Tough Questions: Are You All In?
Pastor Russell Scoggins
4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
Last week I placed in front of you a tough question. That question was: Which kingdom are we more focused on? God’s kingdom? Or our kingdom? And after laying that question before you, I invited you to respond. I told you that if you responded, it would make my week. Guess what? I had a great week. I got a good number of responses throughout the week. And I learned something from every response I got. I learned things that I would not have known otherwise. Last week, I was playing with the idea of turning this into a sermon series. And once I started getting some responses, I became sure of it… and so, this sermon series came to be. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be focusing on tough questions. Each week, I am going to lay before you a tough question that we all face. Each week I will invite you to respond to our question. And as we continue in this sermon series, I will—in an anonymous way of course—bring up a couple of the things that have been raised as people respond to our tough questions.
So here’s the deal. If you didn’t feel inclined to respond last week, that’s fine—don’t feel guilty about it. If you don’t feel inclined to respond to this week’s question, that’s fine, don’t feel guilty about it. But over the next few weeks, as we ask different tough questions, if there is one that sticks in your mind or peaks your interest, please take the time to respond to me via email or text. And if you feel inclined to answer every question, by all means, please do.
Here’s our tough question for today: Are You All-In? First, that phrase "all-in." I would think most of us understand the picture behind the phrase, but it’s a bit of a colloquial phrase so we should go ahead and explain it before we get started. In poker, when someone goes "all-in" it shows that they are confident in their cards. I know… there’s bluffing and all the rest of it that complicates it a little bit… but in its simplest form, when someone goes all-in, it means that they are confident that they can win the hand, and they are willing to put all their money on a single hand. When that phrase is used outside of the poker world, it has a similar meaning. When someone is all-in about something, it means that is where they place their bet. When someone is all-in on a matter, it means they are excited about it and they’re enthusiastic. They’re willing to place everything on the line for whatever it is that they’re passionate about.
So, are you all in? Spiritually speaking? When it comes to this message of salvation in Christ, are you all in? When it comes to taking this message of salvation into the world around you, are you all in? One more thing, before we turn our thoughts to our verses… let me tell you why this question is an important one for us to ask and give an honest answer to. One of the phrases that stuck with me from Seminary is this: "If your faith isn’t working for you, it’s not going to work for your people." See where we’re going with this? If pastor has not bought in to God’s Word hook, line, and sinker, how can he expect his people to buy in to it hook, line, and sinker? If pastor is not all-in when it comes to this message of salvation—how can he expect his people to be all-in? If pastor isn’t on fire for the good news, how can he expect his people to be on fire? And the way I see it, the implications for that statement continue into outreach. If pastor is half-hearted about this message of salvation in Christ, the majority of his people are going to be half-hearted about this message. And if the majority of the congregation is half-hearted about this good news, their outreach efforts are going to be half-hearted. People today can smell half-heartedness. When a visitor walks in those doors, if we are half-hearted as a congregation, they can smell it. The remedy to being half-hearted?... Being all-in.
Our verses for today: "4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy."
One of the reasons we become half-hearted is because the most basic truths of God’s Word begin to seem dull to us. In the verses we’re considering today, we have some of the most basic truths of the Christian faith. You might call these verses an "expanded John 3:16." In these 4 short verses, we have the core of the gospel message.
How quickly lose sight of God’s love and kindness. As sinful and emotional humans, we have a tendency to get wrapped up in the circumstances of our lives. And when things aren’t going well for us, one of the first things we lose sight of is God’s kindness and love. We begin to think that God has abandoned us. We begin to think that he loves us less than others. Maybe we begin to wonder if the reason God is allowing hardship to come into our lives is because we’ve done something wrong.
Verse 5 makes it clear that God’s love has absolutely nothing to do with our performance. God saved us—not because of what we have done—but because of who he is...because of his mercy. God’s love for you is not dependent on your actions. There’s a truth for us to cherish. God’s love for you is not dependent on your actions. The more we internalize and come to understand that basic truth, the more "all-in" we will be. Take just a moment here and think about your life and your struggles with sin. Have you ever made any disastrous mistakes in your life? Have you ever sabotaged one of your relationships? Have you ever put your own needs before someone else's? Have you ever indulged in sin? Gossip? Too much alcohol? Drugs? Lust? Adultery? Hate? Selfishness? Bitterness? Anger? There’s not a person in this room that hasn’t fallen into sin. There’s not a person in this room who hasn’t made mistakes. And that is why this truth is so beautiful and powerful. God’s love for you has nothing to do with your performance. God’s love for you has nothing to do with who you are….but it has everything to do with who he is. So often, when we doubt God’s love for us, it’s because we are looking for his love in all the wrong places.
In verses 5 and 6 we have 3 examples of God’s love for us and in these examples, we see God’s love more clearly than ever. The examples are: baptism, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus Christ. "He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior..."
That first sign of God’s love: Baptism—the washing of rebirth. How quick we are, myself included, to forget what baptism means for us. At our baptism, we were washed of our sins. At your baptism, you were made a child of God. You went from being spiritually dead, to spiritually alive. Baptism is such a powerful, and monumental moment in our lives, and yet how quickly we forget about it.
