Let me begin by asking you this question. What is the Spirit-filled life according to the Bible? Well one way of defining it from God's Word is our refined church mission statement which is itself firmly rooted in Scripture. Live, Grow, Change - live godly lives, grow the church and change our nation. And if we're living Godly lives, there'll be two things we're doing: trusting in Christ and obeying the word. If we're going to play our part in the growth of the church, then we'll be serving the church and telling the world. And to change our nation we'll need to be contending for truth and caring for needs – all in the power of the Holy Spirit. And those six aspects of the Spirit-filled life are connected. So if we're not living Godly lives, i.e. trusting in Christ and obeying the Word, then that will have an impact on church growth and changing our nation. Well this evening our theme is obeying the word.
When American troops captured the island of Okinawa towards the end of World War Two, they found it in a state of moral and social collapse. As they advanced they came to a village, Shimbakuku, and were greeted by two men, one of them carrying a Bible. The GIs suspected a trap, and entered the village cautiously, but to their amazement they found the whole village a model of order and hygiene, in total contrast to the squalor and chaos which reigned everywhere else. One of the men who had welcomed them explained why. Some 30 years earlier, an American missionary had visited Shimbakuku on his way to the Japanese mainland. He didn't stay long, and just two people became Christians – the two men. He taught them some hymns and prayers and left them a Japanese translation of the Bible, urging them to model their lives on it. The two men had no other Christian teaching or fellowship, but by basing their lives on what they read in the Bible they helped to transform their community. When the American soldiers arrived they found no jail, no brothel, no drunkenness and no divorce. Shimbakuku was an oasis of love and purity in a swamp of degradation and despair. The war correspondent who first brought the story to light quoted his dumbfounded driver: "So this is what comes out of only a Bible and a couple of men who want to live like Jesus! Maybe we're using the wrong kind of weapons to change the world!" So firstly…
1. Build Your Life on Obedience to the Word of Christ
Look at Matthew 7:15-27. Jesus has been teaching his disciples – what we know as the Sermon on the Mount. And he's just said (v21):
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord', will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven."
Now some of you might be thinking mmm… is Jesus saying we're saved by our good deeds? No. Why not? Because it's the Father's will that we find salvation by grace through faith – that is, by trusting in Jesus. We can't earn our way to heaven. The message of the Bible is that there won't be any good people in heaven, only forgiven people, only those who have been rescued by grace through faith in Christ. No-one is good but God alone, says Jesus in Mark 10. But that faith in Christ is itself a Holy Spirit inspired act of obedience. We trust Christ because God calls us to do that. Then Jesus continues v24-27:
"Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it."
What was the difference between the house the wise man built and the house the foolish man built? Well the difference between the two was the foundation on which they'd been built. The wise man built his house on the rock. The foolish man built his house on sand. Now often the assumption is made that the rock represents Christ and the sand represents anything other than Christ. But is that what Jesus specifically states? The man who built his house on the rock was the man who hears these words of Christ and puts them into practice. The foolish man who built his house on sand was the man who hears these words of Christ and does not put them into practice. The rock is obedience to the word of Christ and the sand is disobedience to the word of Christ. What foundation are you building on? Are you being wise or foolish?
The government of this country seems to be determined to be foolish and build this nation on a foundation of sand – on disobedience to Jesus' words. But what about you? Perhaps you've arrived in Newcastle and you've been building your life so far on anything but the rock – on everything but obedience to the word of Christ. But you're already realising that building on sand will lead to disaster. Well tonight why not repent, which means to change your mind and go God's way instead, and believe the good news of forgiveness and new life through faith in Christ and put your trust in Jesus. The blessings of doing so and of obedience to the word of Christ are made clear at the start of his Sermon on the Mount in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12)
Solid foundations are important for buildings. And yet too many of us try to build our lives without a solid foundation. When the rains came down and the streams rose recently in St Albans, a huge 65 foot sinkhole appeared. Foundations of homes were exposed and the buildings might have had to be demolished. They would have fallen with a great crash. And Newcastle United FC crashed today in the derby without the foundation of a solid centre half! To go back to sinkholes, apparently 'I survived the St Albans Sinkhole' tops, bags, dog t-shirts, mugs and hoodies are now available!
But, of course, Jesus' words are no laughing matter. He says the foundation our lives need if we're not going to be vulnerable to falling with a great crash (both in this life and for all eternity – so this is very serious) is hearing and putting into practice his teaching. Not just hearing it. We have to put it into practice as well. James in the first chapter of his letter and v22 puts it like this:
"But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves."
But I hear some of you say can we obey God's word? Sometimes it's hard, even costly and sometimes we totally mess up. But there is forgiveness and a fresh start at the cross of Christ. So can we obey God's word? Well that's my second heading.
2. Can We Obey God's Word?
Well Jesus says yes - if we love him we will obey his commands, even though we won't do so absolutely perfectly this side of heaven, as we trust in him and depend on him and by the power of his Spirit. Turn to John 14. In v1 Jesus says:
"Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me."
Then Jesus says, v6, put your trust in him who is the way, the truth and the life, for no-one comes to the Father and therefore to heaven - except through him. Then in v12-14 Jesus says:
"Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it."
