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Good morning again to all of you. I do hope you’re refreshed and encouraged from your Christmas holiday. My wife Pat and I received some good news ourselves this holiday—we found out that we’re expecting our fourth grandchild, a little, a little boy. But how we found out’s worth telling you. My precious daughter-in-law, for lack of time to make the traditional gender reveal cake, or so she tells me, came to our home in an extraordinary way to reveal the gender of the baby. She brought with her to our house for a family dinner ten eggs—five were dyed pink, five were dyed blue, nine of the ten eggs were hard-boiled, one of them was not. [laughter] And Pat was tasked to take each pink egg in a certain order and smack it against her head, [laughter] and I was tasked to do the same thing with the blue ones. [laughter] So when one of us smacked a single raw egg against our head, we would know the gender of our next grandchild, we were told. [laughter] I should say two things. First, smacking a hard-boiled egg against your head really does hurt [laughter], I don’t recommend it, and second, it took me four eggs to learn that we’re having a grandson. [laughter] I found this approach to revealing the gender of a child in the womb to be rather extraordinary. Perhaps it will catch on and become common, but Pat nor I saw that coming, and so for us it was an extraordinary experience.
And perhaps that’s a good segue to our sermon this morning titled “The Ordinary Christian Life.” We live in a time which to be called ordinary is not considered a compliment. In fact, it can be considered derogatory. Nearly everyone wants to be thought of as extraordinary.
Theologian Michael Horton speaks to this. Listen to what he says. “Ordinary has to be one of the loneliest words in our vocabulary today. Who wants to be a bumper sticker that announces to the neighborhood my child is an ordinary student at Bubbling Brook Elementary? Who wants to be that ordinary person who lives in an ordinary town? Is a member of an ordinary church, has ordinary friends, and works an ordinary job? Our life has to count. We have to leave our mark, have a legacy, and make a difference. We need to be radical disciples, taking our faith to a whole new level, and all this should be managed, measured, and maintained. We have” he says, “to live up to our Facebook profile.”
The quest to be extraordinary in the eyes of men is perhaps a desire we all have in our DNA as sinners. It can be exhausting and a futile quest. There is a sense, of course, in which we are extraordinary as creatures made in God’s image relative to the rest of creation.
Here’s how C.S. Lewis said it in his book “The Weight of Glory.” Perhaps you’ve heard this famous quote. “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, art, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors… Next to the blessed sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”
But that isn’t what we’re speaking of this morning. Perhaps it’s because we’re made in God’s image and on that basis inherently, extraordinary creatures that we need to discuss how one lives the ordinary Christian life in order to make progress in becoming increasingly like Christ, who is extraordinary beyond measure. For the reality is that we’re also pitiful sinners. Our journey to be like our extraordinary Christ doesn’t begin in neutral. We begin with a great deficiency, for we are also extraordinary sinners.
There are a few things to say about the ordinary Christian life as the Bible speaks to it. First, that life is counter-cultural. Certainly within western culture that’s increasingly hostile and dismissive of Christianity and thus it takes courage and resolve to live the ordinary Christian life. It does cost us something. Jesus made that perfectly clear many times. He said in Luke 9 “if anyone wishes to come after Me let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” And such sacrifice is increasingly un-American.
Second, not only is it counter-cultural, but the ordinary Christian life is also counter-intuitive. Why is that? For one, Americans have been taught to expect immediate results. We like to measure and quantify everything. Results that aren’t quick and substantial are interpreted as failure or mediocrity, and so living the Christian life as prescribed in Scripture does not sit well with many of us because its fruit and benefits are borne out over one’s lifetime, the results are rarely, if ever, immediate. And in fact, they are often slow in coming and are mingled with many setbacks. They are often hard to measure. The ordinary Christian life is counter-intuitive not only for its perceived results and their slowness, but also the very things that make the Christian life ordinary seem too ordinary. We are so acquainted with the hyperbolic presentations of Hollywood and the “name it and claim it” gospel that it can be very difficult to embrace anything less in the Christian life.
