Tonight I’m really excited about our lesson. We talked last week about the darkness we find ourselves in, and tonight we get to talk about the hope and the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I’m going to pray, and we are going to jump right into things, because we have a lot to cover.
Father, I thank you for the ability to worship you, to sing songs to you, Lord, because you have done so much. So Lord, I pray tonight as we spend time together that you would lead us to just that, to worship your name. We pray these things in Jesus’ name, amen.
The world is full of counterfeits. The thing about a counterfeit is it looks like the real thing to the untrained eye. We have to be trained on what distinguishes the real thing from a fake. At the end of the day, the counterfeit has no value whatsoever. Someone is attempting to substitute that counterfeit for something of great value. Otherwise, there would be no need to make the counterfeit. By the time you realize it’s a counterfeit, the thief is usually off with your payment.
Tonight we’re going to talk about not a counterfeit redemption but a real redemption, something you can stake your life on, something you can find life in. That redemption is our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. I’m going to back up just a little bit before we get too far in that, and I want to explain to you our philosophy of ministry on the missional front. It’s in Acts 17, a type of missional ministry, something you’re probably familiar with if you had time to do your homework this week, at least the text.
We might summarize this missional philosophy as: “We the church, lovingly engaging culture with the gospel.” That’s what we want to do in terms of a missional component to our program. That means we want to lovingly engage the surrounding ideas and ideologies of our culture with the hope and truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Now at times, some of these surrounding ideas and ideologies infiltrate the church. This is where we need gospel reform, which we alluded to in our first week together. We want to do all this while making disciples of Christ.
So some ideas in our culture that are contrary to the gospel… The first is the idea, “I’m a good person with a good heart.” You hear this a lot from well-meaning people. Hopefully, in our time together last week we dispelled much of this false belief. Although mankind was created initially, originally, good, he has fallen from a state of dignity into a state of depravity.
We talked about a couple of different texts there. Jeremiah 17:9, which says the heart is deceitful and wicked and desperately sick. Not exactly the good heart we are often deceived into believing we have. “We have a good heart. We are basically good people. We have no need of redemption.” If you think about redemption, it’s for people who actually need to be redeemed. It seems simple, but I think it’s something that is sometimes overlooked in some churches.
The second text we looked at last week, at the conclusion of our time together, was Ephesians 2:1-3. It says, “And you were dead in the trespasses…” You were dead. That’s your state. “…in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world…” Is that following God? No. That is following and serving another kingdom.
“…following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience––among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath…” We were enemies of God. “…like the rest of mankind.”
The second idea we’ll be working on, both this week and next week, as we spend time together is this idea. “”As long as I have some notion of God, as long as I believe in a god, I must be okay with God.” When you ask people about their beliefs, they’ll say, “Oh, I believe in God.” And that’s the end of the story, right? That’s as far as the conversation goes. This belief is held regardless of what god is being served or how I actually respond to the one true God.
When confronted with questions about God, it’s easy to side step the issue by saying we’re spiritual, which is true of all human beings. We are spiritual beings, but that does not give us right standing before God. This idea of New Age spirituality, this kind of vague pluralistic spirituality is nothing new. As you read Acts 17 this week, you realized this is the same type of culture Paul engaged in Athens when he entered in, which we’ll talk about in great detail on the back end of our talk today.
One place we see this vague pluralistic spirituality in today’s culture is in the rooms of most traditional 12-step programs. To quote from the”Big Book”of Alcoholics Anonymous, it speaks of a broad highway that is all-inclusive that leads to “happy destiny.” Compare this to Scripture that says, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.”
If by “all-inclusive” you mean this message of the gospel goes out to every tribe, tongue, and nation, then you would be correct. If that’s the way we’re to interpret that. But if you mean by “all-inclusive” that regardless of what god you serve we are headed to the same destiny, then we are in serious error. Now let’s orient ourselves for a moment here in terms of where we are in this gospel narrative. We talked last week about creation and fall. This week we will be talking about redemption.
Before we get too far into this message of redemption, I want to talk a little bit about this idea of consummation. What does the believer in Jesus Christ hope and look forward to? This is from The Village Church Statement of Faith: “The consummation of all things includes the future, physical, visible, personal, and glorious return of Jesus Christ, the resurrection of the dead and the translation of those alive in Christ, the judgment of the just and the unjust, and the fulfillment of Christ’s kingdom in the new heavens and the new earth.
