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About this series
Good to Great in God's Eyes
Ten Practices Great Christians have in Common
Are you tired of the status quo Christian life? Do you long for a spiritual breakthrough? Are you looking to go to the next level or get a fresh infusion of faith and spiritual passion? Great Christians live out their faith with purpose. In Mark 10:43, Jesus says, whoever wants to become great among you must - what? You'll explore the idea that there are certain practices available to every believer, at every maturity level, to move us from good to great, in God's Eyes. ACSI approvedMore from this series
Well, we’re learning some things about great Christians. And we said that great Christians have some things in common. If you go all the way back, you’ll learn that great Christians, people that are great in God’s eyes, they think great thoughts. They read great books. They pray great prayers. They dream great dreams. In our last session, we learned that they take great risks.
And then – this is a little delicate because the title of this one sometimes scares people. Great Christians make great sacrifices. But don’t let that word, sort of – ooh, boy. Your human nature just says the words sacrifice and yuck go together. But I want to help change that, by the grace of God.
Let’s look at what sacrifice is. Definition: “It’s the act of giving up, destroying, or permitting injury to, or foregoing something valued for the sake of something having more pressing claim.” That’s Webster’s. I like that. It’s giving up. It’s being willing to be injured. It’s doing whatever it takes, but it’s for the sake of something that is more important, that has a higher claim.
I was in China. And one of our world teachers met us in Hong Kong. We did some training. And we went out to dinner. And as we were talking, he began to share what was going on in his life and where he was at. And he’s a house church pastor of an underground church, and he’s an evangelist, and he was out traveling. And often, he does that. And then, his wife and children would be left at home.
And, so, while he was gone, the police came. And they came into his home. And his wife convinced them that she was the pastor, not her husband – which is not at all uncommon, especially in China – and that, actually, the church had moved all around, and the people had dispersed. And she was the only one left, and she was the pastor. And they try and make a point of punishing the leaders to really discourage people walking with God.
And so, they took her down to the police station and they beat her to a pulp. And I remember just sitting around that table and looking into this Chinese man’s eyes, as he was recounting the story. And, somehow, I was visualizing what it would be like if that happened to my wife, and my emotions, and what would be going on in my heart. And so, I asked him, I said, “Well, how did you deal with this?” In my mind, I’m thinking, Your frustration, your anger, your wanting to have vengeance.
And I’ll never forget, he looked at me, and he said, “Well,” he said, “my wife was beaten badly. But as we talked about it later, she said to me, ‘Isn’t it amazing that Jesus would give us the privilege to suffer for His sake and, in some measure, make that kind of sacrifice, to say “thank You,” for all of His suffering for us?’” And I’m thinking to myself – I didn’t say it – that is not exactly what came to my mind. I’m thinking, Could I control my anger of trying to go down and bust a police officer right in the mouth, and take my own vengeance, or trusting God? And I just thought…
He’s looking at life through a different lens, isn’t he? He didn’t see the suffering as necessarily even negative. But he saw it as something that, if you’re going to walk with God in that country, to sacrifice and to suffer was a way of expressing his love.
When we witness great sacrifice among the human species, it triggers – this is just an observation – it triggers a powerful, magnetic, awe-inspiring response deep within our souls. That story is a true story.
But when you see sacrifice, when you observe it, in Christian contexts or non-Christian contexts – when you see great sacrifice, even in a movie, or when you read a book, or even when they’re doing those little clips for the Olympics, and you hear the story of this little girl that’s been up at three in the morning and practiced her whole life for this one moment on a balance beam, I have to confess, I start tearing up over that stuff. There’s something about sacrifice.
There’s something about the Rosa Parks, and the Mother Teresas, and Martin Luther Kings, and the stories of a Gandhi walking through the streets. And every time you see sacrifice played out, there’s something about how God made us that – I may not want to be the person who’s involved in the sacrifice, but every time I see it, it’s like there’s this wonderful thing that touches me, deep in my soul.
And I just thought, I made a little list of, I thought of Corrie ten Boom, of Lincoln, even back to Joan of Arc, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. I was in South Africa, if you understand the story of Mandela. You see people who, for twenty-five years, in a prison, and then coming out absolutely says to people, “We will not retaliate. No retribution. We will forgive. But we’ll get the truth on the table before we forgive.” Amazing, amazing sacrifice. And as I observed, what I saw was that we admire people who make great sacrifices. We enshrine them. There are statues. You can go all around the world, and here’s the person who gave his life for this, and here’s the person who did this. And there are statues.
Or in the church, when you make a great sacrifice, sometimes you get in stained glass. Right? And they put you up on the wall. We honor them. We reward them. We emulate them. And here’s the question I have for you and me, as we think about making great sacrifices: Why? Why? Even when unbelievers make great sacrifices – why? What is this mystical union and soul connection we unconsciously make when we witness a great sacrifice for a noble cause or a personal relationship?
