For a school choir, one of the events that can really change things is going for a tour. You do everything together on a tour and that unites everyone in a common experience. It can inspire others who may not have been very interested in choir, to like singing.
Is the cross like that for us? Is it just a catalyst for positive change? Or is it more or less than that? Is it just a significant event? These are the questions we will be considering in today's lesson.
Both passages point us to one aspect of the cross-centred life. We will see that it's not so much about the lives we live and the things we do. It's about where the cross is in our lives and what it is doing there. We must understand that the cross-centred life is one of visible unity that is empowered by the cross.
(A) The Inward Change of a Cross-Centred Life: Devotion, Awe and Unity.
From Acts 2:42, we notice that the believers were doing a few things. They were doing 4 things -- teaching, fellowshipping, breaking of bread, praying. Essentially, the apostles had the knowledge of Christ's teaching and the OT and were studying the Scriptures together. They were celebrating the Last Supper, so that they could remember the cross and what Christ did for them, and were committing time to spend caring for one another. They were remembering the gospel. Bible teacher and author Timothy Keller sums it up as "learning, loving and liturgy". The author of Acts also described them as being "devoted". This indicates that they were not just going through the motion. Devotion suggests something spiritual and divine. It refers to total commitment. They were fully committed to seeking God. Are you as devoted as this to God, Christ, the gospel or your fellow brothers and sisters as they were?
In verse 43, we see that there were miracles being done. This sentence however, is missing a subject. The apostles are not the ones doing the miracles. The miracles are being done through the apostles. Who then is doing the action? The Spirit is the action doer. The Holy Spirit comes down on people and causes these amazing things to be done. The work of the Holy Spirit was done in the lives of believers then and even today. Have you ever been filled with awe? We are reminded that when we go looking for awesome things, chances are that we are not going to be so amazed by it. This verse reminds us that the awe that comes from God can only be given by Him. It is grace.
The believers were also described as “together” and they have “all things in common” (v.44). The word "together" can indicate physical proximity in a particular location, or could also refer to a unity of identity. In this case it probably refers to the latter, helping us see that they were of one identity and were together as one. Possessing "all things in common" gives us a sense that the new identity they were clothed with, provided common ground and there was no dispute. This common ground far surpassed their differences and provided their distinct identity together.
How can people be this united? Galatians 5:1-12 helps us understand the source of this unity, and also helps us see what united people have to be wary about. In Galatians, Paul is speaking out against circumcision to attain salvation. Towards the end of Galatians, Paul is talking about OT law that the Pharisees followed, He argues that if you want to cling to circumcision you must apply the whole law and if you do that, the cross is nullified. This was written no more than 40 years after Acts. Galatians shows us that the source of unity is faith in Jesus Christ. Faith on it’s own is meaningless. You can have faith as strongly as you want, but if what you have faith in is weak, it is pointless. Jesus is the source of our unity. When you put your faith in Christ, you receive a new identity and have this kind of unity with fellow believers.
However, people must be wary of leaven. What is this leaven? The Bible tells us that a little bit of yeast can ruin the whole batch. A little of it can cause a big problem. In this passage, the leaven refers to a group of people who preach something different. Some people have come in to preach salvation by circumcision. We must be clear what the truth is, so that when the false teachings come, we must be able to identify it to avoid the disunity it might cause. The application is that we must be clear on what is true to know what is untrue so that we can treat it with caution. This is the warning Galatians gives us.
In this community in Acts, there is something that has changed inwardly in all the believers that gives them unity outwardly. In their unity in Christ, they point to His death. Have you ever been awed by the work of the Spirit or God? How do you remain awed or cut to the heart?
(B) The Outward Expression of a Cross-Centred Life: Kindness, Favour and Outreach.
