The Church

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When I was growing up my mom would take my sisters and me to church. My grandmother made sure I went to church when I stayed with her as well. We didn’t go weekly but we went enough for me to gain a basic understanding of the gospel. When my children were growing up, my wife Lori and I took them to church every time the doors were open! How many times does the Bible command us to go to church? Are you ready? Drum roll, please. The answer is, “Zero!” We are never commanded by God to go to church. You can’t! We are the church!

We are commanded by God to gather together as the church. Scripture does command us to set aside one day a week to focus our attention totally on God (EX 20:8). Hebrews 10:25 commands us to not “forsake the assembling of the saints.” Jesus said in Matthew 4:8-11 that we are to worship God, and God alone! And yet, less than 18% of self-professing Christians attend worship services regularly. Typically, less than half of those who attend regularly participate in anything except Sunday mornings. We have to ask, “Why do so many “believers” fail to gather weekly with the body of Christ for worship?”

I think the simplest answer is that people fail to worship regularly because they have a misunderstanding of the church. First, most Christians think in terms of attending church, not being the church. For them, the church is a nice place to attend on Sunday if you don’t have anything else to do and if you weren’t out too late the night before. In their minds, attendance is optional because they fail to see that they are a much-needed part of the body. The Bible declares that we are the church, people called out of darkness, to glorify God and impact the world. We don’t go to church – we are the church!

Second, many Christians come as consumers, and not based on calling and service. They shop around for a church that best meets their needs, much like they decide on whether to shop at Wal-Mart or Target. If they like the services offered and they get a good feeling when they attend, they will give the church their business for a while. But, if they get bored or decide it isn’t meeting their needs, they shop around for another church that suits them better. Scripture declares that God determines who makes up each local expression of the church and that we are connected together for His glory and to serve one another and our neighbors.

Finally, many Christians picture themselves as the audience and the pastor and worship leaders as the performers. In reality, the congregation gathers for an audience of One – for God Himself. Our gathering is for Him, not us! The people on the stage help lead us into the presence of God and help us focus on His greatness. We respond to God’s greatness with worship.

In looking at Scripture, I believe we should define “church” in this way: A church is a community of baptized Christ-followers, gathered together by the Holy Spirit, who abandon themselves to passionately pursue the glory of God and the fulfillment of His mission to make disciples. First, we are the church – not a building! You can’t go to church because we are the church. Second, a church is made of people who have proclaimed their faith in Christ and have determined to follow Him as their Lord and Savior. Next, they are part of a specific body of believers because they believe it to be God’s will. They have also abandoned themselves to pursue the glory of God and to make disciples. God’s mission is their mission.  The church is a community of people who share a specific way of life that is centered on God and His mission.

We know from Acts 2:42 that the first Christians met together regularly for teaching, fellowship, the Lord’s Supper, and prayer. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting at the temple and to breaking bread from house to house. It was a way of life that God blessed! We know from 1 Corinthians 12–14 that public worship was an important part of the life of the church. We see in 1 Timothy 4:13 that there were regular times for the public reading of Scripture. In 1 Corinthians 11:18, we read of instructions for “when you come together as a church,” indicating that there was a unique gathering “as a church” that was not the same as a few Christians hanging out and talking about Jesus. Later in 1 Corinthians 16, we read instructions for setting aside a collection “on the first day of the week,” suggesting that the church at Corinth met for services of worship every Sunday.

In Ephesians 2:19 the Apostle Paul declares, “So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household…” Because the Jews and the Gentiles have been reconciled to God and to one another, they are no longer foreigners and strangers. The Gentiles have become members of the body of Christ along with the Jews. We are fellow citizens with the saints.

In the United States, most of us were born citizens and take citizenship for granted. Being a citizen was a big deal in Paul’s day because it wasn’t automatically granted to people who were residents, not even to those who had been born in a country. It was a special status granted only to a select few. As you follow Paul’s life you can see some of the protections that citizenship afforded him under the Roman legal system of the time.

Paul continues by declaring that you and I are not just citizens, we are members of God’s household. We’re family. Typically each “family” is a collection of people with varied views, histories, and interests. The church is not an exclusive club made up of people who were raised like you, or have a certain level of education, or live in the right neighborhood, or come from a particular race or social class. We’re all different, and yet, we’re brothers and sisters in Christ. Some come from difficult backgrounds. Some are wounded. Some are hurting. Some are healing. Some are powerful in the Spirit. You don’t choose them, but you must love them. Why? Because you are brothers and sisters in Christ – you’re family! Everybody who belongs to the body of Christ belongs to everybody who belongs to the body of Christ.

Because we are family, we have certain responsibilities that we must fulfill. First, we are commanded by God to love one another. We’re to sacrifice for the good of the family. We’re to provide for one another during difficult times. We’re to pray for one another and to encourage one another. When one is blessed, we rejoice together as a family. When one mourns, we weep alongside them. Galatians 6:2 commands us to carry one another’s burdens. 1 Peter 4:10 says that we are to use the gifts given to us by God to serve one another. As we love one another the world notices and glorifies God. Jesus declared in John 13:35 that the world will know that we are His disciples by the love we have for one another.

Second, as members of God’s family, the church is to be committed to helping one another walk like Jesus, to become like Christ. The Scriptures tell us that God’s desire for you and me is that we be “conformed to the image of His Son.” (Romans 8:29). The Apostle Paul told the Galatians that he would labor with them until Christ was formed in them (Galatians 4:19). God’s desire for you and me is nothing less than Christlikeness. It gives evidence of our salvation (1 John 2:6). We cannot fulfill God’s desire for our lives on our own – we need each other.

As members of the body of Christ, of God’s family, we are to be committed to each other’s transformation.  We are to pray for one another (James 5:16). We are to encourage one another and build each other up (1 Thess. 5:11). We’re to confess our sins to one another (James 5:16). We’re to spur one another to love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24). We’re to speak the truth to one another (Eph. 4:25). Colossians 3:16 states that we are to “admonish one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” We cannot be obedient to God’s commands unless we move from the sanctuary into small groups. It is only when we study God’s Word together and share life that we can fully experience what God has for us.

Finally, as members of the body of Christ, we are to partner together to reach the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 12 states that we are the body of Christ, a collection of different parts with different roles. When we discover and use the gifts God has given us we better represent to the world the transforming power of the gospel. When we work together as a body to fulfill the mission of God we are more successful. We need each other if we are going to make a difference!

In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus commands the church, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you.” In Acts 1:8 the church is commanded to be a witness for Christ in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. To make these commands a reality God has united us as a body and empowered us through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

As you can see God commands the church to unite as the body of Christ and to love one another, to help one another become like Christ and to partner together to reach the world with the gospel. It’s not the work of an individual. It’s the work of the church. People have told me through the years that they didn’t need to “go to church”, that they could worship God on their own. My response has always been the same. You cannot be a growing follower of Christ without being a part of a local church. You cannot fully obey the commands of God unless you are an active participant. Together, we carry the gospel to the nations. You’re needed.

 

Reconciliation

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After God declared that those who are in Christ Jesus are new creations in 2 Corinthians 5:17, He stated that “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”

To speak of reconciliation is to speak of the restoration of a broken relationship. In this text, Paul declares that you and I are new creations because our relationship with God, which was broken by our choice to sin against Him, has been restored or reconciled through the work of Jesus Christ. You recall that in Ephesians 2:1 Paul stated that we were dead in our trespasses and sin – totally separated from God (Isa. 59:2). Romans 5:10 states that as a result of our sin we were enemies of God. Do you know that those who have not received Jesus as their Lord and Savior are hated by God as well? The Psalmist wrote, “You (God) hate all who do wrong.”  (Psalm 5:5) Not because He is mean; but because He is holy.

We were spiritually dead, separated from God, His enemies, hated by God – all because of our sin. This is hard for us to understand. After all, isn’t God a God of love? He is, but He is holy. His hatred is just and righteous. He cannot let the guilty go unpunished. The penalty for our sin must be paid. Paul writes that God reconciled us to Himself, restored our broken relationship with Him, through Christ (Eph. 2:13). As Jesus hung upon the cross, God poured out His wrath upon His sinless Son. The one who knew no sin became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God. Jesus took our place. He received our punishment and therefore, paid our debt. We were reconciled to God through His work upon the cross.

Typically, the one who wronged the other, the one who brought conflict into the relationship, begins the process of reconciliation. You and I, knowing that we had sinned against God, should have gone to Him and sought reconciliation. The problem was that we were blind to the truth and lacked the ability to do anything right (RO 5:6). Left to ourselves, we couldn’t do anything good spiritually either; nor did we want to. Romans 8:9 declares that the sinful mind is hostile to God! Even though God was the offended party, He determined to restore our relationship by sending His Son to die on the cross in our place.

