15. No Longer Orphans

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 3 – Making of Believers

15. No Longer Orphans

Jn 1:12,13 to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

1 Jn 3:1 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

Me – Us?: I wonder if you were asked what aspect of ‘being a Christian’ stood out most to you, what you would reply? A believer? A church-goer? A good person? I want to suggest in this study that our starting and finishing point is that I am a child of God. That speaks of origins and identity, and it speaks of ongoing relationship, and it opens up thoughts about the future and our eternal destiny. Let’s browse together in this field.

Alienated: Psychologists talk about alienation, environmentalists talk about alienation, Marxists talk about alienation. It simply means being separated or estranged from some essential part of life. That counterfeit religion, Marxism, blames capitalism for isolating and dehumanizing people, psychologists blame relationships for human breakdown, sociologists blame society for human injustices that warp outlook. There is always a cause and always an effect. Sometimes in the context of his writings, the apostle Paul used the word ‘Gentiles’ to simply mean those who had no relationship with God. Speaking of this group he said, “For they live blindfold in a world of illusion and cut off from the life of God through ignorance and insensitiveness. They have stifled their consciences and then surrendered themselves to sensuality.” (Eph 4:18,19 JBP) See the cause: ignorant of God, insensitive to Him, hardening themselves (their consciences) to Him. See the effect: they just live lives given over to the five senses – and that is all. They are alienated from God, separated and cut off from Him, and thus live in a world of illusion, of deception, of delusion, and it feels lonely.

The Big Picture: The truth is that God created and brought this world into being and designed us to be people who had a relationship with Him, but that was lost at the Fall. There may be a bundle of secondary reasons why we experience difference sorts of alienation – from ourselves (not facing who we truly are), from others (not being able to relate to others), from society (who we see as hostile and cruel) and so on, but the ultimate truth is that because we are alienated from God, the One we were designed to relate to as Father, all these other things tend to be dysfunctional, not working as they should. And that is how it would stay if God had not foreseen all of this and planned to counteract it by the work of His Son and His Spirit.

The Problem of Sin: Have you ever thought that when God said, “you must not eat from…” (Gen 2:17), the first and only prohibition, in their perfect provision for Man, the Godhead knew that living with provision was fraught with dangers? Eating too much would cause obesity. Making and using alcohol in excess would have many harmful effects, and so on, so many potential hazards – and so many hidden boundaries. Throughout the Creation, excess would harm but wise use would bless. And thus man would have to learn about boundaries, so God applied a limitation to just one tree to teach the lesson, and man learnt to restrain his appetites as wisdom decreed, an expression of love, of relationship, an acceptance of God’s wisdom in provision.

But then came, “Did God really say…”  (Gen 3:1) and behind even just one boundary, one limitation, there lurks temptation, temptation to reject, temptation to ignore, temptation that says, “Perhaps He didn’t mean it, perhaps my way is best.” Temptation is there behind the many hidden boundaries that wise usage means are there. Temptation had to be faced and overcome or given way to, and whichever way, lessons learned. And thus God stood back while a tempter came, the test faced, and the Fall experienced, and life would never be the same again. And that is how it has been for you and me ever since. We sin, we do wrong, we miss the mark, we fall short, and all these things alienate us from God. In the same way that Adam and Eve hid from God immediately after their disobedience (Gen 3:8), the deep-down sense of our failures, our inadequacies, our falling short, mean that we too feel alienated from God. We should be children of God but we lost our relationship, we became orphans.

Adopted? Which is what makes that verse in the first chapter of John so wonderful: “to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (Jn 1:12) We ‘become’ – we weren’t but now we are adopted into God’s family, taken back into the family where we were designed to be from the start. Expanding that, as the Amplified Bible puts it, to as many as did receive and welcome Him, He gave the authority (power, privilege, right) to become the children of God, that is, to those who believe in (adhere to, trust in, and rely on) His name.” See the new cause: believing, sticking to, trusting in, relying on Jesus – that is what brings about this new relationship. See the new effect: we become children of God, and when it says, “He gave the authority”, those other words explain that God conveys the right to be called a child, the privilege of being a child of God, and the power to be a child of God. Keep on turning those words over. I not only have the privilege of being able to be called a child of God, I have been given a legal right from heaven of having that title – and it doesn’t stop there – and I also have the power to live as a child of God.

Divine Act: But how and why? Because of what follows:  children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (Jn 1:13) There is early warning of what was to come a couple of chapters later – “Children born…. Of God”Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.” (Jn 3:6,7) So why, to use the language above, do I have the right to be called a ‘child of God’? Because I am a product of the work of God, Him justifying me, Him placing His Holy Spirit within me to indwell me. Why do I have the power of a child of God? Because His power indwells me.

