Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Ephesians: All of Grace (1:4b)

"...that we would be holy and blameless before Him."

* The basic meaning of "holy" is 'set apart', for a particular purpose. When, in eternity past, God set His heart on a multitude no one can number, His purpose was that they be set apart, distinct, to live in a manner worthy of His calling.
Humbled that He should graciously see fit to plan, and then procure, our salvation through the giving of His Son, we are to live holy lives that reflect His holiness (I Peter 1:15-- 17).

In truth, His Name is at stake in our lives.

A watching world instinctively knows that God is holy (Romans 1:19), and looks to see if ones who claim association with Him reflect His character. Do we? Do we avoid every appearance of evil (I Thessalonians 5:22)? Do we have a critical spirit of complaining and/or disputing (Philippians 2:14, 15)? Is our speech continually wholesome, clean, and encouraging (Ephesians 4:29)? The key to a consistent, holy and blameless life is found in the renewing of our minds, which then produces a transformed life (Romans 12:2). And no finer tool for renewing our minds can be found than Scripture, memorized and meditated upon.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Ephesians: All of Grace (1:4)

"just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him."

* Whether as a kid being picked to play on a baseball team, or the high schooler who gets the part in a production, or the adult who is asked to join the firm, we as people want to be wanted. And, for the most part, when we are selected for something it's based on something: skill, appearance, wealth, reputation, etc.
So when we read that God chose His own for Himself, by Himself (the word "chose" here implies it), the emphasis is on His sovereign prerogative. He is God.
Too, when we consider when this choosing took place ('before the foundation of the world'), any contribution by which we could have influenced His choice is eliminated. We were not on the scene to have a say.
Many feel uncomfortable, if not downright angry with such truth. Pride produces resistance to God's sovereign decisions. Distrust does, too.
Yet, for those who have learned to trust Him, who have found Him infinitely faithful, there is rest in His goodness. I love Psalm 9:10, "And those who know Your name will put their trust in You." We don't trust Him more, because we don't know Him very well. The better we know Him, the more faithful we find Him to be.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Ephesians: All of Grace (1:3)

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ."

* Paul begins this lengthy section (vv. 3--14) on God's master plan for the salvation of His own by praising the Father. "Blessed" and 'eulogy' share the same Greek word, and involve declaring the goodness of someone through commendation and praise. That is the essence of worship, to proclaim the "worth-ship," the worth of someone. And, if Isaiah 6 is any indication, the declaring of God's worth is going on all the time, as the heavenly host continuously voice His worthiness through adoration.
Do we do the same? Or is there someone, some thing, or some situation for which we refuse to praise Him? If we say, "I just can't," yet God has said we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us, then what we are really saying is, "I just won't." It isn't about ability, but obedience.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Ephesians: All of Grace (1:2)

"Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ," (v.2).

* Grace and peace. One produces the other. As long as there is the slightest bit of works needed for salvation, true peace isn't enjoyed. Millions who are seeking to earn favor with God, incessantly wonder if what they've done will be good enough for heaven when the reckoning time comes. Others are resigned to believe that it is impossible to know for certain now, so we'll just have to see at death what happens. Among many Christian groups there is the theology that salvation is given by grace, but kept by works. How subtle is the enemy of our souls! To such tender-hearted folk he whispers, "You're saved by grace, but you can still lose it," and keeps them in a peaceless bondage.

No, only as His salvation is embraced in the fullness of grace is God's intended peace enjoyed.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Ephesians: All of Grace (Chapter 1)

"To the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus," (v.1b).

* "saints"! Now there's a word the world has taken to itself and twisted its real meaning! It can be used as a mocking term: "who does she think she is, a saint?" A deceased mother can be described as a "saintly" one. The Roman Catholic Church on occasion declares someone to be a saint, assuming they've met the required criteria. During my early years, the most popular of these was St. Christopher, whose medal was worn, rubbed, and hung from the inside rear view mirror in many cars. It's this superstitious aspect that is the most troubling.... the practice of praying to "saints" long deceased, or venerating them in worshipful ways is decidedly unbiblical.

In the New Testament, "saint" (lit. 'holy one') is simply a designation for a Christian. The ones whose lives were changed by the Lord Jesus, identifying with Him, following Him in faith, were the saints. No, they had no "St." in front of their names, but that artificial prefix would have been shunned if offered. Then, as now, the most important name-related issue was that one's name is written in the Lamb's Book of Life!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Ephesians: All of Grace (cont'd.)

"Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God," (1:1).

* A theme that runs throughout a number of Paul's letters is that of his apostleship. Because he was not in the company of the original twelve, and received his apostolic commission years later, he was sensitive to accusations that he did not possess the same authority as did they. Paul knew better. From that incredible day on the Damascus road onward, his life was fully focused on fulfilling the role, scope and duty of an apostle. As the popular saying goes, 'the world didn't give it to him, and world couldn't take it away.'

Thinking of Paul's blinding and healing experience on that road to Damascus, it is interesting to note that the Lord will often (if not always) tailor the depth of encounter to the depth of need to recall it later.

