The Gospel of Peace

“Also, having come, he preached the Gospel of peace to you who are far off and peace to you who are near, for through him we have access, both of us in one Spirit, to the Father.”

(Ephesians 2:17-18)

It strikes me as odd that people do not seem to notice that as America moves further and further away from the Christian faith, we have become more violent and more divided than ever. To the Christian, who understands that the Gospel is a Gospel of peace and of reconciliation, the correlation should be obvious. Yet, it does not seem to be. People keep looking for a political solution to our problems; that may, at best, put a bandage on some of the wounds, but it does not get at the heart of the problem, which is sin. That sin separates us from God and from fellow man and if there is a time for the Gospel to be heard, that time is now. So, while I do vote, and commend Christians to do the same, I vote for those who I think will best uphold those Biblical values upon which my life is built, but I am under no delusion in thinking that one politician or another is going to bring a time of revival and overall spiritual wellbeing to our country.

In context, Paul is still addressing the unity that Christ has worked between God and man as well as man and man. It is no longer a matter of being Jew or Gentile or Barbarian; if we are in Christ, we are one person by the work of the Holy Spirit and are presented to God in peace — free from the penalty of sin. Jesus has paid that in full for His elect.

So, whether we were far off (the Gentile nations) or near (in Jerusalem or Israel), God has brought us together through this Gospel that brings peace. We must be clear that the primary sense of this peace is peace between man and God. But, when we are at peace with God, joined together as one body with others, then we will find ourselves at peace with one another. The world is to know that we belong to Jesus by the love we have for one another (John 13:34-35). The easiest way to determine whether a person is a true Christian is to observe how they behave toward other true Christians, for if they do not love those who are in the body, they truly do not have God in their heart (1 John 3:10). This, of course, John has said in the same context as making a practice of righteous living. If you want to know whether someone is a true Christian or just a scoundrel using the church for his own ends, this is as good a starting place as any. So, how does it describe you?

One New Man

“For he is our peace, the one who has made both one and breaching the dividing wall which divided — the hatred in his flesh, the law in commandments nullified — in order that the two might be created in him into one new man making peace and reconciling both in one body to God through the cross, killing the hatred in him.”

(Ephesians 2:14-16)

Jesus is the one who has “made both one” as well as breaching the dividing wall so that the two might be created into one new man. But who are the two being made one? In context, it is Jew and Gentile. Two groups of people who have had very separate paths — the Jews though, with the benefit of the Law (Romans 3:1-2) and all of the oracles of God. Whether they had the benefit of the divine revelation or no, both groups fell into sin and were under God’s wrath. Thus, Jesus’ death was to save both and to bind the two into one people — Jew and Gentile alike. 

This is one of the errors of the dispensational system of theology. They maintain that Jew and Gentile are yet two separate peoples in the economy of God’s plan. Yet, Paul plainly teaches here that we are made one. Chrysostom makes the analogy of two statues, one silver and one lead, being melted down and recast as a single, golden statue. It is true that the Jew had the great benefit of the Word of God (hence they are the statue of silver), but they were just as lost as the gentile due to sin. Both Jew and Gentile needed the same remedy and Jesus provided that remedy to both in the same way — the cross. And now he makes his faithful into one body. The analogy is not that Jesus has multiple bodies running about, but that he has one — and that he has one bride. Will Jews be saved in abundance in latter days? Indeed, just as Paul writes in Romans 12:23-24. Yet, notice that even here, Paul speaks about the Jew needing to cease in their unbelief. They come to faith in the same way that we do — God the Father draws them to God the Son through the regenerative work of God the Holy Spirit. Was that not being done in Paul’s day? Is that not still being done today? Indeed, it is.

So the dividing wall has been broken down. Paul speaks of the hatred or enmity of the flesh and the commandments of the law being nullified. Salvation is by the grace of God given to his elect though faith. Works of the Law do not earn us merit in the eyes of God. Whether there be circumcision or no; whether there be obedience to the ceremonial law or no, those dividing walls have been broken down in the person of Christ who fulfilled the law for his own people, making us one bride and one body. How is this done? It was done through the cross whereby we were reconciled to God and our hatred of God has been brought to an end.

Hatred? Yes, hatred. Jesus says that the way we demonstrate our love for Him is through obedience (John 14:15). And so, given our disobedience, what other word but hatred is appropriate. As the Heidelberg Catechism clearly teaches, our nature is to hate God and our fellow man (Question 5). In Christ, our hatred of God is broken down and the fruit of obedience grows freely. And so, one of the marks of the Christian is faithful obedience to God (or at least an attempt at it). Those who refuse to repent of their sins and obey the Word of God betray their unregenerate hearts.

He is Our Peace

“For he is our peace, the one who has made both one and breaching the dividing wall which divided — the hatred in his flesh, the law in commandments nullified — in order that the two might be created in him into one new man making peace and reconciling both in one body to God through the cross, killing the hatred in him.”

(Ephesians 2:14-16)

Jesus is our peace. What a wonderful sentiment to meditate upon. How often we try and find peace in matters of earthly security — wealth, a career, etc… Yet, our peace only ever will be found in Christ. The rest of this verse approaches the question of why Jesus is our peace, but it is worth spending time meditating on the notion that if we wish to find peace in life it will only ever come in Christ and by being in His will. Security does not come from men or from the works of men; it comes from Christ.

Paul, of course, is borrowing this language from the prophet Micah (Micah 5:5). Here is one of the many promises of a coming Messiah — in this case, one who would be born in Bethlehem and who would shepherd the people of Israel (True Israel that is). Micah 5:4 speaks of him shepherding Israel in the strength of the Lord and his people finding a place to dwell securely in Him. For he will be their peace.

Scripture is full of references like this — the final verse of Psalm 2, for example, that says, “Blessed are those who take refuge in Him.” Ask yourself, what steps have you taken in life to try and secure peace by the works of your own hands? How successful have they been? I would wager that they are unsuccessful. What is holding you back from truly making Christ your source of peace and the pursuit of Christ, wherever that might lead you in this life, the direction of your life? Often we confuse peace with comfort. The first is found in Christ alone and is eternal. The second can be worked with our hands but is fleeting and unsatisfying. Choose this day what it is that you will pursue.

Saturday Word Study: Preaching

In the New Testament, there are primarily two words that are typically translated as “preach.”

The first of those terms is εὐαγγελίζω (euangelidzo), which means to evangelize or to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. The emphasis here is very clearly on that of pointing lost souls to Jesus Christ and to call them to faith and repentance.

The second of these terms is the word κηρύσσω (kerusso). Similar to εὐαγγελίζω (euangelidzo), this term means to declare or to proclaim aloud some information, though the terminology is a little more general and does not necessitate that the Gospel is being declared. For instance, that is the language used by the Apostles in Acts 15:21, when speaking about people in every city “proclaiming” or “preaching” Moses.

There is a great deal of debate as to what the goal of preaching ought to be. On one side, there are those who say that the sermon ought to be evangelistic in nature. In this worldview, evangelism is primarily a practice of inviting people to attend church with you so they hear the Gospel and come to faith in Jesus Christ. For indeed, how are they to believe of those they have never heard and how are they to hear without someone preaching? (Romans 10:14-17) — κηρύσσω (kerusso).

On the other side of the debate, there are others who believe that the purpose of the sermon is to be a matter of discipleship — namely, that of teaching believers to obey everything that Jesus has taught them to do (Matthew 28:18-20). In the great commission, the word for “preaching” never even shows up. Jesus does not say that we are to preach to the nations, but to disciple them unto obedience. In this worldview, evangelism is the work of the church during the rest of the week — sharing the Gospel with those they meet along the way. In turn, the role of the gathered church is discipleship — a place where learning and growing in faith takes place.

In the first model, preaching tends to “lower the bar” so as to reach everyone in the room, believer and unbeliever. In the second model, preaching tends to aim at “raising the bar” for all who are present because those present now have a commitment to Christ. True, there will be varying degrees of commitment reflected in the church body, but there is at least a basic assumption that those who are present desire to learn and grow from where they happen to be.

The question, then, has to do with how the New Testament uses this terminology, particularly in those areas that are descriptive and do not just presume we, the reader, understand of what is being spoken. In my seminary years, I had a dear friend who used to remind me that “preacher” is never spoken of as an office in the church nor is it one of God’s gifts to the church — “shepherds and teachers” are, though. 

Because the term εὐαγγελίζω (euangelidzo) is primarily used in the context of evangelism — declaring the Gospel, it seems to make more sense to focus on the term, κηρύσσω (kerusso). Also, we will not be looking at all of the uses of this term in the Greek New Testament, but will instead simply focus on those places where definition is given to the purpose or content of the preaching.

Matthew 3:1 and 4:17 — here we find both John the Baptist and Jesus spoken of as preaching. In both cases, the message is also the same: “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Clearly, in both cases, the message is evangelistic in nature and the message is spoken out of doors — or at least apart from the traditional synagogue setting. 

Matthew 4:23 is a key verse to wed to the previous ones, for in this case, wed to preaching is the idea of teaching (διδάσκω — didasko — which is the root word from which “disciple” is formed in the Greek). Here, we see Jesus spoken as teaching and preaching in the synagogues. Still, the message of the Kingdom is being proclaimed, but there is a teaching/discipleship element that is present.