And I think the answer is that sacrifice is the clearest and greatest evidence of the extent of one’s love and devotion toward a person, a cause, or a thing. I think the reason it resonates in your soul – are you ready for this? This is almost embarrassing. I’m watching the Animal Planet channel the other night, and this mother didn’t have any food for her little lion cubs. And she’s a small lioness. And she finally kills something. And then, her cubs are over here, and she drags the prey. And she can’t do it. So, she goes and gets her little cubs. And on the way, about eight or ten hyenas surround her. And I’m getting scared watching TV. And then, here’s this one lioness, and she doesn’t have – she’s got one opportunity – run, and she’s willing. And you just see, built into the animal kingdom – she takes on six or seven or eight or ten hyenas, in order to save those cubs.
And there was something about that picture. There was something about that picture that, as I watched it, I thought, God, what have You built into the life of all creation that makes my heart so resonate? See, she will give her life for those cubs because she is devoted to them. Because, take this right, she loves them; she’s for them. And then I got thinking. I thought, You know what? This is really clear. What did Jesus say? John 15, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friend.”
What I want you to you see is that sacrifice, the measure of our sacrifice, represents what matters the most. What we are willing to sacrifice for is what we’re most devoted to, what we love the most, what we care about the most. And so, if you ever want to know what you really worship, all you have to do is take you, and draw an arrow, and then what’s in the box toward the arrow. What do you give your time to? What do you give your energy to? Where are your dreams? Where are you willing to sacrifice? What are you willing to do?
And in that box, for many of you, would be your children, wouldn’t it? And in that box, for many of you, would be your job. And in that box might be, for many of you, a guitar, or a painting. And many people have sacrificed amazing amounts of time and energy to be a great musician, or a great artist, or a great athlete. But whatever you would put in that box is the object of your worship. Great Christians make great sacrifices.
Now, you need to do a little pause, because I need to do a research project with you before we go on. All right? Are you ready for this? I don’t do this very often, and I’m going to have to go through it very quickly. And some of you are thinking, You go through everything very quickly. But what I need to do is a Bible study with you, where I walk through the concept of sacrifice, and the concept of worship. Because they’re so intertwined.
But if you just sort of get a top level – Oh, yeah, sacrifice, worship. I think they’re connected. No, no, no. You miss it completely until you understand, from all the way in the beginning of the Old Testament and the sacrificial system – Leviticus – it’s a book about worship. And what’s the whole book about? Sacrifices. And so, I want to take you on a little journey. And you’re going to have to really put on your thinking cap and track with me. And I want to go through an overview study, Old and New Testament, about the relationship between sacrifice and worship. This is sort of the required course of worship and sacrifice.
Good Christians do what’s required, and make the sacrifice required, to demonstrate that Jesus is, in fact, the object of their worship. Great Christians, what we’re going to find is, they go above and beyond everything that’s required to express an overflowing love and commitment to their relationship with Christ. So, are you ready to roll? If you have a pen, you might want to pull it out, because I am going to guess that you’re going to want to make a couple notes, and I’m going to go pretty fast.
Understanding biblical sacrifice and worship. Lessons from Leviticus – it’s the first ten chapters. I’ll cover ten chapters here, in about two minutes. And you’ll say, “That’s the best journey I’ve had through Leviticus.” In Leviticus, there are five offerings prescribed for worship in the Old Testament.
Two are compulsory offerings. In other words, they’re required. You have to do them. One is called the “sin offering,” for atonement, and you’d bring a bull or you’d bring a goat, and it’s to cover your sin. The other is a guilt offering. If you would lie, or if you would steal, or if you would do something wrong, then you would bring an animal for your guilt, and come to the priest.
And so, these were required. You had to bring, at certain times, an atonement offering and a guilt offering. But there were three non-compulsory, or voluntary, offerings. The burnt offering was one to express your devotion. It was voluntary.
The grain offering was for God’s provision. The fruits and the crops came in, and you would bring in the first portion of it. And you would wave the grain before the Lord in thanksgiving.
And then, the peace offering had to do with, anytime you had – are you ready of this? – you’re an Old Testament saint. And you had just the overwhelming feeling of how good God is to you. You just say, “You know what honey, what do think? Why don’t we go to the Temple today? Why don’t we give a peace offering?”
And the way it worked is, you would bring this peace offering, and you would offer it to the Lord. The priest would get to keep part of it. Oftentimes, you would have to eat it right there. And it would be like a little party, a festival. And you would eat it there, before the Lord, giving thanks for what He’s done.
And the only observation I want you to get is this: Access to God demands a sacrifice. Okay? In other words, to come into God’s presence, you need to be atoned for, or covered. That’s a sacrifice. And then, fellowship with God grows through sacrifice. Voluntary offerings were from the heart. Compulsory offerings were required.
Second: a lesson from the life of Abraham. I wish we could open Genesis 22 and read through it, but we don’t have time. But many of you know the story. Abraham has been waiting for a son for a long time. God finally gives him a son, when Sarah is ninety. The boy now reaches about, probably, twelve, maybe thirteen years old. And God is going to test Abraham. And he says, “Abraham, I want you to take your son, your only son, whom you love, and this is what I want you to do, and go to this mountain that I’ll show you.”
