Living a With-God Life

October 15, 2017

Jim Renke is the Regional Minister of the Upper Mississippi Region of the NABC. When he is in town he and Kris often attend our service. I’ve known Jim for years and we enjoy a wonderful friendship. What you may not know is that some years back Jim developed a serious, life threatening heart condition.

After a number of trips to the hospital he learned of a special diet that he and Kris embraced, and it has transformed Jim’s health. So Jim does not eat any kind of animal product, no fish, red meat, chicken, or pork. He does not eat any dairy products or use any oil. He does not eat any nuts, coconut, or avocados. He only eats plant based foods like veggies, fruit, potatoes, rice and beans. He has lost weight and is healthier than he has ever been.

It wasn’t easy at first for Jim to embrace this diet, but the alternative was unacceptable. So he started on a journey and now the diet is life giving. As we look at Eph.4 we are thinking about what it means to know Christ and live a “with-God” life on a daily basis. In these verses Paul tells us that Christians have entered into an ongoing process of Christ-like transformation.

I. TURN AWAY FROM THE “WITHOUT-GOD” LIFE. 4:17-19

The book of Ephesians is written to Gentile Christians. In Eph.4 Paul begins the chapter by urging believers to walk worthy of the calling of Jesus Christ. Part of that calling is to maintain unity in the body of Christ, the church. In v.4-16 Paul expands on the importance of unity. But in v.17 he resumes the topic of walking worthy of our calling. Those who become followers of Christ should no longer live like unbelievers live. Paul goes on to describe the life of the unbeliever.

Paul is not saying that there are some really bad people out there. That is not his point. Nor is Paul suggesting that everyone is as bad as they could possibly be. After all, each of us know unbelievers who are really wonderful people. They seem to be as good as, if not better, than some Christians we know. There are a number of reasons why people are not as bad as they could be. For example: there are laws and penalties that keep our behavior in check. There is societal shame and disapproval that helps to keep us in check. God has given each of us a conscience that causes us to feel guilt and shame. Many today have been raised with some religious teaching or in a religious family and they have embraced Judeo Christian values, even though they may not be Jewish or Christian. Along with this we eventually learn that if we want to get along in this world, we need to help and care for others. Things go better when we are kind to each other. So we are not as bad as we could be.

In these verses Paul is describing a condition of the heart which effects the mind and body and sets a person up for infinite loss in relationship to God and themselves. The problem is that at the center of our being there is hardness of heart towards God. As Paul writes in Rm.1:21, “although they knew God, they did not honor God as God or give thanks to him.” As wonderful as they might be, in the heart of unbelievers there is an unwillingness to acknowledge or surrender to God our Creator and his Son, Jesus Christ. When a person chooses to ignore or reject God things happen in their minds and bodies.

Paul says that their minds are characterized by futility, emptiness. Their understanding is darkened and they live in ignorance of God. They are increasingly alienated from the life of God that he has made available to us in Jesus Christ. I mean, if a person turns away from God who gives life, what are they turning to? They are turning towards death, a “without God life”

Notice what Paul says. He points out that as a result of their hardness of heart, they become callous or insensitive. Callous to what? They become callous to the righteousness and moral goodness of God. They become insensitive to their conscience and the moral laws of God. The result of this callousness is a life of sensuality and impurity. Unbelievers basically worship themselves. When we worship ourselves we find meaning and purpose in the fulfillment of our own desires. Self-fulfillment is what becomes most important.

When we are focused on self-expression and self-satisfaction, that’s what we think about. We think about ourselves and how everything relates to us. And when we think about ourselves, we pursue those things that we think will enhance ourselves or help us feel better about ourselves. Not all of these things are sinful. But in one way or another they will promote ourselves and our sense of pride.

Paul tells us that this way of thinking leads to sensuality and greed. We will practice every kind of impurity that we think we can get away with. With our mind and body we worship ourselves. This is why our society is consumer driven, oversexualized, driven by greed for wealth and power, filled with violence and contempt and racial animosity. It is also why people become addicted to many things and often end up in a pitiful condition. It’s like we are bent on self-destruction. N.T. Wright reminds us that “Idols demand sacrifices.” When we worship ourselves we lose ourselves over to our desires.

We have seen two very powerful examples of this in the past week. Pennsylvania Rep., Tim Murphy resigned last week after a report surfaced that he had asked an extramarital lover to end her pregnancy through abortion. The irony is that Murphy is a Republican and has been an outspoken supporter of pro-life legislation. He co-sponsored a 20-week abortion ban that passed in the House this past Tuesday. He and his wife attend St. Thomas More Catholic Church. The worship of himself and his own desires brought him down.

And then there is the powerful film producer and studio executive, Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein has long supported Democrat candidates for president and has been noted as someone who advocates for the fair treatment of women. Weinstein was just fired because of allegations of a long history of sexual assault on many women.

Both of these people maintained a public persona that seemed upright. Yet they are hypocrites. The fulfillment of their own desires brought them down. What fills the mind will eventually be expressed in our bodies. As a person thinks so is he or she.

I don’t know about you, but I am increasingly astounded at the depravity of the human heart that we see openly acted out everywhere. If they think they can get away with it, the nicest people will do just about anything with no remorse. That is grievous, but not unexpected. What is unexpected is when those who have turned to Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and life in the kingdom of God live in the same way as unbelievers. What this tells us is that they are allowing themselves to meditate and think upon ungodly things. Turn away from the “with-out God” life. It’s killing you.

II. EMBRACE THE “WITH-GOD” LIFE IN JESUS CHRIST. 4:20-24

One thing is for sure. The “without God” life will never lead one to a “with God” life. Only by turning to Jesus Christ will a person enter into life with God. Turning to Jesus Christ is called conversion. In his commentary on Ephesians, Klyne Snodgrass writes, “Conversion is a renunciation of a self-centered identity in favor of a Christ-defined identity. All that shapes us is given over to Christ, and his mindset of self-giving love becomes our mindset. Conversion is the restructuring of a person’s thinking by the Holy Spirit as the result of a direct encounter with the love of God in the person of Christ.”

When Paul refers to learning Christ, he is not just talking about having knowledge about Jesus. He is talking about knowing Jesus. The truth is found in Jesus. We must have both knowledge about Jesus and knowledge of Jesus. How else can we turn to Him? The wonderful thing about God is that he desires for us to enter into his good life far more than any of us desire it. And so God pursues us by the Holy Spirit seeking to woo us to himself. But what kind of life does a person enter into when they are converted to Christ?

Paul describes this life in v.22-24. Entering into the new life of Christ is like changing one’s clothes. When I am working outside in the dirt I wear old clothes because I know they will get dirty. When I am done working I change my clothes because the dirty clothes are not appropriate for the house or going out. If I keep the dirty clothes on, that dirt will make clean things dirty. There is within me a sense that dirty clothes need to be changed.

When a person embraces life in Christ they literally receive the life of Christ. His life is a righteous life, a moral life, a life filled with truth and love. It is the eternal resurrection life of Jesus given to us. In converting to Christ we are changed inside. We receive a new self. We become a new creation. And our lives become pretty interesting.

What happens when a person with sinful ways of thinking and acting suddenly receives the new life, the new self of Jesus within them? What happens to those old self habits? Well, they don’t just go away. Our sins are forgiven, but the old self desires and thoughts still reside within us.

