Sunday, February 26, 2017
Pastor Joe Wittwer
#4—I belong to God
Introduction and offering
ILL: Have you ever been in a public place, and some children are running wild? Someone asks you, “Who do those kids belong to?” And you shrug your shoulders, and say, “No clue”—and they’re your kids! “Never seen them before.”
We use that word “belong” in different ways. Referring to property, we say, “these happy socks belong to me,” meaning, I own them. They’re mine. But referring to people, we say, “those kids belong to that couple,” or “that husband belongs to that lady,” meaning they are connected in close relationship—they belong to each other. None of us want to be owned by someone else; but all of us want to belong. We all long for connection, for close relationship—to love and loved, to know and be known. We long to belong.
So here’s some good news: you belong to God. I mean that relationally: God has gone to staggering lengths to have a relationship with you. Tim Keller wrote: “To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is… what we need more than anything.” The good news is that God knows you completely and loves you deeply; and He wants you to know and love Him. He’s inviting you into a living relationship.
This is the fourth and final week of our series, Identity Theft. Here is the premise: Your identity is found in Christ, but you have an adversary who would love to lie to you and steal your identity. God says something is true of you in Christ, and the devil would love to convince you that it’s not true. The apostle Paul loves to use the phrase “in Christ” (over 90 times) to describe what is true of us because of our relationship with Jesus. Here’s what we’ve talked about so far. Would you say these with me?
- I am deeply loved.
- I am completely accepted.
- I am fully forgiven.
- I am a new creation.
- I am a saint.
- I am righteous.
- I am saved.
- I am free.
- I am empowered.
Each one of those is true of you in Christ. And the devil will try to steal them from you. “You’re not loved. You’re not accepted. You’re not forgiven.” We’ve all heard the whispers. Don’t let him do it. Don’t let him steal your identity.
The Big Idea: The truest thing about me is what God says! God says that I belong to Him. He has invited me into an intimate relationship.
Today, we are going to look at three more things that are true of you in Christ, and all three of them are relational. God says that you are His child, His friend, and His bride. You belong to God. Would you say this: I belong to God.
Offering: We know that there are many things you can do with your money. Why would you give it here? Because it’s changing lives! In the past three weeks, over 160 people have made decisions to follow Jesus here at Life Center! When you give, you are part of every one of those changed lives. You are investing in changed lives and changed eternities—I can’t think of a better investment than that!
Let’s dive in. Here are three things that are true of you in Christ.
- In Christ, I am God’s child.
Would you say this with me? I am God’s child. As we’ll see, this is a major theme in the Bible. In Christ, I am God’s child. Have you heard the whisper, “Why would God want you?” Don’t let the enemy steal your identity! Let’s say it again: I am God’s child.
Jesus constantly referred to God not only as His Father, but our Father. He taught us to pray: “Our Father.” In fact, the phrase “your Father” shows up 11 times in the Sermon on the Mount. He taught His disciples that God was their Father too. He is “your Father” and that means you are His child.
John 1:11–13 Jesus came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive 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.
Isn’t God everyone’s Father? Yes, of course. Because God is Creator, He is also Father. Every human being is a child of God in the sense of being a creation of God. But the Bible also talks about God being our Father in a different sense—not just because of our physical birth, but also because of a spiritual birth.
ILL: Think of it this way. A man and woman can conceive a child. That makes the man that child’s father by virtue of physical birth. But that man might abandon that woman and child, and never be a father. He might never have a relationship with that child. Or that child may at some point choose to leave the father and there would be no relationship.
That’s what has happened for millions of people. God is their Father by virtue of creation, but not by virtue of relationship. They have left God, or don’t believe in God, or have rejected God—they have no relationship with God. They are not children of God in any true relational sense.
Can that be changed? Yes, that’s what John wrote. Those who believe in Jesus, who receive Jesus, become the children of God—not by virtue of physical birth, but a spiritual birth. They are born of God, or as Jesus said, born again. This spiritual rebirth makes us alive to God. In Christ, we become children of God in that relational sense—we have a living relationship with our Father who loves us. Paul writes the same thing in:
Galatians 3:26–28 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
In Christ, you are children of God through faith. When you believe in Jesus, you are born again and become a child of God. The truest thing about me is what God says. I am God’s child. That is more important than my race, my socio-economic status, my gender, or any of the other things by which we identify ourselves. That’s why in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Gentile (race), neither slave nor free (socio-economic class), neither male nor female (gender), but we’re all one in Christ. We’re one family with one Father and we are all God’s children. This is why Christians ought to be leading the way in social reconciliation. We must love each other in spite of our racial, economic, gender, or political differences—because in Christ, we are God’s children. It should start with us. The church ought to be the place where all our differences become secondary because in Christ we are one family with one Father and we are all God’s children.
