God’s Will: Your Holiness

1 Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. – 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 ESV

The chapter and verse designations found in our English translations were not In the original letter sent by Paul to the Thessalonians. So, the rather abrupt break we find between the close of chapter 3 and the beginning of chapter four would not have been there. And that artificially imposed structure on the letter can cause some unnecessary confusion when trying to determine Paul’s intent and meaning.

Chapter three ends with Paul expressing his strong desire that God increase the love of Thessalonian believers for one another and for those outside their fellowship. And his prayer is that God would “establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints” (1 Thessalonians 3:13 ESV). Paul’s concern is that they live loves marked by love and godliness. He longs to see their inner heart transformation manifest itself through external expressions that give evidence to their holiness.

And Paul carries that thought into the next paragraph. The word “finally” is translated from the Greek word loipon, which can have a wide range of meanings, depending upon the context. It could be translated, “in addition” or “moreover.” Paul is expanding on what he has just said. He’s adding to his thoughts by providing his readers with further counsel regarding the link between their status as believers in Jesus Christ and the behavior that marks their lives. Paul had previously provided them with instructions in how “to walk and to please God,” and he commends them for having done so. But he also encourages them to “do so more and more” (1 Thessalonians 4:1 ESV). They were not to grow complacent or content. This was no time to rest on their laurels or to become satisfied with the current condition of their spiritual lives. 

And it must be noted how Paul weaves together two very important aspects regarding the Christian’s spiritual maturity. At the close of chapter three, he expressed his firm belief that it was God alone who could increase the level of their love and cause it to overflow. And only God could make their hearts strong, blameless, and holy. The inner transformation of their lives was totally dependent upon divine power, not human effort. It was impossible for them to manufacture, through human means, the kind of love God demanded. There is no way that they could repair the sin-damaged condition of their own hearts through self-renovation. Man is incapable of seeing the true state of his inner life. As the prophet Jeremiah put it, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17:9 NLT). And even if he could see how wicked his heart is, man is powerless to do anything about it. That’s the meaning behind a comment made by God regarding the people of Judah and recorded in the book of Jeremiah.

“Can an Ethiopian change the color of his skin? Can a leopard take away its spots? Neither can you start doing good, for you have always done evil.” – Jeremiah 13:23 NLT

God asked two rhetorical questions that shared the same obvious answer: No. The people of God were powerless to change their behavior because they couldn’t change their hearts. Their actions were nothing more than an outer expression of their inner condition.

So, Paul reminds the Thessalonian believers that it is the power of God that has transformed them and made them His children. Their newfound status as sons and daughters of God was His doing. But that didn’t mean God was finished with them. Otherwise, Paul would not have prayed for God to increase their love to make their hearts strong, blameless, and holy. They were works in process. Which is what Paul meant when he wrote to the believers in Philippi:

God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. – Philippians 1:6 NLT

But Paul’s reference to God’s work in them doesn’t mean that God expects no work from them. And he makes that point perfectly clear when he states, “this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3 ESV). This little verse packs a punch and yet is easily overlooked or ignored by most Christians. It provides a remarkable glimpse into God’s divine will for the life of the believer, and it is all summed up in the one word, sanctification.

The Greek word Paul used is hagiasmos and, like most Greek words, it is rich in meaning. It is sometimes translated as holiness, consecration, and purification. And it can be used to signify a position (a holy nation) and a process (be holy). In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul provides them with a list that describes the unrighteous, or those outside of Christ. It includes the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, men who practice homosexuality, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers. Then Paul makes an interesting statement.  

…such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. – 1 Corinthians 6:11 ESV

Notice that he lists the Corinthian believers as having been sanctified. In this case, he is referring to their having been set apart by God. In the process of their salvation, their sinful condition was cleansed by the righteous blood of Christ, making them pure and acceptable before God and able to be set apart for His use. Like the utensils used in temple worship, they had to be cleansed and purified before they could be deemed worthy of use for God. Which is what Peter meant when he wrote:

you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy [hagios] nation, God’s very own possession. – 1 Peter 2:9 NLT

Don’t miss what Peter is saying. He tells his readers that they are a holy nation. They have been chosen by God and set apart as His very own possession. They belong to Him. Which is exactly what Paul told the believers in Corinth.

You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body. – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NLT

They had been declared holy by God and set apart for His use. Which meant that they were to honor God with the entirety of their lives. And that is the whole point behind Paul’s admonitions to the believers in Thessalonica and Corinth. Notice the similarities between his comments in the two letters.

