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Fight Sin

“Be killing sin, or it will be killing you.” John Owen
 
“For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live.” Romans 8:13
 
We must not take a passive posture in relation to our sin. Scripture exhorts us to “Put off your old self which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds” (Eph. 4:22-23).

Since we have been united with Christ by faith, we are free from the penalty of sin (Rom. 8:1) and from its controlling power (Rom. 8:2). “Sin is still your enemy, but it is no longer your master” (Colin Smith). We are free in Christ, but we are not free to continue in sin or to presume upon the grace of God. No! We are free to walk in the new life of the Spirit; free to love God with all of our hearts; free to pursue holiness and increasingly reflect the image of Christ our Lord. 
The key to battling sin and temptation is to replace our old desires and loves with new and better ones in the Lord. While we must be proactive in our fight with sin, we must not become preoccupied with a focus on sin. Rather, we need to stoke the flames of worship in our hearts and constantly direct our thoughts to the glory and majesty of our God. And as we see His greatness and experience His goodness, “the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.” 
 
“For every look at sin, take ten looks at Jesus.” Robert Murray-M’Cheyne
 
The secret to a life of holiness is a heart of godliness. To be godly is to give God weight in your life – to make Him central and exalt Him as Lord. A godly person thinks much of God and little of himself. A godly person considers God’s will in all things and constantly surrenders her own desires. “He must become greater, I must become less.”
 
So the first battle in the war against sin is making a firm commitment to worship – both corporately and personally. We have become very influenced by our culture of rampant self-indulgence and this has resulted in a dramatic reduction in the importance of Sunday worship. Nearly every whim of ours can be an excuse to skip church – the slightest cold, plans that ran late Saturday night, the need to catch up on work, a desire to extend a weekend getaway, a little trouble getting the kids ready… the list goes on. We must reclaim the sanctity and priority of Sunday as the Lord’s Day and re-elevate the importance of gathering as God’s people to worship Him together. Our daily lighting of a candle unites each Sunday in the bonfire of public worship.
 
Similarly, in our great concern to prevent legalism, we have nearly lost sight of the importance of spiritual disciplines. Many of us give lip service to the need for daily prayer and Bible reading but the reality is that we place almost every other task ahead of these in terms of priority so that our “quiet time” becomes a “if I get around to it” reality. 
“I ought to pray before seeing any one. Often when I sleep long, or meet with others early, it is eleven or twelve o’clock before I begin secret prayer. This is a wretched system. It is unscriptural. Christ arose before day and went into a solitary place. David says: ‘Early will I seek thee’; ‘Thou shalt early hear my voice.’ Family prayer loses much of its power and sweetness, and I can do no good to those who come to seek from me. The conscience feels guilty, the soul unfed, the lamp not trimmed. Then when in secret prayer the soul is often out of tune, I feel it is far better to begin with God—to see his face first, to get my soul near him before it is near another.” Robert Murray M’Cheyne
We need discipline, but within that discipline there must be devotion:
 
“You read your Bible regularly, of course; but do try and understand it, and still more, to feel it. Read more parts than one at a time. For example, if you are reading Genesis, read a psalm also; or, if you are reading Matthew, read a small bit of an epistle also. Turn the Bible into prayer. Thus, if you were reading the 1st Psalm, spread the Bible on the chair before you, and kneel, and pray, ‘O Lord, give me the blessedness of the man,’ etc. ‘Let me not stand in the counsel of the ungodly,’ etc. This is the best way of knowing the meaning of the Bible, and of learning to pray.” Robert Murray M’Cheyne
 
Finally, the other side of the battle with sin is to actively confront and attack the remaining sin in your life. “Know your sin. Stalk your sin. Kill your sin” (Colin Smith)
 
