The Ten Most Wanted List
We have started off this year, 2010, in a study of Christian Character, of which this message is the third in the series. We have considered that, as with a New Year and with New Year’s resolutions, a commitment or rededication to Christ is a place and season of New Beginnings, as we are new creatures in Christ, and in repentance and work and reverent awe of God, we seek to bury the old self and put on the new self, wearing Christ on the outside even as He is, in the Holy Spirit, on the inside, of us. Our New Beginning is to be His holy temple. And last week, we studied the need to examine ourselves anew, to determine how we are doing in the construction of Christian Character in ourselves. Today, we address the fundamental characteristic, “character” if you will, of the Christian: Grace, and what that has to do with who we are, how we live, and the people who have to put up with how we live, that is, at the primary level, the people with whom we are in the closest, most intimate relationships.
What I like about the study of character, is that it is a study of how that which is on the inside of you comes out of you: character is not to be hidden under a bushel basket, but to be opened and shared with others. As our character is exposed, it is revealed for what it is, and measures from the outside that which is on the inside of us. Character is the relative light and dark in us. It is where we, others, and God find out what we are made of , who we really are. Character is the grading scale of testing, and it measures that light and darkness in us, and – guess what – everything is a test!
We don’t even get to a discussion of Christian Character lest we have Christ. And, in the first place, we don’t get to be Christians except because of God’s Grace, Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
I take from this passage the foundational principle that we don’t get to be Christians by anything by God’s Grace – not by birth station or status, or race or gender or economic class, or morality or one’s personal goodness in works or in heart. Because of our inherited sin nature, and our sin choices, God, in His holiness abhors acceptance of each one of us, even as He loves each one of us enough to extend His Grace that through faith we may be saved and reconciled to Him! How marvelous – meaning how much we must marvel and wonder at the surprise of that principle, as we grasp its meaning, and truly understand that we can’t get there on our own, but only through God’s Grace. He provided a way, the only way, for us, in His Grace, still keeping true to His nature and character, in the atoning Blood of Jesus.
And we see a second foundational principle at work in Ephesians2:8: Grace is a gift to us. We can’t buy it, we can’t earn it, and we don’t deserve it.
In this I am reminded of the passage (Acts 20:35) where Paul quotes Jesus in assuring us that it is both blessed to give and to receive. And if the gift we receive is such a blessing, how do we respond to such a blessing? Like a birthday, anniversary, or other love gift, do we receive it gladly; does not that gift bind us ever more deeply to the one we love, the one who loved us enough to bless us with a gift?
Now, we ask ourselves, why did, and why does, God want to give us such a marvelous thing, this thing that we can’t get on our own, that thing being salvation from sin? God explained this in Ephesians 2:4-5, “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).”
You see that the foundation of the Character of Grace is Love. It is because of love, because He chose, even beforehand, to love us in spite of who we were, who we are, and who, in our struggle to perfection in Christ, we will be or fail to be. In it all, God chose and has chosen, and will choose, to love us, and out of that love He is Rich, Rich, Rich, in mercy, and out of the riches of that mercy comes forth Grace! And it is through Grace that He rescued us, saved us, changes us, transforms us.
Grace is the sum of the nine fruits of the Spirit listed in Galations 5:22-23. Those nine elements are a description of the ways in which God is gracious to us: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (self-discipline).
Now, any time you see the use of the word, the concept, of fruit, you are into the principles of sowing and reaping, the principles of planting, nurturing, protecting, and harvesting. And there is something cyclical about all of that: with a seed we plant, then we harvest, then we have more seed, which are replanted, but we also have fruit which feeds us. The concept of fruit, or bearing fruit, is not just a concept of being, it is a concept of doing.
The fruit of the Spirit in us does three things:
- It is evidence that we have been transformed by God’s Grace and the birth by Christ of the new creature in us;
- it shows that our character has been changed from flesh to spirit, so deeply that we express that transformation by extending, in those nine fruitful ways, God’s Grace to others, and, therein, blessing them;
- that we are fed by that fruit of being a tree of blessings to others whom our lives touch, and those with whom we live.
There is that simple principle, so simple and so important that it is often taught to the very young: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, the so-called Golden Rule. This is a paraphrase of the Great Commandment, of loving our neighbors as ourself.
The Golden Rule, indicates that we can expect to reap what we sow, the most direct application of the principle of planting.
The Apostle Paul clearly understood this principle, for not only did he sow, and plant and nurture, all over His part of the world and elsewhere, but he knew and explained how it worked. In Philippians 2:3- 5, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” And in Philippians 2:14-16, which we reviewed, I think, last week: “Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life . . . .” And in Philippians 1:27 (which is our family’s support verse for Hilton Head Christian Academy), “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ. . . .”
