13 December 2007

Verse-by-verse through Ephesians (1:1--1:6)

1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God,To the saints who are in Ephesus, and faithful in Christ Jesus: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, 5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.

Starting today, we will be going verse-by-verse throught the book of Ephesians. This is by far one of the most imprtant letters Paul wrote to any of the churches--not that any of them weren't important--but in this letter, we see our lostness without Christ. And how, apart from the grace of God, we would have no way of knowing that we needed to be saved.

Now I know some of you are probably saying, “Well, yeah but I went up to somebody at church and asked how to be saved.” And yes, you did. But at the time, did you know why? Some people will say, “Yeah, there was something inside of me that made me seek His forgiveness.” But I can tell you this with my whole heart—that which was inside you , that caused you to seek His forgiveness was not there naturally, nor was it the product of any desires you might have had. Trust me, I’ve been there. Six years ago this last May, something was working inside of me, changing me, turning my heart from one that followed after my own desires and lusts to a heart that finally feared God, and desired to follow after Him.

The great preacher from the 1800’s, Charles Spurgeon, was sitting in church one day, when this whole concept that God chooses us started rattling around in his head. This is how he described it:

The thought struck me, "How did you come to be a Christian?" I sought the Lord. "But how did you come to seek the Lord?" The truth flashed across my mind in a moment—I should not have sought Him unless there had been some previous influence in my mind to make me seek Him. I prayed, thought I, but then I asked myself, "How came I to pray?" I was [led] to pray by reading the Scriptures. "How came I to read the Scriptures?" I did read them, but what led me to do so? Then, in a moment, I saw that God was at the bottom of it all, and that He was the Author of my faith, and so the whole doctrine of grace opened up to me, and from that doctrine I have not departed to this day, and I desire to make this my constant confession, "I [credit] my change [completely] to God."

When it comes to planning, nobody—and I mean nobody—is better than God, anybody disagree? I mean, we can't even plan for this afternoon. We can try, but we don’t know for absolutely certain that something won’t come up that will cause us to change our plans. But when God plans something, and when He wants something to happen, there’s no stopping it. He’ll tear our plans apart, He will break down any obstacle we may try and put up, He will do whatever it takes to make His plans come to pass. And He will reach down, and crush our will, and rebuild it to conform to His.

We are born with a spirit that wants nothing to do with God—a spirit that says, “I’m gonna do whatever I want, I’m my own person, I'm my own god!” And even though we don’t know it, even though we may be the most stiffnecked and hard-headed person, if God has decided He wants you, and He wants to adopt you as His child, He’s going to make it happen and there is nothing you can do to stop Him. Because He’s been planning this since before the foundation of the world.

Look at that word ‘blessed’ in verse 3 means “to be adored.” What does it mean to “adore?” Well, one dictionary says this: To worship with profound reverence; to address with exalted thoughts, by prayer and thanksgiving; to pay divine honors to; to honor as a god or as divine. To love in the highest degree; to regard with the utmost esteem, affection and respect. Blessed. And why should we feel this way towards God? The better question is “How can we not feel this way towards God?”

Look at what it says. “Who hath blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” That’s pretty awesome! Every spiritual blessing! We don’t have to worry about going and looking for them. He’s already given them—every single one—to us. “…just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world.” Some people have Christmas card lists. They have a list of people and every year they buy a box of cards, and send them out to all the people on their list. Then something happens--they get in an argument, or one of them forgets the other one year, and they’ll say, “Well, we’re taking them off the Christmas card list this year.” Well guess what? God never does that. He does not cross us off His list of those that He has chosen to be saved. In fact, the more we rebel against Him, the harder we fight against Him, the further we try and run from Him—the more He chases us, the harder He fights us, the longer He chases us, until we can't fight anymore and we say, “Yes, Father! You win! My life is yours!” Then He blesses us with every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus.

Now, as far as this concept of God not taking our names off His list, what about when we read in Revelation 22:19 that …if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. Sounds like God DOES blot peoples’ names out of His book. In fact, Revelation 3:5 says, He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life. So, if your name is in the Lamb’s book of Life, will it ever be blotted out? NO. If someone IS saved, can they ever be lost? Absolutely not. Now, hear me out. I’m not talking about this easy-breezy, say-a-little-prayer-and-go-on-with-your-life type of “salvation” that some people have. Which is not salvation at all. It’s like someone saying they quit drinking ten years ago, but they’ve got a bottle of booze in the cabinet.

