In November 2016 the Chinese government started testing an entirely brand new technology for their society called: A Social Credit System.
Did you hear about this? The Social Credit System uses cameras and computers to monitor and track social and financial behavior in order to assign credit ratings to citizens. Computers scour through your transit receipts (for the bus or subway), making sure you pay the appropriate fares. Cameras can pick you out of the crowd and determine if you obey civil laws. Programs filter through your internet searches to confirm that you agree with the communist state. All this information is collected and stored in an enormous database; a file is put together on you. Then, based on your behavior you are assigned a credit score. That credit score either allows you access to certain services or it may blacklist you from certain services.
This system has been in place in Beijing for two years already. You’re starting to see the results. A Chinese businessman is actually prohibited from purchasing train tickets because he lost a lawsuit against a landlord. A mother got caught using her son’s student discount-card for a subway ticket and the government publicly shamed her by plastering her face (and crime) on television screens hanging throughout the city. If you jaywalk, you may not be able to take out a personal loan. If you have more than one child, you may be banned from sending your child to private school. If you do not pay parking meters, you may not be allowed to check-in at a luxury hotel. Those who behave well are put on a “red list” and have quicker access to government services. (For example, if you were a good person, you could cut to the front of the line at the Secretary of State.) China hopes to monitor the entire nation by 2020. (https://www.wsj.com/articles/chinas-new-tool-for-social-control-a-credit-rating-for-everything-1480351590) This system forces obedience driven by fear. Obey the law and good things happen. Break the law and consequences follow.
Could you imagine living under a system that forces obedience? (Be good, or else!) I think you could and you do— because your heart (and mine) often struggle to properly love God. It can feel that you must live a certain way in order to be a Christian. Be good, and you can be sure you’re saved. Act bad and, well, you might not really be a Christian.
God busts through the faulty imaginations of your heart and teaches you the proper motivation for life. Christian Living Starts with God. He frees your heart from condemnation. He gives you the Spirit to serve.
Today we’re talking about: “sanctification.” Now, I understand that can be a challenging word, but it’s a word the Bible uses (for example, 1 Thessalonians 4:3). [The word:] “Sanctify” means “to make holy” or “to be holy.” To be without sin. To be pure, innocent, blameless in the sight of God.
When you look at yourself and examine your life, you realize that “holy” is probably the last word you would use to describe yourself. But you are “holy.” You are without sin in the sight of God. How? Because of Jesus.
You see, the sacrifice made on the cross paid your spiritual debt against God. It is gone, removed, paid in full— and you did not have to work for it. This precious gift of forgiveness becomes yours by faith. Faith— that is, trusting in Jesus as Savior. He rescued you, you did not rescue yourself. He removes guilt; it’s not up to you to feel better. The Holy Spirit uses the waters of baptism to wash you clean before God (1 Corinthians 6:11). God the Son removes sin. God the Holy Spirit puts Jesus’ perfect life on you. God the Father declares you “holy.” And that is what you are. You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Galatians 3:26-27; see also 1 Peter 2:9-10).
It remains important to remember that order. Jesus dies to wash you clean; he rises to call you clean. Now you live a holy life. Christian Living Starts with God.
What happens when you flip that order? What happens if you think Christian living starts with you? You begin acting as though God set up his own Social Credit System.
The thinking goes like this: In order to be a Christian you must act like a Christian. So, go to church. Be kind. Help the poor. Be patient. Do not drink. Support mission work. Be a better spouse. Do not curse. Encourage your children. Read your Bible. Give a percentage of your income as an offering. Do not dance. Wear certain clothing. Eat the right foods. Pray the right prayers. Choose to accept Christ into your heart. Obey this. Stay away from that. Be better. Be a Christian.
Do you see where the motivation for Christian living comes? From guilt! From fear! From pride! You obey in order to avoid punishment and receive a reward. You obey in order to be saved. You find comfort for heaven by the way you live. If you please God with your life, then God will reward you. If you do not please God with your life, then you must work off your crimes against him. If you study that closely, you soon discover that believe you saved yourself. (1) You have heaven because you pleased God. (2) You have heaven because you made the right decision. And both of that thinking rejects the need for a Savior— because you did all the work.
