“For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” (Rom. 3:28)
Recently, I was blessed by a exceptionally fine series of expositional sermons on the “Sermon on the Mount”. Just as our pastor was concluding his last sermon while making his final point, he stopped speaking, slowly walked away from his lectern, with heavily slumped shoulders, appearing burdened and exhausted. With long deep sighs while looking down at the floor, he looked grieved. It was upsetting to watch. Suddenly he lifted his head with his eyes bright and filled with zeal, he thundered with a powerful voice, “Quit playing religion! Don’t come back if you are here to do some kind of duty! Stay home, unless, today, you begin to take your Lord Jesus seriously!” I was stunned and yet I knew it was needed exhortation. A thought ran through my mind, it is true, our modern Christian culture does take Christianity for granted. After what seemed to be a long pause, as our pastor looked through the congregation, searching, tears filling his eyes, his face flushed. Finally, he returned to the lectern, and slowly bowed his head, with his hands clasped over his Bible, he began to pray for his flock. His prayer was exceptionally loving, affectionate, attentive and detailed to all of his flock’s spiritual needs. It was evident that he knew his flock very well. As he humbly asked for the Holy Spirit to fill his congregation with “a true insatiable hunger and thirst for righteousness…desiring the things of God over the things of this world…” he continued on with other biblical needs which were very personal. It was a blessed insight to a shepherd who deeply loved his flock and earnestly sought our Heavenly Father’s intercession.
Afterwards many of us discussed the sermon and his exhortation realizing how much we needed our beloved shepherd. He said something from his heart, deep within his soul, and with no pre-written notes as some pastors do, prayed for each of us with precision. Additionally, his exhortation and prayer was very much needed….for me. When my husband and got home that Lord’s day, I continued praying, realizing I needed to change the desires of my heart. Jesus expects us to give all of our heart, mind and soul to Him; never withholding any part of ourselves. We are commanded to put to death the desires of our flesh, asking God to help us fight against Satan and his dark domain as they viciously war to pull our affections away from our loving Savior. We live in a world where Satan is loose, and strategically seizing every opportunity to pull our affections from Christ. Our world is filled with temptations, distractions and demonic assaults at every turn. Whether media, television, movies, internet, music, entertainment; all arenas are fair game for the devil to fill our minds with thoughts which oppose God. Yet Christ requires that we remain steadfast in our walk with Him so that our affections are never divided. Only when we make the concerted effort to turn from those things, seek Christ through the Word, putting on the whole armor of God will we have victory. Why would we ever allow any worldly/demonic realm to divide our hearts affection?
Many years ago, when my husband and I were attending a Baptist church, I recall reading the Sermon on the Mount, as a “to do”. Sadly, at that time, I did not understand the richness and depth to which Jesus Christ was speaking to His disciples, and future believers. Finally I learned that I needed to slow down and pray for wisdom and discernment from the Holy Spirit. It is amazing how God will illuminate Scriptures’ depth, only when we are sincere. Only when we prayerfully desire to know our Savior. When our heart’s desire is right, will we begin to understand the profundity of God’s glorious redemptive plan and so much more. The treasures of Scripture will continue to be revealed throughout our life. Mature Christian’s need to encourage new Christians to pray before they read, and to read daily. Then their fleshly desires will change from the things of this temporal world to the things of Christ.
While at this Baptist church, during the first year of my walk with Christ, I was all too eager to “work out” my faith with “works”. Not with “fear and trembling”. I thought that I was pleasing God by baking gourmet food for our weekly gatherings after each Lord’s Day worship. I had invented my own sense of good deeds and works; remnants from my Roman Catholic upbringing. As I ponder those days, I see a woman who sought to perform good deeds (Luke 10:38-42), and with an insatiable worldly desire– only to feel empty afterwards. As the church ladies complimented my ever-increasing complex pastries, I always felt as if I had missed something. I never felt satisfied nor fulfilled. Hating that feeling, I would pour through my collection of gourmet cook books and research until I found more delicacies and French pastry recipes to bake. Then I would shop for the most excellent and expensive ingredients, and work for hours, even days, to bring my next special presentation. I worked late into the night until I had every ornate, sumptuous, miniature sculpture- just so. Perfect, as if ready for a magazine photo shoot. And yet, I felt no joy.
