Everything you think, everything you do, everything you say, everything you feel, all the relationships that you have, have to do with God. When the Apostle Paul describes God, he describes him with all-encompassing words like:
From him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:33–36).
Not some things, but all things are from him, all things are through him, and all things are to him, forever. And he does the same thing with regard to Jesus. In Colossians 1:16, he says:
For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him.
You have those two texts, Romans 11:36 and Colossians 1:16. For the Father, all things are through him and for him. And for the Son, all things are through him and for him. So I feel very justified in saying that everything in your life, everything you say, everything you think, everything you feel, everything you do, all the relationships you have, have to do with God.
Passion for the Supremacy of God
One of the great things about Preaching in the same church for 27 years is that the mission of the church and the mission of the preacher tend to merge. At least that’s the way it is at Bethlehem, where I preach. The mission goes like this: I exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ. So when I say that everything you say, everything you do, everything you think, everything you feel, and all the relationships you have, have to do with God, I have something way more specific in mind than just “have to do with.”
I believe that God has ordained your existence — everything you do, everything you say, everything you feel, everything you think, and all the relationships you have — in order to make God look good. You’re on the planet in order to say things, do things, think things, feel things, and be in relationships in such a way as to make Jesus Christ look like he really is, namely, supremely valuable. So, that’s the mission statement of my life. I would like it to be the mission statement of everybody’s life. We have it as the mission statement of our church.
And you should ask, “Do I devote my life, down to the details, including the way I study, what I eat, what I drink, what I wear, how I do my hair, what movies I watch, what websites I go to and how long I stay there, what car I drive, where I live, how I do my work, where I work, what jokes I tell and like to hear, what kind of language I use, who my friends are, why I have those friends, and how I spend all my leisure time, in order to do that?” Are you asking, “How do all those things spread a passion for a supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples?
How do I do all those things so that I make Christ look really great, so that I do them in a way that communicates that he is more valuable to me than all those things, than anything else?”
Do All to the Glory of God
My Father and my mother, when I was your age, signed off week after week in all their letters to me in college, and then six years in graduate school if you count seminary. For 10 years of education, my parents wrote me almost weekly, and signed off more often than not, I think, with “Love, daddy — 1 Corinthians 10:31,” or, “Love, mom — 1 Corinthians 10:31,” or, “See you soon — 1 Corinthians 10:31.” I don’t know whether you have parents like that. As I was jotting that down yesterday, I thought, there are a lot of young people who, when they hear a story like that, say, “That would’ve been nice, or that would be nice.” And so, if you don’t, can I just play dad for a few minutes? First Corinthians 10:31 says:
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
Now, this is plain. This is not hard to understand. Paul mentions eating and drinking, surely because they are among the most basic, common, ordinary things in life, so that when we say whatever, we wouldn’t interpret it with some highfalutin, ethereal, mumbo-jumbo religious stuff that doesn’t get down to where we live. Surely, the reason he said, “Whether you eat or whether you drink or whatever you do,” is so that we would just spread that over all the details of our lives, which sets an amazing agenda for us. We should do everything to the glory of God. It’s an astonishing verse that my parents drove into me for about 10 years when I went away from home.
Short-Circuiting a Movement
Now, why am I starting this talk here? Why am I taking the majesty of Christ and saying it relates to the micro level of life by alluding to 1 Corinthians 10:31, and calling out a mission statement that says, “spreading a passion for the supremacy of God in all things,” not some things? Here’s the reason. I have a concern with what God, I think, is doing in your generation, and how it could so easily be short-circuited.
I really do believe God is doing a remarkable thing in the young adult generation in America. There are all kinds of movements. Some of these movements don’t even know the others exist, and they consist of tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of young people. It is remarkable. You go from coast to coast, and Northwest to Northeast to south, and you find these amazing outcroppings of young people who are passionate for the supremacy of God. They’re passionate for doctrine, they’re passionate for biblical truth, and they’re passionate for global concerns and world evangelization. So, I’m concerned when I see what could be Achilles’ heels that could break the whole thing open and cause it to just dribble away into nothingness.
One of those things is the disconnect between the majesty of God and the movies you watch, just to choose an example. There’s an awakening to the majesty of God around the country. There’s a filling of hearts with God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated songs. It’s remarkable that in the contemporary worship awakening, if you leave all the fluff to the side, at the center, the majesty of the God who shines through is most remarkable.
There’s the giving of zeal for truth and biblical doctrine back and forth among young people, and I’m concerned that there are some loose wires dangling between the majesty of God that is sung about in services and causes people to soar with a kind of emotional euphoria about the greatness of God, and the wires of our daily, practical, detailed lives.
