Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Eyes Opened and Countenance Lifted (Ephesians 1:18)

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,” (Ephesians 1:18, NASB95)

Not only was Paul praying for them that they would grow in their understanding and knowledge of God in Christ, but that the “eyes of their hearts might be enlightened….” In thinking of this I thought first of the great joy in these words. Being around little babies, it is amazing to see how people’s faces light up when they see them. These little lives that are all eyes taking in all that they see bring great joy to those who get to stare into them. Of course, many take great liberties by ticking toes or grabbing cheeks, but it is their precious little faces and the apparent innocence of them that screams loudly of the joy in their new lives. It is this kind of picture that I have of my heart being opened to see who my God is and what He has done for me.

In contrast, we don’t have to look far to find people that are downcast and in a sense their hearts are heavy with darkness such that there appears to be no life nor light in them. In October of last year the Associated Press reported that the U.S. suicide rate had reached its highest percentage level in 25 years, rising to “12.6 suicide deaths per 100,000 Americans.” 12.6 may seem like a small number in comparison with 100,000 people, but consider that the U.S. population according to the U.S. Population clock on the date of that report’s release was 319,578,767. Taking the liberty to break this down a bit that would have meant that they estimated over 40,000 suicides for that previous year which is greater than the entire population of Grants Pass, Oregon where I live (at just over 35,000 in 2013). This does not include those who attempted to do so, those who thought seriously about it, or those who took the lives of others. It also does not include the huge numbers of expectant mothers who saw their lives as something different unless they took the life of their unborn child. All of these numbers point to a totally different picture, one that is founded in desperation, shattered lives and dreams, and a sense of hopelessness and having their hands tied in one way or another. For them to some degree there at least passed through their minds and weighed heavy on their hearts the sense that they had no other reasonable option. Yet for those who are still taking breath there remains hope—the hope that our God would open the eyes of their hearts as well.

In 2 Corinthians 4 we have a contrast between those whose hearts have been illuminated by God to know the hope of being called by Him and our rich inheritance in Christ and those who eyes remained darkened. “Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:1–6, NASB95)

What an amazing thing it is that God chose men such as Paul to reach into the lives of others with the truth of who God is knowing that as he (and others) did and do this the light bulb of God’s Spirit illuminating the hearts of those who hear. Paul rejoiced in the knowledge that the Ephesians believers had been granted such light, and he prayed that they would then walk in the light as they grew in their knowledge and understanding of God. In his prayer we see this desire that they not listen to the voices of darkness and have their hearts darkened, but that they would continually be illumined by the Spirit of God working in them as they lived with hope and a growing understanding of their great inheritance.

Returning to Corinthians, Paul continued, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves;” … “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:7, 16–18, NASB95)

We are reminded in Scripture that the life that we live is not one that we live in the flesh (or our own strength and understanding) but one that we live with our eyes fully on God as His Spirit works. In Galatians 2:20 we read, ““I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20, NASB95) In walking through Ephesians we have been focusing somewhat on what it is to be “in Christ.” As we dig deeper and deeper into these verses of Ephesians and explore Paul’s desire for these and other believers (of which we read in his other letters), we see that being in Christ is a life turned toward Him as we trust in Him and walk before Him in the strength and wisdom which God supplies through His Spirit working in us. It is not a life muscled through in our strength as we grit our teeth for God, but a life of trust Him as we find our joy and hope in Him even in the most difficult circumstances, knowing that He will bring us through to the other side.

Paul encouraged these believers to keep their eyes on Christ and the great hope they have and Him. He told them as their eyes looked up their countenance as well would be lifted up as they looked forward expectantly to their great inheritance and trust Him for the strength for every day.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Wisdom Freely Given (Ephesians 1:17)

“that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him.” (Ephesians 1:17, NASB95)

Yesterday the focus was largely on Solomon, who, being given by God greater wisdom than any man before or since reached a time in his life where he got in the way of what God had given him. Along with his wisdom and understanding, he was also given great wealth which eventually led to him being the recipient of great adulation and him seeking after his own great pleasure. He began taking wife upon wife and concubine upon concubine each of them with their own god(s). “He had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines, and his wives turned his heart away. For when Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away after other gods; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been.” (1 Kings 11:3–4, NASB95) Nehemiah wrote of him when speaking to the children of Israel for doing the same thing, “Did not Solomon king of Israel sin regarding these things? Yet among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel; nevertheless the foreign women caused even him to sin.” (Nehemiah 13:26, NASB95) The commentary on Solomon at that point was that “his heart was not wholly devoted to the Lord.”

James also wrote about receiving wisdom from God and its relation to our devotion to God. “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.” (James 1:5–11, NASB95)

Here James tells us that God is very free in granting us wisdom. He says that God will give it to us generously and without reproach, but with the giving there is also an accompanying warning or condition. That condition is that we are to ask believing the wisdom that God gives us. The warning is if we waffle between the wisdom from God and that of ourselves our or other “counselors” we will become unstable as if being tossed to and from in the surf of the sea by strong and the accompanying persistent winds. The picture is that of us truly being unable to gain our footing because we are vacillating on which way to turn, when in reality we have been given a way but we just refuse to listen or accept and act on it. James calls this person a double-minded man, which is truly an apt description of one who is for all intent and purpose spiritually schizophrenic. The problem is not God giving us direction or leaving us in the dark, but our refusing first to seek Him or second that of listening to that which He freely gives us.

James goes on to tell the brother of humble circumstances to glory in his high position. This does not mean that he grows from humility to haughtiness, but that in the midst of his low position in the world God has lifted him up such that he has become his adopted child and heir to an eternal inheritance. The man is to rejoice in knowing what God has done for him, and in so doing give praise to God and glorify His name. In contrast to this, the person of high position is to humbly recognize that while the world thinks him a great success, he is in reality just like the low and humble man before God where neither of them can step on the scale of comparison in glory to that of their Lord and God. Whether in a high or low position before men, all of us are the same at the cross where we are fully loved and embraced by our God. All of us are equally fallen before Him and then in trusting His Son for salvation we’ve have all been granted the same forgiveness. Sure, God expects us to be good stewards of what He has given us according to what He has given us, but this does not change one bit who we are before Him with all of us coming before His throne because of His grace and mercy shown to us through His Son. Everything is a gift from God and none of it worthy of boasting other than to give Him the glory for what He has done.

Another key point about wisdom from God according to James is that He will not only give it to us freely, but He will also give it to us without reproach. As I have thought about this over the years I have thought about how the evil one works where he makes every attempt to drag us through the mud over every mistake we make. It is so easy to buy into his lies. But this is not who our God is. Our God will not wag His finger in our face nor will He insist we grovel before Him in order to show our remorse. In fact, we read in Scripture that God the Son is not only our Savior but He is our constant advocate before the Father.

