Male and Female He Created Them (Genesis 1:26-3:24)

Good morning! We're starting a new series today on the family. It's called Family - God's Way. We're going to spend some time looking at what God has to say about his design for the family. We're going to do some research into the Bible to go beyond what a lot of us have been told about the family to what God has to say about the family, because the family was God's idea. Families aren't just social structures - they go way beyond that. We're going to see that families can reflect God's nature. They can shape our characters. The family was God's idea.

I want to start today by looking at one of life's greatest pleasures - and also one of life's greatest mysteries. Genesis 1:26-27 says:

Then God said, "Let us make people in our image, to be like ourselves. They will be masters over all life-the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the livestock, wild animals, and small animals."

So God created people in his own image;
God patterned them after himself;
male and female he created them.

Therein lies one of life's greatest pleasures. I don't know many people who haven't thought, at least once in their lives, "God, you did a very good thing when you created the other gender." Many of life's greatest joys come from appreciating and enjoying the difference. I'm not just talking about sex. God did a very good thing when he created us male and female. Robertson Davies once said that nothing is as intolerable as a room full of just women, with the possible exception of a room full of just men. Imagine what life would be like if we were all just men, or if we were all just women. We are all much better off because God created us male and female.

But this also presents one of life's greatest mysteries. I don't know many people who haven't thought, "God, why did you create the other gender the way that you did?" I'm sure that females wonder why the world needs another Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. I mean, weren't Terminator 1 and 2 enough? Or why does a man who knows, by touch, the difference between a quarter-inch and a three-eighths bolt not know which is the sock drawer and which is the underwear drawer? Why do men think The Simpsons is television at its best? Why did the XFL ever exist? Why is men's dry cleaning so much cheaper? These are questions that even men aren't able to answer.

Speaking as a man, there are many questions that we have of females. We don't understand why you like Yanni or Michael Bolton. We don't understand why you think that curling should be an Olympic sport. We don't understand why you would voluntarily buy and wear pantyhose and makeup. In fact, we don't understand why you would voluntarily go shopping at all. We don't understand why you like romantic comedies starring Meg Ryan, and we don't understand how you can cry at the end of a good comedy like Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Yes, the differences truly are a marvel. They're one of life's greatest pleasures - but the differences can also be one of life's greatest struggles.

Men and women aren't just a little different. The Bible mentions the creation of all kinds of animals, and never once mentions gender - until he creates us. Gender is a fundamental part of who we are. Understanding the family - understanding ourselves - begins with understanding who we are.

If you have your Bibles with you, please open up to the very beginning. We're going to start by looking at the first few chapters of the first book of the Bible. I want us to do some research into what the Bible says about being male and female. Let's begin by looking at the verse I already read - Genesis 1:27: "So God created people in his own image; God patterned them after himself; male and female he created them." The first fact that we learn about God's design is this:

1. WE WERE MADE IN GOD'S IMAGE

There are a number of qualities that set apart the creation of humans from everything else that was created. For everything else that God created, he said, "Let there be." When it came time for him to create us, God said, "Let us make…" The account reads as if God took a more personal interest in our creation. Creating us was a very personal endeavor by God.

A second difference is in the description of what he created. Genesis 1:25 says, "God made all sorts of wild animals, livestock, and small animals, each able to reproduce more of its own kind." But when God created people, we're not merely mentioned in terms of reproducing after our own kind. We're mentioned as being patterned after God. Rather than reproducing just after our own kind, we are patterned after God himself.

A third difference is that up until now, gender hasn't been mentioned about any other creature. They were created male and female, but it didn't seem important enough to mention. But when it came to us, it was important enough to mention. The Bible repeats it again in Genesis 5:1-2: "When God created people, he made them in the likeness of God. He created them male and female, and he blessed them and called them 'human.'" You can't understand humanity unless you understand gender. We were created male and female. Our gender is an important part of who we are. It was important enough to mention out of everything that God created. It's an integral part of who we are.