“We need to be intimately acquainted with the ways, wiles, methods, advantages, and occasions which give sin (lust) its success. This is how men deal with their enemies. They search out their plans, ponder their goals, and consider how, and by what means they have prevailed over them in the past.  Then they can be defeated… We need to… trace this serpent in all of its turning and windings, and to bring its most secret tricks out into the open.  We must learn to say – ‘this is your usual method; I know what you are up too.’” John Owen
“[Sin] will not die except by being gradually and constantly weakened: Spare it and it heals its wounds, and recover its strength. Everything will do its utmost to preserve its life and being. So will sin do also; and if it be not constantly pursued with diligence and holy violence, it will escape our assaults. Let no man think to kill sin with a few easy or gentle strokes.  He who has once smitten a serpent, if he follow not on his blow until he be slain, may repent that ever he began the quarrel.  And so he who undertakes to deal with sin, and pursues it not constantly to death.” John Owen
“The first thing in mortification is the weakening of this habit. This is called ‘crucifying the flesh and the lusts thereof (Gal 5:24); that is, taking away its blood and spirits that give it strength and power.
As a man nailed to the a cross he first struggles and strives and cries out with great strength and might, but, as his blood and spirits waste, his strivings are faint and seldom, his cries low and hoarse, scarce to be heard;  when a man first sets on a lust or distemper, to deal with it, it struggles with great violence to break loose; it cries with earnestness and impatience to be satisfied and relieved; but when by mortification the blood and spirits of it are let out, it moves seldom and faintly, cries sparingly and is scarce heard in the heart. Sin …is fastened to the cross… that… the power of sin [be] weakened and abolished by little and little.” John Owen

Every time you say “yes” to a sin you increase its power in your life. Every time you say “no” to a sin you decrease its power in you. We will not reach perfection in this life, but perfection must still be our aim lest we compromise with the deceitfulness of sin. We will not become perfect, but we will make progress. We will grow. We will gain victories in the mortification of sin for the Spirit of Jesus Christ dwells in us and His power is at work in us to “bear the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Php. 1:11).

Is Holiness Possible?

As we go through the Momentum Bible study some important questions are coming up.

  1. Is Holiness Possible?

“Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Humility is the gateway to all the other blessings in the Beatitudes. “We must see our own wants before we can perceive [Jesus’] wealth” (Spurgeon). To appreciate the goodness and grace of God we must first understand the condemnation we deserve (Rom. 8:1). And the more clearly we see the holiness and majesty of God the more aware of our own weakness and sinfulness by comparison. Remember the 13 Perfections of Christ and even as these virtues humble us they should move us to worship our glorious and merciful Lord.

Does this mean that holiness is unattainable? Does God demand something of us that we simply cannot reach? No! God gives us, in Christ, the very thing He demands. We are holy in Christ. This is not a “legal fiction,” but the glorious declaration of justification by faith alone (Rom. 5:1). This is the true, perfect and eternal righteousness Christ gives us as a free and undeserved gift. But there is also a righteousness to which Christ calls us (Momentum workbook, p. 77) and He also gives us the grace to keep moving toward this “upward call of God in Christ.”

“Christ’s people hunger and thirst for righteousness because although we know we’re forgiven and accepted before God on the basis of all Christ is and all He’s done, we also know how far we are from all Christ calls us to be” (Momentum workbook, p. 78). This should not lead us to despair but to a zealous pursuit of growth that is filled with hope. After all, God has already given us what He demands of us. He has given us Christ! He has set us free from the power of sin! He has filled us with the Holy Spirit!

“Our God is not a capricious slave driver. He is not hyper-sensitive and prone to fits of rage on account of slight offenses. He is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love… He is, after all, our heavenly Father. What sort of father looks at his daughter’s homemade birthday card and complains that the color scheme is all wrong?” (Kevin Deyoung, The Hole in our Holiness, p. 70)

So holiness IS possible. We will not reach perfection in this life, but we can and must pursue real holiness and progress in holiness. Indeed, “without holiness, no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). Becoming more righteous is not what saves a person, but “the pursuit of holiness is the distinguishing mark of a person who stands in grace” (Momentum workbook, p. 22).

2. Where does my effort come in?

Let’s be clear. Salvation is God’s work from beginning to end and all of it depends entirely on His grace. “Grace isn’t a stepping stone on which we rest for a moment before moving on to something else. Rather, grace is the solid foundation where we stand at the beginning of the Christian life and where we remain until its end” (Momentum workbook, p. 22).

