OK, here's the plan (if God is willing):

1) Every day will be a new devotional. I have enough devotionals for every day for three years

2) Also as I can, I'll be posting on my new political blog (see bottom of page).

Some other housecleaning:

A) If you'd like to just get new postings sent to your email, just submit your address in the box on the left just below. There's just one possible downside, though. Occasionally I'll add a music video at the end that's relevant to the devotional, and you won't get them in the email sent to you. If I add a video though, I'll make sure to mention in the posting, so you'll know to come to the site to see it if you'd like.

B) I actually finished writing new blog posting for the TAWG at the end of 2016. So what I'm doing now is at the beginning of every month, I'll move the earliest month from 3 years ago ahead so that a "new" posting appears every day. That's why you won't find any postings for January 2014, for example.

C) When I started this Blog, I was using the 1984 edition of the NIV, and that’s what I linked to on the Biblegateway site. However, in 2011 Zondervan updated its edition and thus reworded a lot of the NIV translation. Therefore, all the links which went to the 1984 edition now redirect to the 2011 edition, which often has slightly different wording. Thus, part of my editing process has been to update my Scripture quotes in my postings. But I might have missed some, in which case you might see my quote in the posting as a little different from what comes up when you click on my citation link, since that redirects to the 2011 edition on the Biblegateway site. It's a good thing that we realize that the work of translation never ends, but it can be a kind of a pain on a site like this. If you see any difference in verbiage between my quote and what shows up as a link on the Biblegateway site, or if you hover over a link and it has "NIV1984" at the end of it, please notify me and I'll correct it.

D) I can't believe I have to say this, but here goes. At the end of every posting is a suggested short prayer that has to do with what we discussed. This is actually what I've prayed when I finished writing it. In no way am I asking you to pray the exact verbiage of my suggested prayer. It's just a springboard for your own prayer, nothing more. Quite frankly, I've never been a fan of praying rote prayers written by someone else. As with everything else I do here, to the degree it helps, great; to the degree it doesn't, chunk it.

As always, thank you so much for reading, even if it's to read one post. God bless.

[Oct 23]—Mysterious Grace

            Grace—so much meaning packed into such a little word. We can offer a simple definition (God’s unmerited favor), but to actually plumb the depths of that mystery is way beyond human capability. Despite this, today we’re going to try to dive a little deeper than we normally do, simply because the effort can pay such rich dividends.
            Paul starts the passage with “For this reason. .  .” Conjunctions and connecting phrases can be really useful here. When we see something like this, in order to follow an author’s thought process, we need to ask questions like “For what reason? What was Paul talking about in the last few verses?” Keep in mind that the chapter and verse divisions are there for our convenience, but they’re not inspired like the actual words of Paul are; in the original manuscript, there would've been no chapter and verse divisions, nor even word divisions.
            This goes back to the topic of the last passage: The fact that in Christ’s body the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile has been torn down forever. Jews and Gentiles had been separated by culture, mores, religion, and mutual hatred. But in Christ, just as the curtain which separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the world was torn down, so was the barrier between Jew and Gentile was removed permanently. 
            Keep in mind that in Paul’s letters the word “mystery” means something quite different from modern common usage. It’s not something really to be solved. It’s something which was hidden in the mind and plan of God in eternity past, and which has now been revealed at the correct time. Paul used it to describe 1) the Incarnation, 2) Christ living within us, which is the hope of glory, and 3) the previously unknown revelation that  those believers who happen to be alive when Christ returns will changed in a moment and given resurrection bodies without experiencing death.
            The thing that all these mysteries had in common was that it was relatively unknown in the O.T. There were strong hints at times, but it wasn’t laid out as plainly for them as it has been for us.
            The other thing they had in common was that these mysteries are not meant to be solved like a murder mystery but something to be reveled in. You’re meant to contemplate it, meditate on it, and use it as a springboard for worship.
            Paul was chosen by God as a messenger of the Good News, in which this mystery was contained. And what was this mystery to which he’s referring? The glorious truth that in Christ Jew and Gentile are now one in the Father’s family. Within our Father's house there are absolutely no racial, social, or spiritual distinctions.
            Now, as with the other mysteries we mentioned, there were hints in the O.T. about this. Abraham was promised that through him all nations would be blessed. Moses told his people that they were to be a nation of priests—hinting that in God's plan they would be mediators between the Lord and the nations. One time as we read the Psalms, my wife and I took note of all the times that the Psalmist either predicted or called for all the nations to join them in worshipping the Lord (at least 20 times to my recollection). The prophets (Isaiah in particular) predicted that all the nations would come to the Lord and submit to him one way or another (for example here).
            But like the other mysteries, the fullness of what God had hinted at was fulfilled in Christ. And the fact that Gentiles would not only come to faith in the Lord but would be fully equal co-heirs with the Jews was something new, hence vs. 5: “[It was] not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.”
            And this was what Paul was called to: To take this glorious truth (the unity of Jews and Gentiles in the church) and make it “become flesh” so to speak as both Jews and Gentiles came to belief together and worshipped together and were fully reconciled to each other.
            Here we get to my favorite part of the passage, the one that sends chills up my spine. Do you want to impress angels? Well, congratulations, you’re already doing it. Paul tells us that the whole reason why God is doing all this is so that “through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.” I want you to ponder that just for a moment. Angels and demons--and any other spiritual forces out there that I can’t even contemplate--look at the Church united. .  .and tremble. The angels see her, tremble, and worship their Master. The demons see her, and just tremble.
            We’re living trophies of his grace and mercy and love and power and sovereignty and wisdom. Here Paul mentions that the Church is his wisdom on display. It’s “manifold.” As you unfold it, there’s still more to uncover. You unfold it some more, and there’s more to discover. How long does this take? Eternity. We’ll have forever and ever to unfold all this, and we’ll never reach bottom. But we’re going to experience a lot of joy trying.
            Keep in mind, however, that all this theology has a purpose. That purpose is not to fill your head with knowledge, nor to satisfy your idle curiosity. No, he says in vs. 13 that because of these things which we’ve talked about, he asks us not to be discouraged and to see his sufferings as “glory,” not something to be mourned.
            Theology must change your perspective on your daily life, and how you think will bleed out into how you talk and how you act.

