What Grace Teaches UsErwin W. Lutzer | January 27, 2013
Selected highlights from this sermon
Because the human soul is incapable of properly assessing its true condition and because of the constant bombardment of media in our lives, our souls become defiled, and we’re drawn away from God. But God’s grace is available to all of us—no matter what kind of sin we’ve committed and no matter the depth of that sin. Never undersell the grace of God.
So how are you all doing today? Is everybody walking in the Spirit and walking in victory? I heard an amen over there. (laughter)
The pollster, George Barna, says that media exposure has become America’s most widespread addiction. In an article entitled The Changing Shape of Temptation, he says, “Though sexual sins are nothing new, viewing pornography online continues to escalate and take on new forms.” About half of Americans admit to spending too much time in the media. Most Americans – 59% - say that they don’t do anything to avoid the temptation. And why do we give in to temptation? Fifty percent don’t know, 20% say it’s a means of escape. Another 20% say that they enjoy it, and then there are a few other categories, but only one percent say it’s because of sinful human nature. Only one percent! It really reminds you of the fact, doesn’t it, that the human soul is incapable of properly accessing its true condition?
Well this is a series of messages entitled Guard Your Heart – Sexual Purity In A Media Culture. This past week I received a letter (an e-mail) from one of our missionaries in Hungary saying how desperately needed these messages are there where the young people have all the exposure and many of them have no rules at all. But that’s the way it is in America as well, isn’t it?
And then I received a letter from someone who attends here who says that she is distressed over this series because it seems as if I don’t recognize the benefits of technology. So I want to set that record straight. Of course we are very thankful for technology. Who would want to go back to the horse and buggy days? Thank God for technology and all of the ways that you can think of that it has improved our lives. I am only speaking about the negative side. And I am affirming the fact that it doesn’t come to us neutral because built into many of the engines of technology there are already hidden values that sometimes are thrown at us the minute you open your computer.
Now this past week I had the privilege of looking at a documentary called Captivated. It’s an excellent one. I wish that every Christian family listened to this documentary – throw it on a screen and watch it. It talks about the fact that the impact of the media is incredibly negative. It says that the more time spent watching television, the more time spent watching movies, the dumber you get. Those are the words of this documentary as it talks to experts across the field, though it is very Christian in its orientation. They said, for example, that not only is the attention span of young people who are constantly texting one another beginning to shrink (seriously shrinking), but in addition to that they just play off of one another, and what their friends think is the most important thing. And they are not thinking any great thoughts, reading any great books, or really involved in any real meaningful way in life. In fact, many of them are finding a way to escape, and whoever wishes to escape from reality is really trying to escape from God. The trivial is emphasized and glorified.
And then you have these stories, which I hope you get an opportunity to see. They interviewed families that decided that for one month there would be no media – none. Everything was shut down. How do you think that went down with the children? Well it depends, of course, how addicted they were to the media. And many of them argued that they could not do without it, but the parents stood with it and said, “No, this is the direction in which we are going, and we’re going to make sure that we have many family events and family fun times, and we’re going to do things together, and we’re going to work on projects.” One young lady said, a month later, “Now when we watch television we don’t even know what the real pull was. Why was it that we were so obsessed with television?”
And then they interviewed a school principal who said that six parents came to him and said that their children had ADHD. And the whole point was they needed medication for these hyperactive kids. The principal said, “Yes, go ahead and get medication but before you do, let’s try an experiment. Give them three good meals a day. Cut out all of the trash that they are eating. Find out what nutritious meals are like. Number two, play with them for an hour a day. Let them play.” But the parents said, “Our neighborhood is far too frightening. It’s unsafe.” And he said, “Well then go outside and play with them,” which the parents did for an hour a day. He said, “Put them to bed by 9 o’clock at night, and no media.” I think he did say a half an hour a week maybe. Later on the parents said, “After weeks of this our kids are normal.”
Folks, when are we going to learn that this constant bombardment, the distraction, the constant need for noise, the constant need for looking at this video or that video defiles the soul and draws us away from God?
You know what the problem is, don’t you? I had a quote but I didn’t get a chance to print it out and it’s by a writer who says, and I’m paraphrasing now, that the chains of habit and addiction are so light you can’t feel them. You don’t even know that they are there, but when you try to get rid of them, suddenly you discover that they are as strong as chains.
