A Spiritual Wake-Up Call

(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Ephesians 4:9-16 ESV

In an attempt to encourage the Ephesian believers, Paul paraphrased a verse from one of King David’s psalms.

You ascended on high,
    leading a host of captives in your train
    and receiving gifts among men… – Psalm 68:18 ESV

As a former Pharisee and a student of the Hebrew scriptures, Paul knew that this passage was written by David as a praise song to God, thanking Him for His divine assistance against Israel’s many enemies. In verse 18 of David’s psalm, he describes gifts being given to God as an expression of gratitude and praise for His divine intervention in their military affairs. But Paul takes this Old Testament passage and repurposes it to drive home his point about God having given the gift of grace to all who believe in His Son (Ephesians 4:7).

“Paul made a valid application of Christological significance to the Old Testament passage. On the one hand, according to Psalm 68:18, God ascended Zion as a victorious king worthy of being the recipient of gifts of homage. On the other hand, according to Ephesians 4:8, Jesus also ascended to the heavenly Zion as the victorious Lord who lovingly bestowed on His church the gifts of ministry essential to her future well-being.” – Bibliotheca Sacra 148:591 (July-September 1991):335-36

In Paul’s application of this verse to the Ephesian context, he portrays Jesus as the one who, having accomplished a mighty victory over the enemy, ascended back into heaven. But rather than receiving gifts from men, Jesus poured out the gift of the Spirit on His church. This gracious outpouring of the Spirit resulted in the provision of divinely-enabled gifts to assist the church in its ministry. Paul mentions just a few of those gifts in verse 11 and explains their purpose.

…he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. – Ephesians 4:11-12 ESV

In his other letters, Paul provided a series of lists that contain other gifts provided to the church. They include the speaking gifts such as apostleship, prophecy, teaching, evangelism, exhortation, discerning of spirits, speaking in tongues, and interpreting tongues. But he also lists gifts of service that include leadership, helps, mercy, giving, faith, healing, and miracles. Paul fully believed that Jesus had provided His church with everything it needed to not only survive but thrive.

Paul was reminding his readers that Jesus, the Son of God, had descended from on high and taken on the role of a lowly servant. He had left His rightful place at His Father’s side and chosen to take on the form of a man. Paul eloquently described the “descent” of Jesus in his letter to the church in Philippi.

Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
   he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross. – Philippians 2:6-8 NLT

And as a result of His incarnation and crucifixion, God raised Jesus from the dead and “elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names” (Philippians 2:9 NLT). And Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to indwell and equip His followers with the power to use their God-ordained gifts and display the fruits of a righteous life – all so that the body of Christ might be built up or edified. In his letter to Timothy, Paul described the church as the household of God and “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15 NLT). Jesus poured out gifts on the church so that all of its members might be adequately taught and prepared to carry out His mission on earth.

And, according to Paul, the goal of this “work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12 ESV) is the spiritual maturity of every believer. It will continue unabated and uninterrupted until “we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13 NLT). This is a lofty and seemingly impossible goal. But Paul’s point is that it is the work of the Spirit, not the flesh. God sent His Son so that sinful humanity might be restored to a right relationship with Him. But Jesus sent the Spirit so that redeemed men and women might have the power they needed to experience the full potentiality of their new nature. Their spiritual transformation was to be ongoing and evidenced by an ever-increasing capacity to thrive in a hostile and often harmful earthly environment. 

In verse 14, Paul telegraphs where he is headed with this line of reasoning. He is preparing his readers to receive a stern but loving lecture regarding false teachers. And he does so by reminding them that their ongoing spiritual maturity is both non-optional and extremely vital. When the members of Christ’s body are growing effectively, they “will no longer be immature like children…tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching,” and they won’t be easily deceived by those who try to trick them “with lies so clever they sound like the truth” (Ephesians 4:14 NLT).

This was all intended as a set-up for Paul’s main point. He is preparing the Ephesian believers to receive his not-so-flattering assessment of their current spiritual condition. In a sense, Paul is describing them as immature children who are being tossed about by every wind of new teaching. Rather than growing up in their salvation, they have remained like helpless and defenseless children who lack discretion and discipline.

According to Paul’s assessment, the Ephesian church was not where it needed to be spiritually. The leaders of the church were not effectively doing their job of equipping “God’s people to do his work” (Ephesians 4:12 NLT). And, as a result, God’s people were not edifying one another and strengthening the body of Christ. Paul calls them to course correct, demanding that they “speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ” (Ephesians 4:15 NLT). They needed to express their love for one another by being honest in their assessment of one another. There is a sense in which love must be hard and unforgiving, pointing out the flaws and failings of one another so that the body of Christ might be healthy and whole. Paul is recommending the truth found in Proverbs 27:6: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” He is echoing the sentiment expressed by King David in another one of his psalms.

Let the righteous man strike me; let his rebuke be an act of loving devotion. It is oil for my head; let me not refuse it.

Paul’s heartfelt desire was that the Ephesians would experience all the gifts that Christ had poured out on their behalf. He wanted them to experience the unity that Christ had died to make possible. He longed for them to display the spiritual maturity that the Spirit made available. And he prayed continually that their lives would reflect the character of Christ that God’s grace had made attainable. As far as Paul was concerned, there was no reason for the Ephesians to be living in doubt, fear, immaturity, disunity, or impurity. God had provided everything they needed. He had done His part. He had sent His Son and His Son had sent the Spirit. Now, it was up to them to live out what God had ordained for them.

He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love. – Ephesians 4:16 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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

The Real Dirt on Adam

These are the generations
of the heavens and the earth when they were created,
in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.

When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. Genesis 2:4-7 ESV

In the opening chapter, Moses revealed that God made the first man and woman.

So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them. – Genesis 1:27 ESV

But it’s not until chapter two that he tells how God created them. As we saw in yesterday’s post, God spoke the rest of the creation into existence. Repeatedly, Moses wrote, “God said…and it was so.” But that was not the case when it came to God’s creation of man.

