Saturday, May 7, 2022

Leading those governed by rules to the richness of love

 Read Ephesians 3


The church in Ephesus received a lot of first-century attention.  They were trying to stay the course and press on towards the goal.  They were trying to grow in grace.  Part of that growth would come through Paul’s long-distance counsel.

It’s interesting to note that this church was also the recipient of one of the letters in Revelation, noting they had lost their first love. They were counseled to consider how far they had fallen and repent. The church to whom Paul wrote, still seemed to be living in the love of Christ and seeking his kingdom.

In its original form, the first half of this letter to the Ephesians, after the salutation, might have been one long run-on sentence. The language is more formal, yet softer than what Paul wrote to the Galatians. Listen to this first part as Paul expounds on the richness of blessings that we have in Christ—in Him.

What Paul gave you in the narrative, I offer in Kiplinger style.

In Christ, we:

Are blessed with spiritual blessings

Are chosen before the beginning of the world to be holy and blameless

Are predestined to be adopted as sons

Are to live according to his will and bring glory to God

Are given grace

Are redeemed through his blood

Are forgiven of our sins

Are granted wisdom and understanding

Have eyes to see the mystery of God’s will revealed

Are part of the plan

Are marked in him

Are sealed with the Holy Spirit

Have the guarantee of an inheritance

Are part of God’s perfect timing

We are blessed because God gave us life and he loves us.  He loved us so much that he gave his Son for our redemption and fullness of life.

In Christ we are blessed beyond measure.

That’s how Paul begins his letter.  As you navigated the second chapter, you probably recalled some words from Paul’s letter to the Romans:  All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  That’s a true statement and the fruit of that condition is death.  We were dead in our sins.

At one point, Satan could claim us as his own.  We gratified the flesh. We followed the ways of this world.  We were disobedient.

Death should have been our destiny—domed by our sin and carnal desires; yet here we are living with the promise of more life to come.  We seek more than survival.  We seek abundant life.

We were dead in our sins but because of the great love of God, we are alive in Christ.  We live because God loves us!

We deserved the wrath of God but he gave us mercy and grace instead.  We are not only saved from the condemnation that we deserved.  We are raised up to be with Christ.  We are not just surviving wrath.  We are celebrating life and life abundant and life eternal because of what God has done for us through Christ Jesus.

Jesus paid it all.  All to him I owe.  Here’s how Paul put it.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast

God did everything for us.  We are in right standing with him.  Our own works had nothing to do with our salvation.  It’s all about the love of God.

Paul adds so that no one can boast.  Think about our human nature.  If we had just a little bit to do with our salvation, our human thinking would take over.

Yeah, I did my one percent and God did ninety-nine percent.  God’s love is awesome.

A year later, we might be saying, Yeah, I did ten percent.  God did ninety percent.  That’s a really good deal.

In two years, our human nature would have us saying, I did my half.  God did his half.  It’s like a matching 401K—still a good deal.

Not much farther down the road we would be saying, I did ninety percent of the work needed for my salvation.  God threw in his ten percent for good measure.  I mean I did slip up once or twice, but otherwise, I earned my way to heaven.

Paul said get this and get it good:  You are saved by grace through faith so we know that we had no part in our own salvation.  We simply received the best gift ever and we did it by faith.

You might wonder, shouldn’t we have been required to do at least a minimum amount of good?  Shouldn’t there have been a minimum standard?  How will people know that we follow Jesus if there was no test to pass?

Consider more of Paul’s words.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Paul is telling us that we were created to do all sorts of good and great things.  We do them in response to this wonderful gift that we know as grace.  We finally get to live up to the life that God made us to live.

Do we need good works for salvation?  No.  Our good works proceed from our salvation.  They are the fruit of our salvation.

Our good works could never get us to salvation but they should abound in our salvation. People should know that we follow Jesus.  We should be loving one another like no one else on the planet.

God loves us so much that he didn’t make us get fixed in order to receive his salvation.  His love did all of that for us, but now that we have received this gift, we should truly be a light unto the world so people can see our good deeds and bring glory to God.

God designed us special.  We are made to do good works.  God made us a list of things to do even before we knew that we would get to do them.

We were destined by God to do these good works and we get to do them because God loves us so much.

We are saved by grace through faith.  Our salvation is all from God and not by our own works.

Now that we are saved, let our good works be known to all so that they may bring glory to God.

As we venture through the third chapter of this letter, Paul notes that God’s will has been a mystery to us.  God desires that none perish.  He desires his whole creation to be reconciled to him.

The act of atonement was the sacrifice of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  The work of this age has been given to the church.

Those who still wrestle with rules fail to understand the boundless riches of Christ.  There is a mindset among many Christians that somebody has to go to hell.  For us to enjoy heaven, somebody has to be roasting in hell.  The hotter the temperature, the more we can enjoy heaven.

It's only fair, right?

If God did what was fair, we might all find a miserable eternity.  Do we forget so quickly that we are saved by God’s mercy and grace?  We did not and do not deserve to be saved from sin and death and hell.  Only the love of God saves us from destruction and damnation.

We should have eyes to see the boundless riches of Christ.  We should have eyes to see grace that extends far beyond our transgressions.

We should have eyes to see that God desires a relationship with us where we come to him as Father, Abba, Daddy. 

There’s a meme of sorts going around with this being the gist of it.

I can’t believe I did that.  That was so stupid.  I hope my dad doesn’t find out.

That’s one side of it.  Here’s the other.

I can’t believe I did that.  That was so stupid.  I have to go talk to my dad.

God wants the second one for us.  He wants us to come freely and with confidence when we talk with him.  The mystery that is revealed is just how much God loves us. 

He will never stop loving us.  He loves us with an everlasting love.  Our relationship with God is a relationship of love not rules. Listen to Paul’s words.

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence

We are to be governed by love not rules.  This is a big step for most people.  This takes most people out of their comfort zones. 

People like standard consequences and sequels.  People like if A, then B scenarios.  People like to know what it will cost them to do things their way.  People like to count and measure.

It will take some work to get people from rules-based thinking to living by love.  God should have had a plan as to how to do this.

He did and he does.  It is the church that is charged to lead the world to knowing God by his love.  The church will move heaven and earth to accomplish its mission.  We have been given the greatest job ever.  Lead people to God by our love.

Change people’s perception of God from an angry old man with lightning bolts at the ready to a father with open arms.  Is God’s wrath something to be avoided at all costs? Absolutely, but it is love not wrath that drives this story.

It is love not rules that lead us to bring glory to God in response to our salvation.

God’s love is for all.  Our job as believers, as the church, is to take that message to the world.

God desires none to perish.  It is our job as the church to take that message to the world.


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