What is an illusion? An illusion is a false perception of reality that deceives us. It exists in our mind, our desires, and our dreams. It is something that we believe can happen. It is something that we want to happen. It is something we dream about happening. It may be something that we are certain will happen. But it cannot happen and will not happen. No matter how earnestly we pursue an illusion, no matter how much energy we invest in an illusion, no matter how much passion we devote to an illusion, no matter what sacrifices we make for an illusion, the illusion cannot be reality and will never become reality.

Let me cite two common illusions. Our dream of producing the ideal American society is an illusion. The illusion is seen in our conviction that if the "right" things are done in the "right" way, our society will become the ideal society for everyone. Everyone will be content. Every person will have what he or she needs. Every person will have the real opportunity to be happy. Everyone will enjoy life. Everyone will feel loved, respected, and appreciated. Everyone will experience the benefits of having a good family and a great home. Everyone will know peace.

So, if our society just makes the "right" decisions and does the "right" things, it will become a society that experiences no struggle, no conflict, no crime, no hate, no abuse, no exploitation, no depression, no anxiety, no sorrow, and no regrets. That will never be reality. It cannot happen.

Our dream of producing the ideal congregation is an illusion. The illusion is the conviction that if we make all the "right once-and-for-all" decisions, if we chose all the "right" options, if we do all the "right" things, we will become the ideal congregation. Everything will be ideal. We will do the things every member appreciates. We will have the ideal building arrangement. We will have the ideal staff. We will have ideal leaders. We will have the ideal ministries. We will have all the help we need. Marriage problems cannot exist. Divorce will never happen. Sexual evil will never occur in any form. Division and ill will cannot exist. All of us will bond in the ideal spirit, with ideal assemblies, with ideal sermons, with ideal classes, and with ideal fellowship. We will be one happy, growing, contented spiritual family that has no spiritual problems, that meets everyone's needs, and that brings everyone true contentment. That will never be reality. That cannot happen.

If a Christian is convinced as a matter of faith that "my concept of the ideal congregation will someday become reality," he or she is the victim of a deception that likely will become a destructive illusion.

  1. What would it take to produce God's spiritual ideal on earth?
    1. The way we state our convictions and concerns, we make it appear that God's ideal could exist if God directly intervened in the affairs of this world.
      1. If God would come to this world, if He would set things up the way He wants them to be (which would be the way that is best for us), the ideal would exist.
      2. If God would just "set it up," tell us, "This is what I want, the way I want you to do things, and the way I want you to act," then the ideal would exist.
      3. All it would take is the direct intervention of God.
    2. Do you agree? Do you agree that God's direct intervention would establish and sustain the ideal?
      1. If God would just:
        1. Get directly involved.
        2. Set things up in the way that was best for us.
        3. Set things up just like He wants them to be.
        4. Then the ideal congregation would exist.
      2. We would not have any decisions to make about how things should be done or what needed to be done.
      3. Would that work? All God would have to do is get directly involved.
    3. If you think God's direct involvement would create the ideal and eliminate all problems, I have a question.
      1. Is that not exactly what God did when He sent Jesus?
      2. Did not God directly intervene in the affairs of this world when He sent His Son to live as a human?
      3. Do you remember John 1:1-5?
        In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
    4. Did God's direct intervention in the affairs of this world bring the ideal into existence? Did it establish and sustain the ideal?
      1. That depends on what you mean by those questions.
      2. God's direct intervention revealed the ideal to the world.
        1. It revealed the ideal Savior.
        2. It revealed the ideal solution for sin and guilt.
        3. It revealed ideal forgiveness.
        4. It revealed the goodness of God in its ideal form called grace.
        5. It revealed ideal mercy.
        6. It revealed the ideal relationship with God.
        7. It revealed the ideals God wanted His people to pursue as His church and His kingdom.
      3. But did it establish and sustain those ideals in concrete, visible forms?
        1. Did people see Jesus and say, "God is directly intervening in our world through Jesus; let's listen to him and be exactly what he teaches us to be?"
        2. We have the advantage of 2000 years of "hindsight," and we have the written scriptures, so we can see what God did in Jesus.
        3. With all of our advantages, do we say, "When God sent Jesus, God directly intervened in our world; let's listen to Jesus and be exactly what he teaches us to be?"
    5. What happened when God directly intervened in our world by sending Jesus?
      1. John 1:10, 11 says, "He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him."
      2. God intervened directly in the affairs of our world, and very few people realized that God was working in a special way.
      3. God sent Jesus and the people who should have recognized Jesus did not even understand who Jesus was.
      4. The only religious people on earth who had a long history of knowing and interacting with the living God fought everything Jesus taught and did.
      5. He was betrayed by one of his best friends.
      6. He was denied by one of his best friends.
      7. He was abandoned by all his best friends.
      8. He was killed because of a decision made by the people who knew more about God than anyone else on earth.
      9. God sent His Son to intervene in the affairs of earth in a manner that would completely redirect the course of this world, and we humans killed him.
      10. God raised that Son from the dead, and we humans ignore him.
      11. Jesus who is the Christ teaches us how to be the people of God, and we pay very little attention to what he teaches.
      12. God has never intervened in the affairs of this world as powerfully, as meaningfully, or as significantly as when He sent His Son Jesus.
        1. Sadly, when we are challenged to focus on Jesus, to understand God better by understanding God's Son who lived a human life, we act as if Jesus is of secondary importance.
        2. Commonly, when we stress the "important" things that we think will produce God's ideal in our world today, those "important things" have little to do with understanding Jesus.
    6. God directly intervened in our world through Jesus Christ, and what is the result?
      1. Does the ideal society exist?
      2. Do ideal righteous men and women exist?
      3. Does the ideal congregation exist?
      4. No, they do not exist and never have existed.
        1. Consider the congregations in the New Testament.
        2. Which of those congregations was the ideal congregation?
        3. The ideal congregation did not exist.
        4. The ideal existed in God's revelation of His concepts and principles.
        5. But the ideal never existed as a physical reality or a human reality.

