Archive | June, 2012

What Defines You?

19 Jun

Ephesians is a wonderful book for the church to dwell on, because it is a book of encouragement and positive exhortation. It is like a pep rally for the people of God. Unlike most of Paul’s other writings, this was not written to address any local issues in a particular church. Instead it was a book of broad truths written for the purpose of being passed around from the Ephesian church to all the other surrounding churches. This truth is directly applicable to all of us in the body of Christ today.

What we are going to look at here, is how Paul opens the letter. Before he begins talking about Christian living and spiritual warfare, he gives a wonderful, short section on our identity. If you are a born-again disciple of Jesus, this section is a description of who you are. Many in the church allow who they are to be defined by their circumstances (e.g. “My spouse does not show me love, therefore I am unloved” or “They do not treat me right at work, therefore I am a victim,” etc.), but is that God’s will for us? The reality is that we need to make a choice. Are we going to allow who we are to be defined by our experiences, or by the truth of God’s Word? There is a right answer to that question. If we are going to live in the fullness of what God has for us, we need to live out of the identity He has given us. A great place to start is with these verses in the opening of Ephesians. Let us now look at the text.

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,

So number one on Paul’s list is this, we are blessed! So what are we blessed with? A few blessings? Many blessings? We are blessed with “every spiritual blessing!” We need to grasp this important fact. Because of who we are “in Christ,” God offers to us every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. So the question is, are we going to look at our lives and feel as if we are lacking something? Or are we going to stand in the truth of what God has promised us, knowing that we are blessed, and then reach out to God so that He might apply all those promised blessings to our lives! The truth is that you are lacking NOTHING, you are blessed by God!

4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love,

So first we are blessed, and now we see that we are chosen! “Before the foundation of the world,” God looked forward through time and said, “I want you!” And what did He choose for us? To be “Holy and without blame before Him.” He chose us and then gave His life for us to make this a reality. Because of what Jesus did for us by sacrificing Himself on the cross, we are now holy and without blame before Him! But now, why did He choose us in the first place? It was “in love” that He chose us. He looked forward to each of us and said, “I love you so much! I choose you to be mine, completely holy and free of guilt and condemnation.” This is the truth about you, you were chosen in love by God even before the world began! How can we let our present circumstances get us down when that is our reality? We are chosen by God!

5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.

We are blessed, we are chosen, and we are adopted! God “predestined” that we would be adopted by Jesus Christ to be His children. We are sons and daughters of God! What earthly relationships have the power to trump that? Many in the church tend to focus on our flaws, calling us “depraved” and “wretched” until the day we die and enter into God’s presence, but the reality is that we are the blessed, chosen and adopted children of God! When He sees us, He does not see our flaws. Instead, He sees His own children! And why did He adopt us? Because it brought Him “pleasure.” God did not hold His nose and grit His teeth as He signed the papers, the reality is that it pleased Him! In fact, the Bible says that it “pleased the Lord” to see Jesus sacrificed for us (Isaiah 53.10). That is how excited He was to have us as His children! God was willing to sacrifice His own Son for your sake in order to bring you into His family. Do not ever look at yourself in the mirror and think you are a “screw-up” or a “sinner” or a “wretch.” The truth is that You are loved and adopted by God! When He sees you, He sees His precious creation that He blessed, chose, and adopted for His own pleasure. You have no right to see yourself as anything less!

7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace

To be “redeemed” mean to be “bought back.” When we were created, we were perfect and “in God’s image.” But none us of have lived completely out of that image. At some point in our lives we looked to things other than God to fulfill and complete us, but came away with regrets and feelings of shame and condemnation. But that was not and is not God’s will for us. So with His own blood, He purchased us out of our fallen condition and “redeemed” us! He has bought us back, and brought us back to our original created value! We have been forgiven because of His wonderful grace toward us! We have been blessed, chosen, adopted and redeemed by God! This shows how much we are valued by God. If He values us so much, what does it matter to us how the world treats us? Whose opinion is more important, almighty God or your co-workers?

11 In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, 12 that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.

As if those truths were not enough, we see now that we are also given an “inheritance.” And what is that inheritance? That we “who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.” Our inheritance is to bring glory to God. Can there be any greater fulfillment in this life than to know that we have brought glory to our heavenly Father, our loving Creator? Never look at your life and feel like it has been worthless. If you have trusted in Christ, your life is guaranteed an inheritance of glory to God. You life has purpose, and you are guaranteed to fulfill it for the glory of God.