In 1 John we read, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.” (1 John 2:1–6, NASB95)

Think of this, when Satan brings an accusation to before the Father  andwe are tempted to wallow in the mud, Jesus says in effect, “Taken care of by Me at the cross. Case closed.” Knowing this when we recognize that we have stumbled, we are to go to God, admit our failing, thank Him for what He has done, and start walking right again before Him as He has made us to walk. We are not saved by keeping His commandments, because there is not one of us who can or even would try to do so perfectly. We are saved by His grace, and then we walk before Him in obedience in response to that grace thus proving to all around that He indeed has done a great work in us. Christ in us changes our hearts from a drive to prove ourselves worthy to a desire to show Him great gratitude.

This is what happens when we grow in “a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him.” Just before the passage quoted of Jesus speaking to His disciples about the coming of the Spirit to teach them and bring to remembrance all that He had said to them, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.” (John 14:23–24, NASB95)

According to the Word of God the wisdom we have God cannot be separated from being also given understanding from God, and this understanding comes as we grow in knowledge of Him and His infallible Word. Solomon himself wrote in Proverbs 3:5-8, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your body and refreshment to your bones.” (Proverbs 3:5–8, NASB95)

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7, NASB95)

“And to man He said, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.’” (Job 28:28, NASB95)

Returning to James we read, “Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:13–18, NASB95) 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Prayer for Knowledge and Wisdom (Ephesians 1:17)

“that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him.” (Ephesians 1:17, NASB95)

At each point Paul gives God all of the glory for what He had done and was doing. This is true of the Ephesian believers as he shared with them his joy in the reports he had heard and the things he was praying on their behalf. Here Paul said that it was his desire and prayer that God would give them a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. This was not a general request that they be made wise and smart, but that it would be specifically that which comes from God as He reveals Himself to them and they are enabled to discern what they know properly and respond accordingly.

When Solomon had become king of Israel after his father David we read, “Now Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David, except he sacrificed and burned incense on the high places [“except….” an indication that he did not completely follow after the Lord]. The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the great high place; Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. In Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream at night; and God said, “Ask what you wish me to give you.” Then Solomon said, “You have shown great lovingkindness to Your servant David my father, according as he walked before You in truth and righteousness and uprightness of heart toward You; and You have reserved for him this great lovingkindness, that You have given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day. “Now, O Lord my God, You have made Your servant king in place of my father David, yet I am but a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. “Your servant is in the midst of Your people which You have chosen, a great people who are too many to be numbered or counted. “So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?” It was pleasing in the sight of the Lord that Solomon had asked this thing. God said to him, “Because you have asked this thing and have not asked for yourself long life, nor have asked riches for yourself, nor have you asked for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself discernment to understand justice, behold, I have done according to your words. Behold, I have given you a wise and discerning heart, so that there has been no one like you before you, nor shall one like you arise after you. “I have also given you what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that there will not be any among the kings like you all your days. “If you walk in My ways, keeping My statutes and commandments, as your father David walked, then I will prolong your days.”” (1 Kings 3:3–14, NASB95)

Solomon asked to be made by God into a wise a discerning leader, and God granted that desire adding riches beyond imagination to it. “Now God gave Solomon wisdom and very great discernment and breadth of mind, like the sand that is on the seashore. Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the sons of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all men….” … “Men came from all peoples to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all the kings of the earth who had heard of his wisdom.” (1 Kings 4:29-31, 34, NASB95)

And as Solomon followed after God in leading the people, building the temple and consecrating it while also building his own home and his own wealth, God repeatedly said to Solomon that if he followed after the Lord then he would be blessed and that his rule would endure. In 1 Kings chapter 9 this is extended to a longer blessing and warning from God concerning the entirety of the people of Israel. As time continued Solomon continued also to grow in fame and wealth. “So King Solomon became greater than all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom. All the earth was seeking the presence of Solomon, to hear his wisdom which God had put in his heart. They brought every man his gift, articles of silver and gold, garments, weapons, spices, horses, and mules, so much year by year.” (1 Kings 10:23–25, NASB95)

Then in chapter 11 of 1 Kings things changed. We read that Solomon changed. “Now King Solomon loved many foreign women along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the sons of Israel, “You shall not associate with them, nor shall they associate with you, for they will surely turn your heart away after their gods.” Solomon held fast to these in love. He had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines, and his wives turned his heart away. For when Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away after other gods; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians and after Milcom the detestable idol of the Ammonites. Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and did not follow the Lord fully, as David his father had done.” (1 Kings 11:1–6, NASB95)

God had given Solomon more than he asked for. He had blessed him beyond measure, yet Solomon did not keep His eyes on God and he used what God had given him for his own gain and pleasure. 1 Kings chapter 11 continues, “Now the Lord was angry with Solomon because his heart was turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice, and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods; but he did not observe what the Lord had commanded. So the Lord said to Solomon, “Because you have done this, and you have not kept My covenant and My statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you, and will give it to your servant. “Nevertheless I will not do it in your days for the sake of your father David, but I will tear it out of the hand of your son. “However, I will not tear away all the kingdom, but I will give one tribe to your son for the sake of My servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem which I have chosen.” Then the Lord raised up an adversary to Solomon….” (1 Kings 11:9–14, NASB95) The rest of chapter 11 speaks of what then happened to Solomon and his reign, culminating with verses 41-43, “Now the rest of the acts of Solomon and whatever he did, and his wisdom, are they not written in the book of the acts of Solomon? Thus the time that Solomon reigned in Jerusalem over all Israel was forty years. And Solomon slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of his father David, and his son Rehoboam reigned in his place.” (1 Kings 11:41–43, NASB95)

Ecclesiastes chapters 1 and 2 include for us a commentary from Solomon about his discovery of how fruitless and vain were all of his efforts to use his wisdom for his own gain. Then at the end of chapter 2 Solomon says, “There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen that it is from the hand of God. For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him? For to a person who is good in His sight He has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, while to the sinner He has given the task of gathering and collecting so that he may give to one who is good in God’s sight. This too is vanity and striving after wind.” (Ecclesiastes 2:24–26, NASB95)

Solomon was given much and with that much we see that he did great things with what God had given him but that he also did great evil. In our passage today Paul tells the Ephesian believers that it is his prayer that the wisdom and understanding of God from God be used for His glory as their hearts are continually stayed on Him.

