62. Addendum: Christ’s work in me

Focus on Christ Meditations: 62.  Addendum: Christ’s work in me

Rom 8:29,30   For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

You might be excused for thinking we had arrived at the end of this series in yesterday’s study, for I had thought that. However, having done that I found this nagging feeling that actually we have not summed up the effects of Christ’s work on the Cross. Yesterday we sought to carry out an overview of the life and activity of Christ, but to more fully appreciate his work we need to try to lay out just what he has done and is doing in our lives, personally.

In our verses above the apostle Paul conveniently laid out an overview of the work of God in respect of our lives. As we have commented a number of times, at least seven times in the New Testament we are shown that the plan of God in respect of Christ and our salvation was mapped out by the Godhead before the foundation of the world. At that time they looked into the future and knew who would respond (that is not the same as making people respond) and in that sense they knew even then the total number of those who in time-space history would become believers, i.e.  ‘predestined’. In the fullness of time the process involved God, by His Holy Spirit, calling people and when they responded He declared them righteous on the double basis of Christ’s work and their faith response. i.e. they were justified. But then He also put His own Holy Spirit within every believer and established eternal life for them which would continue from this life into the next. i.e. they were glorified.

But let’s look at this ‘process’, as I have called it, first from a) what Christ did on the Cross and then b) what he does for each believer.

The Work of the Cross: The angel told Joseph that “he will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). The sins of mankind since the Fall were the thing that not only brought down mankind and made us less than that for which God had designed us, but also kept us from God and God from us. The word ‘justice’ has come up many times in these studies because it is a strange phenomenon of the human race, this demand for ‘rightness’ (that must come from the character of God). How to ‘put right’ the human race has been the central aspect of the plan of God from the beginning. So note the following two key concepts of his work on the Cross:

i) Atonement: We noted in a previous study: “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished– he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” (Rom 3:25,26) The footnote in v.25 offers instead of ‘sacrifice of atonement’, “as the one who would turn aside his wrath, taking away sin.” But look at the reasoning: “to demonstrate his justice”. The apostle John added, He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole(1 Jn 2:2)

So here we come across a word we have not picked up on before: atonement,  which is about making amends, putting wrongs right and bringing reconciliation with God. It produces a salvation that is available for any and all, e.g. whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” (Rev 22:17 & also 1 Jn 2:2 above). Note my use of ‘available’. It is not automatic, it has to be asked for, it has to be received and it has to be appropriated – but it IS available for any to come down the path of repentance and faith.

ii) Redemption: This is a concept that suggests we have been bought back from slavery to sin and Satan (and indeed the Law’s curse, Gal 3:13), and the price paid was the blood of Christ. The idea conveyed in the Bible is that unbelievers ‘belong’ to Satan or are under his sway (dominion) and he has rights over them because of their sin. They can only be ‘ransomed’ from this way of life after they have repented and on the basis of Christ’s death. See 1 Pet 1:18,19 & Eph 1:7

The Work in our lives: That leads us on to what happens as a result of this work of the Cross which is available to each and every person.

i) Justified: we have already touched on this twice and it happens because of our faith and is received by our faith. Paul’s teaching in Romans 3-5 was that faith within us, the accepting of the truth of Christ put before us, and surrendering to God, is what God looks for to declare us justified. When He declares it, we have to believe and accept it and live it out. There is a sense whereby we were justified the moment we turned to Christ in faith, and are being justified as we live it out.

ii) Regeneration: This is not a word you will find in your Bible but it refers to the act of God by which a new life, His Holy Spirit, is implanted in the individual and can only happen because that individual has just been justified and made right with God, and so can now become a vessel of God or a temple of the Holy Spirit (e.g. 1 Cor 3:16). Words we associate with this are being ‘born again’ (see Jn 3:3-8) or converted (e.g. Acts 15:3)

iii) Adopted: This is God’s act of declaring us to be part of His family as a result of the above things (see Eph 1:5)

iv) Sanctified: This refers to the act and process of being set apart to God and conforming to the image of Jesus. For the act see 1 Cor 6:11 & Rom 15:16 and for the process see 1 Thess 4:3 & 5:23.

v) Glorified: In addition to what we have said about this above, we may speak about the glory given to believers because of their union with Christ. (Col 1:27), his expression (Eph 1:27) who glorify him (Eph 3:21) as we are seated with him in the heavenly realms (Eph 2:6) but living out our lives here on earth. Moreover, one day we will receive gloriously transformed bodies (Rom 8:11,23, 1 Cor 15:43-53, Phil 3:21)

Now all of these things are what you will find in any book of theology but perhaps the biggest issue of all, in respect of who we are now, as a result of the work of Christ on the Cross, and now in our lives, is the potential of the relationship with God that is before us, summed up in Paul’s words to the Ephesians: “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) If we may expand that at the end of this series: God has done everything He has with His Son, Jesus the Christ, to bring about a new possibility in us humans, the possibility of sharing in the being that is Christ, so that we may share in the things that he is doing, things he planned from before the foundation of the world, things he wants us to share in. That is the climatic end to all of this. The Son of God came and lived and died and rose and ascended in order to reverse the works of the Fall so we could share with he and his Father in working to eventually create a new heaven and a new earth. Incredible! Hallelujah!

