When you change to become more Christ like - where is your focus? Are you just changing the outside or are you changing the inside?
"Happy Sabbath, and good morning everyone."
When I was a young boy, growing up, we lived in a house in Indianapolis. Now I had my own bedroom, and it was up to me to take care of my bedroom. Now, I hope this doesn't shock any of you, but I wasn't always the neatest little boy. In fact, I would venture to say that from time to time my room would get quite messy. Now not the kind of messy where you're going to find food in there or like those horror shows that we've seen; laundry all over every place. It wasn't messy like that, but it was just piles of stuff. Oh, you know, I had papers, I had books, and all sorts of things that were important to me, all over the floor, all over the desk if you could find it.
I had my own little system that I used to deal with this mess. You know, there were little islands on the floor. There were little places where you could see what color the carpet was, and when I wanted to get to my room I would hop precariously from island to island to get to the closet or wherever I wanted to be.
And about once a year, or maybe twice a year, if my mother had the stomach for it, she would make me "clean" my room, and those were probably some of the most painful recurring experiences of my childhood. (Laughter) You know, I would do a pretty good job of it. I tried, I would work hard. I would get things tidied up. I would make neater stacks, you know, stacks that looked deliberate. You know, I would even get to the point where I would tell mom, I think you can bring back in the vacuum cleaner.
And one time it was so clean, and I was so proud of myself – I must have been about eight or nine years old - I wrote a declaration for it; this big declaration proclaiming that I had the "Cleanest Room in America" And I made my mom sign it before I let her come in, like it was an affidavit, before I gave her a tour it of how nice it looked. You know, that was a big event for me, and somebody then could walk into my room probably during the five to seven days after I cleaned it, and they would agree, "Yes, that is a clean room."
But what did that clean room say about me? You know, many of you who have children, who are children now, or have been children previously, you probably already know the conclusion to this story. My room looked wonderful unless you did one of two things: if you lifted up the bedspread, and looked underneath the bed, or if you dared to open the closet, (laughter), you know the situation in my room, it looked like it had been improved many times over, it was at some level a deception.
You know, I'd even fooled myself when I did that into thinking that I could make this look professional, like an office or something if I just worked hard at it. But until I found a way to deal with all that junk that was under my bed waiting to explode, or the closet door that I couldn't even open to get to my clothing, there wasn't going to be a lasting change unless I took care of those things.
I have another story to start out with this morning. My wife and I, we like to go antique shopping. We don't really have a budget for antiques, so we're not antique shoppers, but we do pick up some small things now and then. A couple of years ago, my wife wanted to get an antique desk; something that wouldn't take up a lot of room and had a little drawer that would open down that she could use. So we took a few weekends and visited a few different antique malls and small shops looking for something that fit our desired measurements and our criteria. Some of them we found when we were shopping are what antique folks would call "primitives", and there were others that were gorgeous and really expensive, and then there were some that were falling apart.
One of the pieces that we looked at, we thought, "This is going to be beautiful." It had a beautiful finish. It looked like someone had taken the time and restored the wood. It looked like it was something beautiful for our living room. But that was, until I decided to open one of the drawers and look inside. The drawer was falling apart. It was rotten and disgusting. It was truly an antique. You know, someone had spent a great deal of time trying to restore that outside. You know, re-varnishing, making it look like a show piece, but they'd only done work on the outside.
Maybe whoever did that, maybe they had enough space in their house that they would have furniture just for how it looks, but my wife actually planned to use it, put stuff in the drawers. So the sanding and varnishing they'd done on the outside of the desk, it didn't really change what that desk was on the inside. It didn't change the age of it.
It is easy to be fooled by outward appearances. Why, that desk had fooled me. I was already calling Katherine over, and "Look, check out what a great bargain this one is?" Until I took that deeper look, and the cleanliness of my bedroom, it might have fooled you if you had visited my house during those five to seven days while it still kind of looked nice before it had self-destructed again.
You know, I've heard stories of people who joined our fellowship who had a very strong first impression of who we were based on our outward appearance. You know, they think, "What do people in this church do? What do these people wear? What do these people eat?"