Michael Horton, whom I quoted moments ago, says that today we live in the cult of the extraordinary. Yes, it’s hard to be ordinary. It is hard to settle for the ordinary prescriptions and descriptions of Scripture for satisfying effective and meaningful life with God.
And yet, perhaps we should be grateful that God hasn’t arranged life with Him to be like qualifying for the Olympics. Perhaps we should be grateful that pleasing the Lord is more like a marathon than a sprint. In fact, I think if we were to thoughtfully consider how the Lord has arranged for us to live with Him and for Him, we will find Christ’s words in Matthew 11:28-31 to ring true.
Here’s what He says: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
And so this morning I want to offer what I hope will be some helpful insights about the ordinary Christian life. Perhaps none of what I have to say will be news to you, but the apostles were convinced that we need to be reminded of what we already know, because the serious consequence of the fall is that our memories and our wills leak.
Here’s how Peter puts it in his second epistle. He writes to God’s people: “Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder,” and that is what I hope to do this morning.
Look with me please at our primary text for this morning. It’s found in 1 Thessalonians, chapter 4, verse 1. It’ll serve as home base for us as we have more to say. Remember that this is God’s holy, inspired word, intended to make each of us complete and adequate for every good work.
The Apostle Paul writes: “Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.”
This single verse of the Apostle Paul addressing believers in the church of Thessalonica will help us describe the ordinary Christian life.
But first notice several things from this verse. First, Paul is spurring the believers in Thessalonica onward in their life with Christ. He uses the words “ask” and “urge” to compel them onward. Second, he says that they know what that way forward consists of because it was taught and modeled for them by those who led them. Third, he says that they are already living consistent Christian lives, but there is still more for them as they mature in Christ. It’s a way of saying that the Christian life isn’t stagnant—it’s progressing. We never quite arrive in this life and our goal to become like our Lord Jesus that awaits heaven.
And finally, and most importantly perhaps, the life Paul is urging them toward is one that pleases God. Pleasing God is both our objective and our motivation in living the ordinary Christian life.
This thought of living to please the Lord should not be a strange one, or strange concept to us as fathers and mothers. If you come into my office, you will find some interesting and peculiar trinkets in addition to many family pictures and my books. The trinkets are simple things that my children made for me when they were quite young to bring me pleasure as their dad, and I have preserved those gifts from them all these years because they still carry precious memories of the great pleasure and privilege I have of being their father.
It’s not so different with our heavenly Father. It’s possible for us as His children to bring Him pleasure. Have you thought about that? He has told us how to do that in Scriptures and He welcomes our initiatives to please Him. And what brings our Father pleasure, as it turns out, is consistently predictable and ordinary. The question we should ask then is what does the ordinary Christian life that pleases God look like? What does it consist of? What are its marks?
And in the time we have remaining this morning, I would like to offer you, perhaps actually remind you, of a dozen or so attributes of the Christian life that if we’re pursuing, even if imperfectly, bring the Lord pleasure and much good to us and everyone in our spheres of influence. These are ordinary, not extraordinary. They are for all Christians, everywhere, and every age.
This isn’t a comprehensive list. There are more attributes of the ordinary Christian life, but this is a good start that I hope will stimulate you to pursue them and maybe discover others on your own in the Scriptures. We’ll be looking at a number of Scriptures together, so I hope you have your Bibles ready.
We begin our list of what an ordinary Christian life consists of by saying first and foremost that it’s a life of faith. I probably don’t need to tell you this, and yet since we live primarily out of our five physical senses in a material world, it must be said. It’s easy to forget and to rely on our flesh.
If you’ll turn with me briefly to Hebrews 11, look with me at verses 1 and 2 and 6. Hebrews 11, verses 1 and 2 and 6.