These are remarkable verses. Anyone who has faith in Jesus can follow him and depend on him and ask him for anything that will bring glory to the Father. No doubt including what he stresses in v15 - the mark of a genuine disciple and of a Spirit filled life - obeying his commands. John 14:15:
"If you love me, you will keep my commandments."
And we won't be on our own. Jesus says that we will have another Counsellor to be with us forever (v16&17) – the Spirit of truth. And the Holy Spirit will teach us all things and will remind us of everything Jesus has said to us (v26). Do you love Jesus? Or do you just say you do and so deceive yourself? As Jesus says back in Matthew 7:20, Jesus' true followers will be known by their fruit. Obedience to Jesus' commands is evidence of our love for him. We obey out of love for God, out of gratitude for his mercies as with the Ten Commandments, which were given by God after bringing his people out of slavery. Today the genuineness of our love for him will be tested as often we'll need to obey God, and not men, as the Apostles put it in Acts 5:29. Jesus was preparing them and us in John 14 to do just that. And he says in v27:
"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid."
So we're to be trusting in Christ and obeying the Word, unashamed and unafraid. You see, and this is my third point:
3. Christ Has Freed Us for Obedience
The Apostle Paul is absolutely clear in Galatians 2:16 that we're not justified (declared not guilty) by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. But in Romans 1:5 he speaks of calling people to the "obedience [that comes from] faith for the sake of his name among all the nations." You see what has God forgiven us for? Have we been set free to do what we like? No, we have been set free to serve and obey Christ and his word for his name's sake. That is true freedom. So fourthly and finally:
4. Believe and Obey the Word of God
But you might be asking why should I believe it and obey it? Is the Bible really the Word of God? Does it really have such authority? Well what does the Bible say about itself? Take a look at 2 Timothy 3.16-17:
"All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work."
The Bible claims to be the Word of God. All Scripture is breathed out by God... What does that mean? Well it doesn't mean that Scripture itself or its human authors were breathed into by God. No, rather that Scripture was breathed out by God. It was brought into existence by the breath or Spirit of God. It originated in God's mind and was communicated from God's mouth by God's breath or Spirit. So the whole Bible is rightly known as 'the Word of God' for God spoke it. Another reason for building our lives on obedience to the Bible's teaching is that Jesus took the Scriptures as God's word. Look at Matthew 19:3-6:
"And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, "Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?" He answered, "Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.""
Jesus quotes from Genesis. And according to Jesus, who said what is written in Genesis? The Creator said it. God said it. According to Jesus, what is written in Genesis is God's Word. And that is his consistent attitude to the whole Old Testament. If we're going to obey the teaching of Jesus, we have to obey the teaching of the whole Bible. And note also Jesus' teaching here on marriage – it was created by God at the beginning and so is a creation ordinance; it's part of the created order – so the teaching on marriage here is not just for Christians, but for all – that marriage is between one man and one woman for life.
All of Scripture, handled correctly, moulds both what we think and also what we do. 'Teaching' and 'rebuking' relate to what we believe. The Bible shows us what is true, and shows us where our thinking is faulty. 'Correcting' and 'training in righteousness' relate to what we do, and our character. The Bible shows us where we go wrong and the right way to go. So take time each day to read it on your own with some helpful notes. And if you're not yet in a small Bible Study group join one this week - such as Focus for students, International Small groups, or a Home Group and get stuck in to studying and applying the Bible with others. If you're already in one, make it a priority. And keep on coming to church to hear the Bible read and taught. If you do so and put into practice what you hear from Jesus, then your life will be built on a rock and nothing – absolutely nothing – will be able to bring it crashing down. Not only that, God's Word will change you and help you to be salt and light in the world.
A few years ago two Swiss Red Cross workers were taken hostage by Lebanese militants. Despite spending 312 days locked in a small room, their Christian faith helped bring them through the ordeal as one of them explains:
"From a spiritual angle the time I spent in captivity was a great gain. At 33 I believe I've just begun to understand what living the Christian life really means. One day one of our jailers who used to give us bits of reading material left a cardboard box with various oddments in it. Rummaging around in it we discovered a battered, part complete, Bible in old English. What incredible joy we felt! With the help of an English-French dictionary, which stopped at the letter N, we were able to read the Bible every day. And because of this we began to change our attitude towards our jailers. It is wonderful to experience an about-turn in your feelings. As we read the Bible we felt God working in our lives and we responded to the message of the Bible. We were in the habit of referring to our jailers by nasty and abusive names. Now we decided to give them new, encouraging names – and this was no minor detail for us, shut up for weeks on end in that prison, with nothing to do.
Everything about us began to change because of that Bible. No-one in captivity can hold out without hope, and the Bible is full of hope – hope of what is seen, hope in the reality of God. I began to understand that our temporary reality, our being hostages, was only a shadow of our true life, eternal life and I knew that God had allowed us to be taken hostage so that we might understand this. Now that I'm free my aim is to follow and obey Christ."
Let's make that our aim too for the glory of God, but not just for the sake of our own growth and Christ likeness, but for the sake of others in both Central & West Tyneside, as we go multisite as a church, and across our nation.