So our efforts or works or discipline do not add to the all sufficient work of Christ. Jesus doesn’t take the job halfway and then we pick it up and carry it across the goal line. At the end of our lives we will look back and see, as in the old Footprints poem, that Jesus walked with us and even carried us every step of the way. “Christ saved you by washing. And He still does through sanctification, washing your mind and regenerating your heart. That means He gives you new affections, new interests, new inclinations, and new energy, so that over time you’ll find yourself hating the sin you used to love” (Momentum workbook, p. 115).

However, just because it’s all God and it’s all grace does not mean that we just coast along and have no part to play. We are not just passive recipients of grace but we are active participants in grace. “God is able to sanctify you, and He will, but He calls you to be actively engaged” (Momentum workbook, p. 116). The Sword of the Spirit does not lift itself, you have to pick up the Bible, open it and read it. Prayer connects us with the power of God but we must grow in the discipline of actually praying. God’s people are a wonderful encouragement and support, but we must take the time to meet with one another and invest the energy to “spur one another on to love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24-25).

Jesus will forgive us when we stumble into sin, but He calls us to actively, intentionally and diligently fight against the remaining sin in our lives. Remember, God’s goal for us is not just to make us a little bit better, His goal is to make us perfect. (Read the previous post – on our way to perfect.) So keep learning Romans 8. Keep meditating on the truth of our freedom from the penalty (v. 1) and power of sin (v. 2). But continue on to v. 13 and be sure to obey the command to “put to death the deeds of the body.” “Be killing sin or it will be killing you” (John Owen).

Is holiness possible? Yes! Our final perfection awaits heaven, but we can make progress and we can experience real growth into the righteous image of Jesus Christ. And even our halting and stumbling efforts bring great pleasure to our gracious and merciful Father.

 

 

 

 

On our way to PERFECT

Listen to how C.S. Lewis says it in Mere Christianity:

“Our Lord is like the dentists. If you give Him an inch, He will take [a yard]. Dozens of people go to Him to be cured of some one particular sin which they are ashamed of… Well, he will cure it all right: but He will not stop there. That may be all you asked; but if once you call Him in, He will give you the full treatment.” 171

God says: “If you let me, I will make you perfect. The moment you put yourself in My hands, that is what you are in for. Nothing less, or other, than that… Whatever suffering it may cost you in your earthly life… whatever it costs Me, I will never rest, nor let you rest, until you are literally perfect – until my Father can say without reservation that He is well pleased with you, as He said He was well pleased with me. This I can do and will do. But I will not do anything less.” 172

Then Lewis shifts the metaphor to a home renovation: “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing… But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense… The explanation is that He is building a quite different house from the one you thought of… You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” 174

Signs of Life

2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” To enter the kingdom Jesus says, “you must be born again” (John 3:7). Both of these verses describe conversion in terms of the start of a new life. God must do this work in us, which is called regeneration. Through this miraculous, creative work of grace, God takes a dead, crippled and blind sinner and turns him into a living, walking, seeing child of God.

As we study Romans 8 we are seeing the priceless gifts of grace God has given us in Christ: freedom from the penalty of sin (v. 1), freedom from the power of sin (vv. 2-3), freedom to follow the Holy Spirit (vv. 4-5), etc. These are gifts of God’s grace alone, given to us through no merit of our own, but received solely on the basis of our faith in Jesus Christ.

Here are eight signs to look for in your life – signs that you have been transformed by the grace of God, born again as a new creation in Christ.

