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When God Is First

He Owns Our Hearts

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | September 21, 2003

Selected highlights from this sermon

Transformation can’t happen in our lives without the power of the Holy Spirit. God should be our first priority, and He’s given us the resources—the power—to help us make Him first in our lives and hearts. 

In this message, learn how we can receive this supernatural power from God—to totally yield ourselves to Him and be filled with the Holy Spirit. By doing so, we can be transformed. 

So! What would happen if God were first? What would happen if God were first in our lives, and in our church? Well, first of all, obviously we’d think differently. Worship would not be something that we do only on Sunday. We wouldn’t take a card out of the drawer on Sunday morning and say, “Oh, worship time!” God would be the center of our thinking, and we would be intoxicated with a love for God.

So we’d think differently. We’d certainly love differently. Imagine loving the Lord our God with all our hearts, with all our minds, with all our souls, and our neighbor as ourselves. In other words, could you even imagine what it would be like if we were more concerned about someone else’s need than our own and esteemed others better than ourselves? Well, we’d certainly act differently. Our bodies would belong to God. Our eyes, our ears, our tongues, our appetites would belong to God. Our relationships would belong to God. Everything would belong to God. The transfer of ownership would be complete. Sins that have been rationalized for a long time would finally be confessed and forsaken, and people would receive help and say, “I am done with low living. I am done with failure. I’m going to go for broke.” Our hearts would belong to God, and we as a church would become a church, to coin a phrase from someone else, of irresistible influence. The impact would be enormous in this city and around the world.

Now if you think that this is something we can do, we can just all sing, “Okay, here we are, God. We are giving you everything,” if that’s something we can do on our own, you’re mistaken. Oh yeah, words are cheap. We can sing the songs, and we can say the prayers, but to actually make that transfer of ownership is incredibly difficult and hard. It’s going to be battles.

For example, just imagine for a moment saying to God, “God, from now on, I give you all of my television viewing habits and I will no longer look upon anything, in a movie or a television set, that is unholy.” Could you imagine that? Demons who have been kind of sleepily wandering about in the atmosphere would suddenly be aroused, and they would be in your living room giving you the fight of your life if you were to say that. All the forces of hell would be aroused and say, “No way.”

Think, for example, of what it would mean if you say, “You know, I surrender all of my relationships to You, and those relationships that are leading me into sin? No matter the cost, I sever those relationships in the power of the Lord.” Or, here’s one! “God, from now on I take all of my money, which I’ve always thought was mine to do with as I wished, and what I want to do is to now recognize this is Your money over which You have made me a steward, so I have only one question. What will You have me to do with what
You have given me and what is Yours?” Could you imagine that? This ferocious beast called covetousness would arise in our hearts and say, “Absolutely not! I am worthy of all of the perks. I can’t think of anyone more worthy than I to own what I have.”

What about if we gave our reputations to God and said, “God, we’re tired of image building and always just playing to the camera. We’re tired of building our reputations on what other people think.” What other people think oftentimes is important, but that’s not what we are going to be doing. We are going to just simply say, “God, here it is. I am Yours.”

Could you imagine? I mean, we hang onto all these things until our knuckles turn white, so if you think that we can do this on our own and just stand up and sing the right song and make the right commitment, you’re mistaken. We can’t do it. Our commitment will be like the dew that falls on the grass, and when the sun comes up, lo and behold, there’s no dew there. It’s gone.

We’re talking about a radical commitment, folks, so radical that we can’t do it on our own, and that’s why we are going to turn to the book of Acts, chapter 1. And my text today is verse 8. I wish I had time to paint the context, but I think you know it. Jesus is on His way to heaven, and He’s passing on the baton. And so He says, “If you are going to do My work (which we are called to do)…” You’ll notice that Acts 1, verse 1, says: “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach.” He started it and now you have to finish it, so here’s the baton, but you can’t do it without My power.

A.J. Gordon was walking across a field one day and he saw a man pumping water tirelessly, effortlessly and continuously, and he thought, “Where’s this guy getting his energy from?” As he got closer he realized it wasn’t a man at all. It was only the figure of a man cut out of plywood. The man was not doing any pumping. He was being pumped by an artesian well. Wouldn’t that be wonderful if we had an artesian well within us, springing up to enable us to make the commitments we should, but we’re scared to death to make?

