We Believe in . . .

constant
Homilies of Gregory Nazianzus (from a 9th century Byzantine manuscript)

Here, at long last, is my pitiful translation of the Nicene-Constantinople Creed (381 A.D.). The first four so-called “ecumenical councils” between 325 and 451 A.D. were where early Christians hammered out a vocabulary and framework for explaining what the Bible says about the triune God. These councils did not invent or create doctrine; they articulated what the Bible already says. I will use this translation, and the classic translation from Phillip Schaff’s work, for a future discussion of Father, Son and Spirit. For now, here is the text:

—————————–

“We believe in one God; Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of everything visible and invisible.

Also, we believe in one Lord; Jesus, Messiah, the unique Son of God, who was brought forth from the Father before all time began (that is, from the substance of the Father), light from light, genuine God from genuine God. He was brought forth, [but] not created; [the] same substance as the Father, by whom everything was made in the heavens and on the earth. He came down out of the heavens for the benefit of us men, even for our salvation, and was made flesh by [the] Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. Indeed, He took on human form, was crucified for our sake during the time of Pontius Pilate, and was tortured. He was buried, yet rose the third day according to the Scriptures. He ascended into the heavens, is sitting down at the right hand of the Father, and He shall come again with glory to judge the living and [the] dead; whose kingdom shall never end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit; Lord and Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father, is worshipped and glorified together with Father and Son, and who spoke through the prophets.

We believe in one holy, universal and apostolic congregation. We confess one immersion concerning forgiveness of sins. We are waiting for [the] resurrection of the dead and the coming eternal life. 

But, those who say, “there was a time when He did not exist,” and “He did not exist before He was brought forth,” or that “He was made out of nothing” or “out of another nature or substance;” those who claim, “the Son of God is alterable” or “changeable;” the universal and apostolic congregation curses them.”

——————————————-

Some Christians are taught by well-meaning but ignorant teachers and preachers to ignore creeds and confessions. You ignore the first four ecumenical creeds (Nicea, Constantinople, Ephesus and Chalcedon) at your own peril. Actually, you don’t ignore them at all – your theological vocabulary is riddled with their terminology; you just don’t know it! As Carl Trueman has observed,

The Lord has graciously provided us with a great cloud of witnesses throughout history who can help us to understand the Bible and to apply it to our present day. To ignore such might not be so much a sign of biblical humility as of overbearing hubris and confidence in our own abilities and the uniqueness of our own age (The Creedal Imperative [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012; Kindle ed.], KL 1738-1740).

More on this creed another day! The detailed translation is available here. You can compare it with the normal English translation if you wish.

He Knows Your Deeds (Revelation 3:8)

Jesus is writing to the people in the local church in Philadelphia, and He says something very simple and yet very profound – Jesus always knows our deeds, and what we do. Here is the text, from my own translation:

  • 8I know your deeds. (Pay attention! I have put an opened door in front of you, and no one ever has [the] power to shut it.) I know you have a little strength, and yet you have obeyed my message and have not disowned my name.
rev38
The relevant portion of Revelation 3:8 from Codex Sinaiticus.

We can hide nothing from Him. He is omniscient and all-knowing. Jesus never takes in knowledge and learns new things. He is equal in power, glory, honor and attributes to the Father. He knows what you have done, are doing and will do.

There is nothing you can do that Jesus does not already know all about:

Proverbs 5:21 For the ways of man are before the eyes of the LORD, and he pondereth all his goings.

Proverbs 15:3 The eyes of the LORD are in every place, beholding the evil and the good.

Job 34:21-22 For his eyes are upon the ways of man, and he seeth all his goings. There is no darkness, nor shadow of death, where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves.

Jesus’ remark gives the sense of, “I always know your deeds!”[1]

He knows the good and the bad. He knows our faithfulness and our deliberate failures. He knows whether your heart and spirit is hypocritical or tender. He knows your motivations and your motives. He knows what you’re planning and what your ambitions are.

Jesus’ remark will either (a) strike fear into the unregenerate, pretending heart, (b) convict and rebuke the lazy Christian who stopped trying a long time ago, and is just treading water on autopilot; or (c) comfort the weary sinner who is honestly trying to serve the Lord day by day.

