Sunday, May 24, 2015

False faith, false follower, false prophet, Acts 8: 1-24

Acts is an account of the birth of the church.  God called out a people who would be the body of Christ by great power and signs and wonders.  In Acts we see something of a New Testament parallel to the Israelites coming out of Egypt by great signs and wonders of Moses.  And in yet another parallel, we also see that the devil attacks the congregation of the Lord in various ways, through persecution, and through corruption from within.

So as the church is growing mightily, there is also strategic attacks on the church from without and within.  We saw that played out with Ananias and Sapphira back in chapter 5, as they lied to the Holy Spirit.  Their sin was a deadly leaven that threatened to corrupt the church from within that had to be dealt with severely in order to preserve the sanctity of the congregation. 

But Satan is a clever and deadly adversary.  He like any good general, marshals his forces to attack on several fronts simultaneously.  So almost immediately after Ananias and Sapphira were dealt with, Peter and John are arrested and beaten and imprisoned.  But that too fails to hinder the proclamation of the gospel.  In fact it only serves to embolden and empower the apostles to do more.  So Satan enlists his forces from the religious realm to arrest Stephen, one of the seven young men who had been recently appointed as one of the leaders in the church.  And as we saw last week, rather than that shutting him up, Stephen took that to be an opportunity to preach the gospel to the high priests and ruling council, convicting them by many Biblical proofs that their belief in God had in fact not saved them, but that they were enemies of God, outside of the kingdom.  And what he preached enraged them so much that they rushed on him with one accord and threw him off a cliff and cast stones on him, making Stephen the first martyr.

Now in chapter 8 we see that this young man named Saul mentioned in the previous account who watched over the affair and held their coats while they stoned Stephen was now persecuting the church with a renewed intensity.  But rather than persecution shutting down the church, it only served to strengthen it. Tertullian is credited with the saying that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.  And we see that seed now being scattered throughout Asia as a result of persecution.  Satan thought that he had silenced a preacher of the gospel, and yet he inadvertently helped to spread the gospel from Jerusalem, to Judea, then Samaria, and ultimately to the uttermost parts of the earth. Acts 8:4 “Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.”

Last week we looked at the last sermon of Stephen, which illustrated several principles  which revealed that the religious leaders of the Jews were not true believers.  And those principles were instructive for us as well, as we compared our salvation with the template that Stephen was proclaiming to be the gospel.  These religious leaders had a form of religion, they claimed to be worshipping the One True God, they kept the Old Testament scriptures, they were extremely zealous for certain religious rituals and ceremonies, and yet they were not saved.  And so I pointed out how we too must carefully examine our faith in order to see if we truly are of the faith, according to the examples given by Stephen in his last message.

And in a similar way, today we will look at the message of Philip, another of the original seven, who has gone out from Jerusalem as a result of the persecution, and he is now called the evangelist.  He is preaching the gospel of Christ to the Samaritans and many signs and wonders were happening by his hand, and many people were being saved.  But at the same time Satan is attempting to duplicate and deceive through a false prophet named Simon that is also doing signs and wonders, and when he cannot compete with the ministry of Philip, he professes to believe and is baptized.  So we are going to examine today in light of this passage the contrast between the true faith and message of Philip and  false faith and false message of Simon.  I have titled this message, false faith, false follower, and false prophet.

So in this passage the Holy Spirit deliberately contrasts  authentic Christianity with that of a false and counterfeit faith. Simon the Magician, or Simon Magus as he is sometimes called, appears in this passage as yet another means of the devil’s attack against the church, this time from within. Remember that Jesus had said in the parable of the tares and the wheat that though He was sowing good seed in the field of the world, an enemy would come at night and sow bad seed in the midst of the wheat, and that they would grow up together.  The wheat and tares would initially be indistinguishable. And that is what we see here with Simon becoming identified with the church.

So let’s look at some of these characteristics of false faith, or false Christianity.  And by the way this is not just ancient history.  We must not be so foolish as to think we are past all of this sort of thing today in the church.  No, the devil is continuing similar attacks on the church and even more so today.  In fact as time marches on towards the end of the age, Jesus told us in Matt. 24:24 that it will increase.  He said, "For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.”  Deception will grow worse and worse. Satan just keeps repackaging the same old deceptions in new false prophets, and people are deceived and keep on being deceived, often to their damnation.

So to start with, the first characterization of Simon’s false faith was self exaltation.  Contrast that to the ministry of Philip; Philip it is said in vs. 5, proclaimed Christ.  He preached the gospel of Christ and God validated that preaching with signs and wonders which served to glorify God.  But Simon, as a false prophet, glorifies himself.  Vs. 8 says that he was claiming to be something great.  And his magic arts enabled him to convince the people of Samaria  that he was something great.  They called him the Great Power of God. 

There is actually some very fascinating history written about this man in several contemporaneous non-biblical writings.   But what the text tells us, and from what history tells us, this man practiced a form of magic, professing secret knowledge, whereby he was able to astonish the local people.  The word magician is from the root word magi.  You remember the three wise men who visited Jesus’ birth?  These men were known as magi from the East.  They were learned in astronomy and the sciences and some practiced the secret arts as well, such as astrology and the occult.  Obviously, Simon is one that has that sort of knowledge which is called sorcery.

Now the text indicates that he did certain feats of magic or sorcery in order to exalt himself.  To bring attention to himself and probably make himself money in the process.  That is always a characteristic of false prophets, by the way.  They are self aggrandizing people who set themselves up in such a way as to bring attention to themselves.  They claim to have great power from God.  And I want to be very clear; beware of people that focus on signs and wonders as testimony to their Christianity or their spirituality. 

Do you know that the devil is able to authenticate his false prophets by signs and wonders as well?  There is more hocus pocus going on in the church today than ever before and it’s because our people lack discernment.  They aren’t taught what the word of God says.  They are taught that we need to experience God.  And so whatever experience that comes along in the context of the church they then attribute to God.  Today in the church there is everything from people falling down acting like they are drunk, to entire congregations laughing uncontrollably, to gold dust falling from the ceiling and angel feathers floating from the rafters.  And all of it is attributed to God.  However, it’s nothing short of demonic.  It’s blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.  God is not the author of confusion.  Beware of signs and wonders that are purported to be done today, which are in effect only serving to enable false teachers to deceive gullible and superstitious people who are ignorant of what the scriptures actually teach.

