30. Redeemed To (3)

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 30. Redeemed To (3)

Eph 2:6,7    God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

Recap Again: We are looking at the verses in Eph 2 that follow on from those where Paul describes our ‘old life’ and we said that from verse 4 he balances out those things with the things God had made us to be and is making us to be: alive to Him (v.5), joined with Christ (v.6), recipients of His incredible blessings (v.7). In the previous two studies we considered something of what it means to be ‘alive’ spiritually, and what it means to be joined with Christ, seated with him in the heavenly realms.  We move on now to the third aspect.

Incomparable:  The idea of ‘the riches of his grace’ sounds manageable until we note the word ‘incomparable’ which simply means cannot be compared to anything else, unmatched, unique, unparalleled, i.e. there is NOTHING else like it! Whatever this means it is mind blowing and because it is that enormous, that incredible, it is probably challenged by our intellect that says, ‘Surely that can’t be!” And of course you know who from Gen 3 is there in the background encouraging us to think like that. Our great danger as Christians, is that we get caught up in family life, caught up in our work, caught up in the bizarre goings-on of the world today, and we lose perspective, we forget who we are, who God is and what he has done for us, and so we live mundane lives of struggle instead of gloriously equipped lives of blessing. Let’s change that! Let’s think about what these things mean!

Familiar acts of God’s Grace:  There are certain aspects of God’s grace, His working out the effects of Christ’s work on the Cross when He finds a responding repentant heart in us, that I refer to quite often in these studies and because they become familiar they tend to lose their wonder.

First, there is the fact of our justification when we turn to Christ, the fact that God puts us legally right with Him and with justice, ‘just as if’ we’d never sinned. That involves forgiveness and the removal of our guilt so that we can be at ease with God and no longer fearful of any punishment.

Second, there is the fact of our being adopted as God’s children (Jn 1:12,14, Rom 8:14-17, Gal 3:26, 1 Jn 3:1) and we receive a new identity, ‘sons of God’ (Rom 8:15, Gal 4:6, Eph 1:5) which implies the possibility of an intimate relationship with Almighty God, a sharing of His heart, and an entering into His ‘business’ (that’s the significance of ‘sons’ in the OT).

Then, third, to enable those things to be worked out practically on a day to day basis, He imparted His own Holy Spirit to indwell us, to both empower us and be a conduit of revelation from Him to us.  Now I just said that these things become familiar and familiarity takes away the wonder of the reality, so let’s try and expand on those things and try and capture something of the wonder that is there.

Our Justification: Many see this as some theoretical, theological aspect with little practical outworking but exactly the opposite is true. The fact that we have been justified by God means that we don’t have to work to try to impress God, get Him on our side or even to forgive us – because He has already done that. How many Christians subtly still try to DO things to make themselves right with God? You can’t He’s already done it. Reading the Bible, praying, witnessing, going to church, are all good things in themselves but they are not what makes you a child of God, they are, as is often glibly said, ‘the icing on the cake’. You and I are guilt free, forgiven, and children of God.

All over the world there are millions of people who do not know that about themselves, and it has crippling effects. Only yesterday I sat in a (non-Christian) forum about homelessness and listened to a number of those from the local authority and other agencies who work with the homeless, and as they rolled out the causes, again and again they mentioned relationship breakdowns and even mental health issues, and both causes, they said (these non-Christians) were increasing daily and are often interlinked. This in a nation that is one of the most affluent in the world, that has so much and yet so little because the vast majority (possibly between 93 to 95%) are self-centred and godless. Most show little interest in God or spiritual matters, so caught up are they in materialism. On the outside, so much seems good in the nation, but look into individual lives and you find people who feel guilty but don’t know why, people who struggle with themselves and with the people around them for self-accreditation, self-approval, but constantly fail to get it. Why? Because it only comes with God’s forgiveness because of Christ.

Our adoption: Then, we said, there is this matter if our being adopted as children of God, even ‘sons’ of God. The world derides us and says how dare you make such claims, but our answer has to be that it is not OUR claim but that of the Bible and of God. This is our anchor point in life, everything hinges on this, my goals, my desires, my aims and objectives, my endeavours. Yes, I may have a job, yes I may have various roles in life – husband, father, worker etc. etc. – but actually the meaning that underpins my life NOW is that I am a child of God.

Father: Some of us struggle with the concept of God as Father, because of our earthly experiences, but dare you see Him as loving, gentle, caring, compassionate, understanding, forgiving (all things the Bible says of Him) and see yourself in a picture, as a little child snuggled up on His lap, totally secure, utterly bathed in love and peace, because that is what this idea of adoption enables us to have.

