Today on Summit Life with J.D.
Greer. You see religion can make you conform to a standard but only the gospel can transform a heart and give you a passion for God. Religion can make you obey. But see I've told you God is not just looking for obedience. He's looking for a whole new kind of obedience. The obedience that grows out of desire. An obedience where you seek God because you crave God.
An obedience where you do righteousness because you love righteousness. Welcome to a new week of teaching here on Summit Life with J.D. Greer. As always, I'm your host, Molly Vidovitch. Let me start by asking you a question. Is there a difference between being religious and having a relationship with God?
And if so, what does that difference look like? Today, Pastor J.D. continues our study in the book of Acts, taking a look at the Apostle Paul who went from number one religious enemy of the church to fearless champion of the faith because of his personal relationship with Jesus. We're continuing to learn about the transformation of Paul in the teaching series titled SIT. If you missed any of the previous messages in this study, listen at J.D.
Greer dot com. Now let's go to Pastor J.D. as he teaches from Acts chapter nine. If I could, of the Spirit of God being at work in you. Signs that you are about to be converted, if you never have been.
Four symptoms, I guess, that you're coming down with a case of regeneration or, you know, giving you signs you get sick. These are signs that you're going to get saved. They are going to be found here in the story of Paul, who is going to be called Saul in this story because his name is going to become Paul.
But you're going to see these symptoms that begin to arise in him. And I want you to think about them in law. In the light of your own life, Acts chapter nine, verse one. And so Saul said, Who are you, Lord? And he said, I'm Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Verse eight. And at this point, and I said, excuse me, I do not mean to object, but I've heard many things about this man.
How much evil he's done to your saints in Jerusalem. Appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit. And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes.
And when he opened his eyes this time, everything looked different. So he arose and was baptized. Four signs that you are being converted. Four realizations that you have that show that the Spirit of God is at work in you, number one. You realize that God has been pursuing you. God has been pursuing you. He's not punishing you. He punished Jesus in your place. So what he's doing now is he's bringing you back to himself. The way we say it around here is God's not trying to pay you back. He's trying to bring you back. What God is doing for you is not retribution.
It's restoration. God gave the retribution to Jesus so that what he could give to you was loving discipline to bring you back to himself. And I know it's painful and I know some of you have been going through that. It's not about God hating you. It's about him loving you. It's not about him paying you back. It's about him bringing you back.
And I just got to ask, are you listening? Second realization, number two. You have been blind. Paul's blindness is given to us as a picture of all people that are separated from Christ. You see, there are primarily two forms of spiritual blindness. The first one is what we call irreligious blindness, where you think that your way is better than God's. You really feel like you don't really need God. And so you pursue a life that we call sin. Sin just means that I'd rather be in charge than God because honestly, I think I make a better God than God. The second form of blindness is religious blindness.
That's what Saul has. And that's where you think you can be good enough to earn God's approval. That if you just try hard enough and keep the rules good enough, then God will accept you. Charles Spurgeon used to illustrate it this way. He said there was this king who one day in his court showed up this dirt farmer, this really poor farmer who grew onions and carrots. And so the guy shows up. He has a carrot four and a half feet long. And he says, King, I've farmed for 40 years and I've never seen a carrot this big.
And when I looked at this carrot, I thought that's such a magnificent carrot. I've got to give it to my king because I love my king and my king is worthy. Well, the king was genuinely touched. And so the king said, well, wow. He says, I happen to own all the farmland right around your little farm. I'd just like to give it to you as a gift because I love you.
I love people in my country. So he gives all the property. So one of the noblemen who was standing in the king's court thought, if that's what the king gives in response to a carrot, imagine what he would give in response to a real gift like a horse. So the nobleman goes out that night and finds the most magnificent horse that he's ever seen. And he brings it back to the king's court the next day, leads it into the king's presence and says, oh, king, you are a worthy king. And I've loved serving you all these many years. And I just want to give you this horse as a gift of my appreciation. The king, who was evidently pretty wise, looks at this nobleman and says, yesterday, the farmer was giving the carrot to me.
Today, you are giving the horse to yourself. And what he was illustrating with that is the fact that when our good deeds are done to extend our status or exalt our status before God, it's really self-interested. You see, the problem with our good deeds with that kind of heart is twofold. One, they're hypocritical.
Second, they're self-serving. That's what Martin Luther called the evil of our good deeds. He said most people get that they need to repent of their sin. What they don't get is that they need to repent of their righteousness because their righteousness has been done for all the wrong reasons.
