- Pastor Mark Driscoll
- 1 Corinthians 9:19-27
- June 11, 2006
Father God, we, we thank you; we thank you that you love us; that you care for us; that you have sought us out; that you have pursued us for relationship. And God, we pray that we would have that same heart toward others, that we would pursue them for relationship to introduce them to you. God, we pray that our heart will be for our neighbors, families, friends and our enemies and our city. And God, we pray that the Gospel of Jesus Christ would go out from our lives to reach those who do not yet know you but whom you know. For that to happen, Lord God, we ask that Jesus would be the center of our life and that, as we study today, we would take our sin and give it to Him; we would take our lives and give them to Him and that we would follow in His example and it’s in His name that we pray. Amen.
Well, as we get into it, we’re gonna talk – as I said – about the role of Christians and churches in culture
Kay, I wanna pull some threads together from 1 Corinthians and then I’ll weave them together as we enter into 1 Corinthians, Chapter 9. You say, “Well what can we do for the city? How can we make this a great city? How can we love people? What do we have to contribute? The answer is we have the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is our gift to the city. That’s the thing that the city needs most is Jesus and that’s our gift to the city. And Paul describes the Gospel, the good news about Jesus, most succinctly in 1 Corinthians 15, 3 and 4. He says first that Christ – that’s Jesus, we’re talking ‘bout Jesus – Christ died. Historical fact. Now we’re at the cross, the symbol of the Christian faith, Jesus Christ died on the cross. Why? What does that mean for us? Paul then says, “for our sins.” So now we learn that we are all sinners; that Jesus Christ is God; that Jesus Christ came into human history; that Jesus Christ lived without sin but Jesus Christ died on a cross for our sin.
Then Paul says, “According to Scripture.” So now we have all of the pieces that we need. The Bible is true; we are sinful; Jesus is God; salvation is through Him alone. Now, it doesn’t just say that Jesus died. It says that Christ died for our sin according to Scripture and he was buried, further evidence that he was in fact dead, and on the third day, he rose again in fulfillment of Scripture. So, the good news of Jesus is conditioned upon the bad news of the condition of humanity. The bad news is, we’re sinners. We have been separated from God. We can’t build good lives, good families; we can’t build good cities and good cultures because we’re bad people. Bad people cannot build a good world and so all of the aspirations that our great city has for community and unity and love and stewardship and environmental concerns and caring for the poor and the needy and the widow and the orphan, none of that is possible apart from the transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ because we’re all sinners and even with good intentions, sinners have bad results – and it’s the sin problem that prohibits us from allowing the good news of Christ to penetrate the lives of others and it is Jesus who takes away our sin, who causes us and enables us to be new people, so that we can live new lives, participate in the lives of other, and help to build a better city and a better culture. And so everything hinges on this issue of the Gospel because the problem is sin and Jesus is the only one who can deal with sin.
And so Paul says that this Gospel about the truthfulness of Scripture, the sinfulness of humanity and the salvation, reconciliation with God, participation with God in the making of culture and redeeming of culture on the Earth is only made possible through Jesus Christ. And Paul says that this is of first importance. This is the most important of historical facts. The death, burial, resurrection of Jesus according to Scripture. That is the good news of the Gospel.
Second point is this – that the Gospel must be continually contended for. That the Gospel is always under attack. People saying, “The Bible? Do we really need that?” “Jesus? Do we really need Him?” “Sin? It seems so negative. Can’t we just sort of dismiss these things? Can’t we embrace all religions, all gods, all sacred texts, all perspectives?” The answer is no. That the Gospel is always under attack by false teachers and heretics and liars and it is always under the process of seeking to be corrupted by those who mean to do evil. And so the Gospel must be contended for, otherwise we lose the good news of the Gospel. And Paul has demonstrated that for us repeatedly in 1 Corinthians. He opened in Chapters 1 and 2, contending for the Gospel. He’s talking repeatedly about the crucifixion of Jesus, the cross of Jesus, the blood of Jesus, the death of Jesus and in the first two chapters, he hammers this repeatedly about the crucifixion, the death and burial of Jesus.
And then in 1 Corinthians 15, the final chapter of the book, second to the final chapter of the book, he speaks in great detail about the resurrection of Jesus. And so he bookends his argument with the Gospel. He begins with the cross and he ends with the empty tomb. He speaks of the death and the resurrection of Jesus and all of the issues that are scattered throughout the book of 1 Corinthians – sex, money, power, gender. How do you deal with fame and glory? How do you deal with defeat and sickness? How do you deal with drugs and alcohol and perversion and fighting and lawsuits and all of these issues that are the sum total of life on the Earth. How do you deal with those?