Furthermore, its says in vs. 10 that the people both small and great from all quarters were giving him attention.  False prophets are always popular.  They attract great crowds even today. Ancient writers such as Justin Martyr, Jerome and Irenaeus give a sordid history of this man Simon and the way he eventually became a great enemy of the truth.  He is credited with being one of the forbearers of the great heresy known as Gnosticism which arose in the first century to deceive many people.  Simon went on to be one of that heresy’s foremost prophets.  He taught that he was the manifestation of God, that divine knowledge resided in him. 

Gnosticism comes from the Greek word gnosis, which means knowledge.  It is a blend of different religious philosophies that believed in a higher knowledge, a spiritual plane that it was possible to reach that was separate from the body, from matter.  They believed that it was possible to exist on a spiritual plane in some measure of godliness, but which was unaffected by the physical.  So you could live in immorality or any such sin and yet be unaffected by it spiritually.  It bred a false doctrine called antinomianism which is what James and Jude and John were warning against in their epistles, this false knowledge that puffs up. Jude 1:4 “For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”

But again, I would warn you, that Satan has repackaged much of that philosophy today and sold it to the church once again.  There are false prophets who are known for their signs and wonders that are immensely popular in so called Christianity today, that are preaching a form of antinomianism which has it’s roots in Gnosticism.  False prophets today like the televangelist Joseph Prince teach that you can be holy spiritually in God’s eyes, but be something else in the physical realm. They teach that you can be a child of God, and yet live in sin and not have any conviction of your sin.  They teach that in fact it is impossible for a believer to sin, and you never need to repent of your sins.  It’s first century Gnosticism repackaged for the weak, immature and often immoral church of today. 

But not only is this Simon Magus an example of a false prophet, he is emblematic of those that are of a false faith.  Their faith, as it were, is founded on serving their pride.  They are all about self aggrandizement.  They practice their religion to be seen of men, to draw accolades to their piety.  They are interested in signs and wonders because it pleases their vanity to be seen to have some great spiritual power.  They are interested in some higher degree of knowledge that relieves them from the conviction of something so petty as sin.  They want to profit from religion, both economically as well as in their social standing. And yet their actions reveal that they are prideful. They have never humbled themselves in the sight of God.  They never repented of their sins.

And that leads us to the next characteristic of Simon as an example of false faith, and that is he had a incorrect understanding of salvation.  Vs. 12 “But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike. Even Simon himself believed; and after being baptized, he continued on with Philip, and as he observed signs and great miracles taking place, he was constantly amazed.” 

At first glance, it sounds pretty positive, doesn’t it?  Sounds like this false prophet, this great celebrity of Samaria actually became a Christian.  After all, it says he believed.  Isn’t that the requirement for salvation?  Isn’t that what is being taught today?  Just believe in God and he will accept you just the way you are.  But the Bible says that the devils believe and tremble and yet they are not saved.  Why not?  Well, first of all because salvation is not offered to angels, but only to men.  But even if they could be saved salvation would require repentance. And they have believed but not repented. That’s why Jesus went about preaching first and foremost, “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.”  Repentance is the polar opposite of pride, do you understand that?  Repentance is confession that you are a sinner, and that the Bible says that the penalty for sin is eternal death.  You confess that you are a sinner and you admit that you are guilty and worthy of the punishment.  But there is nothing said of Simon repenting.  In fact as you read on, you will see that he had not repented, and when Peter told him to repent, he excused himself.

What Simon did was find himself attracted to the church by the signs and wonders.  He liked the display of power.  He imagined how that kind of power might benefit him.  He might have even had a certain mindset that if you can’t beat them, then join them.  He had been duping the people with his magic arts, he had been enjoying this fame and prosperity that came with it, and suddenly along comes Philip with true knowledge, with divine power to truly heal, and so his act is completely eclipsed.  So he joins this movement, or appears to, in order to learn and acquire this knowledge to add to his own bag of tricks. 

By the way, I don’t doubt but that Satan has certain practitioners that can perform some signs and wonders.  But I think that for the most part it is a deception.  I have studied a little bit about some well known pseudo evangelists, and I have noticed a pattern in some of being trained in and practicing hypnotism.  I think a lot of the fake faith healers set up their shows ahead of time with willing accomplices or they weed out the truly handicapped in favor of those with some sort of psychosomatic disorder.  And so these people are selected who might be very easily persuaded by means of hypnosis or some other trick.  But it’s not long thereafter until they find they are no longer healed.

One of the saddest tales I have heard on this subject came from the well known Christian speaker Joni Eareckson Tada, who was paralyzed from the neck down in a diving accident when she was a young woman.  And in the early years of her illness, one day in desperation she went to a famous faith healer’s service in hopes of being healed.  And she relates how that she and other quadripalegics and people who had serious problems were escorted to a special wing and then left there while others with non visible maladies were healed.  She relates the horrible feeling of abandonment at the end of the service as they were wheeled out of the back door still in their wheelchairs.  Such false prophets are an abomination to God and will one day face God’s judgment for their false faith message.

But back to Simon, he supposedly believed, and he was baptized.  According to at least a couple of different denominations out there, that should have sealed the deal. He was baptized.  To some denominations, becoming a Christian is like making instant oatmeal.  Just add water and you’re good.  So he joined the church.  He made a profession of faith, he was baptized, he effectively joined the movement.  He began following Philip around.  Folks, please understand that Satan loves nothing more than to join the church.  Jesus taught another parable about the church,  in which He said that the kingdom of God was like a mustard seed that was planted in a garden and it grew into a great big tree, so big that the birds of the air came and nested in it’s branches.  This parable was taught immediately after the parable of the tares and the wheat.  The picture He is giving is that the church will grow bigger than normal, first of all.  The church will grow and spread far beyond it’s normal growth into a great tree, instead of a normal bush.  And it’s branches extend out so far that the birds of the air come and nest in it’s branches.  Jesus said in the parable of the soils that the birds of the air are the devil and his angels.  So  Jesus is saying that the devil and his angels are nesting in the branches of the church.  That is a reality that is true today more than ever before as we see every sort of abomination welcomed and embraced by many modern churches today.

The number one way the church has been rendered weak and ineffective, more than any other, is by unregenerate people coming in and taking on the outer garments of Christianity, calling themselves Christians, but remaining still unchanged in heart and life. That has ruined more churches than any external attack possibly could.

You know, all of the church growth strategy books have got it wrong.  The church doesn’t need to attract more unsaved people. The church doesn’t need more pew sitters in the congregation.  It doesn’t need more spectators.  The church needs holy and sanctified workers for the harvest. Matt. 9:37-38 “Then He said to His disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. "Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest." The church is the body of Christ, not a collection of the unregenerate seeking validation while still in their sins.

