What is your source of boldness and confidence?

The practical effect of the gospel

For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles—assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Of this gospel, I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. 13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory. – Ephesians 3:1-13

Today in Islamic nations like Iran and others along with Communist nations like China and North Korea, brothers and sisters in Christ are imprisoned for sharing the gospel with fellow citizens of these nations. It is no different than Paul’s experience. The gospel was, and is, a threat to the dominance of idolatry in whatever form it takes. It was during Paul’s imprisonment in Rome in A.D. 62 that he penned this glorious epistle to the Ephesian church.

Paul took a different perspective on his circumstance than would most, he considered himself a prisoner, not of the Roman government, but of Christ for the benefit of the Gentiles, these new believers at Ephesus. Paul’s suffering was evidence of God’s grace in Paul toward the Ephesian believers.

It seems odd, but in this passage, Paul delineates his mission in what we today would refer to as a corporate mission statement. He begins with the statement of humility that his mission is a result of a power-work of God’s grace in him. He has no place for boasting about his mission.

The unsearchable riches of Christ

Paul’s first statement in his mission was to preach to the Gentiles as his primary target market, and his message is the unsearchable riches of Christ. The shortness of this phrase, the unsearchable riches of Christ, belies the immenseness of this message. To flesh out what Paul refers to here would include most of what he wrote in all of his epistles. I am impressed with Paul’s language in describing the gospel in the epistle. He has referred to the immeasurable greatness of his power to us, the immeasurable riches of his grace to us and now the unsearchable riches of Christ. Some might think this hyperbolic language. I think it is factual.

I am impressed with Paul’s language in describing the gospel in the epistle. He has referred to the immeasurable greatness of his power to us, the immeasurable riches of his grace to us and now the unsearchable riches of Christ. Some might think this hyperbolic language. I think it is factual. The riches of Christ are so great that they are beyond our ability to search them out completely. This is why, I believe, we have some of the theological debates we have. We are wading in water too deep for us.

The plan of the mystery  hidden in God who created all things

The second point of Paul’s mission is to bring to light the mystery that has been hidden in God who created all things. It is essential that Paul refers to God as the creator. Those of us who grew up in a “Christian” America take this for granted. Today’s youth do not. Paul’s audience did not. We should not either.

This mystery is the eternal plan that was hashed out among the Trinity before time and space that would result in a redeemed people living with God in their midst.

God’s many-sided wisdom revealed to demon spirits

There is a cosmic storyline being fleshed out in the universe in which the truth and power of the gospel are being made known to the demonic forces who are discovering their fate through the church.This wisdom is many-sided or manifold. The wisdom of God is likened to a cut diamond, it is manifold or has many sides, all the facets that individually reflect light each in its unique way making the diamond more beautiful. Each facet of the wisdom of God reflects the beauty of God in some unique way.

God’s eternal purpose

All of this mystery is according to an eternal purpose that was established in the Triune God. Since the purpose is eternal, it could only come from God who is eternal, the same one who created all things. This is a beautiful message of hope in this world that fails to acknowledge the creator or purpose. There is an amazing hypocrisy all around us of persons denying any eternal purpose or creator and yet spilling gallons of ink on books that are intended to help people discover their purpose in life. Without an eternal purpose, there can be no temporal purpose with any real meaning.

We have boldness and access with confidence

It is only with this foundation of Paul’s mission statement that we can reasonably say that we have boldness and confidence in this life. Christians ought to be the most solid, confident and bold folks on the earth. Why aren’t we? Either we have never come to appreciate the full message of the gospel or we are forgetful. I suppose it is some of each. But, the greater our experience of the gospel, the greater our boldness and confidence in this life through faith in Jesus Christ.

Don’t lose heart over my sufferings

Paul’s final statement in this section is anti-climactic. Don’t lose heart over my sufferings. Paul is aware that in spite of the glorious territory over which he has just taken his listeners, they are human beings who have tasted of the goodness of the gospel that Paul taught. They have a deep affection for this man who has been such a passionate messenger to them and for their benefit in Christ. He is in prison, suffering, they cannot help feeling the pain of it. Paul wants them to understand that his suffering is their glory and not an occasion for despondency.

Can  Paul’s mission be our mission on some level? Can we also be committed to sharing the gospel to those around us in the power of the Holy Spirit? I say yes. It is, as Paul says, according to God’s eternal purpose. Let us participate in his purpose until the day we die.

