SUNDAY NT SERMON: Tim Keller “CHRIST OUR HOUSE” – Ephesians 2:14-22

Series: The King and the Kingdom – Part 8

Tim Keller preaching image

Preached in Manhattan, NY on September 10, 1989

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. – Ephesians 2:14–22

We’re looking, for three weeks, at this passage about the church. Last week, we talked about the fact that the Spirit of God, the life of God, coming into our lives as believers creates a tie stronger than any other tie that can exist between human beings. It’s a tie that transcends the deepest differences that can exist between human beings, differences of family, differences of race, differences of culture, differences of class; therefore, we say the church has a unity and a fellowship, a solidarity the world has been seeking between human beings, for years, in vain.

Tonight, we’re going to look how the same principle relates to our worship. Last week, fellowship and unity; this week, worship. There are volumes in one verse here, verse 18. In fact, all we’re going to look at is verse 18. “For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.” Every word in there is loaded. It reminds me, a hymn writer once talked about a verse like that.

A box where sweets compacted lie.

That’s what it is. Every word is sweet. Look at the first one: for. It’s a sweet word. Why? Look at what comes before it, all of Paul’s discussion of how Jesus Christ died on the cross to reconcile people to God and to reconcile people to one another, but what is the point of it? What is it for? It all boils down to verse 18. “For through him we both have access …” Access is the bottom line of the Christian life. Access.

You may be religious. You may have experienced forgiveness. You may have experienced changes in your life. You may have overcome habits. You may have experienced a certain amount of peace, but listen. All those things are great, but that’s not the bottom line of the Christian life. Those things are symptoms. Those things are sparks, in a sense. They’re results. The bottom line of the Christian life is access. It’s all for this: Through him, we have access, getting in. Getting in.

The bottom line of the Christian life is … Are you in, near God? Are you out on the periphery, or are you in close? Do you experience access to him? Do you enjoy him? Do you know him? Or flip it around. Is he in the center of your life, or is he out on the periphery? Does he enjoy access to you? Do you enjoy access to him, and does he have absolute access to you? Are you in his center, or is he in your center? Access, that’s what the Christian life is about. That’s why we have to look at it. Notice all three members of the Trinity, the triune God, are involved in bringing us this great gift.

For what? “For through him …” Who’s that? Christ. “.… we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.” Three prepositions: through Christ, to the Father, by the Spirit. Three little words. Prepositions of all things, not a noun, not a verb, not even an adverb. Three prepositions on which you can build your whole life. Not only that (and it has been done), on which you can build a whole civilization. Three prepositions. Let’s look at each one of them. This gift of access is to the Father through the Son by the Spirit. Let’s look at what this gift of access is. It’s:

1. To the Father

This word access, it’s one of those few times in which it’s helpful to know Greek. Usually, the Greek word means exactly what the translation says it means. In this case, it’s helpful to look at it, because the word access here, in Greek literature, means to have an introduction to a VIP, to have an introduction to a very important person. Therefore, Paul is, in a very specific way, drawing a picture.

Imagine this. Modernize it a little bit. There’s some great man coming to town, a man of the greatest importance, the greatest significance, the greatest fame, and in this case (which isn’t often the case), you admire this man mightily, so much that you’re willing to go out into the crowd just hoping you’ll catch a glimpse of him. Maybe you’ve even pushed to the front of the police line. You’re waiting there, and along comes the entourage. You haven’t even seen the man yet.

All of a sudden, to your surprise, in the entourage, you recognize somebody. Somebody in his entourage comes over and says, “Oh, I can’t believe you’re here. This is marvelous. Would you like to meet him?” You say, “I can’t believe it. Why, yes.” You’re on the outside. You’re behind the police line. You’re outside just hoping for a glimpse through the door, through the window. Maybe when the limousine comes by, for some strange reason, (you know, if there’s a light on the other side, even those dark glass places you can sometimes see through), maybe just a silhouette.

Suddenly, the friend takes you and leads you in, not just inside the police line but inside the house, not just inside the house but inside the room, not just inside the room but right up to his chair. You sit down, and the man gets the introduction from your friend. He turns to you, and he says, “Why, this is marvelous. I’d love to get to know you better. Could you come back for dinner? Just you and me and my wife.” You’re in. You’re in. You’ve experienced access.

Is that far-fetched? Let me tell you something, friends. If you think that’s far-fetched, the reality Paul is pointing to is as far greater than that story as an ocean is greater than a dewdrop. The reality is far greater than that story, which many of you say, “That’s never happened to me. That sort of thing never will happen to me.” The reality is greater, and that is every person who has received Jesus Christ as Savior has an introduction, not to a VIP, not to somebody in a limo. In New York, they’re a dime a dozen.

There are a lot of others places … a limo … anybody in a limo, anybody in an entourage, anybody behind a police line, that might happen once a year, twice a year, but here, it’s every day. It’s every block. But you say, “Even so, it’s fantastic. That would never happen.” The reality is so far greater because you have an introduction, an irrevocable, permanent introduction, into the courts of the King of the cosmos, the Lord of all life and love and power. He takes you into his heart, into his secrets, into his counsel, into his confidence. You, you’re in.

This is important because whether we recognize it or not, many of us, to one degree or another, are really dominated and influenced by a deep need to be on the inside, and our lives are actually run as much by that as they are by a fear of being left out. There is no worse fear than being left out. See, human society is full of little, what we call inner circles. There are all sorts of inner circles, and the worst thing in the world is to be outside of one if you get near one.

The most famous inner circle, of course, is high society, and a lot of us want to be in high-society circles. Well, we don’t admit that to ourselves until we get near enough to one to get an introduction, and then we go wild over it if it happens to us. Of course, we consider them snobs. Who is we? Anyone outside of that circle. But listen, those of us who are the most disdainful of people who are social climbers trying to get into the inner circle, many of us are just as consumed by a need to be in some other inner circle.

Oh, no, we don’t want tall ceilings and chandeliers. We want the cozy little studio or attic, and just four or five friends and the delicious knowledge we, even we, just we four or five, are the ones who know. Know what? It depends. It depends on if you’re Republican or a Democrat. It depends. But there are all these inner circles, and we want to be in there. Now before any of you say, “Oh, I’m not dominated by that kind of thing. I’m not influenced by that kind of thing,” realize, think about it. We are. It’s one of the great mainsprings of human behavior.

Why … I’m going to say kids, but you know, lots of us were, those of us who weren’t hatched … why is it that most kids have sex the first time? Why is it that most kids use drugs the first time? Why do they have sex the first time? Is it their hormones? Ridiculous. Those of you who remember realize you’re too scared to have your hormones involved at all. It’s the desire to be in. It’s the fear of being out. It’s one of the mainsprings of our professional lives. Let’s face it. It’s one of the reasons we get galled if we’re not brought in, and it’s any profession. It’s my profession too.

Kathy and I know that there’s a particular friend of ours, a pastor friend, who has gotten up and up in the world. Over the years, he’s really developed an inner circle. I’ve never been invited in, and there have been many times in which I was rankled by that. It’s the same cancer. When you start a new church, one of the things that very often happens is in the early stages there is tension between the people who perceive they have not gotten into the pastor’s inner circle and the people who are in. On and on it goes.

I read a very interesting biography not too long ago. It was a testimony of a man who had been gloriously converted to Jesus Christ after a long career as a very highly successful female impersonator. You know, I was just reading through the thing rather quickly. It was rather light reading and interesting and helpful and very glorious in many ways. At one point, he’s telling how, after all his life being a sissy, marginalized, always on the outside, always mocked, the first time he got onto the stage and went into his act … This is what he wrote: “I went into my act. They demanded encore after encore. I was in for once in my life, all those normal people out there clapping.”

The power that lifestyle had for him was that need to be in. You can go into psychoanalyzing him. You can go into checking out his hormones, but the whole idea was … He was out, and now he was in. It does affect us. How can we keep from this sort of thing ruining our lives? There’s only one way. You can sniff and say, “I won’t let that happen,” but then you look around for other people like you who are just as sensible about these inner circles. The next thing you know, you have one.

You have to acknowledge the fact that this is a need for access, and the only way it will not run your life and ruin your life is if you fill that need with the only thing that can truly satisfy it, and that is access into the only circle that counts, the circle of God, the Trinity. He takes you all the way in. It says in the Psalms, “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him …” The secret. That’s a big part of being in an inner circle, when people tell you secrets, you know, and the Lord tells you secrets.

It says in Revelation 2, to those who overcome, he gives you a white stone, and on it is your name written, the name that is known only to you. If you think I’m so wise, as a teacher of the Bible, that I know what in the world he’s talking about, I don’t know. But all I know is it probably has to do with the fact that God, the longer you work with him, the more he shows you who you are, the more he shows you what gifts he has given you, what your purpose is. He brings you in. He brings you all the way in; therefore, the only thing that is going to satisfy the need for access is access to God.

What is that access? It’s knowing God. See, the word for access and the word for knowing God is the same. Knowing God is the essence. John 17:3, Jesus says an amazing thing. He says, “This is eternal life …” What’s eternal life? Is that kind of esoteric to you? “This is eternal life that they know you, the only true and living God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.” Knowing God is eternal life. What knowing God means is very critical to understand, and the best way I can explain it is to tell you the word knowledge in the Bible always has two layers to it. Two layers.

You can know something at the informational level, but you also can know something at the personal level, and those two things are intertwined. In John 14:9, Jesus says to Philip, “Philip, have you been with me so long and still you do not know me?” What does he mean? He says, “Philip, you have a lot of information about me. You’ve been living with me. You know all about me. You’ve heard all of my words. You’ve memorized all of my teachings, but you still don’t get it.”

What is he talking about? Philip had an informational knowledge, but no more. He was missing something else. Or in Matthew 7 (this is a sermon in itself, but I’ll do it some other time), where Jesus says on the last day people will come to him and they will say, “Lord, Lord, didn’t we do great deeds in your name? Didn’t we cast out demons in your name? Didn’t we prophesy in your name?” And Jesus will look at them and say, “I never knew you …” I never knew you.

Don’t ask me to go into that now, but what he’s saying is this is the all-knowing Creator who is talking. Jesus cannot mean, “I don’t know about you.” It doesn’t mean, “I don’t have all the information on you.” He knows everything about you. He knows the number of hairs on your head, but “I never knew you …” He is talking about personal knowledge. Put it this way: You can know something at an informational level and not personal.

My brother-in-law, I remember, some years ago, hated to wear seatbelts. I used to joke about it. He would say, “I hate seatbelts!” One time I visited him (he lives far away) and he had his seatbelt on. I said, “Ooh, wow.” I joked around in a macho way. You know, guys do. I said, “Hey, what are you doing with the seatbelt on?” He was very serious. He said, “I went to visit a friend of mine in the hospital who was in a fairly minor accident and went through the windshield. He did not have his seatbelt on and had 30 stitches in his face.” He said, “Ever since then, I put on my seatbelt.”