The good news of the gospel is that God took the initiative to bring reconciliation to our relationship. He sent His Son before we cleaned up our act to die in our place, to satisfy His justice and to absorb His wrath. Through His death, Jesus restored our relationship with God; restoring us to a position of friendship and favor with God. Christ’s job was to restore harmony between God and man. What sin disrupted, Jesus, restored. In restoring our relationship with God, He made possible the reconciliation between men.

Let me summarize what the Bible teaches about reconciliation:

Prior to our salvation you and I were people without hope – totally separated from God and destined to spend eternity in hell. We have broken our relationship with God, time and time again. We sin. We hurt God greatly with our disobedience and our rebellion. God does not have to forgive us. In fact, he could just as easily hold a grudge and send us to hell for eternity. Because we have sinned, we need to be reconciled to God. Isaiah 59:1 “Behold, the LORD’S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you, that he will not hear.”

God is the one who pursues reconciliation when it should be us. The Bible states that there are none who seek after God (RO 3:11). We don’t; we won’t, and we can’t! But it is God who creates within us both the desire and the ability to seek Him (Phil. 2:13). God loves us and wants us to escape the consequences of sin and so He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him would not perish (JN 3:16).

The instrument of reconciliation is Jesus Christ. Reconciliation was brought into effect “through Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:18). Verse 13 in our text today declares that “you who were far away were brought near by the blood of the Messiah.” The Cross was no accident or last resort: it was for this that Jesus came into the world, and steadfastly set His face toward His awful destiny (Luke 9:51). If there had been any other way, the cup of His suffering would have passed from Him (Matthew 26:39).

Reconciliation can be accomplished only by grace through faith. It is a gift. If you and I want to be reconciled to God, we must acknowledge our sin and our hopelessness. We must confess that we are sinners in need of a Savior. Then, if we believe that Jesus is the Messiah and that salvation comes only through Him, we must cry out to God – asking for forgiveness and new life. We must receive the gift of reconciliation through prayer.

We can receive God’s free gift of salvation by praying a prayer like the one below. Although praying the prayer doesn’t save you, it should reflect the desire of your heart. And, if it is your desire, the Bible states that you are saved from your sin:

Dear God, I’m a sinner and know that my sins have destroyed our relationship. I acknowledge that I deserve death, separation from you for eternity. I’m sorry for my sins. I want to turn from my sins but cannot do so in my own power. I believe Jesus Christ is your Son. I believe He died on a cross for my sin and that You raised Him to life. I trust Him as my Savior and desire to follow Him as Lord from this day forward. Jesus, I put my trust in You and I submit my life to You. Holy Spirit, come into my life and be my guide. I pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Finally, we must understand and embrace the fact that God has given us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:17-19). Those who have been reconciled to God are to take the gospel, the good news that reconciliation is possible, to the world – declaring that the wall of hostility has been torn down at the cross!

Let me close by asking you a few questions. First, do you believe this to be true? I am not asking you if you agree with this intellectually. I am asking, do you believe that you are a sinner in need of reconciliation and that Jesus is the only way to be reconciled to God? Second, have you received God’s gift of reconciliation? If not, why not? Why would you want to miss out on God’s best? Why not receive this gift today? Finally, are you living like one who has been blessed by God with reconciliation? You say that you believe it and that you have accepted it, but are you walking like Jesus? Is God and your worship of Him your supreme treasure? Are you investing in the lives of others, sharing with them that there is hope? If not, why not? Repent and return to your first love.

 

Accessing the Power of God in Your Life

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Scripture declares that the same power that created the world, that parted the Red Sea, that healed the blind and made cripples walk – the same power that raised Jesus from the dead and placed Him at the right hand of God is made available to all who believe! Jesus declared in Mark 1:23 that we could move mountains. Paul declared in Philippians 4:13 that we could do all things through Christ who strengthens us. But why? Why does God give this power to genuine followers of Jesus?

First, I believe that God gives us this great power so that we might fully experience the blessings God has made available to us in Jesus Christ. Second, I believe that God gives us this extraordinary power so that He would be glorified and His Kingdom advanced through our lives (Acts 1:8 & MT 5:16). What I am trying to say is that Jesus Christ gave His life for us, so that He might give His life to us, so that He might live His life through us.

Paul has told us in Ephesians 1 that the same power that raised Jesus from the grave is made available to those who believe. The question, therefore, is not “How do we get the power of God?” We have it. So, the question has to be, “How do we access the power of God made available to us by the Holy Spirit?” As I look back over more than 30 years of walking with the Father, I think I can safely say that accessing the power of God is fairly straightforward. Here are six action steps that surfaced as I reviewed the seasons in my life when I experienced the awesomeness of God’s power:

  • Stay Clean – Embrace a lifestyle marked by confession and repentance.
  • Humble Yourself – Passionately seek the face of God and cry out for more of Him and His power.
  • Worship God Extravagantly – Fully surrender to God.
  • Get Out of The Boat – Live a life marked by faith.
  • Embrace your Weaknesses – Depend upon God fully for all things.
  • Never Walk Alone – Share life with other followers of Jesus.

Like I said, nothing new, nothing complex – just basic Biblical principles for life. Let’s briefly look at each one of these. First, we must stay clean – we must live lives marked by confession and repentance. We are called to live a sanctified life, one that is set apart for God and His purposes. Although you and I have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, we still struggle with sin. The penalty for our sin has been paid. Its power in our lives has been broken, and yet we struggle. Confession and repentance are an important part of sanctification. As sin is revealed to us by the Holy Spirit we must confess or agree with God that what we did or didn’t do was wrong.

Second, we must humble ourselves and cry out for more. In order to have the supernatural power of God in your life, you must be hungry for more of His power than you have at the moment. There needs to be a holy dissatisfaction with your spiritual life as it is now. Paul wrote in Philippians 3 that his aim was to “know Him and the power of His resurrection.” Is that our aim?

Third, become an extravagant worshiper of God. In Mark 14 we read that Jesus was in Bethany at the home of Simon, a man who had previously had leprosy. While he was eating, a woman came in with a beautiful alabaster jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard. She broke open the jar and poured the perfume over his head. This woman gave her most costly gift to Jesus and anointed Him for His burial. This is extravagant worship. When you worship something or someone, you give everything you have to it or them. The woman gave Jesus what was her most prized possession.

If we want to experience more of God’s power, we must give our most prized possession to Him as well. We must give ourselves. We read in Romans 12:1, “In view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship.” Worship is not the slow song that the choir sings. Worship isn’t giving financially to the church. Yes, these may be expressions of worship, but they do not define what true worship really is. To worship God is to honor Him with extravagant love and extreme submission. It is our response to who God is. True worship, in other words, is defined by the priority we place on who God is in our lives. When we worship extravagantly we will see the release of God’s supernatural power flow through us.

Fourth, we need to get out of the boat and walk by faith. In Matthew 14 we find Jesus’ disciples on the Sea of Galilee in the middle of a violent storm. Jesus approaches them, walking upon the water. They thought he was a ghost and were terrified! After Jesus identified Himself Peter cried out, ““Lord, if it’s you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” And climbing out of the boat, Peter started walking on the water and came toward Jesus.” God’s power is not something we sit around and wait for. We have it. We access God’s power when we get out of the boat – when we take steps of faith. Faith is the switch that turns on the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Faith is choosing to live in obedience to what God has already commanded and already promised.

Fifth, embrace your weakness. Often times we think of power in terms of how the world thinks of it. We think if we are capable, if we are qualified, if we are strong, God will work His power through us. But in regards to accessing God’s power in the Kingdom, things work in the exact opposite fashion. For example, power comes not in our strength, but in our learning to depend on God in our weakness. You cannot experience the power of God in your life until you come to the end of yourself. God declares in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

When God wants to complete a task, who does he typically choose? He often chooses the weak, the poor, the insignificant and the inadequate. Think of Moses, a man overwhelmed by his weaknesses and his lack of abilities. Then there is David, the greatest of the Old Testament Kings of Israel. David was the youngest of the brothers in his family, a mere shepherd. God appointed him to be King even though he appeared to be the least likely candidate.

Finally, if you want to experience God’s power in your life, never walk alone. If you want to experience the abundant life promised by Jesus and see His power put on display in the world around you, you must humble yourself and admit that you cannot do it on your own. The Christian life is not a solo thing. It requires teamwork. Scripture declares that God’s children need each other! That’s why God unites us into one body – the body of Christ.

