This morning is the fifth in a 6-part sermon series called “Becoming a Contagious Christian.” In this series, Pastor Drew will be talking about what it means to be “salt” and “light.” (see Matthew 5). God desires each of us to be intentional in our Christian witness, both in deed and word. This series in intended to answer both why? and how? as it pertains to being prepared to share our “story.” The Scripture verse for the series is 1 Peter 3:15 – “Whenever anyone asks you to speak of your hope, be ready to defend it” (CEB). The theme for today’s message is the urgency behind the call to share our faith with those who don’t know Jesus Christ.
Sermon #1: “What Matters to God Matters to Us”
Sermon #2: “‘The reason for my hope?’ you ask”
Sermon #3: “Lowering Your Immunity, Part 1”
Sermon #4: “Lowering Your Immunity, Part 2”
Sermon #6: “This We Believe!” (Palm Sunday)
Scripture: John 8:12-30
On the morning of my heart attack (back in 2014), I can tell you exactly when I hit us that it was more than just a little bit of chest pain, something quite serious and life-threatening. It was when they informed us that the med flight was already on its way and would be flying me out within minutes. Really? was my first reaction. How can this be? I’m too young to have a heart attack.
We’ve all had the experience of hearing something and wondering Is this really true? News of the sudden death of a loved one or friend often results in a moment or two of confusion and wondering if we heard it correctly. I would imagine the immediate aftermath losing one’s home to a fire or tornado can have the same effect. Even though you’re starring at an empty lot where your home used to be, it’s nearly impossible to believe it’s actually gone. It’s that surreal experience of I see it but I can’t believe it. I hear what you’re saying, but I can’t comprehend what you’re telling me.
Do you suppose this is the experience of those who are not Christian but are seeking to understand claims of the Gospel?
For those of you who came to Christ as an adult, did you have the experience of finding it hard to believe that God loves you no matter what, and that your mess-ups and moral failures can be forgiven and forgotten forever? When you heard about God’s ‘amazing grace’ and fathomless love and acceptance of you, what was that like? Did you hear about it but say to yourself at first, “Really? How can that be?” And when you finally did say yes to Jesus, what was that like? Did you experience a weight being lifted from you? Or an emotional freedom from a kind of oppression that you didn’t even know you were under?
Because I grew up in the faith, I don’t one of those before-Jesus-and-after-Jesus life experiences. But I’ve heard people talk about their life before coming to faith in Christ, and what it was like after. I’ve heard people say that for a while it was a difficult choice to make because, in their own words, it seemed too good to be true. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, goes the old saying; somewhere along the way you’re going to pay for it. How can forgiveness and eternal life be a free gift? Really?
Let me ask all of you a question: Why Jesus? Why did you choose to follow Jesus? What was it about the Christian faith that made you go with it despite all of the various expressions of religion and faith available to us?
One common answer these days is “Because it’s right for me.” Jesus is right for me. The Christian path is the right path for me. That’s a very diplomatic and tactful answer. It’s a popular answer today because the culture in which we live places a very high value on individual choice. In addition, popular culture values the notion that all things are equal, including religious beliefs and expressions. We’ve all cut our eye-teeth on these cultural values, and so it only seems natural to us to live-and-let-live. Because of this, the idea of absolute truth has been slowly replaced by relative truth. Relative truth is just what it says – truth that’s relative. You have your truth and I have my truth. Something that’s true for me may not be true for you. Likewise, something that’s true for you may or may not be true for me. Jesus is right for me, and he may or may not be right for you is the line of thinking. And by and large, we’re OK with this because it reflects the cultural norms of 21st century North America.
I think this is the main reason why most mainline Christians find evangelism so off-putting (at worst), and so unnecessary (at best). To be sure, I speak from personal experience when I say this, because for the majority of my life I can’t say I’ve ever felt a burden to see other people come to faith in Christ. I know other people feel strongly about this, but I’ve often found their reasons to be extreme and uncompelling.
