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Anybody here that knows Jesus as savior has a call. You are called by God to do something specific for God. There are no nonentities here tonight, there are no people who should just be drifting through life without a sense of destiny or purpose. If you have become a Christian and committed your life to Jesus Christ, God has a specific individual plan for every one of you. God never makes carbon copies of people. There’s something he has special in this life for every one. And if you’ve never committed your life to Jesus Christ, you can do that here tonight and then that will be equally true of you.
One of the great tragedies in the Christian church is born again Christians who don’t see their own importance, who don’t realize how very special they are in the sight of God.
I’d like to start by reading from 2Timothy 1:8–9.
“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God; who has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began.”
It’s that 9th verse that I want to focus on tonight which follows on from the end of the previous verse in which the last word is “God.” Paul says there God has saved us and called us with a holy calling. What I want to emphasize tonight is you are saved you are also called. Being called is not an extra thing that’s tacked on to salvation. If you view it that way you may never find your calling. Being called is part of salvation. God has saved us and called us with a holy calling. I trust tonight that I’ll be able to communicate this truth to you in such a way that you will see that your calling is holy. It’s something that sets you apart, it sets boundaries to the things that you can indulge in, it sets limits around your life.
Later I’ll use Paul’s analogy of an athlete. Every Christian should be like an athlete who is set apart to running the fastest or jumping the highest or swimming the fastest or whatever it may be. No athlete can succeed in the world today who does not view his particular area of excellence as something that’s set apart that he devotes himself to, that takes priority over other things that interest other people.
To give you an example from my own background, I’ve never been a tremendous athlete. I played most games that can be played with a ball at one time or another. Not the American version of football, I have to say that, which I don’t understand. I have to admit I just don’t understand it! You laugh at me, see if you can understand cricket! However, I was very keen at the world’s best game which is soccer. That’s right, that’s a real spiritual person on that!
However, you’ve got to understand I’ve lived a long while. I’m talking about 50 years ago. You couldn’t believe that people were alive that long ago but they were! I was very keen in the ballet and I got to know some of the world’s great ballerinas, lady dancers. I still count amongst my friends a lady who I consider to be the greatest ballerina of this century. Those of you that know anything, Margot Fontaine? I knew her from age 16 upwards. As I say, I consider her to be the greatest female dancer of this century. I know why. Because, for her, dancing was something sacred. I mean, it took priority over everything else in her life. If you’re going to succeed in the ballet it’s got to dominate your life. The books you read, the friends you make, the food you eat, the exercise you take. Ballet dancers cannot afford to be swimmers because it develops the wrong muscles. That’s why Margot got to the top. She was dedicated.
That’s in a secular field, the field of entertainment. But I’m saying that every one of you has a calling, has a task in life to which you should give the same kind of priority that a ballet dancer has to give to dancing. If you haven’t realized that you’re probably missing it, you’re messing around, you’re majoring on minors and you’re spending your time and your energy on things that have no real enduring value and missing one of the most precious things in life.
Listen to what Paul says about this calling. It says “he has called us with a holy calling, not according to our works.” Understand? It doesn’t depend on our own ability or our level of education or our social status. If you are seeking a job in the world those are the kind of things that people would quiz you about. How far did you go in school? Do you have any degrees? Have you had any special training? When it comes to your calling in God it’s not based on those factors, it’s not according to our works. You do not have to sit there and say, “I was a high school dropout, I never really made it anywhere. I can’t even hold a job as a janitor.” That is no longer relevant, you see. And if you’re measuring yourself that way you’re not measuring yourself God’s way.
“Not according to our works.” Listen, it gets more and more exciting the further we go. “But according to his own purpose.” Do you realize that God has a purpose for every one of you here tonight? A special, distinctive purpose. “And grace.” Grace is one of the key concepts of the New Testament which you could preach on for a week but let me just say certain things about grace. Grace cannot be earned, okay? Anything we can earn is not grace. There’s lots of things we can earn but they are not grace. Paul says in Romans if it’s of works then it is not of grace. Bear this in mind, grace begins where your ability ends. All right? You are not operating in the grace of God when you’re operating in your own ability. So, if you’re looking at your own ability and saying, “I can’t go further than this because this is all the ability I have,” you are actually denying the grace of God. Paul says God has saved us and called us with a holy calling which does not depend on our works, our ability, but it’s according to his purpose and his purpose is the product of his grace.
You no longer have to sit back and say, “Well, there are things I can’t do.” Or, “I don’t have the right level of education.” Or, “I don’t have the right kind of personality.” Where all that ends is where God’s grace begins, you understand?
Now, it gets even more exciting. “His purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus, before time began.” Isn’t that staggering? Before the world was ever created in eternity the Bible says God foreknew us, he knew us in advance. On the basis of his foreknowledge he chose us. And having chosen us he predestined us. That means he settled in advance the destiny of our lives. Then in time he called us. You see? But the calling is the product of God’s foreknowledge and predestination and choice.
So, you are not an accident looking for somewhere to happen, see what I’m saying? You’re not just a little foam on the surface of the water that’s going to disappear in a few moments. You are part of an eternal plan that God had before he created anything. I don’t think there are any afterthoughts with God, no emergencies. God is never caught unprepared. Whatever situation or circumstance you are in right now, God knew it all in advance. It’s part of his plan for you to be there but it may not be part of his plan for you to stay there, do you understand? Because, when you get hold of the concept of being called it’s one of the most radical life changing concepts that a person can ever grasp.
