We are in a season of life at Bethlehem that for many of us, contrary to the weather outside, feels like spring. We believe that God has graciously led the elders and the Master Planning Team for the last 12 months in discovering and expressing the Mission of our church. We believe this mission statement is faithful to who God is and what he values most. And we believe it's authentic. It gets at the special calling of our church with our strengths and our weaknesses. We don't think every church should say it the same way we do. But here at the center of the city, at this time in history, surrounded by this decaying, God-neglecting culture, with this staff and these elders and these people and this building and with these 125 years behind us—with all their glory and all their pain—we believe this is what God is calling us to be and to do.
Let's read together Our Mission on the front cover of the Mission booklet. Our mission is:
To spread a passion
for the supremacy of God
in all things
for the joy
of all peoples.
Two weeks ago I unpacked the meaning of those eighteen words with their biblical foundations.
Our Spiritual Dynamic
Then last week we turned to page two and began to unpack our "Spiritual Dynamic." The "Spiritual Dynamic" is the way God's power is released among us so that we can do the Mission. It's the spiritual HOW. How do you magnify the supremacy of God's glory? If our whole purpose is to spread a passion for the supremacy of God, what does that passion look like? And how do you become that kind of person? What has to happen for sinful people like us to be able to do that?
That's what the Spiritual Dynamic is about. Let's read it together (p. 2).
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.
The first words simply restate the Mission: "We join God the Father in magnifying the supremacy of his glory." That is, we make it our aim to share God's zeal for God's glory.
Then last week we took up the next two lines: we do this "through our Lord Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit." Our mission is only possible "through our Lord Jesus Christ." Christ had to do something to make this mission of magnifying God possible. And what he had to do was die for our sins. Without this great substitutionary death on the cross, we would be left alienated from God, under his wrath, laden with guilt, with nothing but a fearful prospect of judgment and hell. We could not enjoy and magnify the supremacy of God's glory if Christ had not died for our sins.
The Main Thing in Christianity
Now let me say something here to make more clear what Christianity is and what it isn't. You must get this or you won't get what Christianity is or what we stand for as a church. Christianity is NOT first or mainly a system of moral renovation. It is not mainly a way to make bad people good. That is the way the world sometimes sees Christianity from the outside. And that is what will make the world tolerate and sometimes praise Christianity. But this is not what Christianity is first and foremost.
First and foremost Christianity is a work of God to set man right with God. Christianity addresses the fundamental problem in the universe first and foremost. And that problem is not that human beings are mean to each other but that we are alienated from God and under his wrath. The first issue for every human being is, "How can I get right with God?" Not, "How can I become a nice person?" How can I be reconciled to God when I am under his curse for my rebellion and sins (Galatians 3:13)? And the message of Christianity is that there is nothing we could do to bridge the chasm of guilt and indignation between us and God. Only God could do that. And he did it by sending his only Son into the world to die.
The gospel is not good advice for what I can do to become a better person. It is good news of what God has done to remove his wrath and to lift the curse and to forgive our sin and take away our guilt and to set us in a right relationship with him. All the moral renovation we hope for comes after this and is based on it, but is not the main thing in Christianity. At the heart of the Christian good news is that God acted in history to remove the wrath of God. God acted on God. God in Christ absorbed the wrath of God. God in Christ bore the curse of God. God in Christ took the punishment of our sins that was appointed by God. Before we were involved with our salvation at all, God accomplished it. He averted his own wrath. He lifted his own curse. He vindicated his own righteousness. All of that in the death of his Son before we had any part in it.
Why the Supremacy of God Is So Crucial
Do you see why the centrality and supremacy of God is so crucial in our mission statement? The Christian gospel is unintelligible apart from the centrality of God. The main problem for humanity is not racial hostility or violence or greed or the breakdown of the family, or war, or famine, or AIDS. The main problem for humanity is the wrath of God. How can we be put right with God so that omnipotent power is not against us but for us.
And the answer is: "through our Lord Jesus Christ." Because the Son of God died to demonstrate the righteousness of God in showing mercy to sinners, God is now free to save sinners without compromising his righteousness (Romans 3:25–26). Because Christ died for our sins, God can now justify the ungodly without being unjust (Romans 3:26; 4:5). He can acquit us and forgive us and put us in a right relationship, in spite of our sins, because Christ has endured the punishment that our sins deserved.
And in this new right relationship God is free to pour out the Holy Spirit into our lives so that we can fulfill our mission of magnifying his glory.
How Do You Benefit from God's Work in Christ?
But now today the question is: HOW do you come to benefit from this work of God "through our Lord Jesus Christ" on the cross? Not everyone is justified by the death of Jesus. Some people keep their sins and take them to the judgment and bear the whole load themselves forever in hell. It is a great sorrow. But there is another way to go. The Bible makes clear how we can be justified by God—how we can be forgiven and acquitted and accepted and reckoned righteous in his presence. Namely, by faith.
Romans 3:28 says,
We maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.
Romans 5:1 says,
Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Galatians 2:16 says,
[We know] that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus.
So before there is any moral renovation there is free justification. Christianity is not first our becoming good people. It is first God remaining a just and holy God in the justification of ungodly people. And he did that through the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. Then the key that opens all that for any of us is faith. We share in all this great, finished, wrath-removing, curse-lifting, sin-forgiving work NOT by becoming good people, but by faith. By faith we are united to Christ and all that God accomplished through him becomes ours.
Why "Treasuring" and Not "Faith"?
So the question you should be asking now is: Why in the Spiritual Dynamic did you use the words, "by treasuring all that God is," instead of saying, "by faith"? Do you see where we are? Our aim is to magnify the supremacy of God's glory through our Lord Jesus Christ, whose work releases the power and the blessing of God's Spirit on those who are justified, by treasuring all that God is. Why do we use this language of treasuring and not the language of faith?
