I AM CONFIDENT
One day this man was walking across his college campus loaded down with. He passed by a fast food stand, and ordered something to eat and a milkshake to wash it down. He balanced it all on top of his books and began looking for an empty table at which to sit. While looking, the milkshake got the better of him, and he bent down without looking in order to take a sip from the straw. The straw missed his mouth and ended up in his nose. Embarrassed, but not at a loss, he thought that if he straightened up the straw would stay in the shake. But when he lifted his head, the straw came out of the shake and remained in his nose, dripping the milkshake down the front of his suit. In a moment, all his confidence evaporated.
I’m sensing a quiet confidence filling me as we wandered through Ephesians. It’s not a confidence in how good I’m doing or anything. It’s not related to my performance at all. It’s coming from the outside; it’s a confidence in who Jesus is for me.
The writer of the Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien, said, “Not all those who wander are lost.” As we enter our 5th week in this series: “Who Do You Think You Are?” I don’t want you to get lost, so I’ve placed some notes in the Worship Folder to remind you of what we’ve seen so far.
Read those note this week. I think it will help with your confidence too.
Now, I’m going to talk about the reason for that confidence this morning, but before I do, let’s pray.
The Reason for Discouraging Darkness
Every age of history is plagued with problems. But in our age we’ve got smart phone and such and it seems the darkness of the world is ever before us—that’s discouraging. For all of our tech we’re no closer to creating a just, free, and humane society that we’ve been before.
Maybe you’re like me… once in a blue moon you think, “Why aren’t things getting better?” Why do we keep having school shootings? Did you know that there have been 36 school shooting already this year? I looked at the report, heroin usage keeps climbing. Our politicians can’t say two nice words in a sentence. There are wars and rumors of wars. Why? Our text today will tell us.
This summer Kioni and I spent a day at Cedar Point. We tried to ride all 18 coasters. But we got kicked off the the Wilderness Express. We weren’t rowdy. We just weren’t accompanied by someone under 32 inches. It was a depressing turn of events. So we got in line for the Millennium Force. Standing in line for that one was exhilarating and scary. It moves at 93 mph and takes a 90 degree drop from 300 feet. The only thing that gave us confidence to get on it was the massive padded bar they lowered over our laps.
The apostle Paul is going to give us confidence to ride the dangerous coaster called “The World.” But we have to wait in line for the seatbelt. He’s got some hard news for us first.
Ephesians 2:1–3, ESV:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
Thoreau said, “Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.” He’s right. But let me rephrase: Not until you understand how much you need to be loved can you begin to understand how loved you are.
Brittany and I live with three dogs. The oldest, our Shih Tzu, Sam, got sick last week. He was lethargic and going to the bathroom in the house; then, we found him laying in a pool of blood. We rushed him to vet.
We could have gotten a really bad report. Brittany was scared that we might have had to put him down; tears were lining up ready to march down her cheek. But Sam came home, and Brittany’s tears didn’t go on parade.
Sam, however, had to help with his healing. He had to eat the food we gave him with the medicine in it. It’s not easy to convince a dog to eat something that smells funny.
Now, there are different types of dead. There’s messy, ugly dead; there’s fall asleep in owners lap dead. Yet dead is dead. If Sam had died, he wouldn’t have been able to help his healing. He would have needed a resurrection.
Paul opens this passage by telling us: “You were dead.” He’ll say that again in verse 5. So, maybe he’s serious. Dead is dead! He doesn’t say you were sick in your sins; he said, “You were dead.”
I don’t think we like that idea. We look around and we see people walking and talking. They’re not stinking too badly. Dead, really? Come-on, man!
Yeah, dead … the Bible is saying, “You’re all blind to Jesus’ glory, deaf to the Spirit, and have no awareness of the Father’s. You’re as unresponsive to God as a corpse.” That’s the natural state of things. Then Romans knocks it home: “No one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Rom 3:11–12). That’s not a very nice thing to say, is it?
Now, someone will say, “I see folks doing good things every day. What about that?”
This week I read a confession by a wife of an alcoholic. She said, “You know, for years I thought I was loving my husband. I’d bail him out, I’d sacrifice for him, I’d cover for him, I would do all of these things for him, and I thought I was loving him. But I found out that what looked like selflessness was really selfishness. I needed him to be messed up. I needed to feel good about myself and, therefore, I needed to feel like I was his rescuer, his savior. Therefore, even though I was doing all of these things I thought were for him, I was doing them for me. It was my way of actually using him to feel better about myself.”
Wow! That’s a confession.
When I was a missionary in the Philippines sometimes we’d go to the mall for dinner. I saw a custodian working hard to clean the floor. Stretched out behind him was a beautiful pattern of symmetric swirls. It was dried dirt. The water in the bucket was black as night. Isaiah says, “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (64:6). Why? Because of motives and objectives.