Think about something. Did my brother-in-law, whose name is Jim … Did Jim get any new information about seatbelts? Did he get any new information? He already knew all the stuff about seatbelts. He knew the statistics. Did he get any new information? No. Then what made the difference? The difference was, though he did not get any new information … listen … the information became new. He got no new information; the information became new.

It moved down from the informational level to the personal level. In other words, it got down to the place where it affected him as a whole person. His mind, his will, and his emotions were engaged. He saw how he related to seatbelts as a person (personally), and now it changed him. In the same way, it’s possible to have a whole lot of principles, knowledge about the Lord, knowledge about scriptural teaching, knowledge about God, but the questions is … Has that knowledge ever come down and become personal? Have you ever actually met him?

The Bible talks about this in Ephesians 1:18, where Paul says, “I pray …” He says this to the Ephesians. “… that the eyes of your heart would be enlightened so you might know the hope of your calling.” To me, that’s a locus classicus. That’s a classic text. He tells these people he’s praying they would know the hope of their calling. These are Christians. They know about their calling. They’ve heard it all, and he’s saying, “But you don’t really know it, do you? At the deep level, at the personal level, you haven’t really encountered it, and I’m praying the eyes of your heart would be enlightened.”

Right there, you have it. I can read something in the Scripture, but when the truth begins to shine because of what God’s doing to me, truth that has always been there, truth that has been a letter on the page … it begins to shine … the eyes of my heart are enlightened. I begin to know that truth. There are places where the Bible says, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!” Now there it is.

A lot of you in this room (I would hope most of you, probably) believe in the goodness of God. You believe God is good. You know he is good, but is that truth shining at you? Are you experiencing access to the goodness of God? Is it thrilling you? Is it comforting you? Is it changing you? Is it personal knowledge the way it became to my brother-in-law, Jim? Is it affecting you?

When I was a pastor, people would come on in, and I would see they were eaten up with worry, eaten up with it. This was back in the days when I was fairly naïve about this. I would open the Bible, and I would read places where it talked about God being good. “Oh, there are so many places about God being good, and worry is a complete mistrust, a throwing out the window, of the whole idea of the goodness of God. You can’t worry without denying it,” and I would say, “You know God is good.” The people would look at me, and they would say, “I know that, but it doesn’t help.”

I began to realize, as I began to read what the Bible said about knowledge, what it meant to know God, what it meant to have access, I realized you can’t say that. If you say, “I know about the goodness of God, but it doesn’t help,” you’re contradicting yourself. If you know about the goodness of God, you wouldn’t be worried. If you really knew it … I’m not saying that Christians don’t worry, but it’s because of a lack of access.

If the truth begins to shine, if the eyes of your heart are enlightened, if you know it, if you experience access to the goodness of God, it wipes out that kind of anxiety. Nobody has perfect access, but to the degree you have access, to that degree, there’s peace. The truth shines. That’s what this great gift is. It’s a remarkable gift. It’s unbelievable. Do you see it? Just before I go on, real quickly, there are two opposite errors churches fall into about this idea of knowledge.

There’s informational knowledge, and there’s personal, experiential knowledge. There are some churches that put all the emphasis on informational, and the emphasis is all on learning the doctrine and understanding it and knowing it inside out and mastering it and being accurate but without a commensurate emphasis on working that truth into the life before God in repentance and prayer so the truth shines and changes you. If you don’t have that commensurate access, if you put too much emphasis on the informational knowledge, what happens is you develop a legalistic church, an authoritarian church, a heresy-hunting church.

On the other hand, if a church puts much more emphasis on experience, and actually even eschews dogma, always saying, “We don’t believe in doctrine and dogma. We just want to bring you to Jesus,” the danger with that, first of all, that’s silly because as soon as you say, “I don’t believe in doctrine, just Jesus,” I say, “Who is Jesus?” “Oh, Son of God, fully God, fully Man, Savior, Mediator. But I don’t believe in doctrine.” You can’t. You can’t have personal knowledge without informational knowledge. Real knowledge, real access is based on informational knowledge. It’s more than informational knowledge, but it’s never less.

I mean, that’s not the way it works. If you sit down with somebody and you’re trying to get to know them personally, you ask for information. You want to know where they are, where they live, what job they have, and so on, don’t you? Then of course, you use the informational knowledge to build personal knowledge, and that’s the way it goes. But it’s more dangerous than that.

You have to realize that Christian mysticism (if I can use the word), Christian experience, is utterly different than Eastern experience. Eastern mysticism puts all the emphasis on destroying, frustrating the one side of your brain, the analysis side, the rational side, the logical side, and says, “Let’s frustrate it.” You know, all the things you’re supposed to meditate on, like, What is the sound of one hand clapping? And so forth. You’re supposed to meditate on that because it frustrates the logic. It frustrates the one side of your brain until the intuitive side is brought out.

That’s absolutely unbiblical, because Jesus said to the woman at the well of Samaria, “You must worship in spirit and truth, with your left and your right brain, with your analysis and your intuition.” I can’t go into more detail on that now, but do you see why there are these opposite errors? Knowledge is always more than information but never less. This is the gift. We have access, but how do we get it? How do we get it? There are the last two prepositions, which we actually have to look at together.

Why is it that most of us do not experience that access very much? And why is that some of you have never experienced? You know it as I’m describing it. Okay. There is the gift to the Father. That’s the gift, but the gift comes through the Son and by the Spirit. In other words, the gift is bought by the Son and delivered by the Spirit.

2. Bought by the Son

It says what? It says, “For through him we both have access to the Father …” Go back to the illustration about the entourage. Remember the key? Why is it that you got in to see the man? It was the friend, and that friend just can’t be any friend. You don’t think just anybody in their entourage could have gotten you in. It had to be a friend with tremendous standing with the VIP, with the very important person, right? It had to be a person with great standing. Why? Because a great person who doesn’t know you has to trust the introducer, so then he knows he can trust you.

If you try to introduce yourself, that’s tremendously arrogant, because what you’re doing if you try to introduce yourself, is you’re actually granting this person an audience. It’s tremendously arrogant. You say, “I’ll tell you who I am, and I don’t need an introduction,” which, of course, is just setting yourself up over top that person. The only way to get in is to have an introduction by somebody whom the great person trusts. It’s the only way.

Who is Jesus Christ? We’re told, “He is the One who stands before the Father.” Right here in this same passage, up in verse 13, we’re told we’re brought nigh. “We’re brought nigh by his blood.” He died in our place. He took our punishment for our sins. “Now,” the Bible says, “he stands before the Father.” Hebrews 7:25: “He stands. He lives to intercede for us.” We read a little earlier in the service he stands as one making our defense. In other words, we have a permanent, irrevocable introduction.

Anyone who approaches God through Jesus has access, and only through Jesus. Because if you go any other way, you try any other religion, you’ll have to be introducing yourself. You are your own reference. Do you realize how arrogant that is? To come to someone who you’re trying to get a job from, or you’re trying to get in with, you’re trying to get an audience from, and you refuse to even come up with a reference. No one else introduces you … I introduce myself.

Do you realize how incredibly insulting that is to the other person? Do you realize why you’ll never get a job that way? Just try to go see the president of the United States without an introduction. You’ll come down with bullets in you. It’s the same thing with the Father. You have two choices. There are only two approaches. You can introduce yourself, or you can go through Jesus. When you go through Jesus, you don’t have to introduce yourself ever again. Ever again. Then we’re told …

3. By the Spirit

What that means is though the Son has bought it, the Spirit has actually brought it. The Son has bought it, and the Spirit has brought it. It says, for example, in John 16, Jesus says, “The Spirit will come and take of mine and show me to you. He will glorify me.” The Spirit’s job is to melt you under the truth.

Back in the old days, before we had wonderful glued envelopes, do you know how you sealed an envelope if you wrote it? What you had to have is you had to have a little piece of wax, right? You had to have a seal (usually a signet ring), and you had to have a flame. So you softened the wax with the flame, and what the flame did to the wax was it made the wax susceptible to the seal.

If you tried to put the seal on the wax without the flame, there are only two things that could happen. What? It could break the wax, or it could just leave only a superficial outline on the surface. But if the wax is changed, it’s softened by the flame, then the wax is susceptible, and it’s changed in the image of the seal. Now that illustration, transform it. The wax is your heart. The seal is the Truth, the Word of God, and the flame is the Spirit.

When I go to the Truth of God, and the Spirit is giving me access, do you see what happens? You can read about the power of God. If you just read about the power of God, without the influence of Spirit, you say, “Oh, God is powerful.” Without the influence of the Spirit, all that can do is make a superficial impression on the top of you, but when the Spirit of God is there, you read about the power, and there’s access. The truth begins to shine. It begins to change you, and what happens is your heart develops courage.

When you read about his goodness, it develops peace in you. When you read about his forgiveness, it develops relief in you. You shake off your guilty fears. When you read about his forgiveness, it develops generosity and mercy in you. When you read about his holiness, it develops conviction of sin and humility in you. Don’t you see? Only when the Spirit of God is doing that do you see real access happening. Only then.

I told you, by looking at these two things, these two prepositions, through Christ and by the Spirit, we can understand why some of us in this room are not experiencing access. Do you know why? A lot of us are saying, “I’ve been trying to do a good job. I’ve been working at being religious. I’ve been coming to church for a number of years. I’ve never had anything like what you’re talking about. Never!”

The answer is there’s no influence of the Spirit. There’s no softening. In fact, I’d have to say you have to be careful because the more and the more you try so hard to be religious and to be moral without the influence of Spirit on you, you push that seal in the wax, and you push that seal in the wax; all you get is a superficial outline. Eventually what happens is you crack it. That’s why we have people running around forming Fundamentalists Anonymous groups, people who have been cracked under the legalism, cracked under the Word without the Spirit.

Oh, you say, “Well, okay, why isn’t the influence of the Spirit in my life?” The only answer could be you’re not coming through the Son. It’s the only possible answer. You might say, “Well, I believe in Jesus,” but are you trying to introduce yourself? Are you coming to God, making yourself your own reference? Are you coming to him and saying, “Father, I’ve had a hard life, so I deserve …” I mean maybe you don’t use the words, but, “I’ve had it tough. I’ve tried. I’ve worked. I’ve worked.”

Or are you saying instead, “Oh, Lord God. Oh, Lord God. The audacity of someone like me to come to you, you have the right just to throw me out, but the gospel is Jesus has paid it all, and now he stands before the throne for me. He is my introduction. He is my reference. No other. All the other things I’ve ever done are worthless in your sight. Save me for Jesus’ sake?” If you’ve never done that, you’ve never come through him.

