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Sermon for September 6, 2020

Speaking Of Life 2041 | Putting On Christ

How can our friendship and imitation of Jesus change our daily lives? Do our friends and family see Christ through us? It is in the daily walk and relationship with Jesus in which we are formed and changed. Put on his actions. Put on his love. Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Program Transcript

Speaking Of Life 2041 | Putting On Christ
Greg Williams

If you spend any time in the letters of Paul, you see a pastor’s heart. Paul spends long periods of time in all the places he went as a missionary—sometimes months, sometimes years—and then he spent more years discipling them through his letters.

His connection to the churches reminds me of the bonds I shared with the congregation I pastored for 15 years. When they were sending me off with an appreciation lunch one of the leaders said, “We are not only losing a pastor but a friend as well.”

Paul became their friend. And sometimes as their friend, Paul was the gentle guide, encouraging almost any amount of progress. Other times he was the football coach telling folks to lead, follow, or get out of the way! He sometimes used stern words to encourage these fledgling churches toward transformation.

In Romans 13, among several other places, he touches on this theme:

But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Romans 13:14 (ESV)

Put on the Lord Jesus Christ. Put on the Lord Jesus’ thoughts. Put on his actions; put on his love. This was a constant theme for Paul: you are in Christ, nothing is going to change that, now BE who you already ARE.

It isn’t something you work up on your own power. It is saying yes to the one who first said yes to you. It is returning love to the one who first loved you.

Then Paul, through the presence and power of Jesus in him, coaches, encourages, prods, and pokes them to transform into the image of Christ by imitating Christ as they walk in relationship with him.

It reminds me of the scene in The Shack where Jesus and the main character, Mack, walk on water. At first, Mack is tentative, even holding onto Jesus, and then together they vigorously run across the lake. When they are preparing to return, Mack presses his foot against the water’s surface and Jesus glances over and says this powerful phrase “It always works better when we do it together, don’t you think?”

Later, Jesus adds to the conversation, “If you try to live this without me, without the ongoing dialogue of us sharing this journey together it will be like trying to walk on the water by yourself you can’t! And when you try, however well-intentioned, you’re going to sink.”

How can we continue the ongoing dialogue in our friendship with Jesus? How can we imitate him and begin to see transformation in our daily lives? Start by seeing others as God’s beloved and yield to the Spirit’s encouragement to always respond in love. Then watch a change happen in your own life. What habits, addictions, and unkind behavior are being healed as you “put on Christ”?

It is in the daily walk and relationship with Jesus in which we are formed. May you enjoy your walk with Jesus today and every day forward. And don’t try walking on water without him.

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 149 • Exodus 12:1-14 • Romans 13:8-14 • Matthew 18:15-20

The theme for this week is the God who passes over. The first reading, Exodus 12, describes the literal Passover, when God liberated Israel and passed over them and crushed Egypt. Psalm 149 describes this gracious God taking pleasure in his less-than-perfect people and “adorning the humble with victory.” In Matthew 18, Jesus gives instructions for restoring someone in sin to the community. Romans 13, on which our sermon is based, centers on the gracious ways of a gracious God.

Putting On the Lord

Romans 13:8-14 ESV

Read, or have someone read Romans 13:8-14 ESV.

Daniel Day-Lewis is an English actor best known for his role in Last of the Mohicans and Lincoln. He’s considered one of the greatest actors of all time and is known for being a method actor. In his acting practice, he immerses himself so deeply in a role that he essentially “is” the person—in dress, speech, habits—the whole time the movie is being filmed. For months, he basically “puts on”—lives as his character.

This led to some interesting anecdotes from people who worked with him. Among the highlights:

  • He played a paraplegic and had to be carried around the set or used a wheelchair.
  • He got pneumonia playing a 19th-century character because he wouldn’t wear a modern coat in the cold.
  • He sent text messages to Sally Field as Abraham Lincoln.
  • He taught himself to speak Czech so his character would have a believable Czech accent.
  • He built canoes by hand and trapped and skinned animals for his role as a Native American.

