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Obedience and Faith

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Good morning! I thank you so much for once again allowing me to learn the art of speaking in front of people, to try to present God’s word accurately to you. *Today’s topic is about obedience and faith. As it ties in with last week, discipline and obedience go hand in hand. Grace and faith go hand in hand. These are basic principles of Christianity, and most of you have far more experience than I in your walk of faith; I’m a youngster at 9 years old this past May.

Now that we’re in June it’s beginning to feel like summer. The NBA Finals started on Thursday. For those two teams that made it, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors, I watched a few of their basketball games and checked out their statistics. Wow, do both of those teams deserve to be there or what; just total domination of their competitors to get them where they are now. However, there can be only one winning team. The news always wants to talk about whether LeBron James is greater than Michael Jordan, but for me, I followed Jordan and the Chicago Bulls through their dynasty years, amazed at the incredible skill and focus they had to always come out on top. I really like basketball. It was my favourite sport growing up. There was just something that appealed to me about using your hands and feet athletically, as a team, that didn’t require lacing up skates. Plus, it was the sport my dad played when he was growing up. He was my hero, and I have to admit I idolized him somewhat. He told me that when he was in high school, with their small team of six players, the Berwyn Bears only lost one game in the three years they played. So naturally I wanted to be like my dad.

Fast forward a few years, in that same village of Berwyn where I grew up, there weren’t enough kids to make a team in junior high. However, I did play briefly in high school. But it was in the neighbouring town, for the Grimshaw Trojans. As teenage boys, we weren’t ignorant to what the name implied, but it didn’t matter to me because I got to play basketball. The first year was somewhat successful because there were several talented grade 12 students with us new grade 10s; there were no grade 11s. The next year was intermittent for me; I tore a ligament in my left knee skiing because I couldn’t decide which trick I was going to do. Then later that same year, my temper got the best of me and I broke my writing hand on a kid’s forehead. Needless to say, my academics and athletics suffered that year. By grade 12, you’d think I would have matured. Charlie Bouchard was our coach that year, and though he was incredibly talented, there seemed to be a personality conflict between us. By disregarding his authority, it boiled to a point where he said it was either him or me. So rather than let the team decide, I chose to quit so that the rest of the team could continue playing the sport I loved.

Although these transgressions are in my past, their impact follows me to this day. We’ve all made decisions that have influenced who we are today. I’m sure that if I knew Jesus back then as I do now, I would have made different decisions, but that is not the path chosen for my life. Yet we have no regrets, because we know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is sufficient to cover a multitude of sins. One thing I’ve learned through the troubles of my past having left a scar on my hand and a knee with arthritis, every decision or indecision we make changes us and shapes our future. Since every indecision is still a decision, here is the big idea for today’s sermon: choices change us. Romans 14:12 reminds us that we all must give an account to God, and it is those decisions about Him, his character, his authority, and our obedience of faith that we are giving account for.

*Now, I want to start off by relating the message last week to this week. In 2 Peter 3:18:

“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.”

Here we see the apostle Peter using the words Lord and Saviour together to describe Jesus Christ, for that is who he is. By his grace he saved us, that’s the Saviour part. But how do we consider his lordship? See, we get caught up in his love and grace, the part that gives us joy, and we push aside or choose to forget that he has work for us. But if Jesus is our King, Lord, Ultra-prime minister, CEO (Chief of Evangelical Obedience), then he probably has something for us to do. There’s no leading if no one follows, but from Hebrews 12:1 from last week we remember that since there is a great cloud of witnesses that have already followed, His leadership is guaranteed.

*The passage we’re going to focus on today is from Matthew 28:18-20:

“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

We’re going to break down that big idea that choices change us into three sections: Authority, Action, and Always. So just keep those in the back of your mind as we go. While we’re here, notice that it’s not just a little bit, or sometimes, or even a significant portion, but All Authority. And as my Texas friend would say, “All is all y’all.”

