- In what way did God comfort, challenge, or correct you today?
- Think back over your past. How would asking the question, “What does God say about this?” have saved you from injury or sin?
- The grace of God is the Jesus-bought and Spirit-delivered power to accomplish God’s will. So, do you find yourself asking for God’s help, not thinking about God at all, or thinking you got this?
- Look back to early March, 2020, and recount all the things God has done.
- What would it look like for you to become more dependent on God’s grace?
- Of the following, which need do you need the most: discipleship, equipping the family, or meaningful church membership?
- Of the following, which need can you help with: discipleship, equipping the family, or meaningful church membership?
- In what way did God comfort, challenge, or correct you today?
- When you think about your relationship with the church, can you say that you are a member that is functioning properly, speaking the truth in love, and helping the body grow? How can you become a more healthy church member?
- Looking back at Ephesians 1, what do you think is the most helpful aspect of being “in Christ” when it comes to being a church member?
- We seek the presence of Jesus by asking for his help to do his well. What are some ways you can remind yourself to ask for Jesus’ help at school, at work, at home, and with the church?
- Do you find it easier to speak the truth in love to someone or is it easier to give a cut-down or be sarcastic? How can you become more like Christ?
- For a church to grow in love, each member needs to be speaking the truth in love while doing his/her part. Where do you see the church growing in love? How can you encourage that growth?
- Where do you see prophecy happening in the church today?
- How do the gospel principles of God’s sufficient grace (2 Cor 9:8) and Jesus becoming poor so you can become rich (2 Cor 8:9) challenge you to give more?
- If generous giving is difficult for you, how could heeding the warning (1 John 2:15), understanding the future (1 John 2:17), and remembering God’s grace fuel your giving (2 Cor 9:8)?
- How do elders and deacons help you fulfill your ministry?
- In what way did God comfort, challenge, or correct you today?
- What can you do to increase your joy in Jesus? Think about the biblical principle of sowing to the flesh or sowing to the Spirit (Galatians 6:8).
- Hebrews 10:34 talks about our brothers and sisters who “joyfully accepted the plundering of their property, since they knew they had a better possession and an abiding one.” What will it take for you to get to that place of joy in Jesus and his kingdom?
- Think about the way you talk about Jesus at school, at work, around your table, and with your neighbors. Do your words reflect His worth? How can you fuel your joy in Jesus?
- Safety and security in a tumultuous time brings great peace. How does Jesus’ rule over all of you bring peace? How can you share that peace with others?
- Where do you see the grace of God working in your family and in your church? How can you celebrate this grace?
- Who needs to be encouraged to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast heart? How can you encourage him/her?
- You must decrease and Jesus must increase in your home, at your work, at your school, and in your own mind. What practical things can you do to ensure you decrease and Jesus increases?
One of the blessings of doing life with Jesus is the boldness that the Spirit sometimes gives. This boldness can come in the form of persistent prayer, when you feel the encouragement to continue praying. This boldness can come in worship, when you experience a gladness over all that Jesus has done for you. This boldness can also come when its time to work, you continue to speak and serve in spite of weakness or persecution. A biblical phrase that explains this boldness we sometimes feel is “the hand of the Lord was with them.”
The plagues that Moses brings on Egypt are done by the hand of the Lord (Ex 7:4; 9:3). After crossing the Jordan River, Joshua declared, “the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which eh dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God for ever” (Joshua 4:23-24).When the Philistines captured the ark of the covenant, it was the hand of the Lord that was heavy against them (1 Sam 5:6). It was the hand of the Lord that empowered Elijah to outrun Ahab’s chariot (1 Kgs 18:46). It is the prophet Isaiah who said, “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear” (Is 59:1). Looking at all of creation, the Lord declares, “All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be” (Is 66:2). The king gave Ezra what he asked because the hand of the Lord was on Ezra (Ezra 7:6). “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will” (Prov 21:1). To have the hand of the Lord is to have the power and presence of God. To have the hand of the Lord is to be empowered to do the work of the Lord.
To have the Lord is to have all you need.
Text: Romans 13-15
Main Point: We must treat our own consciences and the consciences of others with care.