He tells the Thessalonians, “stay away from all sexual sin. Then each of you will control his own body and live in holiness and honor—not in lustful passion like the pagans who do not know God and his ways” (Thessalonians 4:3-5 NLT). And his words to the Corinthians were similar.

Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? – 1 Corinthians 18-19 NLT

In a sense, Paul is commanding both groups to live their lives in a manner that matches their calling. They have been set apart by God for His use, and their lives were to reflect it. They were not free to live according to their own desires anymore. They had been bought with a price and belonged to God. And it was His will that they live sanctified, set apart lives.

And, as it to make sure the don’t miss his point, Paul states, “God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness” (1 Thessalonians 4:7 ESV). There’s that Greek word, hagiasmos again. It is the very same word that is translated as “sanctification” in verse 3. Paul is emphasizing that the believer’s calling by God is for the purpose of holiness or sanctification, not impurity.

There is a very important truth revealed in this verse that is easily overlooked and underappreciated. Paul says that God has not called us for impurity but in holiness. Those two prepositions are critical. The first one conveys a destination or activity. The second has to do with status or position. Holiness is not to be viewed as a process, but a positional reality. Holiness or sanctification is not to be viewed as a progression towards something as much as a revelation of something. We are already holy in God’s eyes. So, we are to live as what we are. We have been set apart by God in holiness. That is our new status or condition. We have been set apart by God for His will.

But there is going to be a constant war between our will and that of God. And one of the areas of life where the battle will rage the hottest is in regards to sexual sin. It was obviously a problem among the Thessalonian believers, or Paul would not have addressed it. While they enjoyed status as sanctified saints, they were going to have to live lives that gave evidence of who there were. And Paul reminds them that they had the indwelling power of the Spirit of God available to them. This was not about will power and self-effort. But it was about a willingness to make God’s will for them their highest priority. And Paul minces no words when he tells them, “this is the will of God, your sanctification.”

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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The Goal of Godly Living

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

15 Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you. – Titus 2:11-15 ESV

Older, younger, male, female, Jew, Gentile, free, slave. Paul has addressed them all because the corporate body of Christ included them all. And it was essential that each of them understood their role as citizens of the Kingdom of God, responsible for living out their faith and accurately reflecting their status as His children.

Paul reminds Titus that “the grace of God has appeared” – a direct reference to the incarnation of Jesus. According to the gospel of John, “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is Himself God and is at the Father’s side, has made Him known” (John 1:18 BSB). And Paul told the Colossians, “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 NLT). Jesus was the tangible, visible expression of God’s grace or unmerited favor, showered on humanity in spite of our sinful, rebellious state.

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners… God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. – Romans 6:6, 8 NLT

God’s grace entered space and time when the Son of God “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7-8 NLT). And the appearance of Jesus made the gracious gift of salvation available to any and all who would accept it.

And now He has revealed this grace through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has abolished death and illuminated the way to life and immortality through the gospel… – 2 Timothy 1:10 BSB

The grace of God is non-discriminatory and, as Paul puts it, brings salvation to all people, regardless of their age, race, gender, or cultural status. And when anyone places their faith in Jesus Christ, their relationship with God is changed forever, as they move from being God’s enemy to enjoying the privilege of being called His child. They become forgiven saints rather than condemned sinners. But Paul wants Titus to remember that the gift of salvation does far more than change one’s moral status before God. It provides a means for dramatically altering the believer’s behavior and character. And that has been the whole point of Paul’s letter up to this point.

The grace of God makes new life possible, not just in eternity, but right here and now. Paul emphasizes that the salvation provided by God through faith in Christ empowers the believer “to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures” (Titus 2:12 NLT). God not only declares us to be righteous, but He also provides us the means to live that way. And Paul wanted Titus to take his role as an instructor of God’s people seriously. He had a responsibility to teach those under his care what God expected of them. Their newfound status in Christ was not to be abused or misused. They were not free to live however they wanted to or to follow false teachings that contradicted the will of God.

Paul tasked Titus with the role of teaching the Cretans “to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:12 ESV). There’s that word, “self-controlled” again. Paul will not let it go. He will not allow the believers on Crete to bring shame to the gospel by living lives that contradict the transformative nature of its message. Paul was all about practicality and Monday-morning relevance. He told the believers in Ephesus:

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to reckless indiscretion. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. – Ephesians 5:18 BSB

For Paul, belief and behavior were inseparable. And while behavior and actions play no role in salvation, they should be the non-negotiable byproduct of our sanctification. It was James who wrote, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds” (James 2:18 NLT). Our lives, declared righteous by God, should bear the fruit of righteousness.

