Monday, December 21, 2009

The Prayers of Paul in Ephesians (Part 2)

One development that characterizes the contemporary church is the rise of the church consultant. Churches spend good money on consultants to help develop mission statements, strategic plans, and the like. Yet the apostle Paul has as good a mission statement as one can find in Ephesians 3:8-9 -- "To me, though the very least of all the saints, this grace was granted and graciously entrusted: to proclaim to the Gentiles the unending, boundless, fathomless, incalculable, and exhaustless riches of Christ, wealth which no human being could have searched out; also to enlighten all men and make plain to them what is the plan of the mystery kept hidden through the ages and concealed until now in the mind of God who created all things by Christ Jesus."

The New American Standard renders these verses this way: " preach...the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery..." In other words, to bring to people's knowledge what the riches are of Christ, available to believers, and whst is the "administration" of Christ's work, namely, how these riches work out in the lives of believers.

What is key to knowing the riches of Christ in one's life? The answer is found in Paul's prayer of Eph. 3:14-19.

I want to highlight the theme of Paul's prayer in Eph. 3 by coming to it through the backdoor, namely, by starting the consideration from the letter to the Ephesian church found in Revelation 2:1-7.

In the letters to the seven churches in the opening chapters of Revelation, the Lord Jesus has words of praise, but also words of warning for the church in Ephesus.

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this: "I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name's sake, and have not grown weary. "
He commends the Ephesian church for the fact that they had suffered and yet endured persecution; they did not abide immoral behavior; and they took a stand for sound teaching, opposing apostasy and false teachers. Any Bible-believing congregation would likely be pleased with such a commendation and reputation for standing firm in the faith.

But Jesus also communicates a word of warning.

"But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place--unless you repent."
While acknowledging all they had done to defend the faith, even to the point of suffering for their position, nevertheless Jesus says they are deficient in a more important area: they had left their first love, namely, Himself.

The serious warning in the letter to the Ephesian church is that it's possible to suffer for being a Christian, to be a stalwart defender of sound doctrine, an opponent of false teachers, a champion and example of moral living, to oppose the influences which eat at the surrounding culture, and yet to completely miss the point regarding the purpose to which one is called. It's possible to give an appearance of being sound and solid on the outside, and yet to leave or neglect Christ. In the case of the Ephesian church by the time John was given the Revelation, they had gotten off track in the one thing that is most important to the church.

Their problem was this: they had centered on something other than Christ. The focus of their ministry was sound teaching and defense of doctrine; however, Jesus Himself was no longer the center of their church. They had a reputation as defenders of the faith; but they should have had a reputation as lovers of Jesus Christ.

Churches getting their focus off of Christ and onto something else is an ever-present potential problem. Paul mentions what some of these distractions are in Colossians 2:8 -- "See to it that no takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the traditions of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ."

And so we see, and have probably known, churches where the emphasis was upon philosophies or schools of thought or schools of theology, where the preaching from the pulpit was mainly principles for living life, or the emphasis was upon certain traditions or specific denominational distinctives.

Paul's contrast or "formula" (I use the term advisedly) is found in Col. 3:1-3 --
Since you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on the things above, not on the things that are on the earth. For you have died and our life is hidden with Christ in God.

As Paul says in I Cor. 1:23, "We preach Christ" -- not an alternative set of rules, not a lifestyle, not a system of ethics, not a philosophy.

If each of us were given the assurance of one answered prayer for the church, what would we pray for? Some might pray for a more loving spirit among the people, and that would be good; others might pray for unity; still others might pray for increased membership, or the finances to hire more staff; still others might pray for those within the congregation who are suffering from various distresses, be they physical, emotional, or material.

But Paul's prayer in Eph. 3 reveals a different emphasis. Taking the opportunity in his letter to articulate his heart's desire for these Christians he mentions the following:
  • That God would reveal to them what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward those who believe;
  • That they might be empowered by the Holy Spirit to be enabled to know the love that God has for them;
  • That they would know (the Amplified Bible translates it "...know through experience, rather than through a knowledge which comes without experience...") what is the height, and depth, and length, and breadth of the love of God for them; that they would know this love of God with a knowledge that surpasses comprehension;
  • That they would be filled to all the fullness of God.

