As I said last week, and I will now repeat myself because of its importance: When I talk about what God calls us BECAUSE of our relationship with Him through the blood of His Son – what I mean by that is of such importance that before I go any further with this message, I want to re-focus our attention on that critically important qualification. It is ONLY those in Christ, who have been – and continue to be – cleansed of their sins by faith in Christ’s sacrificial blood spilled on Calvary’s cross – only those can be forgiven of their sins. Only those whom God calls His sons and daughters.
Here is how the Holy Spirit draws our attention to that qualification, through the pen of the apostle Paul in his letter to the church as Colossae. Notice, please, how often the phrase ‘in Christ’ and ‘with Christ” appears in these few verses of chapter two: “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; 10 and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.
11 In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. (Colossians 2:8-14)
So, on the bedrock of Scripture, I would not be helping anyone here, or anywhere else, if I neglected to tell you that God calls only those who are in Christ, His son or daughter. Only those in Christ, God calls forgiven. That is why you and I must be born again, born of God through faith in His Son. Born again not through our good works, but by trust, by faith, by our thankful and obedient acknowledgment of what Jesus did for you and me on that cross.
Last week we looked at four things God calls us: 1) Forgiven, 2) He calls us by our name, 3) He calls us Beautiful, and 4) He calls us His precious son or daughter.
So, let’s look at what else does God call us? Well, He also calls you and me, “saints.”
Even a cursory reading of the NT epistles written to the various churches demonstrates the reality that God calls ALL Christians, ‘saints.” For example: 1 Corinthians 1:1-2, we read, “Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ . . . 2 To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours . . ..”
Here is Colossians 1:1 “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.”
The Greek word translated in many of our bibles as saints (‘holy ones’ in some versions) is the Greek word, hagios. It means to be sacred, morally blameless, ceremonially consecrated. Another definition is to be a holy thing or a holy one. A saint.”
Do you think the Christians in either Corinth or Colossae were, in and of themselves, morally blameless? Of course not. If they were, Paul would not have used all that ink to exhort them to live godly lifestyles and to stop sinning.
Listen: God did not call the Corinthians or the Colossians ‘saints’ because of how good they were. Nor does He call us saints because of how good WE are. God calls Christians ‘saints’ because of what HE has done – past tense – has done in us when we placed our trust in Christ. Here is the apostle Paul’s letter to Titus:
Titus 3:4 4 But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, 5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
And here is his letter to the church at Corinth: 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 18 Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
One reason it’s important to accept God’s view of us is that we all generally seek to live up to the expectations of others whom we respect. The social sciences have a name for it: It’s called the Pygmalion effect, a well-documented phenomenon in which higher expectations of authority figures such as parents, supervisors, or teachers lead to an increase in performance. A contrast to the Pygmalion effect is the Golem effect in which low expectations by parents, supervisors, or teachers lead to a decrease in performance; The Pygmalion and Golem effects tell us that people internalize their positive or negative labels and succeed or fail accordingly.
And now to connect the proverbial dots – and this is IMPORTANT: If we do not believe God’s view of us, that we are saints, then it is likely we will not live up to what He calls us. But, if we DO believe God views us as saints, it is likely we WILL live up to what He calls us.
We see this also very often when people do not think God loves them. Or forgives them. Or thinks them beautiful. Those people tend to turn away from God.
But God DOES think of you and me who are in Christ Jesus as saints. He DOES think of you and me as forgiven. And beautiful. And we must, we must stop permitting our minds to tell us otherwise. In other words, don’t believe everything you think. But train yourself to think according to what God tells us in His infallible, inerrant, and fully inspired word we call the Bible.
Christian! Press on toward that goal of the upward call of God on your life. God calls you a saint. Now strive to live up to that calling.
Okay, so He calls us by our name, He calls us forgiven, He calls us His precious son or daughter, and He calls us beautiful. What else? He calls us strong in our weakness.
Please pay attention to this. God calls you and me, STRONG in our weakness, but only when we trust in Him and not in ourselves.
Here is what the Lord Jesus said to the Christians in the church at Philadelphia: “I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name. (Revelation 3:8)
Hear that statement again: “I have put before you and open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power.”