But in order to live a godly life, one must “renounce ungodliness.” To put it plainly, a believer must deny himself anything that anti-godly. Paul told the believers in Philippi:

Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. – Philippians 4:8 NLT

And he warned the believers in Ephesus:

Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. – Ephesians 5:10-12 NLT

But along with teaching believers to renounce ungodliness, Titus was to instruct them to renounce worldly passions. It would seem that worldly passions are the fruit that grows from the root of ungodliness. When we embrace anything that stands opposed to God, our lives will produce fruit that is unrighteous and reflects our love of the world. Which is why the apostle John warned:

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. – 1 John 2:15-17 NLT

The believer’s life is to be marked by godliness, not godlessness. His behavior is to reflect the fruit of righteousness, not the works of the flesh. And one of the things that keep us focused on living Christ-like lives is to live with our eyes fixed on His return. The promise of eternity should provide us with a daily reminder that, as John says, this world is fading away. Falling in love with this world makes no sense when we have our hearts and minds fixed on the hope of future glory.

Paul reminds Titus that Jesus “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14 ESV). He didn’t sacrifice His life so that we might continue to live as we did before. His death was meant to provide us with abundant life right here, right now. And the day is coming when He will return and fulfill His promise of eternal life. So, we are to live with the end in mind.

Godliness is not some future state reserved for us in heaven. It is available to all who are in Christ even as we live in this fallen world. Godliness is not only attainable, it is non-negotiable. It is to be the life-long goal of each and every child of God. And Paul consistently challenged his young sons in the faith to make present godliness their highest priority as they waited for the return of Christ.

But you, Timothy, are a man of God; so run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you… – 1 Timothy 6:11-12 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Victory Over Death.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

15 “Therefore they are before the throne of God,
    and serve him day and night in his temple;
    and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
    the sun shall not strike them,
    nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
    and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Revelation 7:9-17 ESV

John now sees another group of individuals made up of “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Revelation 7:9 ESV). This is obviously a different group than the 144,000 mentioned in the first eight verses. John describes this group as innumerable and comprised of people from every tribe, nation and tongue. In other words, these are non-Jews or Gentiles. And while the 144,000 were located on earth, this group is in heaven “standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” So, this begs the question: Who are these people? Do they represent the church, as some have speculated? They are described as wearing white robes, waving palm branches, and crying out, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” They sound like they could be Christians, and they most likely are. But the real question is whether they comprise the church that was raptured before the tribulation began. John is at a loss as to who these people are, which is made clear when he is asked by one of the 24 elders to tell him their identity. John seems to know intuitively that the elder has the answer to his own question and so he responds, “Sir, you know.” And the elder clears up any confusion as to who this vast crowd may be.

“These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” – Revelation 7:14 ESV

While the 144,000 Jews are on earth, these individuals are in heaven, and it would seem that they are there as a result of their martyrdom. They are described as wearing white robes, a sign of their righteousness. And their righteousness is a result of the blood of the Lamb. They have been washed clean, purified by the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. Which indicates that they had come to faith some time during the tribulation and were put to death because of their belief in Jesus. This appears to be the same group John saw back in chapter six.

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. – Revelation 6:9 ESV

They are shown holding and waving palm branches, a symbol of victory and joy. They are celebrating and worshiping their salvation. But they are also crying out for vengeance. They want to know when God will avenge their persecution and deaths at the hands of of the Antichrist.

“O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” – Revelation 6:10 ESV

They are grateful for their presence in God’s Kingdom, but they want to know when He is going to deal with those on earth who persecuted them for their faith and murdered them for the decision to follow Christ. This makes it clear that there will be many who become Christians during the tribulation, and it is likely the 144,000 witnesses who will help bring this about. These Jewish converts to Christianity will become God’s ambassadors, witnessing to the Gentile nations regarding the salvation made possible through faith in Jesus Christ, their Messiah.

But John hears what appears to be bad news. These martyrs are told that they must be patient. God will deal with all those on earth who oppose Him and who persecute His chosen ones. But that time has not yet come. The exact moment for His Son’s return to earth has not arrived. So, in the meantime, there will be additional converts to the faith and, sadly, even more martyrs, “until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been” (Revelation 6:11 ESV).