They dangle, disconnected between big thoughts about God and big appetites for beer. They dangle, disconnected between infinite purity of God and the lure of pornography. They dangle, disconnected between the majesty of Christ and the carelessly-attended, default weekend movie — no questions asked, it’s just a thing to do. They dangle, disconnected between white-hot, all-satisfying divine holiness and hip huggers and plunging necklines.
As long as these wires dangle disconnected, the supremacy of God in our songs and the passion for personal holiness in our daily lives is not going to be working the way they’re supposed to, and the whole movement could come apart.
Gospel Grace and Christlike Standards
A little girl came up to me last Saturday night. We do Saturday night services here, and I was just leaving the choir room. I don’t know where she came from. I’ve never talked to this little girl, and she’s about 12 I would say. I don’t know how old she was — 11, 12, or 13 maybe. She was flowering into young womanhood. She comes up to me, and as I’m walking up to the sanctuary into worship with one minute to go, she says, “Pastor John, what’s the balance between modesty and legalism?” And she’s this tall. I had 30 seconds to answer this question. What do you do?
First of all, you don’t do this. I didn’t criticize the question. It is a bad question, because the question is posed in terms of how do you balance legalism and modesty? Well, you don’t. Would 50% legalism and 50% modesty be a good balance? She didn’t mean that, so I’m going to cut her some slack here. It was a bad question but a good thought. What’s good about this question is, number one, she cares about modesty. She cares about the standards of Christ. And number two, she cares about the gospel and the sacrifice of Christ, and doesn’t want to mess up with the gospel in trying to be modest or mess up with modesty in trying to be free in the gospel.
She’s trying to figure this out at whatever age she is. And I appreciated that very, very much. She might not be able to articulate it, but I think what she was asking was, “How do I magnify Christ in the way I dress while enjoying doing it from a heart that has a more firm basis of acceptance with God than dress codes?” That’s a very profound question coming from a little flowering female.
Soldering the Unconnected Wires
So my aim in this message is to take your passion and to push it down into the dormitory room. I want to take this passion for God, where we tend to soar thinking and feeling about the majesty of God, and push it down into the dormitory room, the street corner, the theater, the Pizza Hut, the weight room, the classroom, the lunch room, and the bedroom.
I want to help prevent the short-circuiting of what God is doing today as the wires tend to dangle and bump into each other, sparks fly, and the whole thing could short-circuit, and people could look back in 20 years and say, “Boy, something was just ready to happen there at the beginning of the millennium, and it never seemed to go anywhere.” I would like to be a servant of that soldering. That’s my goal while we are together here.
I’d like to help you solder these wires that connect the majesty of God and the movies you watch, the beauty of God and the beer you drink or don’t drink, the flawless character of God and the clothes you wear, the infinite worth of God and the way you spend your leisure, the sweetness of God and the sacrifices that you make for the poor, the wrath of God and the vigilance that you show over your own tendency towards racism and the society’s tendencies, the love of God and labor you expend for the lost, and the mercy of God and the energy you give to missions.
All those are in danger of short-circuiting as the wires from his majesty and the wires of your practical life are not as well soldered as they should be. I just assume that’s the case for hundreds of us, and I would like to be of help.
Lightning Strikes or a Laser Show?
I’m jealous for your generation, that the great work God is doing would not be merely flashing of lightning in the sky. This is the other image I had in my mind besides the wiring image. It seems to me that when big groups of students get together with great music, with solid, God-centered lyrics, and with a solid vision of God, that the singing goes on and the lightning is flashing in the sky. Genuine spiritual sights of God are flashing, and the bolts may never hit the ground.
If you’ve ever watched a thunderstorm, there are different kinds of thunderstorms. Some thunderstorms you watch and there are just lights everywhere, but you don’t ever see any ground-striking where the lights go out. If the lightning that is flashing in our worship services at church never strikes the ground you walk on, probably within a half an hour after that service you will feel zero power in front of the internet or whatever. And I would so much be jealous not for that to happen.
God is in the details, and it’s a fearful thought. I apply it mainly to my church. It’s a fearful thought, isn’t it, to say that if the lightning bolts of corporate worship don’t strike with shattering power in the details of your life, the whole storm may prove to be a laser show? It wasn’t really lightning after all, it was just manmade laser beams, and we thought it was lightning in worship. It felt like lightning in worship, but from the distance of an hour later as I cave before this temptation, it looks like a laser beam from here now. And I would just so much like to be an instrument in God’s hands, and say, “Lord, let the lightning fall, not just go around up here, let it come down and strike the ground where these students walk.”
