Over the years I must have attended hundreds of lambing’s and calving’s, but only a handful of foaling’s. Horses are extremely protective of their new-born and like to give birth in the dead of night when they are sure there are no people around. Now the world is full of horses, so although the birthing process is hidden from us, there is no denying that horses are giving birth to horses.
Now the world is also full of beliefs and although we may not be aware how beliefs are birthed in people’s hearts, there is no denying that beliefs are giving birth to beliefs. In the words of Jesus to Nicodemus, just as flesh gives birth to flesh, spirit gives birth to spirit. There is also no denying that the lives people are leading all over this world, their attitudes and their actions are the direct result of the beliefs birthed in their hearts.
There is no escape from this truth. All of us are living according to what we are believing about this world and our place in it. That being the case, I want to ask you a very important question this morning.What do you believe is the Gospel?
Let me help you.
If I asked you to quote me one verse from the Bible that best encapsulated the gospel, which one would you choose? For multitudes of people, the verse that comes to mind is something else Jesus said to Nicodemus, recorded in John 3:16,“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.” That verse says that God “so loved” the world that He gave, in other words, here is the measure of how much God loves us; He gave us His only son.
Can you see that in these words Jesus is revealing the Father, by pointing to His love? You cannot know God if you do not know His love, for as the apostle John declared, “God is love”. So, to know God, we need to know His love and to know His love we need to see just how much He has given and here is how much He has given, here is how much He loves, Here is who He is; ……His only Son.
Can you see then, that until you or I begin to see just how much was given to us, in the giving of Christ, we cannot begin to know Father God in the way He wants to be known.
Let me use an illustration.
There is an old story told about a young man who was coming up to his college graduation and he knew his father would give him a gift on his graduation and he had his eye on a certain car for sale and he told his father that this is what he wanted for a graduation gift. His father was quite wealthy and could have afforded to buy it for him. On the day of his graduation, so the story goes, the father calls the son into his study and presents him with his graduation present, a beautifully wrapped Bible. The son is so angry at not getting the car, that he throws the bible down on the table and storms out. Soon after that he leaves home and cuts himself off from his father, until one day, years later he has to walk back into that study again, this time to arrange his father’s funeral. There he sees in his father’s desk, the bible he was given as a graduation present and for the first time he reaches in and takes it out of its box and as he opens it, out falls a key with a label on it. Guess what. It is the key to the car he had wanted all those years ago and the attached label says, “paid in full”.
All those years had gone by and that young man never realised just how much had been given to him by his father and so never realised the love of his father and so for all those years, he never really knew his father. Now I don’t know if that story is true or not, but let me tell you something I do know is true. Jesus told us a very similar story in Luke 15, about two sons who never really knew their father, until….. they got to see the extravagance of his giving.
I wonder how true that could be of me this morning. I think I know what is in the Bible, but in truth, I have yet to discover the true extravagance of the gift given to me and so I have yet to know the true generosity of the giver. For much of my life, I thought in the gift of the Bible, the Father was saying to me, “Here, learn all this off and one day you will be ready to receive my gift of eternal life”. Whereas in truth, this gospel is not about what I could get one day, in the future, if, I love God enough.Rather it is the announcement of what has already been given to me, because God loved me enough!
Can you see then that, any gospel that does not reveal just how much was given to us, in the giving of Christ, cannot bring us to know Father God in the way He wants to be known. It is my conviction that in much of the Church, the way we preach the gospel, does not reveal the true extravagance of the Father.
The tragedy of that, is that our lives cannot outgrow our beliefs (Proverbs 4:23) Spirit gives birth to spirit. People who believe in a small god, live small lives.
Have you noticed that the lives of believers cannot surpass their revelation of the father? Christians who are judgemental, quick to condemn and apparently always angry at the world, are like that because in their hearts, that is who they believe God to be like and you cannot live beyond the borders of what you have believed. If we are living small, self-absorbed, self-conscious, fearful lives, then the root of that, is what we have believed.
A small gospel, produces a small life.
