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MESSAGE FOR AUGUST 10, 2003

           

This week we continue our series of messages on the mission of the church.  Over the past two weeks we have seen that if our passion for missions and personal evangelism is lacking, it is almost certainly due to the fact that we are not motivated rightly.  We have seen that the bible teaches that our motivation for the global mission of the church and personal evangelism should be the same as God’s motivation, namely that God’s glory would be spread through the gospel, creating worshippers of him here and to the nations.  We have seen that as we develop a passion for God’s glory our zeal for the mission of the church will also increase.  Last week, we looked at three ways we can develop an increasing passion for God’s glory.  The first way is simply to ask God for a great zeal for his glory. God wants us to be more zealous for his name—if we ask him, he will give it to us.  Second, we can develop a greater zeal for God’s global glory by warming our lukewarm hearts around the blast furnace of God’s glory—his word.  As we meditate on this central theme of Scripture and store in our hearts texts which declare his glory—each text is like a burning-hot coal that causes our hearts more and more to radiate a zeal for God’s glory. Third, we said that the nuclear fireball of God’s glory contained in his word is the gospel of Jesus Christ and ground zero of the gospel is the cross of Christ.  It’s as we think about and internalize the glory of the gospel that the critical mass necessary for a nuclear zeal for God’s glory will collect in our hearts.

            Today, we want to turn to one more way we can by God’s grace develop an ever-increasing zeal for God’s glory.  But before we do that we must lay a foundation.  We must first lay a foundation to support the crucial truth that developing a passion for God’s glory is a struggle.  And it’s a struggle we must, and by God’s grace will, fight and win.  The bible teaches there is a war going on in our hearts and the ultimate prize being fought over is defined by the questions, “Whom will I glorify?” “Whom will I worship?” “Whom will I boast in?”  That is the origination point of every spiritual struggle we have and of every sin we commit.  I want to look at this struggle somewhat in depth so that we can know better how to fight for this zeal for God’s glory.  The argument of the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation is God created humanity to worship him, to glorify him, to boast in Him.  We see this in God’s original design in the creation narratives in Genesis.  Genesis 1:26-27 says, “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.  And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”27So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”   

We see why God created us as he did by asking two questions.  First and most basic, when God created humanity, “whose image did he use?”  We dare not overlook that obvious question. And second, “what job did he give humanity to do?”  As it relates to in whose image did he create man, he created man in his OWN image—not the image of angels or the image of animals, but in his own image.  He wanted us in some way to be like HIM.  He chose to populate the earth with human creatures who would reflect his own nature—creatures that would image HIM, who would be in HIS likeness.  He wanted this earth to be filled with little God-reflectors who bore his very image.  In creating humanity God did something that drew attention to himself—he is saying implicitly in the way he created us, “My desire is to reveal something of myself so I am making my vice regents of this planet in my own image.”  And he shows us how great and glorious a God he is by creating us divine image-bearers, not out of some exotic celestial material, but he made beings who bore His divine image out of…dirt.  Not only is he the Creator—no one else creates—but he can make divine image-bearers out of dust. 

We also see his passion for his glory in our creation in the job he gave humanity to do.  He says in 1:26, “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.  And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”  God shows his passion for his glory in creation by allowing humanity to reflect his image, but also to express his authority.  What does God by his very nature DO?  He takes dominion over things—He has dominion over ALL things—he is the ultimate, preeminent, archetypal dominion-Taker.  He is the Lord Almighty.  And we must not miss the fact that when he gives humanity the task of taking limited dominion or lordship over one planet in one solar system he is doing something that reflects him because that’s what God does—he takes dominion.  God takes dominion by his nature—humanity does it on a much more limited basis by God’s commission.  The job he gave to humanity reflects God—the creation of humanity is God-centered.  We were created for the purpose of reflecting, glorifying, worshipping and boasting in God who gave us HIS image and delegated to us a very small part of HIS job under HIS supervision.