Different! Do you remember the first study in this Part (no.8) was all about the fact that a Christian is different from a non-Christian? Here is the second of the things that come about when we are born again that make us different – I am given the right to be called a child of God because I have been born of God – He has made me that when I surrendered to Him, and that is only possible because of the work of Christ on my behalf on the Cross, (It is for you also if you receive it as such!) and the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit in me for the rest of my life. How wonderful!

35. Jesus’ Work

Meditations in 1 John : 35 : Jesus’ Work

1 John  3:8,9   The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.

There is a constant link that keeps appearing in John’s writings here, that of the believer’s behaviour being linked directly to Jesus, and it appears here again, in these two verses. However, before John brings the behaviour part, he refers to Jesus but we need to see it in context because, as is so often the case in the letters of the New Testament, the thought pattern flows on from one link to the next.

John in the previous verse has just referred to Satan: “He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning.”  Jesus, challenging some Jews who had appeared to believe but then had doubts, said, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire.” (Jn 8:44a)  In their thinking had arisen thoughts of rejecting Jesus. Left to itself that thought develops into wanting to get rid of Jesus (modern atheists try and ‘destroy’ Jesus intellectually) Jesus continued, “He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (Jn 8:44b) Satan wants to get rid of Jesus and he lies in his efforts to do it. (Modern atheists similarly want to get rid of Jesus and unwittingly speak untruths about him in their efforts to do that).

The truth is that those who are led by Satan express Satan’s thoughts and ideas. Satan is both a liar and a murderer; and so he tries to deceive people into believing untruths and his ultimate aim is to bring about the destruction of people, still separated from the love of God. There is this same link in the apostle Paul’s teaching. In respect of the magician, Elymas, he declared, “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord?” (Acts 13:10)  Those who are led by Satan express Satan and work in his ways.

Now we come to the first verse above: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” Near the end of this letter John writes, “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” (1 Jn 5:19) It’s that same contrasting style of teaching and he contrasts us who are in God’s family and the rest of the unbelieving world who are under Satan’s sway. Paul made a similar contrast: “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.” (Col 1:13) Satan holds ‘dominion’ (sway) over people’s lives while God seeks to draw us into the realm of His rule where we can be freed to receive His blessing. Satan rules over spiritual and moral darkness. It is no coincidence that John refers again and again to light versus darkness

So Jesus has come to deliver people out of Satan’s darkness, out of the place of self-centred and godless unrighteousness. He does it by forgiving their Sin on the basis of what he achieved on the Cross, and in bringing that forgiveness he opens up the way for them to be reconciled to the Father in heaven, free from guilt and shame, and he sets them off on a new path that is love-filled and Spirit-energised where we are no longer striving to achieve acceptance but just ARE accepted by God. No longer do we have to strive for meaning and purpose because God puts new meaning and purpose into our lives.

Then comes this cast iron logic again: If Jesus is working to set us free from Satan’s lies and deception and free from sin led by him, then “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.” (v.9)  No, says John yet again in a slightly different way, we’ve been born again by God’s Holy Spirit and are new creations and the seed of God’s Spirit and God’s word lives in us, and as word and Spirit grow in us there is less and less opportunity for Satan to come back on us and lead us astray again. Note that same word again – “continue” – which refers back to the life we previously had where sin energised by self-centred godlessness means that we were continually sinning. Now, however, we have new lives, new purpose and we are new beings for whom sin is alien.

Do you remember the apostle Paul said the same thing: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17) We are new creations and the old life has gone and a completely new life has come that is diametrically opposed to the old life. No, we may occasionally trip over our feet, so to speak, and get it wrong, but sin motivated by self-centred, godless living, is no longer part of our equation. We are free and it has been the work of Jesus that has done it. Hallelujah!

16. Born Again

Meditations in 1 Peter : 16 :  Born again

1 Pet 1:23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.

I noticed that near the end of the twentieth century the phrase ‘born again’ was being used in the secular world. It was as if the world was trying to take over what had been an expressly Christian phrase. Within Christian circles there are those who are wary of this phrase but, as we’ve already had cause to note, it is a clearly Biblical phrase.

Its primary usage comes in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John’s Gospel: “Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (Jn 3:3) and “You should not be surprised at my saying, `You must be born again.” (Jn 3:7) The two words going together actually only come twice in that conversation and once here in Peter, but the use of the word ‘born’ occurs again and again in John’s writings: “to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God– children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (Jn 1:12,13) and “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.” (1 Jn 3:9) and Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” (1 Jn 4:7) and “everyone born of God overcomes the world,” (1 Jn 5:4) and “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin.” (1 Jn 5:18)

There is something very significant about this concept and it may be this that makes some people dislike it: it is that when you are born, you have nothing to do with the process. It is purely something that your parent brought about. Yes, it happened to you but you had no say in when it happened and how it happened. People who like to think of ‘being a Christian’ in terms of being good like to think that they contributed and are contributing something to it, but that is not the New Testament picture of becoming a Christian. In the New Testament the process that brings us to ‘new birth’ merely requires us to respond to the convicting of the Holy Spirit. That is all our part is.

