The Life You Were Meant to Live part 1
Gaining God's Approval
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
June 22, 2008

Main Passage: 2 Timothy 2:15-19 (NLT)

I watched some of the NHL Draft this weekend. Yes, I know. Riveting television. Not all that exciting for us watching, but absolutely thrilling for the players being drafted.

Actually, while we joke about it not being all that exciting to watch, the hockey fans in Ottawa would apparently disagree. Get this… tickets were handed out for free for people to attend the draft. But by this past Wednesday, all the tickets were given out and they started to reappear on eBay for $125, $130. For a draft! Must be a little more riveting than I thought.

Anyway, I actually did watch some of it, and I thought it was interesting what the commentators said about one player. I don’t even remember the player’s name, but when his name was called and he walked up to the platform to receive the sweater for his new team, Bob MacKenzie (on TSN) talked about how this player has learned that he’s going to have to rely on more than natural talent.

Now, what was Bob talking about there? He was talking about how even though this player is talented, it’s also going to take a lot of work for him to make it in the NHL. And he went on to talk about how this player has begun to train and how he’s gotten into better shape and how he’s become very disciplined in his preparation to play in the NHL. He’s talented, but it’s going to take a lot more than that.

And I got to thinking, that’s true for Christ followers, too. I mean, we are all gifted by God’s grace… He has freely extended His grace to each of us offering us salvation. But that doesn’t mean that it’s easy to live up to our full potential as Christ followers. Salvation is a free gift, but living and growing and maturing as a Christian takes work.

Earlier this morning we took the time to recognize and honour our students. They are progressing in their schooling and are going through a very formative time in their lives. And someday, hopefully, they’ll receive that slip of paper that says their schooling is complete. But is it really? Because here’s what I believe: For the best of us, our schooling never ends. The best of us are life-long learners. The best of us are always students… keenly aware that there’s always room for growth. That’s true in life and that’s true in the Kingdom of God.

You see, it’s easy to become a Christian. But to live and grow as a Christian takes work.

The passage that Jim read for us early talked about this very thing. Jim read some of the words that the Apostle Paul wrote to one of his young protégés, Timothy. And what Paul told Timothy was what it would take to gain the approval of God. Not just to gain the salvation of God, but to gain the approval of God.

So what we’re going to do this morning is work our way through the verses Jim read and we’re going to break them down and see what it takes to gain the approval of God.

What Does God Want from Us?

1.    God is looking for focused effort

Or if you prefer, God is looking for hard work. He wants you to focus in on studying hard and serving hard. In the old King James translation of the Bible…

2 Timothy 2:15 (KJV)
Study to shew thyself approved unto God…

It’s talking about studying the Word of God and the ways of God.

Now, let me ask you, when you have to really study something… maybe in school you’re preparing for an exam or you’re trying to get current in the latest strategies and technologies at work or you’re trying to get a project done at home and you’re trying to find out how to do it… when you really have to study something, do you do it best when you’re distracted by other things or when you’re focused in on the task at hand? Obviously you do your best when you’re focused in. So what God is saying is, “Focus in. Give focused, concentrated effort to studying my Word and my ways.”

The New Living translation that Jim read for us earlier translates the same verse this way…

2 Timothy 2:15 (NLT)
Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker…

This is what I know: God does not want His followers to be lazy about following Him. He doesn’t want us to receive the salvation that cost Him so much, only to coast through the rest of our lives. He wants us to study and learn and grow. He wants us to serve Him and others wholeheartedly.

Romans 12:11 (NLT)
Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically.

The passage that Jim read for us was from the second letter in our Bibles that Paul wrote to Timothy. In the first letter in chapter four, Paul told Timothy…

1 Timothy 4:7-10 (NLT)
Do not waste time arguing over godless ideas and old wives’ tales. Instead, train yourself to be godly. “Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.” This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it. This is why we work hard and continue to struggle…

So He wants us to view our spiritual training like training for the Olympics. If you’re training for the Olympics… or even if you’re just training to get into shape… what do you need to do? You’ve got to go to the gym. How often? Is once every three or four weeks going to do the job? No, you’ve got to be at it several times a week. You’ve got to be at it daily.

What else do you have to do? You have to eat right. You’ve got to eat foods that contribute to your health and don’t take away from it. You’ve got to be taking in and ingesting beneficial food. Otherwise, you’re not going to have the stamina, you’re not going to have the energy, you’re not going to have the motivation to keep at it.

So the spiritual parallel is that reading God’s Word and worshipping Him and serving Him once a month or even once a week is not enough. That’s not what He expects of you. He expects you to work hard and train hard for godliness. He expects you to feed on the goodness of His Word daily. He expects you to listen to good teachings and avoid the bad. That means Sunday morning, that means personal Bible study, that means LIFE Groups and seminars and conferences, that means reading or listening to good books…

It means that we don’t do all this in a flippant, haphazard way, but in a focused, committed, hard-working way. If you want to gain God’s approval, you’re going to give a focused effort in studying the Word of God and the ways of God and serving Him daily.