Lord Jesus, that’s the reason I was born, why I was born again, and why I was united with the Church. All glory and honor and worship and thanksgiving belong to you, and by your grace I’m going to do my best to see that you get what you deserve. 

[Oct 22]—Peace and Reconciliation

            In his detailed description of salvation and our part we play in the grand scheme of God’s plan for the ages, Paul takes moment here to reflect a little bit on Jews and Gentiles.
            Unless you’re Jewish by birth, today’s passage—like Romans chapter 11—should cause gratitude to well up in your heart. True, most Jews throughout history were probably only circumcised “in the flesh,” not in the heart, but it was equally true that during that history the vast majority of people who were right with God were Jewish, with just a trickle of Gentiles. If you’re a Gentile and redeemed by Christ, then you need to understand that you were an “unnatural” branch which was grafted into God’s “tree.”
            According to MacArthur, we Gentiles were alienated from God in at least five ways: 1) We were separate from Christ, “having no Savior and Deliverer and without divine purpose or destiny.” 2) We were excluded from citizenship in Israel, “God's chosen people, the Jews, [who] were a nation whose supreme King and Lord was God Himself, and from whose unique blessing and protection they benefited.” 3) We were foreigners to the covenant of the promise, “not able to partake of God's divine covenants in which He promised to give His people a land, a priesthood, a people, a nation, a kingdom, and a King—and to those who believe in Him, eternal life and heaven.” 4) We had no hope “because [we] had been given no divine promise." 5) We were without God in the world, “While Gentiles had many gods, they did not recognize the true God because they did not want Him (see Ro 1:18-26).”
            Yes, Jews were going to the same Hell we were, but they started out with advantages we could never dream of. They were relatively “near” the truth (vs. 18), while we were relatively “far” from any inkling of knowledge of the true God. They had the Law, the clearest expression of God’s will and standards which mankind has ever received. They had the prophets who predicted the coming Messiah. And they had the sacrifices which pointed towards the Lamb of God.
            But now. . . (there’s a favorite word of mine, “but”) we “who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”
            Now there is no division between Jew and Gentile as far as salvation is concerned. Jesus (or Yeshua, as they call him) has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier between us, the dividing wall of hostility. He did this by setting aside in his body the O.T. laws, feasts, and sacrifices. Out of these two groups he’s made one Body and reconciled all of us through himself to God the Father. And through him we have access, 24-7, to God the Father through one Spirit. In the Messiah, all of us are being built upon this one foundation to be one holy temple in the Lord.
            But we need to be perfectly clear here: This reconciliation is based on Jesus Christ (whether we call him Yeshua Ha-Mashiach is immaterial to me). It’s not based on good will or even our mutual regard for what’s known as the Old Testament as God’s word, as important as that is. I have nothing but good feelings and wishes towards Jewish people like Dennis Prager and Michael Medved who share common values and social concerns with me. When it comes to standing up for the sanctity of human life and marriage for example, we can stand shoulder to shoulder. And I think I’ve made it clear that I feel nothing but gratitude towards Jewish people in general and wish them nothing but good things. But we can’t pretend that we’re reconciled together before God. Until they believe in Yeshua, we’re not.
            Now I’d like to take this passage from its immediate Pauline application of Jewish and Gentile reconciliation to a more ancillary (from the passage) application which more directly affects us today. In Christ, all racial groups are united, or at least they should be. Please don’t think I’m only talking about White-Black relations. People of all different backgrounds have trouble relating to people of other backgrounds, and I’m convinced that if we all had exactly the same skin pigmentation, we’d find some other goofy excuse to discriminate against each other and kill each other. Looking at pictures of Hutus and Tutsis, I wouldn’t be able to tell which is which. But that certainly didn’t keep them from killing each other.  Blacks have racial tension with Asians, Latinos have racial tension with Blacks, and some Asians look down upon Asians from other nations or different societies.
            To use a phrase from James’s letter, “My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” If Gentiles and Jews can be reconciled with each other through the Messiah, then how much more can any other group be reconciled with anyone else? The Bible never teaches “The universal fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man” or any such nonsense, but in Christ we are one. We’re all sinners equally in need of his grace, and we’re all saved by grace through faith in Christ, not by anything we do. Every true believer is my sibling in Christ, and as such there’s absolutely not the slightest scintilla of an excuse for racial prejudice or any other barrier between me and anyone else who’s been bought by the blood of Jesus. None. Of course, racism against even nonbelievers is a denial of the truth that we’re all created in God’s image, but it’s even less acceptable against other believers.
            I’d like to end today’s posting on the positive flip-side of the last paragraph. I’ve worshiped side-by-side with people of all different racial and ethnic and economic backgrounds, which is exactly as it should be. And it’s a beautiful thing. It’s nothing less than a preview of Heaven, and it certainly feels like it.

Lord Jesus, it’s wonderful to be part of the “Coat of Many Colors” which your Father has given to you. May the day come swiftly when every part of your Body sees every other part as, well, part of your Body. Please, let it come soon. 