…then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. – Genesis 2:7 ESV

The Hebrew word יָצַר (yatsar) means “to form” or “to fashion,” and it was often used in the context of a potter using his hands to form a lump of clay into a particular shape. The intended connection between God forming man and a potter fashioning clay can be seen in the similarity between יָצַר (yatsar) and the Hebrew word for “potter” – יוֹצֵר [yotser].

Moses’ description of God’s creation of man adds another intended pottery reference. He states that God formed man, אָדָם (‘āḏām), from the dust, עָפָר (ʿāp̄ār), of the ground אֲדָמָה (‘ăḏāmâ). Verse 7 could be translated, “And Yahweh God formed the man, soil, from the ground.” The first man’s name, Adam, has direct links to the soil from which he was made. Like a potter, God took common, lifeless clay and fashioned it into the form of a man. In a sense, He used the same process that mankind would later use to fashion their false gods. But rather than making a lifeless idol to be worshiped, God was creating a living human being whose sole purpose would be to worship Him.

God made the man, but something was missing. The ‘āḏām had form but no ability to function. He remained lifeless and useless ‘ăḏāmâ until God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7 ESV). This important distinction helps to set man apart from the rest of the creative order. God took the time to personally create man’s form. Moses describes God as taking a “hands-on” approach to forming the one creature who would represent the pinnacle of His creation. This living being would be different from all others. He would bear God’s image and contain the “breath” of God.

Once the breath of God entered the lifeless clay form of man, life was generated, along with the attributes of understanding and conscience.

But there is a spirit within people,
    the breath of the Almighty within them,
    that makes them intelligent. – Job 32:8 NLT

The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord,
    searching all his innermost parts. – Proverbs 20:27 ESV

The essential role of God’s breath in the creation of man should not be overlooked. No other creature came into being through this unique life-giving action. And it brings to mind a similar scene portrayed in the book of Ezekiel. The prophet of God was given a vision of a valley filled with bones. Ezekiel describes the bones as being scattered all over the valley floor and dried out – as if they had been there for some time. But God spoke to the prophet.

“Son of man, can these bones become living people again?” – Ezekiel 37:3 NLT

Don’t miss the image being conveyed. The bones, which represented former human life, were slowly turning back to dust. They were lifeless and without form and covered the ground all around Ezekiel’s feet. And addresses Ezekiel as “son of man (‘āḏām), a reminder of his descent from the first ‘āḏām, who was made from the dust of the ground. God questions Ezekiel’s faith in His creative power, and the prophet responds,  “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know the answer to that” (Ezekiel 37:3 NLT).

Ezekiel hedged his bets and made no commitment. This was all out of his area of expertise. But God gave his prophet a faith-stretching assignment.

“Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, ‘Dry bones, listen to the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’” – Ezekiel 37:4-6 NLT

God commanded Ezekiel to address the bones, declaring to them God’s intentions to revive them. God was going to reform and refashion them, returning each scattered bone to its proper place in a particular body and covering them with organs, muscles, sinews, and skin. But the key to their restoration to life would be the breath of God.

And Ezekiel describes the somewhat macabre scene that took place.

Suddenly as I spoke, there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons. Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them. Ezekiel 37:7-8 NLT

The valley was now filled with a host of fully formed human beings, but they still lacked one thing: Life. So, God commanded Ezekiel to speak to the bones one more time.

“Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man. Speak a prophetic message and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, O breath, from the four winds! Breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again.’” – Ezekiel 37:9 NLT

And when Ezekiel faithfully followed God’s command, something truly incredible took place.

So I spoke the message as he commanded me, and breath came into their bodies. They all came to life and stood up on their feet—a great army. – Ezekiel 37:10 NLT

This entire scene was intended as an object lesson for Ezekiel. He had just been given a visual metaphor for the spiritual state of God’s chosen people.

“Son of man, these bones represent the people of Israel. They are saying, ‘We have become old, dry bones—all hope is gone. Our nation is finished.’ – Ezekiel 37:11 NLT

They were hopeless and helpless because they were missing the life-giving breath of God. Their ongoing rebellion and refusal to live in obedience to God had left them lifeless and as useless as dry bones scattered all over a valley floor. And even when God miraculously recreated them into fully formed human beings, they were missing the one thing they needed to go from being ‘ăḏāmâ to ‘āḏām. They needed the breath of God. And God promised them that the day would come when He would restore them back to spiritual life by revitalizing them by His Spirit.

“I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live again and return home to your own land. Then you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken, and I have done what I said. Yes, the Lord has spoken!’” – Ezekiel 37:14 NLT

The first man, while formed by the hand of God Himself, remained nothing but dirt. He was a lifeless and completely useless icon of God’s creative capabilities because He lacked the one thing that would allow him to not only bear God’s image but put it into action. By breathing life into Adam, God transformed ordinary clay into “a vessel for honor: sanctified, useful to the Master, and prepared for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21 BSB). God had great plans for Adam and fashioned him in such a way that he would be able to accomplish all his divinely ordained responsibilities. But the primary ingredient that would make possible man’s fulfillment of God’s kingdom mandate was the breath of God. And the apostle Peter reminds us that all those who place their faith in Jesus receive the same life-giving, mission-empowering Spirit that gave God gave to Adam.

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires. – 2 Peter 1:3-4 NLT

We, like Adam, have all we need to accomplish all that God has called us to do. We have been given life and the Spirit-enabled ability to live in obedience to the will of our Creator. It is the Spirit of God that makes obedience to the will of God possible. And even Ezekiel was given a promise from God that guaranteed the future transformation of the disobedient people of Israel.

“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations. – Ezekiel 36:25-27 NLT

God made man in His likeness. But it would be the Spirit of God that transformed lifeless clay into a vessel of honor, capable of bringing glory to its Creator and pouring out His blessings on the rest of the creation. Without the Spirit of God, humanity remains as lifeless and useless as a valley filled with dry bones. And without the breath of God, ‘āḏām would have remained nothing but ‘ăḏāmâ.