Back in chapter seven, John sees these very same individuals enjoying the protection provided by God as they stand in His presence. They serve Him day and night in His holy temple in heaven. And though, while they were on earth, they suffered greatly for their faith, they now enjoy complete safety and freedom from pain and suffering of any kind. John is told:

They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
    the sun shall not strike them,
    nor any scorching heat. – Revelation 7:16 ESV

Later on in this very same book, John will reveal the marvelous reality that, for those who have a relationship with Jesus Christ, eternity will be a time of great peace. There will be no more pain, suffering or sorrow of any kind.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. – Revelation 21:4 ESV

John echoes this sentiment in chapter seven as he views this scene of rejoicing taking place in the heavenly temple.

For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
    and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. – Revelation 7:17 ESV

When the elder disclosed to John the identity of these people, he described them as having come out of the “great tribulation.” This the very phrase Jesus used in His Olivet Discourse when referring to the second half of the seven year tribulation.

“For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.” – Matthew 24:21 ESV

According to the book of Daniel and the words of Jesus in His Olivet discourse, the first half of the seven years of tribulation will be marked by relative peace. The Antichrist will appear as a global political leader who brokers a peace treaty with Israel. But at the midway point or three-and-a-half years into the seven year period, he will break his covenant with Israel, unleashing a devastating persecution against the people of God. Daniel alludes to this very time in his prophecy.

“And he [Antichrist] shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.” – Daniel 9:27 ESV

All of this will be revealed in greater detail as the book of Revelation unfolds. But in this vision, John is seeing the results of Antichrist’s work in the second half of the tribulation period. He will put to death countless individuals who have placed their faith in Christ. And he will persecute the Jews without mercy, all in an attempt to wipe them from face of the earth. Which raises the question: Why? What would cause the Antichrist to spend so much time and energy attempting to destroy the Jewish people? He seems to know that they are a key element behind the Lord’s eventual return. If he can eliminate them, he believes there will be no reason for Christ to come back. If there are no people to redeem and restore, there will be no purpose behind the Lord’s return. But the Antichrist is mistaken. He operates under the power and influence of Satan, but even Satan has no clue as to how all this is going to turn out. At one time, he believed he had defeated Jesus by having Him crucified. But that seeming victory was turned to defeat when God raised Jesus back to life. And there is the day coming when Satan will yet again attempt to thwart God’s plans and put an end to Christ’s return. But he will fail.

The very fact that John sees 144,000 Jews protected by God from the assault of the Antichrist shows us that God is in control of all that is going on during these days. And that John sees these martyred believers standing in the very presence of God reminds us that death is not a dead end for those who place their faith in Jesus. As Paul told the believers in Rome:

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:37-39 ESV

Which is why the martyred saints can stand before God and shout with unabandoned joy and thankfulness:

“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” – Revelation 7:12 ESV

 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Chosen by God.

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. – Ephesians 1:1-4 ESV

It is thought that Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was written between A.D. 60-62 while he was under house arrest in Rome. The book of Acts records that Paul had been to Ephesus and had spent at least three years there ministering and spreading the gospel throughout Asia Minor. It was while Paul was in Ephesus, that his presence caused a great deal of concern among the silversmiths who made their living by fashioning idols for the worship of Artemis, their god. It seems that Paul’s success in sharing the gospel had caused a dip in sales and had put a dent in the income of the local silversmiths. Demetrius, a silversmith, decided to do something about Paul and his message. He gathered all the tradesmen together and made an inflammatory speech designed to turn them all against Paul.

Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship” – Acts 19:25-27 ESV

Demetrius’ words whipped the crowd into a frenzy and almost resulted in a riot. But the authorities were able to calm the crowd and Paul managed to leave the town safely. But he never lost his love for the people of Ephesus or his concern for the local congregation there. So while under house arrest in Rome, he composed this letter as a means of encouraging them to continue in their love for God and one another. He seemed most concerned about the unity of the church. Like most of the newly formed congregations during that day, there was a unique blend of converted Jews and Gentiles, slaves and freemen, wealthy and poor, and educated and uneducated. This strange amalgam of individuals from all walks of life put a tremendous strain on the unity of the church. Paul was writing to call them to live in unity and to display holiness through their individual, as well as their corporate lives.

Paul describes himself as an apostle, a “sent one.” He had been sent by Jesus Himself to share the good news of salvation to the Gentiles. What he had done in Ephesus had been based on his commission from Jesus and according to the will of God. He was simply the messenger.