There we read: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. By it the people of old received their commendation.” Or, in the New American Standard, “gained approval.” “And without faith it’s impossible to please Him, for who comes to God must believe that He is and that He’s the rewarder of those who seek Him.”
From Hebrews 11:1 we have a definition of faith. The writer says it’s the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. What are we hoping for? What are we convinced of that isn’t seen? Aren’t we hoping for and convinced of eternal life with God, that has been promised over and over again in the Scriptures to those who’ve placed their trust in Christ? In this respect, our faith is future-oriented and embraces the certainty of Christ’s sure return, both to judge the world and to receive His people to heaven.
And the writer of Hebrews goes not to say that the Christian life cannot be lived apart from faith, for we read in verse 6 that without faith it’s impossible to please God. He says the same thing back on chapter, in chapter 10, verses 37 and 38: ” For, yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.”
And so first and foremost, the ordinary Christian life is a life of faith, which according to Ephesians 2 is a gift from God.
The second mark of the ordinary Christian life is that it’s a life of sanctification and holiness. Those words occur often in Scripture, and are related. How would you define sanctification? Let me help you with our Shorter Catechism’s answer to the question “What is sanctification?” “Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.”
Here’s a practical definition: Sanctification is a life set apart from the world to God, that expresses itself in abstaining from the sinful tendencies of the flesh and the world in preference for a life that pleases the Father.
There are many passages of Scripture that call us to a life of sanctification and holiness. Let me read just two that I find compelling.
The first is found in 1 Peter chapter 1,1 Peter chapter 1, beginning in verse 13. Peter writes for us: “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.'”
The second passage that compels us to a life of sanctification and holiness is found in 1 John chapter 3, verses 1 to 3. John writes: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself just as He Himself is pure.”
Just a few quick observations about sanctification that are important for us to remember. First, sanctification occurs over a lifetime. It’s not an act of God in a moment like our justification or as our adoption as sons and daughters. We will spend the rest of our lives fighting indwelling sin and pursuing holiness that brings us increasingly into Christ’s image.
Second, pursuing holiness can be frustrating. Galatians 5:17 reminds us of that. Paul writes: “Therefore the desires of the flesh are set against the Spirit and desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” Sanctification is frustrating.
And third, although sanctification is a work of the Holy Spirit who indwells us, it does require our cooperation with Him otherwise we risk grieving and quenching the Spirit rather than bringing Him pleasure. This is the clear teaching of Philippians chapter 2, verses 12 and 13: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”
It’s easy to become discouraged as we stumble along in pursuit of a life of holiness. Fortunately, God is very patient and merciful with us as we strive and there are effective ways to greater holiness, if we want it enough.
The third attribute of the ordinary Christian life is that it’s a life that exhibits the fruit of the Spirit. If you were to do a word study, seeking a job description for the Holy Spirit, you might be surprised by what you’d find. You would discover that the Holy Spirit moved men to author the Holy Scriptures, He exercised an important role in the creation of the universe, the Holy Spirit is responsible for the new birth, bringing sinners from death to life, but a very important role of the Spirit is to indwell God’s people, to indwell believers and produce real and lasting fruit through them. This is a corollary of our last point.
But in Galatians chapter 5, verse 16, and then on in verse 22 and 23, we read this: “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh… But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
It’s easy for us to attempt to take credit for any one of this fruit the Scriptures say are produced by the Holy Spirit, but they are His work, not ours, except insofar as we cooperate with Him.
Can you imagine how staggeringly valuable and redemptive this fruit of the Holy Spirit would be in our nation’s government right now? Or in other institutions that are marked by corruption and brokenness, including sometimes, I’m sad to say, the Christian home. As we read, the fruit of the Spirit brings freedom. There is no law against it.
And if you’re eager to be peacemakers and reconcilers for Christ, the pursuit of the fruit of the Spirit is absolutely necessary, for this fruit of the Spirit is to mark the Christian and is part of the ordinary Christian life.
