Saturday, November 26, 2005

The Unexpected Benefits Of Prayer

Today, I want to talk about the opportunity of a lifetime that people pass up daily! What opportunity? Prayer. The opportunity to talk to God!

What if I told you I had an appointment set for you to meet the President face-to-face for an hour? Would you go and meet with him? Yeah you would!

Even if you didn’t like him you would! Why? He’s the president! It’s an honor to talk to him. You’d go just so you brag about it!

What if it was someone else? What if it was the chance to meet your favorite movie/TV/music star or athlete? Wouldn’t you jump at the chance?

You and I can talk to God this minute or any minute we choose. We can tell him what we’re thinking or feeling. We can ask him for something or ask him for help?

Why is the chance to talk to God passed up so much by us?

I’m sure most of us have heard reasons why we pray and I don’t want to just repeat what you know already. Today I want to show you some unexpected benefits of prayer.

Let’s look at the first one…

Hear the message below:

MP3 Stream

Saturday, November 12, 2005

"Extreme Faith Makeover: The Reason For Freedom"

I heard of a story that Thomas Costain tells in his history, “The Three Edwards”.

He describes the life of Raynald III, a 14th century duke in what is now Belguim.
Raynald was extremely overweight and commonly called by his Latin nickname Crassus which means “fat”.

After a violent argument, Raynald’s younger brother Edward led a successful revolt against him. Edward captured Raynald but did not kill him. Instead, Edward had a room built around Raynald in the Nieuwkerk castle and promised him he could regain his title and property as soon as he was able to leave the room.

This wouldn’t have been too hard for most people since the room had several windows and a door that was pretty much normal size. Not only that, none of the windows or the door was locked or barred. So why couldn’t he escape?

The problem was Raynald’s size. To regain his freedom, he needed to lose weight. But Edward knew his older brother well, so each day he sent over a whole bunch of different, delicious foods. Instead of dieting his way out of prison, Raynald grew fatter!

When Duke Edward was accused of cruelty, he would just say, “My brother is not a prisoner. He can leave whenever he wants!”

Raynald stayed in that room for ten years and wasn’t released until after Edward died in battle. By then his health was so ruined he died within a year -- a prisoner of his own appetite.”

Many of us know what it’s like to be a prisoner of our own desires. We each have areas of weakness that we’ve struggled in for years. Today, we’re going to discover answers to two questions: Why did Jesus set us free?” and “How can we experience this freedom more in our everyday lives, so we can be freer in these areas of weaknesses?” Before we get into today’s message let’s do a quick review of what we looked at already…

The idea of grace is what makes Christianity different than any other religion.

Most other religions are based on what you can do to get to God/heaven, but Christianity is all about what God did to get to us!

We’ve seen that grace doesn’t mean God overlooks or ignores your sin. He doesn’t just let you get away with it. God NEVER overlooks sin! The punishment still had to happen. The payment for sin still had to be made. God was the just one to do it! That’s what God did through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

This is our 5th message in our 6 week look at the book of Galatians. It's a book that is all about the about what grace is and how to live in it. I'm calling this series “Extreme Faith Makeover”.

So far we’ve seen that when you add anything to the gospel you actually subtract from it.

We saw that sooner or later every believer discovers that they are still a sinner. This leads us to either cling to the law (rules) and become slaves again or run to Jesus and become free. How you respond to this discovery of your own sinfulness will reveal your true opinion of grace!

We also saw that the same way we started in this walk with Jesus is the same way we finish this journey with him. The purpose of the law was to protect us and to show us how guilty we are so that it would to lead us to Jesus.

Last week, we saw that there is a life-giving equality in Jesus. Whatever was once to your disadvantage doesn’t hold God back from giving you grace and using you!

We saw that it doesn’t matter what race you are, what social status you have, or what sex you are. You have an equal chance and an equal opportunity with God!

Nothing can hold you back from God’s love and all that he wants to do in your life. In Jesus, we’re all equal! We saw that our faith makes us become that offspring of Abraham’s - heirs to the promise!

We also saw that through Jesus we have gone from being slaves to the law to becoming heirs of God’s blessing and promises! If you didn’t get a chance to hear any of these messages, I’d encourage you to listen to them there or download them and burn them on a CD to hear later!

Today we’re going to look at Galatians 5. Go ahead and turn there in your Bibles right now. As you do, let me remind of some things…

Who Paul Was
Written by the Apostle Paul a man who knew what it was like to live his life trying to live according to the law. He was a Pharisee and persecuted the church, but, it all changed when he had a miraculous experience on the road to Damascus. Jesus appeared to him, revealed who he was and helped Paul to understand grace.

Who Were The Galatians?
“Galatians was written by Paul to congregations he had founded in the region of Galatia in central Asia Minor. (Show pictures of two areas they could be.)