Sometimes it is the choices of others that change us. Often these are out of our control, but the main idea I want you to get out of this message is that as much as it is within our control, the most important choice that changes us is to submit to the authority of Jesus. *With respect to authority, Romans 13:1 it tells us to submit ourselves to our leaders:

“All of you must obey those who rule over you. There are no authorities except the ones God has chosen. Those who now rule have been chosen by God.”

When it comes to spiritual leaders, this one is easy, right? You guys show up here every week to hear a word from God, even if it is from an amateur. But there are several other levels of authority in our lives. From our teachers when we’re young to our boss at work. But what happens when those authorities who rule over us pass laws that force us or the ones we love to undermine the laws of God? Last year our federal government passed Bill C-14 which legalizes physician assisted suicide. A CBC article published on April 20th, highlighting a male-male married couple who went through it, reported 1300 people chose to kill themselves with the help of professionals who declared an oath to do no harm. This is on top of the abnormal suicide rates, especially in Nunavut. Despite their lower population base (about 30,000), compared to the rest of the country the suicide rate in Nunavut is ten times higher than the rest of the country. *Here’s a quote I found… In Canada right now we have a government that is spending parliamentary time to pass a law legalizing marajuana. Whether we like it or not, our world is changing around us. I’m not trying to make us feel sad. These are the realities we live in, and we have been chosen by a just and merciful God to do something about it. We just have to be sure of what we believe. When Jesus asked, “Who do you say I am?”, He wasn’t just addressing Peter, but everyone. We all must choose to work within the laws of where we live, but if it is in conflict with God’s laws we must choose to do something or nothing.

*Moving on to our second section about Actions, in Matthew 7:20 we read:

Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.

A perfect example of our daily choices is with respect to finances. What we spend our money on determines what we value. You all do this I’m sure. Those things that are substantial purchases, you spend more care and attention in selecting it because you want to get good value for your dollar. And those things that are practically disposable you just go to a dollar store; why spend more money for something that’s just going to get thrown out? But God’s word tells us that the things of this world are fading away and encourages us to lay up our treasures in heaven. Those things that won’t burn up at the end of all things are the treasures that have eternal value

Just to make sure we understand how we get from faith to being justified in the Kingdom of Heaven, I want to discuss the relationship between faith, action (or works), and justification.

James said faith without action is dead, but does this mean that we must keep doing things, being good, to earn our salvation? In the midst of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus delivers his message about the purpose of the Law and Prophets. Matthew 5:17-18 reveals that Jesus came to fulfil all that the law requires. But then the next verses, 19-20, say that there are still commands to be followed. So what exactly has Jesus fulfilled? One of the authors in the book Trust and Obey, John MacArthur, described two things: we are not under ceremonial law, and we are not under the law for our justification. The ceremonial law is the heresy the Pharisees and Judaizers were accused of: to add more rules on top of the law, and ignoring the preeminence of grace. Don Garlington said that the phrase “obedience of faith” concentrates in essence Paul’s gospel of salvation. Said another way, obedience is the fruit of faith. Further on in Trust and Obey, Jonathan Gerstner describes the relationship between faith and justification with some simple diagrams. This first one basically says it doesn’t matter what you believe; you’ll go to heaven if you do good works. The second one is sort of related and is what the Galatians were accused of; adding something to the faith, such as circumcision, to justify yourself to God. The third is the same as the second but instead considers faith as a matter of human effort. This fourth one is the other end of the heresy spectrum; it says that since we’re justified by faith alone, we don’t have to do any work. Only the last one is the true faith, because it is through the works, our actions, that we give evidence of our faith. This is what Paul was talking about, that we are justified by faith alone.

To put it simply, sin is dis-obedience. Repentance is an action that means turning from sin to go in the opposite direction. And this repentance must be continual, not just a one time confession. This is not a burden but a joy. It is not a duty but a love. It is the law that defines the character of God. “If you love me, obey my commandments.” John 14:15, ESV. “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” John 15:14

So what did Jesus command of us? *His greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love others as yourself. Here it is as rendered by Eugene Peterson in The Message translation. This comes basically from Deuteronomy 6:4-5, and in Hebrew is called the Shema because the first word begins with “Hear”. The more literal translation of Shema is “listen and obey” because to the Jews the word meant the same thing; if you heard it, you should obey it. James 1:22 says, “But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.”