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12. A Glorified Body

Short Meditations on the Body of Christ:  12. A Glorified Body

2 Thess 2:14   He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is an unusual concept and, I suspect, one that is foreign to many believers. Glory is a strange concept. We get it when, in the Old Testament, the glory of the Lord filled either the Tabernacle (Ex 40:34,25) or the Temple (2 Chron 5:14 & 7:1). It was an immense brightness revealing the presence of the Lord. Generally we might say it means divine splendor so in our verse above it might read, “that you might share in the divine splendor of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In his prayer before the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus used this word six times. Sometimes it was about himself: “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” (Jn 17:4,5) i.e. Father I have revealed your divine splendor by what I have been doing, but I realise that has been limited so let the same splendor that I have when I am in heaven be seen by the things that are about to happen (my death, resurrection and ascension).

Sometimes it was about us: “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one.” (v.22) This must refer to the work of the Holy Spirit who unites us by bringing life to us all as He indwells us. In other words, the presence of the Holy Spirit within us should be revealing to all onlookers the presence and divine splendor of God, by who we are and what we do. Who we are? Are people able to look at us and see something different about us, not an arrogance or self-centred piety but a humility that expresses love and goodness and is there to bring God’s love and goodness to whoever we find ourselves with, as much as they may be open to us.

What we do? We have just touched on that because it should flow out of who we are. Jesus touched on this when he taught, “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16) i.e. let God’s goodness and presence and divine splendor be seen through the good that the Holy Spirit inspires you to do. When we forgive, when we love, when we do good, when we bless, when we persevere, when we are patient, when we are kind, is it with such divine inspiration and empowering that people look on and wonder and say, “How can you be like that? I want what you have.” Who was the famous saint who said, “Evangelize by all means; use words if you have to.”? God’s glory is revealed more by deeds than by words (Acts 2:22 where words are not mentioned!).

41. The Divine Process

Meditations in Romans : 41:  The Divine Process

Rom 8:29,30   For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

This is THE most compact description of God’s work of salvation found anywhere in the Bible. To put it in context, Paul has been bringing reassurance to the Christians in Rome and having just said that God works for the good in our lives, he now steps back and takes a panoramic view of  God’s work.

It starts with the word, ‘foreknew’. Before God created anything He KNEW what would happen if He did this or that. God KNEW what would happen if He gave us free will. God KNEW what would happen with sin entering the world. God KNEW how He could then work to draw men and women back to Him. God KNEW who would respond to Him.   On the Day of Pentecost Peter preached, This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge,” (Acts 2:23) speaking of God’s preplanned purposes, and then a little later he preached, “this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer,” (Acts 3:18) reminding us that God had spoken of this plan many times through the Old Testament prophets. Later in prayer they prayed about the religious leaders, “They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.” (Acts 4:28). Again and again they realised that all that had taken place, happened with God’s foreknowledge; He had planned it before the foundation of the world. (Check out Jn 17:24, 1 Pet 1:20, Rev 17:8, Rev 13:8, 2 Tim 1:9, Tit 1:2)

But having known what would happen – the Fall – God planned or “predestined” the way for sin to be dealt with. The key would be the death and resurrection of Jesus, His Son, how people responded to him. As we already said, He saw into the future and knew who would respond to His Son. This wasn’t a case of Him making us respond but of simply knowing who would respond. Knowing who would respond and writing their names in the Lamb’s book of Life (Rev 17:8) is what the Bible means by predestination. You were predestined to become a child of God in that God looked into the future, knew everything that would happen and saw you responding. It was fixed only in as far as God saw what would happen and thus because it did happen we can say retrospectively that you were predestined.

But there is more because it says, predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son,” indicating the purpose of what God was going to do in you. Jesus was the blueprint of a perfect man and God’s work throughout our time on earth is to conform us gradually to that blueprint. Jesus would be revealed through his death and resurrection as God’s Son, and in this he would be, if you like, the firstborn of God’s big family that would be created throughout the period of church history, until Jesus comes back again. It will never be perfectly done, this process of change, until we meet Him face to face, but big steps will be taken.

