Pastor Kirk

Reflections from a spiritual pilgrim in Toledo, Ohio

Rags to Riches, 18 March 2018

Rags to Riches
D6 Series— By Faith Alone
Galatians 4:1-31

Series Overview:
The purpose of this series from the book of Galatians is to emphasize the vital role of faith in our lives.

Big Idea: Followers of Jesus are God’s children and heirs…and need to live like it!

Rags to riches. It might be the ultimate story, whether it be Little Orphan Annie, Cinderella, Rocky, or even historical figures such as Genghis Khan, Andrew Carnegie, Ben Carson, LeBron James or Oprah Winfrey, we love to hear of people whose lives have experienced transformation.

Often, people achieve greatness by their own efforts. Others are advantaged by their family of origin, whether by birth or adoption. Such is our subject today in Galatians chapter four.

I’ve often said I believe the two most important questions in life are

- Who is God?
- Who am I?

How you answer those questions will literally change your life. As we study the Bible, we obviously learn about God. We can’t know everything about God because…well, if we did, we’d be God! God is beyond our complete comprehension, but we can know enough about Him to love and worship and have a relationship with Him.

Today we’re going to learn about God, but our focus will be on the second question: Who am I? Or perhaps we should say, “Whose am I?”

Welcome to week three of D6, our church-wide study of the Bible. This month we are studying the book of Galatians, a letter written to churches in the city of Galatia in modern-day Turkey by Paul, one of the leaders of the early church. These people began following Jesus, but religious people deceived them into believing works were necessary to earn God’s favor. Friends, the cross is enough. Jesus is enough. We are saved by grace through faith. Hallelujah! The book of Galatians is filled with the simple message that Jesus is greater than religion. All of our good works can’t begin to compare to the work of Jesus on the cross. It’s all about Jesus.

Just a reminder that you can text questions…Last week I received
a question we will answer today: Are we sons of God because of creation or Christ?

As we turn to chapter four of Galatians, Paul reminds the people of Galatia of their identity.

What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. (Galatians 4:1-5)

Paul is saying minors cannot receive an inheritance. They might as well be slaves, much like the Jews under the old covenant. Before Jesus, people were enslaved. Jews were enslaved to the Mosaic Law. Gentiles were enslaved by pagan religions. Today many Christians are enslaved by legalism, rituals, good works, and moral achievement. Rather than bondage, at just the right time, Jesus came to redeem us, to adopt us.

These words are truly remarkable. Many of us have heard them so many times, the wonder of them has worn off, but I urge you to reflect with me.

The Creator of the universe sends Jesus to our planet who dies and resurrects for us. He ascends into heaven and sends the Holy Spirit to every believer, giving us the power to become like Jesus. That’s what “Christian” means—little Christ. Paul tells us we are God’s children. Who’s your Daddy? God!

We’ve all heard stories of children famous not because of what they’ve done, but rather their parents. The children of Jay-Z and Beyonce have been on magazine covers. Every addition to the royal family in Britain is global news. Can you imagine having a last name like Gates or Vanderbilt or Rockefeller…or Trump? Your family matters. Parents provide opportunities for their children—or not!

Now imagine what it’s like to be in God’s family! Don’t miss the last word of this text—heir. We are not only children, we have an inheritance…greater than anything Jeff Bezos or Warren Buffet could leave.

Who are you? What is the source of your identity? Your occupation? Education? Race? Social status? Member of an elite club? Political party?

If you are a follower of Jesus, you are a child of God. That must come before any other descriptor. Before American. Before evangelical. Before doctor or Toledo Rocket or even husband or mother. You are no longer a slave to sin and this world but are now a child of the most high God.

Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba , Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir. (Galatians 4:6-7)

Note the Aramaic word “Abba.” In Jesus’ day, nobody would’ve addressed God as “My Father.” It would have been considered disrespectful, yet Jesus not only did it, he taught his followers to do so. He taught us to pray, “Our Father.” God was considered the Father of the nation of Israel, but never considered as father to an individual. The religious in Jesus’ day were widening the distance between man and God, something Jesus reversed. In all of Jesus’ prayers except for on the cross, Jesus uses the word “Father,” and “Abba” is the term a small child would call their father, not unlike our word for “daddy.”

Do you think of God as daddy? I do. I sometimes use the word “daddy” when I pray. Sometimes it seems weird when I’m praying out loud in a group, but I still love it when my adult kids call me daddy and, therefore, it is a meaningful, intimate word I use for God.

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you. (Galatians 4:8-11)

Paul’s so frustrated! He taught them the truth, and now they’re backsliding, believing lies about religion rather than seeking a deeper relationship with God. They know about God, but they don’t know God. Like so many throughout history, they worshiped the creature rather than the Creator. Paul feared they would return to false gods, following religion, or returning to paganism. Note as Christians we are not required to follow the Jewish calendar of festivals. The observances are not bad. In fact, they can be quite meaningful, but they are not celebrated to gain favor with God.

I plead with you, brothers and sisters, become like me, for I became like you. You did me no wrong. As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you, and even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. (Galatians 4:12-14)

We don’t know much about Paul’s illness. It may have been eye trouble epilepsy, or even Malaria! Regardless, he reminds them of their time together and his delivery of the gospel, good news. Now they’ve changed their attitude, instead following the religious Judaizers.

Where, then, is your blessing of me now? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth? (Galatians 4:15-16)

Can you feel the tension? The angst? Paul can’t believe how these people have changed.

Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may have zeal for them. It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always, not just when I am with you. My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you! (Galatians 4:17-20)

He’s in a battle for the truth. Spiritual warfare is real and it is not always Christianity against Satanism. It can be religion and legalism versus grace and freedom. Again, grace and freedom do not give us license to sin. They merely remind us of our salvation, not from our works but the work of Jesus. The more we understand the work of Jesus, the more we will love God and want to obey, serve, and glory Him.

And now he contrasts Abraham’s two sons as an allegory for slavery and freedom.

Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise. (Galatians 4:21-23)

Abraham had a son through his wife Sarai’s slave, Hagar. His name was Ishmael. Later, Sarai miraculously became pregnant and gave birth to Isaac. Needless to say, the family tree and family life were complicated!