We often think that way because that's how we "fit in" to a culture. The actions and the conduct of the people around us are cues to us, and we will often try our best to conform our actions, to conform our behaviors to what we see around us.
Often there are very good reasons why people will act or behave in a certain way, so following that outward behavior is often a smart idea. However, we all have to dig deeper. We have to understand their rationale.
I think history has shown us that many people who have joined our fellowship spent a lot of effort to conform outwardly to the rest of us. I will use the example of my wife's former congregation before we got married. The people there, you know, had obeyed the letter of the law for many years—they would not have touched unclean meat or sneaked a glass on the Day of Atonement if their life had depended on it.
But in 1995, once their church headquarters announced to them that those laws were done away, they decided that year that they were going to cater their Night to Be Much Observed meal with shrimp and with pork. And on the Day of Atonement, as my wife's family came to services, they were pushing coffee and donuts to people, and saying, "Isn't this great?" You know, rejoicing in the name of freedom, how deeply had those beliefs that they had been practicing for so many years been embedded inside them, so that they could conform so quickly to a new way of doing things? Had they been trying to change only the outside in the hopes that changes on their inside would follow?
When we want to change to become more Christ-like, where is our focus? To change, should we work on ourselves from the outside, or should we work on ourselves from the inside?
We'll take the example of a sculptor. A sculptor will start with a big block of something, something hard—stone, maybe its marble, or those big blocks of ice they carve, or in Wisconsin, maybe it's a block of cheese. You know, the sculptor begins chiseling away at that block, chiseling off large pieces. He has a vision of what it's supposed to look like, and begins to refines it into what he wants it to be, and that's a process of working from the outside in because what he's left with when he's done is still that same block of cheese. It just has a different exterior on it.
Now is that the way that Christ works with us to transform our lives? Does He chisel away at our flaws from the outside? No, God's plan to form us starts with our innermost parts. He puts His Spirit into us, and changes our hearts and He changes our minds. Our outward appearance, then, and our behavior becomes a reflection of that inward change.
It comes down to two concepts that start with the letter "C", our character, which is on the inside, and our conduct on the outside. Our character is really shaped on the inside; it's our inward self, it's our attitudes, it's our beliefs about things. In contrast, our conduct, oh, that's the way that we act; it's our outward self; it's the way that we appear to others.
Well as Christians, if we focus on changing our conduct, well, we change what we do. We begin to conform to those behaviors that we think are appropriate. This approach of change from the outside to the inside, while it's not without merit, it has a limited chance for success. Changing your conduct is not likely to change your character as a byproduct.
But if, instead, we focus on changing our character, we change our attitudes, we change who we are on our inward being. If we can successfully bring out a change a change on the outside will follow. Our conduct will be in line with our attitudes. It's that transformation from the inside out that God wants us to work on, and that's why the title for today's sermon is "Be an Inside-Out Christian".
Let's examine what it looks like if we take the wrong approach and work from the outside in. One of the aspects of focusing on conforming in our outward behavior is that that culture can create legalism.
When I was preparing this sermon, I ran across an article I had read a few months ago about a group of Jews who wanted to expand what they called an "eruv" (spelled e-r-u-v) in their community. I found this whole process fascinating, and wanted to take a few minutes to read an excerpt from the web site of the Pacific Jewish Center that describes, what is an eruv? And why it's useful for them. I hadn't heard of one of these things before, and if you haven't, you'll probably find it interesting too.
"An eruv is a mechanism of Jewish law that permits "carrying" on the Jewish Sabbath… Under Jewish law, performing work on the Sabbath… is forbidden. Work includes 'carrying'– which encompasses pushing, pulling, lifting, dragging, throwing, etc. – in public. Thus, young children who cannot walk and must be pushed in strollers, as well as the parents who care for them, are confined to their private homes on the Sabbath. Elderly or disabled men and women may not carry canes or be wheeled in wheelchairs and people requiring medication cannot take it with them. Less seriously, observant Jews may not bring food to one another's homes, play with balls or Frisbees in public parks, or carry toys or books.