And Abraham does what great Christians do. You always obey early, because later in the day, you don’t have the courage or the motivation. And the text says he got up very, very early, set off with is son, his servant. And the boy, along the way, says, “Papa, where’s the offering?” He says, “The Lord will provide.”
And you know the story. He goes up. He ties his son. He builds an altar. The knife is up. And this isn’t like a little rubber knife. And this isn’t like, well, he knows for sure. What we know is, Abraham believed, from Hebrews 11, that after the knife would be plunged into his son, the Lord would resurrect him. And the reason he believed that was, This is what God told me to do. But God promised it’s going to come through this boy. You talk about a test!
And so, what you have here is, you’ve got the requirement is to give his son. The response is obedience. And then, as the knife, he fully, willfully made the decision. And just as the knife was starting to come down, an angel of the Lord, “Stop, Abraham. Stop. Now I know. Now I know you fear God. Now I understand where your priorities are.”
Now, are you starting to get this? Sacrifice. What did He ask him to sacrifice? The most precious thing that he had. Why? To find out – actually, God knew – but He wanted to test Abraham, so Abraham could learn, and be confirmed of what matters most: “What do you worship the most? Me, or this boy?” And for us, it’s, “Me, or this wife, or this husband? Me, or these children? Me, or this job? Me, or success? Me, or money? Me, or fame?” Do you get it?
In way of summary, we learn from Abraham, God periodically tests the singularity of our devotion, through sacrifice. And before you start feeling like, Wow, this is really heavy, let me tell you why. It is out of His goodness, and His mercy, and His grace that He does that. And you’re thinking, Now, wait a minute. Are you trying to spin this, Chip? This does not sound like a merciful, good, kind thing for Him to say to this guy, “Give Me your son, your only son.” Good things, and good people, left unchecked, over time, will drift from a great gift from God, to becoming an idol in your heart.
When something that is good becomes an idol in your heart, it will destroy your relationship with that thing, and it will destroy your relationship with God. And so, out of His great mercy and kindness, there are times when He’ll tap you on the shoulder, and He’ll say, I want you to give Me this job, this only job that you love. I want you to set apart how you’re thinking about this child, or your mate. I want you to take this money, this security that you think is…
And He’ll, out of His mercy and His grace, test you, so that it does not become an idol in your heart, and begin to break down the relationship that you have with Him, and not allow the thing that was meant for good, as a gift, to become a god. Because then, it’ll destroy you, and destroy it.
I think we often resist this because we don’t understand the difference between sacrifice and worship.
I hit that time, as men do, in your mid-forties, and you spend your whole life trying to figure out what you’re supposed to do with your life.
And then, you finally lock into, this is what I’m supposed to do, and then it takes you about ten years to figure out how to do it. And then, in about another ten years, that if, by God’s grace, He gives you a window and a great team of people.
Well, here’s this amazing church, and all these buildings got built. And it seemed like an accident that this radio ministry just popped up out of nowhere. And I did this ten-year run with six or eight pastors and we became great friends and buddies, and we hung out together.
And, pretty soon, we look up, and we’ve got a staff of seventy or eighty people, and thirty pastors, and thousands of people. And, man, this is great! And you live on the coast, and your kids like to surf. And someone has a little cabin up in the mountains, so when you want to get away and pray, and, Life is wonderful, God! No, no, no, no. You don’t understand. My wife really likes it here. My kids, they’ve gone off, but they’re all going to move back here. We’re going to sing ‘Kumbaya’ at Thanksgiving. All of my daughters-in-law, they’re from here. Lord, You don’t understand, this is…
And I think there are times where God will do what feels harsh and painful, to protect you from you, because He loves you.
And it changed the relationship. I’ll tell you what, the first year, I’d like to say everything went wonderful. My wife had two oral surgeries; neither of them worked. Her mother died, was in intensive care for over ninety days, during that journey. The first year and a half in Atlanta was as bad as I can remember any season in our married life. Not that we had a problem, but when you come home, and someone’s either in pain, hurt, depressed, unhappy, or, in the middle of the night, waking up – well, some of you guys have been there.
You wake up in the middle of the night, and you hear someone sobbing, and they have their pillow over their head so they don’t wake you up. This is not fun. And yet, it was required to wean my wife’s heart, to wean my heart, and for us to make sure that the good things that He gives don’t turn into bad things and idols.
The third thing we learn is lessons from the life of teaching. Please open your Bibles to Luke, chapter 14. When Jesus speaks on this one, you need to get this very directly, not just hearing me describe it. We know from Leviticus there is compulsory and non-compulsory sacrifices.
We know from Abraham that there are times when He will test you, and the way He will test you is, He will ask you to make a sacrifice about the thing that’s most precious to you. And now, what I want you to see from this passage: Jesus is going to speak on the relationship between worship and sacrifice. And what I want you to see is, what He’s going to talk about is normal.
