Sunday 6 November 2016

This morning I want to turn to Paul’s Letter to the Romans, in Chapter 10, looking at verses 1 to 15

Paul was specially and uniquely called by God to be an Apostle to the Gentiles, but he never forgot his own Jewish people. This Letter was directed to the Jews who were carrying a mistaken belief, but its teaching is equally applicable to us, as all Paul’s Letters are.

Paul’s greatest desire was to make people Christians, a noble cause and one we could wish all preachers to-day to adopt. He was concerned the Jews were being misled to follow the wrong way to salvation, which can only be achieved by accepting Jesus Christ as Lord.

The Jews believed that all that was necessary for salvation was to keep the Ten Commandments, but no one can keep the Commandments for it is like a chain, if you break one link it all falls apart, and the Bible states if you break one you break the lot, and we have all, without exception broken at least one. Therefore one cannot be saved by the Commandments.

The word ‘saved’ does cause an emotional response with a lot of people, as it conjures up an image of being approached by a Charismatic Christian asking are you saved brother (sister).

I read of a man sitting in a theatre when someone came up and asked if the vacant seat next to him was saved, and he wittingly answered, ‘no, but I am’, at which the person moved away quickly.

God sent Jesus to supplant the Law and make it possible for all people to be saved if they accepted Christ as having died on the Cross to obtain forgiveness for the sins they committed.

Coming to the heart of this passage, verse 9 states, ‘if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved’.

Confession that Jesus is Lord, and singing the hymn, is not an intellectual title or a casual statement, it means much more. You have to believe fully in your heart this is so, and have no doubt that God raised Him physically from the dead; that is the heart of the Christian message. So when you do believe and are prepared to confess with your mouth, God accepts you as righteous. We are in fact at the doctrine of justification by faith.

The Bible states, ‘by grace you have been saved through faith, it is not your own doing, it is the gift of God and not by your own works.’

Something in us always wants to add to God’s free grace. It’s humbling to admit that we can do nothing to earn our deliverance from sin. Imagine what heaven would be like if we had to earn our way there. People would be trying to outbid each other and probably boasting how important they had been in the world.

When I was being inducted the Rural Dean who was a real traditional English gentleman (and there’s not many of us about), introduced me to a man and mentioned some of the positions he had held in his Church, and the man was really indignant because some obscure committee was omitted. There really are people who join the Church for egotistic reasons. Heaven would be just like that if you had to earn your way there. But it won’t be like that, when Jesus died on the cross, he paid the full price for your salvation. God alone gets the glory in your salvation. Jesus did all the work when he died on the cross.

A lot of people think like the Jews. I have been told countless times all one has to do is to be good, not to steal or be dishonest and not harm anybody, and you will go to heaven; no need to go to Church, sing hymns and read the Bible. They will learn to regret this belief.

I have been watching a series on television in which a young police constable is partnered on duty by an attractive young police woman who is fond of him, but he does not respond. His Sergeant tells him he should make a decision and respond, as one day he will regret not doing so; and then says the two saddest words in the English language are, if only.. There are so many people who will one day appear before the Lord and say, ‘if only’.

Jesus himself warned that on the Day of Judgment many will claim to have been His followers, but He will say to them, ‘depart from me. I never knew you.’ Millions have not the slightest idea of what it really meant to be a Christian.

People have been attending church for years, listening to the Bible being read, singing praise to the Lord, and have been very religious, yet have never come to the time when they have acknowledged Jesus as Lord, yet the Bible calls on us to do so.

We have admit to the fundamental fact that we live in an evil world and we all become tainted and lost, but by the grace of God He gives us an opportunity to come to Christ and be saved. The majority of people do not consider they need saving as they think their lives are already safe. The thought they are sinners is mortally wounding, as one Vicar discovered when he put a notice outside his church saying this Church is here for sinners; half his congregation were absent the next week. Sin is not just murder, theft and immorality; it includes pride, jealousy, envy, anger and hatred

Verse 11 states that all who believe in Jesus will not be put to shame, but there are too many Christians who are ashamed to admit they follow Jesus.

Verse 12 reminds us that God has no favourites, and will accept all who call on Jesus.

There follows three questions all inter related. How can they call on someone they do not believe in; and how can one believe if they have never heard of Jesus; how can they hear unless someone tells them of Jesus.

These questions need to be taken seriously by the Church, for the fact that so many people just do not understand the Christian faith is really an indictment on us.

A question often asked is what about those who have never heard of Jesus. If someone is in such a remote place where the Bible has not been taught, they will be judged by how they responded to their conscience, for everyone has a sense of what is right and what is wrong. However, if it is a case of just not bothering to listen or find out, then the responsibility will be on them.

Behind the message, of course, is the messenger. The message has to be communicated and the way that God chooses is through the preaching of the Word and the praying of Christians, the yearning of their hearts over those who are not yet saved.

People are touched by God by various means, perhaps through a poster, a friend, an occurrence in one’s life, but the principal way is through the preaching of the Bible.
This I believe is where we are failing badly, right across the Church. The Bible calls on us to preach the Word; in other words the Scriptures, with sound doctrine, not adding, subtracting or amending what God caused His writers to state in the Bible.

We in the Churches must make a greater effort to concentrate on the fundamentals of the faith. There is too much a willingness to amend Bible teaching to be popular, avoid being called narrow minded or bigoted, or ally with society’s standards and beliefs; and take every opportunity of doing so.

On Easter Sunday last year a service was held in one of our great Cathedrals, offering a wonderful opportunity of getting the message out, but instead there was a sermon which completely wasted the chance by an address on social issues.

Regularly Church leaders are eager to write to the press on a variety of matters social and political. A Bishop wrote asking for everybody to fast one day of the week in prayer for climate change; this at a time when the Church attendances are falling.

As people have a cause to believe in with an eternal future at issue, one might have thought that would have been a prime issue for him to concentrate his mind on.

There is however a marked reluctance to speak out on moral and ethical matters when the Church should be giving a lead to the country.

The Bible states that it is God who adds to the number of people attending a Church. In the book of Acts, He did so because the people were devoted to the teaching of the Apostles. Therefore, if we seek to have God add to the Church today, we should be sure that all preaching and teaching will be that given by the Apostles and left for our learning in the New Testament.

The glory of Christianity is that it has a message that is grounded in history. It is objective truth, not just something that someone has made up. . It is not some feeling that you are following that you hope will work out; it is the story of historic events. One of these events is the coming of Jesus as a baby in the manger of Bethlehem, the coming of the wise men from the east and the uproar and unrest that it caused in the kingdom of Judea, beginning with Herod the king himself. That is all part of history. Then there was the resurrection and the events that followed in the church. These are all historic events -- objective truth. The great thing of the Christian faith is not that we are presenting some philosophy, but a faith that is grounded in events that cannot be explained away. That is our message.

There is an urgent need for such message to be preached without fear or favour, but I have been at Churches barely mentioning the basic facts of our faith. We have to be as forthright and determined to preach our faith as we see the preachers of Islam doing so in respect of their faith. You will never hear a Muslim cleric challenging anything in their Holy book.

In the absence of any person at national level with the charisma to inspire, each local Church has to be its own evangelist and I pray that your Church will be an inspiration in the days to come.

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