Vision: Mission – What Are We Supposed To Be Doing?

This Sunday morning we will focus on our Mission as Christians and as a local Church. When we speak about our mission we are asking the question: “What are we supposed to be doing?” Is our mission to serve the community? Deliver meals? Pick up trash? Provide clothing? Is our mission to meet once a week? Have Church Services? Sunday School? Small Groups? Is our mission to grow numerically and financially? Is our mission to have Church Committee meetings? What is our mission? What are we supposed to be doing? I like what the Westminster Larger Catechism says about this. It says that the chief end of man is to love God and enjoy Him forever. What are we supposed to be doing? We love God and enjoy him forever.

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Love God

When you love God, you give Him the praise and honor He deserves and you live a life that is well-pleasing to Him.

You love God by giving Him the praise and honor He deserves. Romans 11:36 says, “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.” We are made to worship our Creator. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says God has put eternity in our hearts and our heart is lost until it finds its rest in God. We are commanded to worship God. 1 Chronicles 16:28-29 says, “Give to the Lord, O kindreds of the peoples, give to the Lord glory and strength. Give to the Lord the glory due His name.” We exist to bring glory to God.

You love God by living a life that is well-pleasing to Him. 1 Corinthians 6:20 says, “For you were bought at a price; therefore, glorify God in your body.” 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Colossians 3:17 says, “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Ephesians 4:1 says, “I beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called.” Philippians 1:27 says, “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” Who is the faithful servant? The one who does the will of His master.

Enjoy Him Forever

When you enjoy God, you want to be with Him and you want to tell others about Him.

When you enjoy God, you want to be with Him. God did not save you just to give you something good to do with your life. God did not save you just to give you a nice place to go when you die. God adopts you into His family and delights in you. God loves you and God saved you because He wants you reconciled to Him. We cannot overlook the fact that we have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We know Him and He knows us. Psalm 73:25 says, “Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides you.” John Piper said, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” Psalm 37:4 tells us: “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.” As we delight in the Lord, the desires of our heart conform to what pleases Him and He delights in giving us what we desire.

When you enjoy God, you want to tell others about Him. We talk about those in whom we have great delight. If you don’t believe me, ask any grandmother to tell you about her grandkids. The Great Commission is built upon the desire of Christians to tell other people about Christ Jesus. Matthew 28:18-20 says: 

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The Great Commission is fueled by great compassion for others and the great love of God for us and for the world. 

Next Steps

Those who love God and enjoy Him forever are men and women of faith. Are you a faithful person? Paul said to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:2, “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” As we think about our mission, we need to prayerfully consider first this question: Am I faithful? Are you a faithful person? Walter Henrichsen gives a helpful summary of the qualifications of a faithful person:

  1. A faithful person has adopted as his objective in life that same objective God sets forth in the Scriptures. Seek first the kingdom of God.
  2. A faithful person is willing to pay any price to have the will of God fulfilled in his life. Resists being ensnared by the world.
  3. A faithful person has a love for the Word of God.
  4. A faithful person has a servant’s heart.
  5. A faithful person puts no conscience in the flesh.
  6. A faithful person does not have an independent spirit.
  7. A faithful person has a love for people.
  8. A faithful person does not allow himself to become trapped in bitterness.
  9. A faithful person has learned to discipline his life.

John MacArthur recently said of Christians: “We don’t live in fear and we don’t live for safety. We live to be faithful.”

Vision: Identity – Who Are We?

We learned last week that many people around us are hurting. They are looking for answers or at least something to take away the pain. The most common “answers” people turn to are: money, possessions, fame, drugs, alcohol, love, and sex. None of these satisfy because none of them can address the root cause of the brokenness: sin. It was our sin that caused us to be estranged from God and only Jesus can heal us because only Jesus can forgive our sin and restore us back to God. 

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With so many people around us who are hurting, who is going to help? The Lord Jesus Christ said to His disciples: “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18). What is the Church? The Church is “the people of God who have been saved through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ and have been incorporated into His body through baptism with the Holy Spirit.” The Church is important to Jesus. He died for the Church (Acts 20:28). The Church is Jesus’ Plan (Matt 16:18), Jesus’ Bride (Eph 5:25–27), Jesus’ Body (1 Cor 12:27), God’s Flock (1 Pet 5:2), God’s Building and Field (1 Cor 3:9), and “God’s household…the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15).

The Church is Not a Social or Service Club

The Church is not a Social Club. There is nothing inherently wrong with Social Clubs (provided they do not promote sin), but the Church is not a Social Club. Thom Rainer summarized in his book I Am A Church Member the problems with viewing Church membership similarly to membership in a Social Club: “membership is about receiving instead of giving, being served instead of serving, rights instead of responsibilities, and entitlements instead of sacrifices.” The local church is not about us, it’s about Him!

The Church is not a Service Club. There are many Service Clubs that meet the needs of others and promote good in the world. While charitable works are to be commended, the Church’s primary mission is not to do good in the world. The Church certainly wants to do good in the world but that’s not our primary mission. The local church is not an organization that is specifically focused on helping people in need.

