Service Video Message Video Message Audio The service video is unavailable at this time. The sermon video is unavailable at this time. The sermon audio is unavailable at this time. Scripture Verses 2 Peter 1:5-8, 1 John 5:12, Acts 2:38, Acts 3:19, Acts 10:43, Acts 22:16, Acts 2:40-41, 1 John 1:9, Matthew 6:14-15, Colossians 3:13 Downloads & Resources Our Past Dr. Jon Morrissette - 10/20/2002 How do Christians grow? Describe the process. What does it mean to grow? What are the precursors to spiritual growth? How does growth begin? What stimulates growth? What accelerates growth? What stunts our growth? What are the developmental stages we should grow through as Christians? What are the marks of Christian maturity? Why do some of us thrive spiritually while others of us seem to wilt and lose liveliness? Should we ever reach a point where we stop growing? There are a few of the practical questions we will be answering in the coming weeks. One thing is certain. God wants us to grow and thrive spiritually. In 2 Peter 1:5-8 (NIV) Peter says, "For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." How does spiritual growth happen? Spiritual growth is a gradual process that unfolds over time. Spiritual growth is progressive. It involves addition and multiplication of Christ-like qualities in our lives. These qualities include faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, kindness, and love. Spiritual growth is concerned with quality, with effectiveness, and with productivity. Spiritual growth is a process that requires and is worthy of our effort and energy. Spiritual growth doesn’t happen accidentally or incidentally or by default. It requires intentionality and purpose. And spiritual growth requires a personal, life-giving connection with Jesus Christ. As we learned last week in 1 Corinthians 3:6 we can plant seeds and water them, but ultimately God is the one who causes all things to grow. That includes growing us! How do we begin growing? This morning we concern ourselves with one question. How do we get growing? It is impossible to get growing until we first break free from the past. You can think of our past as the hard outer shell of a seed. The past is something that is part of us. It brought us to where we are now, but it cannot be allowed to imprison us forever. For a seed to begin growing it must literally break free from its shell. But how? A seed can only break free from its shell by receiving something outside of itself. As a seed absorbs nutrients and moisture from its environment, it swells because of all the good things it is receiving. Eventually the hard outer shell of a seed cracks under the inner pressure of a new life that has germinated and taken hold and is growing. The seed quickly transitions into a seedling as it discards its old, hard outer shell. Likewise, in order for us to grow spiritually we too must break free from our past. But in order to break free from the past we must take on the good things that exist. These things do not exist within us as modern psychology would have us believe, but rather these things exist beyond us. These are things that God provides in his wisdom and grace. As we take on these good things our inner life grows and swells. Eventually our inner life reaches a point when it can no longer be contained by our limiting past. And then the miracle of growth happens. We break free. We take on a new existence, in a new body, with a bright future. We leave the darkness and hardness of the past and stretch toward the warmth of the light of God’s love and truth. We grow, we mature, we bear fruit, and we thrive. Jesus Christ helps us break free from our past. Forgiveness in Jesus Christ is one very good thing that God gives us that helps us break free from the sin-hardened outer shell of our past. We cannot break free from the past to grow until we first take on God’s forgiveness. As we receive God’s forgiveness in Christ, as we absorb God’s love, a crack begins to form in our hard outer shell. The hardness softens. And then suddenly we realize that our sinful past no longer imprisons us. The oppressive power of sin that was once very real has been weakened. And sin can no longer contain forgiveness or hold back God’s forgiveness. Because God’s forgiveness is too powerful. His forgiveness is too wonderful. And then a miracle happens. God’s forgiveness propels us out of our dark sinful pasts, out of our hard protective shells, into a bright future which is full of hope and glory. And the past is subjected to the present and the future. The past no longer imprisons us. The Christian life begins with forgiveness and is only possible because of forgiveness. Until we encounter God’s forgiveness, until we personally receive God’s forgiveness, nothing spiritually can really take place. Forgiveness is the starting point. It is the precursor to spiritual growth. Have you been forgiven by God? Are you sure he forgave your sin? Do you have doubts? Do you have assurance? How confident are you? Ten percent? Fifty percent? One hundred percent? Some