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THE ESSENTIAL OF CHRISTIAN CHARACTER
Series: Armenian Evangelical Confession of Faith - Part Four
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
November 23, 1997
|This morning we’re continuing
our look at our beliefs and practices as
an Armenian Evangelical Church - we’ve been looking at the Armenian
Evangelical Confession of Faith - our forefather’s beliefs - the
teaching of the Bible - and in comparison thinking through what we
believe and what all this means for us today.
Our focus this morning is “Who we are in Jesus Christ”. Our Evangelical Forefathers said this - The Armenian Evangelical Confession of Faith - Article 8: “We believe that holiness of life, and a conscientious discharge of the various duties we owe to God, to our fellow-men, and to ourselves, are not only constantly binding upon all believers, but essential to the Christian character.”
“Who we are in Jesus Christ” To begin, I would like to share a few thoughts from Rev. Dr. Vahan Tootikian’s book, “The Armenian Evangelical Church - Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow” - as it relates to our forefathers and who we are today.
Bdv. Tootikian writes, “...one of the greatest contributions and lasting services of the Armenian Evangelical Church was the distinctive Christian life-style. The early Evangelicals had a ministry of presence. There was no gap between their utterance and their performance. Their Bible-and-Christ-centered life-style was their most convincing witness and testimony.”
“It is common knowledge...that...Armenian Evangelicals in the Ottoman Empire had a reputation as a people of complete integrity, with a character beyond reproach. So much to that in the Turkish courts, Evangelicals were exempted from taking an oath on the Bible; their word was accepted as their bond. Not even a Muslim judge would question that.”
This is a challenge for us today. Our Evangelical forefathers were known by their piety and conduct - a rejection of a secular lifestyle - strict observance of the Sabbath - absolute integrity and honesty in business.
Bdv. Tootikian writes, “This life-style, which was the by-product of their religious commitment to, and personal experience with, Jesus Christ, impressed upon their...compatriots the all-important truth that faith is not lip-service but a way of life, and ‘the essence of an inner relationship to God in Christ, and as such, the all-sufficient ground of salvation before God.’”
Here’s the question for us today: “Who are we in Jesus Christ?” I invite you to turn with me to James 2:14-26. James addresses this question - who are we in Christ. And while we read these verses, I’d like to ask you to consider this related question: “What’s more important: what you do or who you are?”
James 2:14-26 (14) What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? (15) If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, - in other words they’re desperate (16) and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? (17) So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. - in other words - who we are - as believers - should be reflected in what we do. If our faith doesn’t produce good works then our faith is worthless.
James gives 3 examples of what he means - first: (18) But some one will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. (19) You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe - and shudder. Example 1: Even the demons have belief - but faith isn’t enough - faith is more than mere intellectual assent - it also includes inner surrender and commitment to the Lordship of Christ.
Example 2: (20) Do you want to be shown, you foolish fellow, that faith apart from works is barren? (21) Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? (22) You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works, (23) and the scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness”; and he was called the friend of God. (24) You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.
Historically, God spoke to Abraham and promised him an inheritance - a land inhabited by uncountable descendants through whom God would bless all of mankind. Abraham believed God would fulfill His promise. And later, Abraham’s son Isaac became the means God chose to begin the fulfillment of that promise. Abraham demonstrated - to himself and all mankind - his inner commitment and surrender to God by his willingness to lay his entire prosterity and the promise of God - Isaac - on the alter.
Example 3: (25) And in the same way was not also Rahab the harlot justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? - Rahab demonstrated before men that she had faith in the Lord when she received and delivered the spies out of Jericho - (26) - summary statement - For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.
No heartbeat - no breathing - no brain activity - the body is dead. No works - and faith is dead. The bottom line of what James is saying here is that what we do demonstrates whether or not faith is really alive within us. Who we are is most important - who we are is the basis of what we do.
Too often we struggle - because we define ourselves - who we are - by what we do - our works - and not by who we are in Jesus Christ. We put the cart before the horse.
Former North Carolina State basketball coach Jim Valvano - suffering from terminal spinal cancer at the age of 47 during an interview looked back on his life and told a story about himself as a 23-year-old coach of a small college team.
"Why is winning so important to you?" the players asked Valvano.
"Because the final score defines you," he said, "You lose, ergo, you're a loser. You win, ergo, you're a winner."
"No," the players insisted. "Participation is what matters. Trying your best, regardless of whether you win or lose -- that's what defines you." - character - who you are.
It took 24 more years of living. It took the coach bolting up from the mattress three or four times a night with his T-shirt soaked with sweat and his teeth rattling from the fever chill of chemotherapy and the terror of seeing himself die repeatedly in his dreams. It took all that for him to say it: "Those kids were right...what a great human being I could have been if I'd had this awareness back then." - its who you are that counts.
Marriages often exist to raise kids - and when the kids leave - the couple doesn’t know why they’re married. Or couples become lost in the empty pursuit of having a home - family - things. Marriages come apart because too often couples only define their marriage by what they do - not who they are.
So many people have trouble retiring because their definition of who they are is based on what they do - the accomplishment - the activity. All their lives they’ve been a lawyer - or pastor - or doctor - or engineer - or whatever. And when they retire - they find out that they don’t know who they are. Life becomes empty and hollow.
Imagine a Christian who defines his or her life as a Christian by what they do - how much they give - how long they’ve been members - how they’ve served - what they’ve built. James tells us that there is much more to being a Christian than what we do.
