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Grace, Redemption And A Mystery

When thinking of Ephesians many probably think of grace.  One of the letters most famous verses is about grace when Paul writes “For by grace you have been saved.”

However, Paul doesn’t wait until that deep in his epistle to discuss grace.  He talks about it early in this writing.

In verse 6 of chapter 1, Paul says about grace, “Which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.”  The Father freely extends grace to us.  This reminds us of Romans 3:23 where Paul says that “the gift of God is eternal life.”  Grace and eternal life have locked arms and are given freely to us.  No expectation of anything in return.  In fact, we cannot give back to God as He has given to us.

How is this grace given to us?  God has given it to us “in the Beloved.”  Who is your beloved?  Your spouse?  Your children?  For the Father it is His Son.  He bestows His grace on us through His Son, through the work He did on the cross.

Now look at what else we get in the bargain.  Not only do we have grace, but “In Him we have redemption through His blood.”  We often forget that we were slaves to sin before coming to Christ.  How did we get out of this slavery?  Christ purchased our freedom in Him with His blood.  His death brought us out of a hopeless slavery.  Now we have redemption and grace.

What else is connected to this redemption?  “The forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which he lavished on us.”  Not only has God bestowed grace and redeemed us, but He has forgiven our sins.  We are covered by that blood  that He redeemed us with.  God scans us for our sins and instead sees Christ’s blood.  This is done according to the riches of His grace.  His grace is piled up in an infinite bank that never runs out.  When He bestows that grace on it, He lavishes it on us.

Isn’t that cool?  He lavishes grace upon us when He  bestows it on us.  He forgives our sins when He redeems us through His Son.  Paul isn’t finished, though.  “In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him.”

God makes known a mystery to us.  Who doesn’t like a good mystery?  Things that were hidden to Israel before us, are made known to us.  What is it?  It is Christ.  God has given us wisdom and insight that was not previously known in Christ before He came.

What exactly does that mystery in Christ look like?  “With a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on earth.”  All things are summed up in Christ.  What is the answer to the questions we have?  Christ.

God bestows His grace upon us.  He forgives us through our redemption in Christ.  He makes known the mystery of His will to us, which is all things summing up in Christ.  It is truly amazing what our God does for us.

Opening Day

I don’t watch a lot of baseball anymore.  I used to watch as much as possible, which wasn’t much when we used to only have three TV stations to watch.  I would spend Saturday afternoons watching a little bit of the game of the week on NBC.  Fortunately, ABC also had Monday night baseball and those summer evenings were spend watching a little more baseball.

When my grandparents got cable I would often visit them and every evening that the Atlanta Braves were playing on you could find them watching no matter who was visiting them.  I spent as much time as possible there just so I could watch baseball.

Somewhere along the way I have found that I can’t watch a lot of baseball.  However, there is something that I always pay attention to.

Opening day.

There is still something magical about it.  It is like the unofficial kick-off of Spring for me.  Everything is new and fresh.  And there it is, the boys of summer playing in all sorts of weather as their season starts.

That’s how I feel about today as well.  It’s opening day for a ministry I’ve been part of now for fourteen years.  I spend each Sunday morning for about twenty-six weeks going to a campground and sharing God’s word.

Last night I passed out fliers and ran into some folks who come to our service when they are there camping.  I was able to renew that relationship and will be able to build on it for a few weeks this year.

There will be other people who I will be introduced to, who have never come to the service before.  I will make new relationships.  Some will come back again and again.  Others I may never see again.  It is truly an exciting time.

This Spring and Summer I will share from a book of the Bible that I have never done  so before.  I will be preaching from Ephesians throughout the year.

Paul kicks off this little treasure by introducing himself.  They know him, of course.  He established the church a few years prior to writing this, but it has grown and there are people who only know him by reputation.

He declares that he is an apostle of Christ Jesus, one sent from God.  The context of how he uses the word is one who actually witnessed the living Christ.  Yes, Christ died before Paul began his ministry, but He appeared to and spoke to Paul on the Damascus Road.  It was one of the most dramatic life changing events in history.  Paul made a 180 degree change in the direction of his life.

He adds then that his apostleship is by the will of God.  Paul knows who set him on the path of life he is on.  He did not choose the life he leads.  The Lord did.  In fact, if left up to himself, he would not have chosen his life.  Life would have been easier if had stayed on the path he was on before meeting Christ.  He would have had money and power.  Yet, he does not regret it one bit.