[Oct 21]—Extremely Important Prepositions

            We read these verses yesterday, but they’re so pivotal that I think they deserve a day all their own. I was raised in a Baptist church, and we frequently used vss. 8-9 to explain the plan of salvation when we were sharing the Good News. There's very good reason for that, since this is one of the best (if not the best) summaries of the ins-and-outs of our salvation that you’ll read in all of Scripture.
            Paul wants his readers to have a better understanding of the grand and glorious plan of the Almighty, and the part which we play in it. Chapter 2 starts with the ultimate “before and after” picture of us re: salvation, and with these verses he provides a great explanation of how God accomplished all this.
            At first glance today's title would seem to be an oxymoron. Why in the world would prepositions be important? The reason for the title hopefully will make some sense as we go on. If you get these verses down and understand how the different prepositions relate to everything else, you’ll be head-and-shoulders above the vast majority of Christians regarding our relationship with our Savior.
            He starts out by saying we are saved by grace. Grace is God’s unmerited favor towards us. I heard someone once explain that mercy is when he doesn’t give you what you do deserve, and grace is when he gives you what you don’t deserve, and there’s a lot of truth in that. Another great acronym I learned several years ago is grace = "God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense."
            The point here is that it all starts with his unmerited favor towards us, which he bestowed on us while we were still sinners, enemies of his, and cosmic traitors. He certainly didn't shower us with this grace because of anything we’d done (quite the contrary), nor did he give it to us because of something we will do in the future. No, as we saw yesterday, he did it out of love and for his own glory.
            The next part is that we’re saved through faith. Please please please pay careful attention to the preposition. Strictly speaking, we aren’t saved by faith; although Paul sometimes says in shorthand that we’re justified by faith. But to be more precisely accurate, we’re saved through faith. Why am I making such a big deal over this? What difference does it make if we’re saved by faith or saved through faith? Because faith is not really the basis on which God saved me; that basis is his love and grace, that which is within himself. Faith is the means by which he saved me. I think the best way to see it is that faith is like a conduit. Imagine a pipe that carries water to someone who needs it. God’s grace is the source, and our faith is the conduit by which he channels that (unmerited) blessing down to us. I could believe in Jesus all day long, but if God didn’t decide to initiate all this before the beginning of time, it would do me no good.
            One of the reasons I’m harping on this is because Paul seems to go out of his way to bring the focus off of anything we do onto what God did: “and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” What is “this” referring back to? What is the gift of God? Well, some say that it’s just referring back to God’s grace, but the Greek seems to be referring back to everything in the preceding part of the verse. In other words, the Lord gave us his grace and the ability to believe in Christ as well. Jesus explicitly said that unless the Father draws someone, they’ll never come to faith.
            If I haven’t lost you already, then we need to add a little caveat here. People love to say nowadays that “You just gotta have faith.” Whenever I hear that, every molecule in my body screams out to ask them: “Faith in what?! Or whom? Astrology? Numerology? My own resources? The luck of the draw? Karma? The innate goodness of people? Politicians?” I know I've produced this example before, but please forgive me, since I haven’t heard any better. When you get on a plane, you’re demonstrating faith in the pilot. You’re placing your life in his hands. You have faith that he’s sober, that the airline has ensured that he has the skills to fly the plane, that he’s not a crazy person on a suicide kick, etc. But if he is drunk or not really qualified to fly the plane, then my faith in him is misplaced, and I might pay for that faith with my life. I might have 100% faith in him, but my faith doesn’t make him a qualified pilot. In other words, faith is only as good as the object of that faith.
            So the unspoken phrase, which we get from various other passages of Scripture (for example see here), is that we're saved through faith in Christ. We place our faith in a Person, hand over the ownership of ourselves over to him, and place our trust in him.
            Now we come to something that sometimes we tend to forget in using this passage so much in our evangelism. Yes, we’re saved by grace, but there’s a purpose for all this. The Apostle of Grace, the one who fought tooth and nail for the simplicity of the Good News that we’re saved by grace through faith plus nothing, spent almost as much time making it clear that we’re saved for a purpose, and this purpose is not mainly for our benefit. We were created--then saved--for good works. These aren’t good works that we come up with ourselves. For the believer, there’s no such thing as “random acts of kindness.” No, the change in our lives, the change which we’re supposed to make in our world, were planned out beforehand by our Father.
            By the way, the word here “workmanship” here is way too mundane a word. The word is poiema, from which we get “poem.” The way it was used with artists, you could just as easily translate it as “masterpiece.” We are God’s works of art, his masterpieces. Each one of us is a work of art which he’s painstakingly sculpting into the perfect image of his Son.
            So in summary, here’s why every little bit of God’s word is so important, down to the prepositions. We are saved
·         By grace
·         Through faith
·         In Christ
·         For good works
Simple enough?

Lord Jesus, I’m in awe of your salvation once again. I bring nothing to this except my sin and my need, and in return you shower me with grace upon grace upon grace until my cup can’t hold any more. Help me to be and to do what I was created for, to be about the business of pleasing and honoring you. From beginning to end it’s all your grace. 

[Oct 20]—Before and After

            I remember several years ago when I had a conversation with a dear friend of mine coming from a Catholic background. He and I agreed on a lot of stuff, but I recall very distinctly something he said which has bothered me for years. We were discussing theology, and he said “I’m not really comfortable talking about salvation in a simple ‘before and after’ way.” In other words, he saw salvation as more of a process than a “moment-in-time,” “change your life forever with one decision” type of thing. Unfortunately, I let it go, probably because I wasn’t nearly as clear in my biblical thinking as I should've been.
            The reason this has driven me nuts over the years is because if I could go back to that moment, I would've pulled out today’s passage, read it with him, and then asked him “If this isn’t a ‘before and after” experience, then how would you describe it?”
            Paul is moving from the cosmic import of the Father’s plan into their own personal lives: “As for you . . .” We’re moving from spiritual forces which could snap us like a twig (in chapter one) down into the supposedly mundane lives of people reading this letter. What does salvation mean to me, one guy living in the here and now, one individual who’s probably never going to be known outside his small circle of family and friends?”
            Contra my friend from years ago, you could hardly come up with more of a stark contrast between our condition before Christ got a hold of us vs. after. Before Christ rescued me,

·         I was spiritually dead in my transgressions and sins. Not sick, nor terminally ill. I was not in my last dying moments, as Christ the EMT was using a defibrillator on me to try to revive me. I was stone-cold on the slab--tag on my toe--dead to God. Dead to spiritual life. Dead to all his blessings. Dead to his goodness.

·         I followed the ways of this world. Again, this is not talking about the physical earth; as MacArthur put it, he’s referring to "the invisible spiritual system of evil dominated by Satan and all that it offers in opposition to God, His Word, and His people."