Now I can imagine somebody saying, “Well, you know, you gave us these assignments (and you know every one of these messages has an assignment and the same will be true at the end of this message) and I sort of tried the assignment but the passions are so strong and during this week I failed.” It may well be that I am speaking to some people who at least this week spent more time in the media, and even more time on the Internet looking at salacious pictures, than they did reading their Bible. They say, “The passions are so strong. I fail repeatedly. What shall I do?”
And then there may be another question that they ask, and that question might be, “When is all of this going to end, all of this struggle?” If you are asking that question I am so glad that you did because I have an answer for you. Maybe it’s one that you have been waiting for. Maybe you haven’t been waiting for it. It will end when you are laid out in a coffin, and the pastor says such nice things about you that your friends think that they wandered into the wrong funeral parlor. (laughter) I didn’t expect you to laugh but I did expect you to smile at least. Then it will all be over.
Chuck Swindoll says this, speaking about lust. He says, “It is no respecter of persons,” and it isn’t, is it, whether it’s pastors, missionaries or people after God’s own heart? We are all on a continuum. Swindoll says, “It never gives up. It never runs out of ideas. Bolt your front door and it will rattle at the bedroom windows. Crawl into the living room it will, and then it’ll show up on the T.V. screen, or wink at you at the magazine rack in the den. It’ll always be there.”
But it’s not hopeless. What we need today after the messages that I’ve preached, and the ones that still are a part of this series are going to get very strong because at some point (and it’s probably the last in the series) I am going to have to speak about addictions, because what I am discovering as I am reading is so distressing it drives me to tears, especially for those who have been molested, those who began their addiction early in life, and the stronghold is overwhelming. And my heart says to you, “There is hope,” and the only reason I refer to such things is because of my concern for you, and as we shall see today, my concern for Jesus. And so all that still is in the future.
But for today I want us to just look back and think about grace. What we need is grace at this moment because failure is everywhere. How do we respond to grace? So take your Bibles and turn, if you would, please to the book of Titus. We are looking at chapter 2, and I am picking it up at verse 11. “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 this 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. Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.”
There are four lessons that grace teaches us. They are all lessons of hope and transformation, and as we shall see at the end of this message, it doesn’t matter who you are. There is hope for you.
First of all, grace teaches us a lesson about forgiveness. “For the grace of God has appeared bringing salvation for all people.” Now it doesn’t mean that everybody is saved. Of course not! The Apostle Paul sometimes uses language like that when he’s talking about all different kinds of people, and of course it’s available to all people but not received by all people, this grace. And what he means is it is available for all kinds of people, that is, despite the kind of sin that they are dealing with (and all of us deal with many different sins from time to time), whether theirs is this addiction or that addiction or no addiction but just the whole garden variety sins. We all sin and fall short of the glory of God. So it’s not only different kinds of sins but there’s no doubt that it also is the extent of sin, the depth of people’s sin.
Can you imagine this? Can the God of the universe institute salvation and not take into account the enormity of some people’s sins? Of course not! Would He have a salvation that would not possibly be applied to a pedophile for example? Would it be a salvation that could not possibly be applied to a murderer or to someone involved in some form of sexual sin? Did God cut them out because He says, “I came to redeem all those who are basically good but just need a little bit of redemption because of small nominal sins?” Of course not!
You know when the Bible says in the book of Hebrews so clearly that He is able to save to the uttermost those who come unto God by Him, that can be interpreted to mean to the uttermost to all of eternity, or regarding the depth of their sin. He is able to save even to the “guttermost” those who come unto God by Him. The issue is not the depth of your sin. We must concentrate on the wonder of the grace that saves the greatest of sinners. The grace of God has appealed and appeared for all different kinds of sinners, and for that we should rejoice. There is no pit so deep but that God is deeper still. (applause)
Now for those of you who have received Jesus Christ as your Savior, and I realize that I am speaking also to those who haven’t, keep in mind that no matter how often you fall, you always have to bounce back. First John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us.”
A number of years ago at Founder’s Week there was a missionary who told this story. He said that he was on his way to lead a Bible study, and he said along the way, strewn along his path on the sidewalk were pornographic pictures and magazines, and he stopped to look, and he gazed at these, and then he walked on to his Bible study. His conscience was telling him, “Don’t you dare teach the Bible study. Who are you? What if the people saw you? And so you call yourself a Christian. You call yourself a Bible student who can instruct others. Look at what you just did.”
