Monday, May 25, 2015

Works Prepared

With this post, I conclude my teaching on the Gospel in Ephesians 2:1-10. Because I've been actually teaching (as opposed to merely sharing personal insights), I need to make this a ladies-only post. Thanks for understanding.

So, ladies, we have seen a lot about God's  grace in taking us from our death in sin to life in the resurrected Christ. To refresh our memories, as well as to examine verse 10 in its proper context, let's look at our passage one final time.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 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. (ESV)
Again, Paul places emphasis on Christ, attributing any good works we perform to God. Strong's Greek Dictionary says that the  Greek word "poiema" (here rendered "workmanship") means "a product,that is, fabric (literally or figuratively): - thing that is made, workmanship."

According to Vincent Word Studies, the Greek construction of the phrase, "we are His workmanship" decidedly refers to God as the active agent. Notice that the  next phrase, "created in Christ Jesus" clarifies the idea that the "workmanship" denotes the new creation He forms at  the time of our conversion (2 Corinthians 5:17). When we consider that, prior to  salvation, our base instincts locked us into a lifestyle of depravity (remember verses 1-3), we marvel that now God calls us His workmanship.

Further, God creates as new creatures in Christ so that we can perform good works. Good works, then, follow regeneration rather than cause it. And the Lord has even prepared those good works "beforehand," which Ephesians 1:4 tells us was "before the foundation of the world."  A good cross-reference for this idea of predestined works is Romans 8:29-30.

Perhaps Titus 2:11-14 offers the best commentary on Ephesians 2:1-10, especially as it illustrates repentance from the decay described in Ephesians 2:1-3 and to the good works of Ephesians 2:10.
 
11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. ~~Titus 2:11-14 (ESV)
As in Ephesians 2:5 and 8, God's grace ushers in the gift of repentance (see Acts 11:18). (Incidentally, the phrase, "all people," means that salvation extends beyond the Jews to all ethnic groups.) In Paul's words to Titus, we see a clear picture of God's grace enabling believers to turn from sin because they live in expectation of Christ's return. Such expectation, of course, arises from the gift of faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). Faith always expresses itself in repentance from sin and to holiness.

Ephesians 2:1-10 doesn't mention the redemption that Jesus secured for us by shedding His blood on the cross (Ephesians 1:7 and Colossians 1:20), but we can't really talk about grace apart from the cross. Although this study ends at verse 10, Paul does clarify in Ephesians 2:11-13 that Gentiles have acceess to  God's promises through Christ's blood, just as Jews do. What amazing grace! And what Good News!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Ireland, SCOTUS And The Freedom To Preach Biblically

In light of both Ireland's decision to legalize same-sex marriage yesterday and next month's United States Supreme Court ruling that may well legalize it in all 50 states here, I believe this video shows the probable repercussions facing churches. I wish the person who put the video on YouTube had titled it more accurately. Still, the discussion touches on some critical implications of same-sex marriages for which we should prepare ourselves.


Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Glory Of Failures

A friend of mine posted on Facebook that he felt like a failure. Predictably, several people responded with well-intentioned comments aimed at making him feel better about himself, assuring him that God doesn't see him that way and encouraging him not to let his frustrations define him. As I pondered their remarks, I recognized that they wanted to bolster his self-esteem.

Maybe he needed such bolstering, but the conversation just didn't square with Scripture. In my 44 years of reading and studying the Bible, I've never come across any instances of the Lord telling people to feel good about themselves. Yes, He told them that He loved them, and even that He would work through their weaknesses and failures for His glory, but He never so much as suggested that we have any worth apart from Him. As a matter of fact, the apostle Paul wrote about the things that, prior to his conversion, gave him a sense of self-esteem as if they deserved only contempt.
For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.  ~~Philippians 3:3-11 (ESV)
Despite all the reasons Paul had to pat himself on the back, he knew that he'd be better off dwelling on the righteousness that Christ had given him. His pedigree and accomplishments made him successful in the sight of his First Century Jewish culture, but he disdained them in the light of the Lord.

I don't enjoy facing my many failures, admittedly. Such confrontation hurts my pride! But that pride needs to be wounded, and in fact that wound must  be mortal! Self-esteem will keep me from acknowledging my dependence on the Lord, therefore robbing Him of the glory. It will prevent me from looking to Him in my failures and therefore watching Him turn my failures into His successes. Please...if I feel like a failure, don't decide that you'll best demonstrate compassion by building up my self-esteem. Instead, direct me back to the Savior.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Wanna Hear About John's Deep, Dark Sins?

John embodies many godly qualities, and his commitment to obeying God's Word has made a dramatic impact on my attitudes and behaviors. I hope I grow up to be like him. He has no idea of how the Lord uses him to mold me into a Christian who lives increasingly in purity.

But I live with John. Along with his many virtues, I see his faults. Like everyone else, my husband sometimes falls in to various sins, reminding both of us that even he desperately needs a Savior.

