LET’S WALK THIS ROAD TOGETHER
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
December 30, 2012
Thus says the LORD: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’
-- Jeremiah 6:16, ESV
I do not think it is overly pessimistic to say we live in a modern world where much has gone wrong. As this year comes to a close, we mourn the loss of innocence and life in Newtown, Connecticut, read the horrible news of firefighters in New York being summoned and murdered by another madman, and (in a note a little closer to home) hear the story of one of my daughter’s boyfriend’s best friends who was shot and killed in the line of duty as an Atlanta policeman.
Maybe the government will come and help, but the signals are mixed. Prior to recent elections, opinion polls showed that a majority of voters were dissatisfied with our leadership and thought the country was headed in the wrong direction. Then, we re-elected mostly incumbents to the White House and houses of congress. A so-called fiscal cliff looms, while the President and the congressmen pass around blame like a scalding hot potato. Personally, I’m not counting on the government to do anything but make things worse.
Maybe the church will come to lift up our fallen world. But the church of today is sending out mixed messages, too. A shocking number of them offer nothing more than a Christ-less Christianity, where the Bible is not taught as the inspired word of God and the gospel of the literal life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is not preached. Another large segment of the church is trying to save the world by giving the world what the world wants, obscuring the message of the gospel with dizzying displays of “worship” that more resemble rock concerts, Hollywood productions, or professional sports. The scene is not hopeless, however, for the Apostle Paul admonished the Philippians that anytime anyone preaches the gospel, there is reason for rejoicing. So, praise the Lord for the liberals who at least read the Scriptures in worship and for spike-haired preachers who at least share the plan of salvation after the concert (that’s right, I’m jealous of the spike-haired or any kind of haired preachers?!).
Maybe, just maybe, there is a better way awaiting us. Perhaps there is a road to follow that will enable our church, or any church, to be in the world, but not of the world, in order to save the world. This is the way I want to go. This is the road I want to travel.
There is a road sign pointing the way in Jeremiah 6:16. It stands under a dark cloud with a silver lining. Those who saw it first did not heed the way. We can follow them off the spiritual cliff or we can learn from their mistakes. For the sign still stands, the prophet still preaches, and road is ready to be walked. Come on, Let’s walk this road together.
Consider what God said to Israel
God said to Israel, through the pessimistic prophet Jeremiah, “Stand …, look …, ask …, walk.”
“Stand.” Some translations take a stand at “crossroads,” but that reads too much into the text. Two roads or ways are present, but they are not crossing. They are parallel, like an interstate highway. One road leads to God, the other goes away from Him. Another translation captures the imperative, “Stop right where you are!” Israel was going very fast on the wrong road they were traveling. They were very busy in religious and economic affairs. They must have been too busy, for the Lord commanded them to stand still and consider the direction in which they were traveling, for they were going down the wrong road.
“Look.” Obviously the Jews of Jeremiah’s day were on the wrong road going the wrong way. The path traveled by Abraham, Moses, David, and Hezekiah had been forsaken for the easy, downhill slope of worldly kings Manasseh and Amon. Josiah had given them back their compass, the word of God, and Jeremiah preached to them with all his heart. But the people were ignoring those red “wrong way” signs and journeying farther and farther away from the Lord. On the road they were on there was no real worship, only idolatry. There was no discipleship, only disobedience. There was no love of neighbor, only selfishness. As in the days of the Judges, each Jew did what was right in his own eyes, eyes that could not see the awful wreck ahead. So God commanded them to stop, take a look, and ...