Simon is missing one major ingredient in his salvation.  And that is he is unrepentant.  He may have professed to believe in God, but nothing had changed.  Listen, repentance is a change of direction.  It is coming to the end of yourself.  It is mourning over your sin.  It is realizing that you are depraved and without hope and you need God to transform you.  Simon just added the outward garments of Christianity to his carnal nature and nothing had actually changed.

Next, Simon misunderstood the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  This is still a major problem in the church today, isn’t it?  A complete misunderstanding of the nature of the Holy Spirit and His function in the church.  But let’s look first at some background. When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria was receiving the gospel and people were becoming saved, they sent Peter and John there. 

Now the important distinction here is that these were Samaritans.  They had traditionally been excluded from Israel as half breeds, half Jew and half Gentile.  And so what is being described here is a manifestation of the Spirit upon the Samaritans, to indicate and affirm that they were also now part of the body of Christ.  God’s plan was not to have a church in Samaria which had different customs and beliefs than the church in Jerusalem.  But as the scripture says there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism.  And so that is why it is important that the apostles come from Jerusalem and lay hands upon them so that they might receive the Holy Spirit, to show by the signs that followed that they were all of one body. 

But it’s important to understand what is happening; no one can be saved without the agency of the Holy Spirit.  They had been saved.  They had the power of the Holy Spirit manifested to them when they were delivered from illnesses through the ministry of Philip.  And they had the joy of their salvation in vs. 8 which is a fruit of the Holy Spirit.  The thing that was missing was that they needed to be baptized in the Holy Spirit to bring them into communion with the church, to make them part of the body of Christ, to show that they were in no way inferior to the church at Jerusalem. 

That is the significance of the laying on of hands.  We lay hands or even shake hands to show solidarity with other people.  So the fathers of the church in Jerusalem came to join hands with the Christians in Samaria in order to show full fellowship with them. And there were undoubtedly certain signs accompanying the baptism of the Holy Spirit similar to what had happened at Pentecost to authenticate by the Spirit what the apostles were affirming, that they were a part of the church.  It’s interesting, because in each of the 4 occasions in Acts when this happens, it happens under slightly different circumstances.  This is the only time that the laying on of hands occurs with the baptism of the Spirit.  And I believe that is because it signifies the right hand of fellowship that is extended from Jerusalem to these Samaritans who had long been estranged from Israel.

So there is the same manifestation of gifts in Samaria that there had been at Pentecost.  There would be the same manifestation of signs at the household of the Gentile Cornelius which Peter goes to preach to at the bequest of the Spirit.  And all because God is indicating that there is no more Jew nor Gentile nor Samaritan in the church; we are all made one in Christ by the self same Spirit.

But Simon seeing this is moved to approach Peter and ask him if he could buy that ability.  There is a word in the English language which is simony.  It is the buying or selling of religious offices or powers.  This man’s name is the origin of this word.  He is attempting to buy the power of the Holy Spirit.  He wanted to buy it so that he could profit by it.  And while I don’t think many people today are so bold as to try to buy the power of the Holy Spirit, I do believe that many in the church today are trying to profit by the Spirit.  They attempt to use a false power that is attributed to the Holy Spirit for ungodly gain.  I once personally knew a man that was duped into thinking that Benny Hinn was a great power of God, and he regularly would go fly somewhere to one of his crusades and pay him $10,000 for a private meeting so that he could receive his blessing.  He ended up going bankrupt.  False prophets like Benny Hinn seek to profit from the Holy Spirit.

Simon thought that he too could profit from being able to administer the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  And so Peter’s response illustrates the last characteristic of Simon’s false faith, which is that he lacked true repentance.  Simon revealed that he had held onto his sin.  He professed to believe, he participated in the ritual of baptism, but he had never truly repented.  And that lack of repentance became evident when he tried to buy the Holy Spirit.

Philip may have been a somewhat na├»ve young preacher, a beginning evangelist that God was using, but Peter had the gift of discernment as we saw evidenced in the passage about Ananias and Sapphira.  So Peter says to Simon in vs. 20, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!  You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God.  Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity.”  The literal translation of Peter’s rebuke is “may your silver go to hell with you!”  Peter sees immediately that this man is still in the bondage of sin.  He never repented.  His heart is alienated from God.  He describes Simon as bitter, that would indicate he was jealous of Philip.

Listen, the Gnostics, the antinomians, think that as believers you never need to repent, because you never sin.  But I would remind you of Psalm 51, a Psalm of David when he sinned against God, he said, “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.  Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight,
so that You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge.”  Was David saved when he sinned with Bathsheba?  Yes, he most certainly was.  Was he saved the same way we are?  Yes, he certainly was, he was saved by faith, through grace, just as we are.  He looked forward to Christ, we look backwards to Christ, but we are both saved the same way.  And yet David by divine inspiration calls his sin, sin.  He said against God he had sinned, and his sin was ever before God. 

So what was David’s solution?  Repentance.  He confessed his sin as sin, as an affront to God.  And then he asked to be changed. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”  Listen, David was saved and he still sinned against God, he still needed forgiveness, he needed repentance that he might have fellowship with God.   This idea that you can live in sin and be ok, that you can come as you are and stay as you are, is not the gospel.  It is not the gospel that Peter is preaching.  He turns to Simon and says, “you are still in the bonds of iniquity.”  You were never released from your sins because you never repented of yours sins.

I am convinced that the church today is full of people who profess to believe, who have been baptized or been catechized or been through some experience or ritual and they believe they are part of the church, but in fact they have no part at all in the body of Christ.  They are still in the bondage of iniquity.  That is the only explanation for why the divorce rate is as high in the church as it is in the world. That is the only explanation why our church members are living in immorality.  That is the only reason why our people are living fleshly, carnal lives, chasing riches and material things of the world.  They have a false faith. They are still in the bondage of sin.

Unfortunately, Simon has no interest in repenting as Peter tells him to do.  Instead he says, “Pray to the Lord for me yourselves, so that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”  He wants to escape the judgment of sin, but he is not willing to forsake the presence of sin. There’s no confession; there’s no self analysis; there’s no acknowledging of sin.  There’s no trust in the Lord; there’s no asking for forgiveness; there’s no repentance, nothing, but possibly even a scornful comment, “Why don’t you pray for me yourselves, so that what you’ve said doesn’t happen to me.”

Simon is never mentioned in scripture again.  But history tells us that his unrepentant heart led him further and further away from the truth and into abject heresy.  According to some sources, he became a constant adversary of Peter, going before him into various cities refuting the gospel that Peter was preaching.  His doctrine became more and more heretical, even to the point of denying that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh, denying the divinity of Christ, meanwhile making himself out to be god.  According to Justin Martyr, there was a statue erected in Rome that bore the inscription testifying that he was a god.  He became the father of Gnosticism, which is the grandfather of all heresies. 