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The Mind of the Spirit

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. – Galatians 5:16-18 ESV

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. – Romans 8:5-10 ESV

Living water. That’s how Jesus described the ministry of the Spirit in the life of the believer. He told His disciples that whoever believed in Him would have “rivers of living water” flow from his heart. And John makes it clear that this rather obscure reference was to the coming Holy Spirit. 

Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. – John 7:39 ESV

Prior to His death and resurrection, Jesus spent a great deal of time attempting to prepare His disciples for His eventual departure. On numerous ocassions He warned them that He was going to Jerusalem where He would be put to death. His disciples had a difficult time accepting these dire predictions because they didn’t fit their understanding of the Messiah’s role. At one point, Peter even rebuked Jesus for saying such things, telling Him, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you” (Matthew 16:23 ESV). 

Peter didn’t understand the significance of Jesus’ death. The idea of Jesus being the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world had escaped Peter and his companions. And, while Jesus had repeatedly spoken of His death and His resurrection, the disciples remained fixated on the idea of Jesus setting up His earthly kingdom in their lifetimes. They were eagerly waiting for Him to enter Jerusalem and present Himself as the long-awaited Messiah and King of the Jews. But Jesus continually pointed them to the necessity of His death, resurrection, and ascension. He even told them that they would be better off without Him.

“I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” – John 16:7 ESV

Whether they understood it or not, and regardless of whether they liked it or not, Jesus was going to leave them. But He assured then that He would not abandon them. He would send them a helper or advocate. The Greek word is paraklētos, and it refers to one who comes alongside to provide aid. And Jesus assured His disciples that this helper, intercessor, or advocate would not only come alongside them, but dwell within them.

“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” – John 14:16-17 ESV

And Jesus wanted His followers to know that the Spirit was going to be a gift from the Father. His role would be to give testify through their lives as to the veracity of who Jesus was and what He had done on their behalf. In other words, the Spirit was going to be a witness to the reality of the gospel message.

“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” – John 15:26 ESV

His presence within the life of the believer would provide tangible proof that the salvation message offered by Jesus was reliable. When Jesus had said that He came to provide abundant life, He had meant it, and the Spirit would prove it. The disciples would discover that the key to them living in Christ’s absence would be the reality of the Spirit’s presence. The Spirit would be a game-changer, providing them with power beyond anything they had ever seen or experienced before. And while the disciples had already experienced the thrill of performing miracles and casting out demons, they had something even greater in store for them. Jesus had even told the disciples, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:12-14 ESV).

Think about that. Consider carefully what Jesus said to the disciples. He told them that they would do greater works than He had done. That had to have blown them away. But it probably left them a little bit excited as they thought about the prospects of all that it might mean. But it’s important to keep these words within their context, because immediately after making this promise, Jesus told them: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever” (John 14:16 ESV). 

The Spirit was going to be the key to their success. He would be the source of those “greater works.” And just so we don’t overlook the obvious, one of the greatest works the Holy Spirit makes possible is the miraculous transformation of a sinner into a saint. He provides the power for those who were once slaves to sin to live in freedom, fully capable of living in obedience to the will of God. That is Paul’s primary point in Galatians 5 and Romans 8. The believer can walk or live his life by the Spirit, and by doing so, no longer live in captivity to his old sin nature. And the reason the believer can live differently is because the Spirit equips him to think differently.

Paul describes two options. The first is to set the mind on the flesh. The other is to set the mind on the Spirit. One leads to death, while the other leads to life and peace. But what does he mean by “to set the mind on”? He used the Greek word, phronēma, which refers to one’s thoughts and purposes. It has to do with a person’s mindset or way of thinking about things. So, Paul is saying we can be flesh-minded or Spirit-minded. We can view life through our own natural, sin-contaminated disposition or we can have a godly perspective made possible through the presence of God’s Spirit.

To live according to our flesh is to live as we used to – in open hostility toward God. When we set our minds on ourselves, thinking we can somehow live righteous lives in our own strength, we end up living in opposition to God, not in reliance upon Him. We live with the mistaken impression that we can somehow earn a right standing with God through our own efforts. And when we do so, we devalue the sacrifice of Christ. We make the sufficiency of His death null and void, an unnecessary expenditure of life. If we can make ourselves righteous, Jesus didn’t need to die.

But Paul would have us remember that “no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are” (Romans 3:20 NLT). Law keeping is not wrong or sinful, but it can become so if we think it can lead to a right standing with God. Paul emphasized that point to the believers in Galatia.

…we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law. – Galatians 2:16 NLT

We have been made right with God through the efforts of Jesus Christ. His work on the cross made possible God’s declaration that we are righteous in His eyes. And it is His Spirit within us that makes possible our ability to live righteously in this life. The Spirit’s presence within us makes Christ’s righteousness available to us. We can think as Christ did. We can live as He did. All because the Spirit of God lives within us.

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

 

Sanctified by the Spirit

1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:

May grace and peace be multiplied to you. – 1 Peter 1:1-2 ESV

11 And 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

The believer’s sanctification might be called a family affair, involving each member of the Trinity: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. First, it is God the Father who decreed from eternity past to set apart a people for Himself.

Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. – Ephesians 1:4-5 NLT

God did not have to extend the gift of holiness to anyone. Yet He did. Because He is omniscient and operates outside the bounds of time and space, God knew in advance that mankind was going to sin. And from the very beginning He had a plan in place to provide a means of restoring holiness to those who had inherited the sin and condemnation brought upon them by Adam’s transgression.

When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. – Romans 5:12 NLT

But Jesus had a solution in place before the first sin was committed. He had already planned to send His Son into the world as the sacrifice for the sins of mankind. And Jesus, in taking on human flesh and living in perfect obedience to God’s law and in total submission to God’s will, gave His life as an atonement for the sins of man. In doing so, He satisfied the just demands of God and provided His righteousness for those who had no righteousness of their own.

But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. – Romans 3:21-24 NLT

I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. – Philippians 3:9 NLT

It was God who set us apart for a life of holiness. It was His Son who gave His life so that we might have the righteousness necessary to enter into God’s presence. But it is the Spirit of God who secures our sanctification. Without the Spirit’s indwelling presence, there is no sanctification. Paul put it rather bluntly when he wrote: “You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.)” (Romans 8:9 NLT).