So in the Christian life, one of the most important areas of focus is our minds. Paul tells us to be renewed in the spirit of our minds. What we think about is very important. In Rm.12:2, Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” I believe this is far more important than many think is it. What are you thinking about when your mind is tired? What does your mind default to when it is not preoccupied with work or other activities? Do you engage in worry and fear? Do you engage in doubt and self-pity, thinking about what your life could have been but is not? Do you engage in lust and envy? Do you make plans for how you might indulge a sinful pleasure? Do you push aside guilt and conviction of sin? Do you try to find ways to justify actions that dishonor God in your life? All of these ways of thinking are destructive to the life of Christ in you. All of these ways of thinking will hinder the expression of the new self you have received in Christ.

When we embrace the “with God” life in Christ, we enter into a process, a journey of learning to turn away from old self thinking and old self actions. We must pay attention to our mental thoughts and bodily actions. They reinforce each other. This process is called dying to self.

Now I’ve been a follower of Christ since the age of 5. But only recently did I come to recognize the connection between my thoughts and actions in an area of my life. When I saw the connection I was taken aback. But it helped me realize that Christian maturity requires the renewing of the mind along with changes in behavior. In 2Cor.4:16, Paul writes, "So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day." It will be difficult for the mind to be transformed if we don't put an end to unhelpful habits that reside in the body. Those habits will influence our mind and vice versa. Since we have the mind of Christ we must change the way we use our bodies. Have you given any thought to this?

In v.24 Paul tells us to put on the new self. And he says that this new self is created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Is that not amazing? If you have embraced Christ you have a new identity that is like God himself. So how do we put on this new set of God-like clothes?

We begin with our minds. When our minds are sharp (for me that is in the morning), that is the time to engage your mind in learning about Jesus. This takes effort. What books are you reading? Do you take time for quite reflection on the life of Jesus and God’s word? Do you call out to God in prayer? You cannot be renewed in the spirit of your mind unless you takes steps to direct your mind into the truth of Jesus Christ. And then what can you do when your mind is not sharp, when your mind is tired? Well, you can turn away from sinful, old-self thoughts that crowd in. You can do it. The Holy Spirit wants to help you and will help you, if you want him to.

What Paul is talking about here is reflected in baptism. In baptism the believer is put under the water. This symbolizes their death with Christ to sin. In Christ we die to sin. When the believer comes up out of the water it symbolizes resurrection to new creation life with Christ. Baptism pictures the “with God” life

Charlemagne was born on Apr. 2, 742, and died on Jan. 28 in 814. He was the first recognized emperor in western Europe and he united much of Europe during the Middle Ages. Under his rule, many were baptized into the Catholic Church. Soldiers in his army were also expected to be baptized. But here’s something interesting. When those soldiers were baptized, often in large groups, plunging themselves in a river, they would go under the water but would hold their sword in their sword hand above the water. They didn’t want that hand to be baptized because they knew they would have to use that hand to kill the enemy. It was the unbaptized hand.

Perhaps you have been converted. You have embraced Jesus Christ and were baptized. I wonder. Have you entered into life with Christ with one hand held out of the water so to speak? Is there anything that you are keeping for yourself? Whatever that thing might be is hindering you from being transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ. Not only does it hinder you, but it hurts you. Have you embraced the “with-God” life in Jesus Christ? Amen

The Church: God's Construction Crew

October 8, 2017

Do you take every call that you get on your cell phone? I know people that if they don’t recognize the number or if the number is not in their contacts list they don’t take the call. How many times have I received a call from Julie who want to inform me that I won something! On the other hand there are calls that I will always take no matter what the situation. If Angie calls me and I’m in a meeting I will step out to take the call. She’s my first and only lady.

Last week we were reminded that we have a calling in Christ to live holy and blameless lives. We also noted that part of our calling is to maintain unity in the church. This requires that we practice humility, gentleness, patience, and bearing with one another in love. Today Paul explains more about this unity and it involves every believer. This is a call that no believer can afford to let go. The truth is that Jesus Christ calls every believer to build up the church.

I. JESUS HAS GIVEN GIFTS TO THE CHURCH. 4:7-12a

Verses 7-12 show us that Paul is talking about spiritual gifts. And in v.7 he tells us that grace is given to each one of us. I believe he is referring to spiritual gifts. He quotes from Ps.68:18, giving Old Testament background concerning Christ’s victorious ascension, having defeated sin, death, and the demonic powers referred to in Eph.6. In light of his ascension, Jesus is Lord of all and he is bestowing spiritual gifts of grace to his people in the church. We can see here that the church has cosmic significance. The church has to do with Christ and his Lordship. The church has a key role to play in the new creation work of God in the world. What we are doing here is not just for our own benefit. It is also for the benefit of this dying world and God’s glory.

In Rm.12 and 1Cor.12-14, Paul makes it clear that every believer has been given spiritual gifts from the Lord. But in Eph.4 Paul focuses on four specific gifts. In v.11 Paul says, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherd-teachers.” Many think that shepherds and teachers are meant to be combined into one because of the grammatical construction.

Personally I don’t think Paul is saying that these four gifts make some people more important in the church than others. I don’t think Paul is setting up four offices in the church. This is not meant to divide professional clergy from the laity. No. We are all one in Christ. We are all part of the body of Christ. Instead these gifts prepare the way for the proper expression of all the other gifts.

All four of these gifts involve preaching and teaching. It is not easy to give hard and fast definitions to these words. As I best understand, apostles refers to those who had a foundational ministry in establishing the early churches and the content of the faith. Prophets also had a ministry of exhortation and sometimes gave a word concerning future events. Evangelists were those who focused on proclaiming the gospel primarily to unbelievers. Both Philip and Timothy are called evangelists. Both had ministry to unbelievers and to believers. Pastor-teachers refer to those who cared for the congregation like a shepherd would care for his sheep and who taught the Scriptures.

God gave these spiritual gifts for the purpose of equipping the saints. Obviously a lot has changed since the days of Paul. We live in a consumer society that is highly individualistic. We pick churches like we order at Burger King: “Have it your way.” With the rise of the mega church we have pastors who are very entrepreneurial. They are strong leaders who function as CEOs of the church. I am not criticizing this. I believe the Lord uses many of these pastors. However, when a congregation becomes a mega-church, there is a lot of marketing and money that is required to keep things growing and expanding. One can lose the simplicity of the calling of pastoral care and teaching the word. In addition to this the emphasis on mega-church growth helps to create an inappropriate expectation that every church needs to be a potential mega-church. Obviously a congregation needs to be able to support itself and its ministries, but in the United States one wonders if things have not gotten a little skewed.

In Eph.4 we see that God has provided these leaders so that all the believers can be equipped. In what way do believers need to be equipped? Well, the kind of equipping Paul is referring to is helping others learn to walk worthy of the calling to which we have been called. The most important part of this ministry is providing teaching and practice on how to live or walk as believers in the church and in this world. At the time when Paul wrote these words, there was no New Testament and most people could not read anyway. They learned by listening and doing. These gifts were given to the church so that the church could learn how to live godly lives.

Two things: It is very important that those who have teaching ministries in the church cultivate a life of integrity and faithfulness to Christ. If the life we live does not support the teaching we give, we undermine the church. And then, it is important for believers to avail themselves of the teachings available in the church. Today, we have access to the very best teachers through Christian radio, pod casts, and books. All of that has its place. However being part of a local congregation and entering into the teaching ministry of that congregation is also important. The goal is not just to have knowledge. So let me expand on this by saying that…

II. Jesus Christ has given gifts to the church THAT ALL BELIEVERS MAY HAVE MINISTRY IN THE CHURCH. 4:12

Verse 12 tells us why Jesus has given these gifts to the church. The purpose is so that all in the local church will be equipped to use their gifts. Earlier I suggested that the idea of being equipped has to do with our learning to live out the Christian life in the church and in the world.

