The Love of God: Audio from St. Paul's United

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On August 15, 2009, it was my great privilege to preach at St. Paul’s United Church in Aylmer, Ontario. I am very grateful to my friend and co-worker Peter for the opportunity to share God’s Word with a great group of people.

You can also download an MP3 at the link below to listen to at your leisure.

The Love of God MP3 Audio

I hope you find the audio both profitable and enjoyable.

Update: For those who prefer or require a transcript, the text version follows:

Good evening. My name is Aaron Armstrong and I can’t tell you how excited I am to be here with you tonight – it’s a great privilege to be able to share with you a message that means a great deal to me, and I hope to you as well. But before we get started, let’s pray and we’ll get right to work.

A little about me – I wasn’t raised in a Christian home, didn’t really go to church, read the Bible or anything like that growing up. I did go to Sunday school a few times a kid, but I don’t remember anything about it aside from making a guitar out of yarn and some Styrofoam plates. As you can imagine, it made a great impact on me.

I wasn’t an overtly rebellious kid growing up – I didn’t do any of the things “bad” kids did. Didn’t party, didn’t smoke; I did fight and cuss a lot; but, we’ve all got something, right?

I worked hard, was an excellent student. I met a great girl in college; got a decent job… you know the deal. I was a fairly typical guy.

I wasn’t someone who believed he needed a Saviour. I was a good person, and if there was a God, which I wasn’t sure of, then he, she or it would be totally cool with me in the end.

Then, when I was 25, I became a Christian. And did that ever throw me for a loop…

If you have a Bible with you, turn with me to the book of Ephesians. If you don’t have a Bible, that’s cool; just soak it in. Eph. Chapter 2, starting at verse one:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked –

Let’s stop there for a second. The text says we were dead in our trespasses. What does dead mean? Dead here means we, in our natural state, are spiritually dead. We have no preference toward God nor any ability & desire to please Him. That’s what Paul’s saying when he says we are dead in our trespasses and sins. This is a spiritual issue.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, 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, like the rest of mankind.

Okay, so what does it mean to be, by nature, children of wrath?

A couple of things you need to know:

The Bible teaches that God is one being in three persons that live in perfect, loving, joyful community, lacking absolutely nothing. And out an overflow of this perfect, joyous love, God created the entire world and everything in it, including mankind. But the man and the woman were unique among all of creation. They were created in the image and likeness of God Himself. They were created for perfect, loving community, both with each other and with God. But then sin entered the world when the enemy of our souls, Satan, tempted us to disobey God. And we chose to do what seemed right in our own eyes, rather than what was right in God’s.

Ever since, all because of one man’s failure, humanity has lived under a curse of judgment – our once perfect relationship with God and with each other, shattered, seemingly, beyond repair. We choose what we want, rather than what God wants for us; we follow the desires of our hearts into ruin. We make ourselves enemies of God… and not one of us is exempt from this.

All because of one man’s sin.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, 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, like the rest of mankind.

The entire Old Testament testifies to this fact, over and over again. Man continually does whatever he wants, sometimes subtly, other times in outright defiance of God. And as he does this, he continues to store up wrath for himself. To sit under the judgment of a holy God.

The author of this book, the apostle Paul, knew all of this. He began his career as part of a Jewish sect known as the Pharisees. Scary smart guy, trained under one of the preeminent Rabbis of his day. His entire life was dedicated to the Scriptures – to the Law and the Prophets.

And he hated the Christians with a passion. And I don’t just mean he mocked them and harassed them. I mean he was out to see them exterminated.

He oversaw the murder of the first martyr, Stephen. (You can read about that in the book of Acts.) He “ravaged the church,” according to Acts 8:3. He was a bad dude who thought he was doing God’s work.

He was on his way to arrest and murder Christians in the city of Damascus when Jesus literally came down from Heaven and knocked him out, made him a Christian, and sent him out as His chosen instrument to bring the gospel to the nations.

So when he says that we are children of wrath, and sons of disobedience, he’s not just talking about his readers, he’s talking about himself.

He needs to remind both the Ephesians and us today of this truth.

We have to understand just how bad we truly are. That’s why he uses the word “all” in verse 3 – it means all of us. We have to understand that we all truly do need a Saviour. That we cannot save ourselves, no matter how “good” we are. My good works are like filthy rags in the eyes of God, because I use them to justify myself. To say “God, you owe me!”

We need to know how truly desperate our condition is in order to see the wonder of the gospel.

Because we are all worse than we ever feared.

Picking up at verse 4:

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.

Just chew on those words for a moment. “But God…” Do you know those are some of the sweetest words you’ll ever hear? Why?

Because God is rich in mercy. And if we didn’t have these two little words here, we’d have no reason to hope.

