This is a time of year, brethren, when we all soberly consider ourselves in relationship to God. We consider where we have slipped, and therefore, what we have to work on for this coming year. It is an essential time for us—a time when we should be very grateful for the sacrifice and the mercy, and the love of Jesus Christ toward us, and for His kindness. It is a time, as well, when we should lift our eyes from just looking at our sins and faults, and look at the overall goal that God is leading us toward.
Over the past years, I have come to understand that I indeed have to see my flaws, and that I indeed have to work on them. In addition to this, I firmly have to have my eyes fixed on the goal of attaining to the Kingdom of God.
If our vision of this goal is cloudy, or faulty, or out of focus, then our overcoming is going to be lax, or it is going to be non-existent. We have to see where we are going. We must clearly see the destination that God has for us.
We must also clearly see what God expects—why we must work to achieve the goal in spite of the sacrifices we have to make, and in spite of how difficult it might be. We must focus on the goal, or if you will, the spiritual finish line. For us the finish line can be a great help encouraging to us to do the things we must.
I have been reading the old booklets, lately, and one of those is a booklet by Garner Ted Armstrong that was entitled, How To Kill A People. It was copyrighted 1972. He carefully showed why America had pulled together so successfully toward the national goal in World War II. Then he pointed out why we let down as a nation after World War II. And in reading it, I saw some applications that would apply to the church as well. As I read through it, I thought of all the things that took place when I was a young lad.
I was eleven years old when I saw the newspaper that said that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. And of course, being eleven years old, I did not know quite what that meant. But I did watch what took place after that, and how the country began to pull together. Now I know that in the past I have gone over some of this, but I want to do it again for a specific reason.
The nation began to draw together, because they had the common enemy. Factories, which manufactured home appliances, switched to military electronics. Clothing manufacturers switched to uniforms. Shoe manufacturers began making army boots. Domestic airplane manufacturers began making fighter planes and bombers. And, because I used to shoot a lot, I remember those who made sporting goods rifles began making military arms immediately.
In the workforce, people came from all over the country to the ship yards, and the aircraft factories and people worked seven days a week. The factories ran twenty-four hours a day. This is where the term "Okie" came from: So many came from Oklahoma to support the country, and to find jobs here in the factories.
The entertainment media came together, and pulled in behind this all too. Songwriters, authors, actors, screenwriters, and newscasters all did their best to market and promote the saving of the nation. They promoted sacrifice—the giving of oneself for the country—and in turn, this produced enlistments. Movies would show American soldiers fighting to the end to defend the country, and airplane pilots shooting down an inordinate supply of Japanese airplanes to prove to us that we were winning the war.
Then the draft was set up. And something that probably none of you even know about, we had civil defense. Every block had a block warden. He had a hat, and a little pouch to carry. We scotch-taped our windows in case the Japanese bombed the West Coast, and we had practice black-outs, and air-raid sirens.
As the men went to war, the women came into the workforce in the factories and took their place. This was where the famous "Rosie the Riveter" came from.
Home gardens were grown. They were called Victory Gardens. Everybody had one. We had one to supply food for us so that other food could be given to the army and those who needed it. Even those who lived in apartment houses had spaces in vacant lots and parks given to them to grow their own food.
It was a different age then. Nobody touched anything growing there, except those who had it. It was not a time when people stole. I think the thing that amazed me the most was the scrap metal. We had a vacant lot at the end of our block and that lot was stacked about a story high with piles of engine blocks, and all kinds of metal. The one thing that struck me was that somebody even put a double-barrel shotgun on there, and nobody touched it, because that was for the war effort.
A short distance from this, there was a two-block area where scrap metal was stacked as high as three stories. Nobody was there to watch it. Nobody was there to collect the metal from you. You just drove in with your truck, or walked in with your items in your hands, and you dropped them off. Nobody thought of selling their metal for a profit, because they had to help save the country.
What had taken place in the country was that the people were replacing their own individual goals for a national one—the goal of winning the war! In modern terms, we would state that, "They had a transcendental goal." In other words, they had a goal so great, and so high, that it overshadowed their own personal desires. A goal so grand that nothing else mattered except the attaining of that goal.
I could not help but think of the Worldwide Church of God here at this time because when we were first called into the Worldwide Church of God, we had a transcendental goal. We had the goal of becoming like God. That was all we could think of. To consider that we were called by the Living God to be in His Family stunned us! And, every other personal goal was set on the back burner and was secondary so that we might rightly respond to the high calling that we have been given.
