Posts Tagged ‘Spiritual growth’

Ephesians 3

Ephesians 3 has Paul telling us about his call to be a minister of the gospel of Christ.  He was under house arrest because of his missionary efforts to bring the truth to the Gentiles, which wasn’t at all popular with the religious leaders of the day.  Paul was tasked with unveiling a mystery: “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel”.  All Christ Followers are one – believing Jews and believing Gentiles are joined together into one body of Christ, into one Church, and no longer separated before God.  This is very new thinking in Paul’s day, and one met with much resistance.

But Paul sees it as an honor to unveil God’s plan to the masses.  “To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities  in the heavenly places”.  Christ’s death on the cross revealed God’s finished work of grace for all people, and Paul’s mission is to tell the world!

It wasn’t something that was without resistance and Paul encourages the church to stay the course.  “I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory….that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being”.  Paul was under arrest because of this message, but during that time he was used by God to write the letters of Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon.  Even though times can be difficult, the Holy Spirit dwells in us and will strengthen us in His power.

Why does Paul challenge us to not lose heart?  Here is his answer: “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God”.  Spurgeon writes “Two expressions are used: ‘rooted,’ like a living tree which lays hold upon the soil, twists itself round the rocks, and cannot be upturned: ‘grounded,’ like a building which has been settled, as a whole, and will never show any cracks or flaws in the future through failures in the foundation.”

The cross pointed in four ways, essentially in every direction, because . . .

  • God’s love is wide enough to include every person.
  • God’s love is long enough to last through all eternity.
  • God’s love is deep enough to reach the worst sinner.
  • God’s love is high enough to take us to heaven.

Paul wants us to lean deeply into the everlasting and unmeasurable love of Christ.  In that love we are filled with the fullness of God.  Clarke writes “Among all the great sayings in this prayer, this is the greatest. To be filled with God is a great thing; to be filled with the fullness of God is still greater; but to be filled with all the fullness of God utterly bewilders the sense and confounds the understanding.”  That’s what God offers us through our relationship with Christ.  Do you have that?


Ephesians 2

Ephesians 2 is a  power chapter where Paul breaks down the reality of life with and without Christ. His statements are long with a lot of words and pacted with truth, but they give us a true picture of how things truly are. “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind”.  Based on our own efforts, we are toast.  We are sinners following an enemy in a life of disobedience without a future or a hope.

But God offered us a different option.  Not because He had to, but because He loves us.  “But God, being  rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus”.  How does God love us?  With His mercy (not giving us what we deserve) and His grace (giving us what we don’t deserve).  That’s His love in a nutshell.

Then Paul shares the simplest reality of salvation in all of scripture.  “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast”.  God’s offer of salvation is freely given and can only be received through accepting it as the gift through which it was offered – a faith relationship through Jesus Christ.  There is nothing we can do to earn or achieve salvation on our own – no matter how hard we try.  Salvation does not result from how hard we work or what we do.  It comes only through faith and personally receiving Christ as God’s gift of grace to cover the penalty of our sin.

Does that mean we can just receive Christ through faith and then sit around until we die?  Not hardly.  “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them”.  Doing things don’t save us, but are certainly a result of being saved.  When we receive Christ, our heart becomes focused on serving God and others – fulfilling the Great Commandments that Jesus taught – and we are motivated to serve others.  We transition from being “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” to a place where everything changes when we are saved.  “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ”.

 Paul shares the reality of life with Jesus.  “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility….For  through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and  members of the household of God….In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit”.  When we receive Jesus He tears down the walls that keep us from God because of our sin, and builds in us a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit.  But it only happens when we make the step of receiving Christ as Savior and Lord.  We have to make God’s gift of grace and mercy our own.  Until then, we live lost and apart from God’s glorious plan for our life!

Ephesians 1

Ephesians 1 has Paul writing to the church at Ephesus which was filled with people “faithful in Christ Jesus”.  Paul spends the chapter encouraging them in the faith they have in Christ “who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing….even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him”.  This is important to understand – believers are chosen by God, and they are chosen before they have done anything or have been anything for God.  God draws us to Himself for the purpose of not only saving us, but also for holiness.  God doesn’t just want us saved, He also wants us to walk with Christ in obedience that leads us to righteousness.

