January 7, 2007

An Old Strategy For A New Year-Part Two

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: New Year


An Old Strategy For A New Year-Part Two

Psalm 91:1
January 7, 2007
Pastor Randy Smith

A few days ago I came across a quote that was strikingly similar to my introduction from last week. Roughly two centuries have passed since J.C. Philpot made these remarks about the New Year.

The year before our eyes may hold in its bosom events, which may deeply concern and affect us. We do not know what is to come. What personal trials, what family trials, what providential trials may await us - we do not know.

Sickness may attack our bodies, death enter our families, difficulties beset our circumstances, trials and temptations exercise our minds, snares entangle our feet, and many dark and gloomy clouds, make our path one of heaviness and sorrow. Every year hitherto has brought its trials in its train; and how can we expect the coming year to be exempt?

Knowing what we are and have been when left to ourselves - the slips that we have made, the snares that we have been entangled in, the shame and sorrow that we have procured to ourselves - well may we dread to go forth in the coming year alone. Well may we say…

Then referring to God, Philpot concluded with the following verse from Exodus 33.

If Your Presence does not go with us - do not send us up from here (Ex. 33:15).

We live in a world of uncertainty and conflict. Sorrow seems to follow us everywhere we go. So whose presence are we trusting for hope and peace in 2007? Where is our abiding place?

The Psalmist said, "He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty" (Psm. 91.1; cf. 32:7).

Yet as humans we too often run to the wrong comforters. We think drugs and alcohol will deaden the pain. We judge and critique others to elevate ourselves. We follow a multitude of lusts for perceived pleasure. We find sufficiency in our own strength and wisdom. Beloved, all of these and many other abiding places will not bring the satisfaction and contentment we desire. They are nothing but counterfeits and imposters. Our hearts have been created with a God-shaped receptacle. They will never be at peace until they find their rest in Him.

The great Puritan, Thomas Brooks, once said, "Every thing that a man leans upon but God, will be a dart that will certainly pierce his heart through and through. He who leans only upon Christ lives the highest, choicest, safest, and sweetest life."

Last week we spoke about abiding in God through a relationship with Jesus Christ. We learned that it is commanded. Jesus said, "Abide in Me, and I in you" (Jn. 15:4). We learned the consequences for failing to abide. Jesus again said, "If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned" (Jn. 15:6). We also learned the foolishness for not wanting to abide. For example: Why do we wish to dry up spiritually, lose our assurance and shipwreck our faith (Jn. 15:6; 1 Jn. 2:24-25)? Why do we think it a burden to surrender to the One who loves us so much? Why are we content to live in sin when we have been set free from its filthy shackles? Why do we want our own hopes and our own dreams and not the perfection God's? Why do we continue life in the grip of Satan and thereby allow bitterness, emptiness and discontent to rule in our hearts?

The answer is deception. Instead of believing absolute surrender will bring us joy, we think absolute surrender will steal our joy. We reason to ourselves, "If I give God all of my heart, He might call me to give more money. He might send me to the mission field in Africa. He might even have the audacity to reveal unchecked sin in my life. I know the Word says He will provide 'joy inexpressible' (1 Pet. 1:8), but I think following my ways are better." Translation: "I don't trust you, God!"

My friends, partial surrender is no surrender at all. God is too glorious to settle for half of your heart. The results are the same whether the branch is six inches or six hundred feet away from the vine. Either you give Him all you've got or you quit playing games.

Last week we began discussing this need to surrender, to yield, to abide in Christ. I introduced you to the "Contact Principle." As a branch remains connected to the vine, it is God's will that we remain connected to Christ Jesus.

I said in order for us to abide, we must confess Jesus. 1 John 4:15, "Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God." We confess Christ by feasting upon Him in love. In John 6:56, Jesus said, "He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him." We love God by keeping His commandments. Jesus again, John 14:15, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." And when we keep His commandments, we will live righteously imitating Christ. 1 John 2:6, "The one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked."

This is how we abide in Jesus. The goal is not to continually get reconnected. The goal is to remain connected to Christ for this is the communion our Lord desires.

