Adaption of a sermon I preached a few years ago, inspired by craig groeschel’s book Christian Atheists
I want to ask you what might sound at first a very rude question, but I think its a very important question for those of us who are follower of Jesus to ask ourselves.
OK here it is IS YOUR BIG BUT GETTING IN THE WAY?
Now if you watch this video hopefully you’ll understand what I am getting at
I want to read to you a part of the NT that was written to a church where a lot of people had BIG BUTS that were getting in the way.
Instructions for Christian Living
17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.
20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbour, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”[a]: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
1 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Some of you might know that I used to be in the police. I worked as a detective for a while and one of things we did was build up identikit pictures of people who were wanted. You know the kind of thing, you pick out the person’s physical features and put them together to create a picture of what they look like.
What I want us to do is to build up an identikit picture of the people Paul is talking to in that passage from the NT we have just read. Instead of picking out their physical features and building up the picture we are going to build up a picture of them using their spiritual features.
you heard about Christ
and were taught in him
in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus
you are his dear children.
So what does our spiritual indikit picture tells us about these people that Paul is talking to hear? …. Well it tells us that these people were Christians,
not just attendars at church,
these people were genuine disciples of Jesus.
Paul says that they had heard about Jesus, they had heard the truth about Jesus. They had had a personal encounter with Jesus, they had heard Jesus. The real clincher that shows us that these people were genuine born again Christians is that Paul calls them later on God’s dear children, they were authentic members of the family of God.
They were Christians but they were Christians with a problem, they had BIG BUTS, big buts that were getting in the way of them living the kind of lives God had called them to live as his people.
Do you know what an oxymoron is?
I remember an English teacher talking to us in class about oxymorons and thinking that she was saying we were all a bit thick. Well in case you don’t know an OXYMORON is a figure of speech that combines contradictory terms.
You know like
DRY and Rain
Scotland and World Cup Winners
Me and tuneful
I bought book recently because its title was an oxymoron which intrigued me. It was called THE CHRISTIAN ATHEIST
Now we know that an atheist is someone who doesn’t believe God exists. Well according to the author of this book, a Christian Atheist is someone who does believes God exists but then acts like God doesn’t exist in certain areas of their life. In other words a Christian Atheist is a Christian with a BIG BUT that’s getting in the way them living a sold out life for God.
Paul wrote this passage we have just read because it seems like the Church in Ephesus was full of Christian atheists.
Remember these are people who are a Christians, who do believe all the right things, who have accepted the truth about Jesus and what he has done for them. These were people who had had an encounter with Jesus but they was a problem
JUST LISTEN TO WHAT PAUL SAYS TO THEM …. “you must no longer live as the Gentiles do”
Gentiles were people who weren’t Christians.
So do you see what Paul was saying?
One of the other translations makes it clear by translating Paul’s words as “stop living like godless people!”
So Paul was saying to these believers that you need to stop living like unbelievers. You need to stop living as Christian’s atheists who believe God exists but behave like he doesn’t. You need to get rid of your BIG BUTS.
Paul points some of the areas where these Christians were behaving like God did exist,
WAY THEY TALKED TO OTHER PEOPLE …. “Unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, foul and abusive language” On Sundays they sang hymns but it sounds like on Mondays they talked like Wayne Rooney on the football field and turned the air blue. When they weren’t with other believers it sounds like they joined in with the blue jokes.
WAY THEY TREATED OTHER PEOPLE …. Paul says that some of these people acted like God didn’t exist in the way they treated other people. Instead of loving and forgiving people, they lost their tempers with other people, they slandered other people, gossiping about them and telling stories designed to make other people think badly of them. In other words they were just nasty and vindictive to other people.
WAY THEY ACTED AT WORK …. Many of them it seems were dishonest at work, they stole things from their employers, they pilfered stuff and probably didlled their expenses. Sounds like far from being disciples of Jesus they could easily have been MPs
Let’s be honest enough to admit that Christian atheists didn’t just exist in the Church in Ephesus 2000 years ago
Christian atheists are all around us
Christian atheists attend Baptist Churches
Churches where people speak tongues
Churches where people carry big black bibles and listen to very long sermons
Christian atheists even attend Nazarene Churches where we talk a lot about holiness
Maybe there are some Christian atheists here this morning
TED HAGGARD BOOK …. I reopened a box of books I had in storage for 6 years. There was a signed copy of a Ted Haggard book. Sadly not worth much now. Ted was a leading pastor in the States till it emerged he was a Christian atheist, he preached against homosexuality on Sundays but was involved in on Mondays sadly. But you would be wrong if you thought Christian atheism was just about really outrageous hypocrisy and sexually immorality.
Remember it’s about our behaviour not expressing our beliefs about us not living what we claim to be believing
GRAIG GROSCHEL the author of the book has chapters on areas of our lives where people commonly live as Christian atheists
YOU ARE A CHRISTIAN ATHEIST
When you believe in God but don’t really know him
When you believe in God but are still ashamed of your past
When you believe in God but don’t pray
When you believe in God but aren’t sure that he loves you
When you believe in God but won’t forgive
When you believe in God but don’t think you can change
When you believe in God but trust more in money
I need to ask you now a really difficult question
A question I need to ask myself too.
