Rescued

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Gal 1:3,4 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father

We considered yesterday the apostle Paul saying that before we came to Christ we had been stuck in a spiritually dead life, a life that was self-centred, godless and unrighteous, and there was nothing we could do to get ourselves out of it. We thought about iron filings and a magnet and saw how it was impossible without an opposing, opposite, stronger force for those iron filings to be set free from the attraction of the magnet. The picture that we have in today’s verses comes with the same idea but, perhaps, expands on it.

Paul, here, says we were trapped in “the present evil age” and we needed rescuing from it. Again the implication is that we were incapable of getting out of it on our own. But what was he saying when he said we were trapped in the present evil age? He was actually saying that we were trapped as part of this age that is godless and unrighteous. Paul is referring to the fallen world when he speaks about this “age”. Since the Fall (see Gen 3) every human being has been born with this tendency to be self-centred and godless, and so subsequently live unrighteous lives; it’s in our genes!

So there we were, one hundred per cent part of the fallen world, unable to escape the tendency to sin – and guilty! Deep down we knew we were guilty. We may have tried to deal with our guilt in a variety of ways. Perhaps we justified why it was all right to do what we did, perhaps we said, well everyone does it (as if that makes it all right!), or perhaps we did what many people do and denied there is any right or wrong and say anything goes (but we didn’t actually believe that either!). So there we were struggling with our guilt, caught up in this self-centred, godless lifestyle that we couldn’t break free from. Helpless and hopeless!

And then Jesus stepped in and dealt with our guilt by paying the punishment for all our wrongs by his death on the Cross. If you accept this, said God, I will not hold your sin against you. Jesus will have taken it. It seemed too good to be true, but we accepted it for we were desperate. But that wasn’t enough! It was wonderful that we were told we were forgiven and cleansed but we were still the old, powerless people we’d been before. So, at the moment of true repentance, God put His own power, part of Himself, His own Holy Spirit, into you and suddenly you felt different, suddenly you were different! There was a channel within you flowing with goodness from heaven. You were still in this world but now different. You had a different motivation and a new power that enabled you to live out that new motivation. You had been rescued from the old evil world that you were part of. The past has been dealt with. The present is empowered. The future is in God’s hands. How wonderful!

(This will be the last of this brief series for the time being. We may continue it in the future)

Made Alive

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Eph 2:4,5 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions

We continue to pursue these same ideas that keep coming over in the Scriptures, this same picture of us who are Christians having died and being raised by God to live new lives. We need to keep on considering this because it is so easy to misunderstand what BEING a Christian is all about. In a nutshell, it is God providing the means whereby we can receive His forgiveness and cleansing and be reconciled to Him, so that He can then empower us to live new lives, lives that we were incapable of living before.

Here in Ephesians, in our verse today, Paul is commenting on how remarkable it is that God raised us up to new life, even while we were still stuck in this old spiritually dead life characterised by wrongs. God didn’t say, try a bit harder and then I might come alongside you and help you achieve it. No, He took us while we were still complete failures and transformed us by energising us. All you did in the whole thing, was confess your state of failure, your inability to be righteous or godly, and ask for His forgiveness and His help. That was repentance. You were still in your old state when you uttered those words. You hadn’t changed, you couldn’t change. You had probably tried to change but any change had been cosmetic, purely on the surface. You were stuck like that. You couldn’t get out of it.

Imagine this picture if you will. You know, probably, that iron filings are attracted to a magnet. You perhaps experimented with them at school. It’s a strong magnet and the force of the magnet draws you, the iron filing to it. There is nothing you can do to escape its draw. It’s a scientific, physical characteristic. If you were a living iron filing you might scream and struggle to get away from the tremendous attraction power of the magnet. Now, that magnet is Sin. You may scream and shout about trying to be free from it but nothing you can do can break you free from it. Now along comes God and puts in you a stronger, opposite power to the power of the magnet. Suddenly you are free. Suddenly the magnet no longer has any power over you.

This is what God has done by putting His own life-energising Holy Spirit in you when you came to Him. Previously you were spiritually dead, attracted by Sin and totally unable to break free from it (that IS the truth!). God came to you while you were still in that state and in that state put His power into you. Instantly you were set free, instantly it was like you were made spiritually alive, instantly the power of Sin over you was broken. Just like Christ was re-energised when God raised him up from the dead (Acts 2:24), so He has now re-energised you from your old dead life. You didn’t deserve it, God just did it. That is the mercy Paul was talking about. Mercy is not deserved, mercy is not justice. Mercy is God giving you a new life for no other reason that He decided to give it to you.

Raised

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Col 2:11,12 In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.

Yesterday we considered Paul’s comment to the Galatians, about us putting to death our old sinful nature. We observed that that ‘old nature’ was self-centred and godless but that when we came to Christ we died to that life. Now that is the negative expression of what happened to us when we came to Christ: we walked away from that old life. Now today we consider the positive aspect of that same thing. We died to the old life but we were also raised to a new life.