·         I followed and belonged to the Devil. That’s who Paul is talking about when he refers to “the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” I know that’s shocking to modern ears, but maybe some clarification could help. This isn’t saying that a nonbeliever is consciously worshipping Satan or is demon-possessed like something out of the Exorcist. That’s the problem: People who don’t belong to Christ belong to the Evil One; Jesus is painstakingly clear that there's no third alternative. And they don’t know to whom they belong. Because they see themselves as basically decent people, they see themselves as a child of God. They’re not drawing pentagrams and sacrificing goats, but by doing things their own way instead of God’s way, they’re showing who their spiritual father is, and it’s not God.

·         I was by nature an object of his wrath. The NIV (2011 version) translates it as “deserving” of his wrath, which doesn’t quite catch the impact, as far as I’m concerned. Literally Paul says that I was a “child” of wrath, which means that I was destined for it. Not that I was just deserving it, but I was well on my way to getting what I fully deserved. And if the Lord hadn’t intervened, nothing would've stopped me from getting it.

I’ve said this before, but one of the most beautiful words in the Bible is a simple three-letter one: But. We were in a situation just about as dire as we could get outside of the Lake of Fire itself. But God, who is rich in mercy (one of the great understatements of all time), because of his great love for us made us alive in Christ. From the rest of the Bible, we know what Paul is talking about here: He laid upon his own Son my sin and his own righteous anger. In some mysterious sense, “[He] made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Then he raised me up in Christ and seated me in the heavenly realms next to him. 
And again, we come to a recurring theme in vs. 7, one which I think our self-focusing American church needs to hear: Yes, God did this because he loves me, but the ultimate reason he did this was so that I could be an eternal “trophy” of his grace and mercy and love. MacArthur: “Salvation, of course, is very much for the believer's blessing, but it is even more for the purpose of eternally glorifying God for bestowing on believers His endless and limitless grace and kindness. The whole of heaven glorifies Him for what He has done in saving sinners (cf. 3:10; Rev 7:10-12).”
We’re running a bit long here, so we’ll look at vss. 8-10 tomorrow.

Lord Jesus, when we get to passages like this, I feel like so inadequate in saying anything. The only proper response to this is “Thank you,” and “I’m yours.” 

[Oct 19]—Prayer for Enlightenment

            For the longest time, I’ve wanted to reclaim the word “meditation” from Eastern religions like Buddhism. The Bible, particularly the Psalms, has a lot of references to meditation, although the meaning is very different from what people like Buddhists are talking about. They’re referring to emptying your mind as the main goal; the Bible wants us to empty our mind of the daily concerns and worries, not for its own sake, but so that we can fill it with something else. Take a few moments and contemplate--without any interruption—some glorious Biblical truth, such as God’s sovereignty over everything, or what Jesus went through for me, or his multiple mercies he shows me every day. The problem is that we’ve let others take over a thoroughly biblical word, and it’s a lost art among modern Christians, at least American ones.
            It’s the same principle with the word “enlightenment.” Adherents of eastern religions use this term to represent attaining some higher plain of existence and understanding. Again, this is seen as an end in itself. As we’ll see, the Bible passage today has something to say about this.
            Today’s passage is a prayer that Paul made regularly for the Ephesians. He thanked the Father for the progress they’d made in faith and love. You might notice that the book of Ephesians is much more positive than others he wrote (particularly 1 Corinthians), and one of the reasons is that apparently the church in Ephesus was doing—on the whole—pretty well, at least at this point in time (the Lord Jesus had a more mixed view of them a few years later). But even if they were the best church in the world, they weren’t perfect, since there's no perfection this side of Glory. And that means there’s always room for improvement.
            Then he moves to the heart of his prayer.  This is an open “secret” to the Christian life, one which the Bible brings up repeatedly but a lot of believers miss: The battle to become more like Christ begins and ends in your thought life, particularly how you perceive things. Everything springs from that. If you perceive and think about things correctly, that will (eventually) overflow into your words and actions. That’s why Paul, in the very beginning of his “practical” section of Romans (chapters 12-16) starts with the command to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” This is the rock-bottom foundation of becoming like Christ: changing your thinking to match his, looking at things and people the way he sees them. Everything you do and say will flow out of that. 
            He starts by praying that the Father would give us more and more of the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, so that we would know Christ better (both head-knowledge and relationship-knowledge). All of us need this. No matter where we are in our walk with Christ, we can always love him and obey him and please him better.
            Then we come to the part I want to focus on. This is where our perceptions are so important. Paul prayed that the eyes of their hearts might be enlightened (there’s that word), so that they might know (better) 1) the hope that he’s called us to (the incredibly glorious inheritance we have in Christ) and 2) his “incomparably great power for us who believe.”
            The rest of the passage is describing this power that he references. This power
·         Is for every believer. Not that we control it for our own selfish purposes. But this power is that which protects us, provides for us, saves us, sets us apart, makes us holy, etc. If the Enemy wants to harm us, this power is something with which he must contend.
·         Is the same which he exerted when he raised Jesus from the dead. Meditate on that just for a moment. Think of the power that God Almighty exerted when he shattered the hold that Death had on our Savior. The earthquake on earth around the tomb was nothing compared to the quakes in Heaven and Hell. And this this is the same power that resides within you to overcome the Enemy and anything that life or death throws at you.
·         Is the same power and authority which he exerted when he seated Christ at his right hand. In vs. 22, Paul asserts that at the ascension the Father placed all things under the feet of his Son. Everything. Seen and unseen. All names and powers and authorities and dominions, from the tin pot dictator to the greatest spiritual forces in Heaven and Hell. They’re all under his feet.
·         Is for the church. Why did I make this a separate point from the 1st one? Because there’s a difference in saying that this power is for the benefit of each individual believer and saying that this power is for the benefit of the universal Church. Yes, he deals with us as individuals, but we are each a part of his Body. And this power--which he used when he was raised from the dead and which he now exerts at the right hand of the Father--is the power that he exerts on behalf of his Bride. And woe to him who even thinks about harming her. As God said of his people in days of old, he says of us now: “Whoever touches you touches the apple of my eye.”

            This is what Paul wants you to understand better. He wants you to be able to see—with the eyes of faith—both our inheritance and the One who’s fighting for us. When you gain this perspective, everything else will fall into place. And you can rejoice.

