There are times in our lives when it becomes pretty apparent that God is interested in doing a new thing within us. It can coincide with the changing of the year, the changing of the seasons, the changing of life circumstances, or the changing of a physical location. One thing is for sure, God is always interested in moving each of us into a deeper and more meaningful relationship with Him. And from time to time, when we find ourselves in those dull, dried moments of life where we feel like we are just going through the motions or even maybe stuck, it may be time for a renewal. And not just any renewal, but a renewal with God.
Whether you have been a Christian your whole life, just became a Christian or maybe you haven’t given God the time of day yet, wherever you are on your faith journey (because we are all on one) often God is up to something new.
Now I know new can be scary and sometimes hard to get it going. It can even be confusing. But I’m not going to just throw things at you and hope they stick. I’m in this boat with you. I’m ready to be renewed myself. And if we can recognize these times when God wants to renew us (and recognize that we need it), we can lean in, trust, and allow Him to do some amazing things.
In my experience, God’s renewal is as much for our physical being as it is for our inner being. Now maybe you are in this boat with me too: I would like to get in shape physically. Sure, I’m like most people and would like to lose a little weight, but more so I would like to just get more active. I sit way too much in my job whether at my desk planning and writing, or visiting people, or in bible studies. I sit so much that I’m tired, and I hurt. And I’m tired of being tired. I need to move.
And this is a great time of year since we are in a new year to make a new commitment to do something new. I’m not all about resolutions, because let’s be real, only 8% of people stick with them, but after the year we just had, just maybe we’ll be more inclined to put more effort into change and new habits like: working out, eating better, keeping ourselves healthy.
But overall, we are all more than just physical beings. There is a depth to us that is our soul and spirit, and often times God desires for our spirit to experience renewal as well. Life can be hard and the trials that we face can cause our spirits to become weary. Relational conflict can cause deep sorrow. Financial woes can be stressful. Disappointments can be so discouraging. All of these and more have a way of affecting our spiritual state.
So for the next four weeks we’re going to talk about how we can open ourselves up to the work of God and renew our spirits, renew our purpose, renew our love for God, and even the community we surround ourselves with.
It’s all because we have a God who is so intimately involved in our lives that we never have to resign ourselves to a hopeless and broken life. Instead, we can experience a beautiful renewal with Him. So today, we are talking about renewing our spirit. However, I will tell you, there is one thing above everything else that causes us to need renewal within our spirit. And that’s something we bring onto ourselves. Sin.
The Bible talks about sin as a missing of the mark. It’s an archery term that suggests that when we sin, we miss the intentions that God has for us. And sin comes in many forms.
It might be overwhelming greed…
It might be pride….
Sin is when we lie…
Sin is when we disobey or even reject God…
The Bible tells us that each of us were born with a sinful nature that has been handed down from the fall in Genesis. Ever since Adam and Eve disregarded God and decided to live for themselves, we have been following suit. When sin is in our lives, our spirit becomes dark and disconnected from God. Sin is a rejection of God and without renewal, without the saving grace of Jesus, we are destined to spend eternity apart from Him.
So to be connected with God, we have to be renewed…and when we invite Jesus into our lives to forgive us and to give us strength to live differently, our spirit, our soul, is renewed and becomes fresh and clean.
POINT 1: A RENEWED SPIRIT IS A CLEAN SPIRIT
A couple of weeks ago, I shared briefly with you a part of King David’s Psalm 51. It’s a Psalm he wrote after he committed adultery with Bathsheba and arranged for her husband to be killed. His spirit had become dark. And as sin always does, it had harmed his relationship with God and caused not only a distance between the two, but even more so a disconnect. He knows it, regrets it, and decides to cry out to God for renewal.
Psalm 51:2-4, 7-12
2 Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin. 3 For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night. 4 Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight. You will be proved right in what you say, and your judgment against me is just.
7 Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. 8 Oh, give me back my joy again; you have broken me—now let me rejoice. 9 Don’t keep looking at my sins. Remove the stain of my guilt. 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me. 11 Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Maybe you can relate to the words of David. It is a desperate cry for forgiveness. It is deep repentance. David acknowledges that the state of our spirit has an effect on our connection with our Creator. He is heartbroken over his actions. The thing David prays for is exactly what we are addressing in this series. He asks for renewal. A renewed spirit with God.