So he faced a decision. Does he go through with teaching the Bible lesson, or doesn’t he? First he thought, “No, I can’t. My conscience condemns me.” But then he was reminded of 1 John 1:9 and he went off in a corner and prayed and not only received God’s forgiveness, which is part of that verse, but also the cleansing that goes with it. The cleansing is the subjective part of the forgiveness, and he waited before the Lord long enough to know that even though the images were in his mind, those images had been not only forgiven, but he was cleansed from their power.
He would have been wise if he had thought of Micah 8:7 where the Bible says, “Rejoice not against me oh mine enemy. Though I fall I shall rise again. Though I sit in darkness the Lord shall be a light to me.” And he went and he taught his Bible class.
You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, you know you are minimizing sin.” No, I am not minimizing sin. I am magnifying grace, the grace of God that brings salvation that has appeared to all men. (applause)
The first lesson is the lesson of grace. The second lesson is the lesson of deliverance. I’m now in verse 12. “Training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” You see the grace that saves us is the grace that trains us. It’s not God’s intention that you and I would live the Christian life. Sin – ask forgiveness! Sin – ask forgiveness! No, God has something better than that in mind for all of us. He says that the same grace that saves us in the depths of our sin is the same grace that grants us the power to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled.
Now you and I know that that’s not a matter of the will. It’s not a matter of the human will that says, “I am going to change,” which is where many of you may be, and you are headed for a fall. It’s a matter of depending upon what Christ has already done. There’s no doubt that the Apostle Paul when he wrote this was thinking of other things that he had written, such as in the book of Romans, that we can consider ourselves dead indeed unto sin because we died with Christ, and it says in Romans 8 that we through the Spirit must put to death the deeds of the body that we can live. It is through Christ’s power.
Let me put it clearly, and I hope it will be clear for you.
You could go through the New Testament and discover that every command is based on what Jesus Christ has done for us. It’s all based on what he’s already accomplished. So you are not left helplessly in the midst of your struggle. You are to make sure that you renounce this, and by the way, I haven’t emphasized it enough. God has worked it so that we really can’t do this independently without fellowship and accountability, but that’s a separate story we’ll talk about later.
Notice that it really comes down ultimately to fellowship with Jesus Christ. Now from my heart to yours today as a personal testimony, the thing that has motivated me to deal with secret sin in my life – the greatest motivation – is my fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ, and to know that Jesus is grieved because of my sin. And when I realize that, because I love Him, you can rationalize it all, but do you remember David said, “Against Thee, and Thee only have I sinned?” When Joseph was tempted you remember what he said. He said, “How can I do this great sin and sin against God?” He said, “What I will do will hurt God.” And the more you and I love God and love His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, the more willing we will be to say, “Whatever it is that God requires I will do.”
So there is a lesson here and it is a lesson also of obedience and a lesson of deliverance. We’ve had a lesson of forgiveness, of deliverance and now a lesson on focus. You’ll notice what he says in verse 13. “How shall we live waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ?” And that’s what we are to wait for. The fact is that Jesus is returning.
Now I don’t think here that the Apostle Paul is necessarily distinguishing the rapture from the Church from the glorious appearing. He’s talking here about the consummation of the age, and the revelation of Jesus Christ when He returns, and that’s what we should be looking for and motivated by. You say, “Well yeah, throughout 2,000 years people have been looking and being motivated by it and it hasn’t happened.” But nevertheless, it is a good motivation because we know it will someday happen.
Now because I knew in advance that I was preaching on this passage today, when I woke up in the morning in accordance with my usual prayers I also prayed, “Today I want to live in such a way that I would change nothing if I knew that Jesus was going to return tomorrow.” (applause) We have to live that way because Jesus might return tomorrow.
By the way, you know when you look at the history of the Christian Church, what you’ll discover is this. When Christians are in trial and under persecution, they begin to look to the return of Jesus Christ, and it is motivating to them. In an affluent society like ours the return of Jesus Christ is marginalized. Why should we look forward to His return when everything seems to be going quite well, thank you very much? So God, make sure that we have lots of trials that we might keep our eyes focused on the return of Jesus because return He will. And we should live all of life under the watchful eye of the returning Christ.