Put simply, Paul prays for a greater awareness by the Ephesian believers of the presence of God in their midst; that they would come to know -- through experience, not just through study and head-knowledge -- the reality of the life of Christ within them, as the motive power of their lives; the end result being that they actually experience in their hearts the richness of the love of God for them, resulting in their being filled to the fullest with God. This is tied to Paul's "mission statement;" his commission to inform believers of the riches they have in Christ, and to explain to them how these riches work out in their personal lives.

The church is the place where Christ not only resides, but is where a group of people, together, corporately, in common, experience the reality of Christ's presence, His love, His life, and become the means of His outworking in the world, not in a metaphorical sense, but in reality.

Essentially, it should be our focus, our hope, that Christ would be alive and real in our midst -- not in a theoretical sense or simply as a theological affirmation, but in actual reality; and that, consequently, we are being changed, we are growing together as He expresses Himself in our fellowship, and His life and reality are seen by those outside our group as we come into contact with others. This should be the central focus of any church ministry: that we would be known as a fellowship which, first and foremost, loves Jesus Christ, which lives by His presence, and which draws what is sufficient for life from His riches and His resources. This is the focus of Paul's prayer for the church.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Prayers of Paul in Ephesians (Part 1)

One of the first books I read upon becoming a Christian was Sit, Walk, Stand by Watchman Nee. The book is a short commentary on the book of Ephesians. In fact, its title -- "Sit, Walk, Stand" -- is itself a short commentary on the book of Ephesians. Contrary to what is often the common assumption about Ephesians, the letter is not a manual on the husband and wife relationship, which is discussed in brief in chapter six. The title of Nee's book reflects the three primary themes of the letter:
  • 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. (Eph. 2:4-6)
  • I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called (Eph. 4:1)
  • Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. (Eph. 6:11)
My focus here isn't to present a study or provide an overview of Ephesians, but to look at two key passages that often tend to be overlooked, but which I think are key aspects in the entire New Testament: the prayers of Paul for believers in Ephesis, found in chapters one and three.

To provide some context to Paul's prayers:

Paul tells us what the focus of his letter is, right at the top of chapter one:
  • Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. (Eph. 1:3)
This is the main topic of the book: The spiritual blessings we as believers have by virtue of being "in Christ." (This positional theme is covered in chapters one-through-three; our walk as Christians, covered in chapters four and five, flow out of our position in Christ; and our ability to stand, discussed in chapter six, is also dependent upon our position in Christ.)

Who we are and what we have in Christ is a topic which, frankly, is the focus of much of the New Testament. Peter opens his second epistle with the identical focus:
  • May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
    His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.

The blessings of grace and peace, multipled to us, are dependent upon our knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ: essentially, our knowledge, or knowing, who we are and what we have by virtue of being "in Christ." More on this "knowledge" later.

So, the riches and recources of Christ, experienced by the believer by virtue of one's union with Christ...this is the focus of the book of Ephesians, just as it's the focus of much of the New Testament.

Very specifically, chapter one begins with a dissertation of our position in Christ, our identity in Christ, what we have through the initiative of God in our lives.

In verse 3, Paul mentions that the Ephesians (and every believer) is blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus. What are these blessings? Chapter one addresses this, but approaches the topic from two angles.

First, Eph. 1:3-14 --

What are these blessings?

  • We're blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ. (v.3)
  • We are holy, blameless, covered with God's love (v.4)
  • We are adopted as God's children, by God's eternal sovereignty (vv.5-6)
  • Our sins have been taken away (we are redeemed) (v.7)
  • We were brought under the headship of Christ, and given an inheritance (vv.10-11)
  • By the Holy Spirit, we understand that we belong to God (v.13)

Something to notice about this section of chapter one: the emphasis on "He, Him, His." Paul refers to the person or action of God ("He, Him, His") 22 times in 12 verses. The focus of this passage is on what God has accomplished on our behalf.

Contrast this with Paul's discourse in Rom. 7:7-24. There, the focus is on "I, me, my," in terms of what life looks like when we try, through all sincerity, to live our lives by our own power (e.g., Rom. 7:15-16, notice the emphasis -- "For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing not wish to do, I agree with the Law, confessing it is good."). Paul refers to himself -- "I, me, my" -- 44 times in Rom. 7, until he reaches verses 24 and 25, when the focus shifts off of himself to Jesus Christ. Twenty-two times, "He, Him, His" is mentioned in Eph. 1:3-14. The focus of the chapter is what God does for us, on our behalf, not on what we do or can accomplish for God, on His behalf.

