Our Position in Christ – preaching notes
Our Position in Christ
- Our Invited Position
- Our Divine Nature
- Our Expected Behaviour
I will begin today’s consideration with a question. Why do we, “come to church?” Why do we gather every Sunday to worship the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Do we gather ourselves this way because we have friends we like to see once a week and this is where they come? That’s okay, I know I can be a little tough to take at times, wink, wink. We know these people well. The tend to come in at the last minute before we start for some reason, and then are in a hurry to get to the coffee time afterward. That’s okay, at least they came. Do we come out of a sense of obligation? I hope you are not in that category, because that gets old fast – for everybody. We know these people well also. They effort and muscle their way into perceived positions of power, they get cranky if that power is challenged, and get vicious when they don’t get their way. That’s okay, because Jesus died for them as well. Do we come because we like the preacher? Please, stop, my head is big enough, ask my wife. Is it because we like the music? Okay, that’s kind of getting into what worship is about, if we have well-chosen songs with Christian lyrics. Everyone has a reason.
I would like to clue you all in on the best reason of all: Because you have been invited. I didn’t make that invitation, either. Even if I asked you to be here, it wasn’t my invitation, I was just the messenger, it was God Himself that imprinted that invitation for you, and you responded by coming. That invitation is open to all, and deeply and uniquely personal at the same time. “Come,” He says – and He will give you rest and refresh you, as He promised in His Word. I have three things I want to convey about this grand invitation and its implications for the lives we lead and how we treat others around us. First, I want to talk in detail about Our Invited Position, the place this great invitation brings us when we respond to it. Then, we want to look at what it does to our nature, our being, if you will, in what I will call Our Divine Nature. That logically will have implications for how we behave, and we will take a brief look at Our Expected Behaviour.
- Our Invited Position
Scripture is filled with passages where an animal is substituted as a sacrifice for the sins of an individual. Leviticus 16 speaks of a sacrifice of two goats – the scapegoat. They had to use two goats because one of them had to die to atone for the sins of the people with its shed blood. The other was given to unenviable job of carrying the sins of the people away, and that goat was then “set free” in the wilderness (a place where sustenance is in short supply and predators abound, just like the world today), and exiled from the camp, never to return. Do you see how Jesus did this for us, finally and completely? How on our “day of atonement,” our better sacrifice was slain, and it is His shed blood that cleanses us from our sins? And because He both paid for our sins and carried them away with his death and burial, we may rightly conclude that by His resurrection, we are set free by identifying with Him by faith, that firm persuasion or opinion we have about what He did for us. This imagery is present from the beginning of Scripture, where God sacrifices an animal to cover the shame of Adam and Eve, to the very end, where we see the slain Lamb of God, the only being in creation worthy to open the seals of the scroll that will begin the end, having already been sacrificed, and having been raised from the dead by the power of God. Who is this Lamb of God? Jesus, the God-man. The one born of woman, yet in whom as it says in Colossians 2:9, the fullness of the Godhead dwells in bodily form. This Jesus, our Christ (Anointed one from God), has died, been buried, and rose again on our behalf, having done nothing to deserve the horrors that He voluntarily underwent. And now, as the risen Lord and Saviour, He invites any who wish to participate with Him in this new life, one filled with resurrection power. All we need to do is repent (that is, turn from our old life, or change our mind about it) and believe (that is, be persuaded, that Jesus is who He says He is, and accept what He did on your behalf). And if anyone will believe in Him, as it says in the world’s most famous verse, they will have eternal life! And the even better news is that this is only the beginning of the story. The Gospel is referred to as “the New Birth.” What happens to babies? They grow! 2
2. Our Divine Nature
Ephesians 2:4-7 says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
The very first thing we see is a central doctrine of the Christian faith. We were dead in sin, and God made us alive together with Christ. Every single person, whether we knew it or not, whether we like it or not, was born with a dead spirit. It is the part of us that died in Genesis 3. I’d call it the fall, but really we jumped. That’s all I will say about this for now, if you have questions, ask me later. At the death and resurrection of the last Adam, Jesus Christ, God made it possible for our spirits to be alive again by faith in, or being persuaded about, Christ. And when we accept that payment on our behalf, God makes our spirit alive together with Christ, who it says later in Ephesians, comes to live in our hearts by faith. That restores our broken fellowship with God, or “justifies” us before Him. How has He accomplished this great thing for us? “For by grace you have been saved.” It is His gift to us! And like the announcer on the game show says, “But wait! There’s more!”
He has not only made us alive, His gift to those who will be persuaded, but He has raised us together with Him! That means that new life that Christ has from His resurrection can be ours now in some measure. This does not speak of the physical necessarily, but of the quality of life we may have spiritually. We can fellowship with Him, and with others. We can read and begin to understand his Word. We can communicate directly with God (pray) about our needs and about the needs of others. And in doing these things, we will begin to sense His peace and serenity in our lives – and other things will begin to happen. Our old (and sinful) behaviour will begin to change. Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, but change it will, as we offer ourselves to Him as living sacrifices, and as He renews our mind and transforms our character to be more like that of Jesus, the Son. He has raised us to newness of life! And as great as this is, it doesn’t stop here.
