CHRISTIANS ARE DIFFERENT
Dear Christian friends,
About four centuries ago, a pastor by the name of Richard Baxter was called to serve a church in Kidderminster, England. Kidderminster was an impoverished town made up of underpaid carpet weavers. The times were trying. There were riots, civil war and plague. The residents were notorious for their depravity. Baxter was twenty-six years old when he began his work with a small but loyal group of church members. He spent nineteen years there. At first his church was pretty much empty, but by the time he ended his work there the church had to be enlarged a number of times.
How did the change take place? Did he lure people into church through raffles and bingo? Did he become a political activist advocating social change through a social gospel he preached? Did he hire London opera stars for his church choir and hob nob with the wealthy mill owners in town? None of the above! He had a very simple and unpretentious program. Day after day, he entered the homes of the carpet weavers and taught them how to read the Scriptures. The Scripture reveals the Savior who saves and changes lives.
God knows our nation needs the kind of changing that occurred in Kidderminster. Baxter did it the God approved way. Paul talks about the powerful impact of God’s Word. We use the theme today, “Christians Are Different.” We have a 1) The motive and that motive puts us 2) In motion.
The difference begins with the motive we have to live life. The Apostle Paul’s thirteen letters that are included in the Bible for the most part have a pattern. In the beginning of his letters he writes about the need all have for Jesus. That’s the Law, God’s Ten Commandments. Then he talks about Jesus who forgives failures and saves. That’s the Gospel. Then he writes about the impact Jesus has on life. In Romans chapters 1-11 Paul writes about sin but also about God’s grace. From chapter twelve to the end in chapter sixteen he talks about Christian living. You could say his letters are about Christ’s life and then Christian living.
Christian living always has Christ as our motive. And, yes, God is interested in our motives; what compels us and moves us in our daily living.
That shouldn’t shock us. Parents are interested in the motives of their children. A lawn needs cutting. A parent tells his son that’s his responsibility. But the son was playing video games on the sofa. The father repeats the request. The son slams down his I-phone and grumbles and mumbles all the way to the garage. The mumbling can be heard so slightly even with the roar of the lawnmower. An hour and a half later the lawnmower stops. The son comes through the kitchen door and semi-slams it. He goes to his room not to be seen until suppertime during which time he is silent.
Is everyone happy? Only the neighbor who doesn’t have to look at the jungle next door anymore! Son is not happy. Dad is not happy. Mom is not happy. Why aren’t more people happy? Someone didn’t cut the lawn with the right attitude, the right motive. Parents are rightly disturbed by bad attitudes and lack of motives from their kids.
God is interested in the right motives too. But he gives us the best of all motives. Listen! “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” The motive? In view of God’s mercy!
There are all kinds of motives that will get people to do something. Guilt is a biggie. Make people feel guilty and it is so easy to manipulate. God is not interested in that. Money is right a motivator, but God doesn’t need that. He owns everything anyway. Getting recognition or self-service are some more! Cain and Abel, the first ever brothers and sons of Adam and Eve, gave offerings to the Lord, but the Bible says, “By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings.” Faith in God and love for the Lord were behind Abel’s offering. That was missing from Cain’s offering!
Paul says offer your bodies as living sacrifices to God, but why? “In view of God’s mercy!” Remember the great things God has done for you. Remember his “mercy”. The Greek word has the idea of pity or sympathy.
Thirty five years ago when our son was born, Judy and I faced some pretty hefty hospital bills. Our insurance didn’t have a cap on how much out of pocket we would pay. It was split 80% / 20%. But you know what? 20% of a forty seven day stay in the hospital is a lot of money.
We received help from people in our church body, the same church body that did not cap the out of pocket expenses in the insurance program. People had sympathy for us. We received a substantial check, but I didn’t want to accept it. I didn’t want someone’s sympathy. I was resolved that we could pay for it ourselves over time. Our district president at the time took me to the woodshed. People were being sympathetic and merciful. I was being too proud. Not to accept that kindness was spurning the love that God had worked in my brothers and sisters in Christ.
