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Lent - Sufficiency

God's sufficiency is learned, not earned. God offers above and beyond in Jesus. Our belief is sufficient to God for our salvation. But it always bears fruit in actions.

Corby Stephens
Corby Stephens
12 min read
Lent - Sufficiency
Photo by Dawn McDonald / Unsplash

Table of Contents

The following text is the raw, unedited transcript from a sermon given on March 5th, 2023. You can also listen to the audio. Better yet, subscribe to the podcast! :-)

Today's collect really got me thinking. I love all the collects. I just think they're beautiful. I'm gonna read, I'll read most of it again. “Almighty God. You know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves.” Isn't that the truth? “Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls.” How often do we think that way that it's physically but also spiritually, I don't know about you, but I tend to focus on the physical way more than the spiritual. But that's me. “That we may be defended from all adversities that may happen to the body and from all evil thoughts that may assault and hurt the soul.” Man again, the outward diversities and the evil thoughts that may assault and hurt the soul. The idea being that we don't have the strength in ourselves to do this. In other words, we’re not sufficient. And I started to kind of chew on that idea as, as I looked at the different readings. The plain obvious meaning of most of the readings today have to do with faith. Abraham being called by God to go into the promised land. Paul expounds on that in the Romans reading from earlier. Even Jesus talks, that's what John 3:16, “whoever believes in him” and the Psalm especially talks about putting your trust in him. But if you dig a little deeper, which is, there's an ancient Bible study method, I can't remember the Hebrew words for it, but there's, it starts with the plain meaning, but you can dig a little deeper these four different layers and just find more. And so as I did that, I got stuck on the idea of sufficiency, that God is sufficient and we are by ourselves are not, but we can, but we tap into his sufficiency or if you want to flip that around, he gives to us his sufficiency.

God’s Sufficiency for Abraham

So in the Genesis reading that whole, I love Genesis it’s probably one of my favorite books of the Bible, that and Daniel, God tells Abram, Abram at that point, to pack up and move to this other place. And he tells him someday your descendants are gonna own this land. Now, that would kind of be like driving through Seattle and God saying someday your descendants are gonna own this land. Okay. So that's good for them. What about me again? That's me being selfish. But that's kind of that, that would be just okay someday my descendants will have this and I'm sort of just passing through here.

But when God does this he stops and where he camps, he builds this little altar. And we've talked about these little altars before. They're like little landmarks and little reminders so that when he's passing through or when his descendants pass through, they see this landmark and they go, why did Grandpa Abraham build that? Well, because this is where God called him to go and do this thing. Abraham had to rely on God's sufficiency, didn't he? He really didn't have any role to play. In fact, eventually he's 75 at that point when he's 99 is when he and his wife, Sarah eventually have a kid. That's almost 25 years later. That's a lot of waiting. It's a lot of patience. I mean, we're, we're coming up on 30 years of marriage and that feels like a long time. He had to wait. Not like in a bad way, a long time. Sorry, I got, I can see the side eye through the mask. I know, I know the look, not like it's been forever, but like it's I could break into like a Bryan Adams song, but I won't do that. What was I saying? Abraham? That's right. He had to wait for that promise to even begin to be fulfilled, but he already trusted in God. He already trusted in God's sufficiency.

God does something really cool later on in his life. He changes his name from Abram to Abraham and he changes Sarah's name to Sarah or Sarah. He, and the difference is really just one little sound in the middle and it's the h, it's the, which is a Hebrew letter and it's, it's has to do with breath. God puts breath in the middle of his name and her name, he puts his breath goes from Abram to Abra-Ham. Sarai to Sara-Hi, and when God calls us, I think that's a beautiful picture of He puts his breath in us. He puts his spirit in us again and calls us to go forth and do. And that requires trusting in God's sufficiency, doesn't it? It absolutely does because we're not sufficient on our own. Abraham wasn't sufficient on his own. We definitely aren't.

Trust Includes Sufficiency

The Psalm reflects this idea of sufficiency and trusting in the Lord. There it is, they had one verse. I wanted to highlight particular probably should turn there in advance, but I didn’t.

Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in his steadfast love that he may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine. Our soul waits for the Lord. He is our help and our shield, our sufficiency for our heart is glad in Him because we trust in his holy name.