He made two into one dwelling place for God

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. – Ephesians 2:11-22

The Apostle Paul is the Apostle to the Gentiles. He makes that clear in many passages in the New Testament. One of the issues that had to be often addressed in his ministry was the relationship between Jewish believers and Gentiles. The Ephesian church had this problem of a division among the believers over the distinction between Jews and Gentiles.

The previous section of Scripture ended with the marvelous truth that we are the workmanship of the Father, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which the Father prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Now Paul, as Peter did on occasion, makes a strong statement to remember something. What we are to remember is that we Gentiles were separated from Christ, alienated from Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise and consequently having no hope and without God in the world. Without Israel, we would be in big trouble for it is through Israel that God brought us the covenants of promise through which we are saved. We would not have the Abrahamic covenant that is the promise of righteousness by faith alone. We would not have the Mosaic covenant by which we learn of God’s righteous standards for living life successfully. We would not have the Davidic covenant through which we learn of our forever righteous King who reigns forever and forever.

The church today is primarily a Gentile church. Today there are approximately 2.26 billion Christians in the world of 7.3 billion human beings. It is the largest religion in the world. The physical descendants of Abraham in the church has to be very small compared to the whole. I don’t suppose there is a way to know just how many there are. But Paul tells us to remember our pre-Jesus history and the contrasting heritage that God granted to us by grace in Christ.

The Old Covenant promises were that Israel would be God’s people and he would be their God. In their midst was the dwelling place of God. During their wanderings, it was the tent of meeting. Eventually, in the land, Solomon built a temple for God to dwell in (even though he doesn’t dwell in buildings made by men). Paul winds up this section of the letter to the Ephesians to make clear to this church that has made the two, Jews and Gentiles, one, that in Christ we Jews and Gentiles are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

The takeaway? We Gentiles who have a heritage of separation from God have been brought near by the blood of Christ and along with our fellow Jewish people of faith in Christ are being built into what will be the eternal dwelling place of God. We are both individually indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and when we gather in holy gatherings in his name, Jesus is with us in our midst. I believe this means there is a special presence of the omnipresent God when Jesus’ followers gather in his name. No wonder we are exhorted not to forsake the assembling together of the church. Jesus is there in a special way whether it is a small gathering of four or five in someone’s living room or thousands in a mega-church worship service. He is there with his special presence. We are his dwelling place by the Spirit.

Discovering God’s unique will for you.

You are his workmanship

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. – Ephesians 2:4-10

I know many people are disconcerted with the concept of God’s absolute sovereignty over all things which includes his providence. Personally, I have come to find great comfort in it. The sovereignty of God is one of those Scriptural topics that must be handled with great care. God’s sovereignty never diminishes our responsibility for our own decisions and actions. It is paradoxical but true.

Knowing and doing God’s will can be very stressful, especially for people new as Christ-followers. Those who have taken submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ with great seriousness are anxious to please the Lord. And we all should be.

Some things are quite clear and easy to discern. The Scriptures are clear about certain conduct. Don’t sin. If Scripture puts a certain conduct in the category of sin, the will of God is simple, don’t do it.  On the other hand, Scripture is clear about what we should do. Things like having patience with one another, carrying one another’s burdens, praying for one another, etc. These are all good works that are clearly taught in Scripture.That’s not where the stress comes in. The painful decisions lie around things like what job to take, what career path to pursue, what ministry activities should I pursue.

As we mature in Christ and come to understand how he has gifted us, his calling for us becomes clearer, and these decisions become more natural. The last verse in our reading today is packed full with insight for this kind of stress.

First, we are his workmanship. Not only did God create Adam and Eve and by extension us through procreation. We are each God’s workmanship. That means we are all uniquely made by God as he pleases. As the saying goes, “God don’t make no mistakes.” This is not to say God created us with our propensity to sin in our own certain ways, so it’s OK to sin. It is to say; God has made us with a certain intelligence, gifts, talents, physical abilities, etc. It is these that make us who we uniquely are; we are God’s workmanship. Sometimes I wish I were more mechanical, but I’m not. Sometimes I wish I were more creative, but I’m not. I am made a certain way, and I am fulfilled when I get to function in that way. I am driven to encourage other people to progress in their lives. I don’t have to try; it comes naturally. It is God’s workmanship. The same is true for you. If you are not clear on how God has constructed you, I encourage you to seek to understand that. It will make your life easier, or at least better understood.

Good works are not the cause or even an aid to our salvation. Our salvation in Christ is all of grace and not of works. We did not and cannot do anything to earn God’s favor or grace. But, once we were made a new creation in Christ, it is for good works. Good works are the product of our salvation, not it’s cause.