The second division in chapter one is in verses 15-23, Paul's prayer for the Ephesians:

  • For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Notice how Paul characterizes or describes the Ephesian church in verse 15: He commends them for their faith in God, and their love for all the saints. And he says that he "heard" about these things, which means that their testimony as a faithful and loving church had been spread abroad -- they had a reputation for faithfulness and love which had gone beyond their own community.

This is a pretty good report. Any one of us would be happy, would we not, to have Jesus Christ appear among us in our churches some Sunday morning, and say, "I am pleased by what I see here -- you have faith in me, and you love all the saints." Faith and love -- what more could a church want? But Paul goes on in the prayer that follows to express not only a desire for the believers in Ephesis, but an indication of their need.

He prays, and implies here, that in spite of their reputation for faith and love, that they need a "spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him (Christ)."

This term, "revelation" (apokalupsis, from which we get the word "apocalypse," which is what the book of Revelation is often called) -- Vine's points out that it means "an uncovering" or "to unveil." It means to remove a covering which is over something of substance that is present, but not seen or perceived. It's like Paul is saying, "Here is this thing in the middle of the room. It is here. It is real, but you do not perceive what it is, or behold its presence because it has this shroud over it. I pray that this thing which you possess, which God has given to you by virtue of being in Christ, would be unveiled; that the shroud or covering which hides it would be removed and that it would be uncovered, and that you would see it."

Although the Ephesian believers are full of faith and of love for the saints, Paul implies through his prayer for them that something is missing, that they need something to be unveiled or revealed to them, and in part, it is this: That they would truly "know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power towards us who believe."

Note that these these things -- hope, riches, inheritance -- are things that Paul mentions in the earlier passage, specifically, v.12 (hope); v.7 (riches); v.11 (inheritance). In the earlier portion of Ephesians chapter one, Paul says that they already "have" these things (v.7, "In Him we have..."). We, and the Ephesians, already possess them they are part of the "every spiritual blessing" that every believer has in Christ. They are already ours.

But if they are ours, why does Paul make a point about praying about them on our behalf, and on behalf of the Ephesians?

Look at how he characterizes their need. "That God would give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him." That they, and we, might "know" these blessings in the knowledge of Him. The word "knowledge" here doesn't mean "head knowledge" or intellectual knowledge, as in "I know that 2+2=4," or that "I know that George Washington was the first President of the United States and I know this because I read it in a book." It is knowledge which comes through experience. He is saying, with this prayer for the Ephesians, and he is saying in this chapter, "Look, by virtue of being in Christ, you have been blessed with every spiritual blessing. But these blessings (which I've enumerated in the first part of this letter to you) have yet to enter into your experience as a believer. So I pray that you might come to KNOW these blessings in your experience; that your life would be characterized as an expression and outworking of these blessings in your life."

Paul is saying, with this prayer, that the Ephesian believers (and by extension, we) need to have their hearts enlightened so that they may know these things. "Enlighten" literally means "to illuminate." So, the things the Ephesians have, what all believes have by virtue of being in Christ, might become real to them by throwing off the shroud that hides them from our sight and from our exprience, and that they would not only be revealed or uncovered, but that a bright beam of light would be cast upon them so that we might clearly see them.

And what is it that is to be "enlightened"? Our hearts. This isn't a revelation to the mind as a new idea or as a philosophy or as a sound doctrine, but a revelation and enlightenment to the heart, because that is where these things are truly known and understood.

So, in summary...Believers are a blessed people. We have been (past tense, and presently) blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ. And the Ephesians, and hopefully we as well, are a people charactered by our faith in Christ, and our love for all the saints. But this isn't enough. One of the key messages of Ephesians chapter one is that there is always *more* to the Christian life than what we have thus far experienced. And what Paul prays for, what we can pray for ourselves, for our family members, for the members of our churches, for the church in America and throughout the world, is that we would

  1. understand the spiritual blessings we have in Christ, but also, and more importantly,
  2. realize that to understand these blessings in a solely intellectual way -- to simply be able to recite back what we have in Christ by rote -- isn't enough. God's desire is that we would KNOW His blessings by experiencing them in and through our lives.

