The title for this blog post comes from Martin Luther’s comments on the Sermon on the Mount, as it found on page 86 of Luther’s Works, volume 21. What Luther means to say, of course, is that all of us who are in Christ should be eager to be known as Christians, and to strive to live as Christians for our neighbor’s sake.
Regarding how the concrete Christian should view God’s law, he gives us some very helpful perspective in his book, “On the Councils and the Church” (download the whole book for free from Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller — see here). Luther says the following about “the seven principle parts of Christians sanctification” or “the seven holy possessions of the church”:
“By [using, these seven things: the Scriptures, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, Confession and Absolution, Pastors, Prayer and proclamation, and suffering[i]…] the Holy Spirit effects in us a daily sanctification and vivification in Christ, according to the first table of Moses. By [this sanctification] we obey it, albeit never perfectly in Christ. But we constantly strive to attain the goal, under his redemption or remission of sins, until we too shall one day become perfectly holy and no longer stand in need of forgiveness. Everything is directed toward that goal.”
He goes on a bit later to talk about how another sign that helps identify the presence of Christ’s church in the world, love for one’s neighbors, the fulfillment of the second table of the commandments:
“[We see Christ’s church] when we bear no one a grudge, entertain no anger, hatred, envy or vengefulness toward our neighbors, but gladly forgive them, lend to them, help them, and counsel them; when we are not lewd, not drunkards, not proud, arrogant, overbearing, but chaste, self-controlled, sober, friendly, kind, gentle and humble; when we do not steal, rob, are not usurious, greedy, do not overcharge, but are mild, kind, content, charitable; when we are not false, mendacious, perjurers, but truthful, trustworthy, and do whatever else is taught in these commandments – all of which St. Paul teaches abundantly in more than one place. We need the Decalogue not only to apprise us of our lawful obligations, but we also need it to discern how far the Holy Spirit has advanced us in his work of sanctification and by how much we still fall short of the goal, lest we become secure and imagine that we have now done all that is required. Thus we must constantly grow in sanctification and always become new creatures in Christ. This means ‘grow’ and ‘do so more and more’ [II Pet. 3:18]” (LW 41:166)
This kind can only come out by prayer. – Mark 9:29
At one point in the book of Mark we are told that Jesus sends out His disciples to preach, to heal, and, yes, to cast out demons (Mark 6:13; see 3:15 and 6:7 as well).
So, looking at our Gospel reading for today (Mark 9: 14-29), this kind of thing was not something the disciples were unfamiliar with!
Their Master had sent them out to do just this, and so maybe they were thinking like this: if we did it before, we can do it again!
But this time the disciples – overly self-confident, perhaps? – could not….
As one commentator rather bitingly put it, “This was a leveling defeat that prevented the familiar competition between them as to which was the greatest…” (Paavola, 165).
The demon they were dealing with in this case was a particularly stubborn and violent one….
And, an ugly scene had been created and now the scribes, always hostile towards them and Jesus, were having it out with the disciples in an argument…
Where is Jesus when you need Him?
And, then, to everyone’s amazement, He indeed shows up right on time, fresh off of His glorious Transfiguration,[i] and…
…seems to rebuke the unbelief of all those present: “How long shall I be with you? How long must I suffer this?”
…and He bolsters the weak faith of the father of the child who is suffering the demonic attack
…dramatically casts out the violent demon forever
… and then later on, privately but firmly, states to his bewildered disciples:
“This kind can only come out by prayer….”
We need prayer.
We were created to be those who pray. Those who walk and talk with our Creator.
Even though we know that it is God who does things, all things in fact…it is not wrong to say, with the proper understanding, that prayer does things as well.[ii]
God chooses to do things through our prayers, by our acting in union with, communion with, Him.
Like “laws of nature” the world runs by Christian prayer.
Our friend Martin Luther, the 16th century church reformer, gives us a great education:
“[Real prayer involves, first,] the urging of God’s commandment, who has strictly required us to pray; second, His promise, in which He declares that He will hear us; third, an examination of our own need and misery, which burden lies so heavily on our shoulders that we have to carry it to God immediately and pour it out before Him, in accordance with His order and commandment; fourth, true faith, based on this Word and promise of God, praying with certainty and confidence that he will help and hear us – and all these things in the name of Christ, through whom our prayer is acceptable to the Father and for whose sake He gives us every grace and every good” (What Luther says, 1075)
Nevertheless, sinful man will – fiercely independent to the bitter end – perpetually evaluates himself to be not so bad on his own.
But the Bible paints a very, very different picture.
The wickedness runs deep.
The disintegration, the decay, the rot… goes deep.
From the beginning, the disease of sin, like a spiritual leprosy, has infected every part of us….
We are a polluted fountain…
We are even called children of wrath (Eph. 2:3).
Man only prays when he feels like it. Often when he wants life’s riches, cares and pleasures. And then, when he prays he prays to gods of his own imagination….
And here, Jesus’ question to the father about his possessed son: “How long has this been happening to him?,” is an appropriate one for us to consider as well.
Well, it has been happening right from the earliest days, from that fateful day our first parents, Adam and Eve, turned aside from the Lord
…and we too, under the sway of the fall into sin and curse they brought, turned our back on Him.
Not being thankful to Him.
Not regarding Him or His works.
Not depending on Him.
Not trusting in Him.
Not praying to Him.
Many people in our nation today… in America today… get uncomfortable when talking about using the death penalty to punish heinous crimes.
At the same time, the Biblical authors in general – and of all people Jesus Christ in particular – speak freely about hell and hellfire as if… given what our sin honestly is… it is the most natural and expected thing there is….
If we go by Martin Luther’s explanation of the first commandment, man deserves such punishment because we do not fear, love, and trust in God above all things, period.He relates this to prayerlessness….