Empowered: This is what He is redeeming us to, to realise the reality of this, that His Holy Spirit really and truly does indwell us, a concept that is unbelievable by the world, that God could put a part of Himself in us, to link us to Him, and to act as a power source and channel of revelation. While the world struggles with self-help courses and so often wakes each day with a sense of dread at the day to come, you and I wake with the knowledge that we are children of God and have within us a spring of living water, just waiting to spring up afresh for today, to refresh us, wash us, to satisfy our thirst and be a life source for the day. But it is not just an impersonal power source, like adrenalin, it is HIM. But here is the challenge; if you are like me, it is a struggle to believe that reality, it is something we have to declare again and again. The Bible says it, so I must believe it. It is a reality and yet it is a reality that clashes with my old self-centred focus that so often is there. I have to purposefully pause and be still to know that He is God – here, now this moment, and He indwells me, and He’s here for me.

The Reality: Be honest, the things of the day call, the concerns of the day distract, I wake up after a poor night and feel weak, the burdens of life call to me, the lacks of church life cause me anguish – but He is here and I need reminding of that, I need to declare it afresh and then experience it, and when sometimes it is not so clear and obvious, just trust. But the truth is still here in this; on a bad day when I feel weak, suddenly, almost inexplicably, strength seems to come from somewhere, and I sense His provision to enable me to get on being the person He’s called me to be and do the things He’s called me to do. On a bad day when I feel confused and the way of the world seems even more chaotic and the church doesn’t seem to be living up to its potential, suddenly, almost inexplicably, a peace descends, and I know He is still in charge, and together we can face it. On a bad day when I am confronted with perplexing problems and paralyzing situations and antagonistic people, suddenly, almost inexplicably, a sense of what needs to be done settles in my mind and that sense of peace returns and He conveys His wisdom to see us through the maze of life.

Perhaps more than any other study I have ever written, I am left with a sense of having fallen short as we have started to ponder what these words – incomparable riches – mean, a sense that rather like the iceberg, still nine-tenths of it is still hidden. Maybe I’ll have to try to continue it tomorrow, maybe not, we’ll see.  But this is what He calls us to, this is what He is redeeming us to. I am a child of God.

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26. Be Strengthened

Ephesians Meditations No.26

Eph  3:16-17 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.

Right, we now move on to Paul’s prayer. There are a variety of interpretations as to how this prayer is split up. We’ll simply take it in what seem to be obvious parts to consider. Put most simply, here Paul is praying that God may strengthen you. That is the very basis of the prayer but then we may consider the source of God’s strengthening, the means of His strengthening and then the outcome of His strengthening. Each part is highly significant and worthy of our consideration.

Right, let’s consider first the source of strengthening that Paul desires for us: “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you.” At first that is very simple and straight forward but the trouble is that Paul never explains this expression – his glorious riches. This is the fifth time he has used it. Previously he spoke about, the riches of God’s grace.” (1:7), “the riches of his glorious inheritance.” (1:18), “the incomparable riches of his grace.” (2:7), and “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” (3:8) but nowhere does he really explain it. Even the writers of the various paraphrase versions of the Bible have struggled here: his glorious, unlimited resources” (Living), “the glorious richness of his resources(JBP) and the Message version completely skirts around it. Simple language versions (e.g. Good News version) say things like,the wealth of his glory, none of which take us much further. Ultimately we have to say that all we have comes from God Himself and there is no limit to Him. Paul is thus saying, may God strengthen you out of His incredible, wonderful, unlimited resources, which are, in fact, Himself!

Having said that let’s consider the means of strengthening that Paul desires for us: I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being.” Power – Spirit – inside us. That is the way we are strengthened. It is God’s power, released by His Holy Spirit, who dwells within us. Jesus taught, Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” By this he meant the Spirit.” (Jn 7:38,39). Here is the truth, that within us we have God’s own Holy Spirit and He will strengthen us by His very own powerful presence. Within us we have a well whereby we may draw on the resources of the Spirit of God who dwells within us. How do we draw on Him? When we pray and when we worship. When we pray and when we worship, the Spirit within us rises up to agree and confirm our praise and our worship and as He does so we are strengthened. Feeling weak and lacking energy? Check out how often you pray and worship, and if it is only on a Sunday morning, it is no wonder you lack strength!

Finally let’s consider the outcome of this strengthening that Paul desires for us. Now there will be a lot more in the verses that follow on but for the moment we’ll simply focus on the immediate end of this part: so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” Now that sounds strange because surely the Spirit, as we’ve already said above, lives within us? In fact isn’t that what Paul taught elsewhere: You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” (Rom 8:9-11) There it is; you can’t be a Christian if the Holy Spirit is not living within you, and He it is who brings ongoing life to us.

So what is Paul saying in our verse today? Surely the key is in the word ‘dwell‘ which means to be established and at home and to grow in usage. Yes, the Holy Spirit already lives in us, but as we open ourselves to Him we will find He strengthens us and we find a closer intimacy with Christ whose presence we come to realise and experience more and more. Yes it is a gradual growth process just as Paul spoke about the Spirit to the Corinthians: “we …all reflect he Lord’s glory….being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:18) Yes, there is a gradual change process going on within us, which is brought about by the Spirit living within us so that we experience Christ more and more AND become more and more like him. There is a lot more to come but we’ll see that in the next meditation.