Saturday, October 31, 2015

Hope at Halloween

Heading off to my home church in a bit for a few hours of kids, costumes, games, and candy, candy, candy.

Following is something I wrote for parents to take home at the event.

Hope at Halloween

This is not an effort to explain Halloween or even an attempt at trying to untangle its possible and varied roots. A simple internet search would probably provide more answers to these questions than we could imagine. Rather, this is prepared in order to demonstrate the contrast between the darkness that so enshrouds much of mankind and the light found in Jesus Christ.

We live in a world where death is the certain end for all, and yet there are many who have no concept of hope for what lies on the other side. It is no wonder that at times like Halloween there is a fascination with the afterlife and things of darkness. It is a time when zombies run wild and little witches carry caldrons to be filled with candy. But it is also a time when we see little pirates, princesses, frogs, puppies, and space explorers. For many it is merely a time to play dress up for a day and have some fun without all of the other fascinations.

Here at Calvary Crossroads we have tried to provide a safe and fun environment for children and their families to come together and have a good time. But in doing this we are also reminded that only God holds life in His hands, and apart from His Son, Jesus Christ, we are spiritual zombies.

In the Bible we read, "And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.” (Ephesians 2:1-2) The apostle Paul reminded his readers that this is who they were. At some time in the past they “were dead in [their] trespasses and sins.” 

The roots of this death go back to the Garden of Eden where man and woman (Adam and Eve) were placed by God to have a relationship with Him unbroken by anything between them. They were sinless and enjoyed a regular relationship with God. But there was a condition. “Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”” (Genesis 2:15–17, NASB95) 

Created to know the perfect goodness of God, God had given Adam one prohibition which was not to eat of the tree that would introduce him to evil. Jumping to chapter 3 of Genesis we read that this state of perfection did not last. We read that Eve was deceived by the serpent, Satan, and she ate from the forbidden tree and then she gave the fruit also to Adam who was with her and he ate too. Immediately upon eating they knew something had changed. When God came to them to walk in the garden they were ashamed of their nakedness, which they had not observed in that way before, and they covered and hid themselves. God called out to them and asked them what they had done. Replying to God, they tried to pass the blame and shift responsibility for their own actions.

After speaking with them God responded by passing judgment on all involved. Speaking to Adam last, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you will eat the plants of the field; by the sweat of your face you will eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:17–19, NASB95) Man who was created without sin or the knowledge of death was now introduced to harshness in life and the judgment of death. 

“Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.” (Genesis 3:22–24, NASB95) 

Adam and Eve did not physically die that day, but they were removed from their place of enjoying God’s presence and became spiritually dead. And reading through Scripture we find that this was not just the condition of Adam and Eve.  With their sin this became the enduring condition of all of their children for all generations. It became the nature of man to be born spiritually dead and his destiny to experience physical death.

“But wait a minute,” you might respond. “It doesn’t seem fair that God would cause all of us to die because of what two people did thousands of years ago. Can’t He get past it and move on?” This would be a very legitimate question if it were that simple. If only the sin happened in the past at the hands of someone else and no one ever followed in their tracks. But I think we all know that this is not so. Being born spiritually separated from God we all do things that even according to the standards deep within us we know are wrong. We are all guilty of sin before God, and as such have proven ourselves unworthy of anything from His perfect hands. 

This is where the good news comes in. This is where we can look at a time like Halloween where so many are entrenched in death and darkness and look to our God to bring about light and life. God loves us so much that He did not leave us to this death. He sent His Son to bring us back into a relationship with Him, and to give us the life which had been lost in the garden. 

Just a few verses later in his letter to the Ephesians believers Paul added, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:4–9, NASB95) Maybe more simply put we can look to the words of Jesus who said, “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) 

If you have not yet accepted God’s great gift of life, won’t you consider doing so today. It is very simple. Just talk to God. Take Him at His Word (trust). Admit to Him your need because of your own sin and inability to save yourself. Believe that He really did what He said He would do. And Call or Ask Him to forgive you of your sins because of what His Son did for us. And the Bible tells us that He will do it. 

“...that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” (Romans 10:9–10, NASB95) God does not lie.

Built on One Firm Foundation, part 2 (Ephesians 2:19-22)

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19–22, NASB95)

After walking away from these verses in the last post I began to think about how we as Christians deal with conflicting understandings of what God’s Word says in some areas, and where lines might be drawn and conflict might occur in our walking with others in the body of Christ who might not understand some things as we do. One significant area of difference in this regard is over the issue of the continuance of sign gifts and particularly over tongues and ecstatic prayer.

Thinking about this my mind was drawn back to a question I had to answer nearly forty years ago when I attending a church in which strong warnings were bring given from the pulpit about associating with “charismatic” Christians. As I sat under the teaching I became increasingly uncomfortable not with the theological understanding on the issue because I actually agreed with it, but with the position taken urging us not to associate with others who understood this issue differently. I had to ask myself if these others truly were Christians, and if they were, was the priority of oneness of Spirit somehow greater than our inability to come to agreeable terms in our understanding of what God’s Word had to say. The conclusion I came to is that they did indeed come to Christ in the same way as I, and I would have to trust God with sorting this out. While I may not attend the same church with these believers, and I may not agree with them on this biblical issue for what I believe are sound scriptural reasons, I did have to acknowledge that they were my brothers and sisters in Christ united into one body (the church) by the Spirit given us both.

Over the years I came to realize that there are other such areas of unmatched understanding such as whether or not there will be a rapture of the church and what to expect concerning the end times. I use the term unmatched because I believe with all of my heart that God’s Word is complete as He intended it and sufficient for our instruction in Him. But as we look at it and study it we, in our humanness, somehow come to places where to do not match in our understanding of what God intends. My response to this, though, is not to throw up my arms and give up, but to go back to His Word, continue to study it, hide it in my heart, and to ask the Spirit to give me a proper understanding so that I might handle it properly and respond with godly integrity.