Suddenly, and providentially, I was in an accident, requiring immediate surgery with a very long rehabilitation ahead. Knowing I would be missing months of church, I felt a stabbing pang in my heart, wanting to please Jesus, in the only way I knew how. Through God’s loving mercy and grace the Lord guided me through daily Scripture. The painful rehabilitation was a time of joy as life slowed down enough for God to saturate my mind with Scripture which unveiled my worthless works and directed me to the freedom of serving with my heart. Daily prayer and Bible time was filled with liberating revelation I needed, in order to put to death the Roman Catholicism tradition and “works” still remaining. It was the beginning of a true relationship with Jesus my Savior. Finally God put my superfluous works under a microscope for me to see–with perfect painful clarity. By His mercy He revealed to me that I was “pleasing men” rather than God. Scripture revealed that I was attempting to earn favor with Christ through worthless external works. I began to see how damning my incorrect thinking had contorted my worship to our Triune God. My organized, neat little plans wretchedly ignored how frequently the Bible tells us to worship God with all our hearts (Deut. 6:5). God revealed that I needed to obey His word completely, to strive to conform into the sinless image of Christ. I realized I had a long way to go, but God had unmasked the stumbling block Satan had placed there. I began to serve, seeking to glorify the Name of Christ, from my heart, not letting the right hand know what the left hand was doing, (Matt. 6:3). I finally began to realize how much of our Triune God’s love I had been missing, by being so distracted with my fleshly
“works”. It is a scary thing to recognize how quickly any of us can slip away from self examination, justify not reading the Word of God, while minimizing prayer time, falling into a dark place; mitigating sin.
We must remember that our God-given faith which increases our love for Jesus Christ, that we do anything good, anything pleasing, anything which can be considered “true worship” to our Heavenly Father. The Word of God is our anchor, which we must hold tightly to every single day of our lives. My time of recovery became of a blessed time, in more ways than one. After I had asked the Lord for forgiveness and prayed for His direction, He poured forth His glorious grace as He led me down the correct path, leading directly to Him.
I added two new daily prayers, for our Heavenly Father to instill within me, an ever increasing desire to read, understand and apply the Word of God. And second, to examine myself daily and frequently as the Holy Spirit reveals what I need to attend to, as Scripture says (2 Cor. 13:5, 2 Cor. 10:12). Our Lord continues to answer my prayers, as my hunger to read the Word grows daily.
Tragically all too many modern Christians have allowed themselves to be lured away by Satan into his dark realm, of constant comfort, entertainment and worldly, fleshly desires rather than worshiping our Savior who came, lived a perfect sinless life, died on the cross bearing our sins, rose from the dead, ascended into Heaven, is seated at the right hand of the Father, having sent the Holy Spirit to those who believe, so that we may have eternal life. We know He will return to judge the righteous and those who have rejected- for eternal life in Heaven or eternal damnation in Hell. Why wouldn’t we want the peace which passes understanding while receiving eternal life?
My husband’s loving encouragement is a glorious reminder of Christ’s immeasurable gift. Our marriage is a sacred gift from God, and something truly incomprehensible; love that endures all things, and blossoms more beautifully through every trial. Jesus Christ opened my eyes to having the right heart attitude, which blessed my walk with Him and blessed my marriage. Only from Christ do we receive His amazing love, peace and forgiveness (Eph. 3:17-20, 4:32).
Isn’t it strange, that we think we know the answer, yet we ardently chase the shadows of this world? Pleasures, entertainment, vanity, accolades, acceptance by unbelievers, material things while dismissing God’s Word. At times our fleshly tendency has the audacity to place the blame for our discontentment upon God. When we do these things we are still wrestling like Jacob, not realizing God is trying to give us an unmerited immeasurable gift.
Oh how greatly our Father God has blessed us with the very gift we all own, which is sitting within our reach, the Bible, to be blessed by God’s very words. He will guide you because you are an heir to His eternal Kingdom! As we seek God with a pure heart our worship becomes truer and purer. He embraces us with His hand, tenderly protecting and guiding our every moment until we are face to face with Him; living in unspeakable joy forever and ever.
Therefore we all need to heed what the pastor said “…quit playing religion…and begin to take our Lord Jesus seriously!” Amen.