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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

The Surpassing Greatness of His Power

January 16th, 2019

The surpassing greatness of His power to us who believe. (Ephesians 1:19)

It is the nature of a thing that in the end will determine its acts. We distinguish between tameable and untameable animals along these very lines, that the untameable may eventually turn on their host, no matter how kindly they have been treated.

With God, however, the opposite nature predominates, that His kindness, His love, His compassion brought about the cross of Christ. Just as His holiness demanded a payment be made for sin, so His love demanded that He Himself make the payment. But love and holiness are not the only eternal attributes of the Creator. There is also the undeniable and inseparable attribute of power that cannot be restrained.

God is neither eternal holiness that is locked up and incapable of executing justice on the sinner, nor is He eternal love that is shut away in an eternal heart unable to express its dearest and most deeply held affections. Patience does not equal weakness or the inability to act on the part of God. And while we wait for the culmination of the age, the righting of all that is wrong, the total fulfilment of His promises to us, God does not sit idly by twiddling His eternal thumbs, so to speak.

He acts. He acts with the power that is uniquely His – the very power that raised Christ from the grave, that breathed life into the dead and lifeless body of Jesus of Nazareth as it lay in a tomb just outside of Jerusalem.  The power that ushered universe into existence, that spoke and it was done, now expresses this divine and measureless love toward those who believe. His power as He directs it toward us is described in different ways.

In Ephesians 3:7 Paul wrote of the “effectual working of His power,” emphasising the efficiency of God’s power in achieving His purposes. Philippians 3:21 stresses the overcoming nature of God’s power who is able “subdue all things to Himself.” In Colossians 1:28-29 Paul stressed the inward working of God in our hearts and lives as he wrote saying:

We proclaim Him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, striving with all His energy working powerfully within me.

There are several different Greek words that are used for this idea of power, but they all support the biblical idea that God’s power is “inherent power.” This means that the power derives from God Himself, as there is no one greater than He who could bestow it upon Him. To know God is to know divine power, power that is efficient, effectual, overcoming, and inward working.

Surpassing greatness

The meaning here is power that goes beyond our expectations. “Over throw” is the literal meaning of the word huperballo, and means to excel, to transcend, to overachieve, to exceed. It means that the exercise of God’s power is constantly surprising. It is greatness that we are constantly unable to grasp or always anticipate. In dealing with God and His Spirit we are very much like a man holding a live electric wire in his hand uncertain of the amount of kilowatts or what it will do to the things it touches.

Does this comfort, surprise, threaten, or confuse you? Or does it do all of these things and more to you? Many of the promises of God are clear enough for us to grasp, concepts such as redemption, pardoning, forgiveness, regeneration, etc. But their extent is unknown to us. A Christian is like a man starting a journey knowing only the destination, but entirely unsure of the valleys he will descend into, the mountains he will ascend up to, the deserts he will cross, or the vistas he will view, or even the company he will keep, but we can be sure that through it all the overcoming, efficient, and inward working power of God will be there for us.

To us who believe

The words here do not yet explain the working of God within us – the inward working nature of God’s power is stressed in many other places of scripture. Here, however, the emphasis is upon the intent of God to direct His power toward those who believe. It takes God’s power in order for us to believe – His Spiritual power that convicts us of sin, and convinces us that Christ is the solution to our sin, and stresses the urgency of this matter of faith  (John 16:8-11). Yet faith also invites more of God’s power to be at work in our lives.

Later in Ephesians Paul will speak of “the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24). So the power of God is not merely an outgoing reality for the Christian, but in His power He alters our very nature. We become new people in Christ by the power of God. In Romans he wrote: “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him” (Rom. 6:8).

Let this be enough for today, the awareness that God’s limitless and unchainable power is directed toward us who believe. So many people I have met do not understand this. They still look at faith like they are drinking water, and they thirst again immediately afterward. They keep asking for salvation because they do not understand the power of God. Christ spoke of the living water He provides that will really satisfy our hearts (John 4:14). God raises us with His limitless power and transforms us inwardly and eternally.

Daily Devotions, Ephesians