Let everybody sit up and take notice of these simple truths:

  1. God created this universe and everything in it, and He did it through His unique, one and only Son, Jesus Christ; “by whom also he made the worlds,” (Hebrews 1:3)
  2. We are – each of us – products of this creation, and we owe our lives, our blessings, our comforts, the air we breathe and the blessings we enjoy to Him
  3. We are alienated from God and estranged from Him because of the wicked things we think about and do every day, which violate His holiness and His law
  4. Because God has great mercy, love, grace and kindness (cf. Ephesians 2:4-7), He provided a way for people to be reconciled, forgiven, adopted into His family and saved from Satan and ourselves

As you go about your day to day life, whether you are a non-Christian who thinks this is all ridiculous superstition, a “slacker” Christian who lives a life of pitiful hypocrisy, or a sincere Christian who tries day by day to be cleaving tighter unto the Lord (Acts 11:23), know this – the Risen and Resurrected Christ knows your deeds. “He is Lord of all,” (Acts 10:36), and the Father demands you apologize to Him and set things right by repenting of your sins and believing in His Son’s perfect work for your sake, in your place, as your substitute. As the Scripture reads,

Mark 1:14-15 After John was taken, Jesus came into Galilee preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God and saying: ‘The time is come and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel.’ (Tyndale 1534 translation)


[1] I take the word translated “I know” to be expressing a timeless truth. Here is my note on this from my own pitiful translation; Οἶδά: (1) Voice – a simple active voice. (2) Tense – context suggests a gnomic perfect, suggesting that Jesus has always known the church’s deeds. He never comes to know anything – He always knows all. (3) Mood – a declarative indicative.

It’s Not About You! (1 Peter 2:4-10)

Bible and a crucifix
Click this picture to hear the sermon!

The last several weeks have been part of one long statement Peter has been making, and they’re all inter-connected:

  1. We’re supposed to be holy because God is holy (1 Pet 1:13-16)
  2. We’re supposed to reckon Christ’s sacrifice as worth the cost of denying ourselves (1 Pet 1: 17-21). He redeemed us with His blood, not with something worthless. If we take His grace for granted, we’re basically calling His sacrifice worthless.
  3. Part of being holy means to love one another (your fellow believers in this church), with a pure heart, fervently (1 Pet 1:22-25).
  4. That means we each have to take action in our lives (1 Pet 2:1-3). We confess and forsake sin that stops us from accomplishing all this. We desire to be corrected by the sincere milk of the Word, so we grow – tossing away sinful behavior, and replacing it with Godly behavior.

So, what’s the point? We usually have tunnel-vision on our individual walk as Christians. We forget that we’re part of a group of people whom God has saved, individually and specifically, for a reason. Today, Peter will tell us why God saved you, what your most basic job is, and why we need to try our best to be a holy people. Peter wants to get us to look beyond ourselves, and understand that all believers are part of a greater Christian community. It’s not about us at all.

Peter is going to use a very simple and familiar example to help us see where we each fit into God’s plan for this age – and why it matters. He’s going to use the idea of a temple. He’s going to mention Christ as the chief corner stone, the foundation block, for this temple. He’s going to say that believers are the individual stones and building blocks which make up this temple. Let’s see what Peter has to tell us:

 

4 To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious,
5 Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.

 

We’ll spend a little time unpacking what this verse tells us:

First:

Peter writes that all believers continually come to Christ, who is the “living stone.” Why is Christ specifically called a “living stone?” Because we don’t worship a dead Savior. We do celebrate our Savior’s death – because of what that death bought for us. However, we also celebrate His resurrection – because His victory over the grave means our victory over the grave – if we believe in who He is and what He did for us! We worship a Risen and Living Savior – One Who sits at the Father’s side in heaven right now! He’s not dead, He’s alive! He is the foundation stone our faith is built on, but our Savior isn’t a pile of bones on a hillside outside Jerusalem – He’s alive![1]

Second: 

Christ was rejected (“disallowed”) by men, but chosen by God and precious to Him. It’s so easy to skim over those words without a second thought. We ought to realize that Peter was killed for his faith shortly after he wrote this letter. Peter wrote the letter to remind folks who are really suffering about the grace of God – to encourage them about who Christ is (not was) and what He did for them.