We Are the Church

We are different. The Church is by definition distinct from the world. The Church consists of those who have been saved, born again, redeemed, and set apart by God for Himself. The Church consists of Christians who have had their desires, preferences, and affections changed by God. Peter wrote that Christians are to live “as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct” (1 Pet 1:14-15). We are in the world, but we are not of the world. Vance Havner said it this way: “It is one thing for a boat to be in the water, it’s an entirely different matter for the water to be in the boat.” The Church is supposed to be noticeable because it is different from anything else around.

We are healed. One of the primary reasons we are different from the world is because our brokenness has been healed. How are we healed? First, our sins are completely forgiven. In the New Covenant, Jesus is the sacrifice that satisfies the wrath of God. Our sins are remembered no more (Heb 10:17). Second, our identity is fixed. We accept that our true identity is a sinner with a wicked heart (Jeremiah 17:9). Jesus reconciles us to God and we are adopted (Rom 8:15) into God’s family. Third, all our needs are met. Jesus made it clear that God will provide for us and we have no reason to worry (Matt 6:19-34). Fourth, our destination is secured. We have eternal life with the Triune God. When we die we are immediately in the presence of our Lord. 

We are healing. One of the first objections that arises after saying that a Christian’s brokenness has been healed by Jesus is: “Why do I still struggle so much?” If our brokenness has been healed, why do we still feel broken? This is because God works to justify and sanctify us. We are justified by grace through faith. Justification is the one-time event where God declares us not guilty of our sin. After we are justified we are in the process of sanctification. Sanctification is described by Stuart Scott as “A lifelong cycle of sin, repentance, renewal, and growth toward Christlikeness that will only be complete when we meet our Lord (Rom.6-8). This is accomplished through the active discipline of the believer himself, who trusts that the Holy Spirit is energizing his efforts (Phil. 2:12-13).”

Next Steps

God is always calling His followers to the next steps of obedience. This week continue to ask God to provide opportunities to be a neighbor to someone around you. Also, take time to prayerfully meditate on your identity in Christ. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What does God think about me?
  • How does God want me to think, speak, and act?
  • What does God say I should do when I am worried and anxious?
  • What does God say I should do when I am fearful?
  • What does God say I should do with my pride?
  • What should I do when someone offends me and/or sins against me?
  • What does God want me to do with the remaining years of my life?
  • Is there anything that I am refusing to do that God wants me to do? 

Vision: Needs – What’s Going On?

Introduction

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In Hebrews 12:1-2, we were instructed to “lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus…” (Heb 12:1-2). This command applies to every Christian and it also applies to Churches. Churches can become hindered by unnecessary weight and ensnared by sin. Therefore it is necessary for a local Church to have a time of prayerful evaluation and reflection. First Baptist Scott City is at such a time. We are at a “hinge moment” in the life of our Church. According to Dr. Michael Lindsay, president of Gordon College, “hinge moments [are] opportunities to open (or close) doors to various pathways of our lives.” We are at a hinge moment in the life of our Church in which we must prayerfully discern our mission, vision, and strategy with a hope that we may most faithfully and effectively make disciples and glorify God. As a Church, we need to prayerfully discern if we have any weights and any sin that is hindering our endurance in the race set before us by Jesus. We will spend time over the next few months asking and answering relevant questions such as:

  • Needs: What’s Going On?
  • Identity: Who Are We?
  • Mission: What Are We Supposed To Be Doing?
  • Vision: Where Are We Going?
  • Strategy: How Do We Get There?
  • Goals: Are We Making A Difference?
  • Endurance: Are We Willing to Move Forward?

Needs: What’s Going On?

In the United States, we are seeing a fundamental shift in religious identification. This shift is the result of the various generations in our nation and how they identify (or don’t identify) in terms of religion. According to Pew Research from a few years ago:

  • Baby Boomer (born 1946-1964) – 28% Evangelical and 9% Atheist or Agnostic.
  • Generation X (born 1965-1980) – 25% Evangelical and 13%  Atheist or Agnostic.
  • Millennials (born 1981-1995) – 22% Evangelical and 15% Atheist or Agnostic.
  • Generation Z (Born after 1996) – 19% Evangelical and 21% Atheist or Agnostic. 

Our Community Has Physical Needs

Our nation has many great things happening, but we also need to address certain issues. More than 70,000 Americans died from drug-involved overdose in 2019, including illicit drugs and prescription opioids. Deaths from Fentynal (synthetic opioid) rose from 9,580 in 2015 to 57,550 in 2020. That is a 500% increase! It’s not just drugs, it is alcohol, poverty, and dysfunctional families. It is heartbreaking to hear a young child speak of one parent in jail and another in prison. Our community needs food for those who are hungry. We need to provide supplies to those who are in need. We are involved with Careportal and here are a few of the most recent requests that have come through Careportal for our area: bunk beds, couch, utility bill assistance, outlet wall plates, fire extinguisher, smoke detectors, and car repair. Our community has physical needs that we can meet.

Our Community Has Spiritual Needs

Our community has physical needs but we cannot forget that it has spiritual needs. Our community needs Jesus. Our neighbors need to know that Jesus is the Son of God. They need to hear the Gospel: God designed a good world but our rebellion brought sin and brokenness. Jesus lived a sinless life and offered Himself as a perfect sacrifice in order to take away our sin and grant us His righteousness. Only by repenting and believing in Jesus can we be saved and reconciled to God. Sin is the cause for our brokenness and only through the forgiveness of sin can we be healed. Our community has spiritual problems and Jesus is the solution.