Matthew 24:14 — “The Gospel of the Kingdom will be proclaimed in the whole world…” This seems to tie in nicely with the Great Commission, especially when we realize if there is a kingdom, there are laws and commandments that go along with the kingdom and which will be impressed on those who are members of it. Thus one should recognize that even though the word, “teach,” is not included in the text, it is implied.

Mark 1:4 — What was the content of John’s preaching? “a baptism of repentance and the forgiveness of sins.” Herein is the first part of discipleship as is stated in the Great Commission.

Mark 1:45 — While some translations say he was talking about what Jesus had done, the Greek term is κηρύσσω. Thus, the Leper is preaching as he shares the good news of Christ.

Mark 5:20 — We find the former Gerasene demoniac going about and preaching through Decapolis. When we compare this with the parallel in Luke 8:39, we see Jesus commanding the man to go and tell but instead, he goes and preaches.

Mark 13:10 — Before the return of Christ, the Gospel will be preached to the ends of the earth.

Luke 24:47 — Repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name will be preached to the whole world, starting with Jerusalem.

Acts 8:5 — Philip preaching in Samaria.

Acts 9:20 — Saul/Paul preaching in the synagogues that Jesus was the Son of God. Here we see both the evangelistic side and the teaching side as Paul’s approach is often described as him “reasoning with” the Jews that Jesus is the Christ (e.g. Acts 17:2,17; 18:4,19).

Acts 10:42 — Peter speaks of Jesus’ command to preach to all of the people and to solemnly declare that Jesus is the judge over the living and the dead.

Romans 2:21 — here we have a context where preaching is used in the context of discipleship, for preaching and teaching are found in parallel.

1 Corinthians 1:23 — Paul preaches Christ crucified. This is immediately pointed toward evangelism, though with ramifications that extend into discipleship. For, if Christ is crucified, how now must we live?

1 Corinthians 9:27 — Paul disciplines himself so that by his actions (discipleship) he does not undermine his preaching.

1 Corinthians 15:12 — Christ is preached as raised from the dead.

1 Timothy 3:16 — This is one of the earliest Christian creeds, one that speaks of Jesus being preached in all the nations.

2 Timothy 4:2 — Perhaps this is the most important passage when it comes to defining what preaching is: reprove, rebuke, exhort with patience and teaching. While this does not rule out evangelism, it does carry with it a notion that teaching is an important part, for how can you reprove, rebuke, and exhort if you do not first teach others what God expects of us first?

The next part of this word study needs to address the role of teaching in the church and how the two fit together. We’ll leave that for next week. What we can say with certainty is that preaching is evangelistic in nature, though that evangelism seems to largely take place outside of the boundaries of the organized church. It should also be noted, as we have seen here, that teaching and preaching are not mutually exclusive ideas.

Next…teaching in the context of the church…

Drawn Near to God

“Yet, now in Christ Jesus, you who were at one time far away have come near in the blood of Christ.”

(Ephesians 2:13)

“There is no one who comprehends; no one who seeks after God.”

(Romans 3:11)

“No one is able to come to me if the Father who sent me has not dragged him; yet, I will raise him on the last day.”

(John 6:44)

The drawing near to God is clear, obvious, and to be celebrated. Yet, we must always be reminded as to why we have drawn near. It is not because we chose to draw near to God; he has drawn us to himself. Too many people like the pride of saying that they have done so, that they have chosen to pursue God, or that they have accepted Christ in faith. No, my friends, that is not the case. We have been brought close by God himself and the means by which he has made that possible is by the blood of Jesus Christ.

Herein these words we also find the ultimate fulfillment of God’s prophesy through Zechariah:

“The one’s far off shall come and build the temple of Yahweh and you shall know that Yahweh of Armies has sent me to you. It will be if you hear and obey the voice of Yahweh your God.”

(Zechariah 6:15)

Certainly, in the immediate context, Zechariah is speaking of the coming of Ezra and then of Nehemiah. Yet, there is an eternal fulfillment to these words as well. For all Christians are as stones formed by no human hand to become the greater Temple of God that would replace the temple which Solomon built (1 Peter 4-5). Truly, the latter glory of the house will far exceed its former glory (Haggai 2:9).

The True Church and being Citizens of Israel

“Remember that you were formerly gentiles in the flesh — called the uncircumcision by those called the circumcision in the flesh by hands — that you were at that time without Christ, alienated from the citizenship of Israel and a stranger to the covenant and the promise, being without hope and an atheist in the world.”

(Ephesians 2:11-12)

One more note before we move to verse 13…what is this language about the citizenship of Israel? Is this a reference to becoming part of national Israel as some would suppose? What is Paul referring to here?

First of all, no. In Romans 9, Paul has already distinguished between national Israel and True Israel, the latter being the children of the promise who are the spiritual children of Israel (Romans 9:6-9). This, in context, is a reference to those God elected to save (Romans 9:10-13). In Galatians 3:29, Paul refers to all of those who are in Christ as the ones who are Abraham’s offspring and thus heirs according to the promise (a.k.a… Children of Promise spoken of in Romans 9). And thus, all of the promises of God to Israel find their fulfillment in Christ and are directed toward the Christian church (2 Corinthians 1:20-22). 

So, in the absolute sense, this is not just saying to the gentiles in the church in Ephesus that they were apart from the Jewish nation of Israel; this is saying that they were outside of True Israel and hence they lived amongst the sons of disobedience.

This raises an important point as to the significance of the church. Christians are not called to be “Lone Rangers” as it were; they were called to be part of a unified body with Christ as the head. Any time we are outside of that context, we find ourselves in a place of separation from the covenant and promises of God. Within it, those promises are meaningful and true, belonging to us.

Yet, in the west, we have embraced the notion of rugged individualism. And while that is an admirable thing in secular culture, it is an idea that is alien to Christian living. We have also embraced a form of commercial mentality when it comes to our church attendance. We go here for a while so long as the preaching pleases us and then we go there. That does not mean there is not a right time to leave a church, but leaving should not be predicated by whether you enjoy the preaching or the activities of the larger body. Leaving should be based on the question of whether the church which you are attending is a true church. If it is a true church, remain. If it is not a true church, flee to a true church.

What constitutes the true church? What distinguishes the gathering of the Children of Promise? There are three things found in the Scriptures and laid out for us in the Belgic Confession (Article 29): the pure doctrine of the Gospel is preached, the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ, and church discipline is exercised for the chastening of sin. If the whole council of God is not preached or if the doctrines of men are preached instead of the doctrine of God, then it is a false church. If sacraments are treated casually and not with prayerful introspection and commitment, then it is a false church. If church discipline either is ignored or if it is practiced to create a legalistic caste system in the church, then it is a false church. If the church leadership are confronted with their failure in one or more of these areas and they refuse to repent, then you are in a false church from which you must flee. 

They may have good intentions in that false body, but of what value are good intentions when the Apostle Paul condemns that church body as “accursed”? If you graft a healthy body part into a body where the whole of the body is diseased and gangrenous, of what benefit is the healthy part? Will it not too become diseased and gangrenous? If you cling to the doctrines of men, will they save you? Of what hope can they bring? 

While it is true that no church is perfect according to the standards of God, the question is, for what are they striving? Will they repent if their error is shown to them or are they committed and bound to human traditions? What is preached? What is taught? What is sung? What is their foundation? Shall it not be God’s word in all of these areas? Shall we set aside Divine Writ in favor for the ways of men? Is this honoring to God? I would say, “no,” and I would say that such an approach betrays the fact that you are committed to being outside of the citizenship of True Israel. 

If you are tempted to doubt the concept of True and False churches. Maybe you just see me as a grumpy theologian who prefers to sit in his own corner and grump (sometimes I feel like that anyway), then I ask you to look at what has been held by the church fathers through the ages. You will find that they would speak very much like I have spoken. You will find that this notion of rugged individualism is an anomaly when it comes to the history of the church. Look to the confessions, look to the creeds, look to the ancient councils of the church. Over and again you will find that they proclaim the same message, that in salvation we are bound to a body and that there are things that define a true Christian church body, separating it from the false ones. Sometimes it is a matter of doctrine and sometimes it is a matter of practice. But, believe whatever you want to believe “just so long as you love Jesus,” is a notion alien to the church in history and it ought to be anathematized today. 

Hopeless and an Atheist

“Remember that you were formerly gentiles in the flesh — called the uncircumcision by those called the circumcision in the flesh by hands — that you were at that time without Christ, alienated from the citizenship of Israel and a stranger to the covenant and the promise, being without hope and an atheist in the world.”

(Ephesians 2:11-12)

Would suppose that most atheists would not describe themselves as “without hope in this world.” Many would consider them free from the rules and bonds that the Christian gratefully lives under — commandments that we see as freeing and that teach us how to live faithfully and joyfully in this fallen world that is around us. They would see the commandments of God as fetters to their absolute liberty. 

Yet, scripture offers a different picture. Of what value is hope if it is unfulfilled? Of what worth is hope if its only efficacy is your own work? Hope becomes an illusion and a opioid to get us through the day, yet without meaning or substance. The hope of the atheist is nothing more than that if he really works hard, he may or may not make something of himself in this life before he dies. Yet, this life is filled with disease, pestilence, and evil-doers. What hope is there in such a worldview? As would be echoed in the words of the American philosopher, Albert Camus, the only thing left is whether or not to contemplate the question of suicide. Or, in the words of Irene Luce, “Live fast, die young, and leave a beautiful corpse.” While the phrase has been glamorized by film and novel, it is a horribly hopeless way to live one’s life and the mantra is little more than a smokescreen for a depressed and depraved soul.