…and there are many more. Over his career, he became so at one with his characters that he would take on their attributes, live in their skin. This led to some of the best acting in history, and some of the most memorable roles of the last fifty years.

Twice in this passage from Romans 13, Paul tells us to “put on” something:

  • Verse 12:  So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. 

  • Verse 14: But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Like Daniel Day-Lewis puts on the characteristics of the person he is to portray, we are to “put on” the armor of light and the attributes of Christ until it becomes who we are. This is a central theme for Romans and all of Paul’s writing: identity. But this is to be a permanent change, not a temporary “put-on.”

Let’s look at our identity in Christ as it is described in Romans 13. Paul describes our change in position with God bringing us to our change — like Day-Lewis with his amazing acting career— in character.

Let’s look at three ideas today:

  • the terms of salvation
  • The time of salvation
  • The task of salvation.

But before that, we need to discuss the word “salvation.” For Paul and the rest of the New Testament, salvation didn’t only refer to the transactional discussion of going to heaven or hell. Salvation is a lifelong process, involving our “saving” on ethical, moral, emotional and spiritual levels. Salvation works through us over years and culminates in our union with Christ after death or at his return.

Reading salvation in this holistic, three-dimensional understanding helps the New Testament—and life itself—make more sense.

First, the terms of salvation. 

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. (Romans 13:8 ESV)

Earlier in the chapter Paul goes into his famous discussion of how the government is appointed by God. He ends that, transitioning into our passage with a discussion about paying taxes: “owe nothing to anyone.”

This discussion led to centuries of debate over how to react to and live under authorities, especially when they are immoral and oppressive. I won’t discuss that here, but it’s an important conversation no matter which time you occupy in history.

The most important undercurrent in this discussion is that the government is appointed by God, controlled by God, and entirely at his mercy. This was an extremely scandalous thing to send in a letter to Rome—the epicenter of Caesar’s rule. Everyone in the empire was required to not only obey Caesar, but also to worship him in the emperor cult as a god.

Paul pulls the rug out from under this by saying not only that Caesar is not a god, but that he is entirely the instrument of God. He is simply God’s tool. Whether or not he knows it, God can give and take the empire to Caesar as he sees fit.

Paying taxes was an issue for those under the Jewish law. It was a point of contention with all occupied people (still is!), but especially for Jews who tried to distance themselves from Roman culture. Paul ends this discussion of politics with almost the throw-away statement: pay your taxes, owe nothing to anyone.

That’s because it doesn’t matter. The empire doesn’t matter. None of these trappings of human striving that seem important matter in the end. Pay your taxes here, but your real citizenship is elsewhere.

Paul then goes into this section about love:

For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:9-10 ESV)

Love your neighbor, love God—this sums up the Law. Does that sound familiar? Paul is quoting Jesus. He’s saying that LOVE sums up the law and covers the law. He could write a dictionary sized volume on how to treat your neighbor (don’t lie, cheat, steal, ridicule, cut off in traffic) or he, like Jesus, could simply say love your neighbor.

Paul is continuing, subtly, his undercutting of Roman authority and the cult of the empire. One of the titles they gave Caesar was Lord, sometimes calling him “Lord of Lords,” and Paul ends this section by reiterating the full title: the Lord Jesus Christ. He also tells them that Caesar is God’s plaything and then gives the rules for the true city where they are true citizens: Love God, love neighbor.

He undermines the authorities of the day and quotes what Jesus said were the two greatest commandments: Love God, love others.

This is a discussion of identity, our identity in Christ. Paul takes the corner pillars of their lives—the Roman empire and the Jewish law—and says that Jesus is greater, stronger and better than these things. They are only instruments in his scarred hands.

What are the pillars of identity in our world that we need to look past? How do we need to look beyond these powers that be to the Lord behind them who holds it all in his hands?