Our Community Needs the Church to be the Church

First Baptist Church exists because Jesus loves the people of Scott City, MO (and the surrounding area). Jesus intends to save our neighbors and He has established our church (along with others) as a witness to them so that by grace they may be saved through faith (Eph 2:8-9). Our community is hurting and Jesus placed us here to help. 

Please pay very close attention to this next sentence because this is something that we all need to hear and reflect on: the people in our community do not need more stuff, they need redemptive relationships. It is good that we provide food and other items to help those in our community in need. It is good that we reach out through Careportal and provide specific needs to help families in Child Services. It is good that we open our doors and invite all to enter. As good as all these things are, what our community desperately needs is for First Baptist to reach out to them and befriend them in order to build relationships that result in lives transformed by Christ. Leonard Ravenhill once said, “The world is not waiting for a new definition of Christianity, but a new demonstration of Christianity.” If we wish to be fully faithful to all that Christ commands our Church, we will not wait for the world to come to us.

Next Steps

God is always calling His followers to the next steps of obedience. One aspect of this is that we should show people the love of Christ while telling them Christ loves them. As a Church placed in this place at such a time as this, it is vital for us to become aware of the needs and potential of our community. As we do so, we bring a faithful witness of Jesus and call them to faith and obedience. 

This week during your prayer time, ask Jesus to open your eyes to see those around you. Ask Him to show you their needs, but more importantly ask Jesus to reveal to you those whom you need to help. Ask God to provide opportunities to show them the love of Christ and share with them your testimony and how they may be saved.

What’s Love Got to Do with It? (Hebrews 13)

It is appropriate that the book of Hebrews ends with an extended discussion of the importance of love. Hebrews 13:1 says, “Let brotherly love continue.” What is brotherly love? Brotherly love is from the Greek word Philadelphia. Philadelphia is the joining of two Greek words phileos (love) and adelphos (brother). It can be translated as brotherly love or brotherly affection. It is used in Romans 12:10, “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another.” Philip Hughes helpfully summaries what brotherly love means and where it is derived:

Christian brotherhood is essentially brotherhood in Christ; for as He is the only Son…it is through union with Him that we participate in the grace of His sonship, and in Him are accepted as the sons of God and, as sons, brothers and fellow heirs with Him who is the heir of all things. If our brotherhood derives from Christ, so also does our love as brothers. His infinite love for us is the source and stimulus of our love for each other.

Hebrews, Philip Hughes.
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The book of Hebrews teaches us that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of everything in the Law of Moses. Therefore, He alone is our Redeemer, Advocate, Savior, and Lord—worthy of all praise and glory and honor. Being freed from the law, we are able to love God and one another. What does Hebrews 13 teach us about brotherly love? Let us consider:

Showing Love To Strangers (13:2)

Our brotherly love should not be withheld from strangers. With Christ as our source and stimulus of our love, we should be willing to help those in need, even if we do not know them. Christians should not only help fellow Christians. There is a reminder given that it is possible to entertain an angel without realizing it. Be kind to someone you meet, you never know, it might be an angel from God.

Showing Love Through Suffering (13:3 & 12-13)

Our brotherly love extends to those who suffer for righteousness sake. We are told to “remember the prisoners as if chained with them, and those who are mistreated since you yourselves are in the body also.” The Church is referred to as a body with many members (1 Cor 12). When one member suffers the whole body suffers. Throughout most of Christian history, being a Christian was likely to land you in trouble with the governing authorities. Christians must care for one another, especially for those who suffer for righteousness sake (1 Peter 3:14). We should refrain from blaming them for being in that position as we remember the Golden Rule and remember that we could end up in a similar position. 

Showing Love For Marriage (13:4)

Our brotherly love esteems the honorable estate of marriage. Marriage should be held in honor among all with the marriage bed undefiled. Marriage is instituted by God and He determines what does and does not defile the marriage bed. Marriage is between one biological man and one biological woman. We must not attempt to redefine what God has clearly defined. This also means that married men and women must be on guard against lust and temptation. Marriage is to be held in honor by all. This includes your own marriage and the marriages of others. We need to help and support one another to be faithful.

Showing Love Through Contentment (13:5-6 & 16)

Our brotherly love results in contentment. We are told “let your conduct be without covetousness, and be content with such things as you have.” We can be content with what we have because we remember that the Lord is with us. We express our contentment by giving to others and sharing what we have with them. This is a voluntary sharing, not under compulsion. Contentment is in opposition to, and helps us fight against: worry (Matt 6:25), complaining (1 Cor 10:10), greed (Heb 13:5), and envy (James 3:16).

Showing Love To Our Leaders (13:7 & 17)

Our brotherly love results in honoring and supporting your spiritual leaders. We are told to “remember those who lead you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.” This is in the context of the overseer and undershepherd. We learn in verse 17, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.

Showing Love through Worship (13:8-11 & 14-15)

Our brotherly love helps us remember to worship Jesus. We must remember His perfect sacrifice for us. We must remember that He sanctifies us. We must remember to worship Him correctly by obeying His commands. We must adhere to sound doctrine that is based on the Bible. “Let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.” 

