NEW ORLEANS (BP) -- Russell Moore, in chapel at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, urged listeners not to depend on the wrong power for ministry and service.
"When we buy into the premises of the world, the world's form of power, the world's form of strength, and the world's form of influence, we buy into something that not only is a lie, it also ultimately harms us," said Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
Moore noted that the Mark 5:1-20 account of Jesus' encounter with the Gerasene demoniac paints a picture of a man "as far gone as possible" who was unclean, living in a graveyard, isolated, alone, and yet with a physical strength no chains could hold. Moore then connected the man's lostness with every believer's former state.
"That's our story," Moore said in his Oct. 10 message. "That's where we come from."
The church's true strength, he noted, is found in believers' common identity of brokenness.
"One of the most powerful things we have as the church of Jesus Christ is the ability to say to those who are considering the claim of the Gospel what it means to belong, what it means to have a new household, what it means to have a new family and what it means to have brothers and sisters who bear one another's burdens," Moore said.
Moore told of an experience as a pastor years ago when a visitor misinterpreted the abbreviation "D.T." in the church bulletin to refer to a "detox" meeting rather than Discipleship Training. At first he was embarrassed that the woman thought core church leaders attended the "detox" meeting. Moore was further embarrassed when he realized how hard he had worked to convince the woman that the congregation was "a good church."
Every believer is "in detox" from something, Moore said, whether it is idolatry, pride, anger, unforgiveness, bitterness, quarrelsomeness or another issue.
"In reality, the power that we have in that congregation is not our togetherness, but our brokenness and woundedness in need of the Gospel and grace of Jesus Christ," Moore said, noting that believers may give in to fear or discouragement because they have forgotten where they've come from and have forgotten that strength lies in God's grace.
Pointing to the passage, Moore said a witness on the scene might have thought the demoniac "held all the power" because people feared him, his formidable strength, and even the graveyard where he lived.
Jesus, on the other hand, simply spoke, Moore said.
"Jesus had no fear of the power of death … of the unclean spirits … of contamination by the graveyard … of being seen with the demonized man," he said.
Jesus' response to the demoniac was the same response God gave Adam in the Garden of Eden, Moore said. Each was a personal encounter rather than a display of power, with Jesus asking the demoniac, "What is your name?"
The solution to sin, he said, is grace through Christ, not power as the world defines it.
"One of the crucial aspects of our ministry, whatever sort of ministry God has put you in, is to be separate from sin, but not separate from sinners," Moore said.
"One of the messages we have to give to the outside world is what it looks like for the church of Jesus Christ to be in an actual community that knows one another and loves one another and forgives one another and carries one another's burdens and crosses."
Freed from his demons, the man wanted to go with Jesus rather than stay with people who knew his past, a reaction Moore said he understood. But the new start afforded to believers is a call "to bear witness to the power of the Gospel," he said.
Although some might prefer to forget past shame and failures, Moore said past struggles will be the very point at which God's power to a needy world will be demonstrated.
"Your ministry will probably enable you to show that God's power is sufficient even in your point of greatest weakness, what you wish and hope that no one would know about," Moore said. "[T]he message that we have for the outside world is not our displays of power … [or] how together we appear to be.
"The message we have for the outside world is that we are crucified with Jesus Christ and therefore we no longer live, but He lives in us, that Christ in us is the hope of glory and we are crucified sinners who stand only by God's grace."
Moore concluded, "That's grace. That's mercy. You might even call it 'detox.'"
Visit www.nobts.edu to hear the sermon in its entirety.
Marilyn Stewart is assistant director of public relations for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.