Sermon 09-13-2020: “Put On the Lord Jesus Christ”

September 13, 2020

Scripture: Romans 13:8-14

Last week, something happened to me that has never happened before: I was in the McDonald’s drive-thru ordering lunch. And when I drove up to the window to pay, I was informed that the driver in front of me paid for my meal. Well, that was nice!

I am aware that these sorts of things happen. In fact, what often happens is that when the first driver gets his meal paid for, he turns around and pays for the driver behind him, and this creates a chain of drivers paying, not for their own food, but for the food of the strangers in line behind them. And the expression that’s used to describe this act of kindness is “paying it forward.” You can’t pay it back—because the driver in front of you who paid for your meal has already driven off. But you can “pay it forward.” 

And there are remarkable stories of drive-thrus who’ve had unbroken chains of dozens or even hundreds of people “paying it forward,” paying for the driver behind them, and this unbroken chain lasts for hours, or maybe days!

One Starbucks drive-thru in Connecticut set a record for having 1,468 customers “paying it forward” over Christmas in 2013. Chick-fil-A’s website claims that “paying it forward” happens every day at their drive-thrus.

Call me a Scrooge if you want, but can I confess that I’m not a fan of “paying it forward”? 

Don’t get me wrong… If you want to pay for my meal, I will gladly let you. I will receive your gift with gratitude. 

But if it becomes an expectation that I will pay for a stranger’s meal behind me in line, or if I feel guilt or pressure to do so, then “paying it forward” suddenly becomes the “law”—If thou hast received a free meal, thou shalt pay for the meal of the driver behind thee. Suddenly I’m no longer receiving a gift anymore. I’m repaying a debt. And if I’m repaying a debt because I’m “supposed to,” then what I’m doing is no longer an act of love. When I pay my cell phone bill, after all, AT&T doesn’t receive any love from me; I’m merely paying for a service rendered.

And so I approach these words from the apostle Paul in today’s scripture with caution. He writes, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.” Surely, after spending eleven chapters in Romans talking about God’s free gift of grace through faith in Christ alone… surely his message isn’t, “Pay it forward. You owe a debt, after all, because of what Christ has done for you. Pay it off. Earn it… Make yourself worthy of it! Roll up your sleeves and get to work!

Well, spoiler alert: That’s not his message. But if you’re confused and you think it is, I’m afraid you’re in good company… After all, here’s a quote from the commentary in the Life Application Study Bible on verse 8: “We are permanently in debt to Christ for the lavish love he has poured out on us. The only way we can even begin to repay this debt is by fulfilling our obligation to love others in turn.”

Respectfully, I disagree. If we are Christians, we are not in debt to Jesus Christ. We are not in debt to God.

We were in debt—by all means… because of our sins. That old youth camp song is true: “He paid a debt he did not owe/ I owed a debt I could not pay/ I needed someone to wash my sins away/ And now I sing a brand new song/ “Amazing Grace” all day long/ Christ Jesus paid a debt that I could never pay.”

So that’s true… But remember what happened on the cross: The debt that we owed, as sinners, was canceled… because God paid the debt, in the person of his Son Jesus, who took our sins upon himself and suffered the penalty for them. This same Paul wrote in Colossians 2:14 that God canceled the “record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”

Or what about Romans 6:23: “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life”! Is it free or isn’t it? Is it a gift at all, or a debt we have to repay? 

When the Life Application Study Bible says that we “begin to repay this debt” to Christ only by loving others, how is this not the same as the Chick-fil-A drive thru all over again? “I thought that the driver in front of me gave me this free gift, but in reality he did so with the expectation that I would pay for it by buying the meal of the person in line behind me. So it’s not free. There are strings attached. And I’ll feel like an ungrateful jerk—I’ll feel guilty—if I ‘break the chain’ by simply receiving the gift, rather than doing something to pay for it or deserve it or earn it.”