These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. (Galatians 4:24-26)

For it is written:

“Be glad, barren woman,
you who never bore a child;
shout for joy and cry aloud,
you who were never in labor;
because more are the children of the desolate woman
than of her who has a husband.” (Galatians 4:27)

Genesis 16, 17, and 21 tell us more about Ishmael and Isaac. The Galatians have become God’s children by God’s work, not theirs, just as Isaac become Abraham’s son by God’s miraculous work.

Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. But what does Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.” Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman. (Galatians 4:28-31)

Ishmael persecuted Isaac. Jews persecuted Christians.

So What?

First, know who you are. Know Whose you are. If you are a follower of Jesus, you are an heir of God. You have been adopted into God’s family. You are loved, cherished, and special, not because of anything you’ve done, but just because of who you are.

I often say I learned more about God the day our first child was born than any other day of my life. Parents, whether your child arrived naturally or via adoption, there’s a special bond, a unique love, a powerful commitment a mom or dad has with their son or daughter.

If I could have one with for you, church, I think it
would be that you could understand just how loved you are. Paul would write to the church in Ephesus:

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17b-19)

I’ve met so many insecure Christians. Their insecurity is expressed in a variety of ways. Some are legalistic and judgmental, quick to point out the flaws of others while being unaware of the pride and self-righteousness in their hearts. Others strive for the approval of others instead of being secure in the love of their Heavenly Father. Still others take themselves so seriously that they’re easily offended. If we could be secure in God’s love for us—remember, nothing you can do can make God love you more and nothing you can do can make God love you less—I believe our lives would be so much more attractive to our broken, fear-filled, hope-starved world.

This past week I found myself in three different meetings regarding children. One discussed the problem of infant mortality, another the horror of abortion, and the third foster care and adoption. We live in a culture of death. We are entertained by violence in movies, television, and video games. Is it any wonder it appears for real in our streets and homes? Life is precious. All life. In the womb. Young. Old. Black and white. Christian, atheist, and Muslim. Gay, straight, abortion doctors, politicians, the homeless, the incarcerated, teachers, …even pastors. Ronald Reagan once said, “God’s greatest gift is human life.” God is pro-life. Are you? Prove it!

Being pro-life is
far more than voting for a few people once every four years. It means caring for the least of these, treating everyone with love and respect, and protecting the unborn and the elderly and everyone in between. And it might involve getting really messy, ensuring others in our community are able to experience the abundant life Jesus promised by letting them know they are loved by God, helping them receive education, protecting them from abuse, making sure they have food and shelter, and ensuring opportunities for jobs and freedoms. By being adopted into God’s family, we’ve become heirs, given unimaginable opportunities. We can respond today by loving others as we’ve been loved by God.

Perhaps the most radical thing you can do in response to God’s love and His adopting you into His f
amily is to consider becoming an adoptive or foster parent, beginning with free classes from Lucas County. Last Sunday’s Blade reported the dire need for families to foster and adopt. There are more than 140 more children needing foster care now than a year ago, mostly due to the opioid epidemic which is ravaging families not only in our city but especially in the suburbs.

If you can’t foster or adopt, find someone who is and help them. Is there any greater gift you can give than your home, heart, and
love. We’ve been adopted into God’s family, not because we deserved it or earned it or were good people, but just because.

Are we sons of God because of creation or Christ? We were all created by God, but we become sons and daughters through Jesus who allows us to be reconciled to our Father and join His family despite
our sins and failures. From slaves to sons, from rags to riches. That is truly good news!

Credits: some ideas from: D6

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

It's Always Been Faith, 11 March 2018

It’s Always Been Faith
D6 Series—
By Faith Alone
Galatians 3:1-29

Series Overview: The purpose of this series from the book of Galatians is to emphasize the vital role of faith in our lives.

Big Idea: Justification has always been through faith, even in the Old Testament.


Last week we began our four-week study of the book of Galatians. Obviously four sermons can’t begin to contain all of the riches contained within this letter from Paul to some of the early churches in what is now Turkey, which is why many of our small groups and Sunday School classes are using the D6 curriculum with content synchronized not only with many of my sermons but also our children and youth studies.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)

Here’s the summary from last week: we are saved by faith in Jesus, not works.

Faith + nothing = salvation

Religion is the human quest to be good enough for a perfect, holy God. It always fails. Always. Whether it’s the Koran or the Old Testament Mosaic Law or even Christian traditions, none of us is perfect and, therefore, can never achieve what God requires—complete purity.

That’s why God the Father sent Jesus to live a perfect life, die for sinners like us, and rise from the dead, proving the sacrifice was sufficient.

Religion says it’s about what you do.
Jesus says it’s about what he has done.

Religion says if you behave like us and believe like us, then you can belong.
Jesus says you belong, believe, and then behave.

This past week someone told me it’s easier to live in legalism than to live in freedom. It requires no faith to follow the rules. Just obey the checklist.

Following Jesus is radically different. Freedom through Jesus means we’re not bound by rules, but rather we are granted a relationship with God and two commands which flow from knowing Christ:

Love God
Love Others

We are never to violate the teachings of the Bible, instruction meant to give life. But because our faith is based on Jesus’ work on the cross, not our good works, the pressure’s off. We were created to know and enjoy God and others. Life is all about relationships, and knowing Jesus is the most essential, life-giving, transformational relationship of all. Do you know him?

Paul, the writer of Galatians, was a Jewish leader who persecuted Christians prior to his life-changing encounter with Jesus. Many of the first Christians were trying to determine the role of the law of Moses, the Mosaic Law of 613 commands. Can a Christian eat pork? Do they have to be circumcised? What about the Sabbath? Are the standards different from Gentile and Jewish followers of Yeshua—Jesus? Religion was getting in the way of knowing and following Christ.

There’s one unfortunate thing about written communication: the lack of non-verbals. Bible translators work tirelessly to convert the original Greek of the New Testament to English. Note the intensity of Paul’s words and his rhetorical questions.