“You are to look closely at this command and stress it that you do not consider prayer an optional work and act as if it were no sin for you not to pray and as it were enough that others pray. You should know that praying is earnestly enjoined, with the threat of God’s supreme displeasure and punishment if it is neglected. It is enjoined just as well as the command that you should have no other gods and should not blaspheme and abuse God’s name but should confess and preach, laud and praise it. He who does not do this should know that he is no Christian and does not belong to the kingdom of God. If, then, you believe that God is justly angry with the idolatrous, the blasphemers, and the despisers of His Word, with murderers and thieves, and that terrible punishments come upon the world because of such sins, why do you not fear God’s wrath when you despise this command and live on in security as if you were not obliged to pray?” (What Luther Says, 3432)
Luther’s words here are meant, first of all, to wake up those who might be in a church physically, but who don’t really believe.
By this fearsome preaching of God’s commands, he means to make sure that all those who hear would be awakened, and grasp the Gospel. As he explains it elsewhere:
“According to form and substance… we are unrighteous and condemned sinners because there is certainly nothing in man’s entire nature which could [stand up] against God’s judgment. [Nevertheless,] [w]herever this poor and damned nature seizes Christ the Propitiator and Mediator by faith, there sin itself, which is still in the flesh, not only is not condemned, not considered as sin, but is also forgiven for Christ’s sake and is like nothing” (Solus Decalogus, 142).
Even then, once a person comes to Jesus Christ, that person will undergo great temptations.
Among other things, the devil will tell them that they are unworthy to pray….
And, of course, in one sense, that is exactly right!
We need to always remember that it is the sense of unworthiness – God’s bringing us here! — that makes us Christians in the first place!
God’s law, like a mirror, shows us our sin and makes us realize that we are in fact unworthy to stand before Him, in His Presence… He is good and we are not!
And then, when we come to this realization, He gives us the Gospel of Jesus Christ that we are finally ready to receive!
In a sense then, the worthy are those who realize they are unworthy!
Let’s hear from Martin Luther again on this, as he unmasks the devil’s attempts to trick us into thinking that we are unworthy to pray.
“The devil knows well how powerful one man’s truly believing prayer is, how it hurts him and benefits all men. Therefore he does not like prayer. Here man must indeed be wise and not doubt that he and his prayer are unworthy before such infinite Majesty; in no wise dare he trust in his worthiness or grow faint because of his unworthiness. But he must heed God’s command and face Him with it and hold it before the devil and say: Because of my worthiness I have begun nothing; because of my unworthiness I cease from nothing. I pray and work only because God out of His pure goodness has promised to hear and to be gracious to all who are unworthy, and has not only promised it but has also most sternly, with the threat of his everlasting displeasure and wrath, commanded us to pray, to trust, and to receive. If it has not been too much for the sublime Majesty so solemnly and highly to obligate His unworthy works to pray, to trust, and to receive from Him, how can it be too much for me to take this commandment on myself with all joy, however worthy or unworthy I may be? Thus we must drive out the devil’s suggestion with God’s command. Then he will stop; otherwise never” (What Luther Says, 3450)
He also bluntly says this:
[The devil] pretends that you are not worthy to pray. A subterfuge such as this means nothing: I am also unfit to believe God’s Word and to hear it, to love my neighbor, etc. For this reason the commandment of God [to pray] is to mean nothing? The question is not whether you are worthy or unworthy, but whether you owe God obedience. I am not worthy either to be baptized and to be called a Christian; nay, I am not worthy of the daily bread which I eat. Should I, therefore, deny my Christ or never let myself be baptized or neither eat nor drink?” (What Luther Says, 3432)
Finally, I absolutely love this quotation from Luther, lovely in its truth and fierceness!
Going along with feeling unworthy to pray, he might also try to get us to think that our faith is not strong enough to pray!
To disbelieve William Cowper, who said:
“And Satan trembles when he sees
The weakest saint upon his knees.”
Another early Lutheran though, Martin Chemnitz, quickly dispenses of this lie though, by reminding us that…:
“[w]e are justified by faith, not because it is so firm, robust, and perfect a virtue, but because the object on which it lays hold, namely Christ, who is the Mediator of the promise of grace” (Chemnitz 8:932, in Paavola, 164)
It is always the object of faith, Jesus Christ, who makes us Christians.
And it is always the object of faith, Jesus Christ, who makes us successful and invincible…
We in America are apt to think to put the focus on the one exercising the faith though….
On the one hand, this is not entirely wrong: being concerned to have a strong faith is a very good thing!
That said, the problem with a lot of American Christianity though is that the focus is often on us, on the power and strength of our faith… on even “having faith in our faith,” “believing in ourselves,” it seems.
The focus is on something within us, a power within us, some kind of an internal “divine spark” that we must choose or decide to exercise… that we might perhaps even “fan into flames” through the proper use of powerful worship music or things like this!
There is also an inordinate focus on a stronger faith being able to attain earthly blessings, and not necessarily those things God considers earthly blessings – like knowing the love of our own flesh and blood – a good and strong family – but rather the kinds of materialistic blessings that our peers in the world see as indicating success.
Nevertheless, we should desire to have a stronger faith, rightly understood… This means we should desire to be in the habit of grasping and clinging to the object of our faith more and not less firmly.
When one holds a pencil, one should do so with a firm grip. In like fashion, we are made to be those who take a firm hold of Christ’s hand….
At the same time though, we must also remember that there is an important sense in which the strength of our faith does not matter.
I think that a lot of you are probably familiar with trucks being driven out on to frozen lakes and so I hope the following illustration helps…
[If my faith is strong the ice will hold up my truck and I drive out on the ice and it falls through, the strength of my faith did not matter. If I am nervous and crawl out on the lake with weak faith that does not matter if the strength of the object is enough. Jesus is both good and strong enough to save us.]
I hope that makes some good sense to you!
So while we are indeed made to be those who take a firm – and not weak – hold of Jesus Christ’s hand, the primary message for us –and the message that we continually need to be reminded of and to hold on to – is that our hand, is firmly in His grasp.
Like the hand of a little child held by his strong father…. As the Bible says, when we are faithless, He is faithful…
So from the goodness and power of our Heavenly Father and our Good Brother Jesus Christ, the strength of our own faith will grow rightly – with the focus always off of ourselves and on Him!
So enough of our worry!
Remember that it is God Himself – the Maker of all things and the One who would also become weak and die on a cross to pay for our sins – is the very One who commands us to pray and is trustworthy!
