26. Rescued

Meditations in Colossians: 26. Rescued

Col 1:13,14   For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption (through his blood) the forgiveness of sins.

If you have followed this series of studies thus far, you will have gathered that as I have gone through this first chapter of Colossians I have found myself anchored or pulled up by words or phrases. Many of them have been very familiar but, as they say, familiarity breeds contempt, and so I have paused over even the familiar and pondered afresh on what they mean. The same is true of two words in our two verses above – rescued and redeemed. Rescue is something we might think we are very familiar within ordinary life but redeemed or redemption rarely comes up. In this mediation we’ll deal with ‘rescue’ and then ‘redemption’ in the next.

When we rescue something or someone we free them from danger, restriction or imprisonment. It may be that we rescue a cat stuck up a tree, a boat capsized at sea, or a person burdened by debt. We take them from one place or situation (of danger or threat or anxiety) and transfer them into a place of safety and security and peace. Now Paul says that God in Jesus has rescued us from that dominion of darkness we recently considered. Earlier on we also came across the phrase, joyfully giving thanks to the Father,” and I said we do that when we fully appreciate the wonder of what has happened to us. When we’ve known the Lord some time, it is so easy to forget what has happened to us and become blasé or complacent about who we are, so let’s do a little remembering.

It’s always good to let Scripture shine its light on us so let’s remind ourselves again of how Paul described how we had been in this ‘dominion of darkness’: “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 sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.” (Eph 2:1-3). Look at all the things it says about our old life.

First, we “were dead” – spiritually dead. A dead person cannot make themselves alive, in fact it is impossible without God, so God came and changed us so that we were no longer spiritually dead to Him.

Second, it was in our “transgressions and sins”  in which we used to live. Transgressions are (accidental) wandering off the path, while sins are willful acts of wrong. We used to be a law unto ourselves and disregarded God’s design for us. We knew no better and wandered, lost and confused and making a mess of our lives. We needed God to come and save us and give us a new way, focused upon Him and His design for our good.

Third, we “followed the ways of this world.” The ways of this world are pride, arrogance and self-centredness – “don’t you tell me what to do!” We were not open to God’s teaching or direction; it needed a crisis to bring us to our senses so He could bring us into a better way.

Fourth, we “followed the ways of…the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” We didn’t realise it but Satan led us by the nose and we followed his suggestions as to disobeying God and getting deeper and deeper into the mire. We were part of his dominion and it needed a rescuer to come into that dominion and get us out. That was Jesus.

Fifth, our lifestyle was based upon gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts which meant we were driven by wanting things or experiences, to create a sense of fulfilment and achievement, and when we fell short we were frustrated. Indeed much of our life was based upon covetousness, wanting what others had. Possibly it was also based upon wanting more and more, i.e. greed. Indeed this desiring things or experiences which came from a lack of contentment, was entirely self-centred and godless. We gave little thought to others because life revolved around ‘me’.

Now it is possible that some of us may have come to Christ when we were young and so we are unable to identify so clearly with these things – but they are nevertheless true.  Let it be said that those of us who came to Christ later in life, were probably so wrapped up with ourselves that we didn’t realise any of this at the time, only as the Holy Spirit started convicting us, or as later on in our Christian lives we came to this revelation.   Yet nevertheless, regardless of our awareness of it, this is how all life is outside Christ. This is not being unkind to my non-Christians friends or family members. It is just stating the truth of how it actually is, as God sees it.

Let’s reiterate some of these things: whether it was being spiritually dead, or transgressing God’s laws, or actively ignoring them, or motivated by pride, arrogance and self-centredness, or being under Satan’s sway, or being controlled by our base, self-centred desires, we were prisoners to them, shackled to them if you like, and could not get free from them. As we said, a dead person cannot make themselves alive. A law-breaker may try hard to reform but without additional motivation or power they will constantly fail.  Laying down pride on your own is virtually impossible for humility does not come easy to the person striving for purpose, meaning and self-fulfilment without God. As for breaking free from Satan’s domination, forget it! Breaking free from the must-get, must-have mentality that is also seeking to prop up self-esteem and fulfilment-seeking is also a no-go. Whether we like it or not, simply telling people to ‘try harder’ is a pointless exercise.

It is only when God comes and, because of the work of Jesus on the Cross, is able to adopt us, forgive us, cleanse us and empower us, and thus bring about a new life within us, can we possibly be set free from all those aspects of the ‘old life’. Jesus came on a rescue mission, to establish legal grounds that satisfy justice, to enable all these other things to happen to release us and set us free to live entirely new lives. Jesus earned it, Father decreed it, and the Holy Spirit administers it. We have been rescued! Hallelujah!

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65. Freedom

Meditations in 1 John : 65 : Freedom

1 John  5:18-19    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. We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.

Perhaps one of the reasons that cynical unbelievers reject the Gospel and the teachings of the New Testament is that it is so explicit in its revelation, and it is ‘revelation’ for we could neither know it nor teach it if it had not been revealed by God. The other thing about it, which is often missed, is that it answers the questions of the world and, in fact, without it these questions go unanswered, such questions as what is evil, why is there evil in the world and why do we need laws to protect the poor and weak, why do people do wrong, and why are people self-centred?

