HE IS ABLE
June 25, 2006
DR. WILLIAM L. SELF Senior Pastor, Johns Creek Baptist Church
Hebrews 7:25, 2:18 2 Timothy 1:12 Jude 24 Philippians 3:21 Ephesians 3:20
Now, I’m going to do something a little different today because I strongly feel that these things need to be addressed. I probably should preach this as two sermons instead of one, but I don’t have any illusion that I’ll get the same group back at the same time in the future, so I’d rather jam it together as one than to spread it out as two and miss some of you.
But it’s an interesting thing. We’re living in a day in which we have forgotten the indescribable gusto of the New Testament. You read the Bible and you just feel the strength coming out of it. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” “The man be in Christ he is a new creature.” “But God who is rich in Glory,” you hear that strong, strong fiber coming out of the Bible?
But you look at the modern church. You look at the 20th century church and it’s “Help me, we can’t do it, oh I don’t know if we’re going to make it or not.” You hear that and I’m not talking primarily about us. I’m talking about the 20th century church. In fact, the 20th century church has been reordered. It’s been reconstructed. It’s been rebuilt around a therapeutic model and sometimes I believe that we’re having just one, great, big therapy session on Sunday morning instead of some kind of gathering of God’s people so we can feed on the word of God and be marshaled to do the things in this world God has called us to do.
There’s a scene in “Gone With the Wind” and some of you who have moved in here from the North, may I say to you that that is the hallmark of Southern culture. When I moved to Atlanta I found at the time we would stand and read it responsively on Sunday mornings. Nevertheless, there’s a scene in “Gone With the Wind,” in the movie right after the intermission in which the soldiers are coming back from the battleﬁeld. Trains are coming into Atlanta bringing wounded, battered, beaten-up men whose arms and legs had been blown off. They were bleeding to death.
They were dying of thirst and needing food and then the camera comes back and you see, not only the depot, but you see all of the freight yard around it and it’s just full of dying men everywhere who had come back from the battle, and there’s one doctor surgeon moving among them trying to take care of all of them at the same time. Sometimes I feel like I am that doctor running around there and also I feel like my duty is to get those people up on their feet and send them out into battle and they’re complaining about being shot up, dying, not having any energy to move.
We’ve come to the place in church where anything will keep us away. “I wasn’t in church Sunday. I felt a little depressed.” Well, you know I’ve had my depressions. I don’t mean clinical depressions. I’ve had enough to make me want everybody to feel sorry for me. And the last thing you need to do is isolate yourself away from other people. You need to get with people. It just makes it worse when you stay away. “I wasn’t in church Sunday. We had company come.” Well, bring them to church.
You know, we do all kinds of things to keep from being exposed to the word of God and we hide behind, “Well, my son had a cold on Wednesday and so we skipped church on Sunday. Then we can go to the beach.” We’ve come to the place where we’ll let anything get in the way from the worship of the Lord God Almighty because somehow we feel weak. And the reason we’re like those soldiers that are battered and beaten on the freight depot in the center of Atlanta in “Gone With the Wind” is because we have said something that the Bible doesn’t say. We have said, “I am able.” And we find ourselves being ground up out there by the world. We think we are able. We get our energy up. We go into battle and we get destroyed. The Bible never says, “I am able.” The Bible says, “He is able.” And that’s where we’ve made a mistake. We somehow think that we go in to do the work of God on our own strength. Actually, we do the work of God in His name and in His strength.
When I go in and out of the hospital to visit people I have seen a phenomena happen in recent years. I don’t know what it means medically, but I’ve seen it happen. In the old days when I came out of seminary and visited the hospital in my first church people would go in to have their fingernails fixed and stay in for two weeks. I mean they were in there forever. Two weeks. I mean, any operation is serious if it’s on you, but simple operations two weeks — 10 days. Now you’re in in the morning and out in the afternoon.
I’ve been in the hospital when the doctor was telling the patient to get out of bed and walk and they’ve just had knees and hips fixed. Some of you have been there. You didn’t want to get up and walk around. “No!” “Yes!” “No!” “Yes!” Weeping and wailing, “But my back.” “That’s all right, you’re going to walk. It’s good for you.” Sometimes I feel like I’m the doctor in the hospital saying to you, “Come on. You gotta get up and do something. The longer you stay in bed the longer you sit there and become ‘Pew Potatoes’ as opposed to ‘Couch Potatoes.’” That’s a good line. I’m going to use that at the next service. As long as you decide the church is for your personal entertainment I will guarantee you that you will have a spiritual, ﬂabby soul that will become instantly more and more selfish and less and less useful to the kingdom of God. Now, how do we move from “I am able” to, “He is able?”
