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15th Sunday after Pentecost

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  Amen.  Dear friends in Christ, I don’t know how many times I was told this by my parents growing up.  And now that I am a parent myself I find myself saying the very same words that my parents spoke.  “If you don’t finish the food on your plate you will NOT get any desert.”  “If you don’t clean your room you will NOT be allowed to watch Dora.”  “If you don’t stop complaining, you will go to bed right now.”  It is certainly proper and loving for parents to discipline their children.  Yet each one of those phrases could be rephrased: “If you finish the food on your plate, you will get desert.”  “If you clean your room you will get to watch Dora.”  “If you stop complaining you can stay up and play.”  Generally the way human beings do things is based on either positive or negative results.  Same goes in the work place, if you do your work, you won’t get fired, if you do your work, you’ll get paid or a bonus.  Same goes with the government, if you break the laws, you will pay a fine or be punished, if you do, you won’t be punished.  Positive and negative results that’s typically how people in our world get other people to do things.

But there’s a different way of doing things.  How does God MOTIVATE us to do what He tells us to in His Word?  Is it because if we don’t do what God tells us he’s going to punish us?  Actually not.  God punished Jesus for all of our sins.  Is it because if we do then God will reward us with heaven?  Actually not- heaven is God’s free gift to us.  So, why is it that we live Christian lives?  Why do we refuse to hate someone?  Why do we speak wholesome words and not words that tear people down?  Why do we not steal, hurt, lie, or hate?  Why do we do anything that God tells us to in His Word?  Why do we live Christian lives and go to church and support the work of the church with our varied gifts?  Why?

Imagine being in a very bad situation.  You’ve maxed out 23 credit cards, maxed out loans at several banks, and have cashed in all of your savings.  Then all of the bills start coming in.  Sitting miserably at home a friend stops by.  He takes all of your bills, every one of them, and pays them, and then he gives you $500,000 and tells you, “Please don’t get any more credit cards and invest some of this money in savings accounts and use some of it to help other people who were in the same predicament as you.”  Will you do it?  Absolutely!  Right?  Not because you’ll be punished if you don’t or rewarded necessarily if you do, but because you want to!

That’s a picture of the way God works.  He says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer you bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God- this is your spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1).  God says, “Offer your whole self, your whole life, in service to me.”  Why?  “In view of God’s mercy.”  In view of the 11 preceding chapters of Romans which tells in no uncertain terms that, yes, you were stuck in an insurmountable debt of sin, in fact all people are, there is no one righteous, no one who does good, everyone is worthless, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23) that includes you, that includes me, and what has our debt of sins earned us?  “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).  That’s what we deserve.

But then God comes along.  And He says, “Yep you deserve death, but I declare you innocent, justified, not guilty, freely by my grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ.”   All “are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24) and “the gift of God is eternal life” (Romans 6:23).  Where is God’s mercy seen the clearest?  At the cross of Christ.  That very place where God took all of your sins and laid them on Jesus who paid for them all.  He took every wrong thing you have ever done and laid it on His Son Jesus.  And He turns to you and says, “You are innocent, your debt is gone forever, your sins are forgiven, heaven is your free gift.”  Now He says, “Live for me.”  Will you do it?  Absolutely!  Why?  Because you want to!  It’s seeing how much God has done for you in Jesus that makes you WANT to use your whole life in service to Him.  To do what He tells you to do.

Realizing how gracious of a God we have, who has by His grace and mercy rescued us from certain eternal death- realizing that makes us want to say, “God, thank you.  How can I use my life to say ‘thank you’ to you.”  That’s the key to the Christian life.  And God gives some directions in front of us today.  He says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing, and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).

God has given you and me a new thinking, a thinking process that is totally different from that of this sinful world in which we leave.  The sinful world would like us to focus all of our attention on us.  “How can I please me?  How can I make myself look good in front of other people?  How can I get you to serve me?  How can I accumulate enough stuff to make myself feel good?”  The common denominator in all of those questions is ME.  God says, “No, it’s not about you.  It’s about me.  It’s about me who has given you more than you could ever hope for or ask for with the gift of eternal life free of charge.”  Our new mind-set asks, “How can I please God, how can I use my life to serve God, to give Him glory.”  God tells us what He wants us to be doing in His Word.  In God’s Word is where we find God’s will for us.

Now I’m going to use the example of marriage simply because it’s on my mind from the wedding yesterday and it’s something our world is horridly confused on today- yet it could be used for any of God’s commands as well (including respecting those in authority, not stealing, etc).  God’s given marriage to us as a blessing.  God wants single people to honor marriage by living chaste lives, free from lust or perversity.  God wants married couples to be committed to each other no matter what, to grow together in their love to God and thus grow closer to each other.  God wants husbands to love their wives like Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, loving their wives above all else except God.  God wants wives to lovingly line themselves up under their husbands and support them.  But what’s the temptation?  To single people: “Oh come on, God can’t be serious, he’s holding out on you, he’s making you miss some fun you could be having, did God really say don’t have sex before marriage?  Did God really say it’s wrong to lust after someone?”  To married people: “Did God really say you shouldn’t cheat on your spouse?  Did God really say you need to have the best interests of your spouse ahead of your own?”  The devil likes to make God’s will sound like a terribly burdensome thing.  But it’s not!  We do what God tells us out of thankful love for what God has done and look how “good, pleasing, and perfect” God’s will is!  The married couple who follows what God tells them has a solid marriage, they have pleasant lives together, they are able to work out problems, etc.  The single person saves themselves from heartache by honoring God’s gift of marriage.

Not only do we live in view of God’s mercy by using our lives to do what He’s told us to do, but we also use the unique gifts God has given us for the building up of God’s church.  This is what the 2nd half of our text is talking about.  Each believer in Jesus is part of the body of Christ, the Holy Christian Church.  God has given to you special gifts.  He wants you to use those gifts for the good of His Church.  Yet, the temptation is to either not use my gifts in God’s Church or think that my gifts are better than someone else’s.  Yet God has given gifts to every member of His Church.  That includes you, that includes me.  My gifts as a pastor are no more special than yours or someone who shares the message of hope in Jesus with a co-worker or someone who is able to empathize with someone experiencing loss and comfort them with God’s comfort or the leader in God’s Church who makes decisions for the benefit of the whole, etc.  What a gracious God we have who has given all these gifts to His Church and they all work together in different functions for the good of the whole, just like all the parts of a human body work together for the good of the whole body.

So why is it that we follow God’s will, do what God wants us to do?  It’s IN VIEW OF GOD’S MERCY.  Stick the cross of Christ in front of your eyes- it’s there where you see the love of God most clearly, see everything that He’s done for you, see how God has freely forgiven all of your sins, how God has given you heaven free of charge, then you can’t help but want to do what God tells you in His Word, then you can’t help but see opportunities to serve and use your gifts in God’s Church.  What a gracious, saving God we have who uses us in our lives and in the work of His Church!