Sermon Eight Freedom from guilt

john                                                          audio clip

Wesley’s sermon on freedom from guilt begins by outlining who it is that lives in union with Jesus. They have faith, have confidence in, believe in and love God and do not rely on their own righteousness but have been bought by the blood of Christ living  in union which is an indescribably joyful spiritual experience.

He says at the beginning that these people no longer sin but later in the sermon he teases that out a little more. So hold that thought. When we are held in a state of dependence on the Lord we are given the strength and power to overcome sinfulness. No longer will we desire those things from our past lives but only desire to do what is pleasing to the Lord. The fruit of the Spirit are in evidence in our lives, all the time, not just in public but when we are behind closed doors, when no other human is watching. We are given the tools necessary to keep us turned to God and way from sin.

When we live in union with Jesus we have no guilt. Our past sins are gone, forgotten and so there is no need to think of them. I remember being asked to give a testimony to a group of people some time ago and when I began to collate my thoughts I found that a lot of that past life I could no longer recall. It was gone, finished. It is in the acceptance of forgiveness we truly begin to live, in the forgiving ourselves, we realise that there is no condemnation here.

We tend to be sensitive around people who are slipping or who begin to feel guilty about something again but Wesley is more pointy and tells it as it is. If you are feeling guilty you have ceased to be a believer.

Within us we have the potential for anger and sin of every kind. It is part of the struggle of Christian living that sin is so close to us. The Holy Spirit guides us away from sin but because it is so near we can choose to go have a looksee. It no longer comes easy to us we physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually have to turn toward it and it is not natural for us to do so. But I can say from experience it is possible, it is freaking painful and mocks the living God and not something that I ever have an intention of doing again.

I was in a moment, a very definite call had been put on my life and I was trying my hardest to point out to God that he really did have the wrong person, there were many more suitable people who could do what he wanted me to and I just was not able. So best way to get out of it do the opposite, do something so outrageously bad that I would be unacceptable and I could go on with my easy existence. Well no, it didn’t work out that way because God used the situation I got myself in for his glory. The full details of this situation have been fictionalised and published and can be found if you so wish. Like my past life, it is gone and finished and I learned so much from the experience, and even last week got given new tools to deal with any potential situations arising. I love my God.

Okay so Wesley said they don’t sin, but we know that we are children of God and we do sin. He outlines how for him this works. There is the sins of ignorance – when we didn’t know something or we try to help in a situation and it is made worse. These are mistakes that do not cause a separation between self and God. We often hear ourselves saying “I never meant any harm” “if you have taken offence at what I have said I apologise I didn’t mean it like that”

There are situations beyond our control, we are supposed to do something but we get sick and can’t. So there is no choice and no guilt, there can be upset at not being able to do the thing but no guilt.

My favourite phrase is the “sins of surprise.” I think these are the ones that crop up in our lives most often. Mild mannered Mr Brown suddenly loses the plot at some kids stealing his flowers after forty years of mildness. This is a surprise and the culpability depends on how much warning the person gets. So if Mrs Brown told him that the kids were coming then he should have been prepared and so his loss of temper is a bigger deal than if he had no warning at all. Our own conscience as well as the Spirit will convict us of these surprise sins.

We are also assaulted by the spiritual battle going on for our soul. Satan wants us to backslide and gives us every opportunity to do so. Our foolishness at being tempted by the devil does not cause us to be guilt ridden for we know we can throw ourselves on God’s mercy and as we are held in grace, we know, we have assurance that once we honestly and authentically ask for forgiveness, it is given.

So Wesley brings his thoughts to a conclusion with no slipping into either remorse or sin, God can conquer our sin if we let him. He is our rock, if we lean on him, keep turned to him there is no need for guilt. Because he loves us he gives us the strength to battle sin and battle Satan’s wiles. When we realise our weakness and helplessness we are made strong by the Lord, in the Lord, for the Lord.

Sermon Seven The Way to the Kingdom

     john                                                  audio clip

 

This is a powerful sermon. It could be preached today. It is a three point sermon:

  1. The Nature of the Kingdom of God
  2. How to Enter the Kingdom of God
  3. Enter

In the first section Wesley points out the essence of the Kingdom, here and now. There is no eschatological thought here, it is an evangelical sermon pointing out what the Kingdom is in such a way as to convince people of its value.