  1. Humility (Rom. 7:24-25) The first and constant sign of someone who has encountered the God of glory and grace is the humble recognition of His awesome power, goodness and mercy and our terrible sin, selfishness and pride. “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matt. 23:12).
  2. Joy (Rom. 8:1) Though we deserve nothing from God but His judgment and condemnation, He poured His wrath on Jesus instead of us, making it possible to save sinners who repent and put their faith in Christ. In Christ we are forgiven – free from the penalty for sin. This truth should fill our hearts with joy!
  3. Gratitude (Rom. 8:2-3) In Christ we are also free from the power of sin. Sin reigns in the hearts and lives of all who do not belong to Jesus. Sin is their master. But Jesus “breaks the power of cancelled sin; He sets the prisoner free; His blood can make the foulest clean; His blood availed for me” (Oh for 1,000 Tongues to Sing). Seeing the slavery we were under and the price that was paid for our ransom should give us overflowing gratitude.
  4. Progress (Rom. 8:4-5) This side of heaven we will not be perfect, but we should be making progress. We should be growing toward maturity in Christ. The Holy Spirit of God has given us a new heart that loves His commands (Jer. 31:31-24) and the Spirit Himself will lead us into all truth (John 14:26) and empower us to obey (Rom. 8:11), producing His fruit in our lives (Gal. 5:22-25). But we must cooperate with the Holy Spirit, setting our minds on Him and disciplining our bodies to walk with Him. Apart from the Lord we can do nothing, but if we abide in Him He will bear much fruit in our lives (John 15:1-9).
  5. Discipline (Rom. 8:6-7) The Holy Spirit dwells in the hearts of all who belong to Jesus. We are His temple (1 Cor. 6:19). Yet we are also commanded to “be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). So we must grow in the spiritual disciplines that allow us to “place ourselves before God so that He can transform us” (Richard Foster, A Celebration of Discipline). These disciplines include corporate worship, Bible study and prayer (both personal and with other believers), service in the church and outreach in the world, etc. If we do this in our own strength (our “flesh”) it will be like rowing a boat against the wind. But if we learn to surrender our power and will to the Spirit’s leading it will be like setting the sails of our lives to a strong and steady breeze that will propel us forward to life, holiness and ministry.
  6. Power (Rom. 8:8-11) There is no power inherent in us, but there is infinite power in the finger of God. To the extent that we learn to humble ourselves before Him in dependence and submission to His will, the Lord will be able to do mighty things through us (John 14:12) – not for our glory, but entirely for His. The key is being directed by the Lord, not relying on our own ideas or plans but acknowledging Him in all we do (Prov. 3:5-6) and seeking His glory above all (Ps. 115:1).
  7. Holiness (Rom. 8:12-13) The Holy Spirit’s job on earth is “to convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). Our job is to become increasingly sensitive to the Spirit’s leading so that we can “put to death the deeds of the body” by means of the Spirit (Rom. 8:13). Our focus should not be on sin and trying to remove every area of sin from our lives. Rather, our focus should be on God and growing so much in our love for Him and our delight in Him that the desires of the flesh and the temptations of the world will increasingly fade. Godliness leads to holiness, not the other way around. It is only as we give God increasing weight and focus in our lives that we will become more holy. Pursuing holiness without a love for God is vain hypocrisy.
  8. Love (Rom. 8:14-17) God is love. His children follow His example and increasingly overflow with the love that fills His heart. We deceive ourselves if we claim to love God but have no love for one another (1 John 4:7-8). Without love anything else we do, no matter how apparently impressive, is just noise (1 Cor. 13:1-3). Love is the first sign of being born again, the last sign of Christian maturity and the hallmark of true faith in Christ every step of the way.

Do you see at least some of these signs in your life? Are you seeing growth and progress so that you are becoming more like Jesus? Let the truth of Romans 8 – the Gospel – settle deeply into your heart and mind like a seed in warm, fertile soil. Meditate on these wonderful words of grace. Fill your mind with this truth and let it begin to drive out the distractions around you and the temptations in you. God’s Word will produce a harvest in us if we let it (Isaiah 55:1011)! “The Gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes!” Romans 1:16

The 13 Perfections of Christ

Pastor Scott Lothery of The Orchard Church (Chicago, IL) has developed helpful material called The Gospel-Nourished Life.

In it he presents the 13 virtues of Jesus and then shows how far we all fall short of those perfections.