“Ask.” A lost person should stop and ask directions (though most people, especially males, seldom will). Israel’s eyes were shut, so God told them to look. Their mouths were closed, so God told them to ask. It was in the “ancient” road where they would find the “good”. But this was not the word that the Jews of Jeremiah’s day wanted to hear. To them, “ancient” meant obsolete; “old” meant old-fashioned. They had found new ways to worship, even new gods to worship. They had fashioned a new morality to suit their pleasures, and they didn’t want some old fogey preacher like Jeremiah spoiling their fun. But Jeremiah wasn’t the one pointing them back to the old road, God was. And to God “ancient” means “everlasting” (ref. Psalm 139:24), and this life is found on the old road with old road signs which read: truth, repentance, fear/reverence, obedience. “Ask”, God said, “Read the old signs on the old road”, and ...
“Walk.” God was angry yet full of compassion. The Lord was demanding yet patient. For His glory and their good He said, “Walk” – not run, jump, or dive, just “walk”. Like a father who finds his child playing with a deadly snake, “Put it down and walk back to me,” God said. Walk according to My word, not your whim. Walk according to biblical standards of worship, not worldly standards. Walk together in one way, not separately in your own ways.
A reward of spiritual safety and “rest for your souls” awaited them. Did they find it? No, they kept going on the wrong road. Soon, their government would collapse. Soon, their religious temple would be torn down. God had shown them the way, but they would not walk that road together with Him.
Consider what God is saying to the church.
Actually, God is saying the same thing to the New Testament church He said to Old Testament Israel. “Stand …, look …, ask …, walk.”
“Stand.” The church should never be less than what we should be, but neither should we be more. We should not be the government, with the elders’ senate and the deacons’ house and the poor pastor caught in the middle getting voted out every four years. We should not be the capitalistic enterprise, growing our business with various means of marketing strategies. We should not be the entertainment center, fiddling with people’s emotions while Rome is burning. We should stand up and be the church, the visible expression of the kingdom of God, the called out assembly of the children of God, bent on doing the things God designed the church to do. Sometimes it is time to reverse the motto, “Don’t do something, just stand there.”
“Look” at what we should be doing. Look not at other entities for sings of worldly success. Look not at other churches, necessarily, for bigger is not always better. Look for the “ancient paths,” the everlasting ways, the road that God’s church has walked on for two millennium, when we’re walking rightly. It is only in our generation that the church has engaged in games and gimmicks and strategies that cannot be seen in Scripture, and it’s in our generation that the church has seemed to lose her way. If Jesus, Peter, John, and Paul wouldn’t do it, neither should we. I think they would use electricity, good lighting and sound, and a modicum of present tense technology. But mainly they would use preaching and teaching, praying and singing, loving one another, and reaching out with the gospel and good works. Let’s look at what the church should be, from Holy Scripture, and ask God to help us be His church.
“Ask.” To ask is to risk. That’s why people don’t ask questions in class. They risk embarrassment. They risk getting the wrong answer. They risk getting the right answer but lacking the courage to implement it. We must ask God whether or not our church is biblical, then listen to His answers and make it right. We must ask God to draw people to Himself and to our church, but be prepared to make room, share leadership, and be changed. We must ask others to come to Christ and to His church, risking rejection and ridicule. We will have not, if we ask not.
“Walk.” Christianity and churchmanship is not a sprint, not even a marathon, but a cross-country walk. First we must take a stand on the gospel. Then we must look constantly to the word of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Then we must ask, in prayer and study, the right questions and find God’s path, God’s answer, God’s way, God’s road for us. Then, let’s walk this road together. Our speed does not matter, as long as we are walking together with God. Our size does not matter, as long as we are two or more with God in the midst. Our success does not matter, as long as we are faithful, strong, and courageous. God will grant us success on His terms. Let’s walk this road together.
Consider what God is saying to this church.
For those reading this sermon who are not members of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church, please take what I am about to say with a grain of proverbial and biblical salt. Churches, like people, have different personalities and God is pleased to use different personalities to reach different peoples so that He will have more worshipers, because He is worthy. I think we should all have the same message, but the methods of communicating the message are subject to diversity within God’s regulative principles. But as a particular pastor trying to find God’s way for our church, and a way for our church to glorify Him and grow, here is how I suggest we should walk.