In essence, there is a three-part strategy to our sanctification. In the Old Testament, a person or thing was set apart or sanctified for divine use. The people of Israel were consecrated by God as His chosen people. They were no better than anyone else. They had no inherent value that qualified them for their unique relationship with God. He sovereignly deemed them to be His own and set them apart for His use and glory. But what God sets apart for His use must be cleansed and purified before it can perform its divinely ordained responsibility. So, God provided a means by which the people of Israel could receive cleansing from their sins. He gave them the sacrificial system and commanded that they use it to purify themselves from the inevitable sins they would commit. Even the priests had to be cleansed from their impurities before they could serve as mediators for the people of God. And it’s interesting to note how much emphasis God put on the adornment of those things He set apart for His use. The decorations of the tabernacle and temple were rich and luxurient, reflecting the glory of God. The priestly garments were made of the finest fabric and adorned with priceless jewels, signifying the invaluable role these men were to play in leading the people of God in their worship of Him.

So, we see the biblical model of sanctification as including the setting apart, the cleansing, and the adorning of those things belonging to God. And the same is true in the sanctification of His saints. We have been set apart by God, cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ, and adorned with the Spirit of God. And it is the Spirit that makes it possible for us to produce the fruit of righteousness (Philippians 1:11) or, as Paul refers to it in Galatians, the fruit of the Spirit.

In a sense, when God places His Spirit within the life of the believer, He adorns them with the divine capacity to produce, for the first time in their lives, the fruit of righteousness. Before the Spirit’s arrival into the life of the believer, they were incapable of producing anything remotely righteous because, as Isaiah declared, all their “righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isaiah 64:6 ESV). Their sanctification had been preordained by God and their justification or right standing before God had been made possible by the blood of Christ. But it was the regenerating work of the Spirit of God that provided the capacity to recognize and receive the free gift of salvation offered to us by God through Christ.

When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit  He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life. – Titus 3:4-7 NLT

Jesus Himself said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all” (John 6:63 ESV). And He told the Pharisee, Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:5-6 ESV).

And Paul reminded the believers living in Rome that they had received a new capacity to live righteous and godly lives because of the presence of the Spirit within them.

But now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit. – Romans 7:6 NLT

As believers, we have been adorned by God with His Spirit. There is a picture of this adorning or anointing foreshadowed in the Old Testament when God prescribed for Moses the necessary steps in preparing the tabernacle and the priests for His service. He commanded Moses:

“Like a skilled incense maker, blend these ingredients to make a holy anointing oil. Use this sacred oil to anoint the Tabernacle, the Ark of the Covenant, the table and all its utensils, the lampstand and all its accessories, the incense altar, the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, and the washbasin with its stand. Consecrate them to make them absolutely holy. After this, whatever touches them will also become holy.

“Anoint Aaron and his sons also, consecrating them to serve me as priests. And say to the people of Israel, ‘This holy anointing oil is reserved for me from generation to generation. It must never be used to anoint anyone else, and you must never make any blend like it for yourselves. It is holy, and you must treat it as holy. Anyone who makes a blend like it or anoints someone other than a priest will be cut off from the community.’” – Exodus 30:25-33 NLT

The anointing oil, which was considered holy by God, having been set apart for a specific use, was poured on the various elements found in the temple. It was also poured over the heads of Aaron and his fellow priests. And in one of his psalms, David describes this anointing oil as being “poured over Aaron’s head” and being of such quantity that it “ran down his beard and onto the border of his robe” (Psalm 133:2 NLT). Aaron was absolutely saturated by the oil, as it touched every part of his person and covered him with its aromatic fragrance. Aaron’s anointing was visible and undeniable. And so is ours.

The presence of God’s Spirit within us sanctifies us and sets us apart as His own. But His presence is noticeable and transformative. Because of the Spirit’s presence within us, our lives are able to display the fruit of righteousness through us. And Paul reminds us that “Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God” (2 Corinthians 2:15 NLT). But our Spirit-adorned lives impact others as well. Paul goes on to say, “To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume” (2 Corinthians 2:16 NLT). All because of the sanctifying presence of the Spirit of God.

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

 

Fake Sheep With False Motives.

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.– Matthew 7:15-20 ESV

Jesus has just discussed the narrow gate and the difficult path that provides access to the kingdom of God. And the numbers of those who choose that way are going to be few. But because the kingdom way is not a literal path, but a spiritual one, it will sometimes be difficult to tell who is actually walking along beside you. So, Jesus warns that there will be fakers and posers, even dangerous charlatans, whose sole motive will be to deceive and destroy those who have been approved by God. In the gospel of John, we have recorded the words of Jesus reiterating His claim to be the door or the narrow gate. He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:7-9 ESV). Not only had there been false Messiahs before Jesus arrived, there had been deceptive religious leaders who offered up a different form of salvation. And Jesus makes it clear that all these individuals had been motivated by Satan himself. Whether they realized it or not, these people were driven by demonic desires, not divine ones. Jesus went on to say, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV). Those who preach another form of salvation or a different means of achieving a right standing with God are essentially deceivers who will end up destroying all those who listen to their lies.

And here in His sermon on the mount, Jesus warns against “false prophets” who will attempt to disguise themselves as sheep in order to infiltrate the ranks of those who have been approved by God. They will appear to be fellow sojourners on the kingdom way, but will actually be out to do harm, not good. Jesus describes them as ravenous wolves, hungry predators with one thing in mind, feeding their own insatiable desires. So, how are we supposed to spot these dangerous deceivers? If they look like us and appear to be on the same path we are traveling, how will we be able to expose them? Jesus gives us a very simple way of knowing whether our fellow travelers are legitimate or not: Their fruit. He says, “You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act” (Matthew 7:16 NLT). But wait a minute! If they are out to deceive, won’t they be disguising their true motives by emulating the right kind of behavior? Won’t they be smart enough to act just like sheep? The answer is, yes. Jesus will even address that issue in the very next verses. These people will act the part, but the key will be whether their fruit is in keeping with the will of God. We must always keep in mind that God sees our hearts. He knows what motivates our behavior. But we don’t have that capacity. We aren’t able to see into the heart of another human being. So, what are we to do? How are we to discern whether someone is truly a believer? Again, Jesus would tell us to look at their fruit. What is in the heart will ultimately show up as fruit. Jesus makes that perfectly clear later on in the book of Matthew.

