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There was another prayer request which I can't remember...
Text – Acts 11:24, Romans 15:14-17
One of my favorite things to do is brag on this church and especially our youth and especially this class. The Apostle Paul did likewise with his church at Thessalonica saying that they were his crown of boasting and his joy because they had so thoroughly evangelized Macedonia and stayed firm in the faith and loved one another.
In the past six months or so I’ve bragged about Ian getting into Magnet, Devin preaching a message on Friday night, Kyle being on fire for sharing the gospel, Mycala being such an awesome VBS helper, and Matthew saying one of the most profound things I’ve ever heard from anybody, even adults, when he said basically, and I can’t remember the exact quote, “Christ died on a tree of death to give us access to the tree of life.” There are many others, and if I tried to name them all I’m sure I’d leave someone out.
I wrote our whole lesson plan on a Tuesday morning, on Wednesday I was telling someone about an awesome song I’d heard sung by one of our teenagers on Sunday. I’ll brag on the person I was telling this too as well, his name is Patrick and he is always excited to hear what’s going on at our church and tell me what is going on at his church, I really look forward to talking to him, because he stirs me up for good works. He asked about the song and it led to me telling him how good Hannah’s singing is getting and how sweet and pretty and just an awesome person she is. Afterwards it got me thinking about a passage in scripture that I’ve read several times but never spent too much time on, the reason I started thinking about it was because I didn’t have the faintest urge to tell Patrick, “She’s an absolutely horrible person, but she sure can sing and play the piano.” No, when I brag on you guys it’s always on your love and faith and amazing things you do in the name of Christ. So I changed the lesson plan to look at an amazing verse in the Bible, maybe my favorite.
Let’s read that verse:
Acts 11:24 [Barnabas] was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.
Does this seem backwards from what we talked about last week? Let’s read some other verses that say what we learned last week,
Genesis 6:5 The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
Romans 3:12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.
Luke 18:17 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”
So if that’s true that no-one is good, how then can Barnabas be good? Is he God? No, because in Galatians 2 we see that he at one point was a great sinner. Does he have God in him? Aha, there is our answer, he was full of the Holy Spirit.
What are the fruits of the Spirit? Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.
Aha! If we are being sanctified, then we should be able to be labeled a good person. What is the definition of sanctification? Being conformed (changed) closer and closer to an image of Jesus Christ, loving what he loves and hating what he hates and reacting and interacting with the world the same way he would.
Let’s look at another scripture that supports the idea that the Christian has been redeemed from being a bad person to being a good person:
Romans 15:14 I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.
Now, we have to make sure we’re making a distinction between being good and being filled with goodness, with having an innate goodness and having, as Dr. John MacArthur calls it, an alien goodness. Left to ourselves, we are not good, our goodness comes from above. There is no verse that says explicitly we’re good because Christ was good, but there are many scriptures which say basically that,
2 Corinthians 5:21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
1 Peter 1:15 As he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy."
We are good not because of anything in ourselves, but because Christ has given us his Spirit who is goodness and righteousness.
Romans 8:7-10 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.
How do we receive the goodness of Christ? Through faith. What else was Barnabas filled with? Faith. Check out this verse,
Hebrews 11:5 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
Now, let’s look at how this goodness plays out. What is the definition of goodness? Is it always being nice and not offending someone or always being upbeat and happy? No, we’ll look at Paul’s example in just a minute, but before we do I want to show you sometimes being nice or happy or positive isn’t the right response,
Proverbs 25:20 Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, and like vinegar on soda.
Goodness is reacting rightly to all situations; virtue. Sometimes being nice is not the right response to a situation, check out what Paul kept saying,
Romans 15:14-15 I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder,
Sometimes being good requires a direct rebuke, a correction, abrasiveness to smooth out a problem by bringing a person to the truth. In Proverbs it says that an enemy will tell you you’re wonderful when you’re not, but a friend will tell you the truth, James says we may save a person’s soul by confronting them in their sin, namely pride. There was a massive movement in the 20th century, which I’m sure isn’t dead yet, to convince people that they should have massive amounts of self-esteem and consider themselves to be the best person on the planet just waiting to find a place to express themselves. It led to several completely wrecked generations; in fact many teachers have found that the students with the highest self esteem have no interest in learning anything or improving in any way, because they think they’re already perfect.