I also notice that we're the only thing or creature in creation to be given a job to fulfill. We have a creation mandate, and it was given to humans - both male and female. Let's read Genesis 1:28: "God blessed them and told them, 'Multiply and fill the earth and subdue it. Be masters over the fish and birds and all the animals.'" God had a purpose when he created us - a purpose different than he had given any other creature. It's a purpose that was given to both males and females.

There is something about us that reflects God in a way that is unique. We hold a place in God's creation that is different from anything else that's been created. The Bible says that you hold a unique place in creation - made just a little lower than the angels (Psalm 8:5). And that's not just true of men. It's not just true of women. It's true of both of us.

Scholars have spent a lot of time debating why God said, "Let us make…" Why not, "Let me make"? The theories range from the fact that God was using the royal we, or that this is an early glimpse of the Trinity. One of the best theories - one that I like - is that God, as a plurality - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - created human beings as a plurality - as male and female. Just as God has community among the Godhead, God created us to have community by creating us male and female. Our gender is more than a biological fact. It's a reflection of the community that the triune God has with himself. Our relations with each other can reflect a little of that relationship.

One of our greatest challenges in life is to see each other as made in God's image. Just as a child is a reflection of its parents, so we have been given the capacity to be like and to act like God. We have been given the potential to mirror divine attributes. We've been given characteristics like reason, conscience, self-awareness, and spiritual discernment. Our challenge is to see God in each other - to catch glimpses of that honor. To dishonor the image of God in someone is no different than dishonoring God himself.

It takes both men and women to reflect God's image. One alone is incomplete; it's inadequate to reflect God's glory. Men and women are different, but we're equal in the eyes of God. Neither is closer to God. Both are made in his image.

Those parts we don't understand about the other gender - it's possible that they reflect something of the image of God. The Bible describes God with the image of a mother comforting her children (Isaiah 66:12-13). It also describes God as a king (Psalm 47:2) and as a warrior (Exodus 15:3). It takes both men and women to reflect his image.

The Bible teaches us another fact about us being male and female. The Bible teaches:

2. WE WERE DESIGNED TO BE COUNTERPARTS

Genesis 2:18 says, "And the LORD God said, 'It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion who will help him.'" That word - companion, or in your version it could be helper - is a very difficult one to translate. Some have used it to say that women are to be in a subordinate role as helpers to men. But the word itself suggests nothing of a subordinate role. If anything, it elevates the female. God himself is called our helper many times in the Bible. What does the word actually mean?

Probably the closest we can come to translating the Hebrew is to say something like this: "indispensable companion." It refers to a counterpart - somebody who supplies what we lack and desperately need. It's somebody who does for us what we could not do for ourselves. Women are necessary counterparts to men, and - although it's not stated - we can assume that men are necessary counterparts to women. Both need each other.

God was no doubt talking about biology - but he was talking about much more than that. God didn't stop with creating our bodies differently. We are more than just biological counterparts. We know this because God had Adam first look for a companion in all the animals. Genesis 2 goes on to say how God created all the animals and birds, and brought them to Adam for him to name them, "But still there was no companion suitable for him" (Genesis 2:20). Adam wasn't looking to the animals for something to reproduce by. But he was looking for something - something that he never found until God created Eve. Adam was looking for more than a reproductive partner. He was looking for someone to help him fulfill the purpose for which he was created. God's provision was tailored to our needs. Men and women are counterparts to each other - indispensable companions.

Fact number three about men and women:

3. MEN AND WOMEN ARE SOURCES OF JOY AND LONGING

God could have made the first woman in any way that he chose. He could have made her the same way that he made man - by fashioning her from the dust of the ground. But God chose a different way. Genesis 2:21-22 says, "So the LORD God caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep. He took one of Adam's ribs and closed up the place from which he had taken it. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib and brought her to Adam." God chose to make the first woman from the first man. Women are made from the same substance as man. We're the same flesh and bone - foreshadowing that when we marry, we become one just as we were formed from one.

