding of conversion. These verses show us very clearly the means of salvation and the roles God and us play in conversion. We are told that we are saved by grace. This shows us that salvation is entirely the gracious work of God. Then we are told that this gracious salvation is received by faith. So God owes us nothing, but offers us salvation totally by His grace. Then we receive that offer by faith.
But then Paul says that this is not our own doing, but it is the gift of God. So we have to look at both sides of this, God’s and ours, and try to understand it. Paul says in the beginning of the verse that we receive the gracious offer of salvation by faith, but now he says that it is not our own doing but a gift from God. What He wants us to understand is that even our response of faith is a gift from God. Otherwise, salvation would be in part by our own works, and we would have some ground to boast in ourselves. As Paul says in the next verse, we have no reason to boast, because it is not because of anything that we did, do, or will do that we receive salvation. It, as a whole, is completely and totally the gift of God. Jonah 2:9 says, “Salvation belongs to the Lord.” As John MacArthur says, “Faith is simply breathing the breath that God’s grace supplies.” The only boasting that is done should be done in Christ for what He has done for us (1 Corinthians 1:31).
In Christ, we are created for good works. (10)
In the beginning, God created man. In Genesis 3, mankind fell into sin. God, in conversion, recreates man. As 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” Here Paul tells us why we were recreated. It is good works. So we are saved for His glory, because of His love and mercy for us, and by His grace to work! We are not just supposed to sit back and rejoice in the fact that we are saved. We have to be about the good works that God has prepared beforehand for us. So while good works cannot produce salvation, they are subsequent and resultant God-empowered fruits and evidences of it. This goes back to what we learned in Ezekiel. We now have radically different wills. When we are taken out of the wretched state that we were in apart from Christ, we are changed radically and completely to perform good works in Christ. Conversion is apart from works but unto works.
So we have seen that apart from Christ we are spiritually dead, with Christ we are made spiritually alive, through Christ we are saved by his glorious grace through faith, and in Christ we are created for good works.
If you are reading this and you are saved, then you should be praising God for what He has done in your life. We have seen a reminder of the total sinfulness and lostness from which we have been redeemed. Knowing that it is totally by His grace towards us and for His glory, we praise Him and thank Him for making us alive, raising us up, and uniting us with Christ in the heavenly places. Praise God for the “but God” of Ephesians 2:4. Without it, we would still be spiritually dead, controlled by the “Trio of Terror,” and deserving of and destined for God’s wrath.
If you are reading this and you are not saved, you have seen what God’s Word says about your current situation. You are spiritually dead, controlled by the world, Satan, and your sinful nature, all of which are opposed to God, and ultimately you are destined for God’s wrath to be displayed against you. But the great news for those of us who are saved is great news for you as well. Even though you are in that current state, God wants you to know that He loves you and according to 2 Peter 3:9, He wants you to receive His offer of salvation. Are you in that position? If you are, please do not put off making a decision. If God is working on your heart right now, respond before it’s too late.
There are a lot of verses that we like in the Bible. You know the ones. They are the ones that we put on coffee mugs, t-shirts, posters, Bible Covers, and whatever else we can think of. The passage that we are going to look at today has at least two of them. Romans 8:31, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” This is a great verse! But my question is who “us” is in that verse? Then we have Romans 8:28, “All things work together for good.” Once again, this is a great verse and a very comforting verse that is filled with hope. But I question again who does this apply too?
You see, we quote those verses like there is nothing to it. I know I am guilty of it. Somebody that is dear to us is going through a hard time or struggling, and we smile and say, “All things work together for good!” Or they are having problems with someone trying to cause trouble, and we smile and say, “If God is for us, who can be against us!” What is happening is we want those verses without the qualifications. We want the good things of God that are mentioned in this passage, but we ignore that fact that they are not universal. The good things that we long for from God, His love, kindness, protection, and acceptance, are ultimately found only in and only for those who have experienced conversion.
28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
God Works for the Good in the Life of the Converted (28-30)
So let’s look at verse 28 and see who exactly Paul is talking about here. The result that we all want (i.e., having all things work together for good) is only for those who love God. Who loves God? Well, earlier in Romans 1:30, one of Paul’s descriptions of the unsaved person is that they are “haters of God.” And in John 14:15, Jesus said that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments. In Ezekiel 36, we see that the ones who are converted, the ones who have had the sin-forgiving, heart-changing, Spirit-filling experience, are the ones who are then able to obey the commands of God. So who are the ones who love God? It is the converted, the saved, the Christian!