Besides, if we did owe a debt to God because of the grace he lavishly poured out on us, with what currency would we repay it? And you might say, “Easy! We’d repay it with the ‘currency’ of our good works. We’d pay for it with all the loving things we do… We’d repay it by loving others.” 

That sounds good except elsewhere in his letters Paul talks about his good works as an apostle, in 1 Corinthians 15:10, for instance. Here’s what he writes: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them”—by which he means, “I worked harder than the other apostles.” Sounds like bragging, but not so fast: He goes on: “though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” In other words, I wasn’t the one doing the good work; it was the grace of God that was working within me. Or how about this, also from Paul: “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Philippians 2:13. Even the desire to do good work, Paul says, not to mention the work itself, is made possible by God’s grace.

So how is anyone going to “pay God back” for his grace when it requires God’s grace to do so? By doing good works to pay God back for his grace, we’re only adding to our debt! It’s like borrowing money from the credit card company to pay off our credit card! It has the opposite effect!

So when Paul talks about the debt that we owe to others, he’s not talking about debt in “worldly” terms. He’s using “debt” as a figure of speech to communicate how absolutely necessary it is for Christians to live out our faith by loving others! He’s using language to communicate how urgent our mission is to love and save the world!

Isn’t it interesting that Paul makes reference in verse 9 to one-half of the Great Commandment of Leviticus 19:18: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”? Because it was in reference to this commandment that Jesus tells one of his most beloved parables—the parable of the Good Samaritan. If you have your Bibles—and you should—I invite you to turn with me to Luke chapter 10, beginning with verse 25. 

An expert in God’s law asks Jesus, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus asks him what he thinks. The man says, “Love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And Jesus says, “You’re right. Do this and you will live.”

And the lawyer says, “Okay, but who is my neighbor?” And Jesus tells the parable. Most of you are familiar with it. A man gets beaten up, robbed, and left for dead on the side of a dangerous, crime-ridden highway. He needs medical attention… desperately. And two very religious people, first a priest and then a Levite, each see the man, bleeding and lying half-dead in a ditch, but they pass him by. Finally, a Samaritan, sees the man and doesn’t pass him by. Instead he stops, he disinfects and bandages his wounds. At great personal expense—the expenses of time, attention, safety, and money—he puts him up in an inn and tells the innkeeper he’ll cover any additional expense the man incurs. These are very costly actions the Samaritan takes!

And you probably know the moral of the story: We preachers often say, Don’t be like the priest! Don’t be like the Levite! Instead, be like the Samaritan. Stop and help people in need. Imitate the Samaritan in doing all these good and loving and costly and sacrificial things for your neighbor. Because the main difference, we say, between the Samaritan, on the one hand, and the priest and the Levite, on the other, is in what each man does or doesn’t do. Right? Because the priest and Levite saw him and passed by, whereas the Samaritan stopped to help—and he did all these self-sacrificial, costly things for the man.

You’ve heard that before, right?

But that’s not the main difference between these men! The main difference is not in what they do or fail to do. Look at verse 33 of Luke 10: Before the Samaritan did any good and loving thing for this injured, dying man on the side of the road, Jesus says, “But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.”

Compassion came first! The priest and the Levite were each missing that… something in their hearts that the Samaritan had in his. Because compassion is a condition of the heart; either you have it or you don’t, but you can’t fake it! And… it’s easy to imagine that the priest or the Levite might stop and help the man, but that they would do so without compassion… Instead, they would do it in order that other people would notice their generous, costly actions—that other people would think highly of them and talk about how wonderful they are! They would do it in a way that was motivated by pride. They were hypocrites. They were self-seeking rather than Christ-exalting. Jesus warns against those kinds of actions in the Sermon on the Mount.

