I have three children. Jon is two years older than Kevin, and Kevin is three years older than Anita. When Jon was a senior in high school, there were two adults and three teenagers living in the same house. Family transportation was tight. Jon was not the most systematic, scheduled teenager that you ever met. Jon's use of the family car was pretty well restricted to in-town use.

When Kevin was a senior in high school, there were two teenagers and two adults living in the same house. Family transportation was tight, but not as tight as it had been. Kevin was one of the most systematic, scheduled teenagers you ever met. Of his own choice, he went to bed by or before ten p.m. He could use the car for an occasional out-of-town date.

When Anita was a senior in high school, there was one teenager and two adults in the same house. The family car Jon and Kevin used was worn out--it was so worn out it had almost no trade-in value. So Anita drove that car to school. To give you an idea of the car's condition, she put a bumper sticker on it that read, "Do me a favor. Steal this car."

When Anita began driving to school, Jon and Kevin, who no longer lived at home, cried, "Foul!" They were the only seniors who rode a school bus to school. Allowing Anita to drive to school was a gross injustice. She should have to ride the bus like they did.

This is an essential lesson that we understand as parents: we cannot treat our children identically.

This is an essential lesson that we must understand as Christians: God does not treat His children identically.

  1. God always treats people as individuals; He is not "the God of identical treatment."
    1. When the nation of Israel was in the Sinai dessert, Moses met with God on the mountain to receive God's laws and instructions for the nation.
      1. Several days later, the people said, "We don't know what happened to Moses. Aaron, make us a god to lead us" (Exodus 32).
      2. Aaron made the image of a calf out of gold and declared that this was the god that led them out Egypt.
      3. This insulted God so deeply that God wanted to destroy all of them.
      4. But, only because of Moses' petition, God did not destroy them.
    2. Aaron's sons were appointed to assist Aaron as priests, and two of those sons were Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10).
      1. God gave specific instructions for worship in Judaism.
      2. God even specified the source of the fire that was used to burn the incense.
      3. Nadab and Abihu did not take fire from the source that God instructed, and, as a result, God caused each of them to be burned to death.
    3. King David committed adultery with a beautiful woman named Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11,12).
      1. When, as a result of David's adultery, Bathsheba was pregnant, David made earnest attempts to hide his adultery.
      2. When his attempts failed, he had her husband killed and married Bathsheba.
      3. In all of this, David violated at least four of the ten commandments.
      4. God forgave him.
    4. The Assyrians were among the most violent, warring people that existed.
      1. God sent Jonah, a prophet, to the Assyrian city of Ninevah to declare that God would destroy them because of their intolerable wickedness (Jonah).
      2. When the Assyrians heard Jonah's prophecy, the whole city repented and humbled themselves before God.
      3. Because they repented, God forgave them--even though they continued to be idolatrous.
    5. Obviously, God's actions were not identical.
      1. In each case, God's actions were determined by the situation, the reaction of the people, and the hearts of the people.
      2. In every age, God's reactions to the failures and the evil of people is determined by the situation and the hearts of the people.

  2. A difficult challenge when preaching sermons is the challenge of addressing an assembly of people who are in diverse situations and have diverse needs.
    1. It has always been true that God works with each person as an individual.
      1. God knows each one of us as an individual, just like you do your children.
      2. God relates to and interacts with each one of us as an individual, just like you do with your children.
      3. God works in each of our lives on an individual basis, just as you do with your children.
      4. God uses compassion, mercy, forgiveness, and grace in each of our lives on a personal, individual basis.
    2. As children, we tend to view God's individual interaction with people as unfair.
      1. I never see how much God does in my life.
      2. I am likely to say that God is unfair because He does something for others I do not think He does for me.
      3. As each of us examine God's actions, it is easy for some of us to compound guilt, and easy for some of us to assume forgiveness.
    3. As God works with each of us, He knows our situation, and He knows our hearts.
      1. These situations are a spiritual universe apart:
        1. The Christian who is pursuing an evil and the Christian who is struggling against the same evil are in different spiritual universes.
        2. The Christian who is chasing pleasure and the Christians who is trying to break the control of pleasure are in different spiritual universes.
        3. The Christian without a specific weakness and the Christian with that weakness, but who struggles against it, are in different spiritual universes.
      2. In every person, God knows exactly what the situation is, exactly what the person's motives are, and exactly where the person's heart is.

