We’re nearing the end of the series called BIG Church. It’s called BIG Church not because we are a big church, but because the Church is a really big deal.
We’ve been talking about how the Church got started and how the message of Jesus survived the first century? So much happened in that period of history from persecution to destruction of ancient Judaism that it’s actually pretty amazing that it did survive. However, we know Jesus said not even the gates of hell or death can stop His Church, and they haven’t for over 2,000 years.
It’s important to remember that the Church didn’t launch as an institution, and the Church certainly didn’t launch with a building. The Church launched as a movement—a movement of people who flooded the streets of Jerusalem to say remember Jesus who was crucified right outside those walls? He rose from the dead, and we are eyewitnesses.
As these people flooded the streets of Jerusalem with this incredible and very difficult to believe message—not a hundred years after the fact, more like 2 months, and not hundreds of miles away— thousands of Jewish people in Jerusalem embraced this simple idea that Jesus was in fact the Christ, the Son of the living God, and that God had raised him from the dead. Suddenly, Jerusalem was flooded with people from all the surrounding communities who believed God was doing something unique and unusual right there among them.
Then word began to spread, and persecution broke out because suddenly this new movement, that was called the Way that was ultimately called Christianity, disrupted the delicate balance of power between Rome and the Jewish authorities. But instead of stopping, the Jesus followers were shoved out into the surrounding areas where they instead of backing down, instead of toning down their message, they were as bold as ever telling everyone they could the Good News.
Even the number one inquisitor, the primary persecutor of the Way, Saul of Tarsus, who we know as the Apostle Paul, was converted. He became the number one advocate for this movement. He traveled all around the Mediterranean Rim and he began to plant little ecclesias, little churches, little gatherings everywhere he went. Roman citizens and Greek speaking people with a completely different background and culture than his own began to embrace this idea that Jesus is the Christ, and it spread like wildfire.
And two thousand years later, long after the Roman empire ceased to be, long after ancient Judaism ceased to be, long after the final sacrifice was made in that temple, here we are today worshiping this Risen Savior. It’s absolutely incredible. This is why the church is a really BIG deal.
Does the Church Really Matter?
Now the question I want to ask and discuss today is this: Does the Church really matter today? Is our message relevant today? If the Church were to simply disappear would it make any difference? Has the Church made any difference in our world? And the answer is absolutely yes! Probably more today than in a very long time.
With all that’s going on in our country right now, let’s just think about how Christianity has affected our country. The United States of America was built on Christianity, the Christian values and morals. (If you question that statement, go back and listen to the message on June 28th when I spoke much more on start of our nation.) Your thinking and your understanding of right and wrong has been so impacted by Christianity right here in the U.S., even if you’re not a Christian. We were born into a culture where certain values are accepted, where certain values are taught. And we’ve come to believe, and it’s understandable why, that everybody thinks this way.
But that’s not the case, at all. It’s nearly impossible for us to fully appreciate what Christianity has done for our country. If we were to live in almost any other country, I think we’d quickly see the Christian influence our culture has been given. But because we’re so accustomed to this, we can’t appreciate the real value and the impact the Church of Jesus Christ has made on our culture.
And here’s why we can’t see it—because we think that all of this just comes naturally. We think our view of right and wrong is just natural. Step out of what’s been happening in our nation for the last 6 months for a moment. When we look at other countries and see how terrible people are treated, how destructive they are on their own people and land, we are just amazed. That’s why we are struggling so much to believe it’s happening right here in our own country. But not everyone sees the world the way you see it because you have been so extraordinarily impacted by the Church, by Christianity.
So does the church matter? You better believe it matters. You see, we are not only stewards of the message of eternal life; we are stewards of a message of a better life, of a better quality of life.
Think of it this way, what comes naturally isn’t always so good. I mean, nature in and of itself can be very violent. Nature includes things like earthquakes that destroys a country, a hurricane that devastates islands and the coast, or a tornado that rips through neighborhood after neighborhood. Nature is violent, at times beautiful, but when you move beyond the beauty at a distance, nature is violent.
Even the circle of life, as absolutely amazing as it is, is violent, right? Did you know that lions, as they eat their kill, other animals will gather around and wait their turn for what’s left? They know their place. They all sit quietly and patiently and wait their turn at a safe distance waiting for the lions to finish.