Paul is talking about this same thing to the Colossians now, and instead of characterising that putting away of the old life as ‘crucifying’ it, he speaks about ‘circumcising’ it. It’s the same concept, just a different picture. The reason he does that, is that he has been warning against those who demanded circumcision, who demanded ongoing human rituals as part of salvation. Oh no, he says, you don’t have to worry about cutting bits off you, you’ve had the whole of your old life cut away. You pictured that by going down in the death-picture of baptism but the positive side of that was when you came up out of the water that pictured you being raised up to a new life. Just as God raised Christ from the dead, so He now raised you up and gives you a completely new life. Jesus’ body, in the tomb was utterly dead. It had no means of movement, there was no life in it. Then God came and raised it up, so it was the very power and presence of God that was now energising it. This, says Paul, is how you are to see your lives now, raised up by and energised by God.

THIS is what makes the Christian life so dynamic. It’s not a matter of following new rules or being religious. No, that’s what Paul was denouncing to the Colossians. It’s actually all about God coming and energising you with His powerful presence. It’s not about being nice, it’s about being godly because we are God-energised! We didn’t have the capability of being good or nice, or of keeping the rules. We proved that in our old life, characterised by failure and guilt, so God came and did what we weren’t capable of doing, He raised us up by His power and energised us to live new God-focused, God-directed lives. Every real Christian is a “resurrection-person”, a person walking and living after they have first died. This is an amazing concept that the Scriptures give us – of being bodies that are resurrected, living by the energising power of God. It’s not that we are ‘trying harder’ or ‘turning over a new leaf’; it’s that we are simply new people, raised up people, God-energised people!

Old Life now Dead

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Gal 5:24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.

Yesterday as we were considering ‘life’, we said that before we came to Christ we were ‘dead’. Remember that these are just word descriptions trying to describe reality. Now we consider a description that exactly reverses the language: we were alive but now we are dead. What this refers to, of course, is our old life, the life that we lived before we came to Christ. This verse speaks about our old “sinful nature”, while older versions used to refer to “the flesh”, both meaning the old godless, self-centred, unrighteous life-style we used to live before we came to God.

Paul further describes that lifestyle in Eph 2:1-4 that is characterised by transgressions (careless wrongs) and sins (wilful wrongs), following Satan into disobedience, and being motivated by sensual desires and self-centred thoughts. That sounds pretty awful doesn’t it? But that’s the truth of the old lives we lived.

But then we heard the truth that Jesus had died to take our punishment for all that and we repented and turned to God. So, says Paul, using the language of Calvary, it’s like we have crucified or put to death that old life and so it is completely gone. The verses before and after this one are all about life being led by the Holy Spirit. So what is Paul saying to us? Our lives should be characterised now by the fruit or characteristics of the Holy Spirit (v.22,23) and we should be led by the Holy Spirit, instead of being led by our self-centred desires that used to drive us. This is the life that the work of Jesus on the Cross has opened up for us.

Instead of being pushed around by selfishness and desire, we can now be gently led by the quiet prompting of God through His Spirit, which is a far less stressful way of life. In that old life we used to get stressed and upset with people and circumstances, when they didn’t conform to our self-centred desires. We used to find ourselves getting angry with people because they clashed with our wants. We became impatient with people who weren’t moving fast enough for us. It was a life that was pressed in all directions by our own inner unmet needs and the conflicting needs of other people. It was a life of continual struggle and battle. It was tiring, wearing and exhausting. But we were in control! What a mess.

But we’ve put that all to death. Have we? Or has Satan been trying to resurrect that old life in you? Are you still doing those ‘old’ things? If you are it means that somewhere along the line you have taken back that surrender you made when you first came to Christ, when you totally surrendered all the past, your failures, your struggles and so on. At that point you died to your old life. Have you allowed Satan to resurrect some of those things in you again? If so, it’s time to come back to Him in total surrender. There’s a Life to be lived, but you can’t live it if the past is still rearing its ugly head!

Life

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1 Jn 4:9,10 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

We look at people and we speak of them as living beings but in God’s economy there is a dimension to life that is missing from an unbeliever. The Bible teaches again and again that before we became a Christian we were ‘dead’. What does it mean? Well, when God created us He gave us a spirit (Gen 2:7 – breath = spirit, also 1 Thess 5:23). Now the spirit part of a person is that innermost being that is the channel through which communication with God occurs. Until that person reaches out seeking God, that spirit remains dormant or ‘dead’, that seems to be the teaching of Scripture (e.g. Eph 2:1).

However when we speak of a person being dead there is also a future dimension to this. In films the angry criminal may say to someone, “You’re dead!” meaning you have no future. Similarly for the unbeliever there is no eternal future with God, just the experience of hell after death. So that was our state – we were dead to God in experience and we were dead in that we had not future.

Now, through Christ we have been made alive! Because, as we’ve seen in the Lent Meditations, we were reconciled to God through Jesus’ death, He then put His Holy Spirit within us and we were brought into a new dimension, we are new creations, who are alive to God (Rom 6:11), which means today we have Life and that Life goes on and on and will never end. The apostle John must have caught something of this when he wrote about Jesus, “In him was life” (Jn 1:4) and then later on in his first letter, “The life appeared” (1 Jn 1:2). He also described Jesus as “full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14) or, we might say, he was full of loving kindness and utterly real. And he now lives in us!