Continuing from their website: "Recognizing these difficulties, rabbinic authorities thousands of years ago created a mechanism by which observant Jews could carry in public: an eruv. If an area is symbolically enclosed, it becomes, under Jewish law, a 'private'area in which carrying is permitted. Many areas are naturally enclosed in an eruv: hotel resort properties bounded by fences, gated communities, and even Yosemite Valley (ringed entirely by mountains). When natural or pre-existing boundaries do not entirely encircle an area, Jewish law permits the completion of the enclosure by erecting symbolic twines along poles to close the gaps in natural boundaries."
So, looking at some of these pictures, it looks like what we have today in many towns are 20-foot metal poles (street poles, telephone poles) with 200-pound test fishing line strung between them, encompassing neighborhoods or even in some cases small towns.
In the website, they say that, "Eruvs exist throughout the United States including in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Boston. In Washington, D.C., Capitol Hill and the White House actually sit within an eruv... Wherever they exist, eruvs have enabled observant Jews to more fully express their religious commitment and have facilitated greater enjoyment and observance of the Sabbath – especially by young families and the elderly."
So, as you read through this, it appears that these eruvs are very serious matters to these people because if that eruv were to be breached—like, say, for instance, a car knocked down one of the poles that was holding that string, and the string would snap, well, then, all of a sudden "carrying" on the Sabbath becomes illegal. The Rabbinical Council of California has committed itself to the ongoing supervision and checking of the Los Angeles eruv every week.
They state on their website: "Every week our crew of Rabbis inspects the complete eruv looking for any breaks." The web site for the LA Eruv, laeruv.com, has photos where you can look at "Rabbis in the Sky" doing their helicopter surveillance. They say nobody should use the eruv unless they call their hotline or check the website to see that it has been inspected. In checking the site this week, the site reported, The Eruv is up!" They check it every week.
What do we see from that example? And how would you like the feeling of knowing that whether you walked outside with a cane today might be a sin depending upon whether a piece of fishing line two or ten miles away might be broken?
It occurs to me that nowhere in that observance, nowhere in that belief system does the heart, does the attitude of the believer come into play. But someone could be devout if they remember when they went outside to call, or check a hotline.
Let's turn to Matthew 23. In this passage, Jesus Christ is addressing the crowds and His disciples.
Matthew 23:25 Matthew 23:25Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.
American King James Version× – He says, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also." See! He says cleaning the inside also cleans the outside.
Verse 27 - "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness.
Verse 28 – "Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness."
Is our Christianity only about "appearing righteous" to men? Do we concentrate sometimes more on appearance than we do on our attitude? Do we dwell on the conduct, and not the character? Now we have looked briefly into how orthodox Jews keep the Sabbath, but how do we keep the Sabbath? Now what does it look like? Do we have expectations ourselves of what is and what is not permissible on this day?
We need to be sure that whatever we believe, we don't adopt the same type of legalism that the Jews have, and we shouldn't be judgmental of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Each of us in the church do not only have a different level of physical maturity, we all have different levels of spiritual maturity. So we shouldn't expect every member of this congregation to have the same outward behavior. Now this is because our outward behavior is a reflection of inner attitudes that we're still trying to develop and make manifest as they develop in that way.
In our Church, I think we all come from a standpoint of understanding the beauty of the Sabbath, and that it is a commanded observance. I'm not questioning that part at all; but the Bible doesn't give us a specific list of dos and don'ts about how to keep it. Instead, we are given the command and we're given the principles that underlie it.
Clearly, we all intend to observe the Sabbath, but what it looks like in our actions, the things that we do, they might differ slightly. If I went to your home on a Sabbath day, you know, there is a good chance that I might notice and discover that there's something that you do, that you permit that we don't do, in our family, on the Sabbath. And if you came to my home, you would probably discover that there are things that we might do on the Sabbath that your family wouldn't do. Should we judge each other?
When we do judge these types of superficial differences, and make it a conformance issue—then we develop a culture of legalism. Once that ball starts to roll, it's really hard to stop. There can become all sorts of unspoken litmus tests that people ask themselves: How's that family raising their children? Do their kids wear suits and ties to church? Do they watch television on the Sabbath? Do they comb their hair to the left or do they comb their hair to the right? Do they think like Republicans or do they think like Democrats? When you develop a culture where there is only one mold, or one pattern that people are allowed to fit, at some point you will begin attract people that want to come just to fit into that mold that looks good to us.