Up to now we have dealt with those who believe the same gospel and are united in the belief that the Father sent His Son to die for our sins, to be buried, and rise again on the third day as our only means of salvation such that there is salvation in no one else. This is the foundation in which Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone, and upon that foundation there are also other non-negotiables learned from Scripture which form a basis for doctrinal agreement, even leaving room for grace in others where there might be disagreement.

But the other part of this reality is that there are teachings that are clearly in conflict with Scripture and some which even point to a Christ different than Him who is shown to us in God’s inspired and inerrant Word. The apostle Paul warned the Corinthian believers of this, writing, "For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin. But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully.” [or, “you put up with it readily enough”, ESV] (2 Corinthians 11:2–4, NASB95) Paul was concerned that these believers would become enamored by people with flash and influence that might come along and preach a different gospel, being led by a different spirit (opposed to the Spirit of God), and preaching a different gospel than that of salvation by faith in Christ alone.

In Acts he warned the elders of Ephesus, as we have looked at previously, to be on guard against these “savage wolves” that would attempt to come in and destroy the flock. “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” (Acts 20:28–32, NASB95) His answer for these elders was to entrust them to God while encouraging them to look to God and urging them to hold to His Word.

Paul clearly taught us that there is only one foundation which is Christ, and he warned us against anyone attempting to lay a different foundation or build a different building. “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:9–12, NASB95)

Studying the Word of God is critical to understanding what God has said to us, and the truth of God’s Word is never to be sacrificed on the altar of tolerance. But as we walk with each other in grace we also need to be careful how we treat those with whom God has made us one. Jesus came in the fullness of truth and grace and we are to walk in the same way with one another as we encourage each other to grow in our proper knowledge and understanding of His Word. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Built on One Firm Foundation (Ephesians 2:19-22)

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19–22, NASB95)

There are so many Christians out there who feel as if they are outsiders; not fully accepted or embraced by the church or by God. And while some of these feelings may have good cause based upon how those in the church respond to or treat others in the church or those around the church, the truth is that all who believe are placed together into this one body by our one Lord, Jesus Christ.

I love the reality that I experience when I meet a believer that I had not previously known, finding that I instantly share a oneness that can’t otherwise be explained as we talk together about what Christ has done in us. He or she may attend a different church in a different city and maybe even sing different songs with different musical accompaniment, but beneath all of this is the certain reality that we have been knit together not by these minor distinctives but by the great reality of what God has done in us. When as before I did not know them, now I know them as brothers and sisters along with all of my other brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ.

Jesus went to the cross to pay the penalty for all of our sins, and in Him we are all forgiven and given new life. In Him we are all knit together as one body—the church of which He is the head. And in every single one of us is the Spirit who binds us together in this incredibly special and unique way. Jesus Christ laid the cornerstone for this building and now it cannot be shaken. It is permanent and securely established for eternity. In doing this God chose both the prophets who came before and the apostles chosen by Christ to make this known to us as they were moved by the Spirit to make speak from God as we read in 1 Peter, “for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” (2 Peter 1:21, NASB95)

These men were given by God to lay the foundation from which we know who He is and what He has done. These men laid the foundation for our faith, and it is incumbent on us to study the Word of God given through them to learn both more of our God and His great love and how we are to respond in faithful worship and service before Him.

In these verses we see the intentional word “built” used repeatedly. God has a plan and He is following that plan according to His perfect will. Abraham had this understanding even as he left the home of his parents for a home where he lived in tents with and through his descendants looking forward to a permanent home promised Him by God. In Hebrews 11 we read, “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (Hebrews 11:8–10, NASB95)

He knew there was to be a city with real foundations that was going to be designed and built by God. He lived with this promise and hope. We, as the church, are a part of that promise being fulfilled. We may not be a building in the sense of the new Jerusalem that is yet to come, but we are the building of God which gathers today in many different tents (churches) to worship and follow after Him with that same assurance, knit together by Spirit. The huge difference is that we live on this side of the cross. We live knowing that Christ has come and that the chief cornerstone of that building has been laid. We live having the words of the apostles and the prophets having laid the foundation on which we are being built up. And we all live with the certain hope of one day joining together with all of the saints together with our Lord for all eternity in the building set eternal in the heavens that was not build with human hands (2 Corinthians 5:1-5).

In the meantime God has chosen the Spirit to dwell in us as His body—the church. We are the Christ that the world sees. We are His physical presence in the world as cracked as we are, and even in those cracks there is great opportunity for the light of Christ to shine through. We are to walk with each other with the unified continual call from God to daily submit ourselves to Him as we build up and encourage one another—loving each other as Christ loved us and doing all to preserve the unity in which we have been brought together.

“Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1–3, NASB95) 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

One Spirit—One Access (Ephesians 2:18)

“for through Him [Christ] we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.” (Ephesians 2:18, NASB95)

In these two verses we have the Trinity—God who is one present in three—Father, Son, and Spirit, and our salvation is brought about by all three working in perfect cooperation. We are saved by the will of the Father through the work of the Son and the enabling of the Spirit, and as His beloved children this is how we are to live regardless of our religious or irreligious background. Not one of us was saved by our idea of God or our works proving ourselves before Him. Not one of us came to the Father but through the Jesus’ shed blood for us and the work of the Spirit to open our eyes to see and know and believe.

The Jews may have been a chosen people though whom God was to bring salvation to all mankind, but salvation was not brought by them but by the Son of God born a Jew.  Prior to Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection the Spirit was present and working. The Spirit was present with God from before creation—eternal as God. But after the resurrection the Spirit came in a new way—a way which meant that all who believed would be drawn by the Spirit and permanently indwelt and sealed by the Spirit. This included all of those Jews who believed such as the apostles and those who comprised the early church. And it included all of the Gentiles who would come to believe based upon the word of salvation in Christ being spread to them.  There truly is only one way and only one Spirit.