Why is this so important? It is because every one of us has been gifted by God to have ministry in the church. And a very literal way of saying what Paul says, is that all believers are to be equipped to wait on tables. It is the word, διακονία. In other words, all of us have a serving capacity in the church. We are to have the mindset of being a servant. And we are to serve one another in humility, gentleness, patience, and bearing with one another in love. The church family offers an amazing opportunity to grow in Christ. Serving one another, serving with one another can be trying. I believe that just about everyone who serves in the church has the best of intentions. But even with good intentions we can easily annoy each other. Are you equipped to handle that? The way to become equipped is to learn through the teaching ministry of the church.

Now I am not so concerned about whether or not you know your spiritual gift. I don’t see any place in the New Testament that says we must discover our gift. When Paul lists various spiritual gifts I believe he is giving examples of the kinds of gifts the Holy Spirit empowers. In my understanding a spiritual gift is any ability, skill or talent that the Holy Spirit uses in our lives to build up the body of Christ. I believe we should use every ability we have to the glory of God. As we do this the local congregation should not be weaker as a result of our service, but richer, fuller, and encouraged. We are building something up, not tearing down.

My sense is that the church in the United States has developed some unhelpful habitual ways of thinking. We have been equipped to be spectators and not committed participants. Earlier I mentioned how we all have access to hear the very best preachers and Bible teachers in the world through T.V, radio and podcasts. Many are listening to Charles Stanley, Beth Moore, James McDonald, Kay Arthur, Tony Evans, Ann Graham Lotz, Colin Smith, Priscilla Shirer, Erwin Lutzer, Nancy Demoss Wolgemuth, Tim Keller, John Piper, or one of my favorites, Dr. James Ford, or Alistair Begg. Okay. I’m good with all these people. These are all wonderful teachers. They are some of the best. But let me ask. Are these teachers equipping you to serve and build up the local church? Why did Jesus give these gifts? It is so that we are equipped to serve and build up the body of Christ where we worship. If by listening to these gifted teachers you are more equipped and encouraged to invest yourself to serve and build up the body of Christ in a local setting, then by all means listen. My fear is that we listen to these teachers because they are good and that is about as far as it goes. We are not necessarily any different.

There is great value in learning to listen to the teachers God has given in a local church. They may not be the most scintillating, knowledgeable or interesting teachers, but if they are committed, conscientious, faithful, and take a humble interest in the welfare of the congregation, that is a gracious gift from God. I realize that not everyone who teaches in a church ought to be teaching. But I also know that it is easy to compare local church teachers with the cream of the crop and I don’t think Paul or Jesus would see that as a positive thing. As we yield ourselves to the teaching ministry of a local church and we serve others in the church we grow together. And in v.13-16 Paul explains what he means.

III. Jesus Christ has given gifts to the church, that all believers may have ministry in the church FOR THE MATURITY OF THE CHURCH. 4:13-16

The ministry we have with one another is for the purpose of our becoming mature followers of Christ. What does this look like?

In v.13 we read about unity in the faith and knowledge of Christ. These ideas are not only information based. Our unity in the faith has to do with our daily trusting, believing. It is as much about exercising our faith as it is about the tenants of our faith. Knowledge of Christ is not just information about Christ. It is our growing experience with Christ. Our serving one another and building up the church has much to do with how we encourage and influence each other to continue in our believing and growing in Christ.

Think about how it is in a family. No matter how your family is configured there is a lot of day to day interaction that teaches us how to live as we grow up. Not everything we learn is positive, but much of what we learn is positive. We are daily rubbing shoulders with each other and engaging each other. Eventually we become mature adults. Yes, there is dysfunction and brokenness in every family. Some families are very dysfunctional because mom and dad are deeply broken people. They also probably grew up in dysfunctional homes. My point is that we learn to live by living with each other.

In the church ideally everyone has fully embraced Christ as Lord. And everyone is committed to growing in Christ. And when we are together everyone is invested in building up the body of Christ. As we build the body up we are built up.

In v.14-16 Paul points out that in building each other up we are seeking to help one another learn to discern the dangers and deceptions that lead us away from Christ. There are many things in the world that will do this. I think about how comfortable our society is with moral permissiveness. This same permissiveness is often found in our churches. Over the last 40 years there has been a deepening reliance upon political power by the evangelical church. There is the prosperity gospel that teaches us that God wants us to be wealthy in this world. These are just some of the deceptions that pose a hindrance to our becoming mature in Christ. We ought not to be surprised at the moral and political decline in this country. It’s not a Christian country. We must help each other discern these things.

And the way we help each other is to exercise the gifts we have for the good of the body. In v.15 Paul points out that this will involve telling the truth in love. When we are together as the body of Christ we speak the truth. We speak the truth about ourselves. We speak the truth about the gospel and Jesus. And we speak the truth to each other. We do this as humbly and gently as we are able because we need each other in order to mature in Christ.

In v.15-16 Paul uses the metaphor of a body to help us see that we are all connected to Christ and to each other. Just as the human body is dependent upon the head (brain), so we, the body of Christ are dependent upon him for life and living. And our union with Christ unites us to one another. Each believer is living out the same eternal life given to us by Christ. Not only that. Because we are connected to Christ and each other, we help one another as we use the gifts given to us by Jesus. The Holy Spirit ministers in us and through us. And you note that through this process we are built up in love.

Jesus Christ calls every believer to build up the church. But there is one thought in v.16 that I want to challenge us with. Paul observed that this building up can only take place when each part is working properly. Well, we all have been blessed with gifts and abilities and talents to use to build up the church. How do you think God would like to use you in the church? What part can you see yourself playing to encourage us in Christ? Are you a part in the church? Is your part working properly? This is really a question about your relationship to Jesus Christ. If you know Jesus you can be sure that he desires to see you be an integral part of his church for his glory and our maturity in Christ. Amen

 

The Call Of Christ

October 1, 2017

Have you ever heard someone say, “So and so has found their calling.” We say this if we see someone doing something that seems to come naturally to them. The task, the activity flows from within them. They enjoy doing it. We say, “I think she has found her calling.” If you happen to have a job that fits your calling, then you are to be envied.

 

Ahimaaz was the son of Zadok, the High Priest during the reign of King David. When Absalom, David‘s son, rebelled and was killed in a coup attempt, Ahimaaz wanted to run to David with the news. Joab, the commander, called up a Gentile soldier to carry the sad news. Joab said to Ahimaaz, “…You may carry news another day, but today you shall carry no news, because the king's son is dead…Why will you run, seeing that you will have no reward for the news?” But Ahimaaz persisted and finally Joab told him to also run. I heard a message on this passage years ago called, “Running without a call.”

Knowing a short-cut, Ahimaaz got to David first. Seeing Ahimaaz, David was sure the news was good. When David asked about his son, Ahimaaz said, “I saw a great commotion, but I do not know what it was.” Ahimaaz wanted to run but he was not called.

Many people today have little sense of any kind of calling on their lives. They get stuck in a job. They feel little fulfillment in their work. But what is often true in our daily lives, can also be true in our spiritual lives. People are religious but they do not have a sense of calling in their faith experience.