Imagine how good Adam felt when he finally saw Eve. No offense to the animals that God had brought before him, but there was no comparison. "'At last!' Adam exclaimed. 'She is part of my own flesh and bone! She will be called 'woman,' because she was taken out of a man'" (Genesis 2:23). Adam recognizes her as the same - as who he was longing for. The reaction is one of joy. One Bible scholar wasn't too far off when he said that you could paraphrase Adam's reaction as "VAVAVOOM!" Adam longed for what God created in Eve. It was what - it was who - he was looking for.

The next couple of verses at first seem a little out of place. The author switches his thoughts to marriage. He interrupts the story to say this in verse 24: "This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one." The author is saying that there is something stronger than your bloodline - your tie to your own parents and your own family. There's a flesh-line - a realization that part of me is missing and beckoning me. One rabbi puts it this way: that "Every marriage is a union; not a union of two strangers, but rather a reunion, a reconstitution, so to speak, of the primordial unity" (Rabbi Brichto). Women are a source of longing for men - not just biologically - and when a man enters into relationship with a woman, it's a relationship that's designed for much joy.

If you're in one of those relationships already, you know it's not that easy. You may have a smirk on your face. You can buy that men and women are made in the image of God - that the relationship reflects the community the triune God has with himself. You can buy that men and women are counterparts to each other - that in physical and in many other ways they were designed for each other. You may even buy the part about longing - that men and women are drawn to each other. After all, it seems to happen pretty regularly. But the skeptics among us may wonder about the "source of joy" part. There are many who long for the type of relationship that men and women are supposed to have - but you haven't experienced it. That's because of the final fact about men and women that we're going to look at today, from Genesis 3:

4. OUR RELATIONSHIPS CAN BECOME SOURCES OF CONFLICT AND TENSION

That which God created to be a source of joy and pleasure now has the potential to be a source of conflict and tension. That which was created to be so good now can become so bad. What we're about to read explains how the relationship between the sexes became poisoned. It's lead to countless abuses and violations against both genders - especially against females, to our shame. It's not what God intended, but it's what's happened as a result of sin.

Genesis 3 tells us about the first sin - a deliberate act of disobedience against God that brought sin and death into the world. Up until that point, Adam and Eve enjoyed the relationship that God wanted us to enjoy. But something happened between men and women when sin entered into the world. In Genesis 3, God appears in the Garden to describe the consequences of sin. Verse 16 says, "Then he said to the woman, 'You will bear children with intense pain and suffering. And though your desire will be for your husband, he will be your master.'" The first part of the verse is pretty easy to understand, and most women would concur that it's true. The second part of the verse is a difficult one to interpret, but its basic message is clear. The relationship between the sexes - one that started out as a blessing, a source of joy and comfort - is now a source of conflict and tension. In fact, what could have been the two best parts of a woman's life - her children and her marriage - are now filled with pain.

Let's look at the verse and see if we can understand it any better. "Your desire will be for your husband." Some think that this is talking about the sexual drive, but I don't think so. The sex drive was already there before this point. It wasn't introduced by the Fall. The verse is probably talking about a power struggle - a desire to control men, while men struggle to dominate women. It could mean that the woman so wants a man that she ends up being pushed around by him. But it's not what God intended. In any case, the picture is clear here. What began as good is now less than perfect. In some cases, it's become very, very bad.

Men and women were created to be different. That difference goes beyond the physical. There's something fundamentally different about us, and that difference extends even to our desires, our longings, even the functions that we fulfill. But up until this point, even with the mention of our differences, there was no mention of inequality. We had different functions, different dreams - but we were equal. But since the Fall, the relationship between men and women has gone downhill. Sex was designed as one of God's greatest gifts, to be enjoyed in the context of the closest relationship possible between two human beings. But today we have rape, pornography, and deep hurt. We have marriages in which men dominate women and see them as less than equal. We have all kinds of problems. They don't come from God's intentions for men and women. Sin's destroyed what we were meant to enjoy.

