Fearfully and Wonderfully

Please read Psalm 139:13-16 in your go-to version of the Holy Bible.

Sanctity of Human Life_finalImage by James Best, (C) 2020, https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

On January 13, 1984, President Ronald Reagan issued a proclamation designating January 22 as the first National Sanctity of Human Life Day. (January 22, 1973, was the day the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion-on-demand in all 50 states.) People across the United States use the day to celebrate God’s gift of life, commemorate the many lives lost to abortion, and commit themselves to protecting human life.

https://www.lifemattersww.org/CHURCHES/Sanctity-of-Human-Life-Sunday

On Dec. 10, 2019, our South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem issued an Executive Proclamation, designating January, 2020 as “Sanctity of Human Life Month.”  I’ve read it and believe it is a well-written proclamation.

Personally, I have dear friends who are committed Christians on both side of the issue of abortion-on-demand and am able to love then all and listen to lots of viewpoints.  We are not here to debate abortion-on-demand, capital punishment, or any other single aspect of a pro-life perspective.  Instead, it is our task this morning to agree on the single most important basis of civilized life: the belief that all human life is sacred.  If we can’t all agree on that statement, we have no basis for trust and relationship, no basis for organizing in civilized ways.  Regardless of race, religion, or other beliefs, all members of the human family must recognize the right of all humans to live.  All other rights and freedoms begin with this essential principle.

In addition to that, let all Christians agree that the sacredness of human life is a principle affirmed everywhere in Scripture: from the creation of human life in Genesis to the redemption of human life in Revelation, God commands us to respect human life above all other parts of creation.

CONTEXT: Psalm 136 is King David’s celebration of God who knows us completely, yet loves us unconditionally.  Verses 13-16 are our focus this morning.  Here we find David saying God knows us intimately because He made us.  And He makes only good things.  In these verses we find a beautiful confirmation of the principle of the sacredness of human life.

Because we are God’s creation, human life is sacred.

  1. Human life is sacred because God is our Creator. (13)

Every verse in this section affirms this teaching. However, verses thirteen through sixteen direct our attention to the INMOST part of our BEING, the spiritual/emotional/intellectual facets of our personality.

The image of being KNIT by God expresses a beautiful sentiment.  A similar statement is made to the prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 1:5; The word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

Yet this is much more than sentiment.  God has plans for each life and assigns purposes to our days

  1. Human life is sacred because we are fearfully and wonderfully made in God’s image and likeness. (14)

The words FEARFULLY AND WONDERFULLY express our awe at the creative power of God. Though the psalm applies to all human beings, David wrote it from a very individual perspective.  He praised God out of gratitude for all God had done for him.  So great was David’s gratitude that he wrote ALL God’s WORKS ARE WONDERFUL.  All of creation prompts praise to the Creator.

This passage does not mention the Image of God, but it is so integral to our understanding of humanity and in the background of these affirmations, we must mention it here.  Found in Genesis 1:27, this phrase is not precisely defined in Scripture.  But it is clearly something(s) that distinguishes humanity from the rest of creation and elevates us above it.

  1. Human life is sacred because God created each of us according to His plan. (15-16)

A developing child is invisible to the naked human eye, but fully known to God.  The words, MY FRAME literally means “my bone.” David used respectful metaphors for the womb: SECRET PLACE and DEPTHS OF THE EARTH.

In fact, God knows us so well He has plans for our future even before our birth.  YOUR BOOK probably refers to the Book of Life, a common Bible word picture of God’s list of His faithful people; those who will be saved.

God has a general plan and specific plans for every person.  In general, God wants every person to be saved and every person to do good works.  2 Peter 3:9 names God’s will for universal salvation: The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.  Ephesians 2:10 proves God’s plan for universal good works. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.  The facts that not all people are going to be saved and not all people are going to do good works is evidence of the fact that all of have free will.  God delegates a portion of His authority to us, allowing each to choose to love or reject Him.

God has specific purposes for each of our lives.  It is the task of a maturing believer to discover God’s will and obey it.

Because we are God’s creation, human life is sacred.

      Any culture that refuses to recognize all human life as sacred fails the first and most important test of a civilized society.  We have no basis for organizing in a productive way apart from this first commitment to life.

Let’s make this truth more personal, as David did when he wrote this song of praise.  God has a purpose (several) for your life.  It is not yours to waste on sin and selfishness.

We have an amazing capacity to waste time.  We repeat mistakes until they become bad habits.  We give in to bad habits until they become character flaws.  Moments stretch into days and days become years before we turn around.  Life is too precious to waste.  One way we can honor the sacredness of human life is not to waste a moment of our own.