Paul’s answer continually is the death, burial, resurrection of Jesus is the answer to every question. It is the hope for every longing and it is the only solution for the human plight of sin. And so Paul continually illustrates for us this defending, this contending for the Gospel of Jesus Christ and some of you, like me, you love that! Right, because you love to defend the Gospel. You are like pit bulls for Christ. If there’s a false doctrine, a false teacher, a bad book, a bad author – [barks] you are just – you’re ready to roll, man. Okay? And we’ll talk about this because the church is – I want you to get this picture in your mind – the church is like a house where the children of God live and if you love your family, what do you buy for a pet? Not a cat, but a dog – you buy a dog, right? And you put the dog out on the front porch because if – let’s say a burglar or an evildoer comes – a cat will lick them. No help at all. No help at all. The dog will bite them. We love dogs, right? So the dog’s out front. Somebody walks by, seeks to do harm, gonna break in, hurt the kids – [barks], right? Barks away. We love the dog. Somebody comes in the yard that’s not supposed to be there, the dog chews on ‘em, bites ‘em, eats ‘em, kills ‘em, we love that. I do at least and – and there are certain Christians who, contending for the Gospel, are like that. We need to protect the truth and the Bible and the Gospel and the church and the children of God and they’re out on the porch.
But sometimes, dogs get mean, right? They start eating the babysitter and biting the mailman, right? The ice cream truck comes by, they bite the tire, it blows so they could flip the rig over and then eat the ice cream man, right? They just get mean and cruel. They’re always looking for something else to chew on, right? Just like, “Man, I – I’m hungry. I hope somebody comes over to play with the kids.” You know, and they’re not just defending the family from evil and harm and injustice and danger, they’re just flat out cruel and mean and nasty. They’re just bad pit bulls that were poorly raised, you know? And some churches are like that, right? Some churches are all about contending for the faith and some other churches love Jesus, they know the Bible and nobody ever comes. I had a pastor’s meeting with some pastors who are great contenders for the faith not too long ago. Man, you’d bring up any false doctrine, any heresy, any false teaching, other religion, these guys are like, [barks]. I mean, they are just ready to roll. I mean they’re just [beeps] they’ll just chew right on you, “Arminian?” [barks] you know? “Open theism?” [barks] I mean they’ll just chew right on whatever false teacher they can find. But they’re just mean. They’re just jerks, right? And over and over, they kept saying, “I just wish more lost people would come to our church.” They’re never going to, for the same reason that the family with all the pitbulls doesn’t have a lotta neighbors dropping by with cookies, right? Right, it’s a conflicting message when out on the front of the house it says, “Jesus loves you” and the pit bulls are roaming the yard and there’s a shotgun out there and some, you know, crazy uncle in his underwear, like, “Come on in, we’d love to see ya.” You’re like, “No, that’s cool.”
You know, and some churches are like that. They’re just all about contending so a non-Christian walks in, “Says I’m not sure I believe in Jesus.” [Laughter] Here come the pit bulls just chewing up right up. So it’s important to contend for the Gospel of Jesus Christ – we don’t want to diminish the contending for the Gospel of Jesus Christ – in word and deed contending, defending the Gospel of Christ – but we must remember that God doesn’t send us into the world to meet non-Christians to bite them but to love them. To befriend them, to answer their questions. To work so that they would meet Jesus through our words and our deeds.
So some of you are here today and you’re just defenders. You’re just contenders. You love theology, you love apologetics and you love heretics because they taste good. Right, you gotta repent of that, man! You’re freakish and weird. There’s something wrong with you. In addition, however, once we have the Gospel and we’ve contended for it and we’ve protected it and we have a clear Gospel, the question then is, what do we do with it? “Oh, I’m supposed to do something?” Yeah! We’re supposed to do something! That is the work of contextualizing the Gospel. Some say, isn’t that compromise? No, it’s not compromise, we’re not changing the message, we’re working the methodology, so that it’s most culturally accessible. Now some of you wouldn’t have a problem with this if I said, “We’re sending a missionary to China and they’re gonna learn to speak Chinese and wear clothing and eat food and listen to music that’s different.” You’d say, “Well, sure, they’re going to China.” Well same thing if they’re going to indie rock culture or they’re going into hip-hop culture, if they’re going into tech culture, if they’re going out into the suburbs with families or out into the rural areas with farmers, you have to find a way to speak – contextualize the Gospel of Jesus in a way that is accessible and appropriate for people – because cultures are different, even subcultures in tribes within cities are different.
