True Religion: Boasting Only in the Cross - part 2
What is true religion?
Some people think because there are many religions there must be many paths to the top of Mt. Fuji, so to speak.
Maybe we are all just seeing different facets of the same truth, they say.
Others say, “No, science has already proven that all religions are just superstitions based on what people do not know or understand yet.”
“Left to observation, we will someday discover all the mysteries of the universe on our own,” they say.
But in our man-centered pride we have willfully blinded ourselves to the truth.
The truth that our Creator God has already clearly made Himself known and reveals Himself over and over, every single day to us, through the things that He has made.
God reveals Himself daily in the amazing and intricate universe of life and beauty that He has designed all around us.
And then, through His Word, the Bible, He has clearly spoken, so that, as the Bible says, mankind is without excuse before God for not seeking to know Him. (Romans 1:18-20)
As we learned two weeks ago, in reality, there are only two religions: true religion and false religion.
Two weeks ago I spoke about how the cross of Christ is at the center of true religion.
Last week Tony Barrera reemphasized that point at the end of his message.
We saw that all humans have pridefully gone away from their Creator God, and do not seek Him as God, but rather humans basically boast about themselves instead.
In every false religion people go through all sorts of rituals, customs, or personal reassurances to make themselves good and acceptable, and to comfort their own consciences.
But at the cross of Christ our sin against God is revealed for the great damage it does - our pride and self-centered boasting falls to the ground, as God’s love is simultaneously lifted up.
And then God and His grace alone is clearly seen as the sole means of salvation, hope, comfort.
When we come to know God’s love for us and the justice for our rebellion shown through the cross, our hearts finally find a place to both rest and rejoice: in Him and in His glory alone.
And that is what faith at its core is, it is a seeing and embracing God in Christ as our great treasure and salvation, not ourselves.
At the cross Jesus paid the punishment, the death penalty that our sins against God deserve, and only through His sacrificial atonement can we be saved from God’s eternal judgement.
This is why the Eph. 2:8-9 says, “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast”
And so true religion is a wonderfully God-centered thing, it is not of our own doing and we cannot boast in ourselves over anyone else.
What a joy it is to find, not just truth in the Bible, but truth that saves us from all that plagues us and frees us to enjoy true joy and love with God that will last forever.
And so the goal of these two messages is to not only to know the truth that will save us, but also to help us all to enjoy more of the fullness of life that comes through Jesus Christ alone.
So Galatians 6:14 says, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”
But maybe my last message two weeks ago raised some questions in your minds.
So are you saying then that Christians do not have to be concerned about living good lives?
And if our salvation and joy are all about God’s work, then can we just sit back and do nothing?
No, not in the least.
Let’s continue in Eph. 2: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (v.10)
The main point for today is this:
True religion says that God’s saving grace not only saves us, but begins to transform us into the likeness of Christ through faith in Him. (repeat)
ポイント 1: 本物の宗教は、救って下さるという恵みだけでなく、キリストにある信仰を通して、キリストに似たものへと造り変えて下さることである。
It is not about us trying to transform our own hearts and lives through self-centered effort.
By God’s grace, given through His Word, the Bible, we begin to love the good we see in Him and hate the evil we see, especially the evil in our own hearts.
And this is owing to how God works in our hearts through the faith and love He give us.
So transformation from sinful hearts to pure hearts through faith is an essential part of true religion that is pleasing to our Creator God.
Yes, Hebrews 12:14 says that without personal holiness no one will see the Lord. (show)
James 1:27 says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
But if our salvation is all about God’s grace and His work, how can this verse say that pure religion is also about what we do?
And if it is about what we do also, then how can God alone get all the glory for our salvation?
And how can Christianity not fall into the same man-centeredness that characterizes the rest of the world’s religions, including atheism?
As Tony pointed out last week, this is why we need God’s Word, the Bible, daily: To reveal our wrong thoughts and to lead us into right thinking and, with by His help, to a right heart.
God wants to give us a heart like His own, one that is full of love for weak and needy people, like orphans and widows and others who are struggling through life, just as we were.
This is the same way that He loves and has compassion on us, as we struggled through life under our slavery to sin as non-Christians.
Titus 2:14 says, “[Christ] gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”
You see, at the heart of true religion is that we are forgiven and accepted by God, not because we have done good works, but rather to make us able and zealous to do them. (repeat)
ポイント 2: 本物の宗教の心は、神様によって赦され、受け入れられているという点であり、私たちのよい働きにはなんの関係もなく、むしろ、よい働きができるように、また望むようにさせて下さることである。
So true religion is not about what we do, but about a freeing transformation through the power of the cross of Jesus Christ that propels us to do good.
I have heard many Japanese and Americans say, “There are good people in every religion, so why do I need to be a Christian?”
At the heart of this question is again a man-centered way of thinking that says, “Good works are about what we do, and really that is the most important thing.”
But that is not the most important thing - God is the most important thing.
We do good works because He is good, and we long to reflect His love and be more like Him.
God’s Word says that we are fundamentally sinners who have rejected our Creator God, and so no one is going to go to heaven on the basis of their own goodness.