  3. As Christians, each of us are at different places in our personal relationship with God.
    1. Some of us have never made the hard, honest decision that declares that Jesus is Lord in and of our lives.
      1. Peter wrote the letter of 1 Peter to Christians who genuinely suffered because they belonged to Jesus Christ.
        1. As they suffered pain because of their faith in Christ, Peter gave them guidance.
        2. First, he told them how to approach their suffering.
        3. Second, he reminded them that Christ suffered for them first.
      2. Listen to how they were to approach suffering.
        1 Peter 3:13-16 Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        1. If we are devoted to doing good, we are less likely to be abused.
        2. But, if we suffer for being righteous, the suffering produces blessing.
        3. There is one thing a Christian must do to endure suffering caused by faith: he or she must place Christ as Lord in their hearts, and let Christ be Lord no matter what happens.
        4. When we do that, we will be gentle, reverent, and keep a good conscience even when we are abused and slandered.
        5. For those who cause the suffering, this will do two things:
          1. Ask, "What gives you the strength to endure this?"
          2. Put themselves to shame by the abuse they inflict on you.
      3. It begins with the firm decision to place control of my life in Christ's hands.
      4. Some of us have never made Christ Lord in our lives, and we urgently need to put Jesus Christ in control of our lives at all times.
    2. Some of us have not repented, and do not understand the biblical concept of repentance.
      1. When Paul wrote a letter to the Christians at Ephesus, some of them had not repented, and they clearly needed to repent.
      2. Ephesians 4:25-32 Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
      3. The biblical concept of repentance is turning life around, redirecting life.
        1. Repentance is much more than being sorry.
        2. Repentance includes a decision, but it is more than a decision.
        3. Repentance is changing the way you live your life.
      4. Paul told them they needed to change the way they were living their lives.
        1. Start telling the truth.
        2. Stop letting your anger control you.
        3. Go to work and stop stealing.
        4. Use your mouth to work for God's values and purposes.
        5. Stop giving the Holy Spirit grief in your life.
        6. Stop giving people negative, ungodly treatment and start being kind and forgiving, just like God through Christ has been to you.
      5. Some of us have never redirected our lives, and we need to get serious about doing that.
    3. Some of us are locked in horrible struggles, and we desperately need hope.
      1. Peter began his letter to those suffering Christians by assuring them that the hope of expectation was real.
      2. 1 Peter 1:3-5 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
      3. The Christian who is locked in a horrible struggle in spite of the fact that he or she has made Christ Lord, in spite of the fact that repentance is a constant reality of life, needs to know that hope is certain.
        1. The God who in His great mercy gave us life by the resurrection of Jesus will not abandon us.
        2. Satan cannot destroy or diminish our inheritance.
        3. Our heavenly inheritance is reserved for us.
        4. Through our faith, we and our salvation are protected by the power of God, the power that raised Jesus from the dead.

"Well, how can I know where other Christians are in their relationship with God?" We can't. I never know the exact situation or struggles of another Christian. I can never read another Christian's heart. But God knows, and, when the person is honest with himself or herself, he or she knows.

If you need to put Christ on the throne in your heart, do it. If you need to redirect your life, begin the process. If you need to be strengthened by hope, let it happened. And the grace of God will be at work in all our lives.


The grace of Jesus Christ is at work in us. Not a single one of us is not dependent on that grace. He is working in our lives. Be assured He will forgive your sins as He forgives others. Whatever your situation is, every one needs Christ and His goodness. We need to make Christ more effectively Lord in our lives. Let Him work more powerfully in your life. If you are not a Christian, let Him extend His grace to you. Be born of that living hope by being baptized into Christ.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 1 November 1998

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