Yet a fourth mark of the ordinary Christian life is that it’s a life of repentance and forgiveness. When I do premarital counseling, or when I meet with a married couple who are estranged, I challenge them to make repentance and forgiveness as natural in their relationship as involuntary breathing. I consider repentance and forgiveness so important that I urged them to compete. If you’re going to compete for anything, I say compete to be the chief repenter and forgiver in your home.
And if they are parents, I encourage them to model this for their children. This, too, is so counter-cultural and counter-intuitive to sinners. We want to be right, don’t we? We want to win. But you can win the war or the battle to be right and lose the relationship war.
God is on record of being, as being drawn to broken and contrite people. Listen to what He says to us in Isaiah 57:15: “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and revive the heart of the contrite.”
King David discovered this as well upon his repentance from his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband. Psalm 51 is his prayer of repentance, and in verse 17 he prays “the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
And genuine repentance is a magnet to forgiveness. I’ve concluded that because God is so ready to forgive those who genuinely repent of their sins, that we made in His image are also drawn to forgive those who sin against us when they genuinely repent.
Extending forgiveness when others sin against us is a difficult matter. Part of the reason, part of the reason I think that it’s so difficult is due to considerable confusion about what forgiveness is and what it isn’t. I would recommend a helpful book on forgiveness that I recently finished. It’s titled “Unpacking Forgiveness” by Chris Brauns; I think you will find that clarifying.
But make no mistake about it—a life of repentance and forgiveness is central to the ordinary Christian life.
Yet a fifth mark of the ordinary Christian life is that it’s a life of careful stewardship of our words. I’m reading through Proverbs now. Every time I read Proverbs I’m amazed at the substantial attention given to the significance of our words. Why is it that we are so careful about our conduct in so many realms, but when it comes to our words, we can be so careless? It isn’t for lack of warning in the Scriptures.
Look with me at just a few of what are many sobering warnings to us about the importance of our words.
Proverbs 18:21: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”
James has much to say about the tongue, and James 3 commits 12 verses to it. I’m just going to read verses 8 to 10, where he says: “But no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.”
And if that’s not enough, the Lord Jesus warns us in Matthew 12:36 and 37: “And I say to you that every careless word that men shall speak they shall render account for on the day of judgment, for by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned.”
Fortunately, the Lord in addition to warning us about the consequences of the destructive nature of our tongues also provides us insightful counsel to help us steward our words redemptively. We see this in Ephesians 4:29, a verse worth you memorizing: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as it fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
The Bible is very clear that life and death are in the power of the tongue, and that we are accountable for our speech. That should tell us that sins of the tongue are a big problem, and that it matters to the Lord.
There’s no better example of rampant deadly speech than the present political season. I can hardly watch anymore as vile, hateful words, threats, lies, predominate in political discourse. As James says, “my brothers, this ought not be.”
And in the ordinary Christian life, one is very careful to steward his words to extend life and grace to others, not death and destruction.
A sixth mark of the ordinary Christian life is that it’s a life of gratitude and thanksgiving. Dr. Ken Boa is a reading mentor for me. I commend his books to you. He has spoken at Christ Covenant on a number of occasions in the past. And Dr. Boa has a lot to say about the importance of gratitude in the Christian life. For one, he acknowledges that a grateful heart is not native to us. He says that gratitude has a short half-life. And he quotes from Dostoevsky’s “Notes from the Underground” where he refers to man as the ungrateful biped, not a compliment. We are not by nature a grateful people, are we? We are beset with an entitlement mentality as sinners, and yet the ordinary Christian life is marked by a grateful heart.
How does the Scripture put it? We are told in 1 Thessalonians 5, beginning in verse 16: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
In Colossians 2:6 and 6 we read: “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude” the Apostle Paul writes.
And in Hebrews 12:28, we are urged to respond to our kingdom inheritance this way: “Therefore since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe.”
