It’s a Wonderful Life!

 

By Franklin L. Kirksey, Pastor, First Baptist Church of Spanish Fort, Alabama, and author of Sound Biblical Preaching: Giving the Bible a Voice.

These expositions by Dr. Kirksey are offered to suggest sermon or Bible study ideas for pastors and other church leaders, both from the exposition and from the illustrative material, or simply for personal devotion.

Habakkuk 2:4

 


Introduction

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is a 1946 American Christmas drama film produced and directed by Frank Capra, based on the short story “The Greatest Gift”, written by Philip Van Doren Stern in 1939, and privately published by the author in 1945.[1]  Someone provides the following synopsis, “An angel helps a compassionate but despairingly frustrated businessman by showing what life would have been like if he never existed.”[2]  Contrary to the book or the movie, the Bible does not teach that men become angels or women either, for that matter.  It proclaims a greater miracle, how sinners become saints.

From Habakkuk 2:4 we read, “Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him; but the just shall live by his faith.”  Please note we find the phrase, “the just shall live by faith”, repeated three times in the New Testament, namely, Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; and Hebrews 10:38.  Citing each of these, allow me to share three things about the Christian life.

 

I. It’s a life commenced by allegiance to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

From Romans 1:17 we read, “For in it [the gospel of Christ] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’”

We read in Romans 10:9-13, 17, “That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.  For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.’  For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him.  For ‘whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ . . .  So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

The Christian life commences with allegiance to the King of kings and Lord of lords, Jesus Christ.  As Peter states in the conclusion of his sermon on the day of Pentecost, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).

Dr. George W. Sweeting shares, “A favorite feature in Reader’s Digest, almost since its beginning, has been the articles recalling ‘My Most Unforgettable Character.’

Sometimes well-known persons have been highlighted, but far more frequently these features have pointed to little-known men and women.  They have been persons whose lives mattered in some special way because of their character, their personality, or of what they meant to others.

The true Christian is an unforgettable character who, day after day, is becoming more and more like the most unforgettable Person the world has ever known.  I speak, of course, of Jesus Christ.

The Christian life is not a matter of following a list of ‘dos’ or observing a longer list of ‘don’ts.’  The Christian life is a pledge of allegiance to Jesus Christ.  It is becoming so occupied with Him that the values of the world have little attraction.

If you have been born of God, if you have trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior, you have experienced a wonderful transformation.  You are a new creature.  You have a brand-new nature.  You belong to a new family.

As a result, you have a new outlook.  A new destination is now yours.  Your whole attitude is changed.”[3]

Dr. Stephen F. Olford (1918-2004) warns about, “A Pretentious Allegiance Without Obedience”, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).

Dr. Olford explains, “Jesus is not speaking here of the heretic, but to those false prophets whose theology and language throughout is orthodox and unquestionable.  Indeed, there is not only faithfulness in the use of the correct terms— ‘Lord, Lord’—but also the feeling of emotion and fervency; yet all this without genuine obedience to Jesus Christ.

There are thousands of religious leaders and members in our churches who profess allegiance to Jesus Christ without heart obedience to Jesus Christ.  Like the people described by Paul in his letter to Timothy, they are ‘always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth’ (2 Tim. 3:7).  The Savior is not interested so much in what a man preaches as in what he produces.  The spurious type of Christian usually attracts people to himself, rather than to the Lord.  The only test we can apply to this characteristic is that of the experience of truth.  If a man does not pass this test then a pretentious allegiance without obedience will suffer eternal disqualification.”[4]

Dr. Lawrence O. Richards writes, “This First Epistle of Peter was probably written about a.d. 64 or 65.  But its theme of submission despite unjust suffering remained particularly relevant to the church for several hundred years.  During this period Christians experienced significant persecution.  A letter written about a.d. 110 by the younger Pliny, a provincial administrator, asks the Emperor Trajan ‘whether it is the mere name of Christian which is punishable, even if innocent of crime, or rather the crimes associated with the names.’  Trajan’s answer instructs Pliny not to accept anonymous charges against anyone as a Christian, or to ‘hunt them down.’  But he says that ‘if [Christians] are brought before you and the charge against them [that they are in fact Christians] is proved, they must be punished.’  Less than 50 years after Peter wrote, to bear the name ‘Christian’ in the Roman Empire was considered a capital offense.  What a need for Peter, aware of growing hostility even in the 60s, to write and show believers how to live in times when maintaining allegiance to Jesus means suffering, discrimination, ridicule, and even death.”[5]

Expect opposition because of your allegiance to Jesus Christ according to 2 Timothy 3:12-15, where we read, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.  But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.  But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them,  and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”

 

II. It’s a life committed to excellence through Jesus Christ as Lord and Master.

From Galatians 3:11 we read, “But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for ‘the just shall live by faith’.”