The first Sunday of each month we celebrate what we commonly call Communion. When we eat the bread and drink the juice we are remembering Christ's death in the past and proclaiming His return in the future (1 Cor. 11:26). But Communion also has a present reality as well. It symbolizes the "communion" we are currently having with Jesus. Therefore as I often say, if we are not a Christian or a Christian not abiding in Christ, we should allow the elements to pass by lest we attempt to symbolize something that is not there and make a mockery of this blessed ordinance.

You will remember the Corinthian church committed this error. As to that Paul said, "For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep (dead)" (1 Cor. 11:30). That is why Paul, when giving instruction to this church regarding the Lord's Supper said, "But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly" (1 Cor. 11:28-29). And any pastor who really loves his flock will warn them as well.

Listen to how James Montgomery Boice put it: "At the heart of the present significance of the Lord's Supper is our communion or fellowship with Christ, hence the term "communion service." In coming to this service the believer comes to meet with Christ and have fellowship with Him at His invitation. The examination takes place because it would be hypocrisy for us to pretend we are in communion with the Holy One while actually cherishing known sin in our hearts" (Foundations of the Christian Faith, p. 603).

So as we prepare to celebrate Communion, we are called to engage in the process of self-examination. Are we really in communion with the Lord Jesus? Or if I can put it another way, are we abiding in Him? Last week we discussed how to abide in Christ. This morning with the elements set before us, I believe it is appropriate to determine if we are really abiding in Christ. It is a perfect day to engage in some self-examination.

My friends, the consequences for not abiding in Christ are tragic. Yet it is possible we can fool ourselves by thinking we are abiding when in reality we are not. Every church has branches off in a corner wasting away while at the same time believing they are abiding in the vine. So due to the potential for deception, God has given us in His Word a clear benchmark to determine whether or not we are truly abiding. Jesus put it as simply as possible. "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me" (Jn. 15:4). In a nutshell, when we are abiding in Christ, He will produce through us, spiritual fruit. This is God's will. Colossians 1:10, "So that you may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work."

Unfortunately most of the trees I have planted in our yard have died. However, there is one tree that survived. It is a nectarine tree or so I was told when I made the purchase. Every spring this tree produces some type of growth only to have whatever they are fall to the ground in a few weeks. After four years I have not witnessed a single nectarine. It can call itself a nectarine tree. It can proudly wear the little tag that says it is a nectarine tree, but until that tree produces at least something that resembles a nectarine, I remain unconvinced.

Jesus said, "So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit… for the tree is known by its fruit" (Mt. 7:17; 12:33). We are identified to be disciples of Christ by the fruit we bear (Jn. 15:8). So what does this whole principle have to do with abiding you ask?

In order for a branch to bear fruit it must abide in the vine. The branch does not tie fruit on its branches nor does it work real hard to produce its own fruit. The power and ability for the branch to produce fruit comes from the vine.

Likewise, we as believers are not called to produce our own fruit. In our flesh, says Romans 7, there dwells no good thing (Rom. 7:18). Apart from Me, says Jesus, we can do nothing (Jn. 15:5). It is simply our responsibility, as a branch abides in the vine, to abide in Jesus Christ; then, through our abiding to allow Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit to produce fruit in our lives. "From Me,' said God in Hosea 14:8, "Comes your fruit." When the primary focus is not the fruit but the relationship with Christ, the fruits will come naturally as they are produced by God. All this to say, evidence of our abiding in Christ will be spiritual fruit.

You may be thinking, that's great, but what is spiritual fruit?

I think it is easiest to answer that question by dividing the fruit into two categories: Attitude fruit and action fruit.


"Attitude fruit," as I like to call it, is best witnessed in the fifth chapter of Galatians. We commonly call these the fruit of the Spirit. Again, in contrast to the deeds of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21), the fruit of the Spirit is the evidence that we are abiding in Christ. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness (and) self-control" (Gal. 5:22-23).

Possibly we have become too familiar with this passage. When I was studying this popular text this week, I was convicted of a few ways I have incorrectly considered this list.

First, I have segmented these traits too much. The error with this way of thinking is believing that the Holy Spirit produces more of some traits than others. "Hey, I'm doing well in six out of nine!" It is not a question of majority vote. We must view this list as an all or nothing, the composite of a whole. I am convinced if all of these attitude fruits are not operative at any given moment, I am not Spirit-filled.