I trust that before I finish tonight I will have sowed in many of you seeds of something that is going to make deep, permanent, radical changes in you. That’s what Paul says about our calling. God, when he saves us, he calls us. He doesn’t say, “I’ve saved Jane or Bill. What am I going to do with them now that I’ve got them?” Or, “They sure are a mess! What can I make out of them?” No. When he saves you he already has his plan for you. He saves you in order to get you into his plan. That plan is not an emergency measure, it’s something that he thought out carefully before time ever began.
Now, I want to point out to you the Bible makes it very clear that God’s faithfulness in his dealings with us is related to his calling. In this little book about me somebody quotes me as saying, “If I had only one message to leave to posterity—my family, my friends, whoever it might be—I would say it in three words. God is faithful.” But, lots of people don’t really apprehend God’s faithfulness, they’re not quite sure how faithful God really is. Can they really rely on him? Well, the reason why you’re not sure is because God’s faithfulness is linked to his calling. It’s only when you come into your calling that you fully experience God’s faithfulness. I’ll show you just a few statements about that.
First of all, in 1Corinthians 1:9.
“God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Notice his faithfulness is directly related to his calling. He’s faithful to work out what he’s called. But if you don’t know what he’s called you don’t even know whether he’s being faithful or not.
Notice here it says we’re called into fellowship. In the religious life, in the Christian life, there are two kinds of things. There are means and there are ends. That’s a philosophic concept but it’s pretty simple to understand. Ends are things that you do for their own sake. Means are things you only do for the sake of getting to an end. Do you understand? It’s very important that we learn to distinguish between them because my observation of many Christians and many churches is they’re so bogged down in means that they never achieve the ends.
For instance, as I understand it, preaching is not an end, it’s a means. It’s only successful and worthwhile if it achieves the desired end. Just coming to church and singing hymns is really not an end, it’s a means. But if it doesn’t achieve the means then it’s a waste of time. I’m afraid that in many churches 90 percent of the time is just totally wasted because it doesn’t achieve the ends.
There are two ends that are clearly stated in the New Testament. One of them is stated here. It’s fellowship. Sharing together. That is not a means, that is an end of the Christian life. It’s something that we should be headed for. We should not be satisfied if we don’t achieve it. I remember years back I was in a Pentecostal church—it could have been any kind of church but it was a Pentecostal church—preaching on Sunday morning. I preached a good sermon. The pastor said it was a good sermon and he said at the end, “Now, there’s a wonderful atmosphere in the church this morning. Don’t rush off home. Stay and have fellowship. Shake hands with half a dozen people before you go.” I thought to myself, “Dear Lord, is that fellowship?” Shaking hands with half a dozen people? If that’s all we’re aiming at I’m not satisfied.
You see, church buildings serve useful purposes but for the most part they do not achieve fellowship. After all, the very way a church building is set out tells you the moment you get in there you’re going to sit in your seat and you’re going to look in a certain direction. There is a P.A. system and everything that is significant is going to happen from behind this pulpit, podium, whatever you want to call it. All you’re going to see of other people is the back of somebody else’s neck. You see, you really can’t fellowship the back of somebody’s neck. I’m not saying churches are wrong. What I’m saying is that’s not an end, it’s a means to bring us into fellowship. But really, in most cases, fellowship is achieved in different environments, in different situations.
If you’re a member of a home group, there’s where you can really have fellowship. You face one another, you talk to one another, you don’t have to follow a set of religious rules. You see what I’m saying? One of God’s purposes in our lives is fellowship. First of all with whom? With God, that’s right. And then with one another. If we are aimed at that God is faithful. You see what I’m saying? God is faithful to achieve his purposes, not necessarily to fit in with ours.
There’s another beautiful scripture about fellowship in 1John 1:1–3.
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the word of life...”
John is talking about the revelation of Jesus in human flesh and in human history.
“(For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested to us;) that which we have seen and heard we declare to you...”
John is writing as one of the apostles and he’s saying, “We have given you the accurate record of the life and the teachings of Jesus which we have seen and heard, we had direct contact with him. It wasn’t hearsay, it wasn’t tradition. It was a firsthand experience of the life.” He said, “We have transmitted that to you in the New Testament.” That’s really what the New Testament is, it’s the apostles’ record of the life of Jesus.
Why is that given to us? Go on reading in verse 3.
“That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.”
Why was the New Testament written? It was written to bring us into fellowship with the apostles. Their fellowship was with the Father and the Son. You see, fellowship is not a means, it’s an end. That’s God’s purpose. I say sometimes the New Testament is God’s invitation to share his fellowship. But if we never come into fellowship we’re always living in the area of means and never arriving at ends.
However, when fellowship becomes our objective, then we prove God’s faithfulness. See what I’m saying? You cannot divorce God’s faithfulness from his purpose. When we get into line with God’s purpose then we truly experience God’s faithfulness. A lot of Christians are wondering whether God really is faithful. The reason they’re not sure is they haven’t brought their lives into line with God’s purpose. See?
Let’s look again in 1Thessalonians 5:23–24.
“May the God of peace [himself] sanctify you completely...”