So, here’s what I’d like to do. With that little girl’s question in mind in front of me, and the disconnected wires hanging down in front of me, and the lightning bolts of worship flashing around me up here, I want to show you something from the book of Romans. I’m going to do it so overarchingly that it’s hopeless to try and look it up, so just take notes if you want or think about it, but don’t bother trying to follow me in your open Bible, because it’s not going to work.
The Glory of the Gospel
I want to show you something in Romans about this connectedness between the majesty of God and the micro level of life that I think people tend to overlook. It’s so important. So first, in Romans, it becomes very clear that the most fundamental indictment that God has with man is that we don’t glorify him as we ought. Here’s the word from Romans 1:19:
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him …
So we were made to glorify and thank God, and none of us has done that the way we should. None of us responds with the kind of delight in God, trust in God, admiration of God, or passion for God that corresponds to the nature of his worth. We don’t, none of us.
In fact, Paul gets to chapter three, and he says that’s the very essence of sin, and it’s true of all of us. Romans 3:23 says:
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
That means the nature of sin is that we love other things more than the glory of God. We love the glory of sports, the glory of entertainment, the glory of music, the glory of theater, the glory of food, the glory of sex, and the glory of whatever; we love other glories more. We’re more moved, we’re more excited, and we’re more devoted to those things, and that’s the nature of sin, and it’s true of every single human. None is righteous, no, not one. Jews and Greeks are under sin (Rom 3:9). Paul said that all the mouths of all the earth are stopped, and we’re all accountable before God (Romans 3:19). That’s where Romans 1–3 ends up.
A Great Exchange
And so, the question then becomes, for all humans who are thinking straight, “How can I be rescued? I’m under the wrath of God. I’m guilty. I have a heart that is more prone to want to be praised than to praise God, so what hope is there for me?” And the answer of Romans is that Jesus is the answer, not the law. That’s the contrast Paul is setting up. Romans 8:3 says:
For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh …
That is an amazing verse. God sends his Son, the divine co-eternal Son, in human form into the world so that the divine God-man walks on the planet. And his design is that in this Son, there might be a condemnation of sin, and the Son never sinned. So, whose sin is condemned in Romans 8:3? It says:
God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh …
Whose flesh is that? It’s Jesus’s flesh. And whose sin is it? It’s mine. And there’s the answer. It’s amazing. God sends his Son in order to condemn me and my sin in the Son so that if I would trust the Son, and not the law, and God would view me as united to the Son, so that the Son’s death becomes my death, the Son’s punishment becomes my punishment, and the Son’s condemnation becomes my condemnation, and like it says in Romans 5:19, the Son’s obedience becomes my obedience. Everything that was required of me that I couldn’t give Christ offered up, and the punishment required of me that I didn’t want to give Christ bore, and there’s the gospel that we love so much.
The answer of Romans to the question of every human being’s sin, guilt, condemnation, and corrupted heart is that Christ came into the world to bear our sin and live our righteousness. So, we believe him and are united to him by faith, and his death becomes our death, his life becomes our life, and we have, as Paul says, peace with God. Romans 8:1–2 says:
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.
For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law (Romans 3:28).
There’s the great conclusion of chapters one through eight. And you would think that after Paul has finished setting us right with God, having no condemnation and peace with God through faith alone, not works of the law, and having related it to all of creation in chapter 8:18–25, having related it to all of redemptive history in Romans 9–11, he’d be done, right? He’s done. We’re saved. We’re free. We’re going home. He’s finished.
A Living Sacrifice
But he’s got five more chapters. That’s the obvious thing I want to make sure you don’t miss. Why do you need five more chapters if I’m saved, I’m justified, and I’m secure?
Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised …
I’m saved. That’s the end of the book. Let’s go watch a movie. There are five more chapters. Why? What in the world is going on? So, I said to this little girl in the 30 seconds I had, “Now, be sure that you know what real legalism is. Legalism is what you do when you believe that doing is the basis of God saving you, being for you totally. That’s legalism. Legalism is believing that doing any kind of doing is the foundation where you stand on to support you in the presence of God. That’s legalism. You don’t want any of that. And she said, “Yeah, that’s right.” That’s all I had time to say to her — no help in modesty at all. But I’ve got a little more time with you, so there’s more to say. There’s lots more to say.
You’re not saved by keeping any dress codes. You’re not saved by drinking codes, or movie codes, or social justice codes, or racial reconciliation codes, or 10 commandment codes. You’re not saved by code, you’re saved by Christ — his blood and his righteousness. By faith we stand there, and in that process of standing there, watching him die for us and rise for us, we fall in love with him and treasure him above all things. That starts to give a little clue to what’s going on in chapters 12, 13, 14, 15, and 16 of Romans.