So, Paul is talking about contextualization here. Kay, so I wanna establish the Gospel and I want to talk about contending for the Gospel because those of you who are from the tradition of the Religious Right, you’re saying “What about the truth?” We’re down with that but now let’s talk about not only having the Gospel but using it through contextualizing it. Chapter 9, Verse 19, “Though I am free,” Paul says, I’m not a slave, nobody could tell me what to do, “I belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone,” right? When I walk into a culture, I accommodate people, I love people, I serve people, I’m willing to learn their language, listen to their bands, read their music, watch their film to figure out their hopes and dreams and fears and I’m not prematurely judging them. I wanna get to know them and figure out who they are so I can find a creative way to tell them about Jesus. To what? “To win,” he says, “as many as possible.”
This must be our goal. Because we want to win as many as possible. Not as many are as convenient. Not as many as we can manage. Not as many as we would desire but as many as possible. Your heart must be like Jesus who wept over Jerusalem. You must look around and say, “There are people here by the hundreds of thousands, over a million, that don’t know Jesus and we want to see how many? As many as possible. Meet Jesus. Have Him forgive their sins. Connect them to the living God. Fill them with His spirit. Empower them for a new life that can participate in the creation of a great city.
Paul goes on, “To the Jews I became like a Jew to win the Jews.” Was that fun? No. I mean try getting a ham sandwich, you know? You know, and he went into Jewish culture, which had a lot of rules, a lotta regulations, a lot of legalism and said, “You know what? That’s cool. I’ll do whatever I gotta to get in there and tell ‘em about Jesus.” Hoping that then they’ll walk away from their rules, morality and legalism. “To those under the law, I became like one under the law, though I myself am not under the law, so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law, I became like one not having the law, though I am free – not from God’s law – but am under Christ’s law so as to win those not having the law. To the weak, I became weak to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means, I might save some.” Paul says this. If he was alive today, he’d say to the indie rockers, “I did indie rock.” For the hip-hoppers, “I did hip-hop.” For the tech guys, “I had a blog.” Right? And “I did – and for the families, I talked about marriage and kids and parenting. For the business guys, I did financial seminars and connected it back to God. For the environmental rights activists, I told ‘em who the creator was since they enjoy His work so much.” Paul says I tried to figure out how to articulate Jesus in as many ways as I possibly could, to as many people as I possibly can to win as many people as are possible. And Paul says, “I do all of this,” what? For the sake of the what? “For the sake of the Gospel.”
Shame on those pastors! Shame on those churches! Shame on those theologians who are nothing but contenders. We defend the truth, we fight the heretics, we refute all false teaching in the name of the Gospel. Great! You have the Gospel! What are ya gonna do with it? Who’s getting saved? Who’s meeting Jesus? Who’s repenting the sin? What churches are being planted? And some of you from more Reformed-type backgrounds, you’ll say, “Well God saves people.” He does, through you and through me! God not only predestines people for salvation, he predestines you and I to be the means by which they learn about Him! I’m fired up! I know I was born to be here today! I know that the sovereign God is at work on the Earth through us as a people to this city and so you can’t sit back and say, “Well, I read all the letters of Paul,” don’t just believe the theology of Paul, live the lifestyle of Paul! Paul was not a guy sitting in his room reading books, arguing over secondary matters. He was a theologian and a contender of the faith. He was also an evangelist and a missionary, taking a beating, going into cultures, going to jail, shipwrecked, homeless, poor, ultimately murdered, why? Telling people ‘bout Jesus. Wanting to see people get saved.
He reads like a Calvinist, he lives like an Arminian. That’s the bottom line with Paul. You look at him, you would think, “My gosh, doesn’t he know God’s in control?” He does. That’s why he’s so fired up. We’re on a great mission and hunt to find as many as possible. That’s our great participation. And so Paul says, “I do this all for the sake of the Gospel.” So shame on those who have conferences and write books and preach sermons only about what they’re against and never call their people to mission; never spend their money on church planning; don’t care about lost people. That is nothing like Paul! That is nothing like Jesus! That’s a sin! Fight for the Gospel and then do nothing with it – Jesus says, that’s like having a lamp and then covering it so that no one could see the light. It benefits no one.