 

RESOURCES:

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, Willem A. VanGemeren.

Living Light, not Lite

Follow the Light(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

Please read Ephesians 4:17-32.

          In our time, “lite” is am advertising term that connotes a food item with fewer calories or reduced fat.  It has a broader meaning of something that is a less serious or substantial than other (generally original) versions of the same thing.  The word was first coined in 1962 to sell beer.

I’m using “lite” as a symbol of a worldly lifestyle in contrast with the godly lifestyle that Paul described to the Ephesians 1900 years earlier.  It’s a play on words to accentuate the difference between the ways of thinking and behaving that Paul contrasted as “light” and “darkness.”

CONTEXT = In v. 17 Paul began to apply the teachings on UNITY and MATURITY he’d set forth in the previous sixteen verses.  This application was so important he began by asserting his authority; I…INSIST ON IT IN THE LORD.

Living in the light is the outcome of spiritual maturity.

  1. Characteristics of life in the darkness.

Living as the GENTILES lived (17).  Most of the members of the church in Ephesus were Gentiles; this comment might have been offensive to them.  “GENTILES” refers to the prevailing culture.  Paul urges them to achieve maximum contrast against their culture in the way they lived.  We would do well to assume the same goal.

They were futile in their THINKING (17).  When it was used, reason was used to deny God and/or make excuses for their immoral living.

Persons on the shadowy path are DARKENED IN THEIR UNDERSTANDING (18).  Sin obscures the truth.

Before they came to Christ, they were SEPARATED FROM THE LIFE OF GOD (18).  Sin is an offense against God.  In His moral perfection, God does not tolerate sin to be in His presence.  A person’s choice to sin leads to deadly separation from God, the Source of life.

Whether innocently or purposely, they were ignorant of the truth (18).  Those who choose the darkness ignore God, choosing to disbelieve He exists, that He is loving, and/or that He is powerful.

Without Jesus, people become hard-hearted (18).  “Psychosclerosis” is the made-up word used at last Thursday’s seminar.  It is a hardening of the attitudes that comes with repeated choices.

Walking on the darksome path makes a person insensitive (19) or “callous.”  They are dull to the pain of others or any feeling that might motivate them to love or believe.

The phrase GIVEN OVER TO SENSUALITY (19) refers to a lifestyle where self-satisfaction is the most important thing: it has become an idol.  When “getting mine” becomes a top priority or pursuing every kind of experience without question is typical, self is worshiped instead of God.  This person is easily identified by their dread of boredom.

Indulging EVERY KIND OF IMPURITY (19) pictures a person who has a passion for everything that is indecent and immoral.  Worse, they have a special lust for everything against God.

Lovers of the darkness are marked as being FULL OF GREED (19).  Greedy people do not care how their selfish ambitions harm others.  They are insatiable consumers.

A FORMER WAY OF LIFE (22) sums up much of this list; it is the way we live before we accept Jesus as Savior.  Characteristic of that way of life is devotion to our OLD SELF.  There is a supposed to be a sharp distinction between our OLD SELF (the way we lived before being saved) and our NEW SELF (24); the way we live after being saved.  Before Christ, we were CORRUPTED BY DECEITFUL DESIRES.  In our FORMER, worldly lifestyle, we were ignorant and easy prey for the charms of the world to convince us to choose selfishness and sin.

Persons on the dark path are given to UNWHOLESOME (“rotten” or “putrid”) TALK (29).  These words betray a rotten interior and have evil effects on those who hear them.

In the church or outside, this kind of person is known by sins that work against UNITY (31).  We are to GET RID of these sins.

– BITTERNESS is grudge-holding, resentment, refusal to forgive.

– RAGE flows from bitterness.  It is a sudden outburst of hurtful frustration.

– ANGER literally means “shouting.”  It is giving full throat to one’s negative emotions.

– BRAWLING is all forms of physical abuse, even those that seem less violent.

– SLANDER is all forms of verbal abuse.  Whether what you say is true or not is not as important as why you say it.

– EVERY FORM OF MALICE includes all manifestations of toxic attitudes, every word and deed coming from a hate-filled heart.

  1. Characteristics of life in the light.

Light-path living is appropriate to the WAY OF LIFE they had been taught by Paul (20-21).  This reminds us that our faith is a heritage.  We begin with a shared tradition born in our history.  This is the starting-point of true faith; we are not welcome to just make it up as we go.  The phrase WHEN YOU HEARD ABOUT CHRIST looks back at t moment they were saved.  A change of life began at that time.  The Apostle affirmed THE TRUTH is THAT which IS IN JESUS.  In accepting Jesus, we also accept all that He reveals, the entire truth of who God is and who we are to be in Him.

