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Archive for April, 2014

Without Blemish

April 30th, 2014

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

Ephesians 5:25-27

In this practical section of marriage and family relationships, God inspired Paul to give us this wonderful description of Christ’s love for the church and His complete redemption of the church. This is a beautiful description of the grace of God in Christ that brings us from being dead in our transgressions and sins to being free from blemish, to be considered splendorous and sanctified completely. This new understanding of who we are in Christ is granted within our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

Yet many believers still struggle in seeing themselves in this light that defines us by the benefits of grace, and not the failure of our sin. Guilty consciences must be cleansed by the blood of Christ and washed with the water of the Word of God so that we live in the victory of grace, not the defeat of our own sin.

As Shakespeare’s Hamlet delivers his thoughtful monologue, “To be or not to be,” he cautions himself against suicide. Thought, he says, keeps us from taking our life, for we do not know what we will face in the after life - “And makes us rather bear those ills we have, Than fly to others that we know not of. Thus Conscience does make Cowards of us all.” By conscience he meant consciousness, the ability to think and reason causes the natural man in us to fear the great unknown beyond death. He is, of course, speaking of his own sins, his own personal guilt, that had undermined his confidence of what he would experience in the afterlife. The Shakespearean tragedy is a moving story of the moral corruption in the world, and Hamlet himself, a fictitious Prince of Denmark, is caught up in the business of revenge, and it destroys him and his entire royal family.

We can all become Hamlet-like, delving into dark thoughts on the moroseness of our sin, rather than focusing on the grace and the forgiveness we have in Christ. Our own awareness of our sin, “conscience” or thought, is both a good thing and a bad thing. To the degree that it leads us to repentance and humility, to be aware of our need of grace, to be grateful for our salvation, to praise and thank God for His grace toward us in Christ, awareness of sin is a good thing. This is what Jesus spoke of as the work of the Spirit in the world, to bring conviction of sin to our hearts (John 16:8-11), and to press the issue to our minds that we might repent and turn to Him for cleansing. This is what the Bible calls “godly sorrow” that leads to grateful faith and love and service to Christ (2 Cor. 7:10-11). “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more” (Rom. 5:20b).

But to the degree that our awareness of our own sin rejects the thought of grace, to the degree that it causes us to sorrow without hope, to doubt Christ’s death is sufficient for our cleansing, to question if we could ever be fully forgiven and restored, to cause us to see ourselves constantly as morally stained, without hope, or hopelessly blemished, then awareness of sin has polluted our minds and dishonored the sacrifice of Christ for us. This is what the Bible calls “worldly sorrow” (2 Cor. 7:10).

If you ever feel that God cannot or will not forgive you for your sins, if you ever feel still dead in your transgressions and sins (assuming you are a true believer in Christ), then this thought was not placed in your heart by God, but by the devil. According to the Good News, you are cleansed by the grace of God and are “God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works” foreordained by God that you should do (Eph. 2:10).

God’s message to us in this passage is that there is no longer any blemish in us, we are cleansed in Christ, and made holy, even splendorous. Our sins are forgiven and we are now fully accepted, just as a beautiful bride is to her husband. Accept yourself in Christ as being clean and a new creation. This is God’s testimony to you. Live in the reality of grace.

Concerning marriage, by the way, this is a strong message for us men, to love our wives and see them as precious. And when we might notice any fault, we should seek to lovingly redeem them through love, not to put them down in insult and labeling, but to lift them up. We should deal with them as graciously as Christ deals with His Church.

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Becoming a Spirit-filled Fellowship

April 29th, 2014

...addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Ephesians 5:19-21

The preceding verse commands us to be filled with the Spirit of God. Although there is a personal application to this command, it is clear from the verses above that the apostle had mostly on his mind the idea of the body of Christ being filled together, and not just individual believers being filled. He is answering how the body of Christ might be filled with the Spirit and he has four supportive commands.

“Speaking to one another” - The parallel passage, Colossians 3:15-17, says “teaching and admonishing one another,” so the idea is to connect meaningfully, the interchange of thoughts and feelings about God and Christ and our salvation. Good praise requires thought and interaction - it is not a mindless, vague, emotional spectator sport. We must engage with one another through small groups in the Christian life. We cannot be sure exactly what these “hymns” and “spiritual songs” were, but clearly they were not David’s Psalms. There is a need for us in our Christian life and in the church life to express ourselves our faith afresh and anew.

“Making music in your heart” - It requires sincere individual worship for the church to have real worship. Our singing and speaking must begin in our heart, within each of us. The apostle specifically said “in your heart” and not “out of your heart.” The difference is slight but significant, for this means that I must make personal devotions a priority. I must have more than a fleeting moment of sincerity that erupts to public expression in church. Rather my private time with God must be rich, praise and worship must be in my own heart, and it must be in your heart. Private and public worship go together and both are essential. The church that will enjoy the fullness of the Spirit in its public worship will have members whose private worship is real.

“Giving thanks always for everything” - Being grateful people, seeing the blessings of God and not just the difficulties of life, is necessary for the church that would live in the fullness of the Spirit. God is always at work around us and within us. Faith in Him is the simple belief that for His child, the best is always yet to come.

“Submitting to one another” - The spirit of the church family toward one another is one of tender consideration, not of power plays and oppression. We are to serve one another, prefer one another, carry one another’s burdens, pray for each other, and submit to one another. Certainly the church has a right and an obligation to protect itself against those that would try to manipulate and through lies and intimidations, with malice and pride, try to force their way upon the body of Christ. Unfortunately, such people do exist in churches. But this is to be done in defense and not as a matter of standard policy. Our policy should be to love and celebrate one another and seek to help each other - not to lord it over.

The spirit of a church is important for the spiritual health of the worshipers and members. We must commit ourselves daily and weekly to be a spiritual, grateful, responsive, loving people.

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Another note:

The Trinitarian emphasis of this passage is significant: Verse 18 is about being filled with the Spirit; Verse 19 is about singing to the Lord, or to Christ Jesus; Verse 20 is about giving thanks to the Father. Paul, ever the thoughtful theologian, applied the knowledge of the Godhead in three distinct ways:

  1. The Spirit is who we experience in our daily lives. He fills us with Himself.
  2. The Son is the Person who the Spirit exalts and magnifies, and He is the exact representation of the Father. He is our Intercessor and the Face of God for us, and the God who is the object of our praise and worship.
  3. The Father is always unseen, mysterious, but the One who has planned our salvation and is behind every blessing we experience in life. He is the object of our gratitude, and we approach Him in the name of Christ Jesus.

So we experience the Spirit, praise the Son, and give thanks to the Father. But let’s be careful not to be dogmatic about these things, for the Trinity is Three-in-One, and what we have here is thoughtful encouragement, and not a rigid rule to follow in our devotion. Other passages, such as John 14-16, Romans 8, 2 Corinthians 3-4, and Colossians 3, advise against a too strict separation of the members of the Trinity. The Spirit is also called “Christ” as well as “the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead,” which would be the Father. There is complete unity and one-ness in the Godhead.

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