This psalm and others are the very reason that David is referred to in the scriptures as a man after God’s own heart. It was not because David was flawless. It was certainly not because David was perfect. It was because David was willing be honest and to confront his sin and open himself and be vulnerable to ask God for forgiveness and restoration.
A person who has a renewed spirit is a person who longs to be right with God and is willing to repent of sin in order to be fresh and have a clean heart.
There are stories all over the scriptures of individuals who, through repentance, experienced a renewed spirit within them. Another story is of a man named Zacchaeus.
Jesus entered Jericho and made his way through the town. 2 There was a man there named Zacchaeus. He was the chief tax collector in the region, and he had become very rich. 3 He tried to get a look at Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road, for Jesus was going to pass that way.
Zacchaeus is described in some pretty significant ways here. First, we know that he is a chief tax collector. Chief, meaning he’s over some other people, he’s been doing this for a long time, worked his way up the ladder. And tax collectors were among the most unpopular people in Israel. They were Jews who chose to work for Rome, the enemy, the ones pressing down on them, and therefore were considered traitors. This means he was at least viewed, if not confirmed, to be a supporter of Rome and also a thief because it was common knowledge that tax collectors would overcharge individuals to take some off the top and become rich themselves.
Which we also know that Zacchaeus was very rich. This was likely true because of the practice of taking advantage of his fellow Jews. Zacchaeus may have been fully aware of his bad reputation and his corrupt heart. But like us, many times we’re well aware of our broken spirit, but we ignore it and we just keep living, going through the motions.
Maybe this is the reason he wants to see Jesus so badly as He’s about to walk by. Which leads us to the next thing we know about Zacchaeus, he’s short. So short he has to climb a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus as He comes by.
POINT 2: OUR DESIRE FOR JESUS IS SEEN IN OUR ACTIONS
In the first four verses of this passage, we see a key component in experiencing a renewed spirit. Zacchaeus wants to see Jesus. It seems simple, but many individuals never get here. Far too many of us never develop the desire to see Jesus in our lives. We certainly would not do the hard work that Zacchaeus goes through to climb a tree just to get a better vantage point of the Savior, but people who know their spirit is weary are desperate to get even just a glimpse of Jesus.
Do you want Jesus to change your life? How much do you want Jesus to change your life? Would you be willing to do anything in order to have him renew your spirit? Not climbing a tree, like in the story, but drawing near to God through prayer, through good counsel or through honesty with Him. Let’s read on.
5 When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. “Zacchaeus!” he said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.”
6 Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy. 7 But the people were displeased. “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,” they grumbled.
8 Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!”
9 Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”
So here’s a surprising twist in the story. Jesus looks up at Zacchaeus, acknowledges him and tells him to quickly come down because Jesus wants to go to Zacchaeus’ house and spend time with him. Can you imagine this man’s excitement? Maybe his fear? This is the man who he was so desperate to just get a glimpse of, and He noticed him! And He wants to go to his house. I’m sure that there was a bucket of emotions as the Messiah that Zacchaeus had been hearing about wants to come to his house.
Zacchaeus wastes no time. He quickly jumps out of that tree and hurries Jesus off to his house. Jesus didn’t even get a chance to talk to anyone else.
Suddenly a man who was too short, a tax collector, a thief, and hated by many, was going to be hosting Jesus Christ. This was God’s way of saying, “no one is too far gone that I will not come to rescue them”.
Everyone who was standing there begins to mumble about how Jesus was going to spend time with a sinful tax collector. How could he possibly do something like this? They had utterly missed the whole point that this is exactly what God does: He goes after those who are far from Him, who are weary in spirit.
And just maybe it is encouraging to know today that you are not too far gone. Jesus can and will extend His love and grace to even you.
Now Zacchaeus’ response to Jesus wanting to come to his house tells you everything you need to know about how eager he is to experience renewal. He not only hurried Jesus off to his house, but he repents. He does what David did in Psalm 51. He recognized his sin, he was honest and told Jesus all about it (even though He already knew). And even further, he tried hard to make it all right. He committed to not only pay back what he took, he committed to pay more for the damages he had done, and to make a difference in others lives.
