Matthew 28:16-20 – December 26, 2021

“Resolutions: Always Reforming”

8:15am & 11:00am Morning Services

Faith Presbyterian Church, Tacoma, WA

Pastor Nathaniel H. Gutiérrez

I trust that you ALL had a wonderful Christmas, celebrating our Savior’s birth! We started Christmas off with two absolutely beautiful Christmas Eve services, then enjoyed opening presents on our white, snowy Christmas and had a wonderful Christmas meal.

Now, some of those gifts opened yesterday were books. Did you know that some people read the last chapter of a book to find out the ending before they read the entire book? I’m sure you would all agree that that is just not right. Who does that?!

Well, even though it is generally wrong to do that, today, we are all going to do that, sort of. See, we have been focusing on Jesus’ birth throughout these past few weeks, and it has encouraging and has fortified our faith. And now, it is time to skip to the end of Matthew together. To the end of that book.  

I want to skip over all of Jesus’ life to the final words Jesus gave his disciples as he ascended back into heaven. And I want to do this, because it gives us a real sense of the purpose of Jesus’ birth.

Please listen carefully, as I read the last four verses of the book of Matthew. What mission did Jesus give his disciples?

Matthew 28:16-20  Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them inthe name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

This is the word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

Let’s pray together.

The hymn, Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, is one of my favorite Christmas hymns. In our 11pm Christmas Eve service I heard it played in one of the most powerful and beautiful ways I’d ever heard it. I love the solemn tune, and the opening lyrics as they remind us that we are mere mortals, and then reminds us that the babe in the manger is no ordinary mortal infant. To him, our full homage is due. He is the King of Kings, Lord of Lord, and the Lord Most High.

But why did Jesus, the Lord Most High, come as an infant? What was his purpose?

According to the Scriptures, Jesus came to rescue us out of death and darkness and to set us on the path to life and light. He came that we might live as he did, set apart for the good works that God the father prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. [Ephesians 2:10]  

Jesus came to teach us…to show us how we ought to live. He came to train us, to disciple us in his ways, that we might live as he did, and walk as he did.

Paul explains it to his disciple Titus this way:

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions…. [and he remind us that] Jesus Christ, 14 … gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”

[Titus 2:11-14]   

Jesus came, to train us. We already had his commandments in his word, but what he did was to stoop down to our level as one does with a child and teach us. He showed us how to live. How to walk in God’s ways. He discipled his disciples, and in so doing, he showed us how to live.

More than a prayer, it is a call to life-long obedience.

It seems to me that this is not as clear as it should be. Many are confused as to why Jesus came. Many reduce Jesus’ purpose just to his death on the cross – to one saving act.

It is true that Jesus came to save us, but he came for so much more than that. He came to change us and to set us on a path of holiness. That we might die to the sins that weigh us down in this life.

The misconception that Jesus came just to “save us” is often manifested in our approach to evangelism . Many crusaders like Billy Graham and others, cruise through different cities having rallies and seeking to win lost souls. Thousands come, and hear the gospel message and then leave, not having where to continue growing. In this scenario, the primary goal has been conversion, not discipleship.

Intentions are good, and God has used people and work like Billy Graham’s mightily, but we must remember that Jesus did not call us to make converts whose only need it to repeat a “Sinner’s prayer.” He called us to disciple, to train up and purify a people who are zealous for good works.

As we look back to our text this morning, Jesus is calling his church to make disciples who observe all that he has commanded. This is Jesus’ mission – that we would continue the work that he began.

And this is precisely why one of the vows our members make when they join our church is as follows:

“Do you now resolve and promise, in humble reliance upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, that you will endeavor to live as becometh the followers of Christ?”

[PCA Book of Church Order, 57-5.]

See, we vow that we will acknowledge our sinfulness, and trust by faith in Jesus for salvation, AND that we will live life as a follower of Jesus would.

More than a prayer, it is a call to life-long obedience.

This is the vow we make because this is the life Jesus calls his disciples to.

New Year’s Resolutions

Now we are coming up on a new year, and all around the world there are people making new year’s resolutions. And along with those resolutions, each year, around the end of December, something strange begins to happen in various stores throughout South America.