We tend to think – what you’re about to read – you think, unconsciously, that this is for, like, pastors, missionaries, Billy Grahams, Mother Teresas. We think they are some elite group of superstars, and this kind of sacrifice is probably for them. What God wanted you to know is that this is for every believer, of every age. These are required courses. This is 101, 201. This is freshman, sophomore stuff.
Luke, chapter 14, beginning at verse 25: “Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them.” Notice, this isn’t private. This isn’t with the disciples. This isn’t for the elite. This isn’t for full-time workers. Large crowds.
Here is the call: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and his children, his brothers and his sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be My disciple.” If you have a pen, underline “he cannot be My disciple.”
There are some things in Scripture that are hard to understand. This isn’t one of them. It may be hard to do but, “he cannot be My disciple.” And He’s talking about priority. Obviously, there’s a picture here, that we don’t actually hate, but in comparison to our love for Him, every other relationship is so secondary, it is as though we hate them. And then, He says, “And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow Me cannot be My disciple.”
In other words, if you didn’t get it the first time, carry your own cross. Now, in our day, we think crosses and chains around people’s necks. He could have said, “And anyone who isn’t willing to go to the electric chair” or “to have lethal injection.” It was just a common way to die. What He’s saying is, “If you can’t die to your agenda, if you can’t put to death your agenda in order to take on My agenda, you can’t be My disciple.”
And a disciple is, what? A follower, a learner. It means, the teacher cuts the path, and the disciple, or the learner, or the follower, he follows the path. Now, you know what? I bet there was a large crowd. I think the crowd dwindled after this one. So, that’s the call. And it’s for every believer.
What’s He really saying here? “To worship Me demands absolute sacrifice. I must have supreme position above every relationship and every issue in your life.” And you think, Well, boy, that sounds pretty narrow. Who do You think You are, God? Do you get it?
And then, notice, He says, But I’m not looking for emotional, knee-jerk response. I’m not looking for people that are going to wail and cry, and say, “Oh, yeah. You’re the greatest teacher in the world. You fed five thousand yesterday. I want to be a Jesus groupie.” He kind of stops them.
And He says, “You better count the cost.” So, He says, “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not sit down first and estimate the cost and see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and wasn’t able.’ Or suppose a king is about to go to war with another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he’s not able, he’ll go and take a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will make terms of peace. In the same way –”
What’s the point? In the same way as you would say, Following Him, wow, I’ve got to count the cost. I’ve got to evaluate, He comes before stuff. He comes before my dreams. He comes before every other relationship. These are the demands of following Him. He says, don’t do it tritely. He says, weigh it out.
And then, notice, at the very end, “In the same way, any one of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be My disciple. Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness,” its distinctiveness, “how can it be made salty again? It’s neither good for soil” – they used to use small amounts of salt for fertilizer – “nor for the manure pile; it’s thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” From Jesus, we learn, He demands absolute supremacy in our hearts as a condition for being His follower.
And what I realized, over time, a very good thing, and a wife that I really loved, little by little, was creeping into the idol. I want to please her. I don’t want conflict. I don’t want tension. And usually, it wasn’t in conflict. But God tested the most important relationship.
And I look back now, I just can’t imagine our marriage being better. I can’t imagine how it’s opened doors. I can’t imagine the freedom that it has created, and the next level of maturity, both in my relationship with God, and my wife.
And then, what you see is – because some of you are getting a little nervous. It’s okay. You’re thinking, Everything – that’s a big word, like, everything. You mean my job? “Yeah.” You mean my…? “Yeah.” You mean…? “Yes.” And what you’re going to learn is, if you really understand who Jesus is, and if you ever grasp the depth of His compassion, and His goodness, and His kindness, the only reason He ever asks you to leave everything is because anything else is so second rate.
It’s like God coming to us, and seeing a little child down on the beach, playing with plastic pearls in the sand. And having priceless pearls, and saying to the little girl, “Give Me those pearls, because I want you to have these.” And the little girl says, “No, these are mine. These are mine. These are my favorites.” And they’re just plastic junk. But it’s all she knows.
And I think the sad, sad thing that has occurred in our world, is I think we have believers all over the world, but probably especially in America, because persecution and pain helps you see what real pearls are, and where plastic stuff is. But I think, especially in America, we have Christians hanging on to the plastic pearls of our jobs, and our careers, and our families, and our money. And God going, Oh, man, I guess you don’t believe I really love you, do you? You just don’t believe I’m a good God. These commands are for our good. But there is real sacrifice involved.
Leviticus: required/voluntary. Abraham: He will test you. Jesus: He has to be the supreme in our hearts as a condition for being a follower. And then, lessons from the life of Paul. Paul is going to say, in Romans chapter 12, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers” – notice, what’s the motivation? – “in view of God’s mercy” – in view of all that He’s done for you, in view of all of His love – what’s he say? – “to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.”
Would you circle the little phrase, to offer? It literally means “to present.” The word, when it’s translated, is called “the LXX.” It means “the seventy.” And they translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek. And this Greek word, in all the Old Testament, is when the priest would present the offering at the altar.
