Confessions: Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 1 (This is not a catechism sermon per se but reference is made to Q & A 1 to such an extent that you may want to include this)
Sermon prepared by Rev. George Rowaan, Tillsonburg, Ontario
Topics: Living by the Spirit, the body of believers, belonging to Christ
There is a question that we each need to answer, not from the head, but from the heart. Do you belong to Jesus? Can you honestly say: "I am not my own but belong body and soul, in life and in death to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ?" This isn’t just a once in a life time question either. It’s one that should be asked and answered daily. Not because the answer can change, at least not as far as our faithful Savior Jesus Christ is concerned. Nothing can separate you or me from Jesus when we truly belong to him.
So why ask the question more than once? Jesus doesn’t need a daily reminder that we belong to him. He knows. He knows our answer even before we do. Jesus doesn’t forget those who are His but it is possible for us to forget who we are or rather whose we are. It is possible for us to fall out of step and, in fact, we so often do that we need reminders, almost daily reminders that bring us back into step.
If I asked you right now, "Do you know, without any doubt, that you belong to Jesus", what would your answer be? I most sincerely hope your answer is a resounding "YES!" A yes that can be said with confidence and boldness. You are allowed to. It is perfectly acceptable to affirm this truth because belonging doesn’t depend on what you have done or haven’t done. It depends on what Jesus has done for you. Belonging to Jesus is a gift. You can’t earn it. You can’t buy it; you must receive it by grace through faith.
Can you say, YES! I belong to Jesus? If you can--and I hope you can--then you belong to Jesus, but you also belong to his body. If you belong to Jesus you are also part of the body of Jesus called the church. Whether you like it or not, if you belong to Jesus, you belong to his church. That’s the way Jesus planned it. He doesn’t want us to live out our faith in isolation. He made us part of a body and gave us one another for a reason. We need one another so that we can help one another stay in step and help one another remember who we are.
Sometimes we forget who we are. Not intentionally; it just happens. We lose sight of who we are and fall out of step. Without really noticing it at first, we begin to think and act in ways that are not in keeping with who we really are. At other times we chose to ignore who we are. We make a conscious decision to step out of line and think and act in ways we know we shouldn’t but we do any way. Either way, we need reminders of who we are. Sometimes gentle. Sometimes not so gentle. That’s why belonging to the body is so important. The body provides a context for those reminders.
The verses from Galatians 5 that we read provide one of those reminders. But you can add to the reading from the Bible the place where we are and the fact that we are gathered here for worship. There are visible reminders all around us - even the people beside you. Add to that the songs we have sung and will sing, the prayers prayed and a whole lot more. When it comes right down to it there is very little about your time here that isn’t a reminder. A reminder of who you are. You are not your own, you belong, body and soul, in life and in death to your faithful Savior Jesus Christ and you belong to his body, the church.
But I want to bring our focus back to part of our reading from Galatians 5 in particular. (Reread verses 24 and 25)
Listen: "Those who belong to Christ Jesus" That’s why I began with that primary question. Do you belong to Christ Jesus?
Paul is asking this question of the Galatians and telling them, "If you belong to Christ Jesus than it should be evident, evident by the fruit of the Spirit in your life, evident by the fact that you have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.
But what does it mean to crucify the sinful nature?
Crucifixion was a brutal form of capital punishment. It was used by the Romans to put the worst of criminals to death. Paul wants to remind us that those who do not belong to Jesus and therefore live according to the sinful nature are worthy of death. But he also wants to remind us that in Jesus we no longer live by the sinful nature. We live by the Spirit and therefore we must put to death the sinful nature.
Paul chooses the word crucify because it means far more than just to put to death. It was the means of execution used to kill Jesus. He suffered crucifixion even though he was innocent. Jesus did not have a sinful nature that had to be crucified. He was put to death because of our sins, the sins of those who are willing to acknowledge that we belong to him. We share in his crucifixion. We take responsibility for his death. In his death we must see that he has set us free from sin and because he has set us free from sin we must put to death our sinful nature.
But isn’t it already dead in him? Yes and No!
There are two parts to this. First there is the part that is in the past. There is for each of us who belong to Jesus the decisive act of saying, "Yes, I belong. Yes, I believe that he died for me." In accepting and acknowledging that truth once for all we have crucified our sinful nature. But, if we have crucified our sinful nature, why do we find ourselves sinning so much? This is where the NO comes in.
