THE FAVOR AND IMAGE OF GOD (2 Corinthians 5:17}

Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O'Neill

Last Sunday we talked about the existence of God. Probably none of us here would question that there is a God. We all see the reasonableness of that verse: Romans 1:20 if you want to glance at it. It's Romans chapter 1:20: "Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse."

Most of you can see the rationale of that. Ever since the creation of the world, God's invisible nature, His eternal power and deity have been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. You look at the sky, it had to come from somewhere, and you look at the flowers, they had to come from somewhere. Even if you believe creation was by an evolutionary process rather than instantaneous, you still have to admit that somebody had to program the evolutionary process, if that's the way it came about. So I think few of us, except an extreme philosophical skeptic, would question that there has to be a God. That's the only explanation for all that we see around us. There has to be some intelligent mind that is at least as personable as you and I are. In order to make persons like us He must be as personable as we are.

And yet you remember, we shared the paradox that all of us experience. In our everyday ordinary life when we are struggling with the old screws at work or we are struggling with the typewriter or we are struggling at home with the dishwasher, we are not very conscious of God. We can think hard and work up a feeling about him on a Sunday. Or when something critical happens in our lives we can think, "oh God", we need God. But in our ordinary everyday lives we don't really sense very much His presence. The paradox is that we know that He is there all the time. We know that and our minds logically conclude: He is God, He must be everywhere, He must be in this room, He has to be, and He must see every step I take, every move I make. He must not only be able to do that but He must know why He put me here. He must know what my next step is meant to be in His plan and yet somehow I don't feel close to him. I am going to vocational guidance counselors and every Tom, Dick and Harry to find out how I should go, and yet I know fine well He is the only one that really knows. He knows because He is the one that put me here.

And we shared last time that many of us have that experience. And you remember what I suggested was part of the reason for it. It wasn't that God wasn't present with us but that we were in the same situation we find ourselves in if we were in a bar, or in some embarrassing position and a coach that we had at school or a Sunday school teacher or somebody else saw us in that embarrassing situation. You know what we do. We pretend they are not there. We turn around and talk to somebody that we didn't plan to talk to, or we start tying our shoelace or we do anything to avoid their glance and avoid them seeing us if possible.

Loved ones, I think that's the same situation with our lack of a sense of God's presence. It's not that He isn't there. He is there every minute with you. But you evade His glance because there are things that you are doing that you are ashamed for him to see or you are a little embarrassed about or you are not too sure about and you pretend that He isn't there so that He won't see you.

Remember we referred to that verse, "Who shall ascend unto the hill of the Lord? He that hath clean hands and a pure heart." And you say it to yourself, "Ascending unto the hill of the Lord I need clean hands, a pure heart -- but I haven't got clean hands, I haven't got a pure heart, so how can I be in His presence? I can't. I can't bear His presence." And so, we are like ostriches. We stick our heads in the sand and because we can't see the lion, we pretend the lion isn't there. We get into a dishonest attitude with God. That's really what it is. We get into that dishonest attitude to Him and it breaks our perception of His presence. It does actually break your perception of His presence. So He is there. He is right besides you. He loves you with all His heart. But because you are playing this evasive game and trying to avoid Him, you fail to be able to perceive His presence. So you live an impossible life.

It is madness to try to live on a spinning sphere that is flying through space at hundreds of miles an hour and be on your own not knowing who is in control of it. That's where a lot of our fear comes. We are lonely because we will always be lonely without God. I can be your friend, somebody else can be your friend, and a husband or a wife can be your friend for so long. But finally, we are all lonely because there is only one who really makes us feel at home and that's the dear one who put us here. So, when you play games with Him and lose the sense of His presence, you become a real lonely person. The situation is like this air around us. If I decide to hold my breath and not breathe, it doesn't matter what you say about the air being all around me. I will just look at you and my face will get bigger and bigger and I'll look as if I am going to explode. Then I'll fall, faint, and eventually die, even though the air is all around me. If I don't breathe it in, it won't do me any good.

It's the same with God. If you fail to perceive His presence and recognize Him and acknowledge Him and be real with him, then you fail to receive the benefit of His life into your life -- and that's where we said many of us are. Many of us feel we are in a "catch-22" situation. We feel yes, that's right. I do pretend because I am not like Him. I have feelings of lust at times and would be embarrassed to death if He knew about them. He does know about them, but we keep pretending. The pretend game is stupid but we do it. And there are things that I want in my life that I don't think He wants me to want. And so, I just couldn't look Him in the eye. I couldn't look Him in the eye. I don't see how I can look Him in the eye unless I change. I don't see what's going to change me unless He changes me. And how can He change me if I don't recognize Him? How can I get close to Him if I am like I am? And how come I be other than I am unless I get close to Him?