That's where Paul was. He was in the middle of bad righteousness. And his works were not pleasing to God because a spiritually dead heart that tries to do good works is wearisome to you. And because they're an attempt to self-justification, it leads you to constant comparison. You're always comparing yourself, how am I stacking up? And comparison, what happens, either leads to pride or despair, right?
Pride when you're doing well, despair when you're not doing well, which ends up leading to jealousy. And jealousy turns into hatred and fear, and then hatred and fear lead to violence. That's why religious people like Paul are the meanest people on the planet. Paul was really good, but Paul was not nice at all. That's why when atheists talk about the problems that religion caused, my response is usually, yep, you are absolutely right.
Religion creates the meanest people on the planet because religion leads to hypocrisy, it leads to pride, it leads to comparison, which leads to jealousy, which leads to fear, which leads to violence. In contrast to that is the gospel, a gift of grace. Undeserved grace, the way we say it is an acronym, G-R-A-C-E, God's riches at Christ's expense. Jesus Christ dying in our place, paying the penalty for our sin, clothing us in his gift, righteousness, giving us a new heart and the power of his resurrection. And when Paul experienced that, it changed his heart. He was blind, he saw, but see, now he could see. And his spiritual sight is going to consist in three things that are going to dominate the rest of his ministry. Let me give you these really quickly, three characteristics that your eyes have been opened.
A, letter A, a sense of wonder, a sense of wonder instead of a sense of entitlement and pride. You see, up until now, Paul been like, well, of course God accepts me and approves of me, I'm better than everybody else. Now, from this point on, Paul is going to be filled with wonder. And he's going to say, I can't believe that God saved me, I can't believe he chose me. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am chief. Wonder, how would God have loved and chosen me?
My wife and I heard Elise Fitzpatrick speak at an event last week that I was also speaking at. She said that one of the signs that God has really awakened you is you spend time laughing at your Christian experience. Laughter, she said, what's the joke? I'm the joke, that's the joke. I'm the joke, I can't believe that God chose me.
Knowing what I know about me, I can't believe that God chose me. There's no sense of entitlement or pride when God's opened your eyes, there's a sense of wonder. Recently, I was reading this book called The Letters of John Newton, who wrote the song Amazing Grace. There's an old man in his 70s, he was writing to another guy and he said, essentially, by this point I thought I'd be different. He said, I thought I'd always love to pray. I thought I would have gotten rid of jealousy, I'd no longer be controlled by money.
And I'm reading this thinking, this is me. He said this, the reason that God allows us to continue to struggle all of our life with indwelling sin is he wants us to grow ever more amazed at his grace. D. Martin Lloyd-Jones would say it this way, the ultimate test of our spirituality is our amazement at the grace of God. You see, most people measure their spirituality by their perfection of some spiritual fruit. How do you measure spirituality?
How patient you are? How long do you pray? How much of the Bible do you know? How many people do you share Christ with? What is the measure of your spirituality?
How well and how intensely you worship? Whether or not tears come into your eyes when you're praying or worshiping, is that how you measure your spirituality? The problem is this side of heaven, we have our sinful flesh which is always at work in us and so we'll constantly be discouraged if we look within. God always wants us looking outside to the finished work of Christ, not inside to our progress in sanctification.
So God always allows us on this side of the resurrection to struggle with indwelling sin so that we will grow ever more wondrous at the grace of God. The ultimate test of our spirituality is our amazement or our wonder at the grace of God. You see, most of us think of spirituality, think about this, most of us think of spirituality as getting ourselves to a place where we don't need the grace of God that much. I'm pretty patient now and I'd love to read the Bible, so as far as it goes, I'm not the one who needs the most grace. That is not the sign of your spirituality, that's a sign of blindness. Because your amazement at the grace of God that He chose me, that is the sign that God has opened your eyes.
On this side of heaven, spiritual growth is not getting to a place where you don't feel like you need the grace of God, but growing ever more wondrous of it. And Paul, from this point on, is going to be filled with that kind of wonder. He's going to say, Christ Jesus came in the world to save sinners, of whom I am the chief, not was the chief and the chief. You see that?
Present tense. I am the chief. And what that's going to lead Paul to is transparency instead of hypocrisy.
So Paul's going to spend it, from this point on, he's constantly going to talk about his faults. I am the chief of sinners. I find in the law, when I want to do good, evil's present with me. The law tells me not to covet. The more it tells me to covet, the more that I covet. The more wretched man that I am, I'm convinced that in my flesh, nothing good dwells.
You see, he doesn't want people admiring his flesh, he wants people running to his Savior. Paul would become see, a man characterized by graciousness and generosity, instead of hatred and pride. You think about this, the man who wrote 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter that everybody reads at their weddings, even though it's got nothing to do with marriage, all right?
Love is patient, love is kind, love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. The man who wrote that used to be a murderer. The man who wrote Romans 9, where he said, if I could, I would go to hell if it meant my fellow Jews coming to salvation. That is a man who used to take his enemies, bind them, cast them into prison, and tell them to go to hell.
And now here he is saying to his enemies, if I could, I would go to hell in your place. You see, those who believe and behold the wonder of the gospel, become like the gospel. I told you Saul's new name, Paul, meant small. Ananias means the Lord is gracious. And Paul would spend the rest of his life talking about himself as a small man who was the recipient of the lavish grace of God.
Amazing grace, essentially he would say how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. It is by grace, Ephesians 2 8, he would say, I have been saved and that is not of myself. Or the way I say this to my kids, you don't have to be good at being good for God to love you. You see, it's not about trying, it's about trusting. It's not about your success in doing, but your faith in what has been done. It is by grace you have been saved through faith, not in what you do, faith in what God has done, and nothing is of yourselves.
It's not according to our works at all. So where can we boast? How could we boast, Paul says. There's nothing to boast about if your eyes have been opened.
If you are boasting, it's because you're blind. And Paul would say, so now you should remember the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, though he was rich, for your sake became poor, so you through his poverty might become rich. And when you think about that, won't that move you to become gracious and generous toward others? You who have received Christ's unspeakable gift, Paul would say, won't you then become tenderhearted, kind to one another, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ's sake has forgiven you? Instead of fear, Paul would say, there is therefore no condemnation to those of us who are in Christ Jesus. Instead of jealousy and pride, Paul would say, I'm going to let this mind be in me, which is in Christ Jesus, who though he was God, did not consider that something to be maintained, but instead became a servant so that he could love and save me. Instead of anger and wrath, he would say, put away all malice and wrath and evil speaking, never avenging yourself. Not one time, refusing to repay evil for evil and overcoming evil with good, because that's the way that God overcame us. Instead of picking up the sword to repay, he would pick up the cross to save.
Instead of demanding his rights, he would pick up the towel to serve. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I'm blind.
I was blind, but now I see. The gospel did what religion could never do. It opened Paul's eyes and changed his heart. You see, religion can make you conform to a standard, but only the gospel can transform a heart and give you a passion for God. Religion can make you obey. But see, I've told you, God is not just looking for obedience.
He's looking for a whole new kind of obedience. A obedience that grows out of desire, an obedience where you seek God because you crave God, an obedience where you do righteousness because you love righteousness. And that kind of obedience comes not by exhortation to do better, it comes by revelation of what God has done. Not by exhortation, but by revelation. That is the way that God changed the apostle Paul.
Number three, your past, you begin to realize, God does not disqualify you from God's grace. Paul was a murderer, and his conversion scandalized Ananias. It scandalized the church.
Jesus had to say to the church, verse 15, Go! I chose him. He's an instrument of mine. Real grace, you see, is always scandalous. John Newton, who wrote Amazing Grace, had formerly been a slave trader. He ran a slave ship. Many of you know that.
In one of his autobiographies, Newton would say every time I saw, not as a slave ship, he would say just a ship in general, he said I would be overcome with this sense of horror and shame. But I did that. I did it knowledgeably. I did it voluntarily.
I did it because I wanted money. And he said, I cannot fathom that that is me. And so he would write the words, Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I'm found unblind but now I'm unseen. It was scandalous that God saved him. And I've told you before, you need to be saved.
That's what you need. And I've told you my problem with the word saved, right? It just sounds uneducated.
I went to school for 13 years after high school. I don't want to sound uneducated. And when I say the word saved, I thought it sounded like some backwoods preacher. You got to be saved.
I'm like, I just don't like that. I want to sound sophisticated. But I told you, I can't find a word to replace it. I want to be enhanced. I want to be improved. Those words don't work. I need to be strengthened. I need to be set free.
Yeah, those are all awesome concepts. That's not what I needed. I'm a wretch. I needed salvation. I needed to be delivered from a body of death that deserved to be in hell. There ain't no way to say that except for I was a wretch.
By the way, here's the other thing. If you're not a wretch, God's grace is not that amazing. You see, there's two things about the gospel that are really difficult to believe. One, that you were so bad that Jesus had to die to save you. Number two, he was so loving that he was glad to die to save you. Which of those two do you have more trouble believing?
Which one? That you were so bad that Jesus had to die? I can tell you how you have trouble believing that one. You think hell is harsh? You feel like it's a harsh punishment? Then chances are you don't think you're that bad. You think God probably could have saved me with a lesser thing than the bloody death of Jesus. I'm going to tell you, if there was any other way to save you, any lesser punishment, Jesus would have taken it. But he had to go to the cross, have his skin ripped open, and literally go through hell for you so that he could save you. Why? Because what you deserved was the cross.
What you deserved was hell. You are a wretch. Is that hard to believe?
It should be. If you're an American, it should humiliate you and make you angry. But it's the beginning of grace. The other side of that, that he was so loving that he was glad to die for me.
You see, conversion is a dual realization. As Tim Keller says, I'm worse than I ever dreamed. And he is more gracious than I'd ever dared hope. You see, what we always want to do is we want to make our badness not as bad. So then his grace doesn't need to be as severe.
So what we want to do is exalt ourselves a little bit and bring God down a little bit. And God is not going to do that. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. Jesus saved Saul the murderer. Jesus saved John Newton, the slave trader. He saved a wretch like you. Number four, I'm with you, man. Number four, your past does not disqualify you from future usefulness.
Your past does not disqualify you from future usefulness. Look at verse 15 again. Go, he's a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before Gentiles and kings.
He's going to stand before kings. God took the greatest enemy of the church who had the blood of God's saints on his hands. And he put him before kings with the salvation of the world on his lips. You must never forget that the church's greatest missionary was once its greatest enemy. Because here is one of the greatest mysteries of the gospel. The greater the damage of sin, the greater your usefulness and redemption. Jesus can save you, just like he saved Paul. And he has a plan for you, just like he had a plan for Paul. Thanks for joining us today on Summit Life with Pastor J.D.
Greer. If you tuned in late and missed part of the teaching today, you can listen to this entire message online at jdgreer.com. So, J.D., we created a new resource for our Summit Life listeners to help them dig deeper into the book of Acts during this series. And we have volume two of our sent Bible study. We offered volume one back in March, and now it's time for the second half they've all been waiting for.
Can you tell us a little bit about this resource and what to expect? Yeah, you know, like all of our Bible studies, these can be used privately, one-on-one, or it can be used with a group. The second volume covers chapters nine through 28 of Acts. It's a great supplement to your personal devotion times. Somebody you're discipling, you could use this to go through the book of Acts, maybe in conjunction with these messages. Or if you're part of a small group, it might be something that will provide a good discussion guide as you press deeper into Acts. Acts tells the story of the early church, and it follows apostles like Peter and Paul who are probably not quite who you think they are.
I mean, we see them as these superhuman spiritual giants and saints, but they were ordinary men, plain men in some ways, that just said yes to God and got used in incredible ways. And as you study, as you press deep into the promises of the book of Acts, our prayer is that you won't just be learning a lot of new information. Our prayer is that your heart is going to be stirred to get on board with the same mission that the early church had, and that is the spread of the gospel.
You can get just volume two right now, or you could get volumes one and two at jdgrier.com. We believe the gospel isn't just the diving board into Christianity, it's actually the whole pool. So when you donate to support this ministry, you're helping us reach people around the world with this gospel-centered Bible teaching. We're so grateful for your support, and as our way of saying thanks, we'd like to send you a brand new resource that was created by the Summit Life team just for you. It's volume two of the Scent Bible Study.
It's designed specifically to help you dig deeper into the second half of the book of Acts. Ask for your copy when you give a suggested donation of $25 or more. Call 866-335-5220. That's 866-335-5220.
Or go online and request your copy when you visit us at jdgrier.com. I'm Molly Vitovich. I'm thankful that you joined us today, and be sure to listen again Tuesday for a very special message. Pastor J.D. Greer continues our study in the book of Acts, outlining God's plan for racial integration. We'll see you here tomorrow for Summit Life with J.D. Greer. Today's program was produced and sponsored by J.D. Greer Ministries.
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