Listen, there is a great danger in refusing to repent of sin.  At the very most you cannot be saved without repentance, without humbling yourself and being willing to forsake your sin.  And at the very least, if you are by some miracle a Christian, you break fellowship with God and you blaspheme the Holy Spirit, and you trample underfoot the blood of Jesus by refusing to confess and repent of your sin.  Either way your unrepentant heart will lead you further and further away from God just as surely as leaven eventually corrupts all of the dough.

I don’t know whether you folks listening to me today are wheat or tares.  I don’t know whether or not you are of the faith, or of a false faith.  I don’t have the level of discernment that Peter had.  But I do know that Jesus said that by their fruit you shall know them.  What is in the heart, eventually comes out of the mouth.  Simon should be a warning against a false faith, false followers, and false prophets. 2Cor. 13:5 “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you--unless indeed you fail the test?” Be sure you are not of a false faith, a faith without repentance.  Believing without repentance can never produce saving faith.  But as David said, “a broken and contrite heart O God you will not despise.” Let us pray.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The last sermon, Acts 7

 There is a well known phrase in religious circles where someone is said to be “preaching to the choir.”  The inference is that the choir members are not the sort of people who need to hear that particular message.  The choir, as we all know,  being the most zealous for the church.  And yet I have known some pretty degenerate choir members in my day, so I’m not sure how well that idea really stands up.

But to some extent, any congregation that comes out at 8am on a Sunday morning, especially if you happen to be on vacation, sort of qualifies under the same sentiment.  Chances are, most of you are fairly zealous for the things of God, and the fact that you are here this morning is a testament to that.  So I applaud you for your zeal. 

But I have to say that according to scripture, and which has been verified by my experience, religious regularity, or even a zealousness for church, or a high degree of sincerity does not necessarily qualify one as a Christian.  In fact, in my experience, I have found that the choir needs preaching to more often than  you might think.  And that is because there is a great danger in religion; which is to come to a point of having some degree of faith, and to come to a point of practicing a certain degree of piety, but to never have become converted.  Therefore, it is much better to be a sinner, and know that you are a dirty, rotten sinner, than to be content that you are in the kingdom, yet in the end find that you have missed salvation altogether. 

I would dare say that if I were to ask for a show of hands in this audience this morning as to who believed that they were Christians, practically everyone would raise their hands.  Yet, as I think back on all the years that I have been in ministry, and all the people that once were considered stalwarts of the church and have since gone awol, I have to think that in reality there is a large percentage of people in the typical church audience that have not truly been saved in spite of how they might perceive themselves.  And the Bible validates that principle.

Jesus told a parable in Matthew 13 about the wheat and the tares.  It was a picture of the kingdom of heaven, a picture of the church.  And in this field, Jesus said, the enemy had sown tares among the wheat.  All of the time that the tares were growing they  were indistinguishable from the wheat.  So much so that Jesus said “Do not try to uproot the tares, lest you uproot the wheat as well.”  But rather, “Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.”  The point being that the Lord knows those that are His, but when the time comes to gather the harvest, it will be obvious which is the wheat, because it has born fruit.  The tares do not bear grain.

I’ve said all of that to say this;  I am very concerned for the state of the  church today.  I am concerned that we have a form of religion that seems acceptable to us, that seems to be based on scripture, that has a form of worship, and yet many have not been converted.  Many who think that they are Christians are in fact not saved. 

Jesus said as much in Matthew 7.  He said many people will say to Me in that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not do all these things in your name?”  And Jesus said, “I will say to them, depart from Me you workers of iniquity.  I never knew you.”  Many people will think they are saved when in reality they are not. Consequently Jesus spent the majority of His ministry preaching to the choir.  He preached to the  most religious people of the day.  He spent a lot of time preaching in the temple and synagogues where people were essentially coming to worship God.  And He was constantly questioning them, constantly challenging them to reconsider, to examine themselves, to see if their deeds matched their profession.  His messages were always designed to reveal the truth about the kingdom of God, and turn upside down their self righteous assumptions.  And as a result of Christ’s confrontational preaching, the religious aristocracy of the day had Him arrested and crucified.

Now as we come in our study of Acts to this sermon of Stephen, we are going to see how he parallels Christ both in his message and in his death.  Stephen is the first martyr of the church.  He lived a short life, and he had an even shorter ministry.  This is the last sermon that he preached.  It is likely that he had a divine intuition that he would be martyred after he had preached this sermon.  So he didn’t pull any punches.  He told it like it is.  And the religious aristocracy rose up and stoned him to death.  But if I can learn anything from Steven, it is that I must preach every message like it might be my last.  This may be my last sermon I will ever preach, for all I know.  Or it may be the last sermon someone in this audience may ever hear.  This may be the last opportunity you have to hear the gospel, to examine yourself in light of the truth of the gospel.  And so I want to make it count.  We should live everyday as if it might be our last day.

Let’s look then at this last sermon of Steven.  He is refuting the charges of the Sanhedrin, which was the supreme court of the religion of the Jews made up of 70 men. And many other religious rulers were there.  The high priest was there.  You could not find a more religious group in all of Israel.  These were men that made their living from the scriptures.  They believed in the One True God, Jehovah.  They knew the Old Testament scriptures forwards and backwards.  They had memorized large sections of scripture.  They had studied it all of their lives.  They practiced strict adherence to the Law – not just the 10 commandments, but all 600 plus laws and ordinances.  From the average guy’s perspective, if anyone was in the kingdom of God, then these men would have to have been in the very choir loft of heaven.

But while Steven uses this address to answer the charges made against him, namely, that he had spoken against the law and the temple and against Moses, this message also is applicable to us today, as we examine our standing before God in the light of Steven’s last message.  I want to point out five ways that Steven shows that these men, though extremely religious, were not in the kingdom of God.  Five ways that we might also use to examine ourselves to see if we are of the faith or not.  

Number one, Steven explains that they misunderstood the basis of their salvation. In verses 1-8 Steven starts out by talking about Abraham.  I can only imagine the Sanhedrin covering their bored yawns as they must have thought that they knew everything there was to know about Abraham and thought this guy could teach them nothing new.  After all, they considered themselves as Abraham’s children.  They were God’s chosen people.  And they had been circumcised which they thought  guaranteed them a place in the kingdom of God. 