The application here is this: If you want to know how to pray for yourself, for your family, for your church, for the nation, start praying like Paul does in Ephesians chapter one. And in the answering of those prayers, we, our families, our churches, our nation, will begin to truly reflect what God's will is for our lives.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Parable

An excerpt from IN THE DAY OF THY POWER, by Arthur Wallis.

There was once an ancient reservoir in the hills that supplied a village community with water. It was fed by a mountain stream, and the overflow from the reservoir continued down the streambed to the valley below.

There was nothing remarkable about this stream. It flowed on its quiet way without even disturbing the boulders that lay in its path or the foot-bridges that crossed it at various points. It seldom overflowed its steep banks, or gave the villagers any trouble.

One day, however, some large cracks appeared in one of the walls of the old reservoir, and soon afterwards the wall collapsed, and the waters burst forth down the hillside. They rooted up great trees; they carried along boulders like playthings; they destroyed houses and bridges and all that lay in their path. The stream-bed could not now contain the volume of water, which therefore flowed over the countryside, even inundating distant dwellings.

What had before been ignored or taken for granted now became an object of awe and wonder and fear. From far and near people who in the usual way never went near the stream, hastened to see this great sight.

In picture language this is revival.

The village represents both the church and the institutions of society – social structures built and maintained through man’s efforts. The stream represents the flow of the Holy Spirit through the village (through the church, and in society). The stream is present, but being just a trickle there is nothing remarkable about it. In fact, its flow can be redirected and even contained however the villagers wish.

The water of the reservoir represents the power of the Spirit of God. The deluge represents the Spirit and power of God poured out upon the land. Its power and flow cannot be contained. It overwhelms man’s attempts to control it. It uproots immovable objects, and wipes out the structures man has built by his own efforts. Its effects are powerful and clearly seen by all. It creates a sense of awe, wonder, and even terror. As Wallis comments in the above excerpt, “What had before been ignored or taken for granted (the Spirit of God) now became an object of awe…”

We live in a day where the Spirit is a unremarkable stream flowing through the western church and society. We’ve tamed the stream, restricting it, directing it, and controlling its flow, not allowing it to work beyond what we desire. Consequently, we live in a day of dryness. In response to the constricting of the Spirit, the church has followed other means to impact the world – politics, tinkering with worship styles, establishing programs mimicking secular organizations, becoming more “world-friendly” in order to find a place of relevance.

All the ills we see in our society, our nation, the world, in others, in ourselves, can be remedied with a powerful outpouring of the Spirit of God in revival – something that topples our own constructs, our false assumptions, our excuses.

Future entries will develop this topic.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Preaching, but with power

A key distinctive of conservative evangelicals is that ministry, particularly the preaching ministry, is Bible-centered, meaning that the authority and reliability of scripture are held-up as all-important. It’s almost a point of pride, if I can use that word, that evangelical Christians base their beliefs and ministry so much on the words of scripture; so much so that there’s a tendency to believe that if preaching is faithful to the Word, and the Word only, that it will do its effective work and people will be convicted of sin, will repent, will come to Christ, and will grow in their Christian lives.

After thirty-plus years of being part of the evangelical community, I’ve concluded that faithful preaching of the Word isn’t enough. “Accurately dividing the Word of God,” if the result of an intellectual exercise, often appeals mainly to the intellect, not so much the heart.

Alister McGrath, author and professor of Historical Theology at Oxford University, describes in his book KNOWING CHRIST how during his early days as a believer he put too much emphasis upon an intellectual understanding of classic biblical theology, to the detriment of his own spiritual growth. “I gradually came to the realization,” he writes, “that my faith was far too academic. Frankly, it was as dry as dust. I was spiritually parched, and the last thing I needed was more of the dry and desiccated material that seemed to be the staple diet of so many at this time.”

