At the beginning of January, while I was preparing the first message of the year, the Lord laid a simple statement on my heart which I have come back to again and again. It seemed to me He was saying, “I am not asking you to do one thing FOR me, I only ask you to do everything WITH me.” This is the same truth that Jesus declared in John 15:5, where describing Himself as the vine and us as the branches He said seven little words that can save you and I from a lifetime of barrenness; “apart from me you can do nothing.”
The scriptures are clear on this matter; that we have each been “saved by grace through faith and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Eph.2:8,9) What awakened you and I to our need of God was not anything ‘of ourselves’. No one in this church can take credit for their own salvation. Repentance is not of ourselves, it is the gift of God. Jesus declared in John 6:44, “No man can come to me unless the Father draws him.” Repentance is not something any man or woman can do apart from God’s presence, apart from the influence/anointing of His Holy Spirit.
Why do I keep repeating that truth? Because I think many of us as Christians pay lip-service to that truth, but we do not let it grip us and humble us. The generosity of God is humbling and I believe the Holy Spirit is continually speaking to us of the generosity of God because He knows that so many of us as Christians become hardened by a world where everything must be achieved by the sweat of our brow and in forgetting salvation remains a gift we lose our thanksgiving, our joy. The Spirit still says to the Church; ‘As you received Him, so walk in Him, …overflowing in thankfulness.’ (Col.2:6,7).
Is it not astonishing then, that so many of us as Christians are quick to criticise the world for their behaviour and their views, when the only thing that separates us from our unbelieving neighbour is the grace of God? How can we demand of them to repent/change as if they could do it on their own, when we could not? None of us repented on our own, apart from the influence of the Holy Spirit. (John 6:44). If the presence of God is what brings unbelievers to faith, then this is not the hour for the Church to stand back from people with ungodly views and lives, this is the hour to draw near them, for today God’s presence is to be found in His body, His people. (1Cor.3:16, Eph.5:18). Jesus was continually to be found among people whose views and lifestyle scandalised the religious and on being challenged about it, His reply was “It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.” (Mark2:16,17). To Nicodemus also, Jesus declared; “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” (John 3:17). Jesus never condemned sinners. Do you know why? In the very next verse He tells us why. “They stand condemned already by their unbelief.” (John 3:18).
What unbelievers need is not more condemnation. This is especially true in a nation where historically the condemnation of religion (of all traditions) has driven folk out into the world looking for more compassion and understanding than they found in the church. They don’t need God to stand back from them, they need His presence to draw near them. If the head of the body; Christ, drew near them, then any part of the body that draws back from them has a poor connection with the head, for how can the head and the body be going in two different directions? This happens when the body gets puffed up with pride in its own achievements, forgetting that pious self-denial was not how they were saved! (Col.2:18,19 NLT). Contrary to being puffed up, the sign of believers growing up is that they grow into the head, that is, they share the mind of Christ and the heart of Christ for the lost (Eph.4:15).
Once we come to see that it was entirely and only by the grace of God that we came to know God, through the presence of His Holy Spirit, (who came to us in and through the Word about Christ, the Gospel. Rom.10:17), then we come to understand that what this nation needs, is not the condemnation of religion, but the Gospel of God’s grace, for it is by this gospel that repentance and faith came to us (Acts 20:24). It is the grace of God, the generosity of God, that leads people to repentance (Luke 15:17, Rom.2:4). A god who turns His back on people who disagree with Him, who is unfaithful to them when they are unfaithful to Him, is a god made in the image of men. But that is not the revelation of God that Christ revealed, the God who called from the Cross; “Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they do.” (Luke23:34). The God Christ revealed is a God who, rather than wait until we became more godly, embraced us while we were still ungodly, reconciling us to Himself while we were still his enemies, dead in our sins (Rom.5:6-10). Before we stand in judgement over those who have rejected God’s Word on the sanctity of life of the unborn (Psalm 139:13,14, Jer.1:5 ), let us pause for a moment and remember that such were we and how glad are we that He did not stand back from us, but drew near us to save us? (1Cor.6:11).
He has now given us His Holy Spirit that we might draw near to this world (Mark.16:15), (not stand back from them), for is He who is in us not greater than he who is in the world? Let’s not rely on trying to get people to a church building to encounter God’s presence. Let us awake to the presence of God in each one of us and so be being filled with His Spirit (Eph.5:18), His presence, that we may be His presence in this community and in this generation, because people still awake to their need of God in the same old way they have been awakening for 2000 years. They encounter God’s presence in His people and especially through those who have learned to live in His presence and speak from His presence, people who just don’t know about God, but know God, because they live every day in the truth of His presence, His righteousness freely gifted to them, the truth of Immanuel; God with us.
That’s why at River City, we continually preach of our union with Christ, that we may be, being filled with the knowledge of His presence, because without a revelation of our union with Christ, that we now have the presence of God with us, then the communication of our faith will not be effectual (Philemon 1:6), for we will always be preaching the gospel as doing not being; doing to get God one day, rather than being with God today (2Cor.6:2). We will be forever giving people good advice, (what they should do next for God to keep Him happy) and this nation is sick to death of good advice because every dog in the street can see that there is no power to change in good advice. Good advice only wraps people up more in themselves and their doing. Only the Good news of the gospel will free people from themselves, by wrapping them up with Christ.
River City Church, the reason the Holy Spirit has been soaking us in a message about God’s generosity was never to fill us with pride, but to so humble us, that we are filled with love for unbelievers, knowing that all they need is the gift we have received; the grace of God in Christ. This grace came to us through the Gospel and now lives in us as the very presence of God, His Holy Spirit. So, let us offer them His presence by declaring to them the same Gospel by which His presence came to us, the gospel that sets a nation free from the heavy yoke of religion (doing to get), that has driven people to live as if God is dead. That Gospel is this; Ireland, the holy life you could not reach, has reached down to you in the person of Christ. He did not and does not stand back from you. Rather He came to you and has become for you, all that you tried to be yourself, apart from Him. He has become for you wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption. He has left you not one thing to do for Him, only believe in His goodness, not yours, and in believing in Him, you will find yourself where He always wanted you to be; with Him!