And, see, what the apostle Paul is saying – because he makes this great, logical line, Romans chapters 1 to 3 – everyone has this problem of sin, but God has solved it through this great, great gift of Christ on the cross. Chapters 4 and 5: By faith, you receive that free gift. Chapters 6 through 8: Now that you have this new life, you have died with Him; you’ve been raised with Him. It is in the Spirit’s power that you live.
And then, Chapters 9 through 11, parentheses: “By the way, I have a special plan for Israel, as an agent of blessing. But they’ve dropped the ball. And so, what I do is, I’m going to put them on the shelf for a while, and I’m going to create this new thing called ‘the Church.’”
And then, He says, “Now, in light of all that I’ve done – here’s My will: I want you to offer you,” and notice – what? “as a living and holy sacrifice.” God wants you. He doesn’t want your job. He doesn’t want your money. He doesn’t want your stuff. He wants you – lock, stock, and barrel. It’s a living sacrifice. And I picture, in my mind – that altar, and you know how they would put the animals on the altar? I imagine an altar that God wants us to crawl up on and say, God, I’m Yours, 24/7, 365.
And the picture that comes to my mind is, it’s like having your checkbook, and you sign the bottom of the check, and you write your name. And then, you take the check, and you turn it like this. And you walk up to the door of heaven, in the big throne room, and it’s shut. And there’s just light coming out of the bottom. And you take your check, and you slide it under. And you say, Lord, I’m a living sacrifice, 24/7. This isn’t about Sunday. It’s not about a Wednesday night. It’s not about just little times here and there. All that I am, all that I have, is Yours.
So, I’ve done it at a point in time. It’s in a tense of the verb – to offer. It’s at a point in time. Lord, what I want You to do is You fill out the top, every day. You tell me what You want to do, where You want me to go, what You want me to give, who You want me to serve. You just write on the top, and I’ve pre-decided, whatever You write, that’s what I’m going to do. That’s the normal Christian life.
And by the way, this is not salvation. This is chapter 12, right? Right? This is what’s called “lordship,” or “dedication.” I think it’s one of the most missing teachings in the Church today.
I was at Penn State University in 1975. I’d been a Christian about two and a half, maybe three years. And someone walked me through this process, through the life of Abraham, and landed on Romans 12:1. And I realized, I knew God. I was born again. My sins were forgiven. And on Thursday night, I always went to Bible study, and on Friday and Saturday nights, I hit every bar in Wheeling. Like a lot of Christians, I was just living with one foot here, one foot here. And you know what? I was miserable.
And then, Romans 12:1, I was at the conference, and I realized, The problem is, I don’t get this idea of sacrifice and worship coming together. And I was thinking, I need to do these duties. And I’m supposed to read my Bible, and I’m supposed to do this. And you know what? What I’m supposed to do, what’s my spiritual service of worship? What God really wants is me. Not one day a week – seven days a week.
And so, the apostle Paul summarizes this understanding of sacrifice and worship. The sacrifice God requires is my life, 24/7, surrendered to Him to do His will. And I can look back, and I still remember, I was sitting on the floor, and I was doing that little study. And there were people here. And I got to Romans 12:1. I really understood it. And I said, God, I won’t do this perfectly, but I want You to know, today, I’m signing the bottom of the check. I’ll go wherever You want me to go. I’ll do whatever You want me to do. That scares me to death. I’m not going to put basketball, or a girlfriend, or money ahead of You. And when I do, please show me. But I’m Yours – lock, stock, and barrel.
And I’ve had a lot of decisions, and a lot of struggles, and two, three steps forward and a couple backward. I’ve done it very imperfectly. But part of when God tapped me on the shoulder in California, you know something? This wasn’t a decision of: Am I going to obey? I decided, in 1975, whatever He showed me, I was going to obey. It was just a matter of working back through and saying, We’ve already settled this deal. Now, am I going to keep my end of the bargain or not?
Now, here’s the question I have for you: When did you do that? When have you ever done that? When have you, I don’t mean generally, and moving toward your life with God. When, on a certain day, at a certain time, have you specifically said to God, I’m Yours, a living, holy sacrifice. Anything that’s not in the “holy” part, I want to not deal with it. I want to repent from it. Here’s the check. I’m Yours, surrendered. You have freedom to do whatever You want to do in my life.
And for a bunch of control freaks, this is really hard, isn’t it? And the stronger your personality, like mine – ooh. This was a tug of war inside. But here’s what I want to tell you: It’s the smartest, most emotionally satisfying, wisest decision you’ll ever make. Because the alternative, unconsciously, is, you’ve decided to be the king, and the CEO, and the master of your life. And you’re going to determine what’s best for you. And you’re going to decide your agenda.
And the only difference between you and Jesus is, He knows all things. He’s all-powerful. He loves you. He has the ability to do anything for you. And you don’t. And He will let us have our way. And He will let us reap the consequences of our way, with tears coming down His cheeks.