Chuck Swindol in his book, “Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life,” says this: “Doing is usually connected with a vocation or career, how we make a living. Being is much deeper. It relates to character, who we are, and how we make a life. Doing is closely tied with activity, accomplishments, and tangible things - like salary, prestige, involvement, roles, and trophies. Being, on the other hand, has more to do with intangibles, the kind of people we become down inside, much of which can’t be measured by objective yardsticks and impressive awards. But of the two, being will ultimately outdistance doing every time. It may take half a lifetime to perfect...but hands down, it’s far more valuable. And lasting. And inspiring.”
Eusebius - the historian - tells us that in about the year 66 A.D., James - the author of this book - was pushed off the pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem - by the Jews - who had become angered with him for his Christian testimony. From the pinnacle of the Temple into the Kidron Valley there’s a drop of about 100 feet. Eusebius says that the fall didn’t kill James, and that he somehow managed to get to his knees and begin praying for his murderers - while he was praying they finished the job by stoning James to death.
That type of demonstrated faith can only come from someone who’s understanding of who they are in Christ is not based works - outward- temporal things. That type of testimony comes from faith - from one who knows who they are in Jesus Christ.
This is the same kind of demonstration of faith that our forefathers had - when they lived in impossible circumstances - when everything they had was taken from them - when all they had left was their faith.
Our forefathers described it this way, “We believe that holiness of life....(is) essential to the Christian character.”
John Brown, 19th century Scottish Theologian, said this, “Holiness does not consist in mystic speculations, enthusiastic fervours, or uncommanded austerities; it consists in thinking as God thinks, and willing as God wills.”
Two brief points of application - “Who are we in Jesus Christ?”
1. WHAT RELATIONSHIP DO OTHERS HAVE WITH JESUS?
Chuck Swindol, in "The Grace Awakening," writes about a youth worker in a Scandinavian church who decided he would show the youth group a missionary film. This really happened. We’re talking a simple, safe, black-and-white religious-orientated movie. The film projector hadn’t been off an hour before a group of the leaders in the church called him in and asked him what he had done.
They asked, “Did you show the young people a film?” In all honesty he responded, “Well, yeah, I did.”
“We don’t like that,” they replied. Without trying to be argumentative, the youth worker reasoned, “Well, I remember that at the last missionary conference, our church showed slides...” One of the church officers put his hand up signaling him to stop talking. Then, in these words, he emphatically explained the conflict: “If it’s still, fine. If it moves, sin!”
In contrast to the two commands of Jesus - Love God with everything you are and love others as you love yourself - the Pharisees had developed a system of 613 laws, 365 negative commands and 248 positive laws - by the time Christ came they had produced a heartless, cold, and arrogant brand of righteousness.
Too often we expect others to act according to our expectations - or what we have defined as “Christian” or “evangelical” without being first concerned with their individual relationship with Jesus Christ.
Our forefathers said, “...a conscientious discharge of the various duties we owe to God, to our fellow-men, and to ourselves, are not only constantly binding upon all believers, but essential to the Christian character.” James says, if someone is desperate and you say go in peace and don’t really help them - what kind of believer are you? But the basis - the starting point is belief.
Pledge - come to services - teach - help - sing - be on a board or committee - all these things that we’re suppose to do. And we often criticize others if they don’t measure up to the expectations. But how concerned are we for the relationship our brothers and sisters have with Jesus Christ? Do we ask: Are you growing? Is your walk with Jesus deepening? Are you in His word? How’s your prayer life? What can I be in prayer for you about?
2. WHAT RELATIONSHIP DO YOU HAVE WITH JESUS?
Ron Ritchie - former pastor of Peninsula Bible Church down in Palo Alto tells of a dinner he once had with a missionary couple from Missouri at the missionary’s home in the Philippines. A young Philippine man worked for the missionaries as cook and housekeeper and Ron Ritchie and the cook had become good friends.
“After we said grace the cook served us a lovely dinner and then left. When I asked where he had gone, the family said he was out in the garage, eating his supper. I asked them why that was necessary, and they replied that it was the custom there. I looked at them for a long moment and then quietly stood up, took my plate, went out to the garage and sat down next to him. When we returned to the main house, we found the couple sitting at the dinner table, crying.”
“We went into the living room and I began to ask them questions about their faith. I soon found out that they came out to the islands out of a sense of religious duty, and soon after they arrived they discovered they didn’t even like the Philippine people. That evening I had the privilege of introducing this “missionary couple” to Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.”
I knew a man who very proudly showed me his “Five Year Sunday School Attendance Pin.” Imagine this - as a child, for five straight years he hadn’t missed a day of Sunday School - not once. And yet this man had no idea of what it meant to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
You could be here this morning - have been in church all your life - served on every Board and Committee that ever existed - taught Sunday School - you name it - and yet the faith you have is based on all the things you’ve done - not on your own personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
This morning - James - and the testimony of our forefathers - God, desires to have a relationship with you through His Son, Jesus Christ. All the works in the world cannot fill the emptiness in our souls. But God can.
At some point we have to choose - works or faith. For some that point of choice is clearly marked with a moment in time - for others it is a realization which is part of a process. But there must be a choice - a coming to grips with the reality that Christianity is not what we do - its who we are in Christ - a choice to trust Him with our lives so that it is no longer us who lives but Christ in us.