27. Redeemed From (3)

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 27. Redeemed From (3)

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.

Following ‘Passion’?  I’m never quite comfortable with our interpretation of Paul’s words in verse 3 above even with, “We all lived like that in the past, and followed the impulses and imaginations of our evil nature,” (JBP version) and even less with, “You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat,” (Message version), or “All of us used to be just as they are, our lives expressing the evil within us, doing every wicked thing that our passions or our evil thoughts might lead us into.” (Living Bible). What these various paraphrase versions show us is that we struggle with the idea that Paul is seeking to convey here. Now when you look up synonyms for ‘passion’ you do come across such words as craving, desire, or appetite. The various paraphrases above also use such words as ‘impulses’ and ‘felt’, both implying responses to feelings.

Going on feelings? Christian preachers or teachers often say ‘don’t go on your feelings’ and that is what this is all about, but when Paul says in the NIV “gratifying the cravings of the flesh” he is implying something more than just feelings; he is directing us towards thinking about desires that stem from physical or bodily expressions so, for example, we get hungry because we haven’t eaten for a while. Sexual drive can also be linked to physical state. Now psychologists often distinguish ‘desire’ from ‘emotions’ for ‘emotions’, they say, arise from a person’s emotional state.

So we have two ideas here which come out of Paul’s writings: motivation by physical gratification and motivation by mental state, and both of these, implies Paul, are things that should be consigned to past history. However our studies in redemption have suggested that so often God’s work in us has to be an ongoing process because, although our identity has changed, and we now also have a new power source, it is so easy to allow these things of the past to still ‘echo’ in the present and hence Paul had to instruct us to Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature.” (Col 3:5) i.e. you make an effort, an act of will to do this. The teaching is clearly that the old is still there waiting to rear up and we have to positively put it down.   Now when we moved into the fifth Part, I thought of our sub-heading as ‘Practicalities’ but changed it to ‘Nuts & Bolts of Redemption’. These things, the nuts and bolts of our lives, have very practical outworkings in our lives.

Physical Desires: We shy away from such words as ‘greed’ or ‘gluttony’ but they are words that fit when it comes to physical appetites. However, as Christians, perhaps we should call a spade a spade and call these things ‘lack of self-control’. Food: Obesity is the Western pandemic and is clearly (in the vast majority of cases) a consequence of lack of self-control. But that lack of self-control may have two origins. First, it may just be giving way to greed: I like this and I want more and more and more. Second, it may be what we call ‘comfort eating’, it is a way we deal with mental anguishes (I feel rubbish about me) and seek to bring physical pleasure to compensate for the loss of mental peace.  The first needs simple self-control, the second needs a reality check about identity, realizing afresh the truth about ourselves, loved by God and special to Him, people with purpose in life. All of these things need working through and really taking on board.

Drink: So far we have been considering desires that focus on food, but they can equally apply (if not more so) to alcohol. Now I don’t have a problem with drinking alcohol within limits (though I rarely drink) but I am sure there is a common assumption (and it appears in Christian circles) that alcohol creates a social environment that promotes sociability. There may be an element of truth in that but there are at least two difficulties with it. First, it is false that you cannot be sociable without alcohol and if for you it is true, then you have a personal identity problem again. Second, regular drinking (‘to be sociable’) becomes a pattern and a pattern often develops into a bondage and that brings about what we call alcoholism and all the health and social problems that go with that. In passing, may I note that in all these sorts of things there is so often deception here, for the individual strongly denies that there is a problem, and nowhere is this more true than in the case of sex.

Sex: All of these things we consider here, that God is seeking to lead us away from, are excesses of things that He gave us as a gift to be used within confines. Sex, the Bible reveals, is for within a lifetime committed relationship. Now I am aware that when we say that in the Western world it is like calling for light in darkness, it is so alien, but merely because the world casts off God’s design criteria, that should not be true of us Christians. It is almost impossible to watch TV without being bombarded by the philosophy that sex is all right with whoever you like, whenever you like, and however you like, and becomes no more significant than eating a cheese sandwich. The result is to debase sex and create whole rafts of relationship problems and where to speak of love is banned except after the relationship based on sex has existed for a long time (watch long running historical ‘soaps’ such as ‘Friends’ or ‘Big Bang Theory’ to see the truth of this.) Deception reigns! Fortunately voices are gradually (if only occasionally) being raised by newspaper or magazine columnists that this approach is having disastrous effects, and we will have to face some of these things as we progress down the path of redemption. For some, sex comes by computer screen and is called pornography but all that does is stimulate mind and body in ways that are less than God had in mind with His design for couples.

