This Sunday, February 28, 2016 will be the third Sunday of Lent. Now, in my world as a protestant, evangelical Christian that pastors a Southern Baptist church… we don’t speak much about Lent. It is mostly observed by the Catholic church but there are some protestant believers that also take time to participate in this practice.
So what is Lent?
Lent is a time of preparation and remembrance of the death of Christ on Good Friday and His resurrection on Easter Sunday. It lasts for a period of 40 days with acts of repentance, prayer, fasting, and abstinence, and confession. While this observance may not be practiced or even biblically commanded, it is good for follower of Jesus to remember with reverence the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.
This is not for us to be grim or bleak in our view of life…but to be reminded emphatically of what God did for us.
This brings us to the Letter to the Ephesians and the powerful declaration that comes from the words…
These two little words that have been translated to English from the Greek words “de Theos” in Ephesians 2:4. They may seem like a small phrase but where God inspires the Apostle Paul to place these words provides a startling and groundbreaking portrait of God.
These two little words contain so much power and transformation to a soul. They are a dynamic shift in the narrative of God working in the history of mankind.
These two little words speak of the grace, gospel, glory, and goodness of this Jesus Christ, the One True Living God.
These two little words are a catalyst for us as we encounter God that breaks the molded mindset we have about the person of God. And that’s something that we need to happen in our lives… it is something for those who are called disciples of Jesus that we should actually want to happen… even thought the results could alter our comfortable pattern of life.
The wonderful thing about this transformation that occurs is that it generally happens greatly when people gather together to gain a deeper understanding of the Scriptures. And through the revelation of God in the Scriptures we understand what it means to worship (respond appropriately & obediently) this true God. It is a “But God…” moment that alters who we are from that point forward.
You see, when the true worship of God happens… the molds of our hearts, minds, soul, and strength become broken and recreated as something better and forsomething better.
Note: The mold I am speaking of is not the spore or fungal bacteria that grows on decaying matter. The mold I speak of is the artistic and/or industrial hollow container used to give shape or form to molten metal or other hot liquids (i.e., wax or ceramics) when they cool or harden.
This kind of mold is made to keep the same process and product produced over a period of time.
Q: How does this relate to us in a spiritual sense?
Well, all people that grow up and develop a particular mindset due their personal history, experiences, opinions, traditions, and institutions.
But God does something incredible and gracious to who we are inside and out when the Scriptures of the Bible are opened, discovered, examined, and understood… transformation occurs as a result of the truth of God being revealed. We can be and should be thankful that these Scriptures have been preserved for us and made accessible to us.
They are indeed powerful when we open our eyes and ears them to challenge and fashion how we think, how we speak, and how we act. But they are only truly transformation and life-changing when we respond to God Himself as He makes Himself known through the Scripture and by His Holy Spirit.
Scripture breaks the mold of who we are & how we think as we see God for who He truly is.
The Bible makes known to us the revelation of God because it reveals…
- Who He Is (Has Always Been & Will Always Be)
- What He Does (Has Done & Will Do)
- What He Says (How To Know & Follow Him)
And let’s just be honest… the honest knowledge of God revealed to us can be devastating, but nonetheless, it is the message we so desperately need. And though breaking the mold may be devastating to the self, God brings in this message His deliverance by the Savior.
Over the last few weeks I have been writing about Life in Christ as our church has been studying the Letter to the Ephesians by the Apostle Paul. As we have examined the Scriptures on this Life in Christ we have been emphasizing a powerful principle found in them.
Life in Christ is this gracious identity that comes from God and which leads to the glorious outcomes made through God.
The Apostle Paul expresses in this beautifully penned letter about the why and the how God does what He does to break the mold that once held our lives and the movement of God that now draws us into this new life with, in, and through Christ.
Ephesians 2:1-22* uncovers this incredible news with a well-penned delivery. Let’s take a look and investigate it further.
*Holman Christian Standard Version
1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins 2 in which you previously walked according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler who exercises authority over the lower heavens, the spirit now working in the disobedient.
3 We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also.
4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, 5 made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace!
6 Together with Christ Jesus He also raised us up and seated us in the heavens, 7 so that in the coming ages He might display the immeasurable riches of His grace through His kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
8 For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift — 9 not from works, so that no one can boast.
10 For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.
11 So then, remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh — called “the uncircumcised” by those called “the circumcised,” which is done in the flesh by human hands.