Having come to faith by the same Spirit we also are called to live as one in that Spirit who gives us all equal access to the Father. In Galatians Paul wrote, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.” (Galatians 3:27–29, NASB95) And later in Ephesians we read, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4–6, NASB95)

There is not a single believer who is a second class child with God. Not one of us is His backup choice. But all of us were chosen by Him according to His plan from before the foundation of the earth. Think of it, we were all uniquely and individually made by God and chosen by Him. “For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.” (Psalm 139:13–16, NASB95)

Jesus told His disciples that their being His was not of their own doing. He chose them and in that choice they were assured that God would hear and answer them. They were assured of their access to the Father as we read in John chapter 15. “You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you.” (John 15:16, NASB95) They may have had a special personal relationship with Jesus, but the truth for all of us is the same—God chose us, and He gave us access to Him. Knowing this we are assured that He indeed will hear, answer, and work in us to do that for which we were called.

When I think about how God orchestrates our oneness in Him and how He has drawn us to Him for His perfect purpose I can’t help but think of 1 Corinthians chapter 12 where we read, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Corinthians 12:4–7, NASB95) ... “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills. For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:11–13, NASB95)

I love these words of Ephesians and throughout Scripture where we read of how God has called us as His children and how He works in His fullness to bring about not only our salvation but the oneness of the body for the building up on one another and as His light to the world who is spiritually darkened as we once were. We have been made alive, united as one, and indwelt by the Spirit of God giving us all access to the Father. And all of this is because He loved us and He brought it to pass through the death, burial, and resurrection of His Son. There truly is only one Lord, one Spirit, and one God who works all things in all people. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Peace Near and Far (Ephesians 2:17)

And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near….” (Ephesians 2:17, NASB95)

In our world right now both Israel as a nation and Christians as a people are under attack. There is a great threat from evil pressing in on both, and we could easily become overwhelmed by how ominous things look. But our God is in control. He has set the limit to evil. He calls people to Himself and makes them to be at peace with Him so that we can live at peace in our world. This does not mean that things will be peaceful, but that we can have the peace of God even in turmoil. We also can look to how the world is tightening around the neck of Israel and trying to strangle it. Similarly we know from God’s word that He will not abandon His people. They will have to endure a great amount of suffering, but we also know that in God’s perfect timing His Son will return and His people who were near will be restored.

Looking back to the introduction of Isaiah in the ESV Bible we read, “Isaiah lived during the decline of Israel in the shadow of Assyria. He spoke the word of God to a people who were “deaf and blind” (see 6:10), who refused to listen to his warnings of looming disaster. He warned that the sin of the people of Judah would bring God’s judgment, yet he also declared that God is sovereign and would use Cyrus the Persian to return them from exile. The book speaks of a “servant,” a “man of sorrows,” who would be “pierced for our transgressions,” accomplishing God’s purposes of salvation (52:13–53:12). The final chapters give a beautiful description of a new creation in which God will rule as King, judging the wicked and establishing eternal peace. Isaiah prophesied about 740–700 B.C. (possibly till the 680s).

It is from one of these later chapters that Paul quotes in Ephesians 2:17, “And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near….”

“And it will be said, “Build up, build up, prepare the way, remove every obstacle out of the way of My people.” For thus says the high and exalted One Who lives forever, whose name is Holy, “I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit in order to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite. For I will not contend forever, nor will I always be angry; for the spirit would grow faint before Me, and the breath of those whom I have made. Because of the iniquity of his unjust gain I was angry and struck him; I hid My face and was angry, and he went on turning away, in the way of his heart. I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will lead him and restore comfort to him and to his mourners, creating the praise of the lips. Peace, peace to him who is far and to him who is near,” Says the Lord, “and I will heal him.”” (Isaiah 57:14–19, NASB95)

In the midst of prevailing evil and people at the highest levels in Israel turning their backs on God and following after their own desires, God spoke through Isaiah of a time when God would bring their rebellion to an end. God, who dwells in His high and holy place, also dwells with those who hearts are directed toward Him. He said that He was going to move to revive their spirits and their hearts and even renew the breath of those who He made. Through man’s sin man became spiritually dead, but God determined that He was not going to leave man that way. He was going to restore Him to life. Though the nation was in rebellion God continued to work in the hearts of His people, and through men like Isaiah He spoke of a time when this greater restoration and drawing back would come for all. For Israel as a nation this will fully and finally happen at the end of the Great Tribulation and His millennial rule, but even before then there would be people whose hearts and spirits were softened toward God who would believe and be saved.

Of course the Jews were not the only people inhabiting earth and who lived in rebellion against God. There were many who did not know God and who were not taught His statues and ordinances. And while they were also of the seed of Adam and Eve, they were not of people of the promise given to Abraham. They were not descendants of Isaac and Jacob. They were not of the people who God freed from slavery in Egypt, given the law through Moses, and brought into the promised land. These people did not know God. They followed after other gods and they did what was pleasing to them. They were far away.

But Isaiah recorded the words of God, saying that He was going to bring peace to both groups. Both groups were dead in their sins and enemies of God. Both groups were in need of God drawing them back to Him and settling the issue of their sin. God’s wrath had to be satisfied for both groups. Whether they were raised knowing of God or not didn’t change the fact that every man needed to be restored. And God was going to accomplish this for them. As such, neither had any room for boasting because neither did anything to deserve and cause God’s mercy or His forgiveness.

Paul wrote, “And He came and preached peace…” Jesus, on the night He was betrayed spoke to His disciples about His leaving and what would happen when they were left behind. In John 14:26 He said that after He left that the Father would send the Spirit. Then He went on to say, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” (John 14:27, NASB95) Then in chapter 16 we read, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NASB95) Not only was their sin account going to be settled at the cross by the blood of Jesus, but Jesus was also going to give them a peace that they could live with in His absence and in the face of all of the trials that they would encounter. God’s Spirit would seal and protect them, working to comfort and encourage, assuring them of His continued presence. As they faced persecution and even death they could do so because Jesus had really given them His peace. And this same peace is given to us, whether we came to His as a Jew or a Gentile (non-Jew); whether we knew of Him before or not. And through the gift of salvation all of us who were once far from Him in our sins have been brought near to Him in peace.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

United as One Body (Ephesians 2:14-16)

“For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.” (Ephesians 2:14–16, NASB95)

In the early days of the church there was regular division between the Jews and the growing number of  Gentile believers, and there was question as to how they should be treated. Some would have required that they become circumcised and adopt the religious practice of the Jews. Others would keep them at a distance and not fellowship and/or eat together. As all of this mystery of God unfolded there were many who struggled with how to respond. Among them were the apostles chosen by Christ. Acts records for us some of these tensions, especially as they responded to the Jewish Pharisee Saul who had gone from being a persecutor of the Jewish believers (followers of the Way) to becoming a follower of Christ. There were years of mistrust and alienation, but God continued to work, and we have some of this work recorded for us in the Bible. This included the decision of the apostles that while many Jewish believers were to continue their traditions and instructions as a people from God, the Gentile ones were set free to worship without their observance.