Because we are criminals, who have trampled on God’s glory, there are no “good people” in God’s eyes.
We all need His amazing grace every day, Christians included.
So why do Christians want to be good?
Because Jesus died on the cross to help us know the best, to make us more like Him, so that we could be drawn into the same enjoyment of God and His glory that He has.
God wants to give us the best, and the only way He can do that is to make us more like Him.
Henry Scougal, way back in 1677 said this, “The worth and excellency of a soul is to be measured by the object of its love.”
If you love dirty, shameful, and selfish things, your soul will be dirty, shameful, and selfish.
But if you love the grand, eternal and infinite beauty of God, your soul will become more and more beautiful, noble, and excellent too.
God cares for our bodies, but He especially cares for our souls.
Because He wants the best for us, He wants our souls to have a passion for Him and for good works, as Titus 2:14 says.
He knows that this is what will really satisfy our souls and make them excellent and full of lasting joy!
1 Peter 3:18 says, “Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.”
All the countless benefits of the cross lead to this as their essence and aim: to bring us to God.
For in His presence is fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore, Psalm 16:11 says.
It is not because God needs us to be good, but rather because He loves us and wants the best for us!
We don’t earn anything by good works, rather good works are gifts to us, through the power of Holy Spirit working in us through faith in the cross.
Isa. 26:12 says, “O Lord, you will ordain peace for us, for you have indeed done for us all our works.”
This is why when we get a look into heaven, and see the 24 elders before the throne in Revelation 4:10,
they cast down their crowns before Him and declare that everything good comes from Him.
Through the grace given through the cross, we begin to seek Christ, and come to trust Him, and we are purified by Him as we seek to become more and more like Him.
Truly, we owe Him thanks for every good thing we have or do.
Now to be sure, through faith in Christ and His cross, legally we have already been declared to be perfectly righteous in His eyes. In other words, we are justified.
Colossians 2:14 says that the cross has cancelled “the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands.”
Hebrews 10:10 says, “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
And so we can say once and for all, “I am saved,” and “I am clean,” when we come to trust in Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
However, this does not mean that Christians suddenly become perfect in experience or can now just be on autopilot, with God telling them every step to take.
No, rather by faith we begin to work out that salvation with fear and trembling in the Lord,
for it is God who is still at work within us both to will and work for His good pleasure, as Phil. 2:12-13 says. (show)
God works in us, and we work out that salvation in practice as we immerse ourselves in His Word and prayer, through the power of His Holy Spirit that lives in our hearts.
As we saw before, through faith God begins to give us a holy passion and zeal for good works.
Hebrews 10:14 says this: “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”
So we are already perfect in our standing before God by His grace given through the cross alone, and yet we are still being made perfect -
We are still being sanctified. And until heaven, we will not be perfect in experience.
Sometimes, when I or my son Noah make problems for others by our mistakes or sins, I pat him on the shoulder and say to him, “We are still in process, aren’t we.”
It is my way of assuring Him that God still has a lot of work to do in both of our lives, even though we both love Jesus Christ and are dedicated Christians.
Sometimes non-Christians look at the sins and mistakes of Christians as a way to prove to themselves that Christianity therefore cannot be true.
What we all need to understand is that no Christian should ever claim to be without sin!
In fact 1 John 1:8-9 says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
As Philippians 2:12 and 13 say, we are still in the process of working out our salvation as He works in us, through His power.
So 2 Corinthians 7:1 says, “Bring holiness to completion in the fear of the Lord.”
But we are not going to become holy and pure by our own strength, nor are we asked to.
As we live daily with fear and hope in the Lord, and seek to know Him through His Word, we can be empowered by Him to be transformed and grow closer to Him.
Psalm 147:10 says, “His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man, 11 but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.”
So God is not looking for strong people to show Him how good they can be.
He wants us to admit our weaknesses, receive forgiveness, and then put our joy and confidence in His strength to help us do what is good and right.
It is not that God does not like horses, or the legs and strength of mankind.
He made both, and in their proper use He loves them both!
But neither are a reason for boasting or rejoicing in and of themselves.
All of the mental and physical power and health to do well is a gift from the Lord.
So God takes no pleasure in those who boast in their own ability, as if it were not a gift.
No, the Lord takes pleasure in those who realize the truth, that all of our strength and goodness and hope come from Him alone.
Often times I have felt that I am too weak to be a good dad or husband or teacher, and so I tell God that through prayer.
And that is when God has loved to come to me and powerfully help me do what I otherwise could not.
Many times I have finished teaching a class and thought, “Wow! Thank you, God, for working and helping me do that well.”
If you knew me right before I became a Christian, you would never believe that one day I would be preaching here at church.
Of course my lifestyle was not that of a Christian’s, but even more so, there is no way you would imagine me giving messages in front of large groups of people!
In junior high I remember turning red and having a cold sweat come over me when simply taking turns to read aloud in class.
As a freshman in college, I skipped classes and took bad grades instead of giving even a 5 minute speech.
