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Christ’s Supreme Example of Humility (Philippians 2:5-8)

This message was delivered at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in West Paducah, KY on March 30th, 2014. 

Introduction

When we come to Jesus Christ for salvation, we must come in humility. That is, we must recognize our lowly state—that we are dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1), enemies of God (Rom. 5:10), hostile to God (Rom. 8:7), under His wrath (John 3:36), and helpless without Jesus. We must recognize how low we are before God can ever lift us up by the rope of His grace. The Bible says, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Prov. 3:34; James 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5). And we cannot be saved, thinking that we do not need God to be saved—you must recognize your need. And that recognition of need/lowliness is what the Bible calls humility.

I think that we recognize that we need humility to be saved (while God grants it), but it seems like we sweep humility under the rug when it comes to our lives as believers; exercising humility towards our brothers and sisters in Christ. And if we are not living in humility, then we will have divisions in our churches, and disunity in our lives with other believers.

We are not asked to like other Christians, we are not asked to be like them, agree with them (on every point), but we are to recognize and put into action that we are one with them in the Lord, and we share the same benefits as children of one heavenly Father. If we do not live in unity, then we proclaim a false message to the world—because the message of the gospel is a message of unity and of peace. The gospel absolutely eradicates the barriers between us: the racial barriers, economic, and social barriers. And the gospel unites us under one head, Jesus Christ, with on Father of this universal family united by the blood of Jesus Christ.

So if we are in great need of humility for church unity, where shall we look? In Philippians 2, we have the supreme example of humility ever, and from it we will draw out implications for living in humility.

The Text: Philippians 2:5-8

“5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Have This Mind: Christ’s

Look at v. 5. Paul writes, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” First, he tells his readers to have this mind among themselves. He is telling them to have a certain way of thinking, a certain mind-set. Many translations read, “Have this attitude among yourselves” (NASB, HCSB, NLT), and that’s what he is telling them here. Paul aims this command not to any individual, but to have this attitude among yourselves. This pictures a congregation, and it is plural. It targets the whole church. It isn’t addressed to some individual, but to “all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi” (Phil. 1:1).

Further, the phrase “have this mind among yourselves” looks borth backward and forward in this passage. It looks backward to what Paul has already commanded the Philippian believers to do: “Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (vv. 2-4). The phrase points back because Paul has already commanded them to live in humility. Because without humility, you cannot “be of the same mind,” or “have the same love,” you will not be “in full accord and of one mind.” You will do things from selfish ambition. But with humility, you will be able to fulfill all these commands. The phase also looks forward to Christ’s perfect fulfillment of this “attitude” of humility, which we will see in this passage. Christ is the perfect example, the supreme example, the unparalleled example of the humility that Christians ought to have towards one another—and following that example is the only way to reach true unity among ourselves. We need to “have this attitude among ourselves,” this that was Christ’s. 1 John 2:6 reads, “Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”

So what is this “mind that was in Christ Jesus?” What example are we to follow to attain spiritual unity in the church, which we so desperately need? Well, Paul describes it for us in vv. 6-8. Paul describes how the Son of God left heaven to come to earth; he depicts this by giving a series of eight downward steps from glory into humanity, ending with the death of Christ on the cross. Before we examine these steps, let’s look at the exalted position that Jesus left.

The Exalted Position Jesus Left

Paul writes in v. 6, “Who, though he was in the form of God . . .” Paul says that Jesus “was in the form of God.” Before Christ came to earth He was fully and eternally God. When Christ came to the earth, He was fully and eternally God. And after Christ resurrected from death, He continues to be fully and eternally God. Before Christ took on flesh, He “was in the form of God” as Paul says here. This does not mean that Jesus became the Son of God at some point; He has always been the Son of God. To say that He was in the “form of God” means that He was totally equal with the Father in every way. Still, this doesn’t mean that Jesus is the Father or that the Father is Jesus. The persons of the Trinity are distinct but never divided. Having different roles, but equal. Not three gods, but God in three persons.

So when Christ comes to the earth, a transition takes place. Wayne Grudem, in his great work Systematic Theology, writes, “Remaining what he was, he became what he was not. In other words, while Jesus continued “remaining” what he was (that is, fully divine) he also became what he previously had not been (that is, fully human as well). Jesus did not give up any of his deity when he became a man, but he did take on humanity that was not his before” (1). And when He did, He subjected Himself to many of the limitations that we have. Even if He was only going to be here for 33 years, for Him to take on human flesh would be to subject Himself to our limitations, our weaknesses, and our condition. Yet at the same time, this did not compromise the absolute holiness of Christ: “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth” (1 Pet. 2:22). This is a very difficult reality to grasp, but you cannot have Christianity without it.

If Jesus was not fully man, He couldn’t have died, for God cannot die. If Jesus did not die, then we are still dead in our sins, we are still under God’s divine wrath, we are still slaves to sin, we are still children of wrath, we are still following the course of this world, we are not redeemed, we are not new creations, we are still living in the futility of our minds, and we are not saved! But Christ did die for our sins but that would be utterly impossible, had He not been fully man. But praise God, He busted the grave wide open and conquered sin and death when He rose from the grave three days later, and the angles said, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen” (Luke 24:5-6). And that wouldn’t have been possible, had Jesus not been fully God. Christ says, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received form my Father” (John 10:18).

With all that doctrine in mind, Paul’s point here is that if Christ chose to take on flesh, then there would have to be descent. The incarnation of Jesus is where the Creator takes on the form of the created. The Infinite becomes the finite, the Sinless takes sin upon Himself. The King of kings leaves His kingly throne to subject Himself to our weaknesses, troubles, and struggles: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15).

What example then are we to follow here? Because Paul does say to “have this mind among yourselves.” As you probably know, we cannot be incarnated as Jesus was, we cannot come down from heaven to be born as a babe, and we cannot save people from their sins. But that’s not the point of the text here. The point is that Jesus had every inherent right to stay where He was, but He didn’t and He made the ultimate sacrifice of taking on flesh—which would lead to His death on the cross for sin. It was that He was in the “form of God,” but took on flesh to save us from our sins.

We can follow His example because we too are in a great position. We who are “in Christ” as the New Testament teaches, are saved completely by God’s grace (Eph. 2:8-9). God has loved us before time began (Eph. 1:4), God purchased our salvation and what’s more, we have no rights whatsoever to deserve salvation. Still, God calls us His friends (John 15:14-15). We are His children, “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become the children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12, NASB, emphasis mine). And we have the promise of spending eternity with Him forever to worship at His feet for all eternity.

But we did not earn it. It is not our inherent right. So if God’s eternal son humbled Himself in an incomparable way by taking on flesh to live as a man, leaving His heavenly dominion, leaving His heavenly throne to be a man—how much more ought we to be absolutely determined to live humble and make whatever sacrifices necessary for the kingdom of God? You see, when Jesus left heaven to take on flesh and be born as a babe, His position of being God did not change. He just took upon Himself the weaknesses and struggles of the flesh. And we are not commanded to leave our position as God’s children; we cannot, we are secure in God’s hands. But we are to live humbly and “count others more significant than ourselves.” And when we do that, when we recognize that we are lowly, there will be much change in our lives—and that change often hurts. Humility hurts, just like it did Christ, and it may cost us dearly to live humble lives and do good works for others.

If we live in humility, then we will have the attitude we need to “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). It hurts to suffer with someone during their struggle, difficulty, or weakness. But will you give till it hurts? Will you count others greater than yourselves even when it hurts? It’s not by accident that the first Beatitude in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3).

Step One of Christ’s Humiliation

If you recall earlier, I spoke of Paul’s description of eight downward steps into humanity. From the exalted position that Jesus left, His first step downward was that He “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (v. 6b). Paul has already established that Christ was equal with God. We also know that during Jesus’ earthly ministry, He never denied or diminished the fact that He was God. In John 17, Jesus prays, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him” (John 17:1-2). Only God can give eternal life. In v. 6 of our text, Paul says here that although He was God, in fact equal with God, “He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” The point here is that Jesus never used His power or authority for personal advantage, because to Jesus, though all power and authority and worship are inherently His, these things were not “a thing to be grasped.” Christ refused to hold onto His divine rights and privileges as His own. Jesus had all the rights and privileges of God, and He could never lose the. But He refused to selfishly cling to those things to His own advantage.

You likely recall what Jesus asks during His betrayal: “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt. 26:53). If He had, that would have messed up the Father’s plan to accomplish the mission of salvation at the cross. And so Christ would not call “twelve legions of angels” to His side. You also likely recall when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness. Satan said, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread” (Matt. 4:3). Have you ever wondered why Jesus didn’t just do that? Why didn’t He just turn them into bread to eat? He had all the power to do so. He even turned the loaves an fish into enough food to feed the five thousand (Matt. 14:13-21). It was because Christ “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” Jesus’ attitude was selfless, it was giving, and it was humble.

That same attitude should characterize our lives today. We are children of God—new creations. But that is not the end of it. God didn’t save us so that we can sit and soak on a wooden pew every Sunday for the rest of our lives. Too often, we are comfortable in our blessings—we rejoice that we are redeemed, justified, and made right in God’s sight, but we keep them to ourselves. Those things are a cause for rejoicing, no doubt! But we should not grasp them selfishly, but follow the example of Christ here and share our blessings with others. All that we have has been given to us by God and we should be generous. How then, you ask, can one share something like justification with someone else? You cannot share your justified position in God’s sight with someone else, can you? You can by taking the message of justification to people—in hopes that they too will receive Christ’s righteousness imputed to their account. So what is it that you are clinging tightly to? Material blessings? Spiritual blessings? Is there something in your life that God wants you to share with others? Surrender that things to God and let Him have His will and His way.

Step Two of Christ’s Humiliation

We have looked at Christ’s first step downward into humanity, now we will look at Christ’s next step from glory to humanity. He “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,” Paul says, “but emptied himself . . .” Paul says that instead of counting equality with God, Christ emptied Himself. That’s the second step. The New Testament teaches that Christ emptied Himself of five divine rights (2):

1. His divine glory. The Son of God left the worship of the saints and angels in heaven, and the adornment, and was subject to misunderstandings, denials, unbelief, false accusations, and every sort of persecution by sinful men. He have up the shining brilliance of heaven to suffer an agonizing death on the cross.

2. Independent divine authority. He was equal with the Father (as both Jesus and Paul affirm), but He also stated very often in the New Testament that He depended on the Father for strength and authority. A mystery, but true (John 5:19, 30; 8:28; 12:49).

3. Some of His divine attributes. He did not cease being God, but He did subject Himself to limitations by becoming a man. For example, Christ could only be in one place at one time while He was on the earth. That would be a (temporary) limitation on God’s omniscience.

4. His eternal riches. Paul brings this to light, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).

5. His unique, face-to-face relationship with the Father. In order to fulfill the plan of salvation that God sent Him to do, He had to become sin for us: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus takes our sin upon Himself, and gives us His righteousness in exchange; so in God’s sight, Jesus becomes all the filthiness and sin that we are and we become all the righteousness and holiness that He is. If that is true, then it would require that Jesus be separated from the Father at His crucifixion. The Father turned His face away—Habbakuk 1:13 says that the Father’s “eyes are too pure to look on evil.” This is why Christ cried from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46).

Christ emptied Himself of these things to save us and to fulfill God’s plan of redemption. We obviously cannot empty ourselves to the degree that Jesus did here, but we do have an example to follow.

We are called to empty ourselves of everything that would hinder our obedience and service to Him. That’s what Christ did. He emptied Himself of these divine rights so that he could fulfill the Father’s plan of salvation. He was the Messiah, the One through Him God’s saving purposes would be accomplished. Jesus even took on the limitations of man and “emptied Himself” of the rights that were rightfully His, so that He could purchase salvation for you and for me—thus, being totally obedient to the Father (even to the point of death, v. 8).