There was a film that came out 30 years ago about a scientist who invented a machine that could shrink things and ended up accidentally shrinking his kids. Everything you needed to know about the film was in the title. It was called “Honey, I shrunk the kids”. It was so successful that a few years later they brought out a sequel called “Honey I blew up the kid”.
But do you know the sad thing is that parents do have the power to shrink their kids. My fears, my anxieties, my beliefs and my unbelief, has profoundly shaped the lives of my children, for my words have shaped them and those words were born from my beliefs. Nowhere is that more profound in their lives, than the effect on them of what I have believed about God. My beliefs became their beliefs, through the words I spoke over them.
In the same way, flesh gave birth to flesh, spirit gave birth to spirit. That is what Paul meant when he said to the Corinthians, “I became your father through the gospel.” This morning I want to share with you my conviction that the Gospel is much bigger, more glorious, more generous and more joyful than we have ever known, because the lives we were destined to live in Christ, have got to be bigger, more glorious, more generous and more joyful than the small lives limited by anxiety, that multitudes of us as believers are living today.
Let me say that in a different way.
If believers are living shrunken lives, it is for one reason and one reason only. Honey, we shrunk the gospel. And when you shrink the gospel, you shrink the kids.
If the Gospel you are sitting under isn’t revealing the enormity of what God has done; in the giving of His only son, then there is no power in that gospel to bring about the transformation of your life, from someone who has been religiously self-absorbed, to someone who lives like a star-struck lover, totally smitten and fulfilled through the love of another and so living in the awareness of that love, that their lives are full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
If the gospel you are hearing, isn’t revealing to you the enormity of what has been freely given to you, then it will not have the power to lift you out of your self, for how can the Spirit move through a message on what you need to give to God, when in the words of the apostle Paul, that very Spirit has come from God, ”that we may know the things freely given to us by God.” (1Cor.2:12)
Which do you think has more power to free you from self-effort;
- a message about what God requires of you? or
- a message about what God has done for you?
You see for years I thought the Holy Spirit was given to teach me what to do. But here is the truth. The Holy Spirit is given that we would grow in the knowledge of the Father, through the Son, for to be filled with such knowledge of God, is to know who you are and what you already have, in God your Father. When you know that, when you know how blessed you are, you won’t need anyone to tell you what to do …….because you will already be doing it.
That’s because the faith that comes from God, can’t help expressing itself through love, in the same way that when you are in love, you don’t need instruction on how to kiss. You just can’t help doing it! Paul called the Gospel, the power of God because the gospel He preached revealed God as He really is and do you know, God is so good, that you can’t know Him for who he really is and remain the same. In fact, knowing Him, was always God’s way of transforming our lives. As Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.” But the truth is not a list of instructions, it is the person of God Himself.
Being told what you need to do, never set anyone free, because being pointed to yourself, ….can never set you free from yourself. You needed a Saviour to set you free and You are not that Saviour.
That’s why Paul was so furious when he heard that someone had come along to the Galatians and added to the gospel because He knew that..to add to the Gospel, is to shrink the gospel.
Some religious men had come in among the Galatians and taken the pure message about God and His love, (what Paul called the message of Christ and Him crucified) and added a little instruction to it, about being circumcised. That little contamination (that little leaven as Paul called it), changed the whole nature of the Gospel, from a message about God and His gift, to one about you and your work. That little addition, took the power out of the message because being told what you need to do, never set anyone free.
It was a lie when it was told to Adam in the garden. It was a lie when it was told to the Galatians. It was still a lie when it was written above the entrance gate to Auschwitz concentration camp, “Arbite macht frey” (Work will set you free).
That is not the Gospel.
And everywhere, in every generation, whenever the church has added a little instruction to the gospel, they have taken the power from the Gospel, for only the truth can carry the power of the Spirit and the truth is that you cannot set yourself free by what you do for God. If you could, …..you wouldn’t need a Saviour.
That’s what Paul meant when he warned the Galatians, that if you believe this different gospel, which is no gospel at all, you will have estranged yourself from Christ, you will have fallen from grace. You see, to fall from grace, is to turn your back on the power of God, to go back to self-effort. There is no power in self-effort because Grace is the power of God, not works.
