October 14, 2012
God Our Help to Please Him, Sermon, Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity
God Our Help to Please Him
Psalm 72, Ephesians 4:17-32, Matthew 9:1-8
Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity
October 14, 2012
"[W]ithout thee we are not able to please thee... ." These words from Collect for the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity lead us immediately to that aspect of the Christian life into which we hope to be encouraged and strengthened today, pleasing God. What does it mean to please God, and how can we, weak and foolish and sinful as we are, ever hope to achieve the lofty goal of pleasing God?
We must acknowledge that an essential part of our calling into Christ, is pleasing God. I think contemporary evangelicalism places too much emphasis on what God saves us from, and too little emphasis on what God saves us to. It tends to give the idea that Christ died only to forgive our sins and take us to Heaven. But He died to accomplish much more than that in us. He died to make us into a new kind of person. He died to bring us into an Empire of peace. He died to form us into a kingdom of priests who offer up continual sacrifices of holy living in accordance with the moral and spiritual teachings of the Bible. These moral/spiritual teachings are just as much a part of the Gospel as being forgiven of sin and saved from hell. The verse that says, "If ye love Me, keep my commandments" (Jn. 14:15) is just as much a part of the Gospel as the verse that says, "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus." In fact, that verse, Romans 8:1, goes on to describe those who are in Christ Jesus as those "who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." In other words, it is those who live the new life in Christ who are the saved. Or, as we read in James 1:22 in the morning readings last Tuesday, it is those who hear and do the word of God who are the real Christians, not those who only "hear" it.
The Epistle for this morning pictures the new life we are to live as Christians. The new life takes us out of the former habits and values of spiritual darkness, which Ephesians 4:22 calls "the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts." Putting off such things is a necessary part of being a Christian. They must be put off like filthy, vermin infested garments, and we must put on the "new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness" (Eph. 4:24). The rest of the book of Ephesians is about how the new man lives the life of righteousness and true holiness. All those verses about speaking truth, and working to earn your living, and submitting to your husband, and loving your wife as Christ loves the Church, and honouring your parents, and provoking not your children to wrath, and putting on the whole armour of God, and watching in prayer, are about the way you are called to live if you are a true Christian. And it might be a good thing to ask yourself right now if you really intend to be a true Christian or not. Are you really willing to follow Christ, or are you just playing games with God to salve your conscience? Seriously ask yourself this, because you are to examine yourself before you come to the Lord's Table, and because the consequences of playing games with God are eternal.
Listen, please, because this is very important. I constantly encourage you to pray and read the Bible daily and to come to church every Sunday. I don't ask this for me or for my benefit. I ask it for your benefit, because I want you to grow in the knowledge and faith and strength and communion of God. This is a very important part of being a Christian. I think the Bible clearly teaches that those who cannot find the motivation to do these simple things have reason to doubt the validity of their faith. But, being a Christian is more than prayer and Bible reading. In fact, you can read the Bible daily, spend hours in "prayer," go to church, and receive baptism, confirmation, and Holy Communion, yet still be far away from God in your heart. You can know the Bible well, and be an expert in Hebrew, Greek, and all the various doctrines of the Bible, yet still be mentally and spiritually aloof from God. That is why James wrote that we must be doers of the word and not hearers only, for those who hear but will not do the word, deceive themselves.
But who has been a doer of the word? Who has lived life according to the Spirit instead of according to the flesh? Who can say with confidence, "I have kept the commandments of God?" Would we not be more correct to say with Paul, I am chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15) and with the publican, "God be merciful to me a sinner?" (Lk. 18:13). Thanks be to God it is not our works of obedience to His commandments that make us acceptable to God. It is the sacrifice of Christ, bearing our sins in Himself and dying for them on the cross that makes us acceptable to God. And thank God also that we are not left to our own devices and power to live the Christian life. Without Him, that is, without His help, we are unable to please Him. Even with His help we will not be perfect in this life, of course we can do far better than we are currently doing, if we really want to. In A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, William Law asked why most people who call themselves Christians never live devout and holy lives. His answer? Because they never intend to. They go to church and they say the prayer asking God to enable them to "live a godly, righteous and holy life," but they don't mean it. They don't really want to live that way. I believe he is correct, but I beg you not to let that be true of you.
Truly we need God's help if we are going to live lives that are holy and Godly and pleasing unto God, but, is God willing to help? To answer this question let us turn to the Gospel reading for this morning. Here we see Christ healing the physical ailment of a paralysed man. Our Lord makes it plain that He is not merely healing the disease of the the flesh; He is primarily healing the disease of the soul. "Thy sins be forgiven thee," He said to the man. Why do we read this passage in connection with the topic of pleasing God, and how does it answer the question of the willingness of God to help us? Because it shows the compassion and help of God. If God was willing to help the man whose legs were paralysed, He is also willing to help those whose faith is paralysed. He who is willing to forgive sins at the cost of His own life, will also freely help His people live the life of faith as surely as He who freed the ancient Hebrews led them from Egypt to the Promised Land.
So, we need the help of God if we are going to live the Christian life, and God has promised to help us. This means two things for us in practical, daily life. First, we must ask God to help us. This might mean that our prayers need to have a change of focus. We may need to pray less about getting the physical things of the world, and more about help to be the husbands,wives, daughters, sons, parents, employees, church members, and Christians God wants us to be. In other words, we may need to spend more time seeking help to live a holy and Godly life. Second, we must avail ourselves of the help He gives. If you ask most Christians how God helps us, they will usually say something like, "by the power of the Holy Spirit." By that they mean God somehow infuses us with Heavenly power and we are able to conquer sin and do all good works He has prepared for us to walk in. But how does God infuse us with that power? Primarily through the means of grace received in faith. He helps us as we read the Bible in faith. He helps us as we pray Biblical prayers in faith. He helps us as we worship at home and in Church in faith. He helps us as we come to the communion table in faith. These are the things God has ordained to help and succour His people, and to enable us to put off the old things of sin and self, and to put on the new things of God and holiness. These are the means by which God helps us please Him.