Children’s ministry volunteers stand
Pray for them and our children.
Listen to these beliefs held by a group of atheist “believers”
-They are part of a non-belief doctrinal statement…what they believe by faith.
I will read them and address them as we go.
Religious faith is a set of rules that restricts human freedom.
-Atheism has historically been the most restrictive belief system devised by man…when applied on a national level or local level it has removed human freedom.
-On a personal level, lack of religious convictions is more likely to restrict human freedom because people who live without the restraint of faith conviction become slaves to their own desires.
Religious faith wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos.
-Or it accurately represents them…someone is right and someone is wrong about this.
-But this is the fundamental question…isn’t it?
Who or what has always been here…tells us why we are here and how we are to live.
Religious faith leads to dangerous sexual repression
-Lack of religious faith leads to dangerous sexual expression.
-The American journey to sexual freedom has not led to anything resembling freedom.
Prov. 29:18 Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law.
When God’s word is not heard and understood and obeyed…then a quest for freedom apart from him is pursued…but the blessed life, a life of liberty is to live line with the way God has designed us.
Religious faith is ultimately grounded on wish-thinking
-The fact is that often humans do not wish it to be true that they will ultimately be held accountable
-Atheism is ultimately grounded on wish-thinking…the wishful thinking that “no one is watching and in the end no one cares what I do.”
I read a quote from a professor who when challenged about his atheism said that he didn’t necessarily believe the evidence was on his side…but he did not want there to be a god because it would interfere with how he wanted to live his life. (Immoral man)
Religious faith is a means whereby authorities exercise power over others
-Religious faith, historically, has been the engine that has driven social movements that have taken stands against oppressive authority structures.
-Martin Luther King, for instance, was a minister, who believed the gospel.
-Even in the case of oppressive religious systems it was other religious believers that offered the courageous, corrective movement to bring change.
As far as we know the Las Vegas shooter was not religious, but even if we find out differently it would only confirm what common sense already tells us…that if you believe wrong things (religious or irreligious) you might do wrong things.
Whether those wrong beliefs are religious or not religious is not the point.
The real question is what is real? What is actually true?
Then the follow on question is…will I align my life choices with what is real and true?
It is important that we believe what is real and align our lives with that reality.
James summarizes neatly what “real faith” looks like in real life.
James 1:27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
Looking out for widows and orphans is as an example of the fact that “belief leads to actions”
He has this one-two punch of what authentic faith looks like:
- How you treat others (here seen in how you treat the most vulnerable of people)
- What you are becoming on the inside (keep yourself from being polluted by the world)
It really matters what we believe
From what we believe is true, will come what we think is valuable.
What we value, will determine who we become.
What we believe, value, and become…determines how we behave…what we do.
Paul started his letter to the Romans with the knowledge of the gospel…the facts of faith.
What is true to believe
Then he moved to the practice of faith…how we are to respond to God in faith and others in love.
In Romans 13:8 he ties these two truths together in a single sentence…
Rom. 13:8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.
If I were you I would memorize that verse.
It is like Mary Poppin’s handbag…endless amount of things keep coming from a small verse.
Or if you like Dr. Who…the “Tardis”…bigger on the inside than the outside.
One sentence but it sums up a large amount of truth.
Paul brilliantly connects what he said in verse 7 about giving everyone what they are owed…specifically in regards to living the gospel in civil society.
Now he makes the application big enough to cover every human relationship.
Give everyone what you owe then…taxes, revenue, respect, honor.
But there is an obligation you will never be done with…a debt that you owe that you will pay on the rest of your life.
The “continuing debt to love one another” because of what Christ has done for you.
Of course he is not implying we can or should pay for our sins.
This is the application in our personal relationships to what Christ has done for us.
Paul summarized the gospel lifestyle like this is: Gal. 5:6
“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
We must spend our lives paying off the debt of love…this is opportunity not mere obligation.
If you live this way, you are doing all that God has required that you do…everything is summed up in love for others.
…For he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
All the OT commands culminate in this “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Matt 22:36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.
What does this even mean?
Does it mean that if I love people I don’t have to do anything else that God requires?
No it means that if you love people (as God would have you love them), you will do all that God requires?
If you love people you are going to respond to them in ways that put their interests ahead of your own…you will treat them as you want to be treated and as God wants them treated.
It is not love OR the law…it is love that leads to fulfillment of the law.
Let’s look at an important point of clarification here…a place where confusion is common.
