I want to begin this morning by speaking to all the teenagers and all the adults. I want to ask you to make a comparison and a prediction. I want every teenager and every adult to make the comparison. Then I want to ask every teenager and every adult to attempt to make a projection.

The comparison: consider clearly who and what you are right now. Look at yourself very carefully. Consider how you think. Consider what you do on a day to day basis. Consider what you really like. Consider what you really dislike. Consider foods, drinks, and clothes that are very important to you right now. I just want you to honestly picture who you are and what you are right now. You are not asked to share this picture with anyone. Only you know your picture of yourself. Do you have the picture?

Now make a comparison. If you are a teenager, subtract ten years from your age. If you are an adult, go back the last distinct period of life you experienced (single, newly wed, married with small children, married with kids in school, single parent with kids in school, married with teens or single parent with teens, empty nest, early retirement, etc.). Take your picture of yourself as you are right now, and place it beside the picture of who you were ten or more years ago. Look at those two pictures of you as a person. Place them side by side in your mind. Have you changed? Are there obvious ways that you are not the same now as you were then? With most of us, some of those changes are good, and some of those changes are not good.

Now the projection. Take a moment to add ten years to your life. For the sake of the illustration, we all will assume that everyone of us will be alive in ten years. If you take that picture of yourself right now and place it beside what you think you might be like in ten years, will there be any significant changes? I sincerely hope that all of us know there will be changes. With most of us, some of those changes will be good, and some of those changes will not be good.

Frequently I work with engaged couples to encourage them to prepare for a successful marriage. Basically I challenge each of them to focus on what he or she expects in the husband roles and the wife roles. One statement we discuss is this:

"We and our relationship will remain basically unchanged over the years."

As time passes, healthy people change. They change because they grow. As they grow, if they are married, the marriage relationship must grow with them.

  1. Last Sunday morning, we noted that Jesus compared his concept of what it means to be a righteous person to the prevailing concepts of human righteousness in first century Israel. [This is not a series. I just want you to see something that hopefully will challenge and encourage you.]
    1. The people to whom Jesus spoke this lesson in Matthew 5, 6, and 7 lived in a very religious nation.
      1. This nation had possessed God's law for over a 1000 years.
      2. That law was specifically given to them.
      3. Scripture was written to them.
      4. For generations they listened as scripture was discussed and explained in their synagogues.
      5. The prophets were sent to them by God.
      6. Of all existing nations, they had the best knowledge of righteousness.
        1. They were certain their concepts of righteousness was correct.
        2. They were certain their concepts of righteousness were God's concepts of righteousness.
        3. They were certain their concepts of righteousness directly were based on God's law as revealed in scripture.
    2. Jesus declared they were seriously mistaken; their conclusions about human righteousness and God's desire in human righteousness were not alike.
      1. They misunderstood God's basic concerns.
      2. Their thoughts and God's concerns were different, in some cases radically different.
      3. They were certain they understood God, but they did not.

  2. We have a first century Jewish man who was a specific example of the problem.
    1. This man wrote two very insightful statements about himself before he became a Christian.
      1. The first statement is found in a letter he wrote to the Christians who lived in Galatia.
        Galatians 1:13,14 For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it; and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions.
      2. The second statement is found in a letter he wrote to a Christian friend whose name was Timothy:
        1 Timothy 1:12-16 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.
      3. In these two scriptures I want you to focus on two facts for the moment:
        1. Before Paul became a follower of the resurrected Jesus Christ, he was one of the leading students in Judaism; he was truly a well educated scholar.
        2. Before Paul became a follower of the resurrected Jesus Christ, he was an extremely violent man--he was violent because his concept of righteousness demanded that he be violent to Jews who believed that Jesus was resurrected and was the Christ whom God promised.
    2. What did this Jewish man called Saul or Paul believe?
      1. He was a Pharisee, a student of one of the most learned teachers Israel ever had (Gamaliel), a person who moved in the highest circles of Israel (he could petition the Jewish high priest for help).
      2. This scholarly man considered Jesus' resurrection a lie that deceived many Jews.
      3. This scholarly man believed Jesus was a fraud, and was not the Christ.
      4. He believed that Jews who followed this dead Jesus were a serious threat to Judaism.
      5. He believed that the only way to stop the threat was to arrest and kill the Jews who believed in Jesus.
      6. He believed that was the righteous thing to do!
      7. Did he think he knew what righteousness was? Yes!
      8. Was he convinced that he understood God's concepts of human righteousness? Yes!
      9. Was he serious about what he believed? Yes! So serious that he arrested and wanted killed those Jews who followed Jesus.

  3. What happened to change this man from a violent scholar in Judaism, to a person who knew Jesus was the Christ, to a person who attempted to go throughout the Mediterranean world teaching people about Jesus Christ?
    1. He met the resurrected Jesus Christ in person.
      1. Acts 9:1-9 records that meeting.
      2. Paul was on his way to Damascus to arrest Jewish people who believed that Jesus was the Christ.
      3. But before he got there, Jesus appeared to him and identified himself.
      4. That meeting totally turned Paul's life around.
    2. Years later Paul clearly remembered that meeting and remembered what Jesus said to him.
      1. When he was on trial as a Christian, he explained to King Agrippa why he was a Christian with these words:
        Acts 26:14-20 And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.' And I said, 'Who are You, Lord?' And the Lord said, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.' So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.
      2. Before Paul devoted his life to Jesus Christ, he was a violent man who hunted down Jews who believed in Jesus.
      3. After Paul devoted his life to Jesus Christ, he was a compassionate man who wanted everyone to be a Christian.
      4. His devotion to Jesus Christ cost him everything--his position, his prestige, his accomplishments, and eventually his life.
    3. Why? Why would Paul give up everything that he worked so hard to achieve?
      1. Let's let him explain.
      2. I urge you to listen very carefully to his explanation and expand your understanding of human righteousness.
        Philippians 3:7-11 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
        1. Pay very careful attention to Paul's explanation for his change.
        2. Paul mentioned two kinds of righteousness: (1) the righteousness that is produced through human achievement; (2) the righteousness that is produced through confidence or faith in Jesus Christ.
        3. The violent Paul was dedicated to the righteousness produced through human achievement.
        4. After Paul met the resurrected Jesus Christ, he rejected that righteousness as worthless.
        5. The Christian Paul understood the righteousness that is produced by faith in Jesus.
          1. Did that understanding made him more or less obedient? More!
          2. Did that understanding made him more or less committed? More!
          3. But his confidence was in what God did in Jesus, not what he did in obedience.

The righteousness produced by faith in Jesus is available to everyone of us who realize we need it. Just like Paul, we do not have it because we have the perfect past. Just like Paul, we do not have it because in the past we did all the right things. Just like Paul, we have it because we have the courage to change our understanding of what makes a man or woman righteous before God.

Paul said the point of God allowing him to be a Christian was to prove God could save anyone who turned to him. Though Paul was very religious before he was a Christian, Paul understood he was on top of the list of evil person. One thing God proved when He forgave Paul was this: if God could forgive Paul, God can forgive anyone.

You do not have to have an ideal past to become a Christian. You must have the courage to change. You must have the courage to trust what God did in Jesus' death and resurrection instead of trusting yourself. You must have the courage to change because you accept God's concept of righteousness.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 2 March 2003

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