At this point we are ready to address Jesus’ words about how this kind can only come out by prayer…
Well, if you will recall, last time I was with you I preached on Ephesians 6:12 which speaks not about hierarches of flesh and blood, but “the rulers… the authorities… the powers of this dark world and… the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
“In His reply to [the disciples’] question our Lord impresses upon them a twofold lesson: (i) The omnipotence of a perfect faith (see Matthew 17:20-21); (ii) that, as there is order and gradation in the hierarchy of blessed spirits, so is it with the spirits of evil (see Ephesians 6:12).”
So, there are evidently “degrees of spiritual and moral wickedness” that are particularly “intense and malignant…”
Now, the chances are that most of us are not going to become those who cast out demons and know the various types… Nor that we will even be calling upon those who specialize in exorcism!
And when it comes to the kind of overt demonic activity we see in our text here, as I have noted before, Satan, in our “Western” context, seems to prefer these days to keep a lower profile (even if, yes, the official “church of Satan” really did come out in opposition to the new abortion laws passed in Texas last week…)[v]
Nevertheless, there are a good number of people in the world and even in the church who are extremely skeptical of the devil’s existence….
Many believe, for instance, that this story from our Gospel reading today only records an episode of epilepsy, and not demonic possession.
“People back then were more primitive,” the wrong-headed thinking goes – they didn’t know what we know now.[vi]
At the same time, even in as godless a paper as the Washington Post, an article sub-titled “How a scientist learned to work with exorcists” appeared a few years ago (2016).
In it, we hear from Richard Gallagher, a board-certified psychiatrist and professor of clinical psychiatry at New York Medical College. He shares that at one point in his life, “the most experienced exorcist in the country at the time, a priest and an “erudite and sensible man,” had sought him – one of the world’s most respected and educated psychiatrists – out regarding his opinion on a particularly troubling case….
“So began an unlikely partnership. For the past two-and-a-halfdecades and over several hundred consultations, I’ve helped clergy from multiple denominations and faiths to filter episodes of mental illness — which represent the overwhelming majority of cases — from, literally, the devil’s work. It’s an unlikely role for an academic physician, but I don’t see these two aspects of my career in conflict. The same habits that shape what I do as a professor and psychiatrist — open-mindedness, respect for evidence and compassion for suffering people — led me to aid in the work of discerning attacks by what I believe are evil spirits and, just as critically, differentiating these extremely rare events from medical conditions…careful observation of the evidence presented to me in my career has led me to believe that certain extremely uncommon cases can be explained no other way.”[vii]
None of this would surprise my friend Pastor Harold Ristau, who in his book “My First Exorcism” writes the following:
“When reading the New Testament, one gets the impression that the demon-possessed were always clearly so: tied up in chains, banished into the desert, etc. But in my experience, demons can remain hidden for extensive periods of time in their host, influencing their behaviour, haunting their thoughts, playing with their souls, and only periodically manifesting their presence publicly. One of the demoniacs with whom I worked could summon her demon at will. Because demons like to hide, some of them need to be coaxed or goaded out through lengthy prayers and precise commands. Evidently, there are various degrees of demonic activity. Each cause demands a unique pastoral response” (10).
“Of course, it is never our prayers, but those of our valiant champion that pulverize these hostile enemy forces…”
Do you believe?
Nevertheless, again, Pastor Ristau also points out this important thing to remember….
“I believe that I have engaged in battles with the devil through demonically oppressed and possessed individuals. But the most nefarious manifestations of evil are not encountered in demoniacs. Rather, we meet them every day in the cultures from which we are bred, the messages to which we are exposed, and even the ideas and passions to which we are committed…” (155)
Do you believe this?
Are you in agreement that there are important influences in our lives outside of the church… and hence, our interpretations of God and His world, our views of God and His world, are not all that they can and should be?
Do you believe that prayer addressing such things is most necessary?!
This, again, is why God bids us to pray “Deliver us from evil!”
Can you at least say “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief?”
The man in our Gospel reading today, at the end of his rope and desperate to help his child confesses, in tears, just this…. There is no hope of success here except through the almighty power of God! (Expositor’s Greek Testament)
And, as Daniel Paavola puts it “[i]n contrast to the departing shriek of the demon, Jesus brings life…
…with a quiet word and gentle touch.
The strong Carpenter’s hands restore the broken child with a silent grace…” (164)
Jesus is both good enough and strong enough to do something – for this boy, for this father, and for all of us here today….
Again, the actions we see here, driven by His holy love for mankind, are the same kinds of actions we see throughout His life leading up to His death on the cross that He might be a ransom for many, to pay for all our sins and bring us back to God….
With the faith of a mustard seed you can move mountains, because that faith is in the Good and Sovereign Lord of the Universe (Strauss, 399).
So, let the power and love of Christ flow through you indeed!
Let power and love, the power of God’s love, have their day in you (Paavola, 163).
Not to be saved, but precisely because you are saved by, because you are being saved by, the blood of Jesus Christ, strive!
Strive to know better who God is, and who you are, by spending time in His presence, spending time with His people, and taking the time to listen to His life-giving word both publicly and privately![viii]
It might do us all well to remember here what Paul said to the Thessalonians:
“…And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.”
God is at work in us through His word.
So don’t focus on taking control, achieving spiritual successes and new heights for yourself, but look to simply be faithful, to depend on Him in all things, to know more and more that His Word reigns supreme and has all the power we need.
…be not confident in your own abilities, but fix your eyes on Jesus![ix]
And so, finally, when Jesus commands you to pray, to pray without ceasing… be not condemned, but comforted and confident!
If a King tells you to ask for a castle that he might give it to you, this is something to not so much tremble about – though you dare not dishonor him by not doing so! – but to rejoice in!
Be confident in!
Pray, children of God.
Your Father is the very One who, through the love of Jesus Christ, puts that strong and fervent desire there.
And He always invites: “Ask, seek, knock, find…”
He is eager to hear from us together… and from each one of us alone as well.
