2 Corinthians 4:7-18
Last Sunday, we talked about how our character is basically the sum of our habits; it’s how we habitually act - our character is built on what we do - not what we say we do - and our true character comes out... it’s what we revert to... when faced with stress and anxiety.
Of course, we heard God’s Word tells us to “Put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24 NIV). We’re called to replace our natural character... with the Character of Christ... the goal being, to replace our ways, thoughts and tendencies... with those of Christ.
And to that end... God uses three basic things to build our Character in Christ: He uses His Word, He uses His people, and He uses our circumstances. All three things (God’s Word, other people, and our circumstances) are indispensable in helping us become more Christlike. We’re gonna take a quick look at these 3 things...
*First, God’s Word. The written Word of God provides the foundational truth we need to grow and mature as followers of Christ.
The Westminster Confession tells us, “The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture (WCF 1.6).
Maybe you’ve heard of John Piper... he’s a Reformed pastor and theologian... and he says, “The sufficiency of Scripture does not mean that the Scripture is all we need to live obediently. To be obedient in the sciences we need to read science and study nature. To be obedient in economics we need to read economics and observe the world of business. To be obedient in sports we need to know the rules of the game. To be obedient in marriage we need to know the personality of our spouse. To be obedient as a pilot we need to know how to fly a plane. In other words, the Bible does not tell us all we need to know in order to be obedient stewards of this world. The sufficiency of Scripture means we don’t need any more special revelation. We don’t need any more inspired, inerrant words. In the Bible God has given us, we have the perfect standard for judging all other knowledge. All other knowledge stands under the judgment of the Bible.”
We can see God, and we can experience God, and find God, in all kinds of things in this life... from nature - to our grandchildren’s faces... but if we were to lose all of that, we have enough of God in His Word to suffice.
Again - God’s Word provides the truth we need to grow and mature as followers of Christ.
*God’s people also factor into the equation of growth and maturity in Christ... because other people provide the support structure we need to grow and mature as followers of Christ.
Hebrews 10:24-25 reminds us to, “consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Our gatherings - be it Sunday School; Bible Study; Worship or Fellowship... all play a role in “spurring us on” and encouraging us in our life of faith.
Here we gather with others who travel the same path... who face life’s challenges... and life’s joys... together... with faith. We learn, through encouraging one another, how to be the “body of Christ” - supporting and working towards something that’s much bigger than ourselves.
*And that brings us to the third thing that God uses to build our Christian Character... the circumstances of this life... Our circumstances provide the environment (the setting) to practice Christlikeness.
Of course, I know... some of Jesus’ toughest teachings center around becoming Christlike through our circumstances.
Jesus said, in our lesson for this morning: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; turn the other cheek; go the extra mile; if someone takes your shirt give them your coat, too...
Tough... hard, teachings... that certainly challenge the best of us, no doubt.
And then (to add insult to injury), Jesus says, unless we do these things... unless we witness to Christ in our circumstances... we’re no better than the pagans.
The fact that you and I actually have the power to use (through the Spirit of Christ with us) the unwanted and unwelcome circumstances of life in order to honor God is what sets us apart as different from the world... it makes us Christlike... and it leads us into growth and maturity as a Christian.
In other words, if you and I study and apply God’s Word to our lives... if we connect regularly with other believers... and if we learn to accept every circumstance of our lives as a teachable moment... you and I can be guaranteed to become more and more like Jesus.
How have you witnessed these three things work in your own life?
When trouble and anxiety and heartbreak affect me personally... I turn to God’s Word. I read the promises of God in Christ... and I’m reminded that Jesus loves me, and walks with me... and carries me; for when my burden is great; his burden is light.
When I’m down, and lonely - and grieving - I run to God’s People. I need the encouragement and fellowship of this place. I need you. You’ve helped me “keep on keeping on” for years! And that’s why assembling ourselves together is so important.
And... in the good times, and bad... I know that “all things work together for the good” - that God’s plans are to help me... through my circumstances... as I become more and more dependent, more reliant, on Christ - and as I learn to trust him through blessings and storms... for God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” God works through our circumstances.
And... because I know (and you know) that if God can use a cross (and instrument of death) to bring life... he can certainly use my momentary circumstances to bring me to the place I need to be, for my good, and his greater glory. For as Paul said, “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”
You & I cannot grow in Christlikeness in isolation. We need God’s Word; we need other Christians; and we need to see God’s hand in our everyday circumstances.