Church of the Ascension youth camp 2016 (Metanoia) – Session 1

Good morning friends. It’s a wonderful privilege for me to be here to share God’s Word with you. My name is Aaron. I am married to Catherine, my wife of 11 years. God has blessed us with two children: Samantha, 10 and Samuel 7. After graduating from NUS in 1999 with an honours degree in Civil Engineering, God led me into full-time Christian ministry. I have served with Campus Crusade (Cru) as a staff, I have done a missions stint with OMF in Japan, and for the past 11 years, I have been involved in school ministry – this year, at Fairfield Methodist Secondary School.

Let me share with you a short story of how I became a Christian. So when I was young, I was exposed to Christianity because I not only went to a missions school (Anglo-Chinese schools), my parents actually brought us to Sunday school as well. I knew the Bible stories: Moses, David, Solomon. But I didn’t know the gospel and I didn’t have a personal friendship with Jesus.

One milestone in my life was when I was in Secondary 3. A classmate invited me to his church camp (like this one!) And I had an awesome time… guess why? Girls! You understand, all you who come from all-boys school. So, I had a blast. But on the last day, I was feeling very ‘sian’. … you can guess why again! I would not be able to see the girls again. And what made it worse was there was this pastor and he was preaching and I was like, “I don’t want to hear this.”

But when he started talking about Jesus, and how much God loved us that Jesus was willing to die for our sins, God touched my heart. For the first time, I experienced the love of God and when the pastor called for those who wanted to become Christians, I found myself there in front of the altar, happy tears down my cheeks. God was real, I had encountered Him.

It’s my prayer that every one of you will encounter God this camp. I’m not talking about having an emotional experience, although God does touch our emotions. I’m talking about experiencing God’s presence in this camp that you go away totally transformed, your life never the same again. So, before I share the Word, let’s go to God in prayer and ask Him for this very thing!

[PRAY]

The passage I’ve been asked to preach on this morning is from 2 Corinthians 5:17. I will come to it but first, I want to start with the camp theme “Metanoia” – repentance or better understood as conversion, and the theme verse from Ezekiel 36:26, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”

This passage of Scripture, amongst others, describes what is known as the new covenant. It is one of the most important passages in not only the Old Testament, but all of Scripture. Because this reminds us of what is at the heart of Christianity – it is not a religion, in a sense that religion is man working towards God, by living a moral life or by doing good deeds to outweigh bad ones. Rather, Christianity is a Divine initiative by God who reaches down towards a hopeless and helpless humanity – radically marked by sin, totally incapable of pleasing God – and He saves us, forgives us and transforms us.

I will give you a new heart. I will put a new spirit within you. I will remove the heart of stone. I will give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you. I will cause you to walk in my statutes. Christianity is all about God’s work in our lives. Our salvation is entirely dependent on Him. And at the heart of God’s saving activity is the Person of His Son, Jesus Christ. That’s why it says in 2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

In Christ. It is all about Jesus. Jesus who lived the perfect life, the life we ought to have lived. Jesus who died the sinner’s death nailed to a cross, the death we ought to have died. Jesus who rose again on the third day for our salvation. Jesus who ascended to the right hand of the Father, now reigning in glory. Jesus who will return one day to judge the living and the dead and to bring about the consummation of the ages.

The question of salvation boils down to who are you in relation to Christ. Do you believe who He says He is, will you receive salvation in His name, and will you bow your knee to His Lordship. It is not about whether you attend church. It is not about whether you read or study the Bible. It is not about whether you tithe and give offerings. It is not about whether you serve in church. Don’t get me wrong, these are all good things, important things. But these things don’t save you. These things don’t make you a Christian. What makes you a Christian is do you have a relationship with Jesus Christ and whether you have surrendered your life to Him. There must be a radical decision you personally make about who Jesus is to you. It cannot be your parents faith (for those of you who grew up in a Christian home), it must become your faith.

Most of you would say, yes, I am a Christian. I am a new creation in Christ. What I want to say to you is God is not done with you yet. So I’m going to introduce you to three theological terms (you may already be familiar with these; if so, let this be a reminder). I want to talk about:

  1. Positional Sanctification
  2. Progressive Sanctification
  3. Perfect Sanctification

Positional Sanctification is what happens to you when you become a Christian. When you trust in Jesus Christ alone for the forgiveness of sin, God transfers you from the kingdom of darkness into His kingdom. He clothes you with the perfect righteousness of Christ. When God views you, He views you through the lens of His Son. Your position is secure in Him. Your identity is son or daughter of God!

At the same time, while we are on this earth in the flesh, we recognise that we still fall short and sin. So God is still at work in us. This is the promise of the new covenant, the Holy Spirit deposited in us to work in us and transform us more and more into the likeness of Jesus Christ, 2 Corinthians 3:18 “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” This is called Progressive Sanctification.

When Jesus returns, God’s work in us will finally be complete and as Scripture promises we shall finally reflect Jesus’ image truly and completely. 1 John 3:2 “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”

So God is at work in us not only at conversion, but now, all through your lives, and till He returns.

