The Gospel-Centered Life - Radical

The Gospel-Centered Life

In this message on 1 Corinthians 1:1–9, Mike Kelsey reminds us how God’s love for us is dependent on His grace, not our performance. Additionally, God’s work through us is dependent on his power, not our limited resources.

  1. God’s love for you is dependent on his grace, not your performance.
  2. God’s work through you is dependent on his power, not your resources.
  3. God’s promise to you is dependent on his faithfulness, not your strength.

We’re going to be in 1 Corinthians 1, so if you have a Bible, go ahead and turn there. In case you’re new, I want to catch you up briefly. Two weeks ago we talked about the secret of the Christian life. It’s pretty deep and profound, but it’s not secret in the sense that we’ve discovered some new thing. Still, it’s critical to understand this about the Christian life, the reality that if you’ve been born again through faith in Jesus, He now lives in you by His Spirit. When this happens, it changes everything.

Last week we talked about the fact that Jesus not only lives in you, but by His power He then begins to change everything about you from the inside out. We celebrated that and we’ll have more opportunities to celebrate again today. So let me just give you a heads up—you can feel free to clap, say “Amen” or “Hallelujah,” whatever, as you hear God’s Word today.

Remember how David showed us last week that God begins this transforming from the inside out? What do you do when that process of transformation seems to be going more slowly than it should, when you realize even though God has worked in your life, you still have so far to go? What does it mean when you find yourself still constantly falling short of God’s holiness? You know what you should be doing, but you struggle to actually live it out. You believe everything we’ve been talking about, or at least you understand intellectually that it’s what the Bible teaches, but if you’re honest, there are still areas where you are struggling and stumbling your way through the Christian life.

That’s what I want us to think about today. I’m going to read 1 Corinthians 1:1—9, but before I read what Paul wrote, I want you to understand who Paul is writing this to. You’ll see why this is so crazy once we get into the verses, but I want you to understand who Paul is writing this to. He’s writing to a group of believers who were new Christians in the city of Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 1 and 8, they were setting up these celebrity fan clubs around popular preachers.

We don’t do that today, do we? They were dividing the church over personal preferences. In chapter six, they were taking advantage of and kind of manipulating the court system, suing each other for petty offenses. They were taking petty personal issues into public courts. In chapter 11, they were really reckless. They were getting drunk during the Lord’s Supper. In chapters 12-14, they were using church ministry as a platform for their own personal prestige. And the craziest example of the whole letter is in 1 Corinthians 5:1—2. Listen to what Paul writes to them: “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife.” It was as though they were actually affirming and tolerating incest in the church. These were some jacked up people in Corinth—and there are some jacked up people here. Listen to how Paul opened his letter to that group of jacked up people.

Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes, To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Father, help us hear from You through Your Word. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen. Did you catch what just happened? Even though these believers were struggling and stumbling, Paul was able to see them through the lens of the gospel, and even in their sin he was able to recognize God’s grace at work in them. That gospel-centered perspective has been revolutionary for me personally. This is partly why I felt so burdened to share this message from this text.

As I tell my own story, I like to say I had three conversions. That’s not biblical, okay? Nobody has three conversions. There’s only one conversion you have when you are born again. But the reason I describe it that way is because, like some of you, I grew up in church. I knew the gospel. I affiliated myself with Christianity. I believed that Jesus died for sins—I just wasn’t quite persuaded that I needed Him to die for mine. I made a profession of faith in Jesus at one point.

Then I went to college at the University of Maryland, College Park. If you remember last week, David talked about how Jesus changes you from the inside out. At the very core of you, He begins to change you. When I went to college and was outside my parents’ house, the core of me was truly exposed. Let’s just say it wasn’t godly. The core of me craved and desired, so my whole life was driven by partying, drinking and chasing girls. I wish my life had been about school, but it wasn’t. School just gave me the opportunity to live out what I deeply craved and loved in my heart. Then God by His grace pursued me through some upperclassmen who started to disciple me into true and genuine faith in Jesus Christ. God saved me and changed me.