As you read scripture, you cannot help but notice that great men and women of faith always had supportive friends around them. Moses had Aaron and Jethro. Esther had her cousin Mordecai. Paul had Barnabas. Peter had John. We are just like the men and women in God’s Word. We have abilities and a desire for God and great potential, but without Biblical, truth-telling friends, we will never experience the best God has for us. Proverbs 27:17 declares that just as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.

Have you ever heard of a guy named Angelo Dundee? Maybe not, but he was the one who made boxing great Muhammad Ali float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. For more than twenty years he was in Ali’s corner – literally. He was Ali’s cornerman. He also trained 15 other world boxing champions! As their corner man his job was to not only prepare them for their fight but as they fought, he would speak words of guidance or instruction. He would affirm, and if needed, scold. Between rounds, he did the same – always directing, always encouraging. Always there. Always in their corner. He made these boxers great.

Jesus is our cornerman. Not only did He die upon a cross to pay for our sins, He has chosen to empower us with the Holy Spirit and sits at the Father’s right hand always praying for us. The cross and the gift of the Holy Spirit are God’s ways of saying, “I’m in your corner.” Whether you have a winning round or losing a round, they are always in your corner – wanting to bless you.

Stay clean, humble yourself, worship extravagantly, get out of the boat, embrace your weaknesses, and never walk alone. If you do, you will access the power of the Holy Spirit and fully experience the abundant life promised by Jesus.

God Wants to Know You

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As you read the Bible, you find a God who interacted with His people, spoke to them, corrected them, and comforted them. In the days of Moses, God took up residence among His people as He guided them through the wilderness. Throughout the rest of the Old Testament, God spoke to His people through the prophets, warning them, encouraging them and instructing them. He was present. Then there was Jesus, God in the flesh – He not only provided His disciples powerful teaching, He guided them in its application. Finally, in the Book of Acts, the Spirit of God shows up 59 times! Within those encounters, He is speaking to the followers of Jesus nearly 40 times. Having a personal relationship with His children has always been God’s desire.

In the garden of Eden, God walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening. Many centuries later, He directed His people to build a Temple so that He could dwell among them. Through the prophet Micah He told us that He requires us to not just do justly, but also that we walk humbly with Him (Micah 6:8). In the same way, Jesus invited His followers to follow Him. All of which requires real and personal interaction like any other relationship.

But what about today? Where’s God? Does He still walk with His disciples? Be honest with yourself, do you feel that God is someone you know about more than you know personally? Does God still dwell with His people in a personal way? Yes; but not next to us but in us. Jesus told His disciples in John 14:16-17, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever. He is the Spirit of truth. The world is unable to receive him because it doesn’t see him or know him. But you do know him because he remains with you and will be in you.” He continued in John 16:7 “But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” Jesus’ departure would benefit His disciples; the Helper, the Spirit of God, would come and dwell within them. Jesus was saying to them, and to you and me, that the Spirit’s presence inside of us would be better than having Himself beside us!

The first-century church knew very little about the Holy Spirit and yet, it was the Spirit who compelled them into the world to preach the gospel and make disciples. What has happened? Where is the Spirit of God today? We read in Ephesians 1:13-14, “In Him (Christ) you also were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and when you believed. The Holy Spirit is the down payment of our inheritance, until the redemption of the possession, to the praise of his glory.” The same Spirit that led the early church to advance the Kingdom lives inside of every true believer!

The Helper

When it comes to the Holy Spirit, most evangelicals fall into one of two extremes. Some seem obsessed, relating to Him in strange, mystical ways. Their experiences with the Spirit always seem to coincide with an emotionally charged moment created by the swell of music in a worship service or a weird series of events. They talk about being “in the Spirit” or “feeling” the Spirit’s presence. Other Christians neglect His ministry altogether. They believe in the Holy Spirit, but they relate to him the same way you might relate to your gallbladder: I’m really grateful it’s in there; I know it’s essential for something; I would never want to lose it . . . but I don’t really interact with it. For these Christians, the Holy Spirit is not a moving, dynamic person. He’s more of a theory.

Yet Jesus made his disciples the most astounding promise about the Holy Spirit, one so astounding I think many of us do not really take it seriously. In John 16:7 Jesus told them, “It is for your advantage that I go away, because if I don’t go away the Helper will not come to you.” “Better?” you cry. “How can His departure be better for us?”  I imagine that one of His disciples cried out to Him, “Jesus, being in your presence has encouraged us. We’re stronger. We understand the scriptures better. Our desire to be holy is stronger than it has ever been. We have invested our lives in people like never before. Our lives are being transformed. How can it be better for you to go?”

When Jesus had made this promise in John 14, He stated that He would provide them with “another helper.” When you and I see the word another we tend to think of something that might be a helper, but not like the original. After all, there can be only one Jesus! Jesus, on the other hand, when He told them He would provide another helper, chose a Greek word that meant He would provide them a helper who was just exactly like the original. The Spirit would do exactly what Jesus had been doing! The difference? The Spirit would be with them 24 hours a day – seven days a week. He would dwell in them, not beside them.

The Holy Spirit has a job description. In reading Scripture, you can count on finding clear descriptions of the Spirit’s various tasks. Scripture does not leave the works of the Spirit to our imagination; He has specific work that must be done, and, the Scripture clearly teaches us about that work. Let’s briefly look at just a few of them.

First, the Spirit of God exalts Jesus. A sure sign that the Holy Spirit is working is that Christ, and not people, is magnified.

Second, the Spirit of God convicts us. The word convict means to convince. The Holy Spirit will convince the world that the truths of God are correct concerning sin, our relationship with God and that the enemy is defeated.

Third, the Spirit of God equips us for service. First Corinthians 12 tells us that each follower of Jesus is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (V.7) The most obvious and stated purpose of these gifts is for the good and building up of the body of Christ – the church.

Fourth, the Spirit of God puts the life of Christ on display in our lives. Galatians 5:16 commands us to walk by the Spirit of God. If we do, the fruit, or the evidence of the Spirit in our lives, will be made manifest. Our lives will be marked by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control.

 

 

So That…

Let’s pause for a moment and ask an important question. It it’s true that the Spirit of God lives in us (and it is) and that we benefit from His presence, shouldn’t there be a huge difference between the person who has the Holy Spirit living in them and the one who does not? Let me put it to you this way. If I told you that I had an encounter with God last week and He gave me a special ability to sing and play the piano wouldn’t you expect me to have the ability to sing and play the piano? If there wasn’t a change wouldn’t you question the validity of my encounter with God?

We see in the Book of Acts that the lives of the disciples were changed because of the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Peter and John are suddenly speaking with boldness and thousands of people are getting saved! My guess is that you are like me. You want a greater, stronger, relationship with the Holy Spirit.

How do we get a greater relationship with the Spirit? How do we experience more of Him and less of us? First, let me assure you that God doesn’t just zap you one day and then all of a sudden, the Spirit’s presence is made known in your life! He uses a two-part process. There is God’s part and there is your part. The first part of the process is God’s part. He gives us the Holy Spirit who enters into our lives to empower and direct us (RO 8:9-11). As the Spirit of God works in us, we become more and more like Jesus. But there’s a catch. The Spirit dwells in us when we believe but we must be doing our part to experience transformation and the fullness of the Spirit.

If you are serious about experiencing the Holy Spirit in your life, you’re going to have to get into the Word of God. That’s our part. You need to read it, study it with others, memorize it, meditate upon it, and apply it. When people tell me that their faith is weak or that they are struggling with life the first question that comes to my mind is, “Are you reading your Bible regularly and studying it with others?” If not, there’s your problem. The conversation is over. Need to strengthen your marriage? Raise better kids? Defeat an addiction? Get along better with others? Get into the Book! Why? Because the Spirit of God uses the Word of God to transform the child of God into the image of the Son of God.

 

 

 

Highly Favored and Blessed

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Baby ducks, shortly after being born, attach themselves to the first thing that they see. Normally, what the young duckling first sees is a momma duck. But on occasion, they will see something else… and that’s where the confusion begins. One time a young duckling first saw a collie with a motherly nature! The baby duck took one look at the collie and decided that it was his mother. It followed the collie around, ran to it for protection and slept with it at night. They spent the hot part of the day under the porch together and when a car pulled in the yard, the youngster, along with the dog, would run towards it quaking up a storm, trying to peck the tires!

Somethings never change, however. The duck still loved to swim in water and it still quacked. There were times when it flapped its wings. I guess what I am trying to say is that there were times when it acted like a duck, and there were times when it acted like a dog.