But what they failed to understand was that the kingdom of God is not inherited by birth. Citizenship in the kingdom of God is not the result of being Jewish, nor from being American, I might add.  They thought that citizenship came through association, through rituals such as circumcision, and by ceremony.  They failed to understand that the lesson of Abraham was that he was justified by faith.  Salvation is by grace through faith. Rom. 4:3 says “Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness.”  Salvation comes through faith in what Christ has done for us, not from some ritual or ceremony or nationality.  They thought it came by birth, by association, by nationality, by ritual, and by ceremony. 

You folks here this morning, assuming you would have raised your hands, on what basis do you claim to be citizens of the kingdom of God?  Was it through baptism, was it through communion, was it through some sort of membership or ritual or ceremony?  If that is what you are trusting for your salvation then you are in the same camp as the Sanhedrin.   Salvation is found only by grace through faith.  It is a gift of God, given to us through faith.  And faith is believing and trusting in Jesus Christ as Lord.  Faith is not just believing that Jesus existed.  Or that God exists.  The Bible says that the devils believe in God and tremble and yet they are not saved.  But I can assure you that though most church goers believe in some form of God, they do not tremble.  There is no fear of God before their eyes.  They have continued in their sin.  They have not renounced their sin in shame and humility.  Instead they flagrantly continue to trample underfoot the precious blood of Christ that was shed to cleanse us from sin.  Faith is obedience to what God says.  That is the lesson to be learned through Abraham.  Come out from the world and live as an alien, as a pilgrim, walking by faith, following God’s word, living in the world without possessing it.  That is what Steven was preaching, and that is what we all need to consider for ourselves.  How do we claim admittance into the kingdom of heaven?  It is only through faith and repentance as sinners receive grace.

By Steven’s standard, the Sanhedrin were unsaved, outside of the kingdom of God.  And I wonder if by that same standard how many here are trusting in something other than faith and repentance and are by consequence outside of the kingdom.

Number 2, Steven tells them that they rejected the very people God had sent to deliver them. In vs. 9-36 Steven tells an abbreviated history of Joseph and Moses, both of which were a type of Christ.  In each case, Steven explains that their brethren initially rejected them.  Joseph was thrown into a pit by his brothers and sold into slavery.  Moses tried to be the deliver that God had called him to be and his own people turned against him.   In each case the people hated Joseph and Moses without cause, they rejected and rebelled. In each case the people said, “Who made you to be a ruler and a judge over us?”  It was essentially the same question that would be asked of Jesus during His ministry. 

I wonder how many people in my hearing today have rejected Jesus from being a ruler and a judge over their lives?  To call Jesus Lord means to bow to His will, to be conformed to His image, to obey His word, to walk by His Spirit.  All of those things mean that we must humble ourselves, that we must die to ourselves and surrender to live for Christ.  It means we must stop serving ourselves and start serving Christ.  Is that the characteristic of your life?  Have you stopped serving yourself and started serving Christ?  Or has your feigned love for God provided you with the liberty to live like you want to live, in the false assumption that the love of God allows you to live anyway you want without consequences?

I would suggest that the Lordship of Christ is a key component in conversion.  Before you are saved, you served the flesh, you served your passions, you served the world’s agenda.  But after you are saved you are to serve God, you should serve the church, you should serve your neighbor.  There must be a conversion, a change, a new life. You are supposed to be a new creation, old things are passed away.  Or do you refuse to bow to Christ as Lord? Do you, like the Sanhedrin, say “who made you to be a ruler and a judge over us?”  “I can do whatever I want.  I can live how I want and God will just have to take me the way I am.”  I’m sorry, but that is not the gospel.  Jesus said whosoever will be my disciple must take up his cross and follow Me.  Have you died to yourself?  I don’t care how religious you are – have you died to your will to do God’s will?  That is the litmus test.

Number three, Steven told these law abiding citizens that in fact they had disobeyed the law in vs. 37-43.  They accused Steven of speaking against the law, but in fact they had repeatedly broken the law when it suited their purposes. That is why Jesus called them hypocrites.  He said you hypocrites tie heavy burdens on everyone else’s backs, but you are unwilling to lift even a finger.


O church, listen to me!  Idols aren’t some little figurines that we put on a shelf and rub 3 times when we want to make a wish.  Oh no!  Idols are much more seditious than that today in the church.  Our idols today are our careers, our work, our boyfriend, or girlfriend, our idols are Hollywood movie stars, rock stars, sports stars, our hobbies or entertainments.  Our idols are anything that we devote more time and allegiance to than we do to our Lord. If the Lord is not first in your priorities, then you are guilty of idol worship.  And you cannot serve God and mammon.  You cannot have a divided loyalty.  God will not take second or third or fourth place in your life.  Jesus said the most important commandment was that you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.  That is a new covenant commandment by the way.  Jesus has to have first place in your heart.  That is why the church today is accused of being full of hypocrites.  Because the world can see that we claim to be worshipping God, but actually we are serving idols and that is hypocrisy.

Number four, Steven said that contrary to him profaning the temple as they accused him of, they were guilty of desecrating the temple.  In vs. 44-50 Steven reminds them that they were guilty of profaning Solomon’s temple by bringing in idols which led to it’s destruction as punishment from God.  He says in vs. 48 that God does not dwell  in temples made with human hands. 

These very men were guilty of profaning the temple by making it a house of merchandise.  That is why Jesus on two separate occasions cleaned out the temple with a bull whip, overturning the money changers tables and driving the vendors out.  These very men made money from that operation, and so they would have still smarted from Christ’s rebuke. 

But the fallacy is that they believed that God dwelled in the temple.  However, Steven makes it clear that God had left the building a long time before.  God doesn’t dwell in buildings as if you could contain the maker of the universe in a tiny temple. God dwells in the hearts of His people.  His Spirit takes up residence in us, that we might be living stones in the temple of God. 

I would ask you then, you that say that you are in the kingdom of God, does the Spirit of Christ dwell in you?  If He does, then do you do the works of the Spirit?  Is your life evidence of the Spirit living in you?  The Spirit of God does not dwell in His people just to make them feel weepy when some worship song plays.  He does not dwell in His people just to make them speak in an unintelligible language that does neither the hearer nor the speaker any good.  But the Holy Spirit of God dwells in His people that they might do the works of God.  That they might bear the likeness of Christ.  So that they might speak the gospel to the lost.  So that we might understand the scriptures. 

I am dismayed sometimes when I hear people that have been regulars at church for some time, and they unknowingly  reveal some of their theology in a casual conversation.  I am dismayed because I know that I have been preaching the word of God line by line, precept by precept, doctrine by doctrine for so long, and they acted like they were listening, acted like they were in agreement, and yet in their conversation they reveal that they lacked understanding of the basic tenets of the gospel.  They show they do not have in them the Spirit of Truth to give them understanding.  They reveal that though they have a zeal for God, it is not in accordance with knowledge.  And so I assume that they must not really be saved.  Nice people perhaps, but lost.  There is no evidence of the Spirit in them.

