Beyond Mere Rescue From Hell: Ephesians 2:1-10

This post continues our Bible Study series on Ephesians 2:1-10 exploring the Gospel.So far in this series, we’ve seen our total inability to attain spiritual life, God’s riches in showing us mercy and the resurrection life that He gives to us. Let’s look a bit more closely at the implications of that resurrection life.

Even though we looked at verse 5 of our passage in some detail last Thursday, we need to study it again–this time in conjunction with verse 6. By paring these two verses, we gain a richer view of how Christ’s resurrection directly affects those of us who believe in Him. So let’s review our text with verse 6 added, shall we?

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, ~~Ephesians 2:1-6 (ESV)

As we discussed week, God raises our dead spirits with the risen Lord. When we couple these two verses, we see our spiritual experience reflect Christ’s physical experience (Ephesians 1:20). To clarify this point, look at Romans 6:4-5, in which the apostle Paul states very plainly that we positionally share in His death (because we put our sin nature to death) and in His new life. See Colossians 3:1-3.

I realize that Paul uses concepts that, apart from the aid of the Holy Spirit, we struggle to understand. Sometimes commentaries help. As I grappled with these two verses, John MacArthur’s analysis of verses 5-6 certainly offered  me insight: 

raised us up together, and made us sit together. The tense of raised and made indicates that these are immediate and direct results of salvation. Not only is the believer dead to sin and alive to righteousness through Christ’s resurrection, but he also enjoys his Lord’s exaltation and shares in His preeminent glory.
in the heavenly places. This refers to the supernatural realm where God reigns. In Ephesians 3:10 and Ephesians 6:12, however, it also refers to the supernatural sphere where Satan temporarily rules. This spiritual realm is where believers’ blessings are (cf. Ephesians 1:3), their inheritance is (1 Peter 1:4), their affections should be (Colossians3:3), and where they enjoy fellowship with the Lord. It is the realm from which all divine revelation has come and where all praise and petitions go.

MacArthur helps us catch a glimpse of the exciting reality that salvation isn’t merely about rescuing us from the eternity in hell that rightfully belongs to us. Wonderfully, salvation assures us of a new life, even now, that gives us victory over sin and fellowship with the Lord. Later  (in verse7) we will see fuller implications of our union with  Christ, probably referring to our physical resurrection. What we experience positionally now, we will experience in totality then.

Note the qualifying phrase, “in Christ Jesus,” which points to the exclusive nature of the Gospel. John 3:16 limits eternal life to those who believe in Him, and Jesus said quite explicitly in John 14:6 that He alone provides access to the Father. The apostle Peter declared in Acts 4:12 that there is no salvation apart from Jesus. Jesus can make this exclusive stipulation because He made atonement for sin, as we discussed a few days ago. Only He has the right to determine the criteria for escape the terrors of hell and to enjoy the wonder of heaven.

The Believers Bible Commentary concludes, “The key to verses 5 and 6 is the phrase, in Christ Jesus. It is in Him that we have been made alive, raised, and seated. He is our Representative; therefore His triumphs and His position are ours. George Williams exclaims, ‘Amazing thought! That a Mary Magdalene and a crucified thief should be the companions in glory of the Son of God.’”

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Promises That God Never Made

High School

Age 19 and still disabled

Jesus healed a badly disabled woman who had suffered with her condition for eighteen years.

10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11 And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” 13 And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. 14 But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” 15 Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” 17 As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him. ~~Luke 13:10-17 (ESV)

As an 18-year-old girl who had been born with Cerebral Palsy, I “claimed” this passage as a promise that the Lord would, at some point during the course of that year, heal me.  Clearly, I’d made an application of this passage that completely missed the point of that particular healing, thereby skewing the passage and forcing an incorrect interpretation. Christ healed that woman as an expression of His compassion, certainly — but also as a rebuke to the hypocritical Pharisees.

My folly back then underscores the truth of the quote I read on Twitter a couple years ago:

In your approach to  Scripture, If application is more important than interpretation than you’ll inevitably misinterpret and misapply.