Lord Jesus, I’m repeating Paul’s prayer for myself. I ask for the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that I may know you better. I pray that the eyes of my heart may be enlightened, in order that I may know the hope to which you've called me, the riches of your glorious inheritance in your holy people, and your incomparably great power for me. By your grace, help me to tap into that unimaginable power, so that I can serve and obey you as you deserve. 

[Oct 18]—Praise Be. . . To The Son and the Spirit

            Each Person of the Trinity is a distinct personality, and although they’re one in essence, they each have a different part to play in our salvation. Yesterday we looked at what the Father did in eternity past: He chose us in his Son in accordance with his pleasure and will to be holy, blameless, and adopted. Today we’re going to examine what this glorious passage has to say about the Son’s and the Spirit’s part in all this.
            The Father sent the Son to earth, and everything the Son did was in full conformity to the Father’s will and in the full authority of the One who sent him. The Gospel according to John in particular focuses on this truth: Jesus even went so far as to say “I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.”
            So the Son’s main purpose on earth, at rock bottom, was to fulfill his Father’s plan and will. The Son loves us with an everlasting love, but that’s not the #1 reason why he came and died. The Father planned out how we were going to be saved, chose to set his love upon us, and (in some sense) planned out each person’s individual salvation--If you have a problem with that last part, I have to point you to Romans 8:29-30. But every aspect of the Father’s plan for us was carried out by the Son—“his good pleasure was “purposed in Christ” (vs. 8). All of the blessings of God are mediated down to us through the Son. The Father’s grace was given to us through Christ (vs. 6).
            And of course the really hard part was “redemption.” The English word “redemption” means to “buy back” something or someone. To buy something means a price has to be paid. In this case, that price was the very blood of Christ (vs. 7). This enabled the Father to forgive us once and for all and forever.
            That brings us to the Spirit’s part in all this. The Father sent the Son, and the Son said that when he returned to the Father, both the Father and he (Jesus) would send the Spirit to back to us. Among the many works the Spirit does is that he marks us with a seal. According to MacArthur, “The sealing of which Paul speaks refers to an official mark of identification placed on a letter, contract, or other document. That document was thereby officially under the authority of the person whose stamp was on the seal. Four primary truths are signified by the seal: 1) security (cf. Da 6:17; Mt 27:62-66); 2) authenticity (cf. 1Ki 21:6-16); 3) ownership (cf. Jer. 32:10); and 4) authority (cf. Esther 8:8-12). The Holy Spirit is given by God as His pledge of the believer's future inheritance in glory (cf. 2 Cor. 1:21).”
            There’s one more aspect of this that we need to consider here, namely the end of all this. What’s the “end game” here? It’s both complex and simple at the same time: “to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” Everything and everyone in heaven and on earth will be brought to unity under Christ’s feet. In a sense, the Father has already placed all things under his feet, but all the universe will one day get to see it up close and personal. One day every individual person (angel, demon or human) who’s ever existed will bow the knee at the name of Jesus and acknowledge him as Lord of all, to the glory of God the Father. Paul’s phrase in vs.10 which is translated in the NIV as “unity. . .under” was often used as an accounting term, referring to adding up a column of figures, similar to a bank ledger or a check book register. In life, things often don’t “add up,” so to speak. We see chaos and injustice and lots of things which make no sense. But there will come a day when that won’t be true any longer. Everything and everyone will be united in submission to the Son, who will then hand it all over to the Father.
            So it all started with the Father, and it all comes round full circle back to him. And what’s my part in all this? Once again, my raison d'ĂȘtre is to glorify and honor and bring praise to my Savior God. But the more I understand about my salvation, the better I can do this.

There’s plenty to mediate upon today. Pick some glorious truth we talked about, and focus your thoughts on that for a while. Thank and praise him for it.  

[Oct 17]—Praise Be. . . To The Father

            Now we come to the book of Ephesians. If Romans is the foremost among his epistles (due to its comprehensiveness), Ephesians has been called the “Queen among the epistles.” The first three chapters are some of the most in-depth theology which rivals Romans in its complexity and richness, while the remaining 3 chapters are wonderfully practical in applying his truth in our lives. What makes it so impressive is that he packs so much into 6 small chapters, hence its sobriquet.
            I have a relative who works in Bible translation, and while he loves all the Scriptures, he once confessed some exasperation with today’s passage, particularly vss. 3-14. Of all the New Testament, this was the hardest for him to translate. The reason for this is because in the Greek, vss. 3-14 is all one. . . long. . . run-on. . . sentence. When I took Greek back in college, my teacher regaled us with tales of the “bad old days” when he was forced to diagram sentences like this, and he was quick to tell us how easy we had it by comparison. It’s some of the most beautiful words ever strung together in the English language, but that doesn’t make it any easier to work with if you’re coming at it from a technical/translation perspective.
            The point that I’m making is that this passage is all strung together. We’ve split it apart in multiple sentences in the English because otherwise it’d be really difficult for us to follow, but this is all one thought with many subsets.
            After Paul’s customary greetings, he launches into one long sentence in the Greek, and it can all be under the heading of “Praise be. . .” There are two different ways we can subdivide the passage. Paul talks about our salvation in eternity past (3-6), present redemption (6-11), and future inheritance (12-14). He also emphasizes the Father (3-6), the Son (7-12), and the Spirit (13-16). Each Person of the Trinity has his role to play in our glorious salvation: The Father planned it, the Son executed it, and the Spirit applies it in all its multiple aspects to individual believers. Over today and tomorrow I'm going to kind of skip back and forth on these two motifs. 
            Our salvation was planned out in eternity past. Before the first words by the Almighty spoke anything into existence, our salvation was planned out. And I don’t mean just us as a group, as in “Jesus will die to save sinners.” I mean your salvation was planned out for you. Working through human free will and circumstances, the Father—in some sense—chose you in Christ before anything was created. And what specifically did he choose for us? He chose us to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined our path so that we'd be adopted as his children.
            Why did he do this? We don’t know. He certainly didn’t choose to lead me to him because of any innate goodness in me. I bring nothing to this transaction except my need and my sin. No, he did all this “in accordance with his pleasure and will,” which is a complicated way of saying that he decided on his own to do it. He didn’t see me in the future and fall in love with me and do all this because he just couldn’t help himself. No, he freely chose to do all this.
            Actually, there is a reason, and Paul mentions it three times in these verses. Remember, they didn’t have exclamation marks in Greek, so one of the main ways to emphasize something was repetition. Three times he uses the phrase “to the praise of his glorious grace,” or “to the praise of his glory.” Please forgive me for repeating myself, but in our self-centered culture which has infiltrated the church to an alarming degree, it well bears repeating: The main reason I was saved was not for my own sake or for my benefit. The main reason I was saved was to bring glory and honor and praise to my Savior God.
            Now, I have to acknowledge that when I use terms like “chosen” or “predestined,” this potentially opens a whole can of worms. I deliberately used as neutral language as I could muster in order not to raise the hackles of people on one side or another of the “predestination vs. free will” debate, which has divided Christians of good will for over 500 years. I have my own leanings in this area, but I’m under no illusions that a 500-year-long debate--which has been fought by giants on both sides--is going to be settled in this venue. Please notice that I said in the preceding paragraph that in some sense God chose us in Christ to be saved, adopted, etc. This was not meant to be a comment on how exactly our free will works together with God’s choices (made before the Beginning) to bring us to salvation.
            Whenever we get into that type of territory, however, I’m concerned that we can easily lose sight of the main thing. Before I ever sinned, before I was even born, before this universe even came to be, he set his love upon me. He freely chose to love me, to send his only Son to die for me, and to adopt me into his family, to make me holy and blameless in his sight.
            My part, my overarching goal, my life’s work, my raison d'ĂȘtre is to glorify and honor and bring praise to him.  To the degree that I’m doing that, I’m fulfilling my purpose in life. To the degree I’m not, well. . . I’m not.

