Sermon – Growing Up

Last week, our association, LCMC, held it’s 18th Annual Gathering in Des Moines. And the theme, appropriately enough, was “Growing Up.” We’re 18 years old now and we expect our 18 year olds to begin to act like grown ups.

We all understand that. Few things are more irritating to most of us than a 35 year old—or a 50 or 60 year old–who still acts like a child. Who still wants everyone else to take care of them. And so we talked about how we can grow up—how we can mature in our faith, how we can be more like those early followers of Jesus who changed the world.

Because we live in a world that desperately needs change—we all know that. And we here this particular church aren’t 18 years old—we’re 125 years old. So how grown up are we? And how do we go about becoming more grown up?

Knowing “how” is the easy part. The Bible tells us; in Ephesians 4:11-16 “And he [Jesus] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

Apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, teachers—where do we find them? We find them right here, but we’ll talk more about that in coming weeks. Paul says that we grow up by learning together—by taking the gifts that God has given us and using them to grow together. Sounds easy—so why don’t we do it? Why is the church today so filled with people who seem to be spiritual babies rather than spiritual giants?

Because we struggle with the basic question of truth—what is it?

When Jesus stands before Pontius Pilate after he’s been arrested, Pilate asks him why they’ve arrested Him. He asks Jesus if He’s a king. Jesus replies, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38).

Apparently, this isn’t a new problem. Even in the first century, people struggled with the question, “What is truth?”

For Pontius Pilate, truth was whatever the Roman emperor said it was. For 21st century Americans, it seems that often truth is what a particular political party or a particular news outlet says it is.

What is truth? When have we ever been more “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes”? We live in a world where everyone has a different idea about everything—and where we seem unable to debate, to discuss issues with any civility. We live in a world where, for many people, opinion has become truth.

The division and anger in this country today isn’t really about policy. We’re not going to solve our problems by putting the right people into political office. Neither the Democrats or the Republicans have the corner on truth. The problem is that we have confused truth with opinion.

What is truth? A recent Barna study found that 72% of Americans don’t even believe that there is any such thing as absolute truth. 40% of evangelical Christians don’t believe in absolute truth.

Absolute truth is defined as “unchanging truth from God that is applicable to all persons in all situations.” According to these surveys, most of us don’t rely on the Bible as our primary guide for truth—instead we try to figure out for ourselves what’s right and what’s wrong.

Often we base our decisions on our feelings. We’ve become a nation of people who define what’s true as “what’s right for me.” If we feel that being part of a church is right for us, we decide what we believe and then we find a church body that agrees with us.

We’ve come a long way from the fourth century when the philosopher Augustine called it “frivolous speculation” to seek answers about the universe apart from God.

What is truth?

Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

John 8:31 “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” We find the truth in God’s Word.

John 16:13 “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.”

And the night before He died, Jesus agonized in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. He prayed in John 17:16 “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” The word sanctify means “to set apart for sacred use or to make holy.” “Sanctify them in the truth.”  Who’s Jesus talking about? He’s talking about the people that God has given Him—those who believe in Him. And not just those living in first century Israel who believe in Him. Verse 20 makes this clear: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.” Those who will hear the preaching of God’s people and believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior.

What is truth? Another survey tell us that another large group of Americans believe there is absolute truth but that it can be found in all major religions. So they pick and choose from each one what appeals to them—this seems to be very popular right now. I’ve been in Christian homes that prominently display a statue of Buddha in the living room. “Oh,” they say, “I’m a Christian and a Buddhist. Buddha has lots of good things to say.” Certainly every major religion has some good thoughts and ideas. And certainly we who are Christian should respect those other religions and focus on lifting up Jesus rather than putting those other religions down.

But don’t think, even for a single moment, that Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism are all teaching the same thing just using slightly different terminology. Don’t think, even for one minute, that salvation can be found in Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, or even Judaism.

Jesus said, “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:1-5

As Christians, we believe that in Jesus of Nazareth, we meet God in human form. None of the other religions make such a claim for Buddha, Mohammed, Moses or Confucius. Muslims and Jews believe that Jesus was a real person, maybe even a prophet, but they definitely don’t believe that He was the Son of God. They don’t believe that He was hung on a wooden cross for our sin; they don’t believe that He rose from the dead. None of them believe in a Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

And Jesus clearly taught that there is salvation only through belief in Him as Son of God. He wasn’t exclusive with regard to who could be saved—He included everybody. But with regard to the truth, He was definitely exclusive. John 14:6 “No one comes to the Father except through me.”

