Never underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit in bringing in the lost
Mind your children
What struck me about the makeup of the Presbyterian Church when we arrived in Australia some 20 years ago, was the absence of what seems to be a complete generation. We had older couples in church, but their children were absent. Then there were a new generation with smaller children attending church. I was intrigued about this: what happened to the missing generation? Why were they not there?
The answer is not simplistic, and I don’t pretend to have a definite explanation. Maybe the returned soldiers had scars so deep that they found it very hard to talk about life experiences to those close to them. Add to the liberal teachings of humanism and evolution of the time. But one thing that stand out like a sore thumb is the fact that some children of the next generation did not appreciate the value of serving the Lord as they saw it exemplified in the everyday living of their parents.
That was the age when children were dropped off at church for Sunday school while parents drove around the corner to buy the Sunday paper. Children were enrolled in Christian schools for the benefit of the social standing it would provide for further opportunities in life. Church life and worship services were nothing but formalistic. It became a drag to children and Sunday worship made no sense to them. So, at the first opportunity they dropped out. The worst part is that parents had no appeal upon their children because the way they practiced Christianity was hollow and meaningless. This is more relevant to fathers: the father figure was missing, especially his way of life as an example of Christian living.
A generation was lost.
Fair dinkum instruction
In chapter 4 of Proverbs a father is teaching his sons. Two different words are used for instruction here, and it seems as if helps us to understand the role of both mother and father in the upbringing and equipping for life of their children.
The first is torah, the law. Mothers usually took on this role. One could say it involved the formal teaching of the Bible or Bible knowledge. Sunday-school-at-home. The second word is mitzvah. This is where the father applied the Bible knowledge into life principles.
Both involved a process of knowledge transfer; the first was more education, the second teaching by example. The first is facts, the second is wisdom, or the art of being street wise, but then along the principles of God’s Word. The father says to his son:
I will guide you in the way of wisdom and I will lead you in upright paths. (Proverbs 4:11, NET)
When does teaching wisdom start?
This father says, “When I was tender, the only child of my mother.” That’s when both his mother and father started to teach and set the example. It can never be too early, but it can surely begin too late.
When did my mother teach me how to make my bed? Well, I don’t know. The interesting thing is, I can’t remember her telling me to sit down so she could instruct me in the process of bed-making. I just grew up see her making our beds as we got up in the morning, and in the end it became our job. Was it perfect at the beginning? No, but I think I got it now. The example and the principle started very early.
So, reading the Scriptures to our children and praying with them at a very early stage of their lives are very important. But the going out into the world with the Scripture knowledge and living as a Christian while applying those principles in whatever we do is almost more important. Children are not dumb; they know when we mean things; they know when we apply double standards, or when we are plainly hypocritical.
These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. (Deuteronomy 6:6–8, NIV)
Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it. (Proverbs 22:6, NIV)
Why do we need to instruct our children?
All children are foolish, but firm correction will make them change. (Proverbs 22:15, CEV)
See, their is no such a thing as an innocent little baby. Not one of us is born with a clean slate, as if our deeds will determine how much we get written on red for the bad things we have done, and on the green side for the good things we have done. Our slate is already blotted with evil the moment we are born. David says:
Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. (Psalm 51:5, NIV)
Who can bring what is pure from the impure? No one! (Job 14:4)
“What are mortals, that they could be pure, or those born of woman, that they could be righteous? (Job 15:14, NIV)
Children need instruction, and we need to impart that instruction from the very first moment of their earthly journey. If we wait with it, or let them make up their minds – as we are told these days – be sure, the spirit of this world will help them make up their minds.
The father was teachable when he was instructed, and now he speaks as one who knows what he is speaking about. This is not a theoretical argument. The parent’s instruction has behind it the compelling logic of experience: “Don’t turn away from my instructions.… Don’t turn your back on wisdom” (4:2, 6). Wisdom—my words—she will guard you and protect you, as she did me. She will make you great like me (4:8).