But going even further, Paul says that it is those who are called according to His purpose. This is where we get into territory that we do not like so much. Who are the called? Well, let’s look at the meaning of the word.“Called” here means “invited.” But we will get back to that word in a second. Paul wants to explain this concept to us a little more. Now let me point out that we have two dangers here when approaching this section of Scripture. First, we can misunderstand the terms (i.e., saying, “They don’t mean that). So let’s look at that first. Paul says that God foreknew. Let’s stop there. What do we mean when we are talking about God’s foreknowledge? Obviously, the basic meaning of the word is “to know beforehand.” That is not really a problem for us, or I hope it is not, because we believe that God is omniscient and exists outside of time, which would make knowing the future no big deal.
But when we talk about God’s knowledge are we talking about simply knowing something? If we survey, briefly, some passages of Scripture we see: 1) God knew Israel differently than other nations (Amos 3:2); 2) God knew Israel in a special way in the wilderness (Hosea 13:5); 3) God knows the way of the righteous (Psalm 1:6); and 4) God did not know those who stood before Him saying, “Lord, Lord” (Matthew 7:23). So does that mean that God did know about the other nations or did not know Israel outside of the wilderness or does not know about the unrighteous or did not know who the people were who were standing before Him? No! As we said, He knows everything! But when the Bible speaks of knowing, we have to determine whether it is simply “knowing” or is it something more!
Okay, so this word in the original language can refer to more than simply knowing beforehand and can imply choosing beforehand. This concept should not be foreign to us because Ephesians 1:4 says, “…even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world…” So God knew us before the foundation of the world in a special electing, choosing way. Now this leads to the second of the two dangers I mentioned earlier. Maybe we say that God determines or chooses based on His foreknowledge. In other words, He looks to the future and sees that we are going to get saved, so then He chooses those who He knows are going to get saved. But to do this takes away God’s sovereignty, the fact that He is the one in control. If this is the case, God is dependent on something that He would see happening in the future. That cannot be the case. Unless God determines in some sense that something will happen, He cannot “know” that it will happen.
Now with all that emphasis on God’s sovereignty and foreknowledge or choosing from eternity past, let me say that this in no way minimizes the importance of the human response of faith that Paul has talked about earlier in Romans. But even those responses are gifts of God! Acts 11:18 and Ephesians 2:8 show us that our responses are gifts from God. Also, this may lead some to begin thinking unbiblically about those who are not saved. But God’s Word is clear in John 3:18-21, as well as other places, that those who die condemned do so because of their refusal to trust Christ. So although the human response is minimal, it is there and necessary.
Okay, so those whom He foreknew, He also predestined. This again is another concept that we have to wrestle with. In this context it has a similar meaning to foreknowledge. But in this case, it is not applied to the same area. Those whom He foreknew He also predestined or predetermined that they would be conformed into the image of His son. So for the converted, God has determined beforehand that we would become like Christ. This is very comforting for us because it tells us that God’s hands are never off of us, but He is continually shaping us, making us like Christ. But continuing on in that verse, we see that we are not only becoming like the Son, but we are being called sons.
But let’s not stop there, because those whom He predestined, He also called. This speaks to the work of the Spirit, whereby convincing us of our sin, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills—that sounds a lot like conversion doesn’t it—He persuades and enables us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel. This is seen in Acts 16:14 when the Lord opened Lydia’s heart to the gospel.
Then those whom He called, He also justified. Church, this is one of those things that should blow our minds and put us on our knees praising God! What does this mean for us? It means two things. First, at the moment of conversion, we are given the active righteousness of Christ. When God looks at us, He does not see our righteousness or more accurately our lack of it. He sees the righteousness of Christ. Second Corinthians 5:21 says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Second, it means that the rebellion of our past, present, and future is taken from us. We are forgiven once and for all. We are immediately and completely justified at the moment of conversion. If that doesn’t make you want to shout, I don’t know what will.
But it doesn’t stop there! Those whom He justified, He also glorified. Now when we think about glorification, we think about heaven. If that is the case, then why is Paul talking about glorification in the past tense. Should he not have said that we are justified, being sanctified, and will be glorified? Well he mentioned justified and sanctification in the fact that we are being conformed into the image of the Son. However, he still speaks of glorification in the past tense. The reason is that this future is so certain in Paul’s mind that it is as if it has already been accomplished! Our future, if we are foreknown, predestined, called, and justified, is absolutely certain! Now it has taken us a long time to get here, but it is those that we have been talking about that can truthfully say, “All things work together for good.” Now Paul goes on to express the goodness of God even more.