Christians often experience a similar confusion with their identity. You and I were born into, and grown up in, a fallen world. We have learned to live like the world and have acquired a taste for the desires of our flesh. We were in Adam. When we become followers of Christ, we are in Christ. We die to the world and are born again, so that, spiritually, we are new creations. And yet on occasion, we hunger for and live in the past. Too often, we don’t see ourselves for who we really are. We don’t see ourselves as God sees us. What I am saying is that on occasion a car pulls into the yard, and we come out from under the porch, quaking and pecking at the tires.

God the Father, in eternity past, chose us in Christ Jesus to be holy and blameless. He predestined us to be adopted as sons, pouring out His grace on us in Christ Jesus. God the Son redeemed us through His blood, bringing us forgiveness and lavishing on us gifts of wisdom and understanding. Even now we are “included in Christ,” and looking forward to the complete fulfillment of God’s plan and the glory that fulfillment holds for us.

What stunning truths! Somehow you and I, with all God’s people, have been the focus of His concern from before the Creation of the universe! Each person of the Godhead—Father, Son, and Holy Spirt—has been involved in bringing us the grace in which we now stand. In view of all this, there is no way that a Christian can see himself or herself as insignificant, unimportant, or ineffectual. The focused energies of God have been spent on our redemption because in Christ we are significant to Him. Paul wrote in verse 6 that God has favored us.

If you check that word “favored” out, you will find it comes from the Greek word charis which means grace. Grace is simply the “unearned or undeserved favor of God” which is extended to all people through the death and resurrection of Jesus. It’s not our character or good works, but God’s grace, that causes Him to favor or bless us. We are chosen and in the family of God, not because God saw anything good in us, but because he chose to extend his favor and grace toward us, who were nothing but hell-deserving sinners. We must be reminded however that the text declares that we have been favored by God for a reason. We’re to be holy and blameless – set apart for His glory and for His use.

 

 

The Mary Miracle

In Luke 1:28 we read that the angel Gabriel came to Mary and said to her, “Rejoice, favored woman! The Lord is with you!” The New King James states that the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” The Gospels declare that Mary was favored and blessed by God. She was just a small-town girl. Not only that, she was a poor girl from a despised small town. And Mary was a sinner, a child of Adam, in need of redemption and forgiveness just like the rest of us. She really was a nobody, and yet, she found favor and blessing with God. How many times do we look in the mirror and find a nobody staring back at us? We often limit what God can do with our lives because we think our upbringing, our appearance, or our life is not a sufficient tool for the hands of God to use for His glory. And yet, God declares that you are favored. You are a saint, redeemed by the blood of Christ. You are chosen and adopted by God – for His glory and the good of others.

Acts 17:26 says that God appointed the very time and place each of us should live. As He mapped out the timeline for all of mankind, He penciled you in, here and now, for a reason – for a time such as this. You have a divine purpose. God’s signature is on your life, and beneath it, heaven can read the words favored and blessed. We may not know exactly what our purpose is at the moment, but we do know the purpose of our purpose: we are to glorify God with our lives and to use our gifts and passions as a means of worshiping Him and pointing others toward Christ. That’s what Mary did. She offered to God her body, the totality of her life, as a living sacrifice. In verse 38 of Luke 1, she told the angle, “I am the Lord’s slave. May it be done to me according to your word.”

Some of us, like Mary, may change the world and the course of history with our lives; others may only greatly influence a handful of people. But it’s not the numbers that matter—it’s the fact that we are impacting people for the kingdom of God. Luke 5:10 tells us that the angels rejoice every time one sinner repents. Never underestimate the value of impacting just one person. Their whole eternity could be altered as a result of your impact—and that’s a huge thing!

Mary reminds us that God doesn’t require perfection or even self-accomplished goodness. It only calls us to be open to a God-appointed experience with grace. The God of creation, the one who spoke it into existence, desires to be known by you. He desires that you trust Him, that you allow Him to chart your future as you journey together.

When Gabriel first appeared to Mary, he did not say, “Mary, you will give birth to the Son of God, who at twelve years of age will get lost on your family trip to the temple because He is so wise He will even leave the scholars amazed. Your husband, Joseph, will train Him to be a carpenter, and then at age thirty, He will begin a ministry of healing the sick, raising the dead, and calming the raging sea. At thirty-three, He will be brutally crucified but will save the souls of all of mankind by rising from the dead on the third day. Are you up for this task?”

No. Instead he came to Mary quietly and said, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, the Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.” That’s it. He came and told her she was chosen, and He told her what she was chosen to do. That’s also how God works with us. He visits us when we are busily going about our daily routine, and He rests His hand on our shoulder. He redeems us for His purpose, for His glory.

Mary did not know on the fateful day Gabriel visited her all that God would do with her life or require of her in the process. She just knew she was favored and blessed—she took God at His word and stepped into the realm of the miraculous. Only later on, when she would evaluate her life in hindsight, would she see how all of the pieces fit together.

I believe that the apostle Paul would say that Mary was chosen and adopted by God. Not because of her good works but because of God’s grace. He would tell us that God made His great mystery of redemption known to her, that He blessed her with wisdom and understanding. He did so for a reason – that she would be holy and blameless. He had a plan for her life. She would conceive a child and give birth to a son, and she would call His name Jesus. An angel told her husband Joseph that their son would save God’s people from their sins.

This promise of redemption was brought to her by the angel, to grow in her, to be delivered through her, to change the world around her. He desires to do the same in our lives. The message to Mary is the same message for you and I, “Rejoice highly favored one, the Lord is with you, blessed are you among all peoples.”

 

Freedom in Christ

freedom-in-christ-key-art

Like many others, she seemed to struggle with the same sin over and over again. “Am I really saved?” she wondered. After all, real Christians don’t struggle with sin, do they? To make matters worse, it seemed that the harder she tried to resist her desire to sin, the more she failed. The truth is Christians struggle with sin. Why? Because they still live in their human body. The desires of their flesh can be overwhelming at times. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The good news is that you can be sure of your salvation and the power of sin has already been broken! The key is finding out how to live within that reality!

We read in verses 7 & 8 in Ephesians chapter one, “In him (Jesus) we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he richly poured out on us with all wisdom and understanding.”

Paul is continuing his identification of the spiritual blessings that those who are in Christ Jesus have. He writes in verses 7 & 8 that God is so rich in kindness and grace that He purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son Jesus and forgave our sins.

Paul begins verse 7 by saying that In Him (Christ) we have redemption. When you and I hear the word redemption or the word redeemed, we think of a word that has great spiritual significance. We declare in our worship, “Redeemed—how I love to proclaim it! Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb; Redeemed through His infinite mercy, His child, and forever, I am.” But do we understand the term? Paul’s audience, when they heard the word redemption, thought of something entirely different. They thought in non-religious terms. It brought to their minds the common picture of a slave being purchased and then set free. Redemption meant release from bondage by the payment of a price. Paul is declaring that God has purchased our pardon through the shed blood of Jesus Christ and as a result, we have been set free. Free from what? Free from the penalty, power and eventually, the presence of sin.

Freedom

First, we have been set free from the penalty of sin by the blood of Jesus Christ. The Bible teaches in Matthew 5:48 that God’s standard for His children is perfection. We are to be completely free from sin. The problem is that all of us have sinned (RO 3:23). As a matter of fact, Scripture teaches that not only have we sinned, we’re guilty of committing them all (James 2:10). None of us, therefore, come close to meeting God’s standards. God also declares that the wages of sin, what we deserve for rejecting His authority over our lives, is death (RO 6:23).  All who have sinned (that’s all of us) have a penalty that must be paid by spending an eternity in hell, completely separated from God.

The gospel declares that the wages of sin is death but that the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus. As Jesus hung upon the cross God poured out His wrath upon His Son; the wrath that we deserved. Through the shed blood of Jesus, the penalty for our sin was paid. Our debt has been paid and our sins have been forgiven. Jesus Christ took our place on the cross and paid our debt. Our past sins were made as white as snow (Isa. 1:18), they are remembered no more (Jeremiah 31:34), and are cast from us as far as the East is from the West (PS 103:12).

Second, we have been set free from the power of sin by the shed blood of Jesus. Most everyone who is a Christian seems to understand that when Jesus took our sins upon Himself on the cross, that He paid the penalty for our sins. But far fewer understand that the power of sin has been broken as well. So many people are committing the same sin over and over again with little hope of defeating that sin. Jesus shocked the Pharisees, the spiritual leaders of His day, when He stated, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). Jesus was asserting that those who are in Adam are under the power and control of sin; they can’t get away from it by themselves. We are slaves to sin and yet, the Gospel declares that true followers of Jesus have been set free from the power of sin; sin doesn’t have to be their master (RO 6:14).