So, yes, my friends, those without hope in God are hopeless in this world…and not just any God. Those without hope in Jesus Christ are hopeless in life and under judgement and wrath in death. A more somber picture one cannot paint.

Covenant Signs

“Remember that you were formerly gentiles in the flesh — called the uncircumcision by those called the circumcision in the flesh by hands — that you were at that time without Christ, alienated from the citizenship of Israel and a stranger to the covenant and the promise, being without hope and an atheist in the world.”

(Ephesians 2:11-12)

The contrast between the Old Testament administration of the mark of the Covenant and the New Testament administration of the mark of the Covenant are profound. The first was made with blood and only on the males. With the bloody sacrifice of Christ being complete, the bloody mark of circumcision is replaced with the bloodless mark of baptism, also shifting from a mark on the body to a mark on the soul. The fleshly one being made with human hands but the spiritual one, though through human agency, being made by God himself. In this case, Paul is addressing a largely gentile audience and pointing out that this salvation that God has worked is doing more than just giving them salvation from their sins; it brings them into the covenant of God and the promises that are found within it — it makes the gentile a citizen of the holy city of Christ.

And so, a second change is being highlighted to these Ephesian Christians. Not only is there a different way that the covenantal mark or sign is applied, there is a different way that citizenship is received (and note that citizenship in the Roman world was very difficult to receive and was highly valued). Now it is no longer a contrast between Israelites and those outside of Israel. Now it is those who are in Christ and those who are not in Christ. With Christ comes membership in the covenant, citizenship in heaven, and the promises which bring hope.

Saturday Word Study: Σοφια in the LXX Proverbs

The book of Proverbs is known for its integral place amongst the wisdom literature of the Old Testament. In the church, much is often spoken of as either “wise” or “foolish,” but often people use the terminology without thinking it through closely. Our aim today, is to look at sophia and her various derivatives as they are found in the Greek translation of the book of proverbs with the aim of putting some definition to the bones of how we think of wisdom. I’ve chosen to explore σοφια in the LXX rather than חכמה in the Masoretic Text, partly out or curiosity and partly because many of us in the west have more of a Greek understanding of wisdom than we do a Hebraic understanding. Hence, we begin in the Septuagint and will look to the MT at another time.

Proverbs begins with a glorious introduction in the first seven verses that sets the tone for the book as a whole. The book’s goal, as found in these verses is to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth, increase in learning to the wise, and guidance to the ones with understanding.

In these verses, we have six uses of the term, verse 2 speaks about wisdom as something this book is aiming to teach, verse 5 speaks of these proverbs as that which will make a wise man wiser (2 uses). Verse 6 speaks of the sayings of the wise which are contained in the book of Proverbs. And verse 7 speaks of the nature of wisdom. Up until verse 7, we have a largely introductory use of the term and not that which is helpful in advancing our basic cultural knowledge of what wisdom is or of what wisdom does for those who have it.

Verse 7 changes that. Here we have two very clear statements about the nature of wisdom. First, wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord. If wisdom is the opposite of folly and folly, as David states, is believing that there is no God (Psalm 14:1), then you would assume that to have wisdom one must have a healthy fear and reverence before the God of heaven. If I might editorialize for a moment, given that there is so little reverence before God in the western church, I would thus propose, based on Solomon’s words here, that there is very little wisdom in the churches at large. 

In verse 7, there is a second use of the term, in this case, with the negative aspect of what was spoken of at the start. Those who are ungodly, will set wisdom to the side and will not listen to instruction. Again, discerning the presence of wisdom is easy, based on these words. When the Scriptures are laid forth, how shall people respond? The wise will revere the Word of God and seek to put it into practice; the wicked will ignore the word of God and continue thinking and living as they choose.

It should be noted that wisdom is often personified in the book of Proverbs. In one sense, she is the one crying out in the streets for those who will listen. In another sense, she is the one to whom we are to flee. These uses are interesting, though not overly useful to us as we seek to better define wisdom in a more abstract sense, so we will highlight them on occasion but will not dwell upon them.

Wisdom described as one who is calling for those to listen: 1:20; 2:2; 8:12

Wisdom as one to whom we are to flee: 2:3; 7:4; 9:1; 

Wisdom as the words of a loving father: 4:11; 5:1; 19:20; 23:19; 

Proverbs 1:29 — There is an interesting contrast here between the MT and the LXX:

MT: “Instead, they hated knowledge and the fear of Yahweh they did not choose.”

LXX: “For they hated wisdom and did not choose the fear of the Lord.”

Notice that knowledge and wisdom are used almost interchangeably in this translation. Hebrew tends to distinguish between the two: knowledge being a base of information and wisdom being the ability to use that information and to apply it in Godly ways. The Greeks don’t seem to make that distinction and thus, as in 1:7, σοφια is used in the place of knowledge. In the context of this passage, those who refuse to wisdom as she speaks not only demonstrate their hatred for her but will find them under the wrath of God. This is reminiscent of Paul’s language in 2 Thessalonians 2:10.

Proverbs 2:6 — The Lord gives wisdom as well as knowledge and understanding. If you reject God then you are the fool.

Proverbs 2:10 — If you follow the path of wisdom then you will be given both discernment and understanding. This naturally follows from 2:6 but also is reminiscent of Paul’s language in Romans 12:2.

Proverbs 3:5 — the Godly man who trusts in God leans on God’s wisdom and not human wisdom.

Proverbs 3:13 — those who learn wisdom will be blessed

Proverbs 3:19 — God created the earth by his eternal wisdom (this connects wisdom not only with God the Father but with God the Son (John 1:3).

Proverbs 3:35 — the wise will inherit glory

Proverbs 6:6,8 — the wise is like the ant who diligently labors for his needs (in contrast to the lazy sluggard)

Proverbs 8:1 — those who proclaim wisdom will grow in both understanding and obedience

Proverbs 8:11 — wisdom is more valuable than earthly wealth

Proverbs 9:8 — a wise man accepts rebuke

Proverbs 9:9 — a wise man accepts instruction

Proverbs 9:10 is another passage that is worth contrasting the MT with the LXX

MT: “The beginning of wisdom is the fear of Yahweh; the knowledge of the holy ones is understanding.”  (Note: Some English translations render קדשטם as “The Holy One”, “the holy,” or as “holy things.” My translation reflects that of Young’s Literal Translation and the LXX).

LXX: “The beginning of wisdom if the fear of the Lord; and the counsel of the holy ones is understanding. For the knowledge of the Law is a good mind.” (Note: while I recognize that the final clause is not inspired writ but is a translator’s edit, it should be understood that the edit is not inconsistent with the scriptural teaching; in fact, it is quite consistent. For the one who fears the Lord will most certainly be diligent in seeking to live that fear out in obedience to God’s commands).

The interesting thing to note is how the LXX brings out the importance of the counsel of mature Christians in the church. When we find ourselves with matters that we don’t understand or in which we need clarity, the church leaders ought to be the first to whom we appeal for wisdom.

Proverbs 9:12 — the wise person’s wisdom benefits their neighbors. Once again we have a passage where the LXX translator has added embellishment, though it does not advance our discussion here.

Proverbs 10:1 — a wise son makes his father glad

Proverbs 10:4 — the wise son accepts instruction and will master the fool

Proverbs 10:8 — the wise accepts commandments

Proverbs 10:13 — the wise smite their enemies with their words

Proverbs 10:14 — the wise will hide their judgment (MT reads knowledge here). In other words, a wise person is discrete.

Proverbs 10:23 — a wise person is prudent

Proverbs 10:31 — wisdom is the product of the mouth of the righteous. 

Proverbs 11:2 — the humble meditates on wisdom

Proverbs 12:15 — a wise man seeks out the counsel of the wise

Proverbs 12:18 — while the words of the wicked harm others, the words of the wise bring healing

Proverbs 13:10 — those who judge themselves are wise

Proverbs 13:13 — taken from a scribal addition, the wise person shall be directed righteously by wisdom and understanding

Proverbs 13:14 — the wise find a fountain of life in the Law of God

Proverbs 13:20 — if you walk with the wise you will become wise. As C.S. Lewis used to summarize this: “The next best thing to being wise yourself is to surround yourself with those who are wise.”

Proverbs 14:1 — a wise woman builds up her house

Proverbs 14:3 — wisdom preserves a person from discipline

Proverbs 14:6 — wisdom is not found with the wicked

Proverbs 14:7 — the wise are discrete

Proverbs 14:8 — wisdom and prudence should guide your path

Proverbs 14:16 — the wise depart from evil

Proverbs 14:24 — the wise person treasures a prudent person

Proverbs 14:33 — The LXX speaks of wisdom as in the “good heart” of man…the MT speaks of wisdom laying in the heart of the understanding.

Proverbs 15:2 — the wise knows what is good

Proverbs 15:7 — the lips of the wise are discrete

Proverbs 15:12 — the uninstructed person will not be drawn to the wise

Proverbs 15:20 — a wise son gladdens his father

Proverbs 15:33 — The fear of the Lord is wisdom

Proverbs 16:14 — a wise man pacifies an angry king

Proverbs 16:16 — the brood of wisdom is more valuable than gold

Proverbs 16:17 — again, a translators addition, the wise accepts reproof

Proverbs 16:21, again, we should compare the MT with the LXX

MT: “To the wise heart it is called understanding; sweetness of lip increases instruction.”