Are there any areas of my life where I have been living as a Christian atheist?
Am I different person when I am not with other believers?
Am I different person when I am on my own?
GROWTH ON MAN’S NECK AT WEDDING ….
I remember seeing a man with a huge growth on his neck at wedding. It was so big that the man had to walk sort of stooped and with his head bent to one side. I later overheard someone say “OH He’s learned to live with it.” That’s what most of us do with our BIG BUTS, with those areas of compromise where we live as Christian atheists, we learn to live with it.
Christian atheists, learn to live with the areas of compromise, at first they feel guilty at the compromise, then eventually they just learn to live with it.
Paul says that the last thing that you should do if you have been living as Christian atheist is to turn a blind eye and just learn to live with your compromises.
Instead you should make a ….. CRITICAL & DECISIVE DECISION
CRITICAL … I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, …. This language points us to the reality that this is a critical decision which is being talked about, Paul says this is something that the Lord insists on, its not a suggestion, it’s a command …. GRIEVE THE HOLY SPIRIT & OPEN YOURSELF TO SATAN
DECISIVE … ” you must no longer live as the Gentiles do,” “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self,” Here Paul talks about a decisive decision. In essence he says STOP LIVING THAT WAY! Notice that he doesn’t say just cut down your compromise, but end it! stop it! and do so entirely completely. There is no such thing as partial obedience.
FINALLY PAUL CALLS ON US TO END COMPROMISE Completely ….. and asks us to do something else instead GIVE OURSELVES ENTIRELY TO GOD
Listen to what he calls on us to do “1 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
We have to follow Jesus example in offering ourselves entirely to God.
We are to give ourselves to God as “living sacrifices” as he describes it Romans 12. That’s what the church has called CONSECRATION,
giving yourself entirely to God,
consecration is about getting rid of your BIG BUTS,
ending all the compromise you are aware of and embracing all God’s ways you know completely
When we do that, something astonishing happens,
we unleash the Holy Spirit in our lives to empower and transform us.
here is how Paul describes what happens when we get rid of our BIG BUTS AND GIVE OURSELVES TO GOD WITHOUT RESERVATION. He says we will be “be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”
So this leaves us all with a couple of inescapable questions
Are you ready to make that kind of decision?
Are you ready to give yourself entirely to God?
Here is how Keith Drury from the Wesleyan Church describes what that decision looks like ……. “He wants us to make a total surrender of our lives to His leadership and direction. The emphasis is on “total.” He wants all of us — our time, talents, thoughts, finances, hopes, aspirations, reputation, hobbies, thoughts, friendships, habits, and future. He wants to be the Lord and Master of every single part of our lives. He knows what is best for us, and He tenderly urges us to turn over to Him our total lives. He wants to direct, guide, use, and change us into the image of His perfect Son. And, with our cooperation, He does this.” Keith Drury
Those questions lead us to THE BIG QUESTION we have been working towards and which we can’t avoid answering
WHAT KIND OF A CHRISTIAN LIFE WILL YOU LIVE?
Craig Groeschel in that book THE CHRISTIAN ATHEIST, imagines that we start living consecrated Christianity, Christianity without the BIG BUTS by crossing a line.
He asks us to imagine 3 lines.
LINE ONE …. I believe in God and the Gospel enough to want to benefit from it. If God exists I want him to be on my side, I want him to bless me and answer my prayers. I want him to make me healthy and happy. Cultural Christians
LINE TWO …. I believe in God and the Gospel enough to want to contribute comfortably. These people don’t just want to benefit from Jesus has done for them, they want to contribute, as long as doesn’t cost them too much.
These are the people with the BIG BUTTS
I serve God as long as don’t have to give too much
As long as I don’t have to change too much
Providing it doesn’t hurt to much
There are always limits to what they are willing to do and be for God
LINE THREE … I believe in God and the Gospel enough to want to give my entire life to it. People who give their whole lives to God, entirely without reserve.
Which line have you crossed
Are you prepared to cross line 3, right now?
Are you prepared to get rid of your BIG BUTS,
to sop living the compromised life of a Christian Atheist and give yourself entirely to God.
To make that critical and decisive decision that God’s Word calls on you to make which is the trigger for a new way of living?
If so here is prayer that could help you cross that line.
Dear Heavenly Father,
I come to you boldly in Jesus’ name.
I now want to cross that third line
Take me as I am.
Possess me and so transform me.
I renounce all the sins I am aware of,
I pledge to stop living mainly for myself
I turn from Satan and his ways.
Jesus, as I surrender to you, sanctify me.
Cleanse me, purge me, purify me.
I give myself to You and Your Kingdom
– my heart, my mind, my body,
my time, talents and treasure to you.
Holy Spirit please fill me,
May Your will be done in my life Lord,
on earth as it is in heaven.
From this day forward.