A renewed ATTITUDE of mind (23) will be present in those who prefer the light.  In Romans 12:2 Paul wrote about a personal transformation that occurred from the inside out: new attitudes lead to new actions.

People walking in the light behave in ways characteristic of our NEW SELF (24).  This is not as simple as a change of clothes (though that is one way Paul symbolized it); it is a total makeover of a person, from sinful to Christ-like.

Recognizing we are CREATED TO BE LIKE GOD IN TRUE RIGHTEOUSNESS AND HOLINESS (24).  The NEW SELF is our true self; it is becoming the kind of person God created us to be in the first place.  It is life based on God’s standard of good behavior and being set apart from the world.

To be in the light of Christ, you are to PUT OFF FALSEHOOD AND SPEAK TRUTHFULLY TO YOUR NEIGHBOR (25).  Having TRUE RIGHTEOUSNESS will cause us to speak the truth and stop misleading others.  This is a call to avoid all hypocrisy and lying.   Telling the TRUTH IN LOVE (16) builds up our fellowship.  Doing anything else tears it down.

Behaving as we are ALL MEMBERS OF ONE BODY (25) requires us to put effort into getting along.  God gives us UNITY; we must exercise MATURITY in order to preserve it.

We are to not allow anger to turn into sin (26). Anger itself is not always a sin; what makes it a sin is dealing with it in ungodly ways.  Paul offers two examples of sinful responses to an angry impulse.  First, we are to not allow anger to fester, but should resolve situations without holding a grudge (26).  Sunset is not offered as a legalistic time limit, but a reasonable one.  Remember, the Jewish day began at sunset, so Paul is actually saying, “Don’t start today with yesterday’s anger still unresolved.”

Don’t GIVE THE DEVIL A FOOTHOLD by having unrighteous anger (27). Think of unresolved anger as the edge of a wedge.  Given this tool, our mutual enemy (THE DEVIL) uses anger to split us apart.

Light-living people have a good work ethic (28).  Paul offered three aspects of a good work ethic.

– No STEALING.  Hard work unites people; stealing drives them apart.

– Stop being useless/lazy.  Laziness drives people apart, creating dependency.

– SHARE WITH THOSE IN NEED.  Work enables us to provide for ourselves AND for those who cannot work.

Those who walk in the light will speak ONLY WHAT IS HELPFUL FOR BUILDING OTHERS UP (29).  Truthfulness is not the only virtue for godly speech.  What encourages and edifies is another necessary quality of good speech.  Godly speech is choosing words ACCORDING TO THEIR NEEDS, not your own.  Say what the other person needs to hear in a way they are most likely to receive and understand it.  Godly speech also benefits THOSE WHO LISTEN.  Words are not to be used as a way to get even or achieve any other selfish goal.  Instead, our motive is to benefit others.

God’s people DO NOT GRIEVE THE HOLY SPIRIT (30).  All sin causes God sorrow because He knows how we are hurting ourselves.  There is a wealth of theology here we don’t have space to explore, but let us observe that the motive of respect for God is a great reason to walk in the LIGHT.

Remember Paul’s earlier assertion that the Holy Spirit is a SEAL and DEPOSIT guaranteeing our redemption (1:13-14).  The phrase YOU WERE SEALED FOR THE DAY OF REDEMPTION (30) teaches the same truth.  One of the many purposes of the Holy Spirit is to reassure us of our salvation.

Let us be known by virtues that build UNITY (32).  Paul offered three of them.

– Kindness is a sweet, generous disposition.  It is be others-oriented.

– The Gk word for “compassion” literally refers to healthy functioning internal organs – “good guts.”  Here it is the virtual of a godly internal life.

– Forgiveness JUST AS CHRIST FORGAVE YOU.  Here is the highest possible standard for one of the most essential virtues in good relationships.

Living in the light is the outcome of spiritual maturity.

          A life lived in the light will bear an obvious difference from life lived in the darkness and life lived in our surrounding culture.  Life is constant transformation into the image of Jesus or it is not life at all, but death.

Considering the qualities of “darkness dwellers” and “light lifers” the Apostle Paul set forth, where do you see yourself?  Chances are, your characteristic attitudes and actions appear on both lists, as we are imperfect beings always in process.  However, what is the general trend?  Is there enough of a difference between the way you live and our prevailing culture?  Or are you doing a good job of “blending in?”

 

RESOURCES:

Message #764

Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Ephesians, Clinton E. Arnold

TruLuv

Please read Hosea 14 in your Bible.  Full disclosure: I used the NIV (1984) for this article.

REPENTANCE

God truly loves those who repent.