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? (Galatians 3:1-3)

These Christians have been deceived by the Judaizers, believing circumcision and other works are necessary to know and follow Jesus. They’ve moved from freedom to legalism. Paul preached that Jesus was enough. His death on the cross offers a free and complete salvation for those who put their faith and trust in him.

Paul’s going to mention the Holy Spirit 16 times in this short book. His point here is both salvation—our justification—and sanctification—maturity to become like Jesus—are the work of the Holy Spirit. It’s a God thing!

I would love to camp out here and discuss the Holy Spirit at length as I have done in past sermons. When you get Jesus, you get the Holy Spirit. It’s a two-for-one deal. Actually, it’s a three-for-one deal because when you surrender control of your life to Jesus and put your faith in him, he reconciles you to your heavenly Father and gives you the Holy Spirit to live inside of you, giving you the power to gradually become like Jesus.

Last Sunday I said religion says


The crazy thing is even if someone wanted to behave, if they don’t believe and have the power of the Holy Spirit, they
can’t behave!

The message of the gospel is reversed:


Jesus loves us and invites us into a relationship with him, to belong to his family. As we welcome people into life-giving community at First Alliance Church, many will inevitably believe simply because they see something different, something attractive about us—the Holy Spirit overflowing in us with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. Don’t you want to be around people like that? Are we people like that?

The Galatians began their spiritual journey relying on the Holy Spirit, but now they’re getting hung up on legalism, works, and their own power. As one writer notes, “As far as Paul is concerned, the Christian life starts, continues and ends in dependence on the Holy Spirit.”

Friends, ministry is a fascinating partnership between us and God. We can’t change people. We can’t make anyone trust Jesus. We can’t make anyone “behave” a certain way. We can influence others, but you cannot control another person. It’s difficult controlling one’s self! In fact, someone once said the only thing in the world you can control is your attitude. But I digress.

is sovereign and in control. As I mentioned last week:

“It is the Holy Spirit's job to convict, God's job to judge and my job to love.” ― Billy Graham

God does the work, but He amazingly invites us to be a part of the process, to proclaim good news, to set an example of righteousness for others to follow, to love others. But the people in Galatia were still hung up on the 613 commands of the Mosaic Law.

Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain? So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
(Galatians 3:4-6)

They’ve seen the Holy Spirit do miracles. Lives have been transformed, including Paul’s. Healings have occurred. The early church was a pretty dynamic community, as should ours!

Paul’s point is everything flows from faith, from Jesus, from the Holy Spirit. Even Abraham—the first Jew, the first to be circumcised—was made righteous not by his works but his faith in God. He did good works, too, but they flowed from his faith, not the other way around. Abraham was justified by faith. Paul quotes Genesis 15:6 which says

Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”
So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (Galatians 3:7-9)

Now Paul quotes Genesis 12:3, but replaces “peoples” with “nations” because “nations” meant everyone who was not a Jew. Jews and Gentiles are called children of Abraham here. This is amazing. The Jews were God’s chosen people, but Jesus allows Gentiles into the family.

For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”
Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.” The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.” (Galatians 3:10-12)

Paul quotes Habakkuk 2:4

“See, the enemy is puffed up; his desires are not upright—but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness — (Habakkuk 2:4)

If you rely on the law for your justification and salvation, you must be perfect. Faith is the path to righteousness. Christ has already dealt with our sin, Hallelujah!

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.”
He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. (Galatians 3:13-14)

It’s your choice, friends—religion or faith. Works or grace. The law or the cross. Jesus became a curse for us. He was our substitute. And even Gentiles can receive salvation…and the Holy Spirit, too! The book of Hebrews tells us

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

Are you getting Paul’s point?!

Brothers and sisters, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case. The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,”
meaning one person, who is Christ. (Galatians 3:15-16)

Christ is greater than Moses. Christ is greater than Abraham. Christ is God!

What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise. (Galatians 3:17-18)

Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator. A mediator, however, implies more than one party; but God is one. (Galatians 3:19-20)

The law exposes sin. It makes us aware of our failures and need for God, for forgiveness, for a Savior. The law is associated with sin, not salvation and justification.
Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. (Galatians 3:21-22)

One writer notes:

All that the law could do was expose sin, it could not remove it. In fact, it locked up everything under the control of sin (3:22a). It was like a doctor telling a patient, “You are sick, and I know what is wrong with you, but I don’t have any medicine that can cure you.” The medicine that was needed was the coming of Christ.

Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. (Galatians 3:23-25)

Faith in Christ shows we are becoming mature. We love God and obey God because he first loved us. Our good works are response to God’s grace and our surrender to the Holy Spirit.
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-29)

Friends, we are invited to become children of God, adopted into his family, born again. It doesn’t matter your age, race, language, education, or social status. These things divided people in Paul’s day much like they do today. When we put on Christ, when we wear his uniform, so to speak, we are on his team, we are related by blood…his blood. Anything that divides believers into two groups is not of God. We are one, and we are all heirs of Christ.

That is truly good news!

So What?

If you’ve never surrendered your life to Jesus, been filled with the Holy Spirit, experienced freedom and forgiveness, been born again, adopted into God’s family, it’s as simple as accepting Jesus’ invitation, his gift, trusting him.

If you have trusted Jesus, is he truly LORD of your life? Are you daily asking the Holy Spirit to fill you and transform you to be more like Jesus, loving God and loving others? Those are the simple signs of spiritual maturity, not church attendance or Bible memorization or tithing ten percent of your income, though those are good things. Our works and sanctification flow from our faith and justification, not the other way around.

Today we celebrate the freedom that comes from faith rather than religion. Paul wrote to the church in Rome

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:1-2)

Credits: some ideas from: D6, Galatians (Hippo/Africa Bible Commentary Series)

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

One Way, 4 March 2018

One Way
D6 Series—
By Faith Alone
Galatians 1:1-12; 2:15-21

Series Overview: The purpose of this series from the book of Galatians is to emphasize the vital role of faith in our lives.

Big Idea: Despite claims to the contrary, Jesus is the only way to God, not works or religion.


