Be Made New: A Sermon on Personal Holiness

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Listen to the Sermon Here: 

Be Made New Sermon Slides

Scripture Reading

This morning our Scripture passage is from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. To give a little background: Paul is writing to a new Christian community that has a Gentile (or non-Jewish) background. As Christians, this faith community is being encouraged to stop their former pagan behavior, and to model kindness and compassion, imitating God’s forgiving and loving ways. Picking up at verse 20:

20 That is not the way you learned Christ! 21 For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus. 22 You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

I know that this is Back to School time, but, as we talk about being made new this morning, I want you to go back in time with me today to the beginning of the calendar year. There are a few things you can count on seeing every January:

  • Exercise clothes and running shoes are going to be featured in sale ads
  • The gyms are pretty crowded
  • There will be good coupons for foods like Special K cereal and Lean Cuisine meals
  • Shelving and organization tools will be on sale and in demand

Who here, like me, makes New Year’s resolutions?

Who here has failed at keeping them?

Perhaps it would have helped if we had listened to a really great motivational speaker, like this video: (VIDEO – “Just do it” Shia LeBouef: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZXsQAXx_ao0)

If you’ve had trouble keeping resolutions, no worries, you are in good company. Even in today’s passage, Paul is writing to a church that started with great resolution to live differently, but then they slipped in to old habits.

We are talking about the distinctly Wesleyan emphasis on holiness this morning. What do we mean by “holiness?”

(SLIDE)

Holiness is “the state of being holy, of having total devotion to God” Interestingly, when you Google search “holiness,” the first term that comes up is that it’s a title used to address the Pope. The second reference is to the Holiness Movement started by John Wesley, “A Christian movement emphasizing the routines and faith practices that help us grow closer to God.”

To understand it, we first need to understand a little bit of Methodist history:

Methodism became its own denomination completely by accident. John Wesley, his brother Charles and a few other Oxford college students had grown up in the church but refused to be satisfied with the shallow, superficial faith they witnessed around them. They thought people were going through the motions but missing out on the deeper faith practices.

So, longing to grow in their faith and to grow closer to God, these young men began to live an ambitious schedule:

  • Fasted until 3pm on Wednesdays and Fridays
  • Took Holy Communion once a week
  • Studied and discussed the Greek New Testament and theology each evening
  • Visited prisoners and the sick
  • Systematically reviewed their lives
  • Studied the Bible, prayed and worshipped together

Even in the 1700s, this was unusual behavior! What was even more remarkable was that this small group held each other accountable to stay on track. Their changes in behavior didn’t go unnoticed. They were teased about it, called names like “Bible Moths” “Holy Club” “Sacramentarians” and, the one that stuck, “Methodists”

Here’s what John Wesley said about it in his sermon “The Character of a Methodist”

“I say those who are called Methodists; for, let it be well observed, that this is not a name which they take to themselves, but one fixed upon them by way of reproach, without their approbation or consent. It was first given to three or four young men at Oxford, by a student of Christ Church; either in allusion to the ancient sect of Physicians so called, from their teaching, that almost all diseases might be cured by a specific method of diet and exercise, or from their observing a more regular method of study and behavior than was usual with those of their age and station.”

This group of young Christians did not set out to break away from the Church. What they wanted more than anything was to see renewal within the church.

As we go through renewal here, it’s also my prayer that as a community we will move to deeper relationship with God.

I don’t know about you, but I can see where the Wesleys were coming from. Having grown up in the church, I’ve sometimes felt like the Church was getting distracted and missing out on its main mission to develop Christ followers.

There are practices that I have done that have brought me closer to God. I don’t always get it right, but when I do, it’s beautiful.

When I take the time for silence, prayer, Bible study, quiet walks in nature, retreats…there is a sense of peace that’s hard to fully explain.

You know that holy feeling when we all sing Silent Night on Christmas Eve? Those special, sacred moments when you can sense that the Holy is happening?

That’s what it feels like to do the practices that bring personal holiness, the things that bring you closer to God.

So how do we get there?

To grow in our faith you can really look at our church’s mission statement. (Love God, Love Neighbor, Make Disciples)

There are several practices you can make part of your daily living that will draw you closer to “Love God.” You are in church & participating in regular worship is one of those practices (keep it up!) Bible study, fasting, prayer, fellowship with other Christians, and deepening your knowledge for God are other faith practices.