Don’t get me wrong: Just because compassion starts in the heart, I’m not saying that this kind of love came naturally to the Good Samaritan. On the contrary the kind of love which Paul says in verse 8 “fulfills the law”—the kind of love that we owe as a “debt” to other people—isn’t a natural kind of love… it’s a supernatural kind of love! It’s made possible by a miracle of God when we are first born again through faith in Christ—and it grows as we continually do what Paul tells us to do in verse 14: to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”

So the good news is that our heart condition can be healed… And we can love in this supernatural way… And it happens by putting on Christ! We can’t heal our hearts on our own, but all of us have it within our power to “put on Christ.”

So how do we do it. Let me suggest five important ways—in addition to praying, reading and studying the Bible, and worshiping regularly. This is not an exhaustive list, but here are five ways. And we do these things every day because Paul compares “putting on Christ” with putting clothes on in the morning. These thoughts and behaviors become part of our routine every day:

First, we remember every day what God has done to forgive us: by suffering and dying on a cross—paying the penalty for our sins, suffering the hell that we deserved to suffer. We remember Jesus’ final words on the cross, just before he died, “It is finished.” John 19:30. What exactly is finished? Christ finished paying the price for every one of our sins—past, present, and future—so that our reconciliation with God is possible through faith. We remember what Jesus said in Luke 7:47? The one who’s been forgiven much loves much, and the one who’s been forgiven little loves little. If you want to “love much,” that starts by remembering just how much we’ve been forgiven. 

And when we remember this, we don’t do so to feel guilty! Because we remember God’s Word: “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:12. Indeed, the Bible says, “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Jeremiah 31:34. Forgiven sin is forgotten sin in the sense that God will never hold it against us any more!

Second, we remember every day not only what God did for us, but why he did it! Romans 5:8: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” God took on flesh and suffered and died for us because he loved you and me, and he wanted us to be with him forever… Christ wanted to die on the cross because by doing so, it meant that you and I could be saved! God literally didn’t want to spend eternity without us. He foreknew us, he predestined us, he chose us, he called us. When you and I repented and turned to Jesus in faith and were saved, there was “rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God.”

Third, we remember every day who we are now… because we’re in Christ. We remember that through faith God has given to us, or imputed to us, Christ’s righteousness. So when the Father looks at us he no longer sees the filthy rags of our own righteousness; he sees us covered in the perfect righteousness of his Son. See 2 Corinthians 5:21. We are now adopted into God’s family as his beloved, highly favored sons and daughters, and our Father loves us exactly as much as he loves his only begotten Son. See John 17:23 and 26.

Fourth, we remember every day who we will be in the future. See, if we’re still living and breathing in this world, that means God’s not finished with us yet. He is still shaping us, changing us, perfecting us into the person he created us to be—and he’s doing so through everything that happens to us. Everything that’s happening is for our good! See Romans 8:28 and 1 Corinthians 3:21-23. We remember that Christ has given us his Spirit and that we have within us everything we need to fight our spiritual battles and overcome sin. We remember that the One who is us is greater than he who is in the world. 1 John 4:4. And some day, after Christ’s Second Coming, we’ll have resurrected and glorified bodies—we will be completely whole, completely healed from the ravaging effects of sin—and we’ll live in a renewed, restored, redeemed Creation.

We remember that we have an “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for [us].” 1 Peter 1:4.

Fifth, and finally, when we put on Christ, we remember every day what Christ does, and what Christ wants to do, through us—how he wants to use us—in order to reach the lost with the gospel and to save the world… and we do it.

Now, I’ve talked about the Great Commission for the last three sermons, so I won’t repeat myself… but let me close with this incident that happened recently…

As you may know, for the past four weeks, Pastor April, Pastor Josh, my son Townshend, and myself have been engaging in actual street evangelism for the past four weekends. At the Ida Cox music festival. And by evangelism I mean, we haven’t merely been inviting people to church, although we have done that, too… But we’ve been having meaningful conversations with lost people about the gospel of Jesus Christ.

But one person I’ve spoken with a couple of times now told me that although he believes that the gospel is true, he isn’t willing to surrender his life to Jesus and repent of his sins—even though, he said, he knows it means hell. He said, “I love my sins too much.” So he said he plans on taking care of his health, living as long as he can, so that he enjoy life on this side of eternity before he faces hell on the other side. 