The differences between us - which were once meant to be a source of joy and contentment to ourselves and to our spouses - have now sometimes become sources of frustration. The relationship that was supposed to mirror the relationship that God has with himself has now become a very pale imitation. But make no mistake. Both men and women still bear God's image. We still are allowed to enjoy this thing called marriage, and we're still called to reflect God's nature in our dealings with each other. And we can still attain to restore our relationship with the opposite sex to what it used to be.

Galatians 3:28 says, "There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. For you are all Christians-you are one in Christ Jesus." This doesn't mean that our differences as men and women no longer exist. They very plainly do. It does mean that the divisions between us, that used to separate us, are no longer significant. When Paul wrote these words, there wasn't even a hint of teaching on the equality of the sexes before God in any of the ancient texts - except for in Christianity. The Jew prayed in a common morning prayer, "I thank God that thou hast not made me a woman." Josephus wrote, "Woman is inferior to man in every way." The Gentile world had similar expressions. But Paul reverses this. Jesus restored the relationship between the sexes to what it should have been.

Two weeks from now, we're going to look at God's design for marriage, and how this plays out in our marriage relationships. Today, I'd like you to take two actions. The first is to begin to look at yourself differently. Whether you are male or female, you were made in God's image. You were made to be like God. You were made just a little lower than the angels. It sounds like an oxymoron, but you could say that we should be Christian humanists. We should see ourselves as God sees us. To be sure, we shouldn't see ourselves too highly. We're not gods. We were made to serve God. But it may be a long time since you've seen the image of God in yourself.

Truth be told, you'll never really reflect God until Jesus Christ undoes what sin has done in your life. The greatest gift you could receive is to accept the gift of the one who came to give you forgiveness and eternal life. He died for your sins, and you can be joined with him in new life. You were made in God's image. You were made for a relationship with him.

I want you to take a second action. Don't just see God's image in yourself. Don't even stop with receiving what Jesus did. I'm going to call you to treat others as if they were made in the image of God - because they were. If you're married, let's begin with your spouse. Your marriage has the opportunity and privilege of being a living picture of the Trinity. You can reveal God by the way you love your spouse. But it goes beyond marriage. Somebody has said:

Men and women must treat each other as who we are: God's representatives on earth. If we degrade, abuse, or neglect one another, we insult the very glory of God. Like the psalmist, we should be on the edge of wonder as we consider other people. (Dan B. Allender and Tremper Longman III, Intimate Allies)

Let's pray.

Father, we've fallen so far from what you designed us to be. You designed men and women in your image as indispensable companions, as sources of joy and longing. Yet our marriages, our relationships with the other gender, even our view of ourselves have been polluted by sin.

Father, right now, touch the hurt. For those struggling with pornography, help them to see and to enjoy what the sexual relationship could and should be. For those who are struggling in their marriages, would you give them the courage to get help, to have no shame in asking for help. Let them see in each other the beauty and glory of God.

For those who have children, let us raise them knowing that they don't just carry a resemblance to us as their parents. They carry a resemblance to you.

For those who have been hurt, or wounded by others, I pray that you would surround them with your comfort and your strength.

Jesus came to undo the damage that sin did. If you would like to be restored with God through Jesus Christ, to be forgiven, to receive eternal life, I invite you to cry out to him in your hearts and ask him to be the leader and the forgiver of your life.

Father, we pray all these things in Jesus' name, Amen.

How God Sees New Me (Romans 8:1-39)

I want to do something a little different this morning. I want to begin by asking you a question: what do you look like? In fact, I want to get a few volunteers up here to give a brief physical description of their appearance.

[VOLUNTEERS]

How accurate do you think people were? I've found a general principle in my life. I've found that most of us tend to have a different mental picture of our appearance than reality. For instance, let me show you the mental picture I have of what I look like. Now you know why I'm so disappointed every time I see a picture of myself!