This was the "first love," brethren, that we had been given. We as a group did all we could to please God. We attended every Bible study. We attended every church service even though it involved many miles of travel. I knew people who traveled one hundred eighty-six miles every week to go to services. They would get a car pool and plan it every week. They did that so that they could hear God's Word expounded. We hung on every word of the ministry. We humbled ourselves in obedience to God. We carefully kept the Sabbath, and the holy days. We faithfully tithed, as we all should. The men joined Spokesman's Club. And as a church, we cheerfully supported through our tithes and offerings, the broadcast, the college, the ministry, the correspondence course, the booklets; and we worked the Plain Truth stands. We did everything we could to warn the world, and to please God by overcoming.
At Mr. Armstrong's death, the goal that was bigger than we were, began to fade. God was not doing things as we expected, and now, the personal desires for many began to become more important than the first love that they had obtained. And to some degree, this syndrome has affected us all.
After World War II, something took place as well. America's goals ceased to be national. They ceased to be transcendental, and became personal. For the most part, Americans now sought their personal well being as being most important. As they gained in wealth and material goods over the years, then greed, instead of giving, reared its head. Seeking pleasure instead of sacrifice took place; letting down in character instead of disciplining themselves took over. As it was brought out in the book, America had too much, and forgot the godly principles that they once held to be of value—not that they were converted, but they did a lot of things in a godly manner. And this was how to kill a people—just to give them too much!
Please turn over to Deuteronomy 8. I think that most of you know that this is the chapter where Israel is warned that when they go into the Promised Land, and it is a fat land, and they have luxury and the things that they had not had before, not to forget where it came from. Let us start in verse 5. Prior to this, God talks about how He led them through the wilderness. He says:
Deuteronomy 8:5-9 "You should know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the Lord your God chastens you. Therefore you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God to walk in His ways and to fear Him. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, that flow out of valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you shall lack nothing; a land whose stones are iron and out of whose hills you can dig copper."
And certainly, even though this was not speaking of the United States of America, look at what we have—the amber waves of grain, the mines, and all the things we have. Continuing on:
Deuteronomy 8:10 "When you have eaten and are full, then you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you."
Our country today does not stop to think where they have gotten what they have. They are not grateful, and they are not thankful. Indeed, this is something that can rub off on us as well. We have to really consider that everything we have comes from God and to give Him thanks. He said:
Deuteronomy 8:11-14 "Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes, which I command you today, lest—when you have eaten and are full, and have built beautiful houses and dwell in them; and your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and your gold are multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied; when your heart is lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. . . ."
Deuteronomy 8:17-20 "Then you say in your heart, 'My power and the might of my hand has gained me this wealth.' And you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day. Then it shall be, if you by any means forget the Lord your God, and follow other gods, and serve them and worship them, I testify against you this day that you shall surely perish. As the nations, which the Lord destroys before you, so shall you perish [Why?], because you would not be obedient to the voice of the Lord your God."
This, in one sense or another, applies to us today, brethren. It just does.
Now we all pray that we might be accounted worthy to escape what is coming on the horizon. I do not know that I can state every last thing that God is looking for in you or in me. But I feel very confident that we should have a burning desire to sacrifice our will coupled with the desire to please God and become like Him in all aspects of our life is of the utmost importance to Him. This is what He is looking for—the change within us.
We remember what it says in Isaiah 66:
Isaiah 66:2 "But on this one will I look: on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word."
God wants us to tremble at His Word. He does not look to one who is casual or lighthearted about being part of God's church. He does not look to one who does not take his calling seriously, and make the changes that he needs to make. But, He looks to the one who has the deepest respect for Him; for His Sabbath, for all His laws, and for the brethren, because having respect for each other is essential in God's sight.
Now when we respond correctly, it is amazing what a man can do if he responds to God correctly, keeping the transcendental goal of being in the Kingdom of God in the forefront of his mind. It is amazing what a man can do. And it is amazing what God can do through a man, or a woman who is yields him or herself in obedience to God.
I would like for us all to turn over to the chapter of heroes, Hebrews 11. I am going to go through this, almost through the whole chapter because I really want us to hear what people who have this goal in their mind can accomplish. Let us start in verse 4:
Hebrews 11:4-5 By faith, Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks. By faith, Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, and was not found, because God had taken him, for before he was taken, he had this testimony, that he pleased God.
He had a transcendental goal of the Kingdom of God and he was going to please God.
Hebrews 11:7-12 By faith, Noah, being divinely warned of things not seen as yet, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith. [He had the vision in his mind.] By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; because he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and make is God. [He looked to the future. He looked to the goal.] By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born as many as the stars of the sky in multitude—innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore.