  1. Jesus is the perfection of love, but we can all be callous and uncaring
  2. Jesus has the fullness of joy, entirely rooted in His  Triune nature, but we feel entitled to happiness in all kinds of things except God
  3. Jesus is totally at peace with God and others but we foster divisions and strife in our relationships
  4. Jesus has absolute discipline and self-control but we are impulsive and compulsive, following our sinful desires
  5. Jesus is infinitely generous while we are miserly, hoarding the little we have for ourselves
  6. Jesus is wonderfully gentle, tenderly sensitive to our weaknesses while we are harsh, abrasive and rough
  7. Jesus is the embodiment of wisdom, understanding and insight, but we are foolish, confused and easily led astray
  8. Jesus is always filled with hope, unshakably confident in the Father’s plan, while we are pessimistic and easily discouraged
  9. Jesus is the epitome of humility, accepting infinitely less than he deserves, while we are absurdly proud and deeply preoccupied with our own thoughts, desires and feelings
  10. Jesus is eternally faithful, always true to His word, while we are unreliable and sporadic, tossed around by every wind and wave
  11. Jesus is the revelation of all that is good and worthy of honor, but we are immoral, twisted and corrupt
  12. Jesus is blazing with unquenchable zeal for the glory of God, while we are nominal, lukewarm and complacent
  13. Jesus is 100% patient, enduring delay and suffering long, while we are irritable, quickly annoyed if we are not immediately satisfied

If we consider the glorious supremacy of Christ it should have two effects: 1) we should worship Him with reverence and joy for the fullness of His perfection and 2) we should gratefully acknowledge our woeful inadequacy and rebellious idolatry and cling to Jesus in desperately dependent faith.

Read more on this to help apply the gospel to your personal struggles.

O Wretched Man

This painting by Chicago artist, Joseph DeVelasco, was inspired by Romans 7:24, “O wretched man that I am! Who will free me from this body of death?” What follows is an analysis of this painting by Cheyenne DeVelasco, Joseph’s granddaughter, who went home to be with the Lord in August of 2017 after battling cancer through most of her teen years.

This Bible verse is used to describe a chilling painting that was done by Joseph E. DeVelasco (1933-1999). O wretched Man gives an overwhelming feeling of the death and decay of man. Joseph DeVelasco uses dark colors to give emphasis to the painting and hit home the message that he was wanting to unfold. Using black as the background, an endless time of darkness is presented; gray as the color of the old man sitting, while holding in his hand a skull, gives the fact that the body of this man is without life. The old man is wearing very old fashioned clothing, with ruffled sleeves and collar that is reminiscent of how men were once dressed for display in their coffin before buried in the ground. That however, is not the main focus because when looked at closely, the painter purposely highlights the face of the skull and man that are facing each other telling us that this old man faces an imminent death. But his left hand is highlighted with a different color along with the words of the book his hand is resting on. The words are Holy Bible and both his hand and these words are given a more fleshly color as though life has been given to this dead man through this book.

The painted framing around the old man does not lighten the mood of the painting, instead it just reassures the overall eeriness that is portrayed. Joseph DeVelasco created this painting as though it was a photograph of an old man staring at death in a finished framework, ready to be placed or hung in a household without the typical wood framework. The painted on frame has entangled ribbons that have been painted with a rusty brown color. They vary in depth with no start or finish, portraying the infinite chains sin has us caught up in. Camouflaging within the ribbons, there are men intertwined desperately trying to break free but cannot. Throughout the entwining ribbon-like structures, at the top are the words, “O Wretched Man that I am” then continuing at the bottom with, “Who shall deliver me from the body of this death”. A frontal view of a skull interrupts these words, placed right in the bottom, center of the frame. There is a second skull in the bottom right corner but unlike the center skull, the right skull appears to have an airier feeling to it.

I believe this is a representation of how man is unable to escape the sting of death with their own righteousness. We are dead without believing in the Lord, who died an unjust death being without sin. We stare death in the eyes and are entangled with our sins, they are endless without an escape. We may try to live a righteous life through our own good deeds but even then, they are over shadowed by the immense transgressions we have tainted our lives with.

This brings in the description that is given with the verse, that seems to flawlessly tell the story behind this painting. That the old man is dead but through the Word of God a new man is born and faces an eternal life with Christ. “For the corruptible must put on incorruption…….”, this is saying how we sinners must believe in the one who gave us the ability to be perfect and only then will we have victory over death.