Faith is an action, and we must daily choose to be faithful. When it comes to the phrase “obedience of faith,” it is only used two times in all of Scripture. *The first occurrence is in Romans 1:5:

through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations,

As you can see, this combines the elements of grace, obedience of faith, and glorifying God. *The other place the phrase is used is at the end of Romans 16:25-27:

Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.

Remember, it was the faithfulness of Christ that fulfilled the Law, in order to bring about the obedience of faith through grace. But the real point of all this obedience of faith is a command to bring about the glory of God. If we choose to only obey our own desires, the only one we glorify is ourselves.

Finally, we move onto our third section, called Always. Remember how James had used Abraham as an example of faith? In verse 2:23 it says “and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God.” So did the author of Hebrews, in the faith chapter just prior to the one we reviewed last week. In Hebrews 11:8 it says, “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.” He just did it. The Abrahamic covenant is still true for us, and it is found in Genesis 17:7; “I will confirm my covenant with you and your descendants after you, from generation to generation. This is the everlasting covenant: I will always be your God and the God of your descendants after you.” Following the word ‘always’ through to the gospel in the new covenant we find in Mark 14:7,

“For you always have the poor among you, and whenever you choose you can do acts of kindness to them; but me you have not always.”

But the context that Jesus is speaking to the disciples is that they won’t always be able to physically show their love to him, as the woman with the alabaster flask of nard did. Be assured however that though we can’t control the choices of others, the promise is that he will always be with you when you teach others to obey everything he commanded.

*To review the passage of Scripture that has provided the structure for us is Matthew 28:18-20:

“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

I realize this is basic Christianity for us, but it really doesn’t need to be more complicated either. It is the grace of God that meets us where we are at. Not everyone can run the minute mile the first time they try, but with training, anything is possible. The same is true in ministry. If you faithfully choose, say for example, to be a missionary to bring the gospel message to the middle of somewhere, with discipline, and the grace of Jesus Christ always at your side, everyone is possible.

As this congregation searches for a new pastor, remember that he or she is meant to be a spiritual shepherd, but that doesn’t mean that the sheep don’t have dreams or visions of their own, even if it is just one person. They may just need some support and encouragement to guide them and properly direct those desires. And as a church, all members should also be that support, both practically and spiritually. Each one of you are ministers, called by Jesus to be his hands and feet in this world. This church will always hold a special place in my heart, not only because it was the first place where I was allowed to preach, but because you have been so welcoming to my family and I. For me, my passion, my dream, is to see the whole of God’s church unified, to see the bride of Christ move as one towards the vision of Jesus. It is a joy to serve such a loving God that cares about the choices we make.

*One final story about obedience. In Luke 18 we find the story of a rich ruler. He was asking Jesus what he must do to to earn eternal life. Jesus gave him this command: “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” And it says that when the rich man heard this he went away sad. Jesus even commented how hard it was for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God. Now, in the very next chapter we find the story of a man named Zacchaeus. It says he was a chief tax collector… and was rich. Because of the crowds, and his position in society at the time, the only way he could see Jesus was to climb a tree, straining to just catch a glimpse of Him. Wouldn’t you know it, Jesus stops by that tree and says, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he does, he hurries, excited to have a close conversation with Jesus. Then it says that Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” See, both of these men were rich, but only one of them chose to obey Jesus. This despised sinner was changed by Jesus, and his joyful response was to choose to put himself under his Authority, to immediately respond with a faithful action to bless others, above and beyond what he was called to do because of the joy that comes with realizing the grace to which he was shown. And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham.” Zacchaeus’ choice to obey Jesus forever changed him, and he is now and forever always with Jesus. May we all choose to be like Zacchaeus, and allow ourselves to be changed under the authority of Jesus so that we can be a blessing to others.

May the Lord bless you and protect you;

May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you;

May the Lord show you his favour and give you his peace.

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