I want to really encourage you to go back and spend some time going through the first three sermons in this series. The last two of those sermons were spent looking at the implications of the very first word of 2 Chronicles 7:14. That word is ‘if.’ I never would have thought that one tiny word like that could have such an impact – but it does. The first word of this verse is a key to the whole thrust of when God is saying here. Today I want to look at the next few words. They tell us to whom this verse is addressed and therefore, given its context, they tell us who God intends to use to heal the land.
“If My people, who are called by My name …” God is talking to His own chosen people here. In our context, living this side of the cross of Christ, God is talking to Christians – the people who bear the name of Christ and the people who are called by God to fulfill mission of Christ.
Collectively, therefore, God is talking to the Church – which means that individually, He is talking to you and me and anyone else who claims to belong to Him. So what? Is this important? Absolutely! The fact that God is talking to you and me – the Church of Jesus Christ – is both amazing and terrifying all at once! It’s amazing because it shows us, yet again, how powerful God is.
We should be honoured, humbled and empowered by the revelation that the Church of Jesus Christ holds the key to all the problems in the world. In fact the Apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 3:10 that God’s intent in these last days is that through the Church, the manifold wisdom of God will be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms. How amazing is that? God is going to use you and me to instruct angels and demons in the heavenly realms!
It’s also terrifying to realise that this verse in 2 Chronicles 7:14 has our name on it because that means that the state of our nation has a direct link to the health, obedience and effectiveness of the Church. This verse, and many like it throughout the Bible, leave us with little doubt that if our nation; if our city is struggling in any way then the first place to look for the solution is the Church of Jesus Christ – the people of God.
Some would even go so far as to say that the Church is the place to look for the cause of society’s problems in the sense that our refusal to really be the people God called us to be is the reason why evil has taken over the world. I am not sure if I would go that far …. but it is a sober thought!
At the very least, we have to face the truth that Jesus came over 2,000 years ago to usher in the Kingdom of God and He empowered His disciples to the same and commissioned them to save the world. He gave us everything we need for life and Godliness (2 Peter 1:3) … everything we need to bring God’s lost children home … and here we are thousands of years later still trying to work out what God’s will is as we so cleverly and boldly shirk our responsibility for the condition of our city and our nation.
If the Church had really taken hold of 2 Chronicles 7:14 and all the other clear exhortations in both Old and New Testaments which so clearly define our role, as God’s people, in saving the world; if the Church had embraced the very clear mandate we have been given by God to drive out the enemy from this land and take back what he has stolen – then, brothers and sisters – your life and mine and the world around us would be very different today.
If the people of God had taken the Word of God seriously then we would have grown up and moved on to the meat, taken this city and nation for Jesus and gone home to glory many years ago! When I examine the clear teaching of the New Testament and discover the strength of the mandate Jesus gave us to go and make disciples; when I am reminded on almost every page that we are indwelt by the very life and power which created this universe; when I look at the technology, resources and opportunities which God has poured out upon His people – particularly over the last 100 years – I have to accept the fact that the Church has dropped the ball in so many ways.
I firmly believe that we could have (and should have) all been in heaven by now. For many, many years the people of God have had the mission and the means to see the whole world brought to its knees before Jesus Christ. The only reason that hasn’t happened is because we have not had God’s motive – we have not really wanted what God wants. The ache in our heart for the salvation of everyone in this city and this nation has simply not been strong enough.
Whether we like it or not, at some point we need to take a long hard look in the mirror and accept that we may be more interested in our personal needs, the needs of our family and our Church family, than we are in fulfilling the purposes in God. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost; He came to usher in the kingdom of Heaven – the rule and reign of God; He came to shine the light of God into every dark corner of our society; He came to be the salt of the earth – to preserve the precious children of God. This same Jesus said, “As I have been sent – so I am sending you.” This same Jesus also said, “… and even greater things than these shall you do in my name.”
So why is it not happening? Well, actually it is happening – in a growing number of places all around the world – God is being faithful to His word and he is healing whole cities and entire nations. But why is it not happening yet in nations like Australia who are still awaiting such a move of God? We know the answer. This is not really a difficult question to answer – we are just not comfortable with the answer because it has very personal implications.
The answer is in 2 Chronicles 7:14 and it has been staring at us all along. Do you realise that this verse was written before the Nation of Australia, as we know it, even existed? Do realise that God had already given us the answer to every problem our nation would ever face – centuries before we faced them? How simple is that?