He has seated us in heavenly places with Him in Christ Jesus. Right now, whether you realize it or not, whether you like it or not, if you are one of His, you are seated with Him in Heavenly places. This communicates a few things. Anyone here grow up on a farm like I did? When did you get to sit down? Say it with me: when the work was finished! That’s right, when Jesus got back home to Heaven, He sat down because His work was finished! And we sat down with Him. Additionally, it tells us that He is seated at the right hand of the Father – we are seated on His throne with him. Only those who have a divine nature get to sit on the divine throne, friends! What? Divine nature? Where does it say that? John 17:21 – “that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.” He has made us one with Himself. He has given us access at least, to His divine nature. Our New Nature in Christ. It is something we “put on,” according to the writers of the New Testament, like putting on a coat, at least at first. Then as we put on this new nature, we begin to find a new kind of thing in our lives – trials and difficulties. Those situations are what we need to help us practice the responses of the new nature, also known as “sanctification,” the process that will make us holy over the rest of our lives here on earth. Remember a few minutes ago how I talked about how as we give ourselves to God as those living sacrifices, we would begin to be transformed as our mind would be renewed and our character would be changed to more like Jesus? This is God’s mechanism for doing so, and Peter even tells us we need to be thankful for it! Because that is God’s purpose at work in our lives: to make us complete and holy, so that we may fellowship with Him. You know, the King of the Universe. Amen! So what does that mean for us?
3. Our Expected Behaviour
Ephesians 4:1-3 says, “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
With this great calling, which according to Ephesians 1, has been the plan all along, in order to display His own power to those beings who are now in control and have the power to act in the Heavens, there is a great responsibility – to walk the walk. To walk in a worthy manner. Remember, we are not worthy in ourselves – but He has made us worthy if we will but call on His name. What is that expected behaviour? Verse 2 talks about it. Humility. This is the concept of putting others and their needs ahead of yourself. Anyone see a movie called Thor? Chris Hemsworth plays Thor. Thor’s power is stripped from him by his father when Thor rashly puts his own desires for battle and glory before anything else and causes problems with the frost giants. He is banished to “Midgard,” or Earth, where he learns that humility is the best tool in the shed to make sure everyone remains safe. Interestingly, Thor has to “die” to learn the lesson. And the moment he does, he is “resurrected” into the glory that is Thor, and everything he lost, he regained. Sounds familiar, no? But it is not a natural thing, and it takes practice.
And Gentleness – this is the same word that the King James translates “meekness.” It is great power held in perfect measure and control. Who here is familiar with Star Trek? Okay, what about Star Trek, the Next Generation? This is the difference between Kirk and Picard. Kirk would sometimes (for the sake of Paramount’s editorial control, I suspect) come in with all guns blazing. Picard took a more measured and more controlled stand. Picard HAD the power. But just because he had it, didn’t mean he had to use it. (You could see these ideals in Kirk too, by the way, all the other stuff was inserted by the show runners in an attempt to grab ratings that sadly backfired.) Just because you know the right answer does not give you the right to run roughshod over everyone else to see it implemented. Isn’t it better instead to bring people around to your point of view gently and reasonably? Try it sometime, you’ll see. It builds more bridges than always blowing stuff up.
How about patience? This is the ability to bear with a frustrating situation for the long haul. It is also translated as “endurance” in places. Also as “longsuffering” and “steadfastness.” Parents, I’m calling on you to help me out here. What is the better way to respond to a disobedient child? By displaying your anger and letting little Johnny know he’s really blown it, or by gently sitting Johnny down and talking about why his actions were a poor life choice? The second, right? Why are we patient with little Johnny, especially if he’s got a foul temper or if he’s a repeat offender? Well, I’m guessing because we love Johnny and maybe because we know he DOESN’T know. Of course not! He doesn’t have the tools! And if all you do is get mad and beat the kid, all that’s going to do is make Johnny angry, even though you’ll feel better for “showing him.” (Sorry, that’s a little of my past there, shared to make a point.) Ephesians 6:4 says specifically, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger…” An angry Johnny can go wrong in a LOT of ways. No, instead, we apply patience. Sometimes it takes a while. Johnny will either get it or he won’t…but he stands a better chance of getting it if you are patient. You can apply this to aggressive individuals as well. Draw your own conclusions, but being patient is always going to eventually give a better outcome. Yeah, but they…whoa…remember, humility….
Tolerance. This is similar to patience, but is different. Here, you have patience with someone you just “know” is “wrong.” It literally means to “bear with” them (No, I did NOT say “be a bear with them!”). Hold your response. Don’t lash out. Don’t flip that guy who cut you off in traffic the bird. [Ted Williamson Sr. story from Merivale Road.] You never know who it may be. And what if that was a soul for whom Christ died? Oh, Wait…
Love. The Greek word here is Agape, so divine, self-giving, self-sacrificing love. This is the key to making it all work – Love them. It will make you diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Why? Well, if we were to read on in Ephesians, Paul will begin to share a concept that when realized, will revolutionize how you look at others. He begins to talk about how we are the church, the body of Christ, but see the language Paul uses in Ephesians 4:25 – “…we are members of one another.” Christ has done something amazing – something hidden from Old Testament believers – He has made all of us together into a temple made without hands for God to live in – and Jesus is the cornerstone, the foundation stones are the apostles and prophets – and WE are the rest of the bricks! That means we cannot come to church – because we ARE the church! When Paul talks about building the church up, he’s talking about helping believers grow in relationship to Christ – and that’s why we are all here. Someone somewhere made an invitation to you, and you responded, and here you are! Some of you responded joyfully to that invitation decades ago, and God continues to bless you as you come and serve Him here. Some of you are newer, but you are learning Christ, and growing in him. Some of you maybe just came in the door this morning and aren’t even sure you should be here. Don’t worry, you’re safe here among friends. Everyone is welcome here.
We have ALL been invited to participate in the grand design of God Almighty, King of the universe! And as we respond to that invitation, God begins to change us to be more like His Son Jesus, and even gives us His Divine nature so that we can be one with Him! And as we draw closer to Him, He begins to form us into His Son’s image, and change our behaviour to match the values of His Kingdom. Let us then be those who respond to His call in our lives, knowing that He is faithful to complete the rest in us as we do.