That's again, it's, it's not new but it's, it's sometimes it sounds passive like there's nothing I can do. God has to do the work and there is an element of truth to that, but it is something that we do, isn't it? We trust, we do. And that doesn't make, that doesn't force God to give us anything. He just out of his love and out of his grace does.

Sufficiency Is A Partnership

When we look at the Romans passage, that's what Paul is talking about. He gives this illustration of, if somebody goes to work at a job and they get paid that payment isn't a gift, would that be weird? Like here's your paycheck wrapped up in a bow, just, just to be nice. Thank you. I worked for this like this. I earned this right. In a sense, faith is kind of the same way as what he's saying that when we believe when we put our faith and our trust, that is a kind of work that God then gives back to us His righteousness.

You can't fake faith. Can you? Not to God. You can't fake belief. He knows the difference and that's where either righteousness is given or not. Now, when James who is a wonderful writer, well, Peter is actually who was going to point to kind of doesn't say the opposite. But he says the other half of that, James likes to say, you know, that faith without works is dead. Like people, you can't just go around, “I believe that's enough I can do whatever I want.” True faith produces true works just like if you say you love your spouse or you love your kid or whoever, that's going to be reflected in actual actions, isn't it?

So it is with faith. Faith produces good works, which we should do. I mean, there, there is an element of responsibility on our part and this is where the sufficiency is sort of like a double sided coin. Because the prayer is all about, the colic is all about, we can't do it. We have no power in ourselves to help ourselves. That's absolutely true. But at the same time, we do have some ownership, some responsibility in this.

In 2nd Peter, In Chapter one, Peter gives us this wonderful sort of list. In verse five, he says, “for this very reason,” talking about how everything we need comes from God and from his word, “for this very reason, make every effort,” how much effort, every effort, all the efforts “to supplement your faith with virtue and with virtue, knowledge and knowledge, self control.” Oh. Self control. Wait, aren't we supposed to rely on the Holy Spirit to do everything for us? Not entirely, not in, not exclusively, I guess is what I should say because here we're flat out told, build the muscle of self control, control of the self.

It's, it's, you can't blame God for everything that you do wrong. “Well, if God would have, he could have stopped me if he wanted to.” Well, you could have exercise self control and self control. “Steadfastness with godliness and godliness, with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being in, keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” So there is the sense in which we do have ownership in this.

We have a responsibility in our relationship with God like you do in any relationship. You don't just sit there and mooch off the other person, like you give you participate. There is an element of sufficiency in that.

Is God’s Weird Plan Sufficient For You?

Ultimately, in, you know, probably the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16, is demonstrates God's abundant sufficiency and our lack of sufficiency. He makes a really weird allusion to a story in the book of Numbers about the serpent, a bronze serpent and your, your homework if you want to is to go back and read Numbers 21 verses four through 9 and see how that story compares to Jesus on the cross.

I'm going to give you some examples, but it's good for you to do on, on your own as well. And John, you ever do that? I want to find John 3:16, but I went to John 16 Instead of 3:16. And I wonder why it's not the right verse. He says in John 3:14.

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness. So must the son of man be lifted up that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

Now, this is where, work with me on this, sufficiency is not obvious, but it's very necessary because you have to believe in God's word and trust that obeying it is sufficient to get where God wants us to be.

So, here's this, here's a summary of the story from Numbers. It's the Israelites in the wilderness. They're griping, they're complaining, “you've led us out here to die.” Moses goes to God on their behalf and God says, nope, here's what's gonna happen. I'm gonna send poisonous snakes, fiery serpents, fiery, probably because their bite felt like it was burning so fiery serpents and a whole bunch of people died. But he said, here's what I want you to do. Moses. I want you to make a bronze serpent, a serpent out of bronze, stick it on a big pole and put that pole up so that whenever somebody is bitten, when they look at it, they will be healed.

That sounds crazy. It almost sounds like idolatry. Like why is God telling him to, to look at this bronze serpent? Because isn't a serpent sin? Isn't that isn't Satan a serpent? Why, why would you do that? And really all I have to do is look, like you, I can imagine people having been bitten. Go, “nope, not gonna look. I don't believe that. That's ridiculous. That's stupid. I'm not gonna look at that, that thing” and, and died out of their own ignorance. All you have to do, you have to believe that what God says is sufficient.