In Conclusion (13:18-25)

The book of Hebrews helps us by teaching us about Jesus’ greatness:

  • Jesus is greater than the Prophets: He is the final Word from God.
  • Jesus is greater than Angels: Angels are servants, Jesus is the Son.
  • Jesus is greater than Moses: Jesus is the mediator of the New Covenant.
  • Jesus is greater than Aaron: Jesus is the High Priest of the New Covenant.

Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” —Hebrews 13:20-21

Endurance Training (Hebrews 12:3-29)

It’s easy to start something. It’s easy to quit something. What is difficult is continuing something. For example, it is easy to start a diet. It is easy to quit a diet. What is difficult is continuing a diet. Here is another example, it is easy to join a gym. It is easy to quit a gym. What is difficult is continuing to go to the gym. When it comes to our Christian life, we are counseled in Hebrews 12:1 to “run with endurance the race that is set before us.” As we have learned in our last few sermons in Hebrews: Those who are truly born again endure to the end because they are preserved to the end. Genuine Christians who are born again and have the Spirit of God within them will endure as God preserves us through various means. What are some aspects of God’s endurance training? Let us discuss this further.

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Accept God’s Discipline (12:3-11)

The first aspect of God’s endurance training is His loving discipline. We must remember that God loves us and wants us to honor Him in all things. Because God loves us, He is a firm believer in corrective, redemptive discipline. We should “not take the Lord’s discipline lightly or lose heart when you are reproved by Him” (Heb 12:5). Proverbs 3:11-12 says, “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor detest His correction; for whom the Lord loves He corrects just as a father the son in whom he delights.” The Lord disciplines those whom He loves and His discipline “yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb 12:11). 

How does God discipline His children? Like a loving parent, God disciplines us through: 1) conviction of sin – John 16:8, 2) kindness – Romans 2:4, and 3) trials – James 1:2-3. God’s discipline is never done in anger, always done in love and produces obedience and understanding, removes foolishness and helps us revere and worship Him. Christians need to be attentive to God’s voice and accept His correction as good for our souls.

Pursue Peace with All (12:12-17)

The second aspect of God’s endurance training is through our relationships. We must understand the importance of healthy and appropriate relationships. We have a relationship with God and we have a relationship with ourselves, but God knows that another key component of godliness is that it needs to be developed in relationships with one another. God puts us in relationships so that we learn to pursue peace and avoid bitterness and resentment. We are told to “pursue peace with everyone, and holiness–without it no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14). We are to live peaceably with everyone (Rom 12:18) and look after one another (Phil 2:4). 

As we look to the needs of others, we are being trained in endurance. Jesus said “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Charles Dickens once said, “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.” As we live at peace we fight against bitterness that leads to sin. One of the burdens placed upon the local church is to care for one another. Hebrews 12:15 says we must be “looking diligently lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled” (Heb 12:15). Christians need to be attentive to serving and loving those around us.

Remember the Destination (12:18-24)

The third aspect of God’s endurance training is to remind us of our promised destination. We must remember where God is taking us. Our destination is the new heavens and the new earth. When Moses and the Israelites came to Mt. Sinai they were prohibited from coming closer lest they die. Moses said, “I am exceedingly afraid and trembling” (Deut 9:19, Heb 12:21). Everyone was terrified and afraid. In contrast to this scene, we:

have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel (Heb 12:22-24). 

Christians are being trained to endure through remembering our eternal destination is with God. As we keep the end in mind and remember its certainty, we can endure in this life.

Hear the Heavenly Voice (12:25-29)

The fourth aspect of God’s endurance training is His encouraging voice. We must listen closely to the heavenly voice so that we may “serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.” This is the fifth warning passage in Hebrews and it is a call for us to “not refuse Him who speaks” (Heb 12:25). We learned in Hebrews 5:11 that we must not become “dull of hearing.” If we refuse to hear God’s voice we shall not escape from Him “who is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:29). 

The God who shook the earth will not only shake the earth but also heaven (Hag 2:6, Heb 12:26). This is terrifying and encouraging. It is terrifying for the unbeliever because when God shakes the heavens and the earth they will be damned. It is encouraging for the believer because we cling to Jesus who cannot be shaken. Therefore all that is unreliable and unstable (e.g., house built on sand – Matt 7:26) will be shaken and destroyed. The writer of Hebrews concludes with this: “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear” (Heb 12:28). 

Run the Race (Hebrews 11:39-12:2)

Many times in the Bible the daily life of a Christian is referred to as a walk. For example, in Colossians 1:10 we are told to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.” Ephesians 4:1 also says, “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.” The Christian life is also referred to as a race. In Hebrews 12:1 we are told to “run with endurance the race that is set before us.” In the Olympics, there are a few main types of races. Of the following, which do you think more closely reflects the race spoken of in Hebrews 12:1?

  • Sprint – a quick run completed at full-speed at all times, or
  • Hurdles – a run with ten or more hurdles of 3.6 ft in height evenly spaced along the race track, or
  • Steeplechase – a long distance run with 28 hurdles and seven water jumps during the duration of the race, or
  • Marathon – a 26 mile run. (Approximately from Scott City to Sikeston), or
  • All of the Above!
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If you are like me, sometimes it feels like all of the above. Sometimes the race we run feels like a sprint and we seem to always be moving from one thing to another as quickly as possible. Other times it feels like we seem to be jumping one hurdle after another. Other times it feels as if we are just continually going with no end in sight. We are counseled in Scripture to run with endurance the race set before us. We do so by looking back, looking around, and looking forward.

