November 9, 2014
Pastor Joe Wittwer
#2—I am a new person
The apostle Paul uses the phrase “in Christ” or some variation of it, over 100 times. It is one of his Big Ideas; it is theologically rich and practically important. What does it mean to be in Christ? First, it refers to your status or position. We use the word “in” to describe the state of one thing in relation to another. You are in Christ, like the ball is in the bucket, like the check is in the mail, or the Seahawks are in the playoffs. Second, it also refers to a relationship. To be in Christ is to be in relationship with Him, to believe in Him and follow Him. If you are married, then you can check the “married” box on an application that asks about your marital status. But no one gets married just so they can check the married status box—it’s not about status, but relationship. It’s in relationship with Jesus that you grow into all that is true of you in Christ.
The Big Idea: When you are in Christ, all that is true of Him changes what is true of you. You become a new person!
Today we’re going to look at some “in Christ” verses that describe the new person you are in Christ.
1. In Christ, I am a new person.
2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
When you become a Christian, you become a whole new person. There’s a new you! Does that mean that your personality suddenly changes? For example, that you go from an extrovert to an introvert? No. You are still you, but a new and improved version of you.
ILL: I became a Christian when I was 13, and the changes were so obvious and immediate that in the first week, my friends at school asked, “What happened to you? You’re different!” I was so new to the faith that I didn’t have vocabulary to describe the change, so I said, “I’m religious now.” Gag—that makes me want to throw up! Because I wasn’t religious—I was a Christian—and there’s a difference.
Religion is what we do to reach God. Christianity is what God has done in Christ to reach us. Religion is all about what we do. Christianity is all about what God has done in Christ. Religion is primarily about me; Christianity is about Jesus. Religion is spelled DO; Christianity is spelled DONE. Big difference!
But what did my friends see that made them ask that question? When I became a follower of Jesus, some things changed immediately.
- I stopped stealing. I had become an accomplished shoplifter. Done.
- I stopped swearing. I swore like a sailor. Done. Now I only swear when I do plumbing.
- I stopped lying, vandalizing and making trouble. Done.
- I started treating people differently, talking differently and being interested in different things.
- I started going to church and youth group.
These were some of the immediate behavior changes that my classmates observed that made them ask, “What happened to you?”
But what I didn’t know at the time was that much deeper changes had started inside me, changes that would go far beyond surface behaviors and transform the deepest parts of me—changes that were far more important than stopping smoking or swearing. Here are four huge changes.
My relationship with God. Jesus said the most important thing is loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength—loving God with all you’ve got. I went from having no relationship with God to that relationship being the most important thing in my life. My whole life reoriented around God. From no-God to God-first. I can’t tell you how huge this is. Loving God first changes everything else—which is probably why Jesus said it’s most important.
My character. As my relationship with God grew, I began to change. My character started slowly changing. You become like the people you hang out with, so if you hang out with Jesus, you start becoming more like Him. I became more honest, disciplined, joyful, peaceful, and less angry, selfish and proud. Not long ago, someone commented to me about a mutual acquaintance who had become a Christian, and said, “He is a different person.” The change in this guy’s character was that obvious. Hanging out with Jesus will change your character.
My relationships with others. My relationship with God changed me and that in turn changed my relationships with others. I stopped rebelling against my parents, and started treating them with respect. I stopped objectifying girls, seeing them only as sexual objects, and learned to treat them with respect. Every relationship in my life came under the influence of Jesus’ leadership, and because of that, got better. I’ve been happily married for 39 years—that’s because of Jesus and the changes He made in me.
My calling. Following Jesus changed who I am and what I do in the world. I became part of something much larger than myself—the Kingdom of God. In Christ, I was called to serve God and serve people—every Christian is! The question is how is God calling you to serve others around you? This is a huge change! We go from self-serving to God/others-serving. We go from me to Thee to we.
When you look at those four things—your relationship with God, your character, your relationships with others, your calling—that pretty much changes everything about you! In Christ, I became a new person!
I’ve got to emphasize that this is a process, not just an event. It starts, like all processes do, with an event, with a single step. You choose to follow Jesus. You say yes to Jesus. You enter into Christ. Then, once you are in Christ, all that is true of Him starts becoming true of you. Some of it happens quickly. But much of it is a process—a process that will go on the rest of your life. How many of you are works in progress? I used to have a button that said: PBPGINFWMY. “Please be patient: God is not finished with me yet.” We’re all under construction! It’s a process. As you live in relationship with Jesus, you grow into all that is true of you in Christ.
This is why in John 15, Jesus used the illustration of a tree and its branches. He is the tree, we are the branches. If we abide in Him—if we stay connected to Him—we bear much fruit. All these changes, the new person we become, happen as we simply abide in Him. Stay connected to Jesus, and you will grow into all that is true of you in Christ. Stay connected to Jesus and you will steadily become a new person.
In Christ, I am a new person!