However, managing our actions so that they fit a mold, or pattern of behavior is not what's meant by becoming like Jesus Christ. We can fool people with our Christianity. "Now maybe I can do all the right things. Maybe I can top it off with a smile. Maybe in my conversation I can quote verses, and I can pray with people. Maybe I can look like I'm a Christian who has a great relationship with God." You can fool people into thinking that you have it all together, but you can't fool God.
Let's turn to I Samuel 16. We have to realize that what we see going on on the outside is an incomplete picture. We're gonna look here at the episode where God was going to have Samuel anoint the king for the nation of Israel to succeed Saul. Samuel had gathered Jesse's sons and begins to examine them.
I Samuel 16:6 - So it was, when they came, that he looked at Eliab and said, "Surely the Lord's anointed is before Him!"
Verse 7 - But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as a man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."
Eliab most likely looked the part of a king. He was probably tall and handsome, with good grooming and manners. But those weren't the criteria that God was interested in—Samuel could not tell just by looking at these sons of Jesse, and trying to see which one God was working with.
When we evaluate ourselves, what measuring stick do we use? Do we judge ourselves against other people? Maybe we think, "You know, I'm okay because I'm not as bad as so-and-so at church. That guy, he has really got problems, and the problems I have are minor compared to that." Or maybe we think something differently, "There's no way I can ever get my life together as Mrs. What's-her-name over there. I don't know how she does it—she must have the perfect life. Just look at her and her family." You know, It's hard not to compare ourselves at some level with our peers and the people around us. But that can't be our guide, that's not how we measure ourselves.
For all we know, that guy who really has problems may be much more humble than us. Maybe he has learned to rely on God through all sorts of difficult situations in his life, and what we see on the outside doesn't reflect that. Or maybe Mrs. What's-her-name, maybe she's someone that's troubled with a lot with self-doubt. Maybe she wants to cry out for help but she just doesn't know how. Well, the point is that it's foolish to judge ourselves by measuring against other people that we know, or other people that we don't know.
It shouldn't come as a surprise, but that measuring stick which we compare ourselves with is Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 4:13 Ephesians 4:13Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ:
American King James Version× describes this goal, where Paul wrote that we should "…all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;"
If we line ourselves up next to that measuring stick, we're all going to find places where our lives need to change so that we can put on God's character. That is the whole purpose of our transformation—that's why we are Christians, to put off the old man, and to change to become more like Jesus Christ.
So when we find something in our lives that doesn't measure up to Jesus Christ, how do we begin to make changes? How do we remedy that situation? How do we make changes, not just in our behavior but a change in who we are?
Let's turn to Matthew 5 and read some of the words of Jesus Christ from the Sermon on the Mount. These verses should give us a better feel for how and where to look for what needs to change in our character.
Matthew 5:20 Matthew 5:20For I say to you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
American King James Version×- Jesus Christ said, "For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.
Verse 21 - "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.'
Verse 22 – "But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment…."
You know, I can look at my outward behavior, and I can do a quick tally: how many people have I murdered over the past twelve months? It's not that many. But does that mean that I've got everything together and that I'm doing a good job because I am following the command not to murder people? Well, it's a good start, but Jesus is bringing out to us that it's not only the action that will be judged, but also the attitude.
So I haven't murdered anyone, but have I become angry with a brother? But now those numbers are getting a little bit harder to count. I do get angry with people from time to time, and usually it's for unimportant reasons. It seems like it's easier for me to let go of anger and forgive people for big trespasses that I see than to stop being angry about these little nagging things that happen day after day.
So if I want to conform, if I want to conform my actions to the command against murder, what is my approach? Should I focus only stopping that physical act? Well, if so, then maybe what I do with my physical life is to make sure that I don't have access to a gun, poison, a rope, a candlestick, a lead pipe—you know, anything I could make use of to harm someone. And by putting those things out of my reach, if I just can't get to them, you know, it would become much more difficult for me to physically injure someone else.