If Jesus Christ did everything necessary to be obedient to the Father, by “emptying” Himself of what is rightfully His, how much more should we be willing to empty our lives of whatever it takes to be totally and fully surrendered to God? The only difference is, we don’t even own anything in this life. It all belongs to God, and all that we have is a gift from God Himself. Whatever is in the way of your service and full surrender to God, whether it be possessions, position, money, pride, sex, whatever; pour it down the drain!

What do you need to empty in your life to be totally obedient to God? What do you need to give up in order to be fully surrendered to God’s will?

Step Three of Christ’s Humiliation

Christ not only refused to count equality with God a thing to be grasped, and not only did He empty Himself, but even further in His descent, Christ takes a third step downward. How? Paul writes, “by taking the form of a servant” (v. 7b). Immediately when I read this, my mind races back to Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet. Many commentators even say that this is what Paul is referring to here. When Jesus washed their feet in John 13, He was demonstrating to them the best example of humility. Foot-washing was something that normally slaves did in Jesus’ day. He tells them, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are  you if you do them” (John 13:14-17).

What is so ironic about what Jesus did and Paul’s description of Him as a “servant” is this: Jesus Christ is the only One in the entire universe who is worthy to be served, but yet He became a servant. If serving man in the Father’s name was good enough for the Son of God, it ought to be good enough for us. We should be labeled as servants. Let us heed the words of Galatians 6:9-10, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” And when we have served, when we have done what we ought, we do not need to be prideful, but thank God for the opportunities we have been given to serve and then cry out with humility: “We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done” (Luke 17:10, NASB).

Who are you serving for the cause of Christ? Where has God been stirring your heart to serve? Is it a position here at your church? Is it a soup kitchen? Is it your workplace? Do you need to serve your family more? God calls us to follow the example of Jesus here and be servants. Where does He want you to serve? And what is stopping you from serving and going where God wants you to go? Whatever it is, get it out of the way and start serving.

Step Four of Christ’s Humiliation

We have seen Christ’s example of humility in that He “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,” and that He “emptied himself,” and that He took on the form of a servant. Even further into His downward descent, Paul lists a fourth step: “being born in the likeness of men” (v. 7c).

You know the Christmas Story, Jesus miraculous conception and virgin birth. How Mary “was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:18). Paul says here that Jesus became exactly like all other human beings, having all the attributes of humanity—He was a man. It was so obvious that He was a man that even His family and disciples would not have known of His deity if the angels, the Father, and Jesus Himself revealed it to them. He was “born of a woman” (Gal. 4:4), and in a “fleshly body” (Col. 1:22). Hebrews 2 gives a very accurate description of how Jesus was born in the likeness of men:

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things . . . Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Heb. 2:14, 17-18).

Recall too Hebrews 4:15. It says that Jesus was “tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin.” That tells us something. And that’s what this verse indicates as well. Jesus was made in the likeness of flesh/men. That is, flesh minus the sin. It’s very important to understand, too, that this is not God taking on some kind of pre-Fall Adam. That’s not why Paul calls Him the “second Adam” (1 Cor. 15:45). Because if you remember, before the Fall there was no sin and no death, but Jesus did die. Think about it: Did He feel pain? Did He fell sorrow? Did He weep? Did He have strong crying and tears? Did He ever hunger? Did He thirst? Was He weary? Was He weak? Yes, yes, and yes. Here’s the final one: Did He die? Yes, and death is the result of what? The Fall (Gen. 3:17-19). This is not God taking on the “un-fallen” character of humanity, this is God taking on the fallen character of humanity with one significant element eliminated. What is it? Sin. Christ took on all of our weaknesses but one: sin.

Step Five of Christ’s Humiliation

We have seen that Christ did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped for selfish gain, we have seen that Christ emptied Himself, that He took on the form of a servant, and also that He was born in the likeness of our flesh. But is there more to this descent? Is there more to this humiliation? Paul says yes: “And being found in human form” (v. 8a). This advances the truth that Christ was “born in the likeness of men.” Christ was “found” or recognized by those who observed Him, and those He lived with to be in “human form.” The prophet Isaiah had predicted some 700 years earlier, that the Messiah “was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face he was despised, and we did not esteem Him” (Isaiah 53:5).

Step Six of Christ’s Humiliation

Continuing this description of Christ’s descent, “he humbled Himself” (v. 8b). Paul says here that Jesus “humbled himself.” Now, this is somewhat different language. Everything up to this point has been about Jesus’ nature and form. This is actually an action—a personal attitude. If anyone humbled himself, it was Jesus Christ! Think back to His trial. Christ was mocked, falsely accused, spat upon, beaten with fists, scourged, and had part of His beard painfully plucked out. Yet He was never defensive was He? I’ve often wondered why Jesus didn’t just show those Pharisees who was boss. For most of the time, He stays silent. He was never demanding, never bitter. He had every right as God to damn them straight to hell at that moment. He refused to assert His rights as God! He didn’t even assert His rights as a human being either. No human would stand for that as justice.

This passage is about Christ, but remember too, that it is the example to follow from the command, “have this mind among yourselves.” I think Paul is crying out to the Philippian believers to not ever forget this: “Don’t forget this” he says, “Don’t forget what the Son of God suffered through, while maintaining humility! Don’t forget when the slightest impulse arises in you to become selfish or self-assertive or self-seeking, and so to break the bond of your fellowship with other believers!” (3)

In what situations in your life do you need to exercise more humility?

Step Seven of Christ’s Humiliation

In His stepping downward, Jesus was willing to suffer, “by becoming obedient to the point of death” (v. 8c). One would think that somewhere along the lines of all the sacrifices Jesus is making here that He would say, “Enough!” But Christ’s perfect submission took Him all the way to His death. Christ was obedient to the will of God “to the point of death.”

Anytime someone dies for a cause, leader, or a revolution—that is probably the greatest demonstration of that person’s devotion that cause, leader, or revolution. And Christ here followed God’s plan, and was so devoted to the Father’s will to “the point of death.” Christ died for the world indeed, but Christ also died for the Father. Not to pay for His sins, He paid for our sins, but He died for God to to His will and fulfill His plan. In Luke 22:42, Jesus prays in the garden of Gethsemane, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not by will, but yours, be done.” The Father did not force death upon Jesus. And Jesus did not wrestle His heavenly Father to the floor of heaven to avoid crucifixion. The death of Jesus was God’s plan. God predestined it to take place. But it was Jesus’ choice—Paul says that Jesus was “obedient” that means a choice was involved. And Christ was obedient.

Ignatius of Antioch, an early church father, was remembered for his joyful outlook on martyrdom. He was going to be killed for his faith in Christ. He writes many letters to different churches while he is waiting to be killed—he viewed his death as being obedient to the will of God. As with the case of Ignatius of Antioch, and many early Christians, death was the price they had to pay to be obedient to God (4).

How far will you go to be obedient to God’s will? If you lost everything for being obedient to God, would it still be worth it to you? Jesus lost His life, His fellowship with the Father, all to be obedient to the Father’s will. If being obedient to God’s will even to the point of death was good enough for Jesus, then it ought to be good enough for us.

Step Eight of Christ’s Humiliation

But it wasn’t just any death. Paul describes that death as the final step in Christ’s downward descent: “even death on a cross” (v. 8d). Today, we have beautified the symbol of the cross so much that we often forget about what it really means. It was a death instrument in Jesus’ day. Jesus could have been killed by stoning or hanging, but instead died on a cross. Galatians 3:13, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.” Similarly, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

I was in Wal-Mart the other day, and I saw the most ironic thing ever in my life. I couldn’t believe that you could pack so much irony into one moment. I was in the Easter candy isle and saw a chocolate cross. Now to other people who do not think like me, it probably appeared to be just a piece of candy. But I wondered, “Where are the chocolate electric chairs?” The cross, you see, was the worst form of punishment in Jesus’ day. And here was a chocolate death symbol. Of course, because of His resurrection, that cross stands as a symbol of victory of sin and death. But not so in Jesus’ day.

Conclusion

We have seen Christ’s example; His supreme example of humility. He did not count equality with God when He had every right to. He emptied Himself and was poured out for you and me—and in the Father’s will. He became a servant—when He alone is worthy to be served. He was born in the likeness of our flesh. He was found in human form when He was born—as a helpless babe. He was obedient to the Father to the point of death, even death on a cross. I ask you this morning, in which of those steps do you need to line up your life with God’s will? What part of Christ’s example are you not following? Are you following Christ’s example of humility?


 

1. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 562.
2. This list is adapted from John MacArthur, Philippians/John MacArthur (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2001), 126-128.
3. Ibid, 132.
4. The best basic resource on Ignatius and his view of martyrdom is Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church by Michael A. G. Haykin.
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Ephesians: The Mystery of the Gospel Revealed (3:1-13)

Introduction

Often times when we read an account like this, we tend to run over it, believing that it is not relevant for us today and we read on to the next passage. But the Bible says different: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). This means that every portion is relevant for our lives. I don’t have to make the Word of God relevant; it is already relevant.

The Text

“For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— 2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. 4 When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. 6 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 7 Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. 8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things,10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. 13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.”

Paul, the Prisoner for Christ

First Paul writes, “For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles. . .” (3:1)
For what reason? Well, look at Ephesians chapter 2. What is that chapter all about? The gospel that gives life and includes the Gentiles. This is the guiding purpose in all Paul does. So he writes, “For this reason [for the reason of this great gospel] I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles.” Paul was a prisoner at the time of writing this letter (You can read about that in Acts 28). Paul was a prisoner in Rome because he had been preaching the gospel. And Paul writes that he is a “prisoner for Christ Jesus” here in this passage. That is interesting to note, because he could have said “a prisoner, held captive by these filthy Romans.” It’s interesting because he doesn’t once place blame on anyone for his being held captive. Paul views his imprisonment positively. His imprisonment was definitely a hardship. His imprisonment was an embarrassment. But to our surprise, he gives little focus to his difficulty. He doesn’t blame the Romans, he doesn’t blame God, but you can almost hear a tone of honor in his voice as he says, “I am a prisoner for Christ Jesus.”

Paul’s theology of hardship never focuses on the hardship itself, but on the Christ, His gospel, and His people. We know this all too well from the pen of Paul to the Philippians: “12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (1:12-14). Yes, Paul is aware of something much larger than his own circumstances. He is aware of something of infinite worth. Something on which no value can be placed. Something worth giving up everything for. Something that is worth losing everything for—and that something is Someone, and He is Jesus. Was Paul’s imprisonment life-threatening? Of course. But Paul’s imprisonment did not define who he was. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ defined who he was.

The Gospel is What Defines

Let me clarify: Paul wasn’t talking about suffering as a result of sin and evil in this world. There are different types of suffering—death, sickness, and disease, but the kind of suffering he was talking about was suffering for Christ. And so we unearth a foundational truth of the Christian life: The gospel will cost you something. The gospel always costs you something. What matters is where your heart is when you lose things for the gospel. And when we will lose things for Christ’s gospel, Jesus asks us if our heart is in the right place when we suffer on His behalf. When we lose things for the gospel. And it’s in a very strange passage of Scripture: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). What Jesus is saying here is that following Him will cost you dearly. You know your dad won’t approve. He’ll roll his eyes and mumble something about you getting carried away with your religion. Your brother or sister won’t know what to make of your decision to lose everything for Jesus. Your friends may distance themselves from you. There’s a good chance your husband or wife will criticize you for losing everything for Jesus. And Jesus is saying, “Yep, that may be part of it. And if you’re not willing to choose me over your family (and over everything, knowing that you may lose it in this life), then you are not ready to follow, and maybe it’s time for you to go on home.”

If you lost everything for the gospel would it still be worth it?

Ephesians says yes. Because when you lose things for the gospel you are not really losing anything—but you are gaining that which is of infinite worth and that is God. Nothing on this earth can compare to God—not the greatest amount of wealth and possessions, not the most power, not popularity from anyone and everyone, not conquest, not great achievement—nothing ever will and ever can compare with the infinite worth of God. “To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One. 26 Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing” (Isaiah 40:25-26).