[i] Lutheran Study Bible: “Jesus descends from the transfiguration and meets a defiant demon, an anxious father, and astonished crowd, and despairing disciples. Despair threatens to overwhelm our faith too by pointing out how we fail to change or improve, suggesting that god neither cares for us nor has power to help. However, Jesus does not linger in the glory of the transfiguration, but graciously descends to a world of despair and doubt so that he might deliver us.”
[iii] One more. In the large catechism, as he talked about the seventh petition of the Lord’s prayer, “Deliver us from evil,” Martin Luther wrote the following:
“But there is nevertheless also included whatever evil may happen to us under the devil’s kingdom-poverty, shame, death, and, in short, all the agonizing misery and heartache of which there is such an unnumbered multitude on the earth. For since the devil is not only a liar, but also a murderer, he constantly seeks our life, and wreaks his anger whenever he can afflict our bodies with misfortune and harm. Hence it comes that he often breaks men’s necks or drives them to insanity, drowns some, and incites many to commit suicide, and to many other terrible calamities.
Therefore there is nothing for us to do upon earth but to pray against this arch-enemy without ceasing. For unless God preserved us, we would not be safe from him even for an hour.”
29. This kind] In His reply to their question our Lord impresses upon them a twofold lesson: (i) The omnipotence of a perfect faith (see Matthew 17:20-21); (ii) that, as there is order and gradation in the hierarchy of blessed spirits, so is it with the spirits of evil (see Ephesians 6:12). There are degrees of spiritual and moral wickedness so intense and malignant that they can be exorcised by nothing save by prayer and fasting, and the austerest rules of rigour and self-denial. These last words and fasting are wanting in the Sinaitic MS. and some Versions.
[viii] As one pastor (Matt Richards) recently put it: “You do not live apart from Christ. That is not how things work. You do not live independently from His gifts. Just as you need air to breathe, water to live, and food to give you energy, you must always return to Christ for forgiveness, life, and salvation. This Christian life is circular because we are always returning to the fountainhead of grace and truth. We do not return just once at the beginning or the end, but we return constantly.”
[ix] I was not fully comfortable with the italicized portion of Strauss’ comments here (Mark, 401): “When our faith wavers, it is not because we are not striving hard enough to succeed or are not confident enough in our own abilities. It is because we have gotten our eyes off Jesus.” Therefore, I framed things as I did. We are encouraged to strive in the Bible, for peace with all men, for holiness, etc.
“…put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”
– Ephesians 6:13
The Christian life is simultaneously one of war and peace, or perhaps better, peace and war.
In spite of what some have claimed throughout church history, God means for the Christian to know that he is at peace with Him (Rom. 5:1 and I John 5:12-13).
And God also means for the Christian to know that he is at war with the devil.
First, let’s talk about peace with God.
Amazingly, we are told that Jesus Christ defeated the devil at the cross.
The great Old Testament prophecy of Genesis 3:15 – that Eve’s offspring would crush the Serpent’s head – was fulfilled when, we are told, “having disarmed the powers and authorities, [Jesus] made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”
(one without the eyes of faith might think that it was Jesus who was made a shameful public spectacle, but evidently not…)
So even though Satan introduced strife between man and God, the cross defeats Satan and restores man’s relationship with God.
Second, there is war.
With Christ’s earthly mission accomplished – “It is finished” – God’s Holy Spirit raised Him from the dead and poured out His Holy Spirit on His Bride, the Church.
For God uses His church as the “mop up” operations vs. Satan proceed.
Hence, right at the beginning of the book of Acts, we hear about the beginning of the end, as Christ’s finished work takes effect:
“‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams
We are in the last days then, the end times, as the day of final judgement draws ever nearer. Even if Satan might be a defeated foe in these “Last Days,” he fights on ; God, for some reason, permits him to fight on…
Why does Satan bother? It is a mystery to me. Perhaps he thinks he somehow has a chance. Or maybe he doesn’t believe the prophecy of his final defeat. Or, does he simply try to cause as much pain and suffering as he can until his end comes?
In any case, he has his sights set on you.
In this guerilla war, you, believe it or not, are in his crosshairs.
Again, God means for the Christian to know that He is at war with the devil.
Have you ever heard the famous hymn “I Walk in Danger All the Way?”
It is a most appropriate hymn to talk about as regards our Epistle reading this morning. Just so we can be reminded of what we are dealing with out there.
In verses 2 and 3 it does not talk directly about the devil, but about what the Bible calls “his work” (I John 3:8), namely sin, disease, suffering and death:
2 I pass through trials all the way, With sin and ills contending; In patience I must bear each day The cross of God’s own sending. When in adversity I know not where to flee, When storms of woe my soul dismay, I pass through trials all the way.
3 And death pursues me all the way, Nowhere I rest securely; He comes by night, he comes by day, He takes his prey most surely. A failing breath, and I In death’s strong grasp may lie To face eternity today As death pursues me all the way.
The first verse of the hymn deals specifically with our foe, the destroyer:
1 I walk in danger all the way, The thought shall never leave me That Satan, who has marked his prey, Is plotting to deceive me. This foe with hidden snares May seize me unawares If I should fail to watch and pray. I walk in danger all the way.
We are at war. As the Lutheran Study Bible puts it
“In these end times, evil forces battle against God’s children, who have been rescued from evil (2 Co 6:2).
Out text speaks about “the evil day”. What is this evil day?
The commentator Clinton Arnold says that it is an experience that “comes at various intervals throughout the lives of God’s people when the powers of darkness execute their strategies in an effort to cause believers to fall” (450, see Lenski also, 663).
Think of what Jesus says to Peter prior to his temptation to deny Jesus on the night of his betrayal: “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat” (Luke 22:31)
None of this is easy for us to understand – in Peter’s day and today as well. Oftentimes, we are perplexed about where to look, how to fight.
If Satan is trying to destroy me, if Satan is trying to destroy Christ’s Church, where specifically can I see this happening?
I will be extremely blunt here: It happens in so many cases and in every which way… The schemes, lies and subtle manipulations of Satan happen in hundreds of thousands of ways. And ultimately, Satan’s goal is to destroy your soul.