Paul says, “I do all of this for the sake of the Gospel.” The Gospel that he has contended for is now the Gospel that he is preaching and demonstrating and Paul says, “I do this that I might share in its blessings.” The blessing is this: seeing people meet Jesus. Seeing people get their sins forgiven. Seeing people get their lives together. Seeing people get transformed and changed. That is the best thing in the world. I met Jesus at 19 and I was in. I was in all at once forever. I can’t imagine not sharing this good news of Jesus – who he is and what he’s done. And what a blessing it is to see this many people meet and love Jesus. And I’ll tell you what gets in the way. Tradition.
Churches continually choose their past over their children. We don’t wanna change. It’s a sin not to change. It’s a sin to change the message but it’s a sin not to change the methods. The message of the gospel is unchanging. The death, burial, resurrection of Jesus for our sin, according to Scripture, but the methods by which that is communicated constantly, continually must change for the sake of that same gospel. And some people love their methods and they lose sight of the importance of the message. I don’t care what songs we sing. I don’t care what our architecture looks like. I don’t really care. You know what I care about? The Gospel. And that means in ten years, if we’re still singing the same songs; if we’re still doing the same thing, then we are in sin because we have not done everything we can to make the Gospel as accessible and winsome as possible. I get this all the time. People walk in, “How come you don’t wear a robe?” Because I’m not a Jedi knight, that’s why. I mean, come on! My pastor had a robe. Looked ducky. I don’t – if people meet Jesus, you can wear the robe. I don’t care. I don’t care if you got an organ, don’t got it. I don’t care! I care if the Gospel is preached and lived and people meet Jesus. That’s what counts. Everything else – distant second.
It’s exactly what Paul is talking about. So you say, “Well how does this work? You could have the same message and articulate it different ways.” Read your Bible. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They are the four what – ?
Gospels! Well that’s a lot of ‘em. It seems like they’re saying the same thing in different ways. In fact they are! I hate to spit all over the front row. These are not the good seats. It’s like Gallagher, and now the watermelon’s coming, right? I’m sorry. So, think about this. Why are there four Gospels in our Bible? Because the good news of Jesus’ sinless life, substitutionary death, burial and physical resurrection were articulated to four primary cultural groupings. Matthew written to Jews. So, there’s a lot of Old Testament quotes and they trace Jesus back to who? Abraham. He’s a Jew. Jesus is the fulfillment of Old Testament Messianic Jewish prophecy. Matthew.
Mark. Short. They don’t tell you about his history. They don’t care if he’s a Jew, they don’t care what his background – they don’t care. The Romans don’t care. All they care is did he do his job? That’s it. So read Mark present tense, active verbs. Jesus did this, did this, did this, did this, died, rose, the end. Clean, short, succinct. Worship Him. Period. Over. So we like that one. Simple. Some blue-collar Gospel.
You go over to Luke. Luke is written for Gentiles, so they trace Jesus’ lineage and history not back to Abraham, but back to Adam. He’s the perfect human being. Sinless. He’s the way we were supposed to be before sin. He’s God become a man. And its chronological and it’s in-depth and it deals with the emotions and the life of Jesus as God who became a man.
And then you read John and you’re like ,”What?” The first three books – Matthew, Mark and Luke – they have about 60 percent of material in common. John is about 90 percent unique and particular to John. So you open it up, it says, “In the beginning was the logos.” Huh? What? He’s writing to Greeks who were steeped in philosophy. That at the fountainhead of which is Epimenides and then Socrates and Plato and Aristotle and they have this concept of the logos or word that also appears in the Hebrew Old Testament. And so, what John does is he takes this concept of word and logos and he applies it to Jesus so all the philosophers would understand in the Greek culture who Jesus was and what he did.
And some say, “Oh, well we don’t need all four.” Yes we do. And the Bible is here showing us that you take the same, unchanging message of Jesus and you communicate it in the story and method that is most effective to articulate the unchanging truth in changing ways to various groups and cultures and tribes of people. That’s all it’s demonstrating.
Now, some will say, “Well, the Bible, there is filled with contradictions.” No it’s not. I have told you before. Matthew, Mark and Luke, it’s like ABC, NBC and CBS Nightly News local and that John is like Fox News. It’s its own thing going on. That’s it. There’s three major networks and then there’s the cable affiliate. And that’s how your Bible’s put together. Not contradicting, same news. Same news. Same stories. Same truth. Same person. Same Jesus.