Why? Because that’s nature—nature is the biggest and the baddest are first. All about might. Nature is all about I’m bigger than you so I’m in charge; I get to go first. Never will you see any lions say, “hey guys come on in, we’ll share with you.” Nope. Nature is all about first come, first serve. Now listen, this may be hard for you to hear, but human nature is no different. It’s really not. We think it is because we’re Americans and we’ve been so extraordinarily Christianized that we can’t even appreciate it.
But human nature is—you’re different than me and I’m better than you. I’ve got more money than you, so I’m in charge. I go first. You’ve seen it, and you’ve experienced it. It’s human nature unleashed.
Adultery—everybody’s against adultery, and yet it’s so prevalent. Why? It’s human nature.
Cheating—the only reason you don’t cheat on your income taxes is because you’re afraid of getting caught. If you really thought you could get away with it, you would try. Yet you’re Christian and you come in here singing, “Jesus loves me.” What is that? That’s human nature.
Left to your own strategies, if you thought you could get away with it, that’s where nature goes. Lying, stealing, first come, first serve, an eye for an eye.
What we don’t understand and what we can’t fully appreciate is the Church matters more than we can ever even explain. Because the teachings of the Church are the teachings that say we can overcome and be something better. We can create a superior standard of living and a superior lifestyle to what nature, left to its own, would dictate.
Now, the apostle Paul, the guy who spread Christianity throughout the Mediterranean Rim, he talked about this specifically. So today, I’m going to read from Galatians 5. I know many of you have heard these verses before. And very likely, these are verses we’ve got so used to hearing, we don’t really slow down and realize the meaning. If you’re not a Bible reader, these verses should make you want to read the Bible, because you’re not going to believe what’s in there. It’s incredible.
In these verses, the apostle Paul is going to contrast for us what people look like when left to their own to what people look like when they allow the Holy Spirit to shape their behavior. He’s going to basically say: Church, this is what you’re supposed to look like.
And we’ll begin to see how these little ecclesias, these new churches, began to allow their behaviors to be shaped and changed by this teaching, and it began to impact not only their culture, but ultimately the world. Here’s what Paul says.
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify [fulfill] the desires of the sinful nature.
In other words, he says whether you want to admit it or not, if you go natural, it’s not pretty. If you let your natural appetites and your natural desires rule your behavior, it’s not pretty. In fact, he would say it’s sinful. Then he goes on with what sinful nature is…
The acts of the sinful nature are obvious.
First, interestingly enough, he’s about to give us a list. Second, obvious means this: When Paul shows us the list, none of us are going to go, What? People do that kind of thing? Obvious means you’re going to see the list and go, I know somebody like that. I see him every morning in the mirror. Obvious means even if you haven’t done some of these things yoursef, if you thought you could get by with it, you might. Here’s the list:
The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity [impure thoughts], and debauchery,
Now you can define sexual immorality any way you want. Every single person in this room knows something that is sexually immoral, and while we would chastise or point our finger at somebody else for being involved in that behavior, at the same time you know at some point in your life you have been tempted to or have given into a similar temptation, because immorality is human nature.
Debauchery is a word we don’t use anymore. Debauchery is basically just whatever, whenever, and with whomever. There’s a reason why Paul is listing these things. It was a problem in the places where he was building the ecclesias, and truthfully, they been problems since the beginning of time. He continues the list…
20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord [lack of harmony], jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions [disagreements that lead to discord and], factions [division] 21 and envy; drunkenness, wild parties, and the like.
Idolatry is putting stuff at a greater value than people, like my car or sports collections, or my clean house. Witchcraft is simply trying to harness the supernatural for your own selfish means.
Hatred, discord, jealousy—Some ladies don’t like skinny women. In fact, they even hate them. You would never say that out loud, and you hate the fact you feel that way, but it’s true. Some men don’t like rich men. You see a man with a super awesome car that you’re never going to be able to afford and you just decide you don’t like him. Do you know his name? No. Do you know what he looks like? No. But you don’t like him. Come on, we’re all guilty of this.
Selfish ambition – doing things for our own benefit only
“And the like” is a little Greek phrase that means “etcetera.”
Now when I went through this list, none of these things were like oh wow, was it? Because it’s natural behavior – Let me just say, just because it’s our human nature does not give it a good excuse; Excuses are just that, excuses that get you nowhere – And unfortunately, it’s the way the world naturally goes. And we can all go in that direction. Do you know what we have to do in modern society with the things on this list? We have to establish laws. We have laws literally because our human nature pushes all of us in those directions.