He addressed his audience as saints. He wanted them to remember that they had been consecrated or set apart by God for His service. By placing their faith in Jesus as their Savior, they had become the possession of God. They belonged to Him and were to live their lives in submission to His will and according to His Spirit whom He had placed within them. Paul reminds them that God “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3 ESV). Paul’s emphasis in this verse is extremely important to understand. He states that God has already blessed us. He refers to it in the past tense. God has already blessed us with every spiritual blessing, and the important thing to note is that those blessings find their source “in the heavenly places.” Paul is going to expand on that thought in the following verses, but it would appear that he is attempting to get his audience to understand that they have already been blessed beyond measure and the greatest aspect of their blessing from God is the salvation and justification they had received as a result of their faith in Jesus Christ.

Paul reminds them that God “chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:4 ESV). Their salvation was not happenstance or blind luck. It was not even their decision. Paul tells them that God chose them, elected them for salvation, long before He even created the world. And Paul will expand on that thought in the verses to come. Salvation was God’s idea, not man’s. The idea that fallen man would choose to have a relationship with a holy God goes against all that we read in the Scriptures. Ever since the fall, mankind has been on a trajectory away from God, not toward Him. The farther man got from the garden, the more hazy his memory of God became. Men stopped seeking the one true God and began replacing Him with gods of their own making. Paul describes this downward trajectory quite well in his letter to the Romans: “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:22-23 ESV). Paul goes on to quote from the Old Testament to drive home his point: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12 ESV).

Paul wants his readers to comprehend the incredible significance of the fact that God chose them. He made their salvation possible. He is the one who justified them through His Son’s death on the cross. And His choosing of them was not just so that they might escape death and eternal condemnation, but that they might live holy lives. Paul drives home the point that “he chose us in him … that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:4 ESV). God has an unwavering expectation for every believer to live holy and blameless because He has equipped them to be able to do so. Our holiness and blamelessness doesn’t start when we get to heaven. It begins here and now as we live as followers of Christ in this fallen world. We are saints, set apart ones, who belong to God and who are empowered by the Spirit of God to live as lights in a very dark world. We have been chosen by God to reflect His glory and to share His message of grace to all those we meet. As Paul told the Philippian believers: “Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people” (Philippians 2:15 NLT).

The Gospel of God.

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. – Romans 1:1-7 ESV

Paul wrote his letter to the church in Rome from the city of Corinth during the winter of A.D. 56-57. It would be another three years before Paul actually set foot in Rome and, when he did, he would do so as a prisoner of the Roman government. It is not clear how the church in Rome got started. Paul obviously played no role in it, having never been there before. And there is no indication that any other apostle had ever made it to the Roman capital to share the gospel. But nevertheless, the gospel had arrived, perhaps as a result of some who had been eyewitnesses to the events that took place at the Feast of Pentecost. Regardless of how the church was started, it had gained a world-wide reputation and Paul acknowledged it. “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world” (Romans 1:8 ESV). No doubt, Paul wrote his letter to the church in Rome, under the influence of the Holy Spirit and with the desire to provide them with a solid understanding of the doctrine of the gospel of God. He knew the incredible influence this church would have because of its location within the capital of Rome, the most powerful nation in the world at the time.

Paul began his letter with an introduction of himself, even though the believers in Rome would have been well-acquainted with him. He referred to himself as a servant of Christ Jesus. He did not operate on his own initiative, but as a willing slave to the one who had saved him. He served as an apostle, having been called to that role by Jesus Himself. And he acknowledged that he had been set apart or appointed for a singular purpose: the gospel of God. The entire letter of Romans will elaborate on the remarkable significance of the gospel of God, the good news concerning His Son. Paul boldly and unapologetically claims both the deity and full humanity of Jesus, “who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God” (Romans 1:3-4 ESV). Paul emphatically declares that Jesus was resurrected from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. It was that one miraculous reality that had made salvation possible and the grace of God available to sinful mankind. The resurrection of Jesus is the central doctrine of the Christian faith. Without it, we have no hope, which is what led Paul to write, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17 ESV).

Paul never missed an opportunity to share the gospel, but he also took advantage of every chance he was given to strengthen the local church. He not only wanted to see people saved from sin, but he desired greatly to see them grow up in their salvation. In verse seven, Paul refers to his readers as saints, which means “set apart or holy ones”. In Paul’s mind they were positionally holy, but they were also to be practically holy in their behavior. They had been “called to belong to Jesus Christ” and so their actions and attitudes should reflect that calling. A big part of what Paul writes to them in this letter has to do with what practical holiness looks like. They are to live as if dead to sin and alive to God. They are to live by faith and not by works. They are to live according to the power of the Spirit of God and not the flesh. They are to recognize their position as heirs of God. They are to offer their bodies as living sacrifices to God and are not to be conformed to this world. The gospel of God does not stop with our salvation, but carries on throughout our lives as God continues His work of sanctification in our lives, “to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations” (Romans 1:5 ESV).