God Removes All Accusations against the Converted (31-34)
The good news for us, if we fit into the above category, is that no one can come against us or accuse us! We see that God, in not sparing His Son, has shown that He will not withhold His goodness from us. One of the best things that He gives us is found earlier in Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Now we see it again. Paul says that if God has justified, who can accuse us? No one can successfully accuse the one whom God has made righteous. This doesn’t mean that we will no longer sin; it means that the bill has been paid. So if we accuse ourselves or other accuse us, God will not accuse us, because Jesus has already paid the penalty for our sin. And if anybody tries to condemn us, we rest in the finished work of our Savior and Advocate, Jesus Christ. He died, but not only that, He was raised, ascended to the right hand of God, and now intercedes on our behalf! So let people oppose us, accuse us, and seek to condemn us, but if we are converted, the Supreme Judge will declare us righteous.
God Secures the Converted in His Love (35-39)
Paul concludes this passage by letting us know that we are those who are converted, not only is God working for the good in our life and removing all accusations against us, but He is also securing us in His love. Paul lists a long list of things that could possibly separated us from God’s love for us: tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword, death, life, angels, rulers, things present, things to come, powers, height, depth, and anything in creation.
None of which will be able to separate us from the love of God for us. In fact, he tells us that through Christ, we will actually be victorious over all these things. He calls us super-conquerors in Christ! This is very encouraging to know that our security in Christ is absolute. There is absolutely nothing in all of creation that can keep Him from accomplishing His purposes in our lives. That to me is the ultimate good that God works in my life. I know that He is working good in my life because of His great love for me as His child. I know that He will not listen to me or anyone else who brings an accusation against me because there is nothing that can drive a wedge between me and Him because of His great love for me!
We have covered a lot. We have seen that God indeed does work all things for good, but this is not for everybody. It is for the converted. And for those who have been converted, no accusation will stand, because if God has saved us, no one can argue with that! He is the Supreme Judge and His ruling will stand. Also, the converted can rest in the fact that nothing in this entire universe will be able to separate them from God’s love for them.
I hope you have seen that the goodness of God is expressed supremely in conversion. So if you want the goodness of God to be present in your life, salvation is the answer. My prayer is that God is working in your heart and saving you right now if you are not saved. If God is working on your heart, do not resist Him. Let Him do His work.
If you are saved, my prayer is that you will realize these truths in your life. I may not know what you are going through, but I do know this: even if we cannot see it at the moment, God is working all things together for our good and His glory. So trust Him, and know that He is working. Also, realize that there may be many who try to convince you that you are not His. It is biblical to test ourselves to prove that we are in the faith, but we are not to think that we are not His when we are. Satan will try to convince us that because of our past mistakes or even our present mistakes that God could really not have forgiven us. Others may look at us as somebody who can never really change and are just waiting for us to mess up to show us that we are not really saved. But the biggest accuser of you is you! You need to rest in the promise that if God has truly saved you, no one can bring anything against you. Also, realize that nothing can separate you from God’s love for you. He loves you and will love you until the end.
What happens when we are saved? That is the question that we want to answer over the next few weeks. We call this moment of salvation “conversion.” But what is conversion and what does it look like? Is it possible that some people might think that they have been saved but have not experienced biblical conversion? The only way to answer these questions is to find out what the Bible teaches about it.
In this post, we will be looking at a passage in Ezekiel. You might say, “But Richard, isn’t conversion a New Testament doctrine, you know, something that started after Christ came (i.e., John 3—being born again)?” Well what we have here in Ezekiel is God’s future plan laid out for the why, how, and what of conversion. So what can we learn from Ezekiel about conversion? Here it is: Motivated by His glory among the nations and exercised through His grace towards us, God chooses to save us, and in doing so, He forgives us, fills us with His Spirit, and radically changes our wills.
Ezekiel 36:22-32 —22 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. 23 And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. 24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.[a]28 You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. 29 And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. And I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. 30 I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. 31 Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations. 32 It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord God; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel.
God’s glory among the nations is the motivation behind our conversion.
Notice with me verses 22-23. Here God says the reason that He is going to do what He is going to do is to “vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations.” Bottom line: God savesHis people because He loves His glory! So God is going to do what He is going to, not because we are deserving of it, but so that He can bring glory and honor to His name throughout the nations, and therefore, show them that He alone is the one true God.
You see, God is all about His glory! Yes, He is motivated to an extent by His love, mercy, and grace towards us, and we would have no hope of salvation apart from those things. But ultimately, God is doing what He is doing to bring glory to Himself, because He is God and there is no one else who is worthy of glory and honor. Listen to what He says in verse thirty-two, “It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord GOD; let that be known to you.” So the supreme motivation behind our conversion is the restoration of God’s glory among the nations.