2.    God is looking for desire to grow

I was thinking about something this week… I was thinking about this: What if marriage was a religion? What if marriage wasn’t based on a relationship but instead was a religion? We usually think of religion as being a list of rules of dos and don’ts. So what if marriage was like that? What if marriage meant you had a checklist you had to go through every day…

  • Give your spouse kiss before leaving the house.
  • Always put the seat down.
  • Never be late for dinner.
  • Take out the garbage on days ending with “y”.

What if you had a whole list of things like that… all good things… but you had a list that you had to constantly keep track of? What if your marriage wasn’t about the relationship but was about this list of dos and don’ts? What would happen? There’d be no joy in that kind of marriage. There’d be no motivation. There’d be no desire to grow. That kind of marriage would absolutely stifle the relationship.

Now, are those things bad? No, those all sound like reasonable expectations in a marriage. But why do you do them? You do them because of the relationship, not because they’re on some stupid list. You do them because you love your spouse and because you want your marriage relationship to grow and expand and develop.

A lot of people think that God is about religion. He’s not. He’s about relationship. He knows us and He wants us to know Him. And yes, He gives us some guidelines or commandments about how to develop a strong healthy relationship. But it’s not about the commandments; it’s about the relationship.

And actually, if you want to talk about the Bible as a book of rules, there are relatively few rules or commandments in there. The majority of the Bible is a narrative about our relationship with God. God is all about relationship, and He wants us to be about relationship, too. He doesn’t want us to serve Him and worship Him and study His Word just out of some sense of obligation, He wants us to do those things out of desire… out of a desire to grow in our relationship with Him.

2 Timothy 2:15 (NIV)
Do your best…

And you know what? You can’t do your best without desire.

Think about it: Have you ever set out to do something that you didn’t really want to do? How well did you do it? Have you ever tried to diet without really having the desire to follow it through? Have you ever tried to cut your expenses without the desire for financial health? It just doesn’t happen.

Philippians 3:10 (NIV)
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection…

Hebrews 6:1 (NLT)
So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding.

You know what I hear the writer saying there? I hear him saying, “I’m tired of going over the same things over and over again. I’m tired of living at this level of spirituality. I want to move on. I want to grow. I want to go deeper. I desire more.”

How about you? Are you satisfied to stay where you’re at week after week, month after month, year after year? Or do you want to grow? Do you desire more? God is looking for you to desire more.

3.    God is looking for a commitment to the Truth

2 Timothy 2:15 (NIV)
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

That verse talked about being an approved worker. It means a craftsman who is gifted and is dedicated to doing excellent work.

When Shera and I first moved here seven years ago, we were driving a 1984 Toyota. And it was a great car. But just by virtue of its age, it needed work from time to time. So we knew we needed to find a good, honest mechanic, and so we asked for recommendations. We got a strong recommendation for one particular garage, so that’s where we’ve been taking our cars ever since.

Now, a quick look in the phonebook will tell you that there are a lot of garages in the Charlottetown area. But this is the one we go to. Why? Because of the high quality of service. Because the people who work there take pride in what they do. They are dedicated to doing the job and doing it right. As far as I can tell, they are “approved workers” who does not need to be ashamed because they correctly handle the cars that come into their shop.

God has called us to be approved workers… to never be ashamed because we correctly handle the Word of Truth. And that means you’ve got to know the truth to begin with. You’ve got to know what you believe and why you believe what you believe.

That’s why we dedicated the past six weeks here to examining some of the false spiritual claims that are out there. So we can learn how to recognize the difference between truth and error. So we can discern when something is false and so we can clearly explain what the truth really is.

1 Peter 3:15-16 (NLT)
…you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way.

First, I must know the Truth of God’s Word.
Second, I must apply it to my own life.
Third, I must diligently study it.
Fourth, I must clearly and respectfully teach it.

And can I remind you of the first three words of 2 Timothy 2:15? It says…

2 Timothy 2:15 (NIV)
Do your best…

You see, God’s not asking you to be Billy Graham. He’s not asking you to be Bill Hybels. He’s not asking you to be Rick Warren. He’s not even asking you to be the person sitting beside you this morning. He’s asking you to do your best, not their best. And you know what? You can do better what God has called you to do than they can, anyway. So do your best to handle the truth of God’s word correctly.

4.    God is looking for Integrity

There’s an old saying that our walk must match our talk. There has to be a consistency between what we say we believe and how we live. And that’s exactly what Paul’s getting at in verses 16 and 17…

2 Timothy 2:16-17 (MSG)
Words are not mere words, you know. If they're not backed by a godly life, they accumulate as poison in the soul.