The pursuit of excellence without Jesus Christ as Lord and Master does not produce eternal results.  For example, we read in Luke 18:9-14, “Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’  And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  Dr. J. C. Ryle (1816-1900) comments, “See now the general APPLICATION which our Lord makes: ‘Everyone who exalts himself shall be abased—but he who abases himself shall be exalted.’  Mark these words, ‘everyone who exalts himself.’  High or low, rich or poor, young or old, it matters not; for God is no respecter of people, ‘everyone who exalts himself’ and not free grace; who trusts either in whole or in part in his own righteousness and performance and not entirely in Jesus Christ—though he go to church twice a day, though he keep the letter of the Ten Commandments, though he pays everything he owes, though he is sober and moral and decently behaved—everyone who exalts himself shall be abased and condemned, when Jesus Christ shall come to judge.

But on the other hand remember, ‘he who humbles himself’ as a sinner before God and comes unto Christ, though he may have been the most wicked of transgressors, though he may have broken all the commandments, though he may have been a Sabbath-breaker, a drunkard, a thief, an adulterer, an extortioner—whatever his sin may have been, if he acts as the tax collector did, ‘he shall be exalted.’  That is—he shall be pardoned, and washed and sanctified and justified for the sake of Jesus Christ, and shall have his place with David and Manasseh and Mary Magdalen and the thief upon the cross—in the everlasting kingdom of our God and of the Lamb.”[6]

There were those in Jesus’ day as in our day who attempt to misuse the law.  It is a schoolmaster or tutor.  We read in Galatians 3:19-25, “What purpose then does the law serve?  It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator.  Now a mediator does not mediate for one only, but God is one.  Is the law then against the promises of God?  Certainly not!  For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law.  But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.  But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed.  Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.  But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.”

Dr. William Barclay (1907-1978) explains, “When a man rules his life by union with Christ he rules it not by obedience to a written code of law which may actually awaken the desire to sin but by an allegiance to Jesus Christ within his spirit and his heart.  Not law, but love, is the motive of his life; and the inspiration of love can make him able to do what the restraint of law was powerless to help him do.”[7]

It is amazing how many people want to be a Christian, who do not want Jesus Christ to be their Lord and Master.  Has the Master mastered you?  Dr. Avery T. Willis, Jr. (1934-2010), creator of the MasterLife discipleship series, also wrote a book titled The Disciple’s Cross. Dr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) writes the following in his book titled, The Cost of Discipleship [first published in German in 1937], “When Christ calls a [person], he bids [that person] come and die.”  Bonhoeffer also writes, “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal confession.  Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”  Remember, the term “disciple” means “learner”.  From Matthew 11:25-30 we read, “At that time Jesus answered and said, ‘I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes.  Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight.  All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father.  Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.  Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

From John 10:10 we read where Jesus said, “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy.  I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”  I want the abundant life!

We read about the exchanged life in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”  Major W. Ian Thomas (1914-2007) explains, “Christian living is not a method or technique; it is an entirely different, revolutionary principle of life.  It is the principle of an exchanged life” not I, but Christ liveth in me” (Galatians 2:20).

This is all part of our Gospel – it is not the Gospel plus!  We must not get our terminology wrong.  To divorce the behavior of the Christian from the Gospel is entirely false and is not true to the Word of God, yet all too often such is the characteristic of gospel preaching.

I would like to explore with you what is the true spiritual content of our Gospel ­ not just heaven one day, but Christ right now!  Christ in you, on the grounds of redemption ­ this is the Gospel!  To preach anything less than this must inevitably produce ‘Evan-jellyfish’­ folk with no spiritual vertebrae, whose faith docs not ‘behave!’”[8]

Major W. Ian Thomas also explains, “There are few things quite so boring as being religious, but there is nothing quite so exciting as being a Christian!

