I’m not sure whether or not many of you are going to agree with the statement I want to get us started with or not. Some of you may agree, some of you may not. That’s okay. Some of you may think I’m flat out wrong…or maybe think I’m just looking at it from the wrong angle. I don’t know…but one thing is for certain, I hope it makes us all think. So what is this statement?
“The biggest stumbling block for Christians in their Christian walks, and their service to the Lord is not their sins. It is themselves.”
I suppose I need to clarify somewhat. The big problem, in the big picture is definitely sin. But I think many of us have this idea, that if we could just stop sinning, we could serve God better, become more intimate with Him, and finally be all that He wants us to be. I suppose in theory there may be some truth to those thoughts. So yes, in general, “Sin” is the problem. But, for each of us on a personal level, on an individual basis, in our individual lives, in our individual relationships with Christ, I don’t believe our individual sins are the problem. The problem for each of us is well…us. Some of you may be confused, but I pray that you guys would bear with me, as we go through several passages, and hopefully I will be able to articulate, and accurately “handle the word of truth”, as Paul instructed Timothy to do.
This is by far one of the most amazing texts in the entirety of the Bible to me. I say that a lot…I guess because the Bible in itself is amazing. But in all seriousness think about this. John 1:1-2 tells us that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God…” What is John telling us here? John tells us later in John 1, that the “Word” he was speaking of became flesh and dwelt among us. He tells us that the “Word” he was talking about was Jesus Christ Himself. John is saying in these verses that Jesus Christ was with God from the beginning, and Jesus Christ was Himself God. In the text we just read in Philippians 2, Paul tells us that Jesus was in the form of God. Jesus was equal with God. But Paul tells us that even though Jesus was God, and was in the very presence of God the Father, He made Himself nothing. Jesus let go of His equality with God in order to become a servant. He took on the likeness of man. He humbled Himself, He was obedient to God, even to the point that He was willing to suffer and die.
Think about that for a second. God Himself came down from heaven, took on the form of a man, emptied Himself of the majesty that He had, became a servant, and died for you and me. I don’t think most of us really grasp this. I don’t even know if we can.
There is an interesting verse to me in Luke Chapter 2. It’s very easy to just read past this verse and not think about it, I did that for years. But look with me real quick at Luke 2:52, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.”
I think many of us have this idea of Jesus popping out of the womb, chilling in the manger for a bit, then getting up and starting to recite Scripture. This isn’t how it was. This verse shows us that. I think we all have this idea that things were so easy for Jesus. He was like a superhero, with super powers. But I don’t think that’s an accurate picture. Luke tells us here that Jesus “increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” If He increased, then obviously he didn’t have the wisdom, and even favor with God and man that He needed, from birth. I believe Jesus had to pour over the Scriptures and learn them just like you and I do. I believe Jesus had to learn humility, and obedience just like you and I do. How exactly that all worked out…I don’t know. You and I are sinners, we sin, the Bible tells us that Jesus did not. Generally we fail at humility and obedience and God has to discipline and humble us in some way to get our attention. That wasn’t the case with Jesus, but still, like us, God used the circumstances, trials, and even disappointments in Jesus’ life to prepare Him and grow Him into His ministry, and what He had been called to do.
So how does this apply to us? Well, if Jesus, God in the flesh, humbled Himself, took on the form of a servant, how much more should we? If Jesus had to pour over the Scriptures, learn about God, and grow in His relationship with Him, how much should we have to? For Jesus to be obedient to God, and glorify God, the first thing He had to do is empty Himself, of Himself. If that is the case for Him…how much more should that be the case with us?
Lets look at Philippians 1:27-30
I think many of us think that, “well, we believe in Jesus, so we’re good.” But that isn’t enough. James tells us in James 2:19 that even the demons believe in Jesus, so just an academic belief, or a knowledge of God and of Jesus isn’t enough. It’s about a real faith, that changes your life, and causes you to submit to Christ. It is about striving for the Gospel of Christ. Paul tells us that this is a sign of our salvation, and the destruction of those who would seek to hinder the Gospel. I wonder how many of us today are striving for the Gospel? If you were to look up the word “Striving” in the dictionary, the word means to “try hard” or to “struggle”. Are we trying hard and struggling for the sake of the Gospel? Paul tells the Philippian Church that they will not be frightened of their opponents. How many of us are fearful of the world? Maybe not fearful in the sense that we fear death, but how many of us are fearful of losing ourselves, or giving up things in our life that we love? How many of us are fearful of what the world is going to think of us? But Paul tells us that we should also suffer for the sake of Christ. How many of us suffer for Christ? How much did Paul suffer for Christ and “striving for the Gospel”? Paul was ridiculed, persecuted, shunned, called crazy, imprisoned, lost friends, beaten, and many people believe He was beheaded. Paul willingly endured all of these things for Christ. As Paul said in Philippians 1:20-21, “…Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Now, I’m not saying we all need to go on foreign mission trips, or be homeless, and travel from town to town preaching the Gospel, or even be beaten and die a martyr. But we should be willing to do without, or make sacrifices for the sake of Jesus, for the sake of the Gospel.