This morning I want to consider the truth that God is calling people to his Son, Jesus Christ. From Eph.4:1-6 I want to ask: Have you responded to the call of Jesus Christ?

I. HEAR CHRIST’S CALL. Eph.4:1

As a boy I regularly attended church, Sunday School, VBS, etc. I learned about God, Jesus, sin, and hell. I learned that if Jesus was my savior then my sins would be forgiven and I would not go to hell. I was afraid of going to hell. And hell is something to be afraid of. In those days I thought of hell as a place of burning fire because that is one way in which the Bible describes hell. Another description of hell is outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Hell is eternal separation from the eternal life, love and goodness of God. To be separated from God is to enter a hellish existence where there is darkness, and the absence of life, love and goodness. Fire, darkness are pretty good metaphors to cause one to be concerned.

I did not want to go to hell. So I called out to Jesus to forgive me of my sins and to save me and give me his eternal life. I gladly turned to Jesus largely out of fear and guilt. And that has been the story of many. In Acts 2 Peter is preaching to many Jewish people in Jerusalem. He impressed upon them the reality that in crucifying Jesus they had crucified their Messiah. And it says that the people were cut to the heart. They said, “What shall we do?” Peter told them to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus. In Acts 2:40, it says, “And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, "Save yourselves from this crooked generation." Save yourselves! That is what we are seeking to do when we are afraid of going to hell. We want to save ourselves. In this way salvation is an escape from God’s judgement.

But there is another perspective regarding salvation. In Acts 2:39 Peter says, “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself."

God is calling people to himself through Jesus Christ. We must also view salvation as responding to the gracious call of God to come to Jesus to find life. I have known people who prayed a prayer of salvation in order to escape hell. But as they grew older and began to think less about hell, they also thought less about Jesus and being saved. As adults they grew out of that fear and they grew out of any sense of need for Jesus.

Eventually everyone must respond to the upward call of God to embrace Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the Lord of all. Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. He died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead for our justification. Jesus ascended to the Father. All authority in heaven and earth belongs to him. Christ the Lord is calling to you to receive life in him. Have you heard his call?

At Jesus’ baptism, God said, “This is my beloved son, listen to him.” Jesus said that he came to seek and save those who are lost. Jesus called all those who are weary, and burdened to come to him to find rest for their souls. The call of Jesus Christ to find forgiveness and life in him is the call of all calls. Have you responded to him? To not respond to the call of Jesus is to run aimlessly in life, captive to sins and selfish desires, driven by fear, without hope and without God in this world. The words from Is.45:22 express the call of Jesus very well. “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.”

II. ENTER INTO CHRIST’S CALLING. Eph.4:1-2

To respond to the call of Christ is to enter into his calling. His is a calling to receive his life and to daily live out the life that he gives us. Christ himself comes to live in us and through us. What kind of calling is this?

In Eph.1:4 Paul reminds us that we have been chosen in Christ in order that we should be holy and blameless before him. In others words, in Christ we are called to live lives devoted to God and his son, Jesus. We are called to live lives that are blameless. What is more, Paul reminds us that in Christ we are adopted into the family of God. Our calling in Christ is to live like someone who is part of God’s family. If I was part of your family there would be certain things that we do and ways in which we do those things. There would be certain days for celebration and certain times when activities are done.

In Eph.2:10 Paul tells us that in Christ we are called to do good works. Doing the works of Jesus is part of our calling. Beginning in 2:11 we learn that when we respond to the call of God to turn to Christ, we become part of the Church which includes people from every ethnicity and cultural group. So part of our calling is to be in the church. In 3:10 we learned that the church is on display in this world, showing the manifold wisdom of God. All of this is part of what it means to respond to the call of Christ.

All of us who respond positively to the call of God to embrace Christ need to realize that we have found our primary calling in life. Living in these ways take precedence in every other thing we do. And let me point out that our calling in Christ is the most fulfilling calling because it bears fruit both now and into eternity. In fact, as we prioritize our calling in Christ, we will have a wonderful impact in this world. Let me explain.

In v.2 Paul identifies the virtues needed to fulfill our calling. These virtues actually shape the way in which we carry out our calling. As we seek to follow Christ humility is indispensable. A humble person does not presume. A humble person does not push. A humble person does not pretend. Can you imagine what it would be like if all followers of Christ lived their lives in humility? Much of what we see on social media and hear from the lips of Christian leaders these days would be left unsaid. Paul urges us towards gentleness. Sometimes it’s translated, “meekness.” People who express gentleness are not impulsive in their reactions. They don’t fly off the handle. They seek to show restraint and consideration. They express their character and conduct in accordance to the way of Jesus in each situation. According to Chrysostom, the word used for patience means “to have a wide and big soul.” This refers to someone who is willing to endure inconveniences and difficulties over a long period of time. “Bearing with one another in love,” refers to our willingness to intentionally put up with each other with the love of God.

This is our calling in Christ. It’s what we are devoted to. It’s what we are passionate about. It is our primary vocation to live as followers of Christ in this world. Are you a Christian? Have you embraced the calling of a Christian? Would others look at your Christian life and say, “Wow, he, she has found their calling.”

III. ENTER INTO CHRIST’S CALLING TOWARDS UNITY IN THE CHURCH. Eph.4:3-6

“Eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” continues Paul’s sentence in v.2. I am emphasizing this because it seems that Paul emphasizes it.

If you join a healthy company as an employee you will enter into a unity that you did not create. The founder of the company created the unity by being a person who highly values unity and who hired people who were willing to prioritize unity in that company. Even though you are new to the company, you will be expected to embrace and promote the company value of unity. “We work together and once a decision is reached we all embrace it.” There is nothing particularly easy about maintaining unity, but it is imperative for the good of the company. It doesn’t mean there are no problems. It doesn’t mean a person cannot express their disagreements or complaints. It does mean that person will surrender themselves to the company’s decisions unless it requires a person to compromise their integrity. When we turn to Christ we are brought into his Church. And in the Church of Jesus Christ unity is a high priority. It is part of our calling. Local congregations do not create the unity. They enter into the unity already created by the Holy Spirit, by God himself.

In v.4-6 many believe that Paul is either quoting from an early creedal confession or that this is a creed that Paul himself put together for use in the congregations he established. The creed is clearly Trinitarian. Each thing that Paul identifies is important in and of itself, but each thing is introduced by the word, “one.” Christians, followers of Christ participate in each of these things. We are brought into the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit who is the guarantee and down payment of the hope that we look forward to in the new creation. The Lord that we profess is Jesus Christ and there is no other lord for us. We all embrace Christ by faith. The baptism is our baptism into Christ as a public testimony of our life in Christ. God is the one who is the Father of all who are in Christ, and what is more, this God works through all things and dwells in all things because he is present everywhere.

The reality that undergirds our Christian lives is exactly the same for all of us. Our calling is to take this reality, this unity and express it with each other in humility, gentleness, patience and love. It is the only way the local expression of the Church will dwell in the unity of the Spirit.

When we meet someone in the local fellowship here perhaps it would help us to take a moment to remind ourselves that we are one with this person in Christ. We share the same life, the same Spirit, and the same calling. I can’t just dismiss this person or ignore this person. I can’t just decide I’m done with this or that in the church. I belong to the fellowship. Long before we reach the point that we feel like saying, “I’m done with this,” we need to address the situation because the unity of the church is far more important to Christ than our personal preferences and opinions. And if sinful attitudes and actions begin to draw us away we must address those attitudes and actions. We have a calling.