And he was sincere when he said this.

So… What do you say to that? 

Townshend and I both tried to convince him of how knowing Christ and treasuring Christ right now, and experiencing his abundant life right now, is better than any fleeting pleasures that this world has to offer. As Paul says elsewhere, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish in order that I may gain Christ.” 

I say a hearty “Amen” to that, because I know from experience that it’s true. But this guy doesn’t know me… He doesn’t know the man I used to be… he can’t look at my past and present and know the difference that Christ has made in my life… and the difference that he’s making now.

So that kind of testimony won’t work with him… he simply doesn’t know me well enough. I hope he appreciates that if I’m crazy enough to get out there and talk to complete strangers about Jesus then it must because Christ has made a difference in my life!

But what about everyone else who knows me? What about people who know you? According to today’s scripture, people should see the difference that Christ makes in our lives. Our lives should be noticeably different. We should treasure Christ so highly above everything else that we’re not interested in living our lives according to the patterns of the world. Those sins in verse 13 no longer cause us to stumble because we want Christ more than any fleeting pleasure the world offers. 

Are we treasuring Christ like that? 

If not, I say with the apostle Paul, “Wake from your sleep. Salvation is nearer to you now than when you first believed. God is calling you to do urgent work to fulfill the Great Commission before your time on earth runs out. So cast off the works of darkness, repent of your sins, and put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” 

Amen.

One Response to “Sermon 09-13-2020: “Put On the Lord Jesus Christ””

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    This is a very interesting topic. We have to be careful here that we don’t drift into “absolute predestination.” In other words, that all thoughts and actions by anyone are entirely directed by God. Were that true, then all evil thoughts and actions would just as much lie at the door of God as the good ones. And a similar problem is still present if we argue that only all the good thoughts and actions are entirely directed by God, because it presents the question why God does not just direct those all the time for everyone. Or even just for every Christian. No, we have to have some “responsibility” for what we do, which means that to some extent it has to be “our” choice as to what we think and do.

    Now, it is certainly true that we can’t think and do what we should without God’s help. The Spirit is “at work” when we think and do well. But it just cannot be the case that this is “all of God and none of me” without slipping down the slope towards absolute predestination (or the alternative view referenced, which is hardly much better). I was thinking about this the other day in response to a question posed by my Sunday School teacher about our role in leading anyone to Christ, since only God can save. Later this analogy came to mind–a farmer plowing his field. Before modern inventions (kids nowadays might not understand this illustration!), the mule or ox pulls the plow, but his route is determined by the farmer. And it is the farmer who “sows the seed.” Now, who is responsible for field getting plowed, how it gets plowed, and where the seed ends up? Certainly it is the farmer. However, the mule or the ox is the one pulling the plow. I think this is somewhat similar to our own situation. God is “in charge,” but he elects to use us as his “agents” in accomplishing his purposes. “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors. as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” 2 Corinthians 5:20.

    Trying not to push an illustration beyond its limits, note that the mule or ox can “resist” the farmer’s direction–just as we sometimes resist God’s direction in our lives as Christians. In which event, the farmer “disciplines” the mule or ox back into his “lane.” Similarly as to us, according to Hebrews 12 God disciplines us to get us back into obedience.

    All this to say. both the farmer and the mule or ox “work together” to get the field sowed. It is not as though the mule or ox “adds nothing to the equation.” Similarly with us, without the direction of the Spirit (and, for that matter, empowering, just as the mule or ox are fed, watered, and housed by the farmer) we get nothing done. But we still have some role and contribution in the matter, and we can say “yes or no” (with consequences following). Otherwise, why would there be differing rewards for how we build on the foundation? 1 Corinthians 3:5-15. Surely God is not “rewarding Himself”! My net conclusion is that we do deserve both blame and credit for what we do, though we of course recognize that it is far and away the credit of God for the good.


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