So we came from Abraham because he had faith in God. And from him, who should not have had a child, we came. Verse 13:
Hebrews 11:13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off and were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
They saw the heavenly kingdom—the Kingdom of God.
Hebrews 11:14-16 For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. [But they did not choose that.] But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.
Our future. And he goes on to say:
Hebrews 11:17-26 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac and he who received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, "In Isaac your seed shall be called," concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense. By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come. By faith, Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff. By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the departure of the children of Israel, and gave instructions concerning his bones. By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king's command. By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; because he looked to the reward. [He believed about the reward of the saved.]
Moses saw wherein the future he was going, and what God was doing. Verse 28:
Hebrews 11:28-39 By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, lest he who destroyed the firstborn should touch them. By faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land, whereas the Egyptians, attempting to do so, were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days. By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace. And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and of the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again. Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Others had trials of mockings and scourgings, yes, of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, and tormented—of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. And all these having obtained a good report through faith, did not receive the promise.
They looked forward to it in the future. Verse 40:
Hebrews 11:40 God having provide something better for us, that they should not be made perfect [or complete] apart from us.
I wanted to cover all of that because this shows the type of thing that can be accomplished when you have the vision in mind—when you see what God is doing with us—when you see the future He has planned. It is amazing that all the people that we talked about here saw God working in them, and despite the trials and the dangers, they held what God was doing in their life to be of the greatest value—much greater than what the world had to offer. Because of that, they had the faith to obey God. They had the vision of what God was doing with them.
Now the finest example of all is in Hebrews 12, and we will read the first three verses.
Hebrews 12:1 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.
What the author of Hebrews—probably Paul—is doing here is giving the allusion of having all the witnesses that have been through all the trials and tribulations sitting around us in an amphitheater. We are down on the grass in the center going through our fight, and they are all watching us.
Since winning this conflict is the most important thing in our life, we are to lay aside anything—angers, hatreds, whatever it might be that encumbers us, the sins that so easily encircle us, and wrap us up. We are to shun the pulls of the world. We are to measure ourselves against the Word of God, and we are to do the best we can to be obedient. We are to strain and to work to overcome pride, vanity, anger, selfishness, and our way of doing things. We are to submit to the will of God—to His commandments—that we might change.
We are to run this race with perseverance. We are not to be in this only for the short haul or only if things are going our way. We are to be consistently steady and faithful to God in pursuing the goal—His goal of building godly character in us.
Hebrews 12:2 Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
What he is saying here is that we are to fasten our eyes on Jesus Christ as the perfect example of how to live this life and go through trials. He never faltered and fulfilled the goal that was set before Him despite the trials He suffered through. He is the first and the last example of faith, or confidence in God the Father. He is the most complete Model that can be placed before us. And He is above all those that are listed in Hebrews 11. He is our Author, our Source, and our Cause. He is our Finisher, Completer, as well as our beginner—the perfect Model for us to follow and keep our eye on.
He did this in the perfect attitude for He clearly fixed why He was to accomplish the goal that was set before Him. And, He had joy in all He went through because of the honor it would bring God the Father, because of the saving of all mankind, and that He would be able to sit at the right hand of the Father having completed what His Father called Him to do.
Hebrews 12:3 For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.
What He is saying here is, "Attentively reflect upon His example that you may be able to bear your trials in a proper manner—that you and I might be able to imitate Him." That is what is being said. For He endured a hatred of the Jews who perverted all He said, and continually ridiculed all He did. Yet, regardless of all His trials, and their opposition, He persevered in the course, which He and His Father had set forth to accomplish, and He went patiently forward in the execution of those plans.
We are to learn from His example that no opposition of those who hated Him turned Him from that which He knew to be right. Ridicule never caused Him to abandon His plans. No arguments, scorn, or vitriolic hatred ever caused Him to alter His course for a minute. We are to consider Him, lest we become weary and disheartened from this struggle that we are to go through. Though He was tempted, as we are, He allowed nothing to sidetrack Him from His goal. He trusted in all that His Father had asked Him to do, even though He was tempted by His own human nature, He never allowed it to gain control. He submitted to God.
The best means of keeping our eyes on the goal without flinching is to keep our eyes on Jesus Christ, and the successful fight that He made for us.
What have we been called for? What have we been called to do?
You know, as we look over the great men and women of the Bible and see their accomplishments, we might not see ourselves as a David, or a Moses, or a Deborah, or a Ruth—we might not see ourselves as much of anything, except for this description:
I Corinthians 1:26-27 For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many might, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.