Here’s what, now, listen very, very carefully. This isn’t great Christians. Okay? This is not great Christians. These are good Christians. This is the normal Christian life. Didn’t Jesus speak, in Luke 14, to a large crowd? Do you now understand why, in the first sixty years of the Church, they turned the world upside down? They didn’t have DVDs. They didn’t have Bibles. They didn’t have printing presses. How in the world could a group of eleven or twelve people, and a hundred and twenty loose followers, in sixty to eighty years, completely change the entire culture of the world?
Because the kinds of Christians they were are exactly what I’ve described on the left side of the page: If I need to die, I need to die. If I need to go to the lion’s den, I need to go to the lion’s den. If You need my money, You can have my money. If You need me to relocate, I’ll relocate. I’m here, in this thing called “eternity,” a little thing called “time.” Jesus, I’ll follow You. You tell me, I’ll do it. It was that radical kind of follower that revolutionized the world.
And what was it about what God extended? It was their faith that got translated into a love for God – sacrifice, right? “Greater love has no one than this, that they lay down their life for another.” And it was their love for others.
But it’s a radical step of faith that leads to believing that Jesus is good, that God is in control, that life is about what He’s about, not what we’re about that then gets translated into a life of radical love for God, and love for others.
So, with that, some of you look, still a little bit like – I forget what part of the country – “I’m in a heap of trouble.” Remember that old phrase? No, you’re not. Maybe to tap you on the shoulder to say, “You know what? Get those plastic beads off your neck. I need to give you the real thing. But you don’t get the real thing until you rip those plastic ones.” You know what? They’re precious to you. And when you see those plastic beads sort of bounce around on the floor, I can tell you from personal experience, part of that feels kind of bad.
But can I give you a picture, before we look at what motivates, and how to become, a great Christian? Is, if, in fact, God is God, and He owns everything, what part of Him asking for something that He owns makes us so uncomfortable? I have this amazing relationship with my bank. I don’t know if you do, but I’ve got an amazing relationship with my bank. I put money in the bank. And I go up to the window, to the teller, and I write down, “I’d like to withdraw a thousand dollars.”
And that teller doesn’t go, “What? Man, who do you think you are? What do you mean, you want to withdraw a thousand dollars? Manager! Manager! Manager! Here’s a guy that’s trying to take a thousand dollars out of our bank!” And the manager comes over and goes, “It’s his money. He gets to take it out any time he wants.”
Now, so what part – “What do you have that you haven’t received?” That’s what Paul said. The answer is zero. So, what part makes us so upset, if children are a gift from the Lord? If life, and breath, and money, and job, and skills, and gifts are all given by God, why do we get so upset when He says, “I’d like to make a little withdrawal here”? And when I make a withdrawal of money, it’s not like I’m going to go party with the thousand dollars. I usually have something good to do with it.
So, if you want to learn to move from being a good Christian – and here’s what good Christians do: They do what’s required to demonstrate their genuine devotion and love. And I want to tell you, I want to be a good Christian.
But I want to give you, now, an overview of, here’s what great Christians do. Great Christians do what’s required, and then, they voluntarily go over and above what is required, to express the depth of their love for their heavenly Father, and their relationship with Christ. That’s what great Christians do.
I don’t have any verses that say Mother Teresa needs to clean up, and help people in the slums. That’s kind of over and above, it’s it? I don’t have any verses that say that Bill Bright, near the end of his life, emptied his retirement to open up the country of Ukraine, so there could be ministry in Ukraine. And he just figured, Well, God will take care of me, someway, somehow.
See, great Christians – that’s not required. See, the difference is, Abraham obeyed – “Give your son.” Later – remember Hannah? See, Abraham was a good follower. Hannah was a great follower. God said, “I want your son.” What’d Abraham do? He obeyed. Hannah said, “I long, in my heart, I long to express my love. And I really want to have a son, someday, someway. And if You give me this son, Lord, You know what I’d like to do? I’d like to have a few years, and train this boy up. And then, I’d like to give him back to You” – sacrifice. Do you see the difference? Good Christians do what’s required. Great Christians give over and above.
So, how do you become a great Christian? Now, this is the part that gets very positive. So if some of you who are feeling a little woeful can say, “Okay. Good, good, good. I’m ready for some of the positive parts.” What motivates great Christians to great sacrifices? Let me give you four things that motivate them.
Number one, they grasp God’s unconditional love. They grasp God’s unconditional love. Great Christians are out of the performance trap. They’re not trying to get brownie points with God. They’re not looking for a big star on their refrigerator in heaven. They understand, I am totally loved, unconditionally, totally apart from my works. What they want to do is, they sacrifice out of gratitude. They sacrifice out of love. It’s about relationship, and beyond duty. It’s a deep sense of brokenness over their own sin, their indebtedness to God’s grace, and gratitude for God’s mercy and forgiveness.
