Below is sermon I gave at our recent Profession of Faith service at Bethel Christian Reformed Church on June 19, 2011.
The text was Romans 4:16-5:5.
In our text for today, Paul is in the middle of explaining to the church in Rome how believers, whether Jewish or Gentile, are saved through faith. Paul wants to make it very clear that our salvation does not depend on what we do for God or how well we follow religious traditions. Rather, we are saved by what God has done for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Our salvation comes through faith in Christ alone.
According to Paul, we can understand salvation through faith by turning to the story of Abraham. Abraham is the father of all who believe in Jesus because he saw clearly that faith is about trusting the promises of God. God promised Abraham and Sarah, who were childless and well beyond child-bearing years, that through their offspring, Abraham would become “a father of many nations”. Even though the promise seemed impossible to fulfil, Abraham and Sarah trusted God. God was faithful to his promise – Abraham and Sarah had a son named Isaac.
But God’s promise to Abraham didn’t end with Isaac. Throughout the Bible, we hear of God’s promises to end the reign of sin and death and to establish his kingdom on earth. These are promises that are realized in Jesus’ coming to earth. And if you read the Jesus’ family tree in Matthew and Luke, you will see that Jesus is the great-great-great-great-great-great (you get the idea), grandson of Abraham and Isaac.
These promises of God are made to you as well. At your baptism, your parents accepted God’s promises on your behalf. Today, in making a public declaration of your love for Jesus, you have accepted these promises as your own. Because you trust these promises, you are daughters of Abraham and sisters of Jesus. You have claimed Christ and his promises as your own.
Amy, Avery, and Kirstyn – you are on a journey. It is a journey of becoming like Jesus. It is a process of transformation, of putting off the old self and putting on the new self as you let Christ rule in your life. Your Profession of Faith is not a graduation from “Church School” or a diploma in Christianity. Today is not about how much of the Bible you have memorized or how good you are at understanding doctrine or how well you follow religious tradition. Profession of faith is not your destination – you have not arrived at some spiritual resort. Today is not the end of your journey. In many ways, your journey begins today and it will take the rest of your life to complete.
Today is about the public commitment you have made to be Christ followers.
But what does it mean to be a Christ follower, to be a disciple of Jesus?
Throughout his letters, St. Paul describes discipleship in three simple words – faith, hope, and love.
If discipleship is a journey of becoming Christ-like, then we can describe the elements of discipleship, faith, hope, and love, as the things that we take along with us on our journey.
As Christ followers, we have faith that Jesus is God. Jesus is the perfect and the clearest revelation of who God is. We have faith that Jesus is who he says he is – that he is the son of God, the second person of the Trinity, the one who is 100% human and 100% God. When we have faith in Christ, we are putting our trust in him. When we trust someone, we take them at their word. In putting our trust in Jesus, we believe what he says is true and we begin to see the world the way he sees the world.
If discipleship is a journey, than faith is the map we use to navigate our world. However, the map of faith is not regular two-dimensional road map that helps us get from point A to point B. Rather, the map of faith is like a topographical map that helps us see, in three dimensions, the terrain in which we are travelling. In other words, the map of faith is like Google Earth or Google Maps in street view – we can see the shape and structure of things.
The map of faith is not a treasure map where “X marks the spot”. Faith in Christ gives us eyes to see the world in a new way – the true nature of things is revealed and our journey of transformation creates a new way of seeing as we begin to see people and things in a new light and from a different perspective, from the light and perspective of God’s love.
However, if the map of faith is not about pointing us toward a final destination or a buried treasure, then we need something to orient ourselves, to make sure that our eyes stay faithfully focused on God`s promises. We might be able to see the world though eyes of faith, but seeing is not enough. While a topographical map can provide a detailed description of a landscape, without knowing where you are and the direction you are heading, a map quickly becomes useless. We need to be able to orient ourselves otherwise our journey cannot begin.
Hope orients us and gives us our bearings. Hope is like a compass. It helps keep our eyes focused on God’s promises. Jesus promises us that he is coming again and will renew all things. This hope orients us in a world of cynicism and despair, where death and evil seem to always have their way. Hope gives us direction – we set our sights on the One who is the Morning Star, to the future he will inaugurate, a time when “all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well”. Hope points us in the direction of God’s kingdom.
But, as I’ve said, our journey is not about a final destination. It is not about making it safely through earth and getting into heaven. Actually, the opposite is true. It becomes clear in Revelation 21 and 22 that our destination is not heaven; rather, heaven’s final destination is earth.
This means that the compass of hope orients us toward God’s future, a future that he began bringing into the present with the resurrection of Jesus. A hope for the restoration of all things. A hope that calls us to continue God’s work in the present by being the hands and feet of Christ in our broken world; a hope that overcomes the easy despair of cynicism; a hope that laughs in the face of the impossible because through Christ all things are possible; a hope that enlivens us to show the world that another way of seeing and being in the world is indeed possible; a hope that call us to bring God’s future into the present.
However, our journey is difficult. The map of faith and the compass of hope are not enough to sustain us. We require provisions that will never run out, an abundant source of nutrients that will provide what we need, especially during difficult times – the times when we feel that we are lost and going in circles and the times when we feel like we are going nowhere, travelling alone on a dark and unknown path.
The everlasting love of God is what we require to give us strength for the journey. Indeed, it is the only provision we need. God’s love supplies us with the nourishment we need to persevere on our journey. God’s love is the backpack we carry. There is no room in this backpack for hatred or fear or revenge. In this backpack, we carry the Fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.
But this love is not something that we selfishly hoard in our packs – it is meant to be given away. In fact, it is only by giving it away that our supply is replenished. Love is the most important element of discipleship. It is also the hardest. It is the hardest, because it is the kind of love that always puts others first. It is a self-sacrificial love that loves others no matter the cost, even the point of death. It is the kind of love Christ showed us by emptying himself, taking on human flesh, becoming a slave and dying all for the sake of those he loves – each and every one of us.
Through the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to give this love to others. When we try to keep it for ourselves, when we try to contain it, we find that our supply runs low and how quickly the Fruits of the Spirit become rotten and inedible. The gift of love that Christ gives us is a gift that is meant to be shared. We were given this love in order to give it away to those who do not have it. By giving it away, we never run out. The love of God is the only provision we need on the journey of discipleship – a love that requires us to give of ourselves totally and completely, following Christ’s example.
The Holy Spirit equips us with what we need for our journey in following Jesus – the Map of Faith, the Compass of Hope, and the Backpack of Love. All three work together to transform us from the inside out as we become more and more like Jesus. And as we are transformed, our transformation prompts the transformation of others. This means that we never travel this journey alone – we travel with Jesus, the one who carries our burdens so that we are free to carry his love. It also means that we travel in that great cloud of witnesses who have also made a decision to follow Jesus.
The journey of discipleship is all about knowing and showing Christ’s love so that we may become like him. As his disciples, we have faith in God’s promises, hope that God can and is doing the impossible, and a self-giving love for God and neighbour.
Amy, Avery, and Kirstyn, today you have professed your faith and in professing your faith you have also professed your hope and love…and the greatest of these is love. Amen