Your true identity is not an American. You are not a Republican. You are not a Democrat. You are a Christian, a child of God, adopted into his royal family. You are all those other things second; you are a child of God first.

Adjust for your own country, obviously, using citizenship or political affiliation.

You are not identified by your job or any of your relationships, and you are certainly not identified by your past. This fundamental shift in WHO you are will lead to changes in HOW you are. When you come to Christ, your first question shouldn’t be “What do I do now?” but “Who am I now?”

So, the terms of salvation: your cosmic identity has changed fundamentally, you are no longer your own, nor anyone else’s, but Christ’s.

Second, the time of salvation. 

Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. (Romans 13:11-12 ESV)

The Greeks had two words for time. Chronos—from which we get the word “chronology,”—which simply means the passage of time—second by second and day by day. The other word, kairos, refers to the moment of decision, the time for action—it means time in which we should be moving.

This is the word Paul uses here, “Besides this, you know the kairos.” You know that this is the time of action, the time to get going. So, not only has knowing Christ changed our identity, he has changed our timeline.

The night is far gone; the day is at hand. (verse 12 ESV)

The kingdom is here and now, the kingdom is on its way as well. It is already, but not yet. Paul is calling them to realize that even Rome won’t last forever, the Lord himself is in charge of the times. We are in the time of promise, and we wait for the promise to be fulfilled as well.

What does it mean that even the most powerful and imposing of our accomplishments, our trials and our tribulations, is temporary? How can we wake up to that reality—the fact that the moment, the kairos, is now and not somewhere far off?

Think of Howard Hughes, one of the most famous billionaires and richest men in history. He made millions into billions; his fortune in one-dollar bills would cover 28 square miles! Yet his mental health collapsed. At the end, he cowered in hotel rooms unable to even look out the window. We can’t judge the state of his soul, but it seems that he, and so many of us, don’t look beyond these towers and palaces we build to the powerful realities behind them, and the fact that all of them will fall eventually.

Wake up. You live as a child of God in a world that will pass away when his kingdom is fully established. He is already Lord, and we live in the time between the first coming of Jesus and the second.

Third, the task of salvation 

So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Romans 13:12-14 ESV)

So, the terms of salvation discuss our change in identity. The time of salvation is now, calling us to wake up because the day has dawned. We come to the task of salvation—we did the WHO and the WHEN and now we come to the WHAT.

We always get jumpy about “tasks” when it comes to our faith because it sounds like “works.” We get worried that we are referring to working our way into heaven.

But we are already past that. Our identity is changed by our faith in and connection with Christ. Nothing can change that. We are invited to live the deeper and better life of knowing Christ.

I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10 ESV)

Jesus calls us to this life—he knows how life works and human beings work best. It was all his idea. He became like we are so that we might become like he is. He put on sin and loss and even death so that we could put on him.

As we act like him, we become more like him. But it’s not a matter of earning salvation—it’s a matter of experiencing the deeper life in Christ.

May God help us “put on the Lord, Jesus Christ.”

Small Group Discussion Questions

Questions for sermon: 

  • Have you ever acted in a play? What was it like to pretend to be someone else? (Share stories)
  • We talked first about how knowing Jesus is a change in identity. What does it mean to focus first on who we are before we focus on what we do?
  • We talked about how knowing Jesus changes our timeline. Does it change daily life to know that everything—good or bad—is temporary? Does that give us a kind of freedom?
  • We talked about the task of salvation being to “put on” Christ like a character in a play, until it changes who we are. What does this mean? Do you have an example of this in your own life?

Questions for Speaking of Life:

  • Paul always encourages us to BE who we already ARE in Christ. How do we do that in our everyday life? Will it make a difference in our lives over time? Has it made a difference in yours?
  • “Putting on Christ” is a mix of discipline and God’s uncanny grace. Have you ever seen this connection—your own efforts being multiplied in his hands?

Quote to ponder: “Jesus has now many lovers of the heavenly kingdom, but few bearers of the cross.” – Brother Thomas a Kempis, German monk, 15th century 

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