LXX: “The wise and intelligent is called evil; but the sweetness of word improves hearing.”

Both are communicating the same idea, though in different ways. To simplify, wisdom is sometimes hard to listen to but when spoken with sweet words, it is often heard.

Proverbs 16:23 — the ways of the wise are discerning

Proverbs 17:16 — wisdom is not for sale to the fool

Proverbs 17:24 — the attitude of a wise person is intelligent

Proverbs 17:28 — if the fool is quiet and listens he will be presumed wise

Proverbs 18:2 — the one who lacks understanding will not see the value of wisdom

Proverbs 18:15 — the heart of the prudent purchases wisdom

Proverbs 20:1 — the wise is not a drunkard, brawler, or engaged in illicit sexuality

Proverbs 20:26 — a wise king crushes the ungodly

Proverbs 20:29 — wisdom is the world to young men and grey hairs to old

Proverbs 21:11 — the simple become wiser when the wicked are punished

Proverbs 21:20 — the words of the wise is a desirable treasure

Proverbs 21:22 — the wise demolish fortresses that threaten (think of Paul’s language in 2 Corinthians 10:4-6)

Proverbs 21:30 — Wisdom and counsel do not dwell in the presence of the ungodly

Proverbs 22:4 — the fear of the Lord is the offspring of wisdom

Proverbs 22:17 — the words of wise men should be listened to

Proverbs 23:15 — the wise son gladdens his father’s heart

Proverbs 23:24 — a wise father raises his children well

Proverbs 24:3 — wisdom and understanding go hand in hand

Proverbs 24:5 — wisdom is better than physical strength

Proverbs 24:7 — wisdom and understanding belong to the wise person

Proverbs 24:14 — if you seek wisdom, your end will be good

Proverbs 25:12 — obedience is a jewel in the ear of the wise

Proverbs 26:5 — if you do not correct a fool, he will think himself wise

Proverbs 26:12 — the fool thinks himself wise but isn’t

Proverbs 26:16 — the sluggard thinks himself wise but isn’t

Proverbs 27:11 — in wisdom one’s heart may rejoice

Proverbs 28:11 — the conceited rich man thinks himself wise but isn’t

Proverbs 28:26 — there is safety in walking in wisdom

Proverbs 29:3 — the father rejoices when his son loves wisdom

Proverbs 29:8 — wise men will spare a city destruction

Proverbs 29:9 — the wise shall judge the nations (think of Paul’s language in 1 Corinthians 6:2)

Proverbs 29:11 — the fool tells everything; the wise is discrete

Proverbs 29:15 — discipline gives wisdom

Proverbs 30:3 — God teaches wisdom

Proverbs 30:24 — ants, rock badgers, locusts, and lizards, from which we can learn

Proverbs 31:5 — strong wine robs you of wisdom

Proverbs 31:28 — the tongue of a woman of character discloses wisdom

Walk the Walk

“For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand in order that we might walk in them.”

(Ephesians 2:10)

As believers, God has created us to walk in good works. Certainly, the notion of walking in the Bible is often used to describe the way someone lives. When God is preparing the people to receive the Law, he instructs them that it is by these statutes and laws they are to walk (Exodus 18:20). In contrast, we are told that we are not to walk in the way of the Egyptians or that of the Canaanites (Leviticus 20:23). God promises that if we walk in His ways, he will provide for our needs (Leviticus 26:3-4), but if we choose not to walk in his ways, he will bring panic and fear and disease (Leviticus 26:14-16). King David describes difficult times as walking in the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4) and Habakkuk speaks of the faithful one being made to walk in high places (Habakkuk 3:19). Finally, Isaiah calls the people to follow him into the Mountain of the Lord (Zion, which is the place of worship) so that God may teach us his ways and we may walk in them (notice that an important part of worship, according to the prophet, is to learn the things of God and live them out).

The analogy speaks to the mindset of the Christian. Walking is an intentional act. We don’t always do it perfectly — sometimes we trip and sometimes we get distracted and stumble — but it is something we decide to do. Walking also leads us to an intentional destination. When we get up to walk, we don’t let our feet just take us somewhere for the sake of walking, we walk in a particular direction that is governed by our minds. Even if we are the type to walk in circles or pace a room unconsciously, the walking is still a deliberate act.

For the Christian, the faithful life as a disciple of Jesus Christ is to be a deliberate act as well. Jesus said that we are to obey all that he taught us (John 14:15) and that a disciple is one who does the same (Matthew 28:20). And, to be obedient to a law, you must not only know what those laws are, you must also strive to live them out. Too often people think of Christian obedience as something that is optional. People get the notion into their heads: “I am saved by grace, not by works, so I can live however I want to live.” They forget the statement of Paul that we are saved to a life of good works to the glory of God. Oh, and what are good works once again? They are works that are conformable to the Law of God.

Dear Christian, Jesus did not die on a cross to give you fire insurance. He died on the cross to redeem you from the fire and to raise you to newness of life — to make you a different creature than you once were before you were a believer (that is the context of this whole chapter!). And newness of life means that the dead works of the flesh are meant to fall away and you are to go about walking in the good works that God has prepared for you to walk in — most namely in diligent obedience to the Law of God. 

But what does this mean in a practical, and day to day sense? It means that your ideas about what is morally right and morally wrong should align with the scriptures. We should detest as morally evil all false worship, idolatry, blasphemy, sabbath-breaking, dishonoring of our parents, murder, adultery, theft, false witness, and covetousness. And, we should understand those things not only in terms of the letter of the law, but in light of the intent of the Law as Jesus interpreted them. We should love the brotherhood and sacrifice for fellow believers. We should seek to tear down every thought and idea in our own life and in the world around us that stands against the Word of God. This is an active and intentional calling, not a passive one. And, where there is no evidence of striving to walk in this way, there is no evidence of a transformation worked by Christ. True Christianity is not about sitting in a pew; it is about deliberately walking in obedience to God’s ways and not man’s.

Good Works

“For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand in order that we might walk in them.”

(Ephesians 2:10)

To clarify, then, the believer is a redeemed creation of God — God’s handiwork — and is thus at God’s disposal in terms of what he or she will become and should do. The “what to do,” Paul states, is that we are created for good works. But, what are good works? Or, to put it another way, what makes our works “good”?

As we might expect, the Heidelberg Catechism gives us a definition of what constitutes “good works.” Question 62 asks “But why can’t our good sporks be either all of or part of our righteousness before God?” In other words, is it possible that our works can be part of our salvation? The answer, of course is, “Absolutely not!” Our works are defiled by sin. Heidelberg answers the question in this manner: 

“Because the righteousness which can stand before the judgment seat of God must be totally perfect and entirely conformable to the divine law. In contrast, even our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled by sin.”

How does this question assist us with the proposition that Paul is making here, that we have been created for good works? To begin with, it gives us the definition of what constitutes a good work. It must be “perfect and conformable to the divine law.” Perfection is a reference to being free from sin and the divine law is the law of God.

To anticipate the objection…”How can we be ‘created for good works’ when ‘none but God is good’?” Indeed, this is why Paul points out that the good works have been prepared by God that we might walk in them. Paul is not saying that the believer does truly good works in his own strength or power. Yet, in grace, God prepares good works for us to do, places us in a position to do those good works, and then brings about the good work by His own hand through us, graciously permitting us to participate in the process. We are  like the child sitting on his father’s lap behind the steering wheel of a car and being allowed to touch the steering wheel. The father is doing the driving but we get to participate.

So, as we strive to grow in our faith, seeking out those good works which God has created us to walk in, what should govern our path? The simple answer is that the law of God should govern us. How do we know what work is good? We must examine the law and live by it. How rarely Christians do that, though. True, we are not saved by the Law, but that does not mean that the Law is invalid. It simply means that another has taken our place in the dock and will be judged by the Law as we deserve to be judged. Yet, as we seek to live out a life that is grateful to God for his good gift to us, our response ought to be to live according to the Law. And note…we don’t get to pick and choose, God gives us the Law as a whole and we ought to strive to obey it as a whole…part of which is keeping the Sabbath Day (as a whole day!), which has been almost uniformly ignored in the American church.

Christian, if you wish to live out those good works that God has prepared for you, start by practicing the Sabbath day as God designed the day to be practiced. Make it a day of rest and wholly seeking after God, not as an additional day of the weekend. See what God does with you from there.

God’s Handiwork

“For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand in order that we might walk in them.”

(Ephesians 2:10)

The word ποίημα (poiema) refers to that which has been made by another, more typically, a creation made by the hands of another. This is a theme that is present from the beginning of the Bible to the very end. God made Adam and Eve and God will remake us as glorified beings. God made the creation and God will remake the creation in the new heavens and earth. God is the potter and we are the clay. We are described as “new creations” in our regeneration as we are made believers and disciples of Jesus by the work of God’s hands.

There are two observations that ought to be driven home by these words. The first is that the created thing has no say over how it is created or what its purpose will be. The creator has the power and the right to make some items for honored use and others for dishonorable use. The clay has no rights over the potter but the potter has complete rights over the clay. We have talked a great deal about God’s sovereignty in election thus far, in the context of this passage, we can add to it the notion of God’s sovereignty in our sanctification. God has remade us and in that making, we are not our own. We belong to our maker and He and only He has the right to determine what we should or should not be doing. 

