Seward United Methodist Church
Tuesday, January 25, 2022
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God-Centered Living

Mark 4:26-34 and 2 Corinthians 5:6-17

Last month I went to a pastors’ retreat at Olmsted Manor. The woman leading the retreat had us read a few chapters out of one of her books. She writes about how the challenge for the Church is to move people forward from being “believers in Christ” to “disciples of Christ.” She describes how this is an unintended consequences of Reformation theology. One of the keys of reformation theology is that salvation is by grace alone received through faith alone. And while that’s true, the unintended consequence is that some people think of Christianity as nothing more than just believing the right things.

The Greek word for faith is PISTOS. But the thing about that word is that it means both faith, as in the thing that is believed, and faithfulness, that is obedience. The two are linked. There is not such thing as faith, believing in Jesus, without faithfulness, doing what Jesus wants us to do.

The Apostle James said it this way in James chapter 2, “I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe there is one God? Good! But even the demons believe that.” And of course, the demons don’t submit to God.

Discipleship is more than just believing the right things. It is also doing the right things because of what we believe. And I agree with the premise of that book. That is the challenge for the Church: How do we move from believing in Jesus to living as Jesus would want us to live?

With that in mind, let’s look at Paul’s words here in 2 Corinthians 5. If I were to summarize this whole passage, my summary would be that it describes discipleship as living a God-centered life.

We all have a center to our lives. And in the end, that center is either ourselves or God. Self-centered lives might look different to us. For example, a workaholic, a person who is always striving for more and more success might look very different to us than the person who works as little as possible because they’re always doing the things they enjoy. But in the end, they are both self-centered. One person’s focus is their own success; the other person’s is their own enjoyment; but both are focused on self. Success and pleasure are but two of the many “idols” of self. And there are others.

Our “natural” inclination is to be self-centered. Because we are fallen creatures; we have fallen away from the original goodness in which God created us. Self-centeredness has become our “natural” condition. God-centered living must be chosen.

What does God-centered living look like?

First, a God-centered person seeks to please God in all circumstances. He or she lives out of reverent fear, remembering that each of us must stand before the judgment seat of God. Let’s unpack that.

In all circumstances means life, death, and everything in between. In any situation, if we are centered on God, our goal is to please him; to do his will. If that sounds easy to you, then I envy you!

Reverent fear is not terror or abject fear. The New Testament makes it clear that we are God’s children through Christ, and as such we do not fear him in any negative sense of the word. But we should have a holy fear, a reverence for God. He is still God. He’s not our “buddy.” Jesus is your Savior, not your homeboy.

I think of the book “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” part of CS Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. The book tells the story of children from Earth who are transported to the fantasy world of Narnia. There they learn about Aslan, the Christ-figure, the King of Narnia, who is an enormous lion. One of them asks, “Is he safe?” And their Narnian guide answers, “Of course he’s not safe! He’s a lion. But he is good. He’s the King, I tell you.” God is not safe, but God is good. And we should treat him as such.

For one day we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. Paul knew all about the judgment seat in Corinth. He stood before it Acts 18. One day all of us will stand before the judgment seat of Christ. We will answer for what we have done with the new life he gave us. What did we do with our new life in Christ? What have we done “in the Body,” that is the Body of Christ? Even though we don’t live in terror of God because of our salvation in Jesus, we will still have to give an accounting of our words, deeds, and thoughts. The New Testament makes it clear that “judgment begins in the household of God.”

Second, God-centered living means we seek God’s glory and not our own.

Paul speaks here of these other preachers who brag about having a spectacular ministry. He doesn’t say it outright, but I think he’s implying that not everyone who appears to serve God is actually serving God. Some are really serving themselves.

It’s pretty easy to cast stones, if we want to. An easy target of this accusation are all those televangelists out there who, apparently, make a whole lot of money doing it. But we had better not forget that the very same temptation is also there for all of us. It is a

temptation to do things for the sake of looking like a godly person. After all, many people admire godly people. And we all like to be admired.

Finally, a God-centered person lives a resurrected life.

The resurrection life is not just a future reality. We are raised from the death of the old life to new life in Christ right now. And we live that new life when we live by changed values, changed behaviors, and changed ways of thinking. The resurrection life is a different quality of life right now.

One aspect of the resurrection life is that we no longer evaluate others from a worldly point of view. Paul says, “I once thought of Christ that way.” Paul once discounted Jesus because, from the perspective of the world, he didn’t look like anything special. He was poor. He was not well educated. He never held any kind of official position or had any political power. And even at the end of his life, Jesus only had a couple hundred followers, at most. Who was he to follow?

Jesus himself reminded us that great things can have small beginnings. The mustard seed was not the smallest seed people knew of. But relative to the size of the plant, which could reach up to 15 feet in Galilee, it was a very small seed. God’s Kingdom came through Jesus. And it didn’t look like much at the start. But it grew and has continued to grow. And it’s not done yet.

What do we think when we see other people? Let’s be honest, sometimes we think: Lost cause, good for nothing, unimportant, and so on. It’s easy to see those things in some people.

But God always sees great potential in every person. He knows it’s there because he created them. And his Spirit can do great things through any person.

Rather than thinking how some people are good for nothing, let’s focus on how we can plant seeds in their lives that God can bring to full growth. And I think the best way that we can plant seeds is to talk about what God is doing in our lives right now. When we talk about what God is doing in our lives, then we let others know that he can work in their lives, too. And we never know just how that seed we plant will grow, because that’s in God’s hands. Our job is to plant, not to make growth.

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