God has, in his mercy, taken children of wrath, dead in their trespasses, and made them alive in Christ. In Christ, we are no longer cursed, no longer under the wrathful judgment of God, but we are new creations. When Jesus Christ – the second person of the Trinity – was crucified, all our sins, our nature as children of wrath, were given to Him. And in its place, we were given His righteous standing with God. The great reformer Martin Luther called this “The Great Exchange” – my sin for Christ’s righteousness. Why? “Because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses.”

And I really need you to get this: He didn’t do this because we were lovable, but because He is merciful.

In this, we have been given new desires – We learn to hate sin, to worship Jesus, to read the Bible, to be obedient to God, to love people we wouldn’t or couldn’t before. And none of this is possible on our own, but only by the grace of God. And as we do, we begin to see “the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

We can’t make this happen on our own. We can’t white knuckle our way into heaven. We can’t do enough good works. But the gospel is sufficient to save us not only from our sins, but also from our good deeds. For many of us, our greatest sins are not the things we do wrong, but our motives for the things we do right. In speaking on this point, Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in New York says that for many of us, the main thing separating us and God is not our sins, but our damnable good works.

When our motives for doing what’s right are wrong, it’s just as awful as when we do wrong.

This is why must be saved by grace. This is why Paul puts so much emphasis on salvation through grace not just in this passage but in all of his letters.

Alright, Eph. 2:8:

For by grace you have been saved through faith.

There’s that phrase again: By grace you have been saved through faith.

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.

Paul says that we’re not only saved by grace through faith, but even our faith is a gift from God. Why? So no one may boast.

Think about it this way: A gift is not a gift if you’ve done something to earn it. Paul, in saying that even the faith to believe is a gift, is driving home the point that there is nothing we can do to earn salvation! And if we have been saved, it’s only by the mercy of God – We have nothing to boast about!

Not one thing.

Understand, the cross is the great equalizer. Whether you’re rich or poor, male or female, all of us are on equal ground at the foot of the cross.

So we are saved from our sins and from our self-righteousness and our attempts to justify ourselves before our holy God, by His grace, by His mercy alone.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Not only are we saved from all this, not only are we given new desires, a new outlook, we want to please God, we want to worship Him and not everything else we worship…But we are saved to something – to the works God has prepared for us beforehand. This might throw you for a loop to think about, but do you realize that God, before you were ever born, when He created the world and everything in it, prepared works for you specifically to do to build His Kingdom? Isn’t it incredible? That God would love us so much that He would do that?

These works that have been prepared for us do not save us, but they are the fruit of our salvation. Paul writes in 2 Cor 5:18-19, that we have been given the ministry of reconciliation. That God is using us as ambassadors of Christ, to reconcile the world to Himself. To share the great love that God has shown us – Christ crucified – with the entire world, that they might be reconciled to Him and made new creations.

And this looks different for a lot of us. For some, it means going into full time vocational ministry as a pastor or a missionary. For others, it’s staying in your job and being a witness to the goodness of God and the truth of the gospel in your office, construction site, store or restaurant. It’s both proclaiming with your voice and with your life.

You might be sitting here wondering, “That’s great, guy I don’t know, but why are you telling me this? I already know this.”

Praise God! I’m glad you know this. But I want you to not just know this, but to be excited about it!

This is really good news!

It’s the best news you’re ever going to hear – ever! It trumps everything!

A new baby.

A new job.

A new car.

A new house.

Winning the lottery.

None of it holds a candle to the amazing grace of our great and merciful God who in love saves those who aren’t simply undeserving, but ill deserving!

If you’re not excited about this, you really, really should be!

So… how do we need to respond? If you’re here and you’re a Christian, I would encourage you to walk in a manner worthy of God. Paul says it this way in Eph. 4:1, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”

Is there something stealing your joy?

Is there something trying to turn your attention away from Jesus?

Is there something in your life that you know isn’t pleasing to God, but you’ve continued to walk in?

Have you lost sight of the wonder of the gospel?

Friends, walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called. Embrace your role as ministers of reconciliation in this world, and be overjoyed as God works through you in whatever way He chooses.

If you’re here and not a Christian, I would beg you – don’t disregard what you’ve heard tonight. Understand, you are dead in your sins, a child of wrath. An enemy of God. And you are perishing. But God, in his mercy, has loved you and made new life possible for you, through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Maybe don’t rush out of here. If there’s something stirring inside you, maybe sit in that a bit. Wrestle with it. Ask someone whose here tonight to pray with you. And maybe accept the grace that is being offered to you by the holy, merciful, loving God and creator of the universe.

Because we are all truly worse than we ever feared, and more loved than we ever dreamed.

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