Cherish her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honour you. (Proverbs 4:8, NIV)
She will crown you with honour like me. I, your father, am a living illustration of the truth of what I say—so listen!
What basis do we have to teach our children?
The basis for discipline is grounded in the covenant relationship which the Lord has with us. We do not only have the right to teach our children the ways of the Lord, but we are obligated to do so.
It is sometimes hard to lay down the principles for life before your children. It becomes easier when we ourselves bow to the same authority as we expect our children to do. What is not right for them is not right for us; what is good for us, is good for them. It is not my life choices that count; it is the way I become obedient to the will of God that counts. Only then can I, based on the Word of God, set the standards and teach my children to follow the same standards.
In other words, I have to talk the talk and walk the walk. I need to be under the authority of God, and live in a personal relationship with God before any teaching to my children will ever make sense. This all stems for God’s covenant relationship in Christ with us. God called us to be his children; to live in a relationship with Him through Christ. He wants us to live sanctified lives, so He gave us the Scriptures so we can know and obey his will.
So, it speaks for itself that parents need to know the Word of God; they need to know Christ as the source of their salvation and the Giver of their sanctification. They need to live under the guidance of the Holy Spirit first – and then, based on their living faith in Christ, take their children by the hand and say, “Follow me as I follow Christ”.
For example: our marriages, the Bible tells us, are and example of the relationship between Christ and his church. I need to love my wife as Christ loved his church; like the church submits to Christ, so wives submit to their husbands. It means that fathers would respect and very highly regard their wives, and as such, their daughters. I find this principle in the Scripture 1 Peter 3:1-7), and that binds me to obedience in the Lord. The way I set an example of treating my wife and my daughters will teach my son to first of all submit to Christ, love and obey Him, and then treat his mother, his sisters, his girlfriends and his future wife as people Christ died for so that they can set the example in their future marriages as the bride-church of the Lamb.
What do I teach my children?
I teach them what’s important in life. I tell them that their hearts should belong to God – only then will they be able to live life well.
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding. (Proverbs 4:7, NIV)
Getting wisdom is the wisest thing you can do! I will keep telling them; I will keep setting the example and never stop doing it for as long as I am their father. God expects it of me.
When I get so involved in acquiring the things of this world that I lose sight of what is really priority, it becomes so hard to tell my kids to not run after what is not lasting. How many really good and successful fathers look back and regret not spending more time with their children and showing them what is most important in life. The father of Proverbs had a father who taught and showed him that to find wisdom in fearing God and doing his will is better than storing up riches, treasures or gold. His father had time to talk to him about God, pray with him, love him and find out if life makes sense to him. His father taught him to be honest, hard-working, a man of integrity, helping others, not to mix with evil-doers for the sake of being popular. His father cried when he cried when he was done in by so-called friends, and his father picked him up in love when he fell into temptation and sin.
His father taught him there is no godless path to wisdom.
The true example of being disciplined is seen in Christ. The discipline He received was not instruction as how to live; as the only sinless person who ever trod this earth He knew that; but He was punished for our transgressions, because of our waywardness. He is our only way to the Father, and as such we can only point our children to Him and teach them the most important lesson of life:
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5, NIV)
… fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2, NIV)
Communion Service – association with and participation in Christ
- Colossians 2:13-3:4
First, an illustration. Heila and I visited a very interesting shop not so long ago during a visit to the Blue Mountains in NSW. This particular shop is home to the largest collection of teapots in the world. On shelves about pelmet height, are displayed more than 4,000 teapots. But that’s not all: apart from this very extensive collection of teapots, you can find every conceivable piece of glassware. Wherever to put your foot down or swing your arm or point your finger at, you bump into precious glassware. Don’t go there with grandchildren; if you have to use a walking stick, stay away!
