Ephesians 2:1-10 – Saved for a Reason

At one time you were like a dead person because of the things you did wrong and your offenses against God. You used to live like people of this world. You followed the rule of a destructive spiritual power. This is the spirit of disobedience to God’s will that is now at work in persons whose lives are characterized by disobedience. At one time you were like those persons. All of you used to do whatever felt good and whatever you thought you wanted so that you were children headed for punishment just like everyone else.

However, God is rich in mercy. He brought us to life with Christ while we were dead because of those things that we did wrong. He did this because of the great love that he has for us. You are saved by God’s grace! And God raised us up and seated us in the heavens with Christ Jesus. God did this to show future generations the greatness of his grace by the goodness that God has shown us in Christ Jesus.

You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It is not something you possessed. It is not something you did that you can be proud of. Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives. (CEB)

Christians are not saved so that they can just sit in a worldly holding tank until Jesus comes back. Deliverance is only one side of the salvation coin. We are saved so that we will engage in good works for in the here-and-now.

Christians know they are saved from sin through the forgiving work of Jesus Christ. It is an act of sheer grace on God’s part. A believer is not born again through personal effort any more than a baby is birthed because of her own doing. Salvation is thoroughly the work of God. Even the faith needed to believe is a gift graciously provided by God.

There is more. The Lord also has some plans and purposes in mind for the people of God. Christians were birthed into a new spiritual community with new commitments to do all kinds of good deeds. It is as if sin were a weight or an obstacle that has been removed so that living a life full of goodness can now move ahead and do its work. To be saved is to be freed for a vigorous moral life.

The great problems of our world are, at their core, spiritual problems which are an opportunity for believers in Jesus to take the lead in agitating for change. Expecting human governments or corporate systems to take the lead in moral transformation is like asking the fox to guard the hen house.

Christians, churches, and faith communities can and ought to storm the gates of hell for the lives of women caught in sex trafficking; provide uplift and the tools to a better life for those in grinding poverty and hunger; challenge the idolatry of the American gun culture; speak up and step out for equality and an egalitarian culture; care for the sick and dying; reform morals; hold the world ethically accountable for its actions; and, hundreds of other realities of living in a fallen broken world.

In essence, when stripped to the center of the issue, these problems are not political, social, or cultural concerns – they are spiritual. Mass murder violates God’s command to not kill. Hunger and poverty too often result from greedy leaders in power who covet resources for themselves, violating God’s commands to provide for the poor and needy. Sexual slavery treats persons as chattel property and not as image-bearers of God. 

God has delivered us from the vice grip of sin so that we are free to tackle the immorality of the world around us. Perhaps you have a boss who is nothing more than a master of a small world and bullies and manipulates his employees. Maybe your local municipal authorities turn a blind eye to moral evil and cannot see they are public servants. It could be that within your own family there are problems of addiction which need to be graciously confronted and dealt with. 

Whatever the issues are in your sphere of influence, God has providentially placed us in the places we inhabit for just such a time as this so that we can do good works, both big and small, taking on immoral establishments as well as little acts of kindness. Doing good comes in all sizes, and all of us are to share our lives for the betterment of others.

Saving God, you have only good plans for your world and your people. Use me today and every day to be an agent of blessing and goodness, working for the benefit of others who need the freedom of Christ’s redemption and the power of his resurrection in their lives. Amen.

Ephesians 2:1-10 – Saved for a Reason

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“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. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 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. And 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. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (NIV)

Humanity is spiritually hard-wired to do good in this world.  Yes, from a Christian perspective we live in a fallen world and experience the evil of pandemics and poverty as well as personal and corporate corruption.  However, this is not our original design.

In the Christian tradition, believers in Jesus are not delivered from sin, death, and hell so that they can idly sit in a worldly holding tank until Christ returns. 

Deliverance is the initial dimension of God’s plan – and not the end game.  We are saved for good works to be done in the here-and-now.

Christians know that they are saved from individual and systemic sin through the forgiving work of Jesus Christ.  It’s an act of sheer grace on God’s part.  A believer in Jesus is not spiritually reborn through her effort any more than a baby’s birthed because of her own doing.  It is thoroughly the work of God.  Even the faith needed to believe is a gift graciously provided by God.

This, however, is far from the whole story.  God has plans and purposes in mind for his people.  Christians were birthed into a new spiritual community with new commitments to do all kinds of good deeds.  It’s as if sin is a weight or an obstacle that has been removed so that living a life full of goodness can now move forward and do its work.

To be “saved” is to be freed for a vigorous moral life deeply concerned with altruistic actions in a world full of need.

There is a profound spiritual wound which underlies the great problems of our world.  Behind so many of our world issues are matters of the spirit.  The unseen world is just as real as the world which is seen.  Just as we know germs are present, they are real, and we must account for them – so there is spiritual world very much real and we ignore it at our great peril.