I want us to look at these six scriptures. Turn to the first one, the Hebrew 7 scripture. We’re going to look at six things that God says he is able to do. Maybe we’ll quit aiming low and thinking small. Maybe when we see these scriptures we’ll quit following fads. Maybe we’ll quit matching the gospel with second-rate commitment. Maybe there’ll be a will to power in here — His power.
The first thing He says to us in the 25th verse of the 7th chapter of Hebrews. “Therefore He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him because He always lives to intercede for them.” He is able to save. Now I want you to understand, I believe that people are either lost or saved. I believe that people are either in the family of God or they’re out of the family of God. And I believe it because the Bible teaches it. I don’t believe that we’re suffering from a cultural lag. I don’t believe we’re suffering from social maladjustment. I don’t believe that we’re suffering from psychological disorientation. I believe people are either lost or saved.
Now I think the secular disciplines can help us. But, I think ultimately people need to know they are saved or they’re not saved. There’s a question we used to ask people. “If you were to die right now, would you go to heaven?” And some people would say, “Yes,” and some people would say, “Well, I hope so. I don’t know, I think so.” We get all kinds of scattered answers. I want to ask you that question. If you were to die right now would you go to heaven? If you can’t answer that with certainty then you need to examine your spiritual insight. You need to examine your relationship to Jesus Christ, because this scripture says God is able to save you; not a little bit, not sort of, not get you in the right direction. God is able to save you completely and then Jesus Christ makes intercession for you after you’ve been saved.
And so all the struggles we have Jesus Christ is there by the throne of God making intercession, “Oh, help Bill,” “Help John,” “Help Fred,” “Help Mary.” “They’re having a hard time.” He intercedes for us all the time before the throne of grace. When we understand that we understand that God wants us to be his children. He speaks to our deepest need. And when Jesus comes there is no such thing as defeat. We may stumble. We may fall. But we are never defeated.
Now the second thing I want you to see is in Hebrews 2:18. I wish I could spend the whole sermon on each one of these. I will someday. Not only is He able to help us and to save us completely, but He is able to help them who are tempted. “Because He Himself suffered when He was tempted He is able to keep those who are being tempted.” When Jesus was baptized it was a high and holy moment in His life.
There is a site in Israel which is the traditional site by the Jordan River where they say Jesus could have been baptized. The Jordan River runs down through a very low — I think it’s the lowest place on the face of the earth. It’s the lowest place in Israel. It’s 1,250 feet below sea level and then it goes straight up the banks go straight up to what they call the wilderness. It’s where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. And that wilderness is not like a jungle, but it’s a desert. It’s a barren desert. Only some kind of strange sheep and goats can live out there.
Now when Jesus was baptized it was a great moment. The heavens opened. “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased,” and then Jesus went steadfastly up to the wilderness to be tempted, to be tempted of the Devil and that was a hard thing. He had to decide what kind of Messiah He was going to be. He wasn’t an automaton. He was like all of us. He had to make some decisions. And every time that the temptation came to Jesus He countered it. He countered the devil. He countered the devil with scripture and a reference to God every time. At another time we’ll go through all of those temptations.
And when it was over the angels came and ministered to Him and then He went on about His ministry, but the Bible says the devil left Him for a while to return at another time. We are always being tested. There is not one of us in this room who isn’t being tested. It says we are always being tested and He is there with us when we are being tempted. Now, to be tempted isn’t sinful. And the devil can’t make you sin. Flip Wilson was wrong when he said, “The devil made me do it.” The devil can’t make you sin. All you can do is buy in to the message of the devil at the point of temptation. The way to deal with that is to flee. Get away from it. Stay away from it. Never go near it, but He says He’s with us at that point. There’s other testing and tempting. It’s the same word in the Bible.
The 12th chapter of Genesis, and God did test, and other translations God did tempt Abraham. Before God could use Abraham He had to test him to see if he was any good and before God can use you for anything, you will be tested. Do you want to ﬂy on an airplane with a pilot who is untested? Do you want to have heart surgery where the last thing you hear before they put the anesthesia on you is, “Gee whiz, what do we do now?” You want a doctor that’s been tested and knows what he’s doing. And if you’re going to serve God, you’re going to be tested. You’re going to be tested every way. And the way to deal with it is simply to say, “I am a child of God,” and call Him to help you. It is that simple. We need to understand that. Oscar Wilde said, “The way to get rid of temptation is to yield.” He’s wrong on that. It just gets worse.