Many Christians get nervous when you start to talk about grace because in their minds grace speaks of an absence, the absence of God’s judgement. Grace is not an absence. Grace is a presence, the presence of God. Grace is His life, His Spirit, His empowering, to live His life. The Gospel is the good news that through Christ, His grace is now freely available for all who want to live in the power of His life. For all who want to live in the power of their own life, there is religion.
And what Paul was telling the Galatians, is that you cannot mix the two. Add a little religion to your gospel and you will shrink it of power. That’s why as soon as Paul heard that the Galatians had tampered with the gospel, he started to question them about where exactly they thought the power came from, by which miracles had been done in their midst. He asked them… Did that power come through your obedience to the Law, or through hearing the Gospel? Can you hear what he was asking them? Does power come from hearing what you need to give God, or hearing what God has given you? He was warning them that in adding a little self-effort to the message, they had just shrunk the power of the gospel because there is no power in any gospel …..that points you to yourself.
Being told what to do, never set anyone free, because being pointed to yourself, can never set you free from yourself. The Gospel is not a revelation of what you need to do, to get God to give!
The Gospel is the glorious revelation of the enormity of how much God has already given and to see how much, to see “His only son”, is to see the Father in spirit and in truth. The Gospel doesn’t point to you and say “Do!” It points to Christ and says “Done!” It doesn’t point us to the darkness of self-effort. It points us to the light of Christ and when we see by His light, when we see life, in the light of how much we have been given, we see ourselves to already have all things in Christ and such knowledge takes an axe to the root of our grasping selfish life, for when you see that your Father has saved you through the gift of His son, ……you stop trying to save yourself. Being told what to do, never set anyone free and the power of the Gospel is that it reveals the righteousness of God, His eternal life, is not some thing we achieve, but some one we receive; Christ, the gift of God’s life, not the reward. There can be no mixing of receiving and achieving, when it comes to the Gospel because one is of God and one is of ourselves.
No matter how zealous they were for God, in praying and fasting and sacrificial living, Paul said in Romans 10 that his Jewish brethren could not submit to receive the gift of God’s righteousness; Christ, because they were so determined to establish their own righteousness. The grace of God is not a licence to sin, it is the power of God, to live in union with Him, but we can only live in that power of grace, to the extent that we submit to receive and live in God’s life, entirely as a gift.
Can you do that? Can you put your pride in your back pocket and accept righteousness as a gift? Or are you too, determined to establish your own righteousness? As long as you are, you will insist on mixing a little law in to your life with Christ. Every time you do that, you are stepping back from Christ, estranging yourself from participating in the gift of His shared life. You are going back to your old self-life, for only a man who sees Himself as having a separate life from God, tries to establish his own righteousness. In being married to Nicola, I only have one life and it is a married life. I don’t have a married life and a single life. To live as if I have, would only shrink my married life.
Any gospel that leaves you with the impression, that God is looking to you, to convince Him that you are worth saving, is a shrunken powerless gospel that can only produce a shrunken powerless life, because being pointed to yourself, can never set you free from your self and Jesus came to set you free from that self, apart from God, life because, in His words, “apart from me, ….you can do nothing.”
The power of salvation, the power of grace, is that it is precisely not of ourselves, our self-life. As Paul declared to the Ephesians… The life of God is lived by grace, through faith and this not of ourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast. (Eph 2:8,9) Why doesn’t God want us to boast? Because only a man who is living a self-made life boasts and that grieves God because a boasting man cannot receive grace, which is the power of God. So a boasting man, is living a powerless life. Let me give you another description of boasting. It is when believers start judging others as less worthy in God’s eyes because they have either forgotten or never saw clearly, that all they have received from God, came by grace. As Paul said to the Corinthians, “What do you have that you did not receive and if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you did not?” (1Cor 4:7)
So, we are talking this morning about the Gospel and I am saying that the Gospel is the most powerful message in the world, but that power is all of God, not of man. That power is grace, not self-effort and so whenever in history, a little law has been added to the gospel of grace, power has been stripped from the gospel and a shrunken gospel has only ever borne shrunken believers.