So let me give you some advice. Ian, you’ve made it into Magnet, which is awesome, but you’re not as smart as you someday will be, Kyle, you’re an awesome evangelist but if you’re at the same level you are now in ten years, I’d be embarrassed, Matthew, you made a totally awesome statement about the Bible, but our effort isn’t finding little jewels of theology but having a firm foundation and a complete knowledge able to instruct others. Hannah, for 13 you are an amazing singer and there were a few times during your song I think you actually sounded better than Christy Nockels, but you’re not there yet and you still need to practice hard to master the gift God has given you.
Christ and his Spirit should be doing the same thing in our lives, because Christ who is full of goodness is always working our sanctification:
Revelation 3:19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.
If God is not exposing and killing sin in your life and driving you towards good, then you ought to wonder if you’re in his grace, and if not then you must make sure you’re trusting in his goodness and not your own, because we bring no goodness to this equation.
Paul then says he is a priest of God preaching the gospel, bringing people (Gentiles) to Christ, the way he concludes the thought is AMAZING.
Romans 15:17 In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God.
What an amazing privilege we have entered into in this covenant. Not only has Jesus saved us from Hell and sin and death and ultimately from himself, but he has also saved us from unfruitful and wasted lives, giving us reason to boast. How did he do that? By dying in our place and defeating death, Paul gives one of the most awesome doxologies in the Bible concerning this in
1 Corinthians 15:54-58 "Death is swallowed up in victory." "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
So then, who are we proud of? Ourselves or the work that God is doing through us? John the Baptist, who Jesus called the greatest man ever to live, knew that he wasn’t actually the one who would get the glory, here is his response,
John 3:27-30 John answered, "A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, 'I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.' The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease."
So we see that we were once great sinners, but Christ has redeemed us and has given us his Spirit and through that Spirit we can be called good, not us in ourselves, but the Holy Spirit living in us. Now, are you good all the time? Do you sin as a Christian?
The Apostle Paul ran into this same problem, and he writes one of the most amazingly awesome passages in scripture, these are my favorite verses,
Romans 7:13-8:2 Did [the law] which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.
So in conclusion, are there any good people apart from Christ? No. But will people think they are good apart from Christ? Proverbs 20:6 says that almost all people will proclaim their own goodness, their own awesomeness, but then it asks, “Where can we find such a person?” Apart from Christ this person doesn’t exist, they are either so self-centered as to make their deceitfulness transparent, or they are doing nice things for people apart from God and pointing them away from Heaven. For example, there are plenty of non-Christian organizations feeding starving people in Africa and India, and they've found that just by feeding people they see a resurgence in births which leads to more mouths to feed and greater infant mortality rates and so many of these organizations stop feeding people all together. Other organizations provide free medical and dental care, which is awesome but it's only a temporal fix, and what they are doing by helping people apart from Christ is telling them to put their trust in men and not in God, which is utterly the most wicked thing they could be doing. I just finished a hugely vitriolic book on Mother Teresa and that woman believed everyone goes to Heaven provided they believe in a god or gods and so she made no effort to introduce people to Jesus. There are no lack of organizations making this world a nice place to go to Hell from.
Apart from the Holy Spirit we are unable to do good for someone’s eternity, but in Christ we are washed, sanctified, and justified, given a holy calling accomplished by Christ working in us. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us; so we see a war working in ourselves, desiring to serve Christ with our minds, but locked into sin in our bodies, knowing that ultimately we will have full victory in Heaven, we live a life worthy to be called good by all outsiders so that they will see our deeds in the name of Christ and glorify him on the final day. Let’s conclude with two of my favorite verses,
Galatians 2:19-20 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.