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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
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 repent from it. I’m Yours, surrendered. You have freedom to do whatever You want to do in my life.
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.
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.