There are not many wise, or noble. We might see ourselves as the weak and base, or the insignificant of the world. But, God tells us through Paul that He is going to take you and me—the weak and insignificant of the world, those who are not noble, or filled with wisdom—and confound, or put to shame, the things which are mighty, and bring to nothing the things which are.
Now to go from a state of not being noble or wise, to becoming the sons of God, is quite a leap! We have a responsibility here. How is this supposed to take place? By our submission and obedience to God. That is it. The Bottom-Line! It is not going to happen any other way!
God intends for us to be examples in the world.
Matthew 5:13 "You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men."
As salt of the earth, we are exceedingly special to God. I do not think we realize just how valuable we are to God. Jesus Christ gave His life for us—God gave His Son for us, and for every individual that is on the face of this earth. God has called us because of the sacrifice of His Son.
As salt seasons what it is applied to, we add zest to the world God has created. As unseasoned food is bland and has no enriching flavors, so this world would be to God if we were not doing our part. If we had not responded to His calling, all that God has done would be meaningless. He is counting on us who have the earnest, or down payment of the Holy Spirit, to work to reflect Him, and have excitement about the wonderful calling He has given us—to be really enthusiastic about overcoming and growing. He is counting on us to who have the earnest of the Spirit to work to reflect Him in all that we do.
There is one more aspect of salt—as a preservative. It can be applied to us this way: We are to preserve God's way in a world where that way is virtually non-existent. The world does not understand God, and it is up to us to preserve that way—that teaching.
He reminds us as well that if we who have been called take our calling lightly, just as salt without flavor is useless, so if we do not respond to the calling, we will be useless. And, we will have no earthly use, nor heavenly use to God.
Now, these next verses give us our job description. And, in case you doubt where it is coming from, it is coming from Jesus Christ. It tells us what we are to do now at this time. We are to season the world by our changing. And, we are to be a light in an otherwise dark world.
Matthew 5:14 "You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden."
That is an awesome job!
The setting here is a city built upon a rise. Many of the cities of the old days were built that way. The acropolis—acro- meaning top, and polis meaning city—was built on a hill, so they might see the enemy coming if they attacked, and they might have an easier time defending it.
The picture here being painted is of an individual in a totally black night, looking out over an expanse, and he sees a light of a city on a hill. It could not be hidden.
As God looks upon His creation, He sees us as a light in this otherwise dark world. That is how special we are. This is something that we should consider every Passover season. And as it applies, we are to mirror God's light—His way of living in all aspects of our lives and wherever we may be in a world of total darkness. That means whether you are one, or a part of a congregation of 200, you are still to reflect that light in an otherwise dark world. As God looks upon His creation, He sees us as lights in this pitch-black environment.
Jesus Christ is the Light of the world. And as His disciples, we are to reflect that light.
How are we to do that? We are to reflect it by the lives that we live—by our marriages, being wonderful, kind, and loving to each other; by our children loving us, and teasing—by showing love.
We are to be a reflection of His light on our jobs by the way that we work; to our neighborhood by the way that we keep our home, by the way we treat each other in the block, by the way we are concerned for our neighbor. We will be coming to this.
Now, how is this to be done? Jesus Christ said in verse 15:
Matthew 5:15 "Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house."
The commentators had felt that if somebody went out at night with his lamp under a basket, he was going out for some skullduggerous [evil/wicked] purpose, like he was sneaking about and do something that was wrong.
But, the Christian is not to be that way. He is to have his candle on a table where it will give light to the whole house. This is the kind of example we are to set. We are to give light to all that we can. Our light is to shine as it says in verse 16:
Matthew 5:16 "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven."
They are not to glorify us, but they are to see us. But when they see that our life works, and see that our families are happy, honest, honorable, courageous, and things like this, they may not glorify God the Father at this time, but they will glorify Him later. But, when they ask you, "Why does your life work?" and they find out, who knows, but they may turn around and glorify God. It is to be seen by others that our lives work correctly. That is what God wants.
Now I do not know who this gentleman was, but his name is Bahmed bar Rabbah, and he had a quote that I thought would be good to read:
The Israelites said unto the Holy Blessed God, 'You command us to light lamps to You, and yet, You are the Light of the world! And with You light dwells.' And the Holy Blessed God answered. 'I do not command this because I need the light, but that you may reflect light upon Me as I have illuminated you, that the people may say, "Behold how the Israelites illustrate Him who illuminates them in the sight of the whole earth."
You see, that is what our job is—to illustrate God by the way we live. It was Israel's job to reflect that light, and now it is our job to reflect that light.