Do you understand that? For as hard as you’ve tried to be a Christian, if you’ve never done that, if you’ve never stopped your introductions, you never come through him; therefore, you’ve never really had access to the Father by the Spirit. Where does this leave us? Let me just finish by applying what we’ve learned, access to the Father through the Son by the Spirit, to three kinds of people here. Ready? If the shoe fits …

1. There are those of you who know about this access because you’ve experienced it, but you don’t experience it that much

You know, some tests of the experience … quick … just to make sure you know you’re alive. When you have access, when the Spirit is working on you, when the truth is shining, number one, when you go to God in prayer, you feel the burdens come off. “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” You feel the burdens come off. You can feel the needs and the troubles come off when you’re praying.

Another mark of access is there’s a confidence and boldness. Instead of saying, “Oh, gosh, why would God even listen to me?” there’s a boldness. There’s an eloquence. Besides the confidence and besides the sense of burdens coming off, number three, the real mark of access is surprise. There’s that hymn writer who wrote …

Sometimes a light surprises

The Christian while he sings;

It is the Lord who rises

With healing in His wings.

When you’re looking at the Word of God and it begins to sparkle out truth, your mind gets eloquent. That’s access. You start to see new beauties you hadn’t seen before, things that surprise you. They sparkle out like sun on the water. Your mind gets eloquent. You’re surprised by new beauties.

Another mark of access, and the most important one, is you find it really changes the way in which you live. Do you know that access? Do you know what I’m talking about? Every real Christian knows about it, but I also know every real Christian in this room also says, “I wish I had more of it. In fact, I’m really missing it lately. What can you do?” Here’s what I tell you to do: Even you need to make sure you’re going through the Son by the Spirit.

Through the Son means … Do you rejoice in the access you have through the Son? Do you rejoice in it, or do you run right into God’s presence with your “gimme” prayer list, and you say, “Oh, Lord, I have a lot for you to work on today?” Or do you walk in recollecting, thinking about the fact the only reason you’re not struck dead as you walk into prayer is because you’re coming through the Son and to say, “Oh, Lord, look at the standing I have. Even you can’t bring a charge against me because of the great salvation you brought for me in Jesus Christ?”

To the degree you rejoice in that access, to the degree you’ll experience that access, do you see? Do you just run into God’s presence, or do you enjoy? Do you reflect on what you have? The Bible says, again and again, you must pray in Jesus’ name. Do you know what that means? Do you think it’s just a little thing you say at the end in perfunctory way? To come in the name of Jesus means you know the only reason God will hear you is because of the irrevocable, permanent introduction you have before the throne of God. You relish that, and you revel in that. Are you doing that?

The other thing, of course, is you have to be by the Spirit, and one of the reasons many of us are not experiencing access is not only are we asking the Spirit for that access and yearning for it, a lot of us are grieving the Spirit in our lives. If access to God is by the Spirit and yet in our lives, by sins of omission or commission, by a lack of Christian duties or by actually breaking God’s commandments, you grieve the Spirit, and then you wonder why there’s no access. You can’t do that.

My friends, don’t be too discouraged here. You have to realize sometimes God doesn’t give you high access, and it’s a way for him to test you, because God values obedience given when there’s very little feeling in the heart. When you don’t feel close to him, but you obey, he knows how hard that is, and he knows how valuable that is, and he likes it. But on the other hand, I must point out to you God wants us to have access, and the reason many of us don’t is simply because of our disobedience and our laziness. You have to recollect coming through Jesus. You have to go by the Spirit.

2. The people who are trying to start a new church here

Not all of you are. An alive church experiences access to the Father. That means an alive church is just as big on defending the faith and truth as spreading it. An alive church is not afraid of surprise, because access means surprise. An alive church isn’t afraid of surprise. I mean, it’s creative. It’s not rigid. An alive church is a church that is ready to expect great possibilities because they have access to God, but I can’t go into that right now.

3. There are those of you who are here who have never experienced access, and you know it

In New York City it’s possible to be in some mighty elite circles. I don’t care what kind of circle you’re in, if you’re just getting in or if you think you’re about to get in, it’s awfully exciting, isn’t it? You’re sure this is going to satisfy that need for access. Nuh-uh. No matter what circle you’re in (and if you’ve been in it long enough, you know this), you’re nowhere unless you’re in God’s circle. The only way to do that is to come to the Father through Son by the Spirit.

Psalm 84 says, “How lovely is your dwelling place … My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.” Everybody in this room, whether you admit it or not, that is the language of your deepest self, and the door is open. Let’s go in. Let’s take time to pray silently, time to say, “Lord, here’s what I have to do to put into practice what I’ve learned tonight.” Let’s pray.

If you’re a believer who is really dry, come through the Son. Remind yourself of who is there for you. Stop trying to introduce yourself. Don’t worry about that. At the same time, be willing to quit with those things you know grieve the Spirit and have blocked off your access. If there’s anybody here who knows you have no access; you really need to receive Christ as Savior, pray this prayer with me:

Lord, I’ve tried, off and on, to reach you, but I see how it has all been my own efforts, really, to introduce myself to you. I thought many things I did could get me in, but only Jesus Christ and his work can get me in. Now I receive him as Savior. Master, accept me for his sake. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

 

 

ABOUT THE PREACHER

In 1989 Dr. Timothy J. Keller, his wife and three young sons moved to New York City to begin Redeemer Presbyterian Church. In 20 years it has grown to meeting for five services at three sites with a weekly attendance of over 5,000. Redeemer is notable not only for winning skeptical New Yorkers to faith, but also for partnering with other churches to do both mercy ministry and church planting.  Redeemer City to City is working to help establish hundreds of new multi-ethnic congregations throughout the city and other global cities in the next decades.

Dr. Tim Keller is the author of several phenomenal Christo-centric books including:

Joy for the World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence and Can Begin Rebuilding It (co-authored with Greg Forster and Collin Hanson (February or March, 2014).

Encounters with Jesus:Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions. New York, Dutton (November 2013).

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. New York, Dutton (October 2013).

Judges For You (God’s Word For You Series). The Good Book Company (August 6, 2013).

Galatians For You (God’s Word For You Series). The Good Book Company (February 11, 2013).

Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Plan for the World. New York, Penguin Publishing, November, 2012.

Center ChurchDoing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, September, 2012.

The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness. New York: 10 Publishing, April 2012.

Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just. New York: Riverhead Trade, August, 2012.

The Gospel As Center: Renewing Our Faith and Reforming Our Ministry Practices (editor and contributor). Wheaton: Crossway, 2012.

The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. New York, Dutton, 2011.

King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus (Retitled: Jesus the KIng: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God). New York, Dutton, 2011.

Gospel in Life Study Guide: Grace Changes Everything. Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2010.

The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York, Dutton, 2009.

Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Priorities of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters. New York, Riverhead Trade, 2009.

Heralds of the King: Christ Centered Sermons in the Tradition of Edmund P. Clowney (contributor). Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2009.

The Prodigal God. New York, Dutton, 2008.

Worship By The Book (contributor). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002.

Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1997.

SUNDAY NT SERMON: Tim Keller “Politics of the King” – Ephesians

Series: The King and the Kingdom – Part 7

Tim Keller preaching image

Preached in Manhattan, NY on September 3, 1989

We’ve actually been studying Ephesians 2 for a few weeks now because it tells us so much about the church:

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. – Ephesians 2:14–22

What we’re doing these last few weeks of the summer in these messages is envisioning the church, getting a clear picture of what the Bible says the church ought to be. I want that picture to be so clear and bright that it burns a hole in your mind and ignites a passion in the core of your being to see that picture realized.

Recently, I read two different accounts of two individuals who lived in two different centuries, on two different continents, and yet the same thing happened to them both. They had lived all their lives in abject poverty. For one reason or another, both of them found someone died and left them a fortune. Millions. They were dressed, and it was brought to their attention now there were millions of dollars in the bank in their name, and each one of them said, “Ah, that’s great. Fine. I’ll get it when I need it,” and never drew a cent for the rest of their lives and continued to live in abject poverty.

Interesting stories. Maybe you’ve heard of one of them, and probably there are more cases than that. The reason that happened was not that they disbelieved it, but I believe, because after years and years of living on nickels and dimes and quarters, their imaginations couldn’t comprehend those figures. They knew there was something in there they could draw on when they had a need, but they really couldn’t get their imagination around it.

We’re exactly like that when it comes to the church. Exactly. Because the things the Bible says about the nature of the church are so magnificent they beggar the imagination, and without God’s help, our puny, shriveled little imaginations cannot get around it. So over the next three weeks, we’re going to take a look at Ephesians 2. For three weeks, we’re going to look at these verses I just read.

Many of you (those of you especially with a church background) have heard these things before. “The church is a holy temple. The church is the family of God. The church is one new man,” which means a new humanity. “The church is a colony of heaven. We’re citizens of heaven, and we’re a colony of heaven.” You’ve probably heard these things, right? They’re in the bank. They’re there to be drawn on, and we sit there, and we go, “Uh-huh,” and we live like beggars. Aren’t you tired of going around in rags yet?

Now Ephesians 2:13–22, is a bank account for a Christian, and all we’re going to look at this particular evening are the first few verses, especially verses 14–17, where it talks about the peace of the church. One of the things the church has is peace. It comes up three times: “For he himself is our peace …,” in verse 14; “In this one body, he reconciled both of them, and he made peace,” in verse 15; and in verse 17, “He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.”

The teaching of this passage, in summary, is the church is a place of supernatural unity and solidarity, and that supernatural unity and solidarity is craved by the world. They’re dying for it, but only the church can realize it. That is what the teaching is. Now let’s break it down.

In these verses, Paul, first of all, explains there’s a major problem mankind has with peace, a major problem, and then he gives a solution. The problem he talks about by giving us a case. He’s a casuist here. He’s giving us a case study, and what he’s doing is he gives us one particular case of the great hostility that exists between man and man, between men and women, between labor and management, between races and races. In this one case, he gives the example of the hostility between Jew and Gentile, and he talks about how that has been solved by the church, so let’s take a look at that.

The problem Paul gives us … He gives us a good analysis of the problem, the hostility you see in verse 14. He says he “… has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,” and then secondly what Paul says is the answer, what brings peace, and that is he destroys the hostility through what? Verse 16: “… through the cross …”

Let’s look at the problem, then the solution. The problem: Paul points out the hostility, and you could make a great case that the problem of the human condition is the lack of peace. We live in a world of great strife and enmity. We pay billions of dollars to diplomats. Now I know there are some of these in the room: policeman, lawyers, social workers, arbitrators, mediators. What are you all out there to do? To keep us from killing each other. Guess what. You’re failing. You’re failing.

The only reason there is some peace in the world is because of what’s termed enlightened self-interest. The Bible gives us a great analysis of the cause of the hostility and the continual strife. Why is there war? Why is there terrorism? Why is there litigation? Why is there divorce? The Bible says the reason for the lack of peace in the world is the inherent selfishness and pride of every human being.

The only way the world is able to go about getting peace … It can get it in a partial way, in a sort of way. There’s a sort of peace that can be developed when selfish people find they can work for peace because working for peace helps them toward their goals. Enlightened self-interest. It’s a partial, and it keeps the world from being an absolutely unlivable place. When somebody sees it’s beneficial to their goals to work and live at peace with other people, then they’ll do it. So we do everything we can to set that up, and I’m glad we do.

