This morning I want to speak to you about a very important subject for us who profess and desire to be followers of Jesus Christ. The waters are muddy this morning concerning what it means to be a follower of Jesus. There are theorems, ideas, and proposals concerning our relationship to Jesus that are impeding the cause of Christ around the world and in our own community. There is the idea that being a follower of Jesus is nothing more than a self-improvement program. If you want to lose weight, gain deeper insights, quit smoking, repair your relationships, or win the lottery then you should get connected to Jesus. To minimize Jesus to simply another self-help guru like Deepak Chopra, Richard Simmons, Oprah Winfrey, or Tony Robbins is one of the most insane decisions that we could ever make. I will guarantee you that if you surrender your life and will to Jesus then your life will change, but it may not change in the way you wanted – it will be far better, far more challenging, than you could ever dream.
There are others in our society who understand being a follower of Jesus as nothing more than attending church. Attending worship is a good thing, but Jesus is too big to be boxed in to a one-hour activity to be endured once a week.
There are so many ideas of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Most of them are based on some element of truth found in God’s Word, but the vast majority fall far short of what the Bible describes as being a follower of Jesus.
If you want to find the essence of what it means to be a follower of Jesus, the core of what it means to be a follower of Jesus, then we must consult the Word of God to find our answer. Let’s take a look at Paul’s letter to the Church in Corinth as he describes for them what it means to be a follower of Jesus. After we gain a good understanding, then we will work to see how this understanding can change and shape each of our lives.
14Whatever we do, it is because Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for everyone, we also believe that we have all died to the old life we used to live. 15He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live to please themselves. Instead, they will live to please Christ, who died and was raised for them. 16So we have stopped evaluating others by what the world thinks about them. Once I mistakenly thought of Christ that way, as though he were merely a human being. How differently I think about him now! 17What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun! 18All this newness of life is from God, who brought us back to himself through what Christ did. And God has given us the task of reconciling people to him. 19For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. This is the wonderful message he has given us to tell others. 20We are Christ’s ambassadors, and God is using us to speak to you. We urge you, as though Christ himself were here pleading with you, “Be reconciled to God!” 21For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. 6 1As God’s partners, we beg you not to reject this marvelous message of God’s great kindness. 2For God says, “At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you.” Indeed, God is ready to help you right now. Today is the day of salvation. (2 Corinthians 5:14-6:2)
This is such a powerful section of God’s Word for us who are going into the last year of this millenium. As Greg Shaw shared with you last Sunday, many in our world believe that we are facing all kinds of uncertainty as 1999 begins. As the year rolls on you are going to hear more and more predictions and propositions of impending doom and destruction. There will be all kinds of questions that will arise and people will be searching for answers as to what is “True” and what is “False.” The time is ripe for the people of God to rise up to the times and make ourselves available to those around us. The time is ripe for us to speak the Word of God with boldness, without compromise, and offer the grace, hope, and mercy of God to those around us. The time is ripe!
For us to be prepared to seize the moment and make the most of our opportunities in this year we must do two things: First, we need tounderstand God’s nature and the desire He has for His people to trust, love, and serve Him above all others. Second, we need to understand the role that God has for us in His divine plan to bring people to Himself. We can gain both of those insights right here in 2 Corinthians 5.
To everything there is always a beginning and in our decision to become a follower of Jesus there is a beginning as well. The beginning starts with Paul’s comment in verse 14 where he says, 14Whatever we do, it is because Christ’s love controls us. (2 Corinthians 5:14) Everything that Paul did was based upon Jesus’ love for him. Every decision that was rendered came from Jesus, the One who controlled Paul. Every word that was spoken was spoken as a result of Jesus’ control of Paul. Paul only went where Jesus directed him to go. He only did what Jesus directed him to do.
The word that Paul used to let the Corinthians know about the degree of control Jesus had on his life was carefully chosen – it is the only time that the word is used in the New Testament. Paul used the word, “sune,cei” (sonechei or “control”). The word means, “to surround, hem in, encircle; control, rule (2 Cor 5.14). Another form of the same word is used in Acts 18:5 where Luke says,
5When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. (Acts 18:5)
Here the word means “to be occupied with or absorbed in; be seized.” I am sure you get the idea that the word used by Paul means to be sold-out to Jesus Christ. To allow Him full control, and the power to make every decision concerning my life and yours.
This commitment of Paul to turn over complete control of his life to Jesus flies in the face of everything that we modern-day people know to be good for us. We must make our own decisions, chart our own course, and set our own sights on what is important to us. Every reasonable person knows that you and I just simply can’t turn over control of our life to another person. If we were to do that then we might not get what we want out of life, right? Let me ask you this, “How is it going?” Have your decisions paid off in peace? Is the course you have set for your life bringing contentment? Is your plan maintaining the passion that it once had for you? Is your road bringing you a harvest of solid, God-honoring relationships? For most people that I know they can’t answer “Yes” to those questions. Most people that I know are struggling to find peace, contentment seems to be evading them, and some relationships are always teetering on the brink of the abyss. There is a very simple answer to why this is so – my plans, apart from Jesus, only include me and mine. What is best for me, that is what I want. What will benefit my loved ones – that is my desire. This game plan is a total contradiction to the plan that Paul knew for his life.