We Need to Look Back

Christians need to remember those who have gone before us. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. Hebrews 11 serves as an example of those who had faith and looked forward to the Gospel Age. Christians are living in the “day of salvation” (1 Cor 6:2). Whereas the Old Testament saints (cloud of witnesses) looked forward, we are called to look back to their lives of faith. They gained approval through their faith and they serve as examples.

What is the cloud of witnesses? They testify to us, not for us. They are not witnesses in that they are witnessing what we are doing. They are witnesses who testify to us through their life that God is faithful. They serve as examples of God’s faithfulness to His promises and to His Covenant. We do not see them because they are already in heaven. We do not communicate with them (i.e., as in prayers to the saints). We are surrounded by the unified testimony of the faithful that God is trustworthy and true. 

It is Necessary to Look Around

Christians need to look around them for anything that may hinder their run. After seeing the encouragement of those who have gone before us, we look around for anything that will hinder us from running well and with endurance. Two specific things are mentioned: any weight and sin. Let’s consider the first one. We need to lay aside every weight. This is something that may not necessarily be sinful but it is not helpful. Let me reiterate what was just said. We are counselled in Scripture to live our lives in such a way that we intentionally purge things in our life that do not help us grow in Christian maturity. The imagery here is of a runner evaluating himself and removing things from himself that will hinder him in his race and keeping that which will help him. This raises many questions and I will try to give the best Biblical answer possible to a few of them: 1) Does this mean I have to give away all my possessions? 2) Does this mean I cannot have nice things? 3) Does this mean I have to move to Africa? The answer to these questions and questions like it is this: Does it help or hinder your pursuit of holiness? If it helps, keep it. If it hinders, get rid of it. This is between you and God. Ask Him to evaluate and reveal to you things in your life that help and hinder your race.

We also need to lay aside every sin which so easily ensnares us. This is different from the “weight” mentioned earlier. Whereas the weight may or may not be sinful, every sin in our life needs to be repented of and forsaken. Sin is dangerous and should not be trifled with. Sin can harden our hearts (Heb 3:13), deaden our conscience (Rom 13:5), bring God’s discipline (Rov 3:12), and rob us of our joy and strength (Psalm 51).

We Must Look Forward

Christians need to keep their focus on Jesus who leads them forward. Verse 2 tells us that as we run we must be “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith…” Many athletes speak of the goals they have when they run. Some mention that they run in order to make their parents and/or country proud. Others speak of the desire to win the Gold Medal or to be recognized as the greatest in that particular field. We are instructed in Hebrews 12:2 that our overarching goal and motivation is Jesus. When we fix our eyes on Jesus we can run with endurance and seek to eliminate the possibility of distraction. Ever wonder why horses wear blinders? According to the Dallas Equestrian Center, “Horses sometimes need to be made to focus and blinders keep the horse’s eyes focused on what is ahead, rather than what is at the side or behind.” This doesn’t negate what we have just learned but is the reminder that our focus must be forward towards Jesus. We look to Jesus as the author of our faith and the one who will bring our faith to completion. Jesus is the One who sets our Christian walk in motion and will bring it to its appropriate end. We can be assured of this because He endured ahead of us and “has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2).

Finally, we must remember that we “run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb 12:1). Christians run the race that God assigns to them. This brings us great comfort because we know that God has provided a “racetrack” that is specifically suited for us and our relationship with Jesus. When you are struggling, remember that Jesus is with you and is guiding you along His path that leads to Him. It will be difficult, but God is faithful. Trust Him and live by faith. 

Living by Faith (Hebrews 11)

In Hebrews 11, we are shown the necessity of faith in a Christian’s life. In this glorious chapter, we are told of men and women in the Old Testament, living under the Old Covenant, who “gained approval” (11:2) from God through their faith. As we learned a few weeks go, Christians cannot live without faith because “without faith it is impossible to please [God], for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (11:6). In Hebrews 11:1, we are told: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith is assurance and conviction that God is trustworthy and true. Faith operates even when you cannot see the end result of His promise. Faith enables you to believe it will come to pass. Paul David Tripp has a helpful reminder, “Faith surely does engage your brain, but it is fundamentally more than that. Faith is something that you do with your life.”

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The Faithful Hear the Call of God and Obey

Paul wrote in Romans 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” Everyone mentioned in Hebrews 11 responded in faith by first hearing God’s call. They knew the voice of God and obeyed His instructions. By faith Abel had a better sacrifice than Cain. By faith Enoch was taken up because he was pleasing to God. By faith Noah built an ark. By faith Sarah gave birth when she was past childbearing years. By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau. By faith Jacob blessed the sons of Joseph. By faith Joseph knew about the Exodus. Everyone mentioned in Hebrews 11 who acted on faith did so because they heard God’s call and were obedient. The faithful have been described earlier in Hebrews 5:14 as those “who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Heb 5:14). Christians need discernment so that they may endure. This comes from knowing God, hearing His word, and obeying His commands. Hebrews 10:36 tells us, “you need endurance, so that after you have done God’s will, you may receive what was promised.