Laws say: Left to your own, you will cheat and you will steal and you’ll take advantage of people, so we have to have laws. Laws are the reason some people are as good as they are. You’re pretty good, but you’re only good because of the law, and if you thought you could get away with (fill in the blank), you would do it.
Can you imagine living in a world where you totally allowed your human nature to control your behavior? If somehow you were rich enough, powerful enough, controlled the laws enough to where you couldn’t get in trouble and there were no consequences?
Did you know in the first century there was a culture like that? It was called Roman culture. And in the centuries that followed, there have been cultures all over this world where the kings and those in power lived that way? And it destroyed many of those nations and those cultures from the inside out?
Can you imagine what your community, your world, your schools would look like if somebody didn’t put the brakes on that part of human nature?
Is the Church important? Does the Church matter? Does the message of the Church matter? Absolutely, because if things were left to just go as human nature wants, it would be a society that none of us would want to live in.
The way of the Spirit
So Paul says, there’s another way to live. It’s called the Fruit of the Spirit. The Spirit he’s talking about is the same Holy Spirt that energized the first century apostles, and the first century followers of the Way, to go out into the street and risk their lives to say that God has done something new in our midst. The Holy Spirit is what inhabits believers when they believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God; he rose from the dead, he died for my sins. The Holy Spirit is also what informs your conscience.
It’s the Spirit that makes you think, Oh, I shouldn’t. It’s the Spirit that says, I don’t think I should go, I don’t think I should look, or click, or type, or cheat. It’s the Spirit that informs our conscience and moves us to live and act in ways that on our own (naturally), we would have never done. The Spirit is what moves you to live a life that—are you ready for this—that even if there weren’t any laws, you would do the right thing.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love
Love is: You first. I was here first, but you can have my seat. Love is: I am going to sacrifice for you, even though there’s nothing coming back my way. You do not find that in nature.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,
Peace. Do you know what people who have an affair don’t have? Peace nor joy. Remember joy is the deep feeling that can only come from God. Happy is the topical we get from temporary desires.
patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
Paul wrote this when Rome ruled the world and kindness was not in their dictionary. It was might makes right. The emperor’s word is law.
Faithfulness is: If I said I will, I will. I said I would stick by you when things were good and things were bad, so I’m going to stick by you. Faithfulness is: It doesn’t matter whether the law makes me do it or not, I’m going to be faithful. And the last two are…
gentleness and self-control.
Self-control runs contrary to everything nature urges us to do. In fact, think about this: What if we had self-control month? (we have months designated for everything else, so why not?) Imagine just for a month, everybody in America is going to exercise perfect self-control. Wouldn’t that be a great month?! We’d be skinnier, healthier, we’d get along, husbands would be unbelievable, wives would be unbelievable, things on the Internet that we wish would go away would go out of business, for at least a month.
Listen, if our culture simply embraced self-control, just this one value, what a difference it would make. Does the message of the Church matter? You bet, because we’re not just stewards of the message of eternal life. We’re stewards of the message of a better life, and it runs contrary to what’s natural, and it runs contrary to what’s normal.
And then, the apostle Paul ends this little, brilliant insight. If you’ve read this Scripture before, my hunch is you read over this and didn’t realize how brilliant this is. This next phrase is amazing in its simplicity and significance. Listen to how Paul finishes his list of what a person or a community looks like when it’s filled with the Spirit.
Against such things there is no law.
If you’re going, “I was ready for something big. What?” Really, this is huge! Listen to this. He says when it comes to the natural deeds of the flesh we have to have laws to control people’s behavior, but when we as an individual, a family, a community, a culture, a nation embraces the deeds and the activities fueled by the Spirit of God, there’s no need for law.
You never hear somebody say, “Hey, that’s enough patience! Sit down. Don’t make me come over there. No more patience!” “You know the problem with your marriage? Too much love; you’ve got to tone down love.” “We need a law against love, a law against self-control.”
Paul says when Christians embrace and allow the Spirit of God to transform his or her behavior, the need for law diminishes to nothing, because suddenly I’m not the center of my world. Suddenly it’s not all about me; it’s all about you. It’s all about God and the others around us. Just like our Savior made it. Do you know how powerful that is?