So how do we respond? If our sin has harmed others, we need to demonstrate our desire for Jesus by making it right. If our sin harms our relationship with God, we need to demonstrate our desire for Jesus by making a change.
Wabush is a town in a remote portion of Labrador, Canada and was completely isolated for some time. But recently a road was cut through the wilderness to reach it. Wabush now has one road leading into it, and thus, only one road leading out. If someone would travel the unpaved road for six to eight hours to get into Wabush, there is only way he or she could leave – by turning around.
Each of us is born a sinner. And as in Wabush, there is only one way out – a road built by God Himself. But in order to take that road, one must first turn around. That complete about face is what the Bible calls repentance, and without it, there’s no way out of town.
POINT 3: RENEWAL REQUIRES REPENTANCE
The word repent means to make a one-hundred-and-eighty-degree turn. It means to no longer continue on the path of life we have chosen. It means to turn around.
So, Zacchaeus promises to give half of his possessions to the poor. He promises to pay back four times as much from anyone he stole from. For this man, this is what repentance looks like. For you and me, it may look like something different. But when we encounter Jesus in a life changing way and when we ask God to forgive us, it means our life will never be the same. Either way, repentance should be followed by evidence.
You see, Zacchaeus experiences salvation based on his response to Jesus’ invitation to come and spend time with him. Jesus initiates it, but Zacchaeus’ renewal takes place because of his obedient and humble response.
At the very end of this passage, Jesus gives us a glimpse into His mission here on earth. He says that he has come to seek and save the lost. He came to pursue Zacchaeus, a lost tax collector. And He has come to pursue you as well. It reminds me of the great hymn, Amazing Grace.
How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost
But now I’m found
Was blind, but now I see
This beloved hymn was written by John Newton, a man who was a former enslaver. In 1748, Newton was on board a slaving ship called the Greyhound. The ship was in bad shape. During a violent storm, it began to fall apart and take on water. A crew member was even swept overboard.
All night long, while Newton tried to keep the ship from going under, he thought about the state of his life. He knew he had run from God, hurt other people, and made a wreck out of his own situation. Newton realized he might die in this storm. Would God still be forgiving, even after Newton had rejected Him?
But Newton recalled what his mother had taught him from the Bible: God loves to show mercy even to people who feel they are beyond redemption. Newton asked for God’s help for the first time in years. And he survived the storm.
It didn’t happen overnight, but Newton’s life began to be transformed. He learned to pray. He found friends who shared his faith and could help him understand how it applied to his life. Eventually he gave up his role in the slave trade and stopped sailing for a living.
Newton was fully aware of the wretch that he was. He knew where he had come from. He knew that he had been lost. He needed to be renewed. He found the grace of God and that grace brought renewal to his spirit and he penned one of the most famous hymns of all time.
POINT 4: BE TRANSFORMED BY GRACE
I wonder what keeps us from responding to the invitation of Jesus to meet with us and our willingness to repent? Maybe we believe we don’t deserve grace. Maybe we think we are too far gone. That way of thinking is limited. See, if it’s up to you, no you can’t do it. It is only by the power and the grace of God that we can be forgiven. You cannot earn it. It is a free gift that is extended to each and every one of us. All we do is receive it, embrace it and be transformed by it.
We need to pinpoint our sin.
We need to trust God’s grace for us.
We need to embrace God’s grace for us.
Then we need to extend God’s grace to others.
You do not need to continue to feel defeated. If you would like to experience a renewed spirit within you today, you can. All it requires is a simple prayer.
But before we do that, I invited you to write the sins you want to repent from on the piece of dissolvable paper you received in your bulletin. You’re going to bring it forward and place it in the water and you are going to get to watch it disappear.
If you are watching this online, I invite you to do this too. Get a piece of paper, write the sins that you want to repent from. Then tear is up as small as you can and throw it away.
God, forgive me for my sin. I know it hurts your heart and disconnects me from you. Fill me with you spirit and empower me to live a life that is in line with your will. Thank you for sending Jesus Christ to seek and save the lost. I once was lost but now I am found. Amen.