What knit them together was the truth that whether Jew or Gentile there was only one way to be saved, and that was by belief in the Son of God sent by the Father to die for their sins, to be buried, and to rise again on the third day. Every single one of these believers was sealed by the same Spirit into one body and brought together as one church. While they may not have practiced this perfectly or understood it clearly, positionally this is who they were—the body of Christ. And just as Saul (now Paul) had spoken before the Jewish believing leadership (Council) of this, he also wrote of this the Gentiles. Every single one of them, and us, were enemies of God set apart because of our sin and rebellion. But Jesus settled this. He made us to be at peace with God by becoming our perfect sacrifice. The demand of God for justice for sin was settled by God as our sin was taken upon His Son. The Father’s wrath was settled by the act of the Son to make us perfectly righteous with His righteousness and to remove the barrier that had existed. We were made to be at peace with God because Jesus is our peace.

And in being our peace; the peace of all who believe and are saved; we are called to live at peace with one another. There is to be no cancer in the body that ravages the body. We are to be wholly unified in Christ. This is who we are, and this is how we are called to live with one another. The dividing line of the Jews who lived under the commandments of God and the Gentiles who lived separate from the Law were was done away with and they were brought together as one in Christ. The division that existed was eliminated in Him. Yet, in practice they needed to be taught this truth and encouraged to live accordingly. This was to be a case of the Word of God shaping the response of man. As believers came to know the truth, the truth changed how they lived. And the truth declared that they were not to live as two, but as one knit together in Christ. Sure, they may have some religious practice differences, but those practices were not to serve as points of division.

Even today we can learn a lot from this instruction of Paul as we consider how we walk with one another. Our culture accuses Christians of being narrow minded and intolerant, and in many ways that can and should be very true. When it comes to salvation in Christ and Christ alone as the Son of God sent by the Father to bring salvation to man through His death, burial, and resurrection we are to be unbending. In this we stand with the inerrant Word of God (Scripture, the Bible) and declare that He is the way, the truth, and the life and that no man comes to the Father but through Him (John 14:6). This is the heart of the gospel and there is no other way to be saved. From there we are to rightly handle God’s truth and let it shape our lives both corporately and individually as we hide His inerrant Word in our hearts, rely on it to direct our steps, and seek to walk with one another in His abundant grace—all with the power that He supplies.

I am reminded of Jesus’ prayer to the Father just before entering the garden to be betrayed. He prayed, “…Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.” (John 17:17–23, NASB95)

The world would say that there are many truths, but Jesus prayed that we would be one in the truth which is Him declared through His Word. He prayed that we would live as one people united and sanctified in God’s truth according to His great love.

“Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:14–18, NASB95) 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Called Near and Far (Ephesians 2:11-13)

“Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands— remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:11–13, NASB95)

Paul is writing to a largely Gentile (or non-Jewish) audience. Ephesus, though it had some Jews who had fled there in the face of persecution and possibly for commerce, was a non-Jewish area and the church was made up of those people who reflected the area. These were the ones who were separated from and frequently looked down upon by the Jews (the “Circumcision”) because of their not being Jews (“Uncircumcision”). This distinction of circumcision goes back to a commandment given to Abraham by God after God made him a covenant or promise. This covenant is recorded for us in Genesis 17:1-8 where we read, “Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; Walk before Me, and be blameless. “I will establish My covenant between Me and you, And I will multiply you exceedingly.” Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying, “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, And you will be the father of a multitude of nations. “No longer shall your name be called Abram, But your name shall be Abraham; For I will make you the father of a multitude of nations. “I have made you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you. “I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. “I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”” (Genesis 17:1–8, NASB95)

But God also told Abraham that the people needed to respond in keeping that covenant. We go on to read that they were to be marked as children of the covenant by all male children being circumcised on the eighth day after their birth. “God said further to Abraham, “Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. “This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. “And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. “And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, a servant who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants. “A servant who is born in your house or who is bought with your money shall surely be circumcised; thus shall My covenant be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. “But an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.”” (Genesis 17:9–14, NASB95) And this became the way of the Jews. They were a special people; chosen and set apart by God. They became the people of the “Circumcision.” And by the time of Christ, those who were not of the circumcision were largely thought to be outside God’s plan even though God had told Abram that he would become the father of many nations.

It was to these non-Jews that Paul wrote and told them that what made them different was not something that man did to mark his body, but something that Christ did to mark them for eternity. At one time they did not know the God of Abraham. They had no interest in Him, nor did they have any expectation of receiving anything from Him. They were outsiders who had no hope, being alienated and without God.


He went on to say, “But now in Christ….” These believers who lived apart from Israel, apart from the God of Israel, and apart from the promise to Israel were still people loved by God. When God made man and placed him in the garden there was no need for the covenant. Man was created to have a regular, intimate relationship with Him. But man sinned and became spiritually dead and separated from God. A chasm was created and God put man out of the garden. Then as Scripture goes on to record, there were those who God found faithful, but for the most part man continued to be exceedingly evil.

In putting man out of the garden God did not do so without also making the promise that He would step in to intervene and conquer the evil that had come between them. His process for doing this was by choosing Abram (Abraham) through whom a people would be born who would be shown His mercy and through whom God would eventually even bring to them a Savior. Yet, it was this very Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord that they rejected and had crucified, only to rise again on the third day. It was this Savior who was sent not only to bring salvation to the Jews who believed, but to all of mankind of whom these Gentiles in Ephesus were a part.