In a broad sense, it is good works for which we have been created. And you will notice that those good works were prepared for us beforehand. In other words, God does not create us and then say, “Hmmm…how shall I use this person?” God has a purpose and a plan and creates us with that purpose and plan in mind. To simplify the idea with an analogy, a regular screwdriver can be used for lots of things — prying open cans of paint, loosening jammed windows or doors, banging in a nail or brad. Yet, a regular screwdriver was not created to do these things; it was created to tighten and loosen screws whose slots match the slot on the screwdriver. When used that way, its function will be best served and it will last longer without being broken or otherwise damaged. yet, the company doesn’t just put material in a mold and wonder what is going to come out. They set forth to manufacture a regular screwdriver that can be used to tighten or loosen flat-head screws. God has made you and me in a certain way with certain purposes in mind. Our design is thus different and situated to our calling; we will live longer and more fulfilled lives if we live in accordance with that design. 

The second point that is worth noting here is that when God does a work of creating something anew, it is normally found in the context of redemption. God is redeeming the creation in the new creation to come. Even the remaking of the world as a result of the Flood is a kind of redemption — the land washed clean from the filth of sin. And, so when Paul is using this language, calling Christians a craftsmanship of God, a new creation, etc…, we should see this as a reference to redemption. Not just to our individual redemption but also to our redemption as part of the body of Christ. And so, as we think about the notion of being redeemed as a new creation for the purpose of good works, we ought to ask ourselves how we can best live out that role.

Don’t Boast

“It is not by works in order that no one should boast.”

(Ephesians 2:9)

Why would someone boast about something they did not earn or merit? I believe that it is safe to say that if we truly understood the notion of salvation by grace, boasting would never even begin to be a part of our vocabulary or mindset. We are but humiliated worms before the grandeur of God and he has chosen to bestow upon us something more wonderful than we can conceive. He has chosen to transform us from the worms that we are into men — glorified men in the image of His Son. And he does this at the cost of trampling His Son underfoot — the place we deserve to be.

Yet, people do boast. Sometimes Calvinists are guilty of thinking that their election was a result of who they are or something that they did. Even worse, sometimes Calvinists think that their election is a result of their church membership and that God has reserved a space in heaven just for them because of the long list of deeds that they have done in conjunction with their church membership. Such a view is a distortion of the Biblical doctrine of election and it is a perversion of what Calvin taught. 

The Arminians and Wesleyans and others who adhere to a kind of free-will, decision theology are guilty of the same thing, though. Many will brag about their decision to choose Christ or about the way they wrestled through all of the arguments against God as if they had anything to do with their salvation. They tend to deny election entirely or they twist its definition such that it becomes meaningless, making them deniers of the Word of God and rejectors of the notion of grace. 

Whether the Arminian error or the Calvinist error, salvation is not of you. It is of God’s grace through faith. And God chose in his sovereignty to save his elect in this way to prevent his elect, sinners as we are, from boasting. It is not the one who labors for salvation nor is it the one who chooses salvation, it is God who chose to save some out of his mercy (Romans 9:16). If works has anything to do with our salvation, then grace would no longer be grace (Romans 11:6). It is a merciful thing that God has done, you know, robbing us of any foothold for pride. Pride destroys and the sacrifice acceptable to God is a pure and contrite heart. 

So, if you find someone boasting in their election or telling others how they had decided to choose Christ, beware. They are either woefully ignorant of the scriptures or are ignoring them. Ask them to show you in the Scriptures anywhere that teaches them that they can boast in their participation in their salvation. It simply cannot be done. Then humbly show that person this passage. If we must boast, let us boast in Christ and in Christ alone, not in the things we have done.

P.S. and a vent… As I look back on close to two decades of ministry, it strikes me that on occasion (not very often), I have been challenged to answer the question: “What have you done in your ministry here?” When that is said it usually has been intended in a hurtful manner but it also vastly misunderstands the scriptures and grace. Yes, we are saved to good works, but those works, as Paul will explain, are prepared in eternity past for us to do — in other words, it is God who gets glory for them, not us. In fact, Jesus makes it very clear that the good works we do are to be done in secret and outside of the eyes of men. The best and proper answer that we can give to those who challenge our ministry in this way is to say that we have been Christ’s unworthy servants. 

My point in bringing this up, other than venting for a moment, is to share my heart with you. Every faithful pastor does many good works as part of the warp and woof of his ministry. And, most of them will never be known by most of the people in the congregation. Further, that is a good thing. We have too many false pastors in this world that go about boasting over all of the things they have done, we don’t need any more. So, if you are tempted to challenge your pastor in this way, don’t. Instead, pray for forgiveness for making room for boasting in your or another’s life.

By Grace You Have Been Saved Through Faith

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not from you, it is a gift of God.”

(Ephesians 2:8)

Here, in as concise a form as one is ever going to find it, we are given the heart of the matter about salvation. Salvation is worked by the grace of God through the means of faith. It is not something that has been chosen by us, nor has it been something for which we have worked; it is by grace. And faith is the avenue through which God works to make the recognition of that grace a reality in us.

Too often people fall into the trap of missing the language of grace here. They say, “I am saved by faith…” The danger of doing so is that often people get the notion that the faith that saves them was somehow generated from within them or that it was a result of their decision to follow Jesus. The Bible’s response is consistently, “No, No, No!” The Bible insists that while it is by faith that we are justified (Romans 5:1) and it is by faith that we understand that the universe was created by the Word of God (Hebrews 11:3), but it is by grace that we have been saved. Further, we cannot even boast in the faith that we have, as we have discussed before, for we are born into this word, dead in our sins, which means that the faith we have is a faith that comes through God’s regenerative work. It is all of God, from beginning to end, and there is no room for us to lay claim on anything when it comes to our salvation…no room to boast, as Paul will insist.

So, think of faith as the medium through which we realize the grace of God in our lives. God’s election took place in eternity past, before the earth was ever created and before any human being had done anything good or evil. And, his plan of election will stand as God works it out through history. So, we have had saving grace set to our name from eternity, but that saving grace is not realized until God works regeneration and then faith in us. Then, and only then, do we experience the wonder of God’s grace toward us. Faith is the tool that God uses so that we might realize the salvation he brings by grace into our lives.

Saturday Word Study: Seek and Study

“Great are the works of Yahweh; they are studied by all who delight in them.”

(Psalm 111:2)

Historically, the reason for science was that people loved and were in awe of God and thus sought to understand his character better by studying his creation. Just as people spend vast amounts of time studying the writings of Shakespeare to learn about the man behind the literature and people devote a lifetime to studying the artwork of da Vinci to learn how he painted, so too, scientists for generations have been drawn closer to their God as they study his works. Yet, the works of God are not limited to the created order. They include his eternal decrees, his design of salvation for his elect, his creation of a spiritual realm as well as a physical, and his sovereign ordering of all things to bring about his eternal will. These too, if we delight in them — if we truly delight in them — ought to be studied and investigated.

The Hebrew word in this passage, which we translate here as “study” is the word, דרשׁ (darash), which is translated as ἐκζητέω (ekzeteo) in the LXX, means to seek something out earnestly, in this case, with the aim of understanding them. The focus of this particular word study is not so much an exhaustive reflection of how this word is used (as this is a fairly common Hebrew word); our goal is to explore some of the things that the people of God ought to pursue (or study) as we grow in our knowledge and understanding of God. 

Remember, God is omniscient, and while we are not (and will never be), our pursuit of knowledge is, in a sense, a pursuit of the likeness of God. Studying that which God would have us study is part of our sanctification.

Genesis 25:22  “The sons struggled in her midst and she said, ‘What is this happening to me? I will go to study of Yahweh.’”  Usually our Bibles translate this as “seek” or “inquire.” In context, Rebekah is seeking to learn what is the nature of the twins struggling within her womb. Her goal, is to learn of God’s plan for these children and for her. Or more accurately, she is seeking to learn of the redemptive plan of God.

Exodus 18:15  “And Moses said to his father-in-law, ‘For the people come to me to study God.’” I expect that this is a passage that all know well. Moses has been judging the cases of the people and Jethro, his father-in-law, suggests raising up Elders to handle smaller cases — essentially a series of judiciaries, much like is had with the different courts in America and, if you are Reformed in your church government, it will be found there as well. In the end, though, what is it that people wish to know? They want to know God’s will in a given situation — that which is good and acceptable and perfect, as the Apostle Paul would word it in Romans 12:2. Shall we not study this as well within the Scriptures?

Deuteronomy 4:29  “And you shall seek from there Yahweh your God and you will find him if you study with all of your heart and all of your soul.” When you insert the translation, “study” into this passage instead of “seek,” it adds a new spin to how this verse is often applied. While “seeking” can be a rather subjective term, studying gives us a clearer picture of how to go about seeking God. Where do we find the wisdom of God but in the Word of God. And, it ought to be noted that Moses is not talking about a casual study of God here, no, we find the command to study God with all of our heart and all of our soul…essentially, with all we are. Just as the Shema commands us to love God with all of our heart and soul, here we are instructed to study him with the same. Interestingly enough, verse 30 teaches us the end result of seeking out or studying the Lord — obedience on our part. One then may infer that if one’s life is not growing in obedience to God, then one is not seeking him out — one is not studying him where he can be found: the Scriptures.