While my teenage misapplication of Luke 13:10-17 is obvious (and somewhat amusing), let’s admit that Christians often are too eager to apply snatches of Scripture at the expense of proper interpretation. The most infamous example is making Matthew 18:19-20 a promise about “agreeing in prayer.” In context, Jesus intended that verse to highlight His judgment on unrepentant sin and church discipline:

15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” ~~Matthew 18:15-20 (ESV)

In context, this passage instructs Christians on how  to deal with a professing believer who persists in   sinful behavior. When two or three agree to bind such a person  away from church fellowship and loose him to Satan, they do so in the Lord’s authority. This passage should cause us to tremble at the seriousness of sin rather than to suppose that we can manipulate God’s will by group prayer.

While I certainly plead guilty to twisting Scripture far too often for the sake of application, I believe the Lord is curing me of such sin, teaching me to understand His Word in its proper context. Once I find the correct interpretation of a passage, I can make a correct application. And it’s applying the Word correctly that honors the Lord.

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God’s Will Is Bigger Than Just You

Cinderella's  ClosetSo often, Christians agonize, clinging to the phrase, “God has a plan for you.” Typically they’ll quote Jeremiah 29:11, believing that verse to be a personal promise rather than part of a prophecy to Judah at the dawn of the Babylonian Captivity. They strain to find His plan, supposing it involves marriage, career and/or ministry opportunities. And on one level, those suppositions are correct. Certainly, the Lord guides us to where we can most effectively serve Him.

Ah, did you catch that concept? “Where we can most effectively serve Him! Most Christians, it seems, seek how they can feel fulfilled, blessed or useful, subtly perceiving themselves as the focal point. I find myself thinking along those lines, as if my well-being was uppermost on His list of priorities. And, while it’s true that He numbers the very hairs of my head, it’s evident as I study Scripture that my self-focused attitude concerning His will is slightly out of alignment.

Let’s think about Jeremiah 29:11 in its context to determine if we really want to apply it personally, and then let’s think about God’s plans for us as 21st Century Christians. Jeremiah wrote a letter to the Jewish leaders whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into slavery, instructing them to settle into Babylonian life because they wouldn’t return to Jerusalem for 70 years (meaning their generation would pretty much die out before the Lord restored them to their land). The he wrote the following prophecy from the Lord:

10 “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. ~~Jeremiah 29:10-14 (ESV)

But before you turn that paragraph into an allegorical promise that God will turn your earthly circumstances around, you might want to consider the next paragraph of Jeremiah’s letter.

15 “Because you have said, ‘The Lord has raised up prophets for us in Babylon,’ 16 thus says the Lord concerning the king who sits on the throne of David, and concerning all the people who dwell in this city, your kinsmen who did not go out with you into exile: 17 ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, behold, I am sending on them sword, famine, and pestilence, and I will make them like vile figs that are so rotten they cannot be eaten. 18 I will pursue them with sword, famine, and pestilence, and will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth, to be a curse, a terror, a hissing, and a reproach among all the nations where I have driven them, 19 because they did not pay attention to my words, declares the Lord, that I persistently sent to you by my servants the prophets, but you would not listen, declares the Lord.’ 20 Hear the word of the Lord, all you exiles whom I sent away from Jerusalem to Babylon: 21 ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, concerning Ahab the son of Kolaiah and Zedekiah the son of Maaseiah, who are prophesying a lie to you in my name: Behold, I will deliver them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he shall strike them down before your eyes. 22 Because of them this curse shall be used by all the exiles from Judah in Babylon: “The Lord make you like Zedekiah and Ahab, whom the king of Babylon roasted in the fire,” 23 because they have done an outrageous thing in Israel, they have committed adultery with their neighbors’ wives, and they have spoken in my name lying words that I did not command them. I am the one who knows, and I am witness, declares the Lord.’” ~~Jeremiah 29:15-23 (ESV)

We’re quite fine with that part of Jeremiah’s prophecy applying specifically to the Jews, aren’t we? But in reality, the entire prophecy pertained to them. It teaches us God’s faithfulness to His people Israel as He disciplined them and then restored the remnant to the Land He had promised to Abraham.

Clearly, reading ourselves into Jeremiah 29:11 abuses the text. As much as it appears to  assure individual Christians that the Lord has monumental plans for our temporal lives, we should keep it in proper context. Whatever plans He actually does have for you and for me have more to do with how we can glorify the Lord Jesus Christ than with how He can fulfill our “felt needs.”

