32 of us joined our service on zoom this morning. Please see the video of the service above. John Bouldin was our zoom jockey, David Anderson was interviewed in Every Day lives and Sonia Cragg read the Bible reading. Tim Clapp and Chris Ellis led the worship. James Greig gave the following sermon:
Dear lord, be with us as I speak now, open the ears of our hearts to receive your word, and holy spirit be upon me to use the right words and to speak your message and not just what is on my mind. Amen
I have a question: How do you become a follower of Christ, a Christian?
As Alex began last month… It’s so frustrating.You have a friend or a relation or a neighbour, who you KNOW would hugely benefit from being a follower of Christ, from being a Christian. It’s like… you can see that they are desperately thirsty and that there is water, to share with them….just over there….but they won’t accept it.It defies all logic!
Well… this is what Paul is still grappling with in Romans Chapter ten – As Alex covered last month, and will continue with next month – the Jewish people in Rome were ignoring the Gospel, there was widespread unbelief. God’s chosen/ special people were rejecting Christ and not benefiting from their share in salvation.
In Chapter 9, as we heard last month – Paul grapples with why there is such unbelief. Has God’s promise to his people failed? And could it possibly be to do with God’s purpose according to election and pre-destination – some are simply in or out.
He then goes on in Chapters 10 and 11 to explore the human factors of this unbelief – namely not hearing and a reluctance to let go of the law. In essence this is the core makeup of Salvation – how are we saved.
The eminent American Preacher, John Piper says:
The relevance of this text is huge for understanding how you came to be saved from God’s wrath and from the guilt and dominion of sin with the hope of eternal joy in God. It is huge for understanding how your children or parents or brothers and sisters or neighbours or colleagues or the unreached peoples of the world will be saved. The process of coming to faith and salvation is laid out here as nowhere else.
To fully understand this, we must remember that throughout the 4000 year span of the Old Testament, God made 4 covenants, contracts with his people. The most notable was the Mosaic covenant in Exodus 19 and 24. God had led his people out of slavery and reaffirms his promise to his chosen people, Israel. He sets out conditional blessings and curses based on obedience and disobedience, known as the Law or the Torah. Purification also came in the form of sacrificial animals – a bold illustration of what will eventually happen on the cross.
So fast forward, back to the winter of the year 57AD and Paul is at pains with the unbelief of his fellow Jews in Rome – who are creating their own religious relativism or ‘covenantal nomism’ – they’ve formed their own customs in addition to the law to be seen as righteous in God’s eyes. We’re told in verse 3 they are ‘ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own’.
I think we are all sometimes guilty of this type of relativism – making our own moral code that suits our culture and lifestyle.
So, argument one for this disbelief: They could be forgiven for assuming the good news of Christ didn’t apply to them – irt was just for the gentiles, for they were still under the exclusivity of the Torah, the law – so any attempt by them to establish acts of righteousness was just an attempt to confirm or preserve their covenant membership.
But, Paul rejects this argument. He makes it clear righteousness only comes from God (v3), not by works or birth or good deeds. He goes on to clarify in verse 4 that it is because of, and throughChrist – this the essence of the Gospel message ‘Christ is the end of the law, so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes’. (Vs4)
Jesus himself tells us this in Matthew 5:17 – ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.’
Why then did God create a Law that was so impossible to fulfil in the first place? Paul explains in Galatians 3:24 The purpose of the Law was to point us to Jesus – ‘So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.’ Commentators say the Law possibly highlighted their guilt and a need for a Messiah.
So for Israel, and with us today, it is by Christ that we are justified, for if salvation was still based on the law, then no one would be saved as it is impossible to live by the law.
There is only one person who lived a flawless, sinless life – and he died on the cross for each of us, so we could have an eternal relationship with God, we receive the full benefit of Christ’s obedience. And most importantly with Christ’s abrogation of the law – so does the fact that righteousness is for everyone, not just for Israel – but for Jew and gentile, you and me.
So is that it, is faith enough?
Well… Paul goes on to explain how one is saved through Christ in verse 9: ‘If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouththat you profess your faith and are saved’.
It is not enough to do one without the other, we must have an inward belief and an outward confession. Scottish theologian John Murray puts it like this ‘Confession without faith would be vain … But likewise faith without confession would be shown to be spurious.’
But one objection might have been that the Jewish people (and the gentiles, and one could say our community today) had not been given these prerequisites for salvation – but Paul removes this argument by spelling out the steps to salvation that apply to all of us, the steps of God’s plan for salvation that applies to each of us, our families, neighbours and the nations.
Let’s read verses 14 – 17 again:
14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” – (that’s a quote from Isaiah by the way, where Isaiah is saying how precious and beautiful are those who bring good news)
16 But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?”[h] 17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. (NIV)
So working backwards Paul is saying – you can only call if you believe, you can only believe if you’ve heard (the good news), and you can only hear it if someone preaches it, but they can only preach it if they are sent.
As so many today, one could argue they simply hadn’t heard the good news or didn’t understand – isn’t that a fair estimation? Paul then cleverly from verse 18 onwards – gives all the evidence for why they have heard and simply not listened. I wish we had time to go into this…
But, how does this apply to us some 2000 years later.