As we come to the Lord’s Table this morning, I can’t think of a better way to ex-press our participation in his calling. The bread and the juice represent his life that he sacrificed on the cross in our behalf. When we eat and drink we are physically and publicly giving testimony to our trust and dependence upon Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins and life in him. In eating and drinking we are expressing our ongoing receiving of Christ. In addition to this we also express our unity with each other through Christ. To receive Christ is to dwell in unity with all who know Christ in the church. Everything that Paul writes about in Eph.4:1-6 is expressed at the Lord’s Table. To participate in the Lord’s Table is to commit oneself to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which we have been called. Amen

Christ our Peace

September 24, 2017

Peace on earth is certainly what we all desire. Unfortunately earth seems to be the last place where one can find peace. And the reason has little to do with the earth and everything to do with the earthlings who inhabit the earth. There are many who are working to bring peace between hostile nations and peoples. Sometimes they are successful for a while. But we are not surprised when the treaties unravel. Hostilities between ethnicities and cultures run deep.

 

As we continue in Ephesians Paul makes it clear that the gospel is not just about your salvation and my salvation. Rather the gospel is also about breaking down the barriers of ethnic hostility and racism. God is seeking to bring peace and in Eph.2:11-3:10 we learn that the church of Jesus Christ is this world’s only hope for lasting racial peace.

I. RACIAL HOSTILITY IS DEEPLY EMBEDDED IN THIS WORLD. 2:11-12

In Jn.4:20-22 Jesus was speaking with a Samaritan woman at the well of Sychar. She pointed out that the Samaritans worshiped God on a mountain in Samaria while the Jews worshiped in Jerusalem. “Is Jerusalem the place where people ought to worship?” Jesus responded by saying, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.” That last phrase will help us as we look at Eph.2:11-12

We read about many different ethnic groups in the Bible but basically the Bible sees two kinds of people. There are Jews and Gentiles. And historically there has been no love lost between Jews and Gentiles. But before we talk about that let me point out that after Adam and Eve disobeyed God and sin entered into the world, God took it upon himself to provide a means by which people can enter into a saving, life-giving relationship with him. How did he do it? Well he called Abraham. And he made a promise covenant with Abraham and his descendants. The descendants of Abraham are the Jews, Israel. The covenant to Abraham was renewed and even expanded when David became king of Israel. One of the promises in these covenants was that through Abraham, through Israel, all nations (Gentiles) would be blessed.

So get the picture. God’s plan was to work salvation and blessing for the world through his chosen people, Israel. We have mentioned many times that Israel was called to be a light to the Gentile nations. Israel was to live in such a way so as to show the Gentiles how good it is to know and love God. Israel was to extend an invitation to the Gentiles to enter into life with God. Well, since salvation is from or through the Jews, Gentiles are excluded from God and his salvation unless they become Jews.

But something happened. Paul alludes to it in v.11. In v.11 we get the idea that Jews did not like Gentiles. In Paul’s writings the phrase “in the flesh” sometimes refers to the physical body, but more often it refers to the sinful nature of humanity. Instead of being grateful to God for their privileged position as his chosen people, the Jews took great pride in their status and looked down on the Gentiles. They referred to the Gentiles as uncircumcised dogs. Circumcision was an act that had spiritual significance in that it identified a Jewish man as a member of God’s chosen people. But in v.11 Paul refers to a circumcision which is made in the flesh by hands. In other words, circumcision became nothing more than a human mark of ethnic distinction and pride. In fact, in the Old Testament we learn that Israel very quickly abandoned life with God and began to worship idols. So whereas the Jews should have welcomed the Gentiles into life with God, instead deep ethnic and racial hostility was cultivated between Jew and Gentile.

As Israel became worldly minded it became like the world. And in the world racial, ethnic hostility is the way of life. No matter where you go you will find racial hostility and hatred. When one’s race or ethnicity defines one’s identity, then one’s race, which often includes a religion, must be protected at all costs. And that’s what we see. Whether it is Serbs and Croats, Jews and Arabs, Jews and Europeans, Arabs and sub-Saharan Africans, Whites and Blacks, Whites and First Nation peoples, Mexicans and Puerto Ricans, Japanese and Chinese, we could go on and on. The list is endless. In the United States we like to think that we have made progress when it comes to race relations. But political and sociological structures and policies do not change the heart. And we have become only too aware of the fact that there is still ongoing, deep racial hostility in this country. What can wash our racial pride and arrogance away? What can make us whole again? That’s what Paul goes on to talk about.

II. JESUS CHRIST HAS BROUGHT RECONCILIATION. 2:14-18

We mentioned that Salvation is from the Jews. The Jews abandoned their calling but Jesus, God’s Son came in the flesh, born a Jew. Jesus did what Israel failed to do. He fulfilled the calling of Israel. Jesus is the true Israel. Salvation, peace comes from Jesus through his death and resurrection.

Earlier in this chapter Paul said we were dead in trespasses and sins, “But God made us alive in Christ.” In v.11-12 Paul writes that Jews and Gentiles are alienated from each other, but in v.13 he says that Gentiles have been brought near by the blood of Christ. The death of Jesus not only rescues us from our trespasses and sins, the death of Jesus also rescues us from racial alienation. Through his death on the cross, Jesus Christ brings Jew and Gentile together. How did he do this?

At the temple in Jerusalem there was a court of the gentiles and a court of the Israelites. On the barrier separating the courtyards, signs were posted warning gentiles to go no further. They were not allowed in the court of the Israelites. But this wasn’t the only barrier separating Jews and Gentiles. The dividing wall of hostility also resided in the Law itself. Paul is not talking about the moral law, the 10 commandments. Rather he is talking about the various regulations that drew a sharp distinction between Jew and Gentile. We are talking about the Jewish Sabbath laws, the laws regarding circumcision, and the food laws. These are what many refer to as boundary markers. They distinguished Jew from Gentile.

In the early days of the church there were many Jewish believers who felt that gentile converts to Jesus ought to follow these regulations. It was necessary for becoming a follower of Christ. But in v.15 Paul tells us that through his death and resurrection, Christ abolished any need for these regulations. Salvation is not dependent on becoming a Jew. Salvation is a gift that is received by faith. Jew and Gentile are saved in the same way, by faith in Jesus Christ.

In 1:10 Paul tells us that God’s plan is to unite, reconcile, all things in Christ, things in heaven and on earth. In 2:1-10 Paul tells us that through Jesus, by faith we are saved from our trespasses and sins. We are reconciled to God. We have peace with God. In 2:11-18 Paul says that through the death of Christ we are reconciled to each other. The things that divided Jew and Gentile have been abolished. We have peace. Jew and Gentile both come to God through Christ.

Notice in v.18 that both Jew and Gentile are given the Holy Spirit. It is through the Holy Spirit that we have access to God. Here’s an interesting observation. Back in Genesis we read about the tower of Babel. The people of the world spoke the same language and they tried to assert their pride in the face of God by building a tall structure. When God saw their arrogance it says that, “there the LORD confused the language of all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth.” But now, through Jesus and the indwelling Holy Spirit, God is reconciling all peoples to himself and each other. Jesus has abolished every barrier between peoples by giving everyone who believes in him a new identity. We are the people of God, reconciled in Jesus Christ

III. THE CHURCH IS CALLED TO MODEL RACIAL HARMONY. 2:19-22; 3:3-10

In v.15 we see that Jesus broke down the wall of hostility so that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, referring to Jews and Gentiles. What is God’s plan for peace between the races? It is the church of Jesus Christ.