A lot of people who are highly motivated to share their faith do so out of the belief that anyone who doesn’t come to faith in Christ in this life will spend eternity in hell. And because they don’t want that to happen, they do their best to convince people to come to faith Jesus Christ. You’ve probably met some of these folks. They’re likely to ask you, “If you died tonight, do you know for a fact that you’d go to heaven?” Getting to heaven and avoiding hell is the goal. And speaking for myself, I’ve never found that to be a very compelling reason to come to faith in Christ.
And yet Jesus himself pretty much makes the very same argument. And this rubs a lot of us the wrong way because it goes against the cultural values we were brought up to hold dear. The notion that Jesus is the only way to eternal life strikes us as arrogant and pushy. And more so, the idea that apart from him we’ll be eternally separated from God causes us great anxiety. And so we deny it. But then we have to contend with John 8:24, which leaves us asking, Really? Is this really the ultimate end for people who don’t come to faith in Jesus?
Let me read it for us again. Jesus said, “Unless you believe that I am who I say I am, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24). That’s not Paul talking. Or Peter. Or John. That’s not a theological interpretation of something Jesus said. It’s a direct quote of Jesus:Unless you believe that I am I who I say I am, you will die in your sins.
What, exactly, does it mean to die in one’s sins? Basically, it means that a person will, upon his/her physical death, retain all the sin that they’ve committed throughout their lifetime, along with the consequences due that person for those sins.
What are the consequences of our sins? Paul put it in a way that we can easily understand by comparing what we receive from our employer for doing our work to what we receive from breaking God’s laws. The wages of our earthly work is money. In Romans 6:23 Paul tells us that the wages of sin – or breaking God’s holy laws – is death. Death is the consequence of sin.
And what is death? It’s a separation of sorts. We believe human beings are spiritual beings, and that our spirits are the part of us which will live eternally. When we’re alive, our spirits and our bodies are intertwined, so to speak; our physical and spiritual selves are one. But physical death separates the spirit from the body. This idea is widely accepted by Christians non-Christians alike. When I take my final breath, my spirit leaves my body.
In this same sens, spiritual death separates the spirit from its Creator — God. In the fullest sense of the word, Death is the utter and absolute separation from God — a state of absolute nothingness which, in a word, is hell.
The Biblical witness is that Jesus bore in himself the guilt of all our sins, and in his death paid the penalty for sin, and endured complete spiritual separation from God the Father. There’s a line in the Apostles’ creed which has been removed from most modern versions, but which affirms this idea. In the section about Jesus where it says, “…was crucified, dead, and buried,” the traditional creed includes one more statement of belief: “He descended into hell.” For some reason, however, we moderns have shied away from making that telling statement, maybe because we have a difficult time with the whole notion of hell, of being eternally separated from our Creator. And yet, Jesus more than implied its veracity when he said, “Unless you believe that I am I who I say I am, you will die in your sins.”
Why do I bring this up? Because if we’re going to take Jesus at his word (as John recorded it), then maybe the eternal well-being of persons we know and don’t know should matter to us. If what Jesus said is true, then maybe we could be motivated to share our faith for the purpose of helping people avoid the very thing Jesus warned us about. Again, please understand that I’m wrestling with this myself. On a personal level, I’m having to come to grips with the fact that for my entire life I’ve lacked a real motivation to make new disciples of Jesus Christ, mostly because I’ve never really taken what Jesus said in John 8:24 seriously.
And that bothers me. It bothers me that I’ve been OK with the idea of people dying in their sins. It bothers me that throughout my ministry I’ve been more motivated to feed those who’ve already been fed than I have been to feed those who Jesus says are dying of [spiritual] starvation. And you know what? If you’re in the same boat as me, I want it to bother you, too.
So here’s what I’m going to pray for: that God would begin to increase my motivation to share my faith, and for these two reasons. First, because I do believe that Jesus is the answer to the things that ail us spiritually, and often emotionally, and I want people to experience true wholeness in this life.
And second, because I recognize and see in every human being the image of God—their God-infused value and worth—which was reason enough for Jesus Christ to suffer the indescribable pain of being completely separated from God on their behalf.
If it motivated Jesus to go to that extreme for them, then I’d like to think that it could motivate us to learn to be comfortable sharing our faith with them, so that they might come to the place where they understand the claims of the Gospel, and choose Jesus, just like we had the opportunity to do…in this life…for the sake of eternal life.