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Summary: This sermon looks at how we as the church need to be distinct from the world around us. It looks at life before and after salvation, and the need for a change in the life of a confessing beleiver. Includes study guide.

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This past week the Episcopalian church elected its first ever openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson. The election has threatened to cause a split amongst the 2.4 million member denomination. When asked by a CNN reporter whether his election would cause a split in the church, Gene Robinson replied, “I hope they don’t decide to leave my church. If they do that will be there choice.” He then went on to address the impact his election would have on other churches. He said, “I suspect that before too long, other denominations will also follow and welcome openly gay and lesbian people into leadership positions." And then he said, “Just as Jesus reached out to people on the fringes and brought them in, that’s what the Episcopal Church is doing with this vote”

Bishop Elect Gene Robinson (who by the way has a great last name but terrible theology) was right in one aspect when he said that Jesus reached out to those on the fringes. Jesus spoke with, spent time with, even welcomed and ate with all kinds of sinners…but the one thing the Bishop elect left out was that Jesus welcomed the sinners, but then called on them to repent of their sins and change their lives. (John 8-woman caught in adultery told to go and sin no more.)

Friends, God loves you just the way you are right now. And there is nothing you can do to make Him love you any less or any more, but God loves you so much that He will not let you stay just the way you are. He wants you to be transformed by His grace, to be made new in the image of His Son Jesus Christ. And as the body of Christ, we are called to do the same, to welcome and love any and every kind of person, but to call them to be transformed by God’s grace.

In the text that was read to you a few moments ago, the apostle Paul gave us a before and after snapshot. It’s a snapshot of a person before and after becoming a Christian and the change that takes place. As we continue in our series of what makes a great church, I want us to see that a great church is a place where lives are transformed, where lost sinners are turned into saved saints. And perhaps this morning, by responding to God’s grace, you can leave here saying like the blind man who met Jesus, “I was blind but now I see!”

Now, if we here at this church are going to be the kind of church that God wants us to be then we must be a church where lives are changed. This means first of all that the church needs to be distinct from the world around it. Look at vs. 17. It says, “So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.”

The word church literally means the called out ones. And as the church, we are called to stand out. To be distinct, not by a fish on our car or a bible on our shelf, but by the way we live our lives. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” We are called to shine, to give light to this world darkened by sin, but if we are no different from the world our light just simply tends to just blend in. Paul tells us as the church, you must not live like those who don’t know Christ.

How does a person who does not know Christ live? Paul here tells us. Now there are degrees of extremity, but all follow a similar pattern in life. In his book, God’s New Society, John Stott describes the downward spiral of a heart that does not know Christ. It starts first with the Hardening of the Heart. Look at the last part of vs. 18. “They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.” Now all these other symptoms are the result of the hard heart. Now the word there literally means a heart of stone. It’s a heart that is unwilling to allow the truth of God to penetrate and thus respond to that truth.

Now it’s not impossible. I’m a firm believer that the Grace of God can soften even the hardest of hearts, (that’s why I believe no one is ever so far away from God that they are without hope), but God will not force Himself upon anybody. That’s why I said that a hard heart is an unwillingness, not an inability, to respond to God’s truth. God gives us the choice to decide. A hard heart is the result of a conscience decision to reject God’s truth. Now let me ask you, how will you respond? Have you chosen to harden your heart to God’s truth, if so why not allow that truth to penetrate and totally transform you? But it’s your choice, and it’s a choice you have to make.

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