Jesus prayed to the Father, “I [Jesus] have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You; for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me. I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours;” … “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word;” (John 17:6-9, 20, NASB95)

God has shown Himself to us and His Spirit works in us to give us both understanding of Him and the wisdom to walk before Him. We are called to seek after Him, grow in the knowledge of Him from His Word, listen to the leading of His Spirit, and follow Him with our whole hearts. And the amazing thing about all of this is that He is the One that makes us able to do so.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Ceaseless Interceding (Ephesians 1:15-23)

"(15) For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, (16) do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; (17) that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. (18) I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, (19) and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might (20) which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, (21) far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. (22) And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, (23) which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” (Ephesians 1:15–23, NASB95)

While we will not look at this whole passage today, what we do have is a continuation of the response of praise from Paul begun in verse 3. I have long said that Paul was the master of run-on sentences, and as I read these verses in various translations I see how others have struggled with punctuating his words. But I must admit that I really love imagining the great joy that must have flown from Paul as this huge response of praise flowed out of him, possibly even without stopping to take a breath. I know that excitement, and when I speak there are definitely times that I also tend to overflow with long and joyous responses of praise. This is true of most of us when we get excited about something, and what we have here is definitely an excited response of praise to our God who deserves all of the glory for what He has done.

Having written about our salvation and what a glorious and irrevocable gift it is, Paul now shifts to the response of the Ephesian believers in light of their own faith in Christ. Jesus had told the one lawyer to love God and love others in order to inherit eternal life (previous post), but the lawyer resisted Jesus’ words asking Jesus how far he must go. But hearing of the Ephesians and their faith Paul shared his excitement over how they had been doing exactly what Jesus had commanded. These believers, in response to God’s love for them, had shown that same love toward one another. He was so excited about this that he told them that he did not cease giving thanks for them as he made mention of them in his prayers. He took what he heard of these believers before God who drew them to Himself and He praised God for what He had done in and through them.

Paul had spent considerable time in Ephesus working among them, and now to hear how they had grown in their love for God and one another was truly a blessing to him, and He continually thanked God for what God had done there. While this is not a prayer, Paul does share with them several things that he was praying on their behalf. Paul was taking what he heard and turning it to God. He thanked God for what He had done, and he lifted to God the things that he desired God to do in and through them. Paul gives us here an example of what we call intercessory prayer. It is the praying for others. He demonstrates it  here not only as a priority for his life knowing that it God who works His will in them, but also as an encouragement letting them know his hopes for what God has done and will do on their behalf. Paul’s prayers were not wishful thinking. They were lifted to God in the full confidence of what He had done and said He would do. Paul praised God knowing that it is God who gets the credit for what had been done, and he petitioned God as he asked God to continue to work in specific ways.

Later in this same letter Paul would ask the Ephesian believers to come before God and do the same thing for him—praying on his own behalf. Right after speaking on the issue of the spiritual warfare, which we are all engaged in, Paul returned to the issue of prayer writing, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” (Ephesians 6:18–20, NASB95)

He encouraged them to persevere in prayer for all the saints and then even specifically to pray for him. Paul began this by saying in 1:16 that he did not cease praying for them, and in chapter 6 he asked them not to cease praying for their brothers and sisters in Christ as well. Then he added a specific request of them for himself that they persevere in praying that in the face of him even being imprisoned as an ambassador in chains that he would not only have the right words to say when speaking of the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ, but that he would also be bold in doing so.

Paul told them to do this “in the Spirit.” We had just read in Ephesians 1:13 that we have been sealed by the Spirit, and here Paul instructs them to pray in the Spirit. In Jude we are warned against those who come into the church who do not have the Spirit, who would bring division into their midst. Their protection against this was the instruction of verses 21 and 21 which reads, “But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.” (Jude 20–21, NASB95) Sometimes it might be hard for us to know. But the certain reality is that God knows, and we are called to bring all things to Him in the Spirit who He has given us and along with that to grow in the faith as we engage together in building up one another.

Paul wrote in Romans that as we come to God that the Holy Spirit works. “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:26–27, NASB95) We not only have the Spirit, but we have one another. God has done an incredible thing in this, and as we practice praying for others we are constantly reminded that He is alive and that we are not alone. God will hear our prayers. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Irrevocably Sealed to His Glory (Ephesians 1:13-14)

“In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.” (Ephesians 1:13–14, NASB95)

In Jesus we are immediately set apart and sealed—protected by God through the Holy Spirit. We do not have to wait to receive life or to see its benefits. As I read this I thought of the contrast between a will and something else known as an irrevocable trust. With the will the control rests in the hands of the grantor who is able to change the terms according to his or her desire. With the other, the irrevocable trust, the control rests in the hands of the beneficiary (the recipient of the benefit—the receiver). As we look at the issue of salvation we can see how these two ideas have worked their way into man’s understanding of what God intends. In comparing salvation to a “will” some might say that our salvation is based upon faith plus works indicating that if we don’t live lives pleasing to God that He will revoke our salvation and remove us from His inheritance. It is as to say that God can change His mind. In the case of the other it simply reverses the table to say that once God has offered to us salvation He is helpless to keep us, but that it rests solely on our own desire to remain with Him.

Both of these are severely flawed and do not match the teaching of Scripture. In these verses today we clearly read that there is an irreversible progression in how God works. We starting with the truth of Scripture that He chose us as His elect from before the foundation of the world as we read in verse 4. He predestined us according to His purpose (verse 11). Here we read that after we heard the message of truth concerning the “gospel of [our] salvation” that we then believed. At that time we were then sealed in Christ “with the Holy Spirit….” At the moment we are saved something radically changes. God cannot change His mind, and we know from our previous study that He does not desire to change His mind. He chose us from before we were born knowing absolutely everything about us. He chose us with full knowledge of all of our junk. While we were yet sinners He chose us (Romans 5:8). God determined in advance that He would not change His mind and He would not revoke our salvation. Thus salvation is not like a will and testament but it is the clear testimony of God’s will.

We also see from Scripture that those who God chooses will come to Him and they will not be let go. Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:27–30, NASB95) God never relinquishes the choice to us. The choice is His and it always has been His, and those that are His as a result will never be snatched from His hand. Here in Ephesians 1 Paul writes that God has sealed us with the Holy Spirit. We are sealed by God, and what God seals no one can break. We aren’t just sealed by a spot of wax melted on paper, but by the very Spirit of God in our lives. His Spirit comes into us and secures us and protects us for eternity. Our salvation is secured and un-severable.

John MacArthur, in his study Bible, wrote, “The sealing of which Paul speaks refers to an official mark of identification placed on a letter, contract, or other document. That document was thereby officially under the authority of the person whose stamp was on the seal. Four primary truths are signified by the seal: 1) security (cf. Dan. 6:17; Matt. 27:62–66); 2) authenticity (cf. 1 Kin. 21:6–16); 3) ownership (cf. Jer. 32:10); and 4) authority (cf. Esth. 8:8–12). The Holy Spirit is given by God as His pledge of the believer’s future inheritance in glory (cf. 2 Cor. 1:21).”