Number 5, Steven reveals in vs. 51-53 that they had stubbornly resisted God and His truth.  He says, “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did.”  Oh man! I get accused of preaching too harshly,  but I have nothing on Steven.  He is saying that though they had the outward sign of circumcision, they had never been circumcised in their hearts.  Their hearts were still fleshly, worldly, unchanged.  They had never been converted, never been changed.  They just added religion on top of a dirty, sinful unrepentant heart. 

I’m afraid that is the state of the church at large today.  We live anyway we want all week, live like the devil if the truth is known, and then we come to church for an hour on Sunday and it’s like putting makeup on a pig.  We put some religion on for an hour or so and then go right back to the slimy pig sty of the world that we love so much.  We go right back to the sexually explicit movies, the raunchy music, drunkenness, hateful attitudes, the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.  Nothing has really changed.  We are not converted, we’re the same old sinful people we always were, but now we just try to cover it up with a little religion.

The part though I think is really apropos is vs. 53, “you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.” The Sanhedrin put great value upon the law.  The law being the first five books of the Old Testament, the Pentateuch.  Yet Steven says that they did not keep it. 

I wonder if that is true of the church today?  Do we revere the Bible as God’s word, as inspired, God breathed, the actual words of God?  And yet we let it sit on a shelf.  We are content to let others read it and tell us what it means.  We are willing to abrogate it’s authority but we submit to the authority of tradition.  Some of you are unwilling to relinquish church traditions that have no basis in scripture whatsoever.  You put a higher premium on what some church leader says than what God Himself has said.  Some of you are running around seeking a new word of knowledge, a new vision, a new wisdom found in some spiritual experience, while ignoring what the word of God clearly says which was written down for us as a much sure word.

Israel had long before replaced the authority of God’s word with the word of the High Priest, the word of the rabbis.  They had the Mishna which reinterpreted the law, and effectively altered the word of God.  And I’m afraid that modern Christianity has replaced the simple preaching of God’s word with every conceivable contrivance, so that we learn our doctrine from Hollywood movies, we read so called Christian books which promise to teach us the secrets of financial success and health and prostitute the gospel to do so.  Churches used to have 15 minutes of music  and 45 minutes or more of preaching and reading the word.  Now they have skits and dancing, and endless song after endless song and everyone just sits there looking at a movie screen.  There is no need to bring a Bible to the modern church anymore.  At best, people are looking at a Bible app on their smart phone, in between checking out facebook.  And the preaching of sound doctrine is a thing of the past or denigrated to a brief entertaining social gospel sound byte.

Well, that’s Steven’s last sermon.  Some of you are probably hoping it’s my last sermon as well.  I hope you don’t feel that way.  I hope that you look earnestly and examine yourself honestly to see if you are of the faith.  To see if there is enough evidence to convict you of being a Christian, by the same standard that Steven raised in this message.  I hope that we would look earnestly into the mirror of God’s word and see if we measure up according to the picture Steven has presented us with.

In closing, I want to mention that there were four responses to this sermon.  The first response was from the Sanhedrin.  Vs. 54, “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him.”  They were convicted, but they did not repent.  Rather they hated him, they gnashed their teeth at him.  That means they were pretty mad, so mad that they rushed at him with one accord and threw him off a cliff and cast stones down on him to kill him. 

The second response we see there was from Christ Himself in vs.55,  “But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”  As I said last week, in most other scriptures they always speak of Jesus seated at the right hand of God.  But here in response to this last sermon of Steven, and the life of Steven, Jesus stands up.  I believe He leads the hosts of heaven in a grand standing ovation for Steven as he yields up his life in service to Christ.  He gave everything to serve Christ as an example of how we should live our life.

The third response is that of Steven.  Vs. 60; “Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he fell asleep.”  Steven was received into the presence of the Lord, saying much the same thing that the Lord Jesus said on the cross, “Lord forgive them for they know not what they do.” 

The fourth response was that of a young man named Saul in vs. 58.  But if you look at the text you notice that he doesn’t make any response in our text.  However that young man named Saul would one day be renamed Paul, after he repented and was converted on the road to Damascus.  I’m sure that the death of Steven was something that haunted Paul for all of his days.  I’m sure that it spurred Paul to greater heights of service to God.

The only question left then today is what is your response to this last sermon of Steven?  Maybe your response is to grind your teeth and run out of here with your hands over your ears.  But I would pray that you have taken this opportunity to examine your citizenship in the kingdom of God in light of God’s word.  And if so, how do you fare?  Are you truly a child of God?  Have you been born again by grace through faith?  Or do you reject the words of this preacher, just as the Sanhedrin rejected the prophets?  Are you a trespasser against the law of God?  If you recognize that, then there is hope for you if you will repent of your sins.  But if you do not recognize that you are a sinner, then you cannot be saved.  Have you defiled the temple?  1Cor. 6:19 says, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? Therefore, glorify God in your body.”  Or have you stubbornly resisted God’s word?  How can you say you believe the word of God and yet deliberately rebel against it? 

I don’t know how you answered these questions.  I don’t know whether you are a wheat or a tare. But the Lord knows, even if you don’t.  I hope that you will make sure of your salvation today.  Today is the acceptable day of salvation.  None of us have been guaranteed tomorrow.  This may be my last sermon, or it may be your last sermon.  I pray you evaluate your salvation today in the light of God’s word.
God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. A broken and contrite heart He will not despise.  Make sure of your salvation today.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

How to live your best life now, Acts 6:8-15

The most popular message in Christianity today is perhaps best captured in the title of a book by the pastor of the largest protestant church in America, entitled, “Your Best Life Now,” by Joel Osteen.  That book stayed at the top of the New York Times bestseller list for 200 weeks.  His sermons are televised to over 7 million viewers in over 200 countries.  His church services in Texas are held in a former sports arena which held 56000 people at it’s dedication.  His net worth is estimated to be 56 million dollars and he lives in a 10.5 million dollar mansion.  So yeah, from the perspective of the world’s view of success, I guess Osteen is living his best life now. 

But of course his message is that you can live your best life now as well.  And just to give you a microcosm of his doctrine, I’ll read you a few quotes from his website.  He teaches things like, “God’s people should be the happiest people on earth. So happy, in fact, that other people notice. Why? Because we not only have a fabulous future, we can enjoy life today!”  Sounds good doesn’t it? I mean, everyone wants to be happy.  He certainly looks happy.  So I guess he is saying that God just wants you to be happy more than anything else. 