There’s a pivotal verse. You know it, don’t you? Listen. He’s just finished 11 chapters, right? He’s done now. Those are the greatest chapters in the Bible, probably. We are justified, we have peace with God, there’s no condemnation, his righteousness is ours, his death is ours, we are absolutely secure, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, and then he says:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies (your legs, hands, lips, and sexual organs) as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Do this so that when you think, when you feel, when you intuit, you get the will of God right about everything. That’s the pivotal verse. Amazing.
Bought with a Price
These are blood-bought bodies, living sacrifices.
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body (1 Corinthians 6:19–20).
You have blood-bought hands, blood-bought legs, a blood-bought tongue, blood-bought eyes, blood-bought ears, and blood-bought sexual organs. They’re all Christ’s. He bought them. And justified people worship with them. They don’t sell them. Justified people, the Romans 1–11 people are changed people, renewed people, transformed people; they’re on their way towards being new in Christ.
I think Romans 12:1–2 is the thunderbolt that strikes the ground:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed …
When that happens, it’s a lightning bolt that hits the ground under your feet and everything changes. It’s the soldering that helps the disconnected wires of the majesty of God and the movies you watch and the food you eat get connected.
In the gospel, we were justified and forgiven and accepted, and we saw all that happening by faith, and Christ became precious to us. And when Christ becomes precious to us as the supreme value of life, everything begins to change. That is the most fundamental transformation, and it tends to change all the other parts of life.
But here’s the amazing thing. You might say, “I would tend to think, given the way I understand freedom in Christ, the badness of legalism, the glory of justification, and the spiritual nature of sanctification, that we’re done now after chapter 12:1–2. That’s it. We offer our bodies as living sacrifices and be transformed in the renewing of our minds, and we aren’t conformed to the world, and then we’ll be able to prove what is the will of God, what is good, acceptable, and perfect. That’s the end of the book. Let’s go do it.”
He still has five more chapters to go. And you start to think, “So evidently, being justified and laying our lives on the altar of God with our bodies, and having the Holy Spirit begin to transform and renew our minds and give us a discerning heart to detect the best way to do eating and drinking and entertainment or not, still has another component to it that’s missing — namely, all the amazing specifics of chapters 12–14.” When the Bible begins to get specific, it’s not becoming legalistic. When the Bible begins to get specific, it’s getting serious about the visible displays of the glory of God in your life.
Justified to Magnify
We’re justified for the purpose of making Christ look great, that’s why he saved us — to make Christ look great. If we continue to eat and drink and entertain ourselves exactly the way unbelievers do, how will it appear to them that Christ is most precious to us? After Paul says that justified people conform, not to the world, but to the Spirit and the truth, he gets down and fleshes it out.
Now, just listen. I’m going to walk you through this really fast. Let it have a general, big impact as you hear what Paul does next, because this is the part where the wires seem to not connect. The first thing he deals with in Romans 12:3 is that he tackles the whole issue of self-esteem, and turns it right on its head, and makes our value a function of the value of Christ to us, then he talks about church and the nitty-gritty relationships of church. We’re not supposed to be freewheeling, unaccountable individuals. We belong to messy, real world, imperfect churches, according to Romans 12:4–8.
Then he talks about hypocrisy and the genuineness of love in Romans 12:9. Then he talks about objective good and objective evil, cleave to the one, abhor the other. That’s a huge word — abhor. He’s instructing us in our emotional relationship about the objective reality outside ourselves.
And then he tells us that there are all kinds of affections you’re supposed to have for your believing friends (Romans 12:10). He tells us, putting his finger on laziness in serving Jesus, we should have patience in tribulation and constancy in prayer (Romans 12:11–12). And then he gets in our pocket books for goodness sake, and he tells us we’re supposed to give a certain way to our poor neighbors (Romans 12:13). And then he gets in our dining room and tells us we’re supposed to be hospitable. I mean, how much more nitty-gritty can you get than telling us how to use our houses, to have people in, so that Christ looks good.
And then he tells us how to treat hostility (Romans 12:14–21). That’s the longest section. How do you deal with people who are hostile to you? And then he tackles government, and talks about how God ordains government, and gets in our taxes again and our pocket books, and he tells us to pay taxes (Romans 13:1–7). Then he talks about adultery, murder, stealing, and coveting, and says that love fulfills all of the commandments against those (Romans 13:8–10). And then he tells us not to be a part of orgies, drunkenness, sexual immorality, sensuality, quarreling, or jealousy (Romans 13:11–14). That’s the end of chapter 13. And we could go on into chapter 14 if we wanted to.
