15. To Know

Short Meds in ‘Living the Life’: 15. To Know

Eph 1:17 “so that you may KNOW him better.”

This was at the heart of Paul’s praying for the Church. As we go into the second half of January I want us to focus on our faith, things that shouldn’t just be for theologians or Bible commentators but should be part of the library of knowledge of every Christian that can act as a resource to help them to stand strong, walk more purposefully, and run the race more dynamically to the end. They are all about knowing God, knowing His plans, knowing what He has for us, what He has done for us, and is doing in and through us and will do for us as we go with him into the unknowns of the year ahead. 

But let’s take in this verse more fully. This was the apostle Paul who was saying to the Ephesians that he had been praying for them that Jesus would give them the Spirit of wisdom and revelation.” Note the positive, the definite article – “THE Spirit of….” All of the main versions have it; it is no accident. The suggestion must be that the Holy Spirit imparts wisdom (the know-how) and revelation (disclosed knowledge) to us, “so that you may know him better”. In other words knowing how it all works and being given insight behind the spiritual scenes, so to speak, will mean that we come to know, not only Jesus himself but all that he has for us. 

That ‘what he has for us’ is then spelled out in the next verses: “(i) the hope to which he has called you, (ii) the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and (iii) his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (v.18,19)It is almost like Paul works backwards here as he spells it out: hope, which is about the future (tomorrow onwards) which is actually the inheritance, the birth-right of all children of God which is expressed as power to live and take us into eternity. ‘Knowing’ thus means experiencing him, knowing his life flowing in us that is being worked out in daily living.

So the life we live we live today is not about human endeavor, human effort, human activity, seen as rituals in church, rules to be followed and good things to be done, all motivated by the human mind, but our lives are Spirit-envisioned and Spirit-energized activity. But how does such thing work out in practice? I think it is what we have said so many times before, having hearts that are directed towards God, open and available to God, and obedient to God and which seek God in such ordinary things as praying and reading His word on a daily basis and asking the Spirit to fill us afresh daily. It is then that these things flow naturally in us.   

39. The New Order

Meditations in Hebrews 8:    39.  The New Order

Heb 9:15   For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance–now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

The Link: Ah, we have another of those link phrases, “For this reason.” Verse 13 had spoken of the blood shed under the old covenant and verse 14 had brought us through to the parallel work of Christ whose blood was shed on the Cross at Calvary so that our consciences could be freed from guilt-laden striving to appease God by self-centred works of religion, and freed to be able to relate to and serve God without fear and trepidation.

The Cross Opens the Door to our Inheritance: So, because Christ has done this on the Cross he can now be, “the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance.” (v.15a) i.e. he can now mediate or administer this new covenant so that we who God calls (and we respond to Him) may be able to receive an inheritance that has been promised by God from long ago, an inheritance that has an eternal dimension to it.

Just in case we hadn’t followed the link between what Christ has done on the Cross and what he now does helping us enter into our inheritance, he backs up the reason with, “now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” (v.15b)  He can now work on getting us to receive our inheritance because his death has meant that we have been freed from both the guilt of our sins and the sinful habits that produce the individual sins, which were still products of that old covenant.

Jesus, the Ransom:  Before we pass on, note the word, ‘ransom’. Jesus taught, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mk 10:45)  A ransom is a price paid to set a prisoner free. We were prisoners to guilt and to Sin and so, by giving his life to take the sentence of death that justice demands for lives of sin, that life dealt with all the problems of justice and so acted as a ransom that released us prisoners from our constant sense of guilt and our ongoing sinning.

The Working of a Will: Now, having spoken about our inheritance, he piles on the teaching by talking about wills: “In the case of a will,  it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living.” (v.16,17) Interestingly the Greek word for ‘will’ is the same word as ‘covenant’, but we use ‘will’ here because we are familiar with the procedure that follows a death and the will being administered. The will of a person only becomes operative once the person dies. A death has to be involved. “This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood.” (v.18) This is his rabbinic teaching kicking in again. To receive the inheritance of freedom from condemnation under the old covenant, a sacrifice had to be offered, a life given, a death involved.