Turn to your neighbor and say, “I am God’s child.” Now tell them, “You are God’s child.” Now say, “I guess that makes you my brother/sister.” Love one another! You’re family!
1 John 3:1–2 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
What does it mean to be the children of God? It means that God has lavished His love on us! He called us His children—that’s lavish love.
ILL: Laina and I have five children. When we weren’t able to get pregnant, we adopted our first two, Andy and Jeff. I can still remember our excitement the day we drove across the state to pick up newborn Andy. It was love at first sight! I also remember stopping at a shopping mall to get a gift for the lady who arranged the adoption. People looked at our newborn son, then looked at Laina, slender and gorgeous, and were speechless!
Eighteen months later, on the day we picked up newborn Jeff at the hospital, Laina’s cycle started for the first time in seven years. Ten months later we were pregnant—with twins! I remember Dr. Moyer, our OB-GYN coming into the room and shouting, “It’s a miracle!” When Amy and Sally were born, Andy had just turned 3 and Jeff was 21 months old—four kids, 3 and under! Michael arrived 3 years later. We originally wanted six, but after #5, we cashed in our chips.
Sometimes people say, “Oh you have 2 adopted and 3 of your own.” I always correct them: “No, all five are ours. They are all our children; God just gave them to us in different ways.” We don’t distinguish between them—we love them all as our children. We call them all “our children.”
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God. He wants you. In Christ, He has made you His child.
I am God’s child. Never let the enemy lie to you and tell you differently!
- In Christ, I am God’s friend.
Would you say this with me? I am God’s friend. Jesus called His followers His friends, and the apostle Paul makes it clear that this applies to us too. In Christ, I am God’s friend. Have you heard the whisper, “Why would God like you?” Don’t let the enemy steal your identity! Let’s say it again: I am God’s friend.
John 15:13–15 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.
Jesus says several important things about His friendship with His disciples—a friendship that I believe is available to us as His disciples today.
First, Jesus loves His friends with the greatest love possible: He gave His life for us. To be the friend of Jesus means that He loves you so much He has given His life for you. You make sacrifices for friends.
ILL: In September 1996, we took our family to a Mariners game with the Miller and Kafflen families. Before the game, Paul Miller and I talked with a guy who had a really cool Mariners jacket. We asked where he bought it—just down the concourse a ways. Our wives were gone buying t-shirts for the kids, so we entrusted the kids to Brandon, and then we made our way to jacket shop. We both bought that cool jacket and got back to our seats just as the national anthem finished. There we stood, side by side in our matching Mariner jackets. Laina looked at us and laughed, but Amy Miller scowled. We carefully explained that I bought Paul’s jacket for him for Christmas, and he bought mine as a Christmas gift for me. We hadn’t spent money on ourselves, but on each other, as friends. When Amy asked how much, Paul said, “Honey, you can’t put a price on friendship.” You make sacrifices for friends.
“Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Jesus sacrificed to make you His friend. Friends sacrifice.
Second, Jesus said, “You are my friends if you do what I command.” Is this conditional friendship? Does this mean that if I don’t do something He commanded, I’m out? No. This is not conditional friendship, but reciprocal friendship. Jesus has given everything for us; we reciprocate by doing what He asks. We don’t earn Jesus’ friendship by obedience, but our obedience is evidence of our friendship.
ILL: Speaking of Paul Miller, he called me this week for some advice. Some friends of theirs have been very helpful. Paul told me that there is no way he can repay them—and they don’t expect that. But he was thinking about something he could do for them that would please them, bring them joy, and wanted advice.
That’s the nature of friendship—it’s reciprocal. You want to do what you know will please your friend—especially when that friend has sacrificed for you. Jesus gave His life for you, His friend; now we gladly give our lives to Him as our friend. Friends sacrifice, friends reciprocate.
Third, Jesus said, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” Friends know things about each other. The closer the friend, the more you know. We share our deepest secrets with our closest friends. Jesus invited the disciples into that kind of friendship. He calls them His friends and shares everything with them.
Friends share everything. They don’t keep secrets. They want you to know them—really know them, so they are open books. Can you imagine having this kind of relationship with God? That’s what it means to be God’s friend. Friends sacrifice, friends reciprocate, and friends share everything. In Christ, I am God’s friend.
This is what Jesus said to His disciples. I believe that it applies to us as well, that we’re invited into this kind of friendship with God. The apostle Paul confirms that when he talks about God reconciling us to Himself. The word, “reconcile” means “to change from enmity to friendship.” It means that God has made us, who were once His enemies, into His friends.
Romans 5:10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
We were God’s enemies—it’s important to note that God was never our enemy. We were against Him; He was not against us.