Think of it…. We are secured by God. Our salvation is not a fake or substitute in any way. It is authentic from Him. We belong to Him, and as such no one else has claim on us—even Satan and his cohorts. And we are fully protected under His authority. All that God promised belongs to us, and His Spirit is given to us to make this promise real to us even today. We have His pledge to testify of this in us and with that we live with the great assurance of our one day entering into His presence as His possessions to realize in full just what He has done. Again, God did it and only He is entitled to the recognition and praise such that He is glorified.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Our Inheritance—His Glory (Ephesians 1:11-12)

“In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.” (Ephesians 1:11–12, NASB95)

In verse 5 we read that we were predestined by God as sons. Here in verse 11 this is expanded on again as we read that as children who through His Son have been brought into His family by adoption we also have obtained an inheritance. This inheritance is a done deal as we see by the past tense wording. It was accomplished for us by Jesus on the cross as determined by God before the beginning of time. Jesus is the means of our inheritance.

As I even think of the word “inheritance” I am reminded that in the normal course of things that someone has to die first before it is released. Sure, there are exceptions but even in those exceptions there is still a look at the passing of benefit from one to another with a forward look at that other person dying. Simply put, there is no other way by which we can enter God’s family but through His Son who He determined would be the perfect One to die for our sins. He was not the perfect sacrifice for our sins because He was the best choice. He is the perfect sacrifice because He is absolutely perfect, and with His death, burial, and resurrection He passed to us our own forgiveness and the rich inheritance of salvation.

Jesus is God. He has always existed as God with the Father and the Spirit. He never had to be adopted Himself to be subsequently sent to bring us in by the same means, but He Himself was given authority by the Father as the Son to bring us in through Himself. God chose us and He gave us through Christ an inheritance. This is how He planned it. It happened exactly according to His purpose and according to what He determined was the way He was going to do things. We did not deserve anything from Him, and we had no say in what He chose to do. This is His way, and He accomplished it fully in His beloved Son.

Scripture records for us accounts of people asking Jesus what they must do to inherit salvation. It is an interesting question when you stop to think about it. “Do” and “inherit” seem incongruous with one another. It seemed as if there was a belief that in order to receive any portion of an inheritance one had to perform and be pleasing to the one who grants the inheritance. They seemed to think that they had to gain God’s pleasure in order to receive salvation from Him.

But is this kind of thinking really that foreign from how we as people operate. I’ve heard from people how either they or someone else was removed from their parent’s inheritance (will) because of something they did, disagreed over, or maybe were “cheated out of.” And I’ve also heard of others being given an inheritance who were totally surprised as they had no relation with the individual or any accompanying expectation. Our concept of inheritance seems to be a mixture or what is due and what is earned, and what is to be received by virtue of birth alone as opposed to any other virtue or favor. These Jews were no different.

In one encounter we read, “As He [Jesus] was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. “You know the commandments, ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’ ” And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.” (Mark 10:17–22, NASB95)

In this incident Jesus explained that this rich man turned away because he treasured his things more than he did even being given salvation. He was torn between the two and went away grieved inside. He had lived according to the religious statutes, but he was unwilling to give up what he had been given in order to receive the greater gift that came from God. Having spoken to His disciples about this struggle we read that they responded in astonishment and asked, “Then who can be saved?” (Mark 10:26, NASB95) It was as if they responded, “If it is this hard for the best placed, then what hope do any of us of inheriting the eternal life of which He spoke?” This is where Jesus turned the tables. The man asked what he could do, and the answer was that there really wasn’t anything great enough that he could do other than to turn his life over to God and follow after Him with his whole heart. Then Jesus told them that it was not the man who would earn the inheritance, but God who would grant it. In verse 27 we read, “Looking at them, Jesus said, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”” (Mark 10:27, NASB95)

Luke records for us another occasion on which this question was asked. “And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”” (Luke 10:25–28, NASB95) The man answered correctly. Life came as a result of loving God which flowed out into a love for others. The man, however, couldn’t accept the answer as it was given. He had to parse exactly who it was that was his neighbor, as to say, ‘Really, do I have to love everyone?’ It was then that Jesus spoke of the man who, being overlooked by religious people, was helped above and beyond by the compassionate Samaritan. At the end He asked the man who His neighbor was, to which the man gave the correct answer. Jesus then said, “Go and do the same.” (Luke 10:37, NASB95)

Each of these examples pointed to something greater than what man was able to do. Man in incapable of pleasing God because of his works because man’s best is still flawed with sin. Jesus demonstrated in both cases that God’s standard was higher than their capabilities. In Galatians chapter 3 we read, “For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.” Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “The righteous man shall live by faith.” However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “He who practices them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”— in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” (Galatians 3:10–14, NASB95)

The greatest thing given to us by God through His Son is our salvation. We have been given as a love gift the forgiveness of our sins, the righteousness of His Son, eternal life, and entrance into His forever kingdom. These were given to us because God loves us. It was not done in repayment or even for future payment. The payment was made in full by Jesus. Jesus gave of Himself for us that we might receive this incredible adoption, and by taking His life back up again He assured its fulfillment.

With this salvation comes so much more than we could ever imagine. It is more than just being forgiven and allowed into God’s presence. Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10, NASB95) We were not adopted into a corner of God’s home, but were fully brought in and immediately made a part of His family who He tends to constantly. At the moment of our salvation we become His children chosen by Him from before time.

We are dearly loved and fully His. He did this for us. Paul went on to write in verse 12, “to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.” He knew that he and the others with Him were incredibly blessed to have seen Christ and to know the hope of salvation in Him. As partakers in this they would also be the first to be the fruits of God’s great gift and ones through whom God would be glorified.

Think of these first followers of Christ and even Paul who was opposed to Him until he was encountered by Christ on his way to persecute Christ’s followers. They were all chosen by God for His purpose and Jesus kept every single one of them for the Father (except the one chosen for rejection—Judas). All of the early believers who were persecuted and even put to death were kept by God. The ones who even came before Christ and who believed God by faith were kept by God (see Hebrews 11). All who have followed and believed were kept by God. Even today God keeps. Our inheritance of salvation and life is a gift from God and He is the One who is glorified by it. Paul began with the words, “Blessed be….” All of the praise belongs to our glorious God.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Fully Summed in Christ (Ephesians 1:10)

“with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth.” (Ephesians 1:10, NASB95)

In verse 9 we read, “In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him”, and what we go on to read in verse 10 is a continuation of the same sentence. Putting them together we read that the Father purposed in the Son to do these thing looking forward to how they would all culminate in the fulfillment of His plan in the future. In the ESV verse 10 reads, “as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Ephesians 1:10, ESV)

There is nothing short sighted or expedient about God’s plan and as we wait on God in our own lives we know that His timing is not always our timing. It is not because He is in any way early or late, but that we don’t fully see what He is doing in the establishing of His timing or even the way He answers. Notice in the New American Standard how it does not read, “for the fullness of time,” but, “to the fullness of the times….” This points to more than just the end plan but the steps which God brought about in the fulfillment of His plan. All that He did was summed up in His Son, whether they happened here on earth or in the realm which we cannot see in heaven. God did all that He did according to His plan and in His perfect timing to accomplish in His Son all that He intended, just as He intended, planned, or purposed. This pretty much sums it up.

