Sermon: Acts 6-7

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Being Acceptable to God

Modern Christianity tells believers they are accepted by God no matter what. “God loves you just the way you are.”

There is, no doubt, truth to this sentiment, but not when it is taken to mean that God doesn’t care what you do or that God is OK with everything you do. He isn’t. Sin is bad. Always has been and always will be.

So when a guy brings up verses like 2 Corinthians 5:9 that says Paul labored so he might be acceptable to God, or that we are to lay down our lives as a living sacrifice to be acceptable to God or that we should serve righteousness, peace and joy to be acceptable to God, people don’t quite know what to do.

The response is generally to label me a legalist, a denier of grace or other besmirching cliches. In reality, I’ve just read verses to you!

The fact that people only want to hear select verses is nothing new. Most theological camps are clearly defined by what verses they’ve agreed to ignore.

The classic comeback to raising the subject that everything you do as a believer is not acceptable to God, and this may, in fact, mean you are not acceptable to God, is to quote Ephesians 1:6, “Nu-uh, you’re wrong Christ has made me accepted in the beloved. I can do what I want and God accepts me, man.”

The problem with using that snippet of Scripture is that the word “accepted” there is a very poor translation. The actual word means to “be graced,” or to have bestowed. The verse is about grace and how it’s been bestowed to us. Why the King James goes with accepted in the beloved, I really don’t know, but other translations don’t go there.

It is true that a true believer is in Christ and is secure there by faith. But this reality does not mean that God loves a believer’s sin. On the contrary, Paul labored to do what was acceptable to God. The fact Paul has to labor to do what is acceptable means it is quite easy to do what is not acceptable.

Our desire to elevate grace, to minimize good works, and generally get us off the hook for everything remotely serious, has destroyed our ability to hear the plain words of Scripture. We all lose.

Church Discipline and Powerless Christians

Yesterday I talked about 2 Timothy 3 and modern Christianity’s propensity to ignore power and live in the flesh pretending to be with Jesus. I quoted a verse, “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof” to describe the problem. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the whole verse. It gets worse.

“Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.”

OK, well, if I wasn’t in trouble yesterday, I will be today!

The only thing that can make my diatribe of the last two days worse is to drop church discipline into the mix. Paul seems pretty fed up at this point. He’s about to die, he’s done, he’s run his race, but he is concerned for the Church and he sees what’s coming.

What is the response of the Christian to the false professing Christian?

Paul says we’re supposed to leave them. To “turn away” means to um, turn away. Leave. Paul said the same thing in 1 Corinthians 5 that we shouldn’t even eat with them.

Church discipline reminds most people of legalism. It reminds you of the red-faced elders standing around the cowering adulteress condemning her. Yup, and that’s why the church is what it is today–a gathering of people who want to feel good about being bad.

But true Christianity doesn’t want you to feel good about being bad. It wants you to 1) feel bad about being bad so you cry out for salvation and then 2) wants you to feel good about being good because Christ is at work in you and you are working out what He has worked in.

Those who want to play games with this and want to continue willful, rebellious sin and still talk about God need to be confronted and possibly, according to Paul, avoided altogether.

2 Timothy 3 contains some of Paul’s last words to us, there’s no further revelation coming to make what he said here not true. Paul knows that Christianity will devolve into a mess, just like OT Jewishness did. They were given so much, yet they chucked it to feel good about their sin and there was nothing left for them but judgment.

Love steps in and warns a person, tells them they’re going the wrong way. If the person does not listen, the only safe thing is to avoid them. It’s a sad thing. Church discipline is never something to be done with joy or pleasure. It comes with tears as you watch yet another person chuck eternity with God for temporal pleasure.

Where’s the Power?

Doing one time deals at some point in the past is what now qualifies as “being a Christian.” As long as you think you’re saved, you are. As long as you jumped through some hoop, you’re in. This sort of thinking has taken over Christianity and has done a large disservice to the Church and to Christ. As pointed out yesterday, it robs Christianity of all its main ideas.

We’ve come now to a point where “Christians” look like the world. There is no distinction at all. And we then use this as a point of celebration because we are now “culturally relevant.” Paul’s admonition to us to “come out from among them and be separate” sounds quaint and possibly racist.

So, we’ve got a spirituality today that is floaty and gushy. People know they are saved because they pray for things and occasionally they happen. Or because they look normal and fit in with people at church. Or because they listen to Christian music and put out of context verses as their Facebook status updates.

Yet Christians look like the world. “Christian” kids don’t obey their parents. We don’t keep our word. We live for pleasure, and sacrifice nothing. We’re angry at every indiscretion cast our way instead of rejoicing in persecution. Our sexual morals and restraints are all but dismissed as old-fashioned puritanism. But hey, we show up to church occasionally and read some devotions in the bathroom once or twice. We know our pet doctrines and argue them smugly.