Acts 1:5 very quickly! God’s promise, first of all! Secondly, our responsibility, and thirdly, how do we receive the power? That’s the agenda. If you came here to church for some other reason, I’m sorry, but you’re on the plane and we’re going to land this baby together today. Alright? Everybody with me?

First of all, God’s power! “You shall receive the power,” said Jesus. When He was here on earth He could only be in one place at one time. But now He says, “By the blessed Holy Spirit of God, I’m going to be in all of my followers all the time and everywhere.” No matter where you live geographically, God says, “I’m going to be with you now.” “He is with you,” Jesus said to the disciples, “and He shall be in you.” And this is the time, in Acts 1, where a new era of the Holy Spirit is predicted, and in Acts 2 it happens. And so Jesus Christ reminds them that this is now… We have the companionship of God. Wherever we go God is with us. You say, “Well, God is with the unsaved too.” Yes, He is with the unsaved and observes them, but it’s entirely different. He is with His people as a companion and a participant with them. And so He watches what we see on television, and has to endure it. He watches our attitudes. He has to somehow put up with the sin in our hearts that we refuse to get rid of, because He’s a companion now. And not only the companionship of God and the desires of God that we could comment on, but also the courage of God. “You shall receive power.” The Greek word is dynamis, which is the one from which we get dynamite. “You shall receive power.” Power to finally make a commitment that makes Satan gasp to put God first!

The power of cancelled sin, which is able to break… There are tons of Christians whose sin is cancelled but the power over them is still there, a power to speak for Christ, as we shall see, so that, “When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my Hope and Stay.” So Jesus says, “I’m going to give you the resources that you need. I’m calling you to a high level of commitment, but you shall receive power.”

Now, our side of the bargain: “And you shall be My witnesses.” The Greek word is the word from which we get martyrs. You shall be my martyrs. You say, “Well, do we have to die for Christ?” Listen to what happened. Okay? In Ancient Greek the word martyr simply meant witness, that you witness to the faith. So many of these witnesses died in the early centuries because of persecution that pretty soon the word martyr, which meant witness began to refer to people who laid down their lives for Jesus. So you say, “You shall by my martyrs.” “You shall be my witnesses,” Jesus said. And where did He say it? First of all, in Jerusalem!

You can imagine the disciples saying, “Oh, not Jerusalem. This is the place that crucified You. This is the place where the hostility level is unbelievable, and if we are identified with You here, send us somewhere else, Lord, and we’ll witness for You, but not in our hometown.” You know, sometimes witnessing in our hometown is most difficult for some of you, God bless you. We’d all rather at times be sent to some place where nobody knows us and then we can finally witness. But, you know, it does even begin in the home.

If you ask me, one of the most humbling experiences that I have had is not only to preach at The Moody Church, but yesterday I spoke at Promise Keepers in Kansas City. There were 17,000 men there. I could not believe it, and one of the things that was told us there is this: When a teenager accepts Christ as Savior there’s a 17% chance that the rest of the family will follow. When a mother does there’s a 34% chance. And when a father does (catch this, fathers) there is a 93% chance that his family will follow him. Fathers, you are to be witnesses in the home, your Jerusalem, where it begins!

You say, “Well, I don’t have the power.” That’s why we’re here. It’s to learn how to get the power. Aren’t you glad you came? Judea—that’s our community! Samaria—a racial barrier! You know the Samaritans were half-breeds. You know, just take the hostility that exists between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and remember this is so recent in some respects. The same hostility existed then between the Jews and the Samaritans except that they didn’t have car bombs. If they would have, you’d have had the same story played back then that you have played today. And Jesus said, “That’s where you are to be witnesses, outside of your comfort zone, outside of the place where you want people who are just like us.” No! People who are not like you!

And then the uttermost part of the earth! Have you ever wondered what’s happening in Acts 2? The Gospel is going forth in different languages. Acts, chapter 2, has been such a stumbling block to people, because they say, “Well, you know, if I am filled with the Spirit, do I have to speak in tongues?” That’s what next week’s message is on.

