DashHouse.com

The Blog of Darryl Dash

This blog is about how Jesus changes everything. He changes:

Our relationship with God

Our relationship with others

Our vocations - how we live and work in this world

Our ministries

This blog exists to explore some of the ways that Jesus changes everything. It provides resources and articles that will help you think about the ways that Jesus can change every part of your life.

The Lord himself invites you to a conference concerning your immediate and endless happiness, and He would not have done this if He did not mean well toward you. Do not refuse the Lord Jesus who knocks at your door; for He knocks with a hand which was nailed to the tree for such as you are. Since His only and sole object is your good, incline your ear and come to Him. Hearken diligently, and let the good word sink into your soul. (C.H. Spurgeon, All of Grace)

Growing in Grace (Ephesians 4:22-24)

Today we're going to talk about how to grow in grace. Growing in grace sounds like an oxymoron. How can you grow in something you're given? It sounds like other oxymorons: act naturally; definite maybe; unbiased opinion. Or the ultimate Canadian oxymoron: a temporary tax increase.

But God intends for us to grow in grace. In fact, it's a command in Scripture. 2 Peter 3:18 says, "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." Ephesians 4:14 says, "We are not meant to remain as children but to grow up in every way into Christ."

Last year we brought home a baby. That baby was incredibly cute, and it still is. But wouldn't you be frustrated if babies never grew? A baby who crawls and drools is cute. But a seventeen-year-old who crawls and drools is a different story. God's intention for your life is that you don't remain as a spiritual infant. God wants you to grow up in Christ.

Before we look at how to grow spiritually, there are three facts about growth that you need to know.

First - Spiritual growth is not automatic. Just because you've been a Christian for a long time, doesn't mean that you have grown spiritually. The fact that you've been saved by grace doesn't mean that you've grown in grace. Hebrews 5:12-13 says:

You have been Christians a long time now, and you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things a beginner must learn about the Scriptures. You are like babies who drink only milk and cannot eat solid food. And a person who is living on milk isn't very far along in the Christian life and doesn't know much about doing what is right.

There is no correlation between the amount of time that you have been a Christian and the amount that you have grown. Some people have been believers for years and have hardly grown. Some just began to follow Jesus and they've grown tremendously already. Spiritual growth is not automatic.

Second - Spiritual growth is ongoing. Unlike physical growth, it never ends. There isn't a person here who couldn't grow more spiritually. 2 Peter 3:18 says, "Continue to grow in grace." It never ends. Every day when you wake up, you can either grow more spiritually or you can take a step backwards. Somebody has said that the Christian life is like riding a bicycle. Unless you keep moving, you fall off. We will never attain all that there is in Christ in this life.

People try a lot of shortcuts. Some people look for an emotional experience - "If I just get this `certain experience', then all my problems will be solved and I will be a mature Christian." Other people say, "If I could just go to this seminar.... If I could just read this book... If I could just listen to this tape..." Other people say, "If I could just keep a certain set of rules, then I could be all God wants me to be."

But the Bible says, no. It's a continual process. You have to learn to be mature. But there are some skills that you can learn that will help you grow.

Third - Spiritual growth isn't about how many. It's not about how many meetings you attend at church or how many verses you memorize in the Bible. It's not about how many minutes you spend in devotions every morning or how many Christian books you read last year. Those aren't bad things, but they're not the measurement of spiritual growth. Just doing things doesn't mean you're growing. It's not a matter of how many.

Let me tell you what spiritual growth is. It's about how much. It's about the quality of life. It's about how much closer I am to God than I was at this time last year. It's how much my character is being changed by God's power. It's how much more I love my wife and kids because of God's grace. Jesus said, "My purpose is to give life in all its fullness" (John 10:10). He didn't say he came to give us more things to do. He came to give us a new quality of living.

God didn't just give us grace to get us started. God gave us his grace to keep us going. Now, there's a lot of confusion about how to grow spiritually. This morning I'd like us to look at a Scripture passage that gives us three steps to take in order to grow. Please read with me Ephesians 4:22-24:

Since you have heard all about him and have learned the truth that is in Jesus, throw off your old evil nature and your former way of life, which is rotten through and through, full of lust and deception. Instead, there must be a spiritual renewal of your thoughts and attitudes. You must display a new nature because you are a new person, created in God's likeness-righteous, holy, and true.

In this passage, Paul describes the three actions that spiritually growing people take. At the end of this message, I'd like you to identify one action that you need to take. Let's look at the first one:

FIRST - SPIRITUALLY GROWING PEOPLE LET GO OF THE OLD

Paul writes, "Throw off your old evil nature and your former way of life, which is rotten through and through, full of lust and deception." I love Eugene Peterson's translation in The Message: "Since, then, we do not have the excuse of ignorance, everything - and I mean everything - connected with that old way of life has to go. It's rotten through and through. Get rid of it!"

Spiritually growing people let go of the old - their past. They let go of three things:

They let go of their guilt. Spiritually growing people let go of the guilt from their past. One of Satan's greatest tools against believers is a false sense of guilt. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, everything that you have done in your past has been forgiven. Everything! Paul writes in Romans 8:1, "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death." The entire human race was under God's judgment. God could have judged all of us and sent us to hell. But instead, we've been pardoned. God has declared all who trust in Christ as "not guilty" and has given us freedom from sin and from hell.

I don't know what you've done in the past. I do know that if you've received God's grace, you don't have to worry about it any longer. God has "cancelled the record that contained the charges against us" (Colossians 2:14). We don't have to worry about guilt from our past anymore. We can let it go.

Spiritually growing people also let go of pure self-effort. Now, I'm not saying that spiritual growth is effortless. But it won't take place on your own power. In the past, we tried to grow spiritually by ourselves. But it didn't work. That's why Paul says this about all his religious efforts before he discovered God's grace:

I once thought all these things were so very important, but now I consider them worthless when compared with the priceless gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I may have Jesus Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own goodness or my ability to obey God's law, but I trust Christ to save me. For God's way of making us right with him depends on faith. (Philippians 3:7-9).