The Faithful Don’t Need a Detailed Map; But They Do Need a Compass

Living by faith is not like putting a Lego set together. Have you built a Lego set lately? If not, you should. When you open the box, you are given specific, step-by-step instructions as to which Lego piece goes where and in what order. You also get to look ahead at future steps to see how it all fits together. Living by faith is not like putting a Lego set together; it is more like putting a puzzle together. It’s actually more like putting a puzzle together by having someone else hand you the pieces and telling you that you need to put it in a particular spot. You have to trust the person handing you each piece. You have to believe that this piece goes in this spot even though you don’t see how it ends up fitting. God guides us along each day of our life, telling us to trust Him and follow Him. Living by faith means that God calls you to a task and equips you to do it and then guides you through it. All along the way God grows our faith and our confidence in Him. You may get instructions like Noah did or you may just be told to go to a new place like Abraham. 

What distinguishes many of the people mentioned in Hebrews 11 is that they did not have to have a detailed plan for what was going to happen. They needed guidance and wisdom and instruction but they didn’t need God to reveal every detail before they acted in faith. By faith Moses’ parents hid him from the Egyptians not knowing what would happen to him. By faith Moses chose to endure ill-treatment with the people of God, left Egypt, kept the Passover, passed through the Red Sea. By faith the walls of Jericho fell in an unconventional manner. By faith Rahab hid the spies. We also see faith in action in the lives of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and The Prophets. 

The Faithful Know the Destination is Glorious and Leave the Results to God

When you live by faith, you leave the results to God. Did you notice that there is a shift in tone starting in verse 36? From Hebrews 11:4-35 we read of those who live by faith and their great deeds and actions. In verses 33-35, we read about those “who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions…” In verse 36, we read that “others experienced mockings and scourghings, yes, also chains and imprisonment.” Living by faith does not always mean that you are victorious here on earth, but that the ultimate victory is secure with God. Sometimes the faithful escape the edge of the sword; sometimes the edge of the sword severs their head from their body. Living by faith does not mean that you will always escape trouble and trials. Ecclesiastes 3 makes this very clear to us. After discussing that all of us will experience times of happiness and success and in times of sadness and difficulty (Ecc 1:1-8), we are told that God “…has made everything appropriate in its time” (Ecc 3:11). 

I love how Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego live this out in their lives. In Daniel 3, we are told that King Nebuchadnezzar set up a golden image and “whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire” (Dan 3:6). The three Hebrews refused to worship the image and told the king: “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Dan 3:17-18). 

Are you living by faith? Are you trusting in Jesus as your Savior and Lord? Is the Spirit of God dwelling within you and can you hear His call in your life? Remember, faith is something you do with your life. Are you living in faith or in fear? What guides your decisions? Trust Jesus.

The Just Shall Live by Faith (Hebrews 11:1-3 & 6)

We now arrive at one of the most popular chapters in all of the Bible: Hebrews 11. Hebrews 11 is commonly referred to as the chapter of faith because it lists well-known individuals from the Old Testament and proves that they lived by faith. Verse 2 tells us that through their faith “the men of old gained approval.” While it is common to think that this chapter is important because it lists a lot of people who had faith, it is actually important because it solidifies the necessity of faith in a Christian’s life. 

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Faith is not optional, it is required. Hebrews 11:6 makes it very clear that “without faith it is impossible to please Him.” In this section, we shall consider the first three verses of Hebrews 11 as an introduction to the necessity of faith in a Christian’s life. We shall discuss the definition of faith, the origin of faith, and the usage of faith. 

What is Faith?

Let’s begin with a definition of faith. In verse 1, we are told: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith is believing that God is truthful and even though you cannot see the end result of His promise you nonetheless believe it will come to pass. Romans 4:18-21 has a very good definition of faith in the life of Abraham. It is well worth quoting in full here:

In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, “so shall your descendants be.” Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform. (Emphasis mine)

In Hebrews 11:6 we learn that faith is related to belief and conviction of the truth of something/someone. Thomas Aquinas said, “To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.” Richard Phillips wrote: “Faith is believing God’s Word in order to lay hold of things that are promised and make them real in our lives. Faith is the mode, or the manner by which we possess heavenly things on earth.”

Where Do We Get Faith?

Christians have faith, but where does it come from? The testimony of Scripture is that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). When someone is born again, they hear the word of God and it is united by faith (Heb 4:2). While faith is something we have, it is not something we create. We receive faith from God. It is not something that we generate in and of ourselves. Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” The gift of God mentioned in Ephesians 2:8 is salvation which involves grace and faith. Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus is “the author and perfecter of faith.” Philippians 1:29 says “it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” Acts 3:16 tells us that the faith that comes through Jesus has made the beggar well. Faith comes from God and results in seeing His truthfulness and trusting Him. Faith is not something we make, but receive. It is not our creation, but a gift.

How do I Use Faith?

The next question is: When we receive it, what do we do with it? The answer is: We use it! 2 Corinthians 5:7 says, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” Faith is granted to us in order to use it. Romans 14:23 says that “whatever is not from faith is sin.” Faith must guide all of your actions. Hebrews 11:6 says “without faith it is impossible to please Him.” If we want to please God–which we do–we should live, think, speak, and act in faith. Paul said in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” We must live by faith. There is no other way to live that is pleasing to God. 