Father God, when I approach passages like this, I need to approach it with fear and trembling. I’m like a child trying to understand quantum mechanics and nuclear physics. To say that I’m out of my depth here is a massive understatement. All I can say is “All praise and honor and worship and thanksgiving and glory belongs to you, and to the best of my ability I’m going to give you what you deserve. To the praise of your glorious grace.” 

[Oct 16]—Pulling Your Own Weight, and Someone Else’s

            Paul is now wrapping up his epistle to the believers in the province of Galatia, and he has some great instructions for us as we relate to other believers.
            First of all, he tells us what to do if a fellow believer is “caught” in a sin. It could mean he was “caught” by his fellow Christians, or it could be referring to him falling into sin’s snare. This is a world full of alluring traps, and it’s the easiest thing in the world to get your foot caught in one. If we see someone who’s been caught by the Enemy and then by us, then how are we supposed to respond?
            First, be gentle. Don’t harshly rebuke someone, especially if they’re repentant for what they’ve done. The word “restore” (per MacArthur) literally “means ‘to mend’ or ‘repair,’ and was used of setting a broken bone or repairing a dislocated limb.” You’re a surgeon trying to gently set a broken bone, not a drill sergeant looking for an excuse to belittle someone.
            Second, be careful. When dealing with an errant brother, keep this in the forefront of your mind: There's no sin that a fellow Christian can fall into to which I’m immune. That fellow believer who's having to deal with regret and consequences could be me, and would be me apart from grace.
            I think that this second point is what he’s getting at in vss. 3-4. If you think that you’re immune to that type of sin, if you’re looking at a fallen believer with a judgmental attitude, then verse 3 applies to you: You are thinking you’re something when you’re nothing, and you’re deceiving yourself. Where does a judgmental attitude start? By comparing yourself with another Christian. If I compare myself with another sinner, of course I might come off looking better than him. But when I compare myself with God’s real standard, then not so much. And of course when I’m comparing myself to some sinner, I find myself sounding uncomfortably like someone else I don’t want to emulate.
            Third, be helpful. The “burden” in vs. 2 that we’re supposed to carry is an extra heavy load that no one person can bear. In context, this is probably referring to the load of guilt that we try to carry ourselves. No, we can’t relieve their objective guilt before God, but we can help them deal with the subjective guilt. We can remind them of God’s promise that when we confess, he forgives and cleanses and he'll never ever ever bring up our sin again.
            But what about verse 5, where Paul tells us that “each one should carry their own load”? Does this contradict verse 2? Not at all. The “burden” in verse 2 is a load of guilt that no one can carry alone. The “load” in vs. 5, a different word,  is a responsibility that each one of us has as a Christian. It’s referring to the routine obligations we have, one of which is caring for each other when someone else has fallen. The ideal is for you to carry your own load, but at times each of us has a burden that we need help with.
            And finally we come to the stern warning in vss. 7-8: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” Why is he placing this warning here? Is this just a general principle that he’s submitting, which has no connection to the verses before or after? Possibly, but I think probably not. Remember that the first part is addressing what to do if a Christian is caught in sin. But what if he isn’t caught by others? If you’re reading this and you’re a believer in Christ, and there’s sin in your life that you’re not dealing with, and you haven’t been caught (yet) by other believers, this warning is for you. Based on what the rest of the Bible says, this isn’t talking about losing your salvation (which is impossible), and in the context of the rest of Galatians, it’s not addressing nonbelievers. But if a Christian falls into sin and does nothing about it, then the Bible says two things to him: 1) You will regret this, either in this life or the next one. It is entirely possible to lose your reward, and 2) If you can sin and sin and sin and never let it bother you, then you really need to question whether you’re saved at all.
            God is not going to be mocked. And when I sin with impunity, he is. He won’t stand for it. When I sin, I’m going to regret it sooner or later. Better I regret it sooner by confessing and repenting from it, rather than deal with it at some later point.
Lord Jesus, if ever there was a time to ask you to examine my heart, it’s now. Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. And if you ever find any judgmental thoughts in my head, squash them like a bug. Please. 

[Oct 15]—Not Legalism Nor License, But. . .