Then fast forward to when I came to McLean Bible Church in 2007. In 2009 I became a pastor in this church and experienced the darkest time that I’ve ever had. It wasn’t because my circumstances were so dark. Things were actually going well. It wasn’t even because there was some blatant sin in my life. Rather, I began to experience what many theologians call “the dark night of the soul.” It was a deep dark pit in my relationship with God. I couldn’t really put my finger on it. I just began to feel like God was gone, like He had abandoned me. He seemed so distant from me. It caused me to wrestle with some very real questions. Does God really love me? Can God still use me? Will He abandon me? Has God given up on me?

I didn’t understand in the moment what I was going through. But that was when God literally began to revolutionize my Christian life. In that process He showed me that for all my life, most of my interaction with Him had been driven by legalism, by using my performance to try to earn His acceptance. I knew what to preach, but in the way I was actually living and feeling, my relationship with God seemed to be dependent on how I was doing.

Again, I didn’t know this at the time, but now I know the name of that idea. It’s called condemnation. Sometimes condemnation can be driven by known and obvious sins in your life, but sometimes it’s just spiritual warfare. Through in my wrestling, God began to change my life. He began to show me that the cure for condemnation is not perfection. The cure for condemnation is grace. The gospel announces that grace is available. It has been accomplished in and through Jesus.

The true measure of Christian maturity is not whether or not you sin. The true measure of Christian maturity is what you do when you sin. When you sin, or when you struggle, or when you feel condemned and you can’t even figure out why, do you find yourself running from God, either into more sin or more shame? Or do you run to God, repenting of your sin and finding rest in His grace? The gospel announces the grace of God and the gospel changes everything.

You may have heard me say this before, but this statement was chiseled out in that time of wrestling with God. That’s when I learned that the gospel is not just the gate into the Christian life; the gospel is the ground of the Christian life. It’s not just how you enter the Christian life; it’s how you enjoy the Christian life and enjoy a relationship with God. The gospel is the firm place for your feet to stand on when you are struggling in your relationship with God.

I want to answer from this text the same questions I was wrestling with back then. Knowing who I really am, does God really love me? Can God still use me? Will God ever abandon me? We’ll spend most of our time on this first question, because it’s so foundational to the others.

1 Corinthians 1:1–9 Shows God’s Love For You is Dependent on His Grace, Not Your Performance

The question you might be wrestling with when you came here today is does God really love me? Don’t we wonder that about the Corinthians too? Knowing how messed up these Corinthian believers were, knowing how much they fell short, did God really love them? Where do you go to find a reliable answer to that question? Here’s what I want you to know off the top: God’s love for you is dependent on His grace, not your performance.

If I asked you, “Does God love you?” you’d be like, “Yeah, I know He loves me.” But you might be wrestling like I was with the question, “Does God really love me?” What I mean by “really” is this. Billy, our worship pastor at Montgomery County, and I were at a worship conference last year. I remember one speaker making a statement that has stuck with me. He said, “To be 99% known is still to be unknown.” That doesn’t mean everybody has to know all your business. Then he told us a lot of us will let people see 99% of us, but we hide that 1% from our past, or that 1% of our life where we’re still struggling with sin and are ashamed of, or that we don’t want to let people know about. We say to ourselves, “I know they say they love me and they probably mean it. But they don’t know about this 1%. They don’t know about my relationship with my children. They don’t know about the abortion I had. They don’t know about the addiction. They don’t know about some of the thoughts I wrestle with. They don’t know about the doubts I wrestle with, even as a discipleship group leader or whatever. But if they knew about this 1%, would they still love me?”

Some of us think that same way about God, as if He doesn’t know the 1%. Here’s the stunning thing about this letter. Paul knew about their 1%. If you’ve been doing the Bible Reading Plan, you know that the Corinthians had a little bit more than 1%. They were thoroughly jacked up. Paul is writing this letter in order to address their issues and in some instances to directly confront their sin.

What does he do first? He reaffirms and reminds them of their new identity in Christ, their new status before God. Look at how Paul describes them in 1 Corinthians 1:2: “…the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus…” If that wasn’t outrageous enough, he goes on, “…called to be saints….” He describes them as sanctified, which means they had been set apart for God. It means to take something that is not acceptable to God and make it holy and acceptable to God.