In the movie Pinocchio, it was Jiminy Cricket that encouraged us to let our consciences be our guides. This is good advice, but only if our consciences agree with God’s standards. If what we believe to be right disagrees with what God defines as right, then we must recalibrate our consciences. We must treat our consciences with care, following our consciences and retraining our consciences as needed.
But it is not merely our consciences that need to be taken into consideration. We also need to be mindful of other people’s consciences. Just as it is possible to sin against our own consciences, it is also a real danger that we would wound another person’s conscience and tempt a brother or sister to sin (1 Cor 8:12). So, like Paul in Acts 23:1, our goal should be to live our lives before God in all good conscience. The worst state is to have a conscience that is seared, no longer feeling or functional (1 Tim 4:2).
In our day of debate over how to gather as a church, how to submit to the government, and how to love our neighbors, I pray it is helpful for us to slow down and think about the conscience. I pray becoming aware of one another’s consciences will strengthen our unity as the body of Christ. Let’s read about Jesus and what he has done.
We are going to fly through Romans 13-15. Read Romans 15:1-9
I. Be careful with the conscience (13:1-7)
Look over at Romans 13:5. The subject of the conscience in chapter 14 is triggered by submission to the government in chapter 13. Romans 13:5, “Therefore one must be in subjection [to governing authorities], not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.” God calls us to submit to the government for the sake of our consciences. So, let’s define the conscience
- What is the conscience?
I want to give credit and a recommendation as we think about the conscience. I am indebted to Andy Naselli and J. D. Crowley for their book Conscience: What it is, How to Train it, and Loving Those who Differ. Copies are available in the foyer as well as a children’s version. It is quite good and more than we can cover today. So, if you want to go deeper into what the Bible says about the conscience, I recommend the book to you.
After listing and defining the 30 uses of conscience in the New Testament, Naselli and Crowley give us a working definition, “the conscience is your consciousness of what you believe is right or wrong. Consciousness means awareness or sense” (42). Your conscience is your personal judgment call ruling something acceptable or unacceptable.
Romans 2:15 affirms that Gentiles, who do not have the law of God, do have consciences. Sometimes these moral compasses line up with God’s standards and sometimes these judgment calls oppose God’s standards. We need to remember, it is possible to think something is right when it is in fact wrong. It is possible to think something is wrong when it is right. We all have a conscience, some consciences match God’s standards more closely than others.
So, how should we gather as a church? How should we submit to the government? How should we show love to our unbelieving neighbors? We should gather, we should submit, and we should love. That’s not the debate. The debate is how do we gather, submit, and love. The difficulty is how to allow room for one another’s consciences. I’m sure your conscience, like mine, has something to say about these things and I am sure our consciences have something to say about the way other people do these things. Let’s press on.
- How does the conscience work?
Naselli and Crowley say it well, “Conscience functions as a guide, monitor, witness, and judge. Your conscience guides you to help you conform to moral standards. Your conscience monitors how you conform to those standards. Your conscience testifies to how you conform to those standards and judges you for how you conform to them, thus making you feel guilt and pain” (43).
The conscience is a gift from God, works in many different ways, and is not yet perfect. Our knowledge of God’s will is not complete. So, we need to introduce the idea that our consciences need to be tested against and retrained by God’s Word. Your conscience may guide you, without warning, into some sin. Your conscience monitors your actions and may condemn you when what you are doing is right and good. Naselli and Crowley are right to tell us to generally always obey the conscience (63).
Ok. The conscience works as a warning against wrong and an encouragement toward good. The conscience needs to be listened to, tested, trained, and at times recalibrated.
Now, when it comes to one another,
- What do we do when consciences differ?
What do we do when brothers and sisters disagree about how to gather, how to submit, and how to love? I want to encourage you to adopt the concept of theological triage. Albert Mohler first introduced the idea of theological triage. Like in an emergency room, there are different levels of emergency. According to triage, a severed arm will be treated before a broken finger; both are important, but one carries greater significance. Triage allows you to determine which ideas are of greater importance.
- Level 1- heaven and hell hang on these things
These doctrines are necessary for salvation and all Christians must agree. Here are just a few examples: the deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, the atoning death, physical resurrection, and bodily return of Jesus, and justification by grace through faith. Concerning level one, we ask if doing this or believing this necessarily sends a person to hell. For the salvation of souls, we divide over these issues.