In the church Jews and Gentiles are no longer strangers and aliens, but fellow citizens in the kingdom of God with all the saints. In the Church, Jews and Gentiles are equally members of God’s household. Together we are part of the family of God, related to each other in Christ. Not only that, but in the church Jewish and Gentile believers are being built up into a holy temple in which God dwells by his Spirit. This temple is built upon the foundation of Christ, the apostles and prophets. People from every race are welcomed into the church of Jesus Christ. We are fellow citizens in God’s kingdom. We are brothers and sisters in God’s family. We share the same life of Christ. We are fellow worshippers and ministers in God’s temple. It’s all referring to the church.

In Eph.1:22-23 it says that Jesus Christ is the head of the church. The church is his body. And Jesus fills his church with his life. In 2:11-22 Paul begins to teach about the church. He wants us to see that salvation in Christ involves our participation in his church. If you are a follower of Christ, then you belong in the church of Jesus Christ. Our presence in a local congregation in worship on the Lord’s Day should not be optional, as if we have something better to do. The reason it should not be optional is because the church is where the family of God has fellowship. This is a family gathering. The church is where the temple of God is being built together into a dwelling place for God. Can you worship by yourself at home? I guess, but why would you? We belong together in worship. You are not a holy temple by yourself. I am not a holy temple by myself. We are being built into God’s holy temple. If you are not here how can you be built into his temple?

Paul also emphasizes the unity of all believers regardless of ethnic origin or social status. It is in the church that the ethnic alienation of this world has the greatest potential for being healed. It is in the church that racism and prejudice have the greatest potential for being healed. Now please listen carefully. Because of our individual ethnic identities, we each have a unique perspective and experience that we bring to the body of Christ, the church. That can be a wonderful asset in every congregation. But it will only be a wonderful asset if we recognize that our primary identity is not our ethnicity, but our oneness in Christ. Who I am is not defined by my being white. Who I am is defined by being in Christ. Who you are is not defined by your ethnic identity, it is defined by your being in Christ. “In Christ there is no east and west. In him no south or north; But one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth. In Christ now meet both east and west; in him meet south and north. All Christly souls are one in Him throughout the whole wide earth.” In Christ we have been accepted. In Christ the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. We have the reason and the resource to embrace and love everyone.

Racial, ethnic harmony is not always easy. There were racial struggles in the early church. This is why we must do our best to understand each other. The church is where that kind of understanding can best take place because we love each other and share the life of Jesus.

One more thing. In 3:6-10 Paul tells us that the church is God’s showpiece to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. Israel was called to be God’s showpiece, but Israel failed. The church, made up of all ethnicities, shows the manifold wisdom of God. God is doing what no one else can do. God’s plan is to have a church in which people from every race are living and worshipping together in the peace that comes from being in Christ.

Now I don’t know you inner thoughts and feelings about race and ethnicity. But I am convinced that only Jesus can heal the prejudices that are common to all. You may have been deeply hurt because of prejudice. You may have deeply hurt someone because of prejudice. Ethnic jokes and slurs and stereotypes ought not to be on the lips of believers. It is true that stereotypes are often rooted in some kernel of reality, but stereotypes are used to belittle and mock. Followers of Christ do not embrace stereotypes. Do we stumble? We surely do. And we forgive, because we are family. Amen

 

God's Gracious Gift

September 17, 2017

We have been hearing a lot about people being rescued. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma brought great destruction and put people’s lives in jeopardy. Many were trapped in their homes hoping for someone to come and rescue them.  “Salvation” is not a word commonly used, but salvation refers to being saved, being rescued. These people were saved from the flood.

Today in Eph.2 we are looking at a different kind of rescue. It is a rescue from the judgment of God. And amazingly enough it is God himself, who brings about this rescue. In Eph.2:1-10 we see that salvation is a gift of God’s grace.

I. WE WERE DEAD. Eph.2:1-3

Paul refers to an interesting kind of death. Obviously it’s not physical death because the people he was writing to were physically alive. This is a kind of living death. Talk about “night of the living dead!” That was all of us. We were spiritual zombies. Our deadness came from the fact that we were spiritually dead in our trespasses and sins. Since Paul is writing to believers, he puts this in the past tense. You were dead. But Paul takes the opportunity to expand on what he means by being dead in our trespasses and sins.

He tells us that trespasses and sins characterized our entire lives. Daily we walked in trespasses and sins. At the heart of this is an unwillingness to acknowledge God and his good commands for living. What is more Paul tells us that this sinful way of living was and still is promoted by the world we live in. Our world thrives on the quest to fulfill selfish desires and ambition, participate in antagonism and deceit, and selfishly pursue power, control, wealth, achievement, and recognition. Now of course there are many wonderful people in this world. These hurricanes have revealed selfless acts of compassion and goodness in people. It’s not that every one of us is the worst we could possibly be. Paul’s point is that at the core of our beings we are driven by self-centeredness, pride and the desire to secure our lives in this world apart from God.

Not only is this way of living promoted in the world, but it is promoted by “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.” What is that all about? Well, most believe this is a reference to the devil. In 2Cor.4:4 Paul calls him the god of this world. In Eph.4:27 Paul tells us to not give the devil an opportunity. In Eph.6:11 Paul refers to the schemes of the devil.

On the one hand, believers need not fear the devil since he is defeated. But on the other hand we need to recognize that such a being exists and does great damage. We believe that before he was the devil, he was an angel created by God. He rebelled against God and many other angels rebelled with him. The devil and his demonic army are very active in the world. They dwell in the unseen heavenly places. The devil seeks to foment trespasses and sin. The devil is always seeking to steal, kill and destroy.

You notice in v.3 that Paul refers to this life of trespasses and sins as carrying out the desires of the body and the mind. That is how deeply entwined with our human nature sin is. When God created mankind he gave us bodies and minds and said that it was all good. But our bodies and minds have been corrupted through our rejection of God and his ways. When we reject God we use our bodies and minds in sinful ways that quickly become habitual ways of acting and thinking.

As a result of this, Paul tells us that we were by nature children of wrath. Whose wrath? Well, God’s wrath. Our sinful nature comes into direct conflict with God’s righteous and loving nature. Please do not get the picture of an angry God who is just waiting to catch someone stepping out of line. Don’t get the idea that God has a short fuse and, “look out!” if you cross him. The Bible tells us that God is light and in him is no darkness at all. The Bible tells us that God is love. So when we think about the wrath of God we recognize that it does not carry the selfish, sinister, vengeful feelings that we have when we become angry. The Bible never says that God is wrath.

In trying to understand the wrath of God I see that God’s wrath is an expression of his love and righteousness. Wrath is his righteous reaction to our sin and rejection of God and all that God is. Let me try to illustrate what I mean.

I think I have a general love for all people. When documentaries on slavery and the civil rights movement come on PBS, I feel deep grief and anger as I see white people brutalizing black people. In these moments, wrath is an expression of love. And while I feel anger, I also feel pity and sadness towards those white people because they are controlled by sinful pride and hate. Something must be done to right the wrongs committed. Wrath is an expression of love.

Sometimes out of love a parent will just embrace the screaming child to bring comfort. But the child does not feel it as comfort and love. They scream all the more. “It hurts!” To the child it’s an unwelcomed restriction. For the one who embraces Jesus Christ, God’s love is wonderful. For the one who rejects Jesus, God’s love seems like wrath.