So, the life we now have is one that is to be filled with loving kindness and utterly real. That is Life. What would happen if we rigorously applied those two standards to all we are and all we do? What does a person who is ‘alive’ do? They communicate, they relate, they enjoy. How can we say that? Because that’s what being a human being is all about. We’re made to communicate, to relate to God and to others, and to enjoy all of God’s wonderful provision. They do say that people never appreciate life until they have been under the threat of it being removed by, say, an accident, or a life threatening illness. Do we have to wait for such a thing before we will appreciate the Life that God has given us, both the life of the material body with its tremendous potential (a whole area to think about) and the spiritual life He’s opened up to us when we received the wonder of all that Jesus has done for us on the Cross?

New Creation

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2 Cor 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

Yesterday we used the analogy of a lifeboat rescuing people from a sinking ship, and said that when they jumped from the ship into the lifeboat they were saved. The only thing about that picture is that it doesn’t in any way convey the change that takes place in the person as they are transferred into the lifeboat. In reality they are completely transformed. In the course of the following meditations we will be seeing a variety of ways that they are transformed – and there are many! Sometimes people try to make out becoming a Christian is not a big thing – it is! It is a total life transformation!

The NIV translation we are using here says that this person is a new creation. When you ‘make’ something you take existing raw materials and use them to produce something new. When you ‘create’ something you start from nothing. In that sense God is the only ‘creator’ (even an artist has a canvas and uses paints and just reforms them). As we’ll see in days to come, one of the critical things that happens when a person truly becomes a Christian is that God puts His Holy Spirit into them. Before you were just a person, now you are a God-indwelt person, and that means you are something or someone completely different. The old Authorised Version speaks of a new ‘creature’. This new creature didn’t exist before. This creature didn’t just have a bit of God in before and now has lots of God in. No, this is an entirely new being. Yes, the memory is still the same, the body is still the same, the intellect is still the same, but all of them are now permeated by the presence of God. Have we never realised what a transformation there was, or have we, perhaps, just grown casual about what happened? Perhaps, as you go through these meditations it could be a time to start seeing afresh the wonder of the being that you now are, you fresh creation of God!

Perhaps you’ve never had this life transformation, perhaps you’ve never come to that point of repentance and seeking after God through Jesus Christ. If that is so, then perhaps you should go back through the Lent Meditations and see the truths there – right from the beginning – to see your need and how God has met it. Maybe you have been a Christian for a long time and, as we said previously, familiarity has dulled your perception of the truth. Perhaps these meditations could be a life stirring time. The starting point therefore, is checking what you think and feel about this verse today. Have you been thrilled by the wonder of what took place in you? Are you still thrilled by it? Does the wonder of being a new creation really thrill you, or do you find a defensiveness rising in you that says, “I don’t know what this is all about. Who cares!”?

Salvation

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Acts 4:12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

1 Pet 1:9 for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

In this week ahead, following Easter and the Resurrection meditations, we are, in these meditations, simply going to look at some of the effects of the work of Jesus Christ on the Cross on our lives.

The word ‘salvation’ appears in the NIV New Testament 41 times and for Christians is perhaps such a commonly used word that familiarity has dulled its meaning. It essentially means deliverance from danger into a place of safety and security. Our two verses today make the link between the Lent Meditations about the need and work of the Cross, and the following is about the outworking of the Cross.

An analogy that is sometimes given is that of a lifeboat coming out from the shore to rescue people from a sinking ship. The lifeboat comes out and pulls in close to the sinking ship. That is the work of Jesus on the Cross that we have been considering previously. It is there to be taken if the people on the ship of life see their need and will trust themselves to God’s provision.

When the people jump from the sinking ship into the lifeboat they ARE saved. They have been delivered from the sinking ship. That is what took place when (if?) you repented and turned to God and were, as Jesus described it (Jn 3:3), ‘born again’. Now the lifeboat in our analogy turns round and makes for the shore and the people ARE BEING saved. That is the rest of our life on this earth. When the lifeboat reaches the shore and the people step ashore they are FINALLY SAVED. That is what happens when you finally die and go on to your eternal experience of heaven.

Thus Peter speaking on the day of Pentecost, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, made the audacious claim that there is no other way of receiving God’s salvation except through Jesus Christ. If you are a Christian you will have accepted that and you ARE saved. That was an act of faith on your part, receiving the finished work of Christ that we have seen in the Lent Meditations. Later on when Peter was writing his first letter, he reminded us that we were receiving an ongoing process and ARE BEING saved now, and that, by faith, we have and are receiving that which was declared by God. By faith you came to Christ and by faith you will receive all the good things He has for you. As we look at the verses referring to the outworking of the Cross as shown in the New Testament epistles, our call is to believe what we read and let it impact our lives – that is faith. So, we are going to see a number of facets of the salvation that we are receiving in the coming days. Enjoy, wonder, praise and rejoice.