ILL: A friend of mine suddenly dropped out of sight. When I tried to reach out, my efforts were ignored or rebuffed. He didn’t want anything to do with me. I wondered what I had done. It turns out that it had nothing to do with anything I’d done; it was about what he had done. He had started sleeping with his girlfriend. He knew it was wrong, and didn’t want to face me. So he withdrew from our friendship. I still wanted to be his friend; he wanted nothing to do with me.
This is what happened with us and God. Our sin made us pull away from God. We became His enemy, but He was never our enemy. It was all our problem, not His.
And yet, He is the one who took the initiative to repair the relationship. He reconciled us to Himself; He moved toward us in Christ to make us friends again.
2 Corinthians 5:17–20 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.
This is the good news! In Christ, we are God’s friends. In Christ, we have been reconciled to God. We get to tell people that God is for them, not against them, that God has moved toward them to make them His friends!
I am God’s friend. Never let the enemy tell you differently!
- In Christ, we are His bride.
Would you say this with me? We are Christ’s bride. In Christ, you are not only God’s child and friend, but you together—y’all—become His bride. This is in the plural. By myself, I’m not the bride of Christ. The church—that is, all of us who are in Christ, all of us who believe in Jesus and follow Him—all of us together are the bride of Christ. We are Christ’s bride.
The classic passage is in Ephesians 5.
Ephesians 5:25–33 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
Paul is writing to Christian husbands and tells them to love their wives as Christ loves the church. He clearly sees the church as Christ’s bride. We are invited into the most personal and intimate relationship known to man. Notice four things Jesus has done for us, His bride.
First, Jesus loves His bride so much that He gave His life for her.
Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.
Love does what is best for another no matter what it costs you. Jesus loves you so much that He sacrificed His life for you. Love sacrifices.
Second, Jesus made us, His bride, holy.
Ephesians 5:26 to make her holy.
The word “holy” means, “set apart, made special, different and unique.”
ILL: When I married Laina, I made her holy—that is, I set her apart from all other women; I made her special; I made her my bride. Among women, she is unique—my one and only wife. That’s what this means.
Jesus takes us as His bride and says, “You belong to me now. You are set apart for me. You are my bride.” You belong to Jesus in the most profound relational sense of that word.
Third, Jesus cleanses us, washing us with His word.
Ephesians 5:26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word.
In Christ, we are new creations; the old has gone, the new has come. We put off the old self, and put on the new. Jesus cleans us up and makes us new.
ILL: I’ve done hundreds of weddings over the years, and I’ve never seen a dirty bride. They are not only clean, but they are spiffed up and shiny! Most brides wear a beautiful spotless white dress. Every woman wants to look her very best on her wedding day.
The difference is that most brides can clean themselves up—along with help from some girlfriends. But we needed Jesus to clean us up. Our stains are deeper than anything that can be cleaned by human methods. Jesus washes us with His word. This is why we teach from God’s word every time we meet. This is why we encourage you to read God’s word every day. Jesus washes us with the water of His word. He is cleansing us and making us ready for that day we stand before God.
Fourth, Jesus will present us to God perfect!
Ephesians 5:27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
The picture here is of a wedding where the bride is presented to the groom looking her very best: radiant, without stain or wrinkle on that beautiful white dress; without any other blemish—everything is perfect! Paul is looking ahead to that day when Christ returns to claim His bride.
Revelation 19:7 Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.
Revelation 21:2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
That bride—that beautifully dressed, perfect blemish free bride that Christ is coming for—is us! Right now, God is at work in us, changing us, cleansing us, perfecting us, getting us ready for the wedding when we will be presented to Jesus—radiant and beautiful and perfect.
So here are three things that are true about you.
I am God’s child.
I am God’s friend.
We are Christ’s bride.
We belong to God—in that relational sense. He wants a living, personal relationship with you. Jesus didn’t come to make you more religious; He came to make you more alive. Jesus didn’t come to make you more religious; He came to make you His child, His friend, His bride. He came to bring you into relationship.
One last thought: this relationship with God can only be fully experienced in community with others.
I am God’s child—but I’m not an only child. I’m part of a huge family. I can’t fully experience what it means to be God’s child without being part of His family, the church.
I am God’s friend—but I’m not His only friend. I’m part of a large circle of friends. I can’t be friends with God and not be friends with His other friends. When Jesus called His disciples to follow, no one did it alone. It meant joining the band of brothers, the group of followers. I can’t fully experience friendship with God without the company of His other friends.
We are Christ’s bride—that was said of the church, not of individual Christians. I can’t be the bride alone—that’s us. I can only experience that kind of relationship with God together with all of you.
I am God’s child.
I am God’s friend.
We are Christ’s bride.
These are all true of you—but are only fully experienced together. Don’t let the enemy lie to you and say, “You don’t need the church. You don’t need other Christians. You can do this on your own.” We need each other. Relationship with God can only be fully experienced in community with others.
 The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller, pg. 87.