Our transcendental goal in life, then, is to reflect God in us to all we see; to respond as God would respond. It is not sufficient that we have light, but that we walk in the light. It is not sufficient that we know what to do, but that we must do it. We cannot rely on God's mercy to save us if we do not put forth the effort to overcome.
As John Ritenbaugh has brought out in part 6 of the series of sermons on the providence of God, we must have works and faith—belief, in God—because faith without works is of no use at all.
Now, I tend to be somewhat logical in these things, so where do the works start? Works start in the mind. It is the mind we have to deal with. Out of the mind comes everything.
In II Corinthians 10 we read:
II Corinthians 10:3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh.
We do not do things like the carnal, unconverted person does things.
II Corinthians 10:4 For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, . . .
And what are those strongholds? The wrong things that we do!
II Corinthians 10:5-6 . . . casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God [Every argument that goes against what God is doing.], bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.
Sin, and everything else, starts in the mind. This world is going to present the wrong way to us continually, and where things are exceedingly special to God, Satan is going to do all he can to alter your mind and make you think wrong thoughts and do wrong actions. He will do this on a continual basis. Our job is to resist, and permanently reject these influences. Influences to argue, to hate, to not do our best to overcome, to let down in our study and prayer; to be discouraged. We are to resist the influence to not to have a true outgoing concern for one another. You are going to see in this sermon that God really expects that of us. This is what the Kingdom of God is all about. We had better learn this.
We have to not allow ourselves to be easily offended, or to lust for that which we know is wrong. And it starts in the mind.
They key to controlling wrong thoughts is to do it instantly! Wrong thoughts constantly attacked Jesus Christ. But, He never allowed them to stick. He got rid of them instantly!
It has been said that if we do not feed our weaknesses, they will starve to death. Therefore, if we control our thoughts, we will not feed wrong desires. They will die. This is one of the keys to overcoming. We have to stop it in the mind. John Ritenbaugh is always telling us that we must cooperate with God, and because of this, we have an obligation not to sin. We are required to live a righteous life to the very best of our ability. That is what we are called to.
Now in Romans 5, the people had gotten the idea that they were saved by grace. And indeed, we are. But they thought that the more they sinned, the more grace would be extended to them! Was that not a good combination? So in chapter six, the apostle Paul says:
Romans 6:1-5 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. [Putting away the old man!] For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, we certainly also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, . . .
This is what we are all striving for—the Kingdom of God where we are all heading.
Romans 6:6 . . . knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin.
What he means is that if sin was your master, or if you were a slave, and when you died your master who told you where to go, and what to do, would no longer have any control over you. This is what baptism has done for you. It has relieved you—taken you away—it has killed you. You are no longer a slave of sin.
This does not mean that you will not have human nature. It does not mean that you are not going to have to fight the battles like everybody else. It means that sin is no longer your master. That is what Paul is saying here.
Romans 6:8-10 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. [He does not have to make any more atonement.] For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; . . .
Just like we did (at baptism). He died unto sin for us.
Romans 6:10-11 . . . but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
I would like for you to keep your place here, and go to II Corinthians 5.
II Corinthians 5:15 and He died for all, that those who live should no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.
You see that is part of our job description. Paul does not change his story from one place to another.
II Corinthians 5:21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
That we might be made righteous in Him, and be called the righteousness of God! What a wonderful thing that is for us.
Back to Romans 6 now. We will finish this area in verse 22:
Romans 6:22 But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.
This work of overcoming sin—of cooperating with God—of the work of putting on Jesus Christ results in something. It results in the fruit of holiness to the end that we receive many benefits now in this life because we live the correct way, and in the future, eternal life in the Kingdom of God.
How are we to accomplish all this? To my mind, we must take the approach that God starts from if we hope to be successful.
God is love. Everything He does for us is based on His love for us. From the giving of His law, which produces happiness, right living, and godly character, to the giving of His only begotten Son for our salvation has been done for us.
Now lest you think that this is the emotional love that is presented in the Protestant churches today, it is not. This is the setting of the will to perform good to our fellow man. And the word for that is agape. In one form or another, it is used 114 times in the New Testament. Sometimes, it is translated as "love," sometimes as "charity," and one time it was translated "dear." It is evident that the Kingdom of God is based on this to the promotion of peace, harmony, and a joyous life, and concern for each other and every member of the God Family.
If this is the base that God works from, then we might well consider working from this same base. Great love for God, a genuine love and concern for others, should be the motivating engine that drives us to overcome. This does not mean that we cannot have tough love sometimes, but we had better make sure that the love we give is in fact genuine love.
In case you do not think that this is right yet, John tells us:
John 13:35 "By this shall all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."