So, when you examined yourself (“What’s up, Dude?”), like I asked you to do during the week since we last met, what did you learn about yourself? What did you find out about yourself? Is your conduct worthy of the gospel of Christ, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us?”
Now, I ask you to look around yourself, at your closest, most intimate, most wanted relationships, and I ask you to be brutally honest with yourself, even at the risk of visiting places of the scarred past in your life, places of current turmoil, and places of fears, hopes and dreams for the future. I ask you to look at each one of your personal relationships. List the top ten relationships you are in with people – if you have even that many! I would call it the “Ten Most Wanted List”, but it could be more, it could be the “Sixteen Most Wanted List” – you will know for yourself. If you are married, you must start with your wife or husband, then go to your children, and the spouses of your children, and reach back to your parents and your siblings, and then to your non-family friends.
When you live in Grace, it is a gift back, your inside coming to your outside, the measure of your Christian Character, to God of the gift He gave you; then, it is God’s and your gift to those on your List, and to all others.
As you look at each one of these relationships, examine and test yourselves, by deciding how the Fruit of the Spirit in you is doing, how you are producing and receiving fruit:
- is there clear and convincing evidence that you have been transformed by God’s Grace and the birth by Christ of the new creature in us? You can figure this out by asking two other questions: Has sin lost its power over me, and has death – even death of my pride and flesh – lost its sting to me? That’s how you know if you are transformed by God’s Grace through Christ and the Holy Spirit!
- is there clear and convincing evidence that your character has been changed from flesh to spirit, so deeply that you , in your heart attitudes and the choices you make in your life, express that transformation by extending, in those nine fruitful ways, God’s Grace to others, and, therein, blessing them?
- is there clear and convincing evidence that you are fed by that fruit from being a tree of blessings to others whom your life touches, and those with whom you live?
This morning, God wants to be up close and personal with you! He cares, in His love and the Rich, Rich, Rich mercy that comes from His love for you, about you and your life. He cares how you must, in truth, answer these three questions; in fact, He already knows the answers, but His knowledge about that does you no good, unless you appropriate His knowledge of that truth into your life. And that same Holy Spirit is here to guide you in the way of all truth (John 16:13), so you can honestly answer those questions and gain the freedom of truth, so you can have in our heart the Fruit of the Spirit, and so you can share it with those top ten people in your personal relationships, and be seed to them, as they are fruit to you. If you are not planting those nine seeds in those top ten people, you will not be harvesting those nine fruits back from those top ten people! That is tough, and requires patience, as sometimes, it takes a while for those seeds to take root in one of those ten people, or several of them, for those seeds to germinate, to heal from the scarrings of an untimely cold snap, or drought, or flooding, or the nibbles of a hungry animal, to be nourished and to grow enough in his/her/their own Christian Character to produce that fruit and feed you. This, in part, is what Romans 5:3-5 and James 1:2-4 are all about: as James there wrote, ” My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience, but let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”
God knows, it takes patience to put up with growth in people, even His own children, and you may find that at times true with one or more on your “Ten Most Wanted List”. Measure your character and get right with God and those on your Ten Most Wanted List!
If you have undertaken the responsibility of those ten relationships, and all relationships are responsibilities, or whatever the number is on your list, and you are troubled or unhappy, or not joyful, or not at peace, or not dealing with any one or more of those relationships our of love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-discipline, then you are in trouble, and you need to ask the Holy Spirit for guidance into the way of truth, all truth, and to bring you conviction, that you may repent to God for your sins, and ask Him to help you cleanse yourself from all unrigheousness of flesh and spirit, that you may live in reverent awe of God, and in right relationship with those top ten people on your personal relationship list. He is just and faithful to do so, if you, by an honest faith, are faithful to do so, and to mean it.
As God’s love, mercy, grace and forgiveness have been freely given to us, only as we freely give them to others are we conducting ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, only then are we of Christian Character, only then is God’s Grace, and His graciousness, alive and well within us; only then will we position ourselves to want to harvest what we have sown! In it all, through it all, will you choose to love those Top Ten Most Wanted in your life, as much as God loved, and loves you, that while you were yet a sinner God sent His only begotten Son to die for us that we might not perish, but have everlasting life. Are you willing to lay down your life; to delay, amend or delete your hopes and dreams; to patiently exercise your self-discipline in faith to overcome your fears, all so that you can love these others in your life, these Top Ten Most Wanted ones, because God first loved you? What is the true and honest state of your own Christian Character? If you have examined yourself, and found some shortcomings, don’t be alarmed, but be thankful for the truth of that knowledge, for God’s Grace abounds! You don’t have to keep on in the sins of your flesh, but you need to make a choices, some choices. God explained so clearly through Paul in Romans 6:1-2, when he asked rhetorically, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died in sin live any longer in it?” Dig deep and repent and let God heal you and those around you. Oh, and join Moveon.God! Amen!