Of course the amazing gospel is, that God out of the great love He has for you, has taken all the things that you have ever done, all the things that He has noted in His spiritual memory, all the hard things you have said to people, all the dirty things you have thought, all the dishonest things you have done and on the page of His memory, He has torn them up. He has brought you close to Himself out of sheer love. He has done that. But you keep on pretending and evading Him as if He doesn't know what you are. He not only knows what you are, but He has lifted you up to be beside Himself. At this moment He regards you as being beside Himself. He is treating you as being beside Him and He is willing to give you all that He has. But because you don't believe that, you erect a barrier against Him just as I do if I don't breathe.

In other words, you are meant to live in complete confidence in your Father. You are not meant to live like little furtive, evasive children, trying to hide behind the trees of the garden. We are meant to accept what God has done. Now loved ones, you need to look at that, even though we looked it up last Sunday. You need to look at it in Ephesians 2: 4-8 because you need to be able to remind yourself of it. Ephesians 2:4-8: "But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God."

That's what God has done for you, until you die on this earth. Because when you die and you don't believe it, then you finally make real your disbelief and you make it eternally real. So if you continue to believe that God doesn't love you, that He hasn't accepted you, that you are not His child and you live like that, eventually you make that your eternal state. But until that day, God has raised you up and you are sitting beside Him and He thinks of you as a friend and a dear child, He does. And all your running around and hiding and pretending that He doesn't -- is a lie. He thinks of you as His dear friend and His dear child and He has all the resources of His own home and His own heaven to give you. But He can only give them to you when you believe that.

It's like this. A very wealthy husband and wife decided to build a beautiful mansion in the center of their city to live in. And so they chose a hilltop and put up a most beautiful house. The lawns were perfectly manicured and the grounds were beautifully landscaped. When you went into the house, the walls were hung with beautiful paintings and the floors had Persian carpets and patterned rugs on them. And everything was absolutely perfect. There was antique furniture in every room, gathered from all over the European cities. The air in the home was beautifully scented, air conditioned and filtered so that everything was perfect. And they themselves were dear people. They lived ordered lives in real harmony with each other. And so the whole home was beautiful and absolutely spotless.

They had one son. That son was given every advantage they could offer him and then he was sent to college. There in college he got into drugs and alcohol. Despite all their attempts to communicate their love to him, he just went downhill, and eventually ended up on skid row. One day when he was high on drugs, he decided to stagger up the hill to his family home despite his wandering mad mind. He staggered up the hill and blasted his way through the front door. As he went through, he pulled furniture down to the floor. He staggered backwards and forwards and went into the living room where he pulled down some of the pictures from the walls and then collapsed on the floor in the middle of his own sickness and his own vomit. When the father and mother came in, they ran over to him. Despite the wretched stench that filled the room, despite the dirt and the filth that he had already spread in the living room in those few brief moments, they went over to him and put their arms around him. They told him that they were so glad he was back and that as far as they were concerned he was their son, he belonged to them, this was his home and this was where he should be.

Of course, He looked up at them and through the madness of his drugged state he could hardly believe what he was hearing. He was terribly embarrassed and ashamed. He mumbled, "No, you can't take me back, I don't fit into this. This is incongruous. I am the opposite of everything that you have in this home. You can't take me back." And the father said to him, "I look into your eyes and I see my image in you. I can see myself in you. You are still my son. As far as I am concerned, you are completely restored to our favor. This is your home and we receive you here. The son of course had to accept. That's it. It may not make sense but that's it. That's what this verse says to all of us. If the father says it, we can't question it, even though we can't see the sense in it. It's fact.

But, then the son realizes, "I can't stay the way I am. If I continue the way I am, I'll just spread my filth and my dirt all over this home and destroy it for you." At that moment the father stooped down and lifted the boy up and took him up the stairs to the bathroom and with his own hands he washed away all the dirt. The boy had tried to wipe away some of the dirt with his handkerchief, but the handkerchief was dirty. Everything the boy had was dirty. It didn't matter what he wiped. He only made it worse. He couldn't clean himself because he himself was full of filth and dirt. But the father lifted him up and took him up to the bathroom and put him in the bath and started to lovingly wash all the dirt away. Then he got out a good suit of clothes of his own, gave it, put it on the boy and brought him down. He said to him, "However long it takes, however many times you fall, I will be here to do everything, to lift you up, to clean you and to make you the kind of person that will be at home in this beautiful heaven we have here." Now that's what God has done in Jesus for you. He has restored you not only to His favor but He has restored you to His image.

The reason God is able to forgive you and me for our sins is because He has a bath in which He can wash us. You are dead right. If you don't change, you'll make heaven hell, and will fill it with your own dirt. I will fill it with my own dirt. If we can't be changed, it doesn't matter whether God forgives us or not.