Love in what you say; love in how you conduct yourself, all of this.
Let us go to I Corinthians 12. This is going to require something very difficult on your part.
I gave a wedding recently in Mt. Vernon, Missouri, and part of the wedding ceremony is I Corinthians 13, and I am going to read you part of that. I Corinthians 12 talks about all the gifts we can have—of prophesy, of healing, of wisdom, of ministering—of all the gifts that anybody would want. If I knew everything, would that not be wonderful! If I could prophesy and have it all come out right, would I not be important! All of these things he lists. And then at the end of chapter 12, and into chapter 13, he said:
I Corinthians 12:29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles?
Would that not be wonderful if we could all work miracles?
I Corinthians 12:30 Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?
Oh, if we spoke all the languages, would we not be thought well of!
I Corinthians 12:31 But desire earnestly the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.
And again, this is what God is after!
I Corinthians 13:1-8 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have no love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they shall cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.
Yes, they will fail, but godly love and approach is for all times.
These things are in the marriage ceremony, and it is a good thing to put into your marriage. It is a good thing to consider. It is a good thing to go through as husband and wife. This is something that will help to promote a wonderful marriage.
Now to have this kind of love requires of sacrifice.
Let us turn over to Romans 12. This is the other area where the gifts are mentioned. These are old, familiar scriptures.
Romans 12:1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.
We have heard this for a long time. The part which begins this—the "I beseech you therefore" part—is a conclusion of the first eleven chapters of Romans. He said that we should do all we can to serve God. The reason is because of the tremendous mercy, love, and favor God has extended to us. We should make our bodies a living sacrifice. Because of this, as a sacrifice is presented to the altar of God, we should present ourselves before God as a sacrifice. And when a sacrifice is given, the owner no longer lays claim to it, and the offering is given totally, and therefore in principle, we are to give ourselves to God completely, and totally.
As the sacrifice is dedicated to the service of God, we also are to dedicate ourselves to God's service as well for whatever He may use us for. As a living sacrifice, we are to put forth the most effort we can to respond to the sacrifice that is then made for us and for the wonderful calling that has been made to us.
As the sacrifice was to be without blemish, we are to work toward being without blemish. We are to work to become holy, and acceptable to God. This is not just putting in your time. This is truly to make the changes that are required in your life.
Our service, our homage, our worship must be voluntary. Nobody makes you do it. You are your own personal offering to God. And, you should be governed by reason; your focus should be on the spiritual, as opposed to being on the physical, external worship.
We should not just come to services to put in our time on the Sabbath, or to tithe, or whatever. It has got to be spiritual. In other words, we just cannot give lip service. We really have to put forth effort to change. This is what God is after!
Romans 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
In other words, do not let the way of this world press you into its mold. Do not put on any form, or any other way of life other than God's way. Do not allow yourself to be pressed into what the world is doing! Because, this is exactly what Satan wants each of us to fall for.
Put on different habits, a different way of doing things than the way the world does them. We are being told not to follow the world and its fashions, emptiness, and its way of living, so that our mind (our intellect) might learn a new way of doing things.
Why? So that we might test and truly prove what is acceptable to God that we might see the absolute beauty of God's laws and all that He asks us to do and of His way of life.
Romans 12:3 For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.
Paul states here that he would like to give us something else to consider. We are to be humble, and not to think highly of ourselves. We should not judge ourselves by our office, by our wealth, by our beauty or handsomeness, by our youth, by our intellect, or by our talents. We are to judge ourselves compared to the character of God. We are to think soberly, and act wisely, because—remember—we are to judge ourselves by God's standards, because no other standard is the correct one, or of any value. I hope that does not shock anybody.
God will judge us in the future by how we measure up to His standards. That is what we are going toward. And, measuring against the ethics of God and His wonderful character is going to keep us humble and in a state of learning.
What are these sacrifices that God wants us to make?
Staying in Romans 12, verse 4 through 8 gives us the gifts again that we saw in I Corinthians 12.
Verse 9 begins to show what Christian behavior should be like.
Romans 12:9 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.
Paul here proceeds to list our duties in general. The first one he lists is love. God is love. Everything He is and does is love, benevolence, or goodwill toward all men. Genuine outgoing concern for all others without hypocrisy. We should exhibit kind thoughts toward others, and these thoughts should be reflected in right actions toward those who we come in contact with.
This does not only apply to outside the home, but should be readily applied inside the home as well, because God is a family, and He wants our homes to be right. They should be richly applied in the home. It should not be an occasional occurrence. It should be a stabilizing, consistent part of our life.