Wesley, of course, not content with Jesus phrase “the Kingdom of God” calls it “true religion.” Now this would put us off, we are not religious, we strive not to be seen as “holy joes” as if we walked an inch above the ground. We get down in the cesspool of life and meet people there as Jesus would have. He was not religious like the Pharisees, he was a teacher, healer, preacher, friend, who met people in their sinfulness and transformed them.

So I will stick with Jesus words and let Wesley have his true religion. It is the same meaning but for different times. There is no place for the rituals and habits of the church and the temple in the Kingdom of God. This does not mean there is value in a Sunday service, there is, as an act of spontaneous worship of the body of Christ for the Living God. As soon as you know the words of the liturgy off by heart, it is no longer the heart speaking the words. If you sit after the third hymn because you always have – wake up sleeper, the time has come to leave the rituals behind.

In conversation with someone younger than myself:

“We are very traditional here, your church has lovely hymns, we slowly introduce them here”

“There’s a place for new and old, some of Charles Wesley’s hymns are as relevant today as they were when he wrote them – come publicans, come harlots.”

“Did I not say, we are traditional”

And they ended the conversation. We were talking about hymns but it could be true of any of the rituals in church. We want what we like, what we are used to, what we know. We don’t like being blindsided by something we don’t know. What is important no matter how we do worship, is that the focus of that worship is God, not the charismatic preacher, or talented musician or the great pray-er but God. The focus should not be on the things we do but how we are.

Themes already covered come up again and again in Wesley’s sermons and this is true of good deeds more than anything else. Because Wesley was born of the Spirit he knew that the fruit of the Spirit took over his own spirit or personality and he became those beautiful words in Galatians. Wesley was already a preacher, he was already theologically and orthodoxically knowledgeable when he gave his life to Christ. Churches all over the world are full of people who know with their heads what they are to do and so they go do. Being a citizen of the Kingdom of God naturally leads to good works. It is not forced or duty bound. It is natural, inherent within us to do because first we are. We are children of God, living in his Kingdom doing his work in the Kingdom because to not do so would be contrary now to our very being.

Wesley points out that it is the heart that must come to know. Intellectual assent is not enough. Book learning without love is pointless. The devil knows the doctrine of the Christian church as well as any human. This true religion of the heart, the Kingdom of God firmly planted in deep foundations in our hearts, to love God with all our hearts, all our mind, all our soul, all our body and all our strength and to love all humans. This saviour, redeemer of our souls in whom we can fully trust. He is our defender, our refuge and our strength.

Love is key to understanding the Kingdom of God now. The ability to love our enemies, that is not from a human mind, that can only come from God, we are not capable of such love without the love of God first. Inside of us, in the place only God knows, we have compassion, gentleness, meekness and patience that were not present in our former lives. The peace and joy of the Holy Spirit that transcend our understanding enables us to be things and do things that we as former selves would not be able, would not want to be able. It is the immediate result of God reigning, sovereign in our souls.

Wesley uses the example of a Pharisee, self sufficient and full of self-righteousness to point out the consequences of not turning to the Lord. But without God in our hearts we are full of sin. Pride, vanity, ambition, coveting and lust, a putrid bitter river that brings anger, malice, revenge, envy and jealousy. And all our good works will turn to dust, nothing good can come out of these branches? The fruit of this life will be bitter and evil.

When the kingdoms of the world take precedence in our lives over the Kingdom of God, we are not children of the Living God but cardboard cutouts left out in the rain, decomposing into the soil. We are dead to life, our life is full of sin, more than the raindrops in a storm or sand on the shore. Putrid mass of sin.

Only when we are completely aware of our own helplessness can we begin the process of repentance and this is the only way to the Kingdom of God. And what a joyous moment this is. The hour I first believed, John Newton wrote.

Jesus is the Lamb of God, the sacrifice that takes away all your sins. Cast yourself on him. You will find that he will open up the way for you to enter the Kingdom.