Years ago, I remember going to church on the first Sunday of the new year. My wife and I were early and as we settled into our seats in the sanctuary, I prepared myself for service in silent prayer. All of a sudden, I distinctly heard God speak, “I’m going to give you a new name.” And I was like, “Ok God, what does that even mean? Am I going to be called John or something?” So because the worship team was going on stage to begin the service, I told God, “If this is what You said, please send someone to confirm it or explain the meaning of it.”

So we began to sing in worship to God. After the singing, as we took our seats, the pastor on duty that day took the mic and the first words out of his mouth were, “God is giving you a new name this year.” And the hairs stood up on my body. It was like Divine confirmation. And pastor went on to say to us that what he meant was God was going to work in us to transform us. Both in the Old Testament and New, when God changed the destiny of a person, He would give the person a new name. Abram became Abraham. Saul became the apostle Paul. Pastor said God was going to change us, transform us into His likeness and for His glory. And God had spoken this to me personally. Although this moment was a significant milestone in my spiritual pilgrimage, I really didn’t think of it much through the year.

Towards the end of that year, I was heading to a Christmas party with my wife and (child at that time). I had borrowed my dad’s car and my wife and Samantha were seated at the back. In the middle of the journey, I heard my wife say the words every husband dreads to hear. “Aaron, you’ve changed.” I was like, sweating. Then she went on to say, “You’ve become kinder and gentler with me and Samantha.” Phew! All of a sudden, I was brought back to that first Sunday church service of the year and God’s promise to me. He had done it! God had been working in my life to change me. Praise God for that. Young people, what God did for me, He wants to do for every single one of you. To transform you. To make you into a new creation. Starting today.

But you know what? Some of you may be wrestling with sin. It may be something you’ve wrestled with for ages with no breakthrough. And you feel defeated, discouraged. You wonder to yourself, how can God forgive me one more time? How can I experience a personal breakthrough? You know, I can understand that.

Years ago when I first went into full-time Christian ministry with a para-church organisation, I felt like I was in my dream job. I believed I would do it for the rest of my career. However, two years into it, for some reasons that are a little personal to share today, I was asked to leave the ministry. And I was devastated. For the next year and a half or so, I just felt like my world had ended. I had ruined it. My life was over. I kept reading the kings in the Old Testament and how after they sinned against God, their lives seemed to never recover. David, Solomon etc.
Perhaps one and a half years after I left the ministry, I was attending a men’s breakthrough weekend organised by my church. The first session was so relevant to me as the men in ministry shared about their failures and sins, and how God restored them as they brought these to light. As they shared this, I really wanted this to be my story too; that God would overlook my sin and restore me. I prayed to God, “If You would send a pastor to pray for me during the ministry time, I would take it to mean that You forgive me and will restore me.” But none came.

I went back to my room and continued to wrestle with God. And then in the silence, God spoke. Just two words. “Remember Peter.” That was the breakthrough for me. Peter, Jesus’s beloved disciple. The one who denied his Master, betrayed Him. The Peter who felt guilty and unworthy of following Jesus after His resurrection. But this same Peter, Jesus forgave, restored, and commissioned. I realised that if God could do it for Peter, He was saying He would do it for me. Remember Peter.

My friends, it doesn’t matter how big or how deep a sin you have done. It could even be something as grievous as sexual sin. When you come to God in repentance, there is forgiveness in the name of Jesus. There is restoration in the name of Jesus. Because this is how great God’s love is and this is how great salvation in His name is. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” God loves you. God wants to restore you. Personal breakthrough comes when we let go of our past, our sins and failures, and embrace our new identity in Christ: sons and daughters of the Most High God!

The new covenant brings about a new creation. In addition, the new covenant brings about a new perspective. We read in 2 Corinthians 5:16 “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.”

In the apostle Paul’s previous “life” (by that I mean before he became a Christ-follower), he was known as Saul, a Pharisee, a very pious, religious Jew. That was why he intensely persecuted the first Christians; he thought they were being led astray by this heretic Jesus who was leading them away from the Jewish faith. But when Saul had a divine, supernatural encounter with the Risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, he was transformed. His view of Jesus, his perspective of Jesus changed. He now knew Jesus as Jesus really is. Lord. Savior. Messiah.

Now, perhaps for some of us, we need a new perspective about God. We sometimes think of God as this really demanding, harsh, Father, sitting up in heaven… He’s really difficult to please. And He’s just waiting for us to mess up and He comes in judgment. This is not our God.

This incident I’m about to share with you happened a couple of years back. I was having a gathering with some of my good friends and our families. One of them has a home that has this small pool beside the dining hall. In fact, if you opened the sliding glass door, you can step straight from the dining table into the pool. The pool has a baby step and if you step off the baby step, you go into deeper water. My son, Samuel was so excited about it that when we reached the place, he immediately ripped off his clothes (he was already wearing his swimming trunks beneath) and jumped into the pool. And he stepped off the baby step. Samuel did not know how to swim.

I remember the scene as if it happened yesterday. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the look of shock on his face as he sank… in slow motion. And so, daddy has to save him right? I was about to, when I paused. I hesitated for a split second. (Does anyone want to guess why?) My expensive phone! I was like, “Goodbye phone”… then reached down and hauled Samuel out of the pool.