HOW WE MEASURE OURSELVES

Let me ask you a second question this morning. What do you look like spiritually? I've found that just as most of us have this mental image of what we look like physically, we all likewise have a mental image of how we're doing spiritually. It's how we see ourselves spiritually.

Our spiritual self-image is shaped by a number of factors. This week, I thought of three factors that usually end up determining how we feel we're doing spiritually. These are at least true of me.

OUR PERFORMANCE - Probably the most important factor in determining how I feel spiritually is my performance. I feel like a spiritual heavyweight when I'm performing. Have you ever had a week in which you've done your devotions every day, you've spent tons of time in prayer, you've generally performed pretty well? You didn't lose your cool too much. You treated others according to the Golden Rule. Whatever standard you have in your head, you've met that standard. You're doing okay.

Then there are the other kinds of weeks. Has anybody here ever had one of those weeks that they haven't performed well spiritually at all? I mean, one of those weeks that we do pretty well everything wrong? We miss our devotions. We miss church. We yell at the kids. We kick the dog.

A lot of us base our spiritual self-image on how well we think we're doing spiritually. We base our identity on our performance. Some of us have even been taught to do this in church. If you are doing this, then today's message is for you, because the Bible says that this is a very inaccurate way to see yourself spiritually.

OUR FEELINGS - There's a second factor that shapes how we see ourselves spiritually. It's our feelings. I mean, there are times that I just feel spiritual. Once in a while, we sing that song, "If ever I loved thee, my Jesus, 'tis now." Sometimes when I sing that song, I feel it. I feel like I've never been more in love with Jesus than I am at that particular moment. Then there are the times that I feel about as spiritual as a fig.

Some of you came in today feeling very spiritual. In fact, I think that some of us get hit with this spiritual feeling about once a week, and then it passes. Some of us spend a lot of time down on ourselves because we don't feel a certain way, and we think we should.

But once again, your feelings are a very inaccurate way to measure or shape your spiritual identity. I've learned many times that feelings can be very inaccurate. The reason is that feelings or emotions are always based on beliefs, and beliefs can sometimes, or often, be wrong. You're on very dangerous ground if you base your spiritual identity on how you feel.

OTHER PEOPLE'S OPINIONS - I've found one other factor in determining how we think we're doing spiritually. You may think of others. It's the opinion of other people, especially people who are significant in our lives. We shape our spiritual self-image based on how others see us.

The result of basing our spiritual self-image on these three factors - on our performance, on our feelings, and on the opinions of other people - is that we end up with a very inaccurate spiritual self-image. We end up feeling guilty and discouraged a lot of the time, and the other times, we end up taking too much credit for how good we're doing. We end up with a very volatile and insecure relationship with God.

That's not at all how God wants you to live. God doesn't want you to have a relationship with him that's based on your performance, your feelings, or the opinions of other people. I want to look at how we can measure ourselves spiritually - how we can see ourselves through God's eyes.

HOW GOD SEES US

If you're a parent, you know that there are times you look at your kids, maybe at a time they're struggling, and you say, "If only you could see what I see." They're unsure about themselves, and struggling. But we can look beyond the problems and see them for who they really are. We can see things in them that they can't see themselves.

I'm sure that there have been times in all of our lives that people have seen things in us that we couldn't see ourselves. There have probably been times that you and I have been ready to give up, until somebody looked at us and saw things that we didn't see. They gave us the strength to go on.

It's like God is saying, "If only you could see yourself the way that I see you. If only you would stop measuring yourself by your performance and feelings, or even worse, what other people think. If only you could see what I see when I look at you."