It is all there – laid out for us in Bible. There are hundreds of instructions and exhortations and keys to success for any and every nation. Everywhere you turn there is another insight which impinges upon the health and prosperity of this nation. Yet it is even simpler than that … the whole lot could be summed up by saying if you have a healthy Church you will have a healthy nation. If the Church is operating as it was meant to operate, then the whole nation will operate as it was meant to operate.
It all comes back to the people of God – the ‘chosen ones’ – the ‘elect’ – the ‘sons and daughters of God’ – the ‘household of faith’ – the ‘army of God’ – the ‘family of God’ … those people whom we call Christians – or better still ‘Disciples of Jesus Christ.’ The ball appears to be in our court. The spotlight of Scripture and history is deliberately aimed at the people God calls His own. They are the source of His affection and the means by which He will accomplish His purpose.
So if we are concerned about the state of our nation, according to the Bible, we should not look to the politicians and national leaders – the first place we should look is the Church. God did not say He would heal the land through the choices made by politicians and social leaders. God said He would heal the land through the choices made by His people who are called by His name.
Therefore, before we even begin to look at those choices … before we even start to explore what it might mean for the people of God to humble themselves, pray, seek His face and repent – we first need to establish WHO the people of God are. More specifically, you need to ask yourself today: “Am I one of them? Am I really part of the people of God? When God says, ‘If my People …’ Do I know without any doubt whatsoever that He is talking to me?”
If your answer is a resounding “Yes!” then I ask you, on what basis do you make that assessment? How does one know if they are part of God’s people? Well, many would say you just know. The Spirit of God witnesses to your spirit and you just know, because you know, because you know! I happen to believe there is a lot of merit in that statement, but is that all that God has provided as proof that we belong to Him? Or is there some more objective criteria for assessing our spiritual position? Thankfully, there is. Let’s look at just a few.
In Acts 16:31 we read where Paul and Silas are in jail and the jailer asks the magic question: “What must I do to be saved?” and Paul replied with a powerful, yet simple statement: “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.” So is that the criteria for being the people of God? Simply believe in the Lord Jesus Christ? Yes that is, in essence, the door that leads you to the reality of the Kingdom of God. However, we need to understand something here which can slip past us in the simplicity of this verse. The phrase ‘believe in’ is obviously the key to this verse and unfortunately our modern understanding of this concept is quite different to its original meaning in this verse.
In our day and age, to believe in something does not necessarily impact us personally or profoundly in any way. We can acknowledge the reality of something, even the importance of something, give intellectual assent to something – without that belief having any real impact in our lives. Not so in this verse and not so anywhere in the new testament when this kind of language is used.
The Greek word used here, which we translate ‘believe in’ happens to be far stronger in its meaning. It literally should be translated ‘believe into’ and it carries the connotation of diving into a deep pool of water and being totally immersed and saturated in the process. That is another reason why Baptism is such a powerful symbol … because it depicts our total commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ … our absolute surrender to and total saturation in His presence.
When the Bible says ‘believe in the Lord Jesus Christ’ it is not saying ‘subscribe to His teaching and theological perspective.’ It is not saying, ‘give intellectual, arms-length assent to His claims to be the Son of God and the saviour of the world.’ It must start there. It has to start there. What we think will affect how we live, so our thoughts about God and ourselves are very important and any belief in Jesus must have that component to it.
However, when the Bible says ‘believe in Jesus’ it means far more than a mental agreement to a principle. It means dive in, fully, completely and without hesitation. Immerse yourself totally in the person and purpose of this Jesus. Just as the water would surround you, soak you and saturate you … so too with Jesus when you ‘believe INTO Him.’
So when Paul uttered those famous words, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved,” he had no concept of this being an intellectual belief … this was a ‘boots and all, no holds barred, all or nothing, dive into the river and get wet’ belief! He knew of no other. So how can you tell if someone has that kind of belief and is therefore a disciple of Jesus and part of His Church? Well let’s look at some more Scripture. Let’s see if we can find some objective criteria to affirm our position as part of the People of God.
John 13:34-35 – “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
This is self-explanatory. The only question which begs is ‘How did Jesus love us?’ He laid down his life for us. Gave everything He had in order to see us saved and reconciled to God. So if we are prepared to lay everything on the line to see God’s lost children brought home. If our love is an action, like it was with Jesus, and not just some mushy feeling … then I guess we will know that we are part of the ‘People of God.’
John builds on this picture beautifully in his first Letter to the Church. When you have some time I would really encourage you to read 1 John 4:7–5:13 and see the wonderful assurance we can have that we belong to God and have eternal life. There is no guesswork here. Our choices and the way we live will reveal if we are God’s children or not. Galatians 5:13-25 is another great passage to read concerning the ‘fruit’ which is evident in the life of God’s chosen children. Jesus also talked about judging a tree by its fruit. In the same way, we are to assess by the fruit of our lives whether we belong to God and are indwelt by His spirit or not.
2 Corinthians 5:17 – Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
John 3:3-6 – In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.
1 Peter 1:23 – “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.”
1 Peter 2:9-12 – “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”
I could go on for hours because there are hundreds of verses and passages in the Bible which give us objective criteria to judge whether we are the people of God. The bottom line is indisputable: when God comes to town – stuff happens! When the Spirit of God enters a human life – stuff happens. Things change and this change is not only secretive and personal it is also visible and discernible by those around us.
In fact I would go so far as to say that the most reliable means of determining whether you are a Christian or not; the most guaranteed way of assessing whether you belong to God is to ask someone around you, in your family, your workplace, anywhere where you interact with people one-on-one. Do they see the life of Christ in you? Do those who knew you before you made a profession of faith in Christ notice any difference in you now?
Is the observable fruit in your life the fruit of the flesh or the fruit of the Spirit? Is the overwhelming, unconditional love and grace and mercy of God oozing out of you and touching everyone around you … or do they only see that on rare occasions? Do you put it on for Church and then revert to the real you when not surrounded by Christians?
We need to be asking these questions. We need to be spending time in front of the mirror of God’s Word and not leaving until we really know the person looking back at us and until we face the truth about our spiritual standing. I know of many committed, active, dedicated people working in the Church who deep down still are not even sure they are going to heaven!
We need to know if we belong to God. We need to know if 2 Chronicles 7:14 is addressed to us. We need to face the fact that it is entirely possible to be active in Church life for many years and still have an unregenerate heart. We can spend our life serving God and doing wonderful things for Him and still not be indwelt by His Spirit.
The Church can be a social club where we hang out with our friends and we can learn the language and give the required responses and answers and fool most of the people, most of the time. We can even cast out demons and perform mighty miracles in Jesus’ name only to have Him reject us when we see him face to face (see Matthew 7:21). This is important because and this is an issue of the HEART.
Our external actions must flow from a redeemed, born-again, regenerated, renewed heart and you can’t fake it ‘till you make it! Only God can change our hearts that way. Only true believers, genuine disciples, the real children of God can live like that. True good works, which James talks about in his letter, the kind that glorify God and make a real difference in this world, can only flow from the heart of a genuine believer of Christ. Everything else is dead religious works and it is a stench in the nostrils of a holy God.
Are you a child of God? When God says “If my people …” is He talking to you? Do you know that for sure? Are you as convinced of your spiritual standing as you are of your own name? Is there any doubt whatsoever that you are born again and already part of the kingdom of heaven? If there is any doubt then You need to get that sorted before you do anything else. Do not leave that point until you get your spiritual standing in Christ nailed down and understood in such a conclusive way that you never, ever doubt it again.
I have given you lots of verses and passages to read as you assess what it means to be the people of God, but in some ways, we didn’t really need to leave our opening verse in 2 Chronicles 7:14. If I was to delete the first word and read the open part of this verse I believe we would have a very powerful statement about the true people of God. “…My people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways.”
So here in this one verse … an exhortation becomes an affirmation. This makes the verse even more confronting for me. Brothers and sisters, if you haven’t done this already then I want to really encourage you to pray and ask God to reveal your hearts over the coming days. Tell God you are not interested in playing church, doing what’s expected while deep down inside nothing is really happening! Get serious. Get real with God. Let His Spirit show you your heart and empower you to surrender and let go … as you let God be God. Then, and only then, will this journey we are taking in this verse have the impact we all desire it to have.
Come, Holy Spirit of God, open the eyes of our heart and draw us deeper into the heart of Christ and His mission. Amen!