Being a grateful man or woman requires that we cultivate it as a lifestyle as a disciple. Ken Boa says that one way he does that is to thank God for ten things each morning, before his feet hit the floor. However you do it, becoming a grateful man or woman will be noticed and speak well of our Christ.
The ordinary Christian life is also an hospitable lifestyle. Look with me at two passages that address our opportunity and obligation to be hospitable to others. 1 Peter 4, verses 7 to 9: “The end of all things is near; therefore be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without grumbling, without complaint.”
And then in Hebrews 13, verses 1 and 2, we are told ” let love of the brethren continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
Brothers and sisters, it’s an oxymoron of sorts to be an inhospitable Christian. It simply shouldn’t be said of God’s people that they are inhospitable. Our Lord is an hospitable God; we should be as well, making allowances for introversion. We’d do well to welcome visitors when we see them at church, we’d do well to open our homes for meals and fellowship.
You may not know this, but I’m an introvert, a serious introvert. My wife Pat is more the extrovert, but I realized many years ago that to please God I couldn’t hide behind my preferences for privacy when it comes to hospitality, and so I look for folks I haven’t met in church, and introduce myself in addition to connecting with those who are members here. Pat and I regularly have folks in our home. We have some of the best stories of watching God connect people’s lives around our dinner table. Sometimes I don’t need to say a thing but just watch God and what He does in relationships, simply because I was willing to welcome people into our home.
Do you realize how rare this is? Hospitality was pretty common when I was young. It isn’t anymore. Perhaps it’s due to decreasing margins in our lives, or the decline of our culture whereby neighborhood relationships that folks my age remember growing up are diminishing. Or maybe it’s due to the trajectory of the American life toward isolation. Whatever the cause, hospitality is fast becoming a lost art. What an opportunity for us who profess Christ to warmly welcome those we don’t know, as well as those we do, to times of encouraging and edifying fellowship and friendship.
The ordinary Christian life is a generous lifestyle. Look again with me at two passages that bring this component of the ordinary Christian life home to us. The first is in 2 Corinthians 9, beginning in verse 6 through 8 and 15. Paul writes to us: ” The point is this: Whoever sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give just as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves [or takes pleasure in] a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work…. Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift!”
In the second text, Paul addresses those who are rich and by ancient standards, I think most of us here might assume this text is applicable to us.
1 Timothy 6:17-19: “As for the rich,” Paul writes, “in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.”
I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that the giving of our tithes and offerings each Sunday is an act of worship that brings our Lord much pleasure. We express our gratitude to the Lord for all He has done for us, but then He supernaturally leverages our generosity to rule the Great Commission through church planting and world missions, to provide for relief for the poor and the suffering, and those who suffer calamities, such as that caused recently by hurricanes Florence and Michael, among many other things that benefit His church in our hurting world. It’s quite something.
But have you considered that your generosity with what you own has a sanctifying effect on your own soul? When we hold loosely to what is ours, we are liberated from materialism. There is a certain freedom in a generous lifestyle, and it should be said that our generosity extends beyond our money. It includes the use of our time as well, and that makes generosity an important part of the ordinary Christian life.
The ordinary Christian life has a sincere concern for others’ welfare. We don’t need to look far in Scripture before we see the importance that the Lord places on caring for others. As far back as Leviticus 19:19 we read “you shall not take vengeance or bear grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”
In Luke 10, Jesus addresses an expert in the law who is looking for a way around the law’s requirement to love our neighbor, by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan, and that parable gave that inquiring lawyer no wiggle room.
Paul calls us to show concern for others as well by reminding us of Jesus’ example in Philippians 2, beginning in verse 3. We read there: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves [or more important than yourselves]. Let each of you look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but He emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. Being found in human form, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
James puts particularly emphasis on caring for the orphan and widow in James 1:27, calling it “pure and undefiled religion.”
Considering others as more important than ourselves originates with the Holy Spirit. In our flesh, we are far more concerned with ourselves.