            Yes, I skipped a huge portion of Galatians. I love the book, as I love all of Paul’s epistles, but I have to take two things into consideration: 1) I want to finish by the end of the year, and 2) The emphasis in Galatians is against legalism, which I honestly don’t think is the main front on which the Enemy is attacking the Church in America. And finally, 3) We've already discussed some parts of this (like here), on the Fruit of the Spirit. 
            Regarding point # 2 above, one of my favorite descriptions of humanity comes from Martin Luther, who compared humanity to a drunken man on a horse. He gets on the saddle, rides a little ways, and then falls off. He gets back up into the saddle and makes extra sure he doesn’t fall of that side again, and he ends up falling off the other side. In other words, the Church tends to follow the example of the stereotypical generals who’re fighting the last war instead of the present one. I have to prioritize according to fitting everything in by the end of the year, and I feel the need to focus on Scripture which is dealing with the most relevant issues we’re facing. To be brutally frank, the Church in America needs to hear a lot less about the dangers of legalism and more about the more imminent threat of license, the “do whatever feels good” mentality, the antinomianism which is a baptized version of the hedonism which pervades American culture.  
            The good news is that this balancing act isn’t a new problem. Paul’s message focused so much on grace that he had to fight the accusation of antinomianism, and James thundered against the notion that faith can exist without works. The Church has struggled to stay balanced for thousands of years, and it rarely finds it.
            So how do we balance? What’s the solution?
            That brings us to today’s passage. Remember, the whole letter to the Galatians was written to counter the legalistic message of the Judaizers that faith in Christ isn’t sufficient to be righteous before God. This epistle has been called the believer’s Magna Charta, his declaration of freedom. We’re free in Christ. We’re saved merely by trusting in Christ. Adding anything to the simple message of salvation by grace through faith is a heresy, one which Paul blasted over and over and over here.
            But read today’s opening verse. He says that we’re free, not to live as we please, but for a very different reason, something very counterintuitive: “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” The point of this is not to let the sinful nature loose. It’s to serve one another out of love for our Savior.
            Then we come to the focal point. . . the antidote for legalism is not license.  The antidote for license is not legalism. The answer to both is walking with the Spirit.
            To the Christian who’s been listening to the legalists, he says “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the [sinful nature].” Vs. 18 says that if we’re led by the Spirit, then we’re not under the law anymore: It doesn’t condemn us, nor is it a means of pleasing him by trying to follow a bunch of rules.
            We’ve talked in depth about the fruit of the Spirit, so I want to skip ahead to call your attention to one more reference to this theme: “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” We live by his Spirit. His Spirit infuses life into us. That’s a given. But notice the imperative mood in the latter part of the verse here: We are commanded to keep in step with the Spirit. This is something we have to choose to do on a daily—really a moment by moment—basis.
            What’s he talking about here? Guys, this isn’t—as my teacher used to say—rocket surgery or brain science. You cultivate your relationship with him. You spend time in intimate prayer with him. You spend time reading and meditating on his word. You spend time in corporate worship and fellowship with other believers. You deal decisively with any lingering sin in your life.
            Where he leads through his Spirit, our job is to listen for his promptings and keep in lock-step with him, like I used to march in formation when I was in the Army. We don’t fall back, we don’t step out ahead, and we don’t go off in a direction that looks like the way to go. We listen to the orders of our commanding officer, and go in the direction and at the pace he directs. 
            If we do this, we won’t indulge our sinful nature, and we won’t exhaust ourselves trying please a judge that we fear more than we love. This is the way to stay on that horse.

Holy Spirit, you're the key here. Where you lead me, I will go. By your grace, I will not fall behind, I will not step ahead, and I will not wander off. That’s what I’m asking for, please. 

[Oct 14]—Justified

            Keep in mind what happened in the passage we read yesterday: Peter had led other believers into hypocrisy and a virtual denial of the truth of the Message of Christ, that all people are justified by faith in the Lord Jesus, not by works. Paul confronted him head-on about his abject failure to live up to the truth of what he (Peter) had been preaching all along. Before God there's no distinction between Jew and Gentile as far as salvation is concerned.
            There’s debate among biblical scholars as to whether or not today’s passage is continuing a quotation of his rebuke to Peter or not. In the end it doesn’t matter, because Paul’s words to the sinning Peter are intended for us as well.          
On a side-note, the word used in the title of today’s posting is one I wish I could improve upon. The way the word “justified” is mostly used in today’s language almost always means something different from how Paul uses it. If two non-Christians were talking with each other and used the term “justified,” they’d mean it in the sense of “provide a good reason for the actions of (someone).” E.G.: “He justified his reasons for leaving the company by listing all the times they’d passed him over for promotion.” The Bible often uses it in this sense. 
            That’s not how Paul means it. Every single time he uses it, it's in the sense of “declared not guilty in God’s court.” All of us are guilty before the Lord of creation because of our cosmic treason called sin. But when we place our faith in Christ, the Father declares us to be not only “not guilty,” but perfectly righteous in his justice system.
            Unfortunately, there’s no word in the English language which comes closer to what Paul is saying here.  “Acquitted” might be a good candidate, but that’s not forceful enough. You might use the term “counted righteous” like the ESV does in its footnotes, but that misses the legal aspect of it. So we’ll continue to use the word “justification” and explain to people what the word means in a biblical context.
            Paul--in this book and in his other epistles--makes it clear that our keeping the Law has nothing to do with our being declared righteous before God: “We. .  . know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.” Notice the completely mutually exclusive possibilities here. You’re either justified by faith in Jesus Christ, or you’re justified by the works of the law. There is no middle ground: It’s not that faith in Christ get you 90% of the way there and works makes up the other 10%. Or 95% and 5%. Or 99% and 1%. It’s faith in Christ, and faith alone, which justifies us, which saves us from the penalty of sin.
            But what I’d like to focus on for the rest of the posting is vss. 19-21. Jewish believers who were confused by what the Judaizers were teaching, might object thus: “If you’re teaching salvation by grace through faith, then where does that leave our relationship with the Law? What’s to keep someone from just ‘believing in Christ’ then living however they please? Don’t we need the Law to keep us in line?”
            Not in the way that the false teachers were talking about. As a means of being righteous before God, the Law of Moses has no place. We’re saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
            To keep us in line, the Lord has instituted something far better than giving us a set of rules to follow. When we trust in Christ for salvation, he does far more than just forgive our sin. We are—instantaneously and forever—united with Christ. Because of this union, we died to the law, not so that we can live however we please, but “so that [we] might live for God.” This is the mystery of our permanent union with Christ, which I think is one of the best-kept open secrets of the Christian life. When Christ died on the cross to sin, I died with him. When he was buried, I was buried with him. When he rose again—see a pattern here? For more on this, see here
            That’s what Paul means here when he says that we’re crucified with Christ. I no longer live, but Christ is living his life through me now. That means, among other things, that sin no longer is my master. Over my head, in the spiritual realm, there might as well be a sign that says “Under new management.”
            Of course, I still struggle with sin, and sometimes I fail. Sometimes this truth--that I’m crucified with Christ and he lives through me—is not evident in the way I talk and act, to my shame. But over time, he’s in the process of working this truth out into my outside life, and he’s helping me to be what I am.

