Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 26. Redeemed From (2)
Eph 2:1-3 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts.
Recap: In the previous study, in our first look at these three verses, we focused on the concept of our having been dead to God and thus living godless lives before we came to Christ. This meant our reliance was upon ourselves and we saw how this worked out in some of the examples from the Bible that we have considered previously. We noted, as we applied these things to ourselves, that so often we thus settle for substandard goals in the Christian life, while all the time the Lord is working on the first and primary goal for us – ongoing redemption. As we sought to apply this practically we considered overcoming one of the biggest burdens of life today – anxiety – and we saw God’s resources available for us, wisdom and grace that are available whenever we turn to Him.
A Follower? We often talk about being followers of Jesus and tend to forget that before we came to him we were, to use Paul’s words, followers of “the ways of the world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air” (Eph 2:2 i.e. Satan). Now the thrust of this series and particularly of these more recent studies, is that it is so easy to allow ways of the past to resurface or remain in the new life. It is said of some converts of the East in past centuries that, for example, where they had been animists before they came to Christ, when they did convert they simply added Christian values to their previous ideas and values of animism. Similarly modern Christians in the West today can take on board the main facts of salvation but nevertheless continue with ways of the past. When the apostles speak of ‘the world’ in their writings they are not referring to the planet but the unbelieving human population and their godless ways of thinking. The apostle John described this expression of ‘the world’ as “wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important.” (1 Jn 2:16 Message version), i.e. a life of ‘self’. Thus the teaching of ‘the world’ reinforced by Satan’s whisperings is, ‘Live for yourself, put yourself first, focus on you, on what makes you feel good’. That is how we lived before we came to Christ and that is how the enemy seeks to persuade us to continue to live. But it is not the Christ-way.
Why? Rather than think about expressions of this, I would prefer to consider why we are like this, why do we fall for this propaganda? The first answer has to be because it sounds so good and appeals to the old sin-nature (godless, self-centred). Now listen to how Satan conned Eve: “God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:5) This is very subtle for he is implying, ‘You are inferior to God because God is keeping things from you. Open your eyes, see the big picture, realize who you are.’ And he’s been saying that to every person ever since.
Inferiority: Stop and think about this. What is it that drives us to promotion at work? What is it that wants to get a new car, a bigger house, a better sound system? It is the desire to have more, yes, but behind that is this desire to be something – and be seen – to be something more than we are at the moment. Most of the time we don’t realise this and don’t think about it, but it is true: so much of our behaviour (and behaviour flows from thinking) seeks to make us appear something more than we are at the moment. We have this sense of inferiority that Satan seeks to impose on us.
Now I must interpose with the reminder that we are made in the image of God (Gen 1:27) and are called to rule over the earth (Gen 1:28) and so there is naturally a desire to develop and progress but since the Fall that has been to the exclusion of God. Redemption is about bringing God back into the equation. Without Him we feel small and lonely and spend much time and energy rejecting and seeking to overcome that reality. We do it by seeking to build ‘self’.
You see it subtly in advertising whether it is for perfume or a new car – here is a promise of a better me. This perfume will make me more attractive, this car will elevate me in the eyes of my neighbours. All the time, this outlook says, I will be proved to be someone – to my partner, to my neighbours, to my family, to my friends, and to me! It is all about what others think about us and then what I think about me.
Of course this is reinforced by the knocks of the world. Living in this Fallen World means there are two things that demean us and make us feel less than who God says we are. First there are our own failures, the times when we got it wrong, and so we have to work at covering up our sense of failure and even of guilt. The second thing is the things people say to us. Parenting is a tricky and almost impossible task to get perfectly right and so, whether it is parents, teachers or others, somewhere along the line it has been said or implied, we are less than is expected of us. Perfectionism – our parents always wanting more of us or criticizing us – leaves us damaged and deceived – you are not good enough, you must try harder! And as for your failures…..!
The Pleasure Base: Again see what happened when Eve listened to Satan: “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.” (Gen 3:6) There are two things to note in this verse. First of all she had never thought about these things before but now she had it pointed out to her, yes, this path of going her own way would be pleasurable – forget the warning about death! It looked good. So often we assess paths ahead of us by what appears to be good at the moment (and forget the long-term!) Second, this path was going to make her wise, clever, bright, call it what you will, better and brighter than she is at this moment, a success. At the bottom of the food chain there are those who just give up and accept they are poor, accept they are losers, accept that they are never going to make it (Well that’s what they hear the enemy say to them). Ghetto people. How they need Jesus’ people to come and bring loving acceptance and a new way of thinking and living.
Competition: But above them are those who are not at rock bottom and so have aspirations and those aspirations make them look around and compare themselves with others at the same level. That’s when the shocks start rolling in. The people next door have got a new car. They are sending their child to a school where they pay for privileged teaching in small classes. They are going on an expensive holiday, he is getting a bigger bonus this year, she has been elected president of some local club. And this is where such words as ‘jealousy’ and ‘envy’ pop their heads up over the parapet and contentment flies out the window. These are the things the Lord has come to redeem us from. If you thought they died when you became a Christian, watch out for you are in for a shock if you dare ask the Holy Spirit to show you what you really feel about people round about you. Those inferiority feelings we spoke about early are there working away under the surface to undermine your peace and sense of security and keep you working on the “ways of the world” that are fruitless and frustrating.
Stop the world I want to get off: a popular singer of several decades ago coined this phrase for a musical to highlight a feeling that many people had near the end of the last century, a feeling espoused by the hippy movement but, in the new world of the twenty first century, two decades in, the desire for new experiences and affluence rule again in many hearts. Nothing wrong with that except where it is godless, and very often people do feel like jumping off the merry-go-round of modern sensual life or the treadmill of achievement just because they are godless and haven’t realized it. With sorrow I look around my local Christian world and see so many struggling and the reason they struggle is because they haven’t realized it, but they are operating on values and approaches to life that should have been left behind when they came to the Cross. The good news is that God doesn’t give up on us when we are doing this. Redemption, in His heart, if a lifelong exercise – the whole of your life.