God wants our walk to match our talk. He wants us to live lives of integrity.

1 Chronicles 29:17 (NLT)
I know, my God, that you examine our hearts and rejoice when you find integrity there.

So do a self-evaluation. How do you rate on the Integrity Scale?

You say you value generosity? When was the last time you gave to someone in need?
You say you value honesty? How honest are you when tax time comes around?
You say you value family? How often do you cheat your family in favour of work?
You say you value loyalty? How ready are you to stand up for a friend who’s being berated?
You say you value courage? How afraid are you to speak up when it really matters?
You say you detest gossip? But how quickly do you get sucked in when it starts?
You say you value your friendships? How available are you to help them when they fall, to listen when they need an ear, or to load a truck when they need to move?
You say you value God’s Word? When was the last time you read it when you were sitting at home?
You say you value your Church family? But how often is it the first to go when other things crowd in?
You say you want to serve God? How ready are you to obey Him when it doesn’t fit your calendar or your budget?

You see, integrity is a lot more than saying the right things. It’s doing the right things. It’s being the right person.

I was proud of my wife this week. Let me tell you why. She went shopping at one of the shops downtown, and when she got home she looked at the receipt and realized that they made a $30 mistake in what they charged her. They didn’t charge her too much; they charged her too little. How many people would be thrilled about a mistake like that? I mean, I know a lot of people who demand their 30 bucks back when they were charged too much, but not many people would go out of their way to go back to the store to make up the difference when they were undercharged. But that’s exactly what Shera did. That’s what someone with integrity does.

Proverbs 11:20 (NLT)
The Lord detests people with crooked hearts, but he delights in those with integrity.

If you want to gain God’s approval, you’ve got to be a person of integrity.

5.    God is looking for Self-Control

Now, this really goes along with integrity. But what I’m referring to specifically is not getting sucked in to wrong behaviour. Not giving in to sin. And even when it’s not necessarily sinful, being able to resist things that aren’t beneficial.

2 Timothy 2:16 (NLT)
Avoid worthless, foolish talk that only leads to more godless behavior. This kind of talk spreads like cancer…

Have you ever been in a conversation like that? I know I have. I know I’ve left some conversations asking myself, “What was the point? Why did I let myself get sucked into that?”

Proverbs 25:28 (NLT)
A person without self-control is like a city with broken-down walls.

A person with no self-control is defenseless and vulnerable to any number of temptations and attacks and distractions.

But the truth is, God wants to equip us with self-control when it comes to the things we say and the things we do and even the things we think.

Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

God wants to produce all of that including self-control in your life. But you know what? It’s not going to happen unless you cooperate. Unless you start to use the self-control He’s already given you. He’ll produce more in you as you use what’s already there.

Think about it like this. Why do you think we use the phrase “exercise self-control”? Why is it exercise? Because you get stronger the more you do it. If you want God to help you develop more self-control, start using what He’s already given you.

6.    God is looking for Faithfulness

If you want to gain God’s approval, you will prove yourself faithful to Him, to His Word, and to His ways.

2 Timothy 2:16-19 (NLT)
Avoid worthless, foolish talk that only leads to more godless behavior. This kind of talk spreads like cancer, as in the case of Hymenaeus and Philetus. They have left the path of truth… “All who belong to the Lord must turn away from evil.”

These two people that Paul writes about were teachers in the Church. They were leaders. But then they got lured away by false beliefs. They got sucked in by lies, kind of like we’ve been talking about for the past several weeks. We’ve looked at what Oprah used to believe and what she believes now. She used to believe in the Truth of God’s Word, but then she started to listen to what Colossians chapter 2:8 describes as “empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense.” She allowed herself to be deceived and she left the path of truth.

But what God wants of you and expects of you is that you will turn away from evil lies and from false doctrines. He’s looking for you to be faithful to Him.

2 Chronicles 16:9 (NLT)
The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.

Okay, so let’s say to take these words that Paul wrote to Timothy and you apply them to your own life. Let’s say you commit yourself to God’s word and you study it faithfully, that you live your life with integrity of heart, that you exude and obvious desire to grow and to learn and to remain true to God… what happens then? Well, take a look at what Paul said next…

2 Timothy 2:20-21 (NLT)
In a wealthy home some utensils are made of gold and silver, and some are made of wood and clay… If you keep yourself pure, you will be a special utensil for honorable use. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work.

If you want your life to really matter… if you want God to use you to make a difference in this world… then this is how you have to live. You’ve got to be faithful. You’ve got to be growing. You’ve got to be committed to the truth. You’ve got to be willing to put in the effort. And you’ve got to be available for God to use you however He wants.



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