Sanctify is a kind of old fashioned religious word. It’s a good one but if you want a modern translation it is “make you holy.” All right? Make you a saint, it’s the same word. So, what’s God’s objective? To make us holy. How holy? Completely holy. That’s marvelous, isn’t it? What areas of our personality are affected?
“...may your whole spirit, soul and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
So God’s purpose is to make us holy in spirit, soul and body; and to preserve us blameless. I’d like you to consider in your own time what it means to have your body preserved blameless to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. You see what God’s purpose is? It’s to make us totally holy. That’s a challenge, isn’t it? Holy in body. Holy in soul. In our emotions, our thoughts. Holy in spirit. Paul says he that is joined to the Lord is one spirit, not one soul. It’s the spirit that’s God related, you understand? God wants every part of us—spirit, soul and body—holy.
When you line up with that purpose, listen to what the next verse says:
“He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.”
Do what? Make you holy. Understand? Again, God’s faithfulness is related to his purpose. His purpose is to make us holy. Of course, what ever else his purpose may be, he’s faithful. What I’m emphasizing is you don’t really experience God’s faithfulness in a real and tangible way until you’re lined up with God’s purpose. God’s faithfulness is in the fulfilling of his purpose.
Then, another scripture in Ephesians 2:10.
“For we are his workmanship [God’s workmanship], created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”
There’s another breathtaking statement, we are God’s workmanship. The Greek word there is ?poiema? from which we get the English word poem. We’re not just a piece of carpentry but we’re an artistic masterpiece. That’s the best way to translate it. We are his masterpiece. See, if you begin to see yourself that way it’s going to change a lot of your own attitudes toward yourself. You are not going to talk about “I’m no good, I can’t do much, there’s not much in me.” Because, actually, when you criticize yourself as a Christian you’re criticizing God’s artistic achievements. What really blesses me is that the great Creator who created the stars and the seas and the trees and all the wonderful things, when he wanted to show the universe what he really could do, when he wanted to bring forth his masterpiece just to prove what he really was, do you know what he did? He went to the scrap heap for his materials. That’s you and me. Did you realize that? Do you know where you were when God found you? You were on the scrap heap.
God says to the universe, “You really want to see what I can do? Throughout eternity I’m going to demonstrate it what I made out of these people.” How many of you know that song—I can’t sing so I won’t sing it—“I Will Serve You Because I Love You?” “You have given life to me. I was nothing before you found me. Heartaches and broken people, that is why you died on Calvary.” God went to the people with the heartaches and the broken lives to make them into his creative masterpiece. Paul says at the beginning of Ephesians that we should be to the praise of his glory of the glory of his grace forever. It’s a staggering thought. Whenever God really wants to boast to the creation about his skill as a creator, we’re his demonstration piece. He’s going to point to us and say, “See what I did with that?”
There’s another reason why he chose the lowest to raise them to the highest. Do you know why? Because the big problem in creation is pride. That’s the first sin, that’s what cost the devil his place. So, God is going to humble the whole universe by pointing to us. “You think you’re brilliant, you think you’re clever? Look what I did with these people.” See? The Bible says no flesh is going to glory in his presence.
Notice than that God has called us to fellowship, to holiness and here it says to good works. Praise God we’re not just called to sit around in church buildings. We’re called to do something. I remember when I went to church as a boy in Britain and I got this vague picture that heaven is a place where people sat on clouds and played harps. I thought to myself that doesn’t excite me. I think that’s terribly dull. Well, it’s not an accurate picture. We are called to do good things for God. It says he has prepared them beforehand. You don’t have to write the scenario for you own life. If you do it will be a disaster. What you have to do is find the scenario God has written and act it out. We are his workmanship created for good works which God has prepared beforehand. You will be a frustrated Christian until you find out the good works for which God has specifically created you. When you find it out it creates a fearful sense of responsibility. If I don’t do it it won’t get done.
I don’t believe God has a backup for any of you people. There are no stand-ins in God’s theater. How solemn that is.
Somewhere out there you’ll probably find the story of my first wife Lydia called Appointment in Jerusalem. If you haven’t read it it’s a gripping story. How many of you have read that? I think you’d all agree everybody says I couldn’t put it down once I started. I mention that because this was the scripture that sent her out. She wondered what am I a Christian for. God gave her this scripture, “For good works which he has before ordained for us to walk in.” The good works that he had prepared for her, she would never have dreamed of in her lifetime. To leave a good position as a teacher in Denmark in the state school system and go out without any money or any church or organization to support her and begin to take in one dying, little Jewish baby in a basement. But that was God’s scenario.
One thing I can promise you. When you find God’s plan for your life it will not be boring. Ruth says sometimes, “One thing I can say is since we’ve been married I’ve never been bored.”
Let’s look at a scripture that wraps all that up in Romans 8:28. A very familiar scripture for many of us.
“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to his purpose.”
You see, a lot of people misquote that scripture. They’re out on their own doing their own thing, irrespective of God and they come into some kind of trouble or they have an accident and they say, “Well, everything works together for good.” It doesn’t. There are limitations to that scripture. “Everything works together for good to those who love God.” And that’s not the end of the verse. “And who are called according to his purpose.” Only when we are walking in our calling and fulfilling our purpose does everything work together for good. Understand? You’ve got to get in line with God’s purpose. God is not going to adjust his purpose to you. You have got to adjust to God’s purpose.