How Do I Know if I Am Living by Faith?

What does it look like to live by faith? We shall explore this more as we go through the rest of this chapter and the rest of Hebrews. For now, consider the following questions:

  • Do I trust God with my life? And the lives of those around me?
  • Am I regularly asking God to grant me wisdom for the decisions I need to make?
  • Am I regularly asking God for “divine appointments”? Divine appointments are situations and/or circumstances that you believe have been arranged by the Holy Spirit.
  • Do I only do things that I know I can accomplish or do I attempt to do things that only God can accomplish? Do you operate on God’s power or your own?
  • What is most of my money spent on? How much of it is used to bless others and grow the Kingdom of God?
  • Do you live in fear and paranoia?

John Piper answers the question this way: 1) It involves a resolve for good, 2) It involves trusting God’s power to enable us to do it, and 3) It aims at the glory of the name of the Lord Jesus. Let us walk by faith. Trusting God and believing in His name.

Fourth Warning: Do Not Draw Back (Hebrews 10:26-39)

We are now in Hebrews 10:26-39 and in the final section of the book of Hebrews. We have been away from our sermon series in the book of Hebrews for a few weeks so it would be helpful to recap where we have been. Hebrews demonstrates the supremacy of Jesus and the New Covenant over the Old Covenant. Jesus is superior to the Prophets, the Angels, and the first High Priest of the Old Covenant: Aaron. Jesus is the fulfillment of all of the Old Covenant and is our Great High Priest who intercedes for us with God the Father. In the final section, the writer of Hebrews makes some important points of application of these great truths. In the section of Scripture before us today, we learn that when the Holy Spirit indwells us, He secures us; therefore, being secure, we are able to endure. 

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Our verses today comprise the fourth of five warnings found in the book of Hebrews. The first warning was to not drift away (Heb 2:1). The second warning was to not harden your heart (Heb 3:12). The third warning was to not fail to grow up (Heb 5:11). In the fourth warning, we learn about the danger of drawing back from Christ and throwing away our confidence (Heb 10:29-39).

The Problem: Drawing Back from Christ

In verse 26, we are presented with a problem: “If we deliberately go on sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth…”. This type of sin is deliberate, intentional, and habitual. For this type of sin, there is no forgiveness. If someone sins before receiving the knowledge of the truth, there is the hope that they will repent and believe. If someone deliberately, intentionally, and habitually sins after receiving the knowledge of truth, “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.” (10:26). If someone deliberately rejects the only means of salvation, how can they be saved? This is the basis for Church Discipline as Jesus discussed in Matt 18:15-20. Did you know that expulsion from a local church is only appropriate for one sin? The only sin that excludes you from the church is lack of repentance. We are told in our text that those who sin willfully will receive judgment. There is nothing for them except “a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire about to consume the adversaries” (10:27). After using a comparison from the Old Covenant, we are given this terrifying warning: “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (10:31).

The Solution: You Need to Endure

In order to stay close to Christ and not draw back, we must endure. The writer of Hebrews encourages his readers to “remember the earlier days when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings” (10:32). The Christian life calls for endurance. What does endurance look like? To endure means to remain. Rather than draw back you remain. Enduring means to suffer patiently and continue without giving up. An aspect of Christian endurance includes “sympathy” and “joy” (10:34). In verse 35, we are told “do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.” You can more easily endure when you understand that your enemies can take nothing of eternal value from you. If they take your house, you have a better home waiting for you. If they kill your fellow Christians, you will see them again soon in heaven. If they take your life, you will immediately be in the presence of Jesus (2 Cor 5:8). Verse 36 tells us, “you need endurance, so that after you have done God’s will, you may receive what was promised.

The Promise: Christ Preserves You

We have a warning to not draw back from Christ and the counsel to endure through trials. We then have the writer of Hebrews write: “We are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.” The preservation/keeping of the soul is in contrast to the destruction (eternal damnation – see Rev 20:15) that comes upon those who shrink back. 

We have a great promise in these verses. We are told that “My righteous one shall live by faith” (10:38). This is a wonderful promise because it means that our perseverance does not depend upon us but upon God Himself. When we are told to live by faith it is in contrast to living by works. The great promise is that Christ preserves us. Jude 1:24 is one of my favorite verses. It says, “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy.

The Conclusion: Live by Faith

Here are a few points to remember:

  • The purpose of trials is to test the genuineness of our faith (1 Peter 1:6-7). God knows whether or not our faith is genuine and He uses trials to reveal this to us. This reveals to us God’s good purpose of allowing trials to come to us.
  • God prevents certain trials from coming upon us and the trials that do come upon you are specifically allowed by God (1 Cor 10:13).
  • There are those who profess to be Christians yet draw back and fall away under trials. Their falling away reveals their lack of faith (Matt 13:18-22). 
  • The trials God allows are specifically designed to expose the false faith of the unbeliever and lead them to repentance (2 Timothy 2:24-26).
  • Those who endure trials do so by faith and the trials which God allows are specifically designed to grow the Christians faith (1 Peter 1:7).