No amount of law keeping, self-improvement, or discipline could make you right with Christ. The answer isn't to try harder. You couldn't be saved by trying to be a better person. It's been tried before, and it never works. Spiritually growing people realize it's not all up to them. They give up on pure self-effort.

But spiritually growing people give up on one more thing: they give up on their former way of life. "Throw off your old evil nature and your former way of life, which is rotten through and through, full of lust and deception" (Ephesians 4:22). Studies consistently show that followers of Jesus Christ act very much like those who don't follow Jesus Christ. In fact, I recently heard that the divorce rate among believ ers is higher than that in the general public. But spiritually growing people know that they need to give up their former way of life. They need to give up their past behavior.

Now, here's where it gets interesting. What do you think of when you think of unregenerate behavior? Paul gives us a good list in Galatians 5. He mentions things like sexual immortality, idolatry, participation in demonic activities, drunkenness, and wild parties. Would you agree that these behaviors and completely against what Christ wants to cultivate in our lives?

While these behaviors are inappropriate for any believer in Jesus Christ, listen to the other things that Paul mentions in Galatians 5:19: impure thoughts, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, divisions, and envy. Now how many followers of Jesus Christ have you seen practicing demonic activities? Worshiping idols? Now how many followers of Jesus Christ have you seen hostile, quarreling, angry, and self-ambitious? Paul says, "Let me tell you again, as I have said before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God." Whether you're a drunk idol-worshiper or a quarrelsome gossip makes no difference to God. They're both behaviors that need to be put off by any person who wants to grow spiritually.

How do you make a break with your past behavior?

  • First, become aware of the problem. I have a friend who had a quadruple bypass. The day before he had it done, he went to the Mandarin buffet. The doctor told him not to anymore, and my friend was shocked. "You mean Chinese buffets are bad for you?" I'll bet you're doing things that are spiritually harmful, and you're not even aware of them. Ask God to reveal anything to you that's harmful for you spiritually. David prayed in Psalm 139, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. Point out anything that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life."
  • Second, ask for God's help. Jesus taught us to pray, "And don't let us yield to temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." Ask for God's help in not yielding to your temptations. You can't do it on your own power, but if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, God has given you the Holy Spirit to live within you. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work in your life. So ask for God's help.
  • Three, be prepared to take decisive action. It takes discipline. It takes courage. Jesus said, "And if your hand-even if it is your stronger hand-causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell" (Matthew 5:30). Now, Jesus was speaking figuratively. He was telling us to take action, even if the solution is radical. If you're tempted at work, get a transfer. If TV is a problem, cancel the cable. If it's the Internet, then get a filtered service provider. Do whatever it takes to deal with the problem. If it only took a minor change, you would have done it by now. Be prepared to take decisive action.
  • Fourth, get some help. Every week I meet with someone who holds me accountable. You need someone who will help you with your struggles. You weren't meant to struggle alone. I used to think I was the only one struggling with certain issues. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, "Remember that the temptations that come into your life are no different from what others experience." It helps so much to struggle together.

One word: you can't hope to grow spiritually if you haven't taken that first step of giving your life to Jesus Christ. Jesus longs to take your life as it is right now - full of whatever mistakes might be there - and to declare you not guilty. He longs to give you a clean slate. All you have to do is come to him and receive his forgiveness. Don't try to grow spiritually until you have taken that first step.

But once you've taken that first step, you need to let go of the past. You need to let go of the guilt, the self-effort, and your former way of life. Spiritually growing people do that. And the reason they can do it is because of grace.

The second action that spiritually growing people take is this:

TWO - SPIRITUALLY GROWING PEOPLE PUT ON THE NEW

Ephesians 4:24 says, "You must display a new nature because you are a new person, created in God's likeness—righteous, holy, and true." Colossians 3:10 says, "In its place you have clothed yourselves with a brand-new nature that is continually being renewed as you learn more and more about Christ, who created this new nature within you."

A few facts about this new life that God give us...

1. You don't have to earn your new life. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, "What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun!" You don't have to create your new nature. It's a gift from God. It's as if God came to us and said, "Here's a $2,000 suit to wear, or a $10,000 dress." God gives it to us the minute we begin to follow him. All that we have to do is to put it on.

2. You don't have to keep your new life. Colossians 3:3 says, "For you died when Christ died, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God." Hidden means "concealed and safe." You don't have to worry about keeping your new life. It doesn't depend on you. It's safe and secure.

3. You do have to put on your new life. You don't have to earn it and you don't have to keep it, but you do have to put it on. Paul tells us, "You must display a new nature because you are a new person, created in God's likeness-righteous, holy, and true."

God gives us this ten thousand dollar outfit, and a lot of us say, "God, I'd rather wear my own outfit." Perhaps we even try to piece together an outfit out of old tatty rags. Or we try to wear our old outfit along with our new one. God says, "I want you to take off the old and put on the new. I want you to look like me on the inside. I want to change you from the inside out."

Every day, I have a choice to make. I can look at what God has given me and can never be taken away, and I can put that on. Or I can refuse to put on God's nature. The choice is up to me.

Galatians 5 says:

When the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

These are the character traits that the Holy Spirit is producing in our lives. They're the character traits of Jesus. We can't obtain them by trying to get them. We can't make these character traits by ourselves. They only come as we allow the Holy Spirit to control our lives.

It's not enough to get rid of the old. You have to put on the new nature. It's given to you free; you just have to wear it.

There's one more action that spiritually growing people take:

THREE - SPIRITUALLY GROWING CHANGE FROM THE INSIDE OUT

Ephesians 4:23 says, "Instead, there must be a spiritual renewal of your thoughts and attitudes." Romans 12:2 says, "Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think."