What is our status before God? We lived before we put our faith in Jesus, we now have put our faith in Jesus, then one day we will be face to face with Jesus. Before we put our faith in Him, before we were born again, we were guilty of rebellion against God. We burned the bridge between us and God, and there’s nothing we can do to rebuild it. Our sin has separated us from Him and made us unacceptable in His sight. Although He loves us, if we die in that state of separation, we will live separated from God for all eternity.

But to be a Christian means you have become sanctified. You’ve become acceptable. You’ve been made acceptable by the grace of God. What happens then is as you put your faith in Jesus, this new life in Christ begins. That’s why Paul refers to them as saints, but not in the way Roman Catholics use that word today. Saints here just means holy people and it refers to all Christians. Then he says in verse nine that in the end, they’re going stand before God “guiltless”—innocent.

Paul uses different language in his letter to the Ephesians but it’s the same idea. You’ve got to see this. In Ephesians 1:3—4, Paul writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” What compelled God to do this? Is it because God needed another draft pick for His fantasy league? Did God look at you and say, “Here’s the all-star I need to recruit onto My team?

Absolutely not. It says in verse five, “In love…” He was motivated, not by who you are, but by Who He is. “In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ…” Why? “According to the purpose of his will…” That basically means just because He wanted to. And the result of that is “…to the praise of his glorious grace.” What does all of that mean? It means that God’s love for you is based on and dependent on His grace, not your performance.

How do we know that? As we just saw in Ephesians, God makes it clear that He decided to love you before He created the world. He’s the One Who took the initiative. Before you ever had a chance to try and fail to earn His love, He took the initiative. He made the first move toward you. He set His sights on you and pursued you with His love and grace. God decided to set His affection on you and if you are a believer, God has pronounced a new judgment over you. He declares you sanctified, holy, blameless, innocent, justified in His sight, righteous in His sight. This is unbelievable.

You might be thinking, “Listen Mike, I know my life. God knows my life. How in the world could it be true that I’ve been made innocent before God?” It’s the same way it became true for the Corinthians. Look at 1 Corinthians 1:2. It says they were sanctified, set apart, made holy and acceptable— how? In Christ Jesus. That’s why our heavenly Father sent Jesus into the world, so that Jesus could fulfill all the standards of perfect righteousness and pass on all the benefits to us. God sent Jesus into the world so that He could die a death He didn’t deserve in order to pay the tab we owe for our sins. God sent Jesus into the world so that He could defeat death through His resurrection, making it possible for us to enjoy eternal life.

God decided to love you, then He acted on that love by sending Jesus. Then if you’re in Christ, it’s because God personally and specifically called you. You see that language of calling in verses two and nine, then further down in verse 26. There Paul encourages them to reflect on the fact that God called them even though they had nothing to offer.

God’s calling in this context is not like somebody calling on the phone and hoping the other person picks up. First of all, as a side bar, who still calls people? It’s 2019. You know what I mean? There are rules to this thing. Man, if you call me, first of all I have no obligation to pick up, because we text. Why are you going to call? If you call me and you leave a voice mail, you might just as well have sent that into a black hole somewhere. If you call me and you don’t leave a voice mail, that’s like you leaving a voice mail that says, “This call wasn’t that important anyway. You don’t have to call me back.” So why waste the time calling, hoping that I’m going to respond?

This is not the picture of calling when it comes to salvation. God is not like the teenage boy calling the girl, anxious about asking her out for prom. That’s not calling. God’s calling is when He works in your heart to bring you to a place of full surrender. This is something you actually experience in real time. It feels like something is happening to you, like you’re being drawn to God. God may call you in one specific moment, or like me, He might call you over a period of time. But when He calls you to Himself, things start changing in your heart.

There are some here whose soul erupts with gratitude when you think back to the experience of God beginning to call you and draw you into a relationship with Himself. There are others here who are in that process right now. You feel like God has been stirring in you, has been working on you and drawing you. What happens is you start thinking about God and desiring a relationship with Him in ways you didn’t before. You begin seeing your sin differently. It begins to bother you more and more; not just because of its consequences or because of how other people around you might think about it, but because you realize how much your sin offends God. That begins to bother you, begins to concern you.