“For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander.” – Matthew 15:19 NLT

And here, in His sermon on the mount, Jesus comapres these false prophets to thorn bushes, thistles and diseased trees. They are incapable of producing true fruit. And the fruit we should be looking for is described for us in Paul’s letter to the Galatians:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control… – Galatians 5:22-23 ESV

Thorn bushes don’t produce grapes. Thistles don’t bear figs. And you don’t get healthy fruit from a diseased tree. Ultimately, their true nature will become evident. The true condition of their hearts will be exposed. And in the book of Jeremiah, we read how God describes those who would deceive His children.

“Do not listen to these prophets when they prophesy to you,
    filling you with futile hopes.
They are making up everything they say.
    They do not speak for the Lord!
They keep saying to those who despise my word,
    ‘Don’t worry! The Lord says you will have peace!’
And to those who stubbornly follow their own desires,
    they say, ‘No harm will come your way!’” – Jeremiah 23:16-17 NLT

As we walk the Kingdom path, there will always be those who appear to be with us but who will actually be against us. They will attempt to deceive and distract us. They will be the ones who question why we take things so seriously and why we worry so much about spirituality. They will claim to love the Lord as much as we do, but will display a love for the world that reveals their true nature. Their commitment to the will of God will be minimal. Their reliance upon the Word of God will be spotty at best. They will do good deeds, but for the wrong motives. And, ultimately, their influence on the church will be harmful, not helpful. In the book of Jude, we read his warnings to a local congregation regarding these false prophets or teachers who had infiltrated their fellowship.

Dear friends, I had been eagerly planning to write to you about the salvation we all share. But now I find that I must write about something else, urging you to defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people. I say this because some ungodly people have wormed their way into your churches, saying that God’s marvelous grace allows us to live immoral lives. – Jude 1:3-4 NLT

Jude goes on to describe their behavior in less-than-flattering terms:

In the same way, these people—who claim authority from their dreams—live immoral lives, defy authority, and scoff at supernatural beings. – Jude 1:8 NLT

And as if that wasn’t bad enough, he describes their sad state and even worse outcome:

But these people scoff at things they do not understand. Like unthinking animals, they do whatever their instincts tell them, and so they bring about their own destruction. What sorrow awaits them! – Jude 1:10-11 NLT

Jesus has already told us that “the way is hard that leads to life” (Matthew 7:14 ESV). The Kingdom life is not an easy one. It will have its moments of trials and difficulties. It will have its dark valleys. Even in the famous 23rd Psalm, we read David’s words describing the life of those who are led by the Shepherd:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me. – Psalm 23:4 ESV

It will not always be green pastures and still waters. There will be moments of sadness and seasons of despair. But God will be with us, guiding and comforting us. And Jesus would have us know that there will be so-called companions on our life’s journey who will not be what they appear. So, we must be discerning. Jesus would later give His disciples some invaluable advice as He prepared to send them out on their own.

Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves. – Matthew 10:16 NLT

When all is said and done, the only way we have of discerning the true nature of those who claim to be fellow followers of Christ is to look at their fruit. And that means we must judge their behavior. We cannot afford to turn a blind eye to sin or refuse to evaluate the true intentions of those who claim to be on our side. The risks are too great. The dangers are real. We must always remember that the thief intends to steal, kill and destroy. The false sheep have false motives. The fake followers have sinister plans. They will attempt to lead the sheep astray. They will try to undermine the gospel. They will minimize the will of God and replace it with the will of men. So, we must constantly evaluate one another based on the fruit of the Spirit. This kind of fruit can’t be replicated. It can be mimicked, but not manufactured. It can be faked, but not fabricated. And eventually, fake fruit will be exposed as what it is: unhealthy and undesirable.

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

The Hope of Righteousness.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. – Galatians 5:1-6 ESV

In these verses, Paul makes it clear that the rite of circumcision was one of the big issues facing the Gentile believers to whom he wrote. They were being pressured by the Judaizers into believing that their salvation was incomplete unless they agreed to be circumcised. In essence, they were being told that they needed to become Jews in order for their salvation to be complete. But Paul warns them that there is no end to this slippery slope. If they give in to the demand of circumcision, then they will be required to keep the whole law. By accepting the idea that obedience to any requirement of the law is necessary for their salvation, they are placing themselves back under the full weight of the law. The apostle James made this point painfully clear in his letter: “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (James 2:10 ESV). Justification by the law required complete obedience, not partial.

The issue for Paul is that of freedom in Christ. He says that it is “for freedom Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1 ESV). Most of us, when we think of our freedom in Christ, focus on our freedom from sin and death. And yet, Paul speaks of another freedom we enjoy because of our relationship with Christ.

For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code. – Romans 7:5-6 ESV

Does our release from the law mean that the law was somehow evil? Paul answers that question rather emphatically. “By no means!the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Romans 7:7, 12 ESV). What Paul is telling his readers is that the law is no longer to be viewed as a mandatory code of conduct or as a set of rules that must be obeyed to gain a right standing with God. We have been freed from that pointless pursuit. Paul spent his lifetime preaching the believer’s newfound freedom in Christ. That freedom includes our release from having to pursue justification through adherence to the law.

Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law. – Galatians 2:16 NLT

Obviously, the law applies to those to whom it was given, for its purpose is to keep people from having excuses, and to show that the entire world is guilty before God. For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are. – Romans 3:19-20 NLT

So it is clear that no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” This way of faith is very different from the way of law, which says, “It is through obeying the law that a person has life.” – Galatians 3:11-12 NLT

Paul did not want the Galatians to fall back into slavery. At one time they were slaves to sin and under the control of Satan himself. They had no other choice. But when they had accepted Christ as their Savior, they had been released from their captivity. Now they were risking falling back into slavery – slavery to the law. If they turned their backs on the grace offered through Christ and the justification that He alone could provide, they would be returning to a life of self-reliance and attempting to keep God happy through religious rule-keeping. To do so would be to fall away from grace, and Paul was not willing to sit back and watch them do that. It is not that Paul believed they would run the risk of losing their salvation. That is not what he means by falling away from grace. He is simply saying that they will be walking away from God’s sole method of salvation and justification: His undeserved and unearned grace as offered through His Son by means of faith. In Paul’s theology, faith in God’s grace gift of His Son would result in good works and a willing adherence to His commands. In the minds of the legalists, it was the exact opposite. They believed that man’s adherence to God’s law could earn him a right standing before God and was, if anything, as important as faith in Christ.

Paul gives us the key difference between a life that is grace-focused and one that is law-based. “For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness” (Galatians 5:5 ESV). It is by the Spirit’s power that we are to live, not our own. And it is He who provides us with the faith necessary to eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. We don’t manufacture faith. It is a gift provided to us by God. It is with the Spirit’s help that we have “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). That was the author of Hebrews description of faith. God’s indwelling Spirit provides us with the supernatural ability to believe in things that have not yet happened and to trust in those things we can’t even see. It is by faith that we believe in our ongoing sanctification or transformation by God. We can’t see the end result. We can’t even see our sanctification taking place in real time. But we believe that God is doing what He has promised to do. Paul wanted believers to have a certainty and an abiding assurance that God had not only saved them by faith, but He was busy perfecting them by faith. And one day He was going to finish what He began by glorifying them by faith. “And I am certain that 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).

God doesn’t need our help to make us holy. He simply asks for our complete reliance upon Him and our willing obedience to what He calls us to do, even when it doesn’t make sense. It is God’s Spirit that produces His fruit in our lives. It is the Spirit who produces in us a willingness and readiness to live obediently to God’s will. The hope of righteousness to which Paul refers is based on faith in the finished work of Christ. Our righteousness is not based on human effort or rule-keeping. It is based on the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. We have been given His righteousness. We have been given His Spirit and, as a result, we now have the capacity to live righteously, not according to a written code of law, but a law written on our hearts. Our obedience is motivated from the inside, not the outside.

Released From Self-Reliance.

Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written,

“Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear;
    break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
    than those of the one who has a husband.”

Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman. – Galatians 4:21-31 ESV

One of the dangers of biblical interpretation is that of taking what was meant to be literal and turning it into an allegory. This is most often done with difficult passages. Because the Bible is made up of a variety of literary styles, such as history and poetry, and some passages are allegorical in nature, it can be tempting to take what God intended to be literal and to force upon it an allegorical meaning. Another thing that can make reading and interpreting the Bible difficult is that there are some passages that have both literal and allegorical messages within them. Paul provides us with a case in point. In his defense of justification by faith alone in Christ alone, Paul will use the historical account of the births of Ishmael and Isaac to explain the true nature of the law and man’s relationship to it.

Paul somewhat sarcastically asked his readers, who seemed to be set on living according to the law, why they refused to listen to what the law said. He then tells the story of the birth of Abraham’s two sons, found in the book of Genesis (located in the “law” section of the Old Testament). When a Jew referred to “the book of the law,” he was referring to not only the Mosaic law itself, but to the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible as we know it today. The Genesis account tells of the birth of Ishmael to Abraham through his wife’s handmaiden, Hagar. This had been the result of Sarah’s attempt to help God fulfill His promise to give Abraham a son. The only problem was that it was not according to God’s plan. Sarah had seen her barrenness as a problem too big for God, so she had intervened and encouraged Abraham to have a child with Hagar, her handmaiden. But Paul pointed out that Ishmael, “the son of the slave was born according to the flesh” (Galatians 4:23 ESV). His was emphasizing that Ishmael’s birth was natural, not divine.  And as the son of a slave, his relationship to Abraham would be completely different than that of Isaac. God later told Abraham that Ishmael would not be an acceptable substitute or proxy as his heir. God had promised to give Abraham an heir through Sarah, in spite of her barrenness, and He did. God supernaturally intervened and made it possible for Sarah to conceive and bear Abraham a son. And Isaac’s birth was the direct fulfillment of God’s long-standing promise to Abraham.

Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. – Genesis 12:1-2 ESV

As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her. – Genesis 17:15-16 ESV

And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.” – Genesis 17:18-19 ESV

Ishmael, the son of the slave woman, was not to be Abraham’s heir. That right and responsibility would go to Isaac, the son of the promise. It is at this point that Paul reveals the allegorical or figurative message found in this literal, historical recounting of the births of Ishmael and Isaac. “Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants” (Galatians 4:24 ESV). What Paul is really providing us with is an analogy or illustration of what these historical events foreshadowed. Ishmael represented the covenant of the law given at Mount Sinai. Because Ishmael was born “according to the flesh” or, to put it another way, according to Sarah’s cunning and Abraham’s compliance, he was disqualified from becoming the fulfillment of God’s promise. The law, though given by God, was completely dependent upon man’s ability to live up to it. It was based on self-reliance. God never intended the law to bring about man’s justification or right standing before Him. It simply revealed and exposed the depths of man’s sinfulness. The law enslaved men under sin. It condemned them for their sin, but could do nothing to relieve them from sin’s control over their lives. That is, until Christ came. “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” (Galatians 4:4-5 ESV). At one point, Jesus had told the Pharisees, the experts in the Mosaic law, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:34-36 ESV).