Deuteronomy 12:5  “For to the place where Yahweh your God chooses from all of your tribes, to put his name there, to dwell, you shall study and go there.” I left the word structure there closer to the Hebrew than is often translated so that the emphasis is placed where it ought to be placed…namely on the place that God chooses for his worship. The simple application ought to be obvious — worship God where he chooses to be worshiped. The inference? Worship God in the way that He desires to be worshipped. One of the great sins of the modern church today is that of human innovation. Arguably, the innovation leads into darkness (as is testified to by our culture). No, if we are to worship God, we are to worship him as he commands. In terms of our study, the inference is clear as well. We should seek to study him (and then teach him) as he presents himself in the scriptures, not in ways that are preferable to us. Too often the God that is presented is a god of human invention and not the God of the Bible.

Deuteronomy 12:30  “Guard yourself, lest you be ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you. Lest you study their gods saying, ‘How did the nations serve these gods and I will do thus also.’” Indeed, this is the negative corollary to verse 5 above. Do not innovate in worship and study God as he presents himself with the aim of obedience.

Isaiah 1:17  “Learn to do good, study justice, correct oppression; judge the fatherless and contend for the widow.” The philosopher, Socrates, became famous for asking people to define words like justice. The problem was that people could give examples of that which is just but not an absolute definition of the term. That is largely because they sought justice within themselves or from their governments. As Christians, we understand that justice is of God and thus if we are to do those things that are good and if we are to correct the oppression that comes from the wicked, we must know what God’s justice demands — that comes from studying justice as God lays it down in his commandments and in his perfect law — even from understanding the character of what is just by the study of the character of the one who is just — namely God himself.

Isaiah 34:16  “Study from the book of Yahweh and read it. One from them will not be missing; no one will be without her mate. For his mouth has commanded and his Spirit has gathered them.” Taken out of context, this passage is one to celebrate for any studious soul. Yet, in context, it is sobering. Isaiah 34 speaks of God reckoning judgment against creation, setting up a plumb line to separate the sheep from the goats. In context, then, how is that plumb line measured? It is measured by God’s word and not one little command will be neglected when it comes to establishing judgment. There are no “little sins” or “minor infractions” that are overlooked by God — He is a righteous ruler and we must study His law to prepare for such a time.

Isaiah 55:6  “Study Yahweh where he can be found; call to him where he is near.” Isn’t it interesting the change to our common understanding of this verse when you switch the “while” to “where.” In Hebrew, the prepositional prefix is בְ (be), which typically translates as “in, at, or with,” hence my choice to shift the wording from being temporal to locative in nature. Where can God be found? The answer is that he can be found in the scriptures and we ought to study him there. What is the end result of seeking the Lord where he can be found? Once again, if we look at the context of the passage, it is repentance of sin, obedience of life, and redemption.

Isaiah 58:2  “And me, daily, you shall study. And in the knowledge of my ways you shall delight. Just as a nation which is does righteousness and the judgment of their God they did not forsake, they ask of me my righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God.” Books can and should be written on this chapter of Isaiah alone. Here we have an introduction to the kind of fast that God desires from his people and the way the people are to act justly and obey the Sabbath as God instituted it. Yet, these words of introduction stand equally convicting. What does a righteous nation do? They seek God daily, they seek to understand God’s just judgments, and they delight to draw near to Him in holiness. Oh my, how far our nation is from this standard. But what if we apply this to the church rather than the nation? Oh, once again, what a mess the church is in. Finally, while this is really a corporate statement, bodies of people are made up of individual people. So, indeed, there is a principle that we ought to study God daily and take delight in the knowledge of His ways. What a wonderful and powerful instruction that is for the believer.

Jeremiah 10:21  “For the shepherds are stupid and Yahweh they do not study. Thus, they have not prospered and all their flock is dispersed.” What is the result of church leaders who do not study God? They become stupid. Enough said.

Jeremiah 29:13  “You will seek me and you will find, for you shall study me with all of your heart.” We have seen this theme thus far, but in context, this is part of God’s promise to a people who are rebelling against him. He will be found when he is sought properly…that is, in God’s word.

Ezekiel 14:3  “Son of man, these men have gone up to their idols in their heart and the stumbling block of iniquity they have set in front of their faces. Shall I surely be studied by them?” Again, we have a negative corollary to what we have already seen. If we are pursuing idols, God will not permit us to truly study him. Ezekiel 20:3 sees this same thing played out in history.

Amos 5:6  “Study Yahweh and live; lest a fire rush in the house of Joseph and consume it with nothing to quench it in the house of Bethel.” This is paired with Amos 5:14  “Study good and not evil in order to live. And being thus, Yahweh, the God of hosts, shall be with you as you have said.” This ties in with Paul’s instructions to be wise in what is good and innocent to evil (Romans 16:19).

Psalm 22:26 (verse 27 in Hebrew)  “The meek shall eat and be satisfied; those who study him will praise Yahweh. Your hearts shall live forever.” What is the result of studying God? Praise and eternal life. Is there any greater incentive?

Lamentations 3:25  “Yahweh is good to he who waits on him, to the soul who studies him.” In the midst of great distress, what is the proper response? To study the things of God.

The psalms, especially, contain a great deal of references using the language of seeking or studying God, though largely, we have covered them in these other verses. How important it is for those who are believers to seek out and study the things of God that we may be faithful to Him and worship him properly.

Kindness

“and he raised us up together and seated us together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus in order that he might demonstrate in ages that are coming, the surpassing riches of his grace in kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”

(Ephesians 2:6-7)

One of the distinctly Christian ideas that Paul mentions here is the idea of kindness. The word in question is the Greek word χρηστότης (chrestotes), which speaks of how one interacts with others. In particular, it captures the notion of walking with integrity and righteousness toward other people while also having a spirit of benevolence towards them. In other words, your desire is to see them succeed and whatever they are seeking to achieve and that there is no sense of animosity that would lead you to slight that person in any way for said success.

Conceptually, the idea is simple enough, but how rarely it is genuinely practiced in the western world. How often, what is found is much more cutthroat and much more selfish. Granted, in context, Paul is speaking of the way that God acts toward believers; yet, given that we are called upon to imitate God, this is one of the areas in which we should be imitative.

So, what is the solution? The solution is simply to go out of your way to practice kindness toward others. Not only will you be imitating God, but it will demonstrate to the world that you are different because of that relationship with God and perhaps, even in these acts of kindness, you will discover that your witness speaks volumes.

Raised Us Up and Seated Us in Christ

“and he raised us up together and seated us together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus in order that he might demonstrate in ages that are coming, the surpassing riches of his grace in kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”

(Ephesians 2:6-7)

Here we have one of those instances where the Biblical authors speak of something that is yet to come as if it has already taken place and is a reality in our lives. In theological circles, it is what is often called a “prophetic present.” All of this is based in the realization that God is sovereign and he has ordained all things since before the foundation of the earth. And thus Paul can say that as Jesus has risen from the dead, so have we. We have not yet experienced that reality in its fullness, but Christ’s resurrection is an iron-clad promise that we too, who are in Christ, will rise. And further, that the regeneration that we have experienced in coming to faith — our sin dead spirit being brought to live — is a foretaste of something greater that is yet to come, but that will come in the ages that are coming.

Notice too, the language about the riches of God’s grace. This, we have spoken already above, but notice the context in which Paul is making this statement. Just in verse 5, he has spoken of being saved by grace. We did not earn God’s grace, it is free to us. Yet Paul wants us to see that God is no ordinary benefactor. Not only does God graciously save us, but that he pours out the blessings of his grace to us in Christ. 

“In Christ,” though, is the operable phrase. Too many people over the ages have read this and thought of God having a storehouse of good treasures that he is waiting to pour into our lives if we just ask. They tell us of wealth and success and fame, and people fall for it over and over. No, my friends, these riches are riches that are found in Christ. They are the riches that come from a deepening relationship with him, not from earthly or worldly comforts that will be consumed or lost to time. God’s gift to us in Christ is one that grows and deepens every day of our lives, but if we are really going to enjoy the treasure that it is, it means we must nurture that gift with Bible study and prayer. 

Yet, may I humbly suggest that is the way we ought to receive any gift, or at least, that is the way we ought to show our appreciation for the gift. That we treasure it, that we study it, and that we learn the character of the one who has given us such a gift. If we would naturally do that with earthly things, why do we disdain from doing so with heavenly things? How often we act more like spoiled children, believing that we deserve the gifts of our heavenly father rather than realizing that we deserve nothing but wrath and that He has instead given us Christ and offered us the riches of heaven which we will one day enjoy, ruling alongside of our Divine bridegroom and Lord.

By Grace You Have Been Saved

“even as we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved —“

(Ephesians 2:5)

Paul will go on to further explain the final phrase in this verse…”by grace you have been saved. What ought to be said here is that this is one of the foundational doctrines of the Christian church. To deviate from this means to enter into a world of cultic thought if not activity. No, it is not by your works that you are saved; neither is it by your good character, your good intentions, your good name, or your church membership — no, it is by God’s grace and apart from the grace of God, there is no salvation available to mankind.