Worship will continue to be our private and public priority. I fully expect every member of our church to engage in daily or regular devotions of Bible study and prayer. If you only eat once a week, or get up out of bed once a week, you will be weak, period. I fully expect every member of our church to be present together on the Lord’s Day for public worship unless they are providentially hindered. I will not judge you but trust you to discern from God what a providential hindrance is and is not. I will not judge you when you are not here and I will trust you to be here and if this is not the way you feel about worship then either you or I are in the wrong church.
We will be disciples and make disciples through the biblical and time-honored method of small groups. Right now, we are a small group. I am your leader and I pray for you almost every day, preach and teach you the word of God every week, and am available to care for you 24/7. As our church grows, we will add a plurality of elders oversee a plurality of small groups that meet in classrooms or homes or wherever biblical discipleship can flourish and grow. The Bible will be our textbook, prayer will be our program, and personal invitations will be our publicity.
Members of our fellowship will understand that we do not wish to be a church were some give all, but a church where all give some. Every member should share in the financial demands of carrying out the work of God’s church. Every member should share the time required, generally only a few hours a week, to be an active and responsible church member. Every member should be willing to share money and material things with other members of the body who may fall on hard times in this hard time our world is living through. Christian fellowship is the sharing of our lives with one another, and this is the way we will walk.
Our ministry efforts need more organization and more participation. Therefore, we are going to set aside the second Saturday of every month for intentional ministry. I hope we will all, intentionally and daily, seek to personally minister or help anyone any way we can. But we need some strategy to invite people to Christ and church, continue our gifts of food and clothing to reach out to the least of these, and the perpetual upkeep of property and buildings that show God and others our love for Him. We will start with these three ministry teams on a monthly basis, and pray their number and frequency will increase as we walk this road together.
And, realizing that we live in a state that houses about 1% of the citizens of a country that boasts only 5% of the world’s population, we will not neglect our mission to pray, give, and go into all the world with the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have made a good start in days gone by with giving to missions and sending the Shepherds to Turkey. We will continue to go and grow in this area as God guides and leads this church.
Israel would not walk this road with God, now they are no more the spiritual people of God. Most churches will not walk this road with God, now they are empty halls or entertainment centers. Our church is small, now, living in a huge world of hurt. But we can make a difference. We can, as the great William Carey said, do great things for God if we expect great things from God. And God is great. Let’s take Him by the hand. Let’s walk this road together, with the Lord.
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
December 16, 2012
 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
-- John 3:16, ESV
The study of the Bible is indeed a labor of love. Some form of the word “love” appears over 800 times in over 700 verses. It appears as a noun, verb, adjective, and adverb. All of the Old Testament writers use the word, with the exception of four of the Minor Prophets; and, every New Testament author writes with “love” in multiple passages.
The first time “love” appears in the New Testament is speaks of the love God the Father has for God the Son at His baptism (ref. Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22). The last time “love” is mentioned in the Bible it is used negatively, to describe all the lost and condemned people of all time who “loved” the wrong things and failed to trust in God and the gospel (ref. Revelation 22:15). That verse was among the last verses written by the Apostle John. But, speaking of John, the first time the beloved Apostle chose to use the word “love” he wrote what has become the most familiar verse in the entire Bible. And, if we can choose only one verse to talk about the greatest thing, then we must talk about this great thing called “love,” from John 3:16.
Love is defined by God
As part of his preacher act, Elmer Gantry defined love by saying, “Love is the mornin' and the evenin' star.” I’m still not sure what that huckster meant by that.
When some children were asked to define love, one of them said: “When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn't bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis, too. That's love.” That’s right.
Musicians have tried to define love with song titles from the 1930’s “Love is Like the Flu” and “Love is the Cure for Everything,” the 60’s “Love is Groovy” and the 70’s “Love is Funky,” and the back-to-back hits “Love is a Four Letter Word” and “Love is a Five Letter Word.”