Most folks have never discovered the difference between the one and the other, so that there are those who sincerely try to live a life they do not have, substituting religion for God, Christianity for Christ, and their own noble endeavors for the energy, joy, and power of the Holy Spirit.  In the absence of reality, they can only grasp at rituals, stubbornly defending the latter in the absence of the former, lest they be found with neither!”[9]

 

III. It’s a life commended for perseverance from Jesus Christ as Lord and Judge

From Hebrews 10:38 we read, “Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.”  We read in Hebrews 10:36-39, “For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise:  ‘For yet a little while, / And He who is coming will come and will not tarry.  Now the just shall live by faith; / But if anyone draws back, / My soul has no pleasure in him.’  But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul.”  I believe in the perseverance of the saints.  Read the Book of Hebrews and note the repetition of the word “eternal”.  Someone quipped, “A faith that falters at the finish was faulty from the first.”

We read in Hebrews 11:1-2, 6, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.  For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. . . .  But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”

Please note in Hebrews chapter 11 the repeated use of the words, “By faith” as there is a roll call of men and women of faith.

We read in Hebrews 12:1-11, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.  You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin.  And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons:  ‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, / Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; / For whom the Lord loves He chastens, / And scourges every son whom He receives.’  If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?  But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons.  Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect.  Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live?  For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness.  Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

From John 5:22-23 we read, “For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father.  He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.”

We read in Romans 14:10-12, “For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.  For it is written:  ‘As I live, says the Lord, / Every knee shall bow to Me, / And every tongue shall confess to God.’  So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.”  In 2 Corinthians 5:9-11 we read, “Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him.  For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.  Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences.”

If Jesus Christ is pleased it does not matter who is displeased; and if Jesus Christ is displeased it does not matter who is pleased.

 

Conclusion

From the Life Application Concise New Testament Commentary we read, “Sometimes the worst circumstances bring out the best in people.  In this case, two secret disciples—Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus (according to John 19:38-39)—openly expressed their allegiance to Jesus.  Joseph was a member of the council, and Nicodemus was a Pharisee.”[10]

“The just shall live by faith” is the thread that runs through the Bible related to a personal relationship with God.  An unknown poet explains the importance of faith in the following:

“The faith of the head is the faith that is dead;
The faith of the heart is better in part;
But the faith of the hand is the faith that will stand,
For the faith that will do must include the first two.”[11]

Dr. Albert Barnes comments on the Christian life, “This life begins in grace, lives on in glory.”[12]  Therefore, remember, it’s a wonderful life!


[1]“It’s A Wonderful Life”, Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It’s_a_Wonderful_Life Accessed: 01/03/13

 

[2]Available from: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0038650/ Accessed: 01/01/13

 

[3]George W. Sweeting, How to Begin the Christian Life, “You and the World” (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1993), Chapter 10

 

[4]Stephen F. Olford, Expository Preaching Outlines Volume 7, “The Keys to the Kingdom”, “Life’s Real Profession”, (Memphis, TN: Encounter Ministries Inc., 1998),

 

[5]Lawrence O. Richards, New Testament Life and Times, (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Publishing, 2002), WORDsearch Corp.

 

[6]J. C. Ryle, “Self Righteousness”, Sermon Notes, (Luke 18:9)

 

[7]William Barclay, Barclay’s Daily Study Bible (NT), “The New Allegiance” (Rom 7:1-6)

 

[8]Major W. Ian Thomas, The Saving Life of Christ, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1989), p. 23

 

[9]Bob George, Classic Christianity, (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1989), Foreword by Major W. Ian Thomas

 

[10]Life Application Concise New Testament Commentary, “Jesus Is Laid in the Tomb”, Luke 23:50-56, (Tyndale House Publishers, 2009), p. 358

 

[11]John Barnett Donaldson, The Two Talents with Other Papers Sermons Leaders (Minneapolis: North & West Publishing Company, 1900), p. 205

 

[12]Albert Barnes, Barnes’ Notes on the Old Testament WORDsearch Corp.

 

By Dr. Franklin L. Kirksey, pastor First Baptist Church of Spanish Fort 30775 Jay Drive Spanish Fort, Alabama 36527

Author of Sound Biblical Preaching: Giving the Bible a Voice Available on Amazon.com and WORDsearchbible.com

http://www.amazon.com/Sound-Biblical-Preaching-Giving-Bible/dp/1594577684

http://www.wordsearchbible.com/products/Sound_Biblical_Preaching_1476.html

http://www.webspawner.com/users/franklinlkirksey  / fkirksey@bellsouth.net  / (251) 626-6210

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