Let us pray: Dear Savior, when we think of You—mocked, rejected, abused, and eventually killed—when we ponder such things it is easy for us to think of our faith as a useless, futile appendage. As we ponder our hard fights with temptation and the seemingly easy life of our unbelieving friends, it is often difficult to see much benefit here and now to our faith. Lord, when such thoughts get the better of us remind each of us that a conscience cleansed by Your forgiving blood is worth more than money, power, or human wisdom. Yes, remind us each day not only of our future blessings, but of the daily ones we so take for granted, too. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE LORD OF GLORY!
TEXT: Philippians 3:17—4:1
Dearly Beloved By Christ:
Another snowstorm on Sunday morning—isn’t it just ducky! It’s getting old, Lord….Of course, the one thing about these Sunday snowstorms is that they are a study in contrast between the impotence of human beings and the forcefulness of God. And as always, God wins. As we look to the cross of Christ, we need to remember that fact. We should never feel sorry for ourselves here and now as we struggle with life. We should never think that the cross of Christ is a burden—keeping us from enjoying life like our unchurched neighbors do. With that in mind, today I want to examine our epistle lesson by pondering:
THE STRESS OF SIN VERSUS THE FREEDOM OF THE CROSS
The stereotypical view of the average Christian is that of an uptight, unfun, tormented soul who finds it impossible to laugh and impossible to do anything without worrying about temptation. To be sure, we Christians do feel the stresses of sin quite acutely. We sometimes agonize over our motivation—is it God-centered or pride-centered? We agonize over appearing judgmental or “holier than thou” in the eyes of our friends. We beat ourselves up over our spiritual laziness and apathy, as well. It is obvious that the stresses of sin afflict us in a multitude of ways.
I remember a conversation I had about 35 years ago with one of my college roommates. We were debating this question: Is it easier (emotionally) to be a Christian, or an unbeliever? He took the tack that it’s harder to be a Christian than a non-Christian because we stress over sin and they do not. I took the opposite view. I thought then and I still think now that Christians have it easier in the sense that we can cope with evil because God has given us an answer to it in the cross of Christ.
Yes, we struggle with the stresses of sin and our conscience beats us up regularly, but we know we’re forgiven. We know that “all things work for good to those who love God.” We know “our citizenship is in heaven” as our text says. Thus we possess a clear, cleansed conscience before our Maker. The unbeliever has none of those comforts. “For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.”
We think we’re stressed by sin. But I submit that the faithless are even more stressed! I see it in hospitals when I go to visit members. Mature believers are usually matter-of-fact about their future. While non-believers have a haunted, hunted look in their eyes. They’re fearful because they don’t know Christ. I see the stresses of sin among my neighbors here in Burlington. They live for the moment, take their vacations, labor in their jobs, and try to raise their kids. They laugh. They buy a host of “toys” and they eat quite well. But if you listen carefully to their conversations you’ll discover that their marriages are strife-ridden, consumeritis dictates their happiness, and their kids are generally rebellious because their parent’s values don’t fill their souls and are bankrupt. These people live totally for the moment because the future terrifies them! Why? “Their mind is on earthly things” alone….
The stereotype of the Christian is that of an uptight individual. The stereotype of the cross is that of a tight, constraining influence which takes all the fun out of life. But, nothing could be further from the truth! For the cross of Christ means freedom from the stresses of sin! Think of what Jesus accomplished with His cross. On it He paid for our guilt. He made us right with God Almighty. He purchased our freedom from eternal worry, doubt, and fear. And the more we’re exposed to His cross and its benefits, the more we’ll come to realize its liberating power. After all, it is “the power of God unto our salvation” as Scripture says!
Not too many years ago I planned for everything. I laid awake at night worrying about countless contingencies and how I might cope with them. But, man plans, and God laughs! That is, 99% of my planning and worrying amounted to a waste of time because God always took care of it better than I ever imagined. As I’ve grown in my faith, I’ve slowly come to realize just how true that really is! Money worries, job worries, kid worries, health worries, all the temptations known to man—the cross is God’s answer to them all! “If God did not spare His own Son, but offered Him up for us all, will He not also give us all good things?”
Certainly God expects us to work hard and plan wisely. But, unlike those who don’t trust in Him, we have the added freedom of knowing that with God as our business manager, health manager, family manager, and spirit manager life will be filled with blessings and heaven truly does await! “And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”
St. Paul ends by saying: “this is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!” Stand firm by always remembering that for us the stresses of sin must always give way to the freedom of the cross. It was true for every single one of the disciples. It was true for St. Paul—whose life was filled with all sorts of human uncertainty. All of those heroes of faith were fulfilled, well-adjusted, positive people who walked through life with a clean conscience because of Christ’s cross. That’s the legacy of Godly forgiveness. And so, when Paul writes: “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you” listen, learn, and confidently follow.—Not only will you smile more, but sleep better, too. Amen