We came to a crisis point in life when we realised we were in a mess, lost and hopeless and in need of God’s help. Maybe we felt guilty and could do nothing about that either. In all of this, key words that described our position were ‘hopeless’ and ‘helpless’ and that awareness was brought to us by the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. Without His help we wouldn’t have even seen it. All we did it at that point was surrender to Him and cry out for help, confessing our sin and asking for forgiveness. At that point the Lord forgave us on the basis of what Jesus had done on the Cross, declared us His children, and placed His Holy Spirit within us. That is the clear teaching of the New Testament. Our being ‘born again’ or ‘born of the Spirit’ (Jn 3:8) came about when He placed His Spirit within us. Then, and only then, were we the new creatures that we are today.

What this teaching does do is challenge those who would like Christianity to be following rules, being religious or even simply being nice. None of those things make us a Christian – at least according to the Bible! Going to church on a Sunday morning doesn’t make us a Christian; it just makes us a churchgoer! The “being born of God” takes it out of our hands, out of the mundane human endeavour, and puts it firmly in God’s hands as an act of God which He brings about when He sees we have genuinely come to the end of ourselves, prodded by the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. If we have never come to that place of need it is questionable that we are actually a Christian.

We have spoken here about the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. This is what Peter is indirectly referring to when he speaks of been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” It is God’s word that convicts; it is the truth applied to our lives, not academic truth but truth that we hear from God and know applies to me. We may not be very clear in our minds when it comes to it, but we know it is coming from God and it applies to me.  This applies to my life and I have to do something about it. This word has come to my very innermost being and I know that I have to do something about it. In fact I cannot go on any further without doing anything about it. That is what happens when the Spirit takes the word of God and convicts us of its truth. We surrender and God acts and we are born again. God’s word plus God’s Spirit, my surrender and then God’s action to impart His Spirit into me, and I become a new creation (2 Cor 5:17). THIS is what becoming a Christian is all about!

10. Be Holy

Meditations in 1 Peter : 10 :  Be Holy

1 Pet 1:14-16   As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

Sometimes people have suggested that the call to the Christian life is not very clear, and yet the more I read the New Testament, the more I conclude the exact opposite: it is very clear! The first distinction that is made is the ‘before and after’. Being a Christian is something distinct. It is not trying to be good or trying to be religious, or belonging to a religious club.

It is all about being a completely different person from who and what you were before your met Christ. Jesus spoke about it as being “born again” (Jn 3:3,7,8) or being born of the Spirit. Later in this chapter, Peter is going to use exactly the same language. John in his Gospel said: Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God– children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (Jn 1:12,13) There is a distinct ‘God-change’ brought about in us when we come to Him.

There are often references to what we once were: “formerly you …. were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” (Eph 2:11-13) and “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.” (Col 1:13). There were major changes brought about when we came to Christ. It is all about change or transformation.

Now Peter speaks about, the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.” Before we came to Christ we were ignorant about God’s design for our lives and did not realise our state until the Holy Spirit convicted us. We were living in ignorance. But at that time all of our desires were godless and self-pleasing and were wrong. We didn’t realise it at the time but they were. That’s what we HAD been, but all that has changed when we came to Christ!

Now we have become children of God, as we saw above in John’s Gospel. Indeed John reiterates in his first letter: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 Jn 3:1). The reason for this new designation is twofold: first because that is how God now designates us, adopted children but, second, because He has put the Spirit of Jesus in us, the Holy Spirit, and so we are made like Him by His very presence within us. We are actually different from what we were before because now we are temples or dwelling places of God: “In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (Eph 2:21,22)  and “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Cor 6:19)

It is because of this that we find Peter giving us two charges. The first is the negative leaving the past behind:do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance,” and the second is the call to be holy: “be holy in all you do.” and the latter charge is because God is holy and it is because He lives in us that we ARE holy.

To be holy means to be set apart and completely distinct and this is in respect of who we are and therefore how we live. The son of a rich millionaire does not live the life of a scruffy beggar. A prince does not (generally) live the life of a pauper. They are what they are because of their father. We are what we are because of our Father. Because He has put some of Himself into us, we now take on His characteristics. In fact Paul tells us that His goal is to change us into the likeness of His Son, Jesus: “we… are being transformed into his (Jesus’) likeness.” (2 Cor 3:18).