Reason For The Letter
Some Jews had come and attacked Paul as a person (1) and what he taught (2). They said that Paul hadn’t given them all the information they needed to be saved. These people told the Galatians that they had to come under the law and be circumcised (live by the old rules) in order to be saved. They said Paul wasn’t a real apostle.

Last week I ended the message at Galatians 4:7, because we ran out of time. I’m not going to go cover all the verses that we missed last week, because I want to stay on schedule and end the series next Sunday. But I do want to look at the last section.

Let’s look at Galatians 4:21-31… (NLT)

Listen to me, you who want to live under the law. Do you know what the law really says? The Scriptures say that Abraham had two sons, one from his slave-wife and one from his freeborn wife. The son of the slave-wife was born in a human attempt to bring about the fulfillment of God's promise. But the son of the freeborn wife was born as God's own fulfillment of his promise.

Now these two women serve as an illustration of God's two covenants. Hagar, the slave-wife, represents Mount Sinai where people first became enslaved to the law. And now Jerusalem is just like Mount Sinai in Arabia, because she and her children live in slavery. But Sarah, the free woman, represents the heavenly Jerusalem. And she is our mother.

That is what Isaiah meant when he prophesied, "Rejoice, O childless woman! Break forth into loud and joyful song, even though you never gave birth to a child. For the woman who could bear no children now has more than all the other women!"

And you, dear brothers and sisters, are children of the promise, just like Isaac. And we who are born of the Holy Spirit are persecuted by those who want us to keep the law, just as Isaac, the child of promise, was persecuted by Ishmael, the son of the slave-wife.

But what do the Scriptures say about that? "Get rid of the slave and her son, for the son of the slave woman will not share the family inheritance with the free woman's son." So, dear brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, obligated to the law. We are children of the free woman, acceptable to God because of our faith.

Paul uses Hagar and Sarah here to symbolize God’s two covenants.

Hagar represents one way to try and become right with God and gain his acceptance and Sarah represents the other.

Hagar = Abraham’s human effort to fulfill and accomplish the God’s promise.= Effort
Sarah = God’s miraculous fulfillment of his own promise. = Gift

This is what I want you to see…

**Salvation is as much a miracle as God causing Abraham and Sarah to have a child in their old age. Our own salvation can’t be accomplished by us!**

What is a miracle? One definition…

Miracle: “an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs.”

That’s what salvation is: a miracle! And salvation comes to us through God’s new covenant with us.

Listen to how Bruce Shelley describes "The Difference Between A Contract And A Covenant". He says…

“In modern times we define a host of relations by contracts. These are usually for goods or services and for hard cash. The contract, formal or informal, helps to specify failure in these relationships. “The Lord did not establish a contract with Israel or with the church. He created a covenant. There is a difference.

"Contacts are broken when one of the parties fails to keep his promise. If, let us say, a patient fails to keep an appointment with a doctor, the doctor is not obligated to call the house and inquire, "Where were you? Why didn't you show up for your appointment?" He simply goes on to his next patient and has his appointment secretary take note of the patient who failed to keep the appointment. The patient may find it harder the next time to see the doctor. He broke an informal contract.

“According to the Bible, however, the Lord asks: 'Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!' (Isaiah 49:15)

“The Bible indicates the covenant is more like the ties of a parent to her child than it is a doctor's appointment. If a child fails to show up for dinner, the parent's obligation, unlike the doctor's, isn't canceled. The parent finds out where the child is and makes sure he's cared for. One member's failure does not destroy the relationship.

"A covenant puts no conditions on faithfulness. It is the unconditional commitment to love and serve.”

God has made a new unconditional commitment with us through Jesus. This miracle of salvation will never be taken back! And it’s a miracle that we can never make happen OR pay for!

I heard a story about the reaction of a little orphan girl when a lady came to adopt her. It reminds me of the reaction that we have when God adopts us….

There was a ripple of excitement all through the orphanage, for a great lady had come to take little Jane home with her. The girl herself was bewildered with the thought.

"Do you want to go with me and be my child?" the lady asked in gentle tones. "I don't know," said Jane timidly.

"But I'm going to give you beautiful clothes and a lot of things, a room of your own with beautiful bed and table and chairs."

After a moment's silence, the little one said anxiously: "But what am I to do for all this?" The lady burst into tears. "Only to love me, and be my child," she said as she folded the little girl in her arms.

We can’t make ourselves worthy of being adopted by God. We can’t pay him back. It’s just a miracle done out of love! All we can do in return is love Him, and be His children.

Let’s now look at Galatians 5:1-15...

“So Christ has really set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don't get tied up again in slavery to the law. Listen! I, Paul, tell you this: If you are counting on circumcision to make you right with God, then Christ cannot help you. I'll say it again. If you are trying to find favor with God by being circumcised, you must obey all of the regulations in the whole law of Moses.