Paul makes it clear that God chooses us to become part of His family, into a place that we can not lose.  Once we become a child of God, we’ll always be a child.  We may strain the relationship based on how we live, but it doesn’t change the reality of God making us part of His family through Christ. “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved”.  This plan is God’s doing, not ours.  This plan gives glory to God’s grace.  It’s all His idea and His plan.  We merely are drawn to Him with the opportunity to receive His free gift of grace which will make us a son and provide eternal life.

Paul tells us the power of receiving Christ and becoming a son of the Father in three long verses about what happens when we receive God’s offer of grace:

  • In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth
  • In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to  the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory
  • In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,who is  the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory

These three long statements tell us what happens ‘in him’ – the result of our acceptance of Jesus as not only Savior, but also Lord.  God has an amazing set of benefits that He bestows on His children when they become part of His family.  But not one little thing is the result of our efforts.  They are all gifts from the Father when we come to receive His gift of grace through Christ.

Paul goes on to tell the church how he prays for them.  The list is long, but if you want to know how to pray for someone, check out Paul’s prayer:  “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come”.  Paul’s prayer focuses on these things as he lifts up the faithful in the church:

  • A spirit of wisdom
  • Knowledge of Christ
  • Eyes that are enlightened
  • Understanding of hope
  • Riches of glory
  • Inheritance of the saints
  • Immeasurable power
  • Unlimited authority
  • Eternal relationship

Paul speaks a lot of words here, but the focus isn’t what our prayers often are, where we cry out to God to fix our problems and give us what we want.  Paul’s prayer focuses on Christ and the relationship we have with Him and through Him.  Prayer isn’t about us.  It’s about lining up our heart and our will with the Father.  That’s what Paul is focused on in the words he writes here.

Galatians 6

Paul wraps up his letter to the church at Galatia by focusing on the interaction between people and the church.  He begins by reminding them that we need to hold each other accountable, but to do it God’s way.  “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness”.  That seems simple enough, but is actually far from it.  The easy part is catching another in sin.  We’re all guilty, so it’s just a matter of watching and waiting.  But first realize that this verse applies only to Christ Followers – not the world at large – when Paul begins with ‘brothers’.  Secondly, the sin has to be caught, not something heard about or assumed.  Third, restoration should only come from a fellow Christ Follower who is spiritually mature and walking consistently with Christ.  Restoring another is not about raising our own status or making us feel better because we caught someone else sinning.  It requires one to be spiritual mature and growing.  And finally, Paul tells us that the restoration – not correction – should be done with a spirit of gentleness.  It isn’t a 2X4 to the side of the head – it is gently teaching and walking with someone to bring them back to their walk with Jesus.  It’s messy, hard work, and requires commitment on our part if we are going to be a spiritual mentor who restores another.

He goes on to remind us that we are to “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ”.  What law  you may ask?  The one where He tells us to ‘love your neighbor as yourself’.  We are not to live in isolation focused on ourselves, but in community where we are loving those in our patch.  Selfishness or self focus is not part of God’s design for us as a Christ Follower.  “For  if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself”.  Life is not about you or me.  Life is completely about living out Christ’s commandments to love God and love our neighbors.  It isn’t about building our own kingdom or accumulating stuff.

The laws of God’s world are pretty simple.  “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life”.  God’s economy isn’t complicated at all – certainly not rocket science.  We will receive in life based on how we live.  If we sow blessing and goodness, that’s what we will reap.  So we should stay focused on being sowers of good seed and make sure our lives are filled with good soil so we reap the goodness that God desires within us.

It’s hard work, but Paul tells us to stay the course.  “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith”.  What should our life consist of?  Walking with Christ and loving those in our patch.  Life isn’t about making money or seeing how much stuff we can accumulate.  It is about loving people and doing good where God has planted us as we minister to our neighbors and the Body of Christ we are part of.  Paul is careful to keep the main thing the main thing.  “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world”.  Life is ultimately about Jesus, not us, and we need to keep Him as the message and main focus. Nothing else ultimately matters!

Galatians 5

Galatians 5 has Paul nailing the Galatian church with the struggles they are going through regarding faith versus the law.  “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery”.  Faith in Christ gives us freedom through God’s grace – the law no longer owns us.  But we need to stay committed to that faith.  “You who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace….For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love”.  While the law doesn’t go away with Christ, it is not the way to salvation.  Faith alone is.

Paul makes it clear that the freedom we get through Christ is our ticket to loving and serving each other.  “Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another”.  It isn’t our ticket to do anything and everything we want.  If it feels good, we shouldn’t just do it.  In fact, Paul tells us “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh”.  Paul wrote to the Corinthian church that temptation could not control us.  God gives us the Holy Spirit to live within us and to help us live victoriously.  We walk successfully when we walk with the Spirit.

