Before living the Christian life, you must know Christ.
This statement may cause you to ask, Are you saying a person cannot be a good person Ð trustworthy, moral, kind Ð without knowing Christ?
No, not at all. We all know people who live good, moral lives and are not Christians. The difference is that the Christian is living out of love for Christ, who first loved them. St. John writes, “We love because he first loved us” (I John 4:19). A personal relationship exists between Christ and the believer. The moral person lives by a set of laws or ethics that he learned from some organization or the parents who may have been responsible, but were not necessarily Christian.
When I was a boy, my good friend and I joined the Boy Scouts. This organization is world-renowned for shaping the lives of millions of young men. We memorized the scout oath and laws. The Boy Scouts taught us to live a disciplined life. One would never question that it was great training. However, I also went to Sunday school and learned about Jesus, who loved me. I learned that Jesus loved me so much that he died for my sins. Because of his love for me, I wanted to live according to his will. It was far more than trying to be faithful to some laws.
I also learned that, when I sinned, Jesus would forgive me and we could start over. This was called grace, which means, undeserved favor with God. My friend, who never went to Sunday school or learned about Jesus, lived under the guidance of the ethics he had learned from well-meaning people and organizations. I lived out of love for my Savior. That is a big difference.
Sometimes we see people wearing a bracelet with the letters WWJD. This means, what would Jesus do? Their relationship with him directs their behavior.
St. Paul put it this way, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5:17). When Jesus is your Lord, you are a different person.
Today is the last of four sermons where we have seen Christ at work in the life of a man who was a helpless paralytic lying by the Pool of Bethesda. Our purpose in this series of sermons has been to point out how
¥ helpless we are.
¥ indifferent society can be to our problems.
¥ Christ will heal us.
¥ rich and abundant our lives can become while living in his grace.
Jesus healed the physically paralytic man. This was obvious as the man walked through the crowd. However, the bigger question was if he had been spiritually healed. This would take time to observe his lifestyle.
One verse in this text is especially encouraging, I believe, to Jesus. We read, “Later, Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, ÔSee you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.'” What did this mean?
Is this an indication that this man’s illness was a result of his sinful lifestyle when he was younger? He could have been addicted to alcohol or immorality. Jesus knew more about him than we read in the text. Whatever his past was, I believe Jesus was thrilled to see him in the temple. He could have beat it right to the bar and found some of his old drugs, or he could have looked up some of his old girlfriends. Instead he was in the temple. I believe Jesus gave him a big hug and said, You are on the right road. Here in the temple you will hear my word, and that will be your source of strength. You will get a new circle of friends and have a new look at life. Continue this pattern of living and you will see that the greater change is not your physical healing, but that you now belong to me forever.
This is a marvelous story, but it is more than a brief biography of a man who met Christ and his life changed. It is a word for all ages. We pray with the Psalmist, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word” (Psalm 119:11, 28). We need to remember that God’s Word has not changed.
Lee Iacocca, one of the great leaders in the automobile industry, has an interesting paragraph in his book, Where Have All the Leaders Gone? He writes, “You cannot lose if you follow the market. For much of America’s auto history the industry had a wrong approach to the market. They said, ÔWe will decide which cars to build, and then we will convince the people that they want and need them.’ Then someone came up with a bright idea: Why don’t we find out what kind of cars the customers want and need, and then build them?'”
This philosophy has proven successful in the car industry, but we cannot apply it to the Christian message. We cannot adjust God’s Word to satisfy what humans want. This needs to be emphasized. Humans like to make changes in the Word that will satisfy their desires. Let me list just three of many.
1. Through the early years in the Church, the biblical message that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ was changed. Now we teach that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ AND our good works. It was this heresy that called for the Reformation to restore the Gospel to its right place in the church’s message.
2. Today, with our world getting smaller and other world religions becoming more familiar to our citizens, some are calling for a change. They believe Jesus’ statement, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me,” should read, I am “a” way, meaning it is one among many ways to get to the Father. The Christian cannot accept this, although it could be tempting to wear the hat of being broad minded over being called a bigot.
3. One other change that has won favor with some faithful church members is the practice of homosexuality. The Scriptures have made it clear that such a lifestyle is contrary to God’s will and cannot be accepted. The tension increases and the leaders of the church give in to what the people want, and today the official teaching of some mainline protestant denominations has changed. Same-sex marriages are acceptable and gay pastors can serve our congregations. The most serious part of this change is what it does to the teaching that God’s Word stands forever.
The teachings of Jesus cannot be lowered to what we humans want to satisfy our appetites and thoughts. He calls for those of us who have tasted of his grace to forsake our sinful wishes and follow him.
Jesus’ words to the healed paralytic man stand: “Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”
Our Lord knows we are sinful people living in a broken world. He knows we will be tempted and fall. In these times, he is with us to forgive us, lift us up, and send us on our way. That is living in God’s grace. It does not mean that we take sin lightly. With a new attitude toward sin we pray, “Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with your free Spirit.”
Do you see yourself in this story of the paralyzed man? Then God’s Word has spoken to you.