4th Sunday in Lent
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ,
In 1886 Robert Louis Stevenson published a famous book called the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The story is about a certain man who transformed between these two vastly different personalities. Dr. Jekyll was a nice sociable person. Mr. Hyde, on the other hand, was not. He was evil, self-indulgent, and uncaring about anyone except himself. The story is about how it is discovered that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are actually the same person and how Mr. Hyde slowly begins to take over. What’s interesting about the story is that, in a way, it captures exactly what’s going on in the heart of every Christian. In every Christian there’s a constant opposition, a constant battle going on between two vastly different persons. There’s an old self, a sinful self, a self totally and completely dominated by the sinful nature that we inherit from birth. But there’s also a new self, a new person, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:24). So there’s this battle inside of us between the selfless saint and the selfish sinner. The new self loves God, lives in grace and forgiveness, joy and freedom. The sinful self hates God and lives in selfishness, self-absorption, self-centeredness, self-concentration.
This Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde battle out in every Christian heart. Perhaps the clearest display of these two persons is in children. Here’s one example: Having a number of children in my family means that we don’t buy new clothes for each one, they get hand-me-downs. For quite a while my wife and I didn’t want to spend the money on new mittens for David knowing that he’s just going to outgrow them. So what did he get? One pair of purple mittens and one pair of pink mittens. But guess what? He didn’t care, he’s three years old! He goes out, runs, laughs, plays without a care in the world. He doesn’t care what other people think, he doesn’t care what he looks like, he’s not afraid of being made fun of. Why so? He feels secure. He’s secure knowing that his dad and mom dearly love him, he knows “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so,” he doesn’t question it, he’s secure. You know, he’s never climbed up on my knee to tell me how concerned he is about the direction our country is going, he’s never told me how troubled he is by nuclear bombs, he’s never told me he’s afraid we might not have enough money this month. He can just run and play and laugh without a care in the world. Now we look at that and think, “That’s pretty neat. There’s a part of me that wishes I could be so carefree.” But then, at other times, we see how children can show themselves to be absolutely, incredibly selfish and self-centered. For example: one toy plus two children equals fighting and crying. You let one child have the toy and you and get a new toy for the other and what happens? All of sudden they’ve both forgotten about the old toy and now they’re fighting over the new toy! What is so pronounced in children is the same thing that goes on in the adult heart just more advanced and hidden.
This saint versus sinner battle goes on inside of us each day. There’s a battle between selflessness and selfishness that is fought in our hearts every day. Our text this morning describes the difference between a heart controlled by the Holy Spirit and a heart controlled by the sinful nature. But our first verse gives us the key to living the life of who we really are.
You see, the sinful nature produces selfishness and the root cause of selfishness is this feeling of being condemned. Being condemned means that there is something against you, something you are liable for, something you have to pay, something you have to prove. In other words, this idea that I need to prove myself, validate myself, show that I matter in life. Maybe it’s in my job, maybe it’s in my family, maybe it’s in my skill, maybe it’s in my intellect or my grades. But if I’m driven by this need to prove myself, I’ll always be self-absorbed and condemned. I’ll be self-absorbed because I’m looking to get ahead. I’ll be condemned because life will show me time and again that I’ve fallen short. Let’s take a couple examples: if I’m looking for validation and approval from my job, I’ll feel good when my boss complements me or gives me a raise, but I’ll be devastated and condemned when I’m demoted, criticized, or lose my job. If I’m looking for validation and approval in life from my family, I’ll feel good when my children are perfect angels and star athletes, but I’ll be devastated and condemned when they misbehave or disappoint my expectations somehow. If I’m looking for validation in being smart or in having good grades, I’ll feel good when people are impressed by my knowledge and I get good grades, but be devastated and condemned when I’m wrong or get bad grades. If I’m looking for validation from a particular talent or ability that I have, I’ll feel good when I’m complemented or when I score a lot of points in the game, but devastated and condemned when I fail.
We see this in our other lessons. What led Joseph’s brothers to hate him so much? They were looking for validation from their father’s approval, but when he gave his favor to Joseph instead of them, they were devastated and condemned. What led the sons of Zebedee and their mother to request the highest positions in Jesus’ kingdom? They were looking for validation from their positions.
You see, in every case and whenever we’re devastated and condemned the reason is because we’re putting more stock in someone or something else instead of in God. What so-and-so says is more real and more important to me than what Jesus, the King of the universe says about me. And when we do that it will always and inevitably lead to more selfishness, self-absorption, self-concentration because I need their approval so I’m not condemned.
So what’s the answer? It’s right here. Here’s your assignment this week: memorize this verse: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Did you hear what that said? In Christ Jesus there is NO condemnation. That means there is nothing held against you, you are liable for nothing, there is nothing you have to pay for, there is nothing you have to prove to anyone, nothing you have to work for, nothing you have to achieve. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. That means you have complete and total approval and validation from God, the King of the universe. You can’t possibly be more loved by God than you are right now. You can’t possibly be more forgiven by God than you are right now. You can’t possibly be more treasured by God than you are right now.
But how can that be? I know that my past is ugly, I know that I’ve been way more Mr. Hyde than Dr. Jekyll, I know I’ve been selfish way more than selfless. How can God say that there is now no condemnation? Because he already condemned sin. God sent his own son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. Jesus Christ was condemned in your place. Jesus Christ sacrificially gave himself up on a cross to be condemned by God for all your sin, all mine, and all the world’s. And what does that mean? That means there is no condemnation left for you. Instead the righteous requirements of the law are fully met not BY us, but IN us. God credits to us the perfect life of His Son Jesus.
So what’s the key to living a selfless life and not a selfish one? It’s this: There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus! Let that truth sink deeper and deeper into your mind and into your heart. It’s having God’s approval, His validation that means you can run and play and laugh without a care in the world like a little child. What is it that is condemning you? Who’s approval are you placing more stock in than Jesus, the King of the universe? Hear what God says to you: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
It also means that you can give yourself in self-sacrificing service. Since you don’t have to prove yourself or impress anyone there’s no need to be selfishly looking to get ahead. Rather, since you have everything you need eternally from God in Jesus, you can give of yourself to others. You can live not to be served, but to serve. Why so? Because you have a Savior who came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.
There’s a battle going on inside of each of us between a sinful nature and a new person. But Christ as set us free, we aren’t enslaved to our sinful nature any longer. We can live in freedom and joy and selfless service because we know: There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Memorize that with your head and live it with your heart. Amen.