In Luke 19:26 Jesus says, “to everyone who has will be given; and from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.” (Emphasis mine) In other words, if someone thinks they have something—especially salvation—Jesus is saying that even the false belief that someone has about their salvation will be taken away from them. There are many, many people who think they are saved because they said a little prayer when they were kids. But they didn’t want God to be their master, so they just went through life doing whatever they wanted, living a life that pleased themselves. But if you were to ask them, they’d tell you “Yeah, I got saved when I was a little kid. Said my little prayer, got it over with.” But Jesus says that even that false hope will be taken away from them. And that “salvation” they claim to have will turn to nothing.

But when God writes your name in the Book of Life, you have been given an eternal gift. Because He did that before He did anything else. And somebody’s going to say that He will wipe it out? Not hardly. Consider this: in the book of Exodus, when Moses is up on the mountain receiving the Law, God tells him that He’s going to wipe out all the Israelites—God’s chosen nation—and start all over again. Moses pleads with Him, saying, “O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand…Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people.” Who does that sound like? Can't you almost hear our Lord Jesus Christ pleading with the Father on our behalf? And is our Lord Jesus Christ not a greater intercessor than even Moses? Is He not the "one mediator between man and God"? Can you hear Jesus pleading on our behalf? “O Father, why does your wrath burn hot against your children, whom you have saved from their sins with my blood which was shed on the cross? Turn from your burning anger and send the Holy Spirit, so they may repent and their names may remain written in the Book of Life.”

I don’t know what you will be celebrating this Christmas. There are some people who will be celebrating the fact that they have a day off from work. There will be children celebrating the fact they got a bunch of toys. There will be adults celebrating the fact they got a bunch of toys. Many businesses will be celebrating the amount of stuff they sell. There will be some who will celebrate nothing at all. They will see this as nothing more than a day for us fanatical Christians to impose our beliefs on them, and they will seek to do whatever they can to remove His name from our thoughts.

But this year, let us celebrate the fact that before He did anything else, when God was writing names in His Book of Life, He saw fit to put our names in permanent ink. Before He imagined the earth. Before He planned out where all the billions and trillions of stars should sit in the sky. Before He imagined the angels. Before anything else—He chose you. He chose you. And He chose me. Who cares about being picked last in gym class? Who cares about what the world says about us? Who cares if the world calls us “fanatics” or “Bible thumpers” or anything else? Who cares if the world rejects us? God chose us. That should not make us proud and boastful. That should make us the most humble people on the planet. Because we should realize that there was nothing we could do to earn His love. Ephesians 2:8—…by grace you have been saved through faith.

And why did He choose us? Well, that’s not really much of a mystery at all. “…that we should be holy and without blame before Him…” Now, there should be a comma, or a semicolon, or something after “Him.” That phrase “in love” should really be part of the next verse, and we’ll see why in a moment. He chose us to be holy and without blame before Him. Here is the whole verse again--Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him. There are some who preach that “God loves you just the way you are, and He has a wonderful plan for your life.” Those people give me a headache. Because usually, this “plan for your life” is centered on you sending them your money. It usually has something to do with your health, your wealth, and/or your prosperity.

God did not choose us in order that we could be healthy, wealthy and prosperous. He chose us to be holy and blameless. So that we could be an example of His righteousness in us to a world that is crumbling and decaying and speeding towards its inevitable end. Romans 9:22-23—What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory. In other words, we were created to show off His glory to an unbelieving world. He formed us, He allowed us to go through certain things, He allows us to suffer, and endure trials and tears so that we can show the world what it means to trust in Him.

And to do good works that He also chose us to do before He formed the world. Ephesians 2:10—For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. We are not saved BY GOOD WORKS; we are saved in order TO DO GOOD WORKS. Can you imagine a man giving his wife a vacuum cleaner for Christmas? But that’s what God did when He created us. He wrote our names in the book of life, He gave us every spiritual blessing we would need to be holy and blameless before Him, and He gave us work to do.