I know that the vast majority of you do not feel that power. It sounds idealistic; like religious hype. It does not correspond to your experience, and so you instinctively feel like this message is going to be a piece of fiction. I don’t blame you for feeling that way. I have often felt that way myself. We’re in good company! We read in Romans 7:21 that the apostle Paul had the same struggle.

You see, Jesus didn’t come into this world to simply pay the penalty for our past sins and not do anything about the power of sin over our lives. He didn’t pay that huge price upon the cross so that we could go on sinning and keep asking for forgiveness, day after day. Jesus came to set us free from the power of sin. Here’s how the Apostle Peter put it: “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

Finally, one day we will be set free from the presence of sin by the blood of Jesus Christ. As long as you and I dwell in these earthly bodies we will struggle with sin. But one day we will shed these bodies with its desire to sin and receive glorified bodies. Philippians 3:21 declares that Jesus “will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control.” Not only will we receive glorified bodies without a desire to sin, we will dwell in the presence of God forever. Revelation 21:4 declares that in the eternal state, we will never experience death, sorrow, crying, or pain—the absence of those things is proof that sin is also absent since those things are the product of sin (see Romans 6:23). Man will dwell with God and enjoy His presence forever!

You and I have been redeemed through the shed blood of Jesus and therefore, have been set free from the penalty, power and eventually, from the presence of sin. Here in the “land of the free” we often confuse the true nature of freedom. For many of us, freedom has become synonymous with personal independence — the ability to make our own decisions and choose our own path in life, to do whatever we want, whenever we want.

But this is not the freedom that Jesus promised us (Luke 4:18). Jesus was not setting us free to do whatever we want to do; He was freeing us to do what we ought to do. He was liberating us to walk in relationship with His Father in heaven and to be the kind of people He created us to be (1 John 2:6). This spiritual freedom gives us the ability to obey God and pursue His will for our lives. This is the freedom that sin had long denied us.

Experiencing Freedom in Christ

How do we find freedom from the penalty of sin? Genuine freedom comes when we, by faith, accept Jesus Christ’s death upon the cross as the payment for our sins. There is no other way. Scripture declares in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works so that no one can boast.” Freedom from the penalty of sin is not earned, it is the gift of God by grace through faith.

If you and I want to experience freedom from the power of sin we must confess our need to be set free, turn from our sin (repent), declare the truth of God’s Word, and walk by the Spirit. Strength comes when we acknowledge our weakness, we must be honest with ourselves and God, admitting that we are struggling with a specific sin. 1 John 1:8 states, “If we say, “We have no sin,” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” But John continues in verse 9 by declaring, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” If we are going to experience power over our sin, we must confess that we have a problem with sin.

The second key to finding freedom from the power of sin is to turn from that sin. The Bible calls this repentance. We read in 2 Timothy 1:19 that those who are true followers of Jesus will turn from their wickedness. As the Spirit of God uses the Word of God to identify our sins we must confess it as sin and turn away from it.  Remember, we cannot walk in sin and walk with God! We are told in Romans 6:11 that we’re not to “let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.” Turning from our sin is a choice we must make.

The third key is to declare the truth of God’s Word when we’re tempted to sin. Most Christians live in spiritual poverty, struggling with the same sin over and over again because they still believe that they don’t have a choice. You can choose victory over sin instead of failure and defeat. Romans 6:7 declares, “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin…” Don’t miss it. Paul declares that we know that we do not have to be slaves to sin. But you will never experience life change unless you exercise your faith and consider yourself dead to sin. Believe in your heart that you are dead to sin, that sin has no power, and speak it out!

Which means, if we are going to defeat the power of sin in our lives, we must not only deny the desires of our flesh, we must walk by the Spirit (Gal. 5:16). To walk by the Spirit is to rely upon the Spirit’s guidance in all facets of life. We must choose to study and meditate on the Scriptures. We must live lives marked by passionate, but humble, prayer. We must choose to live in community with other followers of Jesus, and finally, we must get involved in God’s mission to make disciples. Abiding in Christ is critical to our transformation.

As we are honest about our sins, turn from unrighteousness, and walk by the Spirit – sin loses its power and Christ’s power takes over. As we choose to trust and follow Him, our sinful habits, thoughts, and attitudes lose their control. Guilt disappears, and peace of mind dominates. Right habits become the norm. That’s freedom — true freedom!

 

Adopted

adopted

I love watching videos of men proposing to their girlfriends… their responses run from complete shock and disbelief to wild jubilation! I think there is something special about someone wanting to spend life with you until death parts them. We live in a world where there are countless children who wonder if anyone loves them. Maybe they live with their grandparents or in a foster home. Maybe they live with their family but feel unloved. The weight of not being wanted can be heavy.

In Ephesians 1:5 Scripture declares that “In love, God determined in advance for you and me to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself…” Paul is saying that God chose us for a purpose, not only to be holy and blameless but to be adopted as His sons and daughters! Out of His great love, God determined in advance that you and I should be His sons and daughters (1 John 3:1). The word for love in the original language used here is agape. It doesn’t speak of a love driven by merit or beauty. Nor does it refer to feelings for another. Prior to our salvation you and I were a mess. There was nothing in us to draw God towards us. Agape speaks of a love that seeks our welfare, that seeks what’s best for you and I. That’s the love the Father has for us!

Under Roman law, three things happened when an individual was adopted. First, he was totally separated from his previous family. The adopted person lost all rights in his old family and gained all the rights of a fully legitimate son in his new family. In the most literal sense, and in the most binding legal way, he got a new father!

Second, the adopted son became an heir to his new father’s estate. No matter how many other sons there were at the time or how many were born thereafter, he was co-heir with them. This was not subject to change. An adopted child could not be disinherited. Third, the old life of the adoptee was completely erased. All debts and obligations were legally canceled. The adopted son was regarded by the law as a new person.

God is declaring that believers, when they have been adopted by Him when they were born again, are removed from the authority of their previous father, Satan (Jn 8:44) and, in Christ, are given a new Father. They are guaranteed an inheritance with all the other children of God. Paul explains later that the Holy Spirit is the down payment and guarantee of their inheritance (Ep 1:14). Finally, the adopted sons are new persons in that all of their sins are forgiven, and they have a clean slate before God. They have been born again.

The text declares that God predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ. Predestination is one of those words good Baptists try to avoid. Vibrant, life-giving churches have split over its use. Since it’s in the Bible at least six times, let’s get a handle on its meaning.  To put it simply, to predestine is to predetermine. To say that God predestined us to be adopted as His sons and daughters is to say that God determined in advance to adopt us. Paul isn’t saying that God has predetermined who is or isn’t saved. As a matter of fact, nowhere in Scripture does it say that God predetermines who spends eternity in hell. Predestination deals with the reason God chose us. It refers to purpose. I believe that it is an expression of God’s grace for He determined before the formation of the world to adopt us. In this context, predestination is about God determining to make us His sons and daughters.

So why did God adopt us? Our text answers that when Paul writes, “He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself, according to His favor and will.” First, He declares that we have been adopted for Himself, for His glory. Adoption is not the end result – His glory is! Verse six declares that we have been adopted so that the glory of God’s grace would be praised. God adopted us in our unworthiness so that the world would see the magnitude of His grace and desire to experience it themselves. The text also says that God adopted us according to His favor and will. Some translations state that we were adopted according to the kind intention of His will. Kind intention is a single Greek word that means “good pleasure.” It means that God chose us and predestined that we be adopted simply because it pleased Him to do so, not because we were deserving.

When God chose us, He had a very specific plan in mind. He was going to adopt us so that He might be glorified. The word for adoption used here speaks to adults. Not children. God adopted us knowing who we were and how we were! Adoption blesses us because it assures us God wanted us regardless of our faults, failings, and weaknesses. He predestined us, picked us out, by Himself, for Himself. Some people give birth to babies that they don’t want, but nobody adopts a baby they don’t want. God has wanted you before the world was created.

Benefits of Being Adopted

So, what does it mean to be adopted by God? What blessings does it bring to our lives? I have identified five benefits of being adopted by God.

First, as adopted children, we come to know God as our heavenly Father. The Creator of the universe chose you to be His child. He didn’t choose you because you were special. His choice makes you special. In the thousands of years covered in the Old Testament, God is called “Father” only seven times. People just didn’t think of God as Father. They thought of him as other kinds of things — creator, almighty one, etc. But they didn’t think of God as Father. Then Jesus came along and declared that God could be known as our heavenly Father!