In this depiction we are the old dead man, unwittingly living our everyday lives apart from God. Joseph DeVelasco has painted a spiritually dead man, a man that lives and breathes every day like normal but doesn’t get the connection of being with our Father in Heaven. The hand that is placed on the Bible is showing the connection that he finds and him then being spiritually alive. Every day we go living without knowing our personal Saviour is another day we live in the hands of death. “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Never knowing what a life with Christ is like is the same as being dead for eternity, we can try to substitute him with anything and everything in this world but the part that most spiritually dead people feel is larger than worldly things that we try to fulfill our lives with.

Keep Moving Forward!

Throughout the fall we walked through the book of Philippians, lifting our eyes from the challenges in our lives to fix our joy in the Lord. As we begin 2018 we will be studying Romans 8 on Sunday mornings while we discuss an eight week Bible study called Momentum in our Community Groups (including one on Sunday mornings at 9:15 a.m.). As you can see in this Momentum Overview, these two studies are meant to supplement and reinforce one another, so please be sure to join a Momentum Bible Study and come to the worship service every Sunday!

Both Romans 8 and Momentum will challenge us as individual believers and as a church to Keep Moving Forward – to intentionally and prayerfully work to make progress. If you are stuck in a struggle or sin; if you have a wound that won’t heal; if you feel adrift without a clear purpose – the next two months will guide you along a pathway toward growth. Followers of Jesus should not remain stuck. We should always be growing.

To that end let me challenge all of us in two specific areas. First, be brave enough to share what you are actually struggling with. You’ll see in the first lesson that we all start from a position of total humility and dependence. Let’s be honest with each other and bring our issues out of the darkness and into the light of God’s grace. Talk openly in your Community Group. Follow up with one or two trusted friends to go deeper and challenge one another to take on real issues and make progress in them.

Second, memorize and meditate on God’s Word. Use the key verse from Romans 8 each week as a starting point to let God press the truth of the Gospel deep into your heart and mind and life. Some of you should take up the challenge to memorize Romans 8:1-17 or even the entire chapter (we will finish Romans 8 on Sunday mornings with three more sermons in March). Start with Romans 8:1-2 and go on from there. Meditate on the freedom we have in Christ from both the penalty and power of sin.

Worship is the fuel of missions and the gospel is the fuel of worship. Let the Holy Spirit fill you up with a passion for the supremacy of Christ by meditating deeply on the Gospel over the next eight weeks. May the Gospel move us to worship and may our zeal for the glory of God empower us for the mission Jesus has given us. Brothers and sisters, let’s move forward with the Gospel together in 2018!

Finishing the Task

This coming Sunday (12/31/17) I will preach a message with this title, Finishing the Task, based on Acts 20:24 – “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”

The Apostle Paul had a lazer focus for his life and ministry: to proclaim the Gospel where it had never been heard. Nearly 2,000 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ it is startling to learn how many people still remain in that category.

Visit Finishing the Task to learn more about the 1,347 UNENGAGED people groups, totaling more than 41 million people without a single missionary, a single church working to reach them, a single radio or satellite television program, a single scrap of Scripture in their language or even a single gospel pamphlet designed for them. Nothing. They have no access to the Gospel and they NEVER have. 

This should break our hearts as followers of Jesus and fill us with urgency to complete the task Jesus gave us – to “go and make disciples of all nations.”

Check out this paradigm shifting sermon from John Piper: Let the Nations Be Glad. It was originally preached in 1986 and then enhanced in 1993, yet it remains a clarion call to missions for the glory of God and the joy of all peoples in Christ.

The Lausanne Movement was born in 1974 as Billy Graham and John Stott brought evangelicals together from 150 nations to begin a partnership to reach the remaining unreached people groups (Ralph Neighbor coined that phrase at that conference in 1974).

The 1989 convention focused missionary efforts on the 10/40 window and many of the unreached people groups began to hear the Gospel.

2010 in Cape Town was the third major convention, drawing together a more diverse representation of leaders from around the world to share in our common mission.

But still today the work remains. 1,347 totally unengaged people group. 41 million people. May we join together with our brothers and sisters around the world to finish the task our Lord Jesus gave to us – “the task of testifying to the Gospel of God’s grace.”

