Last Sunday afternoon I spent much of the afternoon with people in our inner city outreach called The Way. The afternoon began with Jessie and Mary Sexton renewing their marriage vows in a "church ceremony." Several who attended never attended a "church wedding." That included two boys who are probably under ten years of age.

Before the vows, they were revved up. They looked at the candles, at the wedding decorations, at the entire scene. Several of you work every Sunday afternoon with that outreach, and that includes Earl Flood. Earl knew the boys, settled them down, and had them sit between him and Vivian on the second row during the ceremony.

Earl also promised the boys some money if they would sit quietly during the ceremony. They were very quiet! When the ceremony was over and we stood to go to the reception, one of the boys looked at Earl expecting his money. Earl reached in his pocket and handed him a dime. I wish I had a picture of his expression to put on the screen! A look of disbelief swept over the boy's face as he said aloud, "Only A dime?"

The situation reminded me of an old, old story. A man who always sat on the second row of pews went to sleep during every sermon. So the preacher told a boy that he would pay him a nickel every Sunday if he would sit by the man and keep him awake.

It worked well for a few weeks. The man stayed awake every Sunday, and the preacher gave the boy a nickel every Sunday. Then one Sunday the man slept through the entire sermon.

When the preacher saw the boy after worship, he said, " I can't give you a nickel today--you did not keep him awake." The boy said, "That's okay preacher. He gave me a quarter to leave him alone."

Times have changed! The changes stand in enormous contrast.

  1. Let me briefly review.
    1. Two Sunday mornings ago I emphasized that God can take anyone from anywhere in his or her life, and begin relationship with that man or woman at that point.
      1. God does not care who you were or what you did in the past.
      2. God's focus on is on who you are right now, and who you want to become in Christ.
      3. If we are willing to live in Christ and repent, God wants to forgive us.
    2. Last Sunday morning I emphasized that we must be committed, have a genuine desire to become what we spiritually were born to be.
      1. Christianity is for people who want to move toward God's nature.
      2. It is not for people who do not want to spiritually grow or spiritually develop.
      3. It is not for people who have no intention of changing anything about the person they are or the lifestyle they enjoy.
      4. God does not forgive us in order for us to selfishly continue in the same old ungodly living and thinking.

  2. This morning I want you to focus on an enormous contrast.
    1. To focus you on this contrast, I want us to read Galatians 5:16-26.
      But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.
      1. In this letter to the churches in Galatia, Paul made a distinctive, clear contrast between living our lives under the guidance of God's Spirit and living our lives under the dictates of our physical desires.
      2. He was quite plain about this fundamental focus in life.
        1. The Spirit and physical desires do not like each other!
        2. They fight each other to be the controlling force in the life of a person.
        3. They have nothing in common--their objectives in a person's life are absolutely, totally different.
        4. Any person who comes to the conclusion that the objectives of God's guidance in our lives and the objectives of physical desires in our lives are compatible is self-deceived.
      3. Paul was also quite plain about the nature of "the deeds of the flesh" in this contrast.
        1. Immoral behavior, impure behavior, behavior controlled by sensuousness.
        2. Behavior that involves us in things that oppose God.
        3. Behavior that gives encouragement to ungodly attitudes as they seek control over us (hate, strife, jealousy).
        4. Behavior that is controlled by anger (outbursts of rage, judgmental argumentativeness, divisions).
        5. Behavior that encourages drunkenness and irresponsible indulgence.
      4. Remember Paul wrote this to Christians.
        1. He said, "I warned you things like these will destroy you spiritually!"
        2. "If this is the lifestyle you live, you will not inherit God's kingdom."
        3. They could not say "no" to God's influence in their lives in this world and live with God in His world.
    2. Now focus your attention on the contrast.
      1. Paul said, "This is the way that people who are guided by God's Spirit live."
      2. He called these attitudes, behaviors, influences the "fruit" of the Spirit (note the singular "fruit").
      3. What are these controlling influences?
        1. Love
        2. Joy
        3. Peace
        4. Patience
        5. Kindness
        6. Goodness
        7. Faithfulness (those who keep promises)
        8. Gentleness
        9. Self-control
    3. Those who belong to Jesus Christ have made the decision to kill physical desires that seek ungodly control by crucifying them.
      1. Jesus made the decision to wear our sins as he died on the cross.
      2. Those who belong to Jesus make the decision to let those forces within them that oppose God in their lives die by crucifixion.
      3. Crucifixion is a slow death, but it is a deliberate death! The objective of crucifixion is to kill!
      4. Paul said, "If God's Spirit gave us life, then let's allow God's Spirit determine how we behave, how we live."

  3. Someone says, "I don't understand how all this works together."
    1. "I find all of this very confusing."
      1. "God does not care where we start, so that means for most of us we start with many, many ungodly problems. That sounds like it is all God."
      2. "However, when I am born into Christ, God expects me to move closer and closer to His nature. That sounds like it is all me."
      3. "This morning you stress that surrendering to ungodly behavior, letting my ungodly physical desires control the way I live, will exclude me from God's eternal kingdom. That sounds like it is up to me."
      4. "How does all that fit?"
    2. That is an excellent question!
      1. Let's begin with a clear understanding: nothing any of us ever does deserves what God does for each of us.
        1. Each of us will always need God's forgiveness.
        2. Each of us will always need God's mercy.
        3. Each of us will always need God's grace.
        4. None of us will ever put God in our debt.
      2. But...because God is willing continually to use His mercy and grace to forgive us does not mean that we have an excuse to do evil or a license to live irresponsibly and do things that oppose God in our lives.
        1. God does not care where any of us start, but from that start, wherever it is, we begin growing closer to the nature of God.
        2. We increasingly look like a person who belongs to God, not a person who opposes God. That new "look" comes from the way we treat people and the way we treat God.
        3. I do not want to be who I was, or live like I lived, before I was given life in Jesus Christ.
        4. I surely do not abuse God's love and forgiveness by living as I please--and using my ungodly lifestyle to slap God in the face!
      3. There will come a moment when God will evaluate the way I used life in this world.
        1. The purpose of that evaluation will not be to determine if I deserve God's forgiveness and mercy--none of us will ever deserve that!
        2. The purpose will be to see if I appreciated what God did for me.
        3. The purpose will be to see if the way I used life showed my appreciation.
    3. If you are counting on abusing God's grace to receive salvation, you are lying to yourself!
      1. His grace is absolutely critical to our salvation--there is no way any of us can be saved without the kindness of God's mercy.
      2. However, none of us will abuse God's grace.
      3. None of us will exploit God's grace.
      4. None of us will cheapen God's grace.
      5. None of us are going to fool God by saying that we care about Him and living like we do not care about Him.
      6. God knows when we are trying and when we are not, and God knows when we are appreciative and when we are not.

Let me ask us some questions:

How do you show God you appreciate His forgiveness?
How do you show God you appreciate His mercy?
Is the joy He gave you obvious?
Is the peace He gave you obvious?

Is who and what you are in Christ in obvious contrast to who and what you were before you entered Christ?

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 15 December 2002

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