[Open with prayer: "Father, this morning we will deal with some simple thoughts. While the thoughts are simple, they can be highly emotional. Please be with our hearts. Please help us think instead of react. Please help us come closer to you."]

This morning I have a special request: please think with me. Let God control your thoughts. Do not give control of your thoughts to your feelings and emotions.

Understand the context of my statements. I am talking about Christians. I am talking about men and women who are in Christ, who are a part of Christ's church.

  1. What God did in Jesus' death and resurrection freed God to forgive any sin of any person anywhere. (See Romans 3:21-26)
    1. God paid the total price of perfect forgiveness in Jesus' atoning death.
      1. Because God surrendered His son to death, He can forgive anyone He chooses to forgive.
      2. The ransom God paid in redemption [buying us back from sin] is great enough to cover anyone who will come to Him.
      3. God could and can substitute Jesus' innocent death for our deserved punishment [that is basically what propitiation is about].
      4. God can make any person holy, can cleanse any person, through Jesus' blood.
    2. God can save any person at any beginning point when that person turns to Him.
      1. Let me divide all people into three basic groups.
      2. First, there is the group with an ideal religious background.
        1. This person is Bible literate.
        2. This person, as a child, grew up in a third generation Christian home.
        3. He or she began attending Bible classes in the first month of life.
        4. He or she always has been taught God's ways.
      3. Second, there is the group that has a weak religious background.
        1. When this person was a child, his mother and father worshipped occasionally--Mom and Dad were the first persons in their families to be Christians.
        2. He or she knows a little about the Bible, but not much because he or she came to a few Bible classes and a few vacation Bible schools before the age of thirteen.
        3. He or she knows only a little about the Christian life, the church, and Christian commitment.
      4. The third group has no religious background.
        1. His or her parents were not married.
        2. He or she has spent most of life around people with addiction problems.
        3. He or she knows absolutely nothing about the Bible.
        4. Most everything he or she has heard about Jesus Christ and Christians is undesirable and negative.
      5. People from each of these groups enters Jesus Christ.
        1. Does God care about the background or life circumstances of the person? No. [See 1 Corinthians 7:21-24.]
        2. So which group does God prefer? It does not matter to God.
      6. The issue with God regarding every person regardless of his or her background is the same: is this person growing toward God?
        1. God's deep issue is this: trust in God because of what God did for the person in Jesus and repentance that constantly redirects the life of the person toward God.
        2. Regardless of the background of the person, baptism is a meaningful commitment to God only if the trust and repentance is a living force in the person's life.
        3. That fundamentally is what God's grace and mercy in Jesus Christ are all about.

  2. Speaking from years of work and involvement in the church, our issue and God's issue commonly are not the same issue.
    1. God's issue is the trust and repentance that produces growth in the right direction.
    2. Our issue:
      1. If the person who has been baptized into Christ learns the correct WHATS,
      2. And if that person adds to those correct WHATS the correct HOWS,
      3. The result of adding the correct WHATS to the correct HOWS produces a state of salvation that we acknowledge to be faithfulness.
    3. May I make two observations:
      1. For at least 150 years, the most fierce, destructive, deadly disagreements among Christians, in which they feel totally justified in trying to destroy each other, usually focus on one of two things:
        1. The HOWS we feel comfortable with.
        2. Matters God's word says little or nothing about.
      2. What has happened for decades is this: we draw lines among ourselves to include and to exclude.
        1. The line we usually draw is the line of "conformity to my understanding."
        2. All Christians I declare to be above that line I classify as "approved" or "in."
        3. All Christians I declare to be below that line I classify as "rejected" or "out."
        4. Our tendency is to be very patient with those who understand less than we do and very skeptical with those who understand more than we do.
      3. So we draw lines to exclude each other, and Satan laughs, and God grieves.

  3. This is a very old, old problem among God's people.
    1. This very old problem existed when Israel's leadership rejected Jesus.
      1. The leadership that rejected Jesus [many of the Pharisees, many of the scribes, many of the temple priests] drew their lines using [as we would say] book, chapter, and verse.
        1. Jesus did not confront them about using scripture.
        2. He confronted them about their misuse of scripture and misunderstanding of God's purposes.
      2. The leaders who rejected Jesus were very certain about their lines and very certain they had the authority of God's word to draw them.
        1. "For more than 1500 years we have circumcised because God told us to!"
        2. "For about 1500 years we have followed Israel's dietary code because God told us to!"
        3. "For about 1500 years we have offered the right sacrifices in the right place at the right times because God told us to!"
        4. "For almost a thousand years we have conducted proper temple procedures because God told us to!"
      3. "It is very clear that Jews who do these things are 'in', and Jews who do not do these things are 'out'!"
        1. "Jesus you are 'out' because you teach and associate with the wrong kind of Jews!"
        2. "You teach and associate with the Jews who are 'out', and that is a dangerous misrepresentation of God."
    2. This very old problem existed among Christians in the early church.
      1. Many Christians who were converted from a Jewish background and many Christians who were converted from an idolatrous background had a very difficult time accepting each other.
      2. Let me use just one example from the church in Corinth found in 1 Corinthians 10:25-30.
        1. A big issue in the church at Corinth involved buying meat to eat at the meat market in Corinth.
        2. Some Christians declared, "Christians cannot eat anything that has been offered to an idol; therefore they cannot eat anything from the meat market."
        3. Some Christians understood idols did not represent real gods because there is only one God.
        4. These Christians understood that all food came from God.
          1. They understood that giving God thanks for God's gift made any meat they ate holy.
          2. They were correct.
        5. Paul gave this instruction.
          1. If a man who does not believe in Jesus invites you to have a meal with him and you wish to accept his invitation, do it.
          2. When he serves you meat, do not ask him where he got that meat.
          3. Just eat what he gives you.
          4. But , if he says, "This meat comes from a sacrifice to an idol," do not eat it.
          5. Do not eat it because he will think you are worshipping his idol if you eat it, and his conscience will be hurt because he misunderstands your devotion to Christ.
        6. Some Christians at Corinth judged the motives of Christians who ate meat in the homes of people who worshipped idols.
    3. The very old problem still exists in the church among Christians today.
      1. We use words to draw lines and to place other Christian brothers and sisters in categories.
      2. We use words like:
        1. Legalist
        2. Charismatic
        3. Anti
        4. Conservative
        5. Liberal
      3. We judge motives of other Christians.
        1. We say, "All they are interested in is making laws."
        2. Or, we say, "All they are interested in is entertainment."
        3. Or, we say, "All they are interested in is feelings."
        4. Or, we say, "All they are interested in is tradition."

Everyone of us needs to understand that when we attack the motives of another Christian who is seeking to trust God we cause that Christian pain and hurt.

God knows what is in the hearts of His children. He knows when a Christian is trying and when he or she is not. He knows what his or her motives are. God understands why he or she does what he or she is doing.

God knows. We do not.

When discussing this very problem, Paul wrote:
Romans 14:4 Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 27 October 2002

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