We see more proof of our purpose to glorify, worship and boast in God in Satan’s strategy in the fall in Genesis three.  Satan comes on the scene and HE wants dominion.  Revelation 12 tells us he had earlier tried to take dominion over God but was quickly dismissed from that epic folly.  As the serpent makes his play to take limited dominion over the earth, notice his strategy.  First, he does something that would have never entered the heads of the unfallen humans, he questions God by asking Eve, “Did God actually say, “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?  Later when Eve clarifies what God really said to her the serpent openly contradicts what God had told them saying, “You will not surely die.”  The message is clear, “GOD WAS WRONG.”  He raises a doubt in Eve’s mind as to whether or not God could be trusted—chipping away at the human basis of her motivation to worship God—her trust in Him and his word—a strategy that has been employed countless times by those who have been unwitting accomplices of Satan.  Then, having undermined her trust of God, having persuaded Eve to bring God down off the exalted place of worship and unblemished love he had occupied in her heart, he then works to fill that void with something else.  Do you see the strategy?  First, he persuades Eve to question whether God was worthy of her worship and when that vacuum is created, he fills it with another potential object of worship and glory.  He does this in verse five when the serpent says, “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

The trap is sprung.  Note the strategy here.  Oh Eve, God is not the one to be worshipped and glorified and boasted in.  We know that because, you can’t even trust what he says—he was gave you wrong information about his own creation because he doesn’t want you horning in on his territory—being like him knowing good from evil.  But Eve, if you eat from this tree, trust me—you WILL be like him—you will be GOD-LIKE.  Without respect to the glaring flaws in that argument, we must see that, having persuaded Eve to dethrone God in her heart by bringing his truthfulness and goodness into question, he supplies Eve with a substitute God—a substitute object of worship and glory and boast—he fills the vacuum Eve had sinfully created in her heart with another god—herself—YOU WILL BE LIKE GOD, EVE!  The fact that she already WAS like God by his image in her was of little account to her.  She wanted MORE for herself than what God had given her—she wasn’t satisfied with being God-like through his image stamped on her, she wanted to magnify the glory of her SELF as being God-like!  And we know this is precisely what happened because in 3:7 it says, “Then the eyes of both were opened and they knew that they were naked.  And they sowed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.” 

The first couple for the first time become SELF-conscious.  Self WAS magnified.  They are aware of themselves in a new and much more intense way because they wanted self to be magnified.  They wanted to be at the center of their universe in place of God…. But the cruel joke on them was, when they became SELF-conscious, this elevated consciousness of self brought not a sense of personal glory, but personal shame.  Nakedness, a condition that had not bothered them in the least before the fall, is now something they must rush to cover up and we have been covering up our self-worship induced shame ever since.  When you seek after God’s glory, you get joy and peace and the glorious freedom of self-forgetfulness.  When you seek after your own glory, you ultimately get shame because even though our sinful flesh wants to make much of ourselves, when we with all of our sin indeed ARE magnified we look AWFUL(!) and that brings shame. 

We must not miss this--The primary result of the fall in humanity is a turning away from worshipping God to worshipping self.  Humanity now seeks to worship self and glorify and boast in ourselves not in God.  We see this in Romans 1:21-23.  Paul writes, “For although they knew God, they did not honor [the word for honor is “doxaso” which is mainly translated “glorify”] him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Claiming to be WISE [hear the self-glorifying there], they became fools, and exchanged the glory [same word as before] of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.” The Fall did NOT remove our passion to worship—God hard wired that desire to worship into our heart—his programming in us to be worshippers goes all the way down to our motherboards and that need did not change as a result of the Fall.  The passion to worship did not change, but the object of our worship was radically altered—instead of worshipping and glorifying and boasting in God, we apart from God’s grace seek that for ourselves.

Even when we become a follower of Christ, indwelt with the Spirit of God, we still have this fleshly part of us that craves self-worship and adoration and that part of us wages war against the Holy Spirit’s compulsion within us to glorify God through Christ.  We see this in Galatians 5:16-17.  Paul writes, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.  For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”  There is Paul’s witness to this inner war that goes on in us, but notice as we look at the specific manifestations of each of these opposing spiritual enemies—notice what the implicit GOAL of each of these manifestations is.  Verse 19 says, "Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality—those are the manifestations of someone who is trying to find their pleasure in themselves and what they can generate through sexual sin instead of one seeking to find their pleasure in God. 