When I was a child, I actually flew quite a bit. Those were the days that children were spoiled on the airplane. They got toys. They got extra attention. They even got to see the pilots in the cockpit. And so, I was taken to the cockpit during the middle of the flight. I think I pictured the pilot looking through the windshield, with both hands on the controls, piloting the plane just like you'd drive a car. I was shocked to see him relaxing, talking, hands off the controls, not even looking where he was going. I had discovered something called an autopilot.

Now, the pilot didn't have to do too much. He took off a nd he landed, and in between I think he entertained kids in the cockpit and other things. I was still glad he was there, but he didn't actually fly the plane manually. The autopilot took over.

Now, would you agree that most of us have an autopilot? Do you remember when you first learned to drive, you would have to consciously think through every step? "Lower the steering column; foot on the clutch; car in neutral; turn ignition..." and so on. Now I bet you get in the car and you hardly even realize what you're doing. That changes when you drive a rental car and all of a sudden you have to actually think about what you're doing.

Over the course of your life, you've developed many patterns or habits. They've become the autopilot of your life. You act in certain ways without even thinking. And what God has to do is to transform your autopilot into one that is pleasing to him. He has to transform the way you think.

Let me give you another way of looking at it. When the autopilot is on in an airplane, the pilot can overpower the controls and turn the airplane in another direction. But the minute the autopilot is released, the plane goes back to the way you were going. Now, you can, with great effort, steer your life in another direction. But the minute you turn your attention to something else, guess where you go again? Your autopilot takes over. It's going to be more effective to reprogram your autopilot, rather than to focus on changing your behavior.

Romans 12:2 tells us the secret of how our behavior can be changed. It's by allowing God to change the way we think. When God changes the way we think, our behavior will inevitably think. We need to allow God to transform our minds.

Now, we don't often want God to do that. We want God to tinker around and do a patch-up job. But God doesn't need to do cosmetic surgery. He needs to completely rewire us.

The alternative, of course, is to let the world continue to program us. We could let the world dictate the way we think.. If you want to live a life that's always behind the times, built on shifting sand, then let the world dictate the way you think. You'll always be behind because the world always changes. But if you want your life to be built on principles that will never change and that form a solid foundation, then let God dictate how you think. Paul writes:

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits at God's right hand in the place of honor and power. Let heaven fill your thoughts. Do not think only about things down here on earth. (Colossians 3:1-2)

Now, who influences your mind more - Oprah or God? Who has a bigger impact on the way you think - the writings of People Magazine or the writings of the Apostle Paul?

A few years ago, I found a television show that I really liked. So, I began to watch it every week. Pretty soon I was arranging my week around the time of that television show. Then I found that there was a show after it that wasn't really good, but if I waited for the show after that it would be worth it.

Then I discovered the VCR. No longer did I have to arrange my schedule around the television show. Now I could race home from wherever I was, kick back, and watch that television show whenever.

But one day it dawned on me that my life was being arranged around people who didn't exist in a plot that wasn't that good, and that definitely didn't honor God. I was spending more time worried about these fictional people than I was my own wife sometimes. And I was letting my mind be influenced by the values and morals of that show.

Who is influencing your mind? It could be the television. It could be the movies. Do you know that mental images from movies that I saw years ago, and had no business seeing, have been permanently seared into my brain? Other people's minds are shaped by magazines. Who is influencing the way you think? If it isn't God, then you're building your house on sand. You're programming your autopilot way off base. You're not allowing God to change your behavior. Why? Because you're not allowing him to transform your mind.

How do you transform your mind? Simple. You get to know the Word of God. If you want to live a life based on solid principles that never change, you live according to this book. Later this year, we're going to run our inaugural Class 201 - Discovering Spiritual Maturity. If you want to learn how to grow spiritually, and how to read and understand the Bible, you can pre-register for Class 201 today. The Bible speaks to every situation you'll ever face and every need you'll ever have. 2 Peter 1:3 tells us, "As we know Jesus better, his divine power gives us everything we need for living a godly life. He has called us to receive his own glory and goodness!" We have everything we need to grow through God's power and through his Word.

Spiritually growing people let God transform their minds. Proverbs 4:23 says, "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life."

If you want to grow spiritually, don't focus on behaviors. Let God begin to reprogram your mind. It goes from the inside out.

Now, look up here. You might be trying hard to be a better person. You may be aiming to be a better spouse or a better parent. You may be trying to conquer some bad habits. I'll tell you something: you can't. You can't do it on your own power. You can only do it when the Holy Spirit gives you new life. You can come to him this morning and receive your new life and your new power. I'll lead you in a prayer in just a minute.

Growing spiritually isn't automatic. It won't happen by itself. You need to take action. It's not about how many times you come to church. It's about how much - how much you're in love with Jesus. It's his plan to grow you until you think, act, and feel just like Jesus Christ. What step do you need to take to grow? Let's pray.

Transforming Grace

I've always been fascinated by before and after pictures. Recently we finished the basement of our house. The first thing I did was to clean all the junk from the basement. The second thing I did was to get my camera and take a whole bunch of pictures. When it was completed and all the furniture was moved in, the first thing I did - before we had a chance to mess it up - was to take some more pictures again. The differences were dramatic.

This past week we were looking at some of our old family pictures. We came across one picture of me that changed my life. I remember getting the film developed, and when I saw that one picture I said to myself, "I'm going to lose some weight." And I did. After a few months, I lost quite a bit of weight and was able to see the results in other pictures. You've seen them yourself - before and after pictures are extraordinary. Businesses use them all the time to sell their products.

This morning I'd like to show you a spiritual before and after picture.

BEFORE - The Bible describes the before picture of every single one of us as this: dead, doomed forever, full of sin, under God's wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3); rotten through and through, full of lust and deception (Ephesians 4:22).

AFTER - The after picture the Bible paints for us is this: just like Jesus. "For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn, with many brothers and sisters" (Romans 8:29). God wants every believer to develop the character of Christ.