Wandering in the Desert: My feeling about all these things that are rising up in the Western world, is that they are expressions of life in the wilderness or the desert, life that is arid and where people are resorting to things outside the parameters of  God’s design for human beings, to try to make sense of this crazy godless world, and try to find pleasure in it, yet trying by eating more and more, or drinking more and more, or having more and more sex, simply works on what economists call ‘the law of diminishing returns’. As any junkie would tell you, you need more and more to get the same pleasure. But we’re not meant to live in deserts; the truth is that at the edge of every desert is a wonderful world that is lush and green and full of good things. This ‘desert living’ is what God seeks to deliver us from and so perhaps we should move on in the next study and move away from the depressing area (when you have eyes to see it) of the desperate scrabbling for pleasure and meaning that is so prevalent in modern Western society. So let’s move out of the desert and see the world that the Lord seeks to deliver us in to.

And So? But before we do that, let’s go right back to the beginning and remind ourselves what Paul has been saying: don’t base your life on desires or emotions, there is a better way. It is a way that is first and foremost founded on a relationship with the Lord and out of that relationship we live according to His design parameters and know His blessing in all aspect of our lives. His word, His will, His way, His wonder, and all these bring light and life and blessing and goodness, and that is what He is working to lead us towards in this path of redemption. He HAS redeemed us from that old life of self-orientation, of self-pleasures, self-concerns, self-desires, self-based-emotions, and He is now in the process of redeeming us on a daily basis into a new world. We’ll see more on to that in the next study.

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13. Past History

Ephesians Meditations No.13

13.  Our Past History

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 sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.

We’ve seen so much already in this letter that perhaps we should have a recap here before we move on. After the initial greeting (1:1,2), Paul praised the Lord for all the blessing He has brought us through Christ (1:3) having chosen  and predestined us, given us redemption, the forgiveness of sins, and revealing the mystery of His will (1:4-10). He did all this so that we might be the cause of praise to God (1:11,12) and gave us His Holy Spirit as a seal and guarantee (1:13,14). This provoked in Paul prayers of thanks (1:15,16) and a request that God would allow them to ‘see’ the wonder of His work in them (1:17-19) and how He has made Christ head of all things for the church which is his body on the earth today (1:20-23).

Now, when we come to chapter 2, it seems as if Paul realises that he strayed from speaking about their salvation to speak about the wonders of Christ and now wants to come back to focus on Christian experience again as he starts, “As for you.” Having declared the great truths of calling, predestination and redemption, it is as if he now wants to go back to basics to remind us from where we’ve come in order to emphasise the wonder of where we now are as Christians. Hence these three verses are all about the way we lived before we came to Christ. In other words he is reminding us of the need that we had for salvation.

He starts out, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.” Here is a fundamental truth. Before we came to Christ and before God placed His Holy Spirit in us, we were spiritually dead. Oh yes, we see people showing some signs of interest in spiritual things but that is only because they are responding to God’s promptings in the first place. Moreover, they seem to struggle in the dark. The Bible seems a dead book and God seems a million miles away. Oh yes, He prompts them but without them receiving His Holy Spirit, they are totally lifeless (dead) in respect of God. It even needs the Holy Spirit to convict them of the truth of their plight (Jn 16:8) for they cannot see it on their own. Before we came to Christ we were spiritually dead and our lives consisted of ‘transgressions’ and ‘sins’. We ‘transgress’ when we slip off the path. It describes our more casual drifting away from God while ‘sins’ are specific acts of wrong. Most of the time we didn’t think about the nature of what we thought, said and did, but these were all acts of self-centred godlessness.

Now this wasn’t just an occasional thing. Oh no, these were things, “in which you used to live.” It was our lifestyle; it was how we were! But because we hadn’t surrendered our lives to God it was, “when you followed the ways of this world.” Yes, the truth is that the whole world is in the grips of sin, ever since the Fall, and so it is a case of having to come back to God, and until we have done that, we are just going the same way as everyone else who have also not yet come back to God. What we didn’t realise though was that the godless world is under the control “of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” i.e. Satan. John ratifies this in his first letter: “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). The world mocks the thought of Satan and demons and makes him a fun creature, not realising that they are blind to the truth that, because they have given themselves over to self-centred, godless living, they are open and vulnerable to Satan’s suggestions and directions as he seeks to reinforce that state and keep them from God.