He describes that blissful existence in this statement; “Living your best life now means being excited about the life God has given you. It means believing for more good things in the days ahead, while living in the moment and enjoying it to the hilt.”  So live in the moment.  Enjoy it to the hilt.  Enjoy all that life has to offer, because that will produce happiness, and happiness is the goal in life.

Third, he says no matter how bad your circumstances might be now, you need to believe that you can be happy.  Your belief that God wants you to be happy means that you should say, ““Enough is enough. I’m going to start believing God for bigger and better things.”  “Dream bigger dreams. God wants to do more than you can even ask or think. Start living your best life now!”

For example, Osteen says, “God doesn’t want your business to merely make it through the murky economic waters. He wants your business to excel!”  He says, if you believe enough, and have enough faith to release the power of God in your life, (because he says your faith activates the power of God,) then “you will have the best this life has to offer — and more. You can start living your best life now.” 

Well, anyone should be able to see why that is a popular message.  Be happy, enjoy life, move from poverty to success, live your dreams, dream bigger dreams, get everything this world has to offer.  Because that is what God’s desire is for you, and if you will just believe it, then that will release and activate God’s power for you, so that all your dreams will come true.

That sounds good, doesn’t it?  There is even some hints of Bible verses thrown in there for good measure.  It is a message that  appeals to our carnal nature.  It appeals to our flesh, to the desires of the flesh and the lusts of the eyes and the pride of life.  But I am here to tell you today that is not the message of the gospel.  God’s plan for you is not to give you a bigger paycheck, to give you a bigger house, a nicer car, and to fulfill all your dreams and ambitions.  That is not the gospel, nor is it the plan of God for your life.  That is not the way to live your best life now. 

No, I’m going to suggest today that the example given to us in the life of Steven here in chapter 6 and 7, is emblematic of living your best life now.  And though the scripture makes it clear that Steven’s life was full in every way possible and was precious in the sight of God, yet from a human perspective Steven’s potential was never realized, his life was tragically cut short, and his career  came to an unfortunate end almost immediately after it started.  Steven’s life is the antithesis of every thing that Osteen’s book claims is the plan of God.  And yet Acts 7 vs.56 says when Steven found himself at the end of his short life being pummeled to death by stoning, he saw the heavens split open and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.  In several other places in scripture Jesus is described as sitting at the right hand of the Father.  But when Steven’s life comes to a close,  Jesus stands up.  I believe that the life of Steven so fulfilled God’s design for living his best life, that when his brief life came to a close at the hands of evil men, Jesus stood up and led all of the heavenly host in a standing ovation.

I don’t know about you, but I want to live a life like Steven.  I want the end of my life, whenever it comes, to be the fulfillment of God’s plan for me so that Jesus might stand up and say, “Welcome home, good and faithful servant.  Enter into the joy of your Master.” By the way, the name Steven is from the Greek Stephanos, which means “victor’s crown.”  He was victorious in the sight of God and he certainly received that crown upon his martyrdom.

Contrary to popular Christianity’s message, we can either spend our lives trying to find happiness here on earth by accumulating earthly treasures, or we can spend our lives in service to God and reap eternal rewards in heaven.  I don’t think we can do both.  I believe that they are diametrically opposed.  One life makes God your servant, working diligently to fulfill your dreams and ambitions, and the other life makes you God’s servant, working diligently to fulfill His plan and purpose.  One life leads to the victor’s crown given by Christ himself, and one life leads to gaining temporal treasures here on earth which can never bring true happiness and fulfillment but only eventual death.

So what I want to show you from the scripture today is that in spite of the fact that Steven died a martyr, in spite of the fact that we only have one message preserved for us of his sermons, in spite of the fact that his young life seemed to be tragically cut short, Steven lived a full life, full in the best sense of the word.  In fact in chapter 6 there are five times that Steven’s life is characterized as being full, being complete.  He is described in vs. 3 as full of the Holy Spirit, and full of wisdom, in vs. 5 as full of faith, and in vs. 8 as full of grace and full of power. Five characteristics of a full life, a life pleasing to God, a life that prompted Jesus to stand and celebrate his victorious life. And I think that these five characteristics are possible for each of us here today, that we might live our best life now, just as Steven did.

So we are going to look briefly at these five factors of a full life as evidenced by Steven.  But there is a prequalifying element of Steven’s life that must not be overlooked.  And that is that Steven was first of all a servant.  That is what they were selecting the seven men to do back in the opening verses of the chapter.  The apostles wanted to select 7 men who would serve the tables, serve the widows and serve the needs within the church.  To be a servant.

The primary quality of  a servant is that they must first of all be humble.  Jesus Himself was an example of that, and I believe that Steven followed His example. Phil. 2:7 says that Jesus  “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.”  Moses, the greatest prophet that ever lived was described in Numbers 12 as the most humble man that ever lived.  If you want to be great in the eyes of God, if you want to be filled to the brim by all the goodness of God, then you must first humble yourself. James 4:10 “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” “Therefore,” James says in chapter 1 vs. 9,in direct contrast to the teaching of Joel Osteen, “ let the brother of humble circumstances  glory in his high position;  and the rich man glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away.”

So the prerequisite to a full life is submission to serve Christ and not yourself.  And as a result of that subordination, then the first component of a full life is to be full of the Holy Spirit. This is such a major factor in the life of Steven that it is mentioned  twice as a characteristic of his life.  He was first of all selected because he fit the requirement of the apostles in vs. 3 that he must be full of the Holy Spirit, and then in vs. 5 he is listed as the foremost of the seven and it indicates that being filled with the Holy Spirit was especially a characteristic that he possessed.   So number one Steven was full of the Holy Spirit. 

What does it mean to be full of the Holy Spirit? We alluded to it in the characteristic of a servant – that is to be a servant of Christ rather than a servant of your flesh.  It means to be controlled by the Spirit of Christ, rather than controlled by the weaknesses of the flesh.  Listen, all Christians have been given the same Spirit.  The Spirit is a person, so you either have Him or you don’t.  The Spirit is not a power or a force that you can get more or less of.  But you can be more or less submitted to His control.  And when you let go completely of your own will, and seek to do His will, then you are under the control of the Spirit.  You are filled with the Spirit.  So the way to be full of the Spirit is to die to the flesh, to die to the world. Gal. 5:17 “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.”  So rather than do as Osteen says, that we need to dream bigger dreams and get more and more worldly possessions in an attempt to find happiness, if we want to live a full life that is pleasing to God then we must die to the world and the lusts of the flesh, so that we might be full of the Holy Spirit, led by the Holy Spirit, under His control. Gal. 5:24 “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

Secondly, the characteristic of Steven’s full life is to be full of wisdom.  We need to know first of all that being full of wisdom is the outcome of being full of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit gives us a wisdom that is not of this world.  It is the wisdom of God and not of men. 1Cor. 1:20 says, “Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”  And in 1Cor. 3:19 “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God."

