This is the third in a series of messages on Bethlehem's new Mission and Vision Statement developed over the last year by the elders and the Master Planning Team. In invite you to take a copy and review with me the Mission of our church which I preached on last Sunday:
Bethlehem's mission is
to spread a passion for the supremacy of God
in all things for the joy of all peoples.
That is why we exist.
At the heart of this mission is the connection between the supremacy of God and joy. We believe that because God is supremely great—in power and wisdom and justice and goodness and truth and love—because he is supremely great and glorious, therefore to know him and have fellowship with him is the only source of supreme JOY. Psalm 95 says—and watch the fiery logic of heaven here—
Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods.
Don't miss this word "for" here (Hebrew kiy)—on it hangs our entire mission. If it falls, we fall. "Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms"—that's our commitment to be joyful and to spread joy in God's supremacy to all the peoples—"For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods"—above all! In other words the Lord is supreme. To condense it to the basics: Rejoice in God because God is supreme. The supremacy of God is the ground of our joy.
And because of that, we also believe our joy shows the supremacy of God's value. If his greatness is the basis of our joy, then our joy is the evidence of his greatness. If the supremacy of God is the Rock of your joy, then the depth of your joy is the revelation of your Rock. So we love to say,
God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.
Our joy in him magnifies the glory of his supremacy over us.
So our mission is to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples.
Bethlehem's Spiritual Dynamic
Now to carry this through in life for the next five or fifty years—to hold to it and love it and pursue it through good times and hard times year in and year out—is going to take a robust, rugged, strong Spiritual Dynamic. So on page two of the Mission Booklet you find "The Spiritual Dynamic that drives our mission."
What we mean by "spiritual dynamic" is the way the power of the Holy Spirit helps us do our mission. "Dynamic" comes from the Greek word dunamis which means power (dynamite), and "spiritual" in the New Testament means coming from and shaped by the Holy Spirit. So our "spiritual dynamic" is the unleashing of the power of the Holy Spirit. Our deep conviction is that our Mission is undoable without the Holy Spirit. And if we could do it without him, we may as well close up shop and eat, drink, and be merry, because what's the point of doing church if it doesn't take God to do it? We would just be another human organization. There are better ways to spend our lives, Paul says, if this is a mere human affair on the way to the grave.
The Four Agents of Bethlehem's Spiritual Dynamic
So we are going to spend four weeks on this Spiritual Dynamic. As we read it, I want you to be watching for four things. As it begins, it simply restates the Mission: that we exist to "join God the Father in magnifying the supremacy of his glory"—that's our mission. But then comes the Dynamic: how shall this come to pass? As I read it, notice the four agents of the dynamic—four persons are involved in the coming of the power of the Spirit to help us magnify the supremacy of God. Who are they and what do they do? That's our question today and in the next weeks.
The Spiritual Dynamic
We join God the Father
in magnifying the supremacy of his glory
through our Lord Jesus Christ,
in the power of the Holy Spirit
by treasuring all that God is,
loving all whom he loves,
praying for all his purposes,
meditating on all his Word,
sustained by all his grace.
There are four agents. You can see them behind four prepositions. THROUGH our Lord Jesus Christ, IN the power of the Holy Spirit, and BY treasuring, loving, praying, and meditating (you are the third agent), and sustained BY all his (=God's) grace. We are going to focus on the first two of these today, but let me summarize what each agent does in bringing the power of the Holy Spirit to help us live our mission.
- First, when we say that we magnify the supremacy of God's glory "through our Lord Jesus Christ," the most basic thing we mean is that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ released the Holy Spirit to help us glorify God. We'll say how in a moment.
- Second, when we say that we magnify the supremacy of God's glory "in the power of the Holy Spirit," we mean that the Spirit himself applies his power to us directly. Paul says in Romans 8:9, "You are . . . in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you." The Holy Spirit is given to all who trust in Christ and he applies to us in our everyday lives the power that was released by Christ when he died.
- Third, when we say that we magnify the supremacy of God's glory "by treasuring all that he is, loving all whom he loves, praying for all his purposes, and meditating on all his Word," we mean that you are an agent of the power of the Spirit. There is a way that you appropriate it and a way that you live it out.