We're going to look at Romans 8 today. If you have a Bible with you, I invite you to pull it out. If you don't have a Bible, you can use a pew Bible (page 1274) or you can follow on the screen. For the past few weeks, we've been looking at the book of Romans. A purpose of much of the book of Romans is to explain to us who we are before God. The first few chapters of Romans establishes how God sees everyone - good people and bad, religious or not. It says, "No one is good - not even one" (Romans 3:10). That may sound harsh, but it's the truth. We looked a few weeks ago at the fact that we're natural born sinners - that we're not good people who occasionally do bad things; we're bad people who occasionally do good things. Our sinful nature has led to death, and it's led to God's anger against us. Paul's even established that God wouldn't be a just God if he didn't react to evil the way he does. Something in us realizes this when we react with a sense of justice to the wrong we see around us.

We couldn't do what was needed to have a relationship with God, so God did it for us. Romans 3:25 says, "God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God's anger against us. We are made right with God when we believe that Jesus shed his blood, sacrificing his life for us." We've been looking at the past few weeks at what happens when we take this step - when we believe that Jesus shed his blood for us, sacrificing his life for us. The Bible says that we become new creatures. I'm a new me. Jesus died to save us from both the penalty and the power of sin. He's delivered us from having to relate to him based on how well we're doing keeping a set of rules. It's all about what Jesus has done, and we can't take any credit for it.

Today, we're coming to one of the most encouraging passages in the Bible about how God sees us in Christ. What we're about to read is true of every individual who's a Christian, who's entered into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. It's true the very moment that you believe. It has nothing to do with how well you're doing or about how you feel. In fact, we can't take any credit for it. It's all what Jesus has done. But because Jesus has done it, we don't have to worry about messing it up either. If you're a Christian, God sees you on the basis of what Jesus has done, and not what you've done.

What I also love about this passage is that it's set in a context that lets us know that God is not blind to our faults. Paul has just explained his struggles. He's said, "It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong" (Romans 7:21). And it's in this context that God tells us how he sees us, and how you've changed.

How God sees us now as believers is based on two facts that will never change. It's based on two realities t hat are true of any believer - an hour-old believer in Jesus Christ, or a mature, fifty-year veteran Christian. It's not based on how well you're performing or how you feel or what others think. It's based on two facts: what Jesus Christ has done for you, and on the Holy Spirit who now lives in you. How does God see me?

1. I'M ACCEPTED

Romans 8:1 says, "So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus." This is incredible. Paul's just finished saying how much he struggles in doing what he doesn't want to do, and in not doing what he wants to do. He's just related how even though he's been set free from the power of sin, he still feels this pull to do wrong. But then Paul reaches back to what he's taught already and reminds us that there's no condemnation to those who belong to Christ Jesus. You may be struggling, but you're accepted.

One of the greatest truths in Scripture is called justification. Justification teaches that even though we are all guilty before God, God has declared us not guilty because of what Jesus has done for us. But there's more. Not only has God declared believers not guilty, but when God sees us, he sees us as being righteous. All the righteousness of Jesus Christ has been credited to our account. Romans 8:3-4 says, "God destroyed sin's control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the requirement of the law would be fully accomplished for us who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit." The requirements of the law have been fully accomplished for you - not by you but for you. You're forgiven. You're accepted. "There is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus."

I'm sure that there are times in your life that you mess up and you don't feel that you're accepted. It doesn't matter. You are. I'm sure that there are times that you feel guilty. Satan's called the accuser. There are times that we sin, and Satan accuses us - almost like he's the chief prosecutor. We say, "I can't argue. I did sin." And then we wallow in guilt. God comes along and says, "There is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus."

Why? Because of the law of double jeopardy. We can't be tried for the same crime twice. Even though he was innocent, Jesus has already taken the guilty verdict for us and paid for our sins. We're accepted because of what he's already done. We're forgiven.

Read with me Romans 8:33-34:

Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? Will God? No! He is the one who has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? Will Christ Jesus? No, for he is the one who died for us and was raised to life for us and is sitting at the place of highest honor next to God, pleading for us.

God says, "I wish you could see yourself the way that I see you." How long should you feel guilty after you've sinned? About three seconds. That's how long it will take you to remember, "There is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus." That doesn't mean that you won't take sin seriously. It does mean that even at your worst, God sees you with all the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

God accepts you. God has granted you a right standing with himself. Jesus - the one who died for you and was raised to life - represents your case. He's interceding for your needs, no matter what they may be. Our position in Christ is impregnable. I'm accepted by God.

