Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
|Text: Ephesians 1:4
God chose us in Christ before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. (NIV)
Did you hear what I just read? Look at it again. “God chose us in Christ before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless”. If the apostle Paul were standing where I am today and preaching he would say something like, “You mob, sitting out there in the seats in this church, God has chosen you and adopted you as his children. You are his holy and blameless people”.
In fact, often Paul began addressing people in his letters by calling his listeners “saints” and “God's holy people” before going on and addressing all kinds of divisions and unhappiness and disagreements amongst the members of the church.
How comfortable are you applying to yourself the titles “holy”, “blameless”, “without fault”, “righteous”, “pure”, “good” and “without sin”? We might do it as a bit of a joke but to call ourselves holy and perfect would be really stretching the truth and putting tickets on ourselves. We know very well that we are far from perfect.
Doing, saying and thinking bad things are so much part of our lives that we can hardly call ourselves holy and that’s just the things that we are conscious of. What about the harm we cause others that we aren’t even aware of? And the Bible teaches us that we are sinful because we are born of sinful parents. Sinfulness describes the position we have in our relationship with God. It’s not just about doing and saying things but it’s a relationship thing. I know from my point of view, being holy and blameless aren’t words that describe my life at all.
You see, sin has a devastating control over us. Just as a king rules over his subjects, likewise sin rules over us, it “lords over us”.
Paul talks about sin “living in him” and controlling him to the point he does what he knows he ought not to be doing (Rom 7.17). Sin is not just an outside power that rules over us, but it is something that is in the very heart of our being. It has got into the very fibre and centre of our existence. It is so much a part of us that we are never without it.
Jesus says, “Everyone who sins is a slave of sin” (John 8.34). The use of the word slave gives a powerful picture. A master has absolute and total power over his slave. There is no part of life, no moment of time, no activity that the master does not have control over. The slave belongs to his master in a total way. Likewise there is no moment or action that is not under the control of sin. We are totally under the power of sin and like the slave there is nothing we can do about it.
How many times have you made a resolution to change things in your life – maybe a habit, renew a relationship, volunteer to help, spend more time with God in worship and prayer. What happens? We are too busy, too tired, too bored, too weak-willed, too distracted to carry through what we had promised ourselves. The best of intentions and noblest aims fall under the power of sin and even though we refocus ourselves to do the right thing, our best resolutions only end up as pious dreams.
We are sinners and there can be no denying that fact. Pigs will grow wings and fly long before sinners can get one toe into heaven.
A well-known speaker started off his seminar by holding up a $100 note.
He asked, “Who would like this $100
note?” Hands started going up.
He said, “Before I give this way let me
do this. He proceeded to scrunch up the $100 dollar note.
He then asked, “Who still wants it?”
Still the hands were up in the air.
Well, he replied, “What if I do this?” And he dropped it on the ground and started to grind it into the floor with his shoe. He picked it up, now crumpled and dirty. “Now, who still wants it?” Still the hands went into the air.
“My friends, he continued, “we have all learned a very valuable lesson. No matter what I did to the money, you still wanted it because it did not decrease in value. It was still worth $100. Many times in our lives, we are dropped, crumpled, and ground into the dirt by the decisions we make, and the circumstances that come our way. We feel as though we are worthless. But no matter what has happened or what will happen, you will never lose your value. Dirty or clean, crumpled or finely creased, you are still priceless to those who love you”.
There is One who loves us even though sin crumples us and dirties our lives. His love is so amazing that he will do anything to be able to call us “saints” and “his holy people”.
There is no turning a blind eye to the power of sin in our lives and in our
world but Paul praises God for the incredibly good news that because of what
Jesus has done through his death and resurrection God has chosen us to be his
holy people and to be blameless in his sight.
He goes on to say,
“Let us praise God for his glorious grace, for the free gift he gave us in his dear Son! For by the blood of Christ we are set free, that is, our sins are forgiven. How great is the grace of God, which he gave to us in such large measure! (Eph 1:6-8).
You are holy! I am holy! Let that “good news” sink in; let it hit home. By dying on the cross, Christ transferred all of our weakness and sinfulness to himself. God looked at Christ stretched on the cross of Calvary and saw all of our sin. Jesus was punished in our place. And now, when he looks at us, he doesn't see us covered with sin, but he sees Christ's innocent suffering and death. When we were baptised, graciously and freely he brought us into his family, into the church, and adopted us as his own forgiven, cleansed, and righteous people.
I'm sure you've seen the ads in the paper or in your email Inbox for cheap flights and holidays. Fantastic! Just what you’re looking for! But your excitement suddenly vanishes when you read the small print at the bottom of the ad. There in the tiniest print you read the conditions and extra costs. It's not a bargain after all; there are strings attached.
A holy and blameless life doesn’t come cheap – it cost God plenty when he allowed his Son to die in our place – but for us it is a gift from God's hand of grace. When we were baptised, God in his love and mercy freely and graciously brought us into his family and gave to us the blessings that come from Jesus’ dying and rising.
When we take into our hands bread and wine which at the same time is Jesus’ body and blood we are reassured that we remain his adopted children even though we have disappointed God so often and that he continues to love us and forgive us.
Having said all that, how would you answer if I asked you “Are you holy and blameless?” For those who trust in Jesus the answer is a resounding, “Yes! Yes I am holy and blameless! I have been set free from sin by the blood of Jesus. He has given me a fresh start. He has promised to walk with me through the thick and thin of life “even through the valley of the shadow of death”. If any of us were to die this very moment we could do so confidently knowing that our lives are intimately and intricately connected to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Our sin has died with Christ and we shall rise with Christ and live with him forever.
Because of this intimate connection with Christ “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8.1). In other words, we are holy. We have been made new - fresh and clean, no longer under God's condemnation because of our sin.
This gift of a new life from God leads us live a new life every day.
Now that I have been made new, I need to demonstrate that newness and holiness in the way I live my Christian life, the way I witness in word and deed to Christ's love for me, the way I love others and serve just as Christ has loved and served me in such a selfless and unconditional matter. That is the challenge that is before each one of us.
While I live out life here on earth, while I wait to enter eternity, I try to become what I am. I have been made holy; I have been given eternal life, now I try to become in my everyday life what I have already been made. I have been made holy, with the help of the Holy Spirit I now want to live a holy life. I have been given eternal life and I want to live as in the presence of God.
May God help us to see ourselves
as he sees us in Christ.
May he help us to see that through his grace we are already holy.
And may that move us all the more to seek to become what we have already become, saints who live to serve Jesus by serving others. Amen.
© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
15th July 2012