So wisdom comes from God, which comes as a result of being under the control of the Holy Spirit, which means being submissive to the word of God.  Paul told Timothy that the scriptures are the source of God’s wisdom. 2Tim. 3:15 “from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”

Next week we will look at the wisdom of Steven in his message, which shows the incredible depth of knowledge that he had of the word of God, starting with the Old Testament and how that was fulfilled in Christ.  But though it is unlikely that Steven had any formal training, his wisdom was unanswerable in his debates with the Jews.  Vs.10, “But they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.”  Steven not only knew the Author of the scriptures, but the Spirit of the Author indwelt  him, so that he was full of a wisdom which the wisdom of the world could not debate. 

Thirdly, the next component of a full life as exemplified in the life of Steven is to be, according to vs. 5, full of faith.  What does that mean?  Does that mean what Joel Osteen suggests, that if you just want something bad enough, name it and claim it, believe hard enough, then God will be obligated to grant you what you want?  Is that it? 

I should say not.  But rather it is to follow in the pattern of the other components we have already seen.  That means to be fully yielded in faith to trust God, and be content  with whatever lot He chooses for you, rather than to try to control God.  If we are controlled by God, under His leading, led by His Spirit in all that we do, then we can fully trust Him to do what is best for us and for His kingdom.  It means, to paraphrase the words of an old country song, to let Jesus take the steering wheel.  To trust Him to provide what is necessary for our needs.  To believe that He knows what is best for us.  To trust Him enough to wait on Him, rather than try to force Him to accommodate us.  That is a life full of faith.  Completely trusting Him, rather than trying so hard to do get Him to do what we want Him to do.

Prov. 3:5-8 “Trust in the LORD with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the LORD and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your body And refreshment to your bones.” 

I am reminded of the Psalmist David’s comment in Psalm 131:2 “Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child rests against his mother, My soul is like a weaned child within me.”  That is what it means to be full of faith, completely trusting, leaning on the Lord.  Not striving with God by some means of forced faith to get what you want, or get what you think is best, but to rest in the assurance that God knows best and He will do what is best for those that love Him.

Fourthly, a full life is a life characterized by being full of grace, vs. 8.  Full of grace means what exactly?  We hear a lot about grace today in the church.  Grace means gift of God, and we all want to receive gifts, don’t we?  But as we consider the words of David, as we quiet our soul, when we stop being infantile in our neediness, always wanting something from God, then we come to the point of being satisfied with God.  Where we can crawl up on His lap so to speak and be content.  We come to the point where we are full of His grace.  So as Paul said in 2Cor. 12:10 “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

And when we are full of grace, then it stands to reason that we give grace.  When we realize we have all we need in Christ, then that spills out in generosity towards others, to show grace towards others.  We become gracious, long suffering, patient, forgiving, merciful.  Those are all the product of a life full of grace.  Grace is not some selfish pursuit of what God will give me, but what I can give back to God.  When you are full of grace, ladies and gentlemen, then it starts to spill over into the lives of the church.

That leads us to the last characteristic of a full life, we are full of power.  “Oh boy, finally!  Let’s start running around now healing people, casting out demons, calling down fire from heaven.”  Is that power?  Is this talking about the power to get all the things that I want out of  life?  No, I’m afraid that spiritual power starts out a whole lot more practical than that.  Let’s look again at 2 Cor. 12, this time starting in vs. 9 Paul said, “And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness. Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” 

Here is what it means to be full of power; it means to be emptied of my strength, of my resources, of my wisdom, of my will, and then when I trust in Him I can trust in His power to accomplish in me and through me what is pleasing to Him.  It means according to 2Pet. 1:3-4  “that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.  For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.” 

Did you get the last part of what Peter said?  We like to camp out on the first part, the part about God granting us everything pertaining to life.  That is where Joel Osteen stops.  “God’s power has granted everything pertaining to life, now all you have to do is claim that in order to unleash God’s power in your life.”  But that is missing the point.  Peter says, God’s power has granted everything pertaining to life AND GODLINESS.  So that we might partake of the divine nature.  That means that we have the power to live godly lives, the power to live according to God’s nature, not according to the lusts of the flesh.  But rather escape the corruption of the world.  Bottom line is that God has granted us the power to live godly lives.  To live sanctified, separated lives, consecrated wholly unto God.  That’s what we were saved for.  To live godly lives in service to God.  Not to live out our idea of our best life now.  But to live out God’s plan for our lives. 

That plan may one day call for you to give up this life in service to Him, just as Steven did.  We may not all end up as martyrs, but we are all called to take up our cross and follow Jesus.  To die to the world so that we might live for Christ.  To crucify the flesh.  To die, that we might live forever.  That is what it means to live a full life.  Whatever Joel Osteen and the like are selling is not seen anywhere in the scriptures, especially in the lives of saints such as Steven.  They were willing to give all to serve Christ.  They are written to be examples for us, that we might live lives that are pleasing to God. 

When you live a life that is first of all submitted to serve Christ as a servant, when you are truly full of the Holy Spirit, full of wisdom, full of faith, full of grace and full of power, then you too may receive the crown of righteousness, the victor’s crown which Steven received. 

As Steven faced his accusers who end up stoning him to death it says in vs. 15, “And fixing their gaze on him, all who were sitting in the Council saw his face like the face of an angel.”  What is Luke talking about? I don’t think that Steven’s face had some unearthly glow. Angels have seen God.  Angels continually gaze on the face of God.  So to have the face of an angel is to have a countenance that reflects a perfect trust in God, because you know God perfectly.  Steven was so full of the presence of God, so submitted to God in every area of His life, that he faced his accusers with a serenity that can only come from an intimate relationship with God.  He could trust God.  He had given God all of his life and consequently the fullness of God was sufficient.  It was enough.  He was satisfied with Christ and willing to face anything, because he knew with the certainty of the angels the sovereignty and the love of God. 

I believe that the serenity of Steven is available for us as well.  I trust that you will submit your soul, your life, your all to Jesus Christ to serve Him, to sacrifice everything for the joy of knowing Him.  And if you do that, He promises to fill you completely.  To live inside you, filling you with His Spirit, His wisdom, faith, grace and power.  Let us pray.