Paul continues with a second fact - a second way that God sees us in Christ:

2. I'M FREE

This is probably the hardest one to believe. We all have beliefs that determine our behavior. If we believe we can't do something, then there's a pretty good chance that we won't do it. If we think we're no good at math, for instance, then there's a pretty good chance that we'll do very little math.

Most of us look at our lives and see that we're pretty helpless when it comes to sin. Paul talked about this in Romans 7. All of us have habits or tendencies that keep on coming up. Our conclusion - if we think about it at all - is that we may be Christians, we may be accepted, but we still are pretty well trapped to continue sinning in the same areas you've always been sinning. If you always blow your temper, you're glad that you have forgiveness, but you don't really expect to change. Whatever sin you've struggled with most of your life, you expect that you'll continue to struggle with that sin.

I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that you may always have the temptation. You may get rid of it, and over time it may become less powerful through the practice of spiritual disciplines. I've found in my own life that I've tremendously improved in certain areas of struggle over the past ten years. I still have a long way to go, but God has been constantly bringing things into my life to build our characters. I tell my wife that I'm God's gift to her, because I've definitely been used to build her character. Romans 5:4 says, "Endurance develops strength of character in us."

The bad news is that even though our old natures were crucified with Christ, they haven't yet been completely eradicated. They will be; they just haven't been yet. The verse we're about to look at admits that our old natures will still urge us to take courses of action that aren't honoring to God. God's given us a new nature, but the old nature still tries to make itself heard.

Here's the good news. "So, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation whatsoever to do what your sinful nature urges you to do." A year ago, we got our income tax refund back and it turned out to be the same amount as we owed on our car. So I went running to the bank and handed over a check and said, "I don't want to hear from you anymore." I didn't say it quite like that, but I did, in effect, want them to stop bugging my bank account. But she told me that even though my car loan was paid in full, even though I was under no obligation to pay the bank another cent, it was too late to stop the next loan payment that was about a week away. She suggested that I would have to put a stop payment on that payment, which I did.

God puts it this way. It's not like your sinful nature won't still try to get you to go down the wrong road. But you are not under obligation to do what it urges you to do. You don't owe your sinful nature one cent. You don't have to listen to it anymore. You can still hear it, but you now have the power to ignore it. It's almost like you've got to make practical in your life what God says is true. It's like putting a stop payment to your old nature.

The minute you become a Christian, you're set free from the obligation of obeying your sinful nature. You're set free from having to obey what it urges you to do. Now, God will spend a lifetime developing your character. But you don't have to wait to be free. You are free the minute you become a Christian.

The minute you become a Christian, the Holy Spirit moves into your life to give you new power. You don't have to struggle on your own strength anymore. Romans 8:9 says, "But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them are not Christians at all.)" Has anybody ever been controlled by anger here? You are now controlled by the Spirit. Has anybody been controlled by lust? You can be controlled by the Spirit.

If this doesn't seem real to you, God says, "I wish you could see yourself the way that I do. I wish you could see that your bondage and debt to sin and your sinful nature has been broken. I wish you could experience the freedom that I've already given you." There are two things that you can do to begin to see yourself as God sees you in this area. One is to memorize Romans 8:12: "So, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation whatsoever to do what your sinful nature urges you to do." I heard someone say that not only did he memorize this vers e, but he literally rehearses it in his mind dozens of times a day, because that's how often he's tempted to sin. Changing behavior always begins with changing your mind. Understand that you're under no obligation to your sinful nature.

Another helpful step is to yield to the Holy Spirit, who lives within you. This is an ongoing action that we all need to take. Everyday, when we wake up, to give ourselves - or even part of our body that gets us into trouble - to yield it over to God. Sin will try to railroad you; the Spirit will try to persuade you. The Spirit won't force you; you need to yield to the Spirit. He won't bully you like sin does. When we're tempted, to pray to God for help; to yield again to the Spirit who lives within us.