But would that outward conformance to the law—would my abstaining from murder—actually change my heart inside? I doubt it would. Controlling my conduct doesn't change my character. However, if I begin working from the inside—let's say that I find a way to control that anger. Let's say that when people get on my nerves that I can find some kind of outlet, some kind of a way to approach the situation that doesn't raise my blood pressure.
If I can change my attitude, through God's help, then without any anger, without any malice toward others I don't even need to worry about the command to murder. Because I will have changed my inward attitudes, there is no reason why my outward actions would not reflect that inward transformation.
Continuing now in Matthew 5:27 Matthew 5:27You have heard that it was said by them of old time, You shall not commit adultery:
American King James Version×- "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery.'
Verse 28 – "But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart."
Here again, Jesus is explaining to us this concept that the inward change that needs to take place so that we can avoid the act of adultery. It begins in our minds—we have to remove any trace of lust that we have in our thoughts. For this and for all of God's commandments, what is necessary is an understanding and obedience to the 'spirit of the law,'and not just the 'letter of the law'.
So while it might be simple for me to stand up here and state how we need to focus how we are to change inwardly, it's a much harder job than changing who we are outwardly. Our feelings and attitudes that we have, they run deep and are part of who we are, a part of our very nature. And God knows that we can't make those changes using only our own power, our own will.
That's why God has given us His Holy Spirit, so that God's law can be within us instead of just outside us. A familiar verse in Jeremiah 31:33 Jeremiah 31:33But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, said the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
American King James Version×, God describes how He will help His people to achieve righteousness.
Jeremiah 31:33 Jeremiah 31:33But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, said the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
American King James Version× – He says, "But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people."
Let's turn to Romans 2. Jesus has called us to change from the inside-out. We are inside-out Christians. Romans 2:28 Romans 2:28For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh:
American King James Version×- For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh;
Verse 29 - but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, (in the Spirit), not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.
In the context of what I am talking about today, I might paraphrase this verse to say "For he is not a Christian who just acts like one on the outside, but he is a Christian who has Christ's character and spirit in his heart."
Circumcision was an outward sign that could be used to judge who was or who was not a Jew. How do we look at the outward signs of other people—people we may be acquainted with either in or out of our fellowship?
If you see somebody, and looking at their actions, maybe they're wasting their money, they're using inappropriate language, they have poor child discipline, or maybe drink a little too much alcohol, and how do we look at that person?
When we look at the person, one of the first things that we need to keep in mind is that we are also sinners needing forgiveness. We need to remain mindful of our own sin. What might be something easy to point out as somebody else's problem might be trivial when compared with our own. Let's turn to Luke 6 and let's look at what Jesus Christ had to say about judgment.
Luke 6:37 Luke 6:37Judge not, and you shall not be judged: condemn not, and you shall not be condemned: forgive, and you shall be forgiven:
American King James Version× – He said, "Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.
Verse 38 – "Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you."
And moving ahead to verse 41 - "And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye?
Verse 42 – "Or how can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,'when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother's eye."
These verses don't tell us not to remove that speck that we see, but that we need to check ourselves first. We need to be mindful of our own sin and our own attitudes. The other benefit of removing the plank from our eye is that Jesus said we will "see clearly".
When we look at someone's behavior and we think about approaching them, it's important that we "see clearly". While someone's outward behavior may give us an impression and may give us clues about what's going on with that person, those clues can be easily mis-read and that impression that we have about that person may be unfounded.
James said "let every man be swift to hear, and slow to speak". It's easy to reach a wrong conclusion if you start out based on faulty assumptions. We should begin by assuming that our brothers and sisters in the church have good intentions rather than bad.
And it is really the intentions of our brothers and sisters that we should be examining, along with their attitudes. If they seem to have good intentions and good attitudes then it is probably in our best interest to look past some of the surface imperfections. Nobody is going to do things exactly the way you would want to do them.
But on the other hand, if you listen to that person and you dig a little bit deeper, and you find out that their behavior is the result of some bad attitudes, maybe some misguided intentions that they have then it is our responsibility to step in and do something about it. Now this usually means that it isn't just once that somebody slipped up and made a bad decision, this would be a case where there is a pattern of disobedience and disrespect for God's way.