Sections of stores are partitioned off in order to sell the arrival of many shipments of yellow underwear. Yes, you heard me right. Yellow underwear. Without fail, you will see these yellow undergarments, not folded up on shelves, but hanging prominently for all to see. It is all enough to make a grown man feel embarrassed to walk by.

Why do these stores do this? And why in December? Well, because the new year is coming and the Latin American superstition claims that if you wear yellow underwear into the new year, you will have good luck, and bring love and happiness into your life.

That is one Peruvian tradition that I did not partake in.  

I do think that it is amazing though, that someone not only started that superstition, but that it managed to grow and persist throughout the years throughout South America and now stores throughout the contentment are flooded with these ridiculous items.

Sometimes people just do things because we have always done them and because they’ve been passed down that way. Others have done these things for a long time, so we do them too. And resolutions can be that way too. They can be a tradition of focusing on self-centered and superficial resolutions. But they don’t have to be. They don’t have to be petty. They can be serious.

David Powlison, in an article on New Year’s Resolutions, argued that while some resolutions are petty, most resolutions actually make a profound statement. They express a sensed need for moral reformation.

As a Reformed church, we can certainly get behind the idea of reformation. The Latin semper reformanda or “always reforming” has long been the mantra of Reformed believers.

And what was meant behind this phrase was that “the Reformation [had] reformed the doctrine of the church, but the lives and practices of God’s people always needed further reformation.” [Michael Horton, Semper Reformanda.]

You see, the church is always being reformed…submitting itself to the judgment of God’s Word and asking anew whether its confession and practice are in accord with Scripture. [Horton, People and Place, 223.]

And that is exactly what Jesus is calling us to as well. To reform. To submit ourselves to the judgment of God’s word. To analyze our beliefs and practices in accordance with its teaching. Do we live according to God’s word? Are we living as Jesus called us to live?

When it comes to resolutions and reforming our lives, we can embrace the new year tradition by taking it to a deeper level. We don’t need to make rash proposals vowing to change at the beginning of each new year. Instead, we can take this to a deeper level and resolve to pursue change every day of our lives.

And what does it mean to “resolve”?

According to David Powlison, to “resolve” means to come to a firm and determined decision to do something, to behave in a certain manner, to abide by certain principles. It is formally expressing what we believe, will or intend. It is a stand we take, a direction we choose. [Powlison]

In other words, after serious thought and decision, you commit yourself to take steps along a trajectory which changes the destination of your life.

Powlison continues, “Put this way, the entire Christian life might be conceived as a lifelong determination to make and walk out “….Every-Day Resolutions” [as a new Creation in Christ].

Discipleship – the path to reform

This past week I listened to an encouraging podcast on wisdom. It is from a podcast called Gospel in Life in which Tim Keller is teaching on the subject of wisdom from the book of Proverbs. And in his message “Your Plans: God’s Plans” posted earlier this month, he said the following:

“No one ever learned that God loved them by being told.… in order to really know, you have to be shown.” …“Over and over and over as life goes on, you have to be in positions where you’re absolutely sure God has abandoned you and then you find out later on you were wrong. It has to happen over and over and over …. as time goes on, you will find that you are finally becoming wise.” [Keller, Your Plans: God’s Plans]

Wisdom and discipleship go hand in hand. God shows us wisdom by “training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions,” and teaching us to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age. [Titus 2:11]

In this context, we learn wisdom and maturity as we put our faith into practice. As we train to renounce ungodliness. We learn by wrestling with our sins.

As Presbyterians, we are often characterized as living in the intellectual sphere. We like debates and theological conversations, and consider practical matters to be inferior in some way.

And while God gave us intellectual gifts, we must see how important it was for Jesus that we learn to grow practically.

Learning Wisdom

If you think about it, we learn some of our best lessons things through real-life situations. We learn by observation and then putting what we observe into practice.

There is a reason why learning a language by immersion is so much easier than learning it through a textbook. Our children often learn deeper lessons by watching who we are and how we act,  than what we say and teach.

In Peru, many short-term missionaries are taught that showers in Peru operate through an electric device in the showerhead. They are generally safe. However, our guests are told repeatedly to be careful not to touch the showerhead. But the funny thing is, almost without fail, people tended to forget…[and you know this because you hear a shriek from the other room].

But the mistake usually only happens once. Isn’t that strange? I had warned them and explained the concept with plenty of detail, they understood it and agreed, but it was not enough. They still wouldn’t be careful enough. It wasn’t until they felt the pain of what I had been talking to them about that they believed.

See, God has given us senses to help us grasp deep things – even spiritual things. And what we do in discipleship is walk through life together and grow together. And that is what Jesus did with his disciples. He called his disciples to “be” with him. To live life and put into practice all he was teaching them.

We learn best by putting our faith to the test. Learning and being trained to live as a follower of Jesus.

So, if we want to be always reforming, we must wade deeper into a practical and living reformation.

As one writer puts it, “The great evidence of vital piety is practical obedience. The character of men is to be decided by their conduct.” [Spring, 67.]

This means that we take Jesus’ words on discipleship to heart.

Living as a Disciple

So how can we resolve to live as a follower of Jesus and what is the cost of discipleship?

JC Ryle, in his book Holiness, has some helpful insights here. He writes,

“It does cost something to be a real Christian, according to the standard of the Bible. There are enemies to be overcome, battles to be fought, sacrifices to be made, an Egypt to be forsaken, a wilderness to be passed through, a cross to be carried, a race to be run. Conversion is not putting a man in an armchair and taking him easily to heaven. It is the beginning of a mighty conflict, in which it costs much to win the victory.” [Ryle, 82-85]

Ryle goes on to describe what that mighty conflict looks like, explaining three costs to the disciple:

  1. It will cost the disciple their self-righteousness.
  2. It will cost the disciple their sins.
  3. It will cost the disciple their love of ease.  [Ryle, 82-85]

It will cost the disciple self-righteousness

To be a disciple of Christ it is crucial that we fight against the prideful tendency to see ourselves better than we are. Each one of us does it. We minimize our own sin, and in our hearts, we enlarge other people’s sins.

Without thinking of anyone in particular, I can say with confidence that there are people in this congregation here today, that believe that they are in such good shape spiritually speaking that they think that they do not struggle with self-righteousness. But they do. They see other people’s problems with complete clarity but miss the log in their own eye.  We all do – some more than others.  And it can be very hard to see the ways in which we fall short. We can be incredibly unaware of ourselves.

We all need to fight our self-righteousness, and in order to do that, we must begin by acknowledging that we have a problem. See, Jesus came for the sick and the unhealthy, not the righteous. We all, like sheep, have gone astray.

Ryle says, we must fight our tendency to trust in our own abilities, our respectability, our praying abilities, our Bible-reading , our churchgoing, and sacrament-receiving, and to trust in nothing but Jesus.

The difficulty with self-righteousness, is that we are the problem. We are the ones praising ourselves. We are blind. We are in darkness to our own sin. How are we going to root out our self-righteousness?

Discipleship. We are all called to be disciples of Jesus all the days of our lives. We need to be life-long learners. We must be teachable people.

In Matthew 5:14, Jesus tells his disciples that they are the light of the world. When you are in darkness, you need the light. If you have a blind spot, or are completely in the dark to your own sins, you need someone who can see what you cannot. Someone who can shine light on the darkness in your life.

Over the past several years, I have begun to understand how significantly one part of the body can impact another. If certain parts of the body are not receiving the oxygen they need, or the appropriate circulation, or if certain organs are not cleaning or operating at full capacity there can be significant consequences to the other areas of your body. God made the body in such a way that each part complements and helps the other parts. While it is true that you can still survive without certain limbs or parts of the body, it is not true that limbs or other parts of the body can live on their own apart from the body.

In the same way, we cannot be independent Christians – no matter how smart, how mature, or how capable we feel. No matter how old we are, or how young we are. We all need the the body of Christ. We need the light of the world that other disciples of Jesus offer. We cannot be independent. Jesus created us to live in community, and to grow in community.

Self-righteousness attacks that idea.  It destroys community. It says, “I don’t need the rest of you, I have it all together. I’m fine by myself.” Self-righteousness (often subconsciously) believes, “I am the only person who has it all figured out here.” Of course, no one would say that out loud, but many live this way functionally.

And the problem is, even as I say these words, if you are thinking to yourself, “Yes. That definitely describes me” then you probably don’t struggle with self-righteousness as much as others do.

But if you are here thinking of all the other people in your circles who need to hear this because they are self-righteous, you are probably the one who needs to hear this message the most.

You and I need all the broken people around us to help us. Yes, they are not perfect. You might prefer someone “better than you” to help you out, but the truth is, we’re not perfect either. We are broken people too. God has chosen to use the weak to help the weak.

So, as you resolve to follow Jesus as a true disciple, one of the first steps you can take is to humble yourself and seek to destroy your self-righteousness. Humble yourself and listen to others. Ask them to speak into your life and listen in humility.

I think I’ve shared this before, but one day in college I was having lunch with a guy I knew. We weren’t close friends, but at that lunch, he did something that felt awkward. He asked, “Nathaniel, could we be intentional about our friendship? We could meet regularly on Mondays and just pray for one another and challenge each other.” It seemed awkward to be asked that way, but it was just what we needed.

By Faith Magazine, noted this week that a study in 2000 revealed that “95% of Christian men have no male best friend with whom they can share their spiritual battles. The study also revealed that only 5% have been or are currently in some sort of discipling relationship. [Steve Rempe]

Brothers and Sisters (and especially brothers), find friends! Building friendships does not make you less of a man. Humbling yourself to pursue friendship can be awkward, but we are called to live in relationship and discipleship.

Be like my friend.  Be intentionally awkward about being intentional. And give that person opportunities to intentionally speak into your life. Humble yourself and realize that God’s spirit is at work in other people. Even in people you consider lesser than yourself.

You may be 12, or you may be 80. We are never too young or old to be discipled and to grow in our faith. We never retire from endeavoring to follow Jesus.

And following Jesus will cost us our pride and will require humility.

And following Jesus will also cost us our sins

It seems obvious that following Jesus would cost us our sins, but this is easier said than done. We grow in our attachment to this world and enjoy things we ought not to enjoy. We might be set in our ways…perhaps we’ve grown accustomed to using our honed-in skills to get things done….but if those skills are anger, control, manipulation, abuse, or other various besetting sins, following Jesus means we must work to give them up.

Perhaps we might enjoy binging television shows, food, or alcohol. We might enjoy sleep and laziness more than we ought, or on the other hand, it could be that we are workaholics.

We might overspend, and/or be reckless with our finances and debt, or we might be stingy, living in fear, penny pinching and make everyone around us miserable.

We might delight too much in being isolated from others, or we might struggle with finding fulfillment and joy in God in the quiet moments alone from others.

Whatever the besetting sin, as Jesus’ disciples, we are called to resolve to kill our sin.

Eugene Peterson, in his book, “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction” explains that whenever we say “no” to one way of life that we have long been used to, there is pain. But  he explains that when that way of life is, in fact, a way of death, ….the quicker we leave it the better.

Peterson writes, “There is a condition that sometimes develops in our bodies called adhesions – parts of our internal organs become attached to other parts. The condition has to be corrected by a surgical procedure – a decisive intervention. The procedure hurts, but the results are healthy.”  P. 26

Brothers and sisters, no matter how long those adhesions in our spiritual lives have been there, we must not stop the fight. There must be decisive intervention.

Again, intentional discipleship, accountability and mentorship is essential to our overcoming sin. Especially sin that has dominated your life for so long. It will not just go away. Decisive intervention is necessary.

Imagine the change that would take place in your life if you found someone whom you could walk with. Someone in this church with whom you could share your personal struggles, who could pray with you and challenge you? If we are to correct the adhesions we have to this world, we must seek to be disciples that we might kill our sin.

Following Jesus will cost us our love of ease

Have you ever sat down after a long day of work, with a cold beverage, ready to relax….and as soon as you sit down someone asks you for something? “Hey, can you come help me with his please?”  I mean, how rude, right? Nobody likes a rude person.

I hope that strikes a chord with you, as it does with me. Interruptions to my routine, or to my comfort, or my love of ease are often met with contempt. It is so frustrating to even think about it.

And yet, if we are to follow Jesus, we are saying that we will willingly put ourselves in this type of discomfort.

Ryle says, the disciple must daily watch and stand guard like a soldier against sin – even when we are tired – no, especially when we are tired. We must fight off our sinful tendencies every hour of the day, in every company, and in every place. In public places as well as in private places. When we’re in front of strangers as well when we are at home.

We must be stand guard when we are alone, when we are online or in another city where no one knowns you.

Ryle continues, “the disciple will be diligent about his prayers, his Bible-reading, and his use of Sundays, with all their means of grace.”

Here he identities the need for the means of grace. This is hard work. The follower of Christ must always be alert against sin. He must fight the good fight, and never give the devil a foothold. [Ryle, 82-85]

And he must continually return to the means of grace. Even as this new year begins, it is essential that we do all we can to get into a reading group for reading the Bible. It doesn’t have to be reading the whole Bible in a year. There are many different plans, but agree with someone today – this week – that you will hold each other together over the next year to reading God’s word faithfully every day. As usual, our church offers reading plans in the narthex and on our website. And for the men in the church, I will once again host a men’s bible reading plan for the year. If you would like to join in, please contact me.

The best way to fight sin is by returning to the means of grace – feeding on God’s word – and doing so together as a family in Christ.  It is not easy work, but it is so important to our growth.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his famous work, The Cost of Discipleship explains that discipleship requires hard work. We need to understand that God’s grace is not a cheap grace.

He explains that cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church…. He writes,

“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ…

[But] Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake [of which]… a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great [cost]… which the merchant will sell all his goods [to obtain]. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.

It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner.”

[Bonhoeffer, 47-48]

When we think of the work that Jesus has called us to do as his disciples, we feel overwhelmed and burdened. It is too much. It can be discouraging, especially because we fail at it so often.

But we need to make sure that we are framing our duty correctly. You see the command Jesus gives to his disciples, and the vow we make to become members, and the mission we take on as his disciples, is one that we take on toward life.

We are not giving up anything good. We are only giving up evil. We are giving up pride, we are giving up sin, we are giving up death as we fight the good fight for life.

Jesus’ grace toward us establishes us on the path to life. He is giving us life, and we are simply going “all in” to follow him.

Andrew, Peter, James, and John left their nets and fish. Matthew left his job collecting taxes. They gave up everything to follow Jesus. They saw that treasure hidden in the field and they GLADLY let go of all they had to pursue it.  And looking at them, we say, “of course”! Nets are nothing in comparison to the glorious riches that await us in heaven.

This too must be our outlook when it comes to the cost of discipleship. We should gladly give up everything we have to follow Jesus: our pride, our sins, our lives.

This might feel like a heavy burden, but we need to remember that the same Jesus who said, come to me all you who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest, said at the end of our passage today, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Jesus does not call us to do this work without him. Do you remember that part of your vow?

See, we “…. now resolve and promise, in humble reliance upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, that you will endeavor to live as becometh the followers of Christ?”

We resolve and promise, in humble reliance on the GRACE of the Holy Spirit…that we will strive to be his followers.

Built into our vows is a definite understanding that all of this is only possible through the work of the Holy Spirit in us by grace. Jesus knows we will fail. He knows we need his grace.  For by grace we are saved, and it is only by grace that he will complete the good work that he has started in us, even as we strive to be his followers.

As we look to this new year, may we resolve to be his disciples, and may we do so in humble reliance upon the grace of the Holy Spirit for his glory and our good. Amen.

This sermon series draws on material from:

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. New York, New York: MacMillan Publishing Company, 1963.

Horton, Michael. People and Place. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008.

______________. Semper Reformanda, Ligonier, October 29, 2009.

Keller, Tim. Your Plans: God’s Plans. Gospel Life Podcast, December 1, 2021. [This sermon was preached by Dr. Timothy Keller at Redeemer Presbyterian Church on December 12, 2004.] Podcast link here.

Peterson, Eugene H. A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1980.

Powlison, David. New Year’s Resolutions, January 1, 2008:

Ryle, J.C. Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, & Roots. Moscow, Idaho: Charles Nolan Publishers, 2001.

Spring, Gardiner. The Distinguishing Traits of Christian Character. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co, 1979.

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