Thus, it seems to me that spiritual people, including Christians delivered for the purpose of good deeds, are to graciously, wisely, and lovingly agitate for earthly change.  Expecting human governments or corporate systems to take the lead in moral transformation is like asking the fox to guard the hen house.

I will admit to you that I don’t much have the stomach right now for what seems to me to be a useless and emotionally energy consuming debate among some Christian communities about whether to gather on Easter Sunday, or not.  As redeemed people, delivered for a purpose, I believe it is sage to put our focus on discovering how we can support and bless the essential services laboring to keep a pandemic at bay.  God has raised us up for such a time as this, if we have the spiritual eyes to see.

Christians, churches, and spiritual communities must labor at the gates of hell for the lives of women caught in sex trafficking; provide uplift and the tools to a better life for those in grinding poverty and hunger; challenge the idolatry of a materialist culture; and, hundreds of other realities of living in a fallen broken world, including the scourge smack in front of our faces of disease and death.

As Christians, God has delivered us from sin so that we will do good in this world.  God, in his sovereignty,  has placed you and I in places and positions for just this time so that we will do good works, both big and small, tackling immense issues as well as little acts of kindness.

Doing good comes in all sizes, and all of us are to share our lives for the betterment of humanity.

After all, we really are our brother’s keeper.

God Almighty, I pray that your people may not lose heart in this world.  May you strengthen your church with spiritual power so that the words and ways of Jesus will ground them for faithful service to this planet you have created.  May Christians everywhere be rooted and established in the divine love which supports good works done in the humility of a gentle spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Ecclesiastes 1:1-11

            The book of Ecclesiastes is not usually on many Christians’ list as the most enjoyable piece of literature they have read in the Bible.  If you have ever worked your way through these words of Solomon, then it is quite possible that you have walked away from it a bit discouraged.  Let’s face it:  this is a really depressing book.  When the chief message being expressed is that “all is vanity” when it comes to life, then it is hard to become enthused.
 
            However, we need to feel the impact of Solomon’s perspective.  He was expressing a common worldview present in his time:  history apart from God, without the divine Sovereign in the equation, moves along in vain with no real purpose behind it.  The ancient world in the days of Solomon looked at history as cyclical, not linear.  In other words, there is no real hope for things to improve, be different, or get better because what-goes-around-comes-around.  The only option in such a view of history and of the world is to accept your lot in life and try to make the best of it.  Yep, it’s depressing to say the least.
 
            But when we have God in the equation of history, there is a goal, an end to all that is happening; there is meaning and purpose to the world.  Everything we do and all that takes place around us is only vanity with the absence of God.  Yet, when the Christian fears God and keeps his commandments, then life moves along a decided pathway of following Jesus.  Life’s journey is not marked by useless activity, but faith, hope, and love.
 
            We all have a need for purpose and contribution, which is why the worldview apart from God is so meaningless.  We need to deeply and meaningfully connect with our Creator.  In doing so, we discover that life opens up to new and fresh vistas of peace and joy.  There is an end to the story, if we have spiritual eyes to see.
 

 

            Almighty God, you sometimes seem hidden and life appears to be going nowhere.  Open my eyes to see what you are doing in your world so that I might be directed toward your purposes in the power of the Holy Spirit to the glory of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Exodus 19:1-9

            I have worked in more places than I immediately recollect.  Some workplaces were run well, most were characterized by inattention to working conditions and expected employees to be more like extensions of their machines than people.  The same could be said for churches.  Some are run well and others leave much to be desired.  Without trying to be simplistic, today’s Old Testament lesson gives the clue to what makes the difference:  a clear sense of purpose.  God made it clear that Israel was given the mandate to “be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
 
            Although there was always a remnant of Israelites who held to this original purpose, we know the end of the story.  Israel largely failed to fulfill their God-given reason for existence and did not follow through with their missionary purpose.  They ended up in exile because of their stubbornness and lack of holiness.
 
            When we as Christians lose sight of why we exist, we degenerate into a bunch of finicky cats who want ever richer food and a lusher bed to sleep in.  We exist not to be catered to, but to be people who do the priestly work of interceding for others so that the nations might come to know the God of all the earth.  We exist to walk in holiness, set apart to be the conduit between heaven and earth so that others might come to embrace Jesus.  It was Christ who did what the Israelites did not do, and secured salvation for all who believe.
 
            Where there is complaining and backbiting there is a lack of purpose.  Where there is only talk of how others can meet my needs there is a lost mandate to be a priest bringing others to God.  The gracious and priestly work of intercession on behalf of those who need Jesus is the purpose many are lacking.  Let us return to this holy vocation.
            O God, you are holy.  So, I choose to be holy in all I do.  I intercede for those around me who either cannot or will not come to you on their own.  Draw them to yourself so that they might experience the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ.  Amen.