To make the point even further, look through the book of Ezekiel and you will see the God Himself says this seventy times. For example, Ezekiel 24:27, “So you will be a sign to them, and they will know that I am the LORD.” Chapter 25:7, “Then you will know that I am the LORD.” Chapter 25:11, “Then they will know that I am the LORD.” Chapter 26:6, “Then they will know that I am the LORD.” Chapter 28:23, “Then they will know that I am the LORD.” Chapter 28:24, “Then they will know that I am the Lord GOD.” Chapter 28:26, “Then they will know that I am the LORD their God.” Chapter 29:6, “Then all the inhabitants of Egypt shall know that I am the LORD.” Then in verse 9, 16, 21, 30:8, 19, 26. Do you see the pattern? The supreme motivation behind our conversion is the global glory of God!
God’s grace towards us is the means behind our conversion.
The motivation behind our conversion is God-centered, and the means by which we are converted is God centered. It is solely by the grace of God that we are saved! According to Ephesians 2:1, we are spiritually dead before God comes into the picture. You know what that means? We are helpless unless God comes to save. There is nothing we can do to change ourselves or our situation. God has to step into the picture. We don’t deserve it; it is all because of His grace. So conversion takes place for the glory of God and by the grace of God.
To prove this even further, let’s look at the passage in Ezekiel: 23—“And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name…;” 24—“I will take you from the nations…;” 25—“I will sprinkle clean water…and from you all your idols I will cleanse you;” 26—“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone…;” 27—“And I will put my Spirit…;” 28—“I will be your God;” 29—“And I will deliver you…and I will summon the grain…; 30—“I will make the fruit…;” 32—“I will act…” That is thirteen times in eleven verses that God says “I will do this.” Conversion is the work of God! If He doesn’t step in and do something, we have no hope! So conversion takes place, why? It is for the glory of God to be seen among the nations. How does it take place? It is by the sovereign grace of God acting upon us in our spiritually dead state. But what does it look like?
God forgives us of our sin and fills us with His Spirit at the moment of conversion.
In verse twenty-five, the normal purification rituals of Israel are referenced. However, something different is said. God says that this is not just some ritual cleansing, but He will do this and in doing so, we will be clean from all uncleanness and idols. This is a forward look to the forgiveness that would come through the shed blood of Christ. We are forgiven of all of our sins at the moment of conversion, but this does not give us license to do whatever we want, as we will see in a moment. Now obviously, this is something that cannot be separated from genuine confession and repentance. 1 John 1:9 tells us that this forgiveness awaits only those who confess, indicating repentance as well. But in that case, we are promised that God is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. This initially takes place at conversion when we are made righteous by the blood of Christ.
But even more, we are given the Spirit of God within us. I don’t know about you, but forgiveness of sin is great! I mean, that is what we were dead in and enslaved by, and now we are told that we can be made alive and free from it. That is great news! But God doesn’t stop there. He puts His very Spirit within us. How awesome is that! We have the Spirit living within us and doing God’s work in our lives. As 2 Peter 1:3-4 says, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 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.” That divine nature that we possess is the Spirit of God dwelling within us. So initially, at the moment of conversion, we are forgiven of sin once and for all, and we are given the indwelling Spirit of God.
God radically changes our wills as a result of conversion.
So we have seen what happens at the moment of conversion, but what happens after conversion? Well, where we were once opposed to God, we are now responsive to Him. How does this happen? God removes our hard, stony heart, and He replaces it with a heart of flesh. Also, don’t forget that He has given us His very Spirit.
So let’s start with the heart, because that is where conversion starts. Notice that in this passage, God talks about the heart and our outward actions or obedience to His Word. I want you to notice which one comes first. It is God’s changing of our heart. Church, if the heart is not changed, all the cleaning up of our lives that we can do is of no good. Conversion starts in the heart and works its way out. Once the heart is changed, then our wills, thoughts, and feelings change, and then our actions begin changing. Notice that this radical change in our lives does not happen at the moment of conversion like the forgiveness of sin and the indwelling Spirit of God. It is a result of that. It is going to take time. But when we are given a new heart and the Spirit of God, we are told here that we will walk according to His statutes and obey His rules. When our heart changes and the Spirit comes to live inside us, our desires will change radically.
Also notice how this change causes us to view sin. In verse thirty-one God says, “Then you will remember you evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations.” Now I do not know about you, but that does not sound to me like we can live however we want and claim to be saved. Our radically new desires are not just positive in that we will follow the will of God and seek to live a life pleasing to Him, but they are negative in that we will no longer want to sin. I am not saying that we will never sin, but that we will not want to.
The bottom line here is that after we are saved we are radically different than we were before. That means that profession of faith without transformation of life from the inside out is not biblical conversion. We cannot experience the power of God in salvation and still look the same as those in the world who haven’t. As one preacher said, “If someone gets hit by a Mack truck, they will look different than they did before they got hit.” In the same way, we will look different after we experience true biblical conversion than we did before it happened.