We are no longer sinners by nature but old habits are very hard to break. For that reason, there is a need to be continually putting to death not the sinful nature, because it is dead and gone but the sinful deeds that creep in. We are each on a journey of unlearning and learning. Unlearning what it means to live according to the sinful nature and learning what it means to live by the Spirit and the context in which we do that learning is the body, the church.
We, who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature. This is a truth we must be continually reminded of. We also need to be reminded that we now live by the Spirit. When Paul writes: "Since we live by the Spirit," he is pointing to a present reality. He doesn’t say "if we live by the Spirit." No, all who belong to Jesus have the Holy Spirit living in us. We are Spirit-led.
But then the question remains, since we are Spirit lead, why does it so often appear like we are just doing our own thing? The answer to that question is simple. It’s because we fail to keep in step with the Spirit, either unintentionally or intentionally.
Since we now live by the Spirit we must act like we live by the Spirit. How? By keeping in step with the Spirit. The word used for keeping in step is an interesting one. It can be applied equally to a group of dancers or to a military formation. Those who march in step and those who dance in step with one another march or dance with the one who is leading them. This phrase--keeping in step--can, to a lesser degree, also be applied to athletes and farmers or, in fact, to anyone whose job is made easier if he or she follows an established way of doing things. To understand it lets focus on the military image. If you don’t like military images just think of dancers instead. Both have to go through extensive training so that they learn to work together.
In Paul’s day military battles were very different than they are today. Defense was based on a very strict pattern of working together. Moving together as a unit. Keeping in step with one another. Roman shields where made in such a way that each one could be literally locked to another one on either side. Locked together the individual shields formed a wall. A row of shields locked together provided a solid defense. Behind it the soldiers could advance against the enemy. Behind it they could stand their ground against the attacks of the enemy. And, one other thing, the sight of hundreds of men moving as a single unit also provided a frightening scene to the enemy. But it only worked when the soldiers worked as a single unit.
Marching and moving in that way doesn’t come naturally. In battle it goes against every natural instinct but it was essential for the safety of all. If anyone broke ranks, he not only endangered himself, he endangered all of his fellow soldiers. As a soldier he was not his own, he belonged body and soul to his unit.
Soldiers drill for hours, even today, learning to function as a unit. Learning to march as a unit even though soldiers don’t have to march into battle any longer. Marching teaches them to move as a unit. To keep in step. To obey commands both spoken and visual. By doing so they unlearn bad habits, the habits of civilians and learned to be soldiers.
Paul challenges us to keep in step with the Spirit. The Spirit of God who lives within us is the one who leads and guides us. We must listen for his commands, watch for his commands and ultimately follow his commands.
We live in a very individualistic society and that causes us to think as individuals when it comes to keeping in step with the Spirit. We think it is just about our own walk. But Paul makes it clear that for you and me to be truly in step with the Spirit we must also be in step with the other members of the body. This is a very hard lesson for us to learn. We do not like surrendering our individual rights and freedoms. But that is exactly what we must learn to do as we learn to keep in step with the Spirit. We are in the body now!
One person is ultimately in charge. In the body of Christ, the church, that person is ultimately the Spirit of Jesus Christ. But, there are also those who have subordinate roles of leadership. When a squad is formed that will march together even though they may all be new recruits those who appear more capable of following commands, who seem to keep in step naturally, will be placed where they can be watched by others and given leadership roles to encourage those under them and help them to also keep in step.
To the church, God has given pastors, elders and deacons along with many others who in various ways provide leadership. We sincerely believe that they have been gifted by God and given by God to the body. We all live under the guidance of the same Spirit but some have been called to set an example for the rest of the body and to help encourage, equip and direct the body so that we all keep in step with the Spirit.
When we do, we live in harmony with one another. We move together as a unit providing defense even for the weakest person amongst us and providing a very powerful witness to an always watching world that we belong to Jesus, body and soul, in life and in death.
Do we always get it right? No. In fact, maybe we spend more time getting it wrong than we do getting it right. That’s why every single day we need to reaffirm who we are. We are not our own. We are not a collection of individuals. We belong body and soul, in life and in death to our faithful Savior and he in his wisdom has made each of us part of his body, the church. So we are not our own, but belong body and soul to Jesus Christ and the body as well. We’re in the body of Jesus Christ now!
