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Self-Sacrifice Is What God Calls “Reasonable”
Pastor Douglas Shearer
Preached December 26, 2004
Discipleship and self-sacrifice are inseparable. The two go hand-in-hand. That’s what I want to preach on this morning: discipleship and self-sacrifice.
How many of you have read the book Passages authored by Gail Sheehy? It was first published in 1979 for the Boomer generation; but it has been recently updated for Gen Xers. It begins with a startling assertion: it’s impossible for anyone to orchestrate a meaningful life for himself unless he first forces himself to confront his own mortality. Let me say that again: it’s impossible for anyone to assure a meaningful life for himself unless he first forces himself to confront his own mortality.
In short, making life meaningful won’t occur until you’ve faced – head-on – the truth that you’re going to die. Why?
What she suggests you do is…
It’s a good idea. But very few of us do it. Instead, we drift aimlessly through life – even as Christians; seldom questioning its meaning; just trying to keep our heads above water – pay the bills and raise the children.
Think about it. What usually sets the direction for our lives? What path do we ordinarily follow? Isn’t it whatever path seems to entail the fewest struggles – whatever path seems the least challenging – isn’t that the path most of us choose? We select the path that looks the easiest, don’t we? And it’s that path that sets the direction for our lives.
We take life for granted – as if just living life is enough. It seldom occurs to us that life must be given meaning; and that giving life meaning requires focus; and focus requires self-sacrifice and struggle. And guess what? That’s exactly what the Bible tells us as well. That’s why I find 2 Timothy 4:6-7 so intriguing.
… the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
2 Timothy 4:6-7
Here’s Paul at the end of his life. He’s looking back over it and assessing its meaning. And he knows it has been fruitful; he’s convinced it has been worthwhile.
Paul’s whole life – since the day he surrendered himself to Christ on the road to Damascus – when Jesus himself appeared to him – his whole life has been a living sacrifice – meaning…
And here’s the kicker: that’s exactly what God calls on all of us to do as well – you and me. It’s easy to think of Paul as some sort of super-Christian living out his faith far more wholeheartedly than any of us have either been empowered to do or called to do.
But that’s not true. Paul’s life is the “normal Christian life” – meaning…
Yes, that’s right: you’ve been empowered to live a life as fully conformed to Christ’s as was the Apostle Paul’s. Here, let me put up Ephesians 1:18-20 on the screen for you.
The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,
And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power,
Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead…
You have been empowered by God! The same power God used to raise Christ from the dead was the very power Paul the Apostle drew upon to live out his life of faith; and it’s the same power God has made accessible to you as well.
“OK,” you say, “I’ve been empowered to live a life as fully conformed to Christ’s life as was the Apostle Paul’s. But does God really expect me to serve him with the same abandon – the same all out commitment?”
Turn with me now to Romans 12:1…
beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.
Romans 12:1 I
What does God expect from all of us? God expects every Christian – that includes you and me – to become a living sacrifice – meaning, he expects us to turn our lives over to him – holding nothing back. Notice the word “reasonable.” A life wholly given over to God is what God calls “reasonable.” In short, it’s what God expects!
We have pastors today who play up the immeasurable blessings of salvation, but who say nothing of its responsibilities – of the duties salvation imposes – pastors who never bother to point out that God expects us – all of us – you as well as me – to pour out our lives for him.
Why do they play down the responsibilities salvation imposes? Because they think they might scare you away. That’s why! So they…
And that’s not right! God gave all he loved and held close to his heart, Jesus Christ; and now he expects us to do the same – wholly and completely; and he makes no apologies for it; in fact, he calls it “reasonable.”
But we draw back. We call anyone who reflects that kind of commitment “a radical” – “an extremist.” And churches who preach a “sold-out” message risk being tagged with the epithet “cult.”
But here’s a newsflash! There’s a new generation emerging – a generation of young men and women who don’t want the cost of discipleship hidden from them; who don’t want the responsibilities it imposes watered down or slipped into their coffee when they’re not looking; who want to be told about the demands of the Christian Faith; not just the blessings of the Christian Faith, but its difficulties as well – the duties it requires all of us to shoulder.
Tragically, however, we’re not preaching to them, we’re still preaching to the Boomers…
But that generation is now passing into old age; and instead of preaching to them, we should be preaching to their children: the Gen-Xers, the Gen-Yers, and the Millennials - the latch-key kids who grew up in the broken homes their boomer parents left them to wander around in – who grew up pretty much on their own because so many of their boomer parents were away “self-actualizing” themselves.
The Gen Xers – the generation some sociologists call the “nomads” – don’t want us to beat around the bush. Unlike their boomer parents, they don’t shrink back when struggle looms up before them. Struggle has been a part of their lives from the very “get-go;” indeed, they’re very suspicious of anything they’re told is a “free ride.”
OK, here’s the truth! God is asking you to become a living sacrifice; to lay down your life for the kingdom of God; to lay down your life to spread the gospel; to lay down your life to build the church; to make the church all she should be…
Look again at Romans 12:1…
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.
A wholly sacrificed life – lived all out for God – with nothing held back – that’s what God expects and that’s what God calls reasonable – that alone is the kind of life God smiles upon.
God wants us to get to the end our lives – and, like Paul, look back on what we’ve done – and declare “I’ve fought the good fight; I’ve finished the race; I’ve kept the faith.”