Paul’s focus is better understood by his own words that we read in verse 15 Take a look with me.
15He (Jesus) died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live to please themselves. Instead, they will live to please Christ, who died and was raised for them.
Because Paul had a good grip on what Jesus had done for him, he was willing to lay down his life for Jesus and accept Jesus’ agenda for his life. I have to ask you this morning, “Do you have a good grip on what Jesus has done for you?” Do you have more than head knowledge of Jesus’ sacrificial death for the payment of your sins? Do you really know that every breath you breathe is gift from His hand? Is coming to worship more than a formal activity for you? If not, then in just a few minutes I want to offer you an invitation to accept Jesus as Lord of life so that He can give you a heavenly understanding of your life and purpose for living.
When we value our opinions, dreams, and beliefs more than the Truth of God’s heart then we end up missing God’s best for us. We only hang out with those who we deem worthy of our friendship. We will go out of our way to help those that we think will appreciate our expressions of love. When we are calling the shots for our life then we make decisions about people based on how we feel about those around us. Those that I feel have value are those that I am willing to care for and serve. Those that I think are worthy of God’s love are the people that I can envision as good Christians, an asset to the Kingdom of God. There are some that I can’t imagine God ever forgiving and therefore I am not willing to extend God’s love to them. There are others that I feel would be an embarrassment to God and therefore I refrain from sharing God’s love with them. Plain and simple, every one of us apart from Jesus is prejudiced.
Apart from Jesus every one of us is prejudiced. I don’t know what your particular prejudices are, but I know that unless Jesus is calling the plays in your huddle that you are prejudiced.
You may be like the parents of the young woman that I spoke with her friend last week. She is pregnant with a mixed race baby and she is afraid that her parents will disown her if she has the baby. What she is saying is this — her parents are prejudiced against people of other races.
You may be prejudiced against those who are wealthier than you or more impoverished than you are. You could be prejudiced against the kind of music that is played in church. You may be prejudiced against that don’t have the “right” look. There are all kinds of things that lead us to looking down on other people, but the fact of the matter is that all people matter to God. In spite of your prejudice – all people matter to God. All people mattered to Paul because all people mattered to God!
Listen to what Paul says in verse 16.
16So we have stopped evaluating others by what the world thinks about them. Once I mistakenly thought of Christ that way, as though he were merely a human being. How differently I think about him now!
The drug addict matters to God! The Wall Street investment broker matters to God! The prostitute on 23rd street matters to God! The IRS agent matters to God! The classroom teacher matters to God! The homemaker matters to God! The President of the United States matters to God! Saddam Hussein matters to God! Yes, even the preacher matters to God! Every person has worth and infinite value in the eyes of God and that is why He allowed Jesus to die for us!
That is good news my friend! Paul’s commitment to Jesus that led him to give Jesus total and complete control, his willingness to see other through the eyes of God, and His willingness to let Jesus speak for Himself rather than have Paul define who He is a result of Paul becoming a new man. Paul explains it for himself in verses 17-18 when he says,
17What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun! 18All this newness of life is from God, who brought us back to himself through what Christ did.
Those who become new Christians become new persons. The old is gone and everything has become new. What is there that is “old” in your life that you would like to be freed from, but can’t seem to shake it? Is it your reputation? Everybody knows you by what you’ve been even though you don’t want to be that way anymore. No matter what you do or what you say – they simply won’t let your old life go. God will let it go and will never remind you of your old life again. Is it a failed marriage where you acted less than godly to your ex? Your words cut like a knife the man or woman that you pledged to honor for the rest of your life. Your guilt consumes you day after day and you can’t shake it. God can shake it from you, relieve you of your sin, and cleanse you as you begin a new life. There are so many things that plague us, but God can grant us peace through His Son.
No person can do this my friend. No counselor, no preacher, no psychologist, no medical doctor, no one at all except for God’s Son who has come to bring us back to God.
All of this is what God has done for you and me. He has sought us out while we were far, far from Him. He has given His Son to pay a debt that we owed, but could never pay. God has done this because of His great love for you and me, but this is only part of the good news. God has saved us, cleansed us, given us a new vision, a new direction, and a new love for all of humanity because of His saving grace. Let me share with you God’s commission to those of us who have accepted Jesus as Lord of our lives. Listen to verses 18-20.
And God has given us the task of reconciling people to him. 19For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. This is the wonderful message he has given us to tell others. 20We are Christ’s ambassadors, and God is using us to speak to you. We urge you, as though Christ himself were here pleading with you, “Be reconciled to God!”
God has given us the task of reconciling people to Him. That is our challenge. That is our privilege. That must be our passion! Paul says that we are Christ’s ambassadors. I did a little work this past week and found out what it means to be an ambassador. Webster’s definition of the word, “ambassador” is 1. an official envoy; especially: a diplomatic agent of the highest rank accredited to a foreign government or sovereign as the resident representative of his own government or sovereign or appointed for a special and often temporary diplomatic assignment. 2. an authorized representative or messenger.