Back in Rom. 12:9 Paul wrote “Love must sincere…hate what is evil; cling to what is good.”
Love has a moral foundation…it cannot hang in midair.
Many horrible things have been done in the name of love…whenever love has no real foundation.
The fundamental starting point for disagreement between believers and the “new atheists” on everything is “the origin of humans and of the cosmos.”
They believe we are mistaken, we believe they are.
But they are right in making this so critical in their argument.
If the God of the Bible has always been, then that tells us why we are here and how we are to live.
If the universe is self-creating or eternal then that also tells us why we are here and how we are to live.
That is not merely philosophical talk…it is enormously practical and relevant to virtually every decision you might make.
For us, love is a characteristic of God, he is love…and so he defines its appropriate expression.
For them, love is a complex chemical reaction…we define its appropriate expression.
So, how do we even know what love looks like?
If “Love fulfills the law, then why do we need the law?”
Joseph Fletcher was a professor at Harvard from the 40s-70s…at one time he was an Episcopal priest, later he self-identified as an atheist.
He was a leading academic proponent of abortion(killing unborn babies), infanticide(killing born babies), euthanasia(killing adults), eugenics (targeting certain parts of the population to eliminate them from the gene pool).
He is most well known for what is called situation ethics.
It is summed up like this: “All laws and rules and principles and ideals and norms only valid if they happen to serve love in the particular situation.”
Sounds good, right…love is the highest good.
No, because it tries to start in the wrong place…with love not with God.
There are six principles…let me read them and address them as we go.
Like most flowed belief systems…it is a combination of truth and error.
Again…this is not a philosophical rabbit chase…very important and practical.
- Only one thing is intrinsically good…love.
No, only one being is intrinsically good…God…and God is love, so he defines what it is and how it is lived.
-Fletcher became a full-fledged atheist so love was not connected to God in anyway for him.
-Thus…he could call killing certain humans “loving”…babies, the sick, and others.
-If by his standards lives were not a certain “quality” then love by his standards required killing them.
- The ruling norm of Christian decision-making is love…nothing else.
-No it is obedience, faithfulness, nothing else.
-You begin with obey…and you will you end up in love…not the other way around.
- Love and justice are the same.
-In God, yes, they are.
-For us, apart from God…we will are continually confused about both.
So we trust and obey…we don’t decide on our own what love or justice looks like.
- Love wills the neighbors good, whether we like him or not.
-True…but who decides what the neighbor’s good is? Them, us?
-What if my neighbor calls evil good and demands that I agree?
-Or what if my neighbor decides that his good is to euthanize me?
Can’t start with us, you must begin with God.
- Only the end justifies the means…nothing else.
-Who besides God knows the end…we don’t.
-Horrible things have been done be people who arrogantly assume they know the end and so apply they wrong means.
-“I didn’t mean for this to happen”…that’s because you didn’t know the end.
-It’s important to obey God…in all the means…because only he knows all the ends.
- Love’s decision are made situationaly not prescriptively. (means there are no ruling principles for what love looks like)
-Not too many years ago the US had no comprehensive disaster response plan.
-After some notable disasters were a “disaster”, like Katrina…we formed a national framework for disaster response.
-It has principles that are applied in situations
-And situation determines how the principles will be applied.
-But the situations do not create their own principles.
-So the framework (principles), prescribes how the disaster response will be applied in different situations.
Compare this to Situational ethics…it says, “love is the strategy…now go apply love situationally.”
Its like saying in disaster response “Disaster response is the strategy…no go respond to disasters.”
Useless in practice…it is what we had before, and it did not work.
The strategy is faithfulness to the truth of God…he has defined what love looks like.
With that framework in place, we are equipped to wrestle with complex situations and apply love appropriately to them.
This is important to understand…because you will hear things that sound vaguely true…things that sound like a biblical “love ethic”
But they are totally different from the gospel applied in human relationships.
Paul is giving us an ethic founded on the facts of the gospel…which is the very truth of God.
Paul starts with God…then moves to love in action.
Fletcher and others…start with themselves then try to move to love in action.
The differences are startling.
Let’s go to verse 11…here Paul completely separates himself from Fletcher and others who being with themselves rather than with the gospel in understanding what love looks like in practice.
11 And do this (love), understanding the present time. (Kairos not chronos, not calendar time but God’s time) The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.
He is using figures of speech to describe the current situation.