- Finally (fourth), when we say that we magnify the supremacy of God's glory "sustained by all his grace," we mean that God, the Father himself, upholds this whole dynamic by the sheer freedom of his sovereign grace. He sent the Son to die and rise and release the power of the Spirit; he sent the Spirit to apply his own power to us personally—baptizing, filling, sanctifying, guiding; he enables us by his grace to appropriate the power of the Spirit—by treasuring and loving and praying and meditating.
So the four agents of the spiritual dynamic are:
- Christ who releases the power,
- the Spirit who applies the power,
- you, the Christian, who appropriates the power,
- and God the Father who sustains it all by his grace.
This is what we want to unpack in the next three weeks. But this morning I want to say a word about the first two agents and how they work in our Spiritual Dynamic. Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
First, Jesus. There is no hope of our glorifying God voluntarily apart from the death of Jesus Christ for our sin. Why is that? The reason is that, apart from the death of Jesus, God could not justly pour out on us guilty sinners the glorious blessing of the Holy Spirit. It would be a great injustice and blasphemy for God to honor so highly those who have so deeply dishonored him. But apart from the enabling work of the Holy Spirit, no one has the desire to glorify him by delighting in him. So how will anyone come to delight in God and honor him? When Jesus died for our sins, he absorbed the wrath of God against us, and vindicated the justice of God in mercy and released God to pour out the blessing of the Spirit on sinners, without injustice or blasphemy.
Let me show you this from two passages, both from Romans 8. First, from Romans 8:3–4:
For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.
What this text says is that the law of the Old Testament commanded us to love—the just requirement of the law—but had no power to enable us to love. Verse 3 says it was weak through the flesh. It couldn't bring about what it commanded. Real obedience, real love, requires the Holy Spirit—love is the fruit of the Spirit, not a mere work of law.
What was in the way? Why was the Holy Spirit not poured out more fully sooner to enable people to fulfill the just requirement of the law? Our tremendous guilt was in the way. Paul says that something had to happen first, namely, the death of Christ for sin. Before the Spirit of God could come in fullness to overcome the power of sin, the Son of God had to come to overcome the guilt of our sin. So when sin was condemned in the cross (v. 3)—when Christ bore our condemnation—Paul says, then the Holy Spirit could be more fully poured out so that the just requirement of the law would be fulfilled in our lives when we walk by the Spirit.
The power of our Spiritual Dynamic comes through our Lord Jesus because he shed his blood to take away the wrath of God from us so that God could justly and freely pour out his loving power on us by his Spirit.
Let's see this in another great text in Romans 8, namely, verse 32:
He who did not spare His own Son,
but delivered Him up for us all,
how will He not also with Him
freely give us all things?
Do you see the glorious logic of heaven here? Something has to happen before God can freely give us all things. That is, something has to happen before God can pour out the fullness of the Holy Spirit on sinners like us. What has to happen is the offering of his Son in our place so that our sins are forgiven and the justice of God's wrath is satisfied, and he is free to bless us for the sake of his Son.
So here at Bethlehem, let us raise the banner of the blood of Christ over every single thing we do. When we say, "We join God the Father in magnifying the supremacy of his glory THROUGH our Lord Jesus Christ," let's know what we mean. We mean that because Jesus died for us, our sins are forgiven, our guilt is removed, the curse of the law is taken away, the wrath of God is absorbed in the suffering of Jesus, and God now has only one will toward us: doing us good. And all that good comes through the release of the Holy Spirit into our lives. This is our Spiritual Dynamic—the power of the Holy Spirit released by the sin-bearing, wrath-removing death of Jesus. Without this none of us would or could magnify God's glory by enjoying him forever.
2. The Holy Spirit
Which leads us in closing to the phrase in our Spiritual Dynamic, "in the power of the Holy Spirit."
We join God the Father
in magnifying the supremacy of His glory
through our Lord Jesus Christ,
in the power of the Holy Spirit
What I want to do here is stress with all my might the utter importance of this, and plead with you to pray for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in power upon our church in these days. I personally think we are on the brink of something really remarkable in our church and in our city. And everything hangs on the Spiritual Dynamic—on the power of the Holy Spirit, released by the guilt-removing work of Christ and applied to us by the Spirit himself.
I want you to see that every aspect of this mission and its "Fresh Initiatives" depends on the dynamic of the Holy Spirit. Turn with me to page 3. These are the fresh initiatives. These are the adjustments in our trajectory. How these get fleshed out in the years to come will make a tremendous difference in the way we fulfill our mission. So notice with me that every one of them is dependent on the power of the Holy Spirit, according to the New Testament.