“The cultivation of an intimate personal relationship with Christ somehow seemed to get marginalized,” McGrath continues. “’Know your Bible’ seemed to be the supreme goal of these churches. They certainly produced students who knew their Bible well. Yet, sadly, many of those who could quote the most obscure biblical verses in support of some tenuous theological argument had never known the tender embrace of a loving Christ and nestled in his care. ..Knowledge of text had displaced knowledge of Christ.”

A.W. Tozer often made the same point. In THE PURSUIT OF GOD, Tozer wrote:

Thanks to…effective agencies for the dissemination of the Word, there are today many millions of people who hold “right opinions,” probably more than ever before in the history of the Church. Yet I wonder if there was ever a time when true spiritual worship was at a lower ebb….

The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intense and satisfying knowledge of God, that they may enter into Him, and may delight in His Presence…

One should suppose that proper instruction in the doctrines of man’s depravity and the necessity for justification through the righteousness of Christ alone would deliver us from the power of the self-sins; but it does not work out that way. Self can live unrebuked at the very altar. It can watch the bleeding Victim die and not be in the least affected by what it sees. It can fight for the faith of the Reformers and preach eloquently the creed of salvation by grace, and gain strength by its efforts. To tell all the truth, it seems actually to feed upon orthodoxy and is more at home in a Bible conference than in a tavern…

Self is the opaque veil that hides the Face of God from us. It can be removed only in spiritual experience, never in the mere instruction. As well try to instruct leprosy out of our system.

In the latter part of the 18th Century, William Law wrote,

Read whatever doctrine of Scripture you will, and it will leave you as poor and empty and unreformed as it found you, unless it has turned you wholly and solely to the Spirit of God. Delight in whatever passage of Scripture you can find, and your delight will be nothing unless it has strengthened your union and dependence upon Him…

The benefit that we receive from faith is the power and presence of God living and working in our beings…We must receive all our religious goodness wholly and solely from God’s direct operation in our hearts.

D.L. Moody testified of the same thing. In his 1960 book, THEY FOUND THE SECRET, V. Raymond Edman, then-Chancellor of Wheaton College, relates Moody’s story:

In Chicago, there were two godly women, Mrs. Sara A. Cooke and her friend, Mrs. Hawxhurst, who attended Moody’s meeting in Farwell Hall, and on whose hearts there came a great burden that this precious man of God be filled with the Spirit. On more occasions than one, Mr. Moody made reference to them, as he did at a meeting in Glasgow:

“I can myself go back almost twelve years and remember two holy women who used to come to my meetings. It was delightful to see them there, for when I began to preach I could tell by the expression on their faces they were praying for me. At the close of the Sabbath evening services they would say to me, ‘We have been praying for you.’ I said, ‘Why don’t you pray for the people?’ They answered, ‘You need power.’ ‘I need power,’ I said to myself, ‘Why, I thought I had power.’ I had a large Sabbath school, and the largest congregation in Chicago. There were some conversions at the time, and I was in a sense satisfied. But right along these two godly women kept praying for me, and their earnest talk about ‘the anointing for
special service’ set me thinking. I asked them to come and talk with me, and we got down on our knees. They poured out their hearts, that I might receive the anointing of the Holy Ghost. And there came a great hunger into my soul. I knew not what it was. I began to cry as never before. The hunger increased. I really felt that I did not want to live any longer if I could not have this power for service. I kept on
crying all the time that God would fill me with His Spirit.”

Then came the great Chicago fire. On the evening of that memorable night in 1871 when one-third of the city was laid in ashes and thousands were left homeless, Moody had preached in Farwell Hall. With the institutions which he had founded in ruins, Moody went East to appeal for funds, but he said:

“My heart was not in the work of begging. I could not appeal. I was crying all the time that God would fill me with His Spirit. Well, one day, in the city of New York – oh, what a day! – I cannot describe it, I seldom refer to it: it is almost too sacred an experience to name. Paul had an experience of which he didn’t speak for fourteen years. I can only say that God revealed Himself to me, and I had such an experience of His love that I had to ask Him to stay His hand. I went to preaching again. The
sermons were not different; I did not present any new truths, and yet hundreds were converted. I would not now be placed back where I was before that blessed experience if you should give me all the world – it would be as the small dust of the balance.”

The sermons were not different; but the servant was!

The truths were not new; but now they were pungent and penetrating!

A few had been converted before; now converts came by the hundreds!

