We are at a turning point for Christianity in America.
A huge chunk of a new generation has concluded they want nothing to do with us. As Christians, we are widely mistrusted by a skeptical generation.
These days nearly two out of every five young outsiders (38 percent) claim to have a “bad impression of present-day Christianity”.
Fewer than one out of ten young adults mention faith as their top priority, despite the fact that the vast majority of them attended a Christian church during their high school years.
If we do not wake up to these realities and respond in appropriate, godly ways, we risk being increasingly marginalized and losing further credibility with millions of people.
David Kinnaman & Gabe Lyons. “unChristian.”
Last week we got an unvarnished look at the state of the American soul. We begin this week with some sober analysis of one important slice of America…the next generation.
· Among this next generation there is a “growing tide of resentment and hostility” toward Christianity
· Before you roll your eyes and pass this off as a phase all kids go through understand they’re not coming back to church once they grow up and have their own kids.
· And they, the next generation are keenly aware of it. Note: Carmel High School hi Lite Mag (Feb)
What does this all mean? This is not simply a sociological phenomenon. This is a wakeup call. Millions of souls are in grave danger.
Last week: We are waking to discover our neighbour’s souls are on fire…and perhaps the souls of an entire generation.
· we saw that though many have some kind of identification with Christianity (mostly past) more and more Americans are becoming “nones”.
· We noted that Church participation is plummeting.
· And that Americans are shedding traditional Christian theological values rapidly.
In addition to the sociological research we also probed the mind of God on the matter…in particular what he thinks of the state of the human soul.
It’s not a pretty picture.
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness. Romans 1:18
· Godless, wicked and suppressing the truth
“Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to” …sin and idolatry. Romans 1:24
· God has taken his hands of the gunwales of each person’s boat and set them adrift on the river of this culture…have it your way then.
So…what do we do about this? We spent a few minutes at the end of the message last week doing a gut check.
Will we roll out of our beds of indifference and embrace the life changing truth of the gospel…or will we roll over and assume it will all go away.
· You’ve got a friend, neighbor, child, loved one who is faithless. What are you going to do about it?
o Hope somehow they see the light?
o Push it out of your head – it’s too unpleasant?
o Conveniently adjust your theology to make this unimportant – just a matter of personal choice?
This week I want to spend more time on the other side of the discussion – shift from the bad news to the good news.
· From the current state of the American Soul to the potential state of the American soul.
· How does God picture a human soul that is alive and transformed – not godless, wicked and suppressors of the truth.
· What changes could your loved one go through? How could they look? What could happen to them and an entire generation if they came to surrender their lives to Jesus.
So I want to paint yo a picture. To do that I want to create an imaginary couple - Robert and Michelle Williams.
· 35 and 32 – 2 kids – 6 and a toddler
· Work with them, next door neighbor, family members, in gymnastics together
A one-time Christians (Robert, Baptist and Michelle, Catholic ) who now aren’t’ so sure any more. They like the Bible but don’t regard it as special or uniquely authoritative . Frankly, they believe there are many paths to God. They go to church for weddings, funerals and occasionally to Mass. Michelle in particular is sceptical of organized religion in general. Mostly they just want to live comfortable lives, be busy, raise their family, and hang on to just-enough-God in case some problem arises.
· It sounds harsh to call Robert and Michelle godless but they are.
· They’re not wicked people. Actually pretty nice folks.
· But they do indeed suppress the truth … if not intentionally at least by ignorance.
And their souls are in deep trouble. But, what could their lives look like?
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
We’re reminded here there is good news for Robert and Michelle
· Robert and Michelle can be rescued, …saved
· Their souls can be transformed both for this life and the next.
· Robert and Michelle can become righteous.
What? Wait. Righteous? …as in Slang: incredible ?
What? Righteous as in moral and virtuous? Is the good news for Robert and Michelle that they could become “really good people”?
You know that’s exactly what “outsiders” think we believe. They think the essence of the Christian message is about what we do, how we look and how we behave.
· Robert and Michelle suspect that the your gospel is telling them how to do the right thing, how to be a good person, how not to sin, how to get their act together. And How to be religious.
But that is not at all what righteousness is all about. So, what does it mean? Why is it so powerful and why do we want Robert and Michelle to become righteous?
Look carefully at verse 17. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
· Righteousness that is by faith
If righteousness meant being moral or religious then there is no way it could come to a person by faith. It would come to a person by action.
· If righteousness was a lifestyle then Robert and Michelle would have to do something different. Go to church, become religious, stop partying
But righteousness is not a lifestyle – it is a standing, it is a status in particular before God. That is why it is called the righteousness of God.
