The Preacher Says....  
  Applied Christianity  

Galatians 5. 19 - 25 ; Luke 18. 15 - 27

All of our lives are bound up in the notion that you work for a reward, and that if you don’t work, you don’t get the reward. What I’m saying to you this morning is that we are saved if we believe we are. If we truly believe that we are saved–if we have a faith that strong–then that faith saves us. We are saved if we know the truth as it is in Jesus, because the truth in Jesus makes us free, free from the law of sin and death. By grace are ye saved through faith. Salvation is the gift of God. Paul makes it very clear when he speaks to the Jews, if you think your works save you they are dead works, because there is no connection between works and the kind of reward that God has in store for us. We are not getting stars by our name when we do good works. And there is not a certain number of gold stars which gets us to the point that God adds the grace sufficient to save us. It’s easy for us to think like this because all through school we got graded–we got graded on the curve most of the time. That is to say, we got graded relative to the performance of one another. And this kind of notion, of being graded on your works , your applied Christianity, if you will, puts you in competition with your brothers and sisters in a way and it is that kind of conduct that Jesus chastised his disciples for when they argued for who would be greatest among them. It is the type of behavior which has plagued Christendom. Indeed, plagues mankind. Everybody wants to be a leader. .

All this is by way of preface to my remarks this morning because I just want to emphasize once again that it’s easy to fall into a way of thinking that says, OK, I know what God’s plan is. He’s got this plan and there’s a reward at the end and I’ve entered this race, and I want to win this race. And my point is, you can’t win it. You can’t win it by your own stride down the track. You’re not doing works to win. Your works are a reflex action if you will–evidence of the thankfulness for the gift you receive.

OK, OK, I get it, but I can’t deal with these intangibles and abstractions. I need a plan of action. Spell out the manifestation of Christian life so I can copy it. Should I visit the sick, those in prison, start a soup line, go from door to door preaching the gospel? It seems to me that kind of puts the cart before the horse. I have now a sequence of things that I think one should do if one is to develop some method as to the application of Christian principles to his life. And when you see them in sequence it is as though you had to develop them sequentially. That’s just for ease of explanation. It is, in fact, all of you remember , those of you who suffered through the first year of Latin when you had to translate the first year of Latin–I guess it was the 3rd year of Latin–Caesar’s Gallic Wars into English. It said that Caesar had to do all things at once. So we have to do all these things at once even though for purposes of explanation it’s easy to treat them as though they happen sequentially. The first thing you’ve got to do, it seems to me, if one would apply Christian principles to his life, is to strengthen ones faith. You can’t learn a series of proof verses and then go on your way. If you’re going to be thankful–if your behavior is evidence of your thankfulness to God for the salvation which He promises you, you’ve got to be sure you believe it. I mean if you’re uncertain about it, it’s very difficult to be thankful, and if it’s difficult to be thankful, it will be difficult to be a Christian. So we need to penetrate a book which seems so dense at first blush, but proves to be so startlingly consistent., so interrelated, so plain and so veiled, so straightforward and yet so poetic.

And if much learning doesn’t make you mad, as Agrippa said happened to Paul, it may develop in you some qualities that I want to talk about. Much learning has made some of us mad, it seems to me, and we learned it wrong, or we brought the wrong attitude to the learning process. I simply say that the sooner we get on with the learning process, the better. Age creeps up. Inevitably old age brings with it in abundance disillusionment, dissatisfaction, self centeredness, and it’s going to happen to all of us if we live long enough. So if we would be thankful, if we want to express our thanks, there’s a certain immediacy involved, it seems to me. And that immediacy requires a discipline. Our lives as it relates to the book have become undisciplined–there’s no time for it–and I suggest to you that we need to be more disciplined in our study without being obsessive. I am suggesting that one be disciplined but be thoughtful in the disciplinary process. A study of the book will bring us also, I think to the revelation that the quality–the characteristic we develop in ourselves first ought to be meekness. You see the vast expanse of history before us, you see the vastness of God’s plan. We compare ourselves to the great figures of the Bible who acted in ways incomprehensible to us in terms of their bravery and heroic behavior. We understand from the poet that our life is a vapor. But we also see that from observation in nature. I mean, it’s self evident that we’re lucky. I use that word because I don’t know what other word to use . We’re lucky to have been born in the United States, in the 20th century, instead of Iran, or Ethiopia, or India, either in the present, or during the middle ages. We have this great blessing and yet we know what we’re like inside. We know that we’re selfish and covetous and lustful. We’re not to be trusted. Not any one of you–and neither am I. And that seems a blatant overstatement since I would trust any of you with my life. But you have to say those things about yourself in order to avoid happening to you what happened to David. He said, ‘my steps had well nigh slipped’. The transformation that happens is subtle. You can start–I’ve used this illustration many times–you can start rowing the boat toward the other side, to a certain point, and you look over your shoulder and you find you’re not rowing at the same point anymore. Indeed, David could have said about himself , instead of saying ‘‘my steps had well nigh slipped’, could have said, ‘my steps slipped’. David was a humble man, a man of contrite heart, but his steps slipped, and slipped badly, and the result of that slip was–happily– the production of the 51st Psalm. If you are humble–if you can develop this meekness , this humility, this first prerequisite, if you will, of the application of Christianity to your life, it will lead to gentleness. If you understand yourself, if you understand how difficult it is to deal with your ego, or as the Bible says, ‘to crucify the old man’. ( He keeps coming back to life again, and you have to crucify him again and again.) Then it’s easy to be gentle with one another. Others are having just as hard a time as you are in dealing with the ego–a fancy name for the natural man. Maybe they’re having a harder time in dealing with the natural man than you are by reason of circumstances unknown to you–upbringing or genetic disposition. For them self restraint may be more difficult. The Bible tells us that we have no right to judge another man’s servant . You are God’s servant, not mine, I can’t judge you. To be gentle is the outward manifestation of the great virtue-- the greatest virtue-- it is proof that you have the quality of love. And if you are not meek and gentle you don’t have perfect love.

The kind of meekness that I’m talking about is called by James ‘wisdom’. In the 3rd chapter of James, starting at the 13th verse:

Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? Let him show out of a good life his works with meekness of wisdom. . . But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by them that make peace.

Meekness and gentleness lead you to love. And the person who would lead a life of applied Christianity must let love lead him. It’s premature to set those goals that we talked about in the beginning. If you have developed in yourself the love that manifests itself in a fellow feeling for mankind, all sorts of things open up to you. You don’t have to set goals; they will pop up all around you, if you truly deny self and seek the good of others. But don’t be afraid to be led. The road to the kingdom is paved with good intentions. All good works are flawed–all human good works are flawed–in their conception and in their prosecution, because they are being performed by a flawed people. The perception of this meek, but active love being led by love, by your friends, I hope will arouse their curiosity. Actions speak louder than words. In other words, your light will shine. And if your light shines then you have the greatest opportunity to add applied Christianity to your life, because you have the opportunity to answer the man who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.