The minute that we're saved by God's grace, God reorients our desires and begins a lifelong process of transformation in our lives. And listen to the result:

For we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (Ephesians 2:10)

You were created to be a masterpiece for God. God didn't set out to repair most of our brokenness. God wants to make you a new creature. He made you to know oneness with him and with other human beings. God made you to be co-regent with him - to rule over the earth with him. He is making us into masterpieces.

This morning we're going to look at God's transforming grace. We're going to examine how God takes spiritually dead people and transforms them into masterpieces. We're going to look at the ABC's of how to be transformed by God's grace - how you can become God's masterpiece.

A - ASSESS YOUR SPIRITUAL HEALTH

Romans 12:3 says, "As God's messenger, I give each of you this warning: Be honest in your estimate of yourselves, measuring your value by how much faith God has given you."

We need to begin talking about God's transforming grace this morning by measuring our current condition right now. We need to do some self-evaluation. Why? Three reasons:

  1. Because it's easy to be self-deceived. Jeremiah 17:9 says, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" It's easy to be self-deceived. Do you ever notice how hard it is to evaluate yourself? You get a performance review, and you ask, "Are they talking about me?" You see a picture of yourself, and you ask, "Is that what I look like?" It's no different spiritually. It's easy to deceive ourselves about our current condition.

  2. The other reason we need to evaluate ourselves spiritually is because spiritual growth is not automatic. Spiritual growth doesn't just happen when you're saved. Churches are filled with people who have attended services for their entire lives, and yet they're spiritual babes. Hebrews 5:12 says, "You have been Christians a long time now, and you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things a beginner must learn about the Scriptures. You are like babies who drink only milk and cannot eat solid food." Millions of Christians have grown older without ever having grown up.

  3. So we can come up with a spiritual action plan. Once we know where we are spiritually, we can come up with a plan to grow in certain areas. Philippians 2:12 says, "Continue to work out your salvation with deep reverence and fear."

As you came in this morning, you were given a piece of paper called "Spiritual Health Assessment" (below). Please take it out. My challenge to you is to take it home and today - emphasis on today - complete it. It takes about 10 minutes to do. If you're really ambitious, you can have your parents, spouse, or Christian friend fill out a copy of the form for you so you can get a more accurate result.

One word of warning: it's futile to complete this assessment if you haven't been born again yet. It's no use measuring your spiritual life if you don't have one! The good news is that you can receive that spiritual life by coming to Jesus and receiving God's free gift of grace. It's free for the taking. You can be made into a new creature. God can begin to make you into his masterpiece. Once you've done that, you can take this assessment.

The purpose of this spiritual health assessment isn't to make you feel guilty. It's nothing you have to turn in with your names on it. We won't be marking it. It's simply a self-evaluation quiz to see where you are spiritually right now. And no matter where you are right now, it's a starting point. God isn't finished with you yet. Claim God's promise from Philippians 1:6: "And I am sure that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on that day when Christ Jesus comes back again."

But here's my question. What steps are you going to take so that you grow over the next month? What are you going to do to grow? Spiritual growth is not automatic. It doesn't just happen. You need to take some steps to growth. Begin by assessing your spiritual health.

B - BEGIN USING GOD'S TOOLS

There's a lot of confusing advice coming out now days on how God changes us. Some people say, "Just wait on the Lord" - a passive approach. Other people say, "If it's to be, it's up to me" - an activist viewpoint.

What am I supposed to do in order to grow? Is it all me or is it all God or is it a combination?

Paul deals with this very issue. When it comes to your spiritual growth, the fact is God has a part and you have a part. Paul uses two phrases to explain this cooperation in Philippians 2:12:

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

Circle "work out" and "work in". Work out is your part. Work in is God's part. We are to work out what God is working in.

Paul doesn't say, "Work for your salvation." We've learned already that grace is a free gift from God. Paul is writing to Christians here. He's saying, "Work out the implications. If you're born again, start growing. Work it out."

One of the best ways that we can work out our salvation is to use the tools that God uses to transform us. In a sense, we cooperate with God to complete the transformation. There are four tools that God uses to transform our lives:

1. He uses the Bible

2 Timothy 3:16 says,

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right. It is God's way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do.

The Bible changes our thoughts so it changes us. If you want to get serious about change, you need to get into this book. Read it, study it, memorize it, meditate on it, live it in your life. The more you get the Word of God in your life, the more you're going to be changed.< /p>

Peter wrote to a group of believers and said:

You must crave pure spiritual milk so that you can grow into the fullness of your salvation. Cry out for this nourishment as a baby cries for milk, now that you have had a taste of the Lord's kindness. (1 Peter 2:2)

A baby can't grow if a baby's not fed. If you want to be transformed, it's not going to happen unless you nourish yourself on God's Word. Listen to what David said:

How can a young man keep his way pure?

By keeping it according to Your word. (Psalm 119:9)

Now, the problem is that God wants to transform us using his Word, but we're not reading his Word enough for him to do this. We're not giving God enough to work with. God can't use the Scriptures to transform us if we're not reading the Scriptures.

You can take some steps to begin using God's tool, the Word of God, so that you can be transformed. Get a good translation of the Bible that you can understand. Buy a good study Bible. Place verses around the house or in your car that you can memorize. Every time you come to a red light, glance at that Bible verse and meditate on it. Make the Word of God your delight.

People say, "I'm not growing spiritually." I ask them, "Are you reading the Bible?" They say, "No." What do they expect? The Bible says, "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God." We need to begin with the tool that God uses to transform us - the Bible.

There's another tool that God uses:

2. He uses the Holy Spirit

When we begin to follow Jesus, God puts His Spirit in us. This is where the power comes from to change. Romans 8:11 says: "The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as he raised Christ from the dead, he will give life to your mortal body by this same Spirit living within you." God will bring power into your life. The Holy Spirit is God Himself. He's in Spirit form. When you commit your life to God, he comes into your life. The same power that he used to raise Jesus from the dead will be available to transform you more and more like Jesus.

