Stephen N. Collins
Millville – 09/05/08
Being the Church
Scripture: Acts 23:1-23, 1 Timothy 1:12-15
Icebreaker: A wedding guest bubbled over with accolades to the bride as she passed through the receiving line. She said, “Oh, you look so lovely, my dear. I’m so pleased that Jess chose you to be his wife.” Then she whispered in the young bride’s ear, “Whatever happened to the ditzy blonde he used to date?” The new wife whispered back, “I dyed my hair.”
-You know, no matter how hard we try to cover it up, sometimes our past still comes back to haunt us.
Intro: It’s good to have my mom here with us today. My mom has an interesting past. Her dad was a preacher, so she was raised in a pastor’s home. She was a preacher’s kid. When she got a little older she married my dad. Not too long after they were married, he felt God calling him to be a pastor. So then she became a pastor’s wife. A few years later, God called her baby brother into the ministry, so she became a preacher’s sister. And a little ways down the road, God called her son to be a pastor, so now she is a preacher’s kid, a preacher’s wife, a preacher’s sister, and a preacher’s mom. She needs a lot of therapy. Just kidding!
-But this morning, we are going to be talking about our pasts. Our past doesn’t have to determine our future, but so often we let it do just that.
-Let’s take a poll: how many of you have done something stupid in your past? Something you regret? We all have.
-Even the great Apostle Paul did:
“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.”
-The Apostle Paul
Now, of course we need to be aware of where God has brought us from. Guilt is not always a bad thing, especially when we have sinned.
-And we need to be clear about this today before we go any farther: If you are living in sin, if you are living your life in a such a way that you know God doesn’t approve of the way you’re living, you are going to feel guilt. And as harsh as this may sound, you should. In your case, guilt is not a bad thing. Guilt is God’s way of telling you that you’re made for something better than this and you know it.
But many people I know have accepted Jesus as their Lord and savior and are still burdened by feelings of guilt.
And you know, one of Satan’s most effective methods of wrecking the lives of Christians is the use of guilt to paralyze them from accepting God’s grace
-But today, what I want you to leave here knowing in your heart, no matter where you are in life, is that God is concerned with who you’re becoming rather than who you’ve been.
-We’re continuing our journey through the book of Acts this morning in Acts 23. We’re going to take a look into a time in the great Apostle Paul’s life when he absolutely blew it. And around the same time he blew it in Acts 23, he wrote a letter to his friend Timothy, and in that letter we’re going to see how Paul’s understanding of guilt and grace allowed him to overcoming guilt in his life.
(READ ACTS 23:1-11 AND PRAY)
3 Things to Remember when You Feel Guilty
1. God loves you in spite of your past.
Questions: Remember all the hands that were raised just a second ago? We’ve all done things that can make us feel guilty. How does guilt make you view yourself? As a screw-up? As undeserving? As worthless?
Illustration (Steve May): “Several years ago a woman came to our church and told me God could never love her; she had committed the worst possible sin. In a fit of rage, she said, because her baby wouldn’t stop crying, she shook him so hard that his brain was permanently damaged. Every day she is reminded of the fact that her own child is forced to live with the consequences of her sin. The guilt was too much for her. She said she had no right to be a mother, she had no right to be a Christian, in fact, she had no right to live. "God couldn’t possibly love me after what I did," she said.”
Main Point: His response to her was the same thing I’m saying to you today: God loves you in spite of your past.
-Imagine what it must have been like for Paul in Acts 23. As he sat alone in jail, knowing that his temper had gotten the best of him and he had squandered an opportunity to share Jesus with people who needed him.
-And imagine all the memories and guilt that must have flooded his mind. It wasn’t the first time he had blown it, was it? Paul had a very checkered past. And in 1 Tim acknowledges that he had a past to live down.
Scripture: 1 Tim. 1:12-13
“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. 13Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.”
-In verse 15 he goes on to say that he was the worst of all sinners. Some of you may be thinking, Paul wouldn’t say that if he knew me! The fact is, God loves you in spite of whatever sins you have committed. There is nothing you can do to keep God from loving you. It doesn’t matter who you used to be.
-We see this throughout Scripture, especially in the Gospels. Not once do you see Jesus judging an individual based on their past. When people came to him who had committed sexual sin, or had dabbled in the occult, or had spent their lives cheating others in business, his message was the same: "I do not condemn you; go and sin no more." People found love and acceptance in Jesus in spite of what their past had been.
-Regardless of what you have done, there is nothing you can do that will cause God’s love for you to change. He loves you so much that he could not possibly love you more, and he will never love you less. I am not saying this so you will have an excuse to sin; I am saying this so you will have reason to hope. No matter what you have done, or no matter what has happened in your life, God doesn’t view you as a second-class citizen. He doesn’t consider you a has-been. His love for you is as great as it ever was. It doesn’t matter who you used to be, God loves you in spite of your past.
