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Growing Dependence on Christ

March 14th, 2019

Without Me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

The Christian life should grow not in our independence from God, but in our dependence on Him. Self-sufficiency for the Christian means to be able to stand alone knowing Christ will hold you up. We may be independent from people, but we are never independent from God.

We do not learn our need of God in theoretical situations, but in dealing with the realities of this life each day. This means that living the best Christian life is not achieved by withdrawing from life and contemplating all alone. It is experienced in the day-to-day struggles of life, in the ups and downs of our Christian life. Paul E. Miller wrote: “Remember the point of Christianity isn’t to learn a lot of truths so you don’t need God anymore. We don’t learn God in the abstract.”

There is a time and a place for withdrawing to study and to contemplate and, especially, to pray and commune with God. But if this is all we do, then we will eventually find the experience shallow. Grace is found in our dealing with our own sinfulness. Grace shared with others is learned in our dealing with their failures. Patience is learned in uphill struggles, and the deepest awareness of the love of God seems to come in times of loneliness and isolation from others – even in the midst of rejection.

That Christ told us “you can do nothing without Me” means that He foresaw that we would surely try to do things without Him, that we would attempt to render Him a mere historic relic, rather than the living and empowering God He is today. It is when we stumble that we eel the need for His personal grace and restoring power.

The strongest Christians are not the most independent, but those who have learned their Christ-dependency and increasingly learn to lean on Him. As He said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).

Daily Devotions

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