Now the question, how can the owners assure that they conduct a profitable business? One possible answer to this intriguing question possibly lies in the notice at the entrance of this shop. It says You brake it, you pay for it. Entering into the shop, accepting this condition, makes you a partner of the business for the duration of the visit, sharing in the risk of running it.
The operative words here are association and participation. This takes us back to Colossians 2:11-15. I will try to explain this fairly complex paragraph in the word of God by breaking it up in little bits.
Old Testament Covenant
The background of the verses 11-14 is the Biblical doctrine of God’s Covenant with his people. God called Israel, which is the Church in Old Testament times, to be his people. He made an agreement with them in which He was the principle partner, and they the minor partners. Because God is the only God who could save, provide, protect and assure safety, He by grace took Israel to be his people. He placed upon them obligations stipulated in His covenant, requiring of them to live holy lives as people of God.
He also gave them signs as a seal of this covenant: all male children had to be circumcised. This circumcision was ultimately a circumcision of the heart, something not done by hands but by the Holy Spirit of God. This sign was a sign of God’s grace, but by this sign they would be set apart from the rest of the nations as God’s holy nation. They had to turn from their evil practices, not live as the nations around them and worship God only as He commanded them. The term we may use for their sanctification within this context is the term we find in our verse of Col 2:11 – they had to put to death their sinful nature.
In Leviticus 19:2 God commanded Moses to speak to the people: “Say to them: ‘You shall be holy, for I the Lord you God am holy.’” They had to revere their parents, keep the Sabbaths, turn away from idols, serve God only and bring sacrifices to them in the prescribed way, love their neighbours, not steal, not cheat, do honest work, etc. And about every time God gives them the command, He adds to it: “I am the Lord your God.” Why? Well, He saved them and made a covenant with them. That’s why. He owns them and the stipulations of his covenant demanded it.
The sign of circumcision (as an Old Testament sacrament) was accompanied by sacrifices. All sacrifices had their fulfilment in the Passover Lamb (the other Old Testament sacrament). The sacrifices they were to bring to the Lord assured that they could enjoy communion with Him because of their sins being forgiven. They did not die for their sins, but the animals did. Their participation in the act of sacrifice and their association with the blood of the animal brought to them forgiveness.
New Testament Covenant
Let’s go back to Colossians. God extended his covenant of mercy to all nations through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. People from all tribes and tongues and nations now become members of the household of God. How? The same way as the people of the Old Testament: by grace, by covenant and through sacrifice. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ is like the animals killed for their salvation. His death and resurrection now is just enormously more and ultimately more perfect than animal sacrifice.
God also gives to his New Covenant people a sign of his covenant. It is the same circumcision not done by hands; it remains the mysterious and gracious work of the Holy Spirit. He gives them a circumcision of the heart, here called the circumcision of Christ.
Now we need to take it step by step to understand the argument of the apostle Paul. The people did not die and pay the price of sin; but by association and participation in the death and blood of the sacrificial animal God granted them forgiveness. The same now applies for the New Covenant people. We don’t die or pay the price for our sins, but by faith we associate with and participate in the death of Jesus Christ. So, when He died on the cross, we died. When He was buried, we were buried. When He rose again, we rose. Now, and this is a very legitimate question, how do I know it is for sure? God gave us signs as a seal and guarantee like He gave to the people of the Old Testament. To them He gave the sign of circumcision, to us He gives us the circumcision of Christ’s complete righteousness and baptism is the new sign of the very same covenant of grace. When we are baptised, all Jesus Christ did to meet the righteousness of God, by faith became ours. Baptism is the sign that Jesus Christ is the One who died and was raised again in my place so I can become part of God’s family. By faith I participate in his death. As God worked in Jesus Christ to raise Him from the dead, so we are raised with Him through the eternal power of God. By faith I participate in his resurrection. We only need the sign that associates us with Him and assures us of our participation in his redemption. The rest is God’s act of mercy and grace. Listen:
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13-14)
The Passover Lamb was nailed to the cross of Calvary to take away our sins. He cancelled the written code, always reminding us of our unrighteousness having all our trespasses written in and He nailed it to the cross. This is what we remember and celebrate at the Lord’s Table.
