John Newton, author of the song Amazing Grace, said this…
I am not what I ought to be — ah, how imperfect and deficient! I am not what I wish to be — I abhor what is evil, and I would cleave to what is good! I am not what I hope to be — soon, soon shall I put off mortality, and with mortality all sin and imperfection. Yet, though I am not what I ought to be, nor what I wish to be, nor what I hope to be, I can truly say, I am not what I once was; a slave to sin and Satan; and I can heartily join with the apostle, and acknowledge, “By the grace of God I am what I am.”
In early January I preached a message where I caught some people off guard when I quoted a Sir Mix-a Lot song from the early ’90s and said, “I like big butts and I cannot lie.” There are 2 BIG BUTS in this chapter that seem to shout at me each time I read them. The first one is big because of it’s significance for the person who encounters God and the gospel; the second one because of its significance for the body of Christ as it applies the gospel.
Verse 4 – Paul has just finished (vs 1-3) talking about the really bad news, the predicament that all of us have faced – spiritually dead, followers of Satan, self-gratifying, objects of wrath. When we really understand just how desperate our situation was then you can begin to understand just how big the ‘but” is at the beginning of verse 4. “BUT because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead ….” It is worth pondering those first 3 verses so that you can get the full impact of verse 4 and following. The gospel is indeed good news. But it only makes sense when you fully grasp how awful the bad news is.
Verse 13 – The gospel not only transforms individual lives but it also transforms society. Back in the day that Paul was writing you had Jews and everybody else. There was misunderstanding; there was racism; there was hatred. Paul is saying that the dividing wall of hostility between the two groups has been torn down. That those who were without hope and without God have been reconciled. This is how Paul puts it: “BUT now in Christ Jesus you who were once far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” God tore down the wall. Unfortunately walls of racism and hate have been built back up by men over the centuries because they have failed to grasp the gospel.
Here are a few questions from Ephesians 3 to get your pondering started…
v.1 – Paul refers to himself as a “prisoner of Christ Jesus.” In what ways are all believers prisoners of Christ Jesus?
v.3 – What is the mystery that Paul is referring to?
v.10 – What does Paul mean by this?
v.14 – What reason is Paul referring to here?
v. 16-19 – What can we learn from these verses about praying for others?
v.19 – What does it mean to be “filled to the measure of all the fullness of God?”
v.20 – How should this verse give fuel to our prayers?
Referring to Ephesians 2:1-2… “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins,in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient” Merida writes…
Theologically, Paul is describing the doctrine of “total depravity”: that is , all aspects of our being have been infected with the deadly disease of sin. Paul is also describing our “total inability”; that is, morally we are not capable of responding to God apart from grace. The fact is we do not want to respond to God. But oh, how we need God’s grace!
This is one of my favorite chapters in all of Scripture. It is so rich in so many ways.
Verses 3-14 – Paul is overcome by all the ways that he (we) have been blessed by God and spends one incredibly long sentence recounting these: We are chosen, we are loved, we are predestined, we are adopted, we are redeemed, we are forgiven, we are marked – and all to the praise of His glorious grace. This litany is a great place to start when you are looking for a way to offer God the praise He so rightly deserves.
Verses 15-23 – Paul spends some time here telling the Ephesians how he is praying for them. This is one of my go-t0 passages when I am praying for others and don’t really know what to pray. This prayer is so much more robust than the way that I generally pray. My prayers tend to be very mundane. Paul’s prayers tend to be so much more theocentric. I think there is so much that believers today can learn about prayer by listening to the way that Paul prays for others. I know I have.
Here are a few questions to get you thinking about Ephesians 2…
v.3 – How do even “good” people gratify the cravings of their sinful nature?
v.3 – What does it mean to be an object of God’s wrath? What does God’s wrath for sinners look like?
v.4 – Why is the word ‘But” such a pivotal word in this passage?
v.7 – What might these “incomparable riches of His grace” be?
v.8 – Where does faith come from? Think back on your spiritual journey. Can you trace how this is true for you coming to faith?
v.10 – Do you know what the ‘good works” are that God has prepared in advance for you to do?
v.19 – What are some of the rights that you have as a citizen of the Kingdom of God?
There, I said it. My reasons are thus: Not only has the book become a cultural phenomenon but the movie promises to be as well – at least if advertising has anything to do with it. But more than that I want to see it because it appeals to what the Bible refers to as my “flesh”. My sinful nature craves to see what this movie is all about – sex. Yes, even a 56 year old man, who happens to be a pastor, thinks about sex…often.
So I really want to go see 50 Shades of Grey.
But I dare not! And I dare not read the book either. There is enough sexploitation in our culture that is unavoidable. This is something that I can avoid. I do not need the images that this movie will impress upon my brain – which I have realized has a photographic memory when it comes to such things. I can’t remember names or history lessons or Bible verses but unfortunately I can’t not remember sex scenes that were planted in my head as much as 40 years ago.
I am not a prude. I promise you that. But I will unashamedly say to you if you are thinking about going to see this movie that…
It will not be good for your spiritual life
It will not be good for your marriage (if you are married)
It will not be good for your marriage (if you are not yet married)
It will not be good for your sex life
It will NOT be good for you.
So while I want to go see this movie, I dare not! And I dare you not to as well.
Here are a few blogs I have come across that may help you think through these things for yourself.
On one occasion I had tea with Martyn Lloyd-Jones in Ealing, London, and decided to ask him a question that concerned me. “Dr. Lloyd-Jones,” I said, “How can I tell whether I am preaching in the energy of the flesh or in the power of the Spirit?”
“That is very easy,” Lloyd-Jones replied, as I shriveled. “If you are preaching in the energy of the flesh, you will feel exalted and lifted up. If you are preaching in the power of the Spirit, you will feel awe and humility.”
Many of you who are Ridgecrest people have already seen these videos. I’m including them in a blog post as a way of archiving them for my personal memories bank.
But here is a little history to go along with them. Not long after I came to Ridgecrest (21+ years ago) we began putting on a church-wide Valentine’s Banquet. It included a good meal, some table talk, some entertainment, some games, and some giveaways. At some point, perhaps 15 years ago, our staff took on the task of providing the entertainment. Our thought was that it would be good for our people to see that we had a fun side as well as a spiritual side. 15 years later The Staff Infection, as we were dubbed, is still going strong. There have been some very memorable performances. But I might also add that there have been some very forgettable ones as well. Here is a short compilation video of some of the ones that we have done over the years – put together by our Worship Pastor, Al Huffman.
Last night we had a blast doing this year’s entertainment. Here is some of the backstory. We were brainstorming a few weeks ago about what to do and threw out the idea of doing something with the movie Frozen since it has been so huge this year. Al started googling some things and came upon another group calling themselves The Staff Infection who had done some choreography to the song “Let It Go.” They are a bunch of Cru (Campus Crusade) staff guys who were performing at a “Night of Elegance.” Anyway, most preachers will tell you that they have never had an original idea in their life and this is especially true for us. We put our own spin on what we saw them doing and this is what we came up with. Watch and enjoy. We sure did.
Here are a few of my pondering thoughts from Galatians 6, particularly verses 7-8.
I do not know of many principles from Scripture that have as much practical application as verse 7, “A man reaps what he sows.” Unfortunately there is a lot of sowing that goes on to please the sinful nature. Consequently there is a lot of reaping that comes with that. We like to make light of these consequences by calling them such things as “experience” or “baggage” or “personal issues.” Or if we want to get real spiritual we might even talk about “developing a testimony.” But in essence we are usually talking about things that are accompanied by much pain and hardship and trouble. We don’t usually have to try hard to indulge the sinful nature. This comes rather easy. It is our default inclination.
Contrast this with the “man who sows to please the Spirit.” This takes intentionality. This takes going against what our natural inclination is. But the payoff is so much better and generally comes with a lot less pain and suffering.
The question that this passage make me ask myself is this: How is my sowing going? And if I say that I want to reap a harvest that is of the Spirit then what am I willing to do about it? This is where the promise of verse 9 provides much encouragement:
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
Here are a few questions to get you started as you begin pondering Ephesians 1:
What are some of the reasons that Paul gives for praising God?
Think deeply about a few of the terms mentioned in this passage and how gospel-saturated they are: adoption, redemption, predestination.
Explain how being chosen/predestined works together with believing the Word of Truth?
What are some of the ways that Paul prays for the Ephesians? How can we use his prayer to help us develop our own prayer life?
I close my book Surprised by Grace: God’s Relentless Pursuit of Rebels with a story (not sure if this really happened or is simply parabolic) from Civil War days before America’s slaves were freed, about a northerner who went to a slave auction and purchased a young slave girl. As they walked away from the auction, the man turned to the girl and told her, “You’re free.”
With amazement she responded, “You mean, I’m free to do whatever I want?”
“Yes,” he said.
“And to say whatever I want to say?”
“And to be whatever I want to be?”
“And even go wherever I want to go?”
“Yes,” he answered with a smile. “You’re free to go wherever you’d like.”
She looked at him intently and replied, “Then I will go with you.”
Many fear that the grace-delivered, blood-bought, deliverance of radical freedom will result in loveless license. But as the above story illustrate, redeeming unconditional love alone (not fear, not not guilt, not shame) carries the power to compel heart-felt loyalty to the One who bought us.
Galatians 5:1 says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. STAND FIRM, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
I cannot read this verse without my mind conjuring up a picture of William Wallace just before he died in the movie Braveheart.
Paul is equally as passionate in this passage as he tries to help the Galatians understand that they are on the verge of throwing away their freedom – a freedom that was gained for them by Christ at the cross.
Here are some questions that arise out of this text that we need to take to heart:
1) Do we believe that what Christ did for us at the cross was enough – or do we need to supplement what He did with our own good works? (verses 2-6)
2) Where are we getting our “truth” from – is it from the infallible Word of God or is it from fallible teachers?(verses 7-12)
3) Is our energy going into fighting the world, the flesh, and the devil – or into fighting with one another? (verses 13-15)
4) Are we living by the Spirit, finding our strength daily in and through Him- or are we trying to live the Christian life in our own power? (verses 16-26)
Paul’s words in verse 1 ought to be a clarion call to all believers who desire to live in the freedom that has already been won for us: STAND FIRM!
STAND FIRM in the shadow of the cross. STAND FIRM on the life-giving, soul-nourishing Word of God. STAND FIRM with like minded believers as we battle the enemies of the gospel. STAND FIRM by the power of the Spirit.
Here are a few questions to help get you thinking as you ponder Galatians 6 this week:
v1 – Are we “our brother’s keeper” when it comes to dealing with sin in each other’s lives?
v2 – What are some practical ways that we can “carry one another’s burdens”?
v7-8 – How have you seen this principle play out in your own life?
v9 – What is Paul referring to here when he mentions the harvest that we will reap?
v10 – Ponder the practical aspects of the phrase “as we have opportunity.”