In the consummation, Satan, with his hosts and all those outside Christ, is finally separated from the benevolent presence of God, enduring eternal punishment, but the righteous, in glorious bodies, shall live and reign with him forever, serving him and giving him unending praise and glory. Then shall the eager expectation of creation be fulfilled, and the whole earth shall proclaim the glory of God who makes all things new.”
Hallelujah. The destination of God’s people is a holy people living and worshiping a holy God in a holy place. We see this in Revelation 21-22. I kind of wish this was part of the homework, but we’ll just look there really quickly. We’ll just look at the first seven verses in chapter 21, if you’ll turn in your Bibles to Revelation 21.
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ And he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.'”
Isn’t that great? That is what the believer has to look forward to. So by what means might we get there? We talked last week… When we were talking in the creation and the fall, we saw in the middle of this fracture in the universe, the unraveling of creation, immediately God begins to unveil his plan. He begins to speak prophetically about what is to come, about this coming Redeemer, this coming Savior, who would come and crush the Serpent’s head. It says he will bruise his heel. This coming Savior who would be a sacrifice for our sins, who would pay a ransom with his own life.
If you think about redemption, redemption is the freedom purchased by a redeemer who pays a ransom to free someone from bondage. Christ is our Redeemer who paid a ransom with his life for our freedom. That’s why he came: to set us free from the enslaving interplay of sin and suffering. We see this throughout the Old Testament. In fact, on the walk to Emmaus… Jesus appears after his crucifixion and resurrection to many, but he appears to these men, and he discloses to them… He opens the Scriptures for them and reveals to them all that was in the Old Testament that was pointing to him. Wouldn’t that be a cool time with the Lord?
The Old Testament is about Jesus. What is in the Old Testament concealed is revealed in the New Testament. The Old Testament is filled with types and shadows and prophecies of Christ. One of those is in Isaiah 52-53. Did you guys enjoy spending time considering how accurately that described the suffering servant who was to come? Isn’t that amazing that he could be described with such accuracy?
Today we will talk about what the implications of this redemption are for mankind in setting us free from the slavery of sin and suffering. One example of this idea of redemption… Did I share with you about the olive tree? Yeah. Bringing life from what were the dead roots. This is a picture of redemption. We were dead in our trespasses and sin, and God made us alive in Christ. I’m still the same vessel, but he has made something new come out of something that was dead.
Another visual of redemption might be the compost pile. Did I share this with you guys? No? You’re like, “The compost pile? That doesn’t sound very attractive.” Think about it, though, for a second. The compost pile is what is leftover, what is useless, what is refuse, and somehow this master gardener gathers all this together, and after a season it becomes useful. In fact, if you use the church as an illustration of the garden in our hearts… The testimonies of the saints, those who have been redeemed in Christ, provide the nutrients now that are necessary to bring life in the church. Without those testimonies, the church is dead.
Tonight we are going to begin in a different place. We’re going to begin on the ground with a specific trouble and see how the gospel applies specifically in the areas of alcoholism and addiction. Now I know the majority of you are not in here because that’s your struggle, but I don’t want to lose you here. I don’t want to just go into a marriage conference and you’re single so you just check out and you don’t listen. I promise you this is relevant to you.
I want you to be able to understand addiction. Never after tonight do I ever want you to scratch your head at an addict and go, “I just don’t get what they do.” I want you to understand, and I want you to understand not just because you cognitively understand the cycle they’re in but because you yourself see that you do the very same thing. So don’t lose me here. It’s going to take us a little while to get there, but I promise you we will get there.
We’re going to first start with alcoholism. Because we are a missional ministry and we want to engage the culture with the gospel, that means we have to understand the gospel, but we also have to understand the culture. What does the culture say about alcoholism? We’re already preparing you to engage missionally in the culture around you. We just got to week two, right?
The three-part disease model taught in AA and treatment settings… Right out of the gate, we already potentially have some problems. There’s this idea of disease up there. For some Christians, we get really twisted in that, and we begin to argue right out of the gate, “Oh, this isn’t a disease.” I just want to say I don’t think that’s a good place to debate. I’m going to tell you a couple of reasons why.
First, because I think we need to concede to the culture as much as biblically permissible. Okay? I’m not a doctor, and I don’t know whether or not there are some physical aspects to alcoholism. I’ll explain some of what the research shows and what some of the debate is. Fundamentally, we can agree it is a type of disease. It’s a spiritual disease. Remember Jeremiah 17:9? So yes, it is a disease.