That was the plan but it had to be brought into being in time-space history and so “those he predestined, he also called.” To bring about redemption required the work of the Holy Spirit to call us and convict us.   In the same way that God used a burning bush to attract and call Moses (Ex 3), so the Holy Spirit used circumstances to attract us. Almost invariably it was some form of crisis and somehow, either directly or using another person, we were presented with the Gospel, we repented and came to Christ.

At that point we were justified. At the point of our conversion, at the point of being born again, God justified us: “those he called, he also justified.” The old Sunday School adage of “just as if I’d” never sinned, holds true. He wiped away our guilt and sin and forgave us and adopted us as children of God. At that moment we were declared free of guilt and shame, our old sin and our old lives. At that moment we were declared clean, forgiven and sons of God.

But it doesn’t finish there: “those he justified, he also glorified.” We have already said that at that moment He adopted us and He did it in a very practical way: He put His own Holy Spirit within us. At that moment we were glorified in that suddenly the world was able to see that a new child of God existed, another container of the Spirit of God, and from that moment on we would be glorified as children of God as we lived out the Christ life and were transformed into his image and character, and as the Holy Spirit led us into the works of Christ. One day when we pass into God’s presence, we will be changed in a split second into the glorious image of a redeemed heavenly child of God.

God foreknew … predestined … called… justified… glorified.  Note it is all the work of God. This is what He does as He seeks to draw men and women back to Himself. Our part is simply to respond and then we find we are part of the story that was established even before the Lord Himself said, “Let there be light,” and there was light! Wow! Amazing! Incredible! Wonderful!

7. Grace our Resource

Meditations in Romans : 7:  Grace our Resource

Rom 5:1-3  Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings.

To summarise these verses before we look in detail at them, having been justified by God who has taken our faith as the currency of righteousness, that justification has brought about a number of things. The first thing, which we considered in the previous meditation, is that we now have peace with God. The second thing is that because we have been justified by God and brought into a new relationship with Him, which continues by faith, that has given us access to His grace which he provides for us. Now being recipients of His grace means two further things. First it gives us the sense of eternity and we come to realise, probably for the first time, that we are going to be recipients of the glory of God as well. But more than that, this grace is a resource that means we take the hard elements of being a Christian, the opposition and sufferings that come our way, and still rejoice in who we are. Now each of those things is very significant so let’s take them one by one.

Peace we’ve already considered. Now let’s think about “this grace in which we now stand.” Note the words, this grace.” This must, in the context, first mean the whole general state of grace, of being a redeemed and justified believer. A state of grace here simply means a state of being forgiven, cleansed and having had our sin and guilt dealt with by God as a free gift. When Paul says we stand in this grace it always sends me back to his words to the Ephesians: Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then.” (Eph 6:13,14). I imagine the Christian life that we have inherited as a plot of land – the truths of the Gospel – and the enemy seeks to push us off this or deceive us off or scare us off this plot of land, but we have to hold on to these truths. This plot of land is also the state of grace that I referred to – we are there by the free gift of God and we must resist Satan’s urges for us to try to earn God’s love.

So there we are. Our faith has brought us to God and He has given us this ‘plot of land’ called our salvation, or this state of grace, but it is also a place of resource for us because the moment we were justified He also imparted His own Holy Spirit into our lives and so He Himself is the power and wisdom resource who dwells within us. His very presence within me, will enable me to overcome and will grant me the wisdom and direction that I need.

Now being in the state of grace means that suddenly everything about God becomes real. Previously He had been at a distance but now He is as close as it is possible to be. Later in this book Paul is going to write, “those he justified, he also glorified.” (Rom 8:30) What does it mean for us to be glorified? It means that because we are now children of God (1 Jn 3:1, Jn 1:12) we have been given the same glory as God although in such limited measure that it is not see as a bright light – but His own Holy Spirit DOES live within us (1 Cor 3:16) and we are actually God-people (as hard as that is to believe sometimes). TODAY we hold the glory of God (2 Cor 4:7). We are ‘earthen vessels’ but we contain His glory – thus we are glorified – as being seen to be His children and by His presence within us. But because we have His eternal life within us, we too are now eternal beings and so we will go to heaven to be with Him in eternity and that is also part of this concept of being glorified.

But because we live with His presence within to empower us, and because we have an eternal future, it does mean that we can laugh at misfortunes, especially those that come in the form of people stirred against us by the enemy. If we are violently persecuted the worst that can happen to us is that we die and go to be with Jesus. This is not to say that being a martyr is either easy or to be desired, but it does mean that God’s grace will be sufficient to see us through it. It is easy to write these things when not suffering for the Gospel but the truth is that some of the most vibrant Christians in the world at the moment, are those suffering persecution, because they are also experiencing in a deeper way than the rest of us, the grace of God, the presence of God upholding them.