If you’ve ever wondered about Acts 2, and you say, “What in the world is God doing? Is He throwing some kind of a party? I mean, suddenly Peter is speaking perfect Egyptian.” Listen, when next week’s message is over you will be doing naturally what they did supernaturally. I promise that there will be such a commitment of your tongue, and such an understanding of how to talk of the wonderful works of Christ that all of us are going to be able to do it. That’s next week! To the uttermost part of the earth!

Now, the question is, how do we receive this power, though? Jesus said that you shall receive power. Now, He asked the disciples to be up in the Upper Room for ten days, and the reason for that was, first of all, for unity’s sake so that they might be of one mind. You know, God can bless us individually. He can even bless us as a church if you are out of fellowship with the Lord, but not nearly as much as He could if we were all of one mind. And that means laying down animosities. That means the indifference. Those of you who are on the fringes, who somehow feel that, you know, you are kind of here as an observer, you’re brought into the middle of it and you are of one mind. So He says, “Wait for ten days.”

Secondly, there was a sense of purity and yieldedness that needed to take place. Now, we don’t have tarrying meetings here at the church. We have prayer meetings. We have days of prayer and fasting, but we don’t have tarrying meetings. And let me explain why. It’s because when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, that was a very unique event. It was something like the Incarnation at Bethlehem. Jesus had predicted a new era of the Spirit, so the new era of the Spirit has come, so the Spirit of God is already with us and among us. But some of the same kinds of attitudes and commitment that they had should be ours as well to experience the power of the Spirit.

So in order to help us and to make this very simple… You know, I always say that I have always prayed that God would keep me simple, and my staff think that He’s overdone it. But to make this simple, I am going to be referring to other passages of Scripture now just to help us to understand how do we walk in the Spirit?

But first of all, I have to tell you a story, and then we’re going to apply it. You know, there are two different ways that you can tell whether music is on a CD. One way is to read the label. The label says there’s a certain song on the CD, and it’s a reputable company and so you say, “Yeah, I believe that that song is on that CD.” That’s one way. The other way is to take the CD and to put into a CD player and listen to the music. In the next few moments I’m going to tell you how you can take the CD and put it into the player to experience the power of the Spirit.

But first the story. When archeologists uncovered the pyramids, and they went down into the pyramids and they found all mummies, what they discovered was that in some instances, grain was put into jars and buried with them. How old was that grain? It was 4,000 years old, and they took that grain and they put it into the ground, and believe it or not, it grew. Amazing! For 4,000 years there was life in the kernel. For 4,000 years those kernels had the ability to reproduce themselves. And there they were in a jar doing nothing, with no life, and no reproduction for 4,000 years. And there are Christians like that. They have the Holy Spirit. You can read the Bible and the Bible says that the Holy Spirit indwells all Christians. But they’ve never experienced the life. They’ve never put the CD into the player. They have never allowed the blessed Holy Spirit of God, who has been given to us, to break out of their lives and produce the fruit of the Spirit so that they can become a fruit-bearing Christian, and make a difference, and live with God first.

So I’m going to tell you how now, and it’s all based on four words. The first is yielding. I want to share with you what I have been doing for the last three or four years virtually every single morning. Before I get out of bed, before I try to prove the power of mind over mattress, I lie there and I say, “Father, today I give You my day. Today I give You my eyes; today I give You my mind. Today I give You my body. Today I give You my affections. Today, as best as I know how, I give You today.”

You see, what God wants to do is to go into all of the rooms of our life. You know, you come into the room and there is the library with the computer. And Jesus wants to feel at home in your room that has the computer and the books on the shelf. Can you invite Jesus into your computer room and say, “Jesus, this computer is Yours, and everything I use it for honors You”?

Jesus wants to come into the dining room where our appetites exist. And He says, “Am I King here? Is it okay? Can look at what you’ve got in your cupboards?”

Jesus also wants to come into the other rooms of our life—maybe the den where the television set is, and say, “Now I’m going to sit with you on the couch, and let’s watch the news together.” Do you invite Jesus into every area of your life?