We, as God's called-out ones, should abhor and hate that which is evil, just as it says in this verse. But, Paul is not referring to the evil like we think of today—pornography, alcoholism, crimes, and that sort of thing. No, this particular phrase, "hate that which is evil" relates to that which is unkind and contains malice—things which divide us. That is what this word "evil" means here in this verse.
Paul is promoting brotherly love, and tells us to hate that which causes division. And he then tells us to cling, or be glued to, that which is good, which promotes peace and harmony. That is what God wants. That is what is going to be in the Kingdom of God.
Romans 12:10 Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another.
This is the only place in the New Testament where this word is used, and it tends to be a family term. It tends to picture the tender affection, such as exists between husband and wife, or parents and children. If we do not have that, it is something we should strive for.
Paul is stating here that we as God's Family be united in the same principles—we should have these same tender feelings—toward each other. He states that we should have brotherly love with tenderness towards all of God's people. We should manifest honor toward others and we should always work to set this right example of how to live.
Romans 12:11 Not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.
Slothful is a good translation. It means those who do not put effort into their lives; it does not pertain to a particular trade. But it means effort in life—really doing something. It refers to Ecclesiastes 9:10: "Whatever you do, do it with [all] your might" is what Paul is saying.
We, on the other hand, who are called by God, should be diligent in fulfilling our responsibilities to God. Paul is saying we should have excitement and intensity in our approach to God and all we do in life as much as possible.
We are to understand the value of time, being conscious of taking advantage of the hours given to us, is what he is saying. And we are to work so that we do not waste time. And then he says that whatever you do, you do it as if you are working directly for Jesus Christ; as if He is your boss and you have to report to Him. If we do everything this way, we will not have any problems. But the thing is, we do not do it this way. We work for ourselves so much of the time.
Romans 12:12 Rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer.
We are to rejoice in the salvation promised us. And if we must face trials, we do so with patience and with a view of the promise that has been given to us. We are to persevere in prayer not letting down in our contact with God.
Romans 12:13 Distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.
This does not mean that everything must be kept in common, but that we should all be willing to help each other as we see need. It might also mean that we might open our home to another without a home for a period of time. It certainly means to fellowship with each other, and spend time in each other's homes.
Romans 12:14 Bless those which persecute you; bless and do not curse.
Now, here is a toughie. It goes against our human nature. I will read you Matthew 5:44: "But I say to you, 'Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you, and persecute you."
Such is the reaction that God wants from those that He calls. This could be applied to the home as well—wherever it is needed.
Romans 12:15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.
As God calls us as a family, brethren, when one receives honor, they should be honored. My son just got his contractor's license, and we are all so pleased. Mr. Sherly Togans' father died, and we have all sorrowed with Sherly. He feels a loss and sorrow, and we as the Family of God should certainly remember him in our prayers and cards—that type of thing—to bolster him up. We are a family, and we are all to be a part of each other in this. When we are in distress, we feel terribly alone. God wants a genuine feeling of love exhibited by all of us toward each other.
Romans 12:16 Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.
I am going to read you from Albert Barnes here:
Think, or regard, or seek after the same thing for each other, i.e. when you regard or seek for yourselves, seek also for your brethren. [This would be done in prayer many times.] Do not have a divided interest. Do not be pursuing different ends and aims. Do not indulge in counterplans and purposes. And, do not seek offices for yourself which you do not seek for your brethren, so that you may still regard yourself as brethren on a level, aiming for the same object.
He is saying do not do things that separate you from each other. Wish good things for the brethren. Pray for them. Encourage them to go on and to achieve and to accomplish. He says:
Mind not the high things of this world as being overly important, but allow yourself to be led in your thoughts by humble men.
Do not allow your own pride and wisdom to fool you. Measure yourself against God. Refer to I Corinthians 10:12 (He who thinks he stands, take heed, lest he fall).
Romans 12:17 Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men.
Be careful how you respond to someone who does a wrong thing against you. We are to always stop and think carefully before we respond, and we are to behave in a way that others might comment on the fairness and responsibility of our actions. "He didn't strike back. He's different."
Romans 12:18 If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.
Do your best to be good neighbors. Preserve peace, and do not begin fights. Maintain the peace wherever we possibly can.
Romans 12:19 Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine. I will repay," says the Lord.
The reason here is that we do not know how to give vengeance. We cannot see the heart. We would give too much, or too little. God knows what He is doing. He said that this is not our job.
Romans 12:20 Therefore "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head."
You treat him fairly and honestly, but you do not take part in what he is doing. And then finally, verse 21:
Romans 12:21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Those called by God are not to be overcome by evil, but to energetically work to overcome evil by obedience to all of God's laws.