How often we speak with people and ask, “Why do you think you will go to heaven?,” that an entirely different answer is given. People say things like, “I’m basically a good person” or “My family and I have served God in this church for generations.” The first statement is certainly not so (there is none good but God) but the second may be so; nevertheless, it does not earn you the right to claim heaven. You simply cannot earn God’s favor as your works are all and always tainted by your sin. Your offering of sinful works to God will be no better received than that offering given by Cain, who did so without faith. No, if you are saved, beloved, it is because of God’s grace and his grace alone.

And because it is God’s grace and God’s grace alone that saves, then salvation begins assuredly with God and God alone. You did not choose to be saved; God chose to save you. You may perceive yourself as having “accepted Jesus into your heart,” but if such be true, then it is only because God pummeled the dead rock of your heart into a fleshy substance which he remolded and remade into something living. He did that, not you. It is not about you; it is about what God is doing in you, to you, and with you. It is all about God. 

Friends, cease clinging to the notion that you have done something to contribute to your salvation; it is a foolish and un-Biblical idea that only leads to pride (Paul will soon get to that). You were no more born again by your own choice than you were born by your own choice in the first place. Yet, free-will decision theology has run amok with the church. And so I say put that foolish notion off and let the words of the Apostle Paul define your understanding of salvation — it is by grace that you have been saved and it is not of works (not even of one little tiny work!). If there were an avenue for works in even the smallest of discernible ways, then as Paul writes in Romans 11:6, “grace would no longer be grace.” Oh, the arrogance of man when man claims something of God’s as his own.

Dead is Dead

“even as we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved —“

(Ephesians 2:5)

Okay, we have driven this point home repeatedly, but dead means dead and a dead man can do nothing to serve himself. Before we are born again, we are spiritually dead — commonly born dead on arrival in this world — and until God places sends his Holy Spirit into your sin-dead life, sin is all you pursue. Sin is all you can pursue. Sin is all you desire to pursue. Get the point?

Yet, notice the language about being made alive. God does not make us alive and send us on our way, no, we are made alive with Christ. In other words, our regeneration is not so that we can be spiritually alive on our own nor does it leave us to our own devices. Not at all. We are regenerated with the aim of being bonded to Christ and that works itself out in the life of the Church, which is the body of Christ. People today will foolishly say that they can be spiritual apart from the church. That is about as sensible as saying that a body part can stay alive apart from the body. If a limb is amputated, the body will go on living but the amputated part will wither, die, and rot. True, a digit may survive for a short time if preserved in ice…but it will only survive if grafted back onto the body (this is how church discipline is designed to work!).

Do not be misled, brothers and sisters. God has called us to identify with a True Christian Church. True, you ask? Yes, one that practices the sacraments properly as Jesus taught them, one where the whole council of God is preached from the Scriptures, and one where church discipline is practice for the chastening of sin. The Belgic confession says that if your church does not actively pursue these three things; flee for your life — your spiritual life that is! — and find a church that has all of these marks (even if that means driving a ways to do so — it is good for your soul). Too many churches will lull your soul to sleep rather than enlivening and enlightening it.

God’s Great Love

“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us,”

(Ephesians 2:4)

Many of the great truths of the Christian faith are found in these verses that are before us — truths about grace, love, and sin. Yet, this is a verse that is often misconstrued as model for evangelism. People will say, “God loves you, so turn to him in faith…” And while it is true that God is the very standard by which love is measured and that his love is great beyond all of our comprehension, Paul is not saying that God loved all people in this case. Remember to whom he is writing. He is writing to saved Christians — people who are already believers — people who have already experienced the love that God has for them through their regeneration. God, indeed, has a great love for his elect, and that is all that Paul is stating. There is love indeed for God’s people, but not for all people without exception.

So, why can’t we say, “God loves you” as a general call to faith? The simple answer is that we do not know who the Elect are until faith is demonstrated in their lives. When it comes to evangelizing unbelievers, we just don’t know and it would be dishonest of us to promise a reprobate soul that God loved them and sent his Son to die for their sins. Sometimes the same question needs to be asked within the church. I have known many who say the right things about faith and God but yet live like pagans do. Could they be Elect? Maybe? It is hard to tell. To God’s elect, we can extend the promise of God’s love with a clear conscience, to others, not so much.

But what about children? Doesn’t Jesus love the little children, all the little children of the world? We do know that is a song and not a Bible verse. And we do know that song better suits a Unitarian Universalist church rather than a Bible-believing Church. Don’t we? Nevertheless, when we are talking to covenant children (kids of parents who are believers and thus are being raised in the church), we can say, “God loves you” with a clear conscience because we believe that God ordinarily builds his true church through covenant families — that the promises of God are said to be given to believers and to their children. Thus, when it comes to covenant children, we treat them as if they are regenerate until they demonstrate by their lives that they are not so. And part of treating a child as part of the covenant is reminding them of the covenant promises that God gives by faith to his own — one of those promises being his love.

So, yes, if you are a Christian this day and reading this, God loves you with a great love. Yet, if you are not, the only thing that can be said is “repent and believe.” Just as there is no neutrality on our part toward God, there is also no neutrality on God’s part toward us.

The Mind’s Desires

“With whom we all also once conducted ourselves in the cravings of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and the mind, and we were children by nature of wrath even as the rest.”

(Ephesians 2:3)

Sometimes there are little nuances in a text that can almost go unnoticed as we read through them and this verse contains one such little gem. When speaking of being children of wrath and being under the power of sin, Paul speaks of us pursuing the “desires of the flesh and of the mind.” As evangelical Christians, most of us are used to hearing the language of the lusts or desires of the flesh as a reference to sin, but in this case, Paul includes the lusts or desires of the mind as well.

By those who reject the doctrines of grace, it is suggested that the will of fallen man is just barely free enough to choose Christ. This is the kind of synergistic teaching that is found in Semi-Pelagianism, Arminianism, Wesleyanism, and modern Free-Will theologies. And with but one phrase, Paul refutes each and every one of these schools of thought. No, it is not just our flesh that is depraved, but our minds and wills too. We choose wrath and nothing but wrath until there is a gracious regenerative work done upon us by the Holy Spirit. Indeed, as John writes, Jesus did not entrust himself to men in the early days of his ministry because he knew what was in man (John 2:24-25).

You may remember that we discussed how in regeneration, the eyes of our hearts are enlightened (see discussion of Ephesians 1:18). What is important for the Christian is not to be able to discern our own will or what is right according to our own minds (that is the sin of Adam and Eve!) but what is important is that we learn to discern what is the will of God…for it is God’s will that is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2). 

Without regeneration, our minds will only desire what our flesh desires; one of the changes that takes place in regeneration is that our minds desire what God desires. Indeed, that is often a struggle and we will not ever achieve that perfectly until we are in glory, but it is to be our desire. At the same time, this means that a mark of a believer — and most certainly a mark of a mature believer — is that we love the things of God and desire to think as God would have us think about matters, not as the world would do so. A worldly mind seeks pragmatic ends that achieve the desires of the person; a godly mind desires the glory of God even at great personal cost or sacrifice. How great a contrast is found between these two mind-sets. How great is the chasm between the believer and the unbeliever. And, how sad it is when churches look to the earthly wisdom of those who do not strive to discern the will of God.

Children of Wrath in the Church

“With whom we all also once conducted ourselves in the cravings of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and the mind, and we were children by nature of wrath even as the rest.”

(Ephesians 2:3)

Paul has made his point already, yet continues to drive home its significance. How do you live? Do you live like a Christian or do you live like the world? Indeed, Paul makes it very clear that we all were “of the flesh” at one time, but now that you claim Christ is your Lord and Savior, do you still live according to the flesh? Are you known as one who makes decisions based on the Truth of the Bible? Are you one who is known for your love for the brethren, or are you spiteful and vindictive when you don’t get your way? Are you one who is known by the fruit of the spirit or are you one who is known by the works of the flesh? Does being a Christian mean more to your life than informing what you do on Sunday mornings?

We could go on, but the point is made. A Christian is one who is a Christian in both word and deed, not one who just talks the talk. A Christian is one who is known by their love for other believers and who seeks to be obedient to the Law of Christ in all things. And though we will not get things perfect all of the time — frankly, we will fall short all of the time — perfection is that which we seek. We won’t enjoy it until glory, but we should hunger for it here. Too many people go to church their whole life and yet never change in these basic areas. How sad it is when the church contents itself with complacency.

Paul insists that we are to live differently than we once lived when we were children of the flesh. And before our regeneration and conversion, we all were such. May we crave holiness and not the things of this world. Can you only imagine what our cultural witness would look like if we really lived like Jesus said we ought to live?

Saturday Wordstudy: What or Who Does God Hate?

A point of perpetual debate in the modern church really addresses the core of how people evangelize. Can I say, “God loves you,” to a group of people that I don’t know? Certainly, an approach like that is a staple of contemporary evangelistic techniques. You know, the John 3:16 approach. But if you believe in the doctrine of election, which the Bible so clearly teaches, and you believe that God chose some to call to himself and others to leave as reprobate, can you genuinely say, “God loves you” when someone in the listening body may just be someone who is eternally under God’s wrath?

So, before we get into a debate over this or that, let us just spend some time taking a survey of what the Scriptures actually say about God and his hatred. Does it just refer to sins? Or, does God’s hatred refer to people as well? We will let God speak for himself. Citations below are from the ESV; end notes are my own observations.

