Engaging Culture II: Striving for a Gospel Perspective
January 9, 2011
Scripture reading: Romans 3:21-26
Objectives of sermon:
· That we feel our desperate need for God’s glorious Gospel.
We are in the second week of our 4 week series on evangelism, reaching out and sharing the Gospel and bringing people into God’s kingdom.
· This is to launch The Gathering’s emphasis on “Engaging Culture” in 2011.
Q Last week we asked the fundamental question: Do you want to?
The reason many of us think we hate evangelism is because of negative memories of either trying to witness or being witnesses to, and have mistakenly come to associate that with evangelism.
This week we will begin talking about how to do it right. As a reminder, here is the formula for effectively engaging our culture: S+C+X=EC
· S: Striving – in process, living a Gospel Perspective.
· C: Community – maintaining connections with outsiders, building relationship, and paying your relational dues.
· X (Chi, the letter “Christ” begins with in Greek): Christians – being able to clearly communicate Gospel.
not just the starting point
· Today we focus on “Striving,” living the Gospel in our lives.
You say, “I get it, I was saved by faith, not by works, I can’t earn salvation, so God gives it by grace.” Shortest sermon ever.
· Not so fast, slick.
The Gospel isn’t just the starting point of Christianity, it is the entire race. We will be living by the Gospel until we cross the finish line.
Q This isn’t semantics – you know how Christians are frequently guilty of being self-righteousness and acting superior?
I am convinced that most of this comes from failing to maintain a Gospel perspective throughout our lives, and especially when we are witnessing.
· It is vital that we not just understand this but live this.
There is a real danger that our witnessing have shades of self-righteousness mixed in, even if it’s well hidden. Yes, that can happen even at The Gathering.
· You can be drinking beer and quoting hip movies and still be self-righteous.
Don’t be a good boy
“Being a good witness” doesn’t mean be a good boy or a good girl so that non-Christians will look at you and want to be one to.
· Our godly lives are of greatest importance, no doubt, but that is not the core of the Gospel.
If we make being good the big selling point, Christianity becomes another moral religion. There are a lot of those out there, and I’m not even sure Christianity is as efficient at that as ones driven by fear.
· As near as I can tell, what separates Christianity from the rest is that we view morality as the result, not goal.
Being a good witness is driven by a Gospel Perspective: I live in desperate dependency upon God’s grace at every step.
struggling with grace
Q Do you really feel like you need desperately need Jesus?
Most of us kind of fluctuate between feeling pretty good about ourselves and feeling pretty worthless. And each of us tends to spend more time on one side or the other.
I know that I am speaking to both. On one hand, some of you (both Christian and non-Christian) feel so worthless that you struggle to genuinely believe God loves and could accept you.
On the other hand, some of you (both Christian and non-Christian) feel like you are pretty good. Not perfect to be sure, but not all that bad.
· But both of those groups struggle with accepting God’s grace, his unearned acceptance.
What separates Christians from non-Christians is not these feelings, but accepting God’s grace, whether we feel like we don’t deserve it or don’t need it.
The book of Romans is the most through explanation of the Gospel in the Bible, and in it Paul faces the same two audiences and he handles it by tearing every one down to the same level.
· Likewise, I’m going to remind us how desperately we need God.
If you already feel worthless, you may feel like I am just rubbing salt in your wounds, but it’s a bad news/good news thing: We want to hear the bad news first.
· The bad news is that you are actually worse than you think, but the good news is God’s grace is greater than you think.
Furthermore, many of the non-Christians you will speak to don’t feel lost and you need to understand how to communicate the Gospel to both the seemingly worthy and unworthy.
I’m a pretty good guy
If I’m honest, I usually feel pretty good. I know it sounds arrogant, but there it is. I was loved unconditionally by my parents so I never doubted acceptance and didn’t do “bad stuff.”
· To this day I am still not sure what pot smells like.
I know there are many of you that feel the same. Even if you have some cool story of being saved from the depths of sin, that was a long time ago.
Usually pastors will tell people like me that from God’s view, all of my “misdemeanor” sins and just as bad as the felony sins.
· And this is true; in light of God’s absolute holiness, St. Teresa and Hitler are almost equal in depravity.
The problem is that from our human perspective, it’s hard to emotionally accept it. The fault is ours, not God’s. Our opinion of goodness is radically skewed, childish (contra child-like).
· Below a certain age, a child cannot be made to understand that tall, skinny glass isn’t bigger than a short, fat one.
I can intellectually and theologically understand that I am as bad as a murder and need the Gospel just as much as they do, but have a hard time accepting it emotionally and practically.
Q Are any of you tracking with me? Do you feel the same?
Q Do you know non-Christians who feel that way?
The glory standard
There is a theological term for this – being self-righteous. If we think that we are pretty good boys and girls, it is because we are comparing ourselves to the wrong thing.
· We are like that “art critic” (one of my favorite forwarded emails) that compares children’s works with his.
Let’s look at what Paul says:
Romans 3:22-24 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference [between the Jews who felt worthy and the Gentiles who felt unworthy], 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
[Leave open to this, it’s the only passage we’ll be in, but it is one of the richest in the Bible.]
Q What is the standard here?
The glory of God, the mind-blowing, sense over-riding, dumbfounding glory of God. The glory of God which makes the seemingly infinite wonder of the universe look like a grain of sand compared to Mt. Everest.
Anything short of that falls short of the standard. It doesn’t matter that you a smidge (a “tinch” is what my girls call it) closer than someone else, you are still short.
· But even this still is theoretical; I want to show you how God has been showing me how much I fall short of his glory.
There are many ways to look at it, but this has helped me.