The Scripture uses interesting language to compel us to care for on another. Husbands are wives are called one flesh. The church is the household of God. We are brothers and sisters and fathers and mothers in the faith. We are said to be members of one another so that when one member suffers, all the members suffer, and when one member is honored, all of us are honored. We weep with one another when it’s appropriate. In every way, the Scriptures urge us to demonstrate sincere concern for others. This is part and parcel of the ordinary Christian life.
The ordinary Christian life also gives a desire and a willingness to bring the Gospel to others. For this the church primarily exists, to take the Gospel to everyone who hasn’t heard, beginning in our Jerusalem, on to our Judea and our Samaria and the outermost ends of the earth. Our part may be small in our workplace, in our neighborhoods, or financially supporting the work of missions, but by virtue of belonging to Christ, we all have an important part.
Peter puts it this way in 1 Peter 3:15: “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for the reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”
One of the greatest privileges and joys I have had of a long tenure with Christ Covenant is to contemplate the breathtaking ways, places, and people God has used our church to extend the Gospel through local evangelism, college campus ministry, church planting, and world missions. It’s the stuff of a compelling book. I think I’ve told you that when I first came to Charlotte in 1977, which Pastor DeYoung likes to remind me was the year he was born [laughter], we were just a little mission work and with one other PCA church in the city. We planted our first church in 1995. That church has been a vigorous church-planting church. Christ Covenant now has daughter churches, we have granddaughter churches, and more recently our first granddaughter church was planted in West Charlotte. All of these churches, and others we’ve planted in New England, in Germany to mention just a few, along with our own campus outreach extending itself to many college campuses, are earnestly making disciples for Christ. It is thrilling to watch and be a part of, and yet all this begins, all this begins with an individual commitment to a lifestyle of bringing Christ’s Gospel to others.
The ordinary Christian life is a life of perseverance. That them was certainly struck in our music and Scripture reading this morning. Life in a fallen world is very hard on the best day. We struggle with our flesh, the world, and Satan. We suffer in a myriad of ways. The Scriptures are replete in both Old and New Testaments with examples and even promises that sufferings and trials will come to us.
Another part of my premarital counseling is to briefly fly an optimistic young couple over the suffering and loss that Pat and I and our children have experienced over our lives together. I do this to address their naivete and their inflated expectations about marriage, and when I’m done I conclude with this: And we’re just typical, this is what you can expect.
I can see the soberness that sets in upon them as they listen and wonder why they came to speak with me about marriage [laughter], but the truth is many folks suffer much more than we have. We have been most blessed.
In my men’s small group we are studying Hebrews and we are learning that the epistle of Hebrews is primarily a book about perseverance written to Jewish Christians who were under siege for their faith, so much so that they were considering abandoning the faith. The writer is begging them to persevere.
The Scriptures give us many encouragements to persevere in trial. Here’s how James puts it: Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance, and let perseverance have its full effect that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Fortunately for us, like every other part of the ordinary Christian life we discussed, perseverance is God’s gift to us. Listen to this wonderful benediction from Romans 15, verses 5 and 6: “Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another, according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who gives perseverance.”
The final mark of the ordinary Christian life I would mention this morning is that it’s a life of worship of the living and true God. The Bible is a book about many things, but it is certainly a book about worship. The Psalms are pregnant with the words of worshippers and calls to God’s people to worship the living and true God. Here are just two that compel me to worship the Lord. David says in Psalm 27:4: “One thing I have asked from the Lord: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in His temple.”
And the sons of Korah convey a longing commitment to worship the Lord in Psalm 84, beginning in verse 1:
” How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, faints
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
to the living God.
Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O Lord of hosts,
my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house,
ever singing your praise!
…For a day in your courts is better
than a thousand outside.
I would rather be the doorkeeper in the house of my God
than to dwell in the tends of wickedness.”