He wants you to leave behind the Gospel of Jesus Christ, particularly in your greatest time of need, perhaps as you near death. After all, above all else, that is what he hates!
And just what is that Gospel that Satan hates so badly?
It is something outside of you, and that thing by which
…you were delivered from all your oppression
…from where you draw all your strength…
…and that thing that no earthly power can match.
The Apostle Paul said that the Gospel is the power of God for all who believe and defined it quite specifically in I Corinthians 15:
“Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”
Above all, Satan wants you and everybody else to
…ignore this message,
to minimize this message,
to not regard this message,
to fail to see its supreme importance,
and to even hate and fight against it with every evil impulse that is within you…..
Yes, the thing he wants to kill most is the consciences of Christians. He wants the church dead and unawake to His word, particularly His Gospel.
He also is looking most forward to seeing all manner of chaos and destruction, in some ways it seems like a horror movie…
Disorder and disarray… Mayhem and murder… Luther grasped this a bit:
“The wickedness of the devil is so great that no man can grasp it, nor is it possible for any human being to be so wicked in his own nature. For although a man is very wicked and intensely angry and does his very worst, he thoroughly wreaks his vengeance, pours out the vials of his wrath and rage, and then stops. But to be so wicked as to find one’s pleasure and delight only in the misfortune of other people, in their lingering hunger, thirst, misery, and want, in the perpetration of nothing but bloodshed and treason, especially in the lives of those who neither have done nor could do one any harm, this is the hellish and insatiable rage and fury of the wretched devil, of which human nature is incapable. For no human being could of himself be so desperately wicked as to be delighted and pleased to see a young, innocent child stabbed to death before his eyes without any reason or an entire city of both young and old people innocently murdered…” (1156, p. 394, What Luther Says)”
Somedays I wonder if Luther here underestimates the capacity of human nature to find pleasure and delight in other’s misfortunes.
My mind goes to various atrocities that I know have been committed by men….I think of the great Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky writes a novel called “Demons”, or, alternatively, “The Possessed”.[i]
…and years later the Russian revolution leads it’s most zealous adherents to commit unspeakable atrocities that I will not, well, speak of in this place.
Sometimes I wonder if it is only people like cowardly, status-seeking, and obsequious university academics who are willing to cover for such evil, cover their eyes to such evil….
In any case, I really do hope that Luther is basically right, somehow… That some evils are so great most no man or women can abide them for long… or live in peace with the knowledge of them until death swallows them up forever….
In any case, an important point needs to be made here.
Satan indeed loves extreme evil. And yet, the most subtle kinds of evil are the ones that are most likely to fool most people. His clever lies are those things which are most insidious and deadly to our faith…
How insidious and deadly have his lies been?
Well, consider that even now as Christian hope springs up elsewhere in the world, for instance in China and the “Global South”, Christ’s church has been more or less decimated in Europe, in England, and increasingly, in the whole “Western world”…
Well, the spiritual battle can be raw and intense – as when actual demons reveal themselves – but again, Satan is often far more subtle than that. Here in the world, and in the “Western world” in particular, we know the battle is really one of our minds.
The Apostle Paul’s words can be of great help here…
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
The power of the lie is so strong, and comes in so many forms!
The lies, the idols Satan tempts us with the world over, are so many! Let’s look at some…
If your land has peace, prosperity, and suffers no war – if your own household suffers no war — you must have peace with god or the gods!
Or how about this?:
God will redeem America because it is His chosen nation, much like Israel was God’s chosen nation in the Old Testament!
What about this one?:
Good works are what I am all about! If I obey the 10 commandments to the best of my ability God will surely reward me for my efforts, and bless me with blessing in this life and salvation in the life to come!
Or more subtly:
If I turn from my sin and decide to follow Jesus – and work very hard and read my Bible and pray, I know I don’t get my salvation that way but I do know that earthly blessing – “thrivetime” – is very, very likely to come! There are exceptions like Job of course, but even he got it all back in the end.
If you are a Christian you will be healthy, happy, wealthy, and wise – suffering will not come to your door – or at least it you won’t end that way on earth!
Or this one?:
If we simply obey Christ’s commands more strictly. If we devote ourselves to total non-violence in the form of Christian pacifism… and if we condemn the contrary… we will heal the world and make it a better place!
This one seem seems popular today:
If we devote ourselves to the cause of racial justice and insist that in order to follow Christ we must completely open up our nation’s borders to let the floodgates come in, the blessings will flow as well! After all if we are merciful God will be merciful to us.
Satan wants our souls dead forever, that isclinging to anything other than the simple Gospel of Christ crucified for sinners.
He is particularly pleased when the Church picks up the word of God, and yet – having calloused and deadened consciences – fails to be shaped by it even as it looks to shape it itself…
In other words, not really listening to what the Word says and letting it have its way with them, but, often taking this or that passage out of context, wielding it as a weapon en route to fulfilling their own goals.
The goals that they believe will give them survival, satisfaction, and even salvation.
Which also, at the same time leads them to quickly condemn others around them, and to quickly deny the Christianity of those around them… for not seeing things in the same way….
But they do not understand that Christ gives real peace to His real people up front.
That He means for them to be driven to do good because they know that God is not only Good, but that He has been good to them personally in Christ!
That He means for them to fight not to gain salvation but because they have been given salvation in Him!
Again, Romans 10:1-4 – featuring the Apostle Paul’s earnest words to his own Jewish brothers and sisters – unveils the errors that so many of the most morally earnest people today miss, namely that “it is finished” in Jesus Christ:
“Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes….”
Jesus Christ forgives sinners of all their sins: past, present, future!
He forgives me! He forgives you! Even now in this moment!
So guard your mind and your conscience!
Remember who you are in Jesus Christ!
Be aware of the more subtle lies of Satan!
And also don’t forget this:
That even as he might flatter human beings with the temptations to use their reason and to produce high-falutin’ ideas, there is ultimately something much more basic, base, at the bottom of it…
Hence, the Apostle John warns us of “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (I John 2:16)
Do not let them consume you!
Do not let life’s riches, cares, and pleasures distract you!