Thus this salvation that we are receiving is all about changing us into God’s likeness by the work of Jesus on the Cross (making it possible) and the Holy Spirit within us (bringing it about). The call upon us is to be utterly different because that IS what we are, yet the wonder of it is that God still gives is choice and so we choose to let Him bring about the reality of our salvation – or not! There are Christians who appear to change very little after the initial conversion, yet God’s desire is to bring continual change to us. He has got something better for us than we have at this present moment. He will keep changing us for however long we remain on this earth, and then will come the ultimate change when we are granted new spiritual bodies (1 Cor 15:44) in heaven.

So there is the challenge, will we let Him bring our salvation which means gradual but constant change in us? That is His goal; is it ours?

17. A Job to do

Ephesians Meditations No.17

17.  A Job to do

Eph  2:10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

You may become tired with me keep pointing this out, but this passage is one long continuous flow of Paul’s thinking and verse after verse starts with a link word, tying it in to what has gone before or showing what is the next logical thing to think about. See it again: As for you (v.1)… All of us also (v.3)… But because (v.4)… And God (v.6)… in order that (v.7)… For it is (v.8)… For we are (v.10). We have pointed this out because these are not individual points of doctrine but all different facets of the same thing – the wonder of our salvation. We need to see in today’s verse the individual components and then the thrust of the whole thing.

“For we are God’s workmanship.” We have seen this already a number of times in the preceding verses, that we are the outworking of God’s activity: God….made us alive” (v.4,5) and God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms” (v.8) and “it is the gift of God.” (v.8). John stated it clearly at the beginning of his Gospel: “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God– children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (Jn 1:12,13). Hopefully you have been seeing it as we have gone through these meditations so that you are completely clear in your minds – we are a work of God!  Paul said it elsewhere as well, he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil 1:6). The good work was a work of transformation. He speaks of some of the components of that work to the church at Rome: “think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you ….. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” (Rom 12:4,6)

Yes, this is a wonderful truth that perhaps few of us can really comprehend: the work of making us new creations (2 Cor 5:17) was a pure act of God, but it wasn’t just a one-off thing involving Him forgiving us, adopting us and putting His Holy Spirit in us, it also meant that somehow (and this is purely a suggestion of how it might work), He by His Spirit emphasized the natural within us and made it so that the new ‘blown up’ characteristics of us were now seen as gifts to bless others and bring honour to Him.

But there is another component in this verse: created in Christ Jesus.” Again, without labouring the point too much, we’ve seen this a number of times so far in this letter: blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” (1:3), then, “he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ.” (1:5), then, “the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ.” (1:9), then, “seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,” (2:6) and “expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” (2:7) and now “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus.” (2:10) It’s ALL about Jesus! Everything that the Father has achieved has been through His Son Jesus coming to the earth and dying for us and then being raised to life and then ascending to heaven where he now reigns.  NOTHING but NOTHING about our faith exists without Christ. That is how significant the coming of Christ is to us!

But there is yet more:created in Christ Jesus to do good works.” God didn’t just make us anew for us to sit in isolation (up poles or out in the desert) as some of the strange Christians did in the past!  No, because God has put part of Himself in us, He energises us to continue doing what He has been doing ever since He created mankind. Ever since He created Adam and Eve, He has been seeking (despite their free will that led them into sin at Satan’s suggestion) to bring blessing into their lives. Indeed, the whole of the later ‘Israel experiment’ was to seek to lead a whole people into a way of life where they would live in the way God had originally designed mankind to work and thus be blessed and be a light or revelation to the rest of the world – yet sin kept on breaking through and that got it wrong.

But there is even more: good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” This takes the onus off us because what it says, is that when God brought us through to Himself, He knew us completely and He knew how we would best ‘work’ and be more fulfilled and most successful. So, He knew how He could lead us into lives that were being totally fulfilled by doing the things He put before us, and in such a way blessing would follow. What is often so sad, is that in the same way that Israel allowed self and sin to rise up so they missed the target, so many of us start out this wonderful new experience of encounter and life with God, but allow the enemy to focus us on our own thinking and he raises up self-centred desires in us, and so we miss God’s desires for us and so live half-fulfilled lives. How tragic!

So let’s put all this together. We are to look back and see the people we were, and then see afresh the wonder of the work of God in us. Thus we will see that we are God’s workmanship, a new creation brought about by God through Jesus, designed to share our lives with Him and He with us, so that we live out His desires and plans for us which are designed to bless us and make us fruitful. What we achieve in life, then becomes that which He has designed us for, and we are most fulfilled – and this all through Jesus. How wonderful!