When you’re working with the motive of: “I’m trying to be a good person so God will like me, so he’ll have to listen to me so he’ll take me to heaven,” what’s going on inside? You’re trying to be your own savior; Jesus’ grace is being rejected. Your selflessness is actually selfishness. Do you see?
Martin Luther, put it this way: “Our nature … is so deeply curved in on itself that it … wickedly, curvedly, and viciously seeks all things, even God, for its own sake.” In other words, being a sinner is like having a little computer in your heart, which is running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. It’s analyzing everything. It’s seeing everything, every person, every object, every interchange, every event, every setting, and it’s basically saying, “What’s in it for me?”
Ouch! That diagnosis stings.
Do you remember the first Rocky movie; the one from 1976? There is a scene in that movie where he’s talking to Adrian. He’s feeling low; he’s positive he’s going to lose to Apollo. He says, “Yeah, it don’t matter, because I was nobody before. … Come on, Adrian, it’s true. I was nobody. It don’t matter either, ya know. Cause I was thinking. It really don’t matter if I lose this fight. It really don’t matter if this guy opens my head either. Cause all I want to do is go the distance. Nobody has even gone the distance with Creed. And if I can go that distance. Seeing that bell ring and I’m still standing, then I’m gonna know for the first time in my life, see … that I weren’t just another bum from the neighborhood.”
Deep down we all feel like bums. Everything we’re doing is trying to convince ourselves that we’re not.
That egocentricity, that self-centered way of thinking makes some people cruel. But more often it makes people moral. Because there’s no better way to put people in your debt; there’s no better way to get control over others; there’s no better way to feel good about yourself than to be a good person.
When the Bible says that we’re dead in our sins it’s saying we’re cemented into this mode of being. In fact, the social value-system of the world is everyone running around addicted to this mode of being.
Drug addicts will tell you one hit is nerve enough, you got to have more. When we’re enslaved to ego, living for our own glory, living for compliments, trying to convince everyone that we’re not bums, trying to convince ourselves, that’s enslavement. When we’re enslaved to the spirit of the world, when the Devil has his bit in our mouth like that, we want nothing more than to satisfy our existence. And we say things like, “That doesn’t seem so bad; it seems natural.”
It seems natural because everyone is living in it, but it’s a condemned house.
You probably don’t know this … there are 70,000 abandoned homes in Detroit. They’re falling apart; they’re becoming crack houses. They’re condemned. Slated for demolition. But the city can only tear so many down a year, so they’re still standing—but there is no life in them.
Our world is dark because the souls of those who are not in Jesus are dead. They’re condemned houses. That’s the Bible’s diagnosis. And if you tell people this, you’re not going to make many friends.
If I stopped here, it would be depressing. You’d be without a seatbelt for this world’s wild ride. But as Paul Harvey—for those of you who are old enough to remember Paul Harvey—use to say, “And now the rest of the story.”
The Reason for Continuing Confidence
Ephesians 2:4–9, ESV:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
I just love how Paul gets into this. He says, “Yes, that’s the situation, that’s the diagnosis, but cheer up for here comes the deliverance … BUT GOD!”
I just love this because it is a complete reversal of everything we expect. We expect some instruction on how to get better and do better. But we don’t get that. We get, “But God … !”
If we’re dead, it means resurrection is required—spiritual resurrection. You can’t do it. I can’t do it. God has to do it.
But the first question that comes to my mind when I was looking at this passage was “why.” Why does God do it? Then I saw that this passage was chocked full with brilliants nouns, like mercy, love, and grace. So it dawned on me… God brings about this first resurrection, a spiritual resurrection, to reveal what he is like.
Now I get it. Because you see the biggest problem in my life is that I don’t trust God enough. And I don’t trust him enough because I don’t fully understand what he’s like. If I did, I think I would be radically change.
Consider what John said: “Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is” (1 John 3:2). Think about that …
Once a boy put his father’s wit to the test , he said, “Dad, if three frogs were sitting on a limb that hung over a pool, and one frog decided to jump off into the pool, how many frogs would be left on the limb?” The dad replied, “Two.” “No,” the son replied. “There’s three frogs and one decides to jump, how many are left?” The dad said, “Oh, I get it, if one decides to jump, the others would too. So there are none left.” The boy said, “No dad, the answer is three. The frog only DECIDED to jump.”
The father didn’t get it. Then, the son explained it. And … viola … the lightbulb went off. God took what was dead and made it alive, why? So the lightbulb would go off and you’d see him.