Did you notice, for example, this week, ARCO came out with a new gasoline, which is far more pollution-free than has ever been produced? It was right on the front page of The New York Times. The ARCO spokesman admitted freely they could’ve been doing this years ago but he said they had no incentive. Well, you know what the incentive is. California has passed certain laws about emission control, and now they’re going to be penalized a terrific amount of money if they don’t produce the gas.

Suddenly (isn’t this incredible?), they’re working for peace, peace with the environment, peace with the environmentalists. Why? Because they said, “Now we have incentives.” Well, what that means is … Our selfishness has been coordinated, your selfishness and my selfishness. Now we can work together, because by working together we can both get what we want. Enlightened self-interest.

Some years ago, do you remember a really, really great ad campaign for why people should not drive recklessly, why people should drive cautiously and soberly? “The life you save may be your own.” Why is it that the ad people didn’t put up there on the billboards, “The life you save may be somebody else’s?” Well, because it’s just not as powerful an argument. “The life you save may be some other poor slob.” Okay. “The life you save may be your own.” Oh, well, all right. Ooh, wow. Okay.

Don’t you see? That’s the only way the world can create peace. It’s doomed in the end. It has to be, because it’s only temporary. Eventually, it’s not in your best interest to work for peace. At some point, if you’re trying to reach your goals, the most beneficial thing for your self-interest will be to push somebody aside to cheat, to stab, or just to walk away. Because it’s the selfishness which creates the strife and the enmity and the conflict, and you can only harness it so far. It’s the selfishness and the pride that creates it.

Now Paul, I said, gives us a case study of how that works. He could’ve chosen all sorts of conflicts we have, but he chose one, which is very, very well known, and one, of course, which we have plenty of still in the world today, the conflict between Jew and Gentile. He says something pretty interesting. He says he “… destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations.”

What does that mean? One thing we do know is Jesus Christ never abolished the Ten Commandments. We know that because the Sermon on the Mount is all about the Ten Commandments. You know, Jesus says, “You’ve heard it said, ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ but I say unto you, if you hate your brother, you have killed him, and if you ignore and are cold to your brother, you have killed him.”

What is Jesus doing? Is he saying, “Ah, you don’t need to follow the Ten Commandments anymore?” He’s saying, “Oh, my friends, the Ten Commandments are far more broad in their ramifications than you ever thought. It’s critical we live according to the commandments.” So Jesus did not abolish the Ten Commandments, no. The key is Paul is thinking of something else. He is thinking, I think, literally, of a partition, a real wall, a literal wall.

Yes, there are figurative walls between labor and management, and there are figurative walls between male and female and between black and white, but there was a real wall between the Jews and the Gentiles. It was a wall. It was a partition in the temple, and the people inside were the Jews, who had not just the Commandments but the regulations, the ceremonial laws, the clean and the unclean laws, all the regulations by which they kept themselves separate from the world.

The Gentiles, who did not have all those laws, who were uncircumcised, who ate unclean meat, and so on, they were on the outside. What Paul points out is the Commandments and the regulations created hostility. That’s not the reason God gave the regulations. Why did God make Israel a separate people? Why did he set them apart with all those regulations?

Not to create enmity, not to create separation, but to make Israel a holy nation who would attract the Gentiles to God. That’s why so many of the calls to worship we do here … the first thing, when I call you to worship … very often, I read it from the Psalms. These were the calls to worship at the temple. Very often, in the Psalms, you see calls to worship from temple that don’t just go, “Come worship all ye people.” What does it say? “Come worship all ye peoples.”

God expected Israel to be drawing all peoples to the worship of God. But what happened was the regulations were distorted and twisted by the pride and selfishness in our hearts. The Jewish people began to take those regulations, which were a gift, and instead of being humbled by them, they became proud, and they said, “Look at these Gentile dogs who eat the wrong food. Look at these unwashed pagans. Why should we have anything to do with them?”

Their gift became a source of pride, and instead of serving the Gentiles with their gift, they scorn them and look down their nose at them. The Gentiles say, “Well, who needs these stuck-up people?” So they became a dividing wall of hostility.

Listen. Let me say, very clearly, this is only one case. Tonight we are not picking on Jewish people because this is a universal principle. Every person who receives a gift, every strength you have, everything that is good about you, sin will twist it and turn it around and turn it into something that makes you look down your nose at other people.

I remember, for example, the school district in my hometown came up with this brilliant idea. They said, “Let’s take the smartest kids from all the different parts of the school district together, and we’ll put them in one class, because they can really, really study, and we can get them three and four years ahead in math and three and four years ahead in all these things.” They put them all together. They didn’t say, “You are the gifted class,” but everybody in that class knew they were pretty intelligent.

Twelve years later, they evaluated the program, and they stopped it. I remember reading the evaluation, and the reason for that was there was tremendous hostility created between that class and everybody else. The class developed a sense of, “Oh, we know who we are. We are the smart kids, and we know who you are. You’re the ones who couldn’t cut it and get into this class.” Of course, everybody else says, “They’re the snobby, smart kids, and we want nothing to do with them,” and there was violence because of that.

I’ve counseled, and I sure hope I don’t do a whole lot more of it, but I did a lot of marriage counseling when I was in Virginia because the nearest therapist was about 300 miles away from my town, so I did it. One of the things I found in this little blue-collar town was the women were more adaptable than the men, by and large.

Everybody got married at the age of 16 or 17, and then as time went on, the women were more adaptable. They learned. They grew. They took courses. Even though most of them were just high school graduates, they would take other courses, and they changed and grew, and their husbands didn’t.

Ten to fifteen years later, here’s what happened: For whatever reason (and I can’t document this), the women were more adaptable to their environment. They were more responsive. They were more receptive, and the husbands, it was harder for them to admit when they were wrong. This was a gift these women had.

I don’t know if it’s inherent to the female brain. I don’t know. I haven’t read that, but I do know these women, almost all of them, would get together and talk about it, and they turned it into a tremendous source of pride. They would constantly scorn their husbands about their male ego. The male ego … he can’t admit when he’s wrong. The male ego is rigid.

What happened was they turned their gift into pride. Everybody does it. All of us do it. The gifts God gives us become walls of hostility, barriers. Don’t you see? What does God do about it? What does Jesus say is the solution? The solution is in verses 15 and 16: “by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross …”

The answer to the problem, the inveterate problem, the problem that cannot be solved any other way is here were two people, two groups, Jew and Gentile, at each other’s throats. Jesus reconciled them to God and thus to each other through the cross. Now how does the cross do that? Here we go. The cross does it (and only the cross) because it eliminates boasting.

Have you seen that? One of the problems with the new translations are they get rid of that word boasting? There are a lot of places where Paul says, “No one will boast,” or, “I will boast in nothing.” In fact, my favorite verse, and the verse I need to read you right now, is Galatians 6:14, a very important verse.

He says, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Neither Jew nor Gentile means anything but a new creation. Peace to all who follow this rule.” Did you hear that? He says, “I boast in nothing but the cross; therefore, Jew and Gentile mean nothing to me. I look at everyone differently, and peace comes to those who follow this rule.”

The cross eliminates boasting. The trouble with the word boast is what? When you think of boasting, what do you think of? You think of a braggart. You think of somebody at a party, huh? You think of the lady in the TV commercial where the lady says, “Now darling, enough about me. What do you think of my dress?” Do you remember that one? Yeah.

Anyway, you think of bragging. You think of somebody who’s always talking about their accomplishments. No. It’s a much deeper word than that. Many times this word boast is translated glory. “I will glory in nothing else but the cross.” You see, the word glory in the Bible means something of weight, and what Paul says here is, “There were many things I used to glory in.” Now what does that mean? “I used to boast in them. I used to glory.”

Does it mean I bragged about them at parties? No. Here’s what it means: To glory in something means to say, “This is what gives me weight. This thing is what makes me count. This thing is what gives me substance. It’s because of this that I am not chaff blown into the wind. I’m not smoke. I’m not an illusion. I’m not a holograph. It’s this thing that makes me real. It’s this thing that defines me. It’s this thing that makes me count.” Paul says that is eliminated by the cross, and only the cross can eliminate that.

He goes into more detail in another incredibly important passage where he gives, virtually, his life story in a few verses, and it’s in Philippians 3. It reads like this: “If any man has reasons to boast, I have more. Of the people of Israel …” He’s talking about himself. “[I was] of the people of Israel … a Hebrew of the Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.”

Listen. “But whatever was to my profit, I now consider debit. For the sake of Christ, I consider them all as rubbish that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from obeying the law, but a righteousness that comes from God through faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.”

He makes a list. He says, “If anybody has things to glory in, I have more.” That list, he says, “I was a Hebrew of the Hebrews.” He’s talking about his family, pedigree, his social status. Then he says, “I was a Pharisee.” He was a scholar, “… as to knowledge, a Pharisee …” He was a scholar. His education was impeccable, all right? Ivy League, see?

Then thirdly, he says, “As to zeal, I persecuted the church.” That’s professional success as a rabbi, all right? Social status, educational excellence, professional success, and then he says, “… as to legal righteousness, faultless.” He says, “In every way, my moral record, all these things, I get glory in them. I looked at them, and they gave me weight. They made me feel like I count. I know who I am. I’m somebody.”

They gave him his identity. He says here, “In order to become a Christian, I had to stop glorying in any of them.” He didn’t just say, “It happened when I became a Christian.” He says, “That I might know Christ, I had to count them all as rubbish.” By the way, that is a euphemism, okay? That’s a euphemism because the Greek word means dung, excrement, urine, all those things that got the art banned in Washington, DC.

He says, “I had to count them as refuse. I stopped looking at them as being things I got my identity from.” Does that mean he threw his books away and stopped being a scholar? No. He enjoyed the fact he was a scholar. Did that mean he stopped being moral? Of course not. Did that mean he stopped being a member his family, stopped being a member of the tribe of Benjamin; he didn’t go to the Benjamin family reunions anymore? What did that mean? It meant they no longer were foundational to his identity. He no longer gloried in them.

Now my friends, when that happened, as a Jew, all the things he boasted in were knocked out, and that meant suddenly there was no difference between the Gentiles and him. It’s not just Jewish people who do that. Friends, every religion other than evangelical Christianity does the same thing. It says, “Here’s what you have to do. Go out and get it. Do it. When you succeed, then you know you count.”

I got an interesting little brochure. I won’t mention the church just in case … You know this is New York, and who knows? I might get sued, but there’s a place full of conflict. There’s not much peace here, you know, strife and litigation … But this particular church believes they can give you spiritual purification.

Here’s how their religion works: In the brochure, it says, “Come take our Purification Rundown. The rundown will return your energy and alertness to its natural, sparkling, clear, fresh state. The program is a strenuous one, but you can complete it by following the rules. The Purification Rundown is not concerned with the body. The aim of the Purification Rundown is freeing the individual spiritually. There are no medical recommendations or claims made for the program. The only claim is future spiritual improvement.”

On the back, there’s a testimony, and this person said, “After completing the rundown, I became vice president of marketing for an international cable company. I was able to complete all my work in just a few hours with my new energy level, and for the first time in years, I had evenings and weekends free.” Don’t you realize …? That’s crass. Of course, it’s crass. “Come. It’ll be hard work, but if you follow our religion you’ll reach all of your goals, and then you’ll feel so good about yourself.”

Of course, that’s crass, but friends, every religion, every philosophy outside of evangelical Christianity, whether you get an old one that’s been around for thousands of years or you make up your own, does the same thing. Can I give you a little more subtle personal example? When I was in college, I was very depressed at a period, and I went to a counselor, and the counselor said to me, “One of the things we have to do to help you in your depression is help your sense of self-esteem,” which, in other words, well, he says, “You’re not glorying in anything.”

Now he didn’t put it like that, of course, but that’s what he meant, and he said, “What are you good at?” I shudder to tell you this, because it was a long time ago, but at the time I was a trumpet player, and I said, “I’m a pretty good trumpet player.” He said, “Now I want you to do this: When you start to get depressed, I want you to imagine yourself playing a solo that brings down the house. Do that whenever you are feeling depressed,” and I tried it.

I can give you this testimony: In the short run, it does make you feel better, but then you’re on a treadmill. There are only two things that can happen to you; either you achieve what you imagine, and you build your identity on your gift, and next thing you know, you’re starting to look down your nose (just like Paul says here) at every other inartistic Philistine, every other boorish person who’s not like you.

If you really get successful, you can put yourself in a power bubble surrounded just by people who tell you how great things are. The only other alternative is you fail. Then what happens to you is you’re eaten up with envy and resentment all the rest of your life. In either sense, in either situation, peace is gone. You’re either eaten up with pride or you’re eaten up with envy and resentment. I’m speaking personally.

Paul says the gospel and the gospel alone, the cross and the cross alone, changes all that because what the cross does is it takes you and shows you all these things you’re glorying in, though good in themselves, are nothing before God. They cannot make you in even one iota acceptable to him. They are nothing before God, and compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ, they’re less than nothing.

Years ago (I’ll use him as an illustration), there was a man named David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, one of my heroes, and I’ll quote him as often as I possibly can. He and C.S. Lewis, you’ll hear quotes all the time. Why not? They’re both dead, but they’re like my tutors, my friends, when I read them. Lloyd-Jones was a surgeon in London in the 20s, and he was a man of great standing and distinction. The trouble was, after he became a Christian, he discovered, to his consternation and everybody else’s, he was an incredibly good speaker, a tremendous preacher.

One of the best things you can do if you’re a Christian and a doctor is to be a great Christian doctor, and one of the worst things most Christian doctors could do would be to go out and try to preach. This man was clearly called to the ministry. He had to do it, and he did. He left being a surgeon and he went into the ministry. At that time he took a 90 percent cut in salary. His salary as a minister was one-tenth of what it was as a surgeon.

Some years after that happened, a reporter came to him, and the reporter said, “Dr. Lloyd-Jones, many people were intrigued when you made this choice. You gave up so much. There were so many things in your life you had to give up, and I’m sure there has been a great deal of enjoyment and satisfaction doing what you’ve done, but I’ve come here to find out, on balance, after reflecting and weighing everything up, was it worth it?”

Lloyd-Jones growled at him in Welsh (because he was Welsh), and he says, “I gave up nothing. I received everything.” In other words, let me translate. He says, “My dear man, you don’t even understand the basic nature of Christianity. Christianity is not one way among many that can help you be happy. It’s not just a way that we have to say, ‘Will this help me really reach my goals in life?’ It’s a total reorientation.”

What Lloyd-Jones said is just what Paul said. He said, “All those things I used to glory in, all those things that used to be sources of pride for me, things through which I got my identity, I saw, compared to what I needed to be (acceptable before God), they were nothing. Compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ, they were less than nothing, and so I gave them all up.” “I gave up nothing. I received everything.”

By the way, if there is anybody here tonight who has been thinking about committing your life fully to Jesus Christ … I’ll bet you some of you are sitting around saying, “Ah, but will it be worth it? I might have to give up so much.” Oh, you will have to give up some things. Of course, you have to give up some things. You’re weighing it up. My dear friends, you know what you’re weighing up? Good things in themselves, many of them, but compared to the surpassing worth of Jesus Christ, dust balls.

You won’t know this until you do it, until you give yourself to him. You are like a person sitting around saying, “I have millions in the bank, but I’m agonizing. Do I want to spend 25 cents on that stamp to send in my withdrawal request? Oh, I hate to do that.” You know, maybe a 25-cent stamp represents your life savings up to this point, but you have all that in the bank. “I gave up nothing. I received everything.”

The Bible says when a person is like that and when a person does that, there’s a fundamental change in their relationships to all other believers. Don’t you see why? Because now you have an identity which is deeper than your family identity. That doesn’t mean you stay out of your family, but now you have an identity deeper than your family, an identity deeper than your gender, an identity deeper than your race, an identity deeper than your culture.

Why do you think Jesus Christ can say, “You must hate your mother and father and love me?” He doesn’t mean you literally write poison-pen letters to your parents as soon as you become a Christian, but what he does mean is he says, “Now compared to what you feel about me, compared to your commitment to me, your commitment to your family is smaller.” Or put it this way: The Hatfields and the McCoys, remember them? They were fighting and shooting each other and killing each other for years and years back in the hinterland of West Virginia.

As a result, anybody who was a Hatfield, that defined them. If you were a Hatfield, you didn’t shoot at another Hatfield, and if you were a Hatfield, you shot at McCoy. That’s how your life was run. But if a Hatfield and a McCoy both became Christians, then those two people had far more in common with each other than they did with their own families. That is the nature of the gospel because that’s how radically different your identity is in Christ.

In a sense, everything I’m doing now, this passage, is a commentary on the claim I made last week. If you’re a Christian, you’re a Christian first and you’re an American second. If you’re a Christian, you’re a Christian first and you’re a white person or a black person second. If you’re a Christian, you’re a Christian first and you’re a ruling class or a poor person second. Don’t you see that?

Because the relationship you have in Christ is much more fundamental than any other relationship you have. That is absolutely the nature of the gospel. As a result, the unity and solidarity Christians can have is the sort of thing the world has been trying to get for years. It can’t get there because it doesn’t embrace the cross. The cross knocks down the sources of pride, the things that divide us, and unites us. Unites us completely.

Some of you have heard of Matthew Henry. He wrote a very famous commentary. He lived in the 1700s. It’s a very old commentary and a good favorite. His father’s name was Philip Henry. His father and mother were courting. They were dating, and unfortunately, Philip Henry was from the wrong side of the tracks. The girl he was dating, who was going to be Matthew Henry’s mother, was from Society Hill.

At one point, the parents of Matthew Henry’s mother came to her and said, “This Philip Henry who you’re dating, we’re concerned. We don’t know where he’s from. We don’t know who his parents are. We don’t know what part of the city he’s really from. We don’t know where he’s from.” She looked at them and said, “I don’t know where he’s from either, but I know where he’s going.”

You see, that’s all that matters. That’s why Paul can say, “… henceforth we know no man according to the flesh …,” which means, “I know longer think of people the same way.” Christians will find there’s more solidarity with other Christians of other races than they have with non-Christians of their own race. Christians will find there’s more solidarity between themselves and Christians of other families than they have with non-Christians of their own family, and so on, and so on.

The Greek word for church is ekklesia, called out, and you’re not called out of involvement with the world. You’re called out of the identity. That’s the reason why we can say you’re a Christian first and you’re white or you’re black second. You’re a Christian first and you’re this family or that family second. You’re a Christian a first and you’re rich or poor second. That’s the reason why the solidarity Christian can have should be, can be, unsurpassed.

We’re a new humanity. That’s what it means when it says, “The two have become one man.” What does that mean? It means there’s a new humanity, a new race. A new race. In conclusion, I want to just ask, “What are the implications of this?” I’ll give you two. Just two.

1. If this is true, don’t you see the church is not a nice place just to drop in on every so often?

Don’t you see the church is not a club? Do you begin to understand why there are these commands in the Bible who almost no one in this room, including me (because I’m new here), are obeying? I’m not sure I was obeying them in Philadelphia. The Bible says, “Confess your sins to each other …”

Here’s another one: “Exhort one another daily lest you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Do you have relationships that are so strong there’s somebody who understands you well enough to know day to day when you’re falling down on the job, so that person can encourage you and exhort you so you’re not hardened? Are you obeying that verse? Are you making provision to obey that verse?

“Exhort one another daily lest you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Confess your sins to one another. Welcome one another. Bear one another’s burdens. Submit to one another. The reason for this is the church is a place where you forge relationships that are full of accountability.

Do you know what real worldliness is, friends? To be conformed into the image of the world right now means you as Christians bring your Americanism in, and Americanism is, “I’m responsible for my own life. My problems are nobody else’s business. My sins are nobody else’s business because there is no relationship in which I can’t walk out if my needs aren’t being met.” That’s the American way today. That flies right in the face of everything we have been looking at.

An awful lot of Christians will come into the church … In fact, some of you might be considering … Well, you’re coming to listen to me. Because you want to know whether, if you have the need, you’d be willing to confess your sins to me. Okay … Only if you have the need, you know. Whether you would come and let me exhort you weekly, “… lest you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

You’re trying to figure out whether you want to just come to the place where you have one person who you’re doing that for occasionally. The Bible says you are still holding the church at arm’s length. You’re still refusing to come into the church. You’re still refusing to be truly committed because you’re not making provision for other believers to exhort you daily “… lest you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” If you don’t obey that verse, you will be hard. You have to be.

It’s not good enough just to come and to say, “Okay, the guy up front, I’ll listen to him. I’ll try to develop a relationship with him.” It’s not good enough. It’s not good enough. We have to be a church in which the truth is spoken in love, and my friends, it’s a church where people can walk up to you and say, “Excuse me. I’ve been praying about this for several weeks. I haven’t talked to anybody else about this. You can hit me. Maybe you will hit me later on. Possibly, we can still talk about. I’m trying my very best to do it right. Do you realize your temper is the talk of the whole office?”

Now you have to get ready. You duck. If you and that other person are a Christian, that’s the nature of the unity you have to have. That other person might hit you and later on come back and say, “Thank you.” Later on, you may find out, if the person hits you, they were right; you exaggerated. You didn’t act on proper information, but a church … That’s the church, a church where you’re forging ties that are as deep as the family.

What else does it mean when it says, “Hate your father and mother and love me?” It can’t mean you really hate your father and mother. It must mean you forge tremendously strong bonds with other believers in the church. Don’t forget, Jesus died on the cross to put you into the body. He didn’t die just to save little individual people to run around and go wherever they get blessed the most. He saved you to put you into the body and make you a new person with other people, okay?

By the way, if I was in New York, I’d probably be doing what a lot of you have been doing for years, but I’m trying to say, once you see what the Scripture says, and once you have opportunities, you need to make provision. You need to make provision. The other thing I just want to say is, keep this in mind. In Ephesians 1, Paul writes to the Ephesians, who he has never met, and he says, “I’ve heard you are true believers because of, one, your faith in Jesus Christ and, two, your love for all the saints.” Now those were the tests.

2. Your love for all the saints

Don’t you see? Some of you may say, “I know I’m a believer because I believe all the doctrines. I believe all the right things. I have faith in Jesus Christ.” But don’t forget the other test of whether you’re really a Christian. Do you love all the saints? All the saints.

David Martyn Lloyd-Jones used to say one of the reasons he realized he had changed … After he became a Christian, he would sometimes wonder, “Have I really changed?” He suddenly realized something really weird had happened. You have to remember England (those of you who are from Britain realize this) is a lot more of a class-conscious society than we have here, though we have classes. Silly to say we don’t have classes, but Britain has that class-consciousness.

As he got into a church in a little mining community in Wales, he used to spend a lot visiting with what he called “old Welsh fisherwomen,” women with no formal schooling at all but who were godly women. He would sit down, and he would talk with them for hours by their hearth. Then he would go and spend time with his old friends, the people he went to Oxford with, the people he went to medical school with.

He suddenly realized one day, he says, “I enjoy, more, hours of fellowship with another Christian who is as opposite as these fisherwomen are to me than I do talking with my peers, the people who are of the same ilk, the same education with me.” He suddenly realized, “What could take a British ruling class person and do that?” Only the gospel, your love for all the saints.

There may be people in here who come in here and because of your gifts and your talents, you’ve always scorned the hoi polloi. Some of you may come here, you respectable types, and you’re not sure how you like to deal with these street types. Other people might come in here who have a kind of disrespectable background, and you’re afraid the respectable types won’t work. You might be the tough guy who kind of hates those artsy types.

My friends, I don’t care whether or not you believe all the doctrine. The way you know you’re a believer is you love all the saints, and you find that as you work for it. This is how I end … My weekly C.S. Lewis quote. He says, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal …” They’ll end, right?

“… and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.

And our charity must be real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.”

We should be treating each other as infinitely precious vessels, as if you were in a house and you picked up a vase and looked at it, and you said, “Oh, what is this?” Then somebody said, “Oh, that’s a 2,000-year-old vase from the Ming dynasty.” You would be in shock. Suddenly, fear and trembling would overtake you, and you would treat that vase as the precious thing that it is. There’s something infinitely more precious in the pew next to you tonight.

 About the Preacher

In 1989 Dr. Timothy J. Keller, his wife and three young sons moved to New York City to begin Redeemer Presbyterian Church. In 20 years it has grown to meeting for five services at three sites with a weekly attendance of over 5,000. Redeemer is notable not only for winning skeptical New Yorkers to faith, but also for partnering with other churches to do both mercy ministry and church planting.  Redeemer City to City is working to help establish hundreds of new multi-ethnic congregations throughout the city and other global cities in the next decades.

Dr. Tim Keller is the author of several phenomenal Christo-centric books including:

Joy for the World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence and Can Begin Rebuilding It (co-authored with Greg Forster and Collin Hanson (February or March, 2014).

Encounters with Jesus:Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions. New York, Dutton (November 2013).

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. New York, Dutton (October 2013).

Judges For You (God’s Word For You Series). The Good Book Company (August 6, 2013).

Galatians For You (God’s Word For You Series). The Good Book Company (February 11, 2013).

Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Plan for the World. New York, Penguin Publishing, November, 2012.

Center ChurchDoing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, September, 2012.

The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness. New York: 10 Publishing, April 2012.

Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just. New York: Riverhead Trade, August, 2012.

The Gospel As Center: Renewing Our Faith and Reforming Our Ministry Practices (editor and contributor). Wheaton: Crossway, 2012.

The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. New York, Dutton, 2011.

King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus (Retitled: Jesus the KIng: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God). New York, Dutton, 2011.

Gospel in Life Study Guide: Grace Changes Everything. Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2010.

The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York, Dutton, 2009.

Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Priorities of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters. New York, Riverhead Trade, 2009.

Heralds of the King: Christ Centered Sermons in the Tradition of Edmund P. Clowney (contributor). Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2009.

The Prodigal God. New York, Dutton, 2008.

Worship By The Book (contributor). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002.

Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1997.

SUNDAY NT SERMON: “Access to the King” by Tim Keller

Series: The King and the Kingdom – Part 6

Tim Keller preaching image

Preached in Manhattan, NY on August 27, 1989

We’ve actually been studying Ephesians 2 for a few weeks now because it tells us so much about the church:

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. – Ephesians 2:14–22

What we want to focus in on tonight is the fact this passage tells us the church is a building. You see, in verse 19 it says we’re God’s household. In verses 21 and 22 it talks about us as stones that are being built into a temple, to a house. In other words, Christians are not just a loose aggregate of individuals, but rather we are parts of a larger whole. The Bible talks about this in a number of places. In 1 Peter 2, Peter writes, “… come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house …”

For the Bible says, “I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” The teaching is that we were not designed to live for ourselves or to stand by ourselves any more than a hewn stone is supposed to stand by itself on the grass. If you just see a boulder or a rock on the grass, it looks great, but if you ever come to see a brick or a stone or a couple of stones that obviously were supposed to be a part of a building that are just sitting, spread out on the grass, it looks so forlorn, doesn’t it?

The Bible says we were designed to fit, to be part of God and of his kingdom and of one another. Now this flies completely in the face of the spirit of the age. Recently, 81 percent of all Americans affirmed this statement. (I love saying things like this. It sounds so authoritative.) Eighty-one percent of Americans affirm, “An individual should arrive at his or her own religious beliefs independent of any church, any synagogue, or any religious tradition.” What do you think? Does that sound democratic? Does that sound healthy to you?

Think what you’re saying. This kind of religion (a religion you choose independent of what any church or synagogue or any religious tradition says) eliminates the possibility of obedience or self-denial or courage, because obedience, self-denial, and courage are an individual taking his or her needs or desires and submitting them to a larger call to a whole, saying, I am just a part, and I’m submitting to the whole. That’s the only way you can obey. That’s what self-denial is. That’s what courage is.

Up until 50 or 60 years ago, everybody understood this. Everybody. All nations understood this. They understood what obedience and self-denial and courage were. It was interesting. There is this musical, Les Miserables, and in the musical there are a bunch of college students who are ready to lead a revolt to overthrow the government, to liberate the poor. (Not a bad thing to do.) One of the college students, Marius, is in love, and the leader of the college students turns to Marius, and he says,

Marius, you’re no longer a child. I do not doubt you mean it well,

But now there is a higher call. Who cares about your lonely soul?

We strive toward a larger goal. Our little lives don’t count at all!

Now everybody claps, you know … New York audiences clap … but they have no idea what he’s talking about, because you see, 81 percent of Americans say you need to do what fulfills you in religion. You should not say, “My little life doesn’t count at all. I have to submit to a higher call. I have to become part of the whole.” Americans’ understanding of life and meaning and religion is really summed up in what Barbara Walters said while talking to Sam Donaldson.

She said a person has a right to live any way that makes him happy as long as he doesn’t interfere with others doing the same thing. Now that’s the essence of what we believe today. What she has said is very, very revealing. There is only one high call. What is the highest call? The only thing that’s wrong to do is to keep somebody else from doing what will make him happy.

That’s the only absolute. It’s the only thing that’s inviolate. It’s the only high call, and of course, that brings us to the place where we are with that young man who all the photographers snapped back when Jimmy Carter was trying to reinstitute the draft and there were protests. One guy held up a banner or placard that said, “Nothing is worth dying for,” which is true for 81 percent of all Americans, I believe, or more.

Because if you say the highest call is anything that fulfills me is right unless it keeps somebody else from doing the same thing (finding what makes them happy), there is no possibility of self-denial because there is no basis for it. There is no possibility of courage; there is no basis for it. There is no basis for ever dying for anything. There is no basis for ever saying no to yourself unless you hurt somebody else on that same quest for joy and fulfillment.

The Bible says something different, but you see it would be possible to argue against this on completely pragmatic grounds. I wouldn’t even have to go to the Bible, but I will. You can be pragmatic. You can say, “Do you realize up until 50 or 60 years ago, everybody understood what that man was saying in Les Miserables? Everybody understood the idea at certain points there are high calls and high causes. There are things that are right, and it doesn’t matter what you want because they are more important. We have to submit. We have to become a part of a whole. We have to be a building block in a building.”

Everybody understood. We might have disagreed on what those higher calls were. Every culture had different ones. Every religion had different ones. We all believed there were such, but now we’ve come to the place where everybody is saying, “No, no, no. What’s right is what fulfills me.” You can’t have a community, you can’t have a government, and you can’t have a nation like that. If you look at most of the political problems we have, it boils down to this. People are saying, “Yeah, this is necessary to do, but not in my neighborhood. Yeah, this is necessary to have done, but not out of my pocket.”

What that means is, “I refuse to be a part of the whole. I see I should sublimate myself for the good of the whole. There is a higher cause, a higher goal. Not on your life. I will not be a building block in a house. I am the house.” Now when you have that attitude, you can’t have a nation, and you can argue against that view on the basis of pragmatism, but I won’t do that, because the Bible says the reason it’s stupid, the reason it’s impractical is because it’s wicked. It’s not impractical just because it’s impractical; it’s impractical because it’s wicked.

God says, “Because of the way I designed you, you must lose yourself to find yourself. You must submit to me in order to be free. You must fit in to my house and to my kingdom or you will find you’ll be tyrannized to fit into somebody else or something else.” Now do you hear that? Bob Dylan put it this way: “You’re gonna have to serve somebody.” Do you remember that? What he meant by this is everyone is mastered by something, and Jesus Christ says, “You shall know the truth, you continue in the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

What he means at that point is, “… my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” He says, “It’s easier than any other yoke, because if you don’t fit in, if you don’t sublimate yourself to me, to my rules, to my agenda, to my kingdom, you will be mastered by something else. You’ll be mastered by your drives, or you’ll be mastered by the social circle or the group of people you have to fit in with,” because we all have to fit in with somebody, huh? You have to dress to fit in with the group of people you need to be in to find that happiness.

You need to speak in a certain way to fit in, don’t you? There are some of you out there saying, “Oh, no. I’m not that kind of person. I’m absolutely independent. I refuse to fit into anybody,” so you fit in to non-conformity. I know your type, and you know who you are, too. You are just as enslaved because you have to be an outsider. You won’t ever conform. You won’t ever fit in, even when you need to, even when you should out of love, you see. You have to serve somebody. Everybody has to fit into something. Nobody really is a freestanding stone, and God says, “Lose yourself to find yourself.”

That means, “Lose yourself in my service. Lose yourself in obedience to me. Come in and be part of my larger whole, or else somebody else will get you, and you’ll fit into something else.” When Jesus says, “… my yoke is easy and my burden is light,” he is saying, “I’m the only Master who won’t crush you. I’m the only One who won’t crush you. Every other master is a taskmaster. I’m the only Master who adopts. You won’t just be a slave; you’ll be my son, my daughter.”

Now you see, the Bible says if you are built into God’s house, first of all, you’ll experience freedom. Really, for the first time in your life, you’ll be able to be creative because you won’t need to fit into anybody else or anything else. You’ll also have a sense of purpose. You’ll know what you’re for. You’ll know where you fit. Are you experiencing that in your life? If you’re not at all, or if you’re not enough, then it’s because in some way you’re failing to let yourself be built into God’s house.

Now how can you be built into God’s house? There are five things this text suggests you have to do, and every one of them is not just another sermon … it’s a series … and I will get to them all, but not tonight. Now let me explain what this means. This text here tells us we are built into a house. We are, first of all, in verse 20, laid on a foundation. There is a depth dimension to building a house. There has to be a foundation. If you are to be a living stone in God’s house, you have to be laid on that foundation.

Secondly, there is a height dimension. It says the building “… rises to become a holy temple …” That means you don’t just stack stones any old way. The stones have to follow the blueprint of the architect. There is a design, and it has to rise according to the blueprint. Lastly, there is a breadth aspect, because it says in verse 22 we are built together to form a holy temple in the Lord. That means the blocks are built together.

Now let me draw some analogies here to help us see what it means to be a living stone in God’s house, because this gives us a tremendous inventory, a way for you to look at yourself tonight and say, “First, on the basis of this inventory I can see I am not in God’s house at all. I’m not a living stone. I’m not part of his kingdom. Or, you might say, I’m not experiencing the freedom I should. It’s because I am not doing as well in one of these areas as I should.” Now let’s take a look at these areas.

1. Foundation

It says if you are to be a living stone, you have to built on the foundation. What is that foundation? Do you see? “… the foundation of the apostles and the prophets …” The prophets and the apostles were the people who brought revealed truth from God, and it’s written down in the Word of God. When we say there is a foundation, we mean stones have to be laid on the foundation. They can’t be laid on the plain earth, can they? They can’t be laid partly on the foundation and partly on the earth. They have to be laid on the foundation.

This means a Christian has to submit completely to the Word of God. I plan to preach on this next week, but I’ll just explain what it means real briefly here. If you look through the Word of God and you say, “I like what it says about integrity and honesty, and I like what it says about love and relationships,” but if you don’t like or if you just ignore what it says about sexuality or what it says about materialism and wealth and the use of your money, then you are a person who is setting your rock partly on the earth and partly on the foundation.

Everybody knows what will happen to a house built like that. When Jesus Christ says, “… my yoke is easy and my burden is light,” what he is saying is all other ground is sinking sand. “Build your life on what I say in my Word, on the foundation of the prophets and the apostles. There is no other foundation that will hold you up.” If you refuse to do that, you’re just not building yourself into God’s house. That is the first step, you might say, to being a stone.

2. The building rises

Now that means several things, frankly. First of all, for a building to rise that means stones are being cut out of the earth somewhere at a quarry, right? They used to be part of the earth. They are cut out of the earth, and they’re brought. It says in 1 Peter 2, “… come to him, the living Stone,” and become a living stone and be built up. Do you know what this means? You have to be added to the church. To be added to the church means you have to be converted. You have to be converted.

It says in Acts 2, daily God added to the church those who were being saved. When it talks about the fact you need to come to him, the living Stone, and become a living stone in the house of God, it means in order to be fit for the kingdom of God you have to be converted. Are you saying, “Okay. Let’s move on. Everybody knows that?” First of all, to be in the house of God, you have to be built on the prophets and the apostles (the Word of God). You also have to be converted.

Now before somebody says, “Come on. Move on. Everybody knows that.” Listen. Most of the people sitting in churches today in this city or anywhere in the country, if you went up to them and asked them, “Are you converted?” they would be angry and/or confused. Very angry and very confused. Why? Because they don’t know. That’s why they are angry or confused, or both. Now usually, and I think this is fair, if you don’t know if you’re converted or not, you’re not. Usually, you see. However, there is still some confusion because some people are awfully good at giving conversion stories that are incredibly dramatic.

Sometimes some of us say, “Well, that never really happened to me,” so let me just say if you are going to be a living stone in the house of the Lord, you have to be converted. How do you know if you’re converted? All conversions, whether they are dramatic or not, I think have two sides or aspects to them. They all have this in common. If you’re converted, first of all, you have a deeper sense of your sin. The Bible says the Spirit comes into the world to convict people of sin.

What I mean by that is there is a sense of sin that comes with conversion. There has been a time in your life in which you finally can’t run from your weaknesses, your limitations, your faults, and your flaws anymore (the things you’ve hidden from yourself for years, things you’ve blamed on other people, things you ran from and rationalized away). The Spirit opens you to the place where you finally say, “I’m helpless. I see it finally!” You know, some people say there are two selves in every person.

There is the higher self (the noble self) and there is the lower self (the animal self). That is based more on Plato and the Greeks than on the Bible. Frankly, my dear friends, there are three of you. Very, very confusing. Each one of you has three selves, and only Christians can see the three. In fact, it takes conversion and conviction of sin to see those three. The first self is the false self, the one we try to make ourselves and other people believe. A self that denies the pride that’s there, denies the hurt that’s there, denies the pain that’s there, and denies the wickedness that’s in there. That’s a false self, a false front.

Then there is the true self. The true self is so much more full of anger and so much more full of fear and so much more full of pride and self-centeredness than we ever dared believe, and only the Spirit of God in conversion can give us the courage to admit that self is there. The third self is the potential self, the incredible, beautiful person who you know in Christ you can become, that you are becoming. It’s far greater than anything you ever dared hope you could be. You see, before conversion you could only see the false self and none of the rest, but when you’re converted, when you’re convicted of sin, you see all three. Has that happened to you?

The second aspect of real conversion is besides the sense of sin there is a sense of the preciousness of Christ. Now I use that word carefully, because what I just read you in 1 Peter 2, where it says, “… come to him, the living Stone …” it says no one who ever believes in him will be put to shame. Then it says, “Now to you who believe, [he] is precious …”

You may believe in Jesus in the sense you believe he existed, you believe he did all the things the Bible says, but have you ever come to the place where he became precious to you? That means, did you ever get to the place where you began to look at him the way a very hungry person looks at great food, the way a very, very poor person looks at a pile of money? Have you ever gotten to the place where he began to be your hope, someone you really depended on? That is preciousness.

Conversion brings both of those things together: a sense of the preciousness of Christ so you depend on him and a sense of conviction of sin so you admit who you are. It is this experience that fits us for the household of God. The reason we fit together, friends, is because Christians have been cut out of the world by conversion. We never will be the same. We don’t fit there anymore. There is a place in 1 Corinthians that says the spiritual man judges all things but himself is judged of no one.

Do you know what that means? It means on the one hand, the spiritual man judges things, he can evaluate things, but nobody can figure him out, because, you see, a person from the world can’t figure it out. Conversion, on the one hand, because of the first thing (the conviction of sin) makes you much more realistic about yourself, much more willing to take criticism, but on the other hand, the second part of conversion (the preciousness of Christ) brings a kind of brimming confidence, but it’s a humble confidence. People can’t figure that out.

People who haven’t been through that can’t figure that out. You’ve been cut out of the world. You’ve been cut out of the quarry. You don’t fit there anymore. You fit in the temple. You fit in the house of God. So when we say the temple rises, that means God has added you to the temple. That’s not all. When we say the temple rises, we also mean you’ve been shaped. It says you’ve been fit together, in verse 21. You see, if I just go to the quarry and cut out a piece of rock and just bring all the pieces of rock and just try to build a building out of them, they don’t fit together. They have to be shaped.

In 1 Peter it says the living stones grow. What that means is God is shaping you. He is maturing you, and if you’re a living stone in the household of God, that is happening. Now let me ask you. Let me be very, very specific. Is it happening? Do you see yourself growing into the likeness of Christ? Do you see yourself growing in supernatural maturity? Do you see yourself growing in the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, patience, peace, kindness, humility? Have they grown deeper since last year? Have they grown deeper since last month?

Do you see him shaping you or not? You’re not a stone unless you’ve been shaped. In construction, the shaping of a stone to fit into a building is a mechanical process, but in the church, the way God shapes us to fit together is an organic process. He grows us. Here is the sermon series. There are three ways in which you can grow: the way of acceptance, the way of exchange, and the way of nourishment.

The way of acceptance means when God sends troubles into your life, instead of kicking and screaming and fighting like a wild horse fights the bridle, you say, “I admit your rights over me, Lord. I’m looking for my lessons. I am patient with the things you’ve given me, and I will grow.” Are you like that? When troubles come into your life, do you say, “Lord, I accept this as your teaching and your training; show me what you want me to learn?”

Then there is the way of exchange. That means Christians are supposed to support and confront each other. Did you hear that? Not everything I say you have to really, really listen to, but you have to listen to that one. Support and confront. There is no growth, there is not this hewing and shaping of your stone, in Christian relationships unless you have both: supporting and confronting. Not one or just the other. If you have a person who is only confronting you, you’re going to get rid of that relationship. If you have a person who is only supporting you, you’re not going to learn a thing.

Have you recently heard yourself on a tape recorder? Do you know why it sounds so awful? Do you know why you say, “Who is that? That sounds like my sister. That sounds like my brother. That sounds like my mother. That’s not me.” Do you know why it sounds so awful? Because you know it is exactly how you really sound. It really is. You don’t sound like what you sound to yourself because you don’t hear yourself. You hear yourself through the bones of your ears or something.

The point is … unless you have tape recorders, video cameras, and things like that, you don’t know what you look like, and it’s ghastly when you see it. Right? But that’s what you really look like. Without fellowship you’ll never know who you really are. You’ll never have perspective. You’ll never be sane. You’ll be out of touch with reality unless you have people through whom you’re growing through the way of exchange.

Then there is the way of nourishment. Do you know what the way of nourishment is? The way of nourishment means taking God’s truth in the Bible (his summons, his promises, his commands, everything he says) and not just saying, “Yep, I believe that,” but eating it. Now how do you eat the truth? Well, how do you eat food? You taste it. You get the sweetness out of it. You reflect on the truth. You meditate on the truth, and you get it into your heart and into your mind till it is saturating you so you think and look at everything through a biblical grid. Do you see?

It really becomes part of you. You digest it, you see, just like Erma Bombeck says. “Why eat spaghetti? Why don’t I just put it on my hips?” Food is something you digest; it becomes part of you. Food is something you taste, and when truth is something you’re tasting and it’s something you’re digesting and making part of you, that is the way of nourishment. That’s a process, not just reading the Bible but praying it in. Are you growing? If not, you are neglecting one or two or all three.

The way of acceptance means troubles in your life you’re refusing to learn from. The way of nourishment means you just don’t have the discipline to spend the time with the truth. The way of exchange means you’re too busy or too shortsighted or too scared to actually get into decent Christian friendships where you can grow.

One more thing about stones. Stones not only have to be added by taking out of the quarry, they not only have to be shaped, but then they have to be placed. You see, every stone has its own function in the building. Not every stone can be a capstone. Not every stone can be a keystone. Just try it; it doesn’t work. In the same way, in Ephesians 4 it says the church grows when every part is working properly.

This means for a Christian to be a part of the building, a Christian has to know and discover his or her spiritual gifts. What does that mean? The Bible teaches when Jesus Christ ascended to heaven, it says, “… he gave gifts to men.” It tells us this in Ephesians 4. Before he went to heaven, he said something very strange. He said to his disciples, “You will do greater deeds than me.” Do you believe that? You say, “Oh, that was just those apostles,” but if that’s all he meant (just those 12 apostles) how could they have done greater deeds than Jesus?

Here’s the answer. When Jesus went to heaven, he gave gifts to men, and that means he is determined to distribute his ministry powers out to his people so he can continue his ministry in the world through us. See, Jesus had the power to win people and the power to teach and the power to counsel and the power to do all things. What we get is a distribution, so some of us get some of his powers, and some of us get some of his powers, and some of us get some of his powers, but it’s really him. He died so we wouldn’t live for ourselves, but he could live his life through us.

His business in the world is to make new men and women, and our business in the world is to let him live his life through us to do the same thing. Now Paul is so committed to this truth he says something almost in passing, almost casually, that if you’re not thinking, you miss it. Right there in 2:17, he says to the Ephesians, “He came and preached peace …” Jesus Christ came and preached peace to you who are near and who are far away. Hey, I have a question for you. When did Jesus Christ ever go to Greece? When did Jesus Christ ever go to Ephesus and preach?

We know Jesus Christ never left Palestine. Then how could Paul talk like this? Paul is so, almost unconsciously, committed to this truth that he just goes on by. The fact is somebody, some Christian, went and used gifts of public communication to preach to the Ephesians, and as far as Paul is concerned, it wasn’t that person; it was Jesus Christ doing it. Jesus has distributed his ministry gifts to us all. Do you know what that means?

It’s a picture God is giving us of a stained glass window. Every one of us is a little piece of glass in that window, and as pretty as those little pieces of white and red and emerald glass are, it’s only when they’re put together and the sun hits them all at once you see the whole picture. Only as we pull together, coordinating our gifts, using our gifts, discovering our gifts and ministry abilities can we show the world Jesus Christ in all of his glory. Now coordination is critical. For example, there is no gift of counseling in the Bible. Do you know that? You can’t find the gift of counseling.

There is the gift of mercy. (Tender people.) There is the gift of confrontation. There is the gift of exhortation. There is the gift of teaching. Do you know why? I’ll tell you why. Everybody’s problems are different. As a counselor, I know that. Some people need to have their hand held. Some people need to have their mouth socked; they need a punch in the mouth. Some of you know this. You went to counselors until somebody finally said, “Cut it out,” and it was the best thing you ever got!

But that same counselor, who says, “Cut it out,” to everybody (because that’s the gift that counselor has) will crush other people, because you see, it’s only as all of our gifts are working that we can solve everybody’s problems. It’s only as we all have and use our ministry abilities that we can show Jesus Christ to the world. Now this is exciting, but it’s humbling. It’s exciting because it means Jesus is really in charge of the church. How do you know …? How do I know what kind of ministries this church is supposed to have in New York City?

I don’t know. Do you know why? Because this church is like a connect-the-dots picture. Until God surfaces people with their burdens and their gifts and their ministries and all that, we can’t know what God wants the church to be. Do you see that? Only as you come to understand what you’re supposed to be giving to the Lord (your ministry ability) do we find out what the church should be. Somebody says, “I don’t know what my gifts are. In fact, I’m not gifted at all.” Don’t be so proud. You are gifted.

What you do is you proceed to get active. You proceed to minister. It’s just like how you find you’re good at anything else. You do some things. You check out your desires. You check out your affectedness. It takes time, but you can’t be a consumer. You cannot come and sit and soak. Matthew 25 tells us about the day Jesus comes back and he has three servants. One of them was given five talents, one was given two, and one was given one. The one with five talents said, “Here, Master. I got your five talents. I invested them, and I have 10 back.”

Another person said, “Here, Master. I had two talents, and I invested them, and I give you four back.” The last one said, “Here, Master. I have one talent, and I knew you’d be scared if I lost it, so I buried it, and here it is.” That last guy said, “I was scared,” and a lot of you are going to say, “I don’t know what kind of ministry I could do. I’m scared. I don’t want to look foolish,” but do you know what? In that parable in Matthew 25, the king does not say to that last guy, “You wicked, scared servant.” He doesn’t say that. Do you know what he says?

He says, “You wicked, lazy servant!” He says, “I gave you something, and the only way to take care of it was to invest it.” I hate to say this in a room like this, in a city like this, but you’re stockbrokers for God. If somebody gave you, as a stockbroker, a huge amount of money to invest, with fear and trembling, you knew you could not sit on that because if you sat on it that person would be losing money. You had to invest it. You had to invest it well. You had to give a good return on it. This is far more valuable than a billion dollars.

This is far more powerful than a billion dollars. Do you understand that? We should be looking at New York saying, “All the power we have,” but who knows what it’s going to be? We have to get it out there. Now you see why Jesus can say, “You will do greater works than me,” because Jesus Christ, as powerful as he was, was in one body and one place, but now his ministry gifts and his kingdom powers are distributed in millions of cells that can go everywhere, and there are not enough of them in New York, but we need to penetrate.

If you want to be in the house of God as a living stone, you have to be built on the foundation. That means you have to be obeying his Word. You have to be converted. You have to be growing in supernatural maturity. You have to be finding and using your gifts, not a consumer, not just sitting and soaking, but doing things for him, using the gifts he’s given you. Lastly, it says we fit together into the church, and that just simply means just as a good stone in the walls here, you don’t want gaps in the masonry. You want the stones to be completely related to the other stones at every point.

We talked about this several weeks ago. If you want to be really built into the kingdom of God, you have to have intimate relationships with the people of God, and you have to work at it. It says bear one another’s burdens. It says confess your sins to each other. It says exhort one another daily lest you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. It says pray for one another. My friends, how many people do you have that you’re obeying those commandments with?

How many people do you know so well they’re exhorting you daily lest you be hardened by sin? How many people are you confessing your sins to? How many people are you bearing burdens with? Now we talked about this, but the fact is that kind of fellowship is a command, so here we are.

End of the service. Here is the inventory. Look at it. Are you converted? Are you obeying? Are you growing? Can you see yourself changing in character? Are you ministering? Have you discovered what your gifts are and what God wants you to be doing in the world? Are you really plugged into good fellowship? Five things.

If you are not experiencing the freedom in your life, the power in your life God wants you to have, you are weak somewhere. Some of you are definitely weak at the fellowship level; you’re too busy, or you’re too scared. Some of you are definitely weak at the gifts level; you’re just consumers. Some of you are definitely weak at the growth level, because for one reason or another you’re not being disciplined in the way of acceptance and the way of nourishment and the way of exchange.

Some of you are simply refusing to be obedient. There is an area of your life you’re not giving him obedience in. How do you expect to know the truth and have the truth set you free? How can you expect to find yourself when Jesus Christ says lose yourself to find yourself? Become part of the whole, the higher call. Submit. It’s a good inventory, but let me just warn you about something. You’ll never be the same again because of what you’ve read and what you’ve heard. You never will.

Do you realize, now that you have this very clear chart you either will obey what you’ve heard and act on it, and you’ll become far more a living stone, or else you won’t act on it and you’ll become harder in your heart and guiltier before God? You’re responsible, my friends. I should have warned you before you sat through this. Don’t you see? You have been polarized. You can either be pushed ahead or way behind in your relationship with God because of what you’ve heard tonight.

You’re responsible, but don’t be afraid. Go ahead. “… come to him, the living Stone,” and you can be living stones built up into a spiritual house, for God has said, “I am laying in Zion a cornerstone. No one who believes in him will ever be put to shame.” Let’s take a moment of silence (and I do mean a moment here), and I’m going to suggest some of you who know you need to work on obedience will promise him that obedience, things in your life you know you should be obeying and you’re not. Some of you, it’s a lack of discipline, just an unwillingness to give God the time and give ministry the time.

Some of you I hope realize you’ve never been converted, and if that’s true, what you need to do tonight is go to him and pray and say, “Lord, I see I’ve been trying to stand on my own. Build me into your house. I receive you as my Lord and Savior.” It needs to be said tonight. Let’s take time to ask God to apply this to our hearts.

About the Preacher

In 1989 Dr. Timothy J. Keller, his wife and three young sons moved to New York City to begin Redeemer Presbyterian Church. In 20 years it has grown to meeting for five services at three sites with a weekly attendance of over 5,000. Redeemer is notable not only for winning skeptical New Yorkers to faith, but also for partnering with other churches to do both mercy ministry and church planting.  Redeemer City to City is working to help establish hundreds of new multi-ethnic congregations throughout the city and other global cities in the next decades.

Dr. Tim Keller is the author of several phenomenal Christo-centric books including:

Joy for the World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence and Can Begin Rebuilding It (co-authored with Greg Forster and Collin Hanson (February or March, 2014).

Encounters with Jesus:Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions. New York, Dutton (November 2013).

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. New York, Dutton (October 2013).

Judges For You (God’s Word For You Series). The Good Book Company (August 6, 2013).

Galatians For You (God’s Word For You Series). The Good Book Company (February 11, 2013).

Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Plan for the World. New York, Penguin Publishing, November, 2012.

Center ChurchDoing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, September, 2012.

The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness. New York: 10 Publishing, April 2012.

Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just. New York: Riverhead Trade, August, 2012.

The Gospel As Center: Renewing Our Faith and Reforming Our Ministry Practices (editor and contributor). Wheaton: Crossway, 2012.

The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. New York, Dutton, 2011.

King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus (Retitled: Jesus the KIng: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God). New York, Dutton, 2011.

Gospel in Life Study Guide: Grace Changes Everything. Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2010.

The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York, Dutton, 2009.

Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Priorities of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters. New York, Riverhead Trade, 2009.

Heralds of the King: Christ Centered Sermons in the Tradition of Edmund P. Clowney (contributor). Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2009.

The Prodigal God. New York, Dutton, 2008.

Worship By The Book (contributor). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002.

Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1997.