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are loved by God. The very fact that He sent His own Son to die in our place is the greatest expression of God’s love He could have shown us. But not only are we loved by God, we are called by Him to be saints – set apart ones. We are to live our lives in the power of His Holy Spirit and allow Him to continually transform us into the likeness of His Son. It is His miraculous transformation of us that gives proof of His Son’s salvation of us. Not only have we been saved, we are being changed. We are being conformed to the image of Christ. “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29 ESV). The transformation of our lives by God is one of the greatest testimonies to the reality of the risen Christ and the power of the gospel of God.

Our Righteous King.

Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. [The Lord is faithful in all his words and kind in all his works.] The Lord upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing. The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works. – Psalm 145:13-17 ESV

Psalm 145

When a king reigns, he does so over everyone in his kingdom. Even over those who reject him as their king. A good king provides protection for all. He is to enforce the laws of the kingdom over all, regardless of their status or economic standing. As a king, David knew these things well. He realized that his role as king, while accompanied by wonderful benefits, also came with formidable responsibilities. He couldn’t help but compare his own reign with that of God; and when he did, he realized that God’s Kingdom was far greater in scope and size. His responsibilities were far more extensive. David’s kingdom was tiny and insignificant in comparison. And yet, God was faithful in all His words and king in all His works. Everyone looked to Him to provide their food and fulfill their desires, whether they acknowledged Him as King or not. David recognized that it was God who opened His hand and satisfied the desires of every living thing. Speaking of His own heavenly Father, Jesus said, “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45 ESV). God is gracious and merciful to all. His grace is the favor He shows to those who don’t deserve it, which would include ALL mankind. His mercy is the incredible patience He shows to those who deserve His wrath. In spite of the fact that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Roman 3:23 ESV), God has shown mercy. He has patiently put up with the sins of men over the centuries and even sacrificed His own Son in order to provide a way for men to be restored to a right relationship with Himself.

The Lord is righteous in all His ways and kind in all His works. Unlike human kings, God always does what is right. He always keeps His word. He doesn’t lie, deceive, renege on a promise, or act unjustly. We may not always understand His actions, but we can never question His integrity. He is righteous in all His ways. Sometimes is appears otherwise. Based on what we see happening around us, we can easily conclude that God is either indifferent or incapable of doing what needs to be done. It can appear as if the wicked are winning. The psalmist felt that way and cried out, “Rise up, O judge of the earth; repay to the proud what they deserve! O Lord, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exult?” (Psalm 94:2-3 ESV). Ethan the Ezrahite wrote, “How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire? Remember how short my time is! For what vanity you have created all the children of man!” (Psalm 89:46-47 ESV). There are times when it feels like God is either out of control or out of ear shot. It seems as if He is not listening to our pleas for help or seeing the gravity of our situation. But God is a righteous King. He is in complete control of the circumstances – all the time. Yes, it may appear as if the wicked are prospering and the unrighteous are getting all the breaks, but God knows exactly what He is doing. He is not fooled or duped by the ways of men. He knows men’s hearts. He knows that “there is none righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10 ESV). No one deserves the benefits of rain or crops. No one has earned God’s favor through their acts of righteousness. The fact that any of us exist at all is a testimony to the enduring patience of God.

Paul makes a compelling argument concerning God’s righteous rule and gracious dealings with mankind. “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?” (Romans 9:20-24 ESV). Who are we to question God? What right do we have to doubt the actions of the Creator of the universe? The very fact that God allows the wicked to continue to exist is a reminder of His patience and remarkable love. The fact is, God has shown all of us mercy – He has not given us what we so richly deserve – condemnation and eternal separation from Him. Instead, He has graciously allowed some to enjoy the wonders of His grace and the benefits of His Son’s sacrificial death on the cross. “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 NLT).

Our King is a righteous, loving, gracious and merciful King. His ways are always just and right. His actions are unquestionably good and His decision are always proper and appropriate. We may not understand what He is doing. We may not even like what He is doing, but we can rest assured that it is always for the best. The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works.