Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Gifts of Grace (Ephesians 4:7-8)

“But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, “When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men.”” (Ephesians 4:7–8, NASB95)

We started reading our Advent verses on the 1st. Last week we put up our Christmas tree last week, and today I finally got around to putting lights on the house. Christmas is coning quickly and anticipation is high. In less than 10 days the gifts will be received as the presents are opened. With that I am hopeful that the recipients are filled with joy and not disappointed in what they receive.

After writing about the unity of the body as we are one under God according to the will of the Father through the shed blood and life of Christ and being sealed, bound and empowered by the Spirit, Paul turns here to the individuals who comprise the church—the body of Christ. Realizing that we are one, Paul adds that in this oneness we all are uniquely saved and gifted. It’s is by God’s grace that we are all saved. There is not a single person who deserved anything from God. We have all sinned and fallen short of His perfect glory and we are all separated from Him in judgment except for His grace. Ephesians 2:8 says that it is “by grace that we are saved….” And this grace was shown to us because God sent His Son, Jesus, conceived by the Holy Spirit to be born of a virgin and then eventually go to a cross as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. Jesus Christ graced us by taking the penalty for our sins so that we might receive the forgiveness of God and be given eternal life. The amazing thing in all of this is that God calls all of us as different people with different issues to Himself and He does not lose a single one. His grace is perfect for our salvation and it is given to us because Jesus died, was buried, and rose again just as God said. There was no group salvation, but individuals believing and being saved according to Christ’s gift to us.

While people are focused on Christmas and the gifts, at the heart of Christmas is that the Christ came as a baby to be the greatest gift ever given to man—a relationship forever with God. So, as I think about the lights being turned on today and I think about these verses I am mindful that Jesus is truly the light of the world through whom we are saved.

This is grace. It is the what we refer to as the gospel message, the good news that God has sent His Son to save man who is not worthy. God is the one who freely gave this gift to us, and it as absolutely nothing to do with anything we have done or might ever do. It is unearned and undeserved!

Continuing with the uniqueness of Christ’s gift to us, just as we are saved by grace so are we graced to be specially gifted for His service. The Spirit of God works in us to open our eyes so that we can believe and be saved, and the Spirit gifts us so that we can serve after our salvation. In Romans 12:6 we read, “Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly….” (Romans 12:6, NASB95) Again grace is at the center. We were graced to be saved and we are graced to be able to walk and serve afterward. And in this gifting we are uniquely enabled is such a way that we work together in our uniqueness to build up the singular body of Christ—the church.

Verse 8 is most likely an application of Psalm 68:18, “You have ascended on high, You have led captive Your captives; You have received gifts among men, even among the rebellious also, that the Lord God may dwell there.” (Psalm 68:18, NASB95) This psalm begins with the words, “Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered, and let those who hate Him flee before Him. As smoke is driven away, so drive them away; as wax melts before the fire, so let the wicked perish before God. But let the righteous be glad; let them exult before God; Yes, let them rejoice with gladness.” (Psalm 68:1–3, NASB95)

Jesus conquered death and He reigns as the victor. He brings those who are His with Him and He gives them freely of all that He has. He also sits as judge over those who do not believe. This is His right given to Him by the Father and evidenced by His death, burial, and resurrection. Sin and death and the evil one are conquered. Satan may still seem to be having a hay day among men, but his days are numbered and his defeat is already settled. Jesus reigns at the right hand of the Father and He is active through the power of the Spirit to save and to gift—bought and paid for!! 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

One God over All (Ephesians 4:6)

“…one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:6, NASB95)

Our country's Pledge of Allegiance currently has the words “under God” in it. Though the earliest pledge by Colonel George Balch, a veteran of the Civil War (1923), did include giving our hearts to God, the first adopted pledge did not include such wording. However, over time as outside forces appeared to threaten the fabric of the country certain entities started adding such wording. Then by a joint act of Congress, the words “under God” were signed into law on Flag Day, June 14, 1954, by President Dwight Eisenhower.

Now, a half-century later, legal challenges continue to mount to not only strike these words but to strike all visible monuments and recognized wording or prayers reflecting or referring to Christianity, Judaism, the Ten Commandments, and symbols such as crosses and nativities from public lands, commentaries, government meetings, and whatever other arena they might attack. In a country that once was a haven for the religiously persecuted, now having faith in God has become cause itself for persecution in a variety of forms.

Contrast that to it not being uncommon today to see bumper stickers that say “coexist,” “believe” or even “unite.” But when you look at them you see that the letters and surrounding icons are those that are representative of various world religions or beliefs. Their message is that as humans we are to embrace all humans as one and to accept their beliefs as equally valid and even correct “for them.” It would be great if behind this was a recognition that all men were created by God in His image and bear what is uniquely given to man by Him regardless of whether he believes it or not. But these stickers and those who mount them on their vehicles or carry them in their hearts do not come from this viewpoint as much as from a position that all paths are right as long as you believe it. They all imply that there is a common good and they seem to promote a common human welfare, and since there is no single authoritative rule giver (in their minds) all rules and paths are equally valid. Of course, they are equally valid as long as you don’t hold to a position that excludes all of the others as being truth and truthful.