2 Corinthians 3:18 says, "And as the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and more like him [Jesus] and reflect his glory even more." God's number one purpose in your life is not to make you happy, but to make you like Jesus. Every day that the Spirit works in our lives, we become more like Jesus Christ.

In Genesis 1:27, when God first formed the world, he said, "Let us make man in our image" and he's wanted to do that ever since. That is his ultimate goal - to change you to be like Jesus.

The only problem is, we can grieve the Spirit. Ephesians 4:30 reads, "And do not bring sorrow to God's Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he is the one who has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption." You can bring sorrow to the Holy Spirit by the way you live. If your life is filled with bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, and all types of malicious behavior, the Bible says that you're bringing sorrow to the Holy Spirit.

Ephesians 5:18 tells us that we can be either controlled by the Spirit, or we can be controlled by other things such as wine. That's why Galatians 5:25 tells us:

If we are living now by the Holy Spirit, let us follow the Holy Spirit's leading in every part of our lives. Let us not become conceited, or irritate one another, or be jealous of one another.

God's ideal is to tell us how to change through his Word and give us the power to change through his Spirit. You read it and then the Spirit empowers you to do it. Unfortunately, we don't always follow the ideal. So God has to use a third way to change us when we don't respond to the Word or the Holy Spirit.

3. He uses the church

This week I heard about a study by the Department of Mental Health of California. They discovered that if you isolate yourself from other people, if all you have is acquaintances, no close friends, you have no intimate relationships with other believers, other people, you are three times more likely to die an early death, you are four times more likely to suffer emotional burnout, you are five times more likely to be clinically depressed and you are ten times more likely to be hospitalized for emotional or mental disorder. You were made for relationships.

The Bible says we're supposed to help each other. We're not supposed to go through life as Lone Rangers. You are supposed to have people that you depend on. Close friends. The Bible calls it fellowship.

In Ecclesiastes 4 the Bible says, "Two people are better than one because they get more done by working together. If one falls down, the other can help him up." The next verse in that chapter says, "If you don't have anybody to help you up when you're all alone, pity on you."

Fortunately God has designed a custom-made support network just for you. That is called the church. Church is not something you go to. Church is not an event you attend. Church is a family that God meant for you to be connected to, to be a part of. He wants you to have relationships and connections and fellowship in the body of Christ, in the family of God. God uses these relationships in the church to help you grow.

4. He uses circumstances

Problems, pressures, headaches, difficulties, stress always gets our attention. Romans 8:28 says:

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son.

There is nothing that could come into the life of a believer without God's permission. He doesn't say they are all good, but he will use them for good to fit into a pattern. There is a divine pattern.

Where are my problems coming from? Did I cause them? Are they from the devil? from God? It really doesn't matter where the problems in your life come from. No matter what the source is God can use it in your life if you'll let him. All things can fit into a pattern for good - to make me like Jesus.

If God is going to make me like Jesus, then He's going to take me through some situations that Jesus went through. There were times when Jesus was lonely. There were times when Jesus was tempted. There were times when Jesus was tempted to be depressed or to get angry and blow up or to be impatient. And God allowed Jesus to go through those things. Do you think he's going to spare you from those things? He's more interested in your character than your comfort.

Hebrews 5:8 says, "Jesus learned obedience through suffering." How do you think you're going to learn it? Hebrews 2:10 says, "Jesus was made perfect through suffering." How do you think you're going to be made perfect?

For instance, God commands, "Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other's faults because of your love" (Ephesians 4:2). I read that. I put it on my shaving mirror and in my car, and meditate on it. I ask for the Holy Spirit's help in making that real in my life. And then God begins to work to make me more humble. I receive the support of other Christian brothers and sisters in helping me.

But if I don't read the Word of God, never ask the Holy Spirit for help in becoming humble, and don't receive the support of my spiritual family, then God will likely humble me using circumstances. He has unlimited ways to do it, friends. You may read the Bible for an hour a day, and yet God has 24 hours a day to use circumstances to teach you. God can light a fire under us to get us moving. So use the tools that God has given you to be transformed - the Bible, his Spirit, and circumstances.

2 Peter 1:3 says:

As we know Jesus better, his divine power gives us everything we need for living a godly life. He has called us to receive his own glory and goodness!

God has given us everything we need. God's power is enough. He can use the Bible, the Spirit, and even circumstances to cause you to grow.

Now, in my home I have an impressive collection of tools. I have two toolboxes. I have a power drill. I have wrenches, pliers, saws, hammers, and screwdrivers. And I hardly use them. My wife is even glad about that. She's seen what happens when I try.

God has given us tools so that we can be transformed. We just have to use them. You need to assess your spiritual health. You need to begin using God's tools. Then:

C - COMMIT TO TAKING THE NEXT STEP

Once you've assessed your spiritual health, and know the tools that God uses to transform your character, it's time to take that next step. Where do you begin? You begin by looking at your spiritual assessment. God will want to address certain areas of your life and cause you to grow. There's a next step that you need to take. You probably already know what it is.

For some of you, it's getting connected with a church family. God never intended for us to live in isolation. You can't grow when you're not connected. You might have been waiting a long time to find the perfect church. You don't need perfection; you just need a spiritual family. You need to take the next step and get connected. If that's you, then do we have the class for you! You need to come to Class 101 to discover how you can become committed to God and to the Richview church family.

Maybe you've followed Christ but you've never been baptized. We're planning a baptism. It's a command of Christ. Baptism is going to be the next step for you.

Maybe you need to get a good Bible and begin reading it. There are some excellent Bibles out there. You might have been turned off reading the Bible because you couldn't understand it. There are some excellent translations with study notes to help you as you begin to study. The tools are available.

Maybe you need to begin serving. We have the Network program running. You were never meant to just soak it all in. You were meant to share it with others. The Network program gives you an opportunity to express the gifts that God gave you.

Later on in the year, we're going to offer classes on how to become grounded spiritually - how to grow in your spiritual life. You can even sign up for these in advance.