- Level 2- these things define unity and cooperation
These doctrines define a church and a church relationship hangs on these things. Here are just a few: should we baptize infants or only those who repent and belief? Who exercises authority in the church? Can a woman be an elder? These issues relate to how a person reads the Bible or if a person submits to the authority of the Bible. Most of our heated debates in the church happen at this level and so they often define one church from another. For the unity of the church, we unite around these issues. We can’t disagree on level one issues; we will agree on level two issues, and we can disagree on level three issues.
- Level 3- differences are allowed with these things
We can disagree on these matters and still enjoy unity in the church. Here are a few examples: music styles, the specific application of Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 6 for the family, the use of technology and alcohol, what is acceptable to do on the Sabbath, the timing of Jesus’ return, and the ways we use the spiritual disciplines.
These things are potentially helpful for one person’s sanctification and potentially limit the Christian freedom of another person. The details of some doctrines are not abundantly clear, so we give room for disagreements. The problem here is that we tend to push level 3 issues up to level 2 or even up to level 1.
Speaking to third level issues, Naselli and Crowley offer some help, “We should expect disagreements with fellow Christians about third-level matters, and we should learn to live with those differences. Christians don’t always need to eliminate differences, but they should always seek to glorify God by loving each other in their differences” (87). Understanding what the conscience is and how it works helps us glorify God and love each other in our differences.
Let’s fly over Romans 13, 14, and 15 to get big picture wisdom for our consciences.
II. Be mindful of love and judgment (13:8-14)
- The aim of our charge is love (8-10)
I want to argue that the command to love your neighbor is unescapable; Christian, you must love your neighbor. Additionally, the ways we love our neighbors will vary. Let’s see the command. Let’s read Romans 13:8-10.
When we think about submitting to government we need to think about loving our neighbor. Submission and love should go together. We are gifted and commanded to love. We are gifted and commanded to love knowing our time is short.
- We live knowing judgment is coming (11-14)
Read 11-14 with me.
Peter gives us the understanding, “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.” When it comes to exercising our freedoms, we need to test our motives. What we say is our right may in fact be a cover-up for sinful desires.
This is so hard because one action can be good, and it can be evil, depending on the motive or desire that is driving the action. What is the difference between rest and laziness? In the moment they look the same but if you test the motive, they are very different.
Now, put on Jesus is parallel to the command to put on love. Do what you do because of Jesus and for Jesus. Do what you do because of love and for love. If we do these things, if we put on Jesus and put on love then we will be ready for judgment.
Take a moment to think about whatever you are fighting for or fighting against. Are you fighting like Jesus, with Jesus, and for Jesus? On judgment day, when all our motives are made public, will love be revealed as the reason for your fighting or will the motive be selfishness, anger, or fear? Be mindful of Jesus, love, and judgment. Be mindful of abundant grace to forgive and empower change. In Christ Jesus, there is grace for all of us.
Let’s dig into the issue of the conscience now in 14
II. Love and train (14:1-15:3)
Once we are clear on an issue being in that third level of theological triage, what are we to do to those with whom we disagree?
- Offer welcome (1-4)
Read Romans 14:1-4
The word welcome shows up in 14:1; 14:3; and 15:7. It means to admit into friendship. Think about that brother or sister with whom you disagree, as God has welcomed him, you welcome him. As Jesus has welcomed you, welcome one another. Concerning how we gather, how we submit, and how we love, how are you doing welcoming into friendship those with whom you disagree?
One way we offer welcome is through the personal commitment to neither despise nor judge. The maturity of one person’s faith will not allow him to eat meat because the meat could have been offered to an idol. The maturity of another person’s faith allows him to eat meat because he believes the food has been made holy by the word of God and prayer. The one with weak faith will be tempted to judge her meat-eating sister while the one with strong faith will be tempted to mock or be irritated by her vegetable-only sister. Decide to welcome one another; neither despise nor judge.
Think over your last disagreement with a Christian. Can you say that the discussion was marked by welcome and friendliness or were you picking a fight? In these issues, lean into level one, lean into shared faith in Jesus, and welcome the sister knowing God is able to hold her up.