If you're a follower of Jesus Christ, you're accepted. You're free. Two more ways that God sees you, in the time that we have left:

3. I'M SIGNIFICANT

Romans 8:14-17 says:

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you should not be like cowering, fearful slaves. You should behave instead like God's very own children, adopted into his family-calling him 'Father, dear Father.' For his Holy Spirit speaks to us deep in our hearts and tells us that we are God's children. And since we are his children, we will share his treasures-for everything God gives to his Son, Christ, is ours, too. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.

If you've ever seen a parent's tender and strong love for children, you've seen a glimpse of God's love for you. When we become believers, we're adopted into God's family. Adoption confers upon us the right to enter into a tender relationship with God - to be able to call him one of the most tender terms, a term that would have been sacrilegious to most religious people of that day - Abba, which means something like papa. It also confers upon us all the legal benefits of being a member of that family - of sharing in all of God's treasures.

I had a moment of insignificance this week. I went to a concert. There were four thousand people there, which really isn't a big number. I've been to much bigger events. But I became a face in the crowd. I stopped being distinguishable from anyone else around me.

You're never a face in the crowd with God. You never have to approach God fearfully. You are significant to God. You're his child. He wants to hear from you. And he has also promised that you will share in his treasures.

Finally, one more:

4. I'M SECURE

Nothing can change your position before God. Let's read Romans 8:31-32 together:

What can we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since God did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won't God, who gave us Christ, also give us everything else?

If God went to all the trouble of giving up his Son for you, he won't ever give up on you now. If God loved you when you were at your worst so much that he sacrificed his own Son, he won't change his mind now when you're a new creature, his prized child. Romans 8:38-39 says:

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Death can't, and life can't. The angels can't, and the demons can't. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can't keep God's love away. Whether we are high above the sky or in the deepest ocean, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

You don't have to live your life based on your performance. You don't have to measure your worth to God based on your feelings. God looks at you, and he sees you in the light of what Jesus Christ has done for you. You're accepted. You're free. You're significant. You're secure. Nothing can ever keep God's love away from your life.

If you're a believer, that's who you are. If only you could see yourself as God sees you. If you're not yet a believer, that's who you can become - not by anything you do. It's all about what Jesus has already done for you. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, "God saved you by his special favor when you believed. And you can't take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it."

As we close today, I'd like to do something a little bit different. If you're not yet a believer, I'd like to just pause for a minute to give you the opportunity to pray silently to enter into this relationship with God. Cry out to him. You can pray something like this, "Father, I admit that I'm a sinner who only deserves your punishment. But I believe that Jesus died for my sins, and rose again to give me new life. Today I accept what he did for me, and I ask him to become the leader and forgiver of my life. Give me what I've heard about today - not based on what I've done, but based on what Jesus did." You can put it into your own words. I'll give you a moment to pray silently. [Pause]

Please stand with me:

You are God's precious child. God doesn't measure you by how well you perform. God's love and acceptance of you is unconditional and unchanging. God accepts you. He's freed you. He will never let you go.

God says:

I am merciful and gracious;
I am slow to get angry and full of unfailing love.
I will not constantly accuse us,
nor remain angry forever.
I have not punished us for all our sins,
nor have I dealt with us as we deserve.
For my unfailing love toward you
is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.
I have removed your rebellious acts
as far away from us as the east is from the west.
I am like a father to my children,
tender and compassionate to those who fear me.
For I understands how weak we are;
I know you are only dust.
Your days on earth are like grass;
like wildflowers, you bloom and die.
The wind blows, and you are gone-
as though you had never been here.
But my love remains forever
with those who fear me.
My salvation extends to the children's children
of those who are faithful to my covenant,
of those who obey my commandments!
(paraphrase of Psalm 103:8-18)