I am not against big churches, when I say this, but bigger churches don’t change nations, bigger Christians do! There is no point in trying to build bigger churches, if all they can produce are smaller Christians. I have wondered in recent years, at how a gospel so leavened with law, is tolerated so widely in the church. I have a growing conviction that the answer to that question may be found in the modern church’s obsession with numbers. It is always easier to control smaller Christians. Give them a shrunken gospel and they will never grow out of their fears. They will keep coming, to hear what they need to do, in order to be worth saving.
This morning I have been planting a seed in your life, a truth that if it takes root, I believe will bear great fruit and that truth is this; The Gospel doesn’t point to you and say “Do!” It points to Christ and says “Done!” In pointing to Christ, the Gospel is nothing short of the revelation of the nature of God, His love, a love that is so wide and long and high and deep, that our hearts capacity to receive this love has to grow and it only grows as we are pointed, not to what we need to give God, but to the enormity of what He has given us; Christ, God’s very life. Our lives do not grow in the likeness of God, through the knowledge of what we need to do for God, but rather, in the words of the apostle Peter, His grace and peace are multiplied to us through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. (2Peter 1:2) In light of that, I want you to pause for a moment and ask yourself in all honesty, is the gospel you are sitting under, abundantly multiplying grace and peace to you?
Let me put that in plainer English. Is the Gospel you are sitting under blowing your mind? Is it causing your eyes to grow wide like saucers in wonder? Is it growing you month by month, year by year, into a childlike confidence, which is the fruit of a soul feeling so secure and safe in the love of a parent, that they never give a thought as to what they need to do to make that parent save them? When we shrink the gospel to a message that will get people to work harder for God, in order for us to build a ‘bigger’ church, we only produce shrunken Christians because there is no power in any gospel that points you to yourself. Being told what to do, never set anyone free, because being pointed to yourself, can never set you free from yourself.
When you preach the gospel leavened by a little law, believers never grow out of self-consciousness. How can they, when the gospel they are being raised under, always ends up pointing them to their life, rather than to Christs? How can I fix my eyes on Christ, when the church never stops exhorting me to fix my eyes on what needs to be done for Christ? (did you catch that?)
How can a bird fly in the liberty of the heavenly realm it was made for, when one wing has been nailed to the earth?Preach the Law, dressed up as the gospel to believers and it nails them to the earthly realm. It has done in every generation. Paul saw it in his generation and wrote his letter to the Galatians and 350 years ago, John Bunyan saw it too and beautifully summed it up in 2 lines. He wrote “Run John run”, the law commands, but gives us neither feet nor hands. Far better news the gospel brings. It bids us fly and gives us wings.’ The power that lifts you up, to live from the heavenly realm, is the grace of God, not the flapping of your arms. If the Gospel you are sitting under keeps speaking to you, as if God is looking to you to produce your own wings, by your own religious efforts, then I have good news for you. Your frustration with your religious life is shared by your heavenly Father, who never called you to live as a chicken, but as an eagle and there is a world of difference between those two lives.
- The chicken attempts to get off the earth by his own strength.
- The eagle allows the wind His wings were made for, to carry him up and beyond the earthly realm, so he lives from an entirely higher perspective on life than the chicken.
If the Gospel you have been raised under is not imparting to you enough breath of God to lift you out of a self-absorbed life, nor even bidding you to fly, to transcend an earthly, Adamic, self-centred mindset, then you are sitting under a shrunken gospel. Our lives cannot outgrow our beliefs. A small gospel produces a small life and nothing shrinks the gospel more than a little law. And everywhere, in every generation, whenever the church has added a little instruction to the gospel, the Gospel has shrunken in power, for only the truth can carry the power of the Spirit and the truth is that you cannot set yourself free by what you do for God. If you could, …..you wouldn’t need a Saviour.
This morning you have heard the gospel and even now, as your head might be saying, “Yes, but what do I have to do?” Your heart has already began to do all that is necessary; to believe, because spirit gives birth to spirit and faith is the spirit that comes by hearing the Gospel!