This list, brethren, that Paul gave here, and in his other epistles, as well as the teachings of Jesus Christ, Peter, James, Matthew, Mark, Luke, Jude, and John, and the principle lessons found in the prophets, and all the Old Testament, instruct us on how we are to live our lives.
These teachings, and the changes we make because of these teachings, is what is required of us to go from weak, poor, ignorant, and unwise, to becoming God, as God is God. That is what it takes.
It is our cooperation with God to the best of our ability in what He is doing with us that will enable Him to grant us eternal life. Yes, we are saved by grace, but if we do not do anything, like salt, we will not have any savor.
Now, Passover season for many can be a difficult time of year, certainly because of the trials that seem to come before Passover. Each Passover season, we see where we have fallen down, and we measure ourselves. We see ourselves falling so far short sometimes of what we should be. But we have to understand that God did not expect us to become perfect immediately upon hearing His Word. The apostle Paul, in Romans 7, after 20 some-odd years in the church was still fighting a terrible struggle within himself because of his human nature.
I will not turn there, but you can read about that also in I Corinthians 9 where Paul runs the race, and beats his body to keep it under control. Now because of this, because God will not do it instantly, He has provided His Passover so that we might examine ourselves, and take stock in how we are doing.
The sacrifice of Jesus Christ was provided that we might be able to repent and to be cleansed when we confess our sins as we march toward the Kingdom of God.
God's plan should encourage us, and give us hope, but is there more we should see at this time of the year? The answer is yes, there is.
We may feel down on ourselves, but of how much value are we to God? We know He paid the greatest price possible for us, and we know from Philippians 1:6 that He started the work in us, and He is going to finish it. It will be completed, but there is still more we should be aware of.
We have to understand that we are of inestimable value in God's sight. We do not think much of ourselves, but we are of exceeding value to God. And aside from our own salvation, then, what is our transcendental goal that should truly help motivate us to succeed in what we have to do?
I will tell you this, it is much more than selling war bonds. It is much more than working seven days a week in a factory. It is much more than growing victory gardens. It is much more than just trying to save the nation.
Matthew 24:21-22 "For then will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved [alive]; but for the elect's sake, those days will be shortened."
But, for the elect's sake—that is you, brethren. Our overcoming, our working to cooperate with God, our sacrificing our will to the teachings He has given us, will have made us of such value to Him, that He is willing to spare the earth from total destruction. You see, that is how important your calling is. Because we please God by our efforts, He will spare the world from annihilation. We have a goal far larger than our personal lives. We have the example of Jesus Christ whose goal was far larger than His personal life, and because of that goal, He conformed to all His Father requested of Him. He obeyed from the heart every law and statute. He learned obedience by the things He suffered. His goal was to live a perfect life that we might be saved, and our transcendental goal should be to live as perfect a life as possible that the world might be saved.
His approach, as He faced His greatest trial, I think, should encourage us to go forward with eagerness and excitement.
Mark 14:32-36 Then they came to a place which was named Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, "Sit here while I pray." And He took Peter, James, and John with Him, and He began to be troubled and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch." He went a little farther, and fell on the ground, and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. And He said, "Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take away this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will."
Certainly, this is something that we have to do when God says to do something in our marriage, home, or job, or whatever area we may be weak, He says, "Do this." We have to take the same approach. "It isn't what I want, but what You want, God," and then make the change.
Mark 14:37-41 Then He came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, "Simon, are you sleeping? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." [Ref. Romans 7] Again He went away and prayed, and spoke the same words. And when He returned, He found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy; and they did not know what to answer Him. Then He came the third time and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and resting? It is enough! The hour has come; behold, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.
Now, verse 42 is the verse, because He saw them coming with torches, swords, and staves; a large number coming toward Him. This was a time that in my own weakness, I probably would have gone over the wall the other way. But, He did not.
Mark 14:42 "Rise up, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand.'"
He basically said, "Let's go forward and meet the enemy!" "Let's go forward and get the job done!" Jesus faced the enemy with courage, and He said, "Let's meet the enemy, and finish what God's called Me to do!"
Now brethren, in this season more than any other, we can be down. It is difficult to overcome the nature we have had all of our life. The fact that I have had mine almost 70 years does not mean that I do not have to fight it like you do.
Jesus paid the price for us. He has promised never to leave us. He stands ready to intervene in our lives whenever we need it.
So as we examine ourselves prior to taking the Passover, consider Him who reached for the awesome goal that was set before Him, and accomplished it so well, and follow His example, and go forward to meet and accomplish the goal that is set for us.