God saves us by forgiving us of our sin, giving us His own Spirit, and radically changing us from the inside out completely by His grace and for His glory among the nations!
So I just have to ask you, have you experienced what we talked about here? Has God stepped into the story of your life, changed your heart, forgiven you of your sin, and given you His Spirit? If not and He is working in your heart right now, respond to Him. He would love nothing more than to save you.
Maybe you thought you were saved but realized that some of the things that I have talked about were not a reality in your life. Don’t be afraid to get that settled today. I would much rather you search your heart, realize you have been deceiving yourself into thinking that you are saved, and get it right today than to continue deceiving yourself and spend an eternity in hell.
Maybe you are truly saved, but you are resisting the radical changes that God is trying to make in your life. Let go. Let’s be the people of God that He wants us to be.
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. – Matthew 6:19-21
I want to stress once again what it means to be a steward. A steward was a person who served as a house manager; they had nothing of their own, but distributed what was under their care according their master’s will and direction. Now if we apply that to what we have learned so far, we could say that our time has been given to us by God, and therefore we should use it according to His will. We could also say that our abilities have been given to us by God, and therefore we should use them according to His will. We have seen that as far as our time goes, we may not have as much as we think, so it makes sense that we start using our time wisely now, whether that means becoming a Christian if you’re not or living in wholehearted devotion to Christ if you are. We have also seen that as a Christian, you have been given a gift that is needed in the church and for the church to complete the mission that Jesus gave it, so it makes sense that we start using our gifts now.
Today, we are going to wrap up our study by looking at our treasure. We have talked about how stewardship covers every area of our life, even though we typically think of money first. However, even when talking about our treasure, it is not all about money. Hopefully, we will understand what exactly what Jesus means when He talks about treasure and then how we can make the best use of what we have. But if there is anything that we can take away from this passage, it is this: Everything that we accumulate on this earth is going to pass away. So as good stewards of what God has given us, we should use what we have to impact eternity.
I. The Treasure We Gain on Earth is Temporary (19)
The first thing that we see in this passage and therefore the first thing we need to understand from this passage is that the treasures that can be laid up on this earth are temporary. Notice what Jesus says. We can buy the nicest, most expensive clothes, but they are just asking for moths to come in and destroy them. We can buy the nicest, most expensive cars, but they are going to rust. Whatever we get, it will deteriorate or eventually be destroyed. Well, what if we take the necessary measures to protect what we have from that which will mess it up? What if we buy mothballs for our closets and dressers? What if we build a garage and use a car cover? What if we do whatever it takes to keep it from deteriorating? Jesus has an answer for that as well. He says that thieves can steal it. Think about it. You keep a jewelry box full of jewelry that you maintain like they tell you to and keep it in mint condition. Well what good will it be if someone steals it. Or what if they break into your garage and steal your car that you take such good care of?
It may not be clothes, jewelry, or cars for you, but I hope you get the picture of what I am trying to say. What if you take great care of everything that you have and manage to keep it from being stolen by thieves until the day that you die? Have you succeeded? Yes! You have succeeded in leaving your spouse or children a bunch of stuff that they have to go through and deal with. What am I trying to say? I am saying that when we die, we will take out exactly what we brought in—nothing! Job 1:21 says, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return.” We can hoard up all that we want and even protect it from deterioration to the best of our ability, but eventually it will fade away. We can’t take it with us, and ultimately it will not last.
I hope that this makes you think about how you view what you have. Now with that in mind, it is not wrong to have earthly possessions or money. Remember 1 Timothy 6:10 does not say that money is the root of all evil. It says that the love of money is the root of all evil. So Jesus is not banning possessions or money. He is not banning a savings account. Remember the Bible praises the ant for preparing for the future in Proverbs 6, and it also says that a man who does not take the necessary precautions to provide for his family is worse than an unbeliever in 1 Timothy 5:8. He is also not banning enjoying what God has given us. Well, if that is not what He is talking about, then what is He talking about?
The key word here is yourselves. Jesus is talking about gathering possessions and wealth for selfish gain. The problem is that when we accumulate possessions and wealth simply for our own sakes—whether to hoard or to spend selfishly and extravagantly—those possessions become idols. In other words, they become our treasure. Our treasure is anything on which we set out hearts, and when possessions and money take that place, we are in danger. But we will talk about that more in a moment.