If you remember the diagrams we rushed through at the end of last week, it’s not inconsistent with our biblical model to say that sin affects the body. We’ve already identified the problem as sin, but it also affects the body. It also affects the family and the society. So to say there aren’t physical aspects of the disease of alcoholism… There’s no reason for that debate, because it’s not biblically inconsistent for that to be a possibility.
The way this goes is that there are three different aspects to this disease. There’s the physical allergy, the mental obsession, and the spiritual malady. I’ll explain the physical allergy first. The physical allergy is this idea that the body of an alcoholic processes alcohol differently than a normal person. The way the story goes is that a researcher was doing research (that’s what they do) on alcoholic cadavers. What they found was a chemical, a heroin-like substance, called tetrahydroisoquinoline. This heroin-like substance was used in battlefield amputees, and then they had to stop using it because it was so highly addictive.
So when an alcoholic would drink a few drinks, this chemical (the way the story goes) would be produced, and therefore, that would produce a craving that was beyond his control. He just needed more and more and more in that. Now there is a lot of debate, and a lot of research has said that’s not true, but if at some point we were to find that is true, it would not be inconsistent with our model. It’s just like if I’m a diabetic and I eat sugar, that’s poison for me. My body processes sugar differently than a normal person. It’s not inconsistent.
The second thing here is the mental obsession. The mental obsession for the alcoholic is this obsession to drink like a normal person. There are all of these different methods and everything that someone will try to do just so they can maintain relationship with alcohol without letting it go completely. The obsession is to control it, control something that has become uncontrollable.
There’s this mental obsession… It’s kind of like putting your hand on a hot stove. There has to be something more to it, I guess is what I’m saying. If you put your hand on a hot stove and it burns you, you would take your hand off the hot stove. You wouldn’t keep putting your hand on the hot stove. In the same way, if it was just a physical allergy, then you’d probably stop drinking alcohol, just like if you were allergic to strawberries you’d probably stop eating strawberries. Right? So there has to be something more to it.
There’s this mental obsession. What researchers will say is that you can’t intervene at the level of the physical allergy or the mental obsession. I think where we start to get into the spiritual malady is this idea that “I can’t live without it. I can’t imagine my life without it.” If I’m obsessing about ways to keep it in my life, that must mean I can’t imagine life without it. We’re going to start to understand that a little bit later.
But there’s this spiritual malady going on. A spiritual malady is a spiritual problem, a spiritual disconnect. What is said in that is unless the spiritual malady is overcome, a person is somewhat hopeless. So intervention has to be at the level of this spiritual malady. Now you can recognize a counterfeit for anything that promises freedom from the spiritual malady apart from Jesus Christ. Jesus is the remedy for the insanity of sin, and if you promise somebody a gospel promise that they can find freedom from this spiritual malady apart from Jesus Christ, then you are setting up a false teaching and a false gospel.
I’m going to start (I know we’re like 20 minutes into this and I’m still saying I’m going to start)… We’re going to start with an idea that is in the culture. Though I will be teaching tonight about the sufficiency of Scripture and the superiority of the gospel as it relates to overcoming alcoholism and addictions, I want to begin by quoting the observations of a well-known psychiatrist from the 1930s. His name is Dr. William Silkworth. His thoughts have been published in “The Doctor’s Opinion” of the “Big Book.”
Now just a little side note to my fundamentalist friends: I am not going to the “Big Book” for the solution. I’m going to the “Big Book” for an opportunity to engage the culture. We’ve already said there’s agreement in what can be observed, but where the disagreement begins to happen and what separates is the interpretation of those observations. So we’re starting with observation.
These are Dr. Silkworth’s observations. After working tirelessly with alcoholics and addicts, he says, “Men and women drink essentially because they like the effect produced by alcohol.” True? Yeah, okay. Alcoholic, non-alcoholic…yes, that’s true. Okay. “The sensation [for the alcoholic] is so elusive that, while they admit it is injurious, they cannot after a time differentiate the true from the false. To them, their alcoholic life seems the only normal one.
They are restless, irritable, and discontented unless they can again experience the sense of ease and comfort which comes at once by taking a few drinks––drinks which they see others taking with impunity. After they have succumbed to the desire again, as so many do, and the phenomenon of craving develops, they pass through the well-known stages of a spree, emerging remorseful, with a firm resolution not to drink again. This is repeated over and over, and unless this person can experience an entire psychic change, there is very little hope of his recovery.”
He then after this speculates that… He believes there is this physical allergy and then humbly admits his inability to produce in his patients, those patients he cares so deeply for, what is necessary for their recovery. Psychiatrist, entire psychic change… He’s thinking in terms of what is familiar to him. He has seen it, but he can’t produce it.
