PART FIVE: Nuts & Bolts of Redemption
Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 25. Redeemed From (1)
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.
Big Brush Strokes: We move in to what I anticipate will be the penultimate Part of this series, before we reach the most difficult and potentially contentious final Part, that may possibly be a minefield as I want to look honestly and openly and look for fresh wisdom and insight in respect of some of the things that seem to blight modern church life or perhaps act as challenges or possible hot-spots of contention with the world. However, before we move into that, so as not to create too much of a culture shock against where we have been so far in the series, I think we need to look more broadly at creating a foundation for these things by recapping some of the key things we’ve seen in big brush strokes to remind ourselves of what the picture of redemption is all about, and then in the following studies consider some of the detail outworking of redemption, the nuts and bolts of it, if you like, how it really works. We have said in passing that redemption is about being delivered from our old lives into new lives. So let’s think some more about this matter of being delivered FROM.
From Godlessness: This is so simple, straight-forward and obvious that it should hardly need restating, but it is just because it is so obvious that we need to face it and consider it. Now some people dislike the use of the word ‘godless’ because they think it is associated with being a pagan unbeliever – and it is – but it is also a characteristic of so many lives, of ‘believers’ as well as unbelievers. Let me demonstrate. In our starter verses above, the apostle Paul opens up with, “you were dead”. Put aside, for the moment, how and why you were dead (in the way you lived) previously, and remember the warning that God gave Adam and Eve originally: “you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Gen 2:17)
Now it is clear after the Fall that they continued to live for many years, but without that previous relationship with God. Yes, physical death did eventually come but spiritual death – the absence of God in their lives – became the new way of life. So, when Paul said “you were dead” he meant, as he referred to their old lives before knowing Christ, that they had been spiritually dead with no relationship or awareness of God. Yes, as we’ll see, this was worked out in the way we lived and the things we did, but those things all followed the approach to life that we had – being without God (godless) – and that all starts in the mind. In the active sense it is open hostility to God and rejection of God, but in a passive sense it is expressed as simply not thinking about God, and it is this latter approach that Christians so often live with.
Reliance upon me: The other side of the coin to godlessness is self-centredness. Now there is a difficulty here in that we are all made with ‘self-consciousness’, and that is not a result of the Fall but simply something that all sentient beings have. Indeed that is part of the definition of us human beings. So there is nothing wrong with being self-aware, but that is very different from self-centredness which refers to the exclusion of others and, in this case, the exclusion of God.
Biblical Examples: Consider some of the people we have examined earlier in this series. When Abram told his wife to pretend to be his sister, he was acting to protect himself. When Jacob schemed and plotted and connived, it was all to advance himself through his own cleverness. When Joseph received prophetic dreams, all he could think of was how great that was going to make him, not why God might do that and what He might do to make that happen. When Moses killed the Egyptian he was taking action in a way he thought was good, not pausing to think of the consequences. When David took Bathsheba he never paused to think of the consequences, he was simply taken up with desire, and that set in motion a series of consequences (she became pregnant) that led him to have her husband killed. Again and again and again, we have here examples of how people think only of themselves (at the moment) and give no thought to God or His wishes or, even worse, His demand for accountability.
Applied to the Christian Life: Now Paul, in our verses above, was making the point that this is how our lives were run, prior to knowing Christ. When we come to Christ, the theory is that we will cease to be god-less and (implied) become God-focused, but the truth is that it is so easy to continue like that. It is what is natural, it is what the old life did, and the enemy seeks to fill our minds with so many distractions that we forget the way it needs to be now. Paul was later to write, “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Rom 12:2) We have commented more than once that God’s desire is to change us into the likeness of Jesus (see 2 Cor 3:18) and I said just now in a way that might sound slightly legalistic, ‘we forget the way it needs to be now’ but the reality is that when we permit our approach to life to remain self-centred and god-less, we are left, like Jacob, having to scheme and plot how to triumph in life, not realizing that God does want us to triumph in life, but with His wisdom and His revelation and His activity in our circumstances. How easy it is not to pray, not to seek God, not to ask for His wisdom, not to ask for His intervention, how easy it is to think, to reason, to work and struggle to achieve ends that we think will be good.