Now, when I say this, some of you are thinking, “But that’s worldliness! That’s worldliness! That’s worldliness!” Who told you that? Worldliness is not being in culture. Like Jesus Christ was in culture. Do you get that? It can’t be a sin to be in culture because Jesus, Jesus didn’t leave his throne in Heaven as Eternal God and then come as a general human being. There’s no such thing as a general human being. He was born into Jewish culture, he learned Jewish language. He was raised in the educational system of his day. He ate the food. He participated in the holidays. He went to the parties. He learned the music. He entered into a culture and if we’re to follow the example of Jesus, then we enter into our culture. Just like Paul entered into his culture. That’s what it means to say that Jesus incarnated. That God became a man. He entered into a culture. He participated in the feasts and the festivals and the food and the music and the literature and the culture of his day and we are to do the same. And I know some of you right now are saying, “But what about worldliness? What about worldliness?” Well, let me talk to you about this. There are three aspects of culture when we enter in and we must figure out, “Is this something that I can receive? Is this something I must reject or is this something that I can redeem?”
So we’ll start with the first category. There are things in culture we have to reject as Bible-believing Christians. We don’t have Christian drug addicts. We’re not Christian drug dealers. Right, if you are, that’s a sin, knock it off, right? We don’t have like you know, Crystal Meth Users for Christ, right? To the crackheads, I became a crackhead. That’s not what he’s talking about, right? I smoked a bowl and told ‘em about the Lord, you know, and they all saw Him. That’s not what he’s talking about! Right, we just don’t! We don’t have Christian drug dealers. We don’t have Christian axe murders. There are certain things we just can’t tolerate. Right, we reject those things as evil and incongruent with the teachings of the Bible. Obviously.
There are certain things we can receive, right? Some things are perfectly good to be – you know, in our city – I’ll give you an example – we don’t wanna just confront all the hopes of the city, we want to co-op as many of the hopes of this city as we can. So in our city there’s, for example, a great love of creation. Recycle, be a good steward, care about clean water and fresh air and protected land and, and there’s a big concern for the environment. Is that something we should reject or receive as a value as God’s people? Should receive it. Say, “You know what? We know who made this place. He’s great! This was a gift He gave us! If you like the gift, you should meet the giver!” Right? We don’t worship creation – like 1 Romans talks about – we worship creator, but is it okay for God’s people to have environmental consciousness that says we like the planet, we feel like we should take nice care of it. Cool! We can receive that as a value. That doesn’t mean we worship creation, like hyper-environmentalists, it does mean that we steward creation because it’s a gift given to us from creator.
Other things we can receive. Our city loves music and we receive music as a value that we embrace. Yeah, we could run shows, concerts. We love our sound system. We love our bands. We love music. We love the arts. We love creativity – whether or not it’s Christian – if it’s done well, we celebrate it. And so we can receive creativity and the arts and music. We can receive that as something that is congruent with Biblical values. God’s not only creator, he’s creative.
Other things, like technology. We embrace technology. We love technology. I mean, I think it is great that the Internet exists. The Internet is nothing more than an opportunity for good or evil. You could put porno up or sermons. You can do whatever you want. So we embrace technology. Praise be to God because you know what? It’s about how many people, as many as possible. So if the Internet and video and audio and podcasting and vodcasting and books and booklets and concerts and whatever else we can give away and as far as we can throw the seed of the Gospel, we say, “Praise be to God!” so that as many people as possible learn about Jesus.
There is so much that we can receive. There’s a deep value in our city for community. We have the answer to that longing. Sin separates people. Jesus takes away sin and it’s about the ministry about reconciliation. There’s a concern for the poor and the weak and the widowed and the orphaned and that’s a Biblical value that people have because they’re made in God’s image and likeness, whether or not they know Him. And so serving at the mission in the soup kitchen and adopting kids and taking them out of foster care and helping those in need are Biblical values and we don’t just need Christian organizations, we need Christians on mission in organizations that don’t know Jesus bringing the love of Jesus into those organizations to help make them better because we’re all working together to make a great city and we believe that people are made in the image and likeness of God, so they have dignity, value and worth. And so we treat them with dignity, value, and worth. There are things we must reject, but there is so much that we can receive.