Some of you tonight, if you could see in God what God has for you, you would be staggered. I am praying, praying right now, that God will open the eyes of some of you and give you a vision of what he has for you. Some of you may end up in totally different areas of the earth doing things you never knew you could do, speaking languages you never knew you could learn.
Inside the United States there is one Christian worker for every 280 people. Outside the United States there is one Christian worker for ever 450,000 people. Why not be where you’re needed? If you haven’t traveled in some parts of the earth, you have no idea of the hunger in the hearts of men and women for the simple truth about Jesus Christ. Not for profound theological education but just to know there was a man called Jesus who died and rose from the dead. You know that half the earth has never heard that once at this time?
There’s a song that we have on a record that’s really Jewish songs but this song is not the least bit Jewish. It’s just about the resurrection. The chorus goes, “May the book of life never close ‘til the whole world knows he arose.” I don’t know why but I never can listen to that without tears coming in my eyes.
See, I believe every human being has got the right to know that Jesus died and rose from the dead. After that, what they do about it is their responsibility but it’s our responsibility to tell them. What are you doing about it? Maybe you’re not doing much because you haven’t discovered what God has for you to do.
Not all God’s callings are dramatic. God calls people to be housewives, mothers. But being a mother is a calling. How many of you know that? Furthermore, I want to tell you it’s a very difficult calling. It’s much more difficult than being an executive in some business, believe me. To be a successful mother is a tremendous achievement. But if people don’t see it as a calling they’ll get frustrated and say, “I wish I was somewhere else earning more money or in the headlines or whatever.” See, everything is different when you see it as God’s calling.
I just have to testify of God’s faithfulness in my life. I was what you’d call a professor of philosophy at Cambridge University up ‘til World War II. Academically successful, mentally confused! In fact, some people get mad with me when I say this. The main objective of philosophy is to confuse people. The more you confuse them the more successful they think you are. If you make anything simple then they’re not interested. So I was confused and confusing other people! Then I got called up into the British Army. The only thing that would have ever gotten me into the army was being called up. All my family were military officers but I took a different road in life. When I went into the army I decided my big problem was what am I going to take with me to read? My life consisted of reading books. I had one of the largest libraries in the world just outside my back door for 7 years.
So, being a philosopher I reasoned it out and I said there’s one book of philosophy in the world which is more widely read and more influential than any other book. I don’t know much about it so it’s my job to study that. I’ll take that with me. Do you know what book that was? The Bible. See, I was at least sensible enough to realize the Bible’s influence in the human race and human history is absolutely unique. There’s no other book that can even begin to compare with it. I took a Bible with me to study as a work of philosophy.
God got me hooked! I didn’t have any religious ambitions, I got tired of “churchianity” and dismissed the whole thing years back. When I started to study the Bible in the army it was the first book I studied that I couldn’t make sense of. I found it very boring, very incomprehensible but I said no book is going to beat me. I started at the beginning and I’m going to read it through to the end. After 9 months in the army I got from Genesis 1 to somewhere in the middle of the book of Job which was much better than a lot of Christians would have done!
Then I had a personal encounter with the author. That changed everything instantly. Not gradually but instantly. I was changed radically and permanently. That was 44 years ago. Believe me, it has lasted. It’s more exciting today than it was then. One of the dramatic features of the change was the Bible instantly became a meaningful book. Not gradually but from one day to the next.
Why was I telling you that? I had something—I didn’t have any doctrinal knowledge, I’d never heard the gospel preached before, I didn’t know that there was such a thing as being saved or born again. I had to learn all that language. Because the army sent me overseas to North Africa I didn’t have the opportunity to attend a church or have a pastor or listen to a preacher. I just had one source of information and that was the Bible. For 3 or more years all I could do was read the Bible. In many ways it helped me a lot because when I could start attending churches I quickly discovered there are a lot of things in the Bible they don’t tell you in most churches! I had never judged the Bible by the church, I’ve always judged the church by the Bible.
Well, in due course after about 3 and a half years I ended up in the country that was then called Palestine which is now called Israel. I was in a little Jewish settlement called ?Kireat Motskin? which is a little bit north of Haifa and I was in the medical corps. I was in charge of a small medical supply depot where they were storing medicines and other supplies to send into Europe once the way opened up. Really, I didn’t have much to do, I would just wander up and down between these bales of medical supplies. Nobody was going to come in and steal them, there wasn’t much that could happen to them.
There God spoke to me about two of the most important things in my life. I really can’t remember now which came first. One of the things, at any rate, he told me was whom I was to marry. That’s the lady I did marry about 2 years later. I’m so grateful, you know, because I was a sort of a person who is at home in the abstract but I’m not much good in the practical. I can deal with long phrases and make equations and all that sort of thing but dealing with people was something I wasn’t used to. I would have probably made the most foolish and unsuitable choice of a wife. God didn’t give me that opportunity! He told me whom to marry.