What next step would you like to take? In your bulletins, you can find a tear-off communication card. If you want a bigger one, they're available on the Information Center. Would you take those out and write what next step you will take? There's room there for you to indicate that you're committing your life to Christ; that you want to be baptized; that you're renewing your commitment to Christ; that you want to enroll in one of our classes. But this morning you need to take the next step.

Let's pray.

Philippians 1:6 says, "I am sure that God who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on that day when Jesus Christ comes back again."

God is at work in you. If you haven't received God's grace before, you can this morning. You can pray this prayer: "Father, today I receive your grace. I want you to transform my life. I want you to take away all that's dead and rotten about my life, and in exchange give me your completeness and grace. Today I receive the free gift that Jesus came to give me."

Today you can pray that God will continue to transform your life. You are God's masterpiece. As the Spirit works within us, we become more and more like him and reflect his glory even more.

Pray with me, "Father, thank you for your transforming grace. As we step out today in your grace, we pray that you would impact our lives, touch our lives, be with us as we are being changed and transformed. Thank you for the metamorphosis taking place in our lives. Thanks for the day. Now take our lives and let them be completely consecrated to you. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Spiritual Health Assessment

1=Poor; 2=Fair; 3=Good; 4=Very Good; 5=Outstanding

Service

I have discovered my spiritual S.H.A.P.E. (Spiritual Gifts, Heart, Abilities, Personality, Experience).

1 2 3 4 5

I am serving in a regular (monthly or better) ministry to the church body.

1 2 3 4 5

I am attending the ongoing ministry training and support gatherings for my ministry.

1 2 3 4 5

I am actively sharing group or team roles with those on my team.

1 2 3 4 5

I am discipling or praying for other another member to meet with regularly.

1 2 3 4 5

Service Total

______

Worship

I am faithfully attending corporate worship services on the weekends.

1 2 3 4 5

I worship God with other believers during the week in a small group or other context.

1 2 3 4 5

I am growing in my personal worship to God through music and praise.

1 2 3 4 5

I am maintaining my physical health through exercise and nutrition (Romans 12:1).

1 2 3 4 5

I am honoring God with my whole life balancing my priorities and the purposes in my life.

1 2 3 4 5

Worship Total

______

Outreach

I am actively praying for and cultivating relationships with seeker friends and family.

1 2 3 4 5

I am inviting seekers to church and sharing my spiritual story.

1 2 3 4 5

I am participating in worldwide missions by praying for and experiencing cross-cultural missions.

1 2 3 4 5

I am praying and planning on where God can use me cross-culturally.

1 2 3 4 5

I am reproducing my life spiritually or praying for when this will happen.

1 2 3 4 5

Outreach Total

______

Relationships

I am intentionally cultivating my relationships with Christian friends and spiritual mentors.

1 2 3 4 5

I am connected in Christian Community through a fellowship, congregation, or small group.

1 2 3 4 5

I am more loving, grace-giving, and forgiving to others.

1 2 3 4 5

I am authentically connecting with my immediate family relationships.

1 2 3 4 5

I am supporting the leadership of the church and resolving conflict Biblically.

1 2 3 4 5

Relationships Total

______

Discipleship

I am growing spiritually through regular quiet time in God's Word and prayer (Habits).

1 2 3 4 5

I am facing and addressing the spiritual, emotional, relational, and maturity issues in my life.

1 2 3 4 5

I am sharing increased ownership in my group through shared roles and responsibilities.

1 2 3 4 5

I am deepening my walk with God by studying his Word in a maturity class or small group Bible study.

1 2 3 4 5

I am honoring God with my finances and my personal giving (budget) to God.

1 2 3 4 5

Discipleship Total

______

Results

0-5

Poor

5-10

Fair

10-15

Good

15-20

Very Good

20-30

Outstanding

Where am I strong and where do I need improvement?

Liberating Grace

I want to begin with a little self-evaluation quiz this morning. Consider how you would answer the following questions:

Do you believe that following Jesus is about a list of rules - do this and don't do that?

When you have a good day spiritually, do you inwardly feel that God loves you more?

When you have a bad day spiritually, and mess up - a lot - do you feel that God loves you any less?

Do you ever feel that you deserve an answer from God because of all your hard work and sacrifice?

Do you struggle sometimes with believing that God really loves you?

How did you do? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you struggle - at least a little - with something called legalism. What is legalism? Legalism is trying to earn God's approval through rules. Put another way, it's spiritual perfectionism. It's the belief that we need to try to prove ourselves to God by being perfect. In my mind, this is number one hang-up of mature believers. We tend to begin relating to God on the basis of rules.

A few weeks ago we talked about saving grace. If you were here that day, you realize how great a deal salvation is. You don't make it to heaven based on anything you've done. You don't earn your way into heaven, you don't work your way into heaven, you don't pay your way into heaven, you don't barter your way into heaven. It's just a free gift.

But pretty soon, you and I begin to think, "This is too good a deal." Soon we begin to think that we need to help God out a little bit. We think, "Surely God expects something of me before he gives me his approval. I can't believe that I'm not only saved by grace, but I live by grace."

Before long, we've fallen into the trap of legalism. We begin to think that God relates to us on the basis of how well we're doing in our lives. To be sure, God wants us to be obedient to him, but he wants us to be motivated by love - not by trying to earn his approval by keeping a set of rules.

There's a whole book in the Bible about this problem. It's the book of Galatians. The fact that there's an entire book dedicated to this problem should tell you something: this is a serious matter. God says in Galatians that if we try to earn God's approval, we're completely off base.

Today I want to look at liberating grace. Saving grace is what God gives us when we receive eternal life. Liberating grace is how to follow Jesus daily without falling back into the performance trap. It's how to be both saved by grace and how to live by grace.

Before we look at the antidote to legalism, I want to look at how it destroys us. Relating to God according to rules is very detrimental to our lives.

  1. It defeats my initiative. Jesus said of the teachers of the religious law and the Pharisees, "They crush you with impossible religious demands and never lift a finger to help ease the burden" (Matthew 23:4). Do you ever feel crushed by demands? How does it feel? When we're pressured and nagged, it's counterproductive. It makes us less willing to do what's accomplished. When we try to earn God's approval by rules, we soon become overwhelmed and discouraged.
  2. It damages my relationships. Jesus continued, "Everything they do is for show" (Matthew 23:5). Everything these people did was to impress other people, not God. When we live to impress other people, we're not really relating to them. The worst part is that it also destroys my relationship with God. When I try to earn God's approval by following rules, it's an insult to God. We stop focusing on Christ when we start to focus on rules.
  3. It distorts God's priorities. "You are careful to tithe even the tiniest part of your income, but you ignore the important things of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but you should not leave undone the more important things. Blind guides! You strain your water so you won't accidentally swallow a gnat; then you swallow a camel!" (Matthew 23:23-24). Legalism majors in the minors. It makes big deals about small deals. It focuses on externals, but neglects God's real priorities - justice, mercy, and faith.
  4. It destroys my happiness. Ecclesiastes 7:16 says, "So don't be too good or too wise! Why destroy yourself?" I'll bet you didn't know that verse was in the Bible! It's not talking about genuine righteousness. He's talking about deluding ourselves and patting ourselves on the back for keeping a whole bunch of rules. He says, "Why destroy yourself?" I love God's Word translation, "Why make yourself miserable?"

Somebody once commented that legalism turns love into a mental clipboard with a long list. He was right. The thing that we don't realize is that legalism is a huge insult to God. It says to him that we don't want to accept God's grace as enough. It says that Christ's death for us wasn't enough. It says that somehow we need to add something of our own to what Jesus has given us. It's so serious that Galatians says:

8Let God's curse fall on anyone, including myself, who preaches any other message than the one we told you about. Even if an angel comes from heaven and preaches any other message, let him be forever cursed. 9I will say it again: If anyone preaches any other gospel than the one you welcomed, let God's curse fall upon that person.

What's the antidote to legalism? It's liberating grace. It's relaxing in God's grace. I've made it in the form of an acrostic for you that spells R.E.L.A.X.:

R - REMEMBER TO LIVE EVERY DAY BY GRACE

Listen to Galatians 3:3:

3Have you lost your senses? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?

In March 1998 I bought a new car. I love buying a new car! When we went to pick it up, we are all excited. The salesman took us out for our first drive, and one of the things he did was to fill our gas tank full of gas. I thought, "This is great. Not only do we have a new car, but it's automatically filled with gas."

What would you say to me if I took that car home, and to save money I started filling it with a garden hose? You'd say I was nuts. You can't get a brand new car, get it filled with gas for free the first time, and then fill it up with something else. You'd wreck the car.

That's what we try to do when we follow Jesus. When we're saved, we're saved by grace. And yet we try to live after that as if it all depends on us instead of God. God saved us, and now we think we do the rest. When we think this way, Paul says we've lost our senses. We're out of our mind.

Paul continues:

5I ask you again, does God give you the Holy Spirit and work miracles among you because you obey the law of Moses? Of course not! It is because you believe the message you heard about Christ.

Do you know what Paul is saying? We're given the Holy Spirit not because we follow a set of rules. We're given the Holy Spirit because of God's amazing grace. And once we have the Holy Spirit, it's no use going back to a set of rules. Those rules never did much for us anyway. The Holy Spirit, not the rules, will bring us closer to Jesus.

Now, look up here. We have nothing to offer God anyway. We would be out of our minds to think that we could live every day without grace. You and I fail every day. There's not a perfect person here, except for Pastor Ed. We've got a perfect person - we don't need any more! The rest of us would be absolutely lost without the grace of God carrying us every single day.

That means that we don't have to follow a set of rules in order to live the Christian life. It's an insult to God if we try. Remember that I'm saved by faith, and that I live every single day by faith. That's the first key to avoiding legalism.

E - ENJOY GOD'S LOVE

What do you think God thinks about you? For a long time, I thought that God was angry with me. I knew that God saved me because he loved me, but I couldn't get it into my head that God loved me every day. He didn't just love me when he saved me; he loves me today.

When I was a child I was taught using a catechism, which is a series of questions followed by the right answers. Question number one was, "What is the chief end of man?' The answer given was, "To glorify God and enjoy him forever." I could never get over the last part of that. I knew I existed to glorify God, but to enjoy him?

That's the problem with relating to God on the basis of rules. When you do this, you stop enjoying God's love. One of the ways that you can avoid legalism is to begin to celebrate God's love. 1 John does:

1See how very much our heavenly Father loves us, for he allows us to be called his children, and we really are!

We are God's children. God delights in us! In one of my favorite passages of Scripture, Zephaniah 3:17:

17For the LORD your God has arrived to live among you. He is a mighty savior. He will rejoice over you with great gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will exult over you by singing a happy song."

When we delight in God, God delights in us. God rejoices over us with great gladness. He exults over us with a happy song. That's how God feels about you!

John Piper writes, "Delighting in God is the work of our lives." He says, "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him." Psalm 37:4 says, "Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you your heart's desires." It's amazing what begins to happen in our hearts when we begin to revel and delight in God's love. When we enjoy God's grace, it's impossible to relate to God on the basis of rules.

We serve God, but we're much more than servants to him. We're his children. A servant starts the day anxious and worried that his work will please his master. A child rests in the secure love of his family. A servant is accepted because of his workmanship. But a child is accepted because of his relationship. A servant is accepted because of his productivity and his performance. But a child is accepted because of his position in the family. At the end of the day a servant has peace of mind only if he's proven his worth by his work but the next morning the anxiety begins again. A child can be secure all day knowing that tomorrow won't change his status. When a servant fails his whole position is at stake. In fact, he might lose his job. But when a child fails, he is grieved because he's hurt his parents and he'll be corrected and disciplined but he's not afraid of being thrown out of the family and his confidence in belonging and in being loved is based not on his performance but on the stability of his position as a child of God.