Now, in our foolishness, we sometimes try to justify ourselves and pretend that we were never like that. Paul doesn’t let us get away with that! “All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.” No, that included every one of us without exception. We had no idea of our true state. Paul spoke of Satan and our state when he said, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor 4:4). The world doesn’t realise it, but submitting to Satan’s rule (his dominion – Col 1:13) means that people make Satan their god. How terrible was our plight, and we didn’t realise it!

But there was a further aspect of it: “Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.” ‘Wrath’ here simply means God’s controlled and unemotional anger against sin. If you had painted a wonderful work of art, and then someone came along and spoiled it by drawing on it with a pencil, you would be rightly angry that the wonderful beauty that you had created had been spoiled. It is a natural and good reaction which emphasizes the beauty of the work, and the evil of the wrong that spoiled it. This anger is directed against the sin, and then subsequently against the person who perpetrated it, until they say sorry. God’s controlled and unemotional anger is a simple determination to deal with the sin and the sinner unless they come to their senses, and He spends the whole of their lives calling to them. If they refuse to heed him up to the point of death, then they have purposefully declared their desire not to spend eternity with God and that declaration is honoured! The moment a person responds to that call of God and turns to Him, His Holy Spirit is able to show them their true state, and they are convicted and call out for forgiveness, and so the work of salvation is brought.

That’s what we were like before we came to Christ and the more we realise the truth of that state the more we realise the wonder of our salvation and the lives we now have. So, if you’ve been in a defensive self-justifying state about yourself, don’t worry; just come into the light of God’s truth and face what you really were like and then rejoice at the wonder of what He has now made you. Be blessed!

4. Those who Mourn

MEDITATIONS IN THE BEATITUDES – 4

Mt 5:3 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

We do not look forward to mourning; it is not something we would consider as a good part of life yet Jesus, in only the second of these Beatitudes, says those who mourn are blessed. How can it be? Mourning follows death! Solomon seemed to have the same idea: “Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.” (Eccles 7:3,4). The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning? Whatever does he mean?

Having recently been to a funeral of a family member, I have recently been reminded of another aspect of death and of the mourning that follows: it sheds light on life, it makes you think about life and what follows it. Death brings a perspective to life that is often missing. Yes, there is grief there for the loss of a loved one, but in the midst of that is this inner reflection that goes on, what is life about, what follows it? That’s what Solomon meant.

Before we put any spiritual sense to today’s verse, let’s take it at its face value. Those who mourn will be comforted? Is that always true? Well time, they say, is a great healer, but does it bring ‘comfort’? I think ‘acceptance’ is probably the right word, the ability to come to terms with the fact that death has occurred and life must go on, but not ‘comfort’. Comfort suggests a positive, good feeling. For many people with no spiritual experience or no relationship with God, death is a thing to be feared, or even hated, as it is seen to have snatched a loved one away. No, mourners are not always comforted, so what was Jesus saying?

When we put it in the context of the previous beatitude, when we think back on the things we thought about in the previous meditation, we realize that part of the process that we referred to, of coming to an awareness of our spiritual poverty and our need, does in fact involve mourning. We realize that the life we have lived fell far short of what we felt it could have been. We come to an awareness of our own failure, our own shortcomings and we anguish for that life. Indeed, even though that life is still there, we mourn over it, we grieve because of it. It is this process that brings us to the recognition that we must get right with God, and if God have provided a way for that to happen, we must accept that.

In his letter to the church at Rome, the apostle Paul uses the language of death: “We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Rom 6:2-4), “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin–because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.(v.6-8), “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.(v.11)

What Paul was saying was that to become a Christian we have to die to our old life, we have to give it up and let God bring us a new one. Now we don’t mourn the old life after it has gone, that is the strange thing. No, we mourn for it, while we still have it. It is that mourning, that grieving over it, that brings us to Christ, that brings us to a place of surrender, where we are willing to let go our old life and let Jesus renew us. While we are in that state of mourning we wonder if indeed we are hopeless. Speaking of our old life, the apostle Paul said, “you were dead in your transgressions and sins.” (Eph 2:1). He then added, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved.” (v.4,5). That’s the life we had before we knew Christ – we were spiritually dead and hopeless and helpless, and then the Holy Spirit started convicting us and we started mourning that hopeless deadness. That was a vital part of bringing us right through.

So, the first beatitude shows us our need to come to an awareness of our spiritual poverty (dead in your transgressions and sins) and the second one shows us our need to realize the awfulness of that life, and mourn over it. These are the initial stages of us coming to Christ, the ‘bad news’ that precedes the ‘Good News’.