Paul was attempting to contrast Judaism with Christianity and compare life under the law with life according to faith. Paul wanted his readers to know that they were children according to the promise. They had been freed from the onerous task of attempting to keep the law in an ill-fated effort to earn a right-standing before God. Jesus Christ had died to set them free and justify them before God according to His works, not theirs. So why would they ever want to go back to trying to keep the law? Ishmael would not share in the inheritance promised by God to Abraham’s heir. And those who attempt to live by keeping the law through dependence upon their own self-effort, will not inherit eternal life, promised by God to all those who have placed their faith in His Son. The temptation toward legalism and self-reliance is alive and well today. The pressure to somehow earn favor with God through our own self-effort exists for all believers. But Paul would have us remember that we are called to live our lives by faith. We are to trust in God and His indwelling Holy Spirit, not our weak and frail flesh. We must learn to say as Paul did earlier in this same letter: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 NLT).

The Gift of Mutual Encouragement.

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you — that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. – Romans 1:8-15 ESV

Paul had heard about the believers in Rome. He probably had little or no awareness of any particular individuals, because he had not yet been able to visit the church there. But he had become aware of the church as a whole. “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world” (Romans 1:8 ESV). The church in Rome had gained a reputation for its faith. News of their corporate commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ had been spread throughout the known world. And Paul longed to see them face to face. He prayed for them consistently and persistently asked God to allow him the opportunity to visit them. It is clear that Paul had a love for the body of Christ. He was more than an evangelist, spreading the good news about Jesus Christ and watching people come to faith in Him. Paul was a builder. He wanted to see the local congregations that were springing up all around the world grow into spiritual maturity. The majority of his letters were written to local churches and have a corporate context to them. We tend to read his letters from an individualistic viewpoint, failing to understand that his words were intended for the congregation as a whole, not the individual believer.

The church in Rome had a corporate reputation for its faith. It was as a body that they had become known for their faith, not as individuals. And somehow, with our western, individualistic mindsets, we lose sight of the fact that we have been baptized into the body of Christ, the both the local and global body of Christ, for a reason. We have become members of something far greater and far more significant than ourselves. Later on in this same letter, Paul tells the believers in Rome, “so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:5 ESV). He wrote similar words to the church in Corinth. “But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body” (1 Corinthians 12:18-20 ESV). Our tendency is to focus on our own spiritual growth while neglecting the well-being of the body. We concentrate all our efforts on ourselves.

But it’s interesting to note Paul’s comment to his brothers and sisters in Rome. He said, “For I long to see you, that I may impart some spiritual gift to strengthen you” (Romans 1:11 ESV). I don’t think Paul is saying that he wants to lay hands on each and every one of them and give them a spiritual gift like tongues or healing. He clarifies what he means in the very next line. “that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine” (Romans 1:12 ESV). In other words, Paul simply wanted to be a source of encouragement to them as he shared his faith with them. And he knew that they would lift him up in his own faith as they ministered to him. He was less focused on any specific spiritual gift than he was on the mutual encouragement that believers receive as members of the body of Christ. Paul’s heart was for unity in the body and a sense of shared concern for one another, which why he told the church in Corinth, “that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12:25-26 ESV).

Sometimes we make far more out of the gifts than we do the purpose behind the giving of them. Paul told the Corinthian believers, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7 ESV). Whatever gift the Spirit has given, He has done so for the mutual benefit of the body. We exist to build up one another. My very presence within the body is other-oriented. It is not all about me – it is about US. That is why God gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers to the early church –  “…to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12-13 ESV).

The writer of Hebrews reminds us, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV). The gift of mutual encouragement. It’s desperately needed in the church today. We are in this thing together. We are members of one body, serving one God and sharing a common faith in one Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. May we learn to share our gifts with one another. May we grow in our desire to love and encourage one another. And may our corporate reputation for faith in Christ spread throughout the world.

Quenching the Spirit.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22 ESV

In the old TV sitcom, All In The Family, Archie Bunker used to regularly tell his wife, “Stifle yourself, Edith!” Inevitably, Edith was talking and Archie wanted her to stop. It was his way of telling her to shut up. And in a way, as believers, we can do the same thing to the Holy Spirit. He talks and we simply tell Him to stifle Himself. That is what the Greek word Paul uses really conveys. It is sbennymi and it means “to extinguish, suppress or stifle”. It can be used to refer to the putting out of a flame or, metaphorically, the suppression of divine influence. But how do we suppress the Spirit’s influence in our lives. It’s really quite simple. All we have to do is live life in our own strength. This can include trying to do good things without His help or doing bad things against His wishes. In his highly popular devotional guide, My Utmost For His Highest, Oswald Chambers describes it this way: “ The sense of warning and restraint that the Spirit gives comes to us in the most amazingly gentle ways. And if you are not sensitive enough to detect His voice, you will quench it, and your spiritual life will be impaired.” In other words, we quench the Spirit every time we fail to hear His voice or simply choose to ignore it. We can also quench the Spirit when we refuse to allow Him to do what God sent Him to do – guide, direct, empower, and transform us into the likeness of Christ.

Attempting to live the Christian life apart from the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit is impossible. Trying to live righteously in our own strength will prove futile. Our flesh or old sin nature will not allow us to pull it off. And every time we try, we stifle the Holy Spirit’s work in our life. It is so easy for us to assume that we can pull off the Christian life in our own strength. Many of us suffer from the good old American work ethic. We have been indoctrinated with the idea that we can accomplish anything when we put our mind to it. But Jesus told His disciples, “And now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as my Father promised. But stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven” (Luke 24:49 NLT). Power from heaven. That is what we receive when the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within us at salvation. And the power the Holy Spirit provides is meant to make possible the impossible. It is He who gives us the strength to live the life we have been called to live. And every time we attempt to live it in our own strength, we are, for all intents and purposes, telling the Holy Spirit, “stifle it!” We are telling that still, small voice within us to shut up. In essence, we throw water on the very fire we need to fuel our faith.

That is why Paul provides us with this admonition: “So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses” (Galatians 5:16-18 NLT). It is essential that we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us and empower us. When we try to do it on our own, we are attempting to live under the law again. We are subjecting ourselves to the futile effort of gaining favor from God apart from faith. At the end of the day, we are either living according to the Spirit or according to the flesh. And even when we try to do good things apart from and without the Spirit’s help, we suppress His power in our life. We stifle Him.