Now, this is really cool. The good works we are to participate in were prepared by God beforehand, way in advance. This isn’t something that slipped up on God, and he has to find something for you to do. Like the manager who got a new employee, he didn’t know was coming and has to find work for them.

I learned a long time ago that God has gifted me as an exhorter or encourager (Romans 12:8). My “work” is to open my mouth or write my words as word of encouragement or exhortation. God prepared this for me beforehand. As a result, given a choice, I will talk with people before doing some kind of manual labor to help them. On the other hand, Karen, my wife, is gifted as a server (Romans 12:7). She would prefer to never open her mouth, especially in a group. (She does, however, have lots of wisdom to share and when appropriate she does.) She would rather bake someone a cake if she thinks that will be helpful to them. Serving in a practical way is the more natural way for her to show God’s love to someone. We both do what we are supposed to do because we are God’s workmanship. It is important that we understand how God has made us because we are exhorted to give ourselves to that gifting, whatever it may be (Romans 12:6).

What good works are you involved in? It is encouraging to know that God prepared them long ago for you to do. You can be at peace with the work God has given you. Don’t be distracted from what he has given you.

 

From immeasurable greatness of power to immeasurable riches of grace

What the gospel means to us

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. – Ephesians 2:1-10

A few posts back I wrote about the three points to Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians. After further consideration, I have concluded that there were actually four points to his prayer for the Ephesians. I missed the fourth point partially due to the chapter division between chapter one and chapter two. We psychologically assume that with a new chapter there is a new subject. In this case, I think that is wrong. Chapter two begins with, “and.” For all you grammarians, that is a conjunction that ties this sentence with what preceded it. I believe Chapter 2 verses 1-10 are point number four to Paul’s prayer.

Remember the thrust of Paul’s prayer is that the eyes of our hearts are to be enlightened so we can know at an experiential level several things: the hope to which we are called, the riches of his glorious inheritance in us, the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us and now point number four, that we might know the immeasurable riches of his grace.

To get us to that place of appreciation of his immeasurable grace, Paul first gives us an accurate picture of where we were before he brought us into his grace. We were in terrible shape, dead in trespasses and sins. We followed the course of the world which is under the dominion of the spirit that works in the sons of disobedience, that is the demon spirits of this world.

I know that is hard to swallow since most of us lived as pretty nice people before we came to Christ. Our friends and neighbors would say we were “good guys and gals.” We weren’t crazy rapists, human traffickers, terrorists or any other clearly evil thing. But God says we lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind and were by nature children of wrath.

Lust doesn’t have to look evil. It can look very attractive and be encouraged. It doesn’t have to be for your neighbor’s wife or husband. It could be for a new house or car, or a great job promotion. It could look like “Your Best Life Now.” Lust is lust even if our lust is approved of and encouraged by the culture around us. Wanting “good things” without God is sin and driven by the spirit that works in the sons of disobedience.

To see this clearly, we need to be enlightened by the Holy Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him. We won’t come to this conclusion on our own.

Once this picture of ourselves is hammered into our hearts, we are ready to get it. “But God, being rich in mercy…” Now we can appreciate his grace. Not only did he forgive us and promise that someday we get to go the heaven, no, he “raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

This too requires a power-work of the Holy Spirit to burn this reality into our hearts and not just our brains. As I have written before, I have a great love for academics, but academics won’t change our lives and allow us to live life successfully. Only the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives will do that.

Add this section of Ephesians to the prayer I shared with you earlier to truly, in your heart, know the immeasurable riches of his grace toward you.

That will bring great joy

Hope, inheritance and power

The immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe

For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him,18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church,23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. – Ephesians 1:15-23

Paul’s prayer is for experiential knowledge, the enlightening of your heart, not just your brain. Good academics, sound doctrine, is very good. I get thrilled with academically sound doctrine.  But, sound doctrine, even with a little questionable academics, that has been seared into your heart by the Holy Spirit’s spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him is far better. It is truth that has been made powerfully alive in you as a result of this encounter with the Holy Spirit that Paul is praying for the Ephesians, and we should pray for ourselves. (more…)

Hope, inheritance and power

The riches of His glorious inheritance in you

For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him,18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church,23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. – Ephesians 1:15-23

 

Most of the time when the Scriptures speak of inheritance they are referring to what we humans inherit from our families and our work. In these cases, we are the inheritors. However, in our passage in Ephesians, Jesus is the inheritor, and it states that his inheritance is a glorious inheritance. Paul prays that we will receive the Holy Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of our hearts enlightened that we may know…what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints. (more…)

Hope, inheritance and power

The hope of his calling

For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him,18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church,23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. – Ephesians 1:15-23

In my last post, What a difference the Holy Spirit makes, I emphasized from this passage the fact that Christianity is a heart thing. If you only have an academic grasp and not an emotional grasp of the reality of Christian doctrine, you are missing the personal immediate relationship with Jesus that is intended and promised in Scripture. That doesn’t mean you aren’t a Christian. What is needed is a heart-level revelation of the truth. This is not academic, it is experimental. Holy Spirit applied Christianity if you will.
(more…)

What a difference the Holy Spirit makes.