The disciple John stresses: Christian Living Starts with God. You cannot examine the way you live and find the assurance that you are saved. You will constantly wonder if it is enough.
Christian living comes as a result of what God has done for you. You live as a Christian because God frees your heart from condemnation.
[This is] how we will set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. When your heart condemns you, when you feel that Christian living is a way to convince yourself that you are saved, look to Jesus. Christ died for you Christ chose to die, not asking that you repay him. He carried your sins. He suffered your punishment. [He] was made sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). It is the saving work of Christ that makes you a Christian. He frees your heart from condemnation.
So, when Christian living feels more of a “must” than a “want to,” reset your focus. Christian Living Starts with God. He frees your heart from condemnation and He gives you the Spirit to serve.
You live a Christian life because the Holy Spirit lives in you. John writes: Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us. Notice, you did not choose to please God and God rewarded you with faith. You did not behave like a good person and so now God loves you. God gave you the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit living in you gives you peace and freedom. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us… that is, your heart does not condemn you. It finds rest in the Son of God who takes guilt and buries it into the depths of the sea. [W]e have confidence before God. You can point to the cross and say, “But Jesus died! And he died for me!” You can point to the baptismal font and say, “But God forgives! Baptism brings the Holy Spirit into my life. That’s God’s promise; that is what happened!” (Acts 2:38; Titus 3:5) You can kneel at the altar and hear those precious words: “Take eat, take drink this is Jesus given for you, for the forgiveness of your sins” (Matthew 26:26-29). You may be certain that you are holy before God because God himself plainly calls you “holy” and points you to his sacraments which made you holy.
God gives you the Holy Spirit so that you are equipped to serve. If you are set free from fear and guilt, you will live as one without fear or guilt. That happens naturally. You do not have to make a conscious effort to be a better person. As you set your attention on the Word and the sacraments, you will grow in appreciation for what God has done for you. Naturally, you will show your appreciation to God by serving others.
That’s why John can say: And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ… which, you already do and to love one another as he commanded us. You love one another with more than just words or tongue, you love with actions and in truth.
God at work in you produces fruits through you. Some of your fruits are seen. The care God has for you moves you to care for others. So, you write cards. You visit the homebound. You grow concerned when someone is sick. You encourage your son or daughter when they have not been to worship for a while. You donate to food-drives and shelters. You volunteer at hospitals and soup kitchens. You babysit your [great]grandchildren so that parents may work. You are not trying to prove that you really a Christian. You already are! You are connected to Jesus the Vine! The natural result is to do what branches connected to the Vine do: Produce fruit (John 15:1-8). Touched by God’s love, you reflect that love.
Continue loving with more than just words or tongue; love with actions and in truth. That means, when your congregation highlights a tight budget, do more than just say, “Oh, someone should give more.” Consider in your heart if you might be that person; if you—along with others—can adjust your offerings to meet the need of carrying out God’s work. That means, when you see someone struggling with a child or with physical need, do more than just say, “Oh, that kid needs to quiet up!” or “Ah, she’s complaining again.” Consider if you are able to help handle an upset child or if you can be the answer to someone’s challenge. Again, the reason you would even consider this in the first place is because Christian Living Starts with God. He gives you the Holy Spirit, who motivates you to serve others.
See the order? Sanctification— the way you live as a Christian— only comes after Jesus frees your heart from condemnation. Since you are free from condemnation, you do not have to live as though God has set up a Social Credit System— where God expects good behavior or else suffer the consequences. Rather, God first sets you free from condemnation and then gives you the Spirit to serve.
Remember why you live a Christian life. It’s nothing you owe to God. Rather, it is who God made you to be. Connected to the Vine, you produce the results of being connected to the Vine. You touched by God’s love touch others with God’s love.
That is the motivation for life. Christian Living Starts with God. He frees your heart from condemnation. He gives you the Spirit to serve.