Do not envy those in the world you have so much, and yet have in effect sold their souls to the “the powers of this dark world” and “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms…”
And “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,and do not give the devil a foothold.”
Remember, the beachhead has been established!
The flag of the cross has been planted!
God’s Holy Spirit goes from Jerusalem, to Samaria, to the ends of the earth like ripples in a lake from a stone….
And the victory has already been won!
So keep your conscience clean.
Live, and grow by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
Remember always that Jesus said my words are spirit and life!
In this war, be comforted!
4 I walk with angels all the way, They shield me and befriend me; All Satan’s pow’r is held at bay When heav’nly hosts attend me; They are my sure defense, All fear and sorrow, hence! Unharmed by foes, do what they may, I walk with angels all the way.
5 I walk with Jesus all the way, His guidance never fails me; Within His wounds I find a stay When Satan’s pow’r assails me; And by His footsteps led, My path I safely tread. No evil leads my soul astray; I walk with Jesus all the way.
6 My walk is heav’nward all the way; Await, my soul, the morrow, When God’s good healing shall allay All suff’ring, sin, and sorrow. Then, worldly pomp, begone! To heav’n I now press on. For all the world I would not stay; My walk is heav’nward all the way.
And God has given us armor for this journey. We need to take a look at it also…
What is it?
First of all, we might recall the Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 13:
“The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day has drawn near. So let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14Instead, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh…”
As we “clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ,” essentially reminding ourselves that we are the chosen ones of God, the baptized (see Winger, 748-753, see Gal. 3:27), we do so with this armor God gives us.
A little background on this armor from the Concordia Self-Study Bible:
“The armor represents both a promise of divine protection and an exhortation to battle. Like a general encouraging his troops, Paul tells us that the victory is certain because Christ has already won the war, and He has made us well-prepared to stand with Him to face any last-ditch assaults. In ancient legends, the weapons and armor of a hero could give certain victory to anyone who wore them (1 Samuel 17:38).[ii]
While in this mortal coil, we are going to experience evil, and must battle against it. Here, the ride never ends because the devil is no mean commander, and knows his game (Lenski, 658).
So put on the armor of God, receive the real power, the success, the invincibility that He gives you.
“One little word can fell him,” that is, the devil. So speak the word to yourself and others!
Pray… look to Him… cling to Him… on all occasions!
The devil is the Father of lies, but Jesus Christ is[iii] the belt of truth that protects our midsection, loins, and thighs…[iv] Do not let the false promises of the world affect you at your center, but keep in mind your identity in Him and live with integrity in the truth.
The devil is full of wickedness and unrighteousness but the Lord Jesus is the strong breastplate of righteousness that brings redemption to His people (Isa 59:20), closely covers them with His protection (Isa 59:14), and guards our hearts from demonic attacks.
Satan is the strife-producer and accuser who calls us unworthy and guilty but our Lord Himself is the one who fully embodies “the readiness to announce the good news of peace” that covers our feet. “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” (Isa 52:7)
Satan fires fiery arrows of temptation at believers, attempting to lodge this or that evil thought or lie in our heart, but Jesus Christ is the large shield of faith, or panoply of faith, whereby these attacks are easily and effectively quenched. Trust Him. As many in the Old Testament put it, the Lord “is a shield for all who take refuge in him” (Ps 18:30)[v]
The devil is the one who aims to keep you and your neighbors blind: to cover eyes with his dominion of darkness. Christ is the helmet of salvation (see Isa 59:17) that allows us to see with the eyes of faith that the cross does indeed bring victory – and the new creation! And to also protect the knowledge we have of Him as our rescuer who has brought us into His Kingdom of Light.
Satan, who disguises himself as an “angel of light,” is the one who would deceive us though his own voice, and urge us to listen to him. Christ is the very Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God in human flesh who not only comes into our ears and gives us life, but animates us as we counter the other powerful voices in the world (Isa 11:4).
“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isa 40:8)
So stand like a victor, for that is your business (Lenski, 662).
Again, think of Jesus saying to Peter: “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat” (Luke 22:31). Shortly thereafter he says to those who come to seize Him, “This is your hour and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53)
But when Jesus told Peter Satan was to sift him like wheat, what did He then go on to immediately say?:
“But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
Don’t doubt that Jesus Christ Himself prays for you too, as He did for Simon.
So, friends, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, put on the full armor of God, because He cares for you.
[ii] It continues: “The armor Paul describes is not simply from God; it is God s own armor, what He Himself wore in battle. Dressed in Christ’s armor, we look remarkably like Christ, for through Baptism we are clothed with Him” (Eph. 4:24; Rom. 13:12-14; Gal. 3:27).” (Lutheran Study Bible)
Also from the Lutheran Study Bible: “stand against” The picture is defensive; Christ defends us against the devil on our behalf.” (Lutheran Study Bible)
On the other hand: “The Greek used here does not necessarily imply only a defensive resistance to attack; it can be used to speak of an aggressive stance against one’s opponents. Psalm 21:11 [20:12], for instance, describes enemies who devise a wicked scheme, but ‘they are not able to stand;…. That is, they are not able to carry out their hostile plan against David. Similarlly, Ps 18:38 [17:39] depicts David at war against a horde of attacking enemies, but aided by God’s strength for battle, he strikes them doewn so that ‘they are not able to stand.’ In other words, their ‘standing’ implies aggressive attacks against the kind. Finally 1 Chr 21:1 notes that the devil ‘stood’ in Israel to incite David to sin by taking a census. In Ephesians, as we will see, believers are summoned to take both defensive and offensive postures against their supernatural enemies (Clinton Arnold, 445)…
Finally, Winger makes a strong case that defense is the main focus and that certainly, it is always the “Lord himself [who] will fight for us” and that our job “is to stand firm and watch him win the victory, to entrust oneself completely to the Lord’s strength.” See 737-738, 746,
[iii] Note Jerome (!): “From what we read of the Lord our Savior throughout the Scriptures, it is manifestly clear that the whole armor of Christ is the Savior Himself. It is He whom we are asked to put on. It is one and the same thing to say, Put on the whole armor of God and “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Our belt is truth and our breastplate is righteousness – but the Savior is also called truth and righteousness. So no one can doubt that He Himself is that very belt and breastplate.