After the incident, I was reflecting about it with my wife. Even though I loved my son, yet for a split second, I hesitated before saving him. And then God just spoke to me. He said, “son, I did not hesitate. When I saw humanity drowning in sin, I did not hesitate sending my Son to save them.” And when God spoke that, I had a fresh revelation of God’s love for me, for us. God loves you, young people. Don’t you ever forget that. At the cost of His Son, His only Son, His precious Son, He saved you. God loves you. Whenever you doubt God’s love for you, look to the Cross. It’s at the Cross where God’s love is most evidently displayed. Personal breakthrough comes when we grow deeper in love with our God.

In saying this, I also want to bring a biblical balance. Nowadays, if you tell people God is love, many would say, amen! But if you tell people God is holy, they may say, don’t be legalistic! My friends, God is love and God is holy. His two attributes do not contradict one another. His love is a holy love. What does this mean? It means we should take our sin seriously and repent.

Pastor Timothy Keller is a well respected pastor and author in the United States of America and he once shared this anecdote. He said, whenever young people come to him and tell him they feel distant from God, he would often ask them this rather strange question. “So, who have you been sleeping with?” Pastor Keller says more often than not, the young person in front of him would blush in embarrassment. ‘How did you know?’ Pastor Keller’s point is simple: sin will keep us from experiencing the presence of God, disobedience will keep us from experiencing His intimacy.

I hardly watch TV. I hardly go to the movies. But I do watch Japanese dramas. There was a time as a young working adult, I was buying DVDs and watching them (sometimes I’d watch a series over and over again). Not good. So there was this morning I woke up and was about to do my quiet time. I was about to open my Bible when God spoke to me. “Throw away your Japanese DVDs.”

‘God, is that really You?’

Of course it was Him. I knew. I tried to ignore. I tried to rationalise. Finally, like all true blue Singaporeans, I tried to bargain with God.

‘God, I promise, I’ll watch less.’

‘Maybe I’ll fast from them for a month?’

‘How about I keep just two or three… my favourite ones? Full-time church worker very poor one… and I spent quite a sum of money already.’

Bo-pah-kay. I couldn’t do my quiet time. This thing had to be settled.

So, I did it. I took my entire collection of DVDs and threw them into the rubbish bin outside my house. Funny thing, that out of the way, I opened my Bible and God just spoke to me. I remember just basking in the presence of God and enjoying His fellowship. My obedience to God demonstrated my love for God and that opened the door to intimacy with Him. God already loves us with an everlasting love. As we respond to His love in obedience, we experience more of His love. Is there anything in your life that you know God is pointing a finger at? Repent, metanoia. Receive God’s forgiveness and be restored in fellowship with Him.

There is one final change of perspective I want to mention this morning. The Psalmist speaks of God’s laws and commandments in a manner that may seem really foreign to us. Psalm 19:7-11 “7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; 8 the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; 9 the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. 10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. 11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.”
How many of you feel this way about God’s Word and His laws? I certainly don’t feel this way all the time. How do we get there. Let me illustrate. I have two children as I mentioned: Samantha and Samuel. When Samuel was 1 and a half years old, he still couldn’t speak very much, but the one thing that he could say very well was, “No!” Because that was a word he heard very often. “Samuel, no!” And he’ll go, “No!” At that age, he was able to walk around and he was very adventurous. He’d try to open the refrigerator. Once, he crawled into the clothes dryer, got himself stuck in there and had to be rescued. You see, we had to tell him, “No”, because we loved him and wanted to keep him from harm (playing with the electric fan for example). God’s laws are like that. They are not meant to restrict us and make our lives miserable. They are meant to protect us and lead us to life.

The reverse is also true. Samantha doesn’t like milk. From a very young age (6 months onwards), she just didn’t particularly like drinking milk. So there were times, especially when she was young, when we had to command her, “Samantha, finish your milk (and threaten her with a cane or something).” This was rare. But why did we do so? Because we cared for her growth. Because we cared for her development. God’s laws, again, operate in a similar manner. When God commands us to do something, it is for our good.

Young people, do not miss the heart of God in His laws. Whether He forbids us from something (don’t have sex before marriage), or He commands us towards something (love your enemies, pray for them… honour your father and mother… etc.), it always flows from the Father’s heart of love towards His children, you and I. We may not always understand why things are so. But we can trust our God, our Father, has our best interests at heart. Always.

God calls us to obedience because He desires intimacy with us. God calls us to obedience because He loves us and longs for our best. But we also know Christianity is not merely a religion, it’s also a relationship. It’s not only about following the rules, it’s about knowing the Father.

Finally, Christianity is not self-effort. Ezekiel 36:27 “And I will put my Spirit within you…” 

Let me ask you this question. How many of you think that the Christian life is difficult? It is not difficult. It is impossible! If it was merely difficult, we can try and some of us will succeed. But it is impossible, none of us can do it, without the Holy Spirit. God has given us the Holy Spirit. All of us. And we need to rely on Him, to fill us, to empower us. We do this in faith, and obedience.

[PRAY]

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