And the truth is: we won’t be happy until we are pouring out our lives for God; it’s only then that our lives will acquire a sense of meaning and purpose; it’s only then that our lives will become worthwhile.
Let’s look again at 2 Timothy 4:6
... my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
2 Timothy 4:6
Notice the phrase “…my departure is at hand…” The word “departure” here in verse 6 translates the Greek word “analoosis.” Originally, it was a military term used by soldiers to indicate that they’re “striking their tents” – meaning, breaking camp and moving on to a new location.
“Moving on!” That’s our destiny! Why? Because where we are now – here on earth – is only a way-station. There’s nothing permanent about it. “We’ll be pulling up stakes and moving on.”
Don’t put down roots here on earth. If you’re a Christian, earth is only a stop-over on the road to heaven. Don’t wrap your minds and hearts around the here and now; around your home, your job – as if that’s what life is all about – as if there’s anything permanent or eternal about your house, your job, or your stock portfolio. You’re going to be moving on. Earth is not your final destination – it’s not the end of the road; earth is only a stop along the way.
Your sins have been forgiven. You’ve been given a standing in righteousness – a cloak of righteousness that entitles you – a sinner – to enter into the throne room of God – into God’s very own presence.
The throne room of God! That’s your ultimate destination!
Paul never wrapped his mind and heart around the earth – around the here and now; so…
…he didn’t fall apart; he didn’t become distraught or bitter. Why? Because he knew he was moving on; that he’d be leaving behind those wilting flowers, that leaking roof, that drafty room, even the disappointment of friends who’d abandoned him.
Here on earth life is full of disappointments. But be of good cheer – soon we’ll all be moving on to heaven – where life will never disappoint us; where flowers will grow in abundance and will always be in full bloom; where our roofs will never leak; where we’ll be warmed by God’s very own presence; and where our friendships will be rooted in genuine love and clothed in eternity.
Nothing can get us down here on earth – if we keep in mind that earth is not our final destination. It’s not here on earth that we’ve been promised a home – that we’ve been promised rest from heartache and struggle. That’s heaven’s promise! Not earth’s promise! Even now our heavenly home is being prepared for us. Christ himself is there preparing it – a home where there will be no more tears or sorrows.
Look now at the phrase “I have fought the good fight.” The actual Greek reads “I have agonized the agony.” Or put a little differently:
What struggle is Paul talking about here? It’s the struggle Paul endured in daily pouring himself out for Christ. It’s not easy to live for Christ! It’s a struggle! And that’s the struggle Paul’s talking about here in verse 7. Paul had already made that very point earlier in his letter – back in Chapter 3, verse 12.
Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus are called to suffer...
2 Tim. 3:12
To live for Christ entails the inevitable suffering that goes with self-sacrifice. You can’t live for Christ – meaning be his disciple – without suffering. Anyone wanting to live for Christ must learn to embrace suffering – learn to make self-sacrifice his friend and hardship his companion. It’s not often in our seeker sensitive churches that we hear a sermon highlight that truth? But it’s a truth we all desperately need preached to us.
“I have finished my course…” What it means is “I haven’t quit.” Finishing – that’s what counts with God! It doesn’t matter so much how you start; it’s how you finish that counts.
But most Christians slow down as the race wears on – meaning they begin to falter. They no longer give it their all. They pull back…
That means they’re no longer living out a sacrificed life; and if they’re not doing that, they’re no longer fighting the “good fight.” Why? Because “fighting the good fight” requires that they stay committed to being a living sacrifice – that they stay committed to going all out – to holding nothing back.
Let’s say it the way it is! Half-way doesn’t earn God’s commendation. It doesn’t earn God’s smile. It won’t be rewarded at the Judgment Seat of Christ. God wants you to give it your all. That’s the kind of life God empowered Paul to live out and that’s the kind of life God has empowered you and me to live out as well. And because he has empowered us to do it, he expects us to do it.
Why do Christians slow down? That’s easy. Usually it’s because they’ve become angry and disappointed. “Once a fool, shame on you; twice a fool, shame on me!” That’s their mantra. They’ve crossed over into a jaded cynicism; they’ve given themselves over to bitterness.
Disappointed – angry – bitter…
Disappointed! Angry! Bitter! But that’s only because they wanted to get more out of life here on earth than God ever promised them. God never said that life here on earth was going to be a rose garden. Quite the contrary: he bluntly warned us that we’re living in a weed-patch.
I want you to close your eyes and think of the struggles you’re facing at this very moment – the trials and disappointments you’re grappling with. Close your eyes and bring them to mind. God is using those very trials to change you – to draw you closer to himself – to mold you into his own image – to get you to stop drawing upon your resources and begin drawing upon the riches of Christ.
Trials – and the suffering and struggles those trials entail – are part of God’s plan for your life – including the suffering and struggles you’ve brought upon yourself. So stop running from them, and begin facing them. Learn the lesson God has woven into each one. That’s the first step in becoming a disciple! God has not orchestrated those struggles to break you, but to make you.
Get back into the race! Let all that jaded cynicism drop away. You’re no quitter! Put your track shoes back on and start running again! That’s where you’ll find God – out on the race course – running alongside you – teaching you how to be a champion; and that’s where you’ll sense once again his smile upon your life; that’s where you’ll hear him whispering to you, “Well done. Keep it up. The finish line is just ahead where I’ll crown you with a laurel wreath of victory.”