Today we begin not only a new series but a new church-wide curriculum designed to take us strategically through the entire Bible over the next six years. D6 is based upon the Deuteronomy 6 command to teach God’s Word to one’s children:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

At First Alliance, we believe the Bible is God’s timeless Word, our source of authority, and a living, breathing document guiding us to know and love God and others. We want to know and follow God’s commandments, teaching them to future generations. The free
Mission 119 app, Right Now Media, our Sunday gatherings, our small groups, and our children’s and student ministries are all grounded on the Holy Bible.

D6 is synchronizing the subject of our sermons with our children, youth, and many of our small groups. Parents, we’re going to explore the same scriptures your kids are studying today, and if you’re in one of our midweek small groups using D6, don’t sleep during my sermon! I’m going to feed you God’s Word and your group will be a great place to digest it, so to speak, interacting with the text and letting the Bible transform you from the inside out to become more like Jesus, our example for what it means to be human.

This month we’ll look at the New Testament book of Galatians. In April, we will examine several of the Old Testament Psalms. May will include a study of various attributes of God. Our series on Galatians is entitled, “By Faith Alone.” Before we look at today’s text, it’s important for us to understand what we’re reading. Context is vital when reading the Bible—or anything, for that matter.

Paul is a brilliantly educated man who was so committed to Judaism, he was a part of the execution of Christians…until Jesus miraculously introduced Himself to the man then known as Saul. Because God has a sense of humor, this Christian-hater became one of the most devoted and influential Christ-followers in history, writing many books of the Bible including this epistle or letter to a group of churches in a region called Galatia around AD 50, most likely when Nero is Emperor of Rome.

The Christian faith was relatively young. Jesus had arrived, died, resurrected, and ascended into heaven and the early church was trying to figure out what it meant for both Jews and Gentiles to follow Jesus. Many false teachers were polluting Jesus’ message. Some things never change! Paul begins

Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—and all the brothers and sisters with me,

To the churches in Galatia: (Galatians 1:1-2)

Paul begins by defending his authority as an apostle, a term that in Greek means “one who is sent.” He had seen Jesus and experienced a remarkable transformation as a result. His authority comes from Jesus and God the Father who raised Christ from the dead.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Galatians 1:3-5)

Jesus gave himself for our sins. He died for you and me. Hallelujah!

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse! (Galatians 1:6-9)

We recently talked about this word “gospel.” It means good news. In a word, the gospel is Jesus. In three, Jesus is LORD. Paul’s astonished, he marvels at people turning to a different gospel. He uses strong language. What’s going on here?

It might be helpful to look back. The Mosaic Law was a group of 613 commands, 365 negative and 248 positive. These Old Testament regulations covered moral, social, and ceremonial matters. Much controversy in the early church surrounded the relevance of Jewish laws upon Gentile Christians…and even Jewish Christians, for that matter. Paul writes later in Galatians:

For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14)

Prior to the coming of the Messiah and the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, obedience to God centered on the Mosaic Law. Jesus said

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17)

The people in Galatia were beginning to think their salvation came from their works, their good deeds, following the law, something only Jesus was able to do perfectly. Paul’s message is simple: there’s one way to salvation and that’s through Jesus.

False teachers begin by causing confusion. Then they try to get one to leave their faith, and then they introduce a perverted gospel. In Galatia, the false teachers told Gentiles to become Jews. They added religion and works to the requirements, but Paul is saying faith in Christ alone is what is required to be accepted by God. In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul wrote

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Works will come, but they are they flow from our relationship with God, they don’t establish it.

We are saved by grace through faith, a gift from God for us to accept.

Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:10)

Throughout history, many have tried to please people rather than God. Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz started the AO1 Foundation “to demonstrate the love of God by providing opportunities and support for the less fortunate and those in need.” What I love about AO1 besides the mission is the meaning of AO1: Audience of One.

Every day we can choose to follow the world or follow God. What will you do today? What will you do tomorrow?

Clearly Paul is trying to establish his authority over the false teachers.

I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. (Galatians 1:11-12)

I wish we had time to cover the entire text, but jump to the next chapter, Galatians 2:15. Here Paul addresses the lies of works for salvation after a sharp disagreement with Peter regarding circumcision for the Gentiles and the simplicity of the gospel.

“We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified. (Galatians 2:15-16)

Justified is a legal term meaning “to declare righteous,” the opposite of condemnation. We are all condemned sinners but we can be justified by faith in Jesus Christ. Unless you’re perfect, your good works will not be enough to satisfy God’s judgment. Only faith in Jesus can do that.

Paul abandoned some Jewish observances, causing alarm among the religious.

“But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners, doesn’t that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker. (Galatians 2:17-18)

God’s grace doesn’t mean we are encouraged to sin. Quite the opposite. In fact, the more we understand God’s grace and sacrifice for us, the more we want to obey God and live lives that bring Him honor and glory. If our emphasis is on doing good things, the temptation to be arrogant, judgmental, and self-righteous like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day is staggering. If our focus is on Jesus and what he has done for us and our desperate need for his mercy, his kindness will lead us to repentance and righteousness.

“For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:19-21)

When we trust Jesus, we participate in his victory over sin.

Let me make this as simple as I possibly can:

1. Jesus died to pay the price of our sins and bring us abundant life now and eternal life with God beyond the grave.

2. It’s all about Jesus. You can’t get to heaven—or experience the ultimate life now—without Jesus.

3. With all due respect to other religions, our faith is unique in that it’s not what we do but what Jesus did that gives us life. If there were other ways to know God, Jesus would’ve gladly skipped the cross and let us earn salvation through our good works.

4. Jesus is the way, the one way to God. Jesus is the way, the one way to God.

D6 Doorposts: The fact that no one can earn justification through works of the Law demonstrates that I cannot save myself; I need a Savior. God offers salvation and forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ.

So What?

A few days ago, I met two twentysomething men at the UpTown Association Annual Meeting. I told them I hate organized religion—which often gets a response, especially after I told them I’m a pastor! I said, “I’m all about Jesus, but I hate religion.”

Some church people have told me, “That’s a little harsh.” But the recent Mission 119 study of the book of Luke has reminded me of Jesus’ attitude toward the religious people who piled rules and regulations upon people, missing the point of God’s quest for a relationship with us. I’m reminded of these precious words from the late Billy Graham:

“It is the Holy Spirit's job to convict, God's job to judge and my job to love.” ― Billy Graham

Love the sinner and hate your own sin!