It is enough and you don't have enough. You just, you have to do that thing. This is where the sufficiency is now. My favorite little connection here is that bronze is typically used for judgment in the Old Testament. All the, all the elements in the Tabernacle and the temple that are made of bronze have to do with judgment. And the serpent is a picture of sin. So you have a picture of sin being judged. Does that remind you of anybody else? That this is why it says “for God so loved the world,” not “so much,” but “for God in this way, loved the world, as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so even in this way, must the Son of man be lifted up. For God, in this way, loved the world that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.

So we're not being asked to look at a bronze serpent. We're being asked to look at a dying Messiah up on the cross, which sounds equally as crazy as looking at a bronze serpent upon a pole, but that is sufficient. That is enough. We have to believe in that. And then God's righteousness, God's strength, God's breath fills us up. I love that picture. If you continue in that reading in John 3 “for God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world. But in order that the world might be saved through him.” So Jesus didn't come to, to send people to hell, to point out how bad they are. He came to point out their need for him. His own sufficiency. “Guess what world, I'm sufficient. I'm enough.”

God's sufficiency is learned, not earned.

This might sound overly preachy, but when I wrote it down, it sounded kind of cool. God's sufficiency is learned, not earned. God's sufficiency is learned, not earned. Isn't that true? Like God offers above and beyond, in Jesus, above and beyond. Our belief is sufficient to God for our salvation. But it always bears fruit in actions like our, our belief, God's like, that's, that's all I want. I want your heart, I want your mind. I want you to believe in me and that is enough. We are insufficient on our own.

We often bring, we often bring things we want God to accept and if He doesn't, then we might deem Him insufficient. “Well, God, I am this way and I'm going to stay this way and you have to accept me.” God says, “nope, I don't have to do anything. I'm God, what are you gonna do?” We have to come to Him with everything, just, here, whatever you want to do with this mess. That is me, take it and do something good and do something right with it, even if it is taking something away.

One, a little story to kind of illustrate this. When would that have been 1999? 2000 ish. We were pastoring at a little Baptist church out in the rural Oregon and my time there was coming to an end and everything was good and everything was fine. And I somebody from another church in across the river in Washington, in Camas, called me and said, “hey, we'd like you to interview to be the youth pastor here.” I'm like, okay. Went through several rounds of interviews and they eventually said you got the job. We're gonna hire you. I'm like, great because I was looking for, to, to move on from this place.

And thank you, Lord. He's called, he's done something. I'm responding to this call and the church said, “Okay. On this particular day, we're gonna send a bunch of guys with pickup trucks and help you move.” Like, even better. Okay, good. So we gave notice on our rental house, gave resigned at our church in advance. And I think we put a little deposit down on an apartment and the day came and nobody showed up. Call, ring, ring, ring, no answer, no answer, no answer, finally an answer. “Yeah, we changed our minds.”

Oh, okay. Thanks. That was it. No explanation. No, nothing. So here we are two little kids having given notice on a job and a place to live and no job. I don't know if you can say this in church, but I'm gonna say, that sucked like a lot. I really broke down that day. I don't know exactly how you felt, but I'm sure you felt pretty panicked and scared. Like, what are we gonna do? Like the Lord called and something was gonna happen and then nope, he didn't feel very sufficient at that point to me, he has since taught me that he is, which is why I say God's sufficiency is learned, not earned and sometimes it is learned by those kinds of situations.

I'm not alone in this. I'm sure you all might have similar stories. We read similar stories in the Bible of God having called people and things not going according to their plan, but ultimately go to God's plan and it's a wonderful thing. Those lessons are hard to go through, but to learn God's sufficiency is to learn to trust in Him, to really believe “you are enough.” And in the words of Job, “the Lord gives the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” It's not cliche.

The longer you walk with Him, the more you will realize that is actually pretty true. So as we continue to celebrate, as we go through this season of Lent and repentance, and let's lean into God's sufficiency, not just focusing on our lack of, but focusing on God's over and abundant sufficiency for us. Recognize that we need him. That's the point of today. Guess what we need? God. I could have said that and said, amen a long time ago. But I said other stuff. So there we go.



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