Knowing God is more than academic

For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him,18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church,23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. – Ephesians 1:15-23

Paul prays for the Ephesians for three things:

  1. That you may know the hope to which he has called you
  2. What are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints
  3. What is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe

These are powerful subjects, and I may treat them in a different post, but for now, I want to put the emphasis elsewhere.

Recently I was speaking with a brother who shared with me and some others that he had heard from some who said they intellectually really understand the gospel but find they don’t have the passion and emotional attachment to it that many others talk about.

I am currently listening on Audible to Jonathan Edwards’ classic book The Religious Affections: How Man’s Will Affects His Character Before God. I will undoubtedly be simplifying his statement, but here goes. True religion (speaking of Christianity in 17th century American English) always affects our emotions and has an emotional component to it. If we are not moved emotionally by the gospel and by God’s revelation of himself in Scripture, then the reality of our Christianity is questionable.  I know, this gets really dicey telling someone that if they don’t have an emotional experience they aren’t saved. Well, that’s not what I am saying, and I’m not sure what Edwards is saying about that; I am still in the early parts of the book.

What Edwards is saying is that powerful emotions are normative for a believer. Consider the deeply emotional passages written by David in the Psalms. How about Paul’s exultations over Christ in the epistles? There are many others.

I want to encourage any readers who find their emotional life with God lacking. I’m not writing that everyone should be “falling under the power,’ or dancing through the congregation every service. I am saying; you should have an emotional connection to Jesus Christ that is apparent to you and on occasion to others.

So, if you have an academic grasp of the gospel, but don’t have the emotional component (Which I am assuming everyone wants to have, how would it be to be in love with your spouse and feel no emotions?) there is an aid Paul refers to in his prayer. He prays for the Ephesians that God “may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened.” It’s a heart thing. Knowing in your head isn’t the same as knowing in your heart. The Holy Spirit is the agent who brings Jesus to your heart from your head. He comes as the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Jesus Christ. He allows us to see with the eyes of our hearts, in addition to our physical eyes.

So, what is my solution to the problem of not having an emotional experience of God? Pray this prayer for yourself that Paul prays for the Ephesians. And don’t just pray once, memorize this Scripture and pray it every day. If you pray this from your heart, you will experience it in your heart. Of this, I am sure.

But I do caution, don’t gauge your experience by that of anyone else. Some of us, like me, are more on the quiet side of life. While I have been known to shout exuberantly in response to the preached word, I am generally more sedate than some of my friends. Two responses will mark the answer to your prayer; love and joy. These are the works of the Spirit that dwell deep in your heart.

Father of glory, grant to me the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Christ. Open the eyes of my heart. Enlighten me that I may know the hope to which you have called me. Enlighten me to know what are the riches of your glorious inheritance in me,  and enlighten me to what is the immeasurable greatness of your power toward us who believe, according to the working of your great might that you worked in Christ when you raised him from the dead and seated him at your right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.  And you put all things under your feet and gave Jesus as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Make this your genuine prayer, and you will soon know the emotional joy and love that accompanies the gospel. The eyes of your heart will be enlightened to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ in the Scriptures.

The Big 5 Blessings that are yours in Christ

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. – Ephesians 1:1-14

As Christians, what we have we have purely by virtue of being in Christ. He is the one who inherits all things. We are blessed “in Christ” with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. That is a rather all-encompassing statement. Paul goes ahead and breaks it down in the following section giving us five examples of the blessings we have in Christ. (more…)

Have you limited yourself to a photograph when you could have the real thing?

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. 

16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. – Colossians 2:13-19

I have always thought this statement about a “festival or a new moon or a Sabbath” being a shadow of things to come, but the substance belonging to Christ to be fascinating. How are these things a shadow of Christ?

First off, these are references to Jewish celebrations. Somehow, they had been perverted in the Colossian community along with some pagan practices and were having an impact on the church. They had apparently lost their original meaning, but Paul brings them into gospel perspective. (more…)