On this principle He is also to be understood as the preparation of the gospel of peace. He Himself is the shield of faith and the helmet of salvation. He is the sword of the Spirit, because He is the Word of God living and efficacious, the utterance of which is stronger than any helmet and sharp on both sides.”
[v] Arnold: “The most relevant informing passage… for illustrating the dynamic between faith ad divine strengthening is [Eph] 3:16-17. In this prayer for a realization of God’s empowerment, Paul juxtaposes his request that they may ‘be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner self for Christ to dwell through faith… in your hearts.’ Faith is thus explained as the medium by which one can gain divine empowerment and experience a greater measure of the exalted and victorious Christ’s presence” (457)
[vi] Found online in a Bible study: “The best identity protection comes through prayer. Martin Luther wrote both a morning prayer and an evening prayer. Each prayer asks for protection from the evil one. Your goal for the week should be to pray the evening prayer each night and the morning prayer each morning. They are both printed below, and your leaders have a card for you that you can carry with you if you desire. Closing Prayer Close with the prayer that is appropriate for the time your group is meeting. Morning Prayer I thank You, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have kept me this night from all harm and danger; and I pray that You would keep me this day also from sin and every evil, that all my doings and life may please You. For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen. Evening Prayer I thank You, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have graciously kept me this day; and I pray that You would forgive me all my sins where I have done wrong, and graciously keep me this night. For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen.”
I have heard that letters to those inhabiting your office will not be read if they are longer than one page. I hope that is not true!
I thought that I must write to you and speak to you about the grave concerns I have for our nation.
Increasingly, it is clear to me that more and more people in America think that our country is moving in the wrong direction. I am among them.
It pains me greatly to see this happening in America. As one who believes that every good gift comes from above, I have been absolutely overwhelmed to have known the gift – the privilege – of being born in this great land. I love its colorful people and want to see it continue, to be improved, and to go from strength to strength.
Now, as I am sure you are well aware, in Romans 13 the Bible tells us to — shockingly for us Americans!:
“…be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves… it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.”
For we know many rulers have attained to their rule through unjust war, horrific bloodshed, and the deplorable greed for worldly gain — and yet God’s very Word, it seems, does not make qualifications on their rule! How much more so you then, who went through all the properly appointed channels when it came to determining the validity of the prior election! During the entire post-election time from Nov. 4th until Jan. 21st, no one was able to effectively oppose you!
So yes, it appears that you are the legitimate ruler of the United States of America! Power and authority was passed on to you. Again, I repeat for emphasis, as the creator of the film The Deep Rig, Patrick Byrne, points out…
You were the victor as you seemingly defeated your electoral foe through all of the legitimately established channels of American law and jurisprudence.
“[T]he need for maintaining peace is paramount, and that means we have to focus on the audits and using the learnings from them to reform election law in our states.
To this President Trump may reply, “If I have a legal claim then I have every right to pursue it.”
To which I respond, Maybe. But Sir, twice in our infamous 4.5 hour meeting in your office, I told you that if January 6 comes and goes and you do not open the ballot boxes, then, it will be too late. “It would be sore-loserism,” I said. When these Maricopa audit results come out I think that you will see that you have every claim in the world to say that you were cheated. But in the interest of peace, let us focus on using this information to trigger other audits in other states, restoring election integrity, retaking the Republican Party from within, and in 14 months we will retake all of the Peoples’ Chamber and 1/3 of the Senate. Yes Sir, maybe you could demand more. But for the sake of peace, let us focus on not disrupting any Constitutional timelines.”
Again, it is my own conviction that all appearances suggest you have power and authority from God, and I must acknowledge you and submit to you as my ruler. And now, having said that, I note that of the rulers God has appointed, he also says this in Romans 13:
“For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer…”
Could there be a higher, weighty, and more terrifying calling on earth than this? If a ruler is really going to be a *governing* authority (see above), this is exactly what such a one must do. And this is you!
It is because of this that I must urge you to do what is right, and to:
Abandon your administration’s fanning of the flames of racial hostility, its unwillingness to maintain American’s borders, and its evil twisting of the concepts equality and “human rights”—including its coercive attempts to get other nations to follow us in our folly.
Abandon your administration’s use of the organs of government, the media, big tech and big science, and the judiciary to shut down legitimate constitutionally-protected dissent, attempting to suffocate and minimize their voices.
Finally, flee from encouraging all manner of deception, intimidation, and fraud against the American people – even making amends and restitution where this is necessary!
For to participate in such things – which I regret to say, I firmly believe your administration has done and is doing – is to not only bring shame to the office in which God has appointed you but to incur His wrath as well. It is to no longer really govern, but to become a terror to one’s own people, more like Marlon Brando’s “godfather” than any good and wise father. God is not mocked, and will tear down leaders who do not take Him seriously, nor show proper respect to limits imposed on us by His creation and commandments.
Now, please note this well: this is no threat from me or, I believe, most any other Christian American.
This is simply me echoing what the Bible says about God’s justice and His punishment of the wicked. If we do not always see this in our lives in a timely fashion, the resurrection of Jesus Christ assures us that in the life to come this will indeed be the case (see Acts 17:30,31).
I beg you. Turn to Almighty God and lead your people well, in the fear of the Lord! Turn aside from all advisors or others who might use you for evil and do right, love justice, and walk humbly with the Lord!
So what will I do and work for? Again, I think many of us Christian Americans would want to say “Amen” to our fellow-traveler Patrick Byrne when he says:
“The Maricopa Audit is going to give President Trump and hundreds of millions of Americans material about which to be truly aggrieved. I hope that after January 6, President Trump and they learned a lesson about walking into catastrophe without a plan. And the only peaceful plan I can think of involves using the information gained in the audits, no matter how egregious, to work through the political process, reform election laws so as to reestablish election integrity, and win a landslide in 14 months. Anyone calling for anything more aggressive than that better have a plan as to how it happens peacefully or it is not on my dance card.”
Thank you for hearing me. I trust that before God, you will understand that this is indeed what I believe I must say and do in our Constitutional order here in this time and place, during “such a time as this”.