God chose His people Israel and He purposed in them to be saved. Even though they rebelled and generally turned their backs on God, His plan was not thwarted or changed. He purposed in advance that in their rebellion He would also bring about their turning at the end of the Great Tribulation so that all of Israel might be saved. “For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.”” (Romans 11:25–26, NASB95)

Notice in this passage that the “fullness of the Gentiles” is spoken of as a precursor to the fulfillment to bring salvation to Israel. God put His plan in place to bring salvation to all, including non-Jews (Gentiles), through sending His Son to be born as a man, die for our sins, and rise again giving to us new life. In Galatians 4 we read, “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”” (Galatians 4:4–6, NASB95) And one day in the future at a time known Only to God He will remove His church and bring all who are saved unto Himself.

And, He purposed to do all of this in His Son. In Colossians 1 we read, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.” (Colossians 1:15–20, NASB95)

There are so many people out there who acknowledge God, who will speak well of Him in their casual lives, but in practice do as they please. These same people who might invoke God’s name might often be heard to denounce His Son or to minimize His claims so as to water down what the Scriptures proclaim concerning Him or what He spoke of Himself. They poo-poo the idea that anyone could be the only way to God, and this surely must not be what God intended. But the reality of Scripture is that this is exactly what God intended. It was His plan from the beginning and it will be His plan fulfilled in every detail at the end when eternity is fully realized in the new heaven and earth spoken of in Revelation.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” (Revelation 21:1–6a, NASB95)

“And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God,” … “I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it; and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Revelation 21:10, 22–27, NASB95)

Friday, September 18, 2015

Perfect Revelation (Ephesians 1:8b-9)

“In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him” (Ephesians 1:8b–9, NASB95)

There is nothing haphazard or accidental about what God does. He is not chasing his tail, or ours for that matter as we scramble all over the place. He is not piecing together last minute or overlooked details or even discovering new things and needs along the way. Paul wrote, God in “all wisdom and insight….” Think about this, there is nothing lacking in God’s knowledge and there is nothing lacking in His understanding of that knowledge (insight) or how to use it. There is nothing lacking in His understanding of us and how to respond to our needs. He knows absolutely everything, and is all wise. He is infinite in knowledge, wisdom, and insight.

Sometimes we are placed in situations where we know we would have responded differently if we knew a bit more about what was going on. As I read this passage I thought of an illustration I heard several years ago. I wish I knew the source or the details of the story and could give proper credit or relay it more accurately, but I am going to take a stab at it anyway. I’ll use quotes to set it apart, not to say that this is exactly as it went.

“A Father and his two young children boarded a crowded subway late in the evening, and as he sat there staring out the window the children bounced all over the place. They pushed against the seats. They ran up and down the aisle, and they made one kind of disturbance after another. Their energy seemed unlimited and unchecked. For an extended period of time, which seemed like hours to the passengers around them, the kids were a huge nuisance. As time went on some of the passengers began to talk among themselves, and make cutting remarks about the father and what a horrible parent he was for not controlling his kids. Some had even tried to get his attention, but he didn’t respond. He just kept looking out the window while tensions mounted and the estimation of the father and the children slid further and further in the minds of the other passengers. Then one of the passengers stood up and walked over to the man, tapping him on the shoulder and pointing out to him how much of a nuisance his children were to the other passengers who were all tired after a long day at work. The man looked away from the window, shook himself as if into reality, and responded to the passenger saying, “I’m so sorry. I should have done a better job with my children. My wife, their mother, just died and we are on our way home from the hospital.” As you might imagine, everything changed in that instant. The passengers were instantly silenced and their hearts were melted.”

Nothing had changed about the children’s behavior, but everything changed about the way the others felt about it. What they had gained was insight that they previously did not have. We read that God has perfect insight and that He is infinitely wise with what to do with His unlimited knowledge. And being infinitely wise and insightful He chose when and how to reveal His truth to us. He knows what we need to know and even what we need to not know and entrust to Him as the One who does know.

Scripture speaks of Him revealing mysteries, and this is indeed what He does as He shows us new truths. This particular mystery points to the revelation of His Son as our salvation. With the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the coming of the Spirit there came a new understanding of what God had previously spoken of concerning our salvation. What man had previously looked forward to wondering, God had now shown so that we might know.

After His resurrection Jesus appeared to the disciples, and at His first appearance Thomas was not there. When they told Him that Jesus was alive, Thomas responded saying that he would not believe unless he was able to physically touch the wounds in Jesus’ hands and the hole in His side. When Jesus next appeared to them with Thomas present, and after Thomas had believed, Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” (John 20:29, NASB95) These men had walked with Jesus and they did not get what He had to say. But after the resurrection they did. This mystery had been revealed, and with coming of the Spirit to instruct them and to bring to mind all that had happened much more was to be revealed.

Paul went on to add that what God the Father had done in Christ was His revealed will according to His kind intention which He purposed in His Son. God being infinitely in control of all wisdom and insight revealed to us in His perfect time and in His perfect way what He intended for our welfare to be done in His Son. There are so many that argue angels on the head of a pin or the lost who have not heard. It is as if nothing that God did is acceptable unless it all made sense. The reality is that there are some things that do not make sense because we do not have the necessary insight or any of the surrounding knowledge or wisdom to respond properly. These same people seem to be the ones who deny that God is God and that His Son is the only means to salvation. They do not accept the truth because they do not understand the truth, or as one actor said in a movie, “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth?”

The answer for them is the same as it is for all who have believed, and that is God revealing this mystery by calling them and showing Himself to them. We read in 2 Corinthians 4, “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:3–6, NASB95)

God is the superintendent of the dispersion of this knowledge, and He is totally in control of its timing. But even in this and with all that we know, we only know a miniscule amount of what God knows. It is for this reason that a long time ago I determined that Proverbs 3:5-6 were important instructions for my life. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5–6, NASB95) And in this I chose to trust Him, especially when things seem so unclear to me.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Bought (Ephesians 1:7-8a)

“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us.” (Ephesians 1:7–8a, NASB95)

It is interesting studying these verses in pieces. It is particularly interesting when you notice how the translations might vary somewhat in where punctuation is placed. Reading verses 3 through 14 we have a continuous and expansive statement by Paul of God’s grace and our thankfulness for how He was been toward us. So, taking it in pieces has with it some inherent flaws because it only looks at part of the picture without looking at the greater whole. This is a greater whole which actually continues through the end of chapter 3 where Paul changes the focus of the letter to that of our personal response in the light of all that God has done. What I have endeavored to do in looking at these small pieces is to continually back up and look at the bigger picture, and in doing this see how the smaller pieces are framed. I would encourage the same of you as you read along.