An ambassador has to be a special person, not just any old person will do. Let me give you an example of how seriously our country takes the choosing of our ambassadors. When William McKinley was President of the United States, he had to make a decision about the appointment of an ambassador to a foreign country. Two candidates were equally qualified, so McKinley searched his mind for some “yardstick” by which he might measure the true character of the men.
Later he revealed that the unkindness of one of them was the determining factor in his decision. Many years earlier, when McKinley was still a Congressman, he had observed an inconsiderate action by one of the men. He recalled boarding a streetcar at the rush hour and getting the last vacant seat. Soon an elderly woman got on, carrying a heavy clothesbasket. No one got up to offer her a seat, so she walked the length of the car and stood in the aisle, hardly able to keep her balance as the vehicle swayed from side to side. One of the men McKinley was later to consider for ambassador was sitting next to where the woman was standing. Instead of getting up and helping her, he deliberately shifted his newspaper so it would look like he hadn’t seen her. When McKinley noticed this, he walked down the aisle, graciously took her basket, and offered her his seat. The man was unaware that anyone was watching, but that one little act of selfishness would later deprive him of perhaps the crowning honor of his lifetime.
An ambassador has to be a special person because you can only imagine the trouble our country could get in if we had a bunch of renegade ambassadors running around and spouting off things that did not correctly represent the sentiments of our leaders. Ambassadors need to be controlled by those in authority over them. This is no more true for our governmental ambassadors as it is for you and me who are ambassadors of the Kingdom of God.
When an ambassador of the United States goes to a foreign country he or she can act with the full authority of our government in areas where our leader has given them permission. He or she can only speak what they have been given permission to speak. They can only act as they have been instructed to act. They can say nothing more or less than our government allows them to say. An ambassador to China or Russia or any other country is the representative of our country to that land.
Paul saw himself as an ambassador at all times. He wasn’t just an ambassador on Sunday morning when he went to church. He wasn’t just an ambassador when he felt like it. Paul was always acting as a representative of Jesus. Pray for me, he wrote from prison, “that utterance may be given me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak” (Eph. 6:18-20).
You and I are called to be ambassadors to this world for the cause of Christ. At all times and in all situations we are ambassadors. What is our message? What can we say or do? Great question! Let me share with you what Paul wrote to the Corinthians, 19For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. This is the wonderful message he has given us to tell others.
This is our message. God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself and forgiving our sins through Jesus. What a message! What a charge! People all over the world are hungry for that message my friend. Their hunger is growing by the day while the church sits back and carries on with our little get togethers once a week. We need to come together on Sunday to celebrate what God has done throughout the week! There is whole world out there that is dying to know the good news that God has come to us in Jesus to forgive us, take us in His arms, cleanse us from our sin, guilt, and shame, and set us back in the world as ambassadors for the Kingdom. That is the message that you and I have been given to offer to our world.
This past week I have had the privilege of renewing an old friendship. When I was in high school one of my friends and teammates was a guy named Donnie Williams. Donnie was one of the best athletes that I have ever been around. We played in the same backfield on our football team. We won two state championships my junior and senior years, but Donnie Williams was the driving force behind our offense. Donnie was given a scholarship to go on and play college football, but he dropped out before he hardly got started.
When we were in high school Donnie partied pretty heavy, but not any heavier than the rest of us who hung out together. After high school Donnie went deeper and deeper into drug use, women, sex, alcohol, and other things trying to find happiness until he finally ended up in jail.
Donnie has been in jail for some time since those younger years for crimes that he did. I spoke with Donnie for the first time in years last Wednesday night. I had gotten an e-mail from my sister saying that she had heard that Donnie was out of prison and that he had given his life to Jesus. I called Donnie on Wednesday and we talked and talked. Donnie said, “Mike, I was in prison long before I was ever incarcerated. I tried all kinds of things to try and bring me happiness, but all of them only made me more a prisoner.” He said, “On June 7, 1996 my mother came to see me and I had a little New Testament in my hand. She said, ‘Son, why don’t you read that book?” Donnie said, “I made the commitment to read the Bible just so I could tell my mother that I had done it, but I didn’t realize what would happen to me. As I read I began to underline the things that I could understand until finally I said, ‘Lord, I will make a one year commitment to following You.'” How many of us have done the same thing, put limitations on our serving God?
Donnie said, “Mike, I tried everything to satisfy my thirst but none of them worked until King Jesus let loose rivers of living waters that are still flowing through my soul.” He said, “I praise God for those years that I was in prison because they were the best years of my life. Those were the years that God brought me back to Himself and prepared me to do what I am doing now -telling others about Jesus everywhere I go.”
If my friend Donnie were here this morning he would echo Paul’s words to you in 2 Corinthians 5:21-6:2. 21For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our in, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. 6 1As God’s partners, we beg you not to reject this marvelous message of God’s great kindness. 2For God says, “At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you.” Indeed, God is ready to help you right now. Today is the day of salvation.
I pray that you will acknowledge that today is the day of salvation and that you will accept Jesus into your heart. He will cleanse you and cause rivers of living water to flow in your soul. He will charge you with being an ambassador of Kingdom everywhere you go.
2 Corinthians 5:18