When you become a Christian, the Holy Spirit indwells you. When the Holy Spirit indwells you, He secures you. Being secure, we are able to endure during trials. One great way to help you endure is knowing that Christ Himself preserves us. Trust Him and depend upon Him. Live by faith.

The Pursuit of Happiness

Two hundred and forty-five years ago, the United States of America declared its independence from Great Britain. With its declaration and subsequent war, the United States emerged as a beacon of liberty and freedom. While at times not living up to our ideals, the United States has nonetheless made great strides in promoting life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness throughout the world. Five years away from our nation’s Sestercentennial, let us take a moment to consider the pursuit of happiness from a biblical perspective.

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Do You Know What You are Looking For?

In the Declaration of Independence, we are told of the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Let’s consider more closely the pursuit of happiness. What does the pursuit of happiness mean? Most likely historian Arthur Schlesinger got it right when he said that the pursuit of happiness is best understood in this context as the practice of happiness rather than the quest of happiness. This does not mean the government is to sanction anyone’s quest to find whatever they determine to bring them happiness. This leads to anarchy and moral decay. Happiness, in this context, is determined by God not man. In other words, God desires that mankind find and obtain the happiness He provides and the government should be a support, not a hindrance, in this effort.

This is very important because our society has either intentionally or unintentionally failed to understand this crucial point. We live in a society that is determined to find happiness. We live in a hedonistic age in which people live their lives to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. John Cooper, the lead singer of Skillet, recently mentioned that the prevailing spirit of the age seems to be that we are meant to be happy and feel good about ourselves. Most people are on a quest for happiness and one key area in which this quest occurs is the issue of identity. Far too many people mistakenly believe that the way to maximize pleasure is to discover their true identity. If they can find their “authentic self”, then they will be happy and feel good about themselves.

How Do You Know When You Have Found It?

The Search for the Authentic You. In his book The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, Carl Trueman discusses how certain Enlightenment poets and authors popularized the idea that our inner self was our true self. Soon after came an attempt to define humanity without any reference to God. Closer to our own time, it became popular to speak of being true to one’s inner self. Because—the belief is—our inner self is our true self. So the focus shifted from God to yourself.

The Search Involves Sex and Gender. Trueman presents the progression of thought further. He wrote that as human nature became defined inwardly and became severed from God, human nature became defined in terms of sexuality. Sexual desire—in this progression—is central to personhood, therefore, those who seek to inhibit your sexual desire are oppressors. The triumph of transgenderism was made possible by those who defined “the self” as an expressive individual. The idea that men would claim to be women and women would claim to be men would have been entirely foreign to previous generations. Trueman says that this wholesale rejection of sexual ethics that has been assumed for millennia is rooted in: 1) the acceptance of expressive individualism, 2) the primacy of the inner self, 3) the necessity of therapeutic well-being, and 4) The absolute authority of the inner self. This is happening in our culture. This is why there are debates about pronouns. This is why there are debates about bathrooms. Our culture has bought into these lies. 

Maybe You Should Ask for Help?

You are the problem. If you are on a quest to find your true self, you are on a fool’s errand. Happiness is not a pot of gold and the end of the “find the authentic you” rainbow. Happiness is not found within you, it is found within Jesus. The sooner you understand this, the sooner you will be happier. But, we need to be careful with our words. We keep using the word happiness, but it is the wrong word. The word the Bible uses is joy. I have made this point numerous times and I will continue to do so: happiness is based on what is happening around you. We really don’t need happiness, we need joy. Joy is not dependent upon our situations or circumstances. Our joy is given to us by Jesus. The “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal 5:22) includes the attribute of joy. This is one of the spiritual blessings (Eph 1:3) granted to us by our merciful and loving God. God blesses us with joy and it is up to us to cultivate it in our lives. 

Jesus fixes our identity. You will not find happiness by discovering the “real” you. The real you is a sinner with a wicked heart (Jeremiah 17:9). The prevailing spirit of the age may be that we are meant to be happy and feel good about ourselves, but God’s plan for our lives is to love Him and enjoy Him forever. Jesus doesn’t help you find your true identity, He fixes your identity. We are created in the image of God. We are given our bodies to glorify God. We are called to love God and love others. We find the most joy when we delight most in Him. We are called to serve. Becket Cook wrote about his testimony in his memoir: A Change of Affection: A Gay Man’s Incredible Story of Redemption. This is what he wrote: “In fact, because I’m now who God created me to be, I’m finally authentic. Becoming more and more like Jesus—the truest human who ever lived—is a far more authentic transformation than becoming more and more like whatever “self” my fluid feelings suggest on any given day.”

Let there be no mistake. God neither wants us to be miserable nor feel bad about ourselves. God created us to love Him and enjoy Him forever. This is the key to finding joy: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, all these things will be added to you” (Matt 6:33). Let us examine ourselves this week. Have you bought into the spirit of the age? Do you believe that your main purpose of life is to be happy? To maximize pleasure and minimize pain? Examine the decisions you make on a daily basis. Are they made after seeking God’s will and wisdom? Is your life committed to the advancement of God’s kingdom? Are you encouraging unbelievers to take their first steps in following Jesus? Are you helping people grow in their relationship with Jesus? Are you being deployed in service to Christ through His church and mission? Pursue happiness by going to God the Father through Jesus and finding forgiveness of sin. Then you will find rest for your soul.