Over the past week, as a number of people have contacted me to answer last week’s tough question, there was one thing that got repeated by a number of people. The fact that a number of people had a similar thought says to me that there are probably a good number of us who struggle with this exact thing I’m going to mention. A number of people said something like this: I WANT to be all about the big kingdom, I WANT to be all about God’s kingdom… but it is often apparent to me that I get stuck in MY kingdom—the kingdom of me, or the kingdom of my family. I feel divided. Well, let me first say this: I feel that struggle too. Every single day of my life I wrestle with that question: have I been faithful in all the different roles that God has placed on my plate? And I only imagine that this struggle will intensify for my family as it grows.
There’s a reason I’m bringing this up as we think about baptism. Let me show you how this plays out in my life, and I’ll let you translate it to your life. Sometimes I get to the end of a day and all those questions start going through my mind. Which kingdom was I invested in today? Was I faithful in all the different roles that God has placed on my plate? And as soon as those questions start, Satan LOVES to blow them out of proportion. And before I know it, Satan is trying to pile guilt on me. Look at all the things you left undone today. Look at all the ways you failed to be faithful to your God-given roles.
Next time that happens to you, turn your thoughts to your baptism. I’ll do the same. When our thoughts turn back to our baptism, we are strengthened to fight Satan off. "Sorry Satan! You’re out of luck. My sins have been washed away in the waters of baptism. I was made a child of God. You are not allowed to try and heap guilt on me because my guilt was taken away at my baptism." Does God want us to ask if we’re being faithful? Does he want us to ask if we’re focusing on his kingdom? You bet he does. But he wants us to ask it while remembering that his grace is sufficient for us—even when we mess things up, God’s love covers over us.
Alright, the second sign of God’s love: the Holy Spirit. How slow we are to remember our baptisms. We’re equally as slow to remember exactly what it means that the Holy Spirit lives in us as God’s children. As God’s child, the Holy Spirit lives in you, and that changes EVERYTHING. The same Holy Spirit who has the power to create living faith in a dead heart lives in you. The Holy Spirit that lives in you is immensely powerful yet so often we fail to tap into that power of the Spirit who lives in us.
Going through these tough questions is a meaningless exercise if we forget the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. It is because of the Holy Spirit that we can ask the tough questions. We can examine our hearts. We can be honest about the ways that we have failed. And it is the Holy Spirit who will also comfort us when we are confronted with our failures. He reminds us of the grace we have. He picks us back up, sets us on our feet, and moves us in the direction we are to go. How do we capitalize on the power of the Holy Spirit in us? By knowing God’s Word better. The more we grow in God’s, the more easily and powerfully the Holy Spirit is able to work in us. It is the Holy Spirit that enables and grows our "All-In" attitude and way of life.
That final sign of God’s love: Jesus Christ our Savior. This one….it’s what its all about. The most basic truth of our faith, and yet, how quickly it slips our minds. God gave his own Son to die in our place. And what do we receive because of Christ? Verse 7 tells us: "7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life." In Christ, we have been justified—that is to say, our sin has been removed. God sees our sin no more. And as a result, we have become heirs who have the hope of eternal life. I’ll tell you what, the times when I personally don’t feel like I’m "all-in…" it’s because I have lost my focus on this most basic truth—I have forgotten to meditate on this most basic truth. We deserve death! We deserve God’s wrath. We deserve hell. But in Christ, we receive life, forgiveness, and heaven. When you put it that way, how can we be ANYTHING BUT "all-in?" It’s Christ, or nothing.
So, are you "All-In?" I invite you again this week to answer our tough question if you feel inspired to. And if you decide to take me up on it, I want you to answer the question in this way. Give me a situation in your daily life when it is crystal clear to you, that you are all in. And then give a situation in your daily life that makes you feel stuck, makes you feel divided, or makes you feel like your not "all-in." I’ll model it for you. This week was great. All week, I was "all-in" as I got a chance to read and reply to a handful of you regarding last week’s sermon. On a typical week… I’m "all-in" when I’m preparing a sermon. I pour my heart and soul into trying to present God’s Word in its natural truth and beauty. I pour my heart and soul into making applications for my own life, and God-willing, for your lives as well. I’m all-in when, most mornings, I get the chance to sit down and read God’s Word with my wife. As for those times I’m not all-in. Whenever Satan manages to fix my eyes on my shortcomings, struggles, and failures, I feel further away than ever from being "all-in."
So there it is, if you feel inclined, send me your response. Are you all-in? Give me an example of a time that you’re all in and an example of a time when you’re not all-in. And whether or not you decide to respond to our tough question, walk away remembering this: God’s love for you is not dependent on what you do. Are there going to be times that we fail to be all-in? Certainly, but...Satan is not allowed to use those moments to guilt you. Your guilt was washed away at your baptism. Not only that, but the Holy Spirit lives in you. As you better come to know God’s Word, the Holy Spirit will be at work in you in a powerful way and you will have more and more of those instances where it is clear and obvious that you are all-in. The better you come to know the love of him who gave up his life up for you, the more all-in he will make you to be. Amen? Amen.