David was a great lover of God, even though he failed. There in Psalm 51, what did he say? He said, “God, if a burnt offering – if that’s what You required, I would have given it.” But he said, “I’ve blown it. I don’t deserve anything.” And then, he comes to God and says, “But a broken spirit and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” When God sees someone poured out, when we’ve blown it, and are just, Oh, God.
Paul said, what motivated Paul to write thirteen books? And a night and a day in the deep, and being flogged three times, within an inch of his life. What’d he say? First, he says, “I’m the chief among sinners. I’m a debtor to grace. How can I give back?”
His life wasn’t, “I’ve got to. I’ve got to/should. Well, I’m supposed to. Here are the rules I need to keep.” It was out of relationship.
Great Christians grasp God’s unconditional love. I love in Luke 7:47 – remember the immoral woman? And she’s there, with Simon the Pharisee, and Jesus is there. And Simon’s going through this deal where, Well, He’s obviously not a prophet, because this is a woman of the streets. And she is there, crying and wiping His feet with her hair. This guy can’t be from God. Jesus reads his mind. And do you remember what He says? He says, “Simon, those who have been forgiven much, love much. And those who have been forgiven little, love little.”
Now, we’ve all been forgiven the same. But this woman recognized, because of the depth of her sin, how much God loves her. And see, the fact of the matter is, it doesn’t take any more grace to forgive her than it does you or me. But because of her experience, she’s aware of how much she’s been forgiven.
And you find that the people that are the most tender toward God, and have the greatest devotion – I will guarantee, most often, there is huge pain in their past. And there’s something where they’ve experienced such forgiveness that they really believe, not just with their head, but with their heart and their emotions, Totally apart from my works, I am loved by God.
I live with a woman like that. When I met my wife, she went through horrendous things. And I met her when she was about three years old in the Lord. I had, by this time, memorized several hundred verses. I was sort of a workaholic Christian, in my early days. I memorized all these passages in my head. And I’d sit down and talk to her, and we’d have a conversation.
And I’d say, I’d quote this verse, and quote that verse. And she goes, we’d talk about something, she says, “Well, that won’t happen.” I said, “What do you mean?” She goes, “God’s not like that.” “What do you mean, God’s not like that?” “I just know Him. He would never do anything like that. That’s not what He’s like.” And I got drawn to her, because what I realized was, my head was filled with Scripture, like a Pharisee. And her heart was enlarged, like the woman who’d been forgiven much, and who knew that she was loved.
You read the mystics in Church history, you know what you find? The people have this great passion for God. It’s grasping and understanding how much you’re already loved. When you’re already loved, it’s not tit for tat: If I do this, will God do that? I’m afraid if I give this much money, if I really put my job on the line… We don’t believe, down deep, that God is for us. Great Christians grasp His unconditional love.
Second, they embrace God’s relational economy. God measures our love, or devotion, not by the size of our gifts, but by the size of our sacrifice – Luke 2:12. Jesus makes this clear. He’s apparently at the table. And there was a place where you could drop your gifts in. And He’s there at the table and He sees this woman, and people were giving large gifts. And it was great. It’s awesome. People that are given a lot should give large gifts.
And then, a lady comes by, and she’s a widow. That means she has no way to support herself. This is way beyond welfare. And she has two small, copper coins. And it’s all she has. And she drops it in. Jesus said, “Whoa – Peter, James, John, come here. Come here. You’ve got to see this.” Object lesson. And notice what – “This poor widow has put in more than all the others. Because they gave out of their abundance, and she gave all that she had.”
See, people who become great Christians, what they realize is, God doesn’t measure the way we measure. I get thinking, just take a financial example. Let’s say you’re making twenty thousand dollars, and it’s twenty years ago, and you’ve got three kids, and things are tight, and you tithe. And two thousand dollars out of twenty thousand dollars – I’ll tell you what, you’re talking some sacrifice, right? Well, let’s say life really gets better, and you make a hundred thousand dollars, ten years later. And you give ten percent of it. Well, you give ten thousand dollars out of a hundred. Well, not so much sacrifice.
Let’s say you make two hundred thousand dollars, twenty years later, and you give ten percent. Now you’re giving, wow, twenty thousand dollars. You say, Wow, man. I am really supporting the Lord’s work! I am giving twenty thousand dollars! And you’re eking by, somehow, on that other hundred and eighty thousand.
I remember talking to a guy who was really excited and proud that, “I gave ten million dollars to the work of the Lord.” I said, “That’s great! That’s awesome!” But then – you know, I kind of have these truth-telling sessions with people, and I get in trouble. I said, “But out of hundred million dollars, tell me, how much did that change your life? How much sacrifice was that?” Answer: zero.
Now am I saying it’s wrong to give away ten million dollars? No, it’s wonderful. Praise God. What I’m saying is, don’t confuse that with devotion. And don’t confuse it with sacrifice.
And so, we have Christians who think, Okay, ten percent is God’s part. I’m playing by the rules. Duty, duty, duty. That’s not what the Bible teaches. The Bible says that the first portion belongs to God, to remind me that one hundred percent belongs to Him. And I’m just as responsible for the ninety percent. And those of us that have been blessed – that means we live in America, for at least most of us – that once I give that, then I am asking God for opportunities: “How can I proportionally continue to give more and more and more?”