It is because of this intolerance for absolute tolerance that Christians today are not tolerated in the public arena. It is because a minority of voices have gained a popular hearing with businesses, politicians, and courts that Christians are even being restricted in what they can do and say in the public square or even in the course of their business. Even today in our current election cycle there are politicians of Christian faith who are sharing their concerns about issues of abortion, marriage, and even Muslim immigration who are being called bigoted and un-American. Because of their faith they cannot join with others in embracing positions which are inconsistent with their faith, and for that they are being ostracized.

While much of the world may be denying God and seeking to quiet and even persecute those who do, the truth of Scripture remains, and that is that God Himself has declared that He is one. There is no other God beside Him. All others gods are false. Even the power of the evil one, or the god of this world, is subject to the power of the one true God.

This stands as a message for judgment for all who reject Him, but it also stands as a reminder of the incredible unity that those who believe have with one another. Not being a divided God, when we are united in Him we are united as one into our God who is one. Every single believer is united in Him, and He is in them. While the world might seek a superficial oneness that tolerates everything and in the end stands for nothing. But being in Him we stand with our God who does not change and who will accomplish all that He set out to do which even includes a final end where there is eternal separation of those who names are in the Book of Life because of His Son, entering His presence forever, and those who are not who receive eternal judgment and separation. In light of this, there really is no choice for me. It is far better to belong to God and be held by Him though persecuted, than to be adored by men and judged forever.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

One God and Father (Ephesians 4:6)

“(4) There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; (5) one Lord, one faith, one baptism, (6) one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4–6, NASB95)

In these three verses we see together the fullness of our God who is one yet exists in three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Scripture declares repeatedly that God is one and that there is no other besides Him. A typical doctrinal statement for churches might read, “There is one God, Creator of all things, infinitely perfect and eternally existing in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

We see this in passages such as Deuteronomy 4:35 where we read starting with verse 32, “Indeed, ask now concerning the former days which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and inquire from one end of the heavens to the other. Has anything been done like this great thing, or has anything been heard like it? Has any people heard the voice of God speaking from the midst of the fire, as you have heard it, and survived? Or has a god tried to go to take for himself a nation from within another nation by trials, by signs and wonders and by war and by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm and by great terrors, as the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? To you it was shown that you might know that the Lord, He is God; there is no other besides Him.” (Deuteronomy 4:32–35, NASB95) There is no other god from creation who exists other than the Lord who is God alone. This is the message declared before the people of Israel. Later in Deuteronomy we read again, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4, NASB95) … “See now that I, I am He, and there is no god besides Me; it is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal, and there is no one who can deliver from My hand.” (Deuteronomy 32:39, NASB95)

With the coming of Jesus we find Him repeatedly in the gospels submitting to the will of the Father, distinguishing Himself from Him as the Son who was sent. Speaking to those who did not believe Him, “Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me. But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. 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 10:25–30, NASB95)

In John we read that it is Jesus who knew the Father because He was from God. “Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father.” (John 6:46, NASB95) And later He added in speaking to one of His disciples, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9, NASB95) Philip had asked Jesus to show them the Father, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” (John 14:8, NASB95) And Jesus’ response was clearly stated—“He who has seen Me has seen the Father.”

And not only has God made Himself known through the Son, but as Paul wrote in chapter 1 of Romans, He has made Himself known in His creation and the very things that He has put into the hearts of ALL. “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.” (Romans 1:18–20, NASB95)

And for us who have been called to salvation by faith in His Son we have the incredible privilege of being a part of His working in and through us. “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.” (1 Corinthians 12:4–6, NASB95)

In these three verses as in many others we clearly see that our God is real, that He is One, and that He has not only shown Himself to us, but has reached into our lives and drawn us to Him into a relationship that will never end. There is only one God, and not many paths to God as some declare. God is not Allah. God is not of the earth. God is not found in some form of transcendence of continual improvement through various manifestations of life. And God the Father is not separate from the Spirit or the Son.

God is found in us because of His Son. We are temples of His Spirit. And through us others are brought to see Him and come to know His Son as the Spirit opens their eyes. This is how God intends it that we are His ambassadors, His cracked vessels through which the light of life shines through, and His voices proclaiming truth into a dark and desperately lost world.

As members of His body the church we are to be reminded that it is God who makes us to be one. We are bound together by the blood of His Son and we are indwelt by His Spirit. As such we are to constantly carry that oneness in our hearts as we walk with one another showing love through our deference toward and our support of each other. It is in Christ that we are made one and it is Him who is head over His church.

Paul’s last words to the Corinthian believers recorded for us are, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.” (2 Corinthians 13:14, NASB95) Amen.