Actually, love is a five letter word in the Greek language of the New Testament: agape. It is a most interesting choice from a most illustrative language. Three words were available to God and God’s messengers, including the Apostle John. They were “eros,” “phileo,” and “agape.”
Eros is defined as selfish, sensual love, sought or stolen simply because it feels good. While this seems to be the spirit of love in our age as well as the Roman era that birthed the New Testament, no New Testament writer inspired by the Holy Spirit chose to use this word to define love. Phileo is a friendly, brotherly love, which inspired the naming of the city of Philadelphia. This kind of neighborly, I’ll-scratch-your-back-if-you’ll-scratch-mine, mutual kind of love is fine and often found in the New Testament. But far and away the most common word God chose to define the kind of love He gives and desires is agape.
Agape is never selfish and not contingent on what the recipient can do for the giver. Agape is a choice to give love to another person, willingly, totally, unconditionally, selflessly. Agape is the most beautiful and bountiful way ever recorded to define love, at least love as it pertains to God and those who are the children of God. “For God so loved …”
Love is demonstrated by God
With agape, love, as His defining motive, God took action to demonstrate His love to the multicultural, multiethnic, multifaceted people of the world He created. You see, agape love always demonstrates itself in sacrifice. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son …”
If you are a parent or the child of a parent (I think that’s everybody), consider the sacrifice it takes to raise a child. A 2011 report by the USDA revealed that the average cost to raise a child from birth to age 17 is $234,900. Now for a fleeting moment, let us parents look at our child, especially if he or she is a teenager, and ask ourselves, “What could I have done with $234,900?!” Of course, the answer is “nothing, absolutely nothing, any better than raising this child!” How can we say such a thing and make such a sacrifice? Because, we love them.
Well, it is one thing to love your child enough to give them a good life. Could you love someone enough to give up your child to a cruel, merciless, painful, death, even though and especially when the person you give your child to die for is absolutely unworthy? The Apostle Paul’s classic response to the Apostle John’s classic verse is, “But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (ref. Romans 5:8).
The heart of John 3:16 reveals the loving heart of God. “He gave His only Son.” “He gave” a gift He did not have to give. God is completely sufficient in His tri-unity with Himself, His Son, and His Spirit to enjoy fellowship with Himself as He lords over all creation, and He did not need to redeem any fallen human beings to enjoy His infinite life. “His only Son” refers to a gift like no other, a person unparalleled, fully human and fully divine, sinless, spotless, infinitely superior in every way to everybody else, sent to live a life of poverty, anonymity, incredulity, injustice, persecution, and martyrdom.
I don’t mind sacrificing $234,900 for Christie, Ashley, Emily, or Courtney Grace. Each one of them is worth it, and more. But the infinite sacrifice of Jesus Christ for sinners such as I, whom God did not need and who in no way compare to the worth of Christ, is the greatest love ever known.
God defined love on His divine terms then demonstrated it with the gift of Christ upon the cross. Now, He deserves and demands this kind of love in return.
Love is demanded by God
God’s unconditional love is actually conditional, and that’s no more an oxymoron that to say that Jesus Christ is a man and Jesus Christ is God, or that the Bible was written by God and the Bible was written by forty-something human authors. To receive the love of God and loving sacrifice of Jesus Christ for salvation, there is actually a requirement. “Whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Faith, or belief, is the demand, to be sure. There must be intellectual, emotional, volitional belief that results in corresponding behavior. But, there must be a motive behind both the belief and the behavior. That motive must be agape, love.
If you do not love God, unconditionally and unreservedly, then you cannot be a recipient of His unconditional, unreserved salvation and eternal life. You cannot come to Christ because He offers absolution, or a reservation in Heaven, and certainly not because you think He will guarantee health and wealth in this life on earth. You must come to Him because you love Him, you are willing to serve Him, you give your life and all that you have to Him, and you place Him above all other loves in your life. This love is defined, demonstrated, and demanded by a holy, holy, holy God. From where does such love come?