We aren’t quite sure when Peter was killed, but it may well have been during Nero’s reign. A man wrote about the terrible persecution against Christians during Nero’s reign:

“Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.”[2]

That’s why Peter wrote this in the same letter:

“Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf,” (1 Peter 4:12-16).

People who read this letter could be faced with death for not denying Christ. Peter didn’t want them to deny Christ, and he reminded them about these precious truths as much as possible.

Third:

God is building us up,[3] because we’re living stones, too! Why are we living stones? Because we’ve been born again, raised from death to life. We’ve been spiritually resurrected just as surely as Christ was physically resurrected! What is God building all believers today up into?

Fourth:

We’re a spiritual house – a temple! The church (in a corporate, in-prospect sense) is made up of individual building blocks – people. You and I are the building blocks that are built around the foundation stone of Jesus Christ:[4] 

“For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit,” (Ephesians 2:18-22).

As we’re going to see, this means Lone Ranger-type Christianity is un-Biblical. You are each part of a local church (or ought to be), a building block that’s vital to your church. What do we do as a church? We’re being built up by God into a spiritual house (a temple) to do . . . what?

Fifth:

We’re each priests before God! We don’t just make up this temple – we serve in it! There are two basic things a priest does:

  1. A priest is somebody who has access to God in a way that ordinary people don’t
  2. A priest is also somebody who represents God to other people

Each believer is a priest before God in this age! Here is why:[5]

  1. By repenting and believing in Christ, you have direct access to God yourself – you don’t need to rely on anyone to speak to God for you:

“For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need,” (Hebrews 4:15-16).

  1. The Great Commission commands every believer to go tell others about the Gospel – you live holy lives and give God’s message of salvation to a lost world!

So, we’re each individual priests in this temple, the church – but what are our jobs? The priests in the OT brought sacrifices before God – it was one of their main jobs. That is our job today, also.

Sixth:

Our job is to bring spiritual sacrifices to God – not physical ones! What are spiritual sacrifices? They’re the work we do for the Lord. They’re us using our God-given talents, gifts and abilities for Him wherever He’s planted us. It’s us saying, “You’ve saved me, God, and here is me showing my love and devotion to you . . .” [6]Look at what the Scripture has to say:

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service,” (Romans 12:1).

“Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God,” (1 Peter 4:1-2).

That’s why we’re supposed to be holy. That’s why we’re supposed to love fellow believers in your church with a pure heart, fervently. That’s why Peter says that we’re priests together in this temple that is the Church. We’re all individual stones, being added to the structure that is the temple of God. We’re all based on the living stone, Christ, the cornerstone! We belong to Him – as a group. 

Seventh:

We’re only acceptable to God because of (“through”) Jesus Christ. He gives us access to God. His death washed us clean and atoned for all our sin. He’s the reason we are priests who can approach God and worship Him by offering spiritual sacrifices!

Now that he’s said all this and made so many amazing statements, Peter goes back to the Old Testament to prove his point:

 

6 Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded.

 

Peter basically says “that’s why Isaiah wrote this,” and quotes from Isaiah 28:16. Indeed, Christ is the chief cornerstone. He is chosen for the task of redemption and self-sacrifice. He is precious. Whoever believes in (1) who He is and (2) what He came to do will never be put to shame!

 

7 Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner,

 

That’s why Christ is precious to us who are believers! Peter quotes from the Old Testament again from Psalm 118:22-23. He uses the picture of a building to make the point. The very stone that the builders rejected as worthless and unfit, ironically, is the one that God placed as the cornerstone in the entire foundation of the church. The Jewish leaders who were supposed to be teaching the people to worship God in spirit and truth were the very ones who looked at Christ and rejected Him as useless. Remember what Isaiah wrote over 700 years before Christ’s virgin birth:

“Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed? For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not,” (Isaiah 53:1-3).

 

8 And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.

 

To unbelievers, Christ is literally a stumbling-stone, a rock of offense. They don’t want to be joined to Christ. They don’t want to be priests before God – nothing could be more repulsive! They don’t want to offer spiritual sacrifices to God – that means they’d have to deny themselves and make Him Lord of their life. Unbelievers don’t want to go near God and serve Him. They want God to stay in a galaxy far, far away and to leave them alone.