Religion is all about humans trying to earn God’s favor. Faith in Jesus demands we confess our sins, repent, and receive God’s amazing grace through Jesus. The cross was enough!

Essentially our text for today is Paul’s attack on religion. It’s all about Jesus, not our good works.

Some things never change. It never ceases to amaze me how many people will take tradition and culture and turn them into idols. In Paul’s day, it was eating kosher and circumcision, among other things.

Tragically, we have sent a message to our culture that we’re against everything.

We’re against abortion.
We’re against smoking.
We’re against drinking.
We’re against swearing.

Now I’m not saying I encourage those things, but I just wonder how often we add things to the gospel. And what if we became known for what we are for? We are for life, love, peace, joy, kindness, goodness, generosity…people!

As I’ve said before, religion says


Do the right things (or appear to do the right things), believe like us, and then you can belong.

Jesus reversed it time and time again. I was reminded of this several times during our Mission 119 study of Luke.


The message I long to send to our city is, “You belong here.” Jesus welcomed everyone into a relationship with him…and the Father. “Come as you are…but don’t stay that way” might be another way to say it since we are all called to grow, mature, and follow Jesus.

When people feel loved and belonging, the gospel becomes almost irresistible. Jesus saw it and I’ve seen it…people belong and want to believe. They ask the reason for the hope we have. Few in our post-Christian culture will respond to megaphone-touting street preachers, but when we are in relationship with people far from God, our faith will leak. If we live lives worth following, belonging will lead to belief. People begin their journey of following Jesus…and get the Holy Spirit who then gives them the power to behave.

When we focus on the external behavior without the power of the Holy Spirit, it’s almost impossible for someone to change. When the focus is on belonging, belief and behavior will follow.

So here’s the challenge: do you have a relationship with an unchurched person? Let me be more specific: have you shared a meal or coffee with a non-Christian in the past six months? I don't mean a religious conversation; just a simple friendship.

If not, perhaps legalism and religion have kept you from engaging with people Jesus died to save. It’s not by your good works or theirs that salvation is achieved. It’s only by God’s grace and the work of Jesus on the cross. That’s good news…and good news needs to be shared!

If you’ve never trusted Jesus with your life, why not begin today? He loves you and proved it by dying for you. You can try to earn your way into God’s favor, but you’ll never succeed because we’re all sinners. Jesus died so we can live! You can’t save yourself. We need a Savior and that’s why we love and worship Jesus.

Credits: some ideas from: D6, Galatians (Hippo/Africa Bible Commentary Series)

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

Jesus is our Healer, 18 February 2018

Jesus is our Healer
The Gospel Truth
James 5:13-15

Series Overview: The purpose of this series is to distinguish between the biblical gospel and the various misunderstandings of the word, specifically the difference between Jesus as Savior and Lord. We will use the Fourfold Gospel as our outline.

Big Idea: Jesus still heals, even if it’s not always on our timetable.

We live in a broken world. There are wars. There are famines. There are hurricanes and natural disasters. There are bankruptcies and divorce and homelessness and hatred and hopelessness. There is disease.

We’ve come a long way from the Garden of Eden where God repeatedly saw that our world was good. Since sin entered our world, each of us has been in need of healing of one kind or another. As we live between the first and second coming of Christ, we neither experience perfection nor despair in this life, knowing that Jesus is our healer.

We’re in week three of a four-week series called The Gospel Truth. We said “gospel” means “good news” and in a word, the gospel is Jesus. In three, the gospel is Jesus is LORD. We are invited into the story, but first and foremost the gospel is all about Jesus. The Bible is all about Jesus. Our church is all about Jesus.

In week one, we examined Jesus as our Savior. He came to earth, died on the cross to reconcile us to God and forgive our sins, and he continues to seek and save the lost.

In week two, we looked as Jesus as our Sanctifier, setting us apart from sin and to God. Even the most mature Christian is still a work in progress, ideally becoming more like Jesus each day.

Today we look at perhaps the most controversial of the Fourfold Gospel components of A.B. Simpson, our church’s founder. Jesus is our Healer.

We could easily do a series on healing, but for now we’ll try to cover some of the most common questions related to healing.

What is healing?

Often the first thing people think of when it comes to healing is physical. When we are physically sick, we often take medicine or go to the
doctor. God heals through medicine. God heals through doctors. In fact, the writer of the books of Luke and Acts in the Bible was a doctor. Some religions frown upon such things, often to their own detriment. I, for one, am grateful for medicine and doctors, but when someone is physically sick, ideally the first doctor to consult is Jesus.

Our bodies are not the only thing in need of healing. Often our finances are a mess. God cares about our material needs—don’t forget he fed thousands of people on more than one occasion—and I can tell you many stories of God providing for me and my family in miraculous ways. Of course, running up your credit buying a new luxury car and the biggest TV you can fit inside it might not create the optimal conditions for God to bless you with unexpected wealth! But with the help of wise counsel such as Dave Ramsey, I’ve seen God do great healing in the area of finances.

Sometimes we find our relationships in need of healing, especially marriages. God is available to reverse the path to divorce, and I’ve seen it many times. It rarely occurs instantly, but God uses many resources—including Christian counselors—to heal relationships.

Perhaps the most controversial of healings involves mental and emotional brokenness. Earlier this month a prominent Christian leader posted this on Twitter:

We will find mental health when we stop staring in the mirror, and fix our eyes on the strength and beauty of God.

Good grief! That sounds so spiritual, but it amazes me how many people will see a doctor for the flu or cancer, yet ignore their mental health.

Why am I sick?

Now let me stop and say we often have a role in our brokenness…and healing. Driving drunk, running into a tree, blaming God for your broken neck, and demanding an instant healing might not be the most responsible thing to do! In the same way, there are mental and emotional and financial and relational illnesses we cause, exacerbate, or extend.

But sometimes our condition is not our fault. It’s not necessarily God’s, either. It may be the result of living in a sinful word. For example, if someone else’s drunk driving caused your neck to break, the pain would be just as real, but the blame far different.