of us have failed to personalize God's forgiveness. Quite simply stated, a lot of us have failed to grow because we have failed to personalize God’s forgiveness. Some of us, very few of us, have flat out refused God’s forgiveness. You’ve resigned yourself to one day standing before a perfect and holy God without Christ as your righteousness. You’ve decided to go it alone and take your medicine. You’ve believed the lie that everyone goes to heaven anyway. Is this you? Some of us subtly refuse God’s forgiveness. We cannot forgive ourselves and we don’t expect God to forgive us either. We're too proud. We're still working and trying to impress God with all of our spiritual activity. We're trying to earn his forgiveness, just like we have had to earn everything else in life. Does this sound like you? Some of us refuse to believe that God will forgive us. We think that our sins are too big. We feel guilty because even after all these years, our sin still seems so real. At times, we're haunted by how our sinning seems like second nature. And besides, we keep slipping and God doesn’t care much for guilty slippers. So we stay away. Does this sound like you? Some of us do not think we need God’s forgiveness. There are those of us who think, "I’m a good person and I’ve never done anything to warrant God’s judgment! Certainly not death. Forgiveness is for those other sinners, you know, those worse than me. The ones who live across the tracks." And finally there are those of us who have never even considered forgiveness. There are some of us who have never been able to move beyond the past. In fact, we are still living there. There is this dysfunctional, corrupted part of us that still clings to the past, thinking that life can be found there. This explains why modern psychology is so enticing to us. We want a professional to help us sift through our past, to turn over every stone, in the hope that some secret in our past will unlock the key to a new, better life in the future. But life is not found in the sin-hardened shell of the past. Life is to be found as we break free from the past and draw closer to God through forgiveness in Christ. Life is found through a new beginning, not through the same old conclusions. God wants us to have a new beginning. His forgiveness allows us to leave the past with all its entanglements, and move beyond darkness. So how do we receive God’s forgiveness? God’s forgiveness is conditioned on three things. We receive forgiveness by accepting Jesus Christ. God’s forgiveness is only available through Jesus Christ. To be forgiven, we must have Christ. 1 John 5:12 (NIV) states forcefully, "He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life." More clearly than any other book of the Bible, Acts tells us how to accept Jesus Christ. Acts details the experiences of the early Christians who sought God’s forgiveness. Acts gives us real life examples and clears the fog about what we should do. Consider several passages in the book of Acts. In Acts 2:38 (NIV) Peter tells the early believers what they must to do be saved. He says, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." In Acts 3:19 (NIV) Peter again tells the believers, "Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord." In Acts 10:43 (NIV) we are told, "...everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." In Acts 22:16 (NIV) Ananias instructs Paul, "And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name." We receive initial forgiveness by accepting Jesus Christ as lord and savior through faith, confession, repentance, and baptism. If you have taken these steps in Jesus Christ, you have been forgiven. God has already forgiven you far more than you will ever fully realize. But if you have not taken these steps, consider Peter’s words in Acts 2:40-41 (NIV)."With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, 'Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.' Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day." This is a warning and a plea to those who do not yet have Christ. "He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life." You get forgiven the moment you get Christ. Why put off God’s forgiveness any longer than necessary? Faith. Repentance. Confession. Baptism. The Bible tells of a second condition by which we may receive God’s forgiveness. We receive forgiveness by confessing sin. Listen carefully to what John says in 1 John 1:9 (NIV)."If we confess our sins, he (God) is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." Notice that this verse begins with a conditional clause, "If we confess our sins..." God wants us to acknowledge all of our sins in his presence. He wants us to confess our sins to him through prayer. The sooner we confess our sin, the better it is for us because God forgives us the very moment we confess our sin. And not only does he forgive us, he purifies us. In the last year I have been practicing an inner discipline. Obviously, I am striving to live a holy life that is pleasing to God in every way. But equally obvious is the