Ironically, though I was a prideful person, I was also deeply insecure and afraid of what other people around me would think if I made a mistake.
In this group culture, maybe some of you can relate to being afraid of the group like I was.
The night I became a Christian I read a verse that said, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 9:10)
All along I had been afraid of the opinions of others, and now God was telling me that I really just needed to fear and respect one opinion: His opinion and what He thought of me.
But how do you hope in someone you also fear, as it says here? How are we to both fear God and hope in Him as well?
Usually hope and fear are opposite emotions.
Well, let’s imagine that you are in Greenland on a polar expedition.
You are looking over a huge ice canyon when suddenly a violent storm comes upon you.
You begin to realize that this powerful, icy wind is going to blow you right over the edge of the canyon and you have no hope to escape death.
And then suddenly you notice that there is a little cleft in a rock that you can hide inside, away from the storm where it will no longer affect you.
As you safely watch the storm around you blow, you are in awe of its power and you tremble at its ability to change the landscape.
And at the same time you rest in the hope that because of the strong rock you are completely safe.
When we find the resting place of Christ after realizing that we are doomed for our sins against our Almighty Creator God, we are in awe of who He is.
Like that powerful storm, our Creator is Almighty is coming at us with both the power and the right to send us into hell forever for our rebellion against Him.
And then Christ, God in human flesh, comes and becomes for us the strong rock of hiding and protection against God’s just wrath against our rebellion.
He takes all the winds and the abuse of the storm in our place, so that we might know His great love and have the firm hope and confidence of salvation in Him.
And like resting behind a strong rock, we become confident in His love for us.
And that is why I can preach with confidence today, because I know that I am completely safe in the rock of Jesus Christ already.
And you can be also.
Jesus, the rock of safety, needs none of my help, but He loves to provide for and protect us.
And in the end, that Rock, Jesus Christ, gets all the glory and we get all the joy in Him.
And although we have become adopted into God’s family and called his own dear children through faith, we still need that same gospel every day when the winds around us blow.
Every day we need God, every day we need the grace given through the cross of Christ.
And everyday we need to remember the power of God to transform us through His Word and by His Spirit living within our hearts as we seek to know and be close to Him.
Finally, 1 John 3:9-10.
No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.
While Christians still sin, we do not make a practice of sinning as we did before becoming Christians.
We are no longer enslaved by sin, but rather we are led by the Spirit of God, and therefore we cannot go on sinning as before.
This verse says that if we are of God then we will practice righteousness, and have love for other people, though never perfectly in this life.
And God does all of this in our hearts because we have become His children.
As children we are being shaped to look more and more like our Father in heaven.
As any small child, we will need both His discipline and training, as Hebrews 12:10 says.
And we will need the food of His Word to both grow and purify our hearts, as John 6:35 and 17:17 say.
We cannot be like Christ unless we get to know Him and communicate with Him through His Word often.
I am a twin and sometimes, when my brother and I were growing up, it seemed that we had ESP.
Sometimes we would suddenly start singing the same song at the exact same time, or say the same random words at the same time.
It was really funny and weird back then, but now that I think about, it probably wasn’t really that strange at all.
As brothers who spent vast amount of times with each other, enjoying the same things and the same events, and being the same age and the same gender,
And being that we were best friends, and had the same friends, it could be expected that we would start to think and act like each other at times.
In the same way, let us so walk with God each day, and meet with Him daily in His Word, and fellowship with His people
such that we can be more like Him and enjoy more of the same things He does.
Let us be ready to say just the thing that Jesus would say or do just the thing He would do.
To offer a kind word or an encouraging touch, and to declare the gospel to others around us.
There is not a better perspective nor a more excellent soul than His to emulate.
The Bible says that we are to grow up in Him and be rooted in Him and reflect God’s image more and more in our lives.
We are to become more and more like Christ, who is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature. (Heb. 1:3)
So let us live for the same things He did so that we can know the best of what He has to offer.
And what was Jesus’ ultimate purpose on Earth?
Jesus came to save us and reveal the glory of our Father God for our everlasting joy in Him.
Before going to the cross, in John 12:27-28, Jesus said this,
“for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.”
That was the #1 purpose Jesus had when He went to the cross, so that God would be honored and glorified and enjoyed for His amazing grace on us.
Jesus wants us to be brought into His family so that we could also enjoy the same thing He has from before time started,
And that is to be with God forever and enjoy His goodness and glory too.
There is nothing better, and no better gift that He could give us.
Let us share that same gift of love through our service to others unto all the nations, so that the entire world might be changed forever by Him in their lives.
What an amazing and wonderful purpose we were created for!
Let us pray.
Dear Lord, help us to see Christ and savor Him as our treasure and salvation.
For you say, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
Please equip us and help us, so that we may delight in you, rejoice in you and then reveal your goodness through everything we say and do.
Help us to be bold, with the confidence we have in you, to not live for the praise of others, but to fear you and give people what they really need in You.
We thank you for the joy it is to walk through our lives with you as our Savior and Lord.
Help us to grow closer to you by communicating with you through the truth of your Word each day.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.