God knows your limitations. Do you remember what the Lord said about the woman who broke her Alabaster jar full of precious ointment? When she poured the ointment over the Lord’s head, His disciples complained about what she had done. But listen to what did Jesus said to them: “Let her alone; why do you bother her? She has done a good deed to Me. . . . 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed My body beforehand for the burial. 9 Truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.” (Mark 14:6, 8-9)
Jesus told them – and us here at Ashwood Meadows, “She has done what she could.”
Hear this eternal truth: The Lord never, ever asks us to do what we cannot do. He knows our limitations. He knows about our failing strength and health, He knows about our finances, our family situations, our difficulty even getting to the doctor or supermarket without someone taking you there. He knows all about you and me, and how our life has slowed from the vigor and strength we used to have.
It is no wonder to me, then, that St. Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, “I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. (4:12-13)
He wrote also to the Christians at Corinth: “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. 9 Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9)
And at the close of that letter Paul added: “Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10)
And finally – if there is such a thing as a final word to say about what our Father calls us, He calls us HIS OWN POSSESSION. In other words, we belong to Him. That’s the whole point the New Testament writers make when they used the word ‘redeem’ or ‘redemption.’ The Greek word means to buy back something that had been lost; to pay a ransom for something.
Before we became children of God through our faith in Jesus’ redemption for us, we belonged to the devil – either wittingly or unwittingly. And we did his will. That’s why St Paul writes: “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.” (Ephesians 2:1-3)
But the Father redeemed us. He paid our ransom with the blood of His Son. And so, Paul writes a few verses earlier in that same book: “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.” (Ephesians 1:7) And Peter tells us: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
Listen to this word from Isaiah: “But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!” (Isaiah 43:1)
Here also is the Song of Solomon – for millennia understood by Christian scholars as a metaphor of Christ’s love for His Bride – the church: “My beloved is mine, and I am his (SOS 2:16).
Now, all of this, on the surface, sounds to me very encouraging – to know that God calls me His very own possession. Perhaps it encourages you also – to know God calls you His own. But what about the proverbial elephant in the room? You know – the gigantic question standing before us and which not many want to talk about when we talk about how we belong to almighty God. What happens when life comes barreling at us a 90 miles per hour and smashes us right in the chest? A sudden fall that changes our life. A stroke that robs our vitality and strength. The unexpected death of a spouse, a child, or grandchild. And then comes the accusation whispered in our ear from the bowels of hell itself: “If you belong to God, why did this happen?”
Don’t be surprised at the question. It is the same one Satan stirred the mob at the foot of Christ’s cross to ask our Lord: “He trusts in God; let God rescue Him now, if He delights in Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” (Matthew 27:43)
I don’t know why bad things happen to God's beloved sons and daughters. And neither do you. And we probably won’t know the fullness of the answer until we get to that other side where we will know even as we are fully known.
But I DO know this – and so do you, for if you didn’t you wouldn’t be here today in this place, worshiping the Lord and listening for His voice. We DO know this: Almighty God loves us. Calvary’s cross demonstrated that – and continues to do so each time we look to that bloody hill. And we know that God DOES cause all things – even evil things, even sad things, even tragic things – to work together for good to all those who love God and are called according to His purposes.
Remember please what Joseph told his brothers – the ones who’d sold him into slavery and were glad to be rid of him. “As for you,” he said, “You meant evil against me. But God meant it for good.” (Genesis 50:20)
And ‘good’ it was. Many of you know the story. After his brothers sold him into slavery, God raised Joseph to the position of vice-president of Egypt. In that position as second to Pharaoh, God kept the twelve tribes of Israel alive – through which God also brought a savior to the world, Jesus, the son of David, the son of Judah, one of the tribes of Israel.
What is God doing with and through your own tragedy and heartache and loss and grief and confusion and loneliness and pain? Once again, let me remind all of us, including myself, we will not fully know until we get to that place where all tragedy and heartache and loss and grief and confusion and loneliness and pain are forever gone.
Look again at the elephant in the room and say it to yourself once more: “God loves me.”
Listen! If we are truly a Christian, an obedient follower of Jesus the Messiah, then we are forgiven of all our sins. We are covered by the precious blood of Jesus. God calls us beautiful. He calls us by our name. He calls us saints. He calls us strong in our weakness. And He calls us His own – we belong to Him.
When life hits us in the chest and body-slams us to the concrete, the Holy Spirit WILL remind us of all the things God calls us BECAUSE of our relationship with Him through the blood of His Son.
God loves you. God loves YOU. And me. Oh, Holy Spirit, please keep us focused on that eternal truth.