You might smile but that’s very, very scriptural, I want you to know that. Basically, I don’t believe you should make your own choice. I believe that’s a matter that every Christian should let the Lord decide for them. The second time I got married after my first wife went to be with the Lord God showed me in a vision whom I was to marry. He left no room for doubt. At that time I’d only met the lady once for about 10 minutes and it shocked me. However, incidentally, I want you to know Ruth and I have just completed a book which she wrote two chapters and I wrote ten. The title is God Is a Matchmakerand its aim is to tell you how you can find God’s ordained mate for you. Second to the choice of salvation and your savior, that is the most important choice in most people’s lives. You cannot afford to leave that to chance or your own whims or emotions.
Anyhow, that’s one thing. The other thing that God did was he showed me my life’s calling. Again, he didn’t give me any opportunity to misunderstand. Through the gifts of the Holy Spirit he called me verbally with words that I have never forgotten and never will. This is what he said—and I wasn’t even praying about it. The initiative came from God. You see, if you only ask God for the things you know about, there’s a whole lot of things you don’t know about you’ll never ask God. You have to have a relationship with God where he can take the initiative and tell you things you didn’t even ask him. So, he said this: “I have called thee...” And strangely enough, God usually speaks to me in King James English which I love, I understand it. Well, there’s a lot of advantages of King James English. I don’t use the King James Version because I find I spend 10 percent of my time telling people what the words meant which was not a good investment of time.
I’ll tell you one thing about the King James. It distinguishes between you singular and you plural. There’s a whole lot of times in modern translations where you really don’t know if God talking to one person or to a group. But when he says thou and thee, that’s singular. He said to me, “I have called thee to be a teacher of the scriptures in truth, and faith, and love which are in Christ Jesus for many.” That’s the exact words. That was in probably November 1944, 41 years ago nearly.
Faithful is he who calls you who also will do it. I look back on 41 years of God’s faithfulness. At that time I was a very insignificant corporal in the most insignificant branch of the British Army. Cassette recorders had never been invented, Christian radio didn’t exist, television was just a dream. If God had told me what would happen to my teaching ministry I don’t believe I could ever have accepted what he would have told me. Today—and I say this solely for the glory of God—my radio Bible teaching ministry apart from anything else reaches every continent on earth and is probably accessible to well over half earth’s populations right now today. To whom is that due? To God and his faithfulness.
But, I have devoted my talents, my time, my energy, my prayers. No athlete has been more concerned with his training than I have. I am very, very careful what I let into my mind. I screen everything I admit to my mind.
Let me tell you well over 2 years have passed since I switched on a television. I don’t find that on the whole it helps me to be a Bible teacher. We have to get to know the news but there are simpler ways to get the news than sit through all those commercials and listen to things of which 90 percent are of no permanent significance whatever. There was a survey made recently by a secular marketing organization to survey the born again Christian market because, you know, it’s estimated there are 40 to 50 million quote, born again Christians in America. That’s a very substantial segment of the market. About one fifth the total population. I read this. It was not written with any spiritual aim whatever, it was just to make dollars, that’s all. Out of selling to born again Christians. It analyzed their tastes and the way they spent their time and the kind of things they enjoyed. Brothers and sisters, I have to tell you its conclusion was rather tragic. There isn’t really any difference between them and the rest of the market. One of the things it said was this, the average quote, born again Christian spends 68 minutes a week reading the Bible, 3 hours a day watching television. That is not taking your calling seriously, brothers and sisters. Any athlete that was so sloppy about his achievements would never get his name in the paper.
I’ve told Christians in many places if you want a real dramatic, radical change in your life, if you want to be much more spiritual than you are, I’ll tell you how to do it. It’s true for 90 percent. Just exchange two things. The amount of time you spend in front of the television and the amount of time you spend with the Bible. Change them over and you will be astonished how spiritual you’ll be. Don’t sow to the flesh and expect to reap from the spirit because it doesn’t happen. Whatever we sow we reap.
There was a time when I was an associate pastor of an Assembly of God Church in Minneapolis. One of my assignments was to visit the sick and the people in the hospital. This church preached divine healing, they believed Christians should be healthy. I had an awful lot of hospital visiting to do. I mean, a tremendous amount. It became very depressing. I said to God, “God, I don’t understand. These people believe in divine healing. Why are so many of them sick?” The scripture the Lord gave me was “If you sow to the flesh you shall of the flesh reap corruption.” He said, “Most of them spend much more time sowing to their flesh than they do to their spirit.” And out of the flesh, dear brothers, you’ll reap corruption. Sickness is just one form of corruption.
See, if you really had a vision of your calling that would change you. Most of you know something about athletics. You know full well that an athlete who wants to run fast or jump higher or swim longer, whatever it is, his whole life is focused on that. He doesn’t eat just anything he pleases. The hours he sleeps, the exercise he takes are all devoted to that because that’s his calling in the secular. For every one of us God has a calling which is far more important than just jumping a few feet further than anybody else. But you’ll be no more successful in your calling than you are dedicated to it.
You don’t know about soccer, do you? One of the greatest soccer players of this century was called George Best, an Englishman. He could practically win any match he played in. He got so enamored with women and drink that they couldn’t even rely on him to turn up on the playing field. They didn’t give him a salary, they just said, “Any time you come we’ll pay you 50,000 pounds.” Which then was about $150,000. He just blew it. Do you know why? Lack of dedication.
How many Christians are blowing it? Their eyes haven’t been opened, they haven’t come to see what God has for them.