He writes to the saints of Ephesus, the set apart ones of Ephesus.  He is writing to the local church of this city.  He is writing to those who have come to know Christ, both while he ministered there and after he left.  Paul loves the Church, the entire body of Christ and he loves the local outposts spread throughout the world.

Paul describes them as faithful in Christ Jesus.  This is better than how they are described a few years later in Revelation, when Jesus says that they have lost their first love.  That is a sharp contrast if we think of the relationship between Christ and the church as a marriage, as Paul will describe it later in Ephesians.  Now they are faithful and later, in Revelation, Jesus will say they have lost their first love, as though they are no longer faithful.  For now they are, however, and Ephesians has few serious problems for Paul to address.

Paul finishes up his introduction as he does in almost every letter he writes: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Though the work of Christ on the cross, God extends grace to us.  What is wonderful is that this grace is not a one time thing.  It isn’t even a daily thing.  It is a minute by minute, hour by hour thing.

Paul also wishes for the peace of God to the Ephesians (and us).  Once we were God’s enemies.  We were slaves to sin, seeking anything and everything but God in our lives.  Now, through Christ, we are no longer enemies.  We have been adopted, as Paul later says in this letter, we are part of the family of God.

Openings days and beginnings are exciting.  They are filled with hope and anticipation for what may be.  I’m looking forward to spending these next few weeks exploring God’s word in Ephesians.

Categories: Christianity, Faith Tags: , , , ,

It Takes A Team: Paul’s Final Remarks To Philemon

October 26, 2014 Leave a comment

We’ve reached Paul’s final words to Philemon.  It also happens to be my final Sunday at Big Meadow for another year.  It is, with some of the same emotion, that I think Paul and I come to these final words.  Paul examines the relationships that make it possible for him to continue his ministry despite being imprisoned.  My ministry and Paul’s both come down to the same things: a relationship with the Lord and relationships with people.

Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers.  If you spent any time with me during Philippians this summer, then you will remember Epaphras.  He carried that letter back to Philippi.  He risked his life and was to the point of death to help Paul.

We know Mark mostly from his gospel.  He also was a cousin of Barnabas and was the reason Paul and Barnabas split.   Somewhere he came under the influence of Peter and grew in the faith.   Obviously he and Paul reconciled at some point.

Aristarchus was a long time associate of Paul’s .  He was with him at Ephesus when the riots happened.  He was shipwrecked with Paul on the way to Rome.

Demas is a sad case.  At this point he is working with Paul, but later in 2 Timothy Paul refers to him as having deserted Paul because of his love of the world.

There is not much that we have to say about Luke.  He was a doctor and wrote his gospel and the book of Acts.  He was another long time companion of Paul

Why did Paul bring these men up?  He wanted Philemon to know that they stood with him and that not only would he be accountable to Paul, but to these men as well.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.  Paul’s conclusion is similar to almost all of his conclusions.  He prays for grace for Philemon.  He wants the grace that Philemon experienced through Christ to be evident in his treatment of Onesimus.

What are out takeaways?

1.  Relationships are the name of the game in our walk of faith.  Once we have our relationship with Christ, we need relationships with our fellow believers to help us in our walk with Christ.

2.  Grace is the cornerstone of our faith.  The grace we receive and the grace we exhibit.

Too Much Grace

April 3, 2014 4 comments

One of the things that I have noticed as I observe people is that they have little grace.

I suppose that isn’t exactly a true statement.  People are very selective about who they extend grace to.  Some they will give grace to no matter what, all day long.  Others, they want to go Old Testament on them, eye for eye and tooth for tooth.  Maybe even more.

And not just people. I’m talking about me as much, if not more, as anyone.

Imagine that you have a loved one murdered.  It was brutal.  Perhaps one of the most inhumane things of which you have ever heard.

You have two choices.  One is that you can let it consume you.  You can go the to trial of the perpetrator and sit through it in a rage.  You can let the world see your hurt and your disgust.  You can rail against the murderer every chance you get in every forum possible.

You can do that and the world will cheer you on.

Or.

You can make the other choice.  You can trust the Lord.  You can take that hurt and rage to Him.  You might have to do that every day for the rest of  your life.  You can believe God’s promises.  You can take the hard road.  You can choose to forgive the murderer, maybe even communicate that to them.

The world will think you’re a fool.

Why?

Because it’s too much grace.

We all want grace.  We want the forgiveness that grace promises.  Yet, when it comes to forgiving others, we aren’t as eager to extend that grace.  We make excuses as to why, most of them legitimate sounding.

Yet what would God have us to do?

Don’t misunderstand anything I am saying.  I’m not talking about giving people free passes through the justice system or anything like that.  If someone commits a crime, then they must face society’s penalties.

What I’m taking about is personal grace.  I mean that we should be pursuing a relationship with God through Christ that moves toward becoming more like Him everyday.

Sinclair Ferguson said the following:

There is more grace in the Lord than there is sin in you.

I couldn’t agree more.  God has so much grace that he sent His Son to rescue His rebellious children.  We had joined the enemy, consorted with them, gone native so to speak.

We deserved death.  That’s what the wages of our rebellion truly is.

Yet, He doesn’t rage.  He gives us the way out.  He is the way out.  He is the Way.

By human standards, God gives too much grace.  Literally, thank God.  I wouldn’t want any human that I know to be the one who determines who or how much grace we get.  I’m glad that He makes that determination.

Do you think people are gracious or not?

Categories: Christianity, Faith Tags: , ,

Do Not Nullify The Grace Of God

This week we wrap up chapter 2 of Galatians.  Paul has defended his apostleship, the gospel and his ministry.  He has visited Jerusalem and found himself in unity with the apostles.  Peter has now visited Antioch and his behavior has been out of sync with the gospel so much that Barnabas and the other Jewish Christians there have followed his lead by pulling themselves away from the Gentile Christians.  Paul bring his argument with Peter to a close.

Paul tells Peter in verse 15 that they are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles.  That sound rather arrogant on the surface, as though Jews aren’t sinners like everyone else in the world.  This really isn’t what Paul is saying.  What he is saying is t hat he and Peter come from a society that followed the Law, which included the dietary customs of Judaism.  Gentiles did not follow the Law, thus not having dietary restrictions at all.  Thus in the context of the Law only, Gentiles were sinners and the Jews weren’t.  Paul is not saying that this is true in the eyes of God.

Paul again indicates, though that he and Peter are unified in their theology.  He states that knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law, but through faith in Christ Jesus.  Paul says that this is what he believes and what Peter believes.  This is their shares faith and theology.  There is no disunity in what Paul and Peter believe.  He goes on to say that even we  have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law.  He and Peter have trusted in Christ because the Law that they were brought up to follow cannot justify them at all.

Paul then addresses another argument from the Judaizers.  If, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found  sinners, is Christ then an agent of sin?  Paul has been accused of being a sinner by the Judaizers for living out the gospel rather than the Law.  He eats with sinners.  Therefore, he is making Christ to be an agent of sin.  He denies this strongly.  May it never be.

Instead, Paul says that after being freed from the Law though faith in Christ, he is a sinner if he goes back to it.  For if I rebuild what I once destroyed, then I prove myself to be a transgressor.  He is telling the Galatians that if he goes back to following the Law, then he is a sinner, not for allowing the gospel to free him from it.

In fact, Paul says that the only way to live for God is to be free from the Law.  For through the Law I died to the Law so that I might live to God.    He is saying that there is no way to follow the Lord by trying to keep the Law.  Instead you have to die to it.  He says that I have been crucified in Christ, and it is not longer I who live but Christ lives in me.  Paul says that he has died to his former life.  Now, Christ lives within him and fuels a life of grace, not Law.

Paul now lives a different life.  The life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God.    Paul now knows that living by the Law gets you nowhere.  Paul does not live a life that contradicts Christ.  He states that I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.  In other words, if we have to back to the Law, then there was no need for Christ’s work on the cross.

What can we takeaway from this section of Galatians.

1.  No matter what our background, we need the work of Christ in our lives.

2.  The gospel unifies.

3.  We must die to our old lives of law keeping.

4.  Christ must become the fuel for us to live a life of grace.

 

Categories: Christianity, Faith Tags: , , , ,

A Different Gospel???

Last week I introduced Galatians to the folks that I met with in my campground ministry.  This week we move further into the issue that Paul is facing as he writes to the churches he founded in the Galatian region.