These questions respond to a state of affairs in the existence of life on this world that is highly questionable. In personal terms, why is it that I have aspirations to be good yet so often fail to be so? As the apostle Paul wrote, I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Rom 7:15) and “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing.” (Rom 7:18,19) This doing evil that he spoke about is what the Bible calls ‘Sin’, that propensity to be self-centred and godless resulting in wrong living, resulting in individual sins, individual acts of wrong doing and that, we find, we are stuck with and cannot break away from. Why, the earnest seeker might ask, am I like that? Why is life like this?

It is to these questions that the Bible speaks and explains we are all sinners because we were born tainted with this propensity called Sin. It was because of this that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came and died on the Cross to pay the punishment for our wrong doing and offer us a new way of life as children of God empowered by God’s Holy Spirit. Paul again described this: “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins,” (Col 1:13,14) explaining that there are two rulers and that the individual lives either under the domination of Satan or in the freedom of the kingdom or rule of God. Those are the ONLY two options.

When we come to Christ we are delivered out of that dominion of darkness and, as John now says, “anyone born of God does not continue to sin.”  i.e. anyone under the rule of God no longer is driven by that old power called Sin, is no longer self-centred and godless, but is Christ and God-centred and is led by God into right living.

But John also picks up this other aspect that was referred to in Paul’s verse as ‘the dominion of darkness’, the domination by Satan, when he says, “the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him.”  Satan is still there domineering over unbelievers, and wanting to lead astray the children of God, but Jesus is there, seated at God’s right hand ruling, and he protects and guards the children of God, and his Holy Spirit within us is there countering the lies of the enemy. All we have to do is listen to Him. The enemy can no longer pressurize us into going his way and disobeying God and doing wrong; we have been freed from that and from him.

When John goes on, “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one,” he is, like Paul, making a distinction between the children of God and the rest of the world. The children of God, Christians, are under God’s protection and are no longer under the control of Satan and so, as he said earlier, do not have to sin, but the rest of the unbelieving world still are under Satan’s sway and so he is able to make wrong suggestions to them (as he did to Eve – Gen 3) and lead them astray and into wrong living.

This is one of the fundamentals that the world does not like, this claim that it is being led by the nose by an evil force, even though it cannot break free from self-centredness and godlessness and thinking, saying or doing wrong things. Indeed this way of life is so common that the unbeliever doesn’t even think about it. It is so normal to think badly about others, to speak badly about them or to them, and to do things that are utterly self-centred and harmful to others, that that is all they know and expect. They might consider it normal – accompanied by the stress, worries and anxieties that go with that lifestyle –  but that is a long way from God’s design for humanity

Sadly in recent decades in the West, standards in the Christian community have fallen and so often it is difficult for the world to see the distinction that should be there. So we see divorces, we see drunkenness, we see over-eating, we see self-centred materialistic lifestyles, we see angry upsets and divisions, and it is no wonder that the world fails so often to see the distinctive lifestyle of love and goodness that should characterize the Christian community.   It is time for it to change! John reminds us, we are children of God, different (or we should be!) from those who are under the control of the evil one. Check it out: are you?

 

 

16. Saved by Grace

Ephesians Meditations No.16

16.  Saved by Grace

Eph  2:8,9 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast.

These are possibly some of the most famous ‘grace verses’ in the New Testament. We’ve been saying a lot about grace in the previous meditations but, because of misunderstandings about the Christian faith, perhaps we can’t say enough about it. Despite education we still hear of many misunderstandings about the Christian faith in today’s world.

At one end of the scale there is the public perception. Here in the West, drawing closer to the end of the first decade of the twenty first century, public perception has been honed by the constant scraping of an unbelieving media and unbelieving government, to believe that ‘being a Christian’ is rather like being a member of the Women’s Institute, a member of a minority grouping that is fun to laugh at but which has little relevance to everyday living. Of course the truth is that nothing could be further from the truth. At the other end of the scale is the person who ‘goes to church’, who is nice and respectable, middle class, and sees their once a week attendance at a Sunday morning performance as their entry ticket to heaven. Again very far from the truth!

Yet again we would do well to pick up on the ‘link word’ at the beginning of these two verses – “For”. Verses 1 to 3 were full of human pronouns – you, we, us, but at verse 4 it turned to what God has done: God… made us alive with Christ ….And God raised us up with Christ …in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace … to us.” The first three verses emphasise our foolish activity before we were saved; the next four verses emphasise God’s activity in saving us.

Thus it is when we come to verse 8 we find, “For” where Paul could have written “And so” or “And thus it is” summarising all that has gone before in these crucial words. Some of us may have blanched as I referred to us being saved in the paragraph above, because people don’t like using that expression today, perhaps because it reveals the need that we had that verses 1-3 showed up, but Paul is unapologetic in using it here: “For it is by grace you have been saved.” ‘Rescued’ is a word with a similar meaning that Paul uses elsewhere: For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.” (Col 1:13) As we commented previously, we were hopeless and helpless and the only way for getting us out of that darkness in which we lived, was by God moving and saving us.