Let me tell you three things briefly. First of all, you need to discover your calling. Secondly, you need to cultivate your calling. And thirdly, you need to stay within your calling. How do you discover your calling? I can tell you, there is an answer in the Bible. It’s specific, it’s clear, it’s found in Romans 12:1–2.
“I beseech you therefore, brethren...”
I can understand why he said “I beseech you.” He says, “I implore you, brethren, I urge you. Get serious. You don’t know what you’re missing.” He couldn’t say “I command you” because it wouldn’t work. He said, “Oh, if only you could see.”
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God...”
The first eleven chapters of Romans deals with all God’s mercy to a fallen human race. It’s the most exact, thorough and logical explanation of God’s provision for human need through Jesus Christ. Then Romans 12 begins what you would call the practical application. If you believe in Jesus, what kind of a life ought you to lead, what kind of a person ought you to be? Chapters 12–16 essentially deal with that. That’s why the therefore is there at the beginning of the chapter. In the light of all God’s mercies what ought we to do? How shall we respond? Just like Paul and just like the Bible the answer is very down to earth. It’s not the least bit mystical or super-spiritual or sentimental. What does he says?
“I beseech you... that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”
Isn’t that just like the Bible? What does God want? He wants our body, that’s what he wants. Did you know that? Paul says put your body on God’s altar a living sacrifice. Why does he say living, what is he thinking of? He’s thinking of the sacrifice of the Old Testament in which the animal was killed and its body was placed on the altar. Paul says put your body at God’s disposal, exactly the same, just one difference—don’t kill it. Give him a living body. “Holy, acceptable unto God.” Notice the word holy. What makes it holy? The altar. Jesus told the Pharisees the gift doesn’t sanctify the altar, the altar sanctifies the gift. When you place your gift on the altar the altar makes it a holy gift. It’s not holy until it’s on the altar.
Do you realize that you can have a holy body? That’s dramatic, isn’t it? Some of you have messed your bodies up. I won’t go into details but some of you have used drugs and some of you have been involved in all sorts of immorality and unclean things. The good news is every one of you can have a holy body. This is so important, I’m thinking about the book we’ve written about marriage. Because, you want to come to marriage with a holy body. Marriage is the union of two bodies. God has made a way that every person can have a holy body no matter what you’ve been. You may have been an adulterer, fornicator, homosexual. You can have a holy body because it’s the altar that makes the body holy. Put your body on the altar and it’s sanctified. That’s what God is asking of you. He’s not asking something complicated and theological. He’s asking you to say, “God, here’s my body. I hand it over to you. From now on I don’t own it, you own it. I’ve offered it to you.” When you make that decision you don’t decide where your body goes, the Lord does. You don’t decide what your body eats, the Lord does. You don’t decide what clothes your body wears, the Lord makes those decisions. He owns your body. Mind you, he’s also responsible for the maintenance. If your body is just rented, he doesn’t have any responsibility. When you hand your body over to him without reservation he is responsible.
Now, when you hand your body over, something happens. Verse 2:
“Do not be conformed to this world: but be transformed by the renewing of your mind...”
See, when you give God your body something happens in your mind. Your mind is renewed, you start to think a different way. You see, the old unrenewed mind is self-centered. It goes into everything including marriage. “What will I get out of this? What will this do for me?” And that’s a sure way to an unhappy marriage, let me tell you that. The renewed mind says, “What will God get out of this? What will glorify God? What does God want?” When you go into anything that way you succeed. Marriage is a union of two lives, each laid down for the other. Neither party says, “What will I get, what will bless me.” Each party says “What can I do for my mate?” That’s not the way people think today but that’s the renewed mind.
When your mind is renewed—now we’re coming to the bottom line—you prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. To prove means to find out in experience. You see, the old unrenewed mind cannot find the will of God. You can try, you can pray but God doesn’t speak to the unrenewed mind. Romans 8 says the carnal mind is enmity against God. God doesn’t share his secrets with his enemies. But when your body is presented and your mind is renewed, God shows your renewed mind what his will for your life is.
It’s three things. It’s good, acceptable and perfect. It gets better and better. First of all it’s good. God never planned anything bad for any of his children. The devil will tell you “This is going to spoil my life. I’ll lose my friends, I’ll lose my job, I’ll have no more kicks and thrills.” That’s a lie. God’s will is good.
It’s acceptable. The better you know it the more you like it.
But third, it’s perfect. It covers every area of your life. It meets every need, it satisfies every longing. Only your Creator knows what will fully satisfy you.
That’s how to discover the will of God. How to find your calling. It’s to present yourself without reservation to God and say, “God, here I am, you’ve saved me. I belong to you. I’m putting my body, my life on your altar. From now on you make the decisions God.” I’ll go very quickly through the rest.
Cultivate your calling. I’ve spoken so many times about athletes, let me just read a passage. I don’t need to go into it. 1Corinthians 9. Focus your life around your calling. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:24 and following:
“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.”
That means having an objective, going for it, not being diverted, not being deflected. Then it says:
“And every one who competes for the prize [in the Olympic games] is temperate [or exercises self control] in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown...”
In those days it was a laurel wreath, today it’s a gold medal. But, whatever it is it doesn’t last forever.
“...but we do it for an imperishable crown.”
A crown that will never fade away, it’s eternal.
“Therefore I run, not with uncertainty...”