The Father’s plan was reveled in the Son that through Him, the Son, that all men will be saved; that God’s salvation would spread to all of the nations, resulting in those who had once been far off being brought close. The Gentiles didn’t do anything special to deserve God diverting His attention to them, just as the Jews did nothing special to receive God’s promise in the first place. All of these decisions were ones made by God according to His own counsel. And as a result, every one of them who believed did so because they were the elect of God, chosen in Christ “before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). Even today, those of us who have been saved by faith have been saved because God chose us and gave us salvation in His Son. We have been brought close to God and enabled to have a relationship with Him because of the shed blood of Jesus Christ who cleanses us from all unrighteousness and His resurrection which gives to us new life. There is not room to think of any of us being more favored, but rather to equally respond to our God with extreme thankfulness as we realize that He is not done and we have no idea who is yet to be drawn near and be saved.

“For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” (Acts 2:39, NASB95) 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Made to do Good (Ephesians 2:10)

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10, NASB95)

Years ago on a visit to my parent’s I noticed that their whirligigs were falling apart in the weather (those things in the yard that spin their wings or propellers in the wind). So, I took some of them home with men and repaired them. In the process I decided that these were kind of neat, and I wanted to try my hand a making some. But rather than doing what someone else had already done, I decided to play with them and design my own. I also love birds, and I took my love for birds and the desire to make these whirligigs and bring them together. Now, I call it my therapy as I look to these birds, draw them out on paper, transfer the drawing to a hard surface for a pattern, go out into my garage and cut them out, round the edges, sand them, and prepare them for painting. It is here that they go from an idea to a shaped piece of wood. But there is still nothing really to distinguish what they are or what they will be useful for. It is not until I apply the paint that their identity is known and when I apply the wings that their purpose is prepared. Over the years I have continually added new ones and have tweaked them time after time to improve them. But my greatest joy has been being able to make them and put them into the hands of another to enjoy. It is here that they see them work, but rarely with any idea of what went into the process of bringing them there.

In verse 10 of Ephesians we read that we are God’s “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.” Think about it. We were created by God for good works. This in itself is an amazing thing that our God would have chosen us from before the foundation of the world apart from anything that we would ever do. He made us and He chose us. But He also did this with a result in mind that we would in turn return His affection in faithful service to Him in order to accomplish good works. Left to itself this truth could easily be taken to the point that we then, after having been saved by Christ, are released to go out and come up with what we can do in response. This could easily lead to our running around trying to show our thankfulness by again trying to gain His pleasure in our performance.

But the truth of the matter is very simple. We were not saved because He was pleased with us, and neither can we afterward improve on His choice. Sure, we were chosen before we were born and this includes not only our salvation but how we would serve afterward. This is what Paul goes on to say, we were “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Wow. God has a plan for my life. What an amazing realization. The things that He had laid out for me to do, just like my salvation, were laid out in advance. He picked the spiritual suit I am to wear and He laid it out for me such that it would fit. He made me for these things.

As I was thinking about this my mind was drawn to another passage of Scripture in 2 Timothy, where in the English Standard Version (ESV) we read, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16–17, ESV) God gives us what we need to be equipped for what He set apart for us to do, and backing up we see that a primary way of discovering His equipping and His direction is by spending time in His Word. He gave it to us. The Spirit moved in the hearts of men to write His Word so that we would have it, and then it was preserved so that we might not only learn it though teaching, but that we would be shown where we are off track, how to then get on track, and then to stay that way. God’s Word is given to direct our steps so that we might be trained in righteousness resulting in being equipped for His service.

It is from God’s Word that we learn that which is good and acceptable and perfect. In the last post I quoted Romans 12:1 in the context of works being our response to what God has done for us. Continuing in verse 2 we read, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2, NASB95) There was a way we used to do things and there is a way that the world does things. That way is founded in our own imaginings based upon our own understanding of things. Here we read that we are to stop thinking that way, and we are to have our minds transformed by the Spirit and the Word such that we think and act differently. In this we evidence God’s will in our lives so that we do that which He has declared good and acceptable and perfect. In Proverbs 3:5-6 we read that this is accomplished not by leaning on our own understanding, but by trusting in Him and looking to Him in all things. It is in doing this that we know He will set our path straight. This includes the little things and the big things. It includes those things which are seemingly easy for us to do and those which prove more challenging. It includes those things which line up with our desires and those in which we have to stop and purpose to realign our desires with those of God. It also includes those times when we have to wait for Him to show the way and those situations which we so desperately want to avoid.

There are so many opportunities before us every day, and God has given us the great privilege of being His ambassadors of grace and truth in a world where evil and uncertainty are so prevalent. What He calls us to do is to trust Him in those things He has set before us as we seek His will and follow His lead in doing that which brings glory to His name.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Light and the Lighter (Ephesians 2:8-9)

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9, NASB95)

The first part of the verse combines with the later part of verse 8 to say that salvation is totally something given to us by God. There is nothing we could have done to earn it, nor is there anything we can do to justify it such that we might say, “God sure made a good choice in me.” Salvation is something that He gives at His own perfect, good, loving, and right discretion. It is something He determined for each person before they were ever born or before even the foundation of the earth. I know these things have been covered in previous posts, but they are critical truths that God felt worth repeating as the Spirit moved Paul to pen. We are saved by grace and not by works. This is the whole thing, and as a result there is absolutely nothing in our salvation for which we can stick our thumbs up under our armpits and say, “Look at me!”

The “look at me” mentality was that of the Pharisees and religious leaders who Jesus contended with and who He told that their efforts were futile. Works are the result and not the condition. We serve response to what He has done. We are saved as a gift from Him, and because of that we live for Him. In Romans 12:1 we read an appropriate response, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual [reasonable or logical] service of worship.” (Romans 12:1, NASB95) It is a response and not a pre-requisite. We are saved by grace—God doing something for us that we did not deserve and which we could not do for ourselves. He did it because He loves us and chose to do so.