Leviticus 20:23: “And you shall not walk in the customs of the nation that I am driving out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I detested them.”

Deuteronomy 7:25: “The carved images of their gods you shall burn with fire. You shall not covet the silver or the gold that is on them or take it for yourselves, lest you be ensnared by it, for it is an abomination to the LORD your God.”[1]

Deuteronomy 12:31: “You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the LORD hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.”

Deuteronomy 16:22: “And you shall not set up a pillar, which the LORD your God hates.”

Deuteronomy 17:1: “You shall not sacrifice to the LORD your God an ox or a sheep in which is a blemish, any defect whatever, for that is an abomination to the LORD your God.”

Deuteronomy 18:12: “for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD. And because of these abominations the LORD your God is driving them out before you.”[2]

Deuteronomy 22:5: “A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD your God.”

Deuteronomy 23:18: “You shall not bring the fee of a prostitute or the wages of a dog into the house of the LORD your God in payment for any vow, for both of these are an abomination to the LORD your God.”[3]

Deuteronomy 24:4: “then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the LORD. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance.”

Deuteronomy 25:16: “For all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are an abomination to the LORD your God.”[4]

Psalm 5:5-6: “The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.”[5]

Psalm 11:5: “The LORD tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.”[6]

Proverbs 3:32: “or the devious person is an abomination to the LORD, but the upright are in his confidence.”[7]

Proverbs 6:16-19: “There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.”[8]

Proverbs 11:1: “A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is his delight.”

Proverbs 11:20: “Those of crooked heart are an abomination to the LORD, but those of blameless ways are his delight.”[9]

Proverbs 15:8-9: “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him. The way of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but he loves him who pursues righteousness.”

Proverbs 16:5: “Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the LORD; be assured, he will not go unpunished.”[10]

Proverbs 17:15: “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD.”[11]

Isaiah 61:8: “For I the LORD love justice; I hate robbery and wrong; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.”[12]

Isaiah 66:17: “Those who sanctify and purify themselves to go into the gardens, following one in the midst, eating pig’s flesh and the abomination and mice, shall come to an end together, declares the LORD.”

Jeremiah 12:8: “My heritage has become to me like a lion in the forest; she has lifted up her voice against me; therefore I hate her.”[13]

Hosea 9:15: “Every evil of theirs is in Gilgal; there I began to hate them. Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them out of my house. I will love them no more; all their princes are rebels.”[14]

Amos 5:21: “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.”[15]

Amos 6:8: “The Lord GOD has sworn by himself, declares the LORD, the God of hosts: ‘I abhor the pride of Jacob and hate his strongholds, and I will deliver up the city and all that is in it.”[16]

Zechariah 8:16-17: “These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace; do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath, for all these things I hate, declares the LORD.”

Luke 16:15: “And he said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.’”

Romans 9:13: “As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’”[17]

Hebrews 1:9: “You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”[18]

 

[1] Idolatry requires those to be acting in an idolatrous way. What message does this send to so many American churches that are tolerating idolatry in worship?

[2] Note that the doer is an abomination before the Lord.

[3] There is an inference found here that God hates when pagan or immoral things are included in his worship.

[4] Note that the Bible often attributes God’s hatred to an action, her it  attributes God’s hatred to a person. Those who act dishonestly are an abomination to God. Note too, that “abomination” and “hatred” are used as synonyms in the Hebrew Bible (see Proverbs 6:16).

[5] Seeing this theme throughout these texts. God hates the evildoer and the liar as well as those who are bloodthirsty.

[6] God hates the wicked (person) and he hates the one who loves violence.

[7] Note again that this is a reference to a devious person.

[8] Note the use of hatred and abomination in parallel. This is common in Hebrew writings…to use parallel structure to emphasize a point. There are a number of anthropomorphic mentions here, but note that God hates the false witness (we have seen that above in Deuteronomy 25:16) and he hates the one who breeds discord amongst brothers — we might call that the contentious one in the church who likes to stir the pot as it were.

[9] Again, a person with a crooked heart — a schemer — is an abomination to God.

[10] The prideful and arrogant person is an abomination to God.

[11] “He who…”

[12] God makes an everlasting covenant to bring justice upon those who are robbers and who intentionally do wrong.

[13] “therefore I hate Her…” A reference to the nation of Israel which was cut off for the wild olive to be grafted on. Yet note the verses that come later speak of redemption for his people after they have been cast off for a season…this is a beautiful picture of Romans 5:6-8 being worked out.

[14] This is directed to Ephriam, a tribe of Israel that Scripturally is often used to refer to Israel (northern kingdom) as a whole. Verse 17 that follows is the devastating one…they will be cast out of the land and become wanderers. These 10 tribes were scattered by Assyria and remain scattered yet today.

[15] God hates the context where people engage in ritual not out of devotion.

[16] Note that Amos parallels hatred with abhorrence.

[17] This is the classic passage and is a citation of Malachi 1:2-3. In the case of Malachi he is comparing the descendants of Jacob (Israel) to the descendants of Esau (Edomites) — promising to build up the first and promising to destroy and pulverize the second in judgment. Paul takes this idea and says (in Romans 9) that this is an illustration of how God’s Election works. Thus the natural inference is that God loves his Elect and hates the Reprobate.

[18] This is an abbreviation of Isaiah 61:1-3 and is speaking about Christ. God is exalting him because of his hatred of wickedness.

Prince of the Power of the Air

“And you, having been dead in your the trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the fashion of this world, according to the ruler of the authority of the air, the spirit which now works in the sons of disobedience.”

(Ephesians 2:1-2)

“The prince of the power of the air,” this is the term that Paul uses to refer to Satan in this context. When combined with Paul’s reference to him as “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4) and Jesus’ reference to Satan as the “ruler of this world” (John 14:30), some have developed a theology that suggests that Satan is some sort of legitimate force that reigns in sections of this earth or peoples of this earth where the Gospel has not yet gone.

First of all, we should make clear that even in light of these references, Satan is at best a usurper, seeking for himself that which is not his just as Cain sought the blessings of his brother’s sacrifice. Satan also has no power apart from that which God permits him and thus God sets the boundaries and the length of the leash upon which the roaring lion is tethered. The Christian must be prepared for battle against him but should never fear him.

With that in mind, there is a theology that seems to rise to the surface periodically that is unhelpful at best and superstitious at worst. It suggests that until an evangelist takes the Gospel to a given location, Satan has dominion there. Upon what can that be based? God is omnipresent, is he not? While the Gospel has not been taken or received in a given location as of yet, that does not mean that such a locale is under the dominion of the devil. It simply means that Christians yet have work to do. 

So, why then do Paul and Jesus use language such as this? Certainly this is giving the devil more than his due. To begin with, the language of satan being the god of or the ruler of this world is meant to set up a contrast. Christians become citizens of heaven whereas the wicked are only ever seen as those who dwell in the earth (you see this contrast play out prominently in the book of Revelation). Thus, those of earth worship the things of wickedness and the fall, hence they turn to their god and ruler, who is none other than the devil himself. It is not a popular thing to say, but it can still be fairly said that unless you worship the God of heaven, you are worshiping the devil.

As to the language that we find here, we should see Paul as making a distinction between the air — ἀήρ (aer) in the Greek — and the wind — πνεῦμα (pneuma) in the Greek. Much could be said here about the uses of each word, but let it suffice to say that the Bible presents the former as being more or less inert and not affecting anything whereas the latter is seen as life-giving. Never once do we see air performing this function, it is just there. If the devil has any power, it is over nothing of eternal consequence and it will fade like the grass in the summer heat. The Spirit, in contrast, is not like air, but like the wind, and goes where he chooses.

Priorities and Life

“And you, having been dead in your the trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the fashion of this world, according to the ruler of the authority of the air, the spirit which now works in the sons of disobedience.”

(Ephesians 2:1-2)

As we have noted several times already, this letter is not written to people in general, but to believers in the church. Paul’s words once again reinforce that notion when he speaks of the sins “in which you once walked.” One of the most telling marks of a Christian is that the way they conduct their life is different than the way the world functions. This includes, but extends beyond just “good morals” and reflects a change in purpose. Those who live according to the world will live to serve themselves; those who are Christians will live to serve Christ first and foremost. 

There is a principle about which I have spoken for years, and that has to do with the way priorities are spoken of in western culture. For example, people most commonly say things like: “this is my first priority, this is my second…” It is my belief that we are not designed to compartmentalize our lives in that fashion. In fact, I would submit that we are only ever able to have one priority in life and that everything we do flows out of that priority. Further, I think that there are ultimately but two options: God or self. 

If God is your priority in life, you will still be a good employee, a good parent, a good neighbor, and a good citizen, but you will be all of these things because you recognize them to be aspects of the way you serve and honor God. If self is your priority, then you still may be a good employee, a good parent, a good neighbor, and a good citizen, but only insofar as those things serve your needs. The world says, “be true to yourself.” The Bible says, “be true to God.” which will it be?

Paul is writing of the change that takes place in the life of the believer. “Once we served self, now we serve God,” is the heart of his message here. Once we pursued the fashion of this world; now we pursue righteousness, holiness, and Truth. Once we served the devil, either explicitly or implicitly; now we serve Christ. Once we were numbered amongst the “sons of disobedience;” now we are called “Children of God.”