A Vision for the Glory of God

As we work to articulate an updated statement of our mission, vision and values as a church, it’s important to remember that our ultimate purpose and our marching orders are clear. Every Biblical church shares the ultimate purpose of glorifying God above all things and of obeying the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations. The question is, “What does it look like in this place, in this time, for us to glorify God and make disciples of all nations?”

This video summary from John Piper is one of the best clips I’ve seen to summarize that ultimate purpose or vision. What does it mean to glorify God? How does that relate to our inevitable human desire to be happy? Is it possible to pursue our happiness precisely by bringing glory to God?

The key line is this: “God is more glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” What brings the most honor to anyone – dutiful service or passionate enjoyment? Clearly a wife would much prefer her husband to delight in being with her much more than having him go through the motions of serving her needs. The same is true of parents toward their children and friends toward one another. Enjoyment conveys far greater honor than duty.

Yet when it comes to God, we usually default to dutiful service and struggle to experience passionate delight. Here is the key that unlocks joy in this life and that best unveils what heaven will be about: God’s glory and my joy are not at odds with each other as if I must choose between them; they are one in Christ! I glorify God by enjoying Him forever. He is my greatest joy and by finding my highest delight in Him, I bring the greatest honor to Him.

God’s eternal existence has been the passionate delight of Father, Son and Holy Spirit reveling in the excellencies of one another. History has been the gradual unveiling of these glories of our Triune God, first to the people of God in the Old Testament and then to all nations in the New.

The Gospel is God’s open invitation to all who will hear and respond: come to the fountain of living water! Come and find rest for your soul! Taste and see that the Lord is good! Eat and be satisfied with the richest of food. Stop digging wells in the desert that cannot truly make you happy and come to the only One who can fill you to overflowing with love, joy, peace and power.

This is our vision as a church: to bring glory to God by “spreading a passion for the supremacy of Christ in all things, for the joy of all peoples” (another John Piper quote). We want to create a culture of joy in our church that celebrates the wondrous glory of God and invites people to trade their empty worship of false gods for the soul-satisfying worship of Jesus Christ. We want to lift up the name of Jesus in our city so that more people will hear the good news of His saving work and His name will be increasingly honored. We want to invest in global missions so that the Gospel of Jesus Christ will spread to all peoples and nations, inviting as many people as possible to join in this everlasting celebration of the supremacy of Christ.

A Brief History of the EFCA

Four streams flowed together to create our movement. The first was home-based Bible studies and communion celebrations “for all believers but believers only,” at a time when attendance in the Lutheran state churches of Sweden and Norway was required by law. When these finally organized as churches they were “free” from the control of the Lutheran state church. The second stream was the spiritual life of the Pietists in Europe in the 1800s, reinforced by the third stream – the revival fires of the Second Great Awakening in America. The final tributary was the political and economic distress throughout Scandinavia in the late 1800s that led over 2 million Swedes and nearly 1 million Norwegians and Danes to cross the ocean and come to America.

The official birthday of the Evangelical Free Church in the United States was 1884, when a meeting was held in Boone, Iowa. The sole intent of coming together was to be more effective in evangelism and missions, as reflected by the sending of the first missionary (J.H. Von Qualen) to Canton, China, in 1887.

“The Free Church was not organized as a denomination. Primarily it was intended to be a missionary enterprise… Although no definite organization was accomplished [at the 1884 Boone meeting], yet enough was done to mark the beginning of a more definite work… All were alive to the blessings bestowed; all were thrilled by the precious light shed upon and through the prophetic word, and all were on fire for the saving of as many souls as possible, and in as short a time as possible. Jesus was coming soon – that was the heart-throb back of it all. And that was sufficient.”[1]

As wave after wave of immigrants came to the U.S., most Free Church work was dedicated to reaching these first generation families who still spoke their mother tongue. So it wasn’t until World War I brought a stop to immigration that the churches began to consider doing their worship services in English. By the 1930s and 40s most Free Churches had made the change, so a merger of the Swedish and Norwegian-Danish Free Churches (until that time mostly independent even from each other) was achieved in 1950 and the Evangelical Free Church of America was born.

For more details read: EFCAHistory

[1] The Golden Jubilee, E.A.Halleen, p. 27, 1934.