          I saw a video recently of a lady who entered a kennel to attempt to win the trust of a pup who had been abused all his life and consequently growled at and cowered before any people who came near.  This lady approached the dog cautiously, with a treat in one hand, reaching out with the other, open-palmed.  Somehow with a combination of her voice and touch, she got the dog to respond to her positively, taking the treat.  Very soon after that, the dog was able to be let out of the kennel.  Its demeanor was completely transformed; it played with other dogs and acted like a pup should.

The video was offered as a metaphor on human behavior; sometimes people, like this pup, have known little other than abuse.  They don’t know how to receive love because they have been shown so little love.  However, once they take a chance and experience true love, a switch is flipped and they are somehow enabled to be loved and can even learn how to love others.  True love is a redemptive force.

(You can see the video for yourself at https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:ugcPost:6450598322699927552.)

  1. TruLuv for God begins w/ repentance (1-3, 9)

In this passage, RETURN is the word for repentance.  In Hebrew, the word is sub.  It has a variety of meanings, all along the lines of turning back, returning, restoring.  We can visualize it as a turning away from sin, turning back to God.  Walking toward sin (giving into temptation) is walking away from God; there is a 180 degree difference.

We read two specific parts to repentance.  The first is that repentance is a change of direction. As verse one states, RETURN TO THE LORD YOUR GOD.

Second, realizing words DO count, repentance is asking God to forgive you. Verses two and three make this truth plain; TAKE WORDS WITH YOU…SAY TO HIM.  What are we to say to God?  Hosea reveals five statements we must sincerely make to God:

One: “I admit I am guilty of sin.  We are to plead, as Hosea did, FORGIVE ALL OUR SINS.  Redemption comes to those who admit to having a problem called sin, one we can’t fix it on our own.  Redemption is an act of God’s grace, not our merit.

Two: “Lord, please forgive me.”  As the prophet did, pray God will RECEIVE US GRACIOUSLY.  Through Jesus Christ, God has fixed the problem of sin; He can save you.

Three: “I reject worldly ways and self-reliance.”  This is what is meant by the phrase ASSYRIA CANNOT SAVE US; WE WILL NOT MOUNT WAR-HORSES.

Four: “I reject false gods.”  Idolatry takes on more subtle forms in our time; self-made religion is the more common form of our modern idolatry.  It is no less deadly, however, than fashioning a false god image and worshiping it.  We see the rejection of idols in verses three and eight; WE WILL NEVER AGAIN SAY ‘OUR GODS’ TO WHAT OUR OWN HANDS HAVE MADE and WHAT MORE HAS EPHRAIM TO DO WITH IDOLS?

Five: “God, I accept your forgiveness and offer praise to You.”  Verse two uses language of sacrifice, though in the NIV it reads, WE…OFFER THE FRUIT OF OUR LIPS.  This literally says, “we offer our lips (bulls) as sacrifice.”  The author of Hebrews would use similar language in 13:15; OFFER A SACRIFICE OF PRAISE.

Why should we repent?  To be forgiven, of course, but also because it is the right thing to do.  As verse nine says, THE WAYS OF THE LORD ARE RIGHT.

Verse nine also tells us about the repentant person.  These qualities are similar to what is written in Psalm 107:43; Whoever is wise, let him heed these things and consider the great love of the LORD.

He is wise.  WHO IS WISE? HE WILL REALIZE THESE THINGS.

He has discernment (the ability to distinguish between good and evil).  WHO IS DISCERNING? HE WILL UNDERSTAND THEM.

He is headed in the right direction THE RIGHTEOUS WALK IN THE WAYS OF THE LORD.

Verse nine also tells us something about the unrepentant person: THE REBELLIOUS STUMBLE.  A refusal to obey God causes a person to STUMBLE; they reject the truth and refuse to repent.

  1. TruLuv from God restores His beloved (3-8).

God loves you too much to leave you an orphan.  As verse three declares; IN YOU THE FATHERLESS FIND COMPASSION. This is a recurring promise in the Bible (for example, see Exodus 22:22 and Deuteronomy 10:18).  God puts us in families and in church families so we can serve Him, serve each other, and serve our communities.

God’s love is expressed in three promises made in v. 4.

First, I WILL HEAL THEIR WAYWARDNESS.  Ironically, the word WAYWARDNESS has the same root as the word RETURN, but describes turning away from God, not to Him.

Second, I WILL…LOVE THEM FREELY.  This is the unconditional love of God.

Third, MY ANGER HAS TURNED AWAY FROM THEM.  Forgiveness turns away wrath.

God’s love will cause you to thrive, not just survive: I WILL BE LIKE DEW TO ISRAEL (5). This blessed state is expressed in ten promises made in verses five to eight.