Now we want to take his observation and kind of loosely lay this out. First, he says they’re irritable, restless, and discontent. This is, I think, that low-grade irritability Matt talked about. This is a result of this spiritual problem, this disconnectedness that’s going on spiritually, and it manifests itself in these terms. Then there’s this desire for relief. (This is in the back of your books, by the way.)
Then he says they see others drinking with impunity. They begin to think and obsess about the thing they believe is going to bring a sense of ease and comfort to this irritability, this restlessness, and this discontentedness. They have the first drink. It sends them into the well-known stages of a spree, and while they admit it injurious… That pain it creates, putting their hand on that hot stove, will grow to death.
It may start off as a loss of self-esteem, self-respect, personal relationships, institutions, but eventually leads to death as it robs them of the life God intended for them. They emerge remorseful (another word for sorrow) with resolutions, promise not to do this again, and this is repeated over and over again. When an alcoholic or an addict sees that, he says, “That’s exactly me.” You win the confidence of an addict because they understand you know what they’re experiencing. Doing the same thing over and over again endlessly, tirelessly, and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity.
Here’s the thing. It really doesn’t matter what you substitute in there. We’re going to talk a little bit more about that. It still is enslaving. This idea of insanity… One guy said, “Does that mean I’m crazy?” I said, “Yes, but it’s a whole lot worse than that.” If you’re just merely a little cognitively off, that would not nearly be the same as the spiritual problem we have in terms of where we were last week, in terms of dead in our trespasses and sin, following the course of this world, enemies of God, under God’s wrath. To be a little cognitively off would be an upgrade.
The thing about this is it doesn’t matter how much you understand this cognitively. The knowledge of that is not going to bring you out of it. We said observation apart from revelation leads to speculation, so we don’t want to look to the things that are seen but the things that are unseen, because they’re eternal. So at every point on this, we want to begin to explain the observations of men biblically so we might find the hope the gospel offers.
The spiritual malady we talked about last week. Romans 5:12: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…” This is where this restlessness, irritableness, discontentedness… Mark Driscoll says sin is the marring of shalom, of peace. This isn’t just the insanity cycle of alcohol; this is the insanity cycle of sin. How many in this room have never felt irritable, restless, and discontent? This is not an alcoholic condition; this is a human condition.
There is this desire for relief. Romans 8:22 says the whole creation is groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. We groan. There’s suffering. We desire relief. We desire rescue. We desire redemption. Here’s the thing. The Enemy offers counterfeits. He offers counterfeit forms of redemption that are not redemptive, that are further slavery.
My question for you is… Maybe alcohol is not your thing. Maybe drugs are not your thing. But when you’re irritable, restless, and discontent, when you don’t turn to God, what do you turn to? That’s what you need to consider. What do you put your hope in for rescue, relief, and redemption? Temptation, we saw in Genesis 3, is a real personal evil, tempting the flesh through the world, offering counterfeit forms of redemption. He dances shiny things before our deceitful hearts. Here’s the thing. If it didn’t look good, it wouldn’t be tempting. Right?
James 1:13-14 says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” We can’t blame God. Right? We are lured and enticed. That’s what the Enemy does. He lures and entices us with something we desire in our hearts. He knows how to bait your hook. He knows what you’re after. He knows what you love.
“Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” We could just follow this around all the way to death. He is tempting our flesh. He’s offering our flesh that which is going to give us immediate gratification in the moment. It’s short-term benefit, long-term destruction. He’s tempting our hearts. It’s saying these desires originate in our hearts. So until our hearts are changed, until something happens here, we’re going to be hopelessly enslaved.
Now at the end of that James passage it says, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers.” Somewhere within this deception is a lie, and it’s the Romans 1:25 lie. Romans 1:25 says, “…they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!” It’s the blurring of the lines between creation and Creator. We begin to evaluate the creation and look to the creation for satisfaction rather than the Creator.
The problem here is that when you turn to a created thing, like when I turn to a bottle, and my hope is to fix… I have a physical thing, and I’m trying to fix what kind of problem? A spiritual problem. It’s never going to work. It’s silly. It’s that circular silliness we’re talking about. An addiction is basically when God says, “You love that more than you love me. I’m going to give you over.” Look at this. This is surrounding that Romans 1:25 we just read. It says:
“Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves…” Verse 26: “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature…” Then verse 28 says, “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.”