You begin to hear the gospel differently, not just as one religious idea among others, but as the truth—as a personal invitation from God. It’s when you begin to realize that you don’t have all of your questions answered, but you know enough to know that you’re ready to give Jesus your life, trusting that the things you don’t quite understand will eventually be made more clear. You begin to realize that God Himself, the one true God, is personally calling you.

This doesn’t negate the personal decision we have to make to trust in Jesus. That’s why in verse two it’s clear: God calls us, He works in our hearts, but we also have to call upon the name of Jesus. Make no mistake about it, salvation belongs to God. If you’ve been saved from your sin, born again into God’s family, it is not because of your performance. It is because of the amazing grace of almighty God. You are in the family of God because of His grace. You’ve been given a new identity in Christ.

This makes me think about Joanna at our Montgomery County campus. Joanna came to our campus in December of last year as an atheist. She didn’t even believe that God existed. Maybe she was kind of agnostic, but she really didn’t believe God existed. She came to our church because of some stuff going on in her life. She just wanted to be around some people who had some moral foundation and who had a similar ethic.

She walked into the doors of our auditorium, sat down and an older man in our church named Patrick sat beside her. Instead of just ignoring her and waiting for all his friends and family to show up, he engaged her in conversation. That’s because when he comes to church, it’s not just about him. God sends him to church, not just to receive, but to also minister to and serve other people. So Patrick engages with Joanna. The service starts. After church, they talk some more. He introduces Joanna to somebody at our welcome desk, another woman in our church. She invites Joanna to have coffee that day. Why? Because her afternoon is not all about her. God wants to use her to be a blessing to serve other people. They meet for coffee.

Monday morning, we get Joanna’s connect card. Lillian, our campus administrator, calls her. Joanna says, “Hey, I have some time today. I’ll come by the office. Lillian comes and grabs me and says, “This girl Joanna, who’s not a believer, has some questions. She’s about to come to the church.” We stop everything and pray for God to work in Joanna’s heart.

Joanna shows up to church. They meet. Two hours later, Joanna and Lillian come to the door of my office. Both of them are real soggy-eyed, which makes me nervous, because I don’t know how to handle tears. Usually I’m like, “I don’t know. Here’s a referral to a counselor.” But they show up at the door and Lillian says, with tears in her eyes, “I want to introduce you to your new sister in Christ.” It’s the grace of God that had been pursuing her. Right in that moment, at that time, God pursued her and He pursued her through individuals in the church. He set His affection on her, poured His grace out on her and He saved her out of sin. If you are in Christ, it’s because God in His grace pursued you.

So you ask, “Does God really love me?” Absolutely, because His love for you was never based on your performance to begin with. It was always based on and dependent on His grace.

God’s work through you is dependent on His power, not your resources

Here’s the second question, “Can God still use me?” In 1 Corinthians 1:1—3, Paul reminds the Corinthians of what God did for them. He saved them and gave them a new status, a new identity. But then in verse now, Paul gives thanks for what God is doing through them. He says, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus.” He then speaks of the evidence of that grace that he sees. “In every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge—even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—so that you are not lacking in any gift.”

In particular, this church was well known for their speaking and intellectual gifts, as well as their miraculous gifts. As we talked about, they didn’t always use those gifts in God-honoring ways, which is why Paul has to remind them in 1 Corinthians 13 to be motivated by love when using spiritual gifts and serving other people. Yet Paul is able to cut through the fog of their dysfunction and see that God was still working through them in powerful ways.

God also wants to work through us in powerful ways. We may not all have eloquent speaking gifts or profound intellectual gifts, but every follower of Jesus has been specifically equipped by God to play a role in His mission. Listen to what Paul says later in his letter—in 1 Corinthians 12:7 “To each…” To how many Christians? Each. I don’t know if that grammatically lines up, but, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit…” Why? “…for the common good.”

1 Corinthians 1:1–9 Teaches Us That The Holy Spirit Empowers Us

When you become a follower of Jesus, you receive the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, not to just encourage you, but to supernaturally empower you for ministry. God wants to use you and His work through you is dependent on His power, not your limited resources. If you’re a Christian, He has specifically equipped you with at least one spiritual gift and He expects you to be actively using your gifts to fulfill your role.