“You did not choose Me, but I chose you …” (ref. John 15:16). “We love because He first loved us” (ref. 1 John 4:19). “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (ref. Romans 5:5). “He saved us, … by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (ref. Titus 3:5).
If you are a Christian, it is because God loved you and chose you even before He created the world (ref. Ephesians 1:4). For you, God defined and demonstrated what love really is in the person and work of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. And you have been able to love, believe, and repent, because the very thing that God demands, God Himself delivers. Yes, Christian, God put love in your hearts so that you would love Him, believe in Him, and enjoy Him forever in everlasting life. This is love, and being in a loving, saving, personal, and covenant relationship with God is what life is all about.
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
December 9, 2012
 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,  training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age,  waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,  who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
-- Titus 2:11-14, ESV
Real hope is always realized in the end. We are taught this in Scripture. And, I was reminded of it when I read and watched (and filtered through the foul language and graphic violence of) the Stephen King novella and screenplay, The Shawshank Redemption. That story ends by putting the power of hope on display.
“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.”
-- from a letter from Andy Dufresne to Ellis “Red” Boyd in The Shawshank Redemption
The word “hope” in our everyday language is not as powerful as it should be. To most it conveys the idea of maybe. Will our favorite team win the game? We hope so, which means they might, if they don’t turn the ball over too many times. Will we be able to get what I want for Christmas? We hope so, which means we probably will, if our family took the hint and the store did not run out. “Hope” means maybe, sometimes probably, but never certainly.
“Hope” in the language of the Bible carries more weight. It does not speak of contingencies, or probabilities, but rather certainties. The realization of hope is grounded in the reality of God and His promises. “Hope” appears 144 times in the English Standard Version of the Bible. It is most common in the Psalms (26 times) and commonly refers to the certainty that God is who He says He is and will do what He says He will do. Ironically, the second highest score for “hope” (17 times) is found in Job, the intense book on human suffering, which teaches us that when all the other seeming certainties of life are stripped away, there is certain grace and the hope of redemption with God. The book of Romans tops the New Testament charts (12 times) and teaches that “hope” is part and parcel of our bedrock doctrine of God and His salvation, meaning that a true believer has every “hope” that he or she has been saved, is being saved, and will be saved by grace through faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. “Hope” is the certain gift of God that will never disillusion nor disappoint, no matter how difficult life gets in this present world.
“Blessed hope” is a phrase that appears only once in the Bible, in Titus 2:13, yet it summons to mind all the hope and all the promises that are ours in Jesus Christ. As we celebrate His first advent and look forward to the second, it is a good time to consider the confident expectation of “our blessed hope” in God, which He accomplished, will accomplish, and is accomplishing by His Spirit and by His Son, Jesus Christ.
We can be certain that “our blessed hope” has come.
“Our blessed hope” is Jesus Christ. We can be certain that He has come. As a matter of fact, we could have been certain that He would come to earth even before His first arrival in Bethlehem.
From the day original sin crept in and felled man, separating him from God, God gave us hope. He promised a Savior, a human being, who would crush the curse at great personal cost (ref. Genesis 3:15). God promised this Savior would be more than a mere man, He would be God incarnate, in the person of the Son of God (ref. Isaiah 7:14, 9:6). God promised His birth would take place in Bethlehem (ref. Micah 5:2). God explained the cost the Son of God would pay for the salvation of man, which included betrayal, mocking, cruel crucifixion, and a moment in which God the Father would forsake God the Son, our sin-bearer (ref. Psalm 22, Isaiah 53). And as the pages turn into the New Testament, when Simeon saw the baby Jesus, he spoke for God and declared that all the hopes and horrors of the person and work of the Messiah were certain, they were guaranteed in the Lord Jesus Christ (ref. Luke 2:25-35).
Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so, for all of history tells me so, for the cross tells me so, for the empty tomb tells me so, for hope tells me that it is so. “Our blessed hope” has come, His first advent took place two thousand years ago, and I am as certain of that fact as the fact that I am standing here right now. “My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness” (Edward Mote). Yes, “our blessed hope” has come. And, He is coming again!
We can be certain that “our blessed hope” is coming.
I appreciate the beauty of the Appalachians, the Ozarks, and the Ouachitas, but I’ll never forget the first time I drove into the Rocky Mountains. They are so big they are breathtaking. The drive creates an interesting phenomenon, too. Sometimes it looks like you are heading for one giant mountain, only to discover as you drive by it is two mountains, one standing in the foreshadow of a larger mouintain. This is a good illustration of “our blessed hope,” Jesus Christ, Who has come and is coming again.
The Old Testament prophets preached the advent of the Messiah as one giant event. There would be sin and suffering, death and resurrection, substitutionary atonement, and a glorious and unopposed reign of the King over His kingdom. What they could not see, but the New Testament apostles could, is that as you drive around the advent of Jesus Christ, it is actually two mountains instead of one. His first advent accomplished the hope of salvation from sin and death for all who believe. Yet the world is still filled with sin and strife, rebellion against God and oppression against man. Where is its end? Where is the glorious, perfect reign of Christ over a sinless, spotless world? That’s the second mountain. “Our blessed hope” is coming.
I hope -- meaning I confidently expect -- that there will be a day when the lion lays down with the lamb (ref. Isaiah 11:6). I hope there will be a day when every knee bows down to the Lord Jesus Christ (ref. Philippians 2:5-11). I hope there will be a day when all of God’s people over all of the ages live in a celestial city which is infinitely more beautiful than the apocalyptic picture of gold streets and pearly gates (ref. Revelation). I hope, which means I am very certain, that “our blessed hope” has come; and, He is coming again to bring these things and others more wonderful than we can imagine! Put your hope in the Lord Jesus Christ, Who has come and is coming again, and put your hope in Him right now!
We can be certain that “our blessed hope” is here, now.
Christ has come, and Christ is coming again. This is “our blessed hope,” past and future. But what about the present? Where is our hope for today?
The text in Titus tells us that “our blessed hope” is “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (ref. vs. 13). We know that the “glory” of God appeared at the first advent, at the birth of Jesus Christ (ref. Luke 2:9). We know that when Christ comes again, His “glory” will fill the new heavens and earth so that there will be no need of sun, moon, and stars (ref. Revelation 21:23). But where is the “glory” of the Lord now, so that we can be certain of our salvation and show others the right path to God?
“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever, Amen” (ref. Ephesians 3:20-21). Titus 2:11-14 shows us where “our blessed hope” can be seen now, where by God’s grace and power we can see His “glory in the church” every Sunday and every day.
The glory of God is revealed in the church when salvation is attributed to the grace of God and the work of Christ. There is no hope in works righteousness, this idea that we can get saved and get to Heaven by being good. There is no hope in the man-centered, Finney-esque theology that claims that evangelism and revival are just “the right use of means,” and that salvation gained by such means can be just as easily lost. “Our blessed hope” is in the gospel and the church of people saved by the sovereign choice of God the Father, the blood atonement of God the Son, and the regeneration and indwelling of God the Spirit. Hope is here, now, in salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
The glory of God is revealed in the church when God’s people live godly, holy, Christ-centered lives. When “the grace of God … appears” and is truly accepted by a man, woman, boy, or girl, there is a hope, a certainty that they are really saved. You can tell not merely by what they say, but how they live. I have every hope that a brother or sister is truly in Christ when I see them habitually “renounce ungodliness and worldly passions and … live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present.” Hope is here, now, in a true Christian who is “zealous for good works.”