HE WILL BLOSSOM LIKE A LILY (5).

HE WILL SEND DOWN HIS ROOTS (5).

HIS YOUNG SHOOTS WILL GROW (6).

HIS SPLENDOR WILL BE LIKE AN OLIVE TREE (6).

HIS FRAGRANCE LIKE A CEDAR OF LEBANON (6).

MEN WILL DWELL AGAIN IN HIS SHADE (7).

HE WILL FLOURISH LIKE THE GRAIN (7).

HE WILL BLOSSOM LIKE A VINE (7).

HIS FAME WILL BE LIKE THE WINE FROM LEBANON (7).

I WILL ANSWER HIM AND CARE FOR HIM (8).

Verse eight shows all good things come from God: I AM LIKE A GREEN PINE TREE; YOUR FRUITFULNESS COMES FROM ME.

God truly loves those who repent.

          Pastor Bledar Valca told this story: “Some years ago a murderer was sentenced to death. The murderer’s brother, to whom the State was deeply indebted for former services, besought the governor of the State for his brother’s pardon. The pardon was granted, and the man visited his brother with the pardon in his pocket. “What would you do,” he said to him, “if you received a pardon?” “The first thing I would do,” he answered, “is to track down the judge who sentenced me, and murder him; and the next thing I would do is to track down the chief witness, and murder him.” The brother rose, and left the prison with the pardon in his pocket.

https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/repentance-bledar-valca-sermon-on-repentance-104293?ref=SermonSerps

This tale is intended to teach us that if there is no repentance, there can be no pardon.  Sin cannot be forgiven without the offender asking for repentance.

The good news is God loves every sinner who repents.  His forgiveness is total, cleansing the worst sinner from every last bit of guilt and shame.  He fully restores those who He forgives, recreating their moral perfection with a perfectly clean slate.

God acted to save us from our sins, just as He acted in history to restore His people after their exile.  Much of the news the prophet Hosea delivered was bad news, condemning sin and warning them of God’s coming wrath.  However, the book ends with this stirring call to repentance in order to have God’s forgiveness, the blessing of His grace.

Make this your personal experience.  Admit your sin; confess it to God.  Ask His forgiveness and receive His love.

 

RESOURCES:

Zondervan NIV Exhaustive Concordance (2nd Edition)

Zondervan Bible Commentary, F.F. Bruce, Ed.

Lively Former Corpses

no-zombies

(This image saved from http://www.allposters.com.br/-sp/No-Zombies-Allowed-Sign-Plastic-Sign-posters_i9896033_.htm.)

Please read Ephesians 2:1-10 in your Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

Sin is the cause of the “Walking Dead,” God raises the dead to receive salvation and life.

It’s a free country (at least at the moment) where everyone’s entitled to indulge their interests as they see fit.  However, speaking solely for myself, I don’t understand the popularity of zombies.  What had been for decade a minor sub-genre of horror, zombies have grown in popularity and become big business. For example, in 2011, NBC news estimated Americans spent $5 million on zombie entertainment products.

Money is one numerical way to gauge popularity.  In our time, another way to assess trends and objectively gauge popularity is to track internet searches.  I found some data that is seven years old – a eternity in pop culture – but I found the popularity of the undead has been growing since 2010.  By this measure, West Virginia was the state most interested in zombies, with South Dakota being tenth most interested.

When something becomes this popular, people want to explain why it has become so big.  The most obvious reason for the popularity of zombies is people’s fascination with things that are horrible, gross, and evil.  It’s like going to a hockey game hoping for a fight or a race hoping for a spectacular wreck.

A less obvious reason is that zombies don’t require a lot of thinking or feeling.  Their motivations are simple and the response of the living is simple.  We all want life to be less complicated.  Watching this stuff may require a stout gag reflex, but it won’t challenge your brains too much.

Some internet commentators want to dive more deeply into the zombie phenomenon and see zombies as being symbols of what’s wrong with modern American culture.  Or modern Americans.

Which interests me because today’s Scripture passage employs a symbol not unlike zombies.  Please read that correctly.  I am not attempting to legitimize “zombie culture” or say that it is in any way biblical.  I’m simply pointing out that Paul depicts life without Jesus Christ as dead people walking.

“BC” (Before Christ) persons have a form of life, but have no real life.  They are in bondage to forces beyond their control.  In the real world, people can be saved from zombie-like living, but only God can do it.  In this zombie-like state, they are insensitive to God, blindly pursuing just about any else instead.