Here are the reasons:
1. Misunderstanding of "Believing"
Because justifying "faith" is misunderstood by many people as simply a decision of the mind to agree with some facts rather than a change of the heart to embrace a treasure. Over the years as I have tried to do evangelism on the streets and in my office I have found that almost everybody says they believe in Jesus—drunk people, liars, thieves, adulterers—it's amazing how many people say they believe in Jesus who are living lives totally contrary to the words of Jesus. Jesus warns that these people are going to be shocked at the judgment (Matthew 7:21).
Even in the church there are people who equate justifying faith with simply believing that Jesus died for them. But they don't believe other crucial things about Jesus—namely, that he is a wise marriage counselor; that he is the best investment advisor; that he is the best personal friend to spend time with; that he is infallibly wise in his instructions about sexual conduct, and so on. In other words a lot of people treat faith in Jesus as something far less than what it really is, and so deceive themselves that they are Christians when they are not. There has been no heart change and Jesus is not really received and embraced and trusted for what he is.
We are looking for words that help protect people from that terrible mistake. That is the first reason for using the language of "treasuring."
2. Trusting Is Treasuring
The second reason is that "treasuring all that God is" draws attention to the future orientation of justifying faith. Here's what I mean. Hebrews 11:1 defines faith like this:
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for the conviction of things not seen.
Justifying faith is not mainly a backward-looking belief in what Jesus did for us; but a forward-looking assurance of what that past work promises. What we do when we put our faith in Jesus is embrace all that God is for us in Jesus. And that means all that he WILL BE for us forever and ever. He will work all things together for our good; he will keep us in faith to the end; he will rescue us from death and raise us up with Christ to enjoy his fellowship forever and ever in the new heavens and the new earth. Justifying faith is faith in future grace, not just past grace. And that future grace is our all-satisfying treasure. So trusting is treasuring.
3. Faith Quenches Spiritual Thirst
The third reason for saying that we magnify God's glory "by treasuring all that God is" is that Jesus describes faith as a thirst-quenching act of drinking from God. In John 6:35 Jesus says,
I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.
Jesus is the bread of life and the water of life (John 4:14). Believing in him means turning from the fleeting pleasures of the world to the soul-satisfying joy of who Jesus is. Therefore faith—justifying, saving faith—is treasuring all that God is for us in Jesus, like a man dying of thirst treasures water.
That's how we connect with the wrath-absorbing, curse-lifting, sin-forgiving, guilt-removing, reconciling work of Jesus on the cross so that it applies to us. We believe Jesus for all that he is. We treasure all that God is for us in him.
This is the channel of the Holy Spirit. This is how he comes with power into our lives so that we can fulfill our mission. Galatians 3:5 makes this plain:
Does He then [= God], who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?
Answer: by hearing with faith. Faith is the way we connect with the inexhaustible supply of the Holy Spirit. Not by works, but by faith—by trusting the promises of God (what we "hear"), or treasuring all that God is for us in Jesus.
Love Is the Visible Form of Faith
That leaves one last question for this morning. What does "treasuring all that God is" have to do with the next line, "loving all whom he loves"? In our Spiritual Dynamic we magnify the supremacy of God's glory through our Lord Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, by treasuring all that he is, and loving all whom he loves." What's the connection between loving other people and treasuring all that God is, and magnifying God's glory?
God's goal is that our lives reveal his glory. But faith is invisible. It's something that happens in the heart. God can see it, and perhaps the angels in heaven can see it, and maybe the devil can see it. And so it does honor God; because, when you trust and treasure someone, you say that they are trustworthy and valuable. So if someone can see your faith, they see a pointer to the value of God. But people can't see your faith, if it stays inside of you. Yet God intends for the supremacy of his glory to be magnified openly, visibly. He wants his glory on display. He wants it to fill the earth the way the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14).
So he said to his disciples—to us—"Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven." How does the treasure of God become visible to the world, so that they give him glory? Answer: Jesus says, it becomes visible when it produces good deeds—that is, when it produces love. Love for people is the visible form of faith.
Here's the way Paul puts it in Galatians 5:6,
In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.
Faith works through love. It becomes active and visible in the form of love that people can see.
Why is this? It's because faith is a treasuring of all that God is. Faith is being satisfied with all that God promises to be for you in Christ. Faith is the assurance that all the promises of God are yours in Christ. It is the confidence that everything in your life is going to work for your good. Which means that faith frees you from the fears and anxieties and covetousness and self-pity and bitterness and discouragement that make love so hard.
O how I long for us as a people to catch on to how Our Mission (p. 1) and Spiritual Dynamic (p. 2) and Fresh Initiatives (p. 3) hang together and flow from one great passion. Notice the first column on page 3 of the Fresh Initiatives:
Our Mission and Spiritual Dynamic declare that the all-satisfying supremacy of God shines most brightly through sacrificial deeds of joyful love. The cry of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of our people is for a fresh, decisive emphasis on Relationships of Love.
Therefore we eagerly embrace God's call for new, visible manifestations of love toward each other, our guests, and our neighbors. With a fresh openness and outgoing spirit to each other and to all new people, we henceforth put understanding above accusation, forbearance above faultfinding, and biblical unity above the demand for uniformity.
Do you see how it is all hanging together? This is a document about visible manifestations of authentic love—flowing from hearts that are
- satisfied in the treasure of God;
- empowered by the Holy Spirit,
- rooted in wrath-removing, sin-forgiving work of Jesus Christ on the cross,
- and driven by a passion for the supremacy of God.
Pray with me and with the staff that God will do this among us. Dedicate yourself afresh right now to be so satisfied with what God promises to be for you, that you will love others with new warmth and earnestness.