God reveals Himself to mankind in the role of a Father in several contexts. He gives us life (John 3:3); He loves us (John 3:16); He rewards our efforts (Hebrews 11:6); He communicates with us through His Word (John 17:17; Ephesians 1:13; Colossians 1:5; 1 Thessalonians 2:13); He corrects us lovingly (Hebrews 12:3-11); and, most important, He will grant us the ultimate gift of life—eternal life in His Kingdom through His grace (Roman 6:23; Ephesians 2:5)—if we repent of our sins and obey His commands (Acts 2:38).

Second, as His children, we are filled with and led by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God lives in those who are true children of God (RO 8:14). We are no longer alone, left to wander aimlessly through life. Jesus declared in John 16:13, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” Because of the saving work of Christ, we enjoy a new life in the Spirit. He loves us enough to lead us. He loves us enough to counsel and comfort us. Out of His great love, the Spirit secures our salvation in Christ Jesus.

Third, as His children find meaning and purpose for life. The world tells you that life is all about you and your desires. It cries out, “Live for yourself!” Jesus provides us with an alternative way of life. He shows us that we are to live for the glory of God and the good of others. When we do, we find the abundant life He promised us. In John 17:4 Jesus Himself declared to His Father in heaven, “I have glorified you on the earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” God has a plan for our lives; He invites and equips us to invest our lives in His mission. Our loving Father gives us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3).

Fourth, we gain a new family that seeks to support, encourage, and shares life with us. Prior to our conversion you and I were members of Adam’s family with all of the effects of the power of sin and guilt. We were held responsible as members of that family. God took us out of that family and adopted us into His new family – the church. As a member of the family, our assignment is to encourage one another. We’re to spur one another on to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24). We’re to pray for one another (James 5:16). We’re to meet the needs of our family members (Acts 2:45). Galatians 5:3 says that we are to serve one another. As we live life this way we will not only experience great joy, the world will notice how we share life and be amazed (Acts 2:46-47).

Finally, we become joint heirs with Jesus. I am saying that the best is yet to come! As God’s children, we have “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade . . . kept in heaven” (1 Peter 1:4).  Being a co-heir with Christ means that we, as God’s adopted children, will share in the inheritance of Jesus. What belongs to Jesus will also belong to us. Best of all, one day we will see and savor the glory of God himself. Revelation 21:3 promises, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”

Conclusion

Noted Bible teacher Warren Wiersbe feels that a proper “understanding of adoption is important if you and I are to enjoy our Christian life to the fullest.” While adoption is not the way we get into God’s family, it is the way we come to fully enjoy God’s family. As a child of God, we can know Him intimately, know Him as our Father. As a child of God, we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit who desires to led and comfort. He is an ever-present help in times of trouble. As a child of God, we find meaning and purpose in life – He invites us to make His mission our mission. As a child of God, we have a new family that seeks to help us walk like Jesus! And finally, as children of God, we can look forward to spending eternity with Jesus – we are joint heirs with Him!

I’ve only scratched the surface. 1 Corinthians 2:9, “What no eye has seen, and no ear has heard, and what has never come into a man’s heart, is what God has prepared for those who love Him.”  Everything that we have from God is in Christ and comes to us because He was willing to go to the cross to redeem us from the penalty of our sin. God blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ (1:3). He chose us in Christ (1:4). He predestined us to adoption through Jesus Christ (1:5). He freely bestowed His grace on us in Christ, “the Beloved” (1:6). He redeemed us in Christ (1:7). He purposed all of these blessings “in Him” (1:9). We obtained an inheritance in Him (1:10-11). It is all in and through Jesus Christ and not at all in or through anything in us. Why? So that God would get all the glory!

 

Chosen

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Do you remember lining up in a row during gym class and choosing sides for some sort of game like dodgeball or softball? When I was in school it seemed like the same kids were always chosen last. I cannot imagine what they felt. Some of you might be able to relate to what they were feeling. You know what it’s like to not be chosen or to be chosen last. Some of you know what it’s like to be rejected. A spouse, a friend or maybe even your parents have made you feel anything but loved or wanted. Today, we’re back in the Book of Ephesians, and what we’re going to discover is that we are loved by God and that He has chosen us before the creation of the world! You’re a masterpiece, blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, and now, God declares that you are chosen! You’re SOMEBODY!

How you see yourself matters. If we have a wrong view of ourselves, we will live a life that is contrary to God’s will and plan for our lives. Our identity and our esteem must be rooted in who God says we are! It is only when we know who we are from God’s perspective can we determine how to live our lives. So far in our study of Ephesians, we have seen that those who are in Christ are masterpieces, created by God for His glory and the good of others. He declares that you and I are saints – set apart from the world and made holy by the perfect righteousness of Christ. We have been blessed by God with every spiritual blessing in the heavens – we have everything for life and godliness! And today we will discover and explore that fact that those who are in Christ have been chosen by God!

Ephesians 1:3-4

“Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavens in Christ. For he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in love before him…”

Paul begins in verse four by declaring “For He chose us in him…” You could translate the word for to read because. You and I know that every spiritual blessing is ours because we were chosen by God. He wants to remind us that God is the one who is taking action here. The gospel always begins with God! He continues by saying that God has chosen us in Christ.

Before I unpack the word chosen, let me address who He has chosen. This letter was written to the church at Ephesus. Therefore, the vast majority of the recipients were Gentiles –  people who were not Jewish.  Gentiles were despised by the Jews and therefore, excluded from the worship, rights, and privileges of Israel.  The Jews thought of them as the enemies of God! In spite of what the Jews said about them, they were now part of God’s family. Paul is writing to a group of individuals who were told for the majority of their lives that they didn’t belong; that they could never gain full access to God! He is addressing their identity which was defined and therefore, found, in Christ.

Paul could relate to the Gentiles’ struggle with accepting this great truth. Although he was a Jew, he knew that he was a great sinner, one undeserving of God’s love. He declared in Ephesians 3:8 that the grace of God was extended to him, the least of all the saints. In 1 Timothy 1:15 he writes, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-and I am the worst of them.” Paul never lost the amazement of being chosen by God not only to be adopted into His family but to be an apostle-a witness to the Gentiles (Eph. 3:8; Gal. 1:4)!

Chosen. It has a beautiful ring to it, doesn’t it? God Himself, the creator of the universe, chose you. Technically the word means “to pick out or choose out for one’s self.” God called you and me out of darkness, out of Adam, into Christ, for Himself and His glory. You and I were chosen by God for God.

In John 15:16 Jesus said to His disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” Jesus said we did not choose Him. We couldn’t. We were so trapped in our sin, so blinded to the truth, that we had no desire to seek after God (RO 3:10-11). In John 6:44 Jesus declared, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him…” Everything, including our salvation, begins with God. He does the choosing. He decides to draw us unto Himself. God creates within you a hunger for Jesus and His righteousness!

It gets better. God’s decision to choose the Gentiles and to bestow upon them every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms wasn’t some random or recent thought. No, Paul is declaring that God loved them, and chose them, long ago, even before He made the world… before the foundation of the world. God’s original plan, crafted before the world was created, was to include both Jews and Gentiles into His family! Before God laid the foundation of the world, He was at work choosing a people for Himself.

Before the world was ever established, God knew you and loved you. You were chosen by God before the first bird chirped. Before the first star was hung in the universe. Before the first drop of rain fell or before the first snowflake was shaped by God, you were chosen by Him. He chose you before you cleaned up your life, before you “got right.” This means that God chose you, devised a rescue plan for you, before the fall and before there was ever a need for rescue. There’s the grace we spoke of last week!

But why? Our text says that God chose us so that we would be holy and blameless. To some Christians, holy means a manner of dress, restrictions of activities, or a measure of pride in the fact that certain sins don’t tempt them. Holy doesn’t mean any of them. In the original language the word used for holy means “dedicated to God, sacred, reserved for God and His service.” You and I have been chosen by God to live for His glory and the good of others (1 Cor. 10:31).

The word blameless means that we are to be without flaw or blemish. The idea takes us back to Old Testament worship and God’s requirement that all sacrifices be without blemish. Anything with a blemish was disqualified as an acceptable offering to God. Our problem is that we could never be blameless on our own. Scripture declares that you and I have sinned, fallen short of God’s glory (RO 3:23). That’s why Jesus had to come to earth – to make us blameless. He did this by being our substitute upon the cross. As He paid for our sins, we were clothed with His righteousness. God now sees those who are in Christ as being blameless!

So That…

Those of us who are in Christ have been chosen by God for a specific purpose – to present ourselves before Him as holy and blameless. This great truth should produce within us five things:

Assurance. Because salvation begins with God and is accomplished by God, you can be sure that what God starts He will finish. The truth is that every Christian struggles at some point with their salvation. Why? Because the closer you grow to God, the more you are aware of your sin. As we continually enter into the presence of God we will see the depth of our sinfulness and begin to wonder, “Am I genuinely saved?” Jesus speaks to this question in John 6:37-39, “Everyone the Father gives me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will never cast out.” Jesus is the good shepherd. He loses none of His sheep. Not even one. All He starts with, He ends with.