Perhaps you remember what Jesus said in the Gospel of John when he was chatting with Nicodemus under the moonlight. He said: “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Spiritual resurrection is required. And if I’m going to be raised from spiritual death so I come alive to the heart of God, I need to be wrapped up with his heart—his mercy, and love, and grace.
Bill and Gloria Gaither, you might not know them, but they were really big southern gospel singers in 1980s, anyway at one of their concerts a man sitting in the front row with his wife. It was clear that he didn’t want to be there. His arms were folded, his eyes averted and his entire demeanor was cold, angry, and hard. During the concert the Gaithers sang a song they wrote and one that has pretty much been sung in Christian circles everywhere. The song was, “I am Loved” with the thrust of the song being that now that I am loved, I can risk loving you. The song ends with “We are loved!” and an invitation to walk together.
Just before singing that song, Bill asked everyone in the auditorium to take the hand of the person next to them while they sang the song together. The man on the front row was buying none of it and kept his arms folded. He wouldn’t even hold his wife’s hand.
During the intermission, the singers were all talking about the angry man in the front row and Bill decided that he was going to sing that song again at the end of the concert but with a twist. He told people that while they were singing they should hug the person next to them. Again, the angry man stood with a scowl on his face and his arms folded. Then, to Bill’s horror, Gloria left the stage and went into the audience approaching the man. She threw caution to the wind and gave him a big hug.
Do you know what happened? The man broke down and wept.
The Lord does that too. He doesn’t search for what he loves, he creates it.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:9).
If you’ve been around the church for a long time and Christianity really hasn’t been a power that’s changing you from the inside, then you need to understand God’s grace better.
When I go to a hotel I find these thin notepads and pens laying around with the hotel’s logo on it. I figure that the hotel likes free advertisement, so I take those with me and use them. But they don’t change my life. You know why? Because they weren’t costly or indispensable.
But when I was living in the Philippines I saw a lot of very poor people. My domestic helper had a family member who died of rabies because she couldn’t afford a shot. Now, imagine that you were that poor and you needed a serious operation to live, but you couldn’t afford it. But imagine someone you knew sold everything they had, emptied their bank accounts, and paid for your surgery.
That would be different from the free pen I got at the Marriott wouldn’t it? But why, both were free? It would be different because the operation was indispensable and costly. Someone gave up everything for you.
That’s grace. It’s an undeserved, free gift. It’s also costly and you can’t live without it. Jesus had to die so you could have it. “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).
I read a story recently of a man who went to a New Year service in London. Those services were unique because people from all over would come.
On this occasion the pastor saw a former burglar kneeling beside a justice of England’s supreme court; and that judge had sentenced that burglar seven years earlier. Well, that burglar came to know Christ and after his release from jail he became a Christian worker in the church. And these two men were kneeling together taking the Lord’s Supper; and neither seemed to be aware of each other.
After the service, the judge was walking out with the pastor and said to him, “Did you notice who was kneeling beside me at the communion rail this morning?”
The pastor replied, “Yes, but I didn’t know that you noticed.”
Then the judge said, “What a miracle of grace.”
The pastor nodded in agreement. “Yes, what a marvelous miracle of grace.”
Then the judge said, “But to whom do you refer?”
And the pastor said, “Why, to the conversion of that convict.”
The judge said, “But I wasn’t referring to him. I was thinking of myself. … You see, it was natural for the burglar to receive God’s grace when he came out of jail. He had nothing but a history of crime behind him, and when he saw Jesus as his savior he knew there was salvation and hope and joy for him. And he knew how much he needed that help.
“But look at me. I was taught from earliest infancy to live as a gentleman; that my word was to be my bond; that I was to say my prayers, to go to church, and so on. I went through Oxford, took my degrees, was called to the bar and eventually became a judge. Pastor, it was God’s grace that drew me; it was God’s grace that opened my heart to receive it. I’m a greater miracle of his grace.”
Both of the men were miracles, and both receive free, unearned grace. Both needed spiritual resurrection. Yet the judge saw his own salvation as a greater miracle was because his position had made him proud; God needed to hug his hard, proud heart harder to crack it an bring it to life.
Paul tells us one reason why salvation isn’t by works, he says: “So that no one can boast.” If salvation came by works, eternity would spawn a fraternity of chest-thumping boasters. Heaven would be filled with self-righteous Pharisees: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adultery, or even the tax collector” (Luke 18:11).
In the sermon on the mount Jesus says, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who realize that they have nothing within themselves to commend them to God, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matt 5:3). In other words, only when you really see that you’re spiritually helpless, only then can you hear the voice of Jesus whisper into the center of your soul the words, “I love you.” And only then will it mean anything to you.
And when it means something to you, you’ll be filled with confidence. If it doesn’t, then get a recording of this message and listen again.