Next, Paul says in verse 20, “idolatry, sorcery.  Sorcery is a self-centered attempt to gain control over your environment through the harnessing of demonic spiritual powers.  A person who engages in sorcery is not content to trust in God and how He controls the world or their circumstances so they work to achieve that independent control through demonic spiritual power.  The ultimate focus is on ME gaining control and ME having power that is independent of God.  Idolatry is not ultimately the worship of external things like metal or wooden objects, though that is sometimes the external form it takes.  Paul equates idolatry with self-worship when he says in Colossians 3:5 and Ephesians 5:6 that covetousness is idolatry.   Paul cites a sinful desire in our hearts—covetousness, which is not being satisfied with what God has given us, and equates it with idolatry and the reason is simple.

Covetousness is expressed many ways, “I want a different car or different boat or different house or different reputation or different bank account or different appearance than what God has given to me.”  But the fountain of covetousness from which all other forms of it flow is “I want a different GOD than the one I have because this God is not giving ME what I want.”  Idolatry is the rejection of God as God and displacing him with the closest, though pitiful substitute, ourselves--creatures who in the Fall were horribly warped by our self-centered, godless desire to be God-like.

All the other works of the flesh are also motivated by a desire for self-glorification.  Galatians 5:20 continues with “…enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy.  All those are interpersonal sins and James summarizes what the motivation behind those sins is in 4:1-2 when he says, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?  Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?  You desire and do not have, so you murder.  You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.  You do not have, because you do not ask.  You ask and you do not receive because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your own passions.” The main cause of our interpersonal difficulties is that we idolatrously become passionate about ourselves—our glory, our desire for attention or pity or applause or fleshly pleasures.  And when you put that person in the company of someone else who is concerned about their glory and desire for attention or pity or applause or fleshly pleasure, you’re going to have a conflict of some kind because those desires selfishly compete with one another.  The other works of the flesh “drunkenness [and] orgies” are clearly desires expressed to find pleasure in ourselves instead of God.

            On the other hand, the fruit of the Spirit are all God-centered because they reflect what He is like.  The fruit of the Spirit are given to us at the most basic level so that we—as those created in God’s likeness, can actually display his character in things like “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness [and] self control.” That’s what God is like and when we live like that it’s only by a God-glorifying work of God’s Spirit as he miraculously produces those God-reflecting qualities in us.  The point of all this is this:  we humans are boasters by design—that is what humanity does—we boast.  The question that we have to answer every minute of our earthly existence in this fallen, SELF-centered world is: will we boast or take delight in ourselves or will we boast or take delight in God? 

God has set up the universe in such a way that we cannot rightly worship Him if we are worshipping ourselves.  God would never be satisfied to be co-King with us.  “Co-king” is a contradiction in terms.  Part of being King is having the throne and all the glory that goes with it—all to yourself.  As King He shares his glory with no one as we saw last week.  Jesus was speaking of our passion to worship ourselves through our obsession with wealth in Matthew 6:24 and lays out this principle of exclusivity in our worship.  He says, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and money.” God will not share the throne of our hearts with anyone or anything.  He demands and is worthy of our sole, solitary highest devotion.  He designed that exclusivity of worship into the universe.  That means that our passion or zeal for God’s glory will be strengthened as we mercilessly kill off any fleshly desires for self-glorification that drain off our passion for God’s glory.  Its as we brutally strangle those passions for self glory that arrogantly charge into the throne room of our hearts and challenge God’s exclusive right to glory, will we find our hearts having more passion for seeing God’s glory manifest in our lives, in our church and spread out to the nations.  Our God-placed passion for worship will gradually but radically shift from self to God.  This is at the very heart of our sanctification.  God’s command for sanctification is “Be holy, even as I am holy.”  In other words, “Live your life in a way that reflects ME in my holiness.”