Now there is one more thing that I want to address before we move on. If you remember the rich young ruler, then you might be thinking about what Jesus said to him. Does what we learn here about not storing up treasures on earth and Jesus’ command to sell everything and follow Him coincide? The answer is no. The reason I say that is because Jesus does not command everyone to give up all their possessions and money to follow Him. But He does require obedience to His commands no matter what the cost. Your cost may be different that someone else. Yours may involve money and possessions while another person’s may require moving, changing jobs, or being cut off from their family because of their decision to follow Christ. Whatever the cost, we have to follow Christ.
With the understanding that everything on the earth is passing away and that it is okay for us to have possessions and money as long as they do not become our treasure, then what should our treasure be and how do we show that using our possessions and money?
II. The Treasure We Gain in Heaven is Eternal (20)
Now while the things of this earth are passing away, there are things that will never pass away. As 1 Peter 1:4 says, we have “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” Paul says the same thing in 2 Corinthians 4:8, “…we look not the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient (or temporary), but the things that are unseen are eternal.” In other words, there are things that we can be hoarding up that are not subject to deterioration, thieves, or passing away. These things are eternal! In fact, investing in these things is really the only sure investment. We can talk about investments and how much return we can get, but is it guaranteed? Honestly, the guaranteed returns are next to nothing, especially today. However, investing in that which is eternal is a sure investment. Nothing will corrupt that investment.
So how do we build up this eternal investment? We do this when everything that we do is done purely for the glory of God. To build up this heavenly investment, we do things on this earth that will impact eternity. In essence, we use all that we have for the glory of God. This means that we use our time to impact eternity; we use our abilities to impact eternity; and we use our possessions and money to impact eternity! This means that our possessions and money, when they are wisely, lovingly, willingly, and generously used for building God’s kingdom, can be a means of accumulating heavenly possessions. So when our time, energy, and possessions are used to serve others and to further the Lord’s work, they build us heavenly resources that are completely free from destruction or theft.
Now I do not know how God has blessed you. You could be very wealthy and everybody knows it. You could be very wealthy and nobody knows it. You could be barely making it and everybody knows it. You could be barely making it and nobody knows it. You could be doing okay, not too good but not too bad either. My question is: Are we using the resources that God has given us to impact this world for Christ, and therefore building up treasure in heaven, which is a sure investment, or are we using the resources that God has given us to get more and more for us, which at best will be left here when we die? Are we making the best use of what we have been given to the glory of God?
Why is this such an important question? It is because this is a matter of the heart.
III. The Location of Our Treasure Indicates the Location of Our Heart (21)
Notice what Jesus says in verse twenty-one: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” As always, the heart must be right first. In fact, if the heart is right, everything else in life falls into its proper place. Notice with me a few verses down in verse twenty-four. Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”Jesus completely throws compromise out of the window right there. You cannot serve God and money! It is either/or NOT both/and! This is why we have to be so careful if or when we are blessed with wealth. If God grants riches, and we use them for His glory, then riches are a blessing. But if we desire to get rich, and live with that outlook, we will pay a great price for that wealth. As Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:9, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many and senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.”
So it is extremely important to have the right view of our possessions and money regardless of how much or how little we have. We still have the responsibility to handle our wealth according to God’s Word. What does His Word have to say about how we handle our money? Proverbs 3:9-10 says, “Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.” Luke 6:38 says, “…give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” 2 Corinthians 9:6-8 says, “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”
How much more could we as families and as a church do to impact eternity if we began handling our finances the way God tells us to? But how can we give in this way? Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” This doesn’t mean that we are unwise with our money and expect God to magically pay our bills, but it does mean that if God tells you to give your last bit of money for the month to the church or to someone in need, you do it and sit back to watch Him meet your needs.
You see, it is a matter of the heart. Where is your treasure? Are you that wrapped up in the things of this world that you have to accumulate more and more? When you get your car paid off, do you have to get another one or can you use that payment to impact eternity? When you get that raise at work, do you have to increase you standard of living to match it, or can you keep things the same and use that extra money to impact eternity? This is a very important matter, because Jesus says that the location of what you treasure indicates where your heart already is! You treasure what your heart is set on. If you are completely and totally satisfied in God and what He provides then your treasure is God, and your earthly possessions and wealth will be used to impact eternity, therefore building up that heavenly investment. But if your satisfaction comes from your income, your possessions, your investment return, your 401k performance, or anything like that, then your treasure is here on earth. Remember, you cannot serve God and money!
Everything on this earth is passing away, and only the things that are stored in heaven will last. So the question remains: Where is your heart? Whether you have a lot of wealth or not, are you living for the here and now or for the eternal? Don’t just say one or the other. Evaluate how you spend your money and use your possessions. Where is your heart? If you are a Christian, make the commitment today to build up treasure in heaven by using all that you have to bring glory to God and make an eternal impact!