Let's turn to Matthew 18:12 Matthew 18:12How think you? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, does he not leave the ninety and nine, and goes into the mountains, and seeks that which is gone astray?
American King James Version× – Jesus Christ says, "What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying?
Verse 13 – "And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray.
Verse 14 – "Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish."
God wants the sheep who have strayed to be brought back into the fold. Sometimes God might use us to accomplish this.
Continuing in Verse 15 - "Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.
Verse 16 - "But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that 'by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.'
Verse 17 – And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector."
This is a three-stage process that Christ is talking about here. It starts out personal, man-to-man. If that doesn't work we might have to move it to a small group, and then if there is still no change in that person, maybe the entire church has to get involved. You know, Paul faced this kind of situation in Corinth where there was a situation where it became well-known that a member was having his father's wife. There are some things that we should not put up with in our midst in the church.
Sometimes it's easy to point out another person's failings because some sins are going to be more public than others. We have to keep in mind that just because someone's sin is public, it doesn't make it any worse in God's sight than a secret sin. All sins have the same consequence and require the same forgiveness. If you only sin privately, you have no reason to feel more righteous than someone whose sins cannot be hidden.
It's as Paul wrote to Timothy in I Timothy 5:24 – He said, "Some men's sins are clearly evident, preceding them to judgment, but those of some men follow later."
One of the problems with sins that are more public is that they can have effects that we can't help but notice for years to come. For instance, if someone had a child as a result of committing adultery or fornication, it's not easy to hide that. It's going to be a reminder for years to come. Some people have been arrested or have had to serve time in jail that are coming into the congregation. It may have been a one-time sin that has long since been repented of, but it can still cause us maybe to want to pass judgment.
It's human nature to think that way about other people. I have to admit that I struggle with letting go of this desire to judge myself better than some other people I knew for things that they might have done when I was a kid twenty years ago. I have to let that go. I have to see that person as God sees him, I have to assume that if this person is a Christian, then those mistakes of their past are truly mistakes of their past. It isn't fair for me to take those sins and hold them against that person and then turn around and expect them to forgive me for all of my problems.
The process of conversion takes time. As I mentioned, we are being transformed from the inside-out. Our expectations of how that outward behavior looks might be different for someone who is newly converted or a "babe in Christ" than what we might expect from someone who has been in the church many years or who has been appointed to a church leadership position. Because of we all have different stages of growth, we have to be careful not to create our own fixed list of rules for behavior that someone has to follow to "fit in" with us.
If someone looks like they don't "fit in," what is our response? Do we follow the lead of the Accuser, Satan? Do we look for ways to condemn or accuse that person because they aren't doing things the "right" way? Or do we follow the lead of the Holy Spirit and be a Helper, a Guide, an Encourager for that person? God wants us to extend grace to our brothers and sisters and look for opportunities to strengthen, to encourage them along that right path.
On the other hand, what about people who do look like they do "fit in"? Do we assume that simply because we see somebody that looks like they're doing the "right" things, that they're above reproach? When we're told not to judge one another there are two sides to that—not only should we not look on our brothers and sisters to condemn them, but we shouldn't judge our brothers and sisters as "righteous".
Jesus tells us in Matthew 7:15 Matthew 7:15Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
American King James Version× to "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, (they look righteous) but inwardly they are ravenous wolves."
Just because someone looks like another sheep in the pasture, that doesn't mean that they don't have a different nature maybe inside. These wolves tried to conform by becoming Christian from the outside in, instead from the inside-out.
I want to share a passage with you this morning that I ran across by John Ortberg in an article entitled "True (and False) Transformation." I thought this article was thought-provoking, hopefully it helps. Pastor John Ortberg reflects: (1)
"Conforming to boundary markers too often substitutes for authentic transformation."
He says, "The church I grew up in had its boundary markers. A prideful or a resentful pastor (he) could have kept his job, but if ever the pastor was caught smoking a cigarette, he would've been fired. Not because anyone in the church actually thought smoking was a worse sin than pride or resentment, but because smoking defined who was in our subculture and who wasn't—it was a boundary marker."