And nothing can ever take Him away from you. No force, no power, no nothing can every take you away from God if you belong to Him through faith in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38-39). So what if you lose something for the sake of Christ and the spread of His gospel? That’s the attitude that Paul had here. Paul rejoiced in his suffering and counted it as an honor to be called a “prisoner for Christ Jesus.” And so asked his readers: “So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory” (v. 13).

Value the Treasure

Paul didn’t allow his circumstances to define who he was. He let the gospel do that. He was a prisoner for Christ Jesus. And we need to remember that the gospel defines who we are. Folks, the gospel is all we have. It’s all we need—but it’s all we have. This gospel is the good news that even though we are born haters of God (Rom. 1:30), sinners by nature (Eph. 2:3), enemies of God (Rom. 5:10), not seeking Him(Rom. 3:11)—that God had a plan from eternity to save us (Eph. 1:4) and that salvation was accomplished through Jesus Christ on the cross (Rom. 5:8) and is available to all who would turn away from sin and have faith in Him as Lord and Savior of their lives.

If you are a believer, no sin defines who you are, no past shame defines who you are, no difficulty in life defines who you are, not even death defines who you are—but only the gospel of Jesus Christ defines who you are and that gospel says that you are God’s forever, to enjoy Him forever and make Him your infinite delight.

Paul’s Apostleship

“Assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly” (vv. 2-3). Paul stops his prayer here and doesn’t come back to it until 3:14. He stops here to explain the nature of his apostleship and his ministry. Paul’s readers would have heard of God’s entrusting of His grace to Paul if they had only read the above chapters. That’s all it would take. In fact he states in the next verse: “when you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ” (v. 4). He says that he was steward of God’s grace. And he tells his readers that the mystery of the gospel was made known to him by revelation and he was written about it briefly. Paul viewed himself as a manager of grace. Why? Well he had a specific task given to him. In Acts 22, Paul says that Jesus commanded him: ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles’” (Acts 22:21, emphasis mine). Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles was unique, and God used Paul to write Holy Spirit inspired letters—and while we can never duplicate Paul in exactly every way, Paul’s theology of grace here really teaches us something that I think we often forget.

Grace Enlists

Grace enlists. Grace commissions. Grace always brings responsibility. Christianity is not a religion of works, but it is a religion of action. If we think that God’s grace is limited to the gift of salvation, and it stops there—then we are deceiving ourselves. This text forces us to reflect on the fact that grace enlists. We are all managers of grace. If we have received the grace of God, we are told to extend it to others: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10). In fact, you may disagree, but I would go as far as to say that if grace is not being worked out in your life, then you never had grace to begin with and are not saved. Grace always brings responsibility and forces us to take action folks. If we are not taking action in our Christian lives today, then did we have grace to begin with? Paul even says later in this passage, “Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power” (v. 7).

But let me clarify two things:

1) Grace doesn’t just enlist clergy. Grace doesn’t just enlist pastors, Sunday school teachers, and crazy youth pastors. All believers are called to extend God’s grace to others and to live in a way that draws people’s attention to Him. We are all ministers folks. In fact if you want the Bible’s specific definition of how we are all ministers, here you go: “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18).

2) Ministry is God’s gift to you. It’s not your gift to Him. Often times we think we are doing God a favor when we engage in some spiritual project. But what is really happening is this: God is inviting you through obedience to glorify Him. God delights in that, but really it is a gift to us because we are enjoying God as we are glorifying Him. That’s the cool thing about our relationship to God. Our full joy in Him does not compromise His being glorified and uplifted. Those two things go hand in hand. For example, in the Westminster Catechism the first question asks: “What is the chief aim of man?” The answer there is: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” It doesn’t say ends. We glorify God by enjoying Him. And we will enjoy Him as we extend His grace to others by doing things that will draw people’s attention to Him.

The Mystery Revealed

“When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (vv. 4-5) Paul says that when his readers read this, they can perceive into his insight into the mystery of Christ. This is a conditional statement. They will not understand the mystery without reading his letter. And Paul says that this mystery was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets. And it wasn’t. This “mystery of Christ” was not known to human beings in earlier generations. However, he insists that the Law and the Prophets (who in past generations attested to the gospel): “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it” (Rom. 3:21). Moses and the prophets had written of Christ and his coming salvation, and God even promised Abraham that all the nations would be blessed through him (Gen. 12:3), but the full realization of who Christ was and the great extent of His salvation that would come to the Gentiles was not clear until the giving of the Spirit. That’s how Paul says that this mystery was revealed: “by the Spirit.” The Bible attests elsewhere: “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 2:21, emphasis mine).

What is the ‘Mystery of Christ?’

Paul has made mention of this mystery a few times already and now he explains what that mystery is: “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (v. 6). Here’s the mystery Paul says: These people who were separated from Israel and her God, (like we’ve seen before in Eph. 2) are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus. How are they made into these things? “Through the gospel” (v. 6 b). What Paul is demonstrating here is a theology of unity. Paul has fought so strenuously for establishing the doctrine of unity between Jew and Gentile. In fact, that has been an aspect of our study in Ephesians since we started. Paul has a real concern for the inclusion of the Gentiles into the body of Christ. Paul is expounding the mystery of Christ and says that the Gentiles belong, and they are on the same footing as Jewish Christians and receive the same benefits. Their unity is not grounded in the similarity of skin color, their unity is not grounded in following the law, their unity is not grounded in anything else but the Lord Jesus Christ.

If being in Christ unites Jews and Gentiles into one body (members of the same body), does it not do the same for us with all other believers who are in Christ? That’s the theme we draw from Paul’s usage of language of reconciliation between Jew and Gentile that we have observed so much.

Unity: Are We Living It?

We are unified in Christ. Regardless of our differences. Regardless of our past. Regardless of any barrier that may make us different from any other person. If we are in Christ, we are unified in one body—Christ’s body. The question is not, Are we unified? The question is, are we living unified? We are not asked to like other Christians, we are not asked to be like them, agree with them, but we are to recognize and to put into action that we are one with them in the Lord, and we share the same benefits. When we realize that we are all “fellow heirs,” “members of the same body,” and “partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus,” we will view our brothers and sisters in Christ in a biblical way. We will see each other on the same level. We will encourage one another because we know that we all struggle with one ultimate problem: sin. We will worship as a family. And all sorts of other benefits.

Here’s where disunity starts to get damnable: if we do not live in unity, then we proclaim a false message to the world. The message of the gospel is a message of unity and a message of peace. And if our church life is characterized by divisions, strivings, and arguments, then we are putting our light under a basket, when we should be “letting [our] light shine before men that they may see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).

Unity is a lifestyle that we need to put time and effort into folks. We live in a day when people come to church to see what they can get. Some people come to church to fit their preferences and if they don’t get what they want, often times they leave. Or someone will have a petty disagreement with somebody or a wrestling with someone and they leave the fellowship. There are right reasons to leave certain fellowships and there are wrong reasons to leave certain fellowships. And if you’re someone who breaks from a fellowship because you didn’t get your way—that is a wrong, unscriptural reason to leave the fellowship.

Folks, when we meet together as a body—a great protest takes place. That’s right, a protest. When we fellowship together as a family, worship as fellow heirs, see each other as members of the same body, our presence together is a bold protest against division. We meet together as a body to protest divisions and to hold up our picket signs against divisions—and those picket signs have painted on them, “We are one in Christ!”

I Am the Very Least

After Paul describes what this mystery is, he goes on to say, “Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power” (v. 7). Again, Paul talks about the “grace-enlisting” that we discussed earlier. He tells his readers that he was made a minister of this great, triumphant gospel. How was he made a minister? “according to God’s gift of grace, which was given me by the working of his power.” Again, grace enlists. Grace enlists.

Verse 8 reads, “To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ. .” Paul maintains such humility here and says basically, “I of all people, was given this grace to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” But what else was he given this grace for? “. . . and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (vv. 9-10).

Paul has said that this plan of the mystery was not revealed to “the sons of men in other generations” (v. 5), and the plan of this mystery (as he says here) was hidden for ages in God who created all things. Paul attests to God creating all things to imply that God doesn’t need a creator. That is the only rational explanation for the existence of the universe. Something (we know Someone) outside our realm of existence would have to supernaturally create the universe as we know it. And this something would have to have never had a beginning. Something that doesn’t depend on something else for its existence. This something is Someone and that’s God.

And Paul says that this plan of the mystery was hidden in this eternal God. If God is eternal, then He didn’t need a creator and this plan of the mystery was hidden “for ages” in the limitless, eternal God. Which is why Paul says in the next verse, “This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 11). Paul also says that God gave him grace to bring to light for everyone this mystery for a special kind of testimony: “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (v. 10). Didn’t see that coming. Have you ever read that in the Bible? This means that our testimony provides evil angelic powers with a reminder that their authority has been decisively broken and that all things are subject to Christ.

Thus you have a triumphant testimony of the gospel’s power: No power of hell, no scheme of the devil, and no influence of a demon can hinder the advance of the gospel to Gentiles or their inclusion into the church. And that goes for everyone who would trust in Jesus Christ. The living, breathing Church of God testifies to even demonic powers that we have been unified by Christ and are in subject to Christ.

Boldness and Access With Confidence

Paul says of this Christ, “in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him” (v. 12). Paul says that through Christ we have these things.You know, it’s strange that Paul was not frequently discouraged with the failures of his churches. He did criticize the sexual immorality of the church in Corinth, he did exhort the believers in Galatia to stop getting away from the true gospel, but he was convinced that things would work out. So Paul was eager for his readers to share his confidence rather than be discouraged—and once again the gospel is what sustains that: Paul says that in Christ he has “boldness and access with confidence,” through his faith in him.

We have something that the rest of the world doesn’t: access to God. Not only that, we have access to God with confidence. However, “boldness and access with confidence” (v. 12) does not mean that:

1) We have freedom to do whatever we want boldly before God. He sees anyway so I will do sin all the more.

2) We should feel superior to others because we have access to God; Boldness and humility go hand in hand.

3) It also doesn’t mean that we should be passive. It doesn’t mean that confidence in God should result in not taking action.

We know that life is difficult, we have suffering, evil and death all around us. Often times we can make a mistake and deny that these suffering are really impacting us. Listen to me, denial of the struggles in your life is not the solution. Paul knew the difficulties and was still confident. He looked his struggles straight in the eye but said, “I have access with confidence to God.” When we are aware of the fact that we do not go through hardships alone, when we are aware of the fact that we have a Savior who was “in every respect . . tempted as we are” (Heb. 4:15), then we have a great comfort. We as believers even have confidence over death as part of belonging to God.

Conclusion

So Paul concludes by asking his readers, “not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you.” Why? “it is their glory.” Paul’s suffering was worth it because he knew that he wasn’t really losing anything—but gaining that which is of immeasurable worth: God.

May God develop within all of us an attitude like Paul’s here.

Ephesians: Not a Brick Temple—Never That Simple

The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on the 28th DAY OF January 2014:

Introduction—Inevitable Union

There are certain consequences to becoming a believer. One of those consequences is that you become a part of the universal church of God. This is something that happens inevitably—you cannot prevent it from happening. You cannot become a believer and be alone in your walk with God. You cannot have a relationship with God and then sever your relationship with other believers. The Christian life, then, consists of two dimensions—horizontal and vertical.

1) The Christian’s life is vertical because of God.
2) The Christian’s life is horizontal because of God’s people.

These two dimensions interact with each other, and in fact, define each other. Every move you make towards God will affect other believers. Every move you make away from God will affect other believers. You can’t even budge without creating a butterfly effect on the church.

The Text

“19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”

Strangers and Aliens

In the first verse, Paul says, “So then,” meaning he is getting ready to tell his Gentile readers about the results/implications of Christ’s reconciling work (2:14-18). As a result of Christ’s reconciling work on the cross, so then this is what happens: “you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (v. 19). Paul’s Gentile readers had been strangers and aliens in relation to God’s people: “. . at one time you Gentiles in the flesh . . . were . . . alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise” (vv. 11-12). But now, their position has changed dramatically. They have a privileged place in God’s new community.