I want to share with you a concept of being a steward that I ran across this week. I think this is very important for us as we seek to glorify God in how we handle our time, talents, and treasure. If we grasp this concept in all three of these areas, we will definitely be living a lifestyle of stewardship. Here it is: A steward was one who served as a house manager; they had no wealth of their own, but distributed their master’s wealth according to their master’s will and direction. Did you catch that? So applying that to our “lifestyle of stewardship” discussion: If we begin to realize that everything we have, our time, talents, and treasure, is all God’s that He has given us to use for Him, then we will begin our journey of making the best use of our time, talents, and treasure, not for ourselves or our own glory, but for God and His glory!
1 Peter 4:10-11 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
The great violinist, Niccolo Paganini willed his marvelous violin to the city of Genoa on the condition that it must never be played. The wood of such an instrument, while used and handled, wears only slightly, but set aside, it begins to decay. Paganini’s lovely violin has today become worm-eaten and useless except as a relic. This brings to mind collecting antiques. My mom loves to collect antiques, but I never understood it. I realize while watching some of these shows on television now that someone could have something worth a lot of money. They might buy an old car and restore it so that it is worth a lot of money, but they never drive it because they don’t want to mess up their investment. So a perfectly good car just sits in the garage. They might have some rare collectible, but it just sits on the shelf and collects dust. For me, I think that if you aren’t using it, you should get rid of it. What’s the point if you never use it?
In the same way, there are many people who God has given great talents and abilities, and they are either not using them at all or using them for their own glory, when they should be using them for God’s glory. God has given each one of us certain talents or gifts so that together we can faithfully serve others and glorify God.
I. Each One of Us Has a Gift (10a, 11a)
I want you to know that each one of us has specific gifts that God has blessed us with, but specifically if you are a Christian, God has given you what we call a spiritual gift. Notice with me in verse 10: “As each received a gift…” Notice that Peter does not say, “As those of you who received a gift…” That would imply that there were some who did not receive a gift. He wants everyone to know that each of them has been given a gift. So every Christian has at least one spiritual gift, which is a graciously given, supernaturally designed ability granted by the Holy Spirit.
It is important for us to take a moment to distinguish between talents and spiritual gifts. God’s Word tells us about these gifts in a few different places. But we see the main division here in our text. Look at verse 11: “…whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies…” What we see here is that our spiritual gift or gifts fit into one of two categories. First, there are the speaking gifts. This is not the same as when someone says they have the “gift of gab.” That just means they like to speak. Speaking gifts would be things like preaching, teaching, prophecy, tongues, interpretation, wisdom, knowledge, and discernment. Second, there are the serving gifts. Serving gifts would be things like administration, prayer, mercy, and meeting needs. Each one of us has been given a gift by God.
The question then comes: What am I supposed to do with my gift?
II. Our Gifts Need to Be Used to Serve Others (10b)
Notice with me verse 10 again: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace…” As a preacher friend of my used to say, that is a pregnant statement. There is a lot packed into that short phrase, so let’s try to break it down a little bit. Let’s start with the last phrase. What does “God’s varied grace” mean? Well, Romans 12:3-6 says, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us…” In other words, we are all individual parts of the body of Christ (i.e., uniquely gifted for the body part that we are supposed to be). Christ is the head, and we make up the rest of it.
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul gives us an illustration that will help us a lot here. In essence he says, “What if one day that foot got mad because it wasn’t a hand, so it left the body? What if an ear got mad because it wasn’t an eye, so it left the body? This just would not work. If the ears left, how would the body hear? If the nose left, how would the body smell? All the parts are needed! In fact, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.” So every part of the body of Christ is needed. You are needed! Then Paul continues and says, “What if one part of the body thinks that they can do without another part of the body? What if they think another part of the body is not needed? Well this cannot be true because the parts of the body that might seem to be weaker are indispensable.” In other words, we need everyone. The gist of what Paul is saying is this: You are needed! Whether you are a preacher or a janitor, a deacon or a child, a teacher or a behind the scenes worker, you are needed in the body of Christ!
Why is all of that important? It is because we can only accomplish the tasks that God has given to us, when we all work together, each one doing his/her part. As the church, we are called to do several things. For instance, we are to make disciples of all nations, encourage each other to grow in their relationship with the Lord, meet the needs of each other, and serve those around us. These things can only be done effectively when all the parts of the body are working together. So whatever your gift is, it is extremely important. Do not think that what you do is any less important that what anybody else does. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:29-30, “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?” The answer is no. Not everybody is a preacher or teacher. In fact, your gift might only be displayed privately (i.e., a prayer warrior). But that does not make you or your gift any less important. We are all on a level playing field and if one of us decides to jump ship, the whole thing is going down. So let’s work together to accomplish the work of the church.