Second, very similar to the first error, is the tendency to isolate these traits and work on a few of them specifically. I am afraid this attitude before long can have us focusing more on producing the fruit than the One who must produce the fruit in us. It could cause us to focus more on trying than abiding.

"I need more peace in my life. Now I need to work on the self-control. Oh, don't forget about the patience. I'm not kind enough. What can I do to get more joy?" Before long you'll be back at the beginning because you've lost your peace!

Let's remember, these attitude fruits are naturally produced when we abide in Christ!

Let's take the fruit of joy by way of example. We have been created to desire happiness. We all want more joy. God is glorified when His children are joyful. And yet as we look around, some church-goers make Christianity look like a bitter religious pill! To some, God is a celestial killjoy who makes it His number one prerogative to make sure we are miserable!

So how do I get joy? We cannot manifest our own joy. We have all tried that and can all attest how superficial and temporary that joy is. No, joy is an attitude fruit of the Spirit that is produced by God as we abide in Christ. In the context of the vine and the branches our Savior said, "These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full" (Jn. 15:11). Do you want full joy? Do you want to experience the same joy as God-incarnate, Jesus Christ? Simple, abide in the vine of Jesus Christ and His joy will be produced in you!


So we have discussed attitude fruit. Yet, for the Christian attitude fruit will always manifest itself in action fruit. The second kind of fruit that gives evidence we are abiding is what I am calling "action fruit."

Now I wish to be very clear by overstating this point. This action fruit, or we can call them righteous deeds, does not save us. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. But this action fruit gives evidence that we are saved, evidence that we are abiding in Christ.

Consider the following verses that juxtapose salvation apart from works with the need for good works once we are saved.

Ephesians 2: (Salvation)"For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Action Fruit) For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them" (Eph. 2:8-10).

Or how about Titus 3: (Salvation) "He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit…(Action Fruit) Concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds" (Tit. 3:5, 8).

Our time is fleeting so permit me to give a few brief examples of action fruit.

One example is visible love for others. When the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts, it will definitely overflow to others, especially those within His church. 1 John 3:14-15, "We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him"(also see 1 Jn. 2:10; 3:10; 4:12). A mark of this love is a giving attitude. 1 John 3:17, "But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?"

Another action fruit is evangelism. Abide in Christ and the desire and opportunities for evangelism will be there. Romans 1:13, "I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you."

Another action fruit is the desire to pray and also the answer to prayer because when we abide, our requests will be in accordance to the will of God (cf. Jn. 14:13-14; Jas. 4:3). John 15:7, "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you" (cf. Jn. 15:16).

General righteous living is also another action fruit that gives evidence we are abiding. 1 John 3:9-10, "No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God."

Remember this, beloved, by way of encouragement: God wants to see your fruit more than you do. Jesus said, "By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples" (Jn. 15:8).

First John 1:6 says, "If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth." We have covered attitude and action fruit this morning. As you have been examining your own life as we prepare to celebrate the Lord's Supper, is there evidence that you are abiding in Christ? Every abiding Christian will produce fruit. Fruit is the proof we are in communion with Him. Can you partake of Communion this morning with a clear conscience?

Are you giving Him your whole heart? Are you committed to do whatever the Bible says? Are you experiencing the abundant life Christ promised? If not, realize the deficiency, confess the sin, repent and reestablish (right now!) full contact with Christ. I say this in love and humility. If you are not willing to repent, allow the elements to pass by lest you eat and drink judgment upon yourself.

This Table before us is to be approached with sobriety. This is a serious ceremony that must not be abused or mocked. However, this Table is also about forgiveness. This is a reminder that we constantly blow it. This is a reminder that while the Father must always keep His pruning knife handy, He is also eager to extend mercy and restore the relationship once we are prepared to exercise genuine repentance. Are you abiding in Christ? Are you in communion with the Lord? Hard, disobedient hearts will always be rejected. Soft, contrite hearts will always be received.

other sermons in this series

Dec 30


Five Directives For A Successful New Year

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: 1 Corinthians 16:10–24 Series: New Year

Jan 1


To Live Is Christ, To Die Is Gain

Preacher: Craig Baxter Scripture: Philippians 1:19–26 Series: New Year

Jan 1


Old Necessities for a New Year

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: Deuteronomy 6:16–19 Series: New Year