2. God will change you in spite of your past.
Illustration: One day John Wesley (founder of the Methodist Church) was riding on horseback through the English countryside when he was stopped by a voice that said, "Your money or your life."
As the man took Wesley’s money, Wesley said, "Sir, you may someday regret this sort of life you are living. If you do, remember, the blood of Jesus cleanses you from all sin."
Many years later, at the close of a Sunday evening service in which Wesley had just preached, a man approached him, begging for the opportunity to speak to him. It was the same man who had robbed Wesley years before. Now he was a successful businessman and a faithful Christian. The words Wesley had spoken to him proved to be life-changing. The man said to Wesley, "I owe it all to you."
Wesley said, "No, not to me, but to the precious blood of Christ which cleanses us from all sin."
Questions: Have you ever felt like there’s something in your life that just can’t be changed? Maybe a sin that’s taken root so deep that you’ve learned just to put up with it a try your best to live your life?
Statement: I’ve known a lot of people who thought that way. But Paul didn’t believe that at all. In spite of the sin that was in his past, listen to what he said to Timothy:
Scripture: 1 Tim. 1:14-15
“The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”
He goes on to remind us of this basic Biblical truth:
“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”
-Not only does God still love you, God will still change you in spite of your past.
-When I say that God will change you, this is exactly what I mean. First of all, he will forgive you completely and wipe the slate clean. Secondly, he will change you into the type of person he wants you to be.
-When a person accepts Christ, he or she becomes a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). That is only the beginning of all that God does in your life. In Philippians 1:6 Paul said that God will finish the work he began in you; in Romans 8:29 he says that God will help you become conformed to the image of his son, Jesus Christ. It doesn’t matter who you used to be, God will save you in spite of your past, and he will change you in spite of your past.
-Too often we use the past as an excuse: "I’ve always been this way...I’ve always had a problem with my temper...Everyone in my family is overweight...I just don’t have any self-control...I come from a long line of alcoholics..." and on and on. We tell ourselves that this is who we really are and there is nothing that can be done about it.
-I’m telling you today: there is something that can be done about it. God can change you. He can part the Red Sea, he can make the earth stand still, he can hold back the rain for years at a time, he can heal the sick, and he can raise the dead. And he can change you into a better person. This is what Paul meant when he said,
-“He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” (Romans 8:11)
-God can save you and he can change you—no matter what kind of past you’ve had. For some people this change is immediate; for others it is a lengthy process. For everyone, it is a promise that we can cling to: It doesn’t matter who you used to be, God will change you in spite of your past.
3. God can use you in spite of your past.
Questions: Have you ever known someone who didn’t think they could do something for God because of their past? Can God use people who aren’t perfect? Can God use someone with a terrible history to help others?
Illustration: If any man could have been written off as being "washed-up," it would be Jim Bakker. When that whole scandal hit in the eighties he became the object of world-wide ridicule from both the church and secular society. He lost the enormous PTL empire, he was sent to prison, his wife divorced him, and he hit absolute rock-bottom. More than a few people said that he would never work in the ministry again.
While Bakker was in prison he read the Gospels and made an amazing discovery: much of what he had preached during the PTL heyday was not biblical. While in prison he committed his life again to knowing and serving God. Jim Bakker now works in a church in South Central Los Angeles. Gone are the Armani Suits, the cars, the jewelry, the "air-conditioned dog-houses", and all the other symbols of excess that characterized his PTL years. He is no longer a celebrity. He is a support-staff member in an inner-city church, telling people about Jesus, and he is being used by God to change people’s lives.
Statement: If God can use Jim Bakker after the mess that he went through, he can use you, too. He used Paul, didn’t He?
-Look at what God told Paul after he blew it before the high council and was locked up in prison:
Scripture: Acts 23:11
“The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, "Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”
-Look at what Paul wrote to Timothy about how God used him in spite of his past:
Scripture: 1 Tim. 1:16
“But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.”
-Look at some examples from Scripture. Moses was a great man of God; God used him after he committed murder. David was Israel’s greatest ruler; God used him after he committed murder and adultery. Paul was the most significant figure in the days of the early church; God used him after he committed murder. Peter was a primary leader of the early church; God used him after he denied Christ. John-Mark was Paul’s traveling companion; God used him even after he quit and abandoned the ministry.
As long as you have breath...as long as you have a life that you can surrender to God, he can use you. It doesn’t matter who you used to be.
-It comes down to this. You can forget the past, because God has forgotten the past. He is concerned with who you’re becoming, rather than who you’ve been.
-If there are mistakes you made years ago, or months ago—or even days ago—I want you to know that God is willing to put it behind you and give you a chance to start over. You may have to live with the consequences of your mistakes, but you don’t have to live with the guilt or the shame. He will set you free from all of it, and he will give you a chance to start again. It doesn’t matter who you used to be. In spite of your past, God loves you, he will change you, and he will use you—if you open your heart to him.
-If you’d like to receive Jesus into your life to heal you from your hurts and overcome your past, come to an altar or say this prayer with me.