And thirdly, there are things that must be redeemed. That even of themselves, they’re not good or evil, they’re opportunities for good or evil and they were things that were used for good, perhaps that one time but then were corrupted by sin and now used for evil – they need not be avoided or abandoned, they need be redeemed – for example, sex. We’re not against sex; we’re for sex within heterosexual marriage. That’s the redemption of sex. We’re not against alcohol. We’re against drunkenness and causing others to stumble. That’s how we redeem alcohol. We’re not against money. In this world, people love money and use people. Our value is you love people and use money. That’s the redemption of money. Money is an opportunity to do good for others and to see the Gospel go forth in word and deed. And we redeem sex and money and power. We redeem family and marriage and child-rearing. We redeem those things. We are in the process, of a church, of redeeming singleness. Singleness doesn’t not mean that you’re out – without a family. You’re part of the church family. Singleness does not mean you’re in a life stage where you’re just waiting to get married. Singleness is following the example of Jesus and being on mission and doing common good and bringing the Gospel to the city. So we’re in the process of redeeming so much – music, food, sex, power, alcohol, gender.
We’re about redeeming those things and here’s what happens. We get shot by both sides because the Religious Right and the fundamentalists and the Bible-believing conservatives who we love are all about contend! Contend! Contend! Contend! Contend! Okay, great! Now what are you gonna do with that great Gospel? Nothing. Nothing. They’ll get through the pit bulls, break the door down, come to our church. And the Religious Left and the liberals – they love us and hate us as do the Right. The Right loves us because we – “We love your doctrine! Jesus! Bible! Sin! Scripture! Heaven! Hell! Yes we hate the band. Why are they smoking?!
And so they love our doctrine, they hate our style. “Oh, the – the architecture’s bad, the – you know, the – the whole thing is about – it’s just too much like the world!” And the Religious Left is like, “We love your band. We love your architecture. We – even some of the weird humor is okay, and they’re all smoking, which is cool, and occasionally they have a beer, so we love ya. Do you gotta talk about Jesus and the Bible and sin and Heaven and Hell? Isn’t that sort of offensive?” Well, if we don’t we’re offending God. So, yeah. We’re choosing between offending the city and offending God. So, sometimes, we have to offend the city. Not because we hate the city, because we love the city and the city’s wrong. We’re just offensive. Welcome to my world.
So, what happens is we reject – I should say or embrace – both elements of Christianity. The liberals who wanna be contextualized but, “Oh, we forgot the Gospel,” and the conservatives who say, “We got the Gospel; we just have no idea what’s going on outside of our church in the greater culture.” To follow the example of Paul, we must know the Gospel, contend for the Gospel. Once we have a pure Gospel, then contextualize the Gospel, so that as many people as possible can hear about Jesus, fall in love with Jesus, have their sin forgiven by Jesus, meet Jesus and be agents of cultural transformation filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.
And Paul says, “I do all of this for the sake of the Gospel.” For the sake of the Gospel! This is what I live and breathe and eat and sleep and dream and pray, and it’s so frustrating to deal with the Right, who loves our doctrine, hates our practice, and to deal with the Left, who hates our doctrine but loves our practice. And I – it is just my prayer that the whole city would get on mission of contending and contextualizing the Gospel. That there wouldn’t be this liberal syncretism and there wouldn’t be this conservative separatism. That there would be missionaries sent out from every church into the culture, into their places of work, their dorms, their apartments, their homes, their schools, their clubs, their social networks, to what – to bring the truth and the love of Jesus to the whole city to win as many people as possible. That is not possible if we hide our light under a bushel. It is not possible if we go out into the world and do not bring the light of Christ.
For all of this to happen, Paul says that this is a deeply personal matter for us, each individually. That we must each evaluate our own life. We must each ask ourselves some hard questions. He does that beginning in Verse 24. “Do you not know that in a race, all the runners run but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore, I do not run like a man running aimlessly. I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I’ve preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” Here’s what he’s saying – you and I, each are living our lives and it is a race. It is to be lived with passion and enthusiasm and vigor. It is to be lived with all of the enthusiasm that God intends for us. That only comes out of one place – meeting Jesus. Whatever else you try, I assure you of this – eventually, you will just grow weary, lose heart, burn out, give up. Have you met Jesus? Do you know Jesus? Do you love Jesus? Have you confessed your sins to Jesus?