The first is yielding. The second is feeding. Now, let’s go back to the pyramids and the grain. Why didn’t that grain grow for 4,000 years? The answer is, number one, those kernels were in a place that was too dark and it was too dry. And then they weren’t even in the ground. They were in a jar. Yielding takes those kernels and at least puts them in the ground. It doesn’t guarantee that there will be any fruit, but at least it has the potential (that kernel does) for growing. And so you take it and you put it into the ground. That is yielding.

The next step is feeding. How do you feed? You have two things. You need rain and sunshine, and the rain is God’s Word. The rain, as we begin to observe God’s Word, and we begin to read it and we begin to meditate on it, “it is like rain that comes from heaven,” God says, in the book of Isaiah. And so it begins to take the hardened kernels that are so twisted, and those hardened kernels… A shell that has been growing for years and years and years begins to get soft.

And sometimes we have temptations that are so overwhelming that we don’t know how to counter those temptations, and so we run for our Bibles and we begin to read the Word of God chapter by chapter by chapter until the power of God’s Word lessens the temptation and it gives us the strength to be able to say the word no. That’s the rain.

And then what’s the sunshine? It’s meeting with the people of God. I have said this before but I want you to know this very, very clearly. I believe that the Bible teaches that when God’s people gather together, like we are gathered together here (and thank God that there are so many of us who are gathered together), that the presence of the Holy Spirit of God is uniquely present among God’s people. Yes, He indwells all of us. That’s for sure, but He is there when we do not forsake the assembling of ourselves together. He is there when we gather together in the name of Jesus with one mind to sing praises to His name, to pray together, to learn together, and to submit together. God is there, and that actually is the sunshine that is needed. And so there’s feeding.

And then, of course, there’s weeding. There is weeding, because the minute you begin to make this commitment you fail over here, and you sin over here, and you slide back over there. And so what are you going to do? Are you just simply going to say, “Well, I see it doesn’t work?” As often as you need to you, get up from your situation and you confess your sin, and you get going.

Remember that your level of spiritual maturity can be accurately gauged by the length of time between the sin and the confession. Some people say, “Well, you know, I’ve already blown it this morning so I’ll just keep sinning all during the day, and then I’ll get it all straightened out.” (laughter) Do you mean that’s never happened to you? I think I know why you’re laughing. “I’ll get it all straightened out.” Or I remember being in one church where everybody always confessed their sin every Sunday morning. They kind of let it bunch up. You know, I mean you’re sinning anyway over here, and you’re sinning over there, but Sunday’s coming.

The minute we know that we have grieved the Spirit, that’s the moment to stop and to say, “Jesus, I confess my sin right now. Take this sin away and again restore the fellowship to me.” There is weeding.

You see, that’s what the early church was able to do there in the Upper Room. We don’t have time for the Upper Room.
We are so busy. We have to hurry through services. And one of the reasons, by the way, we want a family life center over there is so that we can have our service without having classes on both sides. But we are constantly under the gun in terms of time. We say, “Oh God, I want to be holy but I have to be holy in a hurry.” And God says, “I’m sorry but you can’t be holy in a hurry.”

And then there’s a last step. And this again relates directly to the Holy Spirit. For years I struggled with the filling of the Holy Spirit. For years I used to wonder as a young preacher how can I be filled with the Spirit? Do I have to talk in tongues? Well, we’re going to talk about that next week. Do I have to do this? Do I have to do that? And how do I know it?

I attended a denomination that believed that you should come forward and you should seek the filling, and that wasn’t wrong. It’s just that what do you do when you get up off your knees and you find out the next day that you have the very same struggles? So I wondered what is the filling of the Spirit until I came across a marvelous passage in John 7. You need not turn to it, but you need to listen to it.

Jesus said, “He who believes in me, from within Him shall flow rivers of living water.” And then it says, “This he spoke of the Spirit, which those who believe on Him should receive (They will receive it.) when He is glorified. The Spirit had not yet been poured out,” it says, “for Jesus was not yet glorified.”

Now follow this carefully. How did you receive Jesus Christ as Savior? By faith! Right? Even though you maybe didn’t feel different, and even though you weren’t sure whether it took, you received Him by faith. And then later on you began to say, “Hey, there are changes here.”

