The following is a sermon based on 1 John 2:28-3:3 and John 15:5, entitled “Formed for God’s Family.” It was preached at Central Schwenkfelder Church on January 17, 2010.
I hope you’ve enjoyed our sermon series on the Purpose Driven Life, which happens to be the bestselling nonfiction hardback in history. Sermons, by definition, are meant to come from only one book, the Bible. Rather, Rick Warren’s book is meant to complement the messages. The reason we are drawing some attention to the book is that it puts spiritual truths in simple language. The general public is familiar with it and any interest gained can be used of God.
Having said that, we have not followed the book line by line. Pastor Bill wonderfully commented on being created in God’s image, which really touched on the Introduction and Purpose #1: “Planned for God’s Pleasure.” Last week, I felt led to comment on the subject of sin and temptation, how we grow in character through rejecting temptation and how to deal with it. This touched on Purpose #3: “You Were Created to Become Like Christ.”
This morning, at the risk of jumping around a little, I’d like to address Purpose #2: “Formed for God’s Family.” My message has to do with the value of the church- not a building, but God’s family. This morning, let’s ask: What is the church and what are the blessings and responsibilities attached to it? We first discover that…
CHRISTIANS ARE A PART OF THE LARGEST, MOST DYNAMIC FAMILY THROUGHOUT HISTORY.
I John 3:1 states: “See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.” From the context, we read of how the apostle John instructed his hearers about remaining in Christ. Rather than following the faulty teaching of Gnosticism that infiltrated the church at the time, these believers were to remain steadfast in the apostolic teaching of faith, obedience and love. If they would, then these Christians would have reason to be confident on the day of Jesus’ return. God was constantly growing and shaping them according to the work of the Spirit in their lives, as long as they continued to cling to the right doctrine.
In verse one, John brings to their attention the tremendous privilege associated with being a child of God. That is a particular title, not intended for everyone, but specifically for those who follow Christ. John would also write in the gospel that bears his name, (1:12): “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God– 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. Rick Warren states: “When we place our faith in Christ, God becomes our Father, we become his children, other believers become our brothers and sisters, and the church becomes our spiritual family. The family of God includes all believers in the past, the present, and the future (p. 118).”
And with this title come certain rights and privileges. Rick Warren states that there are many benefits to being a part of God’s family. One is that you receive and incredible inheritance. This includes being with God forever, completely changed to be like Christ, freed from all pain and suffering, being rewarded and assigned a special service in God’s kingdom. Lastly, we share in the glory of Christ. Now some of these benefits are for this life, and some for the life to come. But these are promises from God that no one can take away from you- not the stock market, not thieves, not other selfish family members! Not everyone has these benefits. Today, there is much misunderstanding around the terms: “child of God.” Or the question sometimes is raised, “Doesn’t Jesus save everyone? Rick Warren states: “Every human being was created by God, but not everyone is a child of God (p. 118).”
In addition, many Christians live as if they had none of these benefits. Sometimes we let the weight of the world, or the effects of sin steal our joy. But if we belong to Christ that Christ belongs to us and all of the blessings that come from being associated with Him. It was said that shortly after the Civil War, that many of the slaves still lived in their squalor, still attended to their masters, as if no war had been fought, as if they had not been set free.
I’ve told you the story of my college roommate, James. When my friend was a youngster, John’s dad was running with the wrong crowd. A plan was devised to rob a local convenience and my friend’s dad was the driver of the car. An altercation occurred and the store attendant was shot. James’ dad went to prison and my friend grew up without a father.
But Reggie White, the former Philadelphia Eagle and Green Bay Packer, came to visit my friend’s high school and preached the gospel and how Jesus made a difference in his life. As a result, my friend came to know Christ, graduated from high school and attended Southwest Baptist University where he earned a Bachelor’s degree. Today, he counsels children in the Memphis area. I’ve never seen someone as dedicated to the Lord as James. Most mornings, he would rise at 6 a.m. to pray and read his Bible. He would also drag me out of bed on occasion- which was good for me. He said: “I grew up without a father. But God became my Father. He lived his life as if God filled that void.
If you have received Christ, are you aware of the blessings and the riches associated with being a child of God? The Lord does not regard you as He does the rest of the world. You are someone special in His eyes. You are one of His own. CHRISTIANS ARE A PART OF THE LARGEST, MOST DYNAMIC FAMILY THROUGHOUT HISTORY. Secondly…
BEING A PART OF THIS FAMILY HAS ITS RESPONSIBILITIES.
John 15:4 “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” Here, Jesus is sharing one of the last few monologues with His disciples. He would soon go to the cross and die for them. Jesus, here, is addressing their need for continued connection to Him. Without His Spirit in their lives, they could do nothing good.
You and I cannot survive without God’s planting or pruning. It is not mechanical, but organic. God is the gardener. He is the pruner. Spiritual growth is subtle, growing out of a process of life that God began in your heart when you came to faith in Him. And throughout life there are times when He prunes and shapes us spiritually.
Why is it that we prune trees and bushes? To provide for more growth. I recently asked a friend of mine who’s a horticulturist. This was his answer: “Primarily, one prunes to remove any dead or diseased parts. As many plants mature interior parts naturally die-back as they no longer get what they need – mostly sun light. Dead wood attracts and provides entry points for insect and disease pests. Storm damage and insect/disease damage would also require pruning to protect the future health of the plant. Some plants benefit from having 1/3 of the main stems removed annually to stimulate new growth from the root system.” Such an answer makes us think of the many aspects of spiritual growth: Prayer, study of the Scripture, worship, fellowship, sacraments, discipline, all of these have their place in the believer’s formation. To separate yourself from the church is to purposefully impede your spiritual growth!
What is necessary to possess in order to have these benefits as a child of God is faith in Jesus Christ. Faith connects you to God and His family. Jesus spoke of this connection in John 15: 5 “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing.” This really brings up the importance of the church in your life and in the life of every Christian. The day that you grow the most spiritually, happens to be on Sunday. Why is that? Because you are among family members with the same aspirations. Hopefully, you sit in a Sunday School class or a small group that encourages you in your faith. You only get out of it what you put into it! So when you attend worship, heartily singing these rich hymns and participate in the prayers. Receive God’s word as it is preached from the Scripture. This all equates to the watering and fertilizing of the seed of faith in your hearts! So our question should be always: “Lord, what do you want me to learn? Teach me.”
David Redding wrote: ‘There is no other blessing I can give you, no gift so precious not treasure so refreshing, nothing that can provision you for the journey we are all making, then to tell you that Someone is searching diligently for you. He is not a stationary God. He is crazy about you. The expense to which He has gone isn’t reasonable, is it? The Cross was not a very dignified ransom. To say the least, it was a splurge of love and glory lavishly spent on you and me. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly.” A shepherd having a hundred sheep, if he loses one, leaves the ninety-nine to go after the one and searches diligently until he finds it.” God is like that shepherd. That is enough to make me laugh and cry.’
 Email from Keith Maurer in answer to the questions, “Why must we prune trees and bushes?” (January 14, 2010) Keith is a graduate of Del-Val College and taught horticulture at Williamson Trade School for many years.