This is why great marriages, they have no rules. They just love each other. Great families—very few rules. Great companies—very few policies. When people understand and when people allow this to transform their behavior, the need for law diminishes to absolutely the minimum amount of law. Isn’t that awesome?
See the Church matters! We are stewards of the message of a better life. The way our country was built, and who we are, and the things that we understand as right or wrong, they are not natural. We have been taught by previous generations of people who understood and thought like the Church and Jesus Christ.
And so to the first century Roman culture, the Church said we don’t think a culture that treats women as property is good. We don’t think a culture that says the king’s word makes law is good. Or where the system keeps people at a certain place economically so they can never move out.
We think our Christian values are better than a culture that says little girls are of less value than little boys, and if you have a little girl you can set her on the steps of the orphanage or out in the woods or out in the street and you go have yourself another baby to get a little boy. We say no, we think God created little boys and little girls equal—that they all have value in God’s eyes. And you know who was gathering those children, Christians.
We’re not better because God made us better, but our culture, our way of life is better. And yes, we would love the entire world to adopt these values because it brings peace and joy in a way like nothing else can. We have the opportunity to bring a better life now because of what Jesus taught and what the New Testament taught.
It’s the Church that says everybody was made and fashioned in the image of God. They have dignity and value. It’s the church that says, Husbands: Love your wives like Christ loves the Church. (Maybe we should have a “love your wife like Christ loves the Church” month.) Maybe that would be a good build up to the “self-control” month. Imagine the difference in our American culture if for a month Christian and non- Christian decided, I’m going to value and treat my spouse like Jesus values and treats those he loves. Imagine the difference that would make. Who else is going to say it that if the Church doesn’t?
It’s the Church that says forgive. It’s not an eye for an eye; it’s forgive, because you’ve been forgiven. It’s accept, because you’ve been accepted. It’s serve, because you’ve been served. It’s the Church that says value those who society says has little value. It’s the Church that says give, even when nothing is coming back to you. Show mercy, even to those that haven’t shown you mercy. Love your enemies. Who else is going to say this?
It goes deeper than that too. It’s the church that says sex is for married people. It’s the church that says you’re more than a physical body. You have a soul, and God gave this intimacy and this sense of oneness for a very specific purpose.
If that message disappears from culture, it leaves us in a place where we treat people like they’re nothing more than a body. And every single married person knows there’s more to sex than something physical. Every human being knows in his or her soul that’s the case, but if the message of the Church goes away, where does that message go? And it’s the Church that’s been on the forefront to say to women that abortion is not a solution, and the reason it’s not a solution is you and your baby is not just a physical body.
This is why our message matters, because we have the message not only of eternal life, but of a better life right now. But if the church disappears, that message disappears.
It’s a message that has shaped our culture. Now if you want to imagine what a nation looks like where all of this teaching is suddenly not there or has never been there, you just go back a few years and look at what happened in the former Soviet Union, where they tried to have economic incentive. And yet they never could gain traction and essentially went bankrupt, because they decided that the state was God. And now look what’s happened there. They’ve tried to have free enterprise, they’ve tried to have capitalism, but they have no conscience informed by the Scripture, and it continues to falter and to fail. The secret to our culture is Church, Christianity, the teaching and the values of Jesus.
My friends, does what we do matter? Is what we’re doing as a local congregation and the Church in general important? YES! We have no idea how the things we do from day to day, the way we live our lives affects the people around us.
Can we be a part of continuing to shape and reshape our culture? Absolutely. There are crosses all throughout the city of Rome. The nation that tried to put Christianity away forever is now the place where there are more crosses and more places to celebrate Christianity than any other place in the world. Why? Because this message is powerful.
It shapes people, communities, countries and it has the potential to shape the world. And the reason what we do is important is this:
Because we have been given the stewardship of a message of eternal life, and we have been given stewardship of a message of a better life now.
And we dare not turn our backs on our culture and simply talk to ourselves, because if ever there was a time in our lifetime when it’s time for the Church to ramp up our message and be engaged socially in our neighborhoods and to live out these values in this culture, it’s now!
We have been given the stewardship and responsibility of the local Church for our generation. Here’s what we know: This message has the power to shape and change lives, communities, our nation, and the world—because the church is a BIG, BIG deal and