13 In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.

When we came to salvation, we were “sealed” with the “Holy Spirit.” He lives in us and guarantees two things to us. First He is our guarantee that we will receive our inheritance for the glory of God. And second, He is our guarantee of a future redemption when we will enter into the perfect fulfillment of the kingdom of God where we will live with Him in perfect communion and joy for the rest of eternity. This is our guaranteed destiny by the word of God and the sealing of the Holy Spirit. Isn’t that incredible! With that in mind, how can we possibly allow our circumstances here on earth to get us down!

So there we have it. What defines us? We are blessed, chosen, adopted as children, redeemed, given an inheritance, and sealed with the Holy Spirit. That is what defines us! When you look in the mirror, remind yourself who you were predestined to be. Never let your experiences trump the truth of who you are. You will never be able to live out your full potential as a born-again disciple of Jesus unless you know and accept the truth about yourself. As God sees you, so you are to see yourself. That is the truth!

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The Gospel of Eden

15 Jun

“So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them… Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good… So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.” Genesis 1.27,31; 3.6-7

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, and the crown of His creation was humanity. Unlike the other creations, mankind was made in God’s image. Then He put these–His perfect children–in a garden (Gen 2.8) where they lived completely exposed and completely free before Him (Gen 2.16, 25). But, for their own protection He warned them against eating the fruit of a certain tree, because in the day they ate of it, they would surely “die” (Gen 2.17).

This was as perfect of an existence as one can imagine. They were free of shame, they lived in a beautiful and bountiful garden, the work of their hands was abundantly blessed, and they lived in perfect communion with each other and with God.

But then their perfect lives were invaded by the serpent, a liar, who convinced them that rather than being perfect, they were incomplete, and it was up to them to attain perfection and “be like God.” So even though they were already perfect and “in the image of God”, they believed the lie and took their lives into their own hands, eating of the forbidden fruit (Gen 3.1-6). But rather than finding perfection and freedom, they found shame. They looked at their perfect bodies, but felt exposed, naked (Gen 3.7).

This incident brought them to a crossroads where they had an important decision to make. They knew that they had done wrong and they had two options, to surrender or to dig in. They were God’s perfect children and they could have cried and thrown themselves down at His feet asking for forgiveness, and had they done that I am convinced that He would have forgiven them on the spot. But instead, they dug in deeper. Their initial fault was that they had believed the lie that they were incomplete, and had taken matters into their own hands to reach perfection. But they felt shame and knew that they were not perfect any more because of it. So they made the same mistake again and tried by their own power to fix themselves. They took their perfect bodies, made in God’s image, and covered them up with fig leaves (Gen 3.7). But two wrongs never make a right, and the fig leaves did not help. Then sure enough, God found out (actually He already knew) what His kids were up to.

God took a great gamble when He created mankind, because in making them in His own image He gave them a free will. They were completely free to make their own decisions. In other words, their destiny was in their own hands. And with that freedom, they had chosen to believe a lie and seek to attain perfection by their own power. So rather than zapping them and changing their wills, He accepted their decision to take care of themselves.

Their reality had shifted. They were no longer living out of their identity as perfect children of God. Instead, they were now going to take care of themselves. So God explained to them what this was going to look like. In His perfect knowledge, God explained to them the work of their hands would no longer yield abundance, there would be more pain and children to deal with, and their relationships with Him and with each other would be confused up from then on. He then killed one of His precious creatures and made them clothing made of skin as a graphic image of the severity of what they had done.

Through the generations, this process continued as people tried by their own strength to better themselves, to lift themselves out of their shame and condemnation. Some went so far as to commune with demonic entities. But none of it brought the peace and freedom that humanity was designed to enjoy.

When the time was right, God graciously provided to mankind His written law, so they could see and know the perfect standard that they were trying to attain. The law can be summed up with this, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mat 22.37-39). But as people came to find, they could not live that out. No matter how hard they worked to keep the law, they kept feeling more and more shame and condemnation. Generation after generation on the earth continued to sow together fig leaves, in a sense, to try and fix themselves and reach perfection and fulfillment on their own, believing the same lie that Adam and Eve believed. But were never able to reach it.

But in the midst of all this, God had a plan to redeem mankind. He knew that the only way to change the hearts of mankind was to let them find out for themselves how hopelessly lost they were apart from their identity as His children. He knew that in order for them to shake off the lie (that they could be more like God through their own strength), they had to see where the lie had lead them.

So when the right time had come, God came to the earth as a human being to clean up the mess and redeem mankind. This God-man was Jesus. He came preaching the truth, proclaiming “Repent, and believe in the good news!” (Mark 1.15). Repent means to “change one’s mind.” What Jesus was proclaiming was “Change your way of thinking and believe the good new!” What is the good news? You are created in the image of God! You are made to be perfect and without shame! You are made to live in right relationship with God and His creation! Stop thinking that by sewing together fig leaves that you can reach your created value! By your own power you cannot make yourself more like Me! The only way you can reach your created value is to tell God you are sorry for trying to save yourself and instead embrace who you were already created to be!