12 At that time you were without the Messiah, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.
13 But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of the Messiah.
14 For He is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility. In His flesh, 15 He made of no effect the law consisting of commands and expressed in regulations, so that He might create in Himself one new man from the two, resulting in peace.
16 He did this so that He might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross and put the hostility to death by it.
17 When the Messiah came, He proclaimed the good news of peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.
18 For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.
19 So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone.
21 The whole building, being put together by Him, grows into a holy sanctuary in the Lord.
22 You also are being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit.
So, we just got through reading a whole chapter of Scripture together… and understanding it altogether could be a daunting task if let alone. That’s why I want to be of help.
I am sometimes asked… “how can I get the most out of my Bible study time?” or “how can I understand the Scriptures fully?” I must admit…I am still in the learning process myself. It takes time and we all need help along the way. It did and still does for me. But I want to be able to help others along the way…So Here goes.
First of all, I believe that to gain a greater understanding of the Scriptures starts with God and the work of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14). Only those that truly know and seek to know God…will truly ever experience the awesome beauty and power of His Word…the Scriptures.
Secondly, for those that are followers of Christ…this is still not just an easy task. We must remember that the Scriptures are what we call “special revelation” from God. Meaning this…the same God who spoke the universe into all its existence…specifically shared special revelation of Himself in Words that were penned by men that were divinely inspired to write what God desired them to write.
Knowing this helps us to understand the context by studying the how, when, and why God delivered these messages. It makes an immense difference on how we can fully apply these messages to our lives as followers of Jesus.
So…to gain understanding from the Scriptures in their context that brings the greatest applications and the relevance of God’s Word to our lives…I encourage people to ask & answer 4 major questions…
- What do the Scriptures say?
This is important so that we don’t lose the details of each intentionally inspired word. My personal opinion is that this is one of the reasons for seeking a close word-for-word translation. (BTW…No English translation is perfect.)It is also helpful to look at thorough (and reputable) commentaries and/or a good Bible Study software when difficult or confusing scenarios arise. (multiple ones if available).
- What were the results of this revelation in their specific time and place?
God specifically chose the time, place, people, language, and circumstance in which He revealed His Word for a reason… If we are going to understand the relevance of His Word today, we can’t skip out on what it meant then. That is because these are inseparable for how it still applies (and is still very much just as relevant) to us in our present circumstance.
Once again… thorough commentaries and Bible study softwares are quite helpful in this cases. It is also useful to have a a group of Bible believing, Bible seeking, & Bible studying friends to grow with in your understanding of the Scriptures. This is also one of the reasons why I believe a Bible-teaching church and growing through small groups is so essential to maturing as a disciple.
- What applications are carried forward from then to now?
This is where the living and active nature of God’s Word gets planted in us not for mere entertainment, enlightenment, or encouragement…but to transform our lives in every arena. This can be tough to grasp and we will need others to help us walk through this process.
Please see again the reasons for being connected to a Bible-believing & teaching church and why resources such as commentaries, Bible-study software, and small groups can be of such help.
- What am I willing to do about what God reveals?
This means responding to who God is, what God says, and what God does. Worship is the appropriate responding of man to God. We have not truly worshiped until we have responded to Him as He is. True worship that honors God and is the type of worship that He honestly seeks (John 4:23-24) is that which is of spirit and truth.
It must originate with God, respond to God, and be honest with all that God which also exposes the truth of who we are and the motives behind how we approach Him. Worship is very much both a collective and individual response.
It starts with the response of the individual soul to what God divinely reveals about Himself, but it was never meant to be done alone. It becomes even more beautiful and glorious when connected collectively with other individuals whom God has transformed through the revelation of Himself in and through His Word.I don’t want to be over simplistic. But these four questions have influenced me greatly as I seek to know God more, to grow more as a disciple, to serve more as Christ’s ambassador, and to worship God more with the life He has given me.
I pray that they will both encourage you and challenge you in your faith as you hopefully choose to know & Follow Jesus.
So, what can we learn here in the second chapter of the letter to the Ephesians? We can take note of a few things here.
This letter was written most likely as a circuit letter between 60-63 A.D. while the Apostle Paul was in his 2nd (and ultimately final) imprisonment in Rome under the reign of the emperor, Nero. Paul was very devout man of faith that followed Jesus Christ as result of Christ’s gracious encounter with Him. This encounter transformed a zealous persecutor of the young church into a humble yet influential planter of churches, missionary to the ends of the earth, and defender of the faith.