For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God's grace.

But we who live by the Spirit eagerly wait to receive everything promised to us who are right with God through faith. For when we place our faith in Christ Jesus, it makes no difference to God whether we are circumcised or not circumcised. What is important is faith expressing itself in love.

You were getting along so well. Who has interfered with you to hold you back from following the truth? It certainly isn't God, for he is the one who called you to freedom. But it takes only one wrong person among you to infect all the others—a little yeast spreads quickly through the whole batch of dough!

I am trusting the Lord to bring you back to believing as I do about these things. God will judge that person, whoever it is, who has been troubling and confusing you. Dear brothers and sisters, if I were still preaching that you must be circumcised—as some say I do—why would the Jews persecute me? The fact that I am still being persecuted proves that I am still preaching salvation through the cross of Christ alone.

I only wish that those troublemakers who want to mutilate you by circumcision would mutilate (castrate) themselves.

For you have been called to live in freedom—not freedom to satisfy your sinful nature, but freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." But if instead of showing love among yourselves you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.”

Charles Swindoll, in his book I’ve mentioned before, “The Grace Awakening” tells this story…

”It was on New Year’s Day 1863 when the Emancipation Proclamation was publicly stated, but it was not until December 18, 1865, that the Constitution made those convictions official… Headlines in newspapers in virtually every state had the same message “Slavery Legally Abolished”.

“And yet something happened that many would never have expected. The vast majority of slaves in the South who were legally freed continued to live as slaves! Most of them went right on living as though nothing had happened. Though free, the Blacks lived virtually unchanged lives throughout the Reconstruction Period."

Swindoll later says this…

“I call this tragic. A war had been fought. A president had been assassinated. An amendment to the Constitution had now been signed into law. Once enslaved men, women and children were now legally emancipated. Yet amazingly, many continued living in fear and squalor. In a context of hard-earned freedom, slaves chose to remain as slaves. Cruel and brutal though many of their owners were, black men and women chose to keep serving the same old master until they died.

"They were a few brave exceptions, but in many parts of the country you’d never known that slavery had been officially abolished and that they had been emancipated. That’s the way plantation owners wanted it. They maintained the age old philosophy, ‘Keep’em ignorant and you keep ‘em in the field’”

Many Christ followers live that way today!

We keep living as slaves of our old masters even though Jesus has emancipated us! Paul says we’be been set free from two kinds of slavery:

1. Slavery to the law: In verse 1 Paul said, “So Christ has really set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don't get tied up again in slavery to the law.” That means you need to stop judging yourself and trying to make yourself righteous by what you do! You’re free!

The second kind of slavery we’ve been freed from is…

2. Slavery to sinning: In verse 13 Paul said, “For you have been called to live in freedom—not freedom to satisfy your sinful nature, but freedom to serve one another in love.” That means you should stop running towards sin and enslaving yourself to your desires! You’re free!

We need to live in this freedom from these two things and quit living as their slaves! I want you to notice this… We not only need to be told to be (live) free, but we need to be told to stay free!

Voltaire said “It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere.” That’s true for us! We love our sins so much that we don’t want to let them go! Can you imagine someone that would want to enslave themselves again AFTER they were FREE? But it happens all the time!

According to a report from the BBC 60% of prisoners in United States will eventually commit a crime again and end up back in prison! We’re the same way!

Legalistic Christians will tell you that’s why you have to have rules to live by or you will just be free to sin all you want!

But in verse 3, Paul tells us basically that if you want to live by the law, then Jesus is of no use to you. You pick one area to claim yourself righteous by and you will have to fulfill it all.

Not only that Paul says the scariest thing he’s said in this whole letter in verse 4“For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God's grace.”

Trying to be righteous through obeying rules will alienate you from Jesus. You will fall away from Grace. Think about this…

Grace doesn't need the law, but the law needs grace! Grace is enough to justify us alone, but the law never is!

You might think, “Well if I’m free why don’t I feel free? Why isn’t it easy to stop sinning?” You need to understand something here…

Being set free from the law and from sinning doesn’t mean you’re now forced to make the right choice. It just means that you have the chance to choose it! Let me tell you the way I’ve been thinking about how it personally applies to me

I have been set free from the law so that I could be free from condemnation, NOT so I could be a slave to sin. When I try to justify myself by relying on the law I am relying on myself NOT on what Jesus did.

So why were you and I set free? What are we supposed to do with this freedom?

I was set free so I could serve God and my neighbor in love, which I was unable to do before. If I live my life out from under the law, then I won’t satisfy my sinful desires because I’ll be relying on Jesus constantly and never on my own strength. That’s what Paul tells us in V. 16-18.

I need to, by faith, constantly rely on Him for my righteousness (v. 5). It is a constant submission and trust in God. The original Fall of humankind happened because Adam and Eve rebelled from God to rely on themselves.