But, there still was a problem–death. Just as God had warned Adam and Eve, death entered the perfect creation once they stepped outside of who they were made to be. The old serpent, the devil, knew that He must stop Jesus before He brought freedom and life to mankind. So just as he had tempted Eve to step outside of her created value, he tempted Jesus on multiple occasions (Luke 4.1-14, Mat 16.23). But unlike Adam and Eve, Jesus never gave in. He embraced who He was and lived out His perfect, created value, exactly as all mankind was originally meant to have live.

Because he could not cause Jesus to fall through temptation, Satan changed tactics and instead decided the only way to shut Jesus up was to kill Him (Luke 22.3-4). And having been possessed by Satan, Judas betrayed Jesus and handed him over to be killed. Then on that fateful day, Jesus was wrongfully accused, condemned and murdered by death on a cross (Mark 14-15). Satan thought he had won.

But if striving for perfection outside of our identity leads to death, then living life completely in perfection as children of God must lead to life! And in victory Jesus then rose from the grave, defeating the serpent and the lies. The apostle Paul described the significance of this when he wrote, “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive” (1 Cor 15.20-22). Jesus modeled the perfect life, the life we are all meant to have. And though the first man, Adam, left a legacy of death, Jesus left us a legacy of life!

So what now stands between us and the life God designed for us? Repentance and belief in the gospel. To follow Jesus is to step into our identity as children of God, free of the curse of shame and condemnation that Adam and all those like him brought on themselves.

The truth is that we can live the life we were meant to live, in perfection, in right relationship with each other and with our heavenly Father. All the fig leaves in the world can never bring us back to our created value, only repentance and belief in the good news.

A Pure Heart

5 Jun

“Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God.”
Matthew 5.8 NKJV

One really cannot over-emphasise the important of a pure heart in the life of a believer. Jesus said that the pure in heart will see God, and that is because the heart (or soul) is the center of communication between our spirit and our mind. When our heart is pure, the lines of communication are wide open and we are able to see and hear God. But when our heart is filled with sin, the lines of communication are closed and God feels distant.

It is always difficult to talk about sin, because the natural human reaction is to fall back into legalism and try by one’s human strength to avoid sin. But while it is a sticky subject, it is still one that needs addressing.

When we believe in Jesus and accept His gift of salvation, we are cleansed within. All guilt and condemnation are done away with and within our spirit we receive the perfect righteousness of Jesus. But even though we are righteous in God’s eyes from that point on, we still can sin. Now the whole point of our salvation is that we are able to enter into a right relationship with God, but that is undone when we continue in sin. It happens in increments, rather than all at once. As we continue to sin without repentance, the lines of communication become increasingly cloudy and can lead to a point where God is so distant that you the believer no longer feel His presence or hear His voice at all. That is the worst thing that could possibly happen to a believer because it turns the purpose of our salvation upside-down and calls into question whether we are even saved.

The unfortunate truth is that much of the church today and throughout history has taught that we are born in sin, we live in sin, and die in sin, never reaching practical righteousness until we leave this earth. This kind of thinking is death, because it gives believers an excuse to continue in sin. The assumption is that Jesus was perfect but we will never be–in practical terms. But is that the truth? No!

Jesus told His followers to “be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Mat 5.48). He did not include any ifs, ands or buts! We have been called to righteous perfection, not unrighteous defeatism. The apostle Paul said that we have been “set free from sin” and have become “slaves of God” (Rom 6.22). If we have been set free, then why do people teach that sin will be a reality in our lives until we die?

One popular passage used by those who want biblical justification for continuing in sin is 1 John 1.8 which says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” But the following verse puts that in context by saying, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The acceptance of sin in our lives is a precursor to salvation, not the reality of one after having been forgiven and cleansed by Jesus! And if there is still any question, two verses later he says, “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” Notice that he says “if” someone sins rather than “when” someone sins. Once we are saved, our default is set to righteous. We have become slaves to righteousness. Our “old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin” (Rom 6.6).

Our redeemed value is perfection, both on the inside and out. We have no more excuses to continue in sin. If we want to continue in a right relationship with God, we must take the necessary steps to eradicate sin in our lives through prayer and saturating ourselves in His Word. Remember what Jesus told Peter, “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Apart from vigilance and prayer, our flesh is weak. But when we are honest with ourselves and earnestly seek the Lord in prayer, our flesh is strong!

If we want to see God, know God and hear His voice, we must have a completely pure heart (or conscience) before Him. That is the truth.