What do I mean by sacrifices and doing without? Well that is a very broad question, with a broad answer. We touched on it a bit this past week in small group, so let me tell you what I believe it means.
Lets look at Philippians 3:7-11
I believe where Paul was at in His Christian walk, is the place we must get in ours. Paul said that he had suffered the loss of all things, and counted them as rubbish. As Will so elegantly explained in Small group, the word translated as rubbish here, would literally be our word for crap.
How many of us have gotten to the point in our lives where we count everything in our lives, except for Jesus, as crap…or rubbish if you want to be a little more “proper”. Think about Paul for a second here. Paul was “the man” in Jewish circles. Some say he was even on the fast track to becoming High Priest. Paul was well respected, and more than likely was financially well off. Some say he might have even had a wife, though that is only speculation, since the Bible doesn’t speak of that. Yet, when Paul became a Christian. He lost all of that. He was willing to lay all of that aside, and here he calls all of that stuff, all of the things he had gained in the world, as crap. Why? It was because he was willing to lay aside all of that “worldly gain” so that he could gain Christ. All Paul wanted was Jesus.
Can any of us sit here today and say that all we want is Jesus? Have any of us gotten to that point yet? We need to plead with God to transform us, and change our hearts so that that will be our mindset. How many times in our lives do we desire stuff more that Jesus? How many times do we desire the approval of our peers, more than we desire Jesus? How many times do we desire television more than Jesus? How many times do we desire time with our spouses, or children, more than we desire Jesus? How many times do we desire food, more than we desire Jesus? How many times do we desire sin, more than we desire Jesus?
Back to the statement I made earlier. “The biggest stumbling block for Christians in their Christian walks, and their service to the Lord is not their sins. It is themselves.” Look closer at what Paul says in 3:9, “…not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”
I’m not here today trying to get any of us to start following certain rules, or to start praying more, or to stop certain sins in our lives. I’m trying to wake us up to the truth that everything apart from Jesus doesn’t matter. Jesus is all that matters! Once we come to that realization, everything else will fall into place. When we desire Jesus more, we will seek Him more, we will pray more, we will read our bibles more, we will stop doing the things that separate us. But it starts first, with our desire for Jesus, above all else. We must get to that point. So don’t just try to stop sinning, that doesn’t work. Love Jesus. That is what works.
I believe when we say that sin is our biggest stumbling block, we are placing blame on something other than ourselves. We have an attitude that “well, we can’t stop sinning, so we’ll just do the best we can.” That is an attitude of defeat, and one that will not draw you closer to Jesus. You don’t need to defeat sin. Jesus has already done that. You need to have Jesus in your life, you need to love Jesus, yes, more than you love sin, but more importantly more than you love yourself. It isn’t about stopping to sin. If you lived the most pious life in the history of mankind, but didn’t love Jesus, it would do you no good. You’d still end up in hell. Actions without a pure heart mean nothing. The only way we can have that purity of heart is if we are focused on Christ, above all else.
This is a message that applies to each one of us here today on an individual level, and I pray, all of us will go home today and take it to heart, and truly ask God to transform us. I also believe this is a message that applies to this church(Crossmark Church). If this church is going to succeed, we must be a church that desires only Jesus. No fancy programs, no big rock band, but Jesus. If we are focusing on Jesus, then I don’t believe we can fail. For our church to succeed as a church, it is going to take all of us, as members of this body, to individually be willing to put away all of the nonsense in our lives that are drawing us away from Christ, and seek Christ above all else. We must as a church get to this point that Paul speaks about, where everything but Jesus is crap.
Will said in small group that this is his desire for our church. To be a church that is about Jesus, and nothing else. I echo that with my whole heart. That has to start with each of us individually. If that doesn’t happen I don’t believe God is going to bless this, and we might as well pack up and go home for good. We might as well find another church with a cool band, and rock out to some Casting Crowns or Chris Tomlin songs. But I want us to be a church that loves Jesus. It’s just that simple. We must, WE MUST, be willing to step out of our comfort zones, and lose ourselves, in order that we will glorify God. It may be sacrificing time with our spouses, it may be our kids going to bed a little late, it may be not having as much family time as we’d like, it may be driving 30-45 minutes out of our way, it may be getting to church early to set up, and staying late to encourage others, it may be missing a fishing trip. But isn’t Jesus worth it? As Paul said, we must be willing to suffer for the sake of Christ. We must be willing to strive side by side with our brothers and sisters here, for the sake of the Gospel.
There is a great song on Christian radio these days, that I quote all the time. I believe we all should make one of the lyrics from the song our prayer. “Rid me of myself…Lead me to the cross”
Father rid me of myself, and lead me to the cross. May we all decrease, in order that Christ may increase…Amen…