Summary: Proclaiming Christ without possessing Christ is nothing more than putting on appearances.
Receive Grace: To Possess Christ
Pastor Jim Luthy
Every October a scramble takes place in our country to come up with a good costume. Over the years I’ve seen people dressed up like famous men and women such as Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, and even Doc Holliday. Presidents are popular, too. Some stores will carry masks of all the most recent presidents—Carter, Reagan, Clinton, and pick a Bush, any Bush. With a little effort and maybe a little cash, we discover each October that it’s easy to put on the appearance of another.
How often do we see people putting on the appearance of Christ?
I once knew a man that was constantly grumbling about the carnality of former President Clinton. He believed every scandalous story and constantly decried the President’s adultery. It was an affront to his Christian values, so he said. Little did I know, but later I discovered, this man was having an affair himself at the same time. How can you explain this? It’s easy and makes us feel safe to put on the appearance of Christ.
Paul called this "having the appearance of godliness, but lacking power."
I was told the story this week of a man who visited Hawaii and had a wonderful time, except, he said, that he spent the entire time with his head down. When asked why he kept his head down, he replied that he didn’t want to offend his wife by looking at the women in bikinis. To this the hearer replied, "Dude, you’re awesome!" In this man’s mind, and in the mind of his hearer, he had clothed himself in Christ. What he thought was godliness actually put him in bondage. It’s easy and it makes us feel safe to put on the appearance of Christ.
I know a woman who spent a year in the Mormon church during her journey to know Jesus personally. Never mind that she couldn’t embrace all of their theology—having grown up in the church and having a foundation of teaching—their family values appealed greatly to her. They offered her much in the way of a new life, an orderly life, but it was all about conformity. Works. Appearances. The appeal of the Mormons is that it’s easy and it makes us feel safe to put on the appearance of Christ.
"There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death."
Paul knew that his explanation of how he became a servant of the gospel might entice people to put on Christ on the outside. I fear that is what you heard. When I talked about receiving the grace to proclaim Christ, its quite possible, and maybe even probable, that all you heard was "proclaim Christ." But that is not what I said. Proclaiming Christ without possessing Christ is nothing more than putting on appearances. That’s why Paul went from telling the story of how he experienced the grace to proclaim Christ, to indicating that his prayer for the church was that they, by the same power, would also receive grace—the grace to possess Christ in their inner being.
For this reason (or "because I have received such incredible grace that it made me a servant of the gospel,"), I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. (Eph. 3:14-21)
Paul’s prayer was not any ordinary gift. He did not pray for their help in time of trouble, nor did he pray for a felt need. He didn’t ask for money, and he didn’t ask for healing for Aunt Betty’s athlete’s foot. These things are all fine and good to ask of our Father, but his prayer was for what those who made up the church in Ephesus and other churches in the region really needed. His prayer was that they would receive the first grace, the initiating grace, the all-critical grace of Christ dwelling within them. My prayer for you this evening is the same, that you would receive the grace to possess Christ. Only when you receive the grace to possess Christ in your inner being will you ever receive the grace to proclaim Christ on the outside.
We saw last week and can see here that grace comes by the power of God. Power is the initiative and force of God that allows us to receive grace. Without power, grace is out of reach. Power is God’s authority to separate our sin from us as far as the east is from the west, making room for the Christ. Power is God’s Spirit opening our eyes to our sin and to the truth about God, making us hungry and thirsty for righteousness. Power is the vehicle that delivers grace to us. When we receive that power in our inner being, we no longer work up a frenzy to clothe ourselves with Christ on the outside. God’s power alone makes a way for grace.