He is writing to a multi-cultural, multi-generational church in the city of Ephesus. This was a church that Paul had planted on His 2nd missionary journey as recorded in the book of Acts. It was a church that existed in a city with the Temple of Artemis (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world). This meant that the people there would have once been influenced by the idolatry of this background. The city was also very influential as a major center of trade in the Greco-Roman world. This would have brought many peoples from around the world into the backyard of this community of faith. They were called to live their lives as disciples and people on mission in this city.
As Paul is writing from his prison cell in Rome…He is trying to help the readers (listeners) understand their identity in Christ and the expected outcome of a disciple through Christ. It is a wonderful reminder of what disciples are a part of all because of the grace, gospel, glory, and goodness of God. A reminder that refreshes the mind and renews the actions of a follower of Christ.
We must remember letters (no any book of the Bible aside from Psalms and Proverbs) were not written in chapters and verses… the chapters and verses of the Bible were added in the 14th Century, so this chapter is just continuing what Paul has been declaring all along from the beginning of his letter to the church.
If one did want to break it down, we could say as Warren Weirsbe does, that the first chapter speaks of the spiritual possessions that come from God in our identity with Him. Along with this, the second chapter could be said that it speaks to the spiritual position of our identity in Christ.
Now Paul was a Hebrew of Hebrews (2 Corinthians 11) and the church at Ephesus was a community of faith that would have been made up of mostly Gentiles. But these people of faith were taught from the Scriptures of the Old Testament about the Messiah (anointed one) that was promised to Israel and to bring about a blessing to all nations.
Sometimes, it is thought that Jesus was only a Hebrew/Jewish King…but Paul (himself of Jewish lineage) is sharing with these Gentile believers about the assurance that they too have in Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ (Messiah).
He declares to these disciples that this provision of life and identity as “children of God” was not based on who they were or even what they could achieve…but it was based fully on who God is, what God has done, and what God has said.
So this leads us to our investigation of the Scriptures that brings us to some further questions.
- What does God to draw mankind to Himself?
- Why does He do this for mankind?
- Why are these acts of importance to mankind today?
We see that God works to give His life to mankind in order that we would be His living eternal declarations of His love.
Let’s look first at what God does…
I. God Works By His Grace. (2:1-4)
To see more on this, please revisit last week’s blog here.
II. God Works Through His Gospel. (2:4-9)
It can be devastating to hear all this bad news… but it helps us to truly appreciate the good news.
Gospel = Good News
The apostle makes the profound case of who we are (or were) without Christ so that we will never take for granted the good news of Jesus Christ.
“But God…” is the pivotal shift in this declaration to us. We need this pivotal shift and God brings this good news available to us…
- by His love to us (v. 4)
By nature, God is love (1 John 4:8). God would love even if there were no sinners because that is who He is. Love is one of God’s intrinsic attributes, but this love is related to creation and even to sinners.
It is a love that is not just declared, but demonstrated even though it wasn’t deserved, God delighted to display His love in and through Christ Jesus, His only Son.
This is a love that gives us mercy. Mercy is given to us in the place of justice. Justice is receiving what we deserve. Mercy is receiving what we don’t deserve. The Love of God gives us mercy because He is rich in mercy just as He is rich in justice, and rich in holiness.
Think of the awesome nature of God’s love. This is a love so profound and giving that it gave Jesus to the cross to display His astounding hatred for sin but also His amazing love for the sinner.
The Love of God cures the guilt of sin. It exchanges who we once were for who He always is. (2 Corinthians 5:21) The powerful presence of God in His love brings the realization of our guilt, but the love cures it when we receive Him. His love brings a new innocence found in Christ alone.
- Isaiah encountered God’s presence and knew of the sin of his life. God had the angel to cleanse His sin by touching the coal to His lips.
- Peter encountered Christ’s display of power and holiness and felt His sin kept Him estranged from any future with this Jesus, yet Jesus redeemed Him and repurposed his life.
“Suppose that there was a son or daughter who did some utterly shameful thing, and who then ran away, because he or she was sure that there was no use in going home, because the door was bound to be shut. Then suppose someone came with news that, so far from being shut and a welcome was waiting at home. What a difference that news would make! It was just that news that Jesus brought.” -William Barclay
The love of God takes away the estrangement that results from our guilt of sin. It shows that God invites us just as we are… The door is open and the welcome is waiting because of God’s love.
The mold that downplays or distances itself from the good news of God’s love must be broken. The love of God must never be received lightly, carried lightly, displayed lightly, or shared lightly. The love of God matters because the love of God transforms the plight of a soul.
- by His life in us (v. 5)
God not only loved us, but He wasn’t willing that we would perish. To those who received Him, He gifts with adoption as children of God (John 1:12) and eternal life (Romans 6:23). God gifts us with a life that is shared with Himself…an unending life. This gift of life and adoption came at the price of death and resurrection for Jesus Christ. The price that was paid through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus more than paid in full once the price for our sin once and for all. The love and life of Jesus brings us the resurrection that we need. Life that is secure… Life that is eternal… Life that is full.
The mold that takes for granted the good news of God’s life for us, must be broken.
- by His lifting of us (v. 6-9)
God lifts us up with Christ Jesus. This is incredible good news. Our placement maybe on this earth but the good news is that our position in the heavenlies is secured in Christ. We have been lifted in order to have fellowship (connection) with Jesus our God that is never lost. This lift in the hand of God is one that keeps us…and no one snatches us from the lifting Father’s hand (John 10).
So that in the coming ages He might display the immeasurable riches of His grace through His kindness to us in Christ Jesus (v.7)
This life in Christ and lift from Christ brings about the reawakening of the ideals and the will that sin once killed. We are presented with a new heavenly perspective and is compounded by the fact that we are now in the hands of God. We view life from the perspective of His love, His life, and His lift.
This is good news that recreates and restores our will toward goodness. But make no mistake or misinterpretation of this gospel message…this good news is that the lift of our hands into the hands of God that comes only by His gift of grace through faith and not by works.
The scripture insists and makes it clear that it is by grace that we are saved. We have nothing to do with our own salvation.
We contribute nothing to salvation except the sin that made it necessary. – Jonathan Edwards
It is the gift of God, and all that we can do is to accept it in the faith that this free offer of God is true.
This offer is undeniably and unarguably true for two reasons according to Barclay:
- God is perfection, and nothing we could ever bring would in any event satisfy the perfection of God. Nothing that finite, sinning man can do can ever earn or win or merit or deserve the approval and the favor of the infinite God of infinite goodness. Only perfection is good enough for God, and man by his very nature cannot bring perfection to God.
- Even if man was not a sinner, if ever man was to win his way to God, it would and must always be God who gives and man who takes.
- God is love. Therefore, sin is a crime, not just against the law, but against love. Christ doesn’t just provide the atonement for broken laws, but also for broken love.
- This love shows us that we can never earn forgiveness; but we can accept it through the good news of grace.
As disciples (followers) of Jesus, we carry the good news of what God has done as God carries us by the lifting of His hand. We cannot and should not boast about what we have done for God but we can most certainly boast about what God has done for us.
The good news continues in the message of this lift from of God grace… Good works does not save us we so we cannot be lost by our bad works. This good news work of grace means that salvation is completely apart from any merit or works on our part. We only trust and receive the gift that only God has provided by Jesus Himself.
The mold that takes for granted the gift of God’s hand holding us and lifting us to Himself must be broken.
We must not become like the child that feels they have outgrown (or are embarrassed) by the holding of our Father’s hand…for by His work through the Gospel has not forsaken ours.
The mold of “what was” has been broken by the work of His astounding Gospel found through Jesus Christ alone. The new creation of “what is” for those who have received this work through the Gospel is being refined daily as we walk in the light of who He is, what He says, and what He has done.
This is the message that we are reminded of in the grace, gospel, glory, and goodness of God. It is the message of the Christ and the work of the cross. If we are going to fully embrace the Life in Christ…we must remember what God has done and now live in the newness of what He has declared.
We must also be reminded so that we can once again understand the reason for why this message of grace is needed in the lives of those around us. The world needs good news…as disciples we carry it.
Let us carry it well. Let us carry it as the message for which we can boast. Let us carry it knowing the amazing love seen in the Gospel. Let us carry it secure in the life we have from Christ. Let us carry the message as God walks with us lifting our hands in His.
By His Grace. Through His Gospel. For His Glory. In His Goodness.
#FollowJesus #LifeInChrist #BeHis
The topics discussed are taken from the sermons during the Worship Gathering at Eastgate Baptist.
To listen to this sermon or other past messages…please go to this link.
Further addressing on Ephesians & Life In Christ will be posted next week…