Well-meaning people tell us that the Christian gospel will put us in charge of life, will bring us happiness and bounty. So we go out and buy a Bible. We adapt, edit, sift, summarize. We then use whatever seems useful and apply it in our circumstances however we see fit. We take charge of the Christian gospel, using it as a toolbox to repair our lives, or as a guidebook for getting what we want, or as an inspirational handbook to enliven a dull day. But we aren’t smart enough to do that; nor can we be trusted to do that. The Holy Spirit is writing us into the revelation, the story of salvation. We find ourselves in the story as followers of Jesus. Jesus calls us to follow him and we obey – or we do not. This is an immense world of God’s salvation that we are entering; we don’t know enough to use or apply anything. Our task is to obey – believingly, trustingly obey. Simply obey in a ‘long obedience.’
– Eugene Peterson, The Pastor
A neat little story from our worship time today:
Whilst singing ‘Forever Reign’, I kept hearing the old chorus, “I have decided to follow Jesus…” in my head. It was kind of distracting – so distracting, that I followed the impulse, hoped the melody fit the tag chords we were playing, and prayed it was God. We got to the end of the section and moved onto the next song. “That was neat,” I thought.
At the end of the service, a lady told me that this morning she had been praying and listening to the Lord speak to her. All the while, she was singing, “I have decided to follow Jesus…” Then, in our service, she heard it again as we began to spontaneously sing it out. It was a confirmation to her that she was hearing the Lord.
No gold dust, lightning, or clouds of glory. Just an old song, and a heart that needed to hear from God. Worship leaders, follow those little God thoughts. He knows exactly who He wants to reach, and how to reach them. Sometimes, in those moments between the songs in our awesome setlists, God wants to speak. That urge that feels distracting may actually be God nudging you as if to say, “Hey, can I interrupt you here?”
Today is a guest post from my wife, Sandra:
I’m currently pregnant with our second child, and I’ve been put on bedrest by my physician. It’s been hard to sit around a lot. Netflix has been great because they have such a variety of things to watch. I came across Hoarders: Season 1, and thought, “I have nothing else to watch, this might be interesting.” It’s a show about people who refuse to throw things away, and how this affects the way they live.
It was not at all what I thought it would be. I was equal parts horrified, confused, saddened and convicted while watching these people suffer with this illness. The problem is not just the mess, but what is in the mind that keeps people in this state. They may even recognize the problem and want to be free, but the prison is so strong that many feel they can’t beat it. They may have help, but being so overwhelmed with the task at hand, and finding themselves “empty” in the process, not much gets done.
The more I thought about this condition, the more I saw that I do this so much in my heart. I hoard things that are trash for the soul; they are unhealthy, and sicken my heart by keeping them. Eventually they weaken me, my relationships and friendships, and my relationship with God. I need to regularly clean my heart of pride, hurts, fear, mistrust, anger, resentment, and unforgiveness.
Jesus gave us a warning that you can’t just cast out a demon from someone – they also must be filled with the Spirit of God. If not, then seven more will come and make their home in a man’s heart, leaving him worse than before.
We must all be careful to not just “clean out our heart” but to allow it to be filled with God’s Spirit. In this way, we will be on a long, but good journey towards God’s heart, not just leaving a hole exposed. This is one of the real reasons why there is the physical/mental problem of hoarding and the spiritual/emotional kind as well. It is because, as fallen humans, we naturally seek for things outside of God to fill our need. It is a need that is a vacuum. It cannot be filled by natural, earthly things – they fade, wear away, get destroyed. Instead, we must fill it with the everlasting God, who can and will satisfy every single need, and will fill the hole in our hearts better than any other thing could.
Jesus made it possible. We don’t have to be in bondage to feelings, anger, and hurts. Jesus died on the cross to free us from the bondage sin has in our hearts. We can be free, if we trust God enough to take the junk from our hearts. He is a good Father, and gives gifts to His children. What He asks us to throw out, He replaces with even better things than we could ever imagine!
“As to what spiritual rebirth is, however, we can say that persons reborn in the Spirit are characterized by their single-mindedness. They have only one desire: to do God’s will in all things, or – to put it in Jesus’ words to Nicodemus – to “do the truth” and thus “to come out into the light so that what they are doing may plainly appear as done in God” (John 3:21). They are so caught up in God’s love that everything else can only receive its meaning and purpose in the context of that love. They ask only one question: “What is pleasing to the Spirit of God?” And as soon as they have heard the sound of the Spirit, they follow its promptings even when it upsets their friends, disturbs their environment, and confuses their admirers.”
|—||Henri Nouwen, The Only Necessary Thing|
During a recent sermon series on Sanctification, our Pastor asked my friend Shawn and I to answer some questions about our experience of being saved and set apart for the purposes of God. Here are the links to the 3 videos:
Question 1: “Was there a time in your life when you did not fully understand what it meant to be set apart?”
Question 2: “Can you describe the moment you saw things from God’s perspective instead of your own?”
Question 3: “How did you respond to God’s call to be sanctified for Him?”
Part 8 in a series looking at Ephesians 2:1-10 (for previous days click here).
Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God
1. “For…” links this verse to the previous. In verse 7 Paul tells us why we were saved. In verse 8, he is going to tell us how.
2. “By grace you have been saved…” This tells us that, were is not for God, we could never be saved. Salvation is impossible without God’s grace (His free favor towards us). We cannot be saved by our own attempts. Our best efforts can never match up to God’s holiness. The Bible says that our righteousness is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6), meaning any good works we do are stained by the sin that we constantly commit. The situation is so grave that Paul tells us we were “dead in sin“. God knows our predicament, and although He does not have to, He willingly shows grace towards us. When we should be condemned, He provides the way of salvation. Without God’s grace, our sinful state would deserve judgment, condemnation and punishment. That would be the fair outcome for those who have rebelled against God. But, because of God’s grace, God destroyed our sin in Jesus so that He didn’t have to destroy us.
3. “And this is not your own doing…” Salvation was not our idea. We were content as slaves to sin, willfully destroying our souls and separating ourselves from God. But God, in His love for us, decided to save us. Anyone who receives the salvation that comes by God’s grace is merely responding to what God has done. Even our response is made possible by God. This is why the term, “made alive” is so important. We were dead and could not see, hear, know, or choose God. But, by His grace, the Holy Spirit came to us and made our hearts alive (regeneration). Only then could we see the beauty, glory, and greatness of Jesus, and the horror and destructive power of our sin. Only then could we see our need for forgiveness, and find it at the cross. Only then could we say, “Jesus is Lord” and surrender our lives to be transformed by Him.
4. “…it is the gift of God“. Our salvation is not a loan. It is not paid to us in advance with the expectation that we pay God back. A true gift is given freely, with no expectation of recompense. This makes the grace of God even more glorious. Our sin made us debtors to God, and it was an impossible, eternal debt that we could never pay. God canceled out our debt when Jesus paid the price for us on the cross (atonement). When we are saved by God, our debt is wiped out, our sin forgiven and forgotten, and the burden lifted from us. Before we were unrighteous, but through our faith in Jesus, we are made righteous (justification). Now we are free to live as His sons and daughters, not trying to pay back God, but flourishing in a new relationship with our Father.
This is the main difference between religion and the gospel. Religion says, “I obey, therefore I am accepted“. This leads to a lifetime of guilt, failure, and uncertainty about God’s love for you. The gospel says, “I am accepted, therefore I obey“. Grace destroys the drudgery or following God out of duty, and replaces it with the joyfulness of following God out of love. The free gift assures us that God loves us, and that we belong to Him, no and forever.
Next: Verse 9