Let me move to the third thing quickly. I want you to turn to that 2 Timothy passage. Here we have some things that are lost in translation, but I want to read it to you. No, it’s the next one that’s lost, but this one is one that we’ve learned to sing. 2 Timothy, He is able to secure us, “because I know whom I have believed and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.”
This is an interesting passage. I wish I could go through the entire argumentation here. None of these are proof text, but these are the end of an argumentation or a long paragraph. Paul is saying here, you can trust God. You take money to the bank. You hope you can trust the bank. You take money to a brokerage house. You hope you can trust the brokerage house. You take money and invest in Enron, well I don’t need to say any more. You go on down the line, or World Comp, you hope you can trust those things.
But Paul is saying here now to Timothy, “You can trust God.” “I know in whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day.” He’s saying that God is not going to take away from us what we’ve committed to Him. We have committed our lives, our hearts, our souls to Him. We’ve given Him everything we have. We can trust God. God is not going to take away your salvation. I want to say this for those of you who sometimes may not feel like you’re saved. Or may feel like that God’s forgotten about you. You can trust God. We don’t get unsaved once we’ve been saved. There’s another way to say it, “Once saved, always saved.” Another way to say it, “Once saved, always safe.”
What would you think of a parent who took away the inheritance from a child? What would you think of a person who took away the integrity of another person‘? It wouldn’t sound very good would it? That means that we’re always under some kind of conditional relationship with God. You know, if you do good I’ll stay with you and maybe I’ll save you at the end. That’s not the way God operates. We have His salvation. It can’t come away from us. We are His forever. It’s called being born again. You can’t be unborn. There’s no way we can be unborn once you’re born again. We need to have that security. That doesn’t make you lazy. That makes us with more integrity.
That doesn’t make us come to the place where we are casual about our faith. That lets us know that we have a God who is faithful and we should be faithful. So we can be saved. God can be trusted to stay with us, to times of temptation. God will not take our salvation away from us. He is going to take care of the investment we have given Him, for it’s an investment of our spiritual eternity with Him. He will save. He will succor. He will secure.
I want you to turn to that passage in Jude. What’s the fourth thing he would do? I would imagine that this is one of the few times that you’ve ever read the book of Jude. I’ll be truthful with you. This is one of the few verses in Jude I’ve ever preached from, but it’s a humdinger. He is able to support. “Now to Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy,” let me go ahead and read, this is a benediction, “to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages now and forevermore. Amen.”
Isn’t that beautiful and majestic? “Now unto Him who is able to keep you from falling.” That’s almost like what I said in the other section. He is able to keep you from falling. I see a lot of people who get tangled up. You know, just because you’re a Christian doesn’t mean you don’t sin. Just because we’ve given our hearts to Jesus Christ doesn’t mean that we don’t stumble. Remember Peter denying Jesus? It happens along the way. And I see people who have been moral disasters, whose cars have wrecked spiritually and emotionally. But, if they had stayed connected to the Lord, He would keep them from falling.
Christianity is not an ambulance running around picking up people who have fallen, but it’s preventive medicine building spiritual muscle and strength so that they can resist the wiles of the devil. It’s the word made flesh and dwelling among us, and if we keep that relationship it will stay that way.
He is able to keep us from being torn away. He is able to keep up from stumbling. He is able to protect us. Now that doesn’t mean we’ll go through life unscarred. That doesn’t mean we’ll go through life without a difficulty, but it does mean that in the points of temptation He will keep you from falling.
Scriptures talk about the devil being a roaring lion going around seeing whom he can devour. Sometimes I feel like that lion has gotten loose in the halls of our church. And when the lion does devour somebody or grab somebody, it’s an indication to me that somehow, some way they did not keep themselves spiritually adept. They did not keep their spiritual muscles up.
Now, quickly let me say, this is only by comparison. The Roman Catholic Church takes responsibility for the people. But the Free Church movement — the Protestant Church, the Baptist, whichever term you want — lets the person be free enough to take responsibility for themselves. We think that’s what the Bible tells us to do. And our job is to help you use the tools that are out there for you. So I’m saying that we’re all responsible for ourselves. Under God we are responsible. And He will keep you from falling.