2. In Christ, I am a saint.
I love this! How many of you are saints? Most of us are reluctant to raise our hands because we think of saints as the super-good, extra-holy folks. Mother Teresa was a saint. Billy Graham is a saint. Bill Murray is a saint—Saint Vincent. Ok, that’s a movie—it’s not real. Saints are the super-holy, the very spiritual, therefore, I’m not a saint. That’s what we think. But Paul thought otherwise.
1 Corinthians 1:2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:
Paul begins his letter to the Corinthians Christians by addressing them as “sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.” First, let’s remember that Paul is writing this letter to correct some terrible problems in this church: they were divided and fighting with each other; one man was sleeping with his step-mom; people were getting drunk at communion services. You get the picture—this church was a mess. Yet Paul calls them saints. Sanctified in Christ. The word “sanctified” comes from the same Greek root as the words “saint” and “holy”: hagios. It means to set something apart for a special purpose; to take a common thing and make it special, different. In Christ, we are made holy. We are made special, set apart for God and His purposes. In Christ, we are saints. Paul thought this was true even of these messed up Corinthian Christians. It’s true of you too. It’s true of every Christian. If you are in Christ, you are a saint.
Philippians 1:1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:
Philippians 4:21 Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you.
Colossians 1:2 To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father.
In the Bible, the word “saint” is not used of a handful of super-spiritual elites. It is used of every Christian. Every Christian is holy, sanctified in Christ, a saint. Every Christian is set apart for God’s special purposes.
Turn to your neighbor, and introduce yourself, “I’m St. Joe,” except use your name. I have extra-Biblical proof that I’m St. Joe. I took this picture in Florida on my around-the-country motorcycle trip this summer.
So when you come to Christ, you become a saint. That is your status in Christ. In Christ, you are a saint. Set apart for God’s purposes. Then as you live in relationship with Jesus, it becomes more and more true of you. You become more saintly. You become more devoted to God’s special purposes for you. You grow into sainthood. You progressively live more and more like what you are!
ILL: I played baseball for my small college. Don’t be too impressed—the key word there is “small”. Only five of us showed up for the team picture at the end of the season (Point out Doc Krebs). In our first game, I struck out looking in my first two at bats. After the second strike out, our coach pulled me aside and said, “You can’t do that. You are our best player, and if you are taking called third strikes, we’re in deep trouble. You can’t strike out.”
I didn’t strike out the rest of the season (don’t be too impressed; it was a short season). Do you know why? He called me “our best player.” I don’t think I was—he probably said that to every guy—but I had to live up to that. So I told myself, “You’re the best player so you can’t strike out. Hit the ball!” And I did. I grew into what he called me.
That’s how this works. You are a saint! This is true of you in Christ. Now live every day with Jesus and grow into that! And that’s an order from your pastor, St. Joe!
In Christ, I am a saint.
3. In Christ, I am dead to sin and alive to God
In Romans 6, Paul explains to the Roman Christians the meaning of their baptism.
Romans 6:1–4 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
They were baptized into Christ, into His death, burial and resurrection. That’s what baptism means. In a few moments, we’ll celebrate with people being baptized. We’re going to dunk them in that tank—all the way under. Why do we immerse? That’s what the word “baptize” literally means: to immerse, to plunge, to dip. And immersion is a picture of what’s happening. You died with Christ—what do we do with a dead person? Bury them. So we bury you in the water—buried with Christ. And then we raise you out of the water—raised with Christ to live a new life.
Paul goes on to explain that when we die with Christ, we die to sin but we are alive to God. Sin doesn’t have any mastery over a dead person.
ILL: Call up someone. Have him lie down.
He’s dead, and we’re all at his funeral. This is an open casket funeral, so afterwards, people walk past to say their goodbyes. A beautiful young woman walks by. Does he look twice? No! Why? Because he’s dead. I walk by and say, “Serves you right, you jerk! Glad to be rid of you!” Does he come out of the casket and punch me? No! Why? Because he’s dead.
Sin has no mastery over a dead person—they are unresponsive.
Have you ever spoken or performed to an unresponsive audience? What do we call them? A dead audience. It doesn’t mean we call the morgue. It just means they are unresponsive. They don’t laugh at the jokes, they don’t cry at the sad parts, they don’t do anything. They’re a dead audience. Unresponsive.
Paul says this is what happens when we’re baptized into Christ. We are baptized into His death, burial and resurrection. We die with Christ and we’re raised with Christ. Here’s his conclusion:
Romans 6:11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
You are in Christ. What is true of Him is true of you. You are dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ. As you live in Christ every day, this becomes more and more true of you. When you’re tempted, you remember, “I’m in Christ, and I’m dead to this.” But even more importantly, you remember, “I’m in Christ, and I’m alive to God.” You are unresponsive to sin, but you are responsive to God. “God, what do You want me to do?”
Friends, it’s not enough to just try to avoid sin. It used to be that Christians were defined by the things they didn’t do. We don’t smoke, drink or chew, or go with the girls that do. When I was a new Christian, we also didn’t go to dances, or use playing cards (although Rook cards were ok because they didn’t include those nasty face cards—I guess Uno would be ok too).