In verse 3 we read that we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ. Here we read that one of those blessings is our salvation. God is the creator of everything. Isaiah wrote, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable.” (Isaiah 40:28, NASB95) A few chapters later he added, “I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides Me there is no God.” (Isaiah 45:5a, NASB95) Everything that exists comes from Him and He owns it all. He sets the standards, and when they are violated He sits as the Judge. He is the ultimate ruler of everything and everyone answers to Him. The psalmist wrote, “God is a righteous judge, and a God who has indignation every day. If a man does not repent, He will sharpen His sword; He has bent His bow and made it ready.” (Psalm 7:11–12, NASB95) There is no escaping that one day every knee will bow and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11).

As God, He is the only one who can decide what is required for His forgiveness. Being infinitely perfect His standard is no less, and as man there is not one of us who can meet that standard. There is not one of us who can satisfy His wrath or pay any price to repay Him for what we have done. He declared that a price must be paid, and He said that this price was so high that none of us could meet it. It is for that reason that God, because He loved us, gave His own Son to pay that price. He did that a great cost to Himself, and because of that our redemption has been purchased in full. Where we were once slaves to sin, we have been bought by Christ for God’s glory.

One of the shows on cable TV is called “Pawn Stars.” Most of the time it is about people selling stuff and releasing all interest in what they once owned such that it could be later purchased by someone entirely unrelated. But the word behind the name speaks of something else. It points to the process in which someone being short on funds takes an item into the pawn shop in order to borrow money. He puts his property up as collateral or a while as he uses the borrowed money. The idea behind this is that at some time in the future he will come back and redeem the item at a price that exceeded the initial monies borrowed. He buys back what he once owned at a price. He redeems it. On a smaller scale, here is Oregon as with many states, when we buy a soda we pay a deposit on the container. This money is gone forever unless we take another step which is to return the container so that we might redeem the money paid at the time of the initial purchase. Some people don’t ever redeem these containers because the cost they paid initially was not high enough to motivate them, while others see the value in them and gladly gather them up to receive the funds for something they never purchased.

The price God demanded to purchase our forgiveness came at a very high cost. It came at the cost of His own Son. There was no other price that would suffice. But Jesus willingly, out of His love for the Father and His love for us, gave Himself to pay that price. But that was only part of the story. If Jesus had paid the price and no one saw the value then it would have served no benefit for man. But God not only sent His Son to pay the price, He also called and drew people to Himself such that they saw and understood what had been done for them. “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:44, NASB95) They were shown to see the value and they responded in belief by accepting he gift—receiving their own redemption.

This was all done according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us. Think about this…. We had a debt that we could not pay and one that we didn’t even know we owed. But God loved us so much that He showed us our great need while also providing us with the answer to that need. It is one thing to point to how desperate someone is and to stand helplessly by. But it is quite another to graciously reach into the heart of their need and to pull them lovingly to yourself and lavish upon them incredible blessing. This is what God has done for us “in Christ.”

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20, NASB95) 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Grace Freely Bestowed (Ephesians 1:6)

“to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” (Ephesians 1:6, NASB95)

Without context this verse does not mean much, but let’s back up and look at what immediately preceded it. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” (Ephesians 1:3–6, NASB95)

Our being blessed with every spiritual blessing as children adopted by God is something for which we praise His name out of our great gratitude. Recognizing that we did nothing to deserve this, but that we received it only because of His loving kindness toward us, it is perfectly right and fitting for us to sing His praise and glorify His name. God gets all of the credit, and for us to loudly proclaim this not only blessing His name, but it lets everyone else know how much we appreciate what He has done on our behalf. Out of the kindness of His will He acted graciously toward us, and He has given us every spiritual blessing freely in His Son—the Beloved.

As Paul writes this we see repeatedly how God showing His love toward us in giving us so much is to result in our returning to Him our admiration and praise. Because He first loved us, we read, we love in response (1 John 4:19). When I took a break from working on this post to edit some typos in the last one and repost it, I saw on Facebook that someone had posted an interview with Kris Kristofferson about the story behind his song, “Why Me.” I took a few minutes to watch the video and listen to what Kris had to say to Bill Gaither about what happened that day. Then I listened as the song was sung. I could not help but relate those words back to this passage that I was working through. At the same time I thought how ironic is was who he was singing the song with and how that other person has shown himself in public. Even in the irony as I was tempted to judge I was reminded that it is by grace that we are saved through faith and that not of ourselves, lest any of us should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

The song begins, “Why me Lord what have I ever done to deserve even one of the pleasures I've known?
Tell me, Lord, what did I ever do that was worth lovin' you or the kindness you've shown? Lord help me, Jesus, I've wasted it so help me Jesus I know what I am. But now that I know that I've needed you so help me, Jesus, my soul's in your hand”

This is what Paul was writing about. There was absolutely nothing that we could have done to deserve even one of the pleasures we’ve known. We did not deserve His grace and we definitely do not deserve any blessings from Him. As with most who come to know Christ, especially as an adult it is easy to see what we have done that has been so wasteful and even opposed to God. But even after knowing Him we still have those times where we have to stop again and be incredibly thankful that He has been so incredibly kind to us. As we see who we are and how we have transgressed His perfect standard it is easy to see how needful we truly are. Knowing that He loved us this way and has extended Himself to us through His Son our response then is to live in the same way—in Christ with our souls in His hand being daily transformed into His image.

I do not know a lot about Kris Kristofferson’s life and how closely he has followed after Christ, and I am not holding him up as any example. But who I am holding up is our God who has the power to transform lives and who saves us who didn’t and don’t deserve anything from Him. Then as Kris’s song went on, he began to focus on what He could do to repay what God had done. I would vary with him there, because I realize that the great length to which God went in His Son is something which I could never repay, but only respond with extreme gratitude and faithful service. My giving back to Him then becomes not a balancing of any celestial books, but a loving response to God who so dearly loves me, lest anyone (including myself) be tempted to say that God made a good or bad choice in me or anyone else (Romans 12:1).

“…for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13, NASB95)

“…giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light. For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:12–14, NASB95)

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Adopted Because He Wanted To (Ephesians 1:5)

“In love, He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will,” (Ephesians 1:5, NASB95)

We have already read that God chose us. Here we read more of the purpose and reason for His choosing. First, the purpose (in part)—we were chosen according to His plan made from before the foundation of the earth to be adopted as His sons (and daughters) through Jesus Christ. This being chosen according to His plan in advance is what “predestination” means. It means to determine a destination in advance. It means to predetermine, to decide ahead of time. God did not look through time and adjust what He was going to do with us based upon how we would someday respond, but He purposed in advance to accomplish this in us and He is faithful to bring it to pass. Throughout the Old Testament you do not really read of God being referred to as Father except in limited occasions in reference to His people Israel. Yet with coming of Christ we find that Jesus exclusively referred to Him as Father, and not just some formal term but a common one such that a child might use—“Abba.” And as Jesus spoke of God His Father He also spoke of Him being the Father of all who believe. With salvation we are drawn into a relationship with God the Father that in some sense only existed with God the Son.