So there’s a lesson here on motivation, and a lesson here on focus. There’s also a lesson on perspective, and this to me is the most important part of this passage. I hope that you are looking at it in your Bibles.
By the way, have you ever heard it said that nowhere in the Bible is Jesus explicitly called God? If you have heard that, just look at what I read. “The appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Could that get any clearer? I don’t think so, but now notice it says, “Who gave Himself for us to redeem us.” Folks, if this doesn’t motivate you, I guess there’s no way you’ll ever be motivated. “To redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works.”
What is Jesus after in our struggles? Jesus is after purifying us that we might be His own possession, and doing it for Himself. You say, “Well, you know my main motivation is to make sure that I overcome this addiction. I’m going to go after this addiction.” That’s not your main motivation. Your main motivation is that you might be purified by Christ for His glory, for His possession, and to specifically please Him by your own life of righteousness. That’s really the motivation, and in the process, of course, He’s going to deal with your addiction, but to think that your addiction or your habits are really the main focus is to miss the point of it all.
I’ve been so struck with this, this week because you’ll notice that it goes on to say “zealous for good works.” You know, of course, that there is so much discussion about the Church today. There are books being written about the Church, what we should be doing, what we shouldn’t be doing. Should we be in politics? Should we not be? What is politics? All of that is being written about because we look about and we’re losing all of our battles. I mean, really, we are in a moral and spiritual freefall here in the United States and the Church doesn’t seem to have much impact. I don’t know because I can’t see the mind of God but my suspicion is that the reason might lie right here - that purity precedes power. You’ll notice it says “that He might purify for Himself a people.”
What does it say in Ephesians 5? “Christ gave Himself for the Church that He might cleanse her so that He might present the Church to Himself in all of her splendor (Does the Church today appear in all of her splendor?) without spot or wrinkle or any such thing that she might be holy and without blemish.” A holy Church! And if you love Jesus you say, “Therefore I want to be holy for Him.” And that’s the biggest motivation.
In order to help us understand this I’d like to read a story. This is taken from the book entitled Out of a Far Country by Christopher Yuan and his mother. They wrote it together. Now get the picture about Christopher. He was deeply into homosexuality, but he was also a drug dealer, so he got busted for drugs. After being busted for drugs he discovered that he was HIV positive. The impact on his family was huge. His mother at least at that point had come to saving faith in Jesus Christ, and she continued to pray for him, which is such an important part of this remarkable story.
And while he is in prison, after accepting all the arguments that you can’t change - you know you can’t change - don’t try to change me - I’ve got my own lifestyle - he says, “I was in a survival mode.” This was while he was in prison. “As I paced along the perimeter of the cell block, steering clear of any interaction with other men, I turned to walk back toward my cell when I passed a garbage can overflowing with trash. I realized that my life was just like that trash. I had grown up in an upper middle class suburb of Chicago. My dad had two doctorates, and I had been on my way to becoming a doctor myself. Now I found myself among common criminals – trash. Not even my friends wanted me. They wouldn’t even accept a collect call. I was nothing but a reject, a throw-away.”
And then he said he looked at this barrel of trash and noticed at the top of the trash there was something that caught his eye. “I bent over and picked up a Gideon New Testament. It was brand new and not even opened. I carried it back to my cell and thought, ‘Well, I’ve got time on my hands. I might as well have something to do.’ As I sat on the metal bunk’s cold mattress I opened the small book to the Gospel of Mark.”
Well, as you guessed, Christopher came to saving faith in Christ. But now I want us to understand how he saw something that I believe you and I have missed in all of our struggles, in all of our identity issues. Listen carefully. He says,
“As I continued to read the Bible I realized that my identity shouldn’t be defined by my sexuality. Paul says in Acts 17, ‘For in Him we live and move and have our being.’ Christ should be everything, my all in all. My sexual orientation didn’t have to be the core of who I was. My primary identity didn’t have to be defined by my feelings or sexual attraction. My identity was not gay or homosexual or even heterosexual for that matter, but my identity as a child of the living God must be in Jesus alone. God said, ‘Be ye holy for I am holy.’ I always thought that the opposite of homosexuality was heterosexuality, but actually the opposite of homosexuality is holiness. God never said, ‘Be heterosexual for I am heterosexual,’ but he did say, ‘Be holy for I am holy.’