See, we all come in here from different places. Some of you are not Christians. You say, “Why am I here?” To become a Christian. Lemme make that as plain as I can. God brought you here to become a Christian. That’s why you’re here. Say are you sure? Yes. That’s why we all showed up so we could pray you into the family, absolutely. You are here, if you are not a Christian, to become a Christian. To realize that you are like someone who is running blind. You don’t know where you’re going. You are like someone who is fighting and just beating the air. You do not know where to put your energy, your focus, your life, you are confused. That explains your despair. That explains your frustration. That explains your confusion. That explains why God brought you here. To meet Jesus. To know that your life is a race and it’s a race to Jesus. So out on the horizon, you must have Jesus. That is your finish line. That is where you are going. That life is a race and we’re all to run. Some of us are not Christians so we are as one who is running blindly in circles. Some of us, however, are just absolute jerks and pit bulls and self-appointed little neatniks and nitpick theologians for Christ; and we’re over on the Religious Right, just looking for something to chew on. We’re over on the Theological Right, just looking for someone to bite. And I’m not saying that you don’t contend for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but if all you do is contend, you’re a sinner. You’re a Pharisee, you’re a self-righteous hypocrite because you don’t love anyone. You love to bite people and that’s not the same as loving them.
You’re a great theologian and a bad missionary. You’ve memorized the words of Paul but you have not followed in the example of Paul. And some of you who are over on the Left. You’re hip, you’re cool, you’re trendy, you smoke, you recycle, right? You wear vintage clothes, right? You’re cool. Congratulations. Nice hair. You look great! But have you contended for the Gospel of Christ? When your friends say, “I think all religions are the same,” you’re like “Yeah.” No, lean over the plate and take one for the team. Have a little courage. Say, “No, no, Jesus is different.” “Oh really? Are you judging me?” “Kinda.” Yep, here we go. Here we go. You know, you got a little courage, contend for the faith. “Oh, I think everybody goes to Heaven.” Do you want everybody in Heaven? “Well, no.” Well, let’s talk about that.
It all – some of you are over on the Left and you’re so cool that you’re more cool than Christian. You’re hip and trendy and super fly. Congratulations. But do you contend for the faith? Now you’ve contextualized, well, you’re a hip, trendy, cool Christian with relationships, lost people, friends you go to the clubs, right? I mean you order the right martinis, you smoke the good cigars. Great. But do you love Jesus? Do you know Jesus? Does anybody know that you love Jesus? Are you willing to come out of the closet? Everybody else is.
And so some of us have to repent of the fact that we’re just sinners who don’t know Jesus and become Christians today and give our lives to Jesus. Some of us need to repent of the fact that we love biting people and don’t love loving them and some of us need to repent of the fact that we’re super fly, hip, trendy and cool and we don’t contend for the faith. And that this race that is marked before us, this life that God has called us to lead, leads no time for us to be non-Christians, to be just people on the Right, fighting, or people on the Left, sinning. Neither of those options for God’s people is a viable race, they both get you off track. You wanna stay down the middle, you wanna run to Jesus? You gotta fix your eyes on Jesus. You gotta keep your focus on Jesus and what he says is you need to discipline yourself like an athlete, right? How many of you used to be an athlete and you graduated like me, it’s been a few years and you decided one day, you’d just go out and play a sport. You thought, “I could do that,” and you woke up the next day to realize you pulled everything in your body, stuff you didn’t even know you had, right? And you realize I can’t compete well, unless I train well. Unless I’m disciplined. It’s the same with your soul, right? You can’t run your race if you don’t pray, regularly. You can’t run your race if you’re not in a community group and accountability with God’s people. You can’t run your race will if you don’t read your Bible; if you don’t repent of sin; if you don’t learn and grow about Jesus; spend time listening to Him in the Word; spend time talking to Him in prayer; spend time learning about Him with others who are walking with Him. And some of you are like poorly-disciplined athletes to where you run for a little bit as a Christian, you’re like “Oh, geeze, I give up!” And you go out drinking, smoking, breaking the commandments. Eventually you feel bad and then you come back and say, “Okay, I’m gonna get serious today. I’m gonna run. I’m gonna read my Bible for a whole day.” And then you’re like, “Ah pfffft!” You know, “I give up. I give up.”