Instead of limiting our understanding of His will in terms of how it will affect and (in all honesty) benefit us, shouldn’t we broaden our vision to ask about His overall will? As I read through Genesis, for example, I see God arranging marriages, not primarily to make the patriarchs happy, but to 1) build the nation of Israel and to 2) form the bloodline of Messiah. While many of those marriages probably were happy, that happiness was a by-product to the Lord accomplishing His purposes.

We are created for His pleasure, but all too frequently our attitudes and behavior betrays our unacknowledged belief that His job is to bless us. Well, God does bless us, and in abundance, but does so for His glory and honor. His will in our lives works for the advancement of His Kingdom, not our individual lives. Is it possible that we should stop clamoring to find His will for us in favor of seeking His will for His own glory?

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Online Christianity (Or Not)

Share JesusHave you ever opened your email or logged on to your Facebook feed, only to be confronted with one of these messages:

Jesus said, “If  you deny Me, I will deny you before My Father in Heaven.” If you love Jesus, forward this. 97% won’t do this.

My goodness! So my standing with God hinges on whether or not I play the Internet game of “pass it on?” That’s kinda cool, I guess. Manipulative, perhaps, until I realize the liberating idea that I can ignore the Lord’s claims on my personal behavior, forget about daily time in prayer and Scripture, and stop believing that I’m a  representative of Him to all the people (Christian and non-Christian) who watch my life. What could be easier?
Lots of people could forward that quick paragraph without letting the Holy Spirit confront them with sin in their lives or call them to daily, life-long obedience. Actually, I’ve received this same message, years ago, from someone who left the father of her children (whom she’d never married), and was living with a boyfriend (whom she didn’t intend to marry), and who adamantly insisted that there was no standard of right and wrong (except for the wrong that had been done to her, of course). But hey, she forwarded the  email, so she wasn’t denying Christ…right?
Except Jesus wasn’t addressing His words to people who sat at their computers, poising their mouse pointers over a forward button or a Facebook “share” button. He was speaking to people whom He expected to live according to His standards, even when doing so meant ridicule, persecution or death. He was speaking to men who became martyrs who chose to die rather than publicly deny their faith in Jesus. In the First Century, declaring that Jesus was Lord constituted treason against Caesar, and very often resulted in cruel and barbaric executions.
In 21st Century America (so far) the stakes aren’t that high, but we can still deny Him in serious ways. Do we laugh at off-color jokes, or do we stand against them? Do we go to chat rooms and fail to mention that we’re married? Do we have “under the table” jobs to avoid paying taxes? And do we talk openly about the Lord when others are mocking Him and denigrating His standards?
As I’ve said repeatedly in this blog, real persecution isn’t that distant anymore. Our small compromises today, if we don’t repent of them, could indicate that we’ll make big compromises tomorrow. When LGBTQ laws demand that  you teach your children to affirm same sex marriage as a moral right, will you faithfully show them that Scripture condemns homosexuality? When ISIS tells you that they’ll behead you unless you convert to Islam, will you declare allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ? Will you face suffering or death rather than deny Christ?
Don’t misunderstand. I’m all for using email and social media to proclaim my faith in the Lord. Perhaps I do it less than I should, afraid of social pressure. But when I do get around to making a stand online, I want to be more authentic than cutting-and-pasting a recycled email paragraph into my status update. Rather, I want to challenge others towards repentance and faith in Him. I want to show His transforming impact on how I live my life, so that He is glorified. And that takes more than transmitting pithy little sayings across the World Wide Web. It involves giving Him control of my life so that my conduct (online and offline) reflects Him.
Passing on an email is easy and painless. Standing for Jesus, however, is costly.

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Saturday Sampler: June 12 Through June 18

Three Little AngelsClint Archer, writing for Cripplegate, looks at seeker-sensitive preaching through two grids: Twitter and the book of Jonah. Intrigued? Then you might want to read  Tweet your testimony: a 5 word sermon.

What can a kayaking misadventure teach us about navigating through the increasing chaos in the world? At Growing4Life, Leslie writers Misplaced Confidence as a timely encouragement to Christians.