Now, the temptation is to sweep differences and even immaturity under the church rug. This should not be done. Instead, all of us must
- Commit to personal growth (5-9)
Read Romans 14:5-9
Your Christian living, your choices and preferences, should be well thought out. If I sat by the fire in my back yard for a few hours and then showed up at your house, you would know I had been sitting by the fire. I would smell like smoke. In our disagreements with one another there should be the smell of the Lord’s honor on our attitudes, words, and actions. Your opponent should say, “I disagree with his stance, but I appreciate his obvious desire to live a life pleasing to the Lord.”
Too many of our arguments are about our own little slice of America instead of being about the advance of the kingdom of God. If we are going to move forward with joy and unity, we must all commit to growing in godliness. Put on Jesus and put on love. Put on love because judgment is coming.
- Do your thing in light of judgment (10-12)
You are free to do your thing.
Read Romans 14:10-12
You who aren’t doing something, stop judging Christians who are doing it. You who are doing something, stop despising Christians who are not doing it. And why should we stop? These are small matters and God has promised that he is going to judge all matters. Stop throwing rocks at the body of Christ over matters of preference. Judgment day is coming, and we will all get our turn to have our motives exposed and tested before a live audience. In light of God’s perfect judgment of us all
- Stop judgin and stop trippin (13-23)
Read Romans 14:13-23
Let this small disagreement go because of the obvious unity we share in Christ. Stop judging people who don’t do things the way you do them. Maybe their way is better. Maybe their conscience is stronger than yours. Maybe their conscience is weaker than yours. Welcome the brother and find out what he needs. Welcome the brother and be surprised that he has greater joy and faith in Jesus than you.
Stop judging and stop tripping. Because of love, stop doing things and saying things that cause another Christian to stumble in her pursuit of Christ. Is meat more important than a sister? Is drinking alcohol more important than a brother? Look again at 17, “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
How much better would it be to share righteousness, peace, and joy with that brother than to share a glass of wine? We’re not talking about tempting an addict to fall back into drunkenness. We’re talking about tempting a weak brother to sin against his conscience. Know him, love him, and talk to him. Don’t trip him up and don’t let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. This means don’t invite him over for a drink and don’t invite him over to argue.
- Do everything from faith and for love (14-23)
Verse 22 says, “the faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves.” Eat and drink. Freedom is a good thing. The ability to give thanks and enjoy the Lord’s blessings is a great blessing. But don’t wound a brother or a sister by flaunting your freedom. Ask if you are doing your thing or engaging in a disagreement because of faith and for love.
Now to circle back around
- Offer welcome (15:1-9)
Read Romans 15:1-9
Pick a person who is not like you. Maybe they have a different personality type or were raised differently or come from a different ethnic group. Think of someone who is different. Now think about how different the eternal Son of God is from you. You have so much more in common with that stranger than you do with Jesus.
And what did Jesus do? Verse 8, Jesus became a servant to the circumcised. The omnipotent eternal Son of God became a good Jewish boy and a faithful Jewish man in order to fulfill God’s promises of redemption. Jesus laid aside his freedoms, Jesus took our sin upon himself, Jesus was numbered among the transgressors. Jesus was humiliated, tortured, and executed so that we could be welcomed into the family of God.
Verse 3, Jesus did not please himself. Jesus’ desire was to share his pleasure in his Father with strangers, weirdos, and sinners like us. Jesus did not please himself. Jesus took on flesh and bore with our failings in order to do us good. Jesus willingly stepped into the hatred and animosity this world hurls at his Father in order to redeem us and welcome us and give us hope.
In light of the love Christ shows us, maybe going two miles instead of the one demanded is not that big of a deal. Maybe turning the other cheek isn’t that big of a sacrifice. Maybe giving our shirt to the one who demands our coat is a small price to pay. We have Jesus. We have one another. We have the kingdom of God.
Listen, you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.
Let’s be clear when we argue; what is really at stake? In light of the welcome we have received in Jesus, let’s determine to overlook the small things; let’s determine to give room for preferences, differences, and freedoms. And let’s welcome one another as God in Christ has welcomed us. How should we gather? How should we submit? How should we love? Let’s talk about these things and let’s love one another well as we disagree. This is the Christian way.
- How did God comfort, challenge, or correct you today?
- Book recommendation- Conscience by Naselli and Crowley
- What is the conscience? Can you improve Naselli and Crowley’s definition, “the conscience is your consciousness [awareness or sense] of what you believe is right or wrong” (42)?
