Jesus, Community, Mission [Part 1]

As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him. —Colossians 2:6

Here’s what Immanuel Church is all about: Jesus, community, mission – and nothing else. You can have a personal walk with Christ. We’re here to help everyone have that. Today I’m going to show you how he can be yours moment by moment. But the gospel is also growing a new community. Here at Immanuel we aren’t just holding weekly worship services, important as they are. We’re building a new community. That’s why we have community groups every Sunday morning. No one needs to feel new for more than one Sunday. And then we’re here for mission. If you’re a Christian, you’re a missionary. God is calling you to make an eternal difference in people’s lives. God is calling you to move toward people with love and service and prayer and the gospel. God has put a call on our lives. We’re here to obey the call. Jesus, community, mission – it’s what we’re about.

Let’s start with Jesus. And here is a quote from Martin Luther to get us riled up. Luther offers every one of us a New Year’s Resolution we would never think of:

It ought to be the primary goal of every Christian to put aside confidence in works and grow stronger in the belief that we are saved by faith alone.

How would you fill in this blank? “It ought to be the primary goal of every Christian in 2010 to ________________.” What do you think? Pursue personal holiness? Lead someone to Christ? Luther didn’t think so. He said it should be our primary goal to go back to basics, to go back to where we started and stay there and thrive there. How did we start out in Christ? What did we do when we became Christians? We put aside confidence in our own works and we started growing in the belief that we are saved by faith in Christ alone. Luther is saying, that should be our primary goal forever. We don’t think that way. We think it’s our primary goal to make ourselves better people. But the goal of the gospel is to get us close to Jesus, and to keep us in that simple place where we never stop holding out the empty hands of faith before Jesus, we never stop receiving grace upon grace forever. We never advance beyond our total need and his total grace. That’s what the Bible says.

“As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him.” You see the as-so structure here. Paul is putting two things close together. In fact, he is equating two things – how you become a Christian, and how you grow as a Christian. How did you become a Christian? You received Christ Jesus the Lord. It was all he asked of you. It was all you could do. You had nothing to offer him. You received him. Hunger receives fullness. Thirst receives quenching. You couldn’t boast about what you did. You were grateful for what he could do. In fact, you even received your capacity to receive him. Your whole experience of Jesus has been your need receiving his fullness. It’s all of grace, from start to finish. “Through many dangers toils and snare I have already come; ‘tis grace hath brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home.” Let me explain how that can work for you. Let’s take the verse in three chunks.

As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him…

This is how we at Immanuel Church are going to do Christianity, because it’s biblical. And it helps. It helps sinners. How can it help you? Paul says, “You received Christ Jesus the Lord.”

Who is this person you let into your life? Christ – that is, the promised Messiah of the Old Testament who came into the world 2000 years ago and started changing everything. He’s no amateur. He was sent by the Father and anointed with the Spirit. He has authority. He has power. And in receiving him you too received the Holy Spirit to get you ready for the renewed universe Christ is accomplishing. But more. You also received him as Jesus, the Friend of sinners. He deals tenderly with failure. But more. You also received him as Lord and King and God. You don’t “make him Lord” after you become a Christian, though we’re constantly discovering him more fully. But when you put your faith in him, you were saying, “I’m not bargaining, I’m not drawing lines, I’m not setting preconditions. I’m receiving all that you are, and I’m giving you all that I am. I’m so in!” You were saying, “I don’t want my pulse to beat without your will. I don’t want to move a muscle apart from authorization from the Bible. I don’t want to utter a word except under the control of the Holy Spirit. I’m sick and tired of running my life. I want Jesus now.” And you received Christ. If you are a Christian, that’s the step you took – the extreme Christ for your extreme need.