Hey look, a SQUIRREL!
About three months ago, I was diagnosed with Adult Attention Deficit Disorder. I will give you a second to let that sink in.
· I know what you are thinking – oh, well THAT explains a lot.
· It’s like a t-shirt said “It’s not that I have ADD, it’s just that – Hey look! A Squirrel!
One of the best descriptions I have heard is that it’s like I have 10 radio stations playing at equal volume and I can’t filter out which ones are the most important, so I am drawn to which ever catch my interest.
· You may be telling me what time to pick up my kids, but that squirrel is currently more interesting.
Looking back it makes sense of the challenges I have faced over the years. But even more importantly, it’s given me a lot more sympathy for what Marilyn has to deal with.
Because I lack filters, I’m overwhelmed by a lot of stimulus. If I walk into the girls’ bedroom after they tear it apart, it’s like a circuit breaker snaps – turns out, that’s not normal.
· I cope by equally ignoring everything; I’ll walk over the same sock for a week and never see it – that’s not normal either.
Sin and Brokenness
It’s a strange thing to find out at age 37. It’s gotten me thinking about how I fall short of the glory of God. I see that is falls into two categories: Sin and brokenness.
There are definite sin issues. Is it hard for me to stay on task, help clean up, etc.? Yes, but it is not impossible. I frequently sin through by laziness and self-centeredness.
At first I started looking through message boards to learn more, but got so tired of all the people who were using it as an excuse. I have ADD so I can’t keep a job, a relationship, etc.
· A diagnosis is not an excuse to sin; it helps me understand why I struggle and how I try smarter.
And there are tools out there to help, including medication. If it seems like I have been more focused preaching for the past couple of months, it’s because I have been.
· It is a lot easier to focus on my preaching when I am not having to spend so much energy ignoring distractions.
There is also brokenness – something in my brain is not firing right. There are things that my brain cannot handle. I always hated myself for my low stress tolerance, that I could not be like others, but I have to accept it.
· This is not a willful sin on my part, but it is brokenness; this is not how God meant me to function.
Another reason I disliked the ADD material is that some of it tends to romanticize ADD. Are there advantage? Yes, I am able to notice more than many people, just as a blind man hears better.
I can be funny about it and crack jokes about it, but the reality is that ADD has caused many problems for Marilyn and I, and I know we have gotten of easier than some.
· Many lives have been devastated by it.
Stepping back, I can see sinfulness and brokenness interlaced in this one area in my life; I altogether, “fall short of the glory of God.”
Do you fall short?
Now look at your life, all the failings, all the weakness, all the inadequacies:
They might be driven by sin, rebellion against God’s standards – laziness, pride, bitterness, selfishness.
They may also be driven by brokenness: Abusive parents who have warped your ability to accept God’s love, an inability to have children, mental illness, a car accident.
These aren’t because you sinned, but they are because of sin. Maybe the sins of someone else or simply the sin the has corrupted the world.
· These things aren’t simply “I am only human,” they fall short of the glory of God.
For the point of this discussion, I am not so concerned about finding the fault. There is plenty of it to go around.
No matter what brokenness you experience, you have still willfully sinned plenty, not just the bad things you’ve done but the good you’ve failed to do.
Ä To sum it all up, you are a train wreck. And so am I. When we realize that the standard is God’s glory, we realize more and more how far we fall short.
Time for the good news!
So there is the bad news. Now for the good news, which is what “gospel” means, good news:
Romans 3:24 [we] are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
To be justified means to be made righteous. In Greek, “justify” and “righteous” are the same word. What is righteousness? It’s God’s perfect, holy character. In other words, it’s his glory.
Christians will disagree on whether being justified/righteous-ified refers only to be being declared “not guilty” or also to the work of being restored to the glory of God.
· But they agree both are vital parts of salvation; God has unconditionally forgiveness us and is restoring us.
Are you getting the picture? Look at the entire mess that is your life, both the sins and brokenness.
Maybe you don’t think it’s that big of a mess because you’re comparing it to other’s messes. Stop. Just look at your mess in comparison to the God’s wonderful perfection and what will be.
· The Gospel is that in Christ God has forgiven the sins and is restoring what has been broken.
This is a lifelong process. Some parts of your brokenness will restored in the here and now. Others will linger and will force us into continued dependence on God and his Body.
· Dependence is not brokenness!
So, to sum it up, the “S” in S+C+X=EC means that Christians live in a desperate dependency on God’s grace.
· We are bigger sinners and more broken than we thought, but he is a greater savior than we thought.
Humble, Confident, and Joyful
Here we are, almost at the end the sermon, and halfway through a series on evangelism, and I still haven’t told you to share the Gospel with anyone. But look what a vital foundation this is:
If you aren’t fully living a Gospel perspective, then I fear you may be the superior, self-righteous Christian I warned about, “I used to be a dirty sinner like you, but now I am forgiven and I am a pretty good person.”
But if you are genuinely living this Gospel Perspective, you will be a humble, confident, and joyful Christian.
You will be humble because you clearly see just how broken and sinful you are, and how dependent you are.
You will be confident in the necessity and power of the Gospel, unapologetic for it.
And you will be joyful, seeing God’s forgiveness and restoration in your life.
And this sort of life, combined with [S+C+X=EC] relational ties and the ability to clearly communicate the Gospel will Engage our culture.
Q & A
During worship, really consider if you are living your life in a Gospel Perspective.
Q Do you fight feeling of worthlessness, as if God’s grace weren’t enough for your sinfulness and brokenness?
Q Do you need God to show you your sinfulness and brokenness?
Q Or are you not really a Christian?