They are no longer strangers and aliens. Now there are some of you out there who are Sci-Fi fanatics, and when you read this you immediately said, “Oh ho! Aliens do exist!” Now even though cosmic aliens do not exist, maybe understanding why we call those green guys aliens in the first place will aid our understanding of what Paul means here. Aliens are those outside earth, according to those with superstitions. And the term is used often times to describe those who come into the United States from an unknown country—illegal aliens. Interestingly enough, the Greek term for aliens here is paroikos, meaning “foreigners.”

For the case of these Gentiles, they were strangers and aliens because they were separate from Israel and her God. But because of Christ’s work on the cross by dying for both of them, these Gentiles would not be transformed into a Jew, and those Jews would not be transformed into Gentiles, but these sinners are transformed into a new being—which makes a new community—the church. What’s more is this: they are not even second-class in this new community, but they are now “fellow citizens with the saints.” That is, with all believers. And even more they are “members of the household of God.”

You are Not What You Once Were—But So Much More

Here’s the way the logic works: You are not what you once were; you are so much more. You are no longer something, but you are now something else. Paul in this chapter has always coupled those two ideas together. He doesn’t ever tell us what we were without telling us what we are now. And he never tells us what we are now without telling us what we were. Throughout this chapter we see this pattern:

1) In Ephesians 2:1-5, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins. . . [But because of God’s great love, He gave us new life and] made us alive together with Christ.”

2) In Ephesians 2:12-13, “You were . . . alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”

3) Also in Ephesians 2:14-18, you were two separate peoples (Jew and Gentile) but now through Christ’s death, he has “[reconciled] us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (v. 16).

4) And here: “You were foreigners to God’s people, but now you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (v. 19).

From this verse (and the theme taught in this chapter), we draw out one of the beautiful mysteries of the Christian life—we are not what we once were, but we are so much more. In salvation, God doesn’t just make you good. God doesn’t just make you a better person. God doesn’t even just do a few touch ups. He completely replaces what you were—He transforms you, then piles more on top of that. But as Paul teaches here, it is more than that. With that transformation, a baptizing happens that is unavoidable—you may have not wanted it to happen, but it is inescapable. You may have not even been taken through the baptistery yet, but this baptism happens at conversion: “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13). You do not become a new person and remain as an individual—as a “lone-ranger” Christian, but you indeed are now “citizens in God’s heavenly kingdom, and children in His household.

We Belong

Throughout our lives, let’s face it: We have all felt times when we didn’t belong. We felt unaccepted and inferior. At some point in our lives, we just develop some drive to identify with somebody, some group, or some important cause—even if it is only a sports team. I remember when I was in high school, we would sit in the gym before breakfast—and you could best see the different groups during that particular time. Everyone wanted a place to belong—you had your “All A Students” sitting together with their top dollar clothes. You had your tough guy group who would boast about how much they lift in the gym. You have your gothics, listening to their blaring heavy metal with headphones and wearing dark clothes. And you had your gossip girls. Boy they were a lot of fun to hear in the morning: “Oh no she didn’t girl!” or “I know she was not looking at me!”

But that drive for a sense of belonging is enormous. Why? Because when we identify ourselves with a group, it makes us feel important. Like we are a part of something important. Our text tonight tells us that we do belong. And nobody, and I mean nobody, should feel like an outsider in the church. Like they don’t belong. The people need to know that they do belong. We belong with God’s family. We live in God’s household as members of His family—yet at the same time, we as a body are a house in which God lives and dwells (v. 22). Everyone in this house are family with us.

The Church as a Family of Faith

The church as a family of faith should have the feel of family. What do families do? They care for each other, they are committed to each other, they confront each other, and they sustain each other. “As believers in Christ, we are incomplete without the rest of his body—the church. And the church is incomplete without us. We need others, and others need us” (Craig Groeschel, The Christian Atheist). A sense of family should shape everything about our church life. A sense of family should shape our worship. Worship should not be like a production we watch; rather it should be like a family experience—because that is what it is. The people of God in the worship of God for the glory of God.

Worship—Let Go and Boogey

We shouldn’t be embarrassed to let loose in our worship. In the Old Testament, we read that David’s first wife, Michal, despised him because he was “leaping and dancing before the LORD” (2 Samuel 6:16). She was embarrassed because of his bold expression. They were married and she was embarrassed about his expression of worship—we are brothers and sisters in Christ, so how much more should we feel comfortable expressing our true selves in worship? I don’t know about you, but I am comfortable around my family. I can do anything around them. Laugh and cry. And we shouldn’t feel closed in when we worship God together, we are worshiping Him as a family—and a worldwide family too. There are secret churches who are meeting underground right now, who are worshipping the Lord in another language and tribe. So don’t feel embarrassed to let loose when you praise your Lord. Still, our worship should be orderly and well done because even the angels are observing our worship (1 Cor. 4:9). But we should be comfortable together.

A Sustained Household

If because of Christ’s reconciling work, strangers and aliens are made into citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, then how is that household sustained? It is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (v. 20). Paul has been painting an image for his Gentile readers. First of a people—“citizens” and “members of God’s household.” Now here, as being built on a foundation. As logic would follow, this ‘household’ would need to be built on some type of foundation.

The Apostles and Prophets

What does that foundation consist of? “The apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.” There is some debate about what “apostles and prophets” means here. But Paul doesn’t mean here Old Testament prophets. He is talking about those who have received God’s revelation of Christ. Old Testament prophets prophesied about the coming Messiah, but He wasn’t revealed to them personally—like the apostles and prophets who walked with Jesus. “When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Eph. 3:4-5). The prophets of the New Testament were very similar to the apostles. But the point Paul is making here is this: You Gentiles are built on the right foundation. You are built on the foundation of God’s revelation. God’s revealing to them of the mysteries of Christ is the source of their foundation.

The Right Foundation

When you are constructing a building, you usually start with the foundation. But as you know, it’s not good enough to just have any old foundation—you have to have the right foundation. You can’t build a brick house on some weak, thin timbers. And the church of God is built on the right foundation—the Word of the living God. Paul was referring here to the revelation that was given to these apostles and prophets—and we have that completed revelation, consisting of 66 books right here in our hands: the Bible.

Revelation: General vs. Special

You see, the only way we could ever know God is if He made Himself known—and He did. He would have to do it that way. There is no other way we could figure Him out. There are two ways in which God reveals Himself to the world:

1) Generally. Creation—it tells us that God is, but it doesn’t tell us anything about His Triunity, or compassion, etc. (Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1:19-20)

2) Specially. God has also revealed Himself in a personal way—through the Bible. Also through Jesus, as Jesus is the living embodiment of the Word (John 1:1). But if it weren’t for the Bible, we wouldn’t have the accounts of the gospels to tell us about Jesus.

The Church is Built on the Foundation of the Word of God

The church is built on the foundation of the Word of God. It is where we go for instruction, it is where we go for training, it is where we go for rebuke, it is where we go for guidance (2 Tim. 3:16). Equally important, is obeying that Word of God as we read it. If the church doesn’t embrace the Word of God and obedience to that Word of God as its foundation, then that church will crumble faster than a stale cookie. Jesus talks about how important it is to hear His words, but to do them too: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it” (Matt. 7:24-27).

Christ is the Cornerstone

In the latter part of this verse, Paul also assures his Gentile readers that the foundation is held together by Christ because He is the cornerstone. Isaiah 28:16 reads, “therefore thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: ‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’” This reflected current building practice in which the laying of the cornerstone marked the beginning of the foundation. But not only the beginning of the foundation. Here, Paul doesn’t just say, “You are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, and Christ Jesus being the cornerstone.” It’s interesting that Paul says it this way instead: “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.” Paul not including ‘and’ right here indicates that it’s obvious that this foundation and this community would crumble to pieces if it weren’t for Christ being the cornerstone that holds all of it together. That’s what “cornerstone” means in the Greek here: akrogonianios. It holds together.

The Church is Centered on Christ

Christ holds the church together. Some communities can exist for a variety of reasons, but the Christian church community exists because of Christ and His work and purposes. What distinguishes Christianity apart from other religions is that it is centered on the death, resurrection, and teachings of Jesus. Centered on the only man in any religion who ever claimed to be God. So everything we do in church life—our rituals and traditions—are to draw attention to Jesus Christ. We observe the Lord’s Supper to exalt Jesus. We baptize to exalt Jesus. We tithe to exalt Jesus. Let’s make sure that everything we do in our church life is done in a way that draws attention to God’s mighty Christ. If it’s not done to exalt Christ, it will not last. It will waste away with this perishing earth—“Only one life twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.”

Being Joined Together

The components of this image Paul is painting that we have now: 1) People and a household consisting of those people (v. 19). 2) A foundation, with a cornerstone holding it together (v. 20). 3) And now a structure, as v. 21 reads, “in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” Paul is telling his Gentile readers here that through Christ, when all of these elements are “being joined together,” it grows into a holy temple in the Lord. You see, Paul doesn’t say that it “has been joined together,” or “when it was joined together.” But when it is joined together, it grows.

Paul doesn’t just mean here when the living stones (the people) are joined together that it grows—He has already dealt with how Jew and Gentile were reconciled/joined together through Christ’s reconciling death (Eph. 2:14-18). Why would he need to restate that? He means that when there is union of all of these elements, it grows. What’s more, Paul says it “grows.” Not “has grown,” or “when it was grown.” This means that this new community is always growing—it is a continuing process. Paul uses the same language later in this letter: “5 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4:15, 16).

The Church Grows

When you are working on a building project of some kind and you have all the components—the concrete for foundation, the plywood and studs for the walls, the insulation, and the roof material, etc. A building is not completed if all of those components just sit there without being joined together. And when all of these elements are joined together in union, where the people of God realize that they belong to the household of God, and build their lives on the revelation of God, and center their lives on the Son of God, then there will be growth—no doubt.

The church grows in two main ways—in faith and in number. There needs to balance between the both of them—but this growth will not always happen right in front of your eyes. God often times works “behind the scenes.” Probably because when we finally see what God has been up to, we are weak at the knees with humbleness and adoration. But still, God calls us to be obedient to Him even when we are not sure of the results or we cannot see the result.

Dwelling Place for God

Paul has built up tension to reveal this climax. It’s like the high-point of the energy for this text. You are no longer strangers and aliens but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. Alright that’s awesome. I’m now who I once was but I am a member of the kindred of God. You are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone. Okay we’re getting closer here. The energy is increasing—so not only am I not what I once was, but I am built on a firm foundation—the right foundation and it is held together by Christ. In whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. We’ve almost made it to the top and Paul crowns this chapter: “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (v. 22). Paul tops off this chapter by telling his readers they are being built into this place where God lives by His Spirit. The Greek term for “dwelling place” means habitation. Dwelling place here means the same thing as “holy temple in the Lord” (v. 21).

What is ironic about this passage of Scripture is this: The imagery Paul has been using here, pertains to constructing a physical building with all of its components—but what Paul is saying is just the opposite—the church is not a building. It’s not a brick temple. It’s not pews, walls, and lights—it’s the people of God where God dwells by His Spirit.

A Lady Who Despised Church

I was in an Agriculture class one day in high school, and I was talking with one of the substitute teachers about the Christian faith. We soon got on a discussion about church. And I’ll never forget what she said: “I don’t believe in organized religion. That’s why I don’t go to church.” I thought, ‘Lady, the church is an organism!” And that organism has needs, desires, and that organism has pains and sufferings—but that organism is made up of the body of Christ—the people of God.

Don’t you know somebody like that? Don’t you know that there are people who refuse to come to church because they lack an understanding that the church is the people of God? Let’s show them who we belong to. Let’s show them that we are indeed the “dwelling place for God by His Spirit.”

Closing

Let us heed to the Word of God to us tonight. If we are hearers of the Word and not doers—“For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like” (James 1:23-24). Let no one be deceived, take this Word from God and obey it.