In Jesus’ day, it was assumed the sick were that way due to their own sin. One time a man blind from birth was brought to Jesus with this question:

“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,”
said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. (John 9:2b-3)

Sickness often is the result of sin—Adam’s, ours, or that of others. Sometimes God allows satan to make us sick, as is the case of Job. In trials, we learn and grow in ways we could never otherwise experience. When we are sick, we must seek God’s will even while we beg God for healing.

But sickness is not necessarily the result of your sin. Your depression might have something to do with watching Fox News all day, comparing your body to Photoshopped magazine models, or refusing help or friendship from loving people concerned about you. But it also may stem from brain chemistry, childhood trauma, or abuse. Ignoring pain rarely heals and often makes things worse, whether it’s a toothache or a heart ache. We are to…

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ (Mark 12:30)

Each of those areas can be broken…and healed. Sometimes it’s instant. Usually it involves time…and the help of others.

Because Jesus cared for the whole person, not just the spiritual, we want to do the same.

We care about your physical health. We partner with Cherry Street to serve meals, have outings to promote fitness, and are even shopping for Purell for the lobby!

We care about your relational health. Married People and Parents’ Night Out are just two of the tools we have to strengthen families.

We care about your financial health. This is an extremely generous church and we have blessed countless people with assistance in the midst of true crisis. We have and I hope will again offer Dave Ramsey’s
Financial Peace University.

We care about your mental and emotional health, too. In April, we are launching
Celebrate Recovery, a biblical and balanced program that helps us overcome our hurts, hang-ups, and habits. It is based on the actual words of Jesus rather than psychological theory and has brought healing to countless people worldwide.

Did Jesus Heal?

This question sounds basic, but the answer is yes. The Bible is filled with accounts of miracles, including healing for the blind, lame, sick, and even dead! We could spend all morning reading accounts of Jesus’ miracles, many witnessed by crowds of people.

Why did Jesus heal?

Jesus healed for several reasons. He did it to show his compassion and love. Miracles authenticated the message of Jesus…and the Messenger. Healing proved his authority to forgive sin. Also, the physical healings proved He is the LORD of our whole lives, not just the spiritual. God created you heart, soul, mind, and body…and He cares about all dimensions of your life.

Does Jesus heal today?

Absolutely. But first, a question: do you want to be healed?

One of the most fascinating stories in the Bible involves Jesus encounter with a man who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.

When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6)

‘Ya gotta wanna, and some people don’t want to be healed. They can’t imagine life without their addiction, their ailment, their disease. It seems obvious to everyone around them but they are unwilling to take the necessary steps to get well, be it prayer, asking for help, calling a Christian counselor, visiting a doctor, or attending a seminar.

We live in this space between Jesus’ first visit to our planet and his promised return. The kingdom of God is coming, but it’s also here right now. There are brilliant moments when heaven touches earth. Jesus taught us to pray, “On earth as it is in heaven.” Healings here are a kind of down payment on what is to come, the now and the not yet. We have something but not everything that will someday be ours. This applies to health, too.

Some have suggested miracles ceased when Jesus ascended into heaven, perhaps based on their own disappointments with God and his failure to respond to their prayers as they desire. Jesus himself told his friends,

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12)

Here's an excerpt from the Alliance Statement of Faith:

Provision is made in the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus Christ for the healing of the mortal body.(25) Prayer for the sick and anointing with oil are taught in the Scriptures and are privileges for the Church in this present age.(26)

[25] Matthew 8:16–17[26] James 5:13–16

The power to heal comes from Jesus. We do not believe in faith healing. We are called to exercise faith in Christ, but any healing power is from God. When God chooses to heal, payments to televangelists are not required! You don’t have to be in a special place or do special things except ask. Jesus healed in a variety of ways, sometimes even healing people who were not in his presence.

The purpose of divine healing is to glorify Jesus. God loves us, but His glory is the top priority, not our happiness. We ask in faith…and wait. Sometimes we wait for moments, others for years.

Pastor and author Mark Batterson recently announced miraculous healing in his body after forty years of prayer. Forty years! That’s perseverance. That’s patience! He had severe asthma, unable to go a day without his inhaler for four decades until he realized a day had passed…and then several days…and then weeks and months. He even ran a marathon!

God’s timing is perfect and can be trusted, even when it’s so different from our timing. Mary and Martha wanted Jesus to heal their brother, Lazarus. Jesus waited…until Lazarus had died, yet Jesus was glorified by raising Lazarus from the dead.

Jesus is glorified in Mark Batterson’s healing from asthma.
Jesus is glorified when we are healed.

It’s all about Jesus!

What if I’m not healed?

It’s great to hear stories about healing, but what about those unanswered prayers?

I believe many times healing doesn’t occur is because we simply don’t ask. How many times have you had a headache and grabbed the medicine bottle before praying? I do it all the time! Again, God can and does use medicine and doctors, but He is also able to do the miraculous.

But what happens when you do pray and nothing seems to happen? Don’t give up. On New Year’s Eve, we heard Carol tell of God bringing relief to her migraines after 25 years, and even then they are not fully cured. Why would God allow her to suffer? Why does she still suffer? Why relief after 25 years? Only God knows. It’s often hard to understand how God can love us, be sovereign and in control, and yet allow us to suffer.

Paul, the man who wrote much of the New Testament, never received the healing he sought. He wrote of his thorn in the flesh

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me,
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Corinthians 12:8-9)

Our family spent nine years in five states getting help for our daughter. I can’t tell you how many prayers I prayed, how many times I asked, “Why?” She is doing well today but is far from “cured.” Looking back, we can see how God used her dreadful health to do great things, but it was a long, awful process. That’s why God provides us with family, spiritual siblings to pray, encourage, support, and heal. I know this: God can be trusted…and He can handle all of your questions and doubts, too. Honest to God.

But maybe after decades of prayers, your healing will finally come today.

So What?

Are you in need of healing today? Jesus’ half brother wrote these words:

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. (James 5:13-15)

Each Sunday our elders make themselves available to pray over you and anoint you with oil. We have invited other church members to join them in prayer to be a blessing to you. While elders possess spiritual authority, all followers of Jesus have access to the healing power and authority of Jesus Christ. We simply must ask.