Blood & Covenant: He explains how Moses, after having proclaimed all the laws of the Sinai covenant, ratified the covenant with the blood of calves (v.19) and then declared, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.” (v.20) Of course there is a similarity here to Jesus’ words at the Last Supper: “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mt 26:28) If Moses had known what was coming, he might have inserted the word ‘first’ in front of the word ‘covenant’. He emphasises the role of blood in the establishing of a covenant: “In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (v.21,22) Although we normally see this as applying to the Levitical Law, it is interesting to note that when God and Abram entered into a covenant, animal death and shedding of blood was involved – see Gen 15:8-19. To create a sense of solemnity, the creatures were cut in two and two lines made between which the participants to the covenant walked – walking between death to acknowledge a new life agreement.

Blood = Life: Perhaps we should emphasise this matter of ‘the blood’. I believe talk about ‘the blood’ when sharing with non-Christians is highly inappropriate, but it is the language of the Old Testament that is used symbolically to refer to ‘life’; when the blood was shed, the life was given. Ultimately the message of the Bible is that a life of sin deserves to be forfeited and, as we are ALL sinners, all of our lives deserve to be forfeited.

Lives of Sin: I deliberately refer to a ‘life of sin’ because before we came to Christ that was the sort of life we lived, one that is characterized by self-centred godlessness; we elevated ‘self’ to the level of deity and took God’s place as the arbiter of right and wrong and we determined the sort of life we considered acceptable. Because it was ours, we made excuses, but nevertheless it was a life that was self-centred and godless, and a life where, if you watched it second by second throughout however many years it lived, you would see example after example of thoughts, words and deeds that were not only self-centred and godless but they also harmed other people and the world, and of course they rejected God. The ways we do these things are innumerable and the impact we have on people and sometimes the  world itself, is immeasurable.

The Penalty = Forfeiture of Life: Oh, someone cries, but do any of these things, even all together warrant, as you put it, someone’s life being forfeit? You miss the point in the big picture and we saw this at the very beginning of this book, that ‘life’ comes from God. He alone is the source of life and without His word and His power and His presence, ‘life’ as we know it ceases.  Now my definition of Sin has been self-centred godlessness and both parts speak to rejecting the presence of God, rejecting the provider of life. So imagine the picture of the dock in a courtroom that we have used before. The charge is that you have rejected THE Life-giver and therefore you should be allowed to follow that through and take the effects of that – and die. That is the sole case that justice presents. You chose that, so live with it – and die! You rejected the Life-giver so trying living without Him in eternity – you won’t.

The New Possibility: But, says God, the Son has already died for you, believe that and I will channel you into a new existence where all your self-centred and godless choices are transferred to my Son’s account and your account is cleared of any such folly. There is no reason why you should not live in harmony with me and receive my ‘life’ and experience eternity – and thus we receive His Holy Spirit and ‘live’ and keep on living in what is called ‘eternal life’. That, I believe, is how it really works.

25. Kingdom Inheritance

Meditations in Colossians: 25. Kingdom Inheritance

Col 1:12,13   giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.

There is a sense whereby in the previous meditation we covered the matter of our inheritance which we said included forgiveness of sins, cleansings from past sins, freedom from the power of present Sin, adoption as sons, a God-given plan and purpose for our lives (the way we live them and what we are to achieve)  here today and tomorrow, the indwelling presence of His Holy Spirit to teach, guide, direct and equip us, and an eternity with God in heaven. However there are a couple of other aspects to this phrase above that we have not yet touched upon.

In the previous meditation we did say that ‘saints’ are Christian believers and the ‘kingdom of light’ is simply God’s kingdom overseen by Jesus, that Paul will refer to again shortly. But perhaps we take this word ‘saints’ for granted. Certain parts of the church still declare special people ‘saints’ as if the rest of us are not, which is a real demotion of the word. Paul spoke of, “all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints.” (Rom 1:7) The word behind the Greek for this word is holiness or being set apart, but Paul spoke to “all in Rome,” i.e. all the believers there. He uses that word six more time in that letter to Rome. In his letters to the Corinthians he uses it eight times, four times in Ephesians, three times in Colossians, once to Timothy and Jude and twice to Philemon. Every time he does so he refers to believers in general. So all believers are saints, all believers are holy, set apart by God.

