Isaiah 65: 1 – 9
Galatians 3: 23 – 29
Luke 8: 26 – 39
There’s that old joke that goes, “If you were tried in a court of law for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”
Sometimes people can fool judges (of course there are consequences for trying to do so and being found out!). But there is one judge we can never fool and that’s ourselves. It’s one of the prime mental health indicators because the more you lie to yourself, the more you know your life is a lie and you lose confidence in your own integrity.
Things begin to fall apart, and what is scary is they do so at a subliminal level first. In other words while the person carries on the charade, they are all the time being undermined by their subconscious, until they unravel, and in the words of Jesus describing the house built upon sand, “Great was the fall thereof.”
A good question might be, “Do I have enough evidence, to present to others, of God’s work in my life?” That’s a tough one.
When we share our faith, there are often two thrusts to it:
- What God has done in Jesus. (I’m referring here to the Good News)
- What God has done in my own life. (I’m referring here to witnessing to God’s grace at work in my life)
I remember when I first became a Christian at the age of 17 ½, I was asked to speak to the entire assembled school of Treverton College (a Baptist boys’ private school). I was so new I had precious little to say. Talk about being thrown into the deep end!
It didn’t get much better. About a year later I was in the army in Cape Town, and what little reputation I had, had preceded me and I was asked one weekend to speak to the large Christian group at Diocesan School for Boys – commonly known as Bishops.
The trouble was I had taken a bit of a sabbatical from my faith after a slightly drunk Padre had said to me, “So you suffered a conversion. You’ll get over it.” I did – get over it, that is. I did what is commonly known as backslide. I had so little to say to those Bishops boys that was convincing, and they knew it. I escaped as soon as I could and comforted myself with a cigarette.
I had little evidence at hand of God’s work in my life. Evidence is crucial.
This faith thing is hard work. No wonder people hide behind religiosity. Anything to hide the inner paucity. Some people hide behind the kinds of things that should emerge from a faith-filled life: good works or justice issues. Or they develop a counterfeit faith that is really sentimentality or at worst a sheer going through the forms: religiosity. Any number of things in order to hide who we really are.
But you can’t hide from God and you can’t hide from yourself. Eventually the lack of integrity begins to show and we either genuinely repent or we become a parody of what a Christian should be. The petticoats always stick out.
38The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39‘Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.’ So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.
God expects you to have a story to tell, and a genuine one. Evidence is crucial. What are you doing about that?
While I was in the army I avoided Christians altogether until I returned home before going to uni. I think I’ve related the story before of my knowing I was a square peg in a round hole; desperately praying daily until one day I had a powerful revelation of God’s love and acceptance. That was something I could share with other people!
We have to work at it. So many of us have been brought up in a church where we attended services, made our Communion (as the saying used to be) but were unaffected by a genuine faith. No wonder the church in the West is largely moribund, shrinking, desperate to know how to halt the decline.
I quoted an article in the Day One email that went out on Thursday 28th March where a heritage buildings group had conducted a survey in Canada and estimated that in the next ten years nine thousand church buildings would close. Nine thousand! We need to wake up and smell the lava flowing down the hill towards our settled indifference!
Faith requires humility. It requires an admission of guilt and an openness to what God longs to do in our lives, no matter how uncomfortable that might be. It requires getting to know God, not getting to know about him. Only that way (as a by-product of the life in Christ) do we develop genuine stories to tell, i.e. gather evidence of God’s work in our lives which becomes a powerful tool for witnessing to Christ’s effective work in our lives.
God is always hoping we will turn genuinely to him. Quoting Isaiah, Paul writes in Romans, But concerning Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.” (Romans 10: 21)
God never gives up on us. His mercy endures forever, repeats the Psalmist time and time again.
Faith brings life because it brings relationship through Jesus.
Every wealthy Romans household had an educated slave who was responsible for the education of the boys until they reached a certain age, whereupon they were thrust into an adult world. The word, “disciplinarian” Paul uses in our Epistle this morning is the word used for this slave. Some translations use the word “schoolmaster”.
23 Now before faith came, (he tells the Galatians) we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.
Faith brings freedom but crucially, it is a freedom that is predicated upon a long servitude to the Law. Otherwise it is simply licence. So, while we are saved by grace (God’s goodness) through faith (as opposed to obeying the law) this all results in a relationship with Jesus.
What you have heard this morning is a form of the Gospel. God has standards. We can’t hold to them in our own strength. Only in Christ can we do so, and Christ holds out his arms to us. As with any hearing of the Good News, God expects a response. My hope that is that we all take the words we have heard this morning and allow them to percolate through us. Only you know what aspect of the Gospel you need to respond to. Only you can respond.
God bless you all