We all enjoyed the new experience of Zoom Church this morning at Valley Worship with perhaps 80 people joining us from their homes.
James Wright preached about our moral condition from Romans 5 as follows:
Yuck-Yuck & God’s overwhelming grace. Encountering God.
Blaise Pascal wrote, that “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
Given the present circumstances this is no longer such an issue. Although, I know it is still very challenging for those with a house full – particularly a house full of young children. Most of us though will have a bit more time than usual – so maybe we can solve some problems over the coming days by sitting quietly and reflecting when we can.
I expect there are many questions, subjects and problems that we can all grapple with and “mentally chew the cud” over. This morning, I’d like to add one other question to your list, based on Romans 5, and it is: what is your “moral condition”?
Now, I don’t know about you, but this just sounds so boring doesn’t it? I don’t wake up in the morning thinking I need to reflect on my moral condition. Just saying the words “morality”, “law” or “sin” puts most of us to sleep and perhaps for some there is a slight revulsion. It’s just a bit old fashioned and the idea of an absolute truth, beyond our control, gets under our skin.
But, the reality for me is that I am easily seduced by pride. I don’t think I’m that bad or need much help. And so, my view of my own morality diminishes my need to be saved, my need to be redeemed.
I am not so different to the Pharisees, who were “sitting by”, looking on as spectators, as Jesus taught the crowd. I suppose, like most of us, they were slightly self-contained and self-satisfied – thinking all His teaching did not apply to them. They thought they had most of the answers and were enough by themselves.
As a result, I have a limited appreciation of the magnificence of God’s grace and I am not a vocal advocate for Jesus. The Good News – that I am saved by grace alone is strangely a bit underwhelming.
If my life is to have an impact for Jesus and God’s kingdom, then I need a much deeper understanding of my moral condition.
As Chuck Colson, who founded Prison Fellowship and was awarded the Templeton Prize, said: “…no matter what initially attracts us to Christianity, at some point each of us must confront the truth of our own moral condition…”.
So, where do we start?
Firstly, to know the truth of my moral condition, I need to understand what the moral code is, what the law is that I am benchmarking myself against.
The purpose of having laws is that they increase our knowledge and conviction of wrong doing. If I didn’t know what the law was I wouldn’t know if I had broken it. But, where there is a law, innocence and guilt are objectively real.
Fortunately, Jesus helpfully summarised all the law, when he said that the law hangs on two commandments: to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”; to “Love your neighbour as yourself”.
I don’t know about you but, even on my very best days, I have never come close to reaching these goalposts. I fall short.
And this is normal. We are not flawless. We are all human, we have weaknesses and we get things wrong – and we don’t need to pretend otherwise. As Nicky recently reminded us with the illustration of a plumb line – all of us are out of plumb.
We took the opportunity last weekend to potty train our youngest son. He’s not 2 yet but frankly we’ve had enough of nappies! Life for our son in nappies was like life with no knowledge of the law. He went to the loo whenever he wanted and thought this was perfectly acceptable. However, taking the nappies off showed him what the rules were – what the law is. He realised he fell far short – quite literally. Just like our lives, he has had a messy week. But, I am pleased to report all is well now.
So, when we stop and reflect we can see that while we might be averagely good, or even very good, we do fall short when compared to Jesus’ standards. We can objectively see that we can’t love God supremely or our neighbour as ourselves based on our own efforts. We can’t fulfil the law.
But why does this matter? It matters because without reflecting on this truth we can become complacent and inadvertently think we are sufficient by ourselves because we are good relative to our own standards. In other words, we create an idol of ourselves that separates us from God.
So, what can we do?
We need to be convicted of our wrongdoing, but then also know that God’s grace is more than sufficient.
Paul’s message to us is that our wrongs, our sins – however many, however little – have all been forgiven through Jesus’ death on the cross. But not only forgiven, we have been credited with the righteousness, the innocence of Jesus. We have been adopted, grafted in as children of God.
We can be free to be honest with ourselves about our wrongs. We can face our sin squarely as we know that it is forgiven. We don’t need to hide it. There is no shame.
Just as Barny has come to us unashamedly saying “yuck yuck” when he has made a mess this week. It is our son’s total trust in our love and grace that has enabled him to admit his “yuck yuck”, and start to enjoy the freedom of a better nappy free life.
Like Barny, we can acknowledge our wrong doing – our “yuck yuck” and embrace Jesus’ grace as St Paul said “where sin increased, grace increased all the more”.