Here Paul writes that God chose us in advance of our ever being born or conceived of in any way by man to be adopted as His children. For many couples the adoption process is long and arduous. It is significantly different from that of being born into a family where you were conceived by your biological parents with who you share common genes and traits. It is the process of making a choice to receive someone into the family as their own child and to impart on that child all that comes with being so chosen. Scripture tells us that we were all children of our father the devil and were slaves to sin. But God set us free in Christ, and He adopted us into His forever family as full-fledged children with an inheritance freely given to us.

And why did He do this? We read in this same verse that He did this because of the kind intention of His will. We read here of no other motive than that He wanted to do this out of His kindness toward us. He chose us as sinful throwaways to become His and to receive all that comes with being a child of the living God. What an incredible gift this is, and how freeing it is to know that we did not have to prove ourselves to Him in order to be granted such a gift of acceptance. He didn’t wait to see which child ran up to Him when He entered the facility. He did not wait to see which child might have pulled on His heartstrings the most, or who might have been the cutest or most endearing in some other way. He chose us before we ever existed, and He did so knowing absolutely everything about us. As a result, there is never to be a time with Him that He having brought us home finds that there is a repulsive trait or unexpected barrier leading Him to regret His decision and even to return us to where we came. He chose us fully and without any reservation because He wanted to. WOW!!!

And the cost of our adoption was not cheap. He did not spend countless thousands of dollars which He had to scrape together in some way. He already owned everything and easily could have paid any price. But there was no money that would satisfy what was required. There was no buying His preference even from Himself. His standard was perfect righteousness, and there is no one that could meet that standard. In the adoption center for heaven every child would have a critical fault. So He implemented His perfect plan which required nothing of the child, but everything from Him. He sent His One and Only Son to become man in order to go to a cross, despised by the very people He came to save, and to give His perfectly righteous life to pay for our redemption. He paid a greater price than anyone has ever paid and He did it willingly. We are saved in Christ, and Jesus’ righteousness has been put on us. For this kind of adoption only God Himself could accomplish it, and He did so willingly for us.

What an incredible thing it is to know that He chose me to be His child and that He will never, ever, ever reject me. And this is true for everyone that He calls as it is realized by our response in believing and being saved.

R. Kent Hughes in his commentary on Ephesians wrote, “This is primary truth, and as John Stott, a man known for measured sensibility, says: "The doctrine of election [being chosen by God] is a divine revelation, not a human speculation." It was not dreamed up by Martin Luther or John Calvin or St. Augustine, or by the Apostle Paul for that matter. It is not to be set aside as the imagination of some overactive religious minds, but rather humbly accepted as revelation (however mysterious it may be) from God. We must never allow our subjective experience of choosing Christ water down the fact that we would not have chosen him if he had not first chosen us. … The doctrine of election presents us with a God who defies finite analysis. It is a doctrine which lets God be God.” And He did this because of the “kind intention of His will.” “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” who has made us His.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

For His Glory (Ephesians 1:4)

“…just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.” (Ephesians 1:4, NASB95)

I was reminded this morning listening to someone else that when you lose your train of thought it is probably best to just move on. Most of the time, at least for me, it is just an illustration of something else that I lose and not the subject matter itself. Several days ago I spent some time working through verse 4 and writing down some of my observations and thoughts concerning this passage. When I was done I saved it to the “cloud” because this is what you do with electronic tablets. Yet when I went to retrieve it from the cloud storage and continue where I had left off I found that it was not there. I guess I shut my tablet down before the upload had completed (So much for carrying an electronic device instead of a yellow paper pad). Coming to terms with the reality that my own thoughts were gone, I am reminded that the truth which I was observing when I had those thoughts had gone nowhere. God’s Word is the same as it was a couple of days ago, and it is the same as when it was diligently translated into the English which I understand, which is still the same as when it was originally given to the apostles and prophets. God’s words haven’t changed.

Paul wrote that we were chosen by God before there was ever one day of our lives. We were chosen before there was even one day in His creation. We were chosen by Him before all of this ever existed, and He chose us with the full knowledge of who we would be, all that we would be capable of, all that we would do whether evil or good, and knowing every single sin that we would ever commit This even includes the ones that we commit after we recognize His choosing and we have believed in His Son to be saved. God chose me totally apart from anything good about me. In fact, He chose me when He knew that there was no good in me, and in His goodness and kindness He chose me to receive the righteousness of His Son to replace my own unrighteousness.

He did not choose me because He knew that I would become good, but because He knew what good He would do in me and how He would then prove Himself through me as I live in that goodness before Him with the goodness which He gave to me. In writing this long run on sentence I was reminded of His creation in the beginning and how at the end of each day He saw what He had made and pronounced it “good,” even “very good” after the sixth day with the creation of man. When He had completed His creation there was no bad (evil) in it. It was holy, blameless, and good. It was right, with no wrong. Man was perfectly righteous with the righteousness of God in which he was created. But then man sinned. Satan entered the garden after being cast down from heaven and he deceived the woman. Both she and her husband then ate, and sin entered the world. From that time forward both the nature and practice of man was sin-dominated. Paul wrote in Romans that there are none that are righteous, emphasizing it by restating, “no, not one” (Romans 3:10).

Knowing this to be our condition, even the angels in both heaven and those cast to earth were left to observe what would happen next, probably expecting nothing better of us. God created man and man failed. One might be tempted to say of us that if we were to build a team and then that team fell apart that we failed ourselves because we allowed them to do so. And, we know from Scripture that Satan has tried this tactic even as He accused God of showing partiality toward Job because of how He favored Job. But God demonstrated in Job that He was working something else. Maybe the same thing can be said of us. God was not caught by surprise when the first man (Adam) sinned, just as He is not caught by surprise when I sin today. Yet before He created Adam and all of us who followed He chose to draw some to Himself and to demonstrate in them His great love and power to redeem that which is lost.

I think we are all touched when we see someone’s life radically turned around. We see stories of this in the news and in social media. Our hearts are touched by how people acting in compassion have reached into the lives of others. Even the world that does not know God considers this a valuable thing. There is this part in us that knows when we have been touched down deeply. It is no wonder then that the God who created us chose to use that ability to be touched to demonstrate Himself to be real to those who do not know Him. It is no wonder that God chose us who were slaves to sin and the evil one to demonstrate His power to change lives such that people look at us and are amazed.

This is the visible side which the world sees, but we also see that God chose us primarily that we might be holy and blameless “before Him.” This is how He made man originally and this is how He makes us to be in Christ at the moment we are saved. All of our sins passed away and we are made spiritually alive with the righteousness of Christ. Then as He works in us we grow in practice to live in accord with who we are. God did it. He does it still, and He gets all of the credit to His glory. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing….”