We are each given a gift or gifts that when used together with others, we can accomplish what God has set before us.
III. Our Gifts Need to Be Used to Glorify God (11b)
It is important that we understand we each have a gift and that we need to use it within the church to help accomplish its mission, but the most important thing we need to understand is that our gift needs to be used to glorify God. Notice the second half of verse 11: “…in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” The main reason that we use our gifts is to glorify God. Remember that we said earlier that God is the one who gave us the gifts, so it makes sense that we should use them to honor the One who gave them to us.
But it is hard sometimes isn’t it? It is so easy to try to exalt ourselves in the use of our gifts, isn’t it? When we preach or teach or make an administrative decision, are we worried about God’s will and whether He will get the glory, or are we worried if people will praise us for the wonderful job we did? When we see trash lying on the floor or a spilled drink and we clean it up, is it okay that no one may ever know that we did it? When we pray for the pastor or the deacons or a specific need in the church, do we have to let everyone know that we are praying so that they can praise us for being so faithful, or are we okay with using our gift in secret so that God alone gets the glory? Whatever your gift is, please, I beg you, for the sake of the church, use it, but use it in a way and with the motivation that God alone will receive the glory!
are finite beings. Because of this, we operate within the limits of space and
time. Most of us wake up by an alarm clock at a certain time in the morning. We
have to be at work by a certain time. We have to be at work for a certain
length of time. We have to eat at a certain time. We go to sleep at a certain
time. We all have 24 hours or 1,440 minutes or 86,400 seconds in our day. We
have to operate each day under those time constraints. So if we are so limited
in our resource of time, then it makes sense that we need to manage that time
well. We need to do what is most important in the time that we have. And when
we look at the length of our life biblically, we see that our life is not very
long in the scope of eternity. Therefore, because our time on this earth is
short and uncertain, we must make the best use of our time while we are here.
I. Your Time on Earth is Short (Psalm 39:4-5)
Let’s look at Psalm 34:4-5:
“O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Selah “
Notice that David is asking God to make him aware of the brevity of life. When you’re young, 70 or 80 or 90 seems so far off. But the older you get, the more you realize how quickly life goes by, and David asks God to make him aware of that. He says, “Let me know how fleeting I am!” In other words, let me know how temporary this life is. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon talks about how he spent all of his time throwing parties, being with women, drinking, eating, gaining wealth, gaining knowledge, and doing whatever his heart desired. But do you know what he said about all of it? It’s worthless. It’s like chasing the wind as if you could catch it. He wasted his time on things that were temporary. That is why Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 4:18, “…we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient (or temporary), but the things that are unseen are eternal.” So we realize with David that this life and all that goes with it are temporary. Why is that?
As David continues, we see that it is because our days are few or merely a breath. James 4:14 goes along the same lines saying, “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” To emphasize that shortness of life, David compares it to the smallest measuring unit of ancient times (i.e., the handbreadth). Then he compares it to God’s infinite existence. David says that in the realm of eternity, which is where God dwells, our lives are as nothing. The few short years that we live on this earth are nothing compared to eternity. They are merely a breath. As David says in Psalm 144:4, “Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow.” We do not have long on this earth. Our lives are only a breath in the scope of eternity. You may be in great health and have had a doctor tell you that you will live to be a certain age or you may be in bad health and have had a doctor tell you that you will not live to be a certain age. It doesn’t matter. We are not guaranteed to make it another day.
Our time is short, and because of that, we need to use the time that we do have wisely.
II. Use the Time You Have
Wisely (Ephesians 5:15-16)
Let’s look at Ephesians 5:15-16:
“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise,making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. “
Now we have to have a clear understanding of the passage in Psalm 39 before we move on, because it is the understanding that our time on earth is short that is the foundation of this passage in Ephesians. Since our time is short, we must make the best use of the time we have. So what does Paul mean when he says, “…making the best use of the time”? It literally means making the most of every opportunity. We are all presented with different opportunities each and every day. We have the opportunity to witness for Christ. We have the opportunity to serve the Lord. We have the opportunity to be a means of blessing to others with whom we come in contact. We have opportunities each and every day, and we either make the most of them or we allow them to pass. There is a Chinese proverb that says, “Opportunity has a forelock so you can seize it when you meet it. Once it is past, you cannot seize it again.” God has given us this limited window of time that we call life to take hold of every opportunity that He gives us. So as believers, we can only achieve our potential as His servants when we use the time He has given to us to its maximum potential. So as Romans 13:11 says, “…now is the time…” One of the most spiritually foolish things that we can do as Christians is to waste time and opportunities, literally throwing away our lives in half-hearted service to the Lord. We must make the most of every opportunity while we still have a chance.