But, Peter reminds us, that’s not our attitude!

 

9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:

 

If you’re a believer today, Peter wants to remind you of a few things:[7]

  1. That you’re part of a chosen people – the Church
  2. You’re part of a royal priesthood. You’re not a Lone Ranger Christian out on your own. You’re an integral part of this temple God is building up!
  3. You’re part of a holy nation of believers. We don’t worship the American flag; we worship the cross of Christ – we’re His people
  4. You’re His special (“peculiar”) people
  5. Your job is to be a testimony for Him in everything we do, because God is the One who called us out of darkness and into the light that is Christ (Jn 8:12)

 

10 Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.

 

Gentiles didn’t used to be the people of God – the Jews were.[8] Now Gentiles are fellow-heirs in the church. Non-Jews didn’t have the mercy of God before – the Jews had been entrusted with the message of salvation: 

“That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ,” (Ephesians 2:12-13).

Now we do have that mercy in the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

CONCLUSION:

God called you and saved you. He joined you, as a building block, to the Church – the temple He’s building person by person. Because we’ve been given the responsibility and privilege of serving Him and approaching Him directly, we ought to take our job seriously. Peter says our job is to show God to other people – to unbelievers. We can’t do that if we’re not fighting against sin in our lives! That’s why we need to do our very best to be a holy people. It’s not about just us. We serve in the church. We’re part of a holy group of people God has elected and called to salvation. It’s not about you. It’s about Christ and His church.

———————————————————–

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Edmund Clowney observes, “Peter identifies the cornerstone with Christ. He calls him a living Stone; he would not have us think of his Lord as inert marble! Christ is the living Stone, however, not just because he is a living person, but because he is alive from the dead as the risen Lord. God set his cornerstone in place by the resurrection,” (The Message of 1 Peter, The Bible Speaks Today [Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP, 1988; reprint, Kindle edition, 2014], Kindle Locations 1163-1165).

[2] Tacitus, Annals 15.44. Retrieved from http://goo.gl/etSkSM.

[3] D. Edmond Hiebert makes a point of noting that we are not building ourselves; it is God who is calling us out as individuals and making us a part of His church (1 Peter, revised ed. [Chicago, IL: Moody, 1992; reprint, Winona Lake, IN: BMH, 2008], 132).

[4] Roger Raymer has an intriguing observation:  “Believers are identified with Christ, for He is the living Stone and they are like living stones. And as they become more like Him, further conformed to His image, they are being built into a spiritual house. Jesus told Peter, ‘On this rock I will build My church’ (Matt. 16:18). Now Peter (1 Peter 2:4–5) clearly identified Christ as the Rock on which His church is built,” (1 Peter, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 [Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985], 845).

I am not quite convinced that it’s worth drawing that comparison, but it would be worth further study.

[5] “In this building, the Church, we are to offer ‘spiritual sacrifices’ as a ‘holy priesthood.’ The Church has no formal priesthood but is a priesthood. Our sacrifices are the various ministries we perform as we exercise our spiritual gifts. Our priestly duties involve  mediating between God and the world in our mission to the world,” (William Baker, James & First and Second Peter, 21st Century Biblical Commentary Series, ed. Mal Couch and Ed Hindson [Chattanooga, TN: AMG, 2004], 120).

[6] “They are offerings befitting a spiritual priesthood that is prompted by the Spirit and that reflects His nature and essence. They are not sacrifices offered to make expiation for sins nor to procure personal merit before God. Such sacrifices have no place in the Christian church because the perfect sacrifice of Christ on the cross has fulfilled the shadows and symbols of the Old Testament sacrifices (Gen 8:1-10:18). The sacrifices Peter mentions are expressions of worship by the redeemed, offered in gratitude and self-surrender,” (Hiebert, 1 Peter, 134).

[7] I decided to not segue into a discussion on how God applied these same terms to the nation of Israel. I don’t think it’s necessary to delve into that topic for this particular sermon. It will distract from the flow of thought I’m establishing, and it is too weighty a topic to discuss appropriately here. I feel that even a brief mention of the issue will unnecessarily distract from the point of the sermon.