  1. We were dead in our sin. (1-5)

We were “dead men walking” in ungodliness. (1+5)  Literally and metaphorically, DEAD means separated from life, which is found only in God (see Colossians 2:13).  In this passage, Paul uses death as a metaphor for a spiritual condition; a person as unconscious and unresponsive to the word and will of God as a dead person is unresponsive to everything.

The words TRANSGRESSIONS and SINS are two words for the same thing: the cause of our spiritual death.  In Romans 5:17 Paul explained this spiritual death is part of the curse of being Adam’s children but in Romans 6:23 he wrote that it’s our own fault because of the sins we chose to commit.  Adam’s sin brought death into the world, but we have condemned ourselves by our own choices to bring it into our personal experience.

We were “under the influence” of three masters.

#1 – We were following the WAYS O/T WORLD (1).  We were under the influence of the culture around us; bowing to peer pressure, fashion, and media without questioning whether the popular thing was the right thing.  The WAYS OF THIS AGE (2) is an equivalent expression.  Both refer to this present time; between the creation of this world and the world to come.  Both terms refer to a culture that has aligned itself against God (see John 15:18-19 and 1 Corinthians 3:19) and antagonizes those who truly want to love and serve Him.

#2 – We were serving Satan. (2)  We were under the influence of our Enemy, Satan, the RULER OF THE KINGDOM OF THE AIR.  He was tempting us and sending trials our way to distract and discourage us.

Paul is in agreement with John’s Gospel that Satan is the RULER of the worldly systems that oppose God (see John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11).  THE AIR describes the sphere of Satan’s influence; it covers the earth but falls short of heaven.  This language reflects Jewish belief that demons flew in the air and the pagan belief that evil spirits flew around.  In both Hebrew and Greek the word for SPIRIT can also be translated as “wind”.  The influence of the spiritual evil ruled by Satan is expressed in NOW AT WORK IN THOSE WHO ARE DISOBEDIENT.

#3 – We were serving selfishness. (3)  We were under the influence of self-centeredness; an orientation typical to humans.  When we are very immature, a certain amount of self-centeredness helps us survive and grow.  But as we mature, we must become God-centered, discarding childish and selfish ways.

Paul used the term SINFUL NATURE (“flesh”) to denote the part of our inner nature that has an appetite for doing wrong.  It is one way self-centredness manifests itself.  It is like a separate entity within a person that constantly tempts and misdirects us away from God and toward sin.

My belief is that the SINFUL NATURE is the part of our inner life that was CRUCIFIED WITH CHRIST (GLS 2:20) and no longer lives.  This extreme selfishness that seeks satisfaction through sin no longer affects the believer because it is dead.  We still struggle with sin because our human nature is with us in the form of our bodies.  Human nature is more oriented to self-centeredness than sin; it is not always encouraging evil actions.  Human nature is more the weakness and limitations imposed by our physical frame than a frequent source of sin.

The result of the influence of the “Three S’s”: we were OBJECTS OF WRATH. (3)  WRATH means two things.

In the short term, it means alienation from God.  Until forgiveness is obtained by repentance, prayer is useless.  God will not tolerate sin and will distance Himself from sinners.

In the long term, God’s WRATH will be poured out on the wicked and unbelieving on Judgment Day.  Their choices will land them in hell.

The phrase LIKE THE REST is meant to take in the entirety of humanity.  All of us are born under a death penalty because we inherited a sin nature from Adam.  God’s unique solution to the problem of sin is Jesus substitutionary sacrifice on the cross and it alone is effective to solve the problem of sin.

  1. We live because God gave us grace. (4-10)

Grace is the answer to the problem of sin.  We can approach our need for grace by asking three questions Paul answered for us.  The first is this, “What did God do for us?”

God the Father MADE US ALIVE WITH CHRIST. (5)  This is the key thought of the passage. This one verb (the Greek word is 14 letters long) supplies the main action for the passage: resurrection.  The change wrought in us by salvation is so dramatic and so complete that it feels like a dead person being raised to life again.  On the one hand, death is an apt symbol for life without Jesus.  Before Christ, we are as lifeless and hopeless as a pile of bones.  On the other hand, with Jesus, we are saved; the bones come to life again: we have hope and a future.

GOD also RAISED US UP WITH CHRIST. (6)  Paul saw the believer as having participated in the crucifixion of Jesus, to the effect of his/her sin nature being killed.  This phrase takes things a step further to say each believer has participated personally in the resurrection of Jesus too.

GOD…SEATED US WITH HIM IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS IN CHRIST JESUS. (6)  Here Paul makes it sound as if we’ve already been taken to heaven.  We have to learn not to get too wound up about verb tenses in the Bible.  Instead, we can be excited to know that the benefits of God’s GRACE are not just for the future, but have also redeemed our past and give us a confident future.  We can have experiences of heaven in this earthly life (see 1 Corinthians 15:47-49; 2 Corinthians 12:2-3; Galatians 4:26; Philippians 3:20).