How many Christians are running with uncertainty? This way today, that way tomorrow. One ambition today, another ambition tomorrow. Paul says I’m not like that. Nobody ever won a race who staggered from side to side and switched from one lane to another.
“...thus I fight not as one who beats the air...”
He says I’m in a boxing match. I aim to land my blows on my opponent, I just don’t lash out into the air. Then he says:
“I discipline my body and bring it into subjection...”
That’s what an athlete does. I mean, you’re all familiar with this. You all watch the Olympic games when they were on television. Not one of those people you watched led a self indulgent life. Okay? Every one of them had to exercise mental discipline, physical discipline, emotional discipline. You know, half an athlete’s success is having the right mental attitude. They spend a lot of time just cultivating their mental attitudes. Paul says they’re doing it just for a gold crown or a gold medal or a silver medal. We are in a race that’s going to give us an eternal prize. How much more ought we to exercise self control?
You know, a lot of people think the Holy Spirit will do it all. But one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is self control. The Holy Spirit won’t control you beyond the point that you determine to be controlled. There is no substitute for your decision. I won’t ask this, I don’t want to embarrass you. If I ask how many of you ladies here have been on a diet and got off without succeeding, many of you would raise your hands. Some of you have been on several. In fact, your life is a kind of diet hopping experience.
I want to tell you, incidentally, that is not the way to have a trim, healthy body. Okay? Diet is a dirty word. What you need is a lifestyle, not a diet. Do you know why you don’t succeed if you don’t? Shall I tell you why? Because you don’t have a vision of yourself. If you had a vision of what you intended to be you’d make the sacrifices, you’d accept the discipline. But without a vision the Bible says people cast off restraint, they lose the ability to control themselves. Why don’t you have a vision? Because you haven’t let God show you his plan for you.
One of the things that God said to me in l962—this is just an example. I had just returned to Europe from 5 years on a mission field in East Africa. I was on the top of a lonesome cliff in the northwest corner of Denmark. I was worshipping the Lord, there was nothing to interrupt me, just seagulls and wind. The Lord spoke to me. I mean not audibly but absolutely clearly. He rehearsed my spiritual career up to that point, he reminded me of the various things I had done. He said, “Now, you’re the member of a denomination. You’re the principal of a teacher training college and you have a pension scheme!” Then he said, “Are you satisfied or do you want to go further?” That shocked me. Do you know why? Because I didn’t think there was anything further to go. I mean, I am embarrassed but that was my attitude. I was saved, baptized in the Spirit, spoke in tongues and so on and so forth.
Well, one thing I’d learned by that time was don’t give God a hasty answer. I said, “Lord, I need time to think this over. I’ll come back when I’m ready with my answer.” About 3 days later I got back to the same cliff top, got in touch with the Lord and said, “Lord, I’m ready to give you my answer.” Then I said, “Lord, I’m not satisfied.” Only when I said I’m not satisfied did I realize how dissatisfied I really was. I think most Christian ministers are dissatisfied but they try to persuade themselves there’s nothing different, that’s the way it’s got to be, that’s the way it always has been. It’s not like the New Testament but that’s all there is. When I said I’m not satisfied I realized the depth of dissatisfaction within me.
Then I said, “Lord, forgive me.” Even today I blush. I said, “Lord, if there is anything further I want to go further.” If there is anything further, just think of that! I got a very swift, practical answer. He said, “If you want to go further there are two conditions. First of all, all progress in the Christian life is by faith. If you’re not willing to go forward in faith you can’t go forward. Secondly, if you are to fulfill the ministry I have for you, you will need a strong healthy body and you’re putting on too much weight. You better see to that.” Very practical. That was in l962. I had no idea that more than 20 years later we would be having healing services that lasted 6 and 7 hours. If I hadn’t heeded God’s admonition I would have dropped out of the race by now. I’m in my 70th year. I have never been more active than I am now in the Lord’s service. I appreciate that, I hope that clap was for the Lord. But you understand, at that point if God hadn’t shown me the need of self control I would never have made it. I would have probably passed to a better world by now.
But you see, I don’t want to go to the better world with my job undone in this world. I’m ready to go when I’ve done what God has called me to do in this life. But not until. If I can hold out, I’m going to.
One other thought, very briefly but it’s very important for people who are a little further down the road than some of you. Stay within your calling. Some men of God are wonderfully blessed and then they think they can do anything and everything. They start moving out in fields of ministry that God didn’t call them to. Like, there are some men who are called to be evangelists but they’ve never been called to be Bible teachers. When they’re evangelizing they’re undefeatable. When they start to teach the Bible they make such a mess it’s tragic. I can name two persons—I won’t—they’re both with the Lord now.
The fact that you can succeed in your calling is no reason for thinking you can succeed when you get out of it. “As a bird that wandereth from her nest, so is a man out of his place,” the book of Proverbs says. How weak and helpless a little fledgling bird is when it’s out of the nest. I’ll just give you one scripture, 2Corinthians 10:13. We could go into this, I just want to point out these words.
“We however will not boast beyond measure, but within the limits of the sphere which God appointed to us, a sphere which especially includes you.”
Paul is writing to the Corinthians and says, “You are part of my God given sphere of ministry. I can write to you with full confidence knowing that what I’m saying comes from God.” But he says, “If I were to get out of my God given sphere it would be different.” Every man of God has a God given sphere. The wise man is the man who stays within it.