He did it by grace as His gift. Tony Evans in his book, Theology You Can Count On” wrote, “Theologians have developed a classic definition of this great concept called grace. They define it as God’s unmerited, or undeserved, favor toward sinners. I [Tony] define grace as the inexhaustible supply of God’s goodness whereby He does for us what we could never do for ourselves. Grace is the “gift of God.” (pp. 770-771) Tony went on to add that “Paul used the word grace itself twelve times in this letter….”

But we also read that salvation is received through faith. In this there is a great mystery known to God and wrestled with by man. It is one in which we can best understand by study, but ultimately accept by faith. Scripture that says before the foundation of the world God chose us, and knowing who He chose He also is faithful to bring us to salvation without fail. This teaching of Scripture (election) says that our being saved is God’s choice and that His choice is perfect and absolute. All who are saved are saved because they are the elect of God. The complexity comes in looking to see that Scripture also says that people are saved by faith; that they have to believe and call upon the Lord to be saved. This leads to the question of what role man or “faith” plays in his own salvation.

Going back to Tony Evan’s book, we read, “Now this is where some of the mystery of God’s work in election manifests itself. God’s offer of salvation is valid to all, and yet those who respond do so because they are the elect of God before the foundation of the world was laid. And those who do not come to Christ are blameworthy because the Bible never says that people are lost because they are nonelect. The lost are lost because they refuse to believe. These two truths may seem mutually exclusive, but the Bible teaches both and holds both in perfect balance. In Acts 13 Paul and Barnabas preached the gospel to the people of Pisidian Antioch on the first missionary journey. When they had finished their message, the Bible clearly says, “As many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:48)” (Evans, p. 775) [This subject was also covered also in the post, “Chosen in Christ,” Ephesians 1:4.]

While I may not be able to grasp exactly how God works these two, what I do know is that that God’s word teaches that He elects and we believe. His Spirit works to bring these two truths together in perfect harmony with His established will. The best way I can explain this is to say that the “that” in verse eight points to the effective grace that gives salvation and the faith that believes for salvation as both gifts from God. He does not force our belief, but in His perfect way He works such that we do believe and we wholeheartedly agree in the doing.

The bottom line is that we didn’t do it. We didn’t deserve it. God chose us. He shows Himself to us. And in His perfect way He works in us to respond. There is absolutely nothing about our salvation in which we can boast. Our salvation is a love gift from our Him, and one which we are called to share with others such that they might also hear, believe, and respond to the work of God in them.

By way of experience giving understanding to what I have studied in Scripture, I can look back to the day that the need to trust Christ made sense to me. It sure seemed like a lightbulb went on. Included in the process was not only a message I had heard that day visiting a church, but also some verses that had been buried deep inside from years past in going to a midweek church club program. This light was not one that I could turn on, but one that was turned on when I heard a message that made sense, these verses came to mind, and I knew that God was who I wanted to follow for the rest of my life. Did I make a choice? Yes. But was it really my idea? No. There was a groundwork laid by the Spirit that brought me to that point, and I believe without any doubt as I have searched God’s word that it was also the Spirit who gifted me to believe as that light was turned on.

“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 4:6, NASB95) 

Friday, October 16, 2015

Rich in His Kindness (Ephesians 2:6-7)

“and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:6–7, NASB95)

In working through these verses I took a break to listen to a CD that one of my sons brought home from Creationfest Northwest this year. It is an album by Peter Furler (who was co-founder and former lead vocalist of Newsboys). The first song on the album is titled “I’m Alive.” As I listened to it my mind was brought right back to these verses.

Out there alone and left to die
Cut off from You, my sole supply
You shed Your tears for me and then
You took my hand and raised me high

I'm alive, I'm on fire
And my spirit burns with desire
You set me alight, bright eyed
And with no way to hold it inside
I wanted to thank You
Thank You, thank You

Paul wrote in verses 6 and 7 of chapter 2 of Ephesians that God being rich in mercy … raised us up with His Son and seated us with Him in heavenly places. This is so much more than a human rescue. It is a rescue from God Almighty who not only pulled us from our bondage in sin, but who gave us a relationship back with Him and a rich inheritance with His Son who gave Himself for us. Looking to tenses used in these verses we see that some of it is a done deal—being past-tense and speaks to the fruit of what was already done. If we are saved we have been “raised” and “made.” These are accomplished already. As one commentator said, this “indicates that these are immediate and direct results of salvation. Not only is the believer dead to sin and alive to righteousness through Christ’s resurrection, but he also enjoys his Lord’s exaltation and shares in His pre-eminent glory.” (John MacArthur, MacArthur Study Bible)

There was nothing we could do to earn this. It is a 100% pure and absolute gift of God who loves us and who mercifully sent His Son to die for our sins and to give us new life through His resurrection. In Christ we have been made righteous and joint heirs with Him, called as His beloved children. As I listened to the song I was moved by the joy in Peter’s voice as he sang about how he had been made alive. It was as if a fire were raging in him that he could not contain and could only result in giving thanks to God; overwhelming and repeated thanks. This song was a song of appreciation to God for what He had done and a great thank you for giving something we did not deserve and doing so far and above anything we could ever imagine.

This kind of joy-filled appreciation is really the object of verse 7, where Paul said that in the ages to come God might demonstrate the “surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Think of it…. Not only did Paul know this assurance, and not only could he write of this assurance to the Ephesian believers, but so do we nearly 2,000 years later know that same assurance with the thousands upon thousands who came in-between and only He knows how many after. And for every single person who was called by God to be saved by His Son this being “raised” and “made” is totally true. We are still looking forward to just seeing in eternity what this all means, but there are so, so many who have gone before us who have realized God’s promises kept in His presence.