Have you all received Christ Jesus the Lord? Or did you just get religious? Do you need to repent of the decision you made, because now you know you were receiving only a part of Jesus, as if he were Jesus Jr? Do you need to say to him this morning, “I want all of you, Lord, and I give you all my guilt, all my sadness and all my fraudulence”? Are you willing to have the full, industrial strength Jesus? Or do you want a tame Jesus, who will never get up in your face and command you? Do you want a real relationship with a real Person? If not, your heart will remain in lonely isolation, while you role-play relationships and hurt deep inside forever. But you don’t have to for one more instant. Jesus Christ is willing to give himself to you. Will you truly receive him – right now? He promises to give himself to you wholeheartedly. That’s how it works. We give him our total need, and he gives us his total grace.

That’s how we start out, and that’s how we grow: “As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him.” The daily Christian life works the same as conversion. And that means it can work for everyone all the time. You can be a new Christian all your life. Just go on believing the gospel moment by moment. You can build your whole life on the foundation of God’s grace. Not enough Christians are doing that. Too many Christians receive him on terms of grace and then get it into their heads somehow that the ground rules change. They start out in grace, but they try to grow by their own performance. So they create a church culture of appearances. Their families are hard places to live in. They stand in judgment over other people. How does it all go sour? Here’s the key. Man-made religion says, “I obey, therefore I’m accepted.” But God-given grace says, “I’m accepted, so I’ll obey.” We need to learn that over and over again, because self-justification is the default setting of the human heart. Luther wrote in his commentary on Galatians, “The monks thinks like this: ‘These works I’m doing please God, my vows please God, so my works and vows will save me.’ The Turk says, ‘If I keep the commandments in the Koran, God will accept me and give me eternal life.’ The Jew thinks, ‘If I keep the commandments of the law, I will find God merciful to me and I’ll be saved.’” We all think that way. We even think God likes us Protestants more because we believe in justification by faith! It’s why Luther famously said, “The gospel cannot be beaten into our ears often enough.”

Jesus lived for us the perfect life we’ve never lived. Jesus died for us the guilty death we don’t want to die. Jesus said from his cross, “It is finished.” When we receive Christ with the empty hands of faith, God says to us for the sake of his Son, “You are accepted in the Beloved.” Stop there. Stay there. Live there. You are loved, you are received, you are forgiven, you are cleansed, you are justified, you are safe, you are accepted in the Beloved. Start every day there. Live every day there. End every day there. Let your acceptance in Christ be the psychological environment you live in. Let it encourage you when you sin. Let it humble you when you think you’re so great. Stop looking at yourself. Stop living in crisis mode or in denial. Stop trying to squeeze validation and big-deal-ness and sympathy out of other sinners, who have nothing to offer you except what Christ himself already offers you. Look away from human approval, look to Christ and you’ll find all the approval you need. See his smile upon you, relax in his finished work, look forward to his complete victory. Jesus said, “Do not be afraid. It is I.”

…rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught…

What is Paul saying? He’s saying that grace makes us strong and mature, and nothing else can. The word “rooted” comes from nature, and the words “built up” come from construction. Both tell us that we can go deep with Christ. We can be solid in Christ. But here’s a question I struggle with sometimes. How is Jesus accessible? At a practical level, where do I find him? How do I get hold of him? How do I plug in? I want him to be real to me. How do I get there? Paul explains in the next phrase: “established in the faith.”

What is “the faith”? It’s the teaching of the Bible. It’s theology. It’s doctrine. That’s how, in real terms, I drill down into Jesus. Many of you know exactly what Paul is talking about. You’re reading the Bible, your mind and heart are engaged, and you suddenly realize that Jesus himself is with you, applying the Bible to you personally, making himself real to you through his Word. As Christians, we don’t take drugs for a spiritual high. We are rooted in Christ and are built up in him as we are established in the faith – “just as you were taught,” Paul says. It’s a matter of teaching and studying and memorizing and reading and discussing, all blessed by the presence of the living Christ. If Jesus seems remote and unreal to you, he himself has provided a clear way in: “the faith.” That’s why the Bible is central to everything we do here at Immanuel.

Let’s boil “the faith” down to four truths. Vague, unformed concepts do not make Jesus real to us. Specific truths do. One, God made us, God owns us, God cares for us. We owe him everything. God is in himself all pleasure and joy, everything our hearts desire.