But maybe, if we are not suffering persecution at the moment, we should also consider grace as His resource to see us through whatever other difficulty we face in life, for there are always a great variety of them. This place we live today, this ‘plot of land’, this state of grace, is indeed a place of God’s provision.

When Moses sent the spies into the Promised land, they came back and reported: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large.” (Num 13:27,28) Subsequently they focused on the negatives and forgot the positives. Today some Christians say, “It’s all very well to talk about God’s grace but you don’t know the things I have to put up with in my life.” That’s true but realise that the ‘milk and honey’ of God’s grace are there to give you strength to deal with the ‘giants’. Focus on the facts of your salvations, the truths of the Gospel – and live according to them – including the truth about the Holy Spirit who is the source of grace within you. Turn to Him, lean on Him, receive from Him and the ‘giants’ will soon shrink in size and be manageable – with His grace!

28. Glory

Ephesians Meditations No.28

Eph  3:20,21 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen

Again and again in this letter, my feeling is that there is so much truth in each of Paul’s sentences that it is impossible to plum the depths of them and therefore anything we cover here tends to be very surface. Every phrase, it seems, holds so much that we could make a single meditation of it, but for the sake of time and space, we must limit what we say. See each one, therefore, as simply a launching pad for further meditations.

Consider Paul’s starting description of God: Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” This I can cope with, at least in small measure, because as a Pastor, one thing I know is that most people really have so little expectation of what God wants to do for them. Here Paul is thinking about what Godis able to do,” and he implies, ‘think about what we ask God to do, or think about what we imagine He can do, and it is immeasurably more than that!’ In other words, whatever we ask or whatever we imagine God doing, it is so much more that it will be impossible to measure it!

How little expectations do you and I have of God? “Oh, I’m not a leader,” I hear people say, or “I’m not special,” or “I’m not a great saint.”  Why not? Is it simply because we don’t ask for it or imagine God would do it for us? The life coaching world has discovered a measure of truth when they teach about thinking well about yourself, but of course they will always fall short if we are being godless, but listen to Paul’s language elsewhere: “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Cor 9:8). Then there are people who say, “Oh, I just don’t have the strength to serve God”. Listen again to Paul: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Phil 4:11-13) Do we need to start taking hold of Scripture and, by faith claiming it for our own lives?

But then he continues by reminding us what these verses above tell us, that it is all “according to his power that is at work within us.” Now we’ve seen this again and again; it is God’s own Holy Spirit within us that is the source of our strength and our power and our wisdom. It is because it is God Himself, by His Spirit, who lives and works in and through us, that Paul said He was able to do immeasurably more. The Spirit is God and God is without limit! That we really do need to think, pray and meditate on!

But all of this that we have been considering, has really almost been an aside or an introduction or explanation of what Paul is basically saying:Now to him … be glory in the church.”  This is really Paul’s winding up his prayer with exaltation of God. He is saying, “May God be glorified in the church” and he’s saying that because of all that he’s said previously about God, the Gospel and the church which God has brought into being. What should be happening is that God is glorified by His church. I’m not sure how often overall in the Church, that that really happens. Is God truly glorified by all that your church is and does? Does the community look on in wonder at what it sees in the church? The reality, tragically, in the West at least, is that much of the time the church has allowed itself to be marginalized and is not seen as the glorious body of Christ still doing the things he did, or it is not seen as the temple of God filled with His glory. Jesus, before his death, prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, speaking of the church, “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” Now merely because there are millions of local churches that does mean there has to be disunity. The local church is where local Christians are, but the crucial question is, do we see ourselves as one with other believers in our area? It starts there. Our unity should be both a means of working to share the Gospel, and a sign that the Gospel works. As a result God will be glorified. Are we a church still doing the same things Jesus did? If we don’t Jesus won’t be glorified. No excuses!

But Paul didn’t just say, “to him be glory in the church,” but also “and in Christ Jesus,” the inference being, we suggest, that God be glorified in the body that is the Church, and in Christ who is the head. You really can’t separate the head from the body and hence when the church glorifies God then the head will be glorified as well. Now this wasn’t just for then but, “throughout all generations, for ever and ever!” This outcome – that God is glorified in the church and in Christ – is to be an ongoing one that goes on from one generation to the next. The people may be different but the Spirit is the same and God remains the same throughout history. There is not coming a time when this does not apply. Our objective, surely, is to be that God is glorified in and through us, that other people see and are drawn and come to know Him. Thus He is truly glorified. May it be so!