Before, it had been the earnest energy and tireless drive of the man; now it was the dynamic of the Holy Spirit!

What was the difference in Moody’s life and ministry? What is the difference to which Tozer and Law refer? It is a simple difference: the difference between self and Christ; the difference between flesh and Spirit. It is a sad reality that a person may claim to have faith in Christ, and yet live their life to the best of their own ability, rather than live a life dependent on the ability of Christ to do in them what they cannot do themselves; or to claim to have faith in Christ, but live the best life that the flesh is capable of living, and know nothing of a life filled and animated by the Holy Spirit.

William Law wrote, “We can have no power to cleave to [God], to will what He wills, or to adore the divine nature, except by partaking of that eternal Spirit of love.” This is why preaching of the Word, by itself, explaining truths within it, as an intellectual exercise, is not enough, and falls short of God’s intended purposes in the Word. Again, Law writes, “…the Scriptures themselves, though they are true and infallible in these reports [of God’s working in history] and instructions about the Holy Spirit, can be no more than a true history. They cannot give to the reader of them the deeper meaning, the awareness, and the enjoyment of what they relate.”

Is this notion biblical? In William Law’s day, he said he was accused of fanaticism in his emphasis of the need for a union with Christ’s Spirit and His outworking in a person’s spirit to make the real difference in a person’s life. But the apostle Paul affirms numerous times in his letters that preaching the word is not enough; that preaching must be accompanied by the power which only comes from the Spirit to have its full effect. Consider:

Rom. 15:17-19 – …in Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God. For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.

1 Cor. 2:2-5 – For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.

1 Cor. 4:20 – For the kingdom of God does not consist in words but in power.

2 Cor. 3:1-6 – Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some, letters of commendation to you or from you? You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

2 Cor. 4:1-2 – Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.

2 Cor. 4:5-11 – For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
Not only does Paul consider the preaching of the word with power essential to doing God’s work, but Jesus also affirms the necessity of the Spirit’s work, even in his own ministry:

John 3:21 – "But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God." (Jesus is saying that what people saw as his works did not come from him, but were works wrought and brought forth in him by God. If the outworking of God was essential in Jesus’ life, it’s essential in our lives as well.)

John 14:10 – "Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works."

And finally, in Eph. 3:16-19, Paul describes the objective toward which the Ephesian Christians (all Christians, really) should be moving:

…that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.

The word Paul uses for “knowledge” in terms of knowing the love of Christ is “epignosis” which can best be characterized not as a knowledge which one apprehends in one’s head, intellectually, but a knowledge one gains from experience – a knowledge of Christ and his love gained by experiencing that love. In fact, Paul describes it as knowledge that “surpasses knowledge,” literally, a knowledge that is beyond one’s ability to comprehend, intellectually, where words fail to adequately describe it. Such knowledge is not gained through reading books, attending conferences, expressing in a systematic theology, or even sitting in church on Sundays listening to sermons, regardless of how valuable books, conferences, theology, and Sunday sermons are. Such knowledge is gained through an encounter with Christ, by means of the Holy Spirit, walking with him, and experiencing his love through grace, mercy, and real interaction with him.

Having a correct intellectual understanding of what the Bible teaches about God, about us, about what God has done in Christ for us, and about our union with him, are important. But an intellectual, systematic theological understanding of Christ and his working in and through us isn’t the same thing as knowing him. Don’t fall into the trap that if you think you’ve got it figured out in your head, you’ve got it. The chances are, you don’t.

For those who want to understand more about this kind of knowledge (and, yes, there is an aspect to it which must be understood in the head as well as in the heart), I’ve given four resources: KNOWING CHRIST by Alister McGrath, THE PURSUIT OF GOD by A.W. Tozer, YOU WILL RECEIVE POWER by William Law, and THEY FOUND THE SECRET by V. Raymond Edman. Also, approaching Scripture with the understanding that knowing Scripture is not the same as knowing Christ, is a good place to start as well.

Monday, July 27, 2009

How Broad a Salvation - Part 3: "All Israel will be saved."

I read Romans 11 this morning, and it contains some curious passages. Paul discusses the cutting off of some of the branches of Israel, enabling the grafting in of the gentiles, but then warns the gentile believers not to become arrogant about finding favor with God. From vv. 25-27:

Lest you be wise in your own sight, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, "The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob; and this will be my covenant wtih them when I take away their sins."