In the first five verses, the main issue seemed to be the fact that someone is questioning Paul’s authority and apostleship. In verses 6-10,  He takes up another aspect of the issue and, most likely to Paul, a more important one.

Paul states that he is amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him…for a different gospel.  Someone or some group has traveled to these churches that Paul founded and loved.  They are preaching some sort of gospel to them.  There’s just one problem.  It’s a different gospel than the one Paul preached.  Something is different about it.  It is close to the gospel that Paul preached, yet just different enough to not be the real thing.  Paul is shocked that they are falling for it.  He can’t believe it.  He is in shock.  And he is not going to just passively let it go.  He is going to fight for the truth.

Paul also considers abandoning the gospel he preaches with deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ.  This should probably give us a clue about the issue.  Paul considers abandoning the true gospel to be abandoning God and Christ.  Being one who persecuted those that followed the gospel before his conversion, Paul loves this gospel message that comes directly from the Lord.  Quitting it is equivalent to quitting God.

Paul also gives us a hint at what the problem with this gospel is.  The Galatian Christians have been called…by the grace of Christ.  Paul already seems to be indicating that grace is not at the heart of this gospel that is being preached and taught.  He is already laying down the direction he is going.

Paul even goes so far as to say that this gospel is really not another gospel.  It is one that is disturbing the Galatians and Paul is upset about it.  The people he loves are being affected by these people who want to distort the gospel of Christ.

Paul ups the ante on these false teacher as we look further at the scripture.  He says that if anyone preaches a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you then they should be accursed.  This is strong wording from Paul.  The Greek word is anathema, which means to be cut off.  So, Paul is saying that it doesn’t matter if it’s him or an angel, if a different gospel is preached then they should be separated completely from the Lord.  It’s not enough that Paul says it once, but he says it again for emphasis.  Paul is giving us a strong picture of how he really feels about what is going on in Galatia.

Paul finalizes in verse 1o what the motivation of these men is.  He asks if he is seeking the favor of man, or of God?  Is he striving to please men?  Paul strongly denies this.  He says that if he was doing so then he would not be a bond-servant of Christ.  His motivation is to please Christ.

Paul indicates that these enemies and false teachers are really trying to please man rather than God.  That is the heart of what Paul is telling the Galatians.  He is saying that if you abandon the gospel you are abandoning God in an attempt to please man.  Paul gives them and us a strong warning to not give up what we believe for something that will cause us ruin.

The God Of The Rocking Chair

I was had a couple of conversations with a friend the other day.  Let’s call him Bryan since that’s his name.

One of the conversations was about a time that he was out and about with his then three year old daughter.  It didn’t go as smooth as he wanted.  His daughter pitched a fit on him.  She wouldn’t stop, so he left the store he was in after about fifteen minutes.  When he got home, he severely punished her.  This punishment carried so much weight that a few years later she warned her little sister of what might happen to her one day.

*****

Another conversation Bryan and I had was one that we have quite often.  We discussed God and His nature.

We talked about how while we agree that God is love, this isn’t the total picture that we get from the Bible.  He is also a God of judgment and wrath and mercy and grace.  All of the characteristics go into who God is.

*****

The problem that Bryan and I see is that too many of us only focus on the love part of God.  Too many of us expect God to be this warm, fuzzy feeling God who indulges our every whim and desire.

In other words, we made Him into the God of the rocking chair.

Intentionally or not, many of us picture God sitting in a rocking chair on His front porch in heaven.  He sits there rocking, smiling and nodding at what we do much like we expect a grandparent to do.

Grandparents rarely find fault in anything their grandchildren do.  They feed their grandchildren things their parents wouldn’t.  They let them stay up later.  Then they leave the parents to deal with any consequences.

*****

I read a blog post the other day where a  man ripped a well known preacher for his picture of God.  After reading that post, I wondered is this guy had really read the Bible.  I wasn’t sure where he was getting his view, his picture of God.

My feeling was that he did what all of us have done in our lives.  He made God into his own image, instead of taking the image God gives us.

God is not a rocking chair, grandparent type of God.  He is a God of love, mercy, and grace, as well as a God of judgment and wrath.

Let’s realize that God is not an indulgent God who simply wants to give us our every desire.  He wants to be our greatest desire and give to us based on that.

Have you ever realized that you have created God in your own image?  Have you ever looked at God as a celestial grandparent?