To be dead in trespasses and sins, is to be dead to the love, goodness, and life of God. If God is the giver of life and you don’t want God, you don’t want life. I have no doubt that some here this morning are part of the walking dead. You do not know God. To not know God is to be dead.

II. WE HAVE BEEN SAVED. Eph.2:4-9

Verse 4 is one of the most dramatic verses in the Bible. We were dead in our trespasses and sins. But God made us alive together with Christ. We are about to hear the best news one could ever hear.

Angry people want to take revenge and inflict pain on the object of their anger. Sometimes they are so angry they will take out their anger on anyone and everyone. Obviously God is not angry in that way. Instead of pursuing his wrath against us, God responds in mercy and love. Instead of giving what we deserve, he shows mercy by giving what is undeserved. Instead of giving us death, he goes to great lengths to give us life. How did he do this?

Well first he did this while we were still sinners. In other words, God does not demand that we first clean up our act. God doesn’t demand that we stop being sinners before he shows his mercy and love to us. He shows his mercy and love while we are sinners. The truth is no one can stop being a sinner by his or her own effort. Sin is endemic to our nature.

How did God do this? Well, he did this through his son, Jesus Christ. Paul writes that God made us alive together with Christ. The implication is that Christ died. Look at 1:19-20. There Paul prays that we might know, “what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.” Christ died and was raised from the dead and is seated at the right hand of God. In his death on the cross, Jesus entered into the death and deadness of our sin, bearing our sin upon himself so that we might receive the forgiveness of our sins and life in Christ.

Because of our sin we were objects of God’s wrath. But God, in Christ, bore his own wrath towards us on the cross. In Christ, God interposed himself and bore his own wrath so that we could have the opportunity to receive his forgiveness and life. Who does that? God does.

In Eph.1 Paul says that Christ died and was raised from the dead. In Eph.2, Paul continues by saying, “And you were dead…” But in v.5 he says, but God, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive with Christ and not only made us alive, but actually seated us with Christ in the heavenly places. Our life is with and in Christ. In all of this God is showing his mercy and grace. In v.8 we see that our salvation is the work of God and is completely undeserved. Paul goes on to say that we are saved through faith. In other words, seeing that Jesus Christ has provided the only way of escape from certain death, we embrace Jesus, trusting him for the forgiveness of our sins and eternal living in him. Faith involves a humble recognition that we deserve death because of our trespasses and sins. Faith involves a humble recognition that we can do nothing to save ourselves. Our faith is placed in Jesus Christ. We begin to depend upon him for life. We transfer our allegiance to Jesus. He becomes our Savior, Lord and King. Faith is an ongoing trust in and reliance upon Jesus.

When a person’s kidneys are no long able to function they need to go on dialysis. Usually a person must have dialysis 3 or 4 times per week. The average life expectancy with dialysis is 5 to 10 years. But some have lived as much as 20 or 30 years. A person on dialysis puts their confidence for living in that procedure. But clearly it is not a one-time event. Neither is faith in Christ a one-time event. Faith in Christ is part of our daily living. So have you been saved from your trespasses and sins? Have you received the life of Jesus? Are you daily trusting him to save you?

III. WE ARE HIS WORKMANSHIP. Eph.2:10

This morning we had the joy of dedicating Judah and Aleah Kott to the Lord. Judah and Aleah did not enter into life on their own effort. They did not create themselves. They are a gift from God through the love of Steve and Danielle.

Those who embrace Jesus Christ as Savior, Lord, and King are created in Christ Jesus. In other words believers are new creations in Christ. Believers receive the resurrection life of Christ. It is a new kind of life living in them. We don’t create ourselves in Christ. We don’t become new creations through our own efforts. It is all the gift of God, through his mercy, grace, and love.

But Paul also calls believers God’s workmanship. We are God’s masterpiece. The Greek word is “ποιήμα.” We get our word “poem” from this word. God is crafting our lives. He is transforming our lives to be like that of Jesus. After all, we are living out Jesus’ life in us. What this specifically means is that we begin doing good works. Good works do not bring us salvation. Salvation comes by faith in Christ. But good works are an essential fruit of our salvation. When Paul refers to good works he’s not just talking about doing nice things for people. He’s talking about doing the works of Jesus in this world. The good works we do are those consistent with the life of Jesus. The good works we do express the righteousness, joy and peace of God found in Christ Jesus. They are works of mercy and grace. They are works consistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

At one time we were walking in trespasses and sins. But when we embrace Jesus by faith we begin walking the pathway of good works. Why is this so important? I believe it is important because our good works reveal the reality of Christ in us. When we live lives that are characterized by righteousness, joy, and peace, that is an encouragement to us that we are in Christ. But there’s more.

In v.7 we learn that God made us alive with Christ so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.” God is revealing his grace and mercy through what he is doing in our lives. I want to suggest that the Christ-like lives we live reveal God’s grace in this world. The church must seek to be known for its good works motivated by the saving grace of God in our lives. We want others to see the difference knowing Christ makes in our lives. Why? Because we are the light of the world. In the words of Sean Palmer, lead pastor at the Vine Church in Texas, the church is the steward of the “radical message that everyone matters and everyone is loved by God, and so anyone can belong.”

Do you live with the awareness that in Christ you are God’s workmanship, God’s handiwork? Does your life reflect this reality? Are you known for your Christ-like goodness? Is that what you strive for, Christ-like goodness?

While on my prayer walk this past Tuesday, the question came into my mind. I wonder how many people in our community have any awareness of their need for Christ. That question only encouraged me to pray all the more that Jesus Christ would be made known through his church. But it is very possible that someone sitting here today may think their being in church makes them a Christian. What makes a person a Christian? It is repenting of one’s sin and embracing Jesus Christ by faith. It is taking Jesus Christ as one’s Savior, Lord and King. This is a lifelong decision to follow Christ. Have you entered into that kind of decision in regard to Jesus Christ?

And then if you have embraced Christ in this way, have you entered into the life of good works? Are you walking in the way of Jesus? Is that what you desire? God has graciously provided salvation for all who call upon the name of the Lord to be saved. Do you know Jesus Christ? Amen.

Our Blessings In Christ

September 10, 2017

It is not easy to immigrate to a new land. Some years ago there was couple who attended our church. They had won the green card lottery in Nigeria and were able to immigrate to the United States with a green card in hand. That meant they could begin working immediately.

2. When they arrived in the States reality set in. They had green cards but no jobs. In fact it was difficult to find a job. And it was difficult to pay rent and buy food. If you are going to immigrate to another country you really need a sponsor who can help you get on your feet.

Living the Christian life in this unchristian world is not easy. For one thing, the world has no resources that can help you live a Christian life. Fortunately when a person turns to Jesus Christ for salvation, those resources are provided. Today we begin looking at the book of Ephesians. I am interested in this book because it has much to teach us about the importance of the church. We are living in a time when the church in the United States is facing many challenges. As we look at Eph.1:3-14 we see that in Christ, God has blessed us with all we need for Christ-like living.

I. IN CHRIST WE ARE ADOPTED INTO THE FAMILY OF GOD. Eph.1:3-8a

Before I say anything there are a few observations to make about this book. First I want to call your attention to the phrase, “in Christ,” in v.3. The idea of being “in Christ” is front and center in Paul’s writings. The phrase, “in Christ,” or “in Him,” or “in the beloved,” or similar phrases, is found 164 times in Paul’s writings. In Ephesians we find it 36 times, and 23 of these 36 occurrences are found in the first two chapters. Our relationship with God is dependent on our being in Christ. Christianity is all about being in Christ. All that God does for you and me involves Jesus Christ.