Ephesians: He Himself is Our Peace (2:14-18)

The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on the 24th day of November 2013:

The Design of the Death of Christ

If you care about the Son of God, if you care about the blood of Christ, if you care about the death of the greatest person who ever was, you have to care about the design of the death. (1) That’s where Ephesians 2:14-18 comes in. These verses form the centerpiece of this entire section (2:11-22) because they explain how the Gentile readers’ coming near to God was made possible through Christ’s death. The Gentiles, who were completely separated from Israel and her God (2:11-12) have now been brought near to Him (2:13). God’s Word to us tonight explains how.

The Text

“14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.”

He Himself Is Our Peace

“For he himself is our peace. . .” (v. 14a). This is an important, but strange affirmation about Jesus. If you’re like me, you’re used to seeing Jesus as making peace (“We have peace with God. . . through Jesus” Romans 5:1.) or as proclaiming and commanding peace (“Blessed are the peacemakers. .” Matt. 5:9). But here Paul says, “He himself is our peace.” The reason Paul says this is because Jesus is the central figure in establishing peace (as you will see in this passage) between both Jew and Gentile. Christ is the central figure who effects reconciliation and removes hostility in its various forms. If you notice in 2:14-18, every time Jesus in named, He is followed by the word or phrase peace. 1) v. 14 “He himself is our peace.” 2) He established peace (v. 15) 3) He came and preached peace (v. 17). And once you take a good long look at Christ’s reconciling work through the cross, you will have no wonder why Paul states, “He himself is our peace.”

Made Us Both One

“. . who has made us both one” (v. 14b). This refers to the resulting unity of Jewish and Gentile believers. Christ has made both Jew and Gentile one. You may say, “Okay. Great.” But do you understand what a great accomplishment this was? The Jews hated the Gentiles. A. T. Lincoln rightly says, “In accomplishing this, Christ has transcended one of the fundamental divisions of the first-century world” (2). And that’s what makes this verse so amazing. He has made both one. They have been brought into a mutual relationship and a unity which surpasses what they once were (vv. 15, 16, 18).

How did Christ make the two one? “[He has] broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances” (v. 14c-15a). This is a rather strange metaphor from the apostle Paul, mainly because no such parallel exists in the entire New Testament. But by simply stating this, Paul indicates that there was a real dividing wall that existed between the Jews and Gentiles. There was an inscription on the wall of the outer courtyard of the Jerusalem temple warning Gentiles that they would only have themselves to blame for their death if they passed beyond it into the inner courts. This was segregation for them. If you grew up during that time, then you can best grasp what life was like for Jews and Gentiles. Though this serves as a great picture of the hostility between Jews and Gentiles, this isn’t what Paul is referring to here. The “dividing wall of hostility” was, in fact, the Mosaic law itself with its detailed holiness code. It separated Jews from Gentiles both religiously and sociologically, and caused deep-seated hostility. “The enmity which was caused by the Jews’ separateness was often accompanied by a sense of superiority on their part,” says Peter O’Brien (3). Paul isn’t ‘downing’ the Law here. Why would he count the Law as worthless when he says, “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means!” over in Romans 7? Paul is saying here that what has been abolished is the ‘law-covenant,’ that is, the law as a whole conceived as a covenant. In addition, Christ said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17). It is not the Law as revealing the will and character of God that Christ has abolished, it is the ‘law-covenant.’ It is then replaced by a new covenant for Jews and Gentiles.

Barriers

If the Law in some way was the dividing wall in the ancient world, for us it is racial difference. The hostility between races, especially between blacks and whites, in virtually all countries continues as an embarrassment. Did Christ’s death abolish all the barriers? The barrier between Jew and Gentile was one of the most obvious in history. If this barrier has been “broken down,” what other barrier can be justified? If God does not show favoritism (Acts 10:34-35; Romans 2:11), if all are created in His image, if God’s purpose is unity, if we are to love even our enemies (Matt. 5:44), if Christ took the hostility into Himself to destroy it, on what grounds can we justify keeping any barriers in place? If this hostility was so deep, large, and wide that God desired it be broken down through the crucifixion of the most important person who ever was, then who do we think we are to hold prejudices and hostility against a brother or sister in Christ? “He has made us both one!”

If you belong to the family of God, “He has made us both one!” You will have differences with one another. But our differences shouldn’t create hostility because the cross is at ground level. No one has higher value than someone else in the church of God. If you are male and she’s female, if you’re rich and he’s poor, if you’re black and she’s white, if you’re Calvinist and he’s Arminian, if you wear Blue Jeans and he wears a suit, if you’re older and she’s younger, if you like Contemporary and he likes Bluegrass, if you’re country as cornbread and she’s a city-girl, and if any of those things create hostility between you, remember this: None of our barriers, none of our ways of devaluing, limiting, and taking advantage of others, has any basis. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

Abolishing the Law

The purpose of Christ’s removing this hostility was twofold: (1) to create in Himself one new man in place of the two (v. 15b), and (2) in this one body to reconcile both of them to God (v. 16a). If Christ has broken down, crushed, and shattered the “dividing wall of hostility,” then how did He do it? The first part of verse 15 tells us. Christ brought them together in a sovereign act that was nothing less than a new creation. Paul has already spoken of God’s salvation in terms of a new creation (2:10). Believers are his workmanship who have already been created in Christ Jesus for good works, and these are part of God’s intention for that new creation. If God had in mind to create a new humanity, His church, it could not take place by transforming a Gentile into a Jew and it could not take place by transforming a Jew into a Gentile, the only way it could take place was by transforming sinners into new persons through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Reconciliation between Jew and Gentile takes place through the death of Christ by the one similarity that they actually shared: they were sinners in need of salvation.

Reconcile Us Both to God

If Christ has removed the hostility between Jew and Gentile and has reconciled the two into one body, then it follows that we must both be “reconciled to God.” Do you hear the vivid language in verse 16? “And might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” What an oxymoron! While “creating in himself one new man” (v. 15), Christ also kills the hostility. Christ has abolished the law as a divisive instrument separating humanity from God and Jews from Gentiles. He has created a single new humanity that transcends the former deep divisions and made peace between them. He has reconciled both Jew and Gentile in this one body to God, killing the hostility. This does not mean, however, that the whole human race has been united and reconciled.

Is God Distant?

Sometimes, as believers, we can think of God as distant or unapproachable. This lack of a sense of the nearness to God lies at the root of much of human failure. But the Bible tells us here that we have been “reconciled to God.” In Christ, we have been brought to God, and the barriers blocking access to Him, such as sin, hostility, and the weakness of the flesh have been removed. But when we feel distant from God, it isn’t He who has moved. It is us. God asks Israel in Jeremiah 8:4-5, “When men fall, do they not rise again? If one turns away, does he not return? Why then has this people turned away in perpetual backsliding?” Backsliding starts in such a subtle way that most of us are not aware of it, and many of us may be backslidden and may not realize it. And while we need to fall on our face in repentance and return to God, we are no longer separated from God. J.D. Greear captures this truth by means of prayer, “In Christ, there is nothing I can do that would make You love me more, and nothing I have done that makes You love me less.” (4)

Christ the Preacher

Having dwelt at length on Christ’s work of reconciliation, Paul now turns to his proclamation of peace to both Gentile and Jew. “And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near” (v. 17). The One who is ‘our peace’ and who made peace through His cross now announces that peace to those who were far off and those who were near. Christ Himself is the evangelist, the herald of good tidings from Isaiah, and His announcement, which is based on His death on the cross, is a royal proclamation that hostilities are at an end. You see, the Jews were near to God because they already knew of Him through the Scriptures and worshiped Him in their religious ceremonies (the outward expression of the Law). The Gentiles were “far off” because they knew little or nothing about God. Because neither group could ever be saved by good works or sincerity, both needed to hear about salvation available through Jesus. Both Jews and Gentiles are now free to come to God through Christ (v. 18).

Commanded and Commissioned

If preaching peace to all was good enough for the Man who died on the cross, then it ought to bee good enough for us. And while Christ is our example in everything, what’s more is we have been commanded and commissioned by Christ Himself to take this message of peace to our communities, our nation, and to the nations (Acts 1:8; Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:15). Did you know that are 2,925 unreached people groups and 6,578 people groups where evangelical Christians make up 2% of the population? (5) We must “Go and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). You see, you may know a great deal about God and the teachings of Scripture, but do not forget that you were once without Christ and in need of a Savior, just like everyone else on the face of this planet. Do not forget your plight before Jesus stepped in (Eph. 2:11).

Access in One Spirit to the Father

To draw near to God and to enjoy Him forever in a new creation is both mankind’s greatest good and the ultimate accomplishment of Christ’s earthly work of redemption. “For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (v. 18). What an appropriate conclusion to this section of Scripture! Through Him, we of different races, different interest, different social status, different economical status, different looks, have access in one Spirit to the Father. Paul’s focus here is on their (Jew and Gentile) continuing relationship with the Father which is the result of Christ’s act of reconciliation. This is important because if Christ has in fact “created in himself one new man (v. 15), then this verse tells us how this new creation will continue to grow. The Holy Spirit will continue to apply the work of redemption to people’s lives and the Holy Spirit will continue to give new spiritual life to the undeserving. And it is the Holy Spirit who will empower us to carry this message of peace to the lost, to the dying, and to those in need of salvation.

Through this reconciliation work of Christ on the cross, we have access to the Father in a relationship with Him. It isn’t the Law that is the expression of our covenant with the Father, the sacrificial death of Jesus is the expression of our covenant with the Father. Indeed, He Himself is our peace.

Ephesians: Therefore Remember

The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on the 27th day of October 2013:

Introduction

Memory is a wonderful gift from God that enables life; without it true living is virtually impossible. Remembering structures our minds to live for God. It frames our identity and sets us on course for life in Christ. We need to remember sin, because part of sin’s delusion is that it keeps us unaware of sin. And that is the Word of God to us tonight, “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles. . . were separated from Christ. . . having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:11, 12). This is a command, not a suggestion. It is not something that the apostle Paul found the people doing, and then said, “Stop doing that.” It is part of the Christian walk. It is important. It is not to be leapfrogged over so that you only begin reading at verse 13: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” That kind of leapfrogging is extremely dangerous.

The Text

“11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”

Therefore Remember

The passages up until now, are long elegant sentences in the original Greek (1:3-14; 2:1-10), and in this first verse is the first time Paul says “Therefore” in this entire letter. You know what that tells us? That what Paul is about to say is really important. By Paul saying this, he is indicating that what he is about to say is his very reason for saying what he has already said in this letter. He says “Therefore” in light of the glorious change that God has effected (2:1-10), and the completely unmerited blessings God has imparted to them (1:3-14), these Gentile readers are to “remember” their pre-Christian past from another standpoint.

Recall in the passage above (2:1-3) that Paul was reminding his readers of their pre-Christian past to draw attention to God’s mighty acts in Christ. Now here in verse 11, Paul gives the command to “remember” not because his readers have forgotten what they were, but that the privileges they now enjoy would be appreciated all the more if they remembered the spiritual condition from which they had been rescued. So Paul says, “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision. . .” You will notice that there are two camps that come into play in this passage of Scripture: the Jews and the Gentiles. And to be called “uncircumcised” was a Jewish term of ridicule, and it signified that someone was a Gentile, outside the covenant people of God. For the Jews, circumcision, which had been given by God to Abraham (Genesis 17) was the physical sign of their covenant with the Lord, the God of all the earth. It pointed to the special relationship that Israel had with the God of that covenant. The “uncircumcision” of Gentiles was evidence of their separation from God.

