Seward United Methodist Church
Monday, August 20, 2018
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A Transformed Life

2nd Corinthians 3:7-4:7

 From the very beginning, one of the challenges the Christian Church has faced has been the question of how to relate the Old Testament to the New Covenant of faith in Jesus Christ.  It’s very obvious that most of the Bible is the Old Testament.  Only about one-quarter is the New Testament.  Do we just toss out the rest?  If not, what do we do with it?  

We see it many times in the New Testament.  Acts chapter 15 is all about the question.  Paul had numerous conflicts with a group he called the “Judaizers,” who were Jewish Christians who insisted that Gentiles must first become Jews, must live under the Jewish Law, in order to become Christians second.

 It still happens today.  It’s easiest to see it in the extremes.  For example, some Christians want to “throw out” things they find in the Old Testament that they don’t like with the rationale that “Jesus didn’t say it” or they can’t find it in the New.  On the other extreme, there are some Christian groups who insist that we should be living according to the cultural laws of the Old Testament, such as worshipping on Saturday and not eating certain foods.  When I was in seminary, there was a movement in that part of the state called the “Church of Yahweh,” that insisted on keeping most of the Old Testament laws.  Most of us take a middle road in the issue.  We ignore some things in the Old Testament while embracing others.  

 Well, today, we’ll try to talk about how we strike a balance and understand the Old Testament in light of the New.  

 First, we need to remember there were shortcomings to the Old Covenant.  After all, if there weren’t shortcomings, why would it have been superseded by the New?  Just look how Paul describes the Old Covenant:  Law etched in stone that led to death.  There was the shortcoming:  It was only an external Law.  It was only outside of us.  And it led to death because while it could reveal God’s will, it could not empower us to do God’s will.  We were made aware of sin, but not empowered to overcome sin.

 That was the frequent lament of the prophets, such as in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36.  But in the New Covenant, God does something new.  He writes his Laws on our hearts and he changes our hearts to empower us to live this new way.  A living Spirit placed inside of us is superior to a non-living Law written on stone.  

 But does this mean that the Old Testament no longer has any value for us?  No.  It’s still the Word of God.  It’s still glorious.  Even if it was not the new, perfect, eternal and unchanging way of faith in Jesus Christ, it was still glorious.  Moses’ face still shone with the glory of God after he came out from God’s presence bearing that Law.  We are not free to discard it, even if we are not necessarily bound to live according to it.  

 For example, there are the kosher laws of the Old Testament, the Laws regarding what was clean and unclean, what was good to be eaten and what was not.  The New Testament makes it clear in Acts 15 and other places that we are not bound to these laws.  But that doesn’t mean that they don’t have any value.  If we search them out, we can still find ways in which they reveal the wisdom and the mind of God.

 Let me give a different example.  Leviticus 19 prohibited the Israelites from cutting their bodies for the dead or marking their skin with tattoos.  Does that mean that Christians shouldn’t get tattoos or piercings?  I’ve had people tell me that very thing.  But there is no prohibition of it in the New Testament.  So I think that the middle way is that while we are not bound to that law, there is still value in searching out its meaning.  Why did God prohibit these things?  Understanding that might be valuable, even if the law itself does not apply to New Covenant people.  

 The Old Covenant was glorious, even if it was a fading glory.  It was temporary.  Because it was not perfect, it was replaced.  The moon only appears to be bright until the sun rises.  

 Moses veiled his face when he left God’s presence so that it would not be seen that the glory reflected on him was fading. But it was fading.  And in Paul’s day, a veil was still in place.  The minds of some who heard the Gospel were veiled because they were unwilling to let go of the old and familiar, even if the New was superior.  In Greek, there were two different words for “new.”  One word, NEOS, meant new in terms of time.  The other, KAINOS, meant new in terms of quality.  Even though the New was of a greater quality, was KAINOS, they clung to the old.

 Lest we be too quick to jump on them, let’s remember that we are tempted to cling to the old and familiar, too.  And that’s especially true of the Church.  We seem to be very resistant to change.  I’m still amused when I hear people refer to the 1989 Hymnal as the “new” hymnal.  It’s 24 years old.  It’s not new anymore.  They’ve come

out with two newer ones since then!  Just because something is new, doesn’t make it inferior, nor is the old necessarily superior, and the other way around too.

 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.  And the Spirit gives us freedom.  It occurs to me, though, that freedom is an often-misused word.  Just what is freedom?

 Often we think of freedom in terms of its outward expression.  We think of the Bill of Rights and say, “I’m free to speak as I choose.  I’m free to worship as I choose.  I’m free to associate with whomever I choose.”  

 But there is a more essential form of freedom:  The inward expression.  Rather than a freedom to, the most important freedom is a freedom from.  In Christ, we are free from sin.  Its power in our lives has been broken.  In Christ, we are free from fear.  We don’t need to wonder if God loves us; we know he has because he demonstrated it in Jesus Christ.  

 This internal freedom is a gift of God and God alone.  No one can give us that freedom, nor can anyone take it away.  Someone can take away your freedom to speak as you choose.  They can throw you in a jail cell for it.  But no one can take away your freedom from fear or sin or hopelessness.

 Recently, I got to rewatch part of one of my favorite movies:  The Shawshank Redemption.  My disclaimer to you is that if you’ve never seen it, be forewarned, it’s a very rough movie.  The main character is a man sent to prison for two murders he didn’t commit.  The other characters are mostly serving life sentences, and they have given up hope.  But the main character clings to hope, even when others discourage him from doing so.  He tells one of the prisoners that he should start playing music again.  Because music could take him to a place outside of prison.  It could set him free in a way that no prison bars could stop.  It’s a way of holding onto hope, and no one can take it away.  If you are free in Christ, you are free indeed, in a way that no one outside of Christ is.  

 But there’s still more the Spirit offers.  He offers us transformation.  He can change us.  By this transformation, we are made to be like the Lord, reflecting his glory.  

 We can’t see the glory of God.  But we can see it reflected in the world.  And whenever a person turns away from sin, turns to God, and loves their neighbor as self, that is the glory of God reflected in the world.  

 The Christian life is, and must be, a transformed life.  If it’s just the same as our previous life, we’re missing something!  In the book Transforming Church, the author talks about how often he went into unhealthy churches and asked the question:  How has your life been transformed through this church?  And too often the answer was, it hasn’t been.  

 What about you?  How has your life been changed by your faith and your journey with Christ?  I hope you have an answer!

 One more thing:  this is a message of freedom and transformation that must be shared.  And it must be shared openly and honestly.  Deceipt is not our territory, but the territory of Satan, the god of this world. 

 We might recoil at the thought of calling Satan the god of this world, as Paul does.  But the truth is that whatever we put at the center of our lives and build our lives around is our god.  And Satan is in the business of deceiving us into believing that our lives can be filled with something other than God, whether that be wealth, or possessions, or power, or pleasurable experiences, or anything.  But we can never have enough of that which does not satisfy.  And in the end, none of those things will satisfy us.  Only Christ will.

 And once we have Christ, we must become truth-bearers of Christ and what he can do.  His glory must be reflected in us because it’s not about us; it’s about Christ.  God alone is the creator of light, and only he can put light in us.  We are simply clay jars filled with a great treasure.  

 This is the paradox of the Gospel:  It’s an immeasurably great treasure, but it’s put inside us, fragile and often flawed containers.  The reason is to reveal this great truth:  The power is God’s not ours.  It’s not about us.  It’s only about Jesus.  And we must resist the temptation to point others to ourselves but only beyond ourselves to the light of God that reflects off of us.  

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