Sub-standard Goals: The trouble is that, yes, God does want us to think and to reason and to work but so often our goals are less than His and our ways are more arduous than His so that we exhaust ourselves in the process. Did God want Abram to succeed in life? Oh most definitely, just look at the things He said He wanted to do for him. Did He want Jacob to succeed? Oh, most definitely. Again look at the prophecies and the end results. And Joseph? Oh most definitely. The dreams said it all, it was just that Joseph didn’t understand there could be a way of humility, so that instead God had to use his pride and arrogance to set in motion the events that followed, events in which God intervened as He gave favour to Joseph. Did God want Moses to deliver his people? Yes, but not by killing them one by one (the logical outworking of what he started to do!) Now God has great goals for us but either we can’t believe they could be that good, or we don’t see how they could come about, so we struggle and beaver away at being successes (i.e. we are being godless) when all the time the Lord is longing to show us a better way.
The First Goal of Redemption: Division between us and God came about at the Fall and was formalized, if we may put it like that, by God’s judgments on humanity. Nevertheless that never meant that He stood back, never to have any more dealings with mankind, for we soon see (as we saw in the second study) that He was having contact with Cain and Abel, with Enoch, with Noah and with Abram. God’s desire has never changed, to have a relationship with those He had created. The Fall was not the end. Throughout our studies we have seen this desire of God’s, to redeem people from the mess they have been making with their godless efforts and bring them into a real relationship that is good, with Him. Whatever else you might have considered or picked up in these studies, a real and ongoing relationship with the Lord is the first and foremost goal of God’s work of redemption. He redeems us from being far away, to come close to Him. The fruit of that is peace, a sense of security, wisdom, revelation, grace, strength, power, all things that He can provide for us. Even more than this, as we have already hinted, He longs to be involved in our circumstances so that, where we let Him, He will intervene to bring about changes in them.
Practicalities: We’ve just given a broad sweep of the things He wants to do for us, but let’s pick up on three of the most obvious ones the scriptures speak so clearly about. Consider: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6,7)
- Anxiety: Anxiety has to be one of the most common emotions that we Christians experience – worries, concerns, fears, doubts – a mixed bag under this one heading. Why? Because life is often difficult, and people are often difficult, and the circumstances become difficult, and we struggle in our minds with what to do, can we do, is there anything to do? And so we worry. Remaining in a state of worry (sorry if this sounds hard) is godless and self-centred. The means of dealing with it is there in those two verses – not to reason, rationalize, scheme, plot, plan – it is to take it to God, to commit it to Him. As the psalmist put it, “Take delight in the Lord,and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.” (Psa 37:4-7) Giving over your circumstances (commit your way) to the Lord means we will trust Him to be there for us, and that will be seen in practical outworkings. The Living Bible puts it well, “Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him to help you do it, and he will.” (v.5)
- Wisdom: We find we are confronted by people or circumstances who challenge our ability to cope; we don’t know how to handle them. We feel all at sea, lost. (and then, so often, we worry). “you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought.” (Jas 1:5,6 Message version.) Perhaps we are more familiar with, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt.” (NIV) But there it is, when we run out of ideas, ask Him. This is the God we sometimes describe as all-knowing and all-wise.
- Grace: Perhaps the umbrella that all these things come under is grace which, in this context, can be defined simply as ‘God’s resources that are available to us to enable us to cope’, and we might add, ‘to cope with everything that comes our way in life.’ As the Lord said to Paul, “My grace is enough; it’s all you need.” (2 Cor 12:9 Message version) Believe that.
With God: So, to conclude, these things are all there available to us, plus lots more, and they become available when we stop being self-centred and godless and turn to God. To conclude with Jesus’s words: “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Lk 11:11-13) OK? Ask!