We have seen God heal through these prayers. We celebrate when he says, “Yes” to our requests for healing and would love to pray for you.

We have also seen God say, “No” or “wait.” We don’t know why, but his timing is perfect. It is during that waiting that we often experience the most growth.

Remember, all healing is temporary. If you get over a cold, there’s no guarantee you will never have another cold. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, but he ultimately died again. As long as we live in this world, we will have troubles of various kinds—physical, emotional, relational, financial, spiritual…but even in the most dire of situations there is hope with Jesus who said

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33b)

In this life, all healing is temporary. Not matter how many times we may experience transformation, we will all someday die…and followers of Jesus are promised eternity with him and new, resurrected bodies. Hallelujah! One day

‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’
or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

Until then, let’s pray for one another, mourn with those who mourn, grieve with those who grieve, find ways to serve one another, and invite God’s power to come and heal.

Credits: Some ideas from A.B. Simpson and John Soper.

For the Alliance statement regarding Jesus our Healer:

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

Jesus is our Sanctifier, 4 February 2018

Jesus is our Sanctifier
The Gospel Truth
John 15:1-8

Series Overview: The purpose of this series is to distinguish between the biblical gospel and the various misunderstandings of the word, specifically the difference between Jesus as Savior and Lord. We will use the Fourfold Gospel as our outline.

Big Idea: Jesus is our Sanctifier, making us holy and set apart for God’s glory.


Last Sunday we began a new series, The Gospel Truth. Our church’s founder, A.B. Simpson, described four unique aspects to Jesus: he is our Savior, Sanctifier, Healer, and Coming King. This is known as the Fourfold Gospel. Gospel means “good news” and if I were to describe the gospel in one word, it would be Jesus. In three words, Jesus is LORD. The gospel involves us, but it is first and foremost about Jesus—his life, death, burial, resurrection, appearances, ascension, and promised return.

Is Jesus your Savior?

Unlike other religions which teach if you are good enough, you can go to heaven when you die and spend eternity with God, the Bible teaches none of us is worthy of God’s perfect standard which is why He sent Jesus to our planet to live a perfect life and die for us. He took our punishment on the cross if we receive his gift of salvation. As a gift, you can’t earn it, you can’t do enough religious things to work for it, you simply have to believe and receive.

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:17)

Luke wrote

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

Jesus died for you…and rose from the dead. Is he your Savior? If not, I invite you to simply trust Jesus today. Surrender your life to him. Thank him for his life, death on the cross, and resurrection. He paid for all of your sins—past, present and future—on the cross. He wants more than anything to know you, love you, and spend eternity with you. They way to heaven is simple—believe in Jesus. Here’s a sample prayer:

Jesus, thank you for your death and resurrection. I believe you love me and died for me and I want to receive you into my life. I want you to be my Savior and LORD. I want to follow you from this moment forward and let you lead my life. Amen.

There is nothing magical about that prayer, but it can be the beginning of your spiritual journey. However, it’s only the beginning. Tragically, many people stop with Jesus as their Savior and go about their normal lives with the benefit of “fire insurance.” Beginning your faith adventure is much like being born. Actually, Jesus says to be “born again.” A newborn baby has not reached the end of their life, but rather it has just begun. In the same way the life of a new believer is just beginning. They need to grow from infancy to spiritual maturity, with Jesus as the ultimate example.

Have you been underwhelmed by the change in your life since you were “saved?” Many have done a great disservice to people in “sharing their faith,” communicating false hope that if you just “pray a prayer and receive Jesus,” you’re done. You’re saved…and when you die, you’ll go to heaven. End of story.

Perhaps you have begun your spiritual journey and you are “saved” but, like the man in the video, you haven’t experienced the abundant life Jesus spoke of in John 10:10.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10, ESV)

Perhaps you know Jesus is your Savior—our topic last Sunday—and you know you’ll go to heaven when you die, but you wonder if there is any value to your faith before you die.

I’ve got great news for you! Jesus is not only our Savior, he is our Sanctifier.

Jesus is our Sanctifier

The word “sanctify” is another one of those often misunderstood words like “gospel.” It simply means to make holy, set apart as sacred, to purify, to consecrate. In a word, sanctification means separation.

Separation from sin: “But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” 1 Peter 1:15-16.

Separation to God: “(He) has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father…” Revelation 1:6.

Some believe sanctification occurs the moment we are saved, when we receive Jesus. A baby Christian is made holy and set apart. Others believe sanctification is a lifelong process of growth and maturity, something no newborn can possess. Our understanding as a church and the Alliance movement is it is both.

The Alliance Statement of Faith says

It is the will of God that each believer should be filled with the Holy Spirit and be sanctified wholly,(22) being separated from sin and the world and fully dedicated to the will of God, thereby receiving power for holy living and effective service.(23) This is both a crisis and a progressive experience wrought in the life of the believer subsequent to conversion.(24)
[22] 1 Thessalonians 5:23[23] Acts 1:8[24] Romans 6:1–14,

Laver—or basin—represents the daily cleansing from sin by the power of the Holy Spirit. To clarify three theological words,

- I have been saved: Justification
- I am being saved: Sanctification
- I will be saved: Glorification

God’s Will

Do you want to know God’s will? I hear people often say they are trying to discern God’s will for their lives. After all, Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy will be done.” Paul wrote to the church in Thessaloniki, Greece these words:

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified:(1 Thessalonians 4:3a)

It is God’s will for you to be sanctified. That’s pretty clear. He continues to elaborate on what sanctification looks like.

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister.
(1 Thessalonians 4:3-6a)

To stress the importance of sanctification, Paul adds:

The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit. (1 Thessalonians 4:6b-8)

It is God’s will for you to be sanctified, to be set apart, to be holy, to become like Jesus.

We can only become like Jesus if we know him, spend time talking with him in prayer, spend time learning about him through the Bible, and spend time surrendering our lives to God the Holy Spirit. That requires…time! It requires intentionality. It doesn’t just magically happen any more than your body just magically grows muscles or your mind just magically earns college degrees. Growth—except, perhaps, for your belly—requires discipline, training, effort, and dare I say work. All relationships take work. If you’re waiting for me to have you over for dinner, maybe you should invite me over for dinner. If you want me to send you an e-mail, perhaps you should initiate and send me one. And just like it takes time to truly know me or a friend, it takes time—a lifetime—to know Jesus.