Loving Neighbor is another way we grow closer to God. A very Methodist practice would be to find ways to respond to human needs and work for justice in our communities.

As we move along the path toward becoming perfect in our love for God, eventually our inner thoughts and motives line up with God’s.

So why aren’t we there yet?

I believe there is a temptation to look at this new faith beginning in the same way as we too often look at New Year’s resolutions. You know what I mean? We can start off with the best of intentions –

  • I’m going to church every Sunday
  • I’m joining a Bible study or Sunday School class
  • I’m volunteering at the Salvation Army, Arlington Life Shelter, Arlington Urban Ministries, Arlington Charities….or even better, I’m now going to volunteer to help out with the youth or the children’s ministry
  • I’ll pray every day…I’ll read my Bible every morning.
  • I’m even tithing.

And we may even start off strong.

Until we don’t. We somehow fall off the discipleship wagon – sleeping in preempts church and Bible reading, you miss a study, you forget to pray. You pick up or take back up habits and addictions and all of the things you swore to yourself you wouldn’t do now that you’re a better Christian person….

Before you know it, you might not even recognize how you got where you are, exactly how far away you fell from where you hoped to be as a Christ follower.

And at this point, you’re tempted to totally give up. Or you beat yourself up and tell yourself stories like “I’ll never be able to do it.” You tell yourself lies like “Oh well, I’ll just mess up again. Why bother trying?” or “I won’t ever have enough time.” Or “I’ll get back to that next week.”

Instead of these lies, you need to hear some truth here.

God has a better plan for you. And God loves you. But you don’t get to waste all the gifts God has given you because it’s more comfortable to believe all of these lies.

I’d like to draw your attention to the stained glass up to your left, the one with the butterfly.

That butterfly, like all butterflies, was once a caterpillar.

Caterpillars are pretty spectacular. I mean, few things creepily crawl along in a garden like a caterpillar. But if a caterpillar stops there, just comfortably creeping along…we all will miss out on what the caterpillar is meant to become.

Please, if you hear nothing else this morning, hear this:

You – and you alone – with the help of the Holy Spirit at work are responsible for who you become and how you grow in holiness.

To become the best you you can be, you have to really commit to the hard work of change. And like any change – think diet or exercise – it takes time and commitment to build up muscles and habits.

Imagine you have made the resolution to train for running a marathon. (stick with me, non runners!)

You make this great decision & you even begin to tell your friends and family about it.

They are genuinely excited for you & full of encouragement. Everyone knows it will be a lot of work to train for a marathon, but everyone believes you are capable.

In order to prepare for the big race, you join a marathon training club and go to a training session designed for potential marathon runners. There is an amazing motivational speaker. She’s really top notch and knows her stuff. The convention has an air of excitement about the marathon – you can practically feel it. They’ve hired a cover band that plays songs like “Born to Run,” “Eye of the Tiger,” and “We are the Champions” so well, you even picture yourself leading a few races. The training is great – you are really motivated.

At the end of the training, you are invited to come back next week to hear the training again.

At the end of the next week’s training, you’re invited to come back again…

All of this motivation and training is helpful, but you need much more than this in order to physically prepare for a marathon.

And, so it is with faith and this Wesleyan idea of “personal holiness.”

When it comes to growing spiritually, I can stand up here and list off all of the practices you could do to grow closer to God…you can mediate, alleviate, and try not to hate…but only you have control over your life.

So you try some of the practices. Maybe you will try 40 different things and 2 will be meaningful and the rest won’t resonate. You’ll have seasons where you fail or forget or avoid…that’s all part of how the journey works.

But like the caterpillar…like the marathoner…you keep on training in spite of the times you make mistakes.

And you can even choose to celebrate your small victories, knowing that sometimes you’ll leap forward and sometimes you’ll inch forward… but you can just celebrate that the movement is forward.

My challenge for you is that you will select 1 or 2 practices that you will resolve to try this week. Think of them now.

Picture who you will share them with, perhaps in the connection time after this service or during Sunday school, so you can hold one another accountable.

Which brings us back to our Scripture.

Paul was writing to a group that was excited about being Christ followers but still struggling with temptations to fall into behaviors they shouldn’t be doing. We’ve all been there.

Be encouraged in knowing you are not alone in the falling to temptations, but also know you are called to move forward, “to put away your former way of life, your old self… and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Just do it. 🙂

Amen.

 

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