How do we receive the fullness of the Spirit, and I’m talking about the Spirit’s fullness, not the indwelling, which all of us have as believers? You receive the Spirit’s fullness by faith. “As you have received Christ Jesus, the Lord, so walk ye in Him.” Just as we depend upon the crucified Christ for forgiveness, in the very same way, we depend upon the ascended Christ who poured forth the gift of the Holy Spirit. We depend upon the ascension of Christ and the poured forth Spirit in simply faith to receive His fullness.

Just before I stand up to speak, what do you think I’m thinking about? Well, I’m thinking about what I’m going to say. I hope I have something prepared, and I think usually I do. But that’s not really what’s on my mind. In my heart I am praying to God, and I need to tell you exactly as I pray. I always say this: “Father, I thank You today that Jesus Christ poured forth the gift of the Holy Spirit to His people. I thank You, therefore, that the fullness of the Spirit is available to me. And in faith I receive that fullness for today’s ministry.”

Now sometimes that doesn’t even change the way in which I feel. It doesn’t necessarily instantly give me a heart that’s hot for God. I wish that it did, but it doesn’t. But I begin to go about my ministry, or I begin to speak, or whatever it is that God calls me to do, and I discover that there is a supernatural power that is giving me the ability to do something that is beyond my very limited natural ability, and that somehow God is here in faith.

You say, “Well, that’s fine, but how often do you have to do it?” Well you know that I’ve often quoted the words of D. L. Moody, but they fit here so you shall hear it again. When D. L. Moody was asked why it is that you have to be filed with the Spirit so often, he said, “Because I leak.” (laughter) That’s why I have to be filled with the Spirit so often. I leak. I can’t speak about you, though I suspect that you leak too. We all leak. So what we need to do is to say in faith that we receive the Spirit’s power. We cannot yield alone.

Listen, the moment we want to really get serious with God, every rationalization that has lain dormant for years is going to rear its ugly head. All the forces of Satan are going to say, “Yeah, you can’t do that. You can’t! You can’t!” In fact, “I won’t let you,” the devil says. How do we overcome that? You shall receive power to be who you need to be. You need power to yield. It can’t just be the yieldedness of the flesh. You need power to yield to God by the blessed Holy Spirit of God. That’s the only way we can do it. We have to be energized by the Spirit.

You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, I’m basically yielded to God. Kind of! Sixty percent, maybe seventy percent!” You’re giving yourself a better grade than God might, but you know, seventy percent, eighty percent! Is there a closet in your life though that you have not allowed God to touch? Is there is a closet where you have said, “God, you can have this room, this room, this room, but the downstairs closet is locked, and I don’t even know where the key is, God. You can’t get in there?” God says, “I want the run of the whole place.”

And for those of you today, too weak to give God the key, too weak to open the door I should say, those of you who are too weak to open the door, would you at least give Him the key and say, “Jesus, this is one door I can’t open? I can’t open it but I do give you the key.”

Putting God first! We are the bride, the Bible says, and Jesus is the bridegroom. Now what would you think of a bride who says, “Well, you know, I really do love my husband, and I intend to be true to my husband 360 days a year. That should be pretty good, but I need four or five where I can sleep with other men. I mean, what are we talking about here? A couple of extra days on. I mean, you know, I am true 360 days a year.”

Do you realize that when we speak about making God first we’re talking 24/7? Are you willing? Some of you won’t be. You’ll say, “No, I’m not going that way.” Some of you are, but within time your commitment will wane. But I believe that there are hundreds of you, including myself, the staff and the elders… I really do believe that there are hundreds of us who are never going to be the same again because we say, “Whatever the cost, God is first!”

Would you join me as we pray?

Father, who are we to do Your work? Who are we to pry open hearts that have long since been closed? Who are we, Father, to open closets that have been nailed shut, that have been welded shut through years of bitterness or anger? Who are we, Father, who can do all that? We can’t. We humbly confess today that our resources are totally useless, but we do expect You to do what we can’t.

How many of you, after listening to this message say, “By God’s grace, I don’t know whether or not Christ is going to be first, but I want to do whatever is necessary so that He would be first?” Would you raise your hands today? Do we have takers? We have takers in the balcony. Yes, hundreds of you.

Father, whatever this means to all of us, by Your grace may we follow through. Take our hearts—the whole bit! In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

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