Even in my forty one years of being a Christian I can hardly count or remember how richly I have been blessed and His kindnesses to me. There is probably countless things that passed without me even noticing or even recognizing as being from Him. I know there have been days when I have even struggled to sing, and have been heavy hearted. But there are also and even far more times where I can clearly look and see and give thanks. And to be honest, most of these are the times when I have seemed the weakest or things may have seemed the most difficult or hard to bear. It is easy to go through the day when the days are smooth, but having gone through the difficult ones in the past I can surely and repeatedly join with Peter in saying, “Thank You. Thank You. Thank You.” Oh, to have eternity to know His kindness and sing His praises.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

And, Formerly Dead (Ephesians 2:4-5)

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),” (Ephesians 2:4–5, NASB95)

The grace of God is amazing. We deserved nothing from God other than judgment and eternal separation, but because of His great love for us He chose to give us the total opposite. He gave us forgiveness and life. We read “even when we were dead in our transgressions” that He made us alive together in Christ.

Something that is dead has no power. It is lifeless and unable to do anything about it. Its end is to rot away in the continued state of death. This is simply how it is. Anyone who lives in a rural area and drives by the same dead skunk or possum knows this to be true. Anyone who has been to a cemetery knows that once planted the body is helpless to do anything but remain where it was placed until such time that decay might even reduce it again to dust just as God said in Genesis 3:19 where we read, “…till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”” (Genesis 3:19, NASB95)

We were all appointed to die and after that we read comes judgment as we read in Hebrews 9:27. And reading the Bible we know that this judgment not only includes eternal separation from God but being cast into the eternal presence of the evil one who would have been our ruler in this life. Satan may try to paint all kinds of enjoyable pictures for man here and now. He may want to twist the motives or plan of God and lead us to believe something less. He may even encourage us to deny God’s very existence. But the eternal result of these lies is real and it is of horrible torment. “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:15, NASB95)

Death is what we all deserve. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love … has made us alive”!!!! This is what mercy combined with love do, they rescue. They rescue not merely by acknowledging the distress of another and providing them comfort in their misery, but by lifting them from that misery and placing them into a new situation. This is the difference between the liberal theology of today which overlooks sin and our God who rescues us from sin and sets a new course for our lives.

God is totally righteous and He cannot in His righteousness justify unrighteousness in His presence, but He can and does take that which is unrighteousness and cleanse it with the righteousness of His own Son and then fully welcome as adopted children. When God rescues someone from their state of spiritual death He doesn’t merely life them up, dust them off, and say, “Go and sin no more.” Sure Jesus said this, but in Scripture we read that the ability to go forward victorious over sin is not found in having been given a fresh start but in having been given new life—having been made spiritually alive. Man left to himself would get himself back into the same mess, as he has proven time after time. But God makes us alive in His Son. He gives us new life.

What died in the garden with Adam is made alive in Christ. “For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:17–19, NASB95)

God’s love goes far beyond any human measure of compassion. It goes to the point of sacrificing His own Son to graciously give us something we did not deserve nor could we ever achieve. He gave us this great gift because HE LOVES US! If you have not already responded to this great gift from God, won’t you talk to Him and do so today?? Please. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Formerly Indulgent (Ephesians 2:3)

“Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.” (Ephesians 2:3, NASB95)

In the social media I regularly see posts about groups of people who claim to walk by one standard yet embrace lifestyles that are not consistent with the standard. Specifically, I am thinking today of a group of “Christian ministers” standing together holding hands in unity as they held up signs in front of an abortion clinic proclaiming, “Pro-faith, Pro-family, Pro-choice.” These pictures brought a strong response from some, with one popular blogger writing, “Pray for their souls. They are marching right into Hell and singing songs along the way. Pray they turn back before it's too late.” Under the auspices of denouncing the shame “thrown” upon women seeking abortions, these people came together to bless the abortion facility and the destructive and murderous work that it does.

I can understand standing against shaming people and preferring to act graciously toward them, but bending truth in order justify their repulsion of the shame is not the answer. The reality is that these ministers have already bought into a liberal theology, one that allows them to selectively pick and choose from God’s word what they will accept and how they will apply it. They substitute the happiness of man for the will of God, decrying anyone who would deny a person seeking what is right in their own eyes.

Today we have a growing number of churches who hold to statements such as, “[xxx xxx] Church is a caring, inquiring, inclusive community worshiping God, pursuing the way of Christ, serving neighbors near and far with hearts, hands, and minds.” And, “… encourages thoughtful inquiry; takes the Bible seriously, but not literally.” What is the difference between “pursuing the way of Christ” and submitting to the headship of Christ? What is the difference between “seriously” and literally? Simply put, the Bible to them has become a voice among voices, but not THE voice in the decisions they make as they seek to embrace and include those around them. This might seem like a wonderful ideal, but in adopting it they have let their idealism cloud truth. They have set aside the word of God as the true and inerrant word of God and have adopted is as mere counsel to help inform their ideas.

Paul, in writing to the Ephesian believers, drew a contrast between the way they once lived and the new life that had been set apart to live. While they surely struggled at times in walking according to the image of Christ they were reminded that it was Christ who changed them and set them apart to live differently. This meant setting aside some things that they once did or believed for that which God has declared to be right and good. It meant even setting aside some “fleshly” desires or things that seemed good at the moment for the right way that God has set apart for them in His word. When they were subject to the rule of the evil one no one should have been surprised that they walked in step with the evil one. But afterward as children of God, saved by Christ, and indwelt by the Spirit they were called and enabled to walk differently. They were no longer to indulge or even entertain indulging those other things.

In Christ there is a perfect balance between truth and grace which does not require watering down one in order to accommodate the other. Sure, society might stand up in angry resistance to Christians because they do not embrace their desires, views and lifestyles, but why should we be surprised. We know from God’s word that those who do not know Christ are children of the devil, and the devil is opposed to God. We also know that those who do not know Christ do not have the Spirit of God in them and are led by the prince of the power of the air. We know that those who do not know Christ do not feel compelled to abide by the Word of God nor adhere to what God declares as right and good. There should be a stark contrast between them, and we should not be surprised when we see it become an issue in our culture and our personal encounters.