As regards the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy show to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.

To which Paul responds:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutible his ways!

Theology is important. A proper understanding of God's character and ways, and man's condition, are vital to salvation. But it is arrogant to think that any school of theology can fully grasp and understand how God will accomplish his purposes. This passage in Romans 11, in relation to the destiny of Israel, is beyond our ability to grasp and understand. And Paul's response to this is simply to praise God for his riches and wisdom, and inscrutible nature.

Monday, June 29, 2009

How Broad a Salvation? - Part 2

After posting comments to my son's blog entry about "universal reconciliation," I raised the same comments about the passage in Romans 5 in the weekly men's study at our church. Our pastor, who leads the study, candidly pointed out that if all we have of Paul's comments about who will be saved is Rom. 5:12-21, we'd have to conclude that all will be saved, that none will be lost. But, he pointed out, we have other passages in Paul's writings, such as 1 Cor. 6:9-10 -- " you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God" -- which indicates that salvation is not universal. The point is that in spite of the Rom. 5 passage, the preponderance of Paul's teaching is that salvation is limited to those who come to faith in Christ in this life. In addition, if all are saved, what's the point of evangelism and coming to Christ? We might as well all eat, drink, and be merry, in our own way, for tomorrow we go to heaven.

Seems a fair enough answer to the question. But the Rom. 5:12-21 passage still seems ackward. It states, in part, that just as "all died in Adam," "all shall live in Christ." If salvation is limited only to a select (or the elect), why did Paul use the term "all" to indicate those who would be saved by Christ? Wouldn't it have been more correct to say, "all died in Adam, and many shall live in Christ"?

And the answer -- that "the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God" -- begs a couple of questions. What is the kingdom of God? And what is the inheritance that believers come into possession of?

Is "the kingdom" heaven, by-and-by? Jesus implies that "the kingdom is at hand," and while his kingdom is "not of this world," it is nevertheless something that his followers can seek here-and-now.

In regard to inheritance, Paul makes reference to our inheritance in Ephesians 1:11, and it doesn't have to do with what we gain upon death and our being ushered into eternity. In fact, we've already obtained it, as Paul states in that verse. It has to do with possessing and experiencing "every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places" which Paul clearly says we have already, here-and-now, been blessed with (Eph. 1:3).

Later in the chapter, Paul prays for the Ephesian church that they might come into a full experience of "the inheritance" they have in Christ, now, not later when they die and go to heaven: "I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know [from experience, not simply in one's head] what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe" (Eph. 1:18-19).

Putting verses 11 and 18-19 together, the conclusion is that every believer has already received an inheritance in Christ, but needs to come into the full experience of it, or a full manifestation of it in their lives.

So, if Ephesian believers have yet to enter into the full experience of the inheritance they have in Christ, to experience the kingdom which is "here-and-now," it makes perfect sense that the unrighteous, whether in the church or outside it, certainly won't experience or inherit the things of the kingdom of God. But this doesn't have to do with eternity and entering into heaven. It has to do with experiencing and walking in the blessings and experience of Christ now. Heb. 6:12 shows how we gain possession of our inheritance: we "inherit the promises" of God in Christ "through faith and patience." I don't see that this "patience" refers to waiting until we die and go to heaven.

Also, the 1 Cor. 6:9-10 passage is addressed to believers in Corinth. Is this passage even talking about unbelievers? Look around our own congregations....Aren't there revilers, adulterers, the covetous among us, people who declare a faith in Christ? If these are not in line to inherit the kingdom of God due to their behavior, is this to say that their going to heaven is dependent upon their actions, and not soley their declaration of faith and dependence upon Christ? Again, 1 Cor. 6:9-10 may not be about entering heaven, but about experiencing and manifesting the fullness of life in Christ.

So, the question remains: Why did Paul refer to a broad salvation in Rom. 5:12-21? The preponderance of his teaching may be that only some enter heaven (which I'm not convinced of), but the statement that "the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of heaven" isn't a conclusive refutation to the idea of a board, universal reconciliation.