Perhaps nothing is a better indicator of our health and vitality in the ordinary Christian life than our commitment to worship our great God each Lord’s day with His people, just like we’ve been doing this morning. And at the risk of hyperbole, I would say there is no ordinary Christian life without a life of worship.
John Piper says that missions exists because worship doesn’t. That’s a helpful statement. Perhaps listing a life of worship at the end is a good way to bookend this list of the marks of the ordinary Christian life along with faith as the first one. If you can think of it as a sandwich, faith and worship are the slices of bread and in between we find the delicious things that flow from faith that lead us ultimately to worship.
There you have it. Twelve commitments, or attributes, of the ordinary Christian life that ought to mark all of us who profess the name of Christ.
Here are a few things we can say about them in closing. There is nothing flashy about any of them. They wouldn’t command the attention of thrill-seekers. That’s how ordinary they are. They do require the sacrifices of time and attention on our part, and they do require that we be less self-absorbed and more other-centered. These things are intended by the Lord to be sustained all of our lives.
And finally, it should be said once more that these commitments of the ordinary Christian please the Lord.
If you were paying attention, you will see that I’ve omitted several things that you would have expected to be involved in a list of marks, or attributes, of the ordinary Christian life: The love of God’s Word and preaching, a life of prayer, participation in the sacraments, a commitment to fellowship… The reason I omitted these important ___ is because several of them are what theologians call the “ordinary means of grace,” that is, Scripture promotes these means as vital to sustaining the ordinary Christian life. They’re mostly incorporated into our worship services each week, but there’s a private expression of several of them as well. It’s appropriate to say that they, too, are part of the ordinary Christian life, and to ignore them puts all the others at risk.
I quoted theologian Michael Horton earlier. He was interviewed about his book titled “Ordinary Sustainable Faith in a Radical Restless World.” I’d like to quote him in closing as I think he sums up the importance and perspective of the ordinary Christian life very well. Here’s what he says: “Perhaps practically speaking the Christian life, for most of us anyway, is more ordinary than we’d like to admit. Perhaps God is not only okay with this, but finds our faithfulness and fruitfulness in the everyday beautifully and distinctly Christian.” And he cites Colossians 3:17: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
Again, Dr. Horton says “so I’m talking about a God who does extraordinary things through ordinary means. He doesn’t need our next big thing because He’s already accomplished the greatest thing of all. And He promises that He will build His church and us up into it to the very end. It’s a paradox, taking Christ’s yoke lightens our load so that we can actually become disciples. By His Word and Spirit, He makes us deep sea divers instead of jet-skiers through the Christian life, but it’s not about chilling until Jesus returns. It’s about sustainable discipleship.”
If you’re here this morning and a Christian, would you purpose to assess how you’re doing living the ordinary Christian life as I’ve tried to describe it this morning. And if you’re convinced that you’ve neglected one or more of these commitments, would you look for ways to address them in the coming year, 2019, as you set your other objectives for the year so that you will know God’s pleasure in you. Seek a conversation with a friend, an elder or a pastor if that will help.
And I imagine that some are here this morning for whom the ordinary Christian life seems rather strange or unfamiliar. Perhaps that’s because you’ve not yet received the gift of eternal life that Christ offers to all who acknowledge themselves as sinners in need of a savior. I invite you to consider Christ’s claims about Himself and about you and about His free offer of forgiveness and eternal life. Feel free to speak with me or one of our elders or a Christian friend. I’d ask a few of our elders to be up front here this morning afterwards in case someone wishes to speak.
Pray with me, please. Heavenly Father, thank you for welcoming us into your family and urging us as a good father would to live a flourishing life in Christ. Thank you for explaining how we’re to live this ordinary Christian life and that it is not burdensome. Thank you for taking pleasure in us as we seek to do so. Would you grant us grace in the coming year as we seek to adorn the ordinary Christian life and press on toward the upward call of God in Christ Jesus? Amen.