ILL: My dear friend, Grandma Doris, who was at this church long before I arrived, once told me that when she was a new Christian, they weren’t allowed to roller skate! Imagine: if Jesus came back and you were at the roller rink, the floor opened up and you went straight to hell!
But all this misses the point. The Christian life isn’t defined primarily by what we don’t do, but what we do. What good is it if you avoid sin but aren’t responsive to God?
The big goal isn’t just being dead to sin, but being alive to God. In Christ, we live every moment alive to God, responsive to God’s love and His leadership in our lives. This is what makes the Christian life such an adventure! We’re alive to God! We are responsive to His love and leadership. That’s what makes life full and rewarding.
ILL: Seventy-eight-year-old Aleida Huissen of Rotterdam had been smoking for fifty years. For most of that time she had been trying to give up the habit, and at last she succeeded. The secret? Seventy-nine-year-old Leo Jansen proposed marriage but refused to go through with the wedding until Aleida gave up smoking. Aleida said, “Will power never was enough to get me off the habit. Love made me do it.”
Just avoiding sin doesn’t work. If you’re going to say “no”, you’ve got to have something better you’re saying “yes” to. It’s the expulsive power of love. When you love God, when you’re responsive and saying yes to God, it’s easy to say no to sin. Our focus isn’t on avoiding sin, but on being alive to God in Christ.
In Christ, you are dead to sin, and alive to God.
4. In Christ, I am created for good works.
Ephesians 2:10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
I love this verse! Paul says that you are God’s handiwork. The Greek word is poiema; we get the English word “poem” from it. It means “that which is made, a creation,” and it was used of works of art. You are God’s creation, God’s work of art, God’s masterpiece.
Ephesians 2:10 (NLT) For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.
Turn to someone and tell them, “You are God’s masterpiece.” You’re not only a saint, but a one-of-a-kind work of art!
Now we can’t stop there and just congratulate ourselves on being masterpieces. Why did God create us as His works of art? So we can do the good works He planned for us long ago. We are created in Christ for good works. God wants you to join Him in the good works He planned for you long ago.
Think about that. When God dreamed you up, He also dreamed up good things you would do. He made you as a unique work of art with a purpose. No one else can do exactly what you can do. God has planned good works for you, and designed you to do them. Your design and your assignment match.
ILL: This is a Frisbee. It’s designed for one purpose: to fly. It’s designed to fly and by flying to bring pleasure to it’s users. Now, you could use it for other things. Like what?
- Dinner plate.
- Dog dish.
- Draw circles.
- Door stop.
Those are ok, but none of those bring the pleasure of flying. And none of those other things fly like Frisbee.
You are God’s masterpiece, and He made you with a plan, with good works that only you can do.
What do we call God’s work? Ministry. And who does ministry? Ministers. For too long, people have thought that ministry is done in church by professional ministers. But God’s work is done everywhere in the world, and it’s done by all of us. Let me see the hands of the ministers in the room. If you are a Christian, you are a minister. The word “minister” just means servant. To minister is to serve others. We meet people’s needs right where we are as Jesus’ representatives. How many of you are ministers?
ILL: One of my favorite stories from Jerry Cook’s book, Love, Acceptance and Forgiveness, is about a new Christian named Jackie. She was shopping and noticed a women in prescription area who looked sick. Jackie felt an impulse to pray with her, but thought, “No way; she’d think I’m nuts.” After she finished her shopping, she passed that way again and noticed the woman sitting down, still obviously ill. Again Jackie had the impression, “Go pray with her.” Again she resisted. She was halfway out the door and turned around and decided to become the classic fool for Jesus.
She sat down beside the sick woman and said, “I can see that you’re sick, and I don’t want to impose, but I’m a Christian and wonder if you’d mind if I prayed for you.” The woman consented, and Jackie held her hand and with her eyes open said, “Lord Jesus, I know you love this lady, and I know you don’t want her to be sick. Just because you love her, heal her and show her how much you care.”
That was it. They exchanged numbers and Jackie went home. The next day Jackie got a call from this woman asking her to come to her home. Jackie went. The woman’s husband had stayed home from work to meet Jackie. Her prescription was on the table unopened. The woman said, “I came home yesterday, went to bed and slept all night. I haven’t slept through the night for years.” With her particular illness, she slept only short periods. Her husband thought she had died, and in his alarm, woke her up. She said she felt great.
She told her husband what had happened at the store, and he wanted to meet Jackie. Neither of them knew anything about the gospel, so Jackie explained the love of Jesus to them and how He could make them new. Both of them became Christians.
Jackie was just an ordinary Christian open for business, willing to do the good works that God had planned for her. It can be as simple as loving someone, praying, listening, serving.
In Christ, God created you for good works. You simply need to live with Jesus and be open for business wherever you are.
I want to leave you with two questions that would be good ask every time you read the Bible or hear Bible teaching. Let’s take a moment and answer them.
What are you going to do?
Who are you going to tell?
Pray, then watch the video story of one of the baptized, then go into worship.