It all reminds me of 2 Timothy 3. The phrase that sums up all I’ve been saying yesterday and today is “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.”

Our Christianity has no power today. We’re content with being worldly with Jesus. We’re content to keep faith as that thing I did when I was 7 when I prayed that prayer at camp. We do enough religion to feel spiritual, but there’s no power. There’s no resurrection life. We’ve even got doctrinal reasons to prove why our lives are filled with sin, “Hey, it’s all Adam’s fault, ever hear of original sin?”

I have heard of original sin, and I’ve also heard of resurrection. “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”

If you’ve got no power, you’ve got no true godliness. You’ve just got you feeling special about yourself and that will get you nowhere on judgment day.

Christian Living Is Real

In Acts 5 the apostles were told by an angel to “Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.”

I love that phrase “all the words of this life.”

Christianity is a way of life, it isn’t an aspect of life, or a thing tacked on to the corner, something you squeeze in when you have the time. Christianity is life. The just shall live by faith. Faith is a living thing that changes all of your life.

Israel got in trouble many times by emphasizing circumcision as the end-all of faith. A one time act as a kid was used as support for salvation for the rest of their life. This led to apathy along with self-righteousness and a denial of true faith.

Jesus Christ constantly hammered this thinking and Paul follows up. “For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.”

One of the main points of the New Testament upon following the Old Testament’s record of Israel’s failure to live by faith, is to point out the ongoingness of faith. There is no half-hearted worship, lips that praise while hearts depart, empty ritual and sacrifice, and dependence on a one time act to prove yourself.

Being saved is a life, it’s the life of Christ in us, the new life we’ve been raised up to. Yet today we desire to go back to Jewish legalistic tendencies and conclude people saved because they did some thing one time at some point in the past, whether that’s baptism, saying the prayer, going through catechism or whatever.

No man is saved by works. You don’t get saved by trying to live like Jesus. Salvation is taking in to yourself the life of Christ to the extent that it’s no longer I who lives but Christ who lives in me. If His life is not present, then you are not saved.

A denial of this point is to deny that the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer is of any use,
it denies the power of the resurrection,
it denies Scriptures’ ability to make the man of God thoroughly equipped to do good works,
it cuts off the effectual work of grace to allow us to live soberly, righteously and godly even now,
it denies the new creation of the believer to do good works that God ordained we do,
it denies the power of the blood that was shed to purchase us to be a people zealous of good works,
it denies the redemption that we were bought for a higher use,
it denies the whole idea of sanctification being in Christ,
it denies the power of the crucifixion by which we are crucified unto the world and the world unto us.

Our desire to avoid the charge of “works righteousness” has made Christianity of no effect. Our old man was crucified with its affections and lusts in Christ. To deny that Christian faith changes the person is to go back to the works mentality of the Old Testament, Pharisaic religion of the past, which left everything up to the flesh and became a mind over matter sort of fake spirituality.

These things have been written for our learning. I suggest we learn lest we also are cut off.

Acts 5:32 and Getting The Spirit

One of my favorite things is bringing up verses no one likes to deal with, verses you haven’t heard in church for quite some time, verses that commentaries skip over, verses that mess with our pat doctrine. Part of me does this for kicks, the other part likes to see what people think they mean, which helps me determine what to do with them as well, since I don’t always know either.

Here’s a great one I had to mention in my sermon this week on Acts 5:

“we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost,
whom God hath given to them that obey him.”

Peter is speaking and says that God gives the Holy Spirit to those who obey him. Now, we all know that it is absolutely impossible for people to obey God unless they have the Spirit, so how can God give the Spirit to those who obey God, which they can’t do unless they have the Spirit?

There are several approaches:

1) Bash Peter. Seriously, what does he know? Paul is the only apostle who knows anything, so we’re safe in ignoring Peter here as speaking nonsense.

2) Define Words. “Obey” might not mean obey, if we try hard enough, we might get there and turn obey into “be in the general vicinity of God” or something.

3) Muddy the subject. Maybe the giving of the Spirit does not refer to salvation but rather to the giving of the Spirit with power as evidenced by tongues in the early church.

4) Pretend this verse doesn’t exist. Hey, how about them Packers?

5) Go with it. Only those who obey God get the Spirit, which seems to be the plain meaning.

For me, I guess number three seems plausible. Number one seems cheap since all Scripture is inspired and I can’t imagine Peter snuck one through. Number two is out because obey here is the strongest Greek word for obey that could be used (means to submit without question). Number four, although easiest, isn’t really an answer.

Then there’s option 5, anyone got the guts to go with the plain words?