Writing in Pirate Christian Radio’s Messed Up Church blog, Matthew Garnett tackles the question: A “Personal Relationship With Christ — Burden or Biblical? Garnett gives a perspective that I’ve never considered before. His ideas definitely merit careful thought.

Michelle Lesley lists  12 Dos and Don’ts for Effective Bible Study for us. Her tips help us guard against mishandling and misapplying God’s Word. After all, why study the Bible in ways that don’t affect how we know and live for the Lord Jesus Christ?

Writing for Ligonier Ministries, Jeremy Pierre explains why God holds people accountable for Involuntary Sins.

Can you be a healthy Christian by isolating yourself from other believers and church history? Persis, one of the bloggers at Out of the Ordinary, argues against that attitude with her thought-provoking essay, Sola versus Solo Scriptura.

Pastor Jon Hawkins writes a powerful piece in Generation: Grace that all professing Christians really need to read. A Pastoral Response To The Orlando Massacre forced me to ask myself some hard questions. And that’s always a good thing!

Glenn Chatfield frequently quotes Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his blog, The Watchmen’s Bagpipes. The quotation concerning Emotion vs Emotionalism applies to the evangelical church even more today than it did when Lloyd-Jones wrote it.

In closing, the following video features Todd Friel giving Six signs you are not hearing Christian sermons at your church. Some of those signs reminded me of churches I’ve attended in the past.

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Autobiography With Purpose: Different Point Of View

VBSMon23During our first three years of marriage, John and I enjoyed a couple different Personal Care Attendant situations that allowed us to attend Wednesday night prayer meetings and Vacation Bible School. John taught two month-long Adult Sunday School classes each year and I spent a few months helping with the Junior High Sunday School. We also joined Pastor Larry with the Nursing Home ministry and became part of the Missions Committee.

At home, we regularly listened to John MacArthur’s Grace to You radio broadcasts. At the time, his teaching seemed to complement the bulk of what I was learning at Brookville. On a more profound level, however, I noticed myself responding to much of what he said differently than I responded to Pastor Dennis, Pastor Larry and the men who taught Adult Sunday School. He said things, particularly about the dangers of self-esteem, that I’d always seen in Scripture (but that every church I’d been in explained away).

Once Pastor Jim expressed that he had a few problems with MacArthur’s theology, though he didn’t offer any specific examples. I shrugged off his comment, eager to fit into my new church and understanding that pastors are fallible human beings.

Actually, I shrugged off a few things (most of which I don’t remember), telling myself that churches are imperfect institutions made up of imperfect people. I forgave personal hurts and prayed that I’d repent of judgmental attitudes when I disagreed with decisions or practices. The Lord convicted me to cultivate contentment.

In late 2004, Brookville Baptist Church decided to go through the 40 Days of Purpose Campaign. John had read some of Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose-Driven Life, which seemed okay at face-value. During that summer, he used the book as a springboard for an Adult Sunday School class (he later told me that he saw errors in the book, but thought he could correct those errors by how he taught it). Therefore the elders asked John to lead the Adult Sunday School class during the campaign.

In the weeks leading up to the campaign, the church showed promotional videos of Rick Warren to prepare us for the program. It didn’t take long for me to see that Warren repeatedly wrenched Bible verses out of context in order to support his points. I recognized what he was doing because I’d done the same thing years earlier when I worked for Love In Action.

Warren’s shameless misuse of God’s Word prompted me to do some investigative work. To my surprise, I found articles from several sources (including some affiliated with John MacArthur)   confirming my assessment as well as revealing Warren’s pragmatic approach to numerical church growth. I shared my findings with John. He assured me that, if we couldn’t convince Pastor Dennis to abandon the campaign, he would use the Sunday School class to help people exercise discernment when reading the book and watching the videos.

Dennis respected our right to disagree with Rick Warren, but  he didn’t want John to use his teaching position to voice our disagreement. We decided that, during the campaign, John and I would attend Sunday morning services, but otherwise we wouldn’t participate in the campaign. Furthermore, we wouldn’t explain our   lack of involvement unless someone directly asked. Twelve years later, I question the wisdom of that last agreement.

How happy I was when the 40 Days ended and we could assimilate back into church life! But from that point forward, I found myself praying for the leaders at Brookville to develop better discernment. That’s a prayer nobody should have to pray.

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