He continues, "As I was growing up, having a 'quiet time'became a boundary marker, a measure of spiritual growth. If someone had asked me about my spiritual life, I would immediately think, 'Have I been having regular and lengthy quiet time?'My initial thought was not, 'Am I growing more loving toward God and toward people?'
He says, "Boundary markers change from culture to culture, but the dynamic remains the same." And the last sentence of the book here is what I wanted to call your attention to.
He says, "If people do not experience authentic transformation, then their faith will deteriorate into a search for the boundary markers that masquerade as evidence of a changed life."
We've seen how outward appearances are a pretty poor way to measure ourselves and aren't a good way for us to measure other people. We have seen that Jesus Christ wants us to change who we are, to begin a transformation from the inside—to begin with the heart.
So how do we change inwardly? How do we work with the Holy Spirit to accomplish this transformation that God has called us to? I have four brief concepts that I wanted to bring out today that will help us to become Christians from the inside-out.
One of the ways that we can change and become a Christian from the inside-out is to have God's law in our hearts. Paul wrote "For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man" in Romans 7:22 Romans 7:22For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:
American King James Version×.
God's law needs to become a part of our very being. Let's look at II Corinthians 3:3, Paul says, "Clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, not written with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, (of) the heart."
One of the promises of the New Covenant is that God would put His law in our minds and He'd put it on our hearts. That's a promise that He's made for us. As we make decisions in life, we need to access that law. We need to know where is that in my part in life, so I can pull it up, pull up God's law and hold it up next to this choice that I need to make. Paul wrote a few chapters later in II Corinthians that we need to bring "…every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ" (II Corinthians 10:5).
If we are making the attitude changes beginning at our innermost parts, we will begin to bear the fruit of that transformation in our outward conduct. As Jesus said, "…For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matthew 12:34 Matthew 12:34O generation of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.
American King James Version×).
The second point is to put on a gentle and quiet spirit:
James 4:6 James 4:6But he gives more grace. Why he said, God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.
American King James Version×- "…God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble."
James says in James 4:10 James 4:10Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.
American King James Version× - "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up." So, a second area that we should focus on when becoming a Christian from the inside-out is to put on a gentle and a quiet spirit.
Let's turn to I Peter 3. Peter reminds us that it's not our outward appearance that matters, but what we are wearing on the inside that reveals our true beauty.
I Peter 3:3 – He writes, "Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—
Verse 4 – "rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God."
The Holy Spirit, if we yield to it, can help to temper our attitudes and we can temper our natural reactions that come from our carnal human spirit.
Paul wrote in Colossians 3:12 Colossians 3:12 Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering;
American King James Version×– He said, "Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering;
Verse 13 – "bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do."
We need to ensure that we are looking at life while wearing kindness, while wearing humility, meekness, and a gentle and quiet spirit. The Holy Spirit will help us to put on those attitudes and to bear that fruit in our lives as we change from the inside-out.
A third thing to keep in minds during our transformation is that we need to be persistent. Now this transformation that we're working on in our lives, it just doesn't happen all at once. As I mentioned earlier, each of us, we're at different levels of spiritual maturity. We have to process, to grow to perfection. We have to be steadfast. We have to finish that race that's been put before us.
In II Corinthians 4:16, Paul wrote, "Therefore we do not lose heart…."
We need to be persistent—we need to continue on, and not let discouragement overtake us. The Christian walk, this life that we're leading, can become difficult for us for many reasons, and we can get frustrated that I'm still caught in the same types of sins I was fighting five years ago, maybe ten years ago. But we can't lose heart; we can't give up—we have to continue to resist sin. We have to continue to fight the battle.
Verse 16 - "Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day." As we age, our bodies deteriorate—that "outward man" does perish, there's less that we can do. But that "inward man," who we are inside, that can continue to be grow, that can continue to be renewed day by day, and it continues to mature. We need to be persistent, and we need to let the renewal of our inward man transform us to help us to put on the character of Jesus Christ.