Physically, spiritually, mentally given over. Does that sound familiar? Remember what we talked about, what they proposed as far as the three-part disease model? Physical component, spiritual component, and mental component, given over. Another example of this might be Isaiah 5:5: “And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.” We will just be overrun. It’s like God is saying, “You want that? I will give it to you in the fullest. It’s what you want. It’s what you’re asking for.”
Addictions fundamentally are a worship disorder. We worship that which is uppermost in our affections. That is the definition of worship: that thing that sits in the first place. We will pursue the things we love. So if I love God with all my heart, if I say that and I don’t pursue God, that’s probably not true. I will sacrifice lesser loves for the thing I love the most. I think I told you guys… As an addict, I was willing to sacrifice family, job, all of these things, in order to maintain relationship with the thing I loved the most, which was whatever that drug was that was providing me satisfaction.
I was also asked at this workshop, “If my child is caught up in drugs, how might I know if I don’t catch him?” Well, look at the people he or she is running around with. What do they have in common? Are they part of a bike club? Do they enjoy triathlons? If everyone around them is using drugs, then unless you have quite an evangelist of a kid (and that’s probably what they’ll tell you), then you have to kind of wonder. What is it that is drawing them together?
People gather with common interests. Right? They form community around interests, around common loves, and common forms of worship. There is great unity, because you’ll make decisions based on how to get more of the thing we worship. You think about division. You think about conflict. It’s because you’re wanting different things. There’s something else, or there are two different things that are reigning and ruling in those people’s hearts, and they’re wanting the other to serve that.
Proverbs 16:25 says there is a way that seems right to man that leads to death. It says it twice, interestingly enough. It seems right. It seemed like it was going to work. We wanted it to work. In Romans 8:20-21: “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it…” Another word the NIV substitutes there is frustration. The creation was subjected to frustration. It’s frustrating to stay endlessly stuck in this insanity of sin. Not willingly, but because of him who subjected it. Who do you think that is? God. No, I wanted it to work.
God is frustrating my attempts to find satisfaction apart from him. If God is not frustrating your attempts, if it’s working for you, I think then you’re in big trouble. Because there’s some hope here. There’s hope in that frustration, that the creation itself would be set free from its bondage to decay, that they would realize there’s emptiness in these broken cisterns, and they would return to God and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
We might look at this insanity cycle as kind of irreligious behavior. Right? We think of drugs, we think of alcohol, sex, relationships, all of these things. But listen. You can be caught up in the same cycle of addicted behavior in religious behavior. When you fail, you just go, “Okay, I’m just going to read my Bible more. I’m just going to start going to church. I’m going to start hanging around good people.” It becomes about rules rather than the relationship God is calling us back to with him.
What that’s going to lead to… People believe the answer to unrighteousness, then, is this self-righteousness, that I can have a righteousness of my own, when that’s not the gospel at all. The gospel is about relationship and receiving Christ’s righteousness. That’s the only way you’ll be able to please God. You’ll never be perfect enough. What a weight off our shoulders. In the midst of the darkness, in the midst of the insanity, light begins to find its way in there by God’s grace. He begins to shine light in our hearts and expose the darkness of our hearts. This takes us back to that story of creation.
“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” As that light enters in and reveals to us the truth about Jesus Christ, we can begin to understand this: “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”
It reveals to us the truth of Christ. We receive the Holy Spirit. We receive a new heart. So how are we to respond to this grace of God? Do we receive this grace of God and just say, “Thank you, God” and continue in our sin? No. But God shows us mercy so that we might return to him, we might change directions and repent. We’re going to talk a lot about that next week.
This text says there are two kinds of sorrow. There’s this kind of sorrow that’s going to keep us perpetually stuck up in this insanity cycle. There were years and years where I was sorrowful every single day and making promises I couldn’t keep. But there is a sorrow that’s according to the will of God that will actually lead me out. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” He will give us a new spirit and a new heart.
Now, back to engaging culture. Traditional step 2 says, “We came to believe a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” It sounds kind of vague, this idea of a vague power greater than ourselves, spirituality. Here’s where we’ll begin to look through Acts 17. This’ll be the last section of text we look at this evening. I wish this message was preached (and I pray that it will be) in every 12-step group in the country and in the world. Paul is in Athens in verse 16. He’s not just in Athens doing nothing. He has some time on his hands, but he’s busy about God’s work.
It says, “Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.” The setting here is a city filled with these temples built for the gods they served. There’s something wrong here, and it’s provoking something inside of Paul. His spirit is provoked, because this city and its people are operating contrary to God’s intended design. They’re worshiping false gods, and he is burdened for these people as he observes their slavery, and he brings them a message of hope. He loved them enough to speak to them, even though he may face rejection.