Now the fifth one if you’ll turn. One thing about a sermon like this you can keep track of where I’m going. You know when I’m going to finish. Don’t get your hopes up. Philippians 3:21. This is the one that has in the King James Version, it’s clearer than in the NIV. I heard someone characterize the NIV the other night as the nearly imperfect version. That’s what he called it. Philippians 3: 21, “who by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body.” In the King James it says, “He who is able to subdue all things,” and it’s the same thing it’s just translator’s nuances here. He’s able to subdue all things unto Himself. Now this is what he’s saying. God is stronger than evil. God is stronger than the economic markets. God is stronger than the issues we have internationally. God is stronger than any of the things that ﬂoat around us at all times that threaten us. God is stronger than all of that.
Remember that the early Christians had as their major enemy the iron fist of Rome, and however you interpret the book of Revelation you have to see there in Revelation there is the iron fist and the iron boot of Rome that was absolutely opposed to the Christian faith as Christians began to gain ground. And the book of Revelation was written for the purpose of giving Christians courage to know that God is going to win and God is not subservient to these forces. And we need to understand that in our lives, whether it be the specter of radical Islam. Whether it be the specter of chaotic economic situations, whether it be the specter of just rampant cultural evil which is what I fear more than any of these other things that roll through our culture. We need to understand that all things — all evil — is weaker than the Lord God, because we serve one who came from an open tomb, and the power of the open tomb is there for us at all times.
When Luther, the great reformer, stood before the Holy Roman Empire and they were trying to get him to recant his writings, he said quite simply, “I can’t. Here I stand I can do no other." And then a part of what he said that is not quoted as often, he looked at all the princes that reigned in parts of Europe that were under the control of Rome and he said, “Jesus shall reign. Jesus Christ shall reign.” Jesus Christ shall reign and I want you to understand that. We pray that God will bless America, and I pray that every night, but I also know that Jesus Christ, the Lord God of the universe represented in Jesus Christ who came among us, is greater than any government, greater than any government ever conceived, because He is the Lord of all and all things will be brought under submission to Him.
Now the last, if you will turn to the Ephesians reference, Ephesians 3:20. “Now unto Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine according to His power that is at work within us. To Him be glory and the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever. Amen.” I like that. He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask. To Him be glory forever and ever.
Have you ever thought that God is a little bit stingy with you? Have you ever had the feeling that if God really would listen to your prayers He would do a better job when answering them for you? Well the strange thing about it is this is not a sprint. It’s a marathon. Day to day God may not do things like we want him to do, but you look at your life and I’ve been around long enough now to look back over my shoulder and God has done exceedingly abundantly more than I could ever have asked or imagined.
Adoniram Judson, that great missionary who went to Burma the latter part of the 1700s and the early l800s. He went to Burma. He labored there for 30 years and had six converts. He labored there and had I think it was three wives. One died and then he came home and married another and she died. He spent most of his time in a Burmese prison, so he started translating the New Testament of the gospel of Matthew into Burmese. And his wife would come every day and bring his food to him there and he knew that he only had about six or eight believers total in the little church he tried to establish. But when it was over in his journal he wrote, “God has answered every prayer I have given Him.”
Now here’s a man who had gone through all of that tragedy but he says, “God is always there.” Well let me tell you what happened. You take the long view. And now Christians in Thailand are Christians because he translated the Bible into the Burmese language, but he also translated the Bible into the Thai language and the prisoners in jail were from a battle between Burma and Thailand and when they went back to Thailand they took the gospel with them that they had learned in the jail in Burma. And now the church flourishes in Burma — Myanmar it’s called today — and Thailand because of the efforts of this missionary who only had a handful of converts.
And when I was there I worshipped in a church that was the Judson Memorial Church and it was full that day and they have a thriving Baptist witness there that tells the story of Jesus Christ and they baptized 5,000 people at their annual meeting because of the work of this man. It’s not a short-term thing; it’s a long-term thing. He does exceedingly abundantly more than we could ever ask. We can’t measure what we’re doing by what happens today. We have to take the long view.
Now God is able. God is able to do more than we ever thought. He’s able to save. He is able to help, or succor. He’s able to secure us so we won’t lose our salvation. He supports us in the time of temptation. He subdues evil and He surpasses all that we could want. But all it takes is surrender. I want you to understand now that Jesus calls us and He wants you and He calls you.
(Taken from an audio recording with minor editorial revisions.)