[8] Peter deliberately uses Hosea 1:9-10; 2:23 to make this point. Advocates for replacement theology are quick to seize on this point, and claim that God has applied to promises from Hosea directly to the NT Church. This is not correct; the context of both citations from Hosea will not allow this interpretation. It is far more logical, however, to conclude that Peter used these citations to illustrate his point.

Hiebert agrees, and remarks, “In glancing back over the last two verses, one cannot escape the impression that Peter clearly intended to establish a parallel between Israel and the church . . . It does not naturally follow from the parallel between Israel and the church that Peter believed that the church has permanently replaced Israel, and that the latter will not again enjoy a separate existence under the favor of God,” (1 Peter, 147).

Raymer observes, “Peter just used similar terms to point up similar truths. As Israel was a ‘chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God,’ so too believers today are chosen, are priests, are holy, and belong to God. Similarity does not mean identity,” (1 Peter, 846).

Unfit for Service?

images
Apathy towards the Gospel?

Why are so many Christians, including myself, not as energetic in spreading the Gospel as we should be?

Why are we so uncaring?

Why do we not maneuver conversations with co-workers, friends and family to spiritual matters once in a while?

Why, instead, do we conspicuously try to avoid these topics?

Perhaps, as Lewis Chafer suggests, we’re simply not right with God:

. . . this Divine burden for the lost is a very uncommon experience among believers to-day ; and the solution of this problem is found in the last step that marks the movements of the ” power of God unto salvation.” The difficulty lies with the defilement of the priests before God who do not and cannot, because of their own unfitness, experience the love of God for others, or prevail with God in the holy place. [1]

Under the Mosaic Law, the priest could not approach God in an impure state, else he would be struck dead.  Peter applied this privilege, and responsibility, to Christians in this dispensation:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).

New Testament believers are each individual priests before God, blessed with the privilege of approaching God on our own, without a human intercessor. How seriously are we taking our responsibility to be holy? Is unconfessed and unrepentant sin a trivial, laughing matter in our lives? It shouldn’t be; an Old Testament priest would have been killed for such a permissive attitude towards God’s holiness. Perhaps if we get our own spiritual house in order, we will each experience the zeal for personal evangelism we should have.

[1] Lewis S. Chafer, True Evangelism (New York, NY: Gospel Publishing House, 1911), 130.

The Riches of His Grace!

Ephesians 2:1-9 is a very frank look at what God saved Christians from and about who we really are as people. Are we good people who need help from God? Or, are we rebellious sinners in desperate need of a Savior? For non-Christians, this is a sobering and honest look at sin and their need for Christ. For Christians, this is a reminder of what we’re saved from, and a rebuke to live for God like we ought to. I hope you find you find this little study helpful!

WHO WE REALLY ARE (Eph 2:1-3):

  • Eph 2:1 – And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;

ezekiels-vision-valley-of-dry-bones.jpg.crop_display

Right up front, without any preamble, Paul reminds the Christians in Ephesus that they used to be “dead in trespasses and sins,” (Eph 2:1). This is who we are without Christ; not physically dead but spiritually dead. This runs counter to what we want to believe about ourselves. We want to believe we’re “good” people.

However, what standard, or benchmark, are people using when they describe themselves as “good people?” Who says murder is wrong? Who says stealing purses from old ladies is a bad thing? Who says marriage is a sacred covenant, or agreement, between a man and a woman? Who says it is morally wrong to be unfaithful to your spouse? Without an anchor of som

e sort, some objective benchmark to ground morality and human “goodness,” then we’re left with a purely subjective mess.

Scripture teaches that all of creation was made by God, and more specifically that men and women are made in God’s image (Gen 1:27-28). Being His creatures, God’s standard is the benchmark for morality and behavior. Scripture teaches us that we’re not good people. Our entire concept of human morality is built on God’s word (Rom 2:14-15). God’s word tells us we’re dead in trespasses and sins without Christ.