The glory of God is revealed in the church when we live like Heaven is our real home and Christ is our first love. As Tom Petty wrote, “Waiting is the hardest part.” But hope is seen, here and now, in the church full of people “waiting for our blessed hope.” Our hope cannot be in government, in a capitalistic frenzy to fight for money and the stuff money can buy, or in the temporal pleasures of entertainment and sport. Hope is laying up treasure in Heaven through sacrificial giving and sacrificial living. Hope is keeping a short account with God by asking for forgiveness and forgiving others. Hope is loving and living for Jesus in such a way that, no matter what happens in this present life, we keep our hope alive for the infinitely better life which is to come for everyone who truly believes in Jesus Christ.
Yes, Andy and Red, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” And hope is a real thing, realized in past, present, and future for those whose hope is in God and the gospel. On this second Sunday of Advent, on every Sunday, on every day, keep hope alive by living confidently in the faith, hope, love, and peace that are ours through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
December 2, 2012
For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
-- Romans 1:17, ESV
Two pairs of synonyms are of great importance for our worship and study of God’s word this season. The first two are “testament” and “covenant;” the second, “coming” and “advent.”
When we hear the word “testament” in church, we immediately think of our Bibles, neatly divided into the “Old Testament” and the “New Testament.” But a testament is tantamount to a covenant, a sacred contract between two parties. So, the old covenant (and Old Testament) records the relationship between God and Israel, a covenant made by grace through faith in God as God revealed Himself in the law and the prophets. At the perfect time in history, it was fulfilled and replaced by the new covenant, and the New Testament describes God’s dealings with His true people within the church, those who have entered into a covenant relationship with Him by grace through faith in God as God has revealed Himself in His Son, His Spirit, and His holy word.
When we think of a great “coming” in the Christian context, we think of the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. “Advent” is synonymous, with the emphasis on a long expected arrival of someone very important. The first advent of Christ occurred two thousand years ago, bringing the old covenant to its conclusion and inaugurating the new. The second coming will cap the new covenant at some soon, unknown hour. Therefore, the Christian church has for many years observed the season of “Advent,” four Sundays which celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, call attention to His saving and everlasting gospel, so we may prepare people for the great day of His second coming.
Advent takes on various forms and symbols in the East and West, in Catholicism and Protestantism, and from church to church. For our worship and instruction we shall employ most of the usual traditions incorporating five candles. The “Christ” Candle will be centered as Christ is central to all our worship and works. The three purple and one pink candle surrounding the Christ candle will represent for us the three greatest gifts of “faith,” “hope,” and “love,” with the culminating candle of “peace.” Today we shall speak of faith, using Romans 1:17, in which the word occurs three times.
“From faith” speaks of faith as a sacred religion.
Religion is the attempt to explain God to man and make some connection between God and man. There are a multitude of religions in the world just as there are claims to many gods. At least three great religions claim a connection to the monotheistic God of the Old Testament: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. However, only one religion is sacred, pure, holy, true, and able to span the infinite gap between the true and living God and sinful human creatures.
Which one is the true and effectual religion depends on which person you ask. Today we have asked the Apostle Paul, via Romans 1:17. The historical and biblical context of his answer reveals Christianity to be, in concurrence with the words of Christ Himself, exclusively the manner in which a person can find “the way, the truth, and the life” (ref. John 14:6).
But how do we know that Christianity is the true religion and the only way to God? We have our Bibles, if we choose to believe them. We have some corroborating historical records, even from pagans such as Josephus, which seem to bear witness to the gospel story. We have the many landmarks and holy sites in Israel, which could hardly have been raised to someone who is merely the figment of a billion souls’ imagination.
We know the Christmas story and the gospel story are true “from faith.” It was our parents or pastors or churches of our youth who first told us the greatest story ever told. This would be a wonderful season of the year to give thanks to God for the person or persons who came “from faith” to bring this faith to you. Give thanks to God for them, for their predecessors, for the great saints of the Christian centuries, even the great men and women of faith who plowed in old covenant fields to prepare the way for the Lord.