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. … Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

Acts 4:12 – Peter said, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Romans 10:9 “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

The truth matters because it is only when we know and believe in the truth of God’s Word that we will receive the gift of salvation, of eternal life.

John 17:3 “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

What is truth? We have it from Jesus Himself: “God’s Word is truth.”

The entire Bible is God’s Holy Word. It is God breathed, inspired by the Holy Spirit. I believe that He protected it from any serious error. There are things in it that I don’t fully understand, but for me it is truth. Here I take my stand.

In a world that’s changing faster than we can keep up with it, isn’t it reassuring to you that God’s Word never changes? And that, despite all the efforts of so many people over the years, no one has ever been able to disprove a single thing written in this book?

One of those who tried to prove that the Bible was not God’s Word was an 18th century philosopher named Voltaire. He predicted that within a hundred years the Bible would become a forgotten book found only in museums.

Guess what? A hundred years after he made that prediction, his home was being used as an office for the Geneva Bible Society.

But what about all those people who say there’s no absolute truth? How can we know for sure? Just think about it. We believe all kinds of things absolutely—believe them by faith.

By faith we assume other drivers will stop at a red light, that they’ll follow traffic laws. By faith we assume the pharmacist filled our prescription correctly. By faith, we assume that when we flip a switch, lights will come on. By faith, we assume that when we turn a faucet, water will come out. By faith we assume that when we walked into this sanctuary, the floor won’t collapse under us. I could go on an on. The point is: how many things do we do every single day without stopping to wonder whether they’ll really work the way we expect them to? We’re only surprised when they don’t work the way we expect them to.

But what about other things? Can we really have absolute truth on things like what’s right and wrong? Of course we can. The Bible clearly tells us what’s right and what’s wrong. When Mollie Tibbets was murdered this summer, do you know anyone who thought that wasn’t wrong? When that young golf star at Iowa State was raped and murdered recently, did you hear people saying about her murderer, “Well, we’ve all got to do what’s right for us?” Of course not!

Matthew 15:19 says, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, and adulteries, and all other sins that we commit.” War comes from the human heart. Division and quarreling come from the human heart. Family problems come from the human heart. Rebellion comes from the human heart.

Today there is much debate even among churches about all kinds of things. While on the surface, these debates seem to be about sexuality, they’re really about truth. The real issue is this: Is the Bible God’s absolute truth for us or just an ancient book that needs updating?

Can we rely completely on God’s Word or should we listen to the world?

The late Billy Graham wrote in his autobiography, Just as I Am, about the turning point in his ministry, a turning point based on this very question of what is truth? The year was 1949. Billy was 30 years old. He was about to begin an evangelistic crusade in Los Angeles, but he was struggling with his faith. A friend had told him that he was 50 years out of date. His friend said, “People no longer accept the Bible as being inspired the way you do. Your faith is too simple. Your language is out of date. You’re going to have to change your message if you want to be successful.”

Billy was staying at a retreat center in the San Bernadino Mountains at that time. Unable to sleep one night, he got up, took his Bible, and went for a walk in the woods. He found a tree stump and put his Bible on it. Kneeling down, he prayed, “Oh, God! There are many things in this book that I don’t understand. There are some things in it that don’t seem to agree with modern science. But Father, I am making a decision right now to accept this as Your Word—by faith! I’m going to allow faith to go beyond my intellectual questions and doubts, and I will believe this to be Your inspired Word.”

Billy Graham wrote in his book, “In my heart and mind, I knew a spiritual battle in my soul had been fought and won.”

What is truth? Jesus is truth. In a world filled with deception, delusion and lies, a world where everyone is wondering what we can do, we have the answer—turn to Jesus. Turn to the truth.

Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. If you don’t believe and accept Him as your Savior, you’ll die in your sin and you’ll be lost. That’s the truth.

The truth is that God loves you, loves you with a love beyond anything you can even begin to imagine—because it’s beyond anything humanly possible.

God’s love sent His Son to the cross to die and shed His blood for you. He would have died even if you had been the only person in the world. He died on that wooden cross for you and God raised Him from the dead and He’s alive.

What might our church look like if each one of us followed Billy Graham’s example and built our entire life on absolute truth. How grown up would we be if we stopped being casual about Bible reading and Bible study? How grown up would we be if we stopped being reluctant to depend completely on the Bible for all the important answers to life’s problems?

What might we do if we were willing to declare, both individually and as a congregation, “Jesus Christ and the Holy Bible are truth for me, and here I take my stand!”

Let us pray.