Power. The truth that we have been chosen by God and that our salvation is secured by Him gives us the power or the strength we need to get back up after our failures. Knowing that God finishes what He starts, we can be sure that even though today was consumed by defeat, God’s decree for our tomorrow is victory! Ephesians 2:10 declares that we are God’s creation, created in Him for good works. God has determined to mold and shape us for His glory and for His service – the burden of fixing our lives is not ours to carry. It is His. He is molding us and shaping us into the image of His Son. The good works that God has for you were chosen by Him. And, because He determined that this is how you should live your life, He has provided you with the power to do so!

Humility. You and I are Christians by grace alone and not because of anything that we have done. God has chosen to redeem us and use us for His glory. Deuteronomy 7:7-8 declares, “The Lord was devoted to you and chose you, not because you were more numerous than all peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But because the Lord loved you…” 1 Corinthians 1:27 declares that God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise! God’s preference is to turn fools into Christians. God chose us. (What does that say about you and me?) How does that make you feel? Not proud I’m sure. Humble I hope.

Hope in the midst of your trials. God is working in us to shape you into the image of His Son. His desire is to shape us into an instrument for His glory. That means everything in life is dedicated to that purpose. He declares in Romans 8 that He can bring good out of all things. James declared that we should “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials” Why? Because God uses the trials of life to mold and shape us! These momentary afflictions are in reality a blessing from God – they give us hope. They reveal that God loves us and that He has a plan for our lives! He disciplines those that He loves.

Boldness in sharing the Gospel. Because God has chosen to embrace Gentiles like you and me, because He has chosen to take sinners like us and mold them into the image of His Son, we should be compelled to share the gospel with others. We must declare to the hopeless and the helpless that long before they were born God decided to give them every spiritual blessing in the heavens through Christ Jesus. To those that feel unloved or rejected by the world we must cry out that God loves them! How do we know He loves us? Look to the cross!

Conclusion

This morning my goal was to help each of every one of us see that God has chosen to make us His very own in His Son Christ Jesus.

  • To those who feel unloved or unworthy of being loved, let me declare to you that God loves you. You were chosen to be loved by Him long before the world began. You matter to Him. He loves you with an everlasting love. He sent His Son to rescue you from your sin.

 

  • To those of you who are struggling with sin, God declares that it is His job to mold you and shape you. He is working right now in your life to transform you into the image of His Son Jesus. Victory is yours in Christ Jesus.

 

  • To those of you who do not know Jesus as your Lord and Savior… can I ask you “Why not say yes to Jesus?” God has so much to offer you. He wants to transform your life so that you might live for His glory. He wants you to experience His love and find purpose in life. He desires that none would perish, but that all would find life in Christ.

Are you ready to experience genuine love? Are you ready to be transformed? Are you ready for a change? Are you ready to experience victory? Then say “Yes” to Jesus.

 

 

Spiritual Blessings

Spiritual blessings

You’re Rich!

Countless farmers in Kansas are hitting the jackpot! But instead of purchasing a winning lottery ticket, it’s all about owning the right piece of land. John Walker, a 63-year old farmer who has been harvesting wheat in the small town of Anthony Kansas since he was six years old, has received $1.5 million over the past year after leasing out the mineral rights to 2,000 acres of his land. Walker also received 1.5 million dollars from the oil company just for the right to look for oil! Some have said that Mr. Walker became a millionaire overnight. But did he? Actually, he has always been a millionaire… he just hadn’t accessed what he already had.

I believe that this is a picture of many who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ. They’re living as spiritual paupers, when in reality, God made them rich when they came to faith in Christ. The Father has so much to offer us. In Ephesians 1:3 the Apostle Paul declares that God has already blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. You and I, just like those folks in Kansas, are rich! We have everything we need for life and godliness.

In Ephesians 1:3 the Apostle Paul writes, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.”

 

Spiritual Blessings: You and I, because of the fall of Adam, experience difficulty in this life. Some struggle to pay their bills, feed their families or provide adequate housing for their families. What we want from God are material blessings, not spiritual ones! We want jobs that pay us an enormous amount of money and we sure don’t want to work hard to earn it. We want stuff, lots of it, and it should be nice stuff! Did I mention we want nice homes as well? And nice cars? Oh yea, we want nice clothes too. There you go, God… bless us materially!

But Paul isn’t talking about material blessings. He’s talking about spiritual blessings. While God promises to meet our basic physical needs, He knows that our deepest need is spiritual, to be rightly related to Him. So, He blesses us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places – in Christ. That’s why you and I are to begin with, and always focus upon, the spiritual. Paul wrote in Colossians 3:1-2, “So if you have been raised with the Messiah, seek what is above, where the Messiah is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on what is above, not on what is on the earth.”

Jesus in Matthew 6:33 declares that you and I are to “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” What are the things that God will provide? Food, clothing, long life – the necessities of life. Material blessings are the fruit of the spiritual blessings God has made available to us.

When I think of spiritual blessings I think of the blessings made available to God’s children in Christ. I think of three specific blessings: faith, grace, and strength. Grace is the undeserved favor of God. It is the provision of salvation and all of God’s riches to a rebellious, undeserving, child by a holy, gracious God. It is the means by which one has their relationship with God, which was broken by sin, restored. The Bible teaches that we rejected God and His ways, that we willfully sinned against Him. The consequence of our rebellion is death and eternal separation from God in the lake of fire. We rebelled against God willfully. Grace is God reaching down to a rebellious child in an effort to restore their broken relationship and to pour out all of the riches of heaven upon His child.

As an expression of His love and grace, God sent His Son Jesus to die upon a cross and pay for our sins. He was our substitute. Through His grace, God gives to us what we don’t deserve. We do not have to strive or struggle through this life to prove ourselves for the next. We could never be good enough to earn God’s love or to have our relationship restored. We are people without hope – Sinners in need of grace. God’s grace causes His love to transcend our sin and deliver to us the full measure of His blessings.

Faith. Hebrews 11:1 states, “Faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.” Faith is an unshakeable confidence, given by the Holy Spirit, that God will actually do what He says and that He will do what we ask in the name of Christ. By faith, I believe that I am saved from my sin. By faith, I believe that God will provide for all of my needs. By faith, I believe that God hears and answers my prayers. By faith, I stand upon the promises of God when life seems to be out of control. By faith, I give the Lord 10% of my finances. By faith, I live in obedience to the Word of God.

We tend to look at the blessings of the Lord as potentially ours, but God sees them as positively ours! Like a key in the ignition switch of a car, faith ignites the heart of God and releases His love, wisdom, power, and presence into any situation or circumstance. God promised Joshua that every inch of the promised land that he would set his foot upon belonged to the nation Israel – but there was a condition – they would have to move forward with God in faith. The nation Israel, like you and I, had all the faith they needed. Paul declares in Romans 12:3 that God that God has distributed a measure of faith to every true follower of Jesus. God expects us to have faith; it is how we see the unseen (2 Cor. 4:18). What was at question for Israel in the days of Joshua and for us, is “Are we willing to take God at His Word – to cross over into the promised land and engage the enemy?” Will we walk by faith or by sight?

Strength. In John 14:12 Jesus stated that whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these. “Greater” works than Jesus? Have you ever raised the dead or made a crippled man walk? Have you multiplied a happy meal to feed thousands? Nope. I think what Jesus was saying was that there is something greater than physical miracles – there are spiritual works of God that are greater. The greatest? The mighty work of transformation. On the day of Pentecost, more people were saved than throughout Jesus’ entire life. Leading someone to forgiveness of sins, you see, is a greater work than feeding a crowd, because the feeding is temporary and salvation is eternal!

Jesus, in Acts 1:8, declared that the Spirit would come upon His disciples and when it did, they would receive the power they needed to take the gospel to all of creation. If you are a follower of Jesus the Holy Spirit lives inside of you to empower you to participate in God’s mission. The life God has called us to is impossible for us to achieve our own strength. His task for us is way beyond our own abilities, talents, and strength.

The strength to walk like Jesus and to do the very things that He did comes from the Holy Spirit who lives within us. His strength allows us to stand in times of difficulty, endure heartache and sorrow, resist temptation, and remain steadfast when the enemy comes against us. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us!