You say, “Well, how can I find my role?” In a real practical way, you can visit the Welcome Desk and they can give you some guidance. But one place to start is to consider how God has wired you, how He’s gifted you. How does God tend to use you to serve and bless other people? All of us in Christ have a role to play.

Some of you are gifted to teach the Bible or preach sermons or develop Bible study curriculum. Some of you are gifted in leadership. You can rally people behind a vision and lead them to accomplish it. Others of you are gifted to serve behind the scenes, maybe administratively or strategically. You’re gifted to organize and effectively execute a well-thought-out plan. A lot of visionary leaders drive you crazy, because they don’t know how to plan anything. You’re thinking, “I love the idea, but what are we actually going to do?” You’re gifted to organize and effectively execute. Maybe you’re gifted with technology. Maybe you’re gifted artistically. God has uniquely gifted you to use sounds, colors and textures, in ways that bring beauty, stirring our emotions and imaginations.

That’s my wife. Yesterday I spent part of my day going to buy some mums because she wants to put some mums on our porch. First of all, we don’t have a porch—we have a step. But she wants to buy these huge mum things to put on the step. And me, I’m just thinking, “Functionally speaking, this is problematic. When I open the door, I don’t want to hit mums on either side. We don’t need mums on the step.” But her thing is, “I didn’t say we need it. I want it. I want to make our step beautiful.” Okay, she’s gifted that way. Some of you are also gifted that way—you love to bring beauty. You love to move hearts through what you’re able to create.

Some of you are gifted financially. God has given you a unique ability to make and manage money, and He’s gifted you that way to position you to be able to fund Kingdom work. Some of you He’s gifted intellectually. You can understand and explain difficult and complicated ideas. Honestly, if you’re gifted intellectually, you may have been frustrated with the church at some point in time, because you don’t like cliché answers to complex questions. You may feel at home in academia or your career field, but you wonder if your gifts have a place in the church. They do. We need your intellectual gifts to strengthen and fortify the church. Maybe you’re gifted to support and care for hurting people, whether through medicine or a meal or just your physical presence during a difficult time. Listen, however God has gifted you, He calls you into His family, then He equips you for His work. You might say, “Okay, I know I some gifts, but I also have some areas in my life where I’m struggling, where I wrestle with sin. Can God still use me?” Yes, because God was clearly using these jacked up Corinthians in some powerful ways. And not just the Corinthians—Paul himself knew he didn’t deserve to be used by God. That’s why he says in verse one that he was called to be an apostle. Why? Because he was so awesome? No. Simply because of the will of God, because God decided to use him.

Let me ask you a risky question, because it’s about the man who signs my paycheck. Do you really think that David Platt’s sermons are so good because he’s perfect? I did too, then I got to know him. He’s not laughing, but his wife Heather is. I mean, seriously. Sometimes we feel like God can’t use us because we’re comparing our backstage to somebody else’s stage presence. Now, thank God, as I get to know David, I’m more and more challenged and spurred on to be more and more like Jesus.

But listen, have you ever been to the backstage of a theater? You look at this stage right now and everything is perfect. All the cords are in place and everything is great. But if you go to the other side of this wall, there’s a bunch of broken equipment, some lights that don’t work, Gaff Tape everywhere, uneven paint on the walls. That’s the reality of the Christian life. I’m not talking about blatant hypocrisy, intentionally living a double life. I’m talking about biblical reality, sincerely striving to obey Jesus, but admitting there are still some sinful and broken areas in our lives. I wish we were more honest about that. This reality should not hold you back from serving the Lord. Like the old preachers used to say, “God draws straight lines with crooked sticks.”

Now, out of love for you, we may have to be honest with you as leaders in the church and limit the way you serve for a season while you grow in a certain area of your life. But even if it’s not in a formal role or in an immediate role, God still wants to use you to serve others. He’s doing it all over our church. If you’re new, welcome to the community of the people who are jacked up and are being used by the grace of God. God can still use you. His work through you is dependent on His power, not your resources.