Look around you. If you are a part of this congregation than those who are gathered around you today are part of your unit. They are counting on you to do your part just as much as you are counting on them to do theirs. They need you to keep in step with the Spirit just as much as you need them to keep in step. When you trip up, they can get hurt and when they trip up you can get hurt. But it goes beyond just this congregation. The body isn’t just this unit. It is made up of believers all over the world. Hundreds, thousands of units all of which need to learn what it means to work together.
Let me give you two examples to think about. The first one is Mother Theresa. Most of us remember this small, quiet nun who served among the poorest of the poor in the slums of Calcutta, India. We can say she in many ways exemplified what it means to keep in step with the Spirit. We need more members of the body who do that. Her example made all of us look good. In a sense, when she received public recognition for her work, we all did but, more importantly, the cause of Christ benefited.
The second example isn’t nearly as nice. When you claim to be a follower of Jesus and the people you work with have heard you say it, they have certain expectations concerning your behavior. You may not like it but those expectations are real. And it doesn’t help to wear a sign that reads "Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven." Being forgiven is not an excuse to purposefully fall out of step with the Spirit. So, when you do, when each and every one of us does and someone brings it to your attention, do you realize it does harm to all of us, but, more importantly, it harms the cause of Christ?
We are in this together. Jesus has chosen to make us into a unit, a unit that must learn to keep in step together and together with the Spirit. This is our charge: Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit."
Here’s our assignment, our homework if you will: How can we encourage one another more and more? How can we teach one another? How can we correct one another? We can’t until we first recognize that we are not our own but belong first to Jesus and then to one another. So let’s daily seek to crucify the sinful nature with its passions and desires and keep in step with the Spirit together.
Order of Worship
GOD GATHERS HIS PEOPLE FOR WORSHIP
Gathering Songs: Now With Joyful Exaltation 95
I’ve Come To Tell 250
Call to Worship: Philippians 2: 6-11 "We have come to worship Jesus, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!
We have come to worship Jesus, whom God the Father exalted to the highest place and gave the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Opening Song: Come, Now is the Time to Worship or At the Name of Jesus 467
Prayer: (silent or spoken.) Spoken: Father, God, You have gathered us in this place to worship You. By the power of Your Holy Spirit draw out of us worship that is truly pleasing to You. May the words of our mouths and the thoughts of our minds be pleasing in Your sight. Through Jesus, our Saviour alone. Amen.
God’s Greeting: As God’s people we confess that our help and our strength come from Him alone.
Let us pray: "May the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be and abide with us all. Amen."
Song of Praise: O For A Thousand Tongues to Sing 501
GOD RESTORES HIS GATHERED PEOPLE
Call to Confession: God invites us into His presence and we come. We prepare ourselves to come by washing our bodies and putting on clean clothing but we can do nothing to remove the dirt of sin that clings to us. Only He can remove it but first He asks us to acknowledge and confess our sin because if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us but if we confess our sin He is faithful and just and will gladly forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Prayer of Confession: Father, God, we come to you knowing we have sinned in what we have done and in what we have left undone. We have not loved you as we aught nor have we loved our neighbours as you have asked of us. Forgive us, Father, not because we are worthy of your forgiveness but in the name and through the precious blood of your son, our Savior, Jesus. Amen.
Song: Lord, My Petition Heed 86 (select verses)
God’s Guide for Our Lives: Exodus 20 or any one of the responsive readings of the Law found in the back of the Grey Hymnal.
GOD SPEAKS THROUGH HIS WORD
Prayer for Illumination
Scripture Reading: Galatians 5: 16-26
Sermon: "Keeping In Step"
Prayer of Application: "Father God, thank you for your word to us. May we not be hearers only but may we learn to live out this word more and more each day. Help us to see in our own lives any ways in which we have fallen out of step. By your Spirit and with the help of our brothers and sisters here, guide us and empower us so that we can be the people you intend us to be. May the fruit of your Spirit be evident in us in abundance to your glory and praise. Make us know, more surely than we know anything, that we belong to you because of your grace given to us in Jesus. In His name we pray, Amen."
GOD’S PEOPLE RESPOND WITH PRAISE AND THANKSGIVING
Song: Fill Thou My Life O Lord, My God 547
GOD SENDS HIS PEOPLE TO LIVE AND SERVE IN HIS NAME
Song: Guide Me O My Great Redeemer 543
Prayer of Blessing: "Father God, bless us and keep us. May your face shine upon us and may you be gracious to us. May you turn your face toward us and give us your peace. Amen."
Song: Father, We Love You 634