If you're honest, you'll have to admit that my last paragraph aroused your curiosity, and you secretly hope I'll write a nice, juicy expose parading his deep dark sins. Actually, as our culture more and more celebrates "transparency," we come to expect wives to complain about their husbands, adult children to talk about the  mistakes of their parents and workers to gripe about their bosses. And Christians may sincerely believe that, in revealing the "unvarnished truth" about others, they protect themselves from idolizing that person. Or, more accurately, from the appearance of idolizing that person.

I'd rather run the risk of people judging me for idolizing my husband than sin against him and the Lord by disrespecting him. If anything, I need to show greater respect for John, both publicly and privately. Thankfully, John's love for Christ and his pattern of obedience to Scripture provide me with enough raw material to keep me from dwelling on his flaws. After all, I'm too busy owning up to all the ways the Lord needs to deal with me!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Too Familiar For Praise?

This post continues our Bible Study series on Ephesians 2:1-10 exploring the Gospel. Since I will actually be teaching as opposed to merely offering my perspectives, I respectfully ask that men other than my husband and my pastor (both of whom have spiritual authority over me) refrain from reading these studies. Thank you.

Today, ladies, we can finally study verses 8 and 9 of our passage. As usual, I want to quote these verses with the verses leading up to them so that we can keep them in proper context.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. ~~Ephesians 2:1-9 (ESV)
Most evangelicals can accurately quote these two verses without much thought. And that lack of careful deliberation can cause us to veer from the very Gospel that they proclaim. Paul wrote them, as we plainly see by their content and context, to emphasize that God assumes full responsibility (and therefore deserves full credit) in the salvation process.

Paul repeats his statement from verse 5 that salvation occurs "by grace." But rather than assuming that we know what the word "grace" means, let's turn to The Complete WordStudy Dictionary, which opens its article on grace with this paragraph:

cháris; gen. cháritos, fem. noun from chaírō (G5463), to rejoice. Grace, particularly that which causes joy, pleasure, gratification, favor, acceptance, for a kindness granted or desired, a benefit, thanks, gratitude. A favor done without expectation of return; the absolutely free expression of the loving kindness of God to men finding its only motive in the bounty and benevolence of the Giver; unearned and unmerited favor. Cháris stands in direct antithesis to érga (G2041), works, the two being mutually exclusive. God's grace affects man's sinfulness and not only forgives the repentant sinner, but brings joy and thankfulness to him. It changes the individual to a new creature without destroying his individuality (2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:8-9).

But now Paul seems to  contradict himself by making grace (and therefore salvation itself) conditional on human faith...which of course is completely true! John 3:14-18 maintains without equivocation that every person's eternal destiny absolutely depends on the exercise of faith. Jesus said, in John 5:24, that faith exempts us from judgment and allows us to pass from death to life. In fact, Paul said in Romans 10:9-10 believing that God raised Jesus, Whom we confess as Lord, from the dead, guarantees salvation.

Don't worry! Paul hastens to add that even faith comes as God's gift to us. As we read this comment, it helps to remember that this passage began by saying that we were dead in the sins that characterized our lives (Ephesians 2:1-3, quoted above). Dead people simply have no internal resources that would enable them to produce faith. Remember  that, when Simon Peter correctly identified Jesus as "the Christ, the Son of the Living God," Jesus informed him that only God the Father could have given him that revelation (Matthew 16:13-17). Similarly, Acts 16:14 speaks of God opening Lydia's heart to the Gospel.

Perhaps Paul best demonstrates how God gives us faith in Romans 10:13-17:

For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!" But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?" So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. ~~Romans 10:13-17 (ESV)

The Holy Spirit sovereignly uses His Word, faithfully preached, to generate faith.

Verse 9 strengthens Paul's point by contrasting "faith" with "works." Please consider Paul's comment in Romans 11:6 that the very idea of grace necessarily excludes works...including the "work" of faith. Faith, being something that we receive from God's hand, in no way becomes a reason to suppose that we, although dead in our transgressions, could claim any part in our salvation.

Scripture, in fact, makes no allowance for any boasting on our part. We receive salvation, not by any human effort, but as a result of a faith that the Lord Himself supplies to us. Therefore, we find no way to congratulate ourselves, and we certainly can't take pride in what Christ has done for us. I like how The Believer's Bible Commentary puts it:

In contrast to works, faith excludes boasting (Romans 3:27), because it is non meritorious. A man has no reason to be proud that he has trusted the Lord. Faith in Him is the most sane, rational, sensible thing a person can do. To trust one's Creator and Redeemer is only logical and reasonable. If we cannot trust Him, whom can we trust?
These two familiar verses, which so many evangelicals rattle off so easily, should turn our thoughts to our  complete dependence on the incredible grace of our Almighty Lord. Why He condescends to save any of us, and especially a wretch like me, only causes me to adore Him more. I pray you'll have the same response.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

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