The point of application for us springs directly from this foundation we have been laying.  This foundation prepares us for the main answer to the question, “how do you recognize and exterminate those competing passions of self-worship and self-glory and self-boasting?”  The primary answer is to live with this wide-angle lens on the Christian life and ask God to reveal to our self-centered, God-competing passions for our own glory.  Too many sincere followers of Christ examine their hearts with a spiritual microscope but seldom pick up the telescope.  We miss the forest for the trees.  Here’s an example of what I mean.  We scream at the kids and we say to ourselves, “Boy, I really need to get this anger under control.  I shouldn’t have done that—that’s the third time this week I have blown up all over them.”  That is not a bad response—we must confess our sin, but if that is all we do it is incomplete and will not touch the root of the sin, which lies much deeper than our problem with anger.  The individual “tree” is anger, but the forest, which we need to back up and use a wide-angle lens to see, is our desire for self-glory. 

We take the wide-angle lens off the shelf and use it to examine our hearts every time we ask the deeper question of, “Why did I yell at the kids?”  Or, “Why did I lust after that person?  Or, “Why did I lie to my friend?”  James has already told us why we often get angry,  “You desire and you do not have, so you murder (or get angry—cf. Matt 5) You covet and cannot obtain so you quarrel.” When we back up to look at the forest with the wide-angle lens we can see that the problem isn’t at root that I have a tendency to get angry—the problem is I worship myself by wanting to place myself at the center of my universe.  My misbehaving children are keeping me from having what I want—peace, quiet, orderliness, an uninterrupted phone conversation.  So when they get in the way of what I want, I scream at them instead of simply correcting their behavior, which honors God because it reflects His parental love because it is motivated by love for them.  They got in MY way!  We lust because we are trying to find short-term pleasure in our flesh instead of trusting God for the eternal pleasure he provides.  We covet because we are not content with what God has given us and we want MORE because in fact we have often selfishly chosen to believe the lie that we NEED more and perhaps even (way down in our hearts) that we DESERVE more.  We lie and are deceitful to others to hide an ugly truth about ourselves because, if that person knew it, they might be disappointed in ME or think less of ME and self-worshippers can’t stomach the thought of having anyone else thinking less of them.  Do you hear how all of these sins ultimately come because we worship ourselves and not God?

We must ask God to cause us to see life through this telescopic view of living for the glory of God.  First Corinthians 10:31 says, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”  We must see the choices we make through the lens of—“Is this for my personal glory—will it give me something to boast about in myself?  Or to be more God-centered, “will this thing allow me the opportunity to boast in God?”  “How did that sin deprive God of the glory he deserves and how was I trying to seek after my own self-worshipping, self-interest?”  We must ask God to place those lenses over the spiritual eyes of our hearts so we can interpret our lives through this basic grid that exposes the roots of our sin.  We must strike at the root of our sin and ask God to reveal to us the ugly, self-worshipping core of our sin if we are to attack that which is draining off our zeal for God’s glory and therefore our zeal for the spreading of that glory through the gospel to the nations.

As we by God’s grace begin to see our lives through the grid—“How does this honor God and not me?            And as God reveals sinful patterns of behavior or relationships or attitudes that consistently are self-glorifying in our lives—we must go after them with incredible intensity because our mission, as we have said before is to kill them.  We must smother them—we should allow them no air to breath.  In Romans eight Paul is describing the Spirit-led, God-centered life and he says in 8:13, “For if you live according to the flesh [our self-oriented tendencies] you will die, but if you by the Spirit put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”  Paul is brutal here. He says—KILL those deeds.  Our goal should not be to curb them or decrease them.  Our goal should be to mercilessly kill them because those deeds (and the passions that enflame them) drain away our passion for God’s glory, which is not only my basic reason for existence, but as we’ll see later it is the only path to true joy.  We will not know fullness of joy until we kill off those sins that drain off our passion for God’s glory because its only as we are living out of a passion for God’s glory that we will know joy.

Do whatever it takes—poke your eye out, cut your hand off—to use Jesus’ words, but see these sins and sinful attitudes that God reveals to you for what they are.  They are ultimately expressions of self-worship and we must kill them through the cross of self-denial, starving them of the air they need to live.  As we live like this, a passion for God’s glory will revive and we will find that this passion will grow in us and will irrevocably cause us to want his glory spread to our neighbors here and to the nations.  That is what God made us for—we just need to fight to keep our flesh out of the way.  May God give us the grace to live for the glory of God, whatever the cost.

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Page last modified on 8/17/2003

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