God says, I want you to enjoy the unconditional love of God once you become a part of His family.

Those of you who are parents, are your kids perfect? Of course not. Do you still love them? Yes. You love them in spite of their imperfections. When your two or three year old brings you a picture and it's all messy and they say, "This is a picture of a cow", you say, "That's perfect!" What you're saying is, "That's perfect for that stage of your maturity." You're not saying it's Picasso. It's perfect for where you're at.

That's an antidote to legalism: enjoying God's love.

L - LOVE GOD

Don't just enjoy God's love. Love God back! Jesus said in John 14:15, "If you must, obey my commandments." No, he didn't say that. "Out of obligation, obey my commandments." That's not either. Listen to what he said: "If you love me, obey my commandments."

That's the key to pleasing God. Our obedience to God comes out of our love for him. Jesus said, "You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment." If you want to please God by keeping rules, there's really only one commandment that will please him. It's to love him. When you do this, everything else falls into place. You no longer need any other rules.

Hundreds of years ago, an important man in church history named Augustine made a surprising statement. He said, "Love God and do as you please." Augustine understood the secret. He knew that if we truly loved God, we wouldn't need to try to please him with a whole set of rules. Our obedience would flow out of love and not out of obligation.

Somebody has said, "Christ can do without your works; what he wants is you. Yet if he has you, he will have all your works." God doesn't want you to impress him by keeping rules. He wants your heart. He wants you.

It's entirely possible to keep all the rules without any love for God. That's what the Pharisees and religious leaders were doing. They kept all the rules, and yet they missed the point.

Let me illustrate for you this way. If you bring home a gift for your spouse and say, "I bought this for you out of obligation," what kind of response would you get? Quite a different response from bringing home a gift and saying, "I bought this for you because I was thinking of you today, and I just wanted you to know how much I love you."

Legalism does the first. It offers something out to God out of a dry heart that is offensive to him. But when we live to love God, everything that we offer him - our obedience and our praise - is pleasing to him. Love God. Keep the greatest commandment - to love God - and forget about impressing him by keeping any other commandments.

A - APPRECIATE WHAT JESUS DID FOR ME

Trying to impress God by keeping rules brings up another problem. It becomes very easy to brag. Pretty soon we stop trying to impress God, and we begin to try to impress other people.

Can you imagine what heaven would be like if we earned our own way there? People would say, "You got here by doing what? I did far more than that. I can't believe they let you in on such a flimsy pretense." And then there would be a bragging station. People would try to outdo themselves with stories of how they made their way to heaven. That's not a place I'd like to be - the bragging corner of heaven!

But that's our natural tendency. Jesus said of the legalists of his day in Matthew 23:5:

"Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear extra long tassels on their robes. And how they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the most prominent seats in the synagogue! They enjoy the attention they get on the streets, and they enjoy being called ‘rabbi.'

And then he gave the problem with this mindset:

Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

The problem with legalism is that it exalts us. Grace does the opposite. Grace focuses on what Jesus has done for us. You can choose one or the other - exalt God or exalt you. You can't do both.

The Bible says:

Let them boast in this alone: that they truly know me and understand that I am the LORD who is just and righteous, whose love is unfailing, and that I delight in these things. I, the LORD, have spoken! (Jeremiah 9:24)

There's no room to boast about what we've done. There's only room to boast about what God has done for us. What has God done? According to Colossians 2:14, he's cancelled the record that contained the charges against us. He's torn up the certificate of indebtedness that we owed him. There's nothing we can brag about, except for the cross of Jesus Christ.

When we appreciate what Jesus has done for us, the bragging stops. We stop trying to add our own effort. We begin to realize that there's nothing that we can add. Jesus did it all. All we can do is appreciate what Jesus did for us.

X - EXCHANGE MY LEGALISM FOR GOD'S PEACE

Legalism destroys peace. You're going to live with one or the other - legalism or peace. Here's the offer. This is the offer Jesus Christ makes and it's still valid today. It's an offer you really can't afford to refuse. In Matthew 11 Jesus says, "Are you tired, worn out, burnt out on religion? Come to Me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life." That's real recovery - recover your life. "And I will show you how to take a real rest. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace." What a deal!

Jesus knew that there were a lot of people being worn down by legalistic religion. Keeping a set of rules is tough work. Other religious leaders were crushing them with unrealistic religious demands, and never lifting a finger to help (Matthew 23:4). Jesus' disciple Peter said, "Why are you now questioning God's way by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear?" In other words, why are you trying to impress God by keeping rules? Why not be liberated by his grace?

Are you worn out this morning? Have you been trying to impress God with your rule keeping? Have you felt that when you mess up, God loves you less, or that if you do well, God loves you more? God doesn't relate to you that way. You weren't saved that way, and he definitely doesn't expect you to live that way. God wants to love you through his grace.

God doesn't want his relationship with you to be based on rules. He desires your obedience, but most of all he desires your heart. He wants you to relax in his grace. He wants you to live every single day by his grace. He wants you to experience it every day of your life.

I'm going to invite you to receive God's grace right now.

Prayer:

If you've never received God's grace, and would like to receive that grace today, pray a prayer like this in your mind: "Father, thank you that I don't have to wear myself out trying to earn your approval. Thank you that everything that needed to be done was done for me by Jesus Christ two thousand years ago. He died on the cross to wipe out my sins completely. Today I accept Jesus' invitation. I come to him, because I'm tired and worn down. I can't meet the excessive religious demands others expect of me. I receive your free gift of salvation and promise to love you from this point on. In Jesus' name."

If you have received God's grace but haven't been living it lately, pray this, "Father, thank you again for your grace. Forgive me for forgetting about it in my daily life. Thank you that you relate to me as a loved child. You want not only my obedience but you want my heart. Father, this morning I revel in your grace and refuse to try to add anything to what Jesus did on the cross for me. In Jesus' name, Amen."