When initially calling a man or woman to His purposes for that life, He will give a more dramatic experience, a greater revealing of Himself, to the one who will encounter greater challenges down the road. For the one whose ministry will face fewer difficulties, His call will be engaging, but not earth-shattering. With the experiences Paul was to have, and the trials that he was to face, it is little wonder that the Lord confronted him in such a fashion at the outset of his ministry.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Ephesians: All of Grace

For several years, Ephesians has been my favorite epistle (with John as my favorite gospel account). For it's in Ephesians that Paul sets down the doctrinal basis for living the Christian life of grace. And although he touches on the profundity of predestination in other letters, somehow Ephesians portrays the Lord's secret counsel most completely.

Of the six chapters, the first three deal with the lofty grandeur of God's plan for believers from eternity past, in Christ Jesus; the second half of the book then takes the foundation and builds upon it. Chapters 4,5, and 6 apply the truths of chapters 1,2, and 3.

A major theme of the book is the Church. Paul deals with 7 elements of God's past plan in forming the Church.
1. His Method: Election
2. The Objects of His plan: the Elect
3. The Time of His Plan: Eternity Past
4. The Purpose of His Plan: the Holiness of the Elect
5. His Plan's Motive: Love
6. The Result of His Plan: Sons and Daughters in His Son
7. The Goal of His Plan? His own Glory!

As we'll see in future studies, contrary to the common belief of many that the ultimate purpose in the universe is the salvation of man, Ephesians (as well as other letters) teaches that the highest purpose is God's glory.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Bits & Pieces: The Bible (6 cont'd.)

* "judge the thoughts and intentions" This section brings to mind the principle set forth in I Samuel 16:7, where the Lord speaks to Samuel of His rejection of Eliab as the next king of Israel. "...Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." From the time of the Garden of Eden onward, man has been continually trying to hide from God. With all the subtlety he can employ, he seeks to deceive God, others, and even himself, sparing no effort to deny the emptiness of his life apart from his Creator. For all this, he holds no secrets from God. For, the God to whom we each must eventually give an account (Romans 14:12) knows completely every motive and attitude, every plan and purpose.

This truth is a source of conviction and comfort. For the one who deals in double-mindedness and duplicity, having the heart exposed to the Word brings great condemnation and guilt. Yet for the one who has experienced the reality of Romans 8:1, an underlying willingness, even eagerness to be examined by the blessed Holy Spirit's Word produces repentance leading to godliness.

Bits & Pieces: The Bible (6 cont'd.)

"For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart," (Hebrews 4:12).

* "piercing" This aspect of the Word's penetrating power is graphically recounted in Acts, chapter 2, verse 37. Peter has just concluded his Spirit-anointed sermon, demonstrating with crystal clarity that the Old Testament-predicted Messiah is the same Jesus who was crucified by his hearers! Luke then tells us that "...when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart..."
John MacArthur comments, "the Greek word for 'pierced' means 'stab,' and thus denotes something sudden and unexpected." When the Spirit of Truth sees fit to apply His Word of Truth to the human heart, it is stunning. In this situation Peter's hearers cried out for instruction ("...what shall we do?"). And, they were not interested in information, so much as relief! They had to respond. The Word's piercing requires a response!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Bits & Pieces: The Bible (6 cont'd.)

"For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart," (Hebrews 4:12).

* "sharper than any two-edged sword" In Ephesians 6, among the articles provided by our Lord for the spiritual warfare in which all believers must be engaged, is the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Of the various pieces of armor, it is the one given for offense... the others are for defense.
When our Lord was attacked by Satan in the desert, it was the Word He used to counter Satan's strategies. We, too, must keep the edge of our sword keen, ready for use against our foe(s). How? Hearing the Word, reading it, studying it, memorizing, and meditating on it. It is then that we will be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

* The other aspect of this two-edged sword relates to the Word's use by the Spirit in the lives of the lost. For the unsaved one, the Word has a cutting work of conviction of sin, revealing God's standard of holiness, and the righteous requirements of the Law.
Regardless of intellectual objections, rationalizations, or stubborn resistance, the Holy Spirit can use the Word to cut through it all, forcing the unbeliever to face the fact of his/her lost and hell-bound condition.

Learning to answer objections from Scripture is a worthy endeavor, enabling us to "give an answer for the hope that is within us".... but equally needed is the reminder that our arguments are not promised power--- but God's Word has the power of the living God Himself behind it!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Bits & Pieces: The Bible (6)

"For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart," (Hebrews 4:12).

* "living" What an amazing claim! Unique among any work penned by human hand, the Bible is living. How can this be? It is the word of the living God, Creator of heaven and earth.
Indeed, was this not the declaration of the prophets of Israel, which set them apart from all "prophets" of the surrounding pagan nations? "I serve the living God, Creator of heaven and earth." And since Scripture is the written expression and extension of who God is, it, too, must be living.
Implications? Since it is ever-living, the Word's impact and potency are ongoing and never-ceasing. Every scrap of Scripture can be used by the Holy Spirit Who inspired it to accomplish His perfect will.
Secondly, the more of the Word we have memorized, readied for release at the moment it is needed most, the greater His power will be manifest through our lives.