fact that despite my best intentions, I sin. Just ask Lara if you don’t believe me. She'll set you straight. Better than anyone else, she sees me as I really am, in my weakness and in my strength. Whenever I sin there is a part of me that wants to hide like Adam and Eve. There is a part of me that wants to withdraw from God’s presence. But hiding accomplishes Satan’s goals, not God’s goals. God wants us to immediately acknowledge our sin and draw close to him for strength. When we do this he promises to forgive us and purify us. I have tried to discipline myself to pray whenever I sin. Nothing fancy or elaborate. "God, I screwed up again. Let’s put this sinful pattern to death. Purify me. Forgive me." I don’t do this perfectly, but it sure makes a huge difference when I do. The sin loses its power over me as I simply confess and ask for God’s forgiveness. Listen, I know what you are going through when it comes to confession. I’m human, or at least that’s what they tell me! Sometimes you don’t think God will forgive you. Am I right? There are times when you get so sick and tired of dragging yourself before God, asking his forgiveness and confessing the same old sins, that you just stop! There are times when you think, "I’ve really blown it. How could God ever forgive me? This one is really off the charts." There is only one sin that God will not forgive. The last I checked there was only one unforgivable sin. God forgives everything else, that is if we confess our sins. Divorce is not the unforgivable sin. Violating your marriage vows is not the unforgivable sin. Infidelity is not the unforgivable sin. Lying, swearing, cheating, smoking, gambling, stealing, disobeying your parents, being greedy, covetousness, jealousy, and gossip aren’t unforgivable sins. Premarital sex and promiscuity are not the unforgivable sin. Private sexual sin, viewing pornography, lusting, homosexuality, bisexuality, and other such sins are not unforgivable sins either. Even cardinal sins like murder, and I dare say with a lump in my throat, violating others is not the unforgivable sin. In my parent’s home church, a couple has been discipling a murderer. They have led the man to Christ by helping him understand God’s forgiveness in Christ. And don’t forget, two of the greatest men God used in history were repentant murderers. Do you know who they were? Moses killed an Egyptian soldier. The apostle Paul ruthlessly murdered perhaps dozens of Christians. Such men, despite their past sin, could find cleansing and washing in Christ. We don’t think that our deep, dark, secret sins can be forgiven, but I’ve got news for you. The only sin that cannot be forgiven is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Blasphemy is the hardening of the heart. While God can forgive all the sins I just mentioned, all sin is treacherous ground, no matter how small the sin. Sin becomes lethal the moment we shrug our shoulders and say, "Oh well. No big deal. No harm done. I don’t think God noticed." We must take sin seriously, acknowledge it, confess it, and let God purify us. The unforgivable sin is refusing to seek God’s forgiveness through confession and not asking God to make you whole. There is a third, very controversial condition to forgiveness. We receive forgiveness by forgiving others. One way that we hold on to the past is by nursing anger or thoughts of revenge. You cannot experience God’s forgiveness while holding on to your past sins any more than you can experience God’s forgiveness while holding on to other’s past sins. In Matthew 6:14-15 (NIV) Jesus tosses another conditional clause at us. "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." For our own good, for our own spiritual vitality, we have to move toward forgiving those who have hurt us regardless of how deep that hurt is. In Colossians 3:13 (NIV) Paul says, "Forgive as the Lord forgave you." Christ is our model for what it means to forgive others. When Jesus was dying on the cross he prayed for his unrepentant persecutors in Luke 23:34 (NIV). "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they doing." He didn’t wait for them to repent. He didn’t wait for them to say that they were sorry. He didn’t hold their sin over them. He left the sins of his enemies at the foot of the cross, entrusting them to the Father. To break free from the past we must do the same thing. In Christ, God has forgiven us far more than we will ever have to forgive anyone else. Forgiving others shows we recognize this fact. Our job is to lay our worst hurts at the foot of the cross and pray that like us, our enemies will discover the forgiveness that’s available in Christ. Our job is to remember that God is just as faithful and fair in his dealings with us as he is in our dealings with our enemies. We break free from the past by taking on God’s forgiveness in Christ. Embracing God’s forgiveness is the beginning of the miracle of transformation. Receive forgiveness in Christ, confess your sins to God, and forgive as the Lord forgave you. This is where life in Christ begins.