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves;” (2 Corinthians 4:7, NASB95) 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Chosen in Christ (Ephesians 1:4)

“…just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.” (Ephesians 1:4, NASB95)

Knowing that I was heading into an area of Scripture over which there is some disagreement and remaining mystery I took extra time to refresh my own studies and affirm my understanding in such a way that I could hopefully explain it without compromising in any way this incredible truth that God chose everyone who would believe and there are none that believe that are not chosen. I poured through pages upon pages of commentaries and what I came to again was that what God said He did He did indeed do. There is no explaining it away or minimizing it in order to suit our own pride or preference. Paul wrote here that these believers as with all believers were chosen in Him before the foundation of the world. We were chosen not only before we were born, but before that world that man was created to inhabit itself was created. God chose us before we could prove or disprove ourselves, totally apart from any merit, demerit, or perception of greater need or willingness. Simply put, He chose us for reasons known to Him, and as a result He gets all of the glory.

This truth of Scripture is known as election, and those who are chosen are called by Him as His elect. Being in a campaign season we are used to seeing people talk about how election worthy they are as they seek to prove themselves to the voters. And then on a day certain the voters will consider what they have heard, balance it against their own preferences, and make a choice by either going to the poles or by mailing in their ballot. Following this all of the ballots will be counted and winners will be announced and then inaugurated. They will have been chosen by the people as their elected representatives. This process is all about a popular vote based upon agreement or merit. It is not decided by one individual and it is not decided without the candidate having proved himself in some way.

God chose not to work this way. He chose to elect certain people from before the beginning based on His own totally infinite reasoning such that through us He might be glorified. Simply put from our perspective, if it were based upon us then He would merely be the one who recognized the merit. But because He chose us without merit, He is the one who gets the glory. I guess from man’s perspective that he could claim this unfair or arbitrary as some have argued. But consider this, every single one of us has sinned and to be quite honest we still sin. There is not one of us who is without sin, and there is not one of us who would have any standing before a perfect and holy God. Not one of us has any claim to His forgiveness or any of the blessings which He so freely bestows. What we deserve is the condition in which we are apart from Christ which is spiritual separation and judgment. That is what we deserve. So, for God to choose any of us is a gracious act of love on His part, and one that He determined required Him to sacrifice His own Son to accomplish for us. The Bible tells us that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). This is how God showed His love. And for Him to choose someone specifically is something that rests with Him as well. Scripture clearly declares that God’s wisdom is far above our wisdom, and to impute anything else is to venture into territory in which we are vastly overwhelmed.

How incredibly freeing it is to realize that our salvation came not based upon what we did but because of who He is. God knows everything about us, and He has known it since before we were ever conceived in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13), where He knit us together. This means that God chose us with all of our shortcomings, our failings including even those not yet done, and everything else about us so that we might be vessels of His glory by His power working in us. He chose us to be His ambassadors in a world that does not know Him. He chose us as the church to be the bride for His Son—our Lord Jesus Christ. He chose us to demonstrate His great power, and He has given us His Spirit to work in us to do incredible things.

What is not covered in this verse, but is in others is another truth which stands equally in Scripture and that is personal responsibility. Some would say that man is totally responsible for this decision to choose, that salvation is a matter of His own free will and that God takes no role in forcing man’s hand (so to speak). But this argument doesn’t wash with the truths of Scripture such as the one we are looking at today. God chose us. Some would soften this some and say that God looked through time and that those who are chosen are the ones who would one day decide—these are His elect. This also falls short for the same reasoning. The truth of Scripture is that God made these choices. But Scripture does also say that man has to believe to be saved. Jesus Himself said that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). He also said that "everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die" (11:26). Scripture has numerous commands to the unsaved to respond to the Lord. John MacArthur in his commentary on Ephesians listed some of them (e.g., Josh. 24:15; Isa. 55:1; Matt. 3:1-2; 4:17; 11:28-30; John 5:40; 6:37; 7:37-39; Rev. 22:17), adding that these passages “clearly indicate the responsibility of man to exercise his own will.”

So what is it? Did man chose or did God? This is how we tend to think. We think these have to be mutually exclusive for one of them to be true. But this is how we approach things, and not how God does. John MacArthur went on to add, “Yet the Bible is just as clear that no person receives Jesus Christ as Savior who has not been chosen by God (cf. Rom. 8:29; 9:11; 1 Thess. 1:3-4; 1 Pet. 1:2). Jesus gives both truths in one verse in the gospel of John: "All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out" (John 6:37). God's sovereign election and man's exercise of responsibility in choosing Jesus Christ seem opposite and irreconcilable truths--and from our limited human perspective they are opposite and irreconcilable. That is why so many earnest, well-meaning Christians throughout the history of the church have floundered trying to reconcile them. Since the problem cannot be resolved by our finite minds, the result is always to compromise one truth in favor of the other or to weaken both by trying to take a position somewhere between them. We should let the antimony [Isa. 54:11; 1 Chron. 29:2, lustrous stones] remain, believing both truths completely and leaving the harmonizing of them to God.”

I stumbled for a bit with his use of the word “antimony.” As I looked at it in Scripture and on the internet I found that antimony was a lustrous stone and not a term that I could easily understand as it was used. So I looked specifically at the two passages in which it is used to find this, “Now with all my ability I have provided for the house of my God the gold for the things of gold, and the silver for the things of silver, and the bronze for the things of bronze, the iron for the things of iron, and wood for the things of wood, onyx stones and inlaid stones, stones of antimony and stones of various colors, and all kinds of precious stones and alabaster in abundance.” (1 Chronicles 29:2, NASB95) Could it possibly be that he meant that each of these truths are separate stones shining forth in their fullness in the one setting made by God? It sure made sense to me.

Ray Stedman wrote, “As hard as it is for us to understand and accept, the fact is that we are chosen by God. Jesus said so Himself, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him" (John 6:44). That's putting it plainly, isn't it? You can't come to Christ unless you are drawn by the Father. God has to initiate the activity” (Our Riches in Christ, p. 29). But then he added in the next paragraph, "Then why does God appeal to our individual human will? For in Matthew 11:28 we also read, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." That means it's up to us as individuals to make a choice. You cannot become a Christian until you choose to come--yet it is equally true that you cannot choose to come unless God has chosen you. Both facts are true. We can't reconcile them in out puny intellects, but we can accept them by faith.”

And lest I might get boastful in having made the choice, I am always reminded that God chose me before the foundation of the world and that, according to John 6:37, all that the Father had given to Jesus (including me) will come to Him. It is a done deal. Somehow in God’s incredible way I responded, and for that I am so eternally thankful to Him and give Him all of the glory.

How about you? If you are not saved and you are reading this ask yourself, “Why?” Ask God believing that He will hear and do, to give you the same salvation given to so many others as a free gift. The incredible truth of His word is that you will be saved.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NASB95)