God’s promise to you is dependent on His faithfulness, not your strength

Here’s the last question I want to address. Does God really love me? Yes. Can God still use me? Yes. Will God ever abandon me? No. Some of you immediately think, “Okay, I already know what you’re going to say. You just said no. That’s the standard Christian answer, but how do I know He won’t abandon me? Because if I’m honest, it feels like He already has.”

Well, Paul has reminded them of what God did for them in the past; he’s reaffirmed what God is doing through them in the present and now he points them toward God’s promise for the future. He describes them in verses seven and eight as a people waiting for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. I’ve been meditating on that phrase all week. In my mind, there’s been a Hammond B3 organ behind that phrase, “waiting for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Some translations say, “eagerly waiting” or “waiting with great anticipation.”

It’s like when you go to a concert, you’re excited about it and you wait in this crazy long line. They finally open the doors and everybody rushes in. You get in there and everybody is super excited. Then they start playing background music and the lights begin to dim. Then the crowd begins to swell with energy and enthusiasm, because they’re so excited. Then you realize it’s just the opening act. The opening act is somewhat decent, but you’re still waiting. Then the announcer comes up and introduces your favorite God-honoring band. You realize that all the opening acts have been decent, but now is the moment you’ve been waiting for, when the person you came to see takes center stage. That’s how Christians are waiting eagerly for the revelation of Jesus when He returns at the end of time. Why? Why are Christians all over the world right now waiting for this day? Because this is the day when Jesus Christ will be revealed for all to see. In other words, there may be some doubts and debates now about Who Jesus really is, but there is a day coming when the glory and authority and deity of Jesus will be made unavoidably clear. For those who reject Jesus, this will be a day of irreversible regret, because this is the day when there are no more excuses and there is no more time. This is the day when we realize that God really is our Judge.

Last week we talked about how the Bible describes this day as a thief in the night. It catches you by surprise and it’s devastating. But I love the way one of my professors put it: “For those who love and trust Christ, this day will not come like an unexpected thief, producing fear. For those who trust Jesus, this day will come like an unexpected friend, producing great joy.” Listen, this is why we plead with you every single week to turn from sin and put all your trust in Jesus. We want you—and God wants you—to be prepared to meet Him on that day.

All of history is rushing toward this day. All of creation is longing for this day. This is the day when everything wrong in our world will be made right. This is the day when each of us will realize that God cannot lie and He never has, that He fulfills all His promises. Peter writes in 1 Peter 1:8, “Though you have not seen him, you love him.” How much more then will we love Him when we see Him? This is why John says in 1 John 3:2, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared…” What we will be is who Jesus made us to be when He gave us a new identity, sanctified us and set us apart. The person we truly are in Christ is not quite evident yet, because we live in this fallen world in the flesh.

We say often here that spiritual growth is not a straight line up. It looks like the stock market. It’s up and down. But its trajectory is to be more and more like Jesus. So we stumble and struggle, but who we are and what we will be does not yet appear. John goes on to say, “…but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”

How do we know God won’t abandon us, that He won’t change His mind sometime, like right now, like on a bad day? How do we know God won’t give up on us? Because of what we already read. As Paul says, it’s because God is faithful. And Jesus Himself, Paul says, will sustain you until the end, because the same Spirit that raised Christ from the grave is the same Spirit that now lives inside you. The same Spirit that brought Him back to life is the same Spirit that gives you new life and will bring you into eternal life. Jesus Himself will sustain you and He is sustaining you if you are in Christ.

I know you feel weak, overwhelmed and inadequate, but you have to believe that He’s sustaining you. Why do you believe it? Because God is faithful. What is God’s track record for keeping His promises? Just read the Bible. Why would He decide to flake on this one? He will sustain you. That’s the reason the Corinthian believers eventually responded the way they did.

Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 1 encouragingly to start with, then he rebuked them for a whole letter. But then he wrote another letter later in which he said this in 2 Corinthians 7:8—9: “For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting.” Why did Paul have confidence that these believers were truly born again? How did Paul have confidence that Jesus was sustaining them? Because he saw evidence. Maybe not immediately, but eventually they returned to God in repentance. And God fulfilled His promise to make them more and more and more like Jesus.