A New Moral Compass
The point is that God doesn’t stop at Romans 12:2 with the big general principled statement of “Be transformed in the renewing of your mind that you may be able to discern what is the will of God.” He goes ahead and gives example after example of concrete illustrations regarding the way we make Jesus look great in this world. Don’t throw those parts of your Bible away; something essential will be missing.
Let me try to sum it up like this. The law is taken away as a place to stand for our justification. Pauls says, “We died to the law.” When the law is taken away, and Christ is put there in the place of the law to stand on in the presence of the living God for our foundation and acceptance, what is there for our moral compass? The law felt so complete, so practical, and so helpful, and now Paul just says, “You have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God” (Romans 7:4).
Bearing Fruit for God
So, does fruit just pop out like peaches, or what do you mean? I mean, what is the actual nitty-gritty moral compass that we’re left with when the law is taken away?
The New Testament answer comes in four realities: First, when the law is taken away, you have Christ as your righteousness and your punishment. And you see him in all of that as your treasure, more valuable than food, drink, drugs, sex, friends, family, sports, and entertainment. You have Christ as your everlasting, all-satisfying treasure, and where that changes, everything changes.
Second, you have the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit’s work, according to John 16:14, is to make Christ shine beautifully in your heart’s eyes so that you see him for who he is and understand what he’s done for what it really is, so that the affections for Christ and the allegiance to Christ rise. So, the Holy Spirit is essential in transforming our minds by revealing Christ to us.
Third, you have the fruit of love that rises out of the transformed mind. The Holy Spirit reveals Christ, and where Christ is seen, we are transformed from one degree of glory to the next into the image of Christ, and the love begins to naturally flow. And here’s the key question about love: What is it? How does love function as one of the parts of the moral compass that gives you guidance for what to do in the nitty-gritty of your life?
Most Americans don’t know what love is. I’ll state a definition that they might agree with, and then I’ll give it a biblical translation. Maybe you would find people who would agree with this definition. Love is doing whatever you have to do at whatever cost to yourself to make people as happy as they can be forever. I buy that definition of love. Love is doing whatever you have to do at whatever cost to yourself — it cost Jesus’s life to do this — to make people as happy as they can be forever.
Now, the biblical translation of that is this: Love is doing whatever you have to do at whatever cost to yourself to help people have an all-satisfying passion for Jesus forever. Those are synonymous definitions because Christ is the only source of everlasting joy. If you reject Christ, you don’t have joy forever. Therefore, the definition of love is eating, drinking, and doing whatever you do in order to help people cherish Christ above all things, seeing him and savoring him above all things. That becomes massively helpful in what movies you watch, what you eat, what you drink, where you go, and how you spend your time.
Practical Guidelines for Christ’s Glory
Are people seeing in you and in your values that Christ is supremely important? Are you doing things that will cause them to read off of your life, “They don’t seem to get the strokes that I get from this, this, and this. They seem to be drawing down their life and their joy from another place.” That’s what love is going to prompt you to show — Christ, as supremely valuable.
So the first thing we have as part of our moral compass is Christ, the second is the Holy Spirit, the third is the fruit of love flowing from the renewed mind, and the fourth thing is practical, nitty-gritty commandments in Scripture, like we have in Romans 12–14, in order to illustrate the kinds of attitudes and behaviors that magnify Christ.
So, the Bible says real, concrete things like, “Flee fornication. Practice hospitality. Bless those who curse you. Avoid orgies and drunkenness.” It’s not as a new law for how to get justified, but because we tend to be blind to what will magnify Jesus. We don’t know the kinds of behaviors that make Christ look good if left to ourselves. We have to be told the kinds of things that the world needs to see, and that’s why we need this fourth element — namely, all the practical illustrations and guidelines in the Bible.
In Christ Jesus, you are dead to the law. You’re not left without a moral compass. You have Christ, you have the Spirit, you have love, and you have the practical commands of Scripture. And so, I pray for you. I pray that the lightning bolts of corporate worship would strike the ground where you walk and everything would be changed. I pray that the Holy Spirit would solder together the wires between the supremacy of God over here, and the standards of entertainment that you set for yourself over here, and the standards of service that you set so that they would be firmly fixed and wouldn’t short-circuit. I pray that Christ would shine out of your lives with an echo of his excellence that shows he’s supremely valuable to you. And I pray that whether you eat or whether you drink or whatever you do, that you do everything to show that Jesus is great.