And this Grace is overwhelming. As Isaiah writes: he has blotted out our transgressions and remembers them no more. As the Psalmist said: he has removed our transgressions from us – as far as the east is from the west. We have been justified through faith and we have peace with God through Jesus.
This is the wonderful news of the Gospel. Jesus came to help those who were lost, those who were struggling, those who doubt and question – put simply, people just like all of us.
We are imperfect people, no better than anyone else, following a perfect saviour.
As John Newton, the writer of the famous hymn, Amazing Grace said: “Although my memory’s fading, I remember two things very clearly: I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Saviour.”
But how do we see change in our lives – rather than holding onto this knowledge like an unopened book and carrying on with our day to day lives as before?
Chuck Colson, went on to say that: “The Holy Spirit can penetrate the hardest heart to convict us of our sinfulness.” He knew that to be true because that is exactly what the Spirit did in his life. In an earlier part of his life he had been known as President Nixon’s “hatchet man” and was heavily involved in the Watergate Scandal. He described how he was sitting in his car in a friend’s driveway, when he experienced the overwhelming conviction, that God had died for him and then how he felt released from a crushing sense of guilt.
So, one way to apply this knowledge is to seek to encounter God, to invite the Holy Spirit into our lives. To show us the truth.
And, we might not all encounter God like Paul on the Road to Damascus. But, rather than focusing on ourselves, we can all keep asking the Holy Spirit to reveal more of Himself to us as we turn outwards. We can persevere in this – remembering that it is normal to ask for help.
You might not be convinced that you have a need for forgiveness, or that the Holy Spirit is true. You may struggle to believe that Jesus died on the cross and is risen. Or, equally, you might be convinced. Or you might feel a sense of emptiness in your life – what Augustine called our “God shaped hole”.
Either way all you need is a tiny amount of faith – as little as a mustard seed – enough just to ask questions, enough just to dare to turn and face Jesus, enough just to ask for help in your pursuit for truth.
Life is short, no one else will live our lives and can do this for us. We all just need the courage to stop, slow down and speak out an honest prayer.
So, let’s have a moment to be still and pray for an encounter with God, now and in the days and weeks to come. To convict us where we fall short and for us to know and appreciate, in a new and wonderful way, the wonders of His grace.
To be overwhelmed by grace and rediscover the God who is the source of all freedom.
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned— sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.
But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.
Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Ro 5:1–6:14). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
Prayers read by Nicky Barber
As we think about James’s words to us today and the beautiful words of our last song, please help each of us to know at a deeper and deeper level how much we do need a saviour and how great a saviour Jesus is to all who call on him for help, to experience the relief of our chains falling off and being replaced by your grace.
The world seems to be shaking around us and so much of what normally gives us security has either disappeared or seems very vulnerable. Many of us are frightened, wresting with loneliness, exhausted from having to work too hard or living with difficult relationships. We need a saviour. We need your help.
When the disciples were hiding in a locked room after your crucifixion Jesus, you came to them and showed them your risen body, you brought them peace and restored hope to them. We cry out to you now and invite you to come into our homes and into our hearts – thank you that lockdown is no barrier to you, the living God.
We lift to you those you have given authority to govern us at this time. May they have your wisdom and discernment as they struggle to find the best time and way to bring an end to this current state of lockdown.
We thank you for those you have been touching with your healing power, especially for those we have been praying for recently including our prime minister Boris Johnston and Loulou. Please restore each of them to full health and reveal your glory to and through them as you do so.
We bring before you all those who are caring for the sick and vulnerable at the moment, those who are selflessly working in our care homes, hospitals, supermarkets, the police and those who are trying to find tests and vaccines. May they know your shield of protection and please show us how to support them in practical ways.
Thank you Heavenly Father that no-one is hidden from your sight, even those who are in isolation at the moment, deprived of the things we take for granted such as a hug or kiss. We bring to you those who are alone or sick in body or mind, anxious, wrestling with a lack of financial or other resources, those unexpectedly out of work. Hear their cries Lord and draw near to them now.
Despite the grim nature of the news at the moment and the awful situations we hear about daily, we thank you Father for your unceasing grace. Help us to fix our eyes on the hope you have set before us, the eternal life you have prepared for us. Thank you for the freedom we have in this country to worship you, for this wonderful time of spring and new life all around us, for the rain which watered the thirsty land on Friday and the sun which warms our skin today. Please keep filling each of us Holy Spirit and as Jesus promised, pour the Father’s love into our hearts and empower us to boldly carry the wonderful message of your Amazing Grace to a world that desperately needs to hear it.
We ask all this in the precious name of Jesus. Amen