My first wife was a Dane and the Danes are probably the most outspoken nation in Europe. My wife was undoubtedly the most outspoken Dane! Living with her knocked some of the Britishness off me. It was a good experience, it wasn’t always easy at the time. One of the things she used to say was this: “The genius is the one who knows his own limitations.” How true that is.
Somebody else said, “Genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains.” See, a genius is not a person who swims halfway between heaven and earth. Most geniuses in their own field are extremely practical. Just think of those things. Genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains.” Think of the great sculptors like Michelangelo. Think of the hours that he devoted to his sculptures.
And then a genius is the one who knows his own limitations. Stay within your sphere. You’re undefeatable and unsinkable in your sphere.
One final thought, I’m just wondering whether you can hold out. Hebrews 12:1–2. We’re talking in terms of an athletic contest as a picture of you in your calling. Here’s a glorious thought. I’m prompted by the story of a friend of mine who’s been serving the Lord faithfully for many years but his mother was a dedicated praying Christian. At that time my friend was far away from God and when his mother died he hadn’t given his life to the Lord. After that, no doubt largely due to her prayers, he did and became a very dedicated, effective servant of the Lord. One day he was with another brother, a senior mature man of God and they were on some errand for the Lord. He said to this man, “If only my mother could see me now.” The other man said, “What makes you think she can’t?” What I want to say is there’s a lot of people watching us we’re really not conscious of, do you understand? We might think we’re just a little group of a thousand people here tonight but there are uncounted thousands watching us. If you could grasp that it will make a difference to the way you live.
I’ll just read Hebrews 12:1–2.
“Therefore we also since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses...”
I think the writer of Hebrews was picturing a race course and the stands all around and he was thinking of that cloud of witnesses as all the people sitting in the stands and watching the runners on the track.
“...let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
This is the picture again of the athlete. There are two things you have to lay aside. One is sin. I think we see that. But the other is weights. Weights are things which are not sinful but they just don’t help you to run, that’s all. What runner ever goes into a race with a pocket knife in his pocket? Or a billfold. You know? Even the smallest object can make the difference between winning or losing a race. So the writer says get rid of all sin. Not only that but get rid of all sorts of things which are not sinful but they just don’t help you to run. Streamline your life.
You won’t do this unless you’ve got a vision. If God gives you a vision—I pray he may do it here tonight—God gives you a vision, all the things that seem to be sacrifices are no longer really sacrifices.
“Looking unto Jesus the author [or the beginner] and finisher of our faith...”
I don’t think we need to read further tonight. I want you to think about this race course, the grandstand all around packed with people. Saints who’ve gone before, finished their course. Maybe some of you have parents who were Christians who prayed for you. Do you realize maybe that your parents sometimes get a little bit on edge when they see you faltering? You have angels that are watching you, they’re on your side, they want the best, they’re cheering you on but they can’t do the willing that has to come inside of you. Only you can do it.
As I said, through my marriage to my first wife I acquired 9 adopted daughters. My wife has gone on to be in glory but all the daughters are still living, they’re scattered around the world. Two in Australia, some of the family in Canada, several in the United States, some in Britain. In a certain sense, I feel not only do I have to answer to God but I’m going to have to give an account to my first wife for what happened to those daughters. She went on and left me to finish the job. See, there’s a certain sense of responsibility. Believe me, being responsible for 9 daughters is not altogether—to say nothing of well over 30 grandchildren and more than 40 great-grandchildren.
That’s all I really wanted to say tonight but I think you have a decision to make. Some of you really need to make a decision here tonight. I felt the anointing of the Holy Spirit, I think I’ve been able to communicate clearly with you. Some of you have already put your body on the altar, you’ve made a total gift of yourself to God, you know you don’t belong to yourself. You know God has a plan for your life. To some extent he’s begun to unfold it to you. But there are many of you here tonight who’ve never made that total consecration which will open the way for the Holy Spirit to renew your mind so that you can find out God’s will. There are many of you that would love to do that. To a certain extent you’re frustrated. You go to church and you sing the hymns and you want to serve the Lord but your life lacks real thrust and you’re not really sure where you’re headed for. I believe the solution for those of you that are in that kind of situation is to be willing to offer your body to the Lord. Say, “Lord, here I am, have all of me. I put my body on your altar and I thank you that when I offer it to you it’s made holy. It no longer belongs to me. All the sins and the uncleanness that may be in my past are all blotted out.”
You know, it’s tremendous what Paul said to the Corinthian church. Think of this. He said in one place, “You were adulterers, fornicators, homosexuals, effeminate, revilers, drunkards, extortioners, all sorts of things. Prostitutes.” But he said, “Now you’re washed, you’re sanctified.” Then he wrote to the same people later and he said, “I have espoused you as a chaste virgin to one husband, Jesus Christ.” What a change! What brings that about? Putting your body on the altar. The blood of Jesus Christ shed on the altar cleanses us from all sin. No matter how defiled we may have been, maybe just in our inward thoughts. The blood of Jesus changes those who put their bodies on the altar.
Would you like to do that tonight? Sit there and think awhile because you’re going to hand yourself over. You’ll walk out of here not belonging to yourself. But remember, your problems don’t belong to you any longer either.
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