To become a Christian from the inside-out, a fourth thing that we need to do is to look for the root cause of sin. We have to look for the root cause of sin. If there are certain behaviors, certain sinful actions in your life that you want to control, how do you approach that? How do you approach the situation? How do we approach trying to prevent sinful behavior? Do we dig deeper and look at why we are engaging in that sinful behavior? How does our thought process work when we sin? What steps does our mind go through? What kind of patterns do we have that take maybe a thought that we had, and turn it into a deed, turn it into a sinful act? How many things can you look back at and think about, and what is the pattern of thought that went through my head, and how did that finally get to the stage where it finally culminated in sinful behavior.
I recommend that we take time, we need to sit down sometime quietly, and try to examine the root causes of the sins that plague us. We're gonna have much more success if we try to battle our problems when we deal with the root cause instead of the end result.
Let's turn to Psalm 51. It's a beautiful example of David looking deeply into his character when he repented for the sins he had committed:
Psalms 51:1 Psalms 51:1Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving kindness: according to the multitude of your tender mercies blot out my transgressions.
American King James Version× "…Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions." We want God to blot out, to expunge, to press the delete button, and remove our sins from the record.
Verse 2 - "Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin." David pictures himself here as being filthy, like a dish that needs to be thoroughly washed; inside and out, top and bottom. Our desire should be so cleansed that no trace of what defiles us will remain. This type of cleansing has to reach the innermost attitudes of our heart. By cleansing us, God can make us acceptable and make us useful.
Verse 3 – "For I acknowledge my transgressions, And my sin is always before me.
Verse 4 – "Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight—That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge.
Verse 5 – "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.
Verse 6 – "You desire truth in the inward parts, And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.
Verse 7 – "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Verse 8 – "Make me hear joy and gladness, That the bones You have broken may rejoice.
Verse 9 – "Hide Your face from my sins, And blot out all my iniquities."
David asks God not to just remove the surface grime, but also the stain that's left in the fabric. We need to ask God to go deep inside of us, and remove all traces of filth, and the roots of the sin that we have.
Verse 10 – He says, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Verse 11 – "Do not cast me away from Your presence, And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me."
We see that David doesn't repent by asking God to restrain David's actions. You know, he doesn't say, "Please, God keep me from committing murder. Keep me from committing adultery again." David doesn't focus on the outward behavior, not on the actions he committed. David asks God for an inside-out transformation: he seeks a new heart. He seeks continued intervention by the Holy Spirit.
Today, we have seen that it is easy to be fooled by outward appearances. Whether it was the beauty of my clean bedroom, or an antique desk or the actions of a legalistic Pharisee, an outward appearance can easily deceive us.
On the other side of the coin, we might be fooled by the outward appearance of King David. Here we have a man of significant violence throughout his life, an adulterer, a murderer, but inwardly, we are told that he was a man after God's own heart.
That's why it is important for us not to judge someone based on their actions alone. God is helping lead us to spiritual maturity, each of us at a different pace, and we each have a slightly different road to walk—there are different temptations that affect us and different battles that we're all fighting each day.
As we do fight against sin, we need to remember that our transformation needs to be from the inside-out. We need to begin with character changes that begin inwardly, and will proceed outwardly. True inner change will change our outward behavior. It will make change in our actions, but they will not necessarily be immediate.
If we strive to act like Christ without having that inner transformation first, you know we might meet with temporary success, but it ultimately will lead to failure. It might promote self-righteousness, and the applause of the crowd around us, but it doesn't satisfy what God wants to see inside.
Jesus warned His disciples in Matthew 5:20 Matthew 5:20For I say to you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
American King James Version×- "…unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:20 Matthew 5:20For I say to you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
American King James Version×). He taught us that wrong desires are the same as wrong actions. To lust after a woman is adultery. To hate is murder.
We need to be inside-out Christians. We need to have God's law in our hearts. We need to put on a gentle and quiet spirit. We need to be persistent and we need to continue to grow.
We need to deal with the root cause of our sin, and to ask God to change us at that deepest level of our character.
God's plan to form us starts with our innermost parts, He puts His Spirit into us, and changes our hearts, changes our minds. God has called us to be inside-out Christians. Our outward actions and behavior will become a reflection of the miracle that God is working inside of us.
(1) Citation: John Ortberg, "True (and False) Transformation," Leadership (Summer 2002), p. 102