A second observation has to do with the phrase, “in the heavenly places,” also in v.3. This phrase, “heavenly places” is found 5 times in Ephesians and nowhere else. When Paul uses the phrase he is not referring to a location called “heaven.” Rather he is talking about the unseen spiritual realm. It is God’s realm. In 1:20, we read that Christ is seated at God’s right hand in heavenly places, and in 2:6 we read that believers are seated with Christ in the heavenly places. In 6:12 we see that we wrestle against cosmic powers and spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. There is a lot going on in the heavenly places that is unseen.

In these verses Paul is praising God for his grace shown to us in Christ. Specifically Paul refers to our being adopted into the family of God. In v.5 Paul writes he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ.

Why doesn’t Paul say, “sons and daughters”? Well, in that day, sons were more important than daughters. Sons were heirs and carried on the family name. Daughters were not valued as highly as sons. Paul wants us to understand that in Christ we become heirs. We are in a place of privilege. The spiritual blessings of life are given to members of the family of God.

You say, “Well we are all God’s children.” In one sense that is true. We were all created by God. But the reality is that every one of us has turned our backs on God. We might acknowledge the existence of God, but we don’t want God to run our lives. We prefer to live in whatever way seems best to us regardless of what God has to say about it. What is more we don’t like being called sinners and do not think we need a Savior. Our hearts are far from God. Because of this we are not in the family of God. In fact, according to scripture, we are all slaves to self-centered pride and sin.

So how does a person become part of the family of God? Paul says we must be adopted into the family of God. And just as earthly adoptions can be costly, so our being adopted into the family of God is costly.

In v.7 Paul writes, “In Christ we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” As we saw last week, redemption refers to being set free from bondage through a price paid. Sin separates us from God and always leads to death. But through the costly death of Jesus on the cross, our sins can be forgiven. Jesus gave his life for us, dying in our place. By embracing Jesus as Savior, Lord and King we are redeemed, set free from sin and death. We enter into the resurrection life of Jesus Christ. The blessing of being adopted into the family of God is received by embracing Jesus. When we embrace Jesus we are given his eternal life and we begin living his life in our daily life here on earth. What kind of life is it? It is a holy and blameless life.

Now I cannot move on without addressing something important. In v.4 Paul says that God “chose us” in Christ. In v.5 it says that God “predestined us for adoption as sons.” This is intended as something positive. But some find this troubling. “You mean God determines who is going to be saved and not saved? That doesn’t seem very fair.” Let me make a few comments.

1. Salvation always begins with God’s initiative. In the Bible we see that God is always pursuing us long before we ever pursue him. 2. There is no unfairness in God. God is more just, more loving, more gracious, merciful, and fairer than anyone of us could ever be. 3. Whatever you believe in regard to predestination, it must not contradict the words of scripture that tell us that “God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” And “Whosoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.” 4. I believe that everyone must decide for themselves whether or not to embrace Jesus. God has done everything possible to open the door into eternal life for all who will come. My theological views on this have changed over the years. I believe that God is able to allow for free will. God will welcome anyone into heaven who embraces Jesus Christ.

And that is the most important question. Do you know Jesus Christ? Are you part of the family of God? It is only by being in God’s family through Christ that we can live a Christ-like life.

II. IN CHRIST WE ARE GIVEN A WONDERFUL HOPE. Eph.1:8b-12

The gospel, the good news is surely about receiving life in Christ through the forgiveness of sins. But personal salvation is only part of the gospel. The good news of the gospel involves the whole creation. In Col.1:20 we learn that through Christ, God is reconciling to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” In other words, the gospel is not just about you and me. It’s about the entire creation. That is what v.10 is about. God’s plan is to unite all things in Christ, including you and me.

We believe that if we know Christ we will go to heaven when we die. And that is true in the sense that when believers die they are with the Lord. To be with the Lord is to be in heaven. But in the Bible we learn that our future home is in a new heaven and a new earth. The Bible talks about there being a new creation. In 2Pt.3:13 we read, “But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” In Rev.21:1 John writes, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.” We are going to be living in a new creation.

And the interesting thing is that this new creation officially began when Jesus rose from the dead with new creation life. Jesus is the firstfruits from the dead. In 2Cor.5:17 Paul says that if we are in Christ, we are new creations. In other words the new creation work of God has already begun in us because we are in Christ. We are being transformed and renewed because we have the new creation life of Christ in us.

In v.11 Paul tells us that we have obtained an inheritance. According to 5:5, this inheritance is in the kingdom of Christ and God. Our inheritance is our eternal living in Christ which will come into all its fullness when we are with Christ in the new heaven and new earth. But what does this do for us now?

Well, it directs our focus beyond life-in-this-world. In other words we are not living just to sustain our lives in this world. This world is a temporary home. This is why Jesus speaks about laying up treasures in heaven. This is why Peter says, that “we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” We long for this place where righteousness dwells because the righteous life of Christ is in us. This future reality shapes the way we live in the present. Peter goes on to say, “Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.” Living without spot or blemish, at peace is exactly what Paul refers to in Eph.1:4. We are seeking to live holy and blameless lives. This way of living is more important than anything that goes on in the world today. As we live in this world and confront all the troubles and issues of life our goal is to live holy, blameless, peaceful lives before the Lord and others. We seek to live the kind of life that Jesus lived while he walked this earth.

III. IN CHRIST WE ARE SEALED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT. Eph.1:13-14

Before Jesus ascended to the Father he told his disciples that he would not leave them as orphans but would send the Holy Spirit who would live in them. And Paul tells us here that when we put our trust in Jesus we are sealed with the Holy Spirit.

What does it mean to be sealed? The word refers to the practice of using sealing wax. If you sent a letter you would seal it with your seal. The seal was a mark of ownership. In receiving the Holy Spirit God is putting his mark of ownership on or in our lives. We now belong to him. And just to be clear, from what I can discern, receiving the Holy Spirit is something that happens when we turn to Christ. It is not a special kind of baptism. It is not a second event that happens after we turn to Christ. Paul says, “When you believed in him you were sealed.”

What is more, the Holy Spirit is referred to as a guarantee or down payment. In other words, receiving the Holy Spirit is the first installment, so to speak, of our future inheritance with Christ in the new heavens and new earth. Our life in Christ is protected, guaranteed by the Holy Spirit

And if you read through the book of Ephesians you quickly see that the Holy Spirit is active in our lives and in the church. He enables us to live lives that bring honor to God. For example, in Eph.2 the Holy Spirit is seeking to make us into a dwelling place for God. In Eph.3 we are strengthened by the Holy Spirit. In Eph.6 we pray in the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not dormant in our lives. He carries on the work of Jesus in us and helps us live out the life of Christ in us.

Every day we can open our hearts to the Holy Spirit, inviting the Holy Spirit to guide us and lead us into the way of Jesus as we seek to live holy and blameless, Christ-like lives.

Earlier I mentioned the struggles experienced by a couple who immigrated to the United States. By the way, they live in Ohio and are doing very well after many years of hard work. In Christ we all become immigrants, entering into the kingdom of God. But while we enter the kingdom of God we continue to live in this world and it is a struggle to live as citizens of the Kingdom of God in this present world. But God has blessed us by giving what we need to enable us to live like Christ. We are adopted into his family. We have a wonderful future to look forward to, and the Holy Spirit of God dwells in us. Amen.