Camp Meeting 2013: God Perfects
Text: Romans 5: 1-11
Romans 5:1-11 (NLT)
1 Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.
2 Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.
3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.
4 And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.
5 And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.
6 When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners.
7 Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good.
8 But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.
9 And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation.
10 For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son.
11 So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.
When I was 10 or so, I informed my dad that I no longer had need of Sunday School at the OakGroveBaptistChurch. When he patiently inquired as to why, I informed him that I had already accepted Jesus into my heart; I already knew all the Bible stories and wasn’t particularly enjoying the weekly reruns. Dad smiled and said to me, “Getting saved and knowing the stories is only the beginning.” Nothing has ever proven to be truer in my life.
We have opened Camp Meeting 2013 by looking at two of the basics of our historic Methodist beliefs; God Saves and God Assures and today we explore the reality that God Perfects. This is formally called the Doctrine of Christian Perfection. The United Methodist Book of Discipline says in Paragraph 101: “We hold that the wonder of God’s acceptance and pardon does not end God’s saving work…through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are enabled to increase in the knowledge and love of God and in love of our neighbor.” The first thing we are going to have to do is get our heads around the Biblical idea of “perfect.” In English, perfect means flawless so the idea that anyone could ever be perfect seems absurd at best. But in the original New Testament language of Greek, perfect was something else entirely. The Greek word translated “perfect” is telios which literally means that a thing has accomplished or completed the purpose for which it was created. A child who grows into an adult is telios, for the purpose of childhood is to serve as an avenue to adulthood. “Is something making proper progress?” is a far better question than “Is something working flawlessly?” when it comes to telios. When I was Ordained an Elder in the United Methodist Church in 1996, I was asked by Bishop David Lawson if, “I expected to obtain perfection in this life.” My answer was a resounding, “Yes.” I would still answer the same way for I continue to have every expectation that I will grow in my faith toward maturity in Christ and that my life will fulfill the purpose for which it was created. Will we ever be consistently “flawless” in our journeys toward God? Not a chance! Can God use even flawed creatures like you and me for his glory? Absolutely!
In our Romans text today, the Apostle Paul offers us six unmistakable signs of being on the road to Christian Perfection.
V. 1 Since we have been made right with God through faith, we have peace Sign One: Salvation. As we probed last week, because our salvation is a gift to be received and not a prize to be earned, we can have great confidence in God as the author and finisher of our faith! I am saved because of what Christ has done for me, not because of what I have done for Christ.
V. 2 Because of what Christ has done we can confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory Sign Two: Assurance. If my salvation is based on my own ability to always get things right, always be pure in thought and deed and have core values like Mother Theresa, I would have no assurance…ever. Because of what Christ has done we don’t have to spend our lives fearfully looking in our rear view mirrors, beating ourselves up for every mistake we have ever made or constantly paralyzed by regret. When we know that we know that we know that our eternity firmly rests in God’s grip upon us, we are filled with confidence and joy. Let me preach just a little longer off this wagon; were I to identify two of the main ingredients of success in 2013 it would be having confidence and joy. If you lack these two things you simply are going to have a low ceiling regardless of what you do but people with faith in positive outcomes and who are in a good mood about it will always rise to the top. Are you getting this? Being in proper relationship with Christ guarantees two attributes that will advance you in the workplace!
Sign Three: Difficult times produce God’s perfecting work. We often look at difficult times as something to avoid and if they can’t be avoided; to bear, survive and delete from our files as soon as possible. Paul suggests that the worst times in our lives can be the best times in our lives if we allow God to work in us. In 1994 I interviewed for my Elder’s Orders as a fully ordained pastor in the United Methodist Church. It had been a five year journey since my call to ministry that had included three years in seminary, an internship as a Chaplain at a hospital, lots of paperwork and psychological evaluations. I was excited to bring this quest to a conclusion. My Sumner/Beulah congregation was doing fantastically, ministry was highly effective, we had a few monstrously big wins and I frankly expected this interview to be a rubber stamp on one hand and a time of affirmation on the other. I had already made dinner reservations for the celebration and came just short of having my humble speech prepared thanking all the little people. The next hour was a horrific nightmare and I walked out of the room at Little Grassy Campground literally stunned that I had been deferred and would have to go through the whole process again the next year. I had no idea how to respond to failure of such magnitude. I was utterly humiliated, embarrassed, dejected and more than a bit angry. As you might have guessed, things eventually worked out but the excruciatingly humbling season ushered in by my deferment was critical to my pastoral development. In that time I learned how to ministry from a position of meekness, how to empathize with people who were dealing with disappointment, how to relate to people not at the top of the class and how to preach from a different place in the story. I discovered that everyone has had setbacks and disappointments and faith often grows in the soil of pain. Looking back, I don’t have one fond memory of the process but it is undeniable that there was hard work God needed to do in me to prepare me for the work God in doing in me right now. I hate to admit this, but if all had gone as well as I had been certain that it would, I would have been less of a person, less of a Christian and less of a pastor today. Would I have eventually learned what God needed to teach me? I have no idea.
Now Paul illustrates just how this works.
V. 3 Now we can rejoice when we run into problems and trials for they teach us to endure If the problems and challenges of life drive us to our knees, create true humility in our hearts and chase the human arrogance from our spirits; then these become blessings and not curses. If the problems and challenges of life shatter our illusions of control and demand we place our full trust in God then what was meant for our harm is turned to our good. If we want to embrace God’s way of living, it must begin with God’s way of thinking. We must learn to embrace challenges as accelerated opportunities for growth.
V. 4 Endurance develops character and character develops confidence in our salvation One day at the gym last month, I was doing a Shane workout while my neighbor Gary was doing a real workout with a personal trainer. Gary was getting after it, exercising at least twenty times as hard as me and getting worked to death while I wasn’t going to even need a shower after I was through. My neighbor was experiencing what the Greeks called hupomonE. Barclay defines this as the spirit that does not passively endure, but actively overcomes, conquerors and is made stronger by the trials and tribulations of life. Paul says hupomonE produces dokime or character. This is a metallurgy word describing metal that has been thoroughly refined by fire. Something is declared dokime only when all impurity has been purged. While we are on the journey that takes us from where we are to where God created to be, there will be problems. To quote Paul Simon in “Graceland” there will be “incidents and accidents, hints and allegations.” Christian character is having the integrity to embrace God’s work in us during in the worst of times so God can prepare us for the best of times!
V. 5 We will not be disappointed because the Holy Spirit fills us with His love Sign Four: The filling of the Holy Spirit. There is a lot of debate as to just what happens when one is filled with the Holy Spirit but Paul is very clear here. People filled with the Holy Spirit are filled with God’s love. Paul said in I Corinthians 13 that love, “bears all things, hopes all things and endures all things.” When the outcome is love, the process can never be deemed a disappointment regardless of its rigor or unpleasantness.
V. 8 While we were yet sinners Christ died for us Sign Five: An understanding of forgiveness. The ultimate proof of God’s love for us is the reality that Christ died for us while we were yet sinners. I want you to imagine the worst, most selfish, rash and foolish thing you have ever done. I want you to imagine a brokenhearted God watching you throw your values away, squandering away your integrity or bartering the good reputation you had built for a big hunk of sugar coated stupid. Now hear me, In the very act of your deepest sin, Jesus Christ died for you. It might be easier to imagine Jesus dying for us at our very best, but he died for us at our very worst. John Wesley wrote, “The offering of Christ…is that perfect redemption…for all the sins of the whole world…and there is no other satisfaction for sin but that alone.”
V. 11 We can rejoice in our new relationship with God Sign Six: A new understanding of your Christian life. The Old Covenant was based upon law and maintained by duty, guilt and obligation. The New Covenant is based on love and maintained by passion, power and purpose. When you find yourself doing the right things for the right reasons, coming to church because you want to be here and financially and personally investing in God’s work cheerfully you are living into this new relationship with God! When you find yourself praying with as much joy as talking to your dearest fried, reading the Bible with as much enthusiasm as eating a great meal and sharing your faith naturally and effectively you are living into this new relationship with God. When you find yourself wanting to do the right thing rather than trying not to do the wrong thing, standing up for truth when you previously would have sat on the sidelines and laying aside your personal preferences for the greater kingdom of God you are living into this new relationship with God.
Jesus has made us friends of God A few years ago I called my dad about midnight, awakened him from his sleep and told him I had decided to go the Smoky Mountains and had already left. If he wanted to go I would pick him up about 1:15 AM at his Southern Illinois farm. He said he would be ready when I arrived and we drove all night. We entered Cades Cove in the early morning we hiked the 11 mile one way loop. Day was wearing a bright orange shirt that read on the front, “I am a friend of God.” After a couple of miles I noticed that dad had turned his shirt around. When I inquired as to why he grinned, “Nobody is walking toward us so I thought I would be a witness to the people behind us.” Dad was so excited about being a friend of God, he had to let the strangers behind us know!
Facts about our Friendship with God
- The friendship was initiated by God The more powerful must reach to the less powerful
- The friendship must be symbiotic What is in it for God?
- The friendship must develop
- The friendship will go through cycles
- The friendship is our single most important relationship
- The friendship transcends time, space and death
You and I are guilty as charged for we have rejected God’s way and demanded our own way but while we were yet sinners Christ lived for us, died for us, rose for us and one day will return for us and it changes absolutely…everything. Our hope for redeeming our pasts, empowering our presents and electrifying our futures lies solely in the strong hands of God…and I don’t know about you but that is about the best news I have ever heard!
Rev. Shane L. Bishop, A Distinguished Evangelist of the United Methodist Church, has been the Sr. Pastor at Christ Church in Fairview Heights, IL since 1997.