Well, firstly we can take courage from verse 9 – that to become a follower of Christ – the steps are extraordinarily simple, no need for a degree in Theology, or hike up some mountain dressed in sack cloth, or indeed the slaughter of any livestock – Paul simply says confess with your lips – out loud and believe in your heart, that God is your saviour.
But we also should take from this the clear reminder of the steps one takes to belief. Compared to 20/30 years ago less and less people start life with a basic knowledge of who Christ is, gone are the days when most people started life with a basic Sunday school education. The numbers of practicing Christians have pretty much halved compared to 20 years ago. Another survey recently found that only 10% of adults can correctly give 4 facts about the Christmas story.
The survey, said: “Britain is fast becoming one of the world’s most secular countries” ….“As nations get richer, they think they no longer need God”.
So more than ever preachers need to be sent, (the Greek uses the word ‘herald’) so they can teach the good news, so that people can hear, so than people can believe. Jesus tells us in Matthew 28:
“Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
It is our commission as followers of Christ to herald the good news of the gospel. Yes, there are some who are ‘sent’ – the great preachers of this world, who have a calling and a clear gifting… but I believe we all have our part to play, be it dressing up as a wise man or a donkey to be part of the Open the Book team that goes into Itchen Abbas primary school, or simply relationally in conversation with friends, family and neighbours, or even inviting someone to the Alpha course.
I’m possibly testament to the need to be re-told the essence of the Gospel. I grew us as the son of missionaries and then a village vicar, I would say I’ve been a Christian all my life – but somehow in the busyness of vicarage life the truth of the Gospel evaded me, I thought being a follower of Christ was about being good, polite, saying my prayers, not sinning. God was an authoritarian head master like figure in my mind. But one day when I was about 15 -16 – my father and I were collecting sheep poo in our paddock (those of you with horses will understand) and I can’t remember how we got onto the topic, but my father explained that being a follower of Christ was about a having a relationship, a loving relationship. At that moment it all clicked.
So if I didn’t get it and I was living with a preacher – how many more of our friends, family, neighbours – have not fully heard the gospel?
To reverse verses 14 and 15 – we need to be sent, then to speak/ preach/ herald, people then can hear, then they can believe then they can call on the Lord.
This is what Chapter 10 is all about – and this is what we should be taking from this message – we are all called to speak about Christ, so people can hear, so they can believe, and then then can call on the Lord.
Lastly, I feel this verse also speaks to us as believers. Faith comes from – calling (vs14) and listening (vs17) – Do we call upon the Lord enough – Lord help me with this dilemma, Lord I’m tired, give me strength, Lord, I’m very cross with you at the moment – why am I not healed…, Lord, please please save my friend… through petition and intersession and then lastly listening turning our ears to hear his voice – we grow in faith, proceeding with increasing confidence in his will for our lives.
Let us pray: Lord, our heart cries out for the people that we long to know you – today, give us a renewed sense of your calling to be sent to make disciples of all nations. Give us the confidence and the courage to speak about you. And help us to hear you more clearly. Amen.
Nicky Barber read the following prayers:
Valley Worship Prayers 17 10 20
Heavenly Father, your word says that you hear those who call on you. We believe that you are good, loving and powerful and that you do hear us however weak our cries might be. Together we call out to you now and lift our fallen world to you.
Thank you for all those who you have called to bring your good news to others and for those in this Parish who preach and teach us and especially today for James and Alex and the rest of his ministry team. May they each be empowered by your Holy Spirit to preach your word boldly and sensitively, helping us to understand it and to build our lives on what your word teaches us.
We need your help Father to really understand and receive the good news of your salvation ourselves but we also need your boldness to take it to those who have not yet heard it. What have you taught each of us about yourself and your salvation whichsomeone else is hungry to know? Do you have a message you want us to share with others and whom are you calling us to share it with? We pray for encounters over the next few days where you will bring us into contact with people who you want to reach and prompt us by your spirit with what to say to them about you and your love and the hope we have in Christ.
We need hope Lord during these dark times when we often feel afraid or anxious, worried that this world doesn’t feel safe anymore. You are the God of hope who brings light into the darkness and drives away fear.
We name before you in our hearts anyone we know who is particularly struggling at the moment whatever the reason and particularly those suffering from ill health, grief, loneliness, anxiety or fear. As we pray please draw close to each of them with your healing, saving, redeeming power.
We pray for those you have placed in authority over us that you will fill them with wisdom, knowledge and skill as they try and steer us back to a place of stability again. We seem to be surrounded by discouragement and negativity at the moment in the news, social media and also in many of our conversations.Where there is conflict or despair we long to see you restore peace, unity and hope.
We cry to you now for forgiveness and reconciliation to be released in our society, across this nation but also here in our relationships at home and within this valley. Holy Spirit please come and release your power in our hearts to enable us to love and encourage others even when life is not going as we want it to.
In a few moments of silence please Lord will you bring to mind anyone who we need to forgive and help us to bring them to the foot of your cross now in our minds and to see your blood washing away their sin just as you have washed away our own sin.
We pray all this today resting in the wonderful knowledge that you really do hear our cries and respond to them. Amen
Lets now join together as we say the Lord’s Prayer: