Cheryl & I want to thank you for the last 4 years we have been allowed to serve at Pleasant Ridge. It is very difficult to say farewell to people with whom we’ve ministered and loved and been loved — and the struggle that Cheryl & I went through when we began to even think about leaving the people of this church reminds me of this passage in Acts 20, where Paul said good-bye to the elders of Ephesus, among whom :31 says he had ministered for 3 years, and with whom he had built a strong bond. In his farewell he emphasized several things that I think are important reminders for any pastor to share with his people:
I. First, he reminds them of True Salvation:
He said in :20-21, “I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Paul said, I did not hold back from declaring to you this central message — and he defined that message as “repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” WHY would THAT be the message that he said that he did not hold back from declaring to them? Because those two things are the basic elements of salvation: “repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Here at his very last meeting with these elders/pastors, Paul reminds them of these basic ingredients of salvation, lest anyone compromise them. He’s saying: “Guys, don’t forget this; salvation comes through repentance and faith. Don’t compromise that.”
And I can’t think of a better word for us today either. Don’t forget that Biblical salvation comes from “Repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” We need that reminder, because we are constantly faced with all kinds of temptations to compromise that message.
Real, Biblical salvation is not just “believing in God.” James says the demons “believe in God.”
Real, Biblical salvation is not just “asking Jesus into your heart.”
Why isn’t Jesus in your heart already? It’s because of your sin. You have walked away from God in your sin, and your sin has separated you from God. You have got to realize that you have sinned, and turn BACK to God. That is what repentance is. And when you repent of your sin and turn back to God, and put your faith in what Jesus did on the cross to save you, you can be forgiven and saved. THAT is the gospel: “repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” But it must include both of those elements.
There is no salvation for the person who says they “believe in Jesus” but who never repent of their sins, and just keep purposefully living the same old life.
AND: there is likewise no salvation for the person who tries to “clean up their life,” but instead tries to show everyone how “good” they are. You will never be “good enough.” You have to put your faith in what Jesus did on the cross, to be saved.
BOTH of these things must be present in order to have genuine salvation:
Repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. If either of those is missing, you do not have Biblical salvation.
For you as an individual, make sure that you have the kind of Biblical salvation that Paul describes here: that you have both repentance towards God, and faith in Jesus Christ. Make sure that you have genuinely repented of your sin; that you are not purposefully living in sin in any area of your life. We will all sin daily, but make certain that you are taking your sin seriously, and that you are doing your best to turn from sin in every area of your life. And at the same time, make sure that your faith for your salvation lies only in Jesus Christ; not your good deeds. Remember the words of that great hymn: “Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling.” Put your faith only in what Jesus did on the cross for you.
Maybe you need to do this right now: in your heart, ask God to help you turn away from your sin, and ask Him to forgive you because of what Jesus did on the cross for you, and come into your life. Repent of your sin, and put your faith in Jesus, and you can know that you have the kind of Biblical salvation that Paul describes here in Acts 20.
And for the Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church family, take these words seriously as well. The real salvation we need to proclaim and share with our community involves both of these elements: “repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Never allow either part of that two-fold message to be neglected.
Whenever I am on vacation, I enjoy getting to visit other churches and seeing what they are doing in their services. When I was pastoring in Beggs, Oklahoma, years ago, we had the week off, and just stayed at home, and went to visit a church in the area that Wednesday night. When we got there, someone from the church talked with us in the foyer. But, she told us of a young lady that came to their church one night, and she said this young woman was wearing shorts. This church lady told us proudly of how they escorted her out of their church because of what she had on! Cheryl & I couldn’t believe it! The Christian message is NOT “Come, everyone who has your act together!” The message really IS “come as you are.” Jesus is the friend of sinners.
But listen: we must also hold to the other side of that equation, which is that Jesus invites you to COME as you are, but if you really come to know Him, you will not STAY as you are.
Remember, Jesus told the woman caught in adultery in John 8: “Neither do I condemn you, now GO AND SIN NO MORE.” Jesus loved the adulterous woman, and He had forgiveness and grace for her — but He also loved that woman too much to leave her as she was. The Christian message is NOT “come as you are and stay as you are.” The real Christian message is “Come as you are and be CHANGED by Jesus and you will NOT stay where you are.”
Paul said this very thing in I Corinthians 6. After listing virtually every kind of sin the Corinthians had been involved in, from sexual immorality to homosexuality to stealing to drunkenness to cheating, he then said, “Such WERE some of you, but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” See, Paul said, you came as you were — but you didn’t STAY like you were. You were saved, you were washed, you were changed. THAT is the Christian message. It is “repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
BOTH of these elements are vital. Never allow the message here at Pleasant Ridge to be watered down just to get more people here to come and “fill seats.”
— A pastor who does not preach against sin is not a Biblical pastor.
— A “gospel” that does not take sin seriously is not the Christian gospel.
— A church that lets people live however they want to live is not a true Christian church.
THAT is what Paul is saying here. Real, Biblical salvation involves two inseparable elements: “repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
II. True Doctrine
Speaking to the elders of this church of Ephesus, Paul said in :28, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” And he said in 29-30, “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock, and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw
away the disciples after them.”
Paul was warning these church leaders about false teachers, both from outside and from within the church, who would try to lead them away from true Biblical doctrine.
— One note of interest and instruction here that we should be aware of: the leaders Paul is addressing here are called by various names.
Verse 17 says “From Miletus (Paul) sent to Ephesus and called to him the ELDERS of the church.” But then look again at :28. He says to these “elders” that “The Holy Spirit has made you OVERSEERS, to SHEPHERD the church of God.” The word “overseer” is often translated “bishop,” and, as many of you know, “shepherd” is the same word as “pastor.” So here in Acts 20, Paul calls the SAME group men, “elders,” “overseers” (or “bishops”), and “pastors.” We need to be aware of this, because there are those who say that bishops and elders and pastors are different offices, but Paul makes it clear here that they are NOT different; they are just different names for the same office, what most of us would call “pastor.”
— But secondly, and most importantly, note the warning Paul gives here against false teachers, both from without and within the church, who will try to lead them away from true Biblical doctrine. He says “Be on guard” against this.
Well how do you do that? THE single most important thing you can do to guard yourself against false doctrine is to read the word of God for yourself every day. The best safeguard against false teaching, is to know the truth. When you are reading the word of God for yourself, the Holy Spirit in you can immediately point out something false.
— When someone says (as I once heard) that nowhere in the New Testament does it say that you are to pray for lost people, you can say NO! Romans 10:1 says “My heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation.” I had read that for myself, so I wasn’t deceived.
— When a false teacher says “you don’t need to repent in order to be saved,” you can say, “NO! I read Acts 20 here where it says salvation involves repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
— When a false teacher says “I don’t want you to stand in front of a mirror and say you are old, tell yourself you are young,” you can say, “No, I just read in Philemon Wednesday where Paul called himself “Paul the aged.”
— When a false teacher tells you that everyone is going to be healed every time, you can say “NO, I just read in II Timothy 4:20 where Paul said he left Trophimus sick at Miletus.” So everyone doesn’t get healed — even by the Apostle Paul!
THE single best safeguard against false doctrine is to make sure you keep reading the “pure milk” of the word of God for yourself — as I have emphasized numerous times over the past 4 years. Make sure that every day you are getting that “pure milk” of the word — not someone else’s devotional book, or commentary, or thoughts. These can still be good to read in your spare time, but make sure that your priority is to have a time every day where it is just YOU, an open Bible, and the Holy Spirit of God speaking the truth to your heart. When you have God’s truth being poured into your life like that every day, you will not be misled by false teachers. So the most important thing every one of us can do, is to keep up that vital daily time with God in the “pure milk” of His word.
But there are several other applications of this for this church in the days ahead, which can help make sure we stay in the realm of true doctrine:
First is in regard to the Pastor Search Committee that this church will be electing, starting next week. Begin fervently praying right now for God’s will in the election of those 5 individuals and 1 alternate who will serve on this Committee. Do not take this election lightly. DO NOT just come in here next week and write down the first 5 names that come to mind, or those whom you “like”, or think are “popular.” This is not a “popularity contest”! These are the people who will be responsible for determining the spiritual direction of this church for years to come through our next pastor. You must take this seriously! Pray this week; take some time to fast; seek God’s face for the names you will vote for. Make sure they are THE most scripturally solid people we have, who will best know how to ask questions of prospective pastors, and who will look out for the doctrinal well-being and leadership of this church.
And then: remember that we put the “Baptist Faith & Message 2000 Edition” in our Church Constitution as our official church statement of faith. Hold fast to that. Make sure that your next pastor adheres to that doctrinal statement without reservation. Nominating Committee, be sure that all of the Sunday school teachers we recruit in the days ahead hold to the Baptist Faith & Message 2000, and teach in accordance with it and not contrary to it. Do not let it become one of those things that is “in the Constitution” but which no one really follows — which happens in a lot of churches. Use that doctrinal statement as a safeguard to help keep this church in the “narrow road” of historic, Baptist, Biblical, doctrine.
And an another important commitment is to continue to train every prospective new member in the “Discovering The Ridge” class. This is one of the most important steps we have taken in any church I have ever been a part of. This helps make sure that no “wolves,” as Paul called them here, can just come up to the front and join the church on the spur of the moment without anyone knowing who they are or what they believe. It is a vital protection for our church. Our deacon leadership will have this material, and they are going to keep this practice going during the interim time. Do not let it fall to the wayside.
Take all of these steps and more, to guard this church and keep it solidly in the realm of True Doctrine. A lot of people these days think it doesn’t matter what you believe. That couldn’t be more false. Remember, Jesus rebuked the church at Pergamum, because they had some who held the teaching of Baalam, and who held the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Jesus says it matters to Him what we believe, and what we teach — and so it should matter to us. What we believe will shape everything that we do. Make sure that this church continues to hold to true, Biblical doctrine.
III. True Assurance
At the end of his message Paul said in :32 “And now I commend you to God, and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”
Paul loved these people; he really did. But God was calling him away to minister elsewhere. And so he gathered them together and said, I am committing you to God. His hope that they were going to be ok in the end, was not in himself, or in them, but in GOD, to whom he was entrusting them. He said, “I commend you to God.”
And I feel much the same way. I love this place, and I love this people. But just like Paul here, God is calling me to minister elsewhere in His plan. And like Paul, my hope and confidence for you as individuals and for this church is not in me or what I have done, or in YOU and your abilities, but in GOD. “I commend you to God, and to the word of His grace.”
GOD is where our confidence has to be. We can’t put our confidence and hope anywhere else, or it will fail us.
Way back in the 1970’s, Amy Grant had a song called “Faith Walking People,” and it has some lyrics in it that I have never forgotten, and which I think every Christian needs to hear and heed. It says:
“Say goodbye to the feelings, ‘cause the feelings go away;
Say goodbye to the people, ‘cause the people never stay.”
There’s a lot of wisdom in that; and I think we’d all be blessed to adhere to it. To be a solid Christian, you have to rise above your “feelings,” because your feelings can change with every new day. You have to live your life based on the facts of God’s word. And you can’t base your faith on any pastor, deacon, or teacher, because people come and go, in God’s plan. Our faith has to be in GOD, not any other person. And we need to entrust those whom we love, to GOD, and trust His purposes and His working in their lives.
I loved the little post that Patti Ragland put up on Facebook after she heard that Cheryl & I were moving to Texas. Among other very nice things, she wrote: “While I will miss him terribly I know there is someone that needs him more and is waiting for God to place him in their life for such a time as this.”
I love Patti’s outlook there, because it expresses TRUST in God; that though she may not like it, she trusts that God has a purpose in my going, that will advance His kingdom and accomplish His will.
This is just like what Paul is saying here: “Now I entrust you to God.” We can’t always be with people, to help them or bless them or be blessed by them — but we can and should entrust them to God. HE has a purpose for them; HE is working in their lives. We need to trust God’s purposes, and entrust those we love to Him.
You church members should do that with your pastor, like Mrs. Patti is doing; I need to do that with this church. There is a big part of me that does not want to leave here; that wants to see what I have started keep going: in our doctrine and our New Member classes, in discipleship, in people who have been saved and baptized and who are walking with God in His word, who are stepping up to become leaders and disciplers and leading classes. There are so many of you I wish I could keep shepherding and I hate to leave. But MY attitude needs to be that of Paul here: “And now I entrust you to God, and to the word of His grace …”. I can’t be everywhere in the world. God is calling me to Texas; I am as certain of that as I have been of any decision I have ever made in ministry. So with the same faith with which I go, I have to trust that God has purposes for you that He will accomplish through my going; so I will entrust you to God, and to the word of His grace.
And this doesn’t just apply to church. Some of us need to do that with our kids. Maybe they are away from God right now, and are straying. Pray this verse for them: “I commit you to God, and to the word of His grace.” Make that your prayer for them on a regular basis: “I commend you to God.”
And you know what? Paul wrote in II Timothy 1:12 “For I know Whom I have believed, and I am convinced that He is able to keep what I have entrusted to Him until that day.” When we entrust people and things to God, He knows how to keep them for us!
I remember when I was a little boy, someone gave me a silver dollar. And I thought that silver dollar was so neat; I treasured it. And I was afraid that I would spend it on something foolish, or lose it, so I gave it to my dad, and said, “Dad, will you keep this for me?” And he said he would. Time went by. In fact, over 40 years went by. I had actually forgotten all about that silver dollar. But my dad did not forget. And a couple of years before he died, I got a little package in the mail from my dad, and in that little package, was that silver dollar. He enclosed a little note in his distinctive block print handwriting, that said, “You asked me to keep this for you, so you wouldn’t lose it. I think it’s time to give it back.” I’ll never forget that. My dad DID keep what I had entrusted to him.
And what my dad did with that silver dollar is just an earthly picture of what our Heavenly Father will do with what we entrust to Him. We can trust God, to KEEP whatever we entrust into His care:
— so trust your eternal soul to Him; give Him your soul, and He’ll keep it, and Jesus said no one will be able pluck it from His hand.
— trust those whom you love to Him; He knows how to keep them and convict them and work in their life.
— and today we can trust our church to Him. He knows how to continue His work here.
What do you need to trust God with today? Paul told the Ephesians, “And now I commend you to God …”. And this God is the One he said “is able to keep what we entrust to Him until that day.” THAT is our confidence and our hope and our trust: for this pastor, for this church, for our loved ones, for anything else — commit it to God, Who is able to keep whatever we entrust to Him until that day. HE is our true assurance and our confident hope for the future.
Acts 20:36 says “And when had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all.”
I think that would be a great way for us to respond to this scripture. Let’s follow their example in Acts, and pray: for us, for our church, for the Pastor Search Committee election next week; for our staff and deacon leadership in the interim time; for our children and other loved ones on our hearts whom we need to commit to God; and for whatever other areas of our lives we need to trust Him with.
If you need to commit your life to Jesus or make a spiritual decision of some kind, come and share that with me or one of our folks here. But let’s make these next moments a time praying for ourselves, our loved ones, and our church, as we respond to God’s word.