Again, this isn’t something people like to hear. Many Christians like to deny the idea of “total depravity,” typically out of a sinful desire for autonomy from God or as a visceral reaction against what they perceive as Calvinism. As theologian Michael Horton wrote, “. . . pelagianism is the natural religion of humanity!” [1] Even compromising Christian counselors deny this doctrine. For example, one prominent Christian counselor boldly declares that his end-goal when assisting people through crisis is to restore self-esteem and instill more self-reliance in the individual! [2] He even goes so far as to declare:

“Jesus’ ministry was one of helping people achieve fullness of life and assisting them in developing their ability to deal with the problems, conflicts and burdens in life.” [3]

It is difficult to imagine a more un-Biblical and ridiculous concept of Christ’s ministry. So much for repenting and believing in the Gospel (Mk 1:15)! Self-reliance is what doomed Adam and Eve in the Garden; they chose to follow their desires over God’s command. This has been man’s natural state ever since (Rom 5:12-21); we don’t want to rely on God, we want to rely on ourselves.

Consider what Paul wrote in the Book of Romans:

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse,” (Rom 1:18-21).

We can see from Paul’s words that knowledge of God is everywhere, but men hold back, crush down and suppress this truth in unrighteousness. We don’t want to acknowledge that God is there, because then we’re accountable for what he says. Paul went on to paint a clear picture of all people, Jew and Gentile, knowing the truth about God but glorifying themselves instead:

“Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened,” (Rom 1:21).

Also, remember the testimony of Romans 3:9-18, where Paul once again explains the spiritual plight of any unregenerate person, Jew or Gentile. Pay particular attention to these two verses:

“As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one,” (Rom 3:10).

“There is no fear of God before their eyes,” (Rom 3:18).

People are not wandering around, desperately seeking God. Spiritual things are foolish to them. I can recall my own father chiding me with a knowing smile when I was on my way to church one Sunday morning,

“Go ahead and go to church,” he said wistfully. “You’ll soon see there’s nothing to all that nonsense. I figured it out. You will too.”

Paul’s words stand true here; “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned,” (1 Cor 2:14). The fact that any man does seek God is evidence of the Holy Spirit working in your heart

This is what “dead” in trespasses and sins means. It means that unsaved, unregenerate rebel sinners are spiritual corpses. A dead body cannot rise up again! I was a Military Police officer for 10 years and saw many dead bodies in the course of duty; I can assure you none of those bodies was capable of rising up and walking away. They were dead. This is our spiritual condition without Christ; dead and gone without any hope in the world. It means knowing God is there and pushing that knowledge away, crushing it under false hopes, cynicism, etc. Knowing this makes us accountable for our own sin. Our inherent sin places an unbridgeable gap between us and God. Christ came to fill this gap and save sinners who don’t even want to be saved.

  • Eph 2:2 – Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience:

Paul continues describing the spiritual state of the Ephesian Christians before their salvation. This also describes modern Christians before they were saved by Christ. It describes you right now if you have not been saved by Christ.

People without Christ walk “according to the prince of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air.” Christians used to act this way, and were formerly energized and influenced by Satan. Numerous places in Scripture testify that this “prince of the power of the air” is most certainly Satan himself. In Jn 12:31, Christ discloses that by His death on the cross, Satan will be eventually cast out. His hold on people will be broken. [4] Likewise, in Jn 16:11, Christ comforts His disciples and promises to send the Holy Spirit as a Counselor or Helper for them after He ascended to the Father. Christ explained the role of the Holy Spirit in a Christian’s life, and said the Holy Spirit convicts men of judgment, because “the prince of this world is judged.”

What Paul says about Satan’s activity is so very important. Satan is “the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.” Notice that Paul describes unsaved, rebellious men and women as “children of disobedience.” The natural man is inherently rebellious against God. Satan is active and working in the lives of people who are unsaved and “the whole world lieth in wickedness,” (1 Jn 5:19). He does the same in a Christian’s life. The critical difference is that a Christian doesn’t belong to him anymore.

Romans 6 brings this out quite clearly. A person belongs in either one of two spiritual spheres; to Satan or God. People are by nature “children of disobedience” and belong to Satan without saving faith in Christ. After salvation, a person’s headship or spiritual ownership transfers to God. This is a legal, forensic decision by Christ to declare believers righteous when He is under no obligation to do so! Do you belong to Satan or God today?

  • Eph 2:3 – Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.

Paul goes on, describing our actions before salvation. Our “conversation” (or daily conduct) was about the lusts of the flesh. There was little to no thought about God’s standards, our own sin, and repentance for that sin. We lived our own lives for ourselves, not for God who created us. Our goal was to fulfill our own desires of the flesh and the mind. We know when bad and sinful things pop into our minds. We’ve all acted on some of these thoughts and made mistakes we’ve regretted and done things we’re not proud of. All of us know our hearts, and realize we’re sinful people. We all know about this gap between us and God.