But for believers to alter the word and live in a compromised way is not the answer. I’m sure among them there are those who have been deceived by wolves and misled by their view of compassion in order to represent God as a loving and gracious God who accepts all people in all circumstances, and permits them to openly embrace those same things. But in doing this they have lost sight of the truth that God also has called us to live differently, and not according to the way we once walked. Paul is reminding his readers that they too once walked according to the flesh or the ways of the world, the evil one, and their own desires as people who were separated from God. But this was not the “now” case, and as such they were evidencing this change by walking accordingly.

I am greatly troubled by these religious leaders using their position to lead people into deception and a distorted gospel. But more personally, I am troubled when I continue to do those things that are contrary to how God would have me to walk as well. It’s not just them. We’ve all been called to walk differently in Christ because we have a new identity. We have been purchased by His blood, set free from the law of sin, and have been enabled to walk victoriously before Him. We have been shown grace by God and He has given us His word to hide in our hearts and to direct our steps. He has shown us even by the example of His Son in Scripture how to walk rightly among those who would oppose this while challenging people to look to God and trust that He indeed does love them and has sent His Son to draw them back to Him. And we have been given the Spirit to indwell and enliven us, to make His word living and active, and to guide us in our walk with Him. We can walk in truth with grace without compromising either one. Whether people accept us for it or not really is not up to us but to God who draws people to Himself, who opens their eyes, and gives them His great gift of salvation. We are not to let our desires be the determinant of our belief, but to allow God to shape our desires according to His truth as we seek after Him and walk as He has called us to walk in the power of His Spirit.

Paul, in encouraging Timothy near the end of his own life, wrote, “Now you [Timothy] followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord rescued me! Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:10–17, NASB95) 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Formerly Under Another (Ephesians 2:1-2)

"(1) And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, (2) in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.” (Ephesians 2:1–2, NASB95)

We live in a country where our national motto is “In God We Trust” and in which some key words were placed in our pledge, “One nation under God.” But how true is that statement? Who is it true for? And, why or why not? I think there is little doubt that many of the founding fathers of our framework believed in God and desired that others would follow after Him. But even this is not universally true. I think that our country has been heavily influenced by a biblical moral and legal system, but even that has not been universal. And there is no doubt over time that each of these has been attacked, eroded, and even changed, proving just how questionable it is for an entire country to hold these ideals. If truly we trusted in God as a country of people would we desire or even tolerate much of what has not only been tolerated, but even embraced by so many such as the murdering on pre-born children. If we truly were one nation under God would we tolerate the movement to remove all vestiges of such a belief from our public places and our government institutions?

This idea of having a bunch of free people who could and would freely seek after and worship God has not proven itself viable when it has been left in the hands of man, or at least men who do not personally know, seek after, and worship God. Rather it has proven, even from the most basic look, that when a people turn their back on God that the moral fabric of the country declines and those who remain to seek after God become increasingly more persecuted.

The reason for this is pretty simple. There is no vacuum in leadership. There is no vacuum in authority. When one authority is displaced in the hearts of a people and a nation, another authority quickly moves in. And we know from God’s Word and passages like this today that this authority is none other than the “prince of the power of the air”—the devil, Satan.

In the last post we looked at man’s original sin and his entry into spiritual death. It this post we are drawn to look at the one who put the fruit before the woman and his continuing to put the fruit before people today—the one who has set the course of the world since Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened to evil and were removed from the garden and made subject to his rule by their own disobedience. Just one step away from the garden we read of Adam and Eve’s first two children that one had a heart for God and the other didn’t. Speaking to Cain, the one who didn’t, God said, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” (Genesis 4:6–7, NASB95) We know from the next verses that Cain did not listen to God, but rather went into the field and murdered his only (at that time) brother, Abel.

This has been the condition of man and it continues to be the condition of man apart from God. Reading here that “sin is crouching at the door,” we read elsewhere in 1 Peter, “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.” (1 Peter 5:8–9, NASB95) We read the same instruction—to resist, but in this later passage we find the source of the enablement to resist in “being firm in your faith.” The ones to whom Peter was writing had been changed. They had been removed from the rule of Satan by being purchased back by the blood of Jesus Christ.

The apostle Paul wrote in Romans, “For the death that He [Jesus] died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” (Romans 6:10–14, NASB95)

This speaks to those who have been bought back by Christ. Looking to 1 Corinthians where we also read that we have not only been set free from the bondage and sin, but that we have been bound together in Christ. “But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him. Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. 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 6:17–20, NASB95)

Being freed from bondage does not mean being freed from conflict, attack, and even willful engagement. The reality is that we have a long way to grow and we do continue to struggle with desires that are not those of God. We live in a world where sin is rampant and its effects are vast. We are forced to admit that there remains a spiritual battle in which we are engaged here and now. But Scripture declares that we are not left defenseless in this battle. Ephesians 6 is one of the most focused on passages when it comes to this issue. In verse 12 of that chapter Paul reminds us of this before going on to speak of how we are made to be victorious, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12, NASB95)

There is a real war going on, and the enemy is relentless. Those who do not belong to Christ belong to him and he is very influential. In addition to that, they on their own do not seek after God nor do they listen to His instruction. It should be no surprise that when a significant voice in any culture does not listen to the voice of God that what comes from them will be in line with the deceitful voice of the enemy. What is wrong before God seems right to those who listen to this enemy, and what seems right in their own eyes will also be that for which they fight to obtain and to protect.

It is not that these people do not know what is right and good, but that they willingly choose to substitute what God has placed in their awareness of God with what they desire for themselves. In Romans we read, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.” (Romans 1:18–25, NASB95) These are the ones who listen to the voice and who are given over the “king … of the bottomless pit” (Revelation 9:11).

You see, while the battle we are engaged here may focus on the protection of innocent life, the preservation of marriage, and the rights of those who believe it is truly about so much more. It is about those who are lost and pointing them to the one in whom they can be found. It is about being God’s light in a world of those who are blind, knowing that He is the one who can make them see and set them free. Paul reminds his readers and us that this is who we once were, and in so doing points to our great need to be on the alert while we also speak of their great need to others. Jesus came to us in both truth and grace, and according to His grace we live and proclaim truth.