Now we get to the really good part. The end of verse 4, then all of verse 5. “…in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will…” Have you ever been watching a movie, or a TV show, and these people that have been separated for years—maybe they were high school sweethearts, or he went off to fight in WWII—they meet again and they fall in love all over again. At the end of the story they tell each other, “I never stopped loving you.” That’s not always true. Because we are humans. We do not have perfect love—for each other. But through Christ Jesus, our love for God IS perfect. Not because WE love perfectly—we can't do ANYTHING perfectly. But listen to the words of the apostle John in 1st John 4:16-19—And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God and God in him. Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the Day of Judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. We love him, because he first loved us.

Or, think about it this way: He loved us even though we did not love Him. We couldn’t. It was impossible for us to love Him, because we were too busy loving ourselves. We were too busy gathering in everything the world had to offer. We were too busy getting everything. And what do you give the person who has everything? You give them something that’s even better than every single thing they own put together. You give them something they don’t even know they need. You watch them as their life goes by. In fact, you watch their life go by even before it ever begins—and just when they think that they are in complete control of everything, you take that control away from them, you show them they are not in control of anything, you put a fear of you inside of them—and then you cast out that fear.

‘Twas grace that caused my heart to fear/and grace my fears relieved.

That doesn’t make sense, does it? But you know, I think one of the greatest gifts He gives us is this sense of awe that we who are His adopted children have of Him. What do we love to sing?
O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder

Thy power throughout the universe displayed.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee

How great Thou art, How great Thou art.

And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing
He bled and died to take away my sin.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.

When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation
And take me home what joy shall fill my heart.
Then I shall bow, in humble adoration
And there proclaim: "My God, how great Thou art!"

How Great Thou Art, O LORD God! How awesome is Your majesty! How awesome are Your wondrous works! How awesome is Your grace that You reached down and saved a sinner such as I!!! So the question remains: Why us? Why did He choose you specifically. I'll tell you why. Are you ready? You might want to write this down. Here’s the answer: Because. Look at the end of verse 5. “…according to the good pleasure of His will…” When God does something, and we are tempted to ask Him “Why?” we need to be ready for Him to give us an answer like, “Because that’s how I want it.” I don’t know about y’all, but that’s a good enough answer for me.

So what does all this add up to? The predestination, the adoption as sons, the good works we were created for, the salvation by grace through faith? Only this: verse 6— To the praise of the glory of his grace, by which he has made us accepted in the beloved. A few days from now, people will wake up and tear open packages that contain all sorts of stuff. They’ll remember some of it; they’ll forget a lot of it; some people will be mildly pleased; some people will get upset because they didn’t get everything they wanted. There will be a lot of people who will be like poor ol' Ralphie—all they wanted was that Red Rider BB gun, and they wind up with a pink bunny outfit. Some of these gifts will be put in a closet and forgotten until that closet gets so full that they’ll have to have a yard sale, where they will sell many of these things that they just HAD to have.

Because these people were appealing to human emotions, which change like the weather. They are seeking the praise and adoration of other people. But folks, we have been given a gift that will last forever. And we don’t have to worry about gaining the praise of people. Because we are living for the glory of God! We beat ourselves up trying to please other people. We go to great lengths to make people like us more. Some people do all kinds of good works—serving at homeless shelters and working at soup kitchens and what not—trying to score brownie points with God. Not knowing, not understanding His grace.

He doesn’t have to do anything for us. He could have let the entire human race—from Adam and Eve until the last person on earth—just go off into destruction. But He didn’t. He knew everything that would ever happen. He knew that Lucifer would rebel against Him. He knew that Adam would sin and spread that to every single person who would ever be born. He knew who you were going to be. He knew what your life was going to be like. He knew, even before He created anything that you were going to be born. He knew that I was going to be born. He knew that I would spend so many years putting other things before Him, using His name as a cuss word, lusting after other women, coveting things that belonged to others, hating certain people. He knew these things--before they ever happened.

But He also knew that all that would change one night in May of 2001. And even though I did not deserve to be saved, even though I deserved to have His wrath poured out upon me full strength, He picked me up out of the clay, and set my feet upon solid rock. And by His grace, when I was not acceptable to Him by my own actions, by my own life, He made me accepted—in Christ Jesus, His beloved Son. And for each and every one of you reading this—if you are saved, your circumstances may have been different, but the story’s the same. You were a sinner, you were bound for an eternity in Hell, but God reached down and saved you and gave you a gift you did not deserve--a gift that you cannot lose--and He made you acceptable in His sight through faith in Christ Jesus as your Lord and your Savior.

No comments: