Archive for the ‘Evening Devotionals’ Category

Saved By Grace

January 23rd, 2019

For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance as our way of life. (Ephesians 2:8-10 BSB)

Paul has been working toward this truth since the first line of his epistle, where he identified himself as an apostle according to the will of God. A question often asked is which comes first: the calling of God or the credentials of dedication on the part of the disciple? The answer is abundantly clear here, that the calling of God comes into our lives when we were without any credentials to recommend us to God. As He spoke the world into existence in the darkness of nothingness, so He calls to us in the darkness of our selfishness and sin and draws us to Himself.

No precondition required

Grace means unearned favor, and that means that there is no pre-condition that must precede the calling. God chooses, God calls, and then and only then can we believe. God prepares the heart to believe, just as Paul must have been influenced by the martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 7:54-60), but that also is His work. When Jesus and Nathaniel first met in the flesh, Nathaniel asked him “How do you know me?” And Jesus replied, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree” (John 1:48). 

It is God’s calling that credentials the disciple, and not the disciple’s morality, or good works, or religiousness, or seeking, or “spirituality” that credentials God’s calling. God uses Christians as they mature in their faith – an “overseer” should not be a brand new Christian, for example (1 Tim. 3:7). God led Samuel to anoint David and said, “Men look on the outside but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).  But let’s not confuse this issue and suggest that God saved David because of David’s heart. The opposite is true, that God’s salvation is the explanation of David’s heart. 

In fact, the scripture emphasizes just that: “He chose David his servant and took him from the sheepfolds” (Psalm 78:70). God’s choice always comes when the one He chooses has no credentials to recommend him to God or to salvation. Jesus said, “Many are called but few are chosen” (Matt. 22:14). It was said against the background of the Parable of the Wedding Banquet, where the originally invited guests did not come, so the servants were sent out to invite as many as they could, “both evil and good,” to the great banquet. But one guest was not wearing proper “wedding clothes” and was cast out (Matt. 22:1-14). The point of Jesus was precisely on this issue of grace received through faith. 

The guest cast out is the kind of person who would have said, “Well, I should have been invited with the first group, along with the so-called ‘important guests.’ And I’ll show my displeasure by not dressing properly.” And this guest depicts those who hear of the gospel but decide to come to God through any other means other than through faith in Christ, whether it be personal morality, or another religion, or whatever. They were called, but did not come the way the invitation was given. They may say, “Well, I’m just as good as many Christians I know.” But God can see that they have not dressed in the robes of grace that come through faith in Christ and are the only thing that can cover our sinfulness. 

Created for good works

The disciple then becomes God’s “workmanship,” God’s project. We are “created” anew, fresh, by God and He is the One who enables us to do truly good works. He changes our motives, and aligns our steps with His own, and with those other disciples who are following Him by grace through faith. Our lives are divided into two sections now, before Christ and since Christ. Before Christ our works were our own, even our good works, and though God might have used them to do His will not a single one of them came from transformed hearts. “Since Christ” He now works in us and through us. 

“Through faith” is an important phrase, because the New Testament is careful never to assert that our faith alone is the foundation of our salvation. Our salvation rests upon the foundation of the work of Christ, and we come into salvation by the choosing and calling of God. Faith is not the stubborn believing in what we have decided is true, rather it is surrender to God’s witness through His word and through His Spirit. It is all by grace and only by grace. The “good church child” still is in need of the grace of God, and the transformation of his heart that can only come by the Spirit of God. 

The miracle of God at work in us

And this is the miracle that Paul has been stressing throughout these first two chapters, that anyone who hears God’s call and repents and trusts in Christ, becomes a miracle in progress. God’s surpassing greatness is at work in him. Nothing can compare to God – and perhaps the most deceived is the one who trusts in his own righteousness rather than Christ simply because he does not think he is so bad as the others. But we have ALL walked in sin.

At one time we all lived among them, fulfilling the cravings of our flesh and indulging its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature children of wrath. (Eph. 2:3)

Perhaps some of us did not stand out like others in human society, but God who sees the heart could see what was going on inside of us. Heaven will not be populated with good church people who are still unconverted in their hearts. Heaven will be filled with those who were sinful, beyond hope, children of wrath but who have been saved by grace through faith, and have become re-creations of God’s great mercy and love. 

Doctrinal Studies, Ephesians, Evening Devotionals

Children of Wrath

January 21st, 2019

As for you, you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you used to walk when you conformed to the ways of this world and of the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit who is now at work in the sons of disobedience. At one time we all lived among them, fulfilling the cravings of our flesh and indulging its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature children of wrath. (Ephesians 2:1-3 BSB)

Something went wrong in human experience.

In the first chapter of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul explained the plan of God to bless us in Christ from before the foundation of the world, and of His work of grace in believers. He used grandiose phrases like: “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms,” “the riches of his grace that he lavished on us,” and “the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints.” He used them not for some emotional effect on the readers, but because they were and are the utter truth of God’s intentions for us.

But before he can go on and teach us more about the Christian life, he has to visit this topic of our sinfulness. The immeasurable blessings that God bestows on us through Christ have at their very foundation the sacrificial death of Christ for our sins. God from eternity planned to bless us, but something terrible got in the way, and that is our sinfulness. It was of such a nature, so strong and upsetting, that none of these plans of God for us could be fulfilled until this matter was taken out of our way.

We were dead

Death is an absolute. You cannot be deader than dead. And the Spirit inspired Paul to tell us our true condition without Christ. We were in spiritual death. We often speak of our sins as “our little foibles” or our “weaknesses,” “failings,” or “chinks in our armor.” We down play their seriousness, but God in His utter and complete holiness would not do so.  To Him we were simply dead – cut off from life.

Men are spiritually dead like a cut flower is dead. If you place the flower in a vase of water there is still the impression of life, but death has already set in and it will inevitably fade. The human race still shows some signs of kindness and greatness, but there is also the terrible signs of moral decay and death has already set in.

The world, the flesh, and the devil

There are three great enemies of righteousness in this life. The world is this fallen world with its fallen values. Here Paul spoke of “the ways of the world,” and that speaks of both an inward and outward adherence on our part. Every earthly culture has two aspects: the inner cultural values and the outward customs with their “proper” ways to act. John wrote:

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not from the Father but from the world. The world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God remains forever. (1 John 2:15-17)

The flesh is the biblical way of describing our fallen human nature that is detailed here. We willingly walk in the ways of the world because of our “flesh.” Our problem is not just what is “out there” in the world but what is “in here” in our hearts. We each have a tendency to sin. We read that before Christ we lived  “fulfilling the cravings of our flesh and indulging its desires and thoughts” (Eph. 2:3).

Elsewhere Paul wrote:

I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh; for I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do. Instead, I keep on doing the evil I do not want to do. And if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. (Romans 7:18-20)

Early in the American experience, many well-meaning European pioneers sought to get away from the evil influences of where they had come from and to establish new and “Christian” communities – utopias – that would be places like virtual Edens. But they found that they each brought sin with them in their own hearts into the communities.

The devil is the evil mastermind behind this entire problem. Here he is called “the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit who is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). Satan is identified as a spirit that works among the people of this world to inspire disobedience to God. Paul wrote more about the devil and demons to the Christians in Ephesus than any other church. From the Acts 19 account of the establishing of the church there, and the clear spiritual conflict they were engaged in, we can only assume that the city was a stronghold of Satanic activity.

The phrase “power of the air” shows two things. (a) Satan is not limited geographically, not more than the air we breath is locked into certain areas only.  Eventually every molecule of the atmosphere that one human breathes can be breathed in by any other person on the planet. And the same is true of the work of the devil. (b) But I believe there is some weakness intended also in this description, as though his domain is built “in the air” and not grounded in any eternal reality.

We speak of those who dwell too much in phantasies as “building castles in the air,” and this is certainly the reality of Satan. As John wrote: “Woe to the earth … with great fury the devil has come down to you, knowing he has only a short time” (Rev. 12:12).

By nature children of wrath

The human condition is such that God is fully justified to exercise His wrath against us all. There are many questions this thought raises: At what age do we become “children of wrath?” Is the wrath of God exercised with the same fierceness against all humans? These and other questions are answered in the teachings of God’s word. As Abraham said, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25). So God is the completely fair and equitable judge. Christ spoke of it being “more tolerable” (Mark 6:11) for some in judgement than others. So we can trust God that His judgment will be completely fair. Where God’s word is silent in details we may assume that the affirmations of His fairness and rightness adequately cover the matters in general. He is the Judge, not you or me. He will judge fairly.

But if we do not understand this point – that the entire human race earned its total condemnation in the holiness of God’s judgment – then we will not understand His love and His grace. His love motivated Him to act in grace and send Christ to die for our sins. The human race is not just a little sick spiritually, and just needs a little help, some encouragement to try harder. No, the human race is dead spiritually, and only the grace of God in Christ can make us alive spiritually.

Those of us who have come to Christ have no means to boast or to be proud of ourselves, for we, in ourselves alone, were children of wrath. All of our boasting is in the cross of Christ and in the love and grace of God in Christ. Our life comes from Him, our adoption comes from Him, and we can debate the mystery of faith – how much of it is done by us and how much is done by God – but we must be clear that no faith would be possible without the sacrificial death and resurrection of Christ, and Christ Himself, to believe in, and without the Spirit at work in our hearts to bring us to faith in Christ.

So here is a reason to humbly rejoice. God has reached down into our lives and redeemed us in Christ, and has called us to Himself. He has adopted us as His children. His grace in Christ is able to take those who are properly called “children of wrath” and save them and make them like Christ spiritually.  God’s grace is amazing for more than just one reason! He reaches down to save us – that is amazing! – but He also brings us up and seats us with Christ in the heavenly places – also amazing!

Daily Devotions, Ephesians, Evening Devotionals