The unity of the believers manifested itself in practical, outward actions. Verses 45 to 46 in Acts helps us see that they followed up by:
- Selling their possessions
- Distributing them
- Attending the temple
- Breaking Bread
- Praising God
How did they do these actions? We are told that they did it with sincerity and praise to God. As a result, they enjoyed the favour of all the people, and the Lord added to their number daily, those who were being saved. What an amazing outcome! The attitude is what links the actions and the effects. They were praising God and that's why the actions resulted in the effects. How? It starts with them selling and distributing their possessions to all who are in need. They attended the temple together and they broke bread together in each other's houses. This shows they were hospitable and liked each other's company. Their hearts were grateful and they were sincere. This eventually got them the favor of all the people. These things that they were doing in love for one another differentiated themselves positively from the non-believers. As a result of this, more and more were added to their number. They didn't do anything; the verse reminds us that the Lord did everything. The one who acts is always God. It is only God who can convict the souls and bring someone to faith. Only He can cause them to put their faith in Him.
There is a very visible aspect of Christian life. Whether we like it or not, people will see and judge us. Today, especially we have so many things that come in opposition to our faith. So many things are in tension. The channels for communication are so much wider and we are increasingly more visible to the world. Acts 2 reminds us that how we live in these times and how we interact with one another really matters today.
Galatians 5:13-15 also helps outlines two roads for us regarding our relations with each other. The first road is to love and serve one another, the second is to bite and devour one another. The idea of loving and serving one another is clear to us in Acts. However, the law outlines how we should live with regards to one another. The essence of the law is to love God and love His people. The basic principle is to love one another. When people look at us, they will see whether we love one another or not. There might be differences between you and your pastor, friend or church and it might become very easy not to love one another. In today's age, we especially need to follow this principle.
In the second road, we must be wary of indulging in these fractures because it leads to mutual destruction. If we fail to show grace to one another, it ends in the destruction of both parties. We must be wary that we do not bite and devour one another.
Acts 2 shows us a practical way of living people in community. We see people here, loving God more than their possessions, does this describe you?
(C) The Underlying Power of a Cross-Centred Life: Repentance and Freedom through the Cross.
If we continue in Galatians 5:16-23, we read of two things that are at odds with each other, and Paul also issues a warning here. The Spirit/God's way and the flesh/man's ways are at odds with one another. Paul is talking about things within us, not outside of us. In us all there are desires of the Spirit and desires of the flesh. The presence of sin will always plague us on this earth. The cross releases us from the penalty of sin, but in reality it doesn't remove sin's presence in our lives here on earth.
Paul is talking to believers and he is warning them. He warns us here of sexual sin, like pornography for example, idolatry, the satisfaction in things that are not God. (Studies and money for example) The next 8 are grouped as things that cause disunity. We are warned against drunkenness as well. Paul warns the Galatians as much as he is warning us. Most of us have something that has popped into our minds after reading this. We all have a particular sin that we struggle with. When this becomes visible, it causes much disunity. The call for us here is to repent. We are reminded that these are things we must repent of. We must turn away from sin and turn back to God, to Christ. In living a cross-centred life, we will always come into contact with sin, but when we do we must repent and come back to the cross.
But how? Gal 5:1,24 helps us to see how we are enabled to pursue Christ and live by the Spirit. We have been set free in Christ. We are free from the yoke of slavery. This is echoed in v24, when we are told we belong to Him. Our identity is always with Him. Our flesh is crucified. These 2 verses remind us of the work of Jesus Christ. He has set us free by hanging on the cross. By dying on the cross he enables us to never again submit to the yoke of slavery. Our passions and desires were crucified with Him.
So what is the role of the cross? When Christ died on the cross, we weren't just inspired. We were regenerated. It would change someone totally, their passions, their intentions and their being all changes. The cross isn't just a choir tour. The cross centered life is empowered by the cross. The cross possess the power to change us 180 degrees from who we were, to live a life in Him.
Why then do we consistently turn away from God to sin? Why if the cross is so powerful and amazing, and if sin is so bad why do we do this?
We do it because the world and the prince of darkness are at work. They know what to whisper in our ears to get us to give in to sin. But that's why it's so essential that we understand the cross. We must consolidate the things we know and understand the role of the cross in our lives. It must be front and centre. The call for us now is to never waiver from that and to keep the cross at the centre always.
This is how we should live, and how we can live it daily.