Lord Jesus, I’m not what I should be, but thanks to you I’m not what I once was, and I’m not what I will one day be. Please make it obvious to everyone around me that I’ve been crucified with you, and please live your life through me. 

[Oct 13]—Clash of the Titans

            To me, this is one of the most shocking set of verses in the entire Bible. Let’s go over what it says (and doesn’t say), and then we’ll wrestle with some of the implications.
            Remember the whole purpose of this letter/epistle. Some false teachers had been teaching that in order to be righteous before God, you needed more than faith in Christ; you needed to follow the Law of Moses as well, specifically re: circumcision, the Sabbath, the dietary laws, and the holy days.
            Let me take a moment here to clarify what the issue was not. There are Messianic Jews, who because of their culture/background and because of the people they’re trying to reach (fellow Jews), actually hold to the standards mentioned above: They practice circumcision, they worship on Saturdays, they keep to the dietary laws, and they observe the holy days (like Yom Kippur). Are they wrong? Are they sinning? I don’t think so. Some confused individuals among them might have slipped into the legalism which Paul was fighting, but officially—to my understanding as an outsider—they’re using this as a means to reach other Jews (as Paul did), and they see themselves as justified by faith in Christ alone (or faith in Yeshua the Messiah, as they'd call him). They see following the customs of their fathers as a way of pointing to Yeshua and glorifying him, not as a means of righteousness before God.
            But today’s passage describes—what appears to me—one of the greatest and most insidious dangers the early church faced. I’m a little surprised there’s not more attention paid to it than there is. Let’s let this sink in for a moment. When Paul is talking about “Cephas,” btw, he’s referring to Peter. Yes, that Peter. The leader among the twelve. The one who was the main spokesman for the church on Pentecost, the one who preached a sermon in which 3000 people stepped forward to proclaim faith in Jesus. This is the one who officially opened the door to the Gentiles in Acts chapter 10, and who gave a stirring defense of his actions in chapter 11. Ponder that last sentence again please.
            But here we see a different Peter. He was fellowshiping with Gentiles just fine in Antioch, eating with them, visiting and staying in their houses, etc. But then certain men came “from James” (possibly only claiming to be from him), and they believed that you did need to follow Mosaic Law to be right with God (completely contra the official findings of the first church council). And Peter. .  .gave in to cowardice. There’s no more charitable way to interpret vs. 12: “he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group.” So he started distancing himself from Gentile believers and avoiding them in order to placate the Judaizers.
            Mentioned also in this passage is Barnabas. I’ve mentioned before that one of my favorite heroes in the Bible is this guy, one of my unsung heroes. He introduced and vouched for the newly converted Paul before the church, and he accompanied Paul on several mission trips. I thoroughly believe he’s one of the most underrated characters noted in the Scriptures.
            What’s one of my favorite sayings from Alistair Begg? “The best of men are men at best.” Peter had faced down dangers much graver than this: Criticism from pseudo-believers who were preaching heresy? Really?! This is the man who stood before the Sanhedrin, and when they told him to shut up about Jesus, told them point-blank “We must obey God rather than human beings"?!
            But he had—in this case—listened to his fears and acted in a shameful way. He'd preached and taught the Good News for years, and now he was living publicly in a way that denied what he’d been proclaiming.
            Peter knew better than this. Peter was better than this. But he put on a false front, a “mask” (remember, that’s what hypocrisy literally is) in order to impress these jokers. And he wasn’t alone; he dragged other good men into it. Peter had incredible authority and credibility based on being an apostle—rivaling Paul in prominence—and his behavior could start a chain reaction which could cause incomprehensible harm to the work of the Kingdom. Barnabas—the aforementioned hero—had been caught up in this reprehensible behavior. If he could fall into this, how many more could?
            When someone of this much prominence—a titan of this stature--acted this way, it would take another titan to do something about it. So Paul bravely called him on it. Publicly.
            Here’s what I glean from this:

·         To delve a little more deeply into the implications of this story, we need to understand that although we believe the Scriptures are without error, that in no way means that the men who wrote the Scriptures were without error in their personal lives. Paul still struggled with sin in his life as he was writing the epistles which are part of the New Testament. No one (save Christ) is sinless in this world. When Peter was writing (what we know as) First Peter and Second Peter, the Holy Spirit was overseeing it to make sure his writings didn’t contain any errors. That infallibility didn’t extend to personal decisions he made outside that process of writing Scripture.

·         We can’t be afraid to call out leaders who are publicly spreading error, especially on nonnegotiables like the Message of salvation by faith in Christ plus nothing. If they aren’t called to account, they'll bring others down with them. Count on it.

·         Fear can make a good man do reprehensible things. Why did Peter give in to this? Fear of what other people think. It goes back to what we discussed yesterday: You can make pleasing people your priority, or you can make pleasing God your priority, but you can’t do both. They’re incompatible. C. S. Lewis said “Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality.”

            So what about you and me? Do we give in to fear of what other people think, or do we fear our Father’s frown and long for his smile? Which will it be?

Father, I invest way too much energy and thought into worrying what others think, when there’s only One whose opinion counts, or at least should. Please forgive me when I do this, and help me refocus on what’s really important.