· Righteousness is not what you do to impress God but how you are seen by God
· Righteousness is not something that can be accomplished but something that is given
· Righteousness is not something that can be achieved but something that is offered
· Righteousness is not something that is merited but something that is bestowed
In other words it is somehow possible for a human being to transformed so much that when God looks at them he no longer sees them as godless, wicked suppressors of the truth.
He sees them as totally transformed people … utterly different … completely re-oriented. He perceives them as his children, reaches out and grabs their boat bobbing on the river of this culture and pulls it toward shore.
· And that change of posture between Robert and Michelle and God – this righteousness - can happen in one powerful saving moment of faith.
Stop – this is what can happen to your neighbor, your father, your friend, your classmate, your cousin, your child, your co-worker.
· But how? How can we help get them there? In a minute we’ll talk about that but before we do I want to take you a little deeper into the souls of human beings who become righteous before God.
Pretend for a moment that our couple Robert and Michelle determine to put their faith in Jesus and this transformation happens to them…let’s do an autopsy … let’s look inside their souls…
3:21But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.
· At one point in time righteousness came by keeping the law…in the first two centuries this was a huge issue for new believers who came from Jewish roots. They could not get it through their heads that something massive had shifted. No longer righteous but what you do or don’t do.
· In addition this new way of righteousness was hinted and pointed to by the whole OT (law and prophets).
22This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.
· Is given – not earned…through faith in Jesus Christ – what does that mean?
o Faith is a combination of conviction and confidence (mind and heart)
o Faith is an act of surrender and trust
· Robert and Michelle…came to a conviction in their heads, a confidence in their hearts and a surrender of their wills to Jesus Christ.
There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
· Robert and Michelle realized their alienation from God - Doesn’t matter whether you grew up under the law or not, religious or not…all of us fall short of God’s standards – we’re all sinners and our souls are in danger both in this life and the next.
Now pay careful attention here’s what happened to them…
24and all (Robert and Michelle were) are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25God presented Christ (to Robert and Michelle) as a sacrifice of atonement,i through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.
OK…let’s slow this train down. What do all these words mean? They’re hugely intimidating but extremely important.
· Robert and Michelle were justified = legal term that implies acquittal
· Robert and Michelle given grace = unearned mercy…free gift of God
· Robert and Michelle were redeemed = bought back and delivered from their old lives
· Robert and Michelle sins were atoned for = paid for with a price…death of Jesus
This is an inside look at souls that are made righteous…Souls that are saved…Souls that are transformed.
Robert and Michelle went from being godless, wicked suppressors of the truth to redeemed, justified, righteous children of God.
And that same thing can happen to your loved one, your neighbor, your friend.
· They just need to go to church -right? Well…no. Robert and Michelle drive by Grace and dozens of other churches daily. They’re not going to suddenly pull in some weekend because they think they need religion.
· They just need to read a good book to convince them…uh..no. Although this is a frequently asked question of me.
Nope, there’s only one way Robert and Michelle and your loved ones can be transformed….
How can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? Romans 10:14
· There is no getting around this…there have to be conversations
o You have to talk to Robert and Michelle about this stuff
o They have to see a life that is an example, hear the story of how you got there, and understand what faith in Jesus really means.
· And to have conversations there has to be relationship
o You have to be in the same room with them – that takes time and intentionality.
o And we have to stay in the same room when they say stuff that you completely disagree with.
- Outsiders believe Christians do not like them because of what they do, how they look, or what they believe. They feel minimized—or worse, demonized—by those who love Jesus.
- We cannot let that happen so that the conversation can continue.
Returning to David Kinnaman’s work:
To shift our reputation, Christ followers must learn to respond to people in the way Jesus did.
- We have to be defined by lives that exude humility and grace.
- We have to work primarily through relationships and friendships.
o God has wired human beings so that spiritual influence occurs most commonly through relationships.
- We have to have “the right perspective when facing criticism”. And not “be bothered by critics” (Stay in the room)
- We have to consider below-the-surface motives. Distinguish between hostility and hurt. And address the core of people’s spiritual condition.
- We have to find new stories, new parables, new ways of telling the timeless truths of the Bible’s message. Using tired expressions and clichés make us seem not only old-fashioned but simpleminded
Robert and Michelle will not be transformed by your insistence that they be redeemed, justified, atoned for, righteous and saved…yet that is exactly what needs to happen to them.
So church, it is time to roll out of your bed of indifference, invite them over for pizza, inquire about their lives, listen to their story, stay in the room when they offend you, and tell them about Jesus who radically changed your life and can do the same for them.