For the longest time I could never see myself becoming straight. It was a burden because I felt I had to somehow become straight to please God. When I realized that heterosexuality should not be my goal, it was so freeing. The thing was that if I became straight I would still deal with lust. Therefore I knew that I shouldn’t focus on homosexuality or even on heterosexuality but on the one thing that God calls everyone to, namely holy sexuality. Holy sexuality is not focused on orientation change or becoming straight, but on obedience, and I realized that obedience means that no matter what my situation, no matter what my feeling – gay or straight – I must obey and be faithful to God.”
He talks about holy sexuality as belonging in marriage but then he continues.
“The second scenario of holy sexuality is singleness. Single people must devote themselves to complete faithfulness to the Lord through celibacy. This is clearly taught throughout the Scripture, and abstinence is not something unfair or unreasonable for God to ask of His people. Singleness is not a curse. Singleness is not a burden. As heirs of the New Covenant we know that the emphasis is not on procreation but regeneration.” And then he says, “In some instances singleness may not be permanent but it may be. Holy sexuality doesn’t mean that I no longer have any sexual feelings or attraction, nor is it the obliteration of my sexuality either. God created us as sexual beings. So the question is if I continue to have these feelings I neither asked for nor chose, will I still be willing to follow Christ no matter what? Is my obedience to Christ dependent on whether He answers my prayers my way?”
And now, catch this.
“God’s faithfulness is proved not by the elimination of hardship but by carrying us through hardships. Change is not the absence of struggles. Change is the freedom to choose holiness in the midst of my struggles. I realized that the ultimate issue had to be that I yearned for God in total surrender and complete obedience. Sexual orientation isn’t really the issue. It is whether or not you are willing to be holy,” he writes.
What an interesting and profound insight. I think that the text here would agree. It’s not how I can overcome my addiction. “I’m going to overcome my addiction.” The question is how do I allow Jesus to purify me so that I will be an honor to Him as a member of His family and His own possession? That’s really the issue and when that becomes dominant your relationship with God now takes precedence even over all of the different ways we have to try to solve our problems.
By the way, this book is entitled Out of a Far Country, and in the interest of full disclosure I should tell you that Christopher is a graduate of Moody Bible Institute. He’s a graduate of Wheaton College and he teaches part-time at the Moody Bible Institute. (applause)
Don’t ever undersell the grace of God, which leads me to my assignment for you. Are you ready? For every hour of media this week you give an hour to reading the Bible, preferably the book of Psalms, but it can be some other book, giving praise to God and developing your relationship with Jesus Christ, and seeking the purity that He wants. Is that fair enough?
You say, “I can’t do that. If I watch a movie for an hour and a half then I have to read the Bible for an hour and a half?” Oh life is so tough, isn’t it? (laughter)
My friend, look into my eyes if you can. If the Christian life, living wholeheartedly for Jesus were easy, everybody would do it. But not everybody does it because it is hard. What if Jesus, when He was going to the cross and when that cross was laid upon Him, had said, “You know, this is really unfair; this is hard? I’m being crucified for something I didn’t do and furthermore I’m being crucified, but look at all the people out there. They’re not being crucified. Why should I accept this unfairness?”
Well, thank God He accepted that unfairness because it is through that act of redemption that you and I are redeemed today. Give Him praise, will you? (applause)
So the first thing is to balance all the time that you give to media to reading the Word, and don’t complain to me about it being too difficult. I don’t want to hear that. Secondly, write out a one page description of what a holy life would look like in your situation, all the issues that you would have to deal with as you allow Jesus to purify you, all of the lies that might have to be uncovered, and we will talk about that in a future message, because at the end of the day it isn’t about us. It is about Jesus purifying us for His glory. He is preparing us for another world. That’s the whole point, and as we respond to Him, He is there to help us every single step of the way.
Let’s bow together in prayer.
Father, Your grace is so undeserved, and we confess to You today that we are so absorbed with the issues of the media, many with the impurity that the media offers. Today, Father, come to deliver us. Help us to remember that the real issue is all about You and not about us. And for those who have never responded to God’s grace we ask that they shall do that, even as we sing together of the undeserved matchless grace of God. Speak to us, Lord. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.