If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law”.  God’s grace gives us freedom.  It sets us free from the law.  Jesus is the freedom.  Paul goes on to describe what living without the Spirit looks like: “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions,  divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these”.  These are things that are not glorifying to God – things that are sinful that the Spirit of God would not guide us into.  God’s Spirit will direct us to walk in righteousness and godliness if we simply follow Him.

What the Spirit does in us looks completely different – “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control;  against such things there is no law.”   Nine qualities that are the result of the Holy Spirit living in us and through us.  If we are truly Christ followers, “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires”.  We no longer live for ourselves.  “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit”.  Paul challenges us to let the Spirit of God control how we live and what we do.  It’s not about letting our feelings and desires run free.  Being a Christ Follower is about letting the Holy Spirit guide how we act and that will be godly living that honors God.

Galatians 4

Galatians 4 has Paul talking about our status as Christ Followers in relationship to God.  “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born  of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons”.  This is no small thing that God has done for us.  He gave His only Son to redeem us as sinners to His righteous standards.  But more than that, He adopted us as His very own children. We’re not outsiders granted a gift, we are taken in as His very own and become part of His family and He becomes our Father!

What an amazing gift of grace. But the impact of God’s decision to love us that way and adopt us as His very own means we will always be a child of His.  Our future is not dependent on how we act or live.  As an earthly father, if my kids do things that are not what I want, the relationship may become strained, but they will always be my children.  That same truth exists about our relationship with God as a Christ Follower.  We become His kids, and as such, will always be part of His family.  We can make choices that strain our relationship with Him, but never change our status as a child of His once we make the step of receiving Christ as our Savior.  “And because you are sons, God has sent  the Spirit of his Son into our hearts”.

Our entire status changes when we receive God’s gift of grace through Christ.  “So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God”.  We are not just a child of God – we become a joint heir to the Father’s world with Christ.  “But now that you have come to know God, or rather  to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more….I entreat you, become as I am”.  God has given us this amazing gift and Paul encourages us to live as a child of the King just as he is.  That doesn’t mean someone entitled and lazy, but serving as part of God’s body to tell the story of Jesus to those in our patch.

We have a new status as a child of God.  We are an heir, but also we are free from our sin.  “So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman”.  Sin doesn’t go away, but it no longer has control of us.  We no longer are a slave to it.  God has set us free from all that sin can do to us in destroying our present and future.  We are child of the King and son of a free woman.  Our future is secure if we will only receive the free gift God has provided us through Jesus Christ.  What an amazing story He has written that we can join and be part of as His son and joint heir with the King!

Galatians 3

Galatians 3 has Paul dealing with the church at Galatia around the topic of the law and faith.  It seems they have lost their way a bit in their understanding of how faith alone is the way to salvation through Christ.  “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith”?  He reminds them that they were saved by faith, but now are falling back to works and the law.  “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh”?  Their change makes no sense.  They received Christ through faith, and the Salvation God offered them through grace.  But now they are waffling on that.

So he gets in their face and challenges their fallback to works.  “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—just as  Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?  Salvation has always come through faith.  They know this and have previously believed.  But the enemy tests our faith and challenges the truth of God’s grace.  Paul reinforces it.  “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham….So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith”.  God made a promise to Abraham many centuries earlier that is still in effect today.

There can be no salvation outside of grace which does not depend on the law or our works.  “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them”.  God’s standard is clear and simple – it is perfection to keep all His commands.  No human is capable of living that standard without fail.  Thus no one who attempts to achieve eternal life based on the law and our works has any hope of achieving salvation.  It cannot be done by mere mortal man.  So God sent Jesus to the Cross.  “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us”. 

We have no hope except through Jesus.  “For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law”.  The theory of becoming righteous by our works may seem possible, but it is not – it is impossible.  “Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that  the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe”.  God had to provide a different way, and that was done through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross. “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed….the law was our  guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith”.

The law was in place before Christ, but now has been replaced by God’s grace.  “Now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith”.  Paul makes is crystal clear.  We will never achieve salvation through our works.  Our salvation does not depend on us at all.  It is completely and absolutely dependent on Jesus.  God gave us grace when Christ went to the Cross and that alone is our hope and salvation.  He is our King.  He alone can redeem us from the penalty of sin.  He alone is Savior and Lord.  We need to make sure we are right with Him!

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