And on the question of "Why evangelize?" fact, why receive Christ at all if all are saved?...the question might be asked as to what constitutes evangelism? God isn't simply calling people to "be saved," but to enter into a relationship with Him through Christ such that our lives reflect the presence of God, the life of God, that God be able to live His life out through the individual and through His church, that we might all reflect or manifest the inheritance we have in Christ. Not many Christians so reflect this, but this appears to be the point of evangelism and coming to Christ...Not to be "saved," per se, but to reflect the life and image of Christ. In this sense, the work of evangelism isn't yet complete in the lives of many Christians, let alone in the garden variety unbeliever.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Incarnation of God in Christ

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. (Isa. 9:6)

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel (God is with us). (Isa. 7:14)

…Being made in the likeness of men…the Word became flesh…(Phil. 2:7; John 1:14)

The best case for the deity of Jesus Christ is that the character and attributes which scripture gives to God Almighty in the Old Testament, are given to Christ in the New.

Isa. 40:28 -- Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.

Col. 1:16 -- For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.
John 1:3 -- All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

Isa. 43:11 -- I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior.
Isa. 45:21-22 -- Declare and present your case; let them take counsel together! Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the LORD? And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me. Turn to me and be saved,all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.

John 4:42 -- They said to the woman, "It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world."
Titus 2:13-- …waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ

Gen 18:25 -- Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?"
John 5:27 -- And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.

Glory of God:
Ps. 24:7, 10 -- Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in…Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory!
Isa. 48:11-- For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.

I Cor. 2:7-8 -- But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
Heb. 1:3 -- He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.

King and Lord:
Ps. 5:2 -- Give attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you do I pray.

I Tim. 6:14-15 -- …to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Ps. 23:1 -- The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

John 10:11 – “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd(B) lays down his life for the sheep.”

First and Last:
Isa. 41:4; 44:6 -- Who has performed and done this, calling the generations from the beginning? I, the LORD, the first, and with the last; I am he…Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: "I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.”

Rev. 1:8 -- "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty."
Rev. 1:17-18 -- When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, "Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”
Rev. 2:8 -- And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: “The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.”

Isa. 60:19-20 -- The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give you light; but the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Your sun shall no more go down, nor your moon withdraw itself; for the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your days of mourning shall be ended.

John 8:12 -- Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."
I John 1:5 -- This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.

“I AM”:
Ex. 3:14 -- God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." And he said, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.'"

John 8:58 -- Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am."

Raises the dead:
I Sam. 2:6 -- The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.

John 5:21-- For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.
John 11:25-26, 43-44 -- Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?"… When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out." The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go."

Hosea 13:14 -- Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from Death? O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your sting? Compassion is hidden from my eyes.

Gal. 3:13 -- Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree."
Rev. 5:9 -- And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”

Forgiver of sins:
Jer. 31:34 -- And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."

Mark 2:7, 10 -- Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?"… But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"—he said to the paralytic— "I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home."

Isa. 50:6 -- I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting.

Matt. 26:67; 27:30 -- Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him…And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head.

Purpose of the incarnation

II Cor. 8:9 – For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

Gal 4:4-5 – But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

Luke 19:10 – For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.

I John 3:5 – You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.

Rom 8:3-4 – For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Heb. 2:14, 16-17 – Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery…For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 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.

What was manifested through Christ’s life?

John 1:18 – No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

John 4:34 – Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.”

John 7:16 – So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me.”

John 8:28 – So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.”

John 10:30-38 – “I and the Father are one.” The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, "I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?" The Jews answered him, "It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God." Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your Law, 'I said, you are gods'? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, 'You are blaspheming,' because I said, 'I am the Son of God'? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father."

John 11:38-44 – Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, "Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days." Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?" So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me." When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out." The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go."

John 14:8-9 – Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?

Jesus’ union with the Father was the source of his teaching, work, and personality. While he was God incarnate, as man he surrendered his prerogative to act as God, enabling God the Father to work through him. Through Jesus, the Father made himself known, by the things people saw in Jesus. What was the purpose of the Son’s incarnation? It was twofold: To seek and save that which was lost; and secondly, to show his followers that it is possible to manifest the life of God through the obedience of faith.

What is manifested through our life? We also have a union with God in Christ. We cannot imitate Christ in his position as God, but we can imitate Christ in his dependence upon the Father to manifest himself through him. Who or what is the source of our words, works, and personality?