- When it comes to freedoms and preferences, how can you take the consciences of other people into account? See 1 Corinthians 8:12.
- Looking at Romans 13:5 and submission to the government, what is the role of the conscience?
- Is your conscience always right? When should you not listen to your conscience?
- Review the idea of theological triage. Think about a recent situation where you became angry or concerned. Is the issue a level one, level two, or level three issue? Was your response appropriate?
- Where have you seen this practiced well and where have you seen this practiced poorly: “We should expect disagreements with fellow Christians about third-level matters, and we should learn to live with those differences. Christians don’t always need to eliminate differences, but they should always seek to glorify God by loving each other in their differences” (Naselli and Crowley, 87)?
- Read Romans 13:5-10. How does your current practice of submitting to government relate to loving your neighbor? Think of a Christian who has taken a different approach. How could their practice of submitting to the government reflect love?
- Read 1 Peter 2:16. In what ways are you tempted to use your freedom as a cover-up for evil?
- How should you submit to the government? How should the church submit?
- How should you love your neighbor? How should the church love?
- How should you gather with the church in these days? How should the church gather?
- In what way did Jesus meet with you today? Where did you see his presence among us?
- How can you bring the desire to meet with Jesus to a more intentional and primary place in your preparation for church each Sunday?
- Exodus 24, Deuteronomy 14, 1 Corinthians 10, and Revelation 19 all describe eating a meal in the presence of God. What is the significance of eating a meal? Why not prescribe something else?
- What lessons can we learn from Peter when it comes to being criticized by other Christians?
- Who is the most recent person you have seen repent, believe, receive the Spirit, and be baptized? Who are you praying is the next?
- How can you use your home and your table to bring healing, reconciliation, and hope to your neighbors?
- In light of all we have seen about eating a meal in the presence of God, what is the significance of not eating with a person who claims to be a Christian but lives in unrepentant sin? See 1 Corinthians 5.
Main Point: Gentiles are members of the family of God.
Contrary to popular opinion, the most satisfying, freeing, and life-giving thing that you can be is a Christian. Being a Christian is better than being married or single. Being a Christian is better than being white, black, or brown. Being a Christian is better than being male or female. Being a Christian is better than being a Republican, Democrat, or Libertarian. Being a Christian is better than being an American. Being a Christian is better than having a blue collar or a white collar. Being a Christian is better than being rich or poor. Being a Christian is better than having children or grandchildren. Being a Christian is better than retiring. Being a Christian is better than owning a home. Being a Christian is better than being an artist, a hunter, a creative, or a gamer. If any of that made you uncomfortable, I was probably getting close to an idol in your life.
What we are looking at today is conversion; Cornelius and the people with him, become Christians! They turned from idols to serve the living God. We have much to learn about repentance and faith, the Holy Spirit and baptism, and discipleship and righteous living. This is way; let us walk in it.
Read Acts 10:34-48
I. Repentance and faith
I’m going to try and be simple and clear about the determiners of Christianity. Having these things (repentance, faith, and the Holy Spirit) determines if you are a Christian or not. Think about a flash flood; water is a determiner of a flashflood. No matter what else is there, if there is no water then you don’t have a flash flood. In the area of Intelligent Design, we call this irreducible complexity. When it comes to being a Christian,
- Your stance toward Jesus is determinative
As we have worked through the Book of Acts, I have tried to develop the biblical idea that repentance is a change of mind or a change of direction. When we talk about repentance as a change of mind the focus is changing one’s mind about Jesus. You used to think Jesus was a fake but now you see him as the truth. You used to think he was merely a human teacher of morality but now you see him as fully God, the perfect revelation of God, and the only way to God.
The deciding factor on Jesus as fully God, fully man, and the only way to the Father is the resurrection. Luke goes to great pains to show us that the first Christians were tasked with bearing witness to the resurrection of Jesus.
Acts 1:8, the resurrected Jesus is the one who told them that they would be his witnesses.
Acts 1:22, when they were choosing Judas’s replacement, the job description was to be a witness to Jesus’ resurrection.
Acts 2:32, the apostles are witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus.
Acts 3:15, you killed the Author of life, God raised him up, and of this we are witnesses.
Acts 5:32, before the High Priest, Peter said, “you killed Jesus, God raised him, and God exalted him to give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel, and of this we are witnesses.”
Last week, from Acts 10:41, Peter again affirms that God chose the apostles to be witnesses to the bodily resurrection of Jesus.
The Holy Spirit, through the apostles’ preaching, is calling us to change our minds about Jesus. If Jesus’ body is still in the grave, then he is nothing more than a trouble-maker and a liar. Good riddance! But seeing that Jesus has been raised from the grave, that demonstrates that Jesus is both truth and the way to the Father. To reject Jesus as the means of forgiveness before the Father is to forfeit your place in the people of God. The people of God are determined by their personal trust in Jesus.
What you believe about Jesus is determinative. Since Jesus promised he would be crucified, buried, and raised he can be trusted. And what did Jesus say is the purpose of his crucifixion and resurrection?
Listen to Jesus’ prayer in John 17:24, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”
Jesus died for us so that we can see his glory. Jesus will remove every hindrance from us enjoying the presence of God. There is no better gift Jesus can give his people than to ensure we will be with him and enjoy him.
Where is Jesus? The Son is with the Father and you don’t get to the Father except through the Son. Jesus must give you his righteous life and Jesus must give you his sacrificial death. Only Jesus can bring you into the presence of the fullness of joy. Your stance toward Jesus is determinative because Jesus is determinative.
Concerning salvation and joy, your ethnicity is not determinative. Your good works are not determinative. Your law keeping is not determinative. So, how does the Bible say a person changes his/her mind about Jesus?
- You must repent to God and believe in Jesus Christ
Look back at Acts 10:43, “To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. Who do the prophets bear witness to? They bear witness to the crucified and resurrected Son of God. And why do the prophets and apostles bear witness to the resurrected Jesus? So that you will believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. Repentance and faith lead to receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Having the Spirit of God now and being with the Triune God for all of eternity are better than anything this world or these relationships can offer. But we’re smarter than God. We found something better and more satisfying than God. What have we found? We have found money and power and sex and popularity. Through our self-determining pride we reject God and give the worship he deserves to that which cannot truly satisfy. And God refuses us because of his holiness. We are lost, cut-off, and without hope of restoration. Enter Jesus. Jesus is the way, the only way to the Father.
We must, you must, repent of your wayward cravings. Repent of all the ways you have tried to make yourself safe and happy without God. This repentance is a sorrow for turning away from God and trading God for trinkets like freedom, money, and sex. Repentance is sorrow and faith is dependence.
God I am sorry for what I have done. Jesus, please be my forgiveness. Jesus, please be my righteousness. Jesus, please God in my place because I cannot. Christianity is not a trust in you doing the right thing. Christianity is trust in God doing the right thing. So,
- Being sincere is insufficient
If anyone should be saved because of being sincere it is Cornelius. Acts 10:2, “he is a devout man, who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.” Cornelius is sincere in his love for God and his love for his neighbor but Cornelius needs Jesus. Sincerity is a good thing. Sincerity in the things of God is a noble thing. But nobody gets to God through sincerity. A deep and sincerely held error is still an error that cannot save.
Salvation through sincerity says, “I can do enough good things so that I overcome my past failures and attain the level of the righteousness of God.” Salvation through sincerity says, “God really doesn’t care about the wrongs done as long as we are sincerely sorry and do good works.” Listen, the bloody cross is proof that God cares about the wrongs we have done. What is required? What is determinative?
Acts 2:38, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Let’s talk about
II. The Holy Spirit and baptism
- The gift of the Holy Spirit is determinative
The Father and the Son both promised the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Father promised the Spirit in Joel 2 and made receiving the Holy Spirit the mark of his covenant people. Jesus said in John 7, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”
After his resurrection and ascension, the glorified Jesus will give the Spirit to those who believe in him. It is eye-opening to see that receiving the Holy Spirit was one of the express reasons Peter gives for repenting and believing. Again, to quote Acts 2:38, “Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The gift of the Spirit is expected such that it is a strange thing in Acts 8 when the Samaritan’s repent, believe, are baptized, and do not receive the Holy Spirit.
Romans 8:14 says all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. Paul asks the Galatians, “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith” (3:2)? Christianity starts with repenting, believing, and receiving the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is determinative. So,
- You must receive the gift of the Holy Spirit
But why? Why must a person receive the Holy Spirit? Here is the simple answer from 1 Corinthians 15:50, “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom.” Just as you do not have what it takes to secure forgiveness of sins and perfect righteousness, so also you do not have what it takes to enter the presence of God. We are terribly unfit for glory. Jesus helps us understand. John 3:5, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are the ground or reason the Father accepts us. Sincerity is not enough. Christ is more than enough. Repentance and faith are required, and it is God the Holy Spirit who makes you capable of repentance and faith. Titus 3:5 says you must receive the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who opens your heart to pay attention (Acts 16:14). It is the Holy Spirit who convicts you of sin (John 16:8). It is the Holy Spirit who takes what belongs to Jesus and makes it known to you (16:14). It is the Holy Spirit that enables repentance and faith. So, let’s ask the question
- What is the defining mark of the Holy Spirit?
How do you answer the question? Not, how should you answer the question, how do you answer the question? What is the defining mark of the Holy Spirit? How do you define a Christian?
In some traditions, the answer is a Christian is a person who speaks in tongues. But we read the book of Acts and we see some people repenting, believing, being baptized, receiving the Spirit, and not speaking in tongues (Acts 2, Acts 8, and twice in Acts 16). But we also read the book of Acts and we see people repenting, believing, being baptized, receiving the Holy Spirit, and speaking in tongues (Acts 10 and 19). In 1 Corinthians 12, verses 10 and 30, the Holy Spirit makes it clear that not everyone will speak in tongues. Speaking in tongues is not the determiner of the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Now, while we obviously don’t require speaking in tongues, I fear we are beginning to substitute the good gift of the Holy Spirit with the good works God prepares for us individually. So, if a person is going to be a Christian, or a good Christian, then that person must vote like me, fight abortion like me, protest injustice like me, educate children like me, or just generally agree with me. I want you to hear me say today that it is exceedingly divisive for you to define Christianity by the good works God has prepared for you. It is exceedingly divisive for me to define Christianity by me.
Let’s go back to the new covenant promise. Acts 2 shows the fulfillment of Joel 2. Hebrews 8 shows the fulfillment of Jeremiah 31. Listen to Hebrews 8:10-12, “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord; I will put my laws into their minds and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful towards their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.”
Let’s connect the new covenant dots. Every member of the new covenant, every Christian, knows the Lord through the forgiveness of sins. Every member of the new covenant, every Christian, rests in the mercy of God secured by the righteous life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ. Every member of the New Covenant, every Christian has received the gift of the Holy Spirit in order to repent, believe, rejoice, and live through Jesus Christ.
It is the Holy Spirit who convicts us of our sins. It is the Holy Spirit who convinces us of the trustworthiness of Jesus Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who leads us to trust Jesus for access to the Father. Because of the Holy Spirit we worship God in spirit and truth (John 4:24).
The defining mark of the Holy Spirit is repentance of sins and worship of God through faith in Jesus Christ, repentance and worship through faith. Read Acts 10:44-46.
In Acts 10 the people are speaking in tongues and doing something. In Acts 2 the people are speaking in tongues and doing something. What is it? Telling the mighty works of God (2:11) or extolling God (10:46). Extolling God is what Mary did in Luke 1:46 when she said, “my soul magnifies the Lord.” This is the right worship of God.
We see the Holy Spirit at work when sins are being put to death through faith in Jesus Christ and where God is being worshipped through faith in Jesus Christ. Those who know God worship God. All those in the New Covenant know God. Hebrews 10:15, through Jesus we continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” Let’s be thankful for the gifts of wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, and prophecy. Let’s require repentance and worship through faith in Jesus Christ.
When the Spirit works repentance and faith, we respond with baptism
- Receiving the Spirit and being baptized are inseparable
Look at Peter’s response to their repentance, faith, tongues, and worship. Verse 47, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.”
A person does not need to submit to Old Covenant circumcision in order to know God or join God’s people. A person must repent and believe in Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. The outward sign of this inward change is baptism in water. The New Covenant seal is the Holy Spirit. The New Covenant sign is baptism. But why baptism?
Baptism demonstrates our cleansing. Baptism demonstrates a powerful union with Christ’s death and resurrection life. Baptism is the public announcement that this person has joined Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection. This person will now live life with Christ.
