Last night the President got on television before the nation and delivered the State of the Union address (I’m sure you all were watching it). In it, the President gives a bit of a summary as to where the state of our nation and where we are headed. I am viewing this sermon tonight as something analogous to that. What is the state of Sola, and where are we headed for the New Year? Our mission here at Sola is the same mission of our church, just specialized towards students: We exist to lead to students into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. Everything we do centers on that one mission. This is why we are called “Sola”. Sola is a Latin word from church history that was used to summarize the church’s mission to center on doing nothing but proclaiming the gospel.
And the question I am hoping to answer tonight is this: what happens to a community of people who believe this gospel? What do they look like? What defines them? Every community that has ever existed has defining characteristics and particular feel to them. Your family, your friends, your sports team, your school all generate a kind of behavior and feeling that defines them. Some of these are good, and some are bad. You know where I hate going? I hate going to the gym. Hopefully that isn’t too self-evident. I hate going to the gym because as soon as I walk in I get the overwhelming feeling that I do not belong there. I don’t look like I go to the gym all the time, so I feel like all of the devoted gym-acolytes are staring at me like the outsider who walks into the saloon in the spaghetti Western. I don’t know how equipment is supposed to really work, I don’t know the right exercises I am supposed to be doing, and most of the time I just kind of feel like I am in other people’s way. Often, the community of the gym seems very exclusive, very much an insider-only place to be. And I wonder if any of you feel like that when you come here. Or maybe you have felt like that when you have visited church in the past.
The question is this: is that the kind of community the gospel creates? Exclusive, judgmental, inward focused, and self-righteous? Is that what we want to be about here at Sola in 2016? Not a chance. So what do we want to be about? Col. 3:1-17 is going to give us a bit of a blueprint of what we want to look like.
What do you set your heart on? What do you set your mind on? What the heart finds desirable, the mind finds easy to meditate on. A child who loves candy finds it easy to daydream about Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Someone who loves being right finds it easy to daydream about winning arguments against opponents. Our mind is almost entirely controlled by what our heart loves. Think of it like the heart being a furnace, and as the heat from the flames rise they turn the turbines of the mind. When I was 13, I loved playing Halo, snowboarding, and paintball, so naturally most of my daydreams were filled with thinking about those three things. When I was 16 and had a crush on a girl, I spent most of my time daydreaming about me taking her out on a date and her being so impressed with me. We all do this – what you love most, you think of most. Paul tells us that if we have been “raised with Christ”, then we must set our hearts and minds on the “things that are above, where Christ is.” In other words, the deepest thing our heart should long for is God, and that then should lead us to want to think more deeply about Him. Sometimes people get the idea that you can either have a heartfelt affection for the Lord, or you can study theology and doctrine, but you can’t have both. Bologna! Our desire to study God’s Word more deeply is the direct by-product of our love for God! So, what does your heart long for most? What do you set your mind on?
This may be the most fundamentally important defining characteristic of the Christian community – a deep, deep love of God. And as simple as that sounds, that often gets lost. When I first became a Christian my freshman year of high school, I essentially thought that being a Christian was a mental decision that one made to “believe in God” (though I had no idea what that meant), attend church regularly, and then live a “good” life (i.e. stop cussing, don’t watch MTV, and try to convince others to do the same.) I’m guessing that many of you sitting in here today probably believe that is essentially what Christianity is as well. But Paul says that simply isn’t true at all – the Christian life flows from a heart that first and foremost loves God supremely. Jesus Himself said, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me,” (Matt. 10:37). Becoming a Christian isn’t some remote decision we make that doesn’t effect us, like choosing Pepsi over Coke, or Apple over Windows. It is a fundamental shift of your heart’s deepest allegiances from “self” to “God”. Here at Sola, in 2016, what we want most deeply is for you to love God more deeply. When you love someone, you’ll do just about anything for them.
But how do I love God like that?
Our love of God is a response to God’s love for us in salvation. Look at the language Paul uses, “If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above…” Our heart’s love of God is generated first by receiving God’s love for us! John simply explains, “We love because he first loved us,” (1 John 4:19). Think of what great news that is. God is not standing in Heaven, tapping His foot, waiting for you to muster up some love for Him before He enters into a relationship with you. Rather, God is pouring out the fountains of His precious love on us continuously through Christ (most of which we are probably ignoring) and then eventually, God’s love softens our hard hearts, and causes us to love Him back.
When I was in 7th grade, I had a science teacher who was teaching us about the periodic table of elements, and wanted to show what happened when you threw raw potassium into water. So he grabbed a little white clump of potassium and tossed it into a bucket of water at the front of the classroom. For about half a second it fizzled on the surface of the water, and then immediately a shaft of white light shot upward with a concussive blast that knocked the bucket over and left a black scorch mark on the ceiling. When pure potassium enters into water it leads to an explosive reaction. The same thing happens when we begin to treasure God – there is a powerful reaction inside of us as individuals, and inside of our community.