And what Paul is saying is that life is to be run with discipline. Life is to be lived with discipline and I know that many of you, that does not sound good. But do you wanna compete like an athlete? Do you wanna perform like a musician? Musicians practice. Athletes train. Christians pray, repent of sin, read their Bible, live in community. They do so every day, habitually disciplining themselves to run well. Because ultimately, at the end of life – now in the middle, everyone will give you praise and everyone will give you criticism. People will tell you you’re doing fine. Other people will tell you you’re not doing fine but at the end – that’s where the judge sits, Paul says. “You and I will live this life, we will run this race and at the end, we will all stand before Jesus Christ.” And Jesus Christ will judge us and he’ll judge our life, and he will tell us how we did. For some, he will say, “Depart from me, I never knew you. We had no relationship. You and I were not connected.” And you will go to Hell. Forever separated from Jesus. We want that for none of you. I’ve heard people say, “I don’t like Hell.” Then don’t go there. We would strongly recommend that option. “Hell scares me.” It’s supposed to. That’s the whole point. Hell’s hot, forever’s a long time. Torment stinks, as a general rule. That is hell – if you don’t like Hell, don’t go to Hell. Give your sin to Jesus. He paid your penalty. He died your death. He was your substitute. You need Jesus. We don’t want any of you to stand before Jesus and have Him say, “Depart from me, I never knew you.”
And some of you will stand before Jesus and you will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Nice run. You love me. You walked with me. You followed the spirit. You were empowered by Grace. You read your Bible. You prayed. You walked with other people who love me. You kept your eyes focused on me. You waited for that one day when I would judge you and you did all that not because you had to but because you get to. Because you love me. You wanna be like me. You wanna be with me and it is my approval that matters exclusively to you. Well done.” And then you’ll enter into your rest. And so for those of us who are here today, I believe we each have our own sin to repent of. If you’re not a Christian, you need to repent of your sin, your individualism, your spirituality, your self-righteousness, your hypocrisy, your false notions of God and you need to give yourself to Jesus Christ. That’s why we’re here. The good news is He loves you. He lived without sin. He died for your sin. He rose to forgive sin; to embrace you; to love you; to save you from sin and death and Hell.
You need Jesus. If you’re the contender, you need to repent if you only contend and you do not contextualize and for those of you who contextualize but do not contend, you need to repent of your unwillingness to contend for the faith in the city that does not know Jesus and the handful of us who do cannot be compromised in our message. And we repent of all of our sin, including our religious and spiritual sin and we give it to Jesus. We ask Him to forgive us. To empower us to talk to our friends who are struggling with sexual sin without taking them to bed. To talk to our friends who are struggling with money without taking advantage of them, but helping them and giving them gifts and loving them. By being the kind of disciplined people who can follow the example of Jesus for the service of neighbor, friend and enemy. The benefit of the common good and the building of a great city.
When you’re ready and you’ve repented of sin, as Christians – only those of you who are Christians – we invite you to communion. That is where we remember the body and blood of Jesus. He died and rose for us, corporately and individually. Then, we give our tithes and offerings. If you’re a visitor, not a Christian, do not give. We love you. We don’t want your money. We want you to walk with Jesus. That’s what we care about and then we’ll sing and we’ll celebrate because we are safe from sin to worship. To worship God, to love God, to honor God. To pray to Jesus. To sing to Jesus. To run to Jesus. To be with Jesus To be like Jesus. And then we will leave here as missionaries and we will scatter all over this region knowing that we’re on divine appointment and mission. To love people. To serve people. To contend for the faith with those who are doing it harm and to contextualize the Gospel to those who are willing to hear the good news of Jesus. To win, how many? As many as possible.
Father God, I thank you for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I thank you that it is real, it is true, it is powerful, it is effective. It can melt the most hardened heart. It can change the most closed mind. It can transform the most corrupted life. Jesus, we love the good news of the Gospel. That you died for our sins according to Scripture. That you were buried and that three days later, you rose according to Scripture. Jesus, we never get sick of hearing that you love us. That our problem is sin and that our answer is you. Jesus, may we as a people believe the Gospel. May no one leave here without believing the Gospel. God, I ask you would send the Holy Spirit to open hearts and minds to receive Jesus Christ as Lord, God and Savior now. God, may we always contend for the Gospel. May we not have anyone above Jesus. May we not have any authority above Scripture. May we not say that there is any problem but sin and may we never say that there is any solution but the Gospel. But God, may we take the Gospel and not just enjoy it but may we contextualize it. May we find creative ways so that all races, all cultures, all generations, all peoples in all parts of our great city would hear about Your fame and goodness and glory. That they would run to the Lord Jesus. That they would spend their lives following hot on His trail. Seeking to be with Him forever. Living exclusively for His approval. God, that’s what we want. As many as possible. Through all means possible for the sake of the Gospel. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Paul provides one of the most succinct summaries of the gospel in all of Scripture. He also speaks of our need to contend for its accuracy and contextualize for its availability, while being continually changed by its transforming power.