Again, Paul makes no apologies for portraying men and men as the rebellious sinners they are. He writes that we are “by nature the children of wrath.” We are born as rebellious sinners, suppressing the truth and knowledge of God. It is our natural state. You and I weren’t born with a disposition to obey God and worship Him as Lord! We were born with a disposition to sinful thoughts and actions, which are opposed to God in every possible way!

“For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not,” (Ecc 7:20).

This doesn’t mean that unsaved people aren’t nice people who do nice things. It does mean that, because of our rebellious, sinful nature, nothing we do gains us any points with God in any way.[5] It is a matter of perspective. It’s a matter of standards.

“Depravity as a doctrine does not stand or fall on the ground of man’s estimation of himself; it rather reflects God’s estimation of man.” [6]

By our own standards, I like to think I’m a pretty good guy. By God’s standard, I’m a rebellious sinner. We’re not sinners by our actions; we’re sinners by our very nature. This encompasses both thoughts and actions.

WHAT CHRIST DID FOR US (Eph 2:4-6):

  • Eph 2:4 – But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,
  • Eph 2:5 – Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)
  • Eph 2:6 – And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:
Heart_of_Stone_by_TheComicFan
In salvation, God changes our rebellious hearts of stone to hearts of flesh.

Think about the significance of this small word, “but.” [7] God is “rich in mercy.” He didn’t have to provide a way of salvation for us, but He did anyway. He was not obligated to do this. Our just punishment for rebellion is instant destruction. So many Christians have a small conception of our just and Holy God. They emphasize God’s love, but denigrate His holiness and terribly underestimate the depths of human sinfulness. This salvation He provided showed the “great love” He has for us. This is undeserved love. Because we’re spiritually dead to God, His love is shown by the fact that He even bothered with us in the first place.[8] Again, salvation in Christ transfers us from one category to another – from Satan’s control to God’s control. Sin no longer has absolute dominion over a Christian; this is a promise unbelievers cannot claim as their own:

“For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace,” (Rom 6:14).

What does this tell us about God? He is holy, loving and just. We are sinful, rebellious and undeserving people. We should praise His name in every aspect of our lives.

Paul writes that this salvation in Christ “hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” (Eph 2:6). He is reminding the Ephesians, and us, about where our future home is. We are strangers and pilgrims on this earth (1 Pet 2:11), ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor 5:20). This world is not our eternal home; our hope is beyond this temporal world:

“For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself,” (Phil 3:20-21).

If we call ourselves Christians, we ought to act and think like it! We don’t have to bring sacrifices to an altar as an offering for God anymore; the ceremonial law has passed away in this dispensation. Instead, Paul tell us our reasonable service is to offer ourselves to God (Rom 12:1). This is the only proper response to the glorious gift of salvation.

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service,” (Rom 12:1).

God desires to be worshipped in spirit and truth (Jn 4:24). Our duty is to try our level best to fulfill this calling, looking forward to glorious eternity when we can do so, without possibility of sin.

WHY HE DID IT (Eph 2:7-9):

  • Eph 2:7 – That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.

For-His-Glory

Paul reminds us what God’s entire purpose in human history is. Some people believe the main point, or synopsis, of Scripture is that God saves us from sin. This is man-centered thinking and it is terribly wrong. It isn’t about us; it’s about Him. The entire arc of Scripture is about God bringing about His kingdom for His glory.

Christ’s sacrifice for sinners demonstrated His great love. But what was the point of Christ’s sacrifice? Why did God provide a way of salvation and elect to save anybody at all? For our sake? Surely not! He did it so that it would glorify His name and lead a grateful and undeserving people to worship Him the way we ought to have done all along – the way He deserves to be worshipped. Consider the following Scripture passages which plainly show that God works in human history for His own glory, not our own:

  • “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise,” (Isa 43:19-21). Isaiah is speaking once again of the future restoration of Israel, for His own sake.
  • “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins,” (Isa 43:25). God promises to restore Israel and blot out her former sins for His sake, not theirs.
  • “And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified,” (Isa 49:3). This is an excerpt from one of the so-called Servant Songs in Isaiah, describing the future work of Christ the Messiah. It is clear that Christ’s work will glorify the Father, not men.
  • “Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord GOD; I do not this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for mine holy name’s sake, which ye have profaned among the heathen, whither ye went,” (Eze 36:22). Again, this shows why God will act in the future to restore Israel.

Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and our salvation isn’t about us. It’s about God, and the honor and glory due to Him. So few Christians have any idea what the phrase “grace of God” even means. To them, Jesus is a Sunday School character sitting on a green field, surrounded by fluffy white sheep with a child on His lap and a dove floating above Him in the sky! Christians must be committed to really deepen their faith and move beyond crayon Christianity and really understand and appreciate who God is, and reorient our lives to show it.

  • Eph 2:8 – For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
  • Eph 2:9 – Not of works, lest any man should boast.

We are saved by grace through faith, which is unmerited or undeserved favor. Salvation is a gift from God, and Christians did not earn or deserve this gift in any way. I’ll turn from Ephesians at this point, and briefly discuss what the Gospel actually is. I’ve referenced it enough in this little paper, and it must be heard.

THE GOSPEL:

I believe there is one verse from the Gospel of Mark that is the clearest, most comprehensive passage on salvation in the Scripture:

“Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel,” (Mk 1:14-15).

This is the simplest Gospel verse in the Bible. Salvation isn’t a fast food menu where anybody can pick what they like. You can’t pick and choose from a potpourri of man-made religions, choose whichever suits you best and receive your own version of salvation when you roll forward to the pick-up window. God does not present an inclusivist view in Scripture:

  • “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me,” (Jn 14:6).
  • “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved,” (Acts 4:12).

Salvation entails both repentance and belief, or saving faith. Repentance means a change of mind (1 Thess 1:9). This involves a turn away from sin (Heb 6:1; Rev 9:21) and towards God (Acts 20:21). It is also so much more than mere regret.[9] Repentance is genuine sorrow for one’s sin, accompanied by a resolution to turn from it. It is sorrow for one’s sin because of the wrong done to God and the hurt inflicted upon Him. In other words, there must be a real alteration of the inner person. This is the gracious work of the Holy Spirit in men’s hearts; Ezekiel described this process as God changing a heart of stone to a heart of flesh (Eze 11:19-20).

Salvation is also about believing in the Gospel, placing saving faith in Christ. Saving faith is understanding what Christ did for you in an intellectual and emotional way, and acting on it. It is more than some cold, intellectual understanding. “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble,” (Jas 2:19).

It does include intellectual understanding (e.g. “Christ is the Son of God!”). However, it also includes emotional understanding (e.g. “Christ died for my sins!”). And finally, it is voluntary action (“I will trust Christ as my Lord and Savior!”).

We cannot save ourselves. Dead people can’t do much of anything. Dead men can’t cooperate with God in salvation, in some kind of ridiculous synergistic fashion. We are totally dependent on the grace of God for our salvation, and I wish more preachers would bring this marvelous truth out. Praise Him that He provided Christ for sinners. He didn’t have to.

———————————————————————————————–

1. Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims Along on Way (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 561.

2.  H. Norman Wright, The Complete Guide to Crisis & Trauma Counseling: What To Do And Say When It Matters Most! (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2011), 183.

3. Ibid, 24.

4. Edwin A. Blum, John, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1983), 318. “The Cross was also the means of Satan’s defeat. The prince of this world, Jesus said, will be driven out. His power over people by sin and death was defeated and they can now be delivered out of his domain of spiritual darkness and slavery to sin.”

5. Lewis S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, 8 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1976), 7:119. “Theologians employ the phrase total depravity, which does not mean that there is nothing good in any unregenerate person as seen by himself or other people; it means that there is nothing in fallen man which God can find pleasure in or accept.” Emphasis mine.

6. Ibid, 2:219.

7. Grateful for this insight to John Phillips, Exploring Ephesians & Philippians (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1993), 63.

8. Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1983), 623. “Since sinners are spiritually dead toward God, they have nothing to commend them to God. This is why Paul described this love as being ‘great.’ ”

9. Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998), 950.