And you are your friends. Over time, it is almost a certainty you will become like your friends. If you hang out with Philadelphia Eagles fans, you’re likely to become an Eagles fan. If you hang out with people who work out or ride bikes or watch movies, it’s likely you’ll be inclined to work out, ride bikes, or watch movies. If you hang out with Jesus, you will become like Jesus.

When we receive Jesus as our Savior, we also receive the Holy Spirit, the most underrated Member of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit draws us to God and then leads us to mature in our faith. The reason so many people call themselves Christians and act nothing like Jesus is because they are not filled with the Spirit, connected to God, following Jesus our Sanctifier.

In today’s text, Jesus paints a beautiful picture of what it means to truly be a Christian.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. (John 15:1-4)

When I was a young boy, I was fascinated by a large tree in our front yard. I was equally fascinated with the discovery of a hatchet amongst my dad’s tools in the garage. For some reason, I thought it would be great to use the hatchet on the tree!

I don’t think I ever thought of actually chopping down the tree with the hatchet. I knew that would take hours, but if memory serves correct, I used the blade to carve my name in the trunk of the tree. When my parents saw what I was doing, they were horrified and sent me a not-so-subtle message to stop. Fortunately the tree survived after some treatment, but imagine what would’ve happened to the tree if I had chopped it down. Would it grow? Would branches grow? Would leaves grow? Without a connection to the trunk, the entire tree would die. The trunk and roots supply food to the branches as well as stability in storms. It is impossible for fruit to grow on a dead tree.

Some people pray a prayer to receive Jesus as Savior and expect to instantly bear fruit, to immediately be changed. Sometimes miracles occur at one’s spiritual birth. Some people trust Christ and instantly lose their desire for alcohol or temptation to be violent, but regardless of the sanctification at the moment of surrendering to Jesus, there is a need for ongoing maturity and sanctification which takes time…a lifetime. I have never met a person who has become perfect. We are all in process, growing one day at a time…if we remain in Jesus, if we follow Jesus, if we confess our sins daily and invite the Holy Spirit to fill us with the fruit of the Spirit.

…the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Galatians 5:22-23, NLT)

One of my favorite questions at the end of the year to ask myself and others is are we more like Jesus than at the beginning of the year. Look at this list. Are you growing in love? What about joy? Are you becoming more peaceful? Would those around you say you are becoming a more patient person? Kind? Good? Faithful? Gentle? Self-controlled?

Jesus continued in the fifteenth chapter of John:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:5-8)

If we remain, abide, do life with Jesus, we will bear fruit.

John 15:7 is a popular verse:

If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (John 15:7)

This does not mean God is a genie who does whatever we want. On the contrary, when we do what God wants, when we follow Jesus, we will desire only what God wants to give us.

Many Christians understand Jesus as Savior. They know he died on the cross to save them from the punishment of their sin. But they do not experience the ongoing sanctifying work of Jesus Christ in their lives. God is not in control of their lives.

The book of Romans has incredible truths about God and his wisdom and power and chapter twelve begins:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. (Romans 12:1)

Worship is not just singing songs. It’s a lifestyle. It’s surrender, sacrifice, sanctification. That might not sound as fun as a trip to Cedar Point or an evening of binge-watching your favorite show on Netflix, but actually following Jesus, abiding, remaining, doing life with Jesus offers more than a temporary thrill or a momentary distraction from the pains of life.

Knowing Jesus brings love. I have experienced God’s unconditional love, and it’s amazing. I know I don’t deserve it, but God’s loves me—and you—because he created us and wants more than anything else a relationship with us—forever.

Knowing Jesus brings joy. Our founding fathers believed in the pursuit of happiness, but joy is so much more. It’s deeper and not so temporary.

Knowing Jesus brings peace. I sleep well at night knowing God is in control and I’m not.

Knowing Jesus brings patience. I’m certainly not the most patient person but Jesus has all of the time in the world. I can trust his perfect timing.

Knowing Jesus brings hope. I know regardless of what happens today, one day I will spend eternity with Jesus in a perfect world.

I could go on and on.
Steps To A Spirit-Filled Life

The path to the Spirit-filled life involves faith-filled risks that always involve change.

- Surrender: You cannot make yourself holy any more than you can make yourself saved. 
Romans 6:11Romans 12:1–2

- Accept: Christ is your Sanctifier in the same way that He is your Savior! 
Colossians 2:6Galatians 2:20

- Abide: Maintain a continuous relationship with Jesus through obedience to His Word. 
John 15:1–11

Here’s artist and author Lecrae describing what it means to experience Jesus as Savior and Sanctifer.

So What?

Jesus is our Sanctifier. He has set us apart to live holy lives. Sanctification is a process of becoming like Christ as we surrender our will to God’s and are filled with the Holy Spirit who produces fruit in our lives.
It could be said that in contrasting Jesus as Savior and Sanctifier…

Savior: Deliverance from penalty of sin
Sanctifier: Deliverance from the power of sin

Savior: Freedom from death
Sanctifier: Freedom to live

Savior: Release from the guilt of the past
Sanctifier: Equips for the temptations of the future

Savior: Christ’s righteousness is imputed (credited) to us
Sanctifier: Christ’s righteousness is manifest in us

Savior: Jesus lives in us
Sanctifier: Jesus lives through us

Is Jesus your Savior? Have you received the gift we celebrate today in communion, his body and blood broken and poured out for you on the cross?

Is Jesus your Sanctifier? Are you seeking to live your life for the glory of God? None of us is perfect, but true believers are growing, abiding, remaining, doing life with Jesus and looking increasingly like him.

Jesus said,

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. (John 15:9-14)

Credits: Some ideas from A.B. Simpson and John Soper.

For further study, listen to Thomas George’s sermon at FAC on January 22, 2017.

For the Alliance statement regarding Jesus as our Sanctifier:

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.