This is true for you too. Paul writes in Philippians 1:6, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” God doesn’t start what God doesn’t finish. If He began the work in you, He’s going to finish it. In the meantime, He will be producing that work in and through you. How does He sustain you? He sustains you by strengthening and changing you from the inside out. God’s promise to you is dependent on His faithfulness, not your strength. So do not give up. Why? Because God has not given up on you—and He won’t.

1 Corinthians 1:1–9 Wants Us To Hear The Reality That God Loves You

I want to end with a story I’ve shared before, but I think it applies here as well. My freshman year in college, I lived on campus. In high school, I had a curfew, but in college I just did whatever I wanted to do. The problem with that—listen to me, college students—the problem with that is the rules on campus don’t apply when you come home for Christmas break.

So I came home on Christmas break that first December of my freshman year. I told my parents I was going out. I went out, partied it up and had a great time. I decided to come home around 4:30 a.m. I was so nervous. I pulled up, thinking, “What have I done?” But it’s December. It’s freezing. You know what I did? I slept in the car. I had an old beat-up Geo Prizm. I didn’t have a lot of gas, so I had to keep turning the car off. But then when it got too cold, I’d turn it back on so it could heat up real quick.

The sun came up and I was thinking, “How long am I going to do this?” So I had to go back into the house. I turned the lock and opened the door. My parents have that device where the door beeps when somebody walks in. They say it’s for security. No. It’s for parenting. So I walk in. My mom comes downstairs and says, “Where have you been?” I told her what had happened. I told her I was so sorry. I had stayed out, so

I slept in the car. Do you know what she did? She started to cry. With tears in her eyes, she looked at me and said, “You never have to sleep in the car, because you’re our son.” Now, my dad was still upstairs sleeping. I don’t know if he would have said that. But I took my mom’s word as gospel truth.

Listen to me. This is what I’ve been praying for every single one of you hearing this message, that if you find yourself sleeping in the car, hiding from God, letting condemnation drive you away from God, that you would hear the announcement of grace in the gospel and that you would hear God say to you, “If you are in Christ, your sin does not change your status. Your mistakes don’t reverse the decision I made to save you and adopt you and bring you into My Kingdom, into My family.”

So you can turn from your sin and come back to God and receive His grace. If you are not in Christ, if you have not trusted Jesus and been born again, then I hope you hear the reality that God loves you, He wants to use you and that He will never leave you or forsake you or abandon you. He invites you to become a son or a daughter, not because of your performance, but because of His love and grace displayed in Jesus on your behalf.

1 Corinthians 1:1–9 Encourages Us To Follow Christ

I want to invite you to make that decision to follow Him today. In just a moment you’ll have an opportunity to make a decision to trust in Jesus and express that decision through baptism today. But I want to pray for us and I’m going to pray for two things. One, some of us who are here need to look up. We need to get our faces out of the dirt of our messed-up lives. We need to look up to God’s grace, forgiveness and power.

Others of us need to look around. When is the last time you stopped and gave God thanks and praise for the ways you see His grace at work in the lives of the people around you—your friends, your spouse, your kids, your brothers and sisters in your church family? I want to give you an opportunity to thank God for what He’s doing in the lives of the people around you.

Let me pray for us.

Father, Your grace is amazing and we sing it all the time. But God, I pray that right now You would help us feel it, that we would know deep in our bones that Your grace is sufficient and Your power is displayed in our weakness. Father, may we not be driven away from you, but may we be drawn to You because of Your grace. It’s Your kindness that leads to repentance. Help us to fully trust in You. Help us to be overwhelmed with gratitude as we see evidences of grace in people all around us. You are working in us and through us and all around us, all to the praise of Your glorious grace. In Christ Jesus we pray. Amen.

Mike Kelsey is Lead Pastor of Preaching and Culture at McLean Bible Church in metro Washington, D.C., where ​he has been a pastor for over 13 years. In his role, Mike leads MBC to engage in current cultural issues in order to reach new and emerging generations as well as people disconnected from and disenfranchised by the church. Mike and his wife Ashley live in the D.C. metro area with their three children.


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