Two, we resist God. We resent his claims. We want our own way and our own gods. We want to be God. And we secretly wish he would leave his blessings behind while he just goes away. But God will not unGod himself for us. We are under his wrath, and we deserve it.

Three, God loves touchy, defensive sinners. God’s heart feels such mercy toward us that he sent his only Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to live the truly human life we’ve never lived and to die the guilty death we don’t want to die. Jesus is all we need to be reconciled to God and live forever in the new world of grace he is creating.

Four, our only part is to receive with the empty hands of faith all that Jesus is. When we do this, God gives himself to us forever.

That is “the faith,” in summary. You can drill down into that faith for a lifetime and never hit bedrock. Do you have a growth plan for 2010? Do you have a strategy for going deeper this year? Where else in life do you leave everything to chance and still hope to make progress? Nobody thrives by drifting. Here’s where you could start. At the back of the ESV Study Bible is a chart for reading through the whole Bible in one year. It’s in four columns. You could take just one. You could read through the Psalms and Wisdom book of the Bible this year. It would take you about fifteen minutes a day. Here’s how you do it. You get up early, make some coffee, sit down with your ESV Study Bible, a legal pad and a pencil, so that you can think through your questions and insights. And as you read the section for that day, you pray, “Lord, I’m not good at this, but you’re good at grace. Please open my eyes and show me your glory here in your Word.” He will. And as you read and interact with others and come to church, you will become established in the faith and Jesus will be more real to you a year from now than he is today. He is accessible through “the faith.”

Here’s how to get a fix on where you are right now:

…abounding in thanksgiving…

Why does Paul conclude the verse this way? Because there is no better diagnostic for our spiritual growth than this. Are we abounding in thanksgiving? Is gratitude flowing out of our hearts? Is that the emotional tone of our hearts? Or are we complaining? We modern Americans should pay attention to this phrase, “abounding in thanksgiving,” because we are probably the biggest whiners in human history. We’re so privileged, we expect life to go well. And when inevitably it doesn’t, our mentality of entitlement makes us angry, fearful, selfish, gloomy, negative – anything but grateful. We might even make ourselves thank God for our blessings, because it’s the right thing to do. But forced thanks doesn’t abound. Only grace gets us abounding in thanksgiving.

If your heart is not abounding in thanksgiving, you’ve allowed some idol in there. You’ve set your heart on some false hope, a false faith, a false love, and it has let you down. It has broken your heart. And that idol then points at Jesus and tells you it’s his fault. Everyone gets slammed by life, so we can’t be equally grateful all the time. But if your heart has settled into ingratitude and self-pity, there is a reason. If you’re like me, it’s self-righteousness. That mentality kills gratitude and creates an insatiable craving for human approval. If that’s where you’re stuck, you can go back to a grace-based life. God has revealed “the faith,” where you can dwell in what Christ has done for you. You can back up and accept him all over again as the total Savior that he is. He will not smack you down; he will show you more grace, and there’s nothing like more grace to make thanksgiving abound. Then community and mission – they’re just the overflow of Jesus in our hearts.

You can live in renewal all your life long. How? “As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him.” And if you’re thinking, “But I’m too weak,” this is for weak people who need a Savior to be strong for them. And if you’re thinking, “But I’m stuck in a sin I can’t rid of,” this is for sinful people who need an endlessly merciful Savior. And if you’re thinking, “But I’m tired of trying and always failing,” this is for failures who need grace over and over again. No other kind of grace exists. And isn’t that why you became a Christian – you came to see what a failure you were? As we failures received Christ Jesus the Lord, so we walk in him. We never stop needing Christ. We only come to see how much more we need him. It’s all about grace. It always has been, it always will be. The Bible doesn’t say, “Grow beyond grace.” It says, “Grow in grace” (2 Peter 3:18).

That’s what Immanuel Church is all about – living forever in the gracious acceptance of Jesus Christ the Lord.