So when Paul tells us to “warn those who are lazy. Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone. See that no one pays back evil for evil, but always try to do good to each other and to all people. Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances…” (1 Thessalonians 5:14-18 NLT), he is reminding us to do it in the power of the Holy Spirit. To attempt to do any of those things in our own strength would be futile. That is why he follows this list with the warning, “Do not stifle the Holy Spirit.” Don’t try to live your life in your own strength. Depend on the power from heaven. Rely on the God-given source that He has placed within you. So Paul would remind us, “Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live” (Romans 8:12-13 NLT).

Ephesians 5:21-6:9

Redeemed Relationships.

Ephesians 5:21-6:9

And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. – Ephesians 5:21 NLT

Our relationship with Jesus Christ should change everything – especially our relationships with others. Saving faith is practical and applicable. It should make a difference in the way we relate to and interact with others in our lives. Paul uses the term “submit,” which was typically used in a military context. It referred to the attitude of a soldier who was expected to have  “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden.” It carried with it the sense of being part of a larger whole, and serving within a unit that shared a common cause and answered to a higher authority. So Paul tells us to “submit to one another.” Notice that this is a command to any and all within the body of Christ. Too often we skip this verse and go right to the next verse where wives are told to submit to their husbands. This verse has caused much confusion, anger and anxiety over the years, especially within the minds of modern Christians. Many women find the idea of submission as antiquated and outdated. Some find it outright demeaning. But to understand what Paul is saying, we must keep all of the verses within their context. Paul is calling ALL believers to submit and he gives various examples of what that submission will look like for each of them.

Remember, Paul has just finished talking about being filled or controlled by the Spirit. Now he provides us with submission as a result of that filling. When we are living under the influence of the Spirit, we will submit to one another as to the Lord. Paul is going to deal with three pairs of people: husbands and wives, children and parents, and slaves and masters. The primary subject when talking about each is submission, made possible by the filling of the Spirit. It is critical to understand that each example is an illustration of submission. Women are told to submit to their husbands. This is not a command to subservience and is not meant to communicate that women have a lesser value or worth. It reflects a Spirit-empowered willingness on the part of wives to serve their husbands as they would Jesus Christ. This is not a call to passivity or a command to become a doormat. It is a call to Christ-like servanthood and submission. The key phrase here is “as to the Lord.” That theme runs throughout these verses. God has established an order and a structure to the family. He has made the husband the head of the home, just as Christ is the head of the church. Headship comes with authority, but also responsibility. The husband will answer to God for how he lead and cared for his family, including his wife. When a wife submits to her husband, she is simply coming under God’s ordained structure for the home. The wife’s ability to submit is directly tied to the next verses that deal with the husband’s responsibility to love. Paul tells husbands that for them, submission takes the form of selfless, sacrificial love. They are to love their wives as Christ loved the church. Christ gave His life for the church. He placed the needs of the body of Christ above His own. He loved the church so much that He was willing to die for it. And that is the degree to which husbands are to “submit” to their wives. They are to love them so much that they are willing to sacrifice everything for their holiness. The kind of love husbands are called to express toward their wives was not to be based on her performance or merit, but was an unconditional acceptance based on her intrinsic worth as God’s gift to her husband. That kind of love will create an atmosphere where willing submission is easy.

Paul now turns his attention to parents and children. Children are commanded to obey and honor their parents. Again, this is an illustration of Spirit-empowered submission within the home. And it’s important to recognize that Paul tells children that their obedience stems from their relationship to the Lord. All of these relationships are to be God-centered and Spirit-filled. But there’s a second half to this equation. Fathers, as the head of the home, are commanded not to exasperate and frustrate their children by unloving and inconsistent parenting. Lack of loving leadership on the part of the father and an absence of structure and protective rules can end up causing children to become angry and, ultimately, rebellious. Love masquerading as license and leniency, can be damaging and destructive. Fathers are to provide an environment that is loving and disciplined, creating an atmosphere where obedience and honor come naturally.

Finally, Paul takes on a somewhat awkward topic of slave and masters. As modern-day Christians, we find this discussion distasteful and outdated. After all, we live in a nation that outlawed slavery a long time ago. But in Paul’s day it was alive and well. In fact, the local churches typically had members who were slaves, and oftentimes they attended the same church their masters did. Becoming a believer did not set slaves free from slavery. It did not change their circumstance, but it did radically alter the way in which they were to relate within that circumstance. Because of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, slaves were expected to do their jobs differently. They were expected to relate to their masters differently. They were to obey with “deep respect and fear.” And they were to do it as they would serve Christ. Their subservience was now to become willing submission, performed for the Lord, not for their earthly masters. Their work ethic was to be motivated by their love for the Lord. They were still slaves, but they were slaves who had been changed by Christ and had a new capacity to love – even within the context of their slavery. And those masters who happened to be believers, were to treat their slaves with dignity and respect, knowing that they would be held accountable for their actions to God some day. Paul makes a significant statement regarding God’s view of slaves and masters. He says, “remember, you both have the same Master in heaven, and he has no favorites” (Ephesians 6:9 NLT). God doesn’t see as man sees. While He has ordained there to be order, structure and degrees of authority in the world, He sees all men as equal. He sees husbands and wives as equal. He sees parents and children as equal. And He sees slaves and masters as equal. The key issue is how His Spirit can radically change those relationships and give them a new capacity to interact and interrelate in such as way that He is honored. Spirit-filled, Spirit-controlled believers bring a whole new meaning to their relationships. They view their roles and responsibilities differently. They see their positions as opportunities to serve others and honor God. They do their work as unto the Lord. They serve others as they would serve Christ. They submit to others as they would submit to Him. They love as He would love. They obey as if He were the one giving the command. Living under the influence of the Spirit is a life-changing, relationship-altering experience.

Father, may we learn to live under the influence of the Spirit more and more. We can’t always change our circumstances, but we can change the way we relate in the midst of them. Our marriages need to be Spirit-controlled. Our homes need to be Spirit-filled. Our work relationships need to be Spirit-empowered. Show us how to make our faith practical and applicable to each and every one of our relationships. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org