This takes shape in two primary ways in this passage: putting off the old self, and putting on the new.
Putting off the Old
What is one thing that defines the Christian community? A hatred for sin. Paul says we should, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you.” Paul doesn’t say we should stop our sin, knock it off, not do it – no, we must kill it. We don’t mess around with sin, we don’t entertain our sin, we don’t try and make sin into a pet. We are vicious, ruthless, and merciless with our sin. Why are we so serious with killing sin? Because sin is trying to defame God, and kill us. Jesus said that the thief (Satan) only comes to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). The old Puritan John Owen famously said that we must kill sin, or sin will be killing us. As you read through the list of sins that Paul explains are part of what he calls “the old self”, write down “Old Self” and under it put which ones you see most frequently in your life. One of the means that we are given to wage war on sin is something we highlighted at the end of our series on James: confession. On the back of your handouts are a list of helpful tips to start up an accountability group. Why not have 2016 be the year where we draw a line in the sand and say, “I will make war on my sin. I may fall, I may falter, but I will resolve not to make peace with my sin anymore.” If you haven’t gotten into an accountability group yet, I strongly recommend you do.
Putting on the New
Killing our sin is only half of the transformation – we need to “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” Paul reminds us that when we come to Christ we don’t just get a new set of rules and guidelines – we get a new identity. When Paul describes the sins of the flesh, he says that these belong to the old man, and that isn’t who you are anymore – you are the new man! So live like what you really are! When Hillary and I first moved here, we lived in the ministry house right across the street. Then after about four months or so, we bought a house over on 4th street. Now, for about a week after we moved, when it came time to leave work and head home, I would kind of absent-mindedly start walking back over to the ministry house, and usually by the time I was starting to open the door I would remember, “Oh yea! I don’t live here anymore.”
That’s what Paul is saying we need to do with our sin. When we start giving ourselves over to our patterns of sin, we are living like the “old self” is still our address – we are walking in life as if we are still under the dominion of sin. And Paul is here to say, “That’s not where you live anymore! You don’t have to do this, you are a new creation in Christ.” And what is the new self defined by? “Compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, bearing with one another, forgiving each other, loving, peaceful, unified, thankful, full of God’s Word, teaching each other, singing together, doing all for God’s glory.” Now, on your sheet write down “New Self” and write down how many of these you see in your life. I don’t know about you, but if I had to choose one list to define us here at Sola, I’m wanting it to be that one.
So what are we doing here at Sola in 2016 to help cultivate that? Well, we are going to emphasize three things: Connection with God, Connection with the Church, Connection with the Unreached.
- Connection with God. At Sola we believe that we need to regularly connect with God through His Word and prayer. Paul tells us that we need to let God’s Word “dwell richly in us”. So, this is why we want to give you Biblical sermons every week we gather together. Starting next week we will begin studying through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount
- This is also why we have committed this year to read through the Bible together as a youth group, in one year. If you have a smart phone and you haven’t downloaded it yet, pull it out right now and download “Read Scripture”. If you don’t have a smart phone, when you get home go to readscripture.org and click on the “Web Version” button and it will show you the reading plan. I have the app, but I just read along in my own Bible because I like that better, but you can do whatever. They have awesome little videos that help explain how each book of the Bible fits together and it is just really helpful. You can also follow our Twitter account @solastudents, where I post the reading for the day every morning.
- Connection with the Church. We believe that God designed us to live out the Christian life together, and we will thrive when we link arms, and will suffer when isolate ourselves. This is why we have you connect in small groups, and highlight accountability groups. This is why we take retreats, play games, and go to camp together – so we can connect with one another. This is also why it is so important that we are connecting with the our church as a whole: attending worship on Sunday mornings and serving in the church. Paul says we are called, “in one body”. What we do here in Wednesday nights is not the body that Paul was talking about – it’s a part of it! But it isn’t it. The “one body” is our entire church, North Platte Berean Church, and God’s design for us to grow in “new self’ is to be regularly connecting with this body.
- Connection with the Unreached. Lastly, as recipients of God’s love, we want to share with others. We don’t want to just stay in a comfortable bubble of people here at Sola, but we want to see new people coming here to receive the love of God, and we want to take the love of God out to people. This is why in July we will be taking a group of High Schoolers on a mission trip to Denver to work with Open Door Fellowship and minister to the homeless of Denver, extending the grace and love of Jesus to those who have been most pushed aside in our society.
And all of this, our outreach, community, study, prayer, transformation – all of it is done so that we might treasure God more deeply in 2016.