The old analogy of a lifeboat is a good one. You were on a sinking ship and the lifeboat came to rescue you. Once you were winched off the sinking ship you were saved. As the boat took you back to shore you were being saved. When you stepped on to the shore you were well and truly saved. No one objects to that sort of language in that situation and we should not here. When you were converted or ‘born again’ you were saved. Between now and the time when you die and go to heaven you are being saved. When you arrive in heaven you are well and truly saved. That is al the work of Christ and the work of his Spirit.

So did you have a part to play in all this? Yes, of course but it was a minor part: you have been saved, through faith.” The “through faith” part refers to you. It was simply you responding to what God said. He drew you and when, like Moses at the burning bush, you responded and went to see what it was all about, He spoke (even though you were probably not aware that it was Him) and He convicted you of your need. In your desperation you cried out to be saved, to be forgiven, to be given a new life. That was you responding to Him; that was faith, but it was a pretty lowly level of faith wasn’t it! When you put it like that you can see that it was 99% Him and 1% us. As Paul explains it, “and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Oh yes, the person who ‘goes to church’ once a week’ or does the flowers or whatever else it is that makes them feel they are doing good, ‘helping the church’ completely misses the point. It’s nothing to do with their activities.  It is “not by works” because nothing we do can be good enough to make up for all the other times when we sin by thought, word or deed. Because we were godless and self-centred THAT was our sin and it only changes when we surrender our life to God and accept Jesus as our Saviour (to save us from our sins) and Lord (to lead our lives from now on).

Oh yes, when we have been through this process of being drawn, of being convicted to bring us to a point of surrender, and then of receiving His Spirit so we are ‘born again’ (see Jn 3), only then do we start to fully realise the wonder of all this. Until we do, we remain defensive and seek to justify ourselves and try to convince ourselves why Paul and these notes are wrong! No, “this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God and so if you are still ‘trying’, it’s time to give up and surrender to God and receive the salvation that Jesus earned for you at the Cross. Give up – now!

God who Delivers

God in the Psalms No.4 

Psa 3:8 From the LORD comes deliverance.

So we have seen previously that the Lord reigns from heaven, and that He sees and acts, and the things He does affect us here and now. In fact David was able to say that God was a shield to him, as He came and stood between David and those who would harm him. Thus God was not ‘out there’ but ‘down here’ right now.

Now, at the end of that same psalm comes this claim, that from the LORD comes deliverance. This phrase is worth pondering upon because it is an extension of what we considered in the previous meditation. God doesn’t stand outside our affairs when people rise against us, but He stands between them and us. But He doesn’t just stand there, maintaining the situation as it was, He changes it, and He delivers us.

Do you remember the story of David and Goliath? When David came to his brothers at the battlefront, he found the two armies in a place of stalemate, or of stand-off. For forty days Goliath came out and taunted the Israelites and nothing happened (1 Sam 17:16). It needed someone to DO something, to change the situation, to deliver Israel from this place. You sometimes see it in a playground at school, two groups of children challenging each other, but no one actually wanting to provoke the situation further because they are unsure of the outcome. That’s what happens to us sometimes. Something happens and a bad situation forms. We want to do something about it but we don’t know how. We’d love to break through to change the thing but we feel powerless. We need delivering out of this situation, and that’s what the Lord does.

Paul conveyed the same sense in his letter to the Colossians: he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son (Col 1:13). We had been in darkness but God came and lifted us up and transferred – or delivered – us from that into a place of great light; in other words into Jesus’ kingdom.

The thing about deliverance, is that it is something we couldn’t do ourselves. Israel couldn’t get themselves out of slavery in Egypt (Ex 1:11 -14). Only God could do it – I have come down to rescue them (Ex 3:8). Peter couldn’t get himself out of prison (Acts 12:5) but as the church prayed, an angel from God came and rescued him (Acts 12:11). This is deliverance, being rescued from a bad place that you cannot get free from on your own, God stepping in and taking you out.

We couldn’t get free from sin (Rom 7:24) but Jesus came and, by his work on the Cross and by the power of his Spirit, he set us free (Rom 8:2). We couldn’t do it but he did. As Paul put it when writing to the Ephesians, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions (Eph 2:4,5). Paul says it was like we were dead (spiritually at least) when we lived self-centred lives, doing wrong. We were powerless to change that, but God came and delivered us by making us alive with Christ by the power of his Spirit, released in us simply because we accepted what Jesus had done for us.

Believing didn’t suddenly make us capable of change (like self-help courses suggest), but believing opened the door for God to come by His Spirit and empower us so that we were no longer spiritually dead, and we now had His power to live as His children (Jn 1:12). David knew that God, who was his shield, was also his deliverer. Deliverance is God’s business because He knows that we are incapable of delivering ourselves. Have you reached this same glorious conclusion?   Have you known this wonderful deliverance?