October 26, 2007

MIA - the Gospel in preaching

From time to time, I will hear sermons, devotionals or conversations regarding the topic of "change" or "sanctification," which in short is becoming more like Jesus Christ and less like the darkness from which we have been called out. (I don't mean messages with application of change, but rather messages on "change" as the theme.)

Recently, I heard another one of these messages preached. The text was I John 1:5-10, regarding our response to the truth that "God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all." The preacher did a great job of following the text closely, but after discussing the fact that "if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves," he promptly went to discussing sin in another context. To his credit, he did come back to mention that we can be forgiven (v. 9). However, what was left in the middle was of most importance in the scheme of the passage, having seen that God is light. Verse 7 has as its ending, "and the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin." This clause cannot be overemphasized. But somehow, phrases like this are excluded or either severely underscored in preaching.

Another example for consideration: Mark 10:35-45.

Jesus has just predicted His death again. After this, James and John come to Jesus asking Him if they can have the privilege of sitting at Jesus' left and right hands in the Kingdom. What follows is probably one of the greatest lessons ever taught on Biblical leadership. Tucked away, though, at the end of this section is a point vital in unlocking the whole passage. It follows what typically is the point most emphasized (and rightly so), "The Son of man did not come to be ministered unto, but to minister." The next clause says, "And to give His life a ransom for many." (Mk. 10:45)

This can sometimes be missed if the greater context is not seen. (I owe my understanding of this text to the Spirit of God who used CJ Mahaney, a gift of God to the church, who wrote the book Humility: True Greatness. In this book, he outlines superbly the point of this text. I will simply relay what he says there. The following material is his.)

Many times we are told to simply obey what Christ tells us. This is not wrong. Obviously. However, it seems that Jesus desires to convey to us a greater reality than simply obey by being servant leaders like He is/was.

Consider James and John in this text. Now think of them in their last days. James was probably the first disciple martyred for the sake of the Gospel. John would expire on the Isle of Patmos, having written a Gospel, 3 epistles, and the book of the Revelation of Christ.

WHAT CHANGED? These men went from being self-serving, arrogant and ambitious men to being men who gave everything they had for the sake of the Gospel. What produced this change? We will be tempted to say that they saw Jesus die for them, exhibiting the type of servant leadership He commanded them to exhibit. Stopping her would be premature though.

The idea of ransom in v. 45 is that Jesus paid for our sins, and thereby freed us from our former master. Having been freed, we no longer sin by default, for we have the Spirit. C.J. asserts (as do I in agreement) that the thing the produced change was the ransom-power of Jesus' death. When James and John believed on the name of Christ, they were transformed. It was not merely the mental knowledge that Jesus had died for them, it was the faith that believed this. This is what brought about change.
---

As modeled in this text, change does not occur as the result of anything but believing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and thereby being transformed. (see Rom. 12:1-2 with this concept in mind) This must be reflected in the way the Word is preached and in the way we live. We cannot preach change with the Gospel MIA. God has never sought such a thing.

Praise God for the Gospel, which is the power of God unto salvation (justification, sanctification, and glorification) to everyone who believes, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek! (Rom. 1:16)