In 1:20 we learned that Jesus was exalted to sit in the place of authority and access; at the RIGHT HAND IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS.   Paul repeated that language here to give the faithful further encouragement; “Heaven?  You are there already, dudes!”  Especially in Ephesus, he wanted the believers to know they were not subject to spiritual evil of any kind; they already enjoyed heavenly authority being in relationship with Jesus Christ.

Lastly, Paul reminded them of their origins; WE ARE GOD’S WORKMANSHIP. (10)  This word could just as easily serve as part of the answer to the next question.  God acted to save us because we are His.  But it is also part of the list of things God has done for us – He created us.  The word WORKMANSHIP could just as easily be translated “creation.”  However, the word also conveys skill, intelligence and achievement in execution, like “masterpiece,” “handiwork,” or “work of art.”

Verse ten is a counterpoint to verse nine: verse nine says we are saved by GRACE, not by WORKS, which would seem to render WORKS unimportant.  Verse ten reveals that WORKS do play an important role in life after salvation.  In fact, they are the very reason God created us.  We were CREATED IN CHRIST JESUS TO DO GOOD WORKS, so a well-spent life was part of God’s plan before the universe was created.  This interpretation is supported by a second phrase that means exactly the same thing: WHICH GOD PREPARED IN ADVANCE FOR US TO DO.

When we consider all of Paul’s teaching, we realize two things about GOOD WORKS.  One, GOOD WORKS is not the same as fulfilling the Law.  Instead, Paul meant for us to do things fulfilling the Law of Love and demonstrating the Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) in everyday words and deeds (1 Thessalonians 1:3).  Two, God chose both His people and how His people would behave.  This is what Paul wrote in 1:4; HE CHOSE US IN HIM BEFORE THE CREATION OF THE WORLD TO BE HOLY AND BLAMELESS IN HIS SIGHT.

Paul’s second answer is to this question, “Why would God save such creatures?”  When you take notice the descriptive words in v. 4, GREAT love…RICH mercy…INCOMPARABLE RICHES of grace, it is clear God is generous with His people!

God showed us grace BECAUSE OF HIS GREAT LOVE. (4)  LOVE is the word that best summarizes the character of God in BOTH Old and New Testaments.

His LOVE is unconditional, positive, and always moves us toward greater good and maturity.

We have been offered GRACE because GOD…IS RICH IN MERCY. (4)  The merciful side of God’s nature is explained in Exodus 34:6-7, where we read that God only holds the sinner guilty, not his family.   He forgives sin.

This word was understood by Bible writers to mean “covenant love;” that God is faithful to keep His promise to love us, even when we are unfaithful to our promise to love Him.  GRACE, MERCY, and LOVE have a lot of overlap in Paul’s writings.  There’s no need to create strong differentiations between the three words.  As we saw in chapter one, this passage also underscores the fact that God took the initiative to save us even though we are completely unworthy (see Titus 3:5).

God showered us with GRACE that HE MIGHT SHOW THE INCOMPARABLE RICHES OF HIS GRACE…IN CHRIST JESUS. (7)  God’s purpose is always to draw us to Him.  When the Bible talks about God’s “glory,” that’s what it means.  God’s GRACE brings glory to Him because He is so generous with forgiveness.  His act of creating t human race and then saving us from ourselves is to resound throughout eternity as the greatest deed ever.

God offers GRACE to complete our original purpose: we were CREATED TO DO GOOD WORKS. (10)  GOOD WORKS are not a means to salvation, but a product of salvation, a means of deepening our spiritual maturity, and a proof that our claims to salvation are genuine.  When we do the GOOD WORKS we were created to do, it is for God’s glory and our pleasure.  GOOD WORKS bless everyone!

The third and final question Paul answered in this passage is “How did God do this for us?” Paul’s answer was two-fold.

First, God saved us by His gracious offer of salvation: BY GRACE YOU’VE BEEN SAVED. (5+8)  God deserves to be the focus of our lives, the object of our gratitude because He saved us by His grace, not our merit.  Paul wrote this twice (in verses five and eight) to make sure we don’t miss this essential truth.  GRACE means we are spared the WRATH of God (3) because God has guaranteed our salvation.  Neither this day nor Judgment Day holds any fear for us.

In verse eight Paul provided a little more explanation; God’s GRACE is ours BY FAITH.  Having FAITH does not make us any more deserving; it is the sole means by which we can be saved.  By FAITH we believe GRACE is available and receive it ourselves.  IT IS NOT OF YOURSELVES; IT IS THE GIFT OF GOD can refer either to GRACE or FAITH or both.  Which is interesting; we can’t really even have faith on our own; God supplies that too!