That was the problem the Jews were in. The Jews knew that God had forgiven them but they didn't know what he had done. They didn't know about the bathroom. They didn't know about the great act on Calvary, which was that great bath into which God had put all humanity and changed it. They just knew that God had done something magnificent that enabled him to forgive them. But they still cried out, "The good that I would, I cannot do it. The evil I hate is what I do. I know Father, you have forgiven me but I cannot be like you. How will I ever be at home in your heaven unless I become like you?"

And so, the Jews started a massive journey up that impossible hill of self-improvement; trying to obey the law by their own efforts, trying to clean themselves up, trying to make themselves better. Loved ones, thousands of us in churches throughout the world are in the same situation. We accept that God has forgiven us because of Jesus' death but we don't see that why He forgave us was because in Jesus' death He had bathed us. God changed you in His son Jesus. He restored you not only to the favor of God but He restored you to the image of God. God has put each one of us in His son Jesus and has destroyed us there with all that our old self has produced over the years. He has renewed us and raised us up in Jesus completely new and clean.

Loved ones, it's done, it's done for you. That old self of yours that is filled with greed and filled with irritability and anger and resentment, that was put by God into His son Jesus and God destroyed that there. In eternal reality that is gone and done with. And the moment you believe that, you begin to receive the benefit of that. But loved ones, if you keep on trying to clean yourself up with your own dirty handkerchief you just wipe more self over yourself, every time you try to do it.

So tomorrow, when you feel anger rising in your heart, you don't try to repress it by your own power and effort. Instead you look up to God and you say, "Lord God, I know that you crucified me in Jesus. I know that you destroyed me in him and you remade me so that I am new. I know that you destroyed this old self that is expressing this anger. I know that Lord, and I want to thank you for that. Thank you! Don't do anything else, don't make a move to grab your handkerchief -- don't. Just thank Him. Because the truth is, you believe yourself to death. You believe yourself clean. You believe yourself changed. That's it. It's by faith, and not by effort. It's by faith.

The truth is, in Jesus you have already been made completely new. You have been changed and the Holy Spirit is able to make that real in you if you will begin to believe it. And that's what God has done for you. So when it comes to Wednesday and you see the old habit coming up again that you've been fighting for years, don't fight the habit. Look up to God and say, "Lord, I know that you have changed me in Jesus. I know that this old self that produced this thing for years has gone for good. I know that and I know what I am seeing is just a relic of a ghost. Lord, I thank you that you have crucified me in Christ. I thank you that I'm dead. Lord, I thank you that I no longer exist and I thank you, Lord Jesus, that you alone exist.

Loved ones, as you begin to say that, and you begin to believe that, God will make that real in you. You'll find that Christ begins to rise within you. Loved ones,the verse that you need is in 2 Corinthians 5:17: "Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come." And if you are in any doubt that you are in Christ then just look at verse 14 from that same chapter. "For the love of Christ controls us, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died."

You are one of the "all". You can't keep yourself out of that. You are one of the all; therefore you have died, therefore you are in Christ, therefore you are a new creation, the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. If you say to me, "It's illogical." No, it's not illogical at all. The air is all around me, if I don't breathe it, I'll die. There is no point in me saying to you, "But I can't see the air." You'll say, "Forget whether you can see it or not! Breathe, breathe the air or you'll die. That's what I say to you.

You say "Yes, but I can't see it. I can't see it." Look it's true. Your God has said it. Believe it and begin to live it. That's it. Loved ones, we are dying because we won't believe that our God has changed us. We are dying and wearing each other out. Husbands and wives are killing each other, brothers and sisters are wearing each other down, businesses are killing each other because we can't be changed -- and yet we have been changed by God in Jesus. All we have to do is believe it. And the moment you believe it, the weight of that great old self rolls off your shoulders and you begin to live a new life. And that's the father's plan for us. It can be yours. It's what has changed my life and has changed many lives. It is possible to live above self and sin because God has changed us in His Son Jesus. So don't struggle. Don't struggle -- believe it and begin to live it.

Let us pray.

Dear father, you know the agony that is in a lot of our dear hearts because we want this with all of our being and yet it seems a paradox and it seems illogical. Father, we would bow our great thoughts before you and give up all our great reasonings, which have only got us into more and more futility and frustration. Father, we would believe what your word says -- that Christ has died for all, therefore all have died, and that's me. And if I am in Christ I am a new creation. The old has passed away and the new has come. Father we believe that the old in us has passed away. It has been changed by you, and you have remade us in Calvary. But you expect us to believe it for it to become real in us today. Father we look up, and we commit ourselves to you; to believe that you changed us in Jesus and you have bathed us and made us clean. Amen!

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