Faith. Grace. Strength. These three blessings of God are an unbeatable combination: the ability to believe… the confidence to act… the power to share the gospel. Everything becomes accessible and possible when these spiritual blessings are active in us. When we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior and surrender to Him as our Lord, we don’t just get a few spiritual blessings. We get them all. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:9, “…no eyes has seen and no ear has heard, and what has never come into a man’s heart, is what God has prepared for those who love Him.” What we need to learn in our walk with the Lord is how to access and walk in what is already ours.

 

 

 

Who Are You?

identity-who-you-are-in-christ

The tragedy of modern-day Christianity is our utter ignorance of who we are in Christ Jesus. Even though Jesus has done everything necessary to make us acceptable to God and to gain us access to His throne, too many of us still doubt God’s love for us or whether He will really hear and answer our prayers. Many wonder if they are worthy of being used by God in ministry. We wonder in our hearts, “How could God love me, knowing what I am and what I struggle with?” We struggle to find the abundant life promised by Jesus because we find our identity in the wrong things.

How do you think God sees you right now? I’ve heard a variety of answers. Some would say, “God sees me as a sinner who tries not to sin… but ends up sinning over and over again.” Some have said, “God sees me as a hypocrite.” Others would say, “God sees me as a failure and I am sure that He feels sick when He sees me; disgusted. Disappointed.” Their personal identity and their self-worth are based on their failures and struggles with sin. Others will determine their identities through their appearance, occupation, abilities, family relationships, friends or in their possessions. The problem is that when the thing that they find their identity in changes, they are crushed, even defeated.

A small child colors a picture with crayons and takes it to her mother. Mom oohs and ahhs and says, “That’s beautiful! You’re a genius. I bet someday you will grow up and be a famous artist!” The little girl feels wonderful inside. Her identity at that moment is found in her mother’s approval. Later that day she determines to take her artwork a step farther and colors a much larger picture on the wall in her bedroom. In her mind, she’s thinking that a larger picture equals greater love and acceptance from her mother. Mom comes in and blows a gasket, screaming “You stupid kid! What were you thinking?” This is very confusing to the child. One minute she’s a genius. Now she’s stupid. One minute she’s a great artist and now she’s a vandal!

Later in High School, she excels in music. People at church applaud when she sings, telling her she has the voice of an angel. Her parents have the warm fuzzies when they hear this and so does she. But what happens when she moves to a larger church and discovers that she’s just average? Suddenly she’s depressed. Feels rejected. She’s crushed once again.

But it doesn’t end there. Later in life, she has children of her own and finds great fulfillment in being their mother. It makes her feel good. But what happens when they grow up, move out, and establish homes of their own? What will she feel then? What happens if one of her children disappoint her? What if one of them gets arrested? Suddenly she’s a failure and once again she’s crushed.

God promises us a life beyond amazing and it is found in where, or with whom, we find our identity. If you find your identity in the approval of others – or in our abilities or in our appearance – we will be disappointed. We will never experience the abundant life God has planned for us. What I am trying to say is that if you let God define who you are, you will find the lasting peace and the fullness of joy your heart desires. What matters is how God sees you.

The Apostle Paul, writing in Ephesians 1:1-2 declares that we are saints. Saints are people who have been made holy by God. Every true follower of Jesus is a saint. Every Christian has been set apart from the world and made holy by the perfect righteousness of Christ. As a matter of fact, after our conversion from death to life in Christ Jesus, we are clothed with the righteousness of Christ (Isa. 61:10).  God sees us as someone who has never sinned and who has always obeyed! Because of who we are in Christ we can come into God’s presence with confidence, knowing that He will welcome us and hear our prayers!

This Is You

When we really understand our identity in Christ—who we are in Him—it changes the way we think and live. Second Corinthians 5:17 says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” That same verse in The Living Bible says, “When someone becomes a Christian, he becomes a brand-new person inside. He is not the same anymore. A new life has begun!” Do you know how special you are in God’s eyes? Here’s what the Bible says about YOU once you have a new identity in Christ:

  • You are His own special possession. (1 Peter 2:9, Deuteronomy 14:2)
  • You are chosen, handpicked by the God who created the universe. (1 Peter 2:9, Jeremiah 1:5, Ephesians 1:3-4)
  • You are treasured. (Deuteronomy 7:6 14:2, 26:18)
  • You are irreplaceable. (1 Thessalonians 1:4)
  • You are loved with an everlasting love. (1 John 4:19, 4:10, 3:16, Romans 5:8, 8:35-39)
  • You are worth dying for. (1 John 3:16, Romans 5:7-9)
  • You are forgiven. (Ephesians 1:7, 1 John 1:9, Romans 8:1, 33-39)
  • You are His child. (1 John 3:1, Galatians 3:26)
  • You are secured for all eternity. (2 Corinthians 1:22, John 10:28-29)
  • You are set free. (Romans 6:18, Galatians 5:1)
  • You are precious to Him. (Isaiah 43:4)
  • You are set apart. (John 15:16, 19, I Peter 2:9)
  • You have been invited to join Him in His mission to redeem the world (Matt. 28:19-20)

Just think about that for a minute. Don’t skim over it. Don’t read them like they’re the same words you heard in Sunday school. This is YOU. If you’re in Christ, this is who YOU are. This is your permanent identity. It can never be removed, messed up, forsaken, taken away, or changed.

Paul opens his letter to the church at Ephesus, “To the faithful saints in Christ Jesus at Ephesus.” There are just two types of people in this world. There are those that are in Adam and those that are in Christ. Their identity is determined by with whom they are identified. We read in 1 Corinthians 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ, all will be made alive.”

What does it mean then, to be in Christ or to be in Adam? First, to be “in” someone means that he is the head of your family. As such, he gives you his name, his inheritance, his destiny and most of all, his nature. Every human being is born into this world “in Adam.” That means we are born with the same nature, name, inheritance, and destiny that Adam possessed at the fall. We are born spiritually dead, with a sinful nature, destined to spend eternity in hell unless something changes.

The alternative is to be “in Christ.” Those who place their faith and trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior are in Christ. They share His name, His inheritance, His destiny, and in His nature. Check out what Romans 5:18 declares: “So then, as through one trespass there is one condemnation for everyone, so also through one righteous act there is life-giving justification. For just as through one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so also through one man’s obedience the many were made righteous.”

Read this carefully: At the moment of our conversion the Holy Spirit of God baptizes us into Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). This is something that happens instantaneously to every Christian the moment of their spiritual birth: They are now totally identified with Christ.

As a result, they are no longer in Adam, but rather, In Christ. When Paul declared in 1 Corinthians 5:17 that we are new creations, he wasn’t referring to our behavior. He was talking about our identity. We are now in Christ! As I learn to live within my new identity my behavior will change. Before my conversion, I was in Adam – dead in my trespasses and sin. But now, I am in Christ – spiritually alive, loved by God, chosen to join His mission and to proclaim the gospel. I am a masterpiece, hand-crafted by God in my mother’s womb. Those truths should impact my life!

Who are you?

Let me ask again, “Who are you?” Better yet, “How does God see you?” Are you in Christ – sharing His name, His inheritance, His destiny, and in His nature? Do you see that you are loved with an everlasting love? Do you realize that you can come boldly into God’s presence with your concerns? Do you see that God has a plan for your life?

Or, are you in Adam? If so, the Bible declares that you will inherit his destiny unless something changes. Are you ready for a change? Are you tired of allowing the world to define who you are? If you acknowledge your need for a Savior; if you confess that you are a sinner who has rejected God and His rightful place in your life and if you believe that Jesus is the sinless Son of God and that His death upon the cross paid for the sins of humanity, you can be moved from being in Adam to being in Christ. You can be saved from your sin and its punishment. All you have to do is ask God to save you from your sins and, with the power of the Holy Spirit, repent (turn) from your sins. Salvation is a gift received by grace through faith in the work of Jesus upon the cross!

You can receive God’s free gift of salvation by praying a prayer like the one below. Although praying the prayer doesn’t save you, it should reflect the desire of your heart. And, if it is your desire, the Bible states that you are saved from your sin:

Dear God, I’m a sinner and know that my sins have destroyed our relationship. I acknowledge that I deserve death, separation from you for eternity. I’m sorry for my sins. I want to turn from my sins but cannot do so in my own power. I believe Jesus Christ is your Son. I believe He died on a cross for my sin as my substitute and that You raised Him to life. I trust Him as my Savior and desire to follow Him as Lord from this day forward. Jesus, I put my trust in You and I submit my life to You. Holy Spirit, come into my life and be my guide. I pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen.

If you prayed that prayer today be sure that you tell someone in your life who walks with Jesus. They will want to rejoice with you and guide you through a few steps to help you understand better what you did.