Second, GRACE is God doing for us what is impossible for us to do for ourselves (8-9).  Saving ourselves is not even a possibility: that’s what the phrases THIS IS NOT FROM YOURSELVES…NOT BY WORKS mean.

– Good WORKS won’t save us.

– Keeping God’s law won’t earn eternal life for us.

– Attempting to manipulate spirits by practicing magic (as the pagans of Ephesus did) won’t accomplish a single thing.

– Positive thinking and impulse control have value in this life, but are powerless to save us.

Why is it important for us to recognize that salvation is purely God’s action?  SO THAT NO ONE CAN BOAST means that no one should think they’ve earned or somehow deserve God’s grace or are in any way deserving.  That would be a fatal error, the worst kind of self-deception possible.  To think we can gain heaven on our own two feet would be to deny our need for a Savior and thereby cheat ourselves out of salvation by not seeking and finding true faith.  FAITH gives credit where it’s due and relies on God’s power, not ours.

Sin is the cause of the “Walking Dead,” God raises the dead to receive salvation and life.

God saves us from enslavement to the “Killer S’s” of sin, Satan, and self.  He does this in order to grant us true freedom to live in love; this is true life.  We must acknowledge the truth in order to live and to help others find life.  Part of that truth is that we were in a trap and had no way out that we could employ as an exit.  Jesus is God’s means of leaving the trap and living.

Paul’s message must’ve seemed strange to the people of Ephesus.  They were used to thinking of gods and spirits as beings whom you appeased to avoid their wrath or bribed with sacrifices to manipulate them into giving blessing.  As Paul presented Him, God did not operate in either of those ways.  People today are still surprised to find that God is not what they expected.  Too many reject a caricature of God without having any experience of Him or even of His Church.

Paul taught that sacrifice and praise were grateful responses to God’s prior acts of love and gracious gift of salvation.  His faith is not a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” kind of exercise, but the humble acceptance of a generous gift.  Once accepted, that gift makes all the difference in the way we want to live.

God offers life.  Choose to accept it and celebrate it by doing good.  Let’s be the lively people of God, not the “walking dead.”

 

RESOURCES:

Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Ephesians, Clinton E. Arnold

An Ethic Based on Life

A Suggested Ethical Basis for Neighborliness for All World Citizens: A Common Valuation of LIFE

Acknowledging my naivte, I hold out hope that one day people will come together around a commonly held ethic that transcends national, religious, and philosophic lines.  I get energized by ideas, but have learned repeatedly that not everyone else does.  With those caveats, I humbly submit for your consideration the first plank in a platform for citizenship and world cooperation.

 

TAKE                    USE/DENY         TOLERATE        AFFIRM           GIVE

LIFE1                     LIFE2                 LIFE3                 LIFE4                LIFE5

<———————————————————————————————————————–>

-2                           -1                         0                        +1                     +2

Evil                        Offensive          Neutral               Good              Ideal

 

1 Respect for life is truly the foundation for civilization.  However, there are always exceptional situations that prove the rule.  On an international and individual level, we observe that sometimes we have to take life in order to save more lives or defend innocent lives.  Taking life is the ultimate act of negativity.  Examples of this value are murderers, serial killers, and mass murderers.

 

2 These people devalue life with words and/or deeds that treat human beings as something less and animals even worse.    When life is something to be manipulated for personal gain, then that person is making a negative contribution to society.  Examples include bigots, criminals (pimps and pushers), sweat shop owners, and slavers.

 

3 It can be argued that not caring IS making an ethical decision and it is choosing sin.  However, here I compare the societal impact of actions and attitudes rather than evaluate them from any particular ethical system.   People in this category are indifferent and/or circumspect about their value of life, preferring privacy or isolation to engagement.  People who take a hard “scientific” view of humanity can devaluate human life to being merely equivalent to animal life.

 

4 Attitudes and actions at this level are more characterized by words than deeds.  Lots of people have positive, life-affirming beliefs, but not as many get involved in defending life from encroachments on life that happen because of greed and/or negative philosophies.  Examples of this level of affirmation of life include theologians, philosophers, and social scientists who are champions of life on paper and in their armchair, but who do not take those views into the street.  Their advocacy is limited to private or academic circles.

 

5 Those who can be said to “give life” are active advocates for life, defenders of the weak and innocent; those whose love is both public and persuasive.  They aren’t necessarily “activists,” but they act on their convictions even when such action threatens their personal comfort zones.  Parents who raise their children with life-affirming values are perhaps the best example of this valuation of life.