“So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.” He was in the synagogue and in the marketplace. He was with the religious and the irreligious, contending for the faith. It says, “Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, ‘What does this babbler wish to say?’ Others said, ‘He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities’––because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.”
There were two groups there. One was pursuing righteousness apart from God, this self-righteousness. The other was pursuing pleasure apart from God. They were the hedonists. And why was he mocked? Because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.
“And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, ‘May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.’ Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.” There’s a certain ignorance to intellectualism, because it’ll never satisfy. You’ll just need to have to learn more and more and more.
“So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: ‘Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious.'” Remember, religion is man’s vain attempts to appease God. So they have all of these temples set up. They’re making these sacrifices to these gods trying to keep them happy. He perceives that they are very religious, and he sees that they’re enslaved to their religion.
“For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship…” This is a worship text. “…I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.'” This vague pluralistic society, this god as you understand him, this power greater than yourself. He engages them with an understanding of their culture. He has stood with them. He understands them. He says:
“What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything…” “The gods you have are dependent on you to keep them happy.” “…since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” “The gods you’re serving are not like the one true God.”
“And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.'”
Do you see what he’s doing? He’s quoting their culture. He knows what they’re saying. Again, he quotes pagan literature and engages where they are at while trying to lead them to the gospel. He’s not arguing with them about whether or not they are yet God’s offspring, if they are yet God’s offspring, but instead says if they are God’s offspring, then they must also believe these things. He says, “Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.” In other words, you don’t get to make up your own god.
In AA, one of the testimonies the program is founded on is that of Bill Wilson. In Bill’s story in chapter 1, he receives advice from a spiritual friend who tells him he can choose his own conception of God, and at that point, the scales fall off. Understanding all of the biblical evidence and understanding God’s character, that he’s jealous for our hearts, it does not seem like wise counsel. Counseling that your god could be anything you want it to be is the counsel of idolatry, and it is breaking the very first commandment.
The Israelites made up their own god in the wilderness, the golden calf. “I don’t like the way God is doing things, so I’ll make a calf. A calf won’t hurt me. I can steer the calf however I want him to go.” We kind of want to turn God into the Pillsbury Doughboy. This calf eventually became dung. If we have issues with God, who’s good and perfect, on whose end do you think the problem is on? It says here:
“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
If you have been reborn, if you have been indwelt by the Spirit, you will recognize and respond to the gospel in faith. You will repent. You will turn to him, because you will see he is better than these false gods. He has gathered all of us here to communicate that message, that he is better. He wants to rescue us from our slavery that we would repent and turn to him, that we might find freedom in him, that we might return to our original created design, which is to make much of him.
“Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, ‘We will hear you again about this.’ So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.”
One of these guys in the council comes to faith. In his empty searching, he encounters Paul, who tells him about Jesus and the resurrection, and he repents, and he finds freedom. He believes and becomes a Christ follower. So there are three responses: we can mock the gospel, we may have a desire to hear more, or we may believe.
I personally have a growing love and concern for those in traditional programs who may be under the false belief that they are on the road to happy destiny because they have worked steps or have stopped drinking or using drugs, but have no love for Christ. This is a lie. Just because you are morally conformed does not mean you’re inwardly transformed. You cannot be on the road to happy destiny without Jesus.
God calls us back to him into a relationship, and that comes through the work of Jesus Christ. We don’t want to be vague. We want to be explicit. We don’t want to leave it open to speculation, for God has already revealed it to us and spoken into this idea of vague spirituality. To clarify, a redeemed truth of step 2 is that God lovingly intervened into our chaos and provided a remedy for the insanity of our sin and a way back into fellowship with him. We believe that by grace through faith in Jesus Christ we can be redeemed. Then our text:
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ––by grace you have been saved––and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so 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, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Let’s pray.
Lord, we thank you that you have not left us in the misery of our own decisions, but in love, Lord, you came to rescue and to redeem and to bring relief, Lord, and to lead us, your people, out. So Lord, I pray that where belief is lacking, where faith is lacking, Lord, you would grant belief, that you would stir in the hearts of those here the truth, that you would shine light in the darkness, that you would bring a kind of brokenness, Lord, that would lead ultimately to you. For those who have believed, Lord, I pray that we would rejoice and that we would leave here worshiping you tonight for all you’ve done to rescue us from the dominion of darkness. It’s in Jesus’ name I pray, amen.