So, who should be baptized? We should only baptize those people who are repenting and believing. We should only baptize those people who know God. We should only baptize those people who have received or are longing for the gift of the Holy Spirit. We should not baptize unbelieving or unrepenting adults or children.
Now this question, does the Holy Spirit leave us when we come out of the baptistry? No, the one being baptized is raised to walk in the newness of life because he/she is led by the Holy Spirit. Let’s think about
III. Discipleship and righteous living
Being a Christian is better but being a Christian is hard. In the end of verse 48 we see this, “Then they asked him to remain for some days.” Peter stayed in Caesarea in order to teach them to obey all that Jesus commanded.
So, what does God want of you? You’ve been a Christian for 5 minutes, 5 weeks, 5 years, or 5 decades?
- God’s will is your sanctification (1 Thess 4:3)
God has placed you where he has placed you, on the hard road, so that you will look more and more like Jesus in faithfulness, trust, and worship. On the hard road we long for heavenly rest. Let me encourage you in your difficulty and disappointment. God has given you his Holy Spirit. In Acts 4 the church is being threatened. They pray for God to intervene and God answers by shaking the place and filling them all with Holy Spirit so that they continue to speak the Word of God with boldness.
Dear struggling saint, maybe you are being threatened, maybe you are dry and discouraged, maybe sin has you tangled up in a net. Jesus said ask for the Holy Spirit (Lk 11:13). Ask for the Holy Spirit so you can boldly worship God and make him known. Ask the Holy Spirit to take all that belongs to Jesus and make it known in you. Ask for the Holy Spirit to lead you to relationships where you will be discipled. Let’s pray together and may God fill us with his Spirit.
- In what way did God comfort, challenge, or correct you today?
- It may surprise you to hear that Jesus’ goal is not to give you wealth and a mansion. Read John 17:24. What is Jesus’ goal for you? What does Jesus want for you?
- Read Matthew 13:44-46. Is the kingdom of heaven your goal and do you find that sin gets in the way of your enjoyment of the kingdom? Or, are is sin your goal and the kingdom of heaven gets in the way of your enjoyment of worldly things?
- How can you grow in your desire for and delight in the kingdom of heaven?
- Use 2 Corinthians 7:7-13 to explain the idea that repentance is sorrow and faith is dependence.
- Why is sincerity insufficient for salvation? Or, should a sincere and kind atheistic or agnostic person be given eternal life?
- Why must a person receive the Holy Spirit in order to be a Christian?
- Have you received the Holy Spirit? How do you know?
- What are the requirements for being baptized in water?
- Can you look back over the past year and see the evidence of God’s work to sanctify you? In what ways are you learning to be more like Jesus?
- In what way did God comfort, challenge, or correct you today?
- How does it comfort you to know that God is in control of all people, all things, and all nations (see Daniel 2:20-23 and 4:34-45)?
- People in joyful covenant with God are infiltrating the systems of men bringing redemption through faith in Jesus Christ. People and churches at peace with God and one another through Jesus Christ are applying that peace to all of life. Where are you seeing this happen? Where do you see the need for the kingdom of God to bring peace through faith in Jesus Christ?
- What does it mean that God shows no partiality to persons but accepts those who fear him and do what is right?
- Will God accept you or reject you? Why?
- For Peter, he must learn to stop giving preference to Jews over Gentiles. We must ask ourselves if we are showing partiality. What standard do you use to judge a person acceptable or unacceptable? Do you judge a person according to skin color, political position, or wearing a mask? Like Peter, we need to prayerfully consider if the standards we are using are God’s standards.
- If Acts 10:35 does not establish a righteousness apart from repentance to God and faith in Jesus Christ what does Acts 10:35 establish?
- How does the fact that Jesus is Lord of all remove the ability to show partiality to one nationality over another?
- What is the gospel? How do you define the gospel and how do you stand firm in the gospel?
- How do Peter and the other witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus strengthen our faith?
- How are you right now experiencing peace through Jesus Christ?
- Do you tend to over-emphasize or under-emphasize judgment? How does this negatively impact your witness to your neighbors?
- Do you tend to over-emphasize or under-emphasize forgiveness of sins? How does this negatively impact your witness to your neighbors?