When Paul says the phrase “in view of God’s mercy,” be mindful of God’s mercy as it hovers over us all the time. There is something interesting about this word for “mercy.” It is translated here in the singular but the Greek word is plural. God’s mercy comes in bunches. The Father created us and preserves us; the Son redeems us by his holy blood; the Holy Spirit brings us into the family of God.
God’s mercy is always before us. It is before us now. Read about it in your Bible. Look at the far side of the altar. See the baptismal fount where the Lord put his name on you and adopted you into his family. Look at the altar and see the meal that we partake in where a miracle takes place. The body and blood of Jesus which paid for sin on Calvary is given to each of us as a personal guarantee of fellowship and forgiveness. Look up at the cross and remember the blood, sweat and tears that paid that huge debt of sin with his death. In view of God’s mercy! Powerful words! Moving words! In fact, they get us to move.
“In view of God’s mercy, offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” God’s mercy sets our whole body in motion to serve the Lord. Faith and love in the heart move our hands and feet and tongues to serve. Faith isn’t just a cerebral thing. Faith goes into action. The hymn writer wrote,
Take my life and let it be
consecrated, Lord, to thee.
Take my moments and my days;
let them flow in endless praise.
2 Take my hands and let them move
at the impulse of thy love.
Take my feet and let them be
swift and beautiful for thee,
3 Take my voice and let me sing
always, only, for my King.
Take my lips and let them be
filled with messages from thee,
4 Take my silver and my gold;
not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect and use
every power as thou shalt choose,
5 Take my will and make it thine;
it shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart it is thine own;
it shall be thy royal throne,
6 Take my love; my Lord, I pour
at thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself, and I will be
ever, only, all for thee.
Jesus once said, "If any man will be my disciple, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Deny yourself as Jesus denied himself to save us. He gave up the treasures of heaven and the praise of the angels to walk the face of this sinful world for us. He experienced all that we experience – even temptation and death - so we could enjoy the crystal clear fountains and the gold paved streets of heaven.
When we deny ourselves and exalt Him, that’s worship. Church isn’t the only place we worship. It is our daily routine. Paul said elsewhere, “Whether you eat of drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” That’s different from the way the world works, isn’t it?
Faith and love for the Lord means more. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Don’t conform to the pattern of this world. Turn away from the ways of the world. Someone wrote, “Worldliness is the lust of the flesh (a passion for sensual satisfaction), the lust of the eyes (an inordinate desire for the finer things of life), and the pride of life (self-satisfaction in who we are, what we have, and what we have done). Worldliness is a preoccupation with ease and affluence. It elevates creature comfort to the point of idolatry; large salaries and comfortable life-styles become necessities of life.”
Worldliness is reading magazines about people who live hedonistic lives and spend too much money on themselves, but we want to be like them. Worldliness is pride and selfishness. It's being resentful when someone snubs you or shows off and we get hot and bothered by it. Worldliness is when the lottery gives someone the jackpot and we wish if it only could have been me. Worldliness is forgetting that we are just passing through this world.
The motivated desire to imitate Jesus. Paul says, “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Remember a few years ago when we used to see those little wrist bands that had the letters WWJD on them? ‘What would Jesus do?’ Some said it should read WDJD instead of WWJD. What did Jesus do? What Jesus did is our motivation. What we do is love and faith in motion.
Faith in motion is humble in its service. Listen to the apostle. “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.”
Samuel Morse was an inventor. He was a godly man. He was most famous for inventing the telegraph. He often said when he was stuck and couldn’t figure something out, he got down on his knees and prayed that God would grant him light and understanding. After he invented the telegraph he received many honors but always felt undeserving. He once said, "I have made a valuable application of electricity not because I was superior to other men but solely because God, who meant it for mankind, must reveal it to someone and He was pleased to reveal it to me." The pattern of the world is to honk your own horn and make sure that people know what you did. Faith in motion gives glory to God.
Paul reminds us that God made his people part of something grand, the church. He calls it many times in the Bible, the body of Christ. “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” We belong to each other and can expect to work together in serving our God and each other and love it. That’s not always how the world works, but then God calls you to be different.