Why? I don’t have to. I don’t “got to.” I don’t earn brownie points. Are you ready for this? I want to. I want to. I love Him. It’s not an ought/should/duty requirement. Do most of you go Christmas shopping thinking, Now, how little can we spend on our kids? Over five dollars, that’s it. No. You’re always asking, Oh, boy, we really shouldn’t spend quite that much, but…why? Because you love them.
The third: people who make great sacrifices not only understand God’s unconditional love, and they embrace His relational economy, but they trust God’s eternal goodness. It’s an absolute conviction that the rewards for their sacrifice far outweigh the cost. This is awesome.
Mark 10 – study that passage, verses about 28 to 31. Jesus is saying to the disciples – and I love Peter, because Peter always asks the questions that I would ask, if I were there, but I would get in trouble. He’s making all these strong discipleship: “If any man would follow Me, take up his cross and follow Me.”
And Peter’s going, from the back row, “Pastor Jesus!” “Yes, Pete?” “We’ve done that. Like, what’s in it for us? I dropped the nets. I’m on another tour with You. My wife’s a little concerned about this, and the kids haven’t seen me in a couple weeks. What’s in it for us?”
Notice what Jesus says: “No one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for Me.” “For Me.” It’s personal. It’s not sacrifice for the cause. It’s not sacrifice so people think you’re spiritual. It’s not sacrifice so that it enlarges your spiritual ego. “Anybody who’s made a sacrifice, when you leave mother or brother or homes or jobs for Me and the gospel, will not fail to receive a hundred times as much in the present age, and in the age to come eternal life.”
Paul – see, Paul got this. Paul lived with this reality. He said, “This present, temporary affliction – sacrifice, price tag – “is not to be compared with” – what? – “the surpassing glory and weight of what we’ll later receive.” See, we don’t believe in heaven anymore. And we don’t believe in spiritual rewards. And we think right now really is all there is. And so, we’re holding on to those plastic beads. Because, I want to be spiritual, and I want to obey, and I want to be right with God. So, what’s the minimum? What’s the very minimum I can do, God? And we completely miss the point.
God’s not looking for minimum Christians. He’s looking for people who believe they’re actually loved, who recognize that He doesn’t measure by how much you give, but by the level of the sacrifice that you give, of your time, of your energy, of your money, of your heart, of your job, and in relationships. And He’s looking for people that actually believe.
See, it’s a compliment to God when we believe what He says. And it’s an insult when we don’t. When He says, “I’m good,” when the Scripture says, “The Lord God is a sun and a shield; the Lord gives grace and glory; no good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” You’re not going to miss out. Take off the plastic beads. You will get something better. The journey getting there will be scary. That’s why we talked about faith, first.
The final thing about those who really make great sacrifices is, they recognize God’s sovereign ownership. It’s an acute awareness that great sacrifice is not praiseworthy, but a privilege, since all that we have belongs to Him. All that we have belongs to Him.
In Luke 17, Jesus gave the parable and said, “Which one of you, when your servant comes in from the field, says to him, ‘Oh, thank you very much,’ and, ‘Let me take care of you’?” No. Do you do that? Jesus says, “No, what you do is, you say to him, ‘After you’ve cleaned yourself up, take care of my meal.’ And then, afterwards, you say to him, ‘You’ve only done what you’re supposed to do.’ In like manner, when you obey Me and do what I’ve called you to do, you’ve just only done what you are supposed to do.”
See, it’s not praise worthy. We have this idea that we really ought to get something special, that we’re really… And see, people that make great sacrifices, they realize, they’re just regular people.
David – notice what he says here in 1 Chronicles 29:14: “But who am I and who are my people that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from You, and we have given You only what comes from Your hand.”
Have you surrendered your whole life to Christ, as a living and holy sacrifice? In my world, I can write down Penn State, 1975. Could it be that God brought you, on this day, where a year or two or three from now, you would say, I bowed my head. And I said, “Twenty-four/seven, all that I am, all that I have is Yours”? And then, you trembled just a little bit, and you started taking off plastic beads and said, Lord, do with me what You will. I trust You. You’re good.
Are you growing in your loving, in your heart, in your mind, in your soul? If your heart is enlarging in love, it will be revealed in financial sacrifice. If your mind is growing in love, you’ll find yourself renewing your mind with God’s Word.
If your soul is growing, in terms of this relationship, you’ll find yourself having deep talks with your heavenly Father. And if your strength, loving God with your strength, you’ll find yourself ministering somewhere, or using what He’s given you.
The conclusion is very simple: Sacrifice is merely love with clothes on. Where there is great love, there will always be great sacrifice. That’s really simple, isn’t it? That’s how I know in my family, that’s how you know with your friends. Love is just sacrifice with clothes on. That’s what it looks like. “For God so loved the world, He gave.” Because you matter.