Now I emphasise and pause over this because the other idea that Paul brings forth here is the ‘kingdom of light’ which next he distinguishes from the ‘dominion of darkness’ (v.13). Imagine two countries next door to each other. One is called ‘the kingdom of light’ and the other is called ‘the dominion of darkness’. What the two names tell us, first of all, is that they are under different governance. A kingdom is directly ruled over by a king. Kings feature largely in the Bible; the word occurs over 2300 times. But the psalms and the prophets declare God as the king over all kings, the supreme ruler. Now when you turn to the other ‘country’ we note the word ‘dominion’. Now dominion is also about rule but it is by a sub-ruler, a governor, if you like. We used to refer to Canada as the Dominion of Canada in that it was self governing but under the Queen of England as part of the British Empire and then British Commonwealth. God is the supreme ruler over ALL the world; there is nothing outside His overall control, and yet He has given secondary control to Satan.

The apostle John in his first letter says, “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) There he makes the same distinction: there are the believers who are children of God and there is everyone else who, John says, are under the control of authority of Satan.  Indeed John emphasises it in the previous verse when he says, “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him.” (1 Jn 5:18) Those under God’s rule do not continue sinning as a practice (we may occasionally stumble – see 1 Jn 2:1) and we are under God’s protection.

I have sometimes used the analogy of two houses next door to each other and Satan lives next door to you. He is not allowed on to your property but he can shout over the fence. Our calling is to ignore his words and thus stand on our ground (see the idea of ‘standing’ or holding our ground’ in Eph 6:11,13,14) The thing that keeps on coming over in these analogies is that there are TWO places, a kingdom and a dominion, and those in the kingdom are distinct, holy, called to be separate and different.

Now Paul has spoken of God’s overall rule handed over to Jesus to administer (see 1 Cor 15:24) as the kingdom of light. Light and darkness are used by the apostle John in his Gospel to distinguish between good and evil. (he uses it over 20 times). We ARE in the kingdom of light and we have been called to live as ‘sons of light’ (Jesus in Jn 12:36 and Paul in 1 Thess 5:5) We are to be different, distinct, holy. How? Well I believe there are three primary characteristics that should distinguish us from the world, and they are characteristics of Jesus: love and goodness and truth. If these things are not obvious manifestations of Jesus in our lives, we have some work to do! If there are things we tolerate in our speaking or behaviour that reveal an absence of love, or cannot be considered ‘good’, or which are clearly not truth, then we have work to do.

In the first paragraph we reiterated the ‘inheritance package’ which included, “a God-given plan and purpose for our lives (the way we live them and what we are to achieve)  here today and tomorrow.”  Within that expression ‘the way we live them’ is to be righteousness, right living according to God’s word. The apostle John called it obedience and said, “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands,”  (1 Jn 2:3) and, “if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him,” (1 Jn 3:21,22) and, “This is love for God: to obey his commands.” (1 Jn 5:3). Being receivers of this inheritance in the kingdom of light means we are people who do what the Father says – all of what He says! Amen.

4. A Lasting Inheritance

Meditations in 1 Peter : 4 :  A Lasting Inheritance

1 Pet  1:3-5 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade–kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

For most people, life on this earth is all there is and perhaps because of that belief, the thought of death is something terrible. We live in a world of change. On one hand we are trying to keep people alive for as long as possible (although we don’t always do very well maintaining a good quality of life), while on the other there are moves to encourage voluntary euthanasia, to hasten death for those who are suffering badly. In the previous meditation we arrived at the point in these verses of thinking about the living hope that we have. Within that we briefly mentioned, almost in passing, the reality that we now receive eternal life and so death is not the end.

But Peter won’t leave us to think on eternity merely in passing; he brings it to the fore when he writes of an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade–kept in heaven for you.” It is the latter words, “kept in heaven for you” that press us to think about eternity.  An inheritance is usually something you receive when someone else dies. Here the inheritance which is ours, we receive when we die. Inheritance speaks of a future blessing, something to be received in the distant future when a death occurs. So here we are, wanting to keep death at bay for as long as possible, and yet we have a glorious inheritance waiting for us. It doesn’t matter how long our life turns out to be, this inheritance is not going to “perish, spoil or fade,” because it is in heaven and in heaven everything is unchanging.

If only we could grasp the wonder of this we would not be so distressed when a loved one passes away. So often, when it is the very old, death is a release from a physical trial, a severe pressure for many. Declining physical abilities accompanied by an increase in aches and pains, makes old age difficult, and yet we cling on to it and anguish when we see it taken from a loved one. Yet they then go to receive this glorious inheritance that has been waiting for us. Whether there are stages of transition between life now and what we eventually receive is not totally clear in Scripture, but at the end of the book of revelation we read of a time that will be ours where there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.” (Rev 21:4) That will be a good time! That is our inheritance, enjoying the presence of God and having a new spiritual body (see 1 Cor 15:44) that knows no pain and the life knows no tears. This is our eternal destiny.