  2. Why? Why could not all the "right" decisions be made just one time, all the "right" choices be made just one time, and the ideal be produced and sustained?
    1. God is not limited, and Satan is not stupid.
      1. God with eternal wisdom opposes Satan constantly.
      2. Satan with undying craftiness opposes God constantly.
      3. God in His wisdom sustains every Christian who places his or her trust in Jesus.
      4. Satan in his crafty deceitfulness attempts to counter every act of God by deceiving Christians.
      5. God constantly adjusts to Satan's changing tactics.
      6. Satan constantly adjusts to God's works.
    2. In this never ending war between good and evil, between God and Satan, a tension exists that will not end until God calls all things into judgment.
      1. And you and I are caught in that tension between God and Satan.
      2. You and I will be in the center of that tension until Christ returns or we die.
      3. Because of this tension and our position in this tension, the ideal has never existed, and the ideal will never exist in this world.

  3. "David, what is this 'tension' you are talking about?" Let me show it to you.
    1. In 1 Peter 5:8 Peter urged Christians,
      "Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour."
      1. Satan never gives up.
      2. Satan is determined to deceive us and destroy us.
      3. On earth, there is no final battle, no "once-and-for-all" decision.
      4. As long as we can think, as long as our hearts can be touched, Satan will search for a way to tempt us, to deceive us.
    2. In Romans 8:28 Paul declared,
      "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."
      1. In context, Paul discussed Christians' struggles and suffering.
      2. Satan causes the struggles and suffering, and God makes everything Satan does against the Christian to work for the salvation of the Christian.
    3. In that conflict between God and Satan over us is the tension.
      1. There is a never ending war being waged between God and Satan.
      2. You and I not only live in the war zone, but part of the battle actually occurs in each one of our lives.
      3. God's ideal will never exist on this earth for two reasons:
        1. As long as this world continues, that war will never end.
        2. As long as we live in this world, we will never be free from all evil.

[Prayer: help us be wise to Satan's deceits and cooperate with Your deliverance.]

God can use anything Satan does to you in your life for your good in your eternal salvation. Will you let God do that? In your every day life, are you clinging to God or encouraging Satan?

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 29 August 1999

This sermon is also available in French.

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