If we are Christian today it is because we come “from faith,” from historic and biblical Christianity, from following in the footsteps of those who have gone before us. But you cannot be saved by following another’s footsteps, save for those of Jesus Christ. And you cannot be saved “from faith” of someone else, you must have your own; therefore, this passage and sermon are also offered “for faith.”
“For faith” speaks of faith as a saving relationship.
“From faith” speaks of Christianity as real and true. “For faith” means it must be real and true to you. Is the Christian faith you own personal possession?
Do you believe in Jesus Christ? The vast majority of Americans, and a good percentage of the world’s population, would answer a resounding yes. But belief can be nominal, hypocritical, superficial, useless. If belief in Christ is merely intellectual and even emotional, but not volitional, it cannot save. Faith without genuine repentance and belief without corresponding behavior is not really faith at all, at least not in the way it is preached by Jesus and Paul.
Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior? This is a common question of the present and past century. It is not entirely a wrong question, but one that has tended to turn the gospel into a sort of business transaction. It usually implies that one has joined in some ritual of acceptance, like baptism and confirmation, walking an aisle and praying a prayer, or some other public acceptance that makes one a church member but not necessarily a Christian.
Let me ask life’s most important probing question another way. What do you live for? Is it truly “for faith,” for the Christian faith, for the sake and name and love of the Lord Jesus Christ?
I have always feared that most people, even the people who populate modern churches, live for almost anything except faith. Some live for money, and would do anything to get it. Some live for sexual or other pleasures, and would do anything to experience them. Most people, I think, live for personal happiness and, like money-mongers and fornicators and drug addicts, will do anything or say anything or give up anything or sell out anything or anyone, if they have faith it will make them happy. Human beings live for happiness.
But redeemed human beings, or Christians, live for holiness. They long to be right with God and they long for others to be right with God as well. They stand on truth, pour forth love, and are even willing “to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (ref. Jude 1:3). They live “for faith,” for it is the central and most important thing in their lives. It is not a sentimental story to be told at Christmas. It is not a ritual to undergo at Easter. It is not a classification to put on a paper or passport. Faith is life, and a Christian life is to be lived “for faith;” and, “by faith.”
“By Faith” speaks of faith as a spiritual resource.
“From faith” that belonged to an influential Christian, the gospel comes to us. We know we have it when we are truly transformed by it and want to live “for faith” in Christ, imputed in us and imparted to others. And we live this way, not in our own strength or by our own devices, but “by faith,” by the supernatural presence and power of God’s Spirit and God’s word.
On the surface, the disciplines that accompany the life of a disciple of Christ must seem foolish to an unbelieving world. We rise up early or stay up late to read a book written by a collection of authors thousands of years ago, a book with doctrines and principles that are mostly out of touch with a modern society, and we conform out lives to its precepts. We pray to a God we cannot see and virtually never hear, at least not in an audible voice. We gather on the one good day of the week in which most people are enjoying leisure, sleep, or other devises on a free day meant to make them, well, happy. We give money, hard earned money, in platefuls that go to work and workers beyond ourselves. We take reasonable care of our bodies and save a little of our money but we don’t worry about the end of life, for the end of life is just a beginning of an infinitely better life. We cry at the funerals of our fellow Christians but the tears are a wondrous mixture of sadness and joy. We do all of this and more, not because it makes sense or it will make us rich or make us more popular, but we do this “by faith.”
“By faith” we enjoy our lives and seek to make our world a better place. “By faith” we know that a better a life and better place is coming. “By faith” this sacred religion becomes a saving relationship with God, who gives us the spiritual resources we need to live “by faith.”
Make sure your faith is in a particular plan and person. The plan is the gospel and the person is our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. Christmas is the celebration of His birth. Without a doubt, He is the greatest gift. Praise God and thank Him for “the faith” that only He can give.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org