Now is the time of night…night is often the time when evil is done…the time when crimes are committed, when bad happens.
But the day is almost here…the “day of the Lord”…his full reign is nearer all the time.
It’s just before daybreak…the day is already here but not yet.
So Paul challenges us…wake up! Live fully awake lives of love!
Have you ever been under general anesthesia?
I have a couple of times and waking up from it you believe you are fully alert…but it is not until you actually are that you realize you were not.
I remember getting surgery on my broken cheekbone and I was trying to feel how it went…the nurse had to strap my arms down because I kept slapping myself the face.
While I was in the fog…it felt so clear…very appropriate thing to do.
Then my mind did clear…and I could see how foolish my decision to slap my just repaired broken cheekbone was.
Paul is saying…”Wake up!”
Don’t live half asleep while the world around is fully asleep.
Don’t live in a daze, dawn is almost here…live fully awake lives of love.
The world around you is living in a dreamlike state…they think what they value is valuable…but it is not.
We are to live awake…the dawn is here…live awake.
13 Let us behave decently (befitting the gospel), as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.
The vast majority of sexual assaults in the military (and I assume civilian) involve alcohol…upwards of 90%.
We are to control ourselves not be controlled by alcohol, or sexual immorality, or dissension and jealousy.
This is not an exhaustive list of behaviors to avoid, it is a representative list.
We are not to give ourselves over to these things, because we have given ourselves over to Christ.
We are to live under his control…so we must not give up that liberty for any kind of bondage.
There is an objective standard for what love for God and love for others looks like.
God is the starting point…not love.
1John 3:16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.
Jesus Christ defines and describes love…it looks like “this”
*So this our alarm clock “wake up!”
Rouse yourself…get alert.
Then get dressed for the day.
14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.
Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ simply means to be like him.
My grandsons love to dress like super heroes.
They want to look like them…but really they want to be like them.
If Spiderman and superman didn’t do cool stuff…they would not dress like them…because they would not want to be them.
To clothe yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ…means you want to be like him.
This is contrasted with “thinking about” how to gratify the flesh.
So much like my grandsons contemplate what it would be like to have the powers of their heroes so we are to think about what it means for us to be like Christ in our love for others.
There is a difference of course…these super heroes are not real and my grandsons will not be able to be like them in reality.
To cloth ourselves in Christ means that we are actually becoming like him over time.
We are to give our full, awake attention to this…rather than to contemplate how we can gratify ourselves…we clothe ourselves in Christ.
“Wake up, its almost daytime…get dressed…put on Christ…give your full attention to being like him and loving like him.”
“Stop, giving your attention and your affection to your own sinful desires…there is no liberty there, there is no good there, there is no love for God and others there.”
Become like Jesus in your love for others: Grow. Change.
*This doesn’t work…I’ve heard it over and over before.
It doesn’t “work” by hearing it alone…three things have to be in place in your life to change…all three.
Belief: You must believe this is real, and that it is worth the struggle to become this.
Expect: You must expect that your efforts, your actions mean something. That your choices matter. If you do not believe that your efforts will affect change, then you will not put forth the effort…why would you?
Desire: You must follow through consistently with real effort and actions.
-Perhaps you have become discouraged by lack of movement
-Perhaps you have become hard and lack motivation
If you want to change you can…God is all for it…but your strategy must be reality based.
First part of that strategy is paying attention to your thinking.
APPLICATION: Let conclude with two verses
13:8 “let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another.”
13:14 “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Starting today, and then throughout next week let me suggest two things to think about.
Thinking impacts choosing over time.
- Consider someone in your life that is either very difficult to love or just very important that you love them…and you have not lived that love well.
-What would it look like this week to pay on the debt of love you owe them?
-Be practical, think in actionable terms.
-Live not as someone who is owed by others…but as someone who owes others a debt of love.
-Do you neglect, demand, pout, punish with silence or with harsh words when others disappoint you or don’t show love like you want to be shown love?
-Do you do what is best for you…take care of yourself and your needs first?
-Will you think about and practice living like a debtor this week?
Like a person who owes love, not someone who is owed love
- As you do that put on Christ.
-Think about loving people in the way you think Jesus would
-Contemplate his ways with people…how did he respond to others?
-How did he respond on the cross as the people he loved killed him?
-Pray for his actual power in your life…power to love others like he does.
-Live as a debtor, put on Christ…do this in real ways to the people God has given you to love.