1. The Value of Relationships
We will take new practical steps to develop an atmosphere where personal, deepening, supportive, faith-building relationships of love are highly valued as expressions of our passion for the supremacy of God's love.
Where do "relationships of love" come from? Galatians 5:22 says, "The fruit of the Spirit is love." The key to love is the work of the Spirit—the "dynamic" of the Spirit. We must be born of the Spirit. We must be indwelt by the Spirit. We must be led by the Spirit. We must be filled with the Spirit. We must. Seek him with me. Plead for his fullness and power.
2. Urban-Suburban Partnership
We will strive to forge a mutually enriching urban-suburban partnership, in which a significant range of racially, educationally, and economically diverse people feel at home, as they grow in their passion for the supremacy of God.
Where does this kind of unity come from? How do we rise above suspicions and judgmentalism and pride and fault-finding and accusations? Paul gives the answer in a simple phrase in Ephesians 4:3. "Be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." Unity of the Spirit. If this partnership happens, it will be owing to the dynamic of the Holy Spirit. We must have him. Seek him with me. Plead for his fullness and power.
3. Interracial Reconciliation
Against the rising spirit of indifference, alienation, and hostility in our land, we will embrace the supremacy of God's love to take new steps personally and corporately toward racial reconciliation, expressed visibly in our community and in our church.
Where does this kind of reconciling power come from? Paul gives the answer in Ephesians 2:18 as he addresses the ethnic hostilities between Jew and Gentile—and if anything was relevant and crucial today in America, it is this—from the cover of Time to Larry King Live to the front page of the Tribune, the issue is racial tension. The real cultural issue of the O.J. Simpson trial will be what it reveals about how far we have to go, and how far we have fallen from Martin Luther King's dream. Paul says in Ephesians 2:18,
Through Christ we both [Jew and Gentile, black and white, red, brown, yellow] have our access in one Spirit to the Father.
It's the Spirit. He is our hope for such a great work. We must have him. Seek him with me. Plead for his fullness and power.
4. Diversity in God-Centered Worship
Sunday morning worship is a corporate expression of our passion for the supremacy of God. We sense God's leading to develop fresh expressions of this passion that 1) allow for a more focused and free lingering of love in the presence of the Lord; 2) reflect musically the diversity of our congregation and our metropolitan culture; and 3) interweave the values of intense God-centeredness and more personal ministry to each other in the power of the Holy Spirit.
In Romans 15:6 Paul pleads that "with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." How will we ever do that? Philippians 3:3 points the way with a simple phrase: "We are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh." If our worship is "in the Spirit," and if, by that Spirit, we glory in Christ; and if we put no confidence in the flesh—what man can do apart from the Spirit—it will happen. We must have him. We must. Seek him with me. Plead for his fullness and power.
5. Good News to the Poor
We will develop new strategies for proclaiming the all-satisfying supremacy of God's love and justice to the poor through
- personal involvement;
- a more welcoming atmosphere;
- local missionary strategies of urban disciple making; and
- equipping missionaries for unreached urban peoples.
How will such personal involvement come about? How shall we structure ourselves for a welcoming atmosphere (not just on Sunday morning, but in our homes)? The answer was on the lips of Jesus as soon as he entered his public ministry (Luke 4:18):
The Spirit of the lord is upon me, because he anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor.
When the Spirit of the Lord comes, the heart of the Lord comes. And he has a great heart for the poor, and a great calling for the rich. The question is: will the Spirit of the Lord be upon us? God is calling us to be a church bent on doing what we cannot do without the Spirit of God. We must have him. We must. Seek him with me. Plead for his fullness and power.
6. Challenging Church and Culture with the Truth
We will challenge our culture and the wider Christian movement in fresh ways with the biblical truth of God's all-satisfying supremacy, by courageous Christian action and speech in the secular world.
Where does this kind of courage come from? We see the answer in Acts 4:31,
And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak the word of God with boldness.
That is, with courage! The courage we need to speak to our decaying culture and to our perishing colleagues comes from the fullness of the Holy Spirit.
Here's the sum of the matter. God has given us a great mission and great Fresh Initiatives. To help us he has put in motion a rugged, robust Spiritual Dynamic: Jesus Christ has released the merciful power of God by his sin-bearing death; and the Holy Spirit is applying it to our church. Let's ask and seek and knock unrelentingly until he comes in great power.