What we’re talking about here is a turning from the fall, back to a life of based on reliance on God! We will do a better job at fulfilling the law when we live our lives out of love than when we live them out of duty.

Think about a marriage. Would you rather have a marriage based on rules or based on love? Everyone wants one based on LOVE!

When you have a marriage based on love someone is doing something for you because they want to not because they have to! And in a marriage based on love you don’t have to worry about being accepted by your spouse ONLY if you obey every rule, instead you’re accepted and loved, so you WANT to please them!

It’s that love can conquer selfish desires and help you to do things for your spouse that you normally wouldn’t do! That’s what Paul’s been talking about this whole time...

  • Grace VS. Law
  • Living for God out of love VS. Duty
  • Doing things for God because you want to VS. HAVE to

It’s that love that can inspire us and give us incentive to deny ourselves and live for God and others.

We now choose not to sin NOT because we have to or are afraid of punishment. We can now choose NOT to sin because of God’s love for us and what he’s done for us, -- because we want to show him our love back and show the love we’ve received to others!

Michael Horton in a book called, "The Agony of Deceit said it like this…

“Someone confronted Martin Luther, upon the Reformer's rediscovery of the biblical doctrine of justification, with the remark, 'If this is true, a person could simply live as he pleased!' 'Indeed!' answered Luther. 'Now, what pleases you?'

"Augustine was the great preacher of grace during the fourth and fifth centuries. Although his understanding of the doctrine of justification did not have the fine-tuned precision of the Reformers, Augustine's response on this point was similar to Luther's.

"He said that the doctrine of justification led to the maxim, 'Love God and do as you please.'

"Because we have misunderstood one of the gospel's most basic themes, Augustine's statement looks to many like a license to indulge one's sinful nature, but in reality it touches upon the motivation the Christian has for his actions.

"The person who has been justified by God's grace has a new, higher, and nobler motivation for holiness than the shallow, hypocritical self-righteousness or fear that seems to motivate so may religious people today.”

Paul says it in verse 6 “What is important is faith expressing itself in love.” And in verses 13-14 Paul says, “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself."

This is the only way to begin conquering sin and not using our freedom from the law to make ourselves a slave to sin! Paul calls this living “a new life in the Holy Spirit”.

Let’s look at v. 16-26

“So I advise you to live according to your new life in the Holy Spirit. Then you won't be doing what your sinful nature craves. The old sinful nature loves to do evil, which is just opposite from what the Holy Spirit wants.

"And the Spirit gives us desires that are opposite from what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, and your choices are never free from this conflict.

"But when you are directed by the Holy Spirit, you are no longer subject to the law. When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, your lives will produce these evil results: sexual immorality, impure thoughts, eagerness for lustful pleasure, idolatry, participation in demonic activities, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, divisions, the feeling that everyone is wrong except those in your own little group, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other kinds of sin. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God."

(NOTE: V. 21 The word translated “living” means “what one does repeatedly, continually, or habitually.” This is not talking about someone who falls into a sin once, but someone who falls in it, rolls around in it and decides to live there!)

"But 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. Here there is no conflict with the law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. 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.”

Paul says when you live by the Spirit that your life will stop producing the fruit (results) of your sinful nature, but instead you’ll start producing the fruit of the Spirit = results the Spirit produces!

I used to always wonder what it meant to “live in the Spirit” or how I could actually do this. One day after reading through Galatians it suddenly hit me!

I wrote this in my journal on October 10, 1993…

“What is living by the Spirit?Living my life out from under the law in faith in Jesus only, for my salvation and righteousness. It is the absence of performance and the presence of submission. It is living out my freedom in Christ in love towards him and my neighbor. It is letting the old man stay dead!”

We will never be sinless in this life, but we can sin less! We don’t have to be prisoner our our own appetites anymore like Raynald III in the story we started with!

Salvation is a complete miracle! It’s something we can never add to or achieve on our own. We have been set free from the law and from our own sinful nature, so we need to live that way and stay in that freedom.

The reason not to sin now is out of love for God. We’ve been set free so we can serve God and others. When we do that we’ll fulfill the law better than any rule ever could ever get us to.

This week I want you to try living this way this week. Realize that Jesus paid the full price for your sins and you’re completely forgiven and free from condemnation. Live for God this week, not because you have to, but because you WANT to. I’m going to be doing that this week.

I have one other new thing we can try…You can go to my blog at and I’ll post up other thoughts and ideas about trying to live this out. You can click on the “comments” section of any post and add a question or your experience or thoughts. It’s a way to continue this conversation this week!

Next week:

  • We’ll look at how we can help each other when we fall in sin.
  • We’ll take a look at one HUGELY IMPORTANT reason at why we should be careful not to use our freedom to sin.