Five Deficiencies

After this lengthy description of his Gentile readers, Paul returns to his main point of urging them to remember (v. 12) the deficiencies of their pre-Christian past so that they might appreciate more fully the many spiritual blessings of who they are now in Christ. Five of these deficiencies are explicitly stated and I would like to point them out to you:

1) “separated from Christ.” A more natural reading of the Greek here is to understand separated from Christ as the first of the Gentile’s former disadvantages. In other words, “you were, at that time, apart from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” What you need to make note of is that Paul is using things pertaining to Israel, God’s chosen people, to prove a point of importance. Paul is building on a powerful argument by using things pertaining to Israel. If that is the case, then how does “separated from Christ” relate to Israel? Well, we know that Jesus’s last name is not Christ. Christ is a title and it is given to Jesus meaning “Messiah” or “chosen one.” The Messiah, according to the Bible, is the first and foremost king of Israel through whom God’s saving purposes are accomplished. So, although unbelieving Jews may have been separated from Christ, they were not separated from the knowledge of the promises of what the Messiah would do. Paul says in Romans 3:2, “the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God”, and these oracles spoke of the Messiah.

2) Secondly, Paul commands the Gentiles to remember that they were “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel.” If you were separated from the chosen people of Israel, then you were at a serious disadvantage; being separated from Israel meant being outside of any covenant relationship with Him.

3) So if that is the case, that these Gentile readers were separated from the chosen people, then it makes sense too that they also were “strangers to the covenants of promise.” The Gentile’s separation from the community of God’s people meant that they had no share, no access to the covenants which promised the Messiah and what He would do.

4) Now the Gentiles’ serious condition comes to a tragic climax: they had been without hope. That is serious business. It doesn’t mean that they didn’t have plans or hopes for the future, but rather that they were outside the sphere of God’s people and His promises. So they did not share in the hope of Israel in the promised Messiah and the salvation He would bring.

5) Finally, their being “without God in the world” signifies that they had no real relationship with the true God, the God of Israel.

Remember That God Was Once Not Your God

Paul’s command here for the Gentiles to remember their former plight is just as urgent for us as it was for them; especially since we are the Gentiles! When Paul says “Remember that you were without God,” he didn’t just mean, “Remember that you once lacked some knowledge about God.” He meant, “Remember that God was once not your God,” and if He was not our God, then He was not for us, but against us; He was not our justifier, but our condemner; not eternal life, but eternal damnation lay before us. And it’s just this that Paul wants us to remember. Remember that apart from Christ, Almighty God would be against us; apart from Christ, we would be storing up wrath for ourselves on the day of the righteous judgment of God (Romans 2:4, 5; Ephesians 2:3); apart from the free and unmerited mercy of Christ, we would go away into “eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:46).

Concerning your plight before Christ, Paul means “Let it grip you.” Let the memory seize you and move you. Feel the memory. Feel the plight you have been saved from. An intellectual recollection of facts will be of no spiritual benefit if it does not move the heart. Any Christian can list what they have been saved from if you ask them. But they don’t feel it. It does not move them. It’s not real to them. John Piper gives us a memorable illustration of this fact:

“It’s like the lady in the circus who spins on the wheel while the knife thrower pretends to throw knives around her. If you ask her at the end, “Don’t you feel glad that’s over? Aren’t you happy you’re still alive?” And she says, “It’s just a trick. The knives pop out of the wheel. What’s to get excited about? It’s just a fake threat” (Remember That You Were Hopeless, Dec. 27, 1981).

And so it is true of many Christians: if they remember their plight without Christ at all, they remember it like a fake threat. They have never begun to imagine the horror of the reality from which they have been saved! But when Paul says, “Remember that you were without hope,” he does not mean, “Treat your plight without Christ like a fake threat.” He means, “Know it, feel it, be gripped by it.”

But Now in Christ Jesus

We do need to remember our former selves, but we need also to remember who we are in Christ. Paul lists a number of things concerning who we are in Christ over in Ephesians 1, but he names the greatest of these in v. 13. “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” He says that a dramatic change has occurred. In contrast to their former position as deprived Gentiles who were separated from Israel and her God, Paul’s readers have now been brought near to God through the sacrificial death of Christ. The Gentiles who had no part in ‘Christ,’ the Messiah through whom God’s saving purposes were being worked out, had actually come to know Christ Jesus.

Did you know that that the highest, most supreme good of the gospel is not heaven? It is not forgiven sins, it is not a clear conscience, it is not a sanctified life, it is not inclusion into the church of God, and it is not escaping from hell. The highest, most supreme good of the gospel, and of reconciliation is God! God is what makes heaven good. The ultimate aim of everything that happened on the cross of Calvary was to bring us near to God! Whenever you think of propitiation or redemption or justification or substitutionary atonement or reconciliation (v. 13), the ultimate aim of them all is summed up in the ultimate gift of God Himself. First Peter 3:18 is the clearest about this: “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” And verse 13 is the second clearest statement of that truth: “But now in Christ Jesus. . . you have been brought near to God.” God did everything necessary, most painfully in the death of His Son, to enthrall us with what is most deeply and durably satisfying: God Himself. If God is enjoyed as the highest and greatest good of the gospel, then all His other gifts will be enjoyed accordingly.

Why is all of this important to know? I think the Presbyterian minister, Matthew Henry, tells us why very well: “Every believing sinner owes their closeness to God to the death and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.”

Ephesians: Salvation By Grace Through Faith

The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on the 8th day of September 2013:

What God is Like in Salvation

Let me just say this: the more you know God, the more you want to know God. The more you feast on His fellowship, the hungrier you are for deeper, richer communion.

And the truth is, that clear knowledge of God from the Word of God is the kindling that sustains fires of affection for God. This is a great reason our love for God sometimes grows cold, because we’re not immersing ourselves in the Scriptures. And probably the most crucial kind of knowledge you can have is the knowledge of what God is like in salvation. And that’s where Ephesians 2 comes in. Let’s look at it together.

Introduction

Paul wrote Ephesians to the churches around Ephesus. He had a very close relationship with the Ephesians (and you can read about that in Acts 19, 20). We read of Paul’s last encounter with them in Acts 20 where Paul says to the Ephesian elders that “the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.” He then gives them careful exhortations to take care of the church and then we read that “when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And there was much weeping on the part of all. . . they embraced Paul. . . [and were] sorrowful most of all because. . . they would not see his face again” (vv. 23, 36-38). So he had a close relationship with them. He wrote this letter during his imprisonment in Rome, and what makes this letter different than many of his others (Galatians, 1 & 2 Corinthians) is that there is no specific problem that seemed to have inspired this letter. Unlike the “problem churches” of Galatia (O foolish Galatians!) or the sexually immoral church at Corinth.

The Text

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 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— 3 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. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

What Has Brought Us to This Place in Ephesians?

Paul has just prayed that his Christian readers might know the greatness of God’s power towards them, and then praised God for exercising that same mighty power in raising Christ from the dead and exalting Him to be head over all things for the church. Now we come to our text which can be divided into three sections.

Dead In Transgressions and Sins (2:1-3)

Following this prayer, he now concentrates on his readers in a special way. He is describing their pre-Christian past in terms of their being “dead in the transgressions and sins” (v. 1). Concerning “dead in trespasses and sins,” Paul was telling the Ephesians, “Hey, dead is dead.” He was telling them that they were dead in trespasses and sins, they were totally unresponsive to God. They were dead.That they had no natural tendency to desire or want God, and they as human beings, being sons and daughters of Adam, enter the world spiritually dead. Now what did God say of Adam if he were to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil? God said, “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17 ESV). This is exactly what has taken place. Paul teaches elsewhere that “just as sin came into the world through one man [Adam], so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12) Paul teaches in Romans 5 that we have been set in the mold of Adam’s sin. And what we have inherited from Adam is guilt, shame, and yes death. The “trespasses and sins” refer to offenses against God in thought, word, or deed.

Dead is Dead

This passage is describing all of humanity and that includes us! Dead is dead and apart from the grace of God, we too are “dead in our trespasses and sins!” Every one of us have sinned (Rom. 3:23) and the Scripture says “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Before Christ, before God transformed us through His Spirit, before He made us a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17), before God justified us (in one moment), before God grafted us into the family of God (the universal church), before we were reconciled to God, before we were ever “born again” we were dead in our trespasses and sins We have been born of the seed of Adam, and we have absolutely nothing good in us! Nothing. We have no natural tendency to want God, “there is none that seeks God” (Romans 3:11).

Paul also says that the Ephesians followed the “course of this world” that they looked, thought, and acted like the world. In the same way, we too were following the course of this world right through the gate that is “wide and the way [that is] easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many” (Matthew 7:13). In addition, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6) The apostle also says that they followed the “prince of the power of air” which is a reference to Satan himself. And as has been well said before “Satan’s not concerned about the lost; he already has them in his grips. It’s Christians he is trying to tear down.” And how true is that. Those without Christ are in his grips.

Recalling The Past for Magnification of God’s Mighty Action in Christ

What I want you to notice is that Paul is recalling their pre-Christian past, not to humiliate or depress them, but to draw attention to God’s mighty action in Christ! That what happened on the cross was the blazing center of the glory of God and the greatest outpouring of His grace and compassion that the world has ever seen. The fact that the God who is “rich in mercy” has acted on their behalf when they were totally depraved, totally undeserving, totally unresponsive, totally separated and in fact dead is what makes the good news Good News indeed! Have you ever heard of what the most popular Bible verse is? “God helps those who help themselves.” You’re eyebrows are raised justly, because you know as well as I do that it’s not in Scripture. The Ancient Greeks came up with the phrase “God helps those who help themselves,” and Paul is saying the exact opposite: God helps the helpless. What’s more is God helps His enemies who have transgressed His holy law!

Bankrupt Without Jesus

How are we to see the cross as Good News if we don’t first understand the weight of our sin? How can we see Christ as the greatest treasure if we don’t realize that we are totally bankrupt without Him? How can we know we need eternal life if we don’t first realize that we are dead, hostile to God, and enemies of God? If you don’t realize you’re a sinner, you won’t recognize your need for a Savior. Certainly, one of the most humbling things for us as believers is realizing how undeserving we are of what God has done for us through the cross.

Because of His Great Love and Mercy God Made Us Alive With Christ (2:4-7)

Paul then tells the Ephesians what mighty acts God has done for them through Christ. This is the total opposite of what Paul has already said about the sinful state of man. Just when things seem hopeless, Paul utters the greatest phrase in the history of the universe: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us. . .” (v. 4). It is essentially important to understand that Paul is saying here that God’s “great love” flows completely from God’s own heart, not from anything good foreseen in us and not anything we have done to deserve it.

In v. 5, Paul resumes his thought from earlier by saying “even when you were dead. . .” And he is saying that the Ephesians have experienced the same power of God that was effective at Christ’s resurrection! The Bible says that the same Spirit that rose Christ Jesus from the dead is the same Spirit that lives in us and has given us life (Rom. 8:11). Furthermore, he is talking about the amazing miracle of salvation. That all in one moment everything changes. God gives you spiritual life at conversion based on nothing that you had done. In v. 6 Paul says that because of Christ’s resurrection, those who believe in Him are given new life at conversion and will be given renewed physical bodies when Christ returns. Of course, “seated us with him in the heavenly places” is a reference to heaven.

Heaven: Everlasting Enjoyment of Jesus

There aren’t many things more comforting and overwhelming than to know that because of God’s immeasurable grace, that we will spend eternity with Him forever! Just to know that we will forever be in the presence of Almighty God in never-ceasing worship! Everlasting enjoyment of Jesus! Listen to what Revelation says, “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Revelation 3:21). Read that again. And again. What grace is this! Hallelujah! He isn’t saying that we will be receiving the worship, but He is describing an intimate, everlasting love that we will experience forever. I don’t know about you, but all I want to do is to be on that throne with Him.

No more disease or sickness is great. The greatest family reunion you’ve ever experienced will surely be pleasant. No more sorrow, pain, death or sin is eradicated. Mansions, streets of gold, a place prepared for us, and walls of jasper will be great. . . But what makes heaven good? We don’t ask ourselves this question often enough. The supreme good of heaven is the fact that God is there and we will finally see and savor God Himself! What makes heaven good is the everlasting presence of Almighty God and how we will never, ever be separated from Him! Glory to God. Thus, you have the beauty of God’s mercy and grace that Paul talks about: That the gospel is the story of how God did everything necessary, most painfully in the death of Jesus, His Son, to enthrall us with what is most deeply and durably satisfying: God Himself!

And before we move to the next section, Paul tells us God’s further purpose of why He lavished His grace upon us when we were undeserving: “so that in the coming ages. . .” (v. 7). That God saving us was a demonstration of His grace for all eternity. So that we will forever marvel at the great mystery of God’s love and grace for a humanity who are fully deserving of capital punishment.

God’s New Creation (2:8-10)

Now we come to one of the most favorite sections in the Bible. This salvation which met the dreadful needs of the human predicament involved delivery from death, wrath, and slavery, described in vv. 1-3. This entire passage implies that everything about salvation is a gift. Here’s why it must all be about grace: If there were one iota in this entire salvation process where credit could be given to you, then you would get the glory. But because salvation is something God directs, carries out, and sustains, He gets all the glory. God’s passion is for His glory and anything that wounds that glory is sin. Concerning v. 8, the point being made, then, is that the response of faith does not come from any human source but is God’s gift. Paul teaches here that salvation in every aspect is not your own doing.

God’s Workmanship

Now Paul talks about how we are “his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works. . .” (v. 10). Paul is saying that salvation is God’s workmanship from first to last! God initiates salvation. He directs our salvation (Romans 9:11; Ephesians 1:4-6), He carries out our salvation (by sending Christ to absorb our punishment; Acts 20:28; Romans 8:32), and sustains our salvation (those God saves are eternally secure; John 10:27-29; Romans 8:29-30). Let me say again: God loved us before time (before the foundation of the world He chose us as a people for His own possession, Ephesians 1:4; Romans 9), He carried out our salvation by sending Christ to atone for our sin and to die in our place (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24), and He sent us His Spirit to indwell us with His life and give us the power we need to live the Christian life (Romans 8; Ephesians 6:18-20), and He sustains and keeps us to the end. Paul attests to the perseverance of the saved to the Philippians : “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:8).

Good Works Are the Consequence

Good works are the results of a changed life and this is in direct contrast to what Paul said we previously walked in. Now he says to “walk” in good works (v. 10) Of course we know, just by the facts stated in this text that salvation is “not a result of works” (v. 9); however, as we know the Scriptures teach that good works are the results of a life changed by the grace of God: “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17 ESV). Salvation is not based on works, but the good works Christians do are the result and consequence of God’s new creation work in us. Some argue here that there is a contradiction in Paul’s teaching on good works and James’ teaching on good works. However, Paul is emphasizing the purpose of faith: to bring salvation; and James is emphasizing the results of faith in Christ: a changed life. There is no contradiction. This truth can even be discovered without bringing James into the picture. We are “created in Christ Jesus for good works. . .” (v. 10)

Faith or a Delusion?

Faith is more than a feeling. As we see in Hebrews 11, faith should have a story attached to it. Recently I was reading an article about a psychiatrist and his wacky patients. In the article he addressed the beliefs of his patients that had no basis in reality. A patient may sincerely believe he could fly—but  that didn’t mean anything because there was nothing to back that up. The patient might be an abusive husband that sincerely believes abuse is wrong—but he doesn’t really believe that because his stated belief is contradicted by reality. The psychiatrist didn’t call these things “beliefs” that his patients had. He called them “delusions.” And folks, a belief, no matter how sincere, if it’s not reflected in reality, it is not a belief; it’s a delusion. What’s more, is if you think you’re on the right road because of what you have done, then you’re wrong! We are saved, as our text says, because of the “immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus”(v. 7).

For example, if someone asks you “Are you a Christian?”. . .and your mind immediately goes to the fact that you teach a Sun. School class, you go to church, you put some money in the plate, you volunteer from time to time. . . then we need to get our perspective in a different place!

Because do you really want to take credit for your salvation when you stand before God at judgment (Heb. 9:27)? No you don’t! You want to say “By grace I was brought to faith! By Your immeasurable love and grace!” It was that grace that triumphed over your resistance to God.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I ask you this morning, What will you say at the judgment?

The Bible says in the gospel of John, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become the children of God” (1:12). Have you received Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord?  He will not turn away anyone who wants to come to Him. I plea to you that you would run to the cross for the “immeasurable riches of His grace.”

Psalm 150: Where, Why, and How to Praise God

The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on July 28, 2013:

Introduction

There is nothing boring about worship. There is nothing boring about God, the object of our worship. And we have a collection of prayers, poems, and hymns that focus on worship. This collection is the Book of Psalms. One of my reformer heroes, Charles Spurgeon, called the Psalms “the treasury of David” and similarly John Calvin said that the Psalms are a “treasure for the use of all the people of God.” The Book of Psalms served as a hymnbook for the early church and for centuries, the Book of Psalms has played a leading role in shaping the spiritual life of the church.

The Text

150 Praise the LORD!

Praise God in his sanctuary;

    praise him in his mighty heavens!

Praise him for his mighty deeds;

    praise him according to his excellent greatness!

Praise him with trumpet sound;

    praise him with lute and harp!

Praise him with tambourine and dance;

    praise him with strings and pipe!

Praise him with sounding cymbals;

    praise him with loud clashing cymbals!

Let everything that has breath praise the LORD!

Praise the LORD!

Where to Praise God (v. 1a)

The very first phrase “Praise the LORD” here in this passage, would serve as appropriate motto for the entire book of Psalms. Whether David is crying for mercy (Ps. 51), lamenting over his many enemies (Ps. 3), giving thanks (Ps. 92), or expressing the depths of the knowledge of God (Ps. 139), there is always some element of praise in every psalm. Though each psalm is an individual poem with its own theme, there is no psalm that does not contain an element of praise. Though the Psalms are broken into 5 Books, we have now reached a small section towards the end where each psalm begins and ends with the phrase “Praise the LORD.” This new sub-section starts at Psalm 146. Psalm 150 can be broken into three sections:

  1. Where to Praise God (150:1)

  2. Why to Praise God (150:2)

  3. How to Praise God (150:3-6)

How do we know this? Within the context you can easily identify a change of grammar. Look at your Bibles and notice the change from “Praise God in. . .” (v. 1) to “Praise Him for. . .” (v. 2) and to “Praise Him with. . .” (vv. 3-5).

According to this psalmist, God should be praised in his sanctuary (literally “holy place”), a reference to the earthly temple in Jerusalem. The list of musical instruments (vv. 3—5) argues for this earthly designation of the sanctuary. God’s house is to be filled with praise and worship. The Jews went up to Jerusalem to worship the Lord down through the generations as long as the temple stood. Matthew Henry writes in his commentary, “Let his priests, let his people, that attend there, attend him with their praises. Where should he be praised, but there where he does, in a special manner, both manifest his glory and communicate his grace?”

Praise God in His Sanctuary, But Don’t Build Walls Around the Church

This verse doesn’t imply that the only place we are to worship God is in the church ‘sanctuary,’ because at it has been well said before, never build walls around the church. When we praise God, we are to praise Him before our feet hit the floor in the morning, we are to praise Him in the home, we are to praise Him when driving to work, we are to praise Him in the workplace, we are to praise Him indoors and outdoors, and we are to praise Him everywhere! I know this psalmist would agree that we are not to ‘build walls around the church.’ Our giving isn’t limited to church walls, our studying of Scripture isn’t limited to church walls, our prayers aren’t limited to church walls, and our witnessing/evangelism isn’t limited to the church walls. Because if our giving, praying, witnessing, and especially our worship is limited to these walls, then no wonder we may be lukewarm and half-hearted in our worship! If you eat up to three meals daily, but then come to God’s sanctuary for one dose of the Word, the fellowship, and worship, you are setting yourself up to be spiritually malnourished! If you wonder why you are not becoming like Christ, then maybe you’re not getting enough of the Word of God in your life. Jesus said “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17), and to be in this process of sanctification means being in the process of becoming more and more like Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. Who inspired the Bible and uses it not only for our information but for our transformation? You guessed it. The Holy Spirit.

The implication of this verse is not that we need to limit our worship to the sanctuary, but rather when God’s people assemble together, this is what we are to do. When we “meet together” (Heb. 10:25), and when we devote our selves “to. . . teaching and the fellowship” (Acts 2:42), we are to lift God’s name on high! Because if we don’t proclaim that we are redeemed, worship as a result of our changed life and faith, and shout that we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Peter 2:9) and if we don’t worship, worship, worship, then what makes us different from any other gathering of people? That is the reality. If we do not praise God in His sanctuary, then we are no different from any other gathering of people.

Where to Praise God (v. 1b)

The psalmist also says that God is to be praised “in his mighty heavens.” This is a reference to His heavenly sanctuary in glory. Redeemed saints and elect everywhere, whether on earth below or heaven above. There is an ongoing, eternal worship that surrounds the throne of God. Isaiah describes this beautifully (Isaiah 6:1-5). Also, the cosmos are included so that the heavens and earth are to join together and become one in praising Him (see Ps. 148 “praise him sun and moon,” etc.). There is no place where praise is out of place.

Why to Praise God (v. 2a)

Having called for praise in every place, reason is now given for this worship. God is to be praised “for his mighty deeds” and “according to his excellent greatness.” The Israelites knew well of God’s “mighty deeds.” Take a look through Israel’s history. They knew of how God lead them by the “pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night” as Pharaoh let them go (Ex. 13:17-22). They could recall the parting of the Red Sea (Ex. 14), the manna from heaven (Ex. 16), the water from the rock (Ex. 17:1-7), and the freedom from slavery and oppression in Egypt (Ex. 12:33—15:27). They knew of when “Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended on it in fire. . .[and] the whole mountain trembled greatly” (Ex. 19:18). They could recall to memory the countless victories they had been granted (see Joshua & Judges). Recall when David had slain Goliath “with a sling and with a stone” (1 Sam. 17:50)? The Israelites knew God was faithful.

Praise Him for His Mighty Deeds

We know of God’s acts of power through creation, providence, salvation, and judgment. Just as Israel experienced manna (the bread from heaven) so we too have experienced and tasted for ourselves the Bread of Life, the Lord Jesus (John 6:35) who alone satisfies us. As they experienced freedom from slavery in Egypt, so we too have experienced freedom from slavery to sin (John 6:63; Rom. 6:17-18)! God provides for us day by day. He enters our lives through His Spirit. He answers our prayers. He delivers us from our enemies. He heals our diseases. He unites us to each other in love. He matures us in His Word, and He remains faithful toward us. Indeed, we are to “Praise him for his mighty deeds”! Matthew Henry writes concerning this verse, “Praise him. . . for all the instances of his might, the power of his providence, the power of his grace, what he has done in the creation, government, and redemption. . .”

Why to Praise God (v. 2b)

In addition, praise is to be rendered to God “according to his excellent greatness.” The Israelites weren’t blind to this either. They knew God was holy, sovereign and righteous. The psalmist here says that everything about God is to be praised, both for His acts and His attributes.

Twofold Praise: What He Has Done and Who He Is 

God is infinite yet intimate. He exists outside our realm thus, we cannot categorize Him. We are to praise God for who He is, not only for what He has done. He is the mighty King. He is the eternal God. He is filed with holiness, justice, trustworthiness, and covenant-love. He is the Alpha and the Omega. He is the beginning and the end. Worship this great God! John Calvin writes concerning this part of the verse, “If we would have our minds kindled . . . let us meditate on his power and greatness, which will speedily dispel all such insensibility. Though our minds can never take in this immensity, the mere taste of it will deeply affect us. And God will not reject such praises we offer according to our capacity.” You see, our motives for praise are twofold: we are to praise God for what He has done and we are to praise Him for who He is!

How to Praise God (vv. 3-6)

Having said where God is to be praised and why He is to be praised, the psalmist now tells how He is to be praised. The author of this psalm gives instruction regarding the manner in which God is to be praised. Both musical instruments (vv. 3-5) and human voices (v. 6) are to be employed. The trumpet, a shofar, or ram’s horn is to be sounded. The lute and harp, were also to be used. Both wind and string instruments are listed here in praising God. Also, God is to be praised with tambourine and dance. These two often went together, the former used by women when they danced after God-given victories (Ex. 15:20). Moreover, God is to be worshiped with strings, a general term for all kinds of stringed instruments. Finally in v. 5, God is to be praised with sounding cymbals, instruments usually made of either brass or silver. These were the smaller and higher pitched kind. Loud clashing cymbals were also to be used in God’s sanctuary and they were larger and louder, making a more crashing sound.

Those who should praise the Lord encompasses “everything that has breath.” This includes all the redeemed who gather at God’s house. Everyone in God’s house is to sing praise to God, supported by the playing of instruments by the priests and people, men and women. Finally, this psalm concludes with the dramatic declaration Praise the LORD.

God Is to be Praised by a Symphony of Sound

Today we could legitimately add our own musical instruments to the list. Everything that evokes praise or expresses praise is a legitimate instrument of praise and therefore relevant for the culture and the people using it. The issue is not what instruments we use; the issue is why we use them and how we use them. Millions have been told of the “excellent greatness” of God through K-LOVE Radio just as they have been through the Gaither Vocal Band. God will continue to be praised through Bluegrass Gospel as He will through Lecrae (Christian Rap/Hip Hop).

Will You Answer the Psalmist’s Call to Worship?

Will you bring your wholehearted praise to God? This requires the total response of your entire life. Worship is a lifestyle, not an isolated act, never to be segmented from the whole of your life. Worship must be a passionate life pursuit of rendering praise to God, a deepening reality that should permeate your entire existence. If God is real in your life, then you should be praising Him with all of your being. This, of course, includes times involving the corporate gathering of God’s people when they come together to sing His praises. May you give to God the praise He so rightfully deserves in the midst of the great congregation.

Justification: It’s for Teens Too

The following message was delivered at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in West Paducah, KY on April 28, 2013.

Approval in American and Islamic Culture (and Twilight)

We naturally crave acceptance and approval from others. I believe that to be true for a number of reasons, but there are many things that we may do to gain acceptance or approval from others. We may join a club to feel acceptance or gain it. We may change our style of clothing. We may change our language and the way we talk. We might join in on a dirty joke because it gains us some approval. We may get the latest Tablet, iPad, or iPhone. We may start playing a certain sport to gain acceptance. We might bully and slander and look down on others to look “cool.” We might even do drugs to gain acceptance. We may join Twitter to earn approval.

There are many things we may do to earn approval maybe because we want to fit in, maybe because “everybody is doing it,” or because it’s “swag?” Just look around you. A few people start using Instagram and now everyone is using it. Are they really interested in the social networking photograph program itself or the approval they get from using it? This isn’t the case in American culture alone. This type of thing is happening all over the world. In many countries where Islam is the national religion, if you don’t worship Allah and follow the teachings of Muhammad, you are disowned both by your family and society. Many join the Islam movement simply for acceptance.

This cultural reality hit me when I heard David Nasser, an international Christian speaker, preaching at a youth conference that I attended back in November 2011. He said he faced a great deal of opposition when he told his family about becoming a Christian. His parents were devout Muslims. He writes concerning his conversion, “I stepped down into the warm water of the baptistery, not realizing that a baptism by fire was waiting for me at home. When I got back to the house, Mom and Dad were sitting in the living room, waiting. ‘Give me your house key,’ he said. As I reached in my pocket, Iranian curse words came gushing out of him, as if all this emotion had been brewing while I was gone. My entry had broken the dam, and it was all pouring out now. His son had disobeyed a direct order. To him, this was if I had spit in his face. I had dishonored him, and what’s worse, I had done it in front of my mother.” (Jumping Through Fires, 2009 by David Nasser) David was pressured to give in to the culture of Islam for acceptance in the eyes of his parents. So this craving of acceptance happens everywhere.

Even in my own life. Okay, I know I’m going to lose man-cards for this, but I watched Twilight. Yes sir. I feel like a woman. I mean, I didn’t want to see the movie at all. In my judgment, Cast Away with Tom Hanks and “WWWWIIIIILLLLSSSOOONNN” was a far better love story. But I wanted to see that movie so I could satisfy my girlfriend, gain her approval and really to say that I watched it so I could be a critic like everyone else. Even in my Christian life, I make sure I’ve got the latest Christian books off the press, and stay updated with what’s going on in the lives of my favorite Christian artists like Lecrae, Chris Tomlin, or Jeremy Camp. Why do we do that? Why do we do so much to gain other’s approval? I think we naturally crave acceptance in the sight of others. And some of it can be good. For example, some of it can help build your identity. The real question is this: Who’s approval ultimately and supremely matters above all? Please ponder these thoughts as we examine this passage of Scripture.

The Text

“18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:18-21 ESV)

Examining the Text; Two Teams

Let’s look at some facts about the book of Romans before we dig into the meaning of the text. When you desire to understand a text, it’s always important to ask questions like: “Who was the author? Who was the original audience? What was the purpose of writing?” That is important because before the Bible means something for us today, it meant something specific to a certain group of people. So the purpose of Romans was to introduce Paul to the Romans and to give a sample of his message before he arrives in Rome. The author of course is the apostle Paul. The original audience to whom Paul was writing to were the Christians in Rome. Though Paul does spend some time greeting people in Rome at the end of the letter, he wrote Romans as an organized and carefully presented statement of his faith. It doesn’t have the form of your average letter.

Digging into the text, in v. 18 he says, “Therefore as one trespass led to condemnation for all men. . .” What is that “one trespass?” The sin of Adam. The “one trespass” of Adam, as the representative of the human race, brought condemnation and guilt to all people. So we are sinners by nature and by choice. All of us are naturally rebellious against God. Therefore, His wrath rests on us. “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.” (Romans 8:7 ESV) Therefore, the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against us. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (Romans 1:18 ESV) And according to Ephesians 2 we are “by nature children of wrath” (v. 3), “sons of disobedience” (v. 2), and “dead in trespasses and sins” (v. 1).

Now what does Paul mean by the second half of the verse? “. . . so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.” In a similar way that Adam’s “one trespass” lead to guilt and condemnation for all, Christ’s “one act of righteousness” gives righteousness and life to all who belong to Him. Paul talks about two teams here. Not only in this verse, but in this chapter as well. Let’s take a look.

Because of Adam’s disobedience, all people were caused to be sinners. Paul just continues to say what he said in v. 18; that all are sinners and are born with a sinful nature. All of us are set in the mold of Adam’s sin. So we’ve got a problem. Our rebellion against God is total. In our total rebellion, everything we do is sin. “Whatever is not from faith is sin.” (Romans 14:23 ESV) Our inability to submit to God and do good is total. Our rebellion is totally deserving of God’s wrath. Paul also mentions here and everywhere he writes, that God did something about it: through the gospel.

The Gospel

The gospel is the good news of salvation found in Jesus Christ. The gospel can be easily explained in four parts: God. Man. Christ. Response. First, God is holy and just (Isaiah 6:3; Acts 3:14) Second, man has sinned and therefore God in His holiness, must punish sin (Romans 3:23; 6:23). Third, Christ died in our place and rose from the grave the third day. He paid our penalty. He took the punishment for our sin. He justified us (1 Peter 2:24; 2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 5:8). Fourth, we must respond. We must receive Jesus as our Savior and Lord through repentance and faith (Acts 3:19; John 3:16; John 1:12)

My Focus: Justification

My focus of preaching this morning is the heart of the gospel. My focus is on how what happened on the cross deals with our greatest problem. And that is justification. Now we will shift back to what I said earlier about approval. While we may do things to earn or gain the approval of others, the most supremely important acceptance has nothing to do with earning. Nothing. And that’s God’s acceptance. That’s where justification comes in. Justification is the process by which sinful human beings are made acceptable to a holy God. You do not gain this approval by joining a church like you would join a club. You do not earn this approval by changing your style of clothes. You do not gain this acceptance by any good thing that you do. It’s all about the gospel and it’s something God did for you.

Let’s talk about it a little further. The word “justified” appears in multiple places throughout Romans 5. Verses 1, 9, 16, and 18. When God justifies, He charges our sin to Christ, and credits the righteousness of Christ to us. “Not only are our sins counted as His, but His righteousness has been counted as ours.” (God is the Gospel, John Piper 2005 by the Desiring God Foundation) Thus, you have Romans 5:18 “Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone.” (NLT) God’s holy standard of righteousness has been fulfilled! Here’s why justification deals with our greatest problem: We are not merely alienated from God but are under His wrath (John 3:36; Rom. 1:18; 5:9; Gal. 3:10). This means that what must change fundamentally is God’s anger toward us because of our God-dishonoring sin (Rom. 3:23). We are not capable of changing God. We cannot pay our own debt. So God, in His great mercy, put Christ forward to absorb God’s wrath and the curse we deserved.

There are two sides to justification: Removal of our sin because Christ bears the curse, and the giving of His righteousness. J. I. Packer writes, “The judge declares guilty sinners immune from punishment and righteous in his sight. The great exchange is no legal fiction, no arbitrary pretence, no mere word-game on God’s part, but a costly acheivement.” (Justification in Protestant Theology, J.I. Packer) John Calvin defines justification as “the acceptance with which God receives us into his favor as righteous men. And we say that it consists in the remission of sins and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin 1960 by Westminister Press) Similarly, Luther (who called the doctrine of justification the belief that determines whether the church stands or falls) affirmed both these aspects of justification: “Christ took all our sins upon him, and for them died upon the cross,” and “they are righteous because they believe in Christ, whose righteousness covers them and is imputed to them.” (Cited in Packer, Justification in Protestant Theology)

Justification is Good News Because. . .

Ask yourself, what makes justification good news? You may say, “Being forgiven is good news because I don’t want to go to hell.” That’s true. No one should want to go to hell. You may say, “Being forgiven is good news because a guilty conscience is a horrible thing.” Indeed, forgiveness relieves your conscience. You may say, “I want to go to heaven,” “The alternative is painful,” “My family is there, I want to see them,” “Because sin will be no more and there will be a new heaven and a new earth.” What’s wrong with these answers? They do not treat God as the final and highest good of the gospel. They do not express a supreme desire to be with God. God was not even mentioned. Only His gifts were mentioned. These gifts are precious. But they are not God. And they are not the gospel if God Himself is not cherished as the supreme gift of the gospel. That is, if God is not treasured as the ultimate gift of the gospel, none of His gifts will be gospel, good news. And if God is treasured as the supremely valuable gift of the gospel, then all the other lesser gifts will be enjoyed as well. Justification is good because it wins access to the presence and pleasure of God.

My Plea: Rest. Rejoice. Sacrifice and Sing.

What is my plea to you? Rest and rejoice. Oh that you would rest and rejoice knowing that there is nothing you can do to make God love you more and there is nothing you have done that makes Him love you any less! Rest and rejoice in the hope that “does not put us to shame” (Romans 5:5 ESV). Rest and rejoice knowing that you don’t earn God’s approval. Clear knowledge of God from the Bible is the kindling that sustains fires of affection for God. One of the most crucial kinds of knowledge you can have is what God is like in salvation. That’s where justification comes in. Let the truth of that sweet doctrine pierce your heart and penetrate the depths of your soul so that your joy in God is overflowing and spilling out in the schools, the workplace, the grocery store, the home, and the church! Respond. Sacrifice and sing. “Proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9 NASB).

Now think on this. This big awesome God who spoke the universe into existence, this big awesome God who created billions of galaxies and calls every star by name. Who never had a beginning and will never end. Whose ways are inscrutable and Whose judgments are unsearchable. Whose thoughts are as different from ours as the heavens are from the earth. When “the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as dust on the scales” (Isaiah 40:15), this big awesome, amazing God who doesn’t need us, did everything necessary, most painfully in the death of Jesus, to enthrall us with what is most deeply and durably satisfying: God Himself. That’s the beauty and majesty of the doctrine of justification.