There on the cross Jesus Christ also triumphed over all powers to that they may never have a claim over our lives (verse 15). Paul states it like this in his letter to Timothy:
“… our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. (2 Timothy 1:10)
The author of Hebrews underscores this by saying
“Since the children have flesh and blood, He [Christ] too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14)
Two signs in the Old Testament and two signs in the New Testament, pointing to the same act of grace from God in two different dispensations. Circumcision is replaced by baptism; the sacrificial system replaced by the cross of Jesus as we remember it at the Lord’s Table. In both these cases the principle to have part in salvation applies: by faith we associate with Him; by faith we participate in his victory over sin and death. This is the amazing, remarkable and incredible fact of the grace of God.
One with Christ in holy living
Now, just as circumcision did not save God’s Church in the Old Testament, so baptism does not save the people of God’s Church in the New Testament. It was a sign of God’s grace; it is not grace itself. Through Christ God’s people become members of his body, and we are called to live holy lives, dedicated to God. We need to put to death our earthly nature.
This then takes us to chapter 3 where Paul resumes the argument:
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:1,3)
Here the principle of association with and participation in comes in again. The Sacraments bind us to Christ. This assures our participation in his death and resurrection, but it calls for our association with Him in setting our hearts on things above where He is, because our lives are hidden in Him. This is essentially the same as what Paul says in Rom 12:2:
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)
He also stresses the same point in Rom 8:
Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. (Romans 6:8, 11-13)
Let’s for one moment get back to where we started. Remember the glassware shop and the notice You brake it, you pay for it? We pointed out to the principle of association with and participation in. Going into that shop poses a risk: I might enjoy what I see, but I might walk away from it a lot poorer than I walked into it.
It is so much different when I walk into God’s grace. First of all, I enter into his grace by his invitation, not by my decision. Secondly, my broken life and the rest of God’s creation that I effected so badly because of my sinfulness do not have a notice You brake, you pay for it on it. The wonder of God’s grace is that, although I am truly responsible, and therefore accountable to God, someone else paid to make it whole and repair what I broke. Jesus Christ is that one. By faith what He did becomes mine. Faith gives what belongs to Him to me. I associate with Him and participate in Him. That’s grace!
Two or three years before the death of John Newton, well-known minister of the Word in the 18th Century and author of the beloved hymn Amazing Grace, when his sight was so dim that he was no longer able to read, a friend and brother in the ministry called to have breakfast with him. Their custom was to read the Word of God following mealtime, after which Newton would make a few short remarks on the Biblical passage, and then they prayed. On a specific day, however, there was silence after the words of Scripture “by the grace of God I am what I am” were read.
Finally, after several minutes, Newton spoke,
“I am not what I ought to be! How imperfect and deficient I am! I am not what I wish to be, although I abhor that which is evil and would cleave to what is good! I am not what I hope to be, but soon I shall be out of mortality, and with it all sin and imperfection. Though I am not what I ought to be, nor what I wish to be, nor yet what I hope to be, I can truly say I am not what I once was: a slave to sin and Satan. I can heartily join with the apostle and acknowledge that by the grace of God I am what I am!”
Then, after a pause, he said. “Now let us pray!”
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 7 December 2014 (Communion Service)
Filed under: Sermons | Tagged: Bible, Christ, church, communion, covenant, faith, God, grace, holiness, Jesus Christ, John Newton, living by faith, Rev D Rudi Schwartz, righteousness, sin | Leave a comment »
Come and join us for a night of carols to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
WHEN: Sunday 14 December 2014 @ 7.30pm
WHERE: Wee Waa Hospital lawns
Bring your own chairs and rugs
Glow sticks, etc for sale on night
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:10–11)