Peter also refers to this inheritance as, the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. Have you ever heard that picture of salvation that is portrayed as rescue from a sinking ship? We were all on a sinking ship and then that lifeboat came out to us and we were lifted on to the lifeboat. We were saved. Then the lifeboat turned round and slowly made its way back through the ways and we were being saved. Then it arrived back in harbour and we stepped off onto dry land and we were well and truly saved. The journey back in the lifeboat is the life we now have. The landing on the land is the arrival in heaven, our true home, our true destination.

There appears a sense in Scripture that God will eventually wind up everything that exists at the present in ‘the last Day’ and make everything anew for us to enjoy, but for us as individuals ‘the last day’ may be the last day of our individual lives here on earth. There are lots of disputes about whether we instantly enter into our inheritance the moment we die or whether we sleep and are awakened to a final day. I lean towards the former.

But there is still a phrase yet to be considered:kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power.” The ones who receive this inheritance are people of faith, people who have believed God about Jesus and who now have entered into a life where God’s power holds, keeps and shields them until the time when they leave to receive their inheritance. It is a life we receive because of our faith. When we said, “I believe, please forgive me, please be Lord of my life” that was an act of faith, and when God heard that and saw it was sincere, He brought His Spirit into our lives. It is the Spirit who keeps us and leads us and is our shield to bring us safely through to the place and time of receiving our inheritance. The body may be killed but the real ‘me’ will never die for He who is eternal has now brought eternal life to my soul and I live for ever. After this earth, all there is, is my inheritance to be received. Hallelujah!

23. Our Portion

God in the Psalms No.23

Psa 16:5,6 LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.

There are two opposite beliefs that are both wrong according to the Bible. On one hand there is ‘determinism’, the belief that everything is predetermined and we therefore can have no say in our destiny.  The opposite extreme is the belief that there is nothing that directs life and that we are completely free agents in a free world.  Now the latter belief runs contrary to psychology which observes that our behaviour and therefore our outcomes are partially genetically predisposed (i.e. because of genetic makeup we have a tendency to behave in certain ways – but don’t have to) and partly formed by the experiences that we have had in life (but note again that we don’t HAVE to respond in predetermined ways!).

But there is a middle way, according to the Bible, which involves God. The Bible shows us that God gives us free will (otherwise there would be no point in Him saying do this or don’t do that, and then us doing the opposite – see the life of Israel), but that He also speaks and acts into this world and does things that change both us and our future.  Does God speak and work in such a way that we have no alternative but to go His way, that His provision for us is such that we will go His way?  The answer is probably mid-way between yes and no. There are clearly those who do not turn to the Lord at any time in their life, but David was not one of those. Later in the psalm he said, I have set the LORD always before me” (v.8) indicating that he had entered into a relationship with the Lord and because of that, now a number of things followed. The first we saw in the previous meditation – that he had come to an understanding the God alone was good, and that God was his refuge.  Now he has this sense that God has allocated a certain secure life for him.

The apostle Paul when writing to the church at Ephesus, said, 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). How far we take this depends on our faith level. The very least it means is that God has designed the lifestyle of Christians. i.e. when we become a Christian, the Holy Spirit will convict us and teach us the way to go (Jn 14:16,17, 26).  It is then for us to obey Him and apply what He says.  But it may also be that God who knows you through and through, who knows your gifts and talents and capabilities, also knows how you will be most fulfilled and so has plans for you that He wants to lead you into. This fits more into what David is saying.

Another expression of this same thing is seen in Psa 37:4,Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.” What this says is that if you make God your total focus, He will put desires upon your heart (that fit who you are) and will then lead you and bring those desires about.  Do you see this lovely combination of God’s activity harmonizing with your heart desires?  Yes, as we make the Lord the centre of our lives, we can, in a very real way, have a sense of being led into a life that is good, a life that is designed to match us perfectly, so that we have a great sense of fulfilment, a great sense of being in God’s will which is good! (see also Rom 12;1,2). Thus we can say with David, “I’m in a good place because God has brought me here!