Why? Because I am of “We the People,” and must, in some sense at least, be a “Lesser Magistrate”. Even if that means leading well only my own precious family which has been given to me, perhaps as we feel we must peacefully protest and resist with all our might!
I ask that you would hear me, my message, my plea…
Note: This message was sent to the White House last Saturday morning.
“Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
– Ephesians 5:14
Sometimes, the Bible makes things so clear, it can be very painful for the world to hear.
Who is the light? The Light, with a capital L, is Jesus Christ.
Who is the darkness? The darkness, with a small l, is sinful man.
The commentator Clinton Arnold write:
“Darkness is… [a] way of describing the pervasive impact of evil… Sin… has spread to every person much like a terrible disease… Darkness and sin become the characteristic and defining condition of humanity. Darkness is also a sphere in which the unredeemed live. It is an area or domain in which the power, control, and influence of evil is compellingly felt. Paul unpacks this to some degree [earlier in the book of Ephesians, in 2:2-3], when he speaks of unbelievers living under the control of ‘the age of this world,’ ‘the rulers of the realm of the air,’ and ‘the lusts of our flesh’ – the threefold form of evil influence that has been classically referred to as the world, the flesh, and the devil.” (Ephesians, 328)
And the Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, also makes clear what God’s activity is towards all those He calls His children, to all who believe in the Name of His Son, Jesus Christ:
“He rescue[s] us from the Dominion of Darkness and [brings] us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Col 1:13 ; see also Acts 26:18).
This is the critical truth we must know – with none of us, we pray to God, being left behind.
And this is why in our reading from Ephesians today, the first thing we hear is the Apostle Paul saying:
“Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of [the evils those living in darkness do] God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.”
The Apostle Paul then goes on to say “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light…”
What does it mean for us to be light?
Well, again, we first remember that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the second member of the Trinity, the Logos or Word of God, is the Light of the world.
As the Christmas hymn Of the Father’s Love Begotten says of Him:
“This is he whom seers of old time chanted of with one accord,
Whom the voices of the prophets promised in their faithful word;
Now he shines, the long-expected, let creation praise its Lord,
Evermore and evermore.”
And now, because of the Lord Jesus Christ, we too, are light.
Again, Paul says to the Ephesians “you once were darkness”…
Now back in his day, before artificial light like streetlamps and other security lights, realize this would have likely hit his audience even harder than it hits us…
“the connection of nighttime darkness with evil [would have been] even more intense” (Winger 565)
And for Paul to say “You once were darkness”!
What does this mean?
It means “you were controlled by darkness. You Ephesians were, to say the very least, influenced badly and a bad influence yourself!”
And this, of course, was true of us as well.
Whether we came to faith in Christ later in life or were baptized early on and learned early on to exclaim “I am baptized” throughout our lives…
…we were certainly born in darkness, and under God’s wrath….
But now, because you are accepted by God… Given forgiveness, life and salvation through the perfect life and innocent death of His Beloved Son Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, you too,
Be pure light!
This is why Paul, for example, tells the Thessalonians “You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness” (I Thes. 5:5)
And why he says to the very messed-up congregation of the Corinthians:
“God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6; see also I Peter 2:9).
Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! (2 Cor 9:15)
So, you have become enlightened not in the worldly sense but in the Biblical sense… you have become light, and, a good influence…
Back in Paul’s day, dealing with the Ephesians in the context of their native Ephesus, today modern Turkey, he urged them to…:
“Follow God’s example…as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
3 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. 4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. 5 For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.”
That passage, in fact, came right before our reading for today….
And so Paul now goes on to tell us to “make fruit of goodness, truth, and righteousness” and to “put your stamp of approval” on what pleases God (yes, the text we read says “find out what pleases God” but that is not the best translation…).
The polar opposite of the “sphere of darkness” that we spoke of earlier is the “sphere of light”, characterized by goodness, righteousness, and truth (Clinton Arnold)
And so here Paul, as he so often does in this Epistle, is encouraging the Christians in Ephesus to be like Christ.
He knows that they already know that exercising goodness, righteousness and truth are God’s will and pleasing to Him, but here he has in mind putting it into practice in their own contexts….
How might this look in their family relationships and households?
In how they conduct themselves at work?
How they choose to navigate living in their pagan societies? (Arnold)[i]
So now, our own application of these texts, is quite simple: How can I, taking into consideration the same, do likewise?
Compare the words and deeds of the world around you with the teachings of Holy Scripture!
Paul then goes on to encourage us to do something we might find rather uncomfortable:
To not only avoid but to expose fruitless deeds of darkness.
The admonition here is not something like avoiding unbelievers altogether, for example, but to not be involved in the kinds of behaviors that they participate in which are not pleasing to God.
These behaviors are characterized, again, as “works of darkness”.
They would certainly include the kinds of things that he mentioned earlier: sexual immorality, greed (or perhaps, “covetous desire” or even “lust” is a better translation), and filthy talk.
And given his references to deeds done in secrecy as well, he might be focusing on the occultic or magical arts – which went hand in hand with Temple-sanctioned sexual activity — that were so common in Ephesus (see Acts 19:13-20).
At the same time, they also would certainly encompass any kind of behavior that is displeasing to God.
So Paul is talking about a confrontation here that is born of love, “tough love”
…and it seems he is doing this particularly with fellow believers who he sees are falling under the sway of evil environments and Paul wants them to escape the traps of the devil.
People cannot come to God – or continue in the saving relationship they have with Him – unless their deeds are exposed and they confess these sins.
And that is the main reason that we expose them, that the words:
“Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
…will begin to make some sense to them, or continue to make sense to them.
Now, this can be done badly, and even if things are not done badly this whole area is fraught with difficulty, to be sure.
I recently read this, for example, from a pastor angry at some people who, in his view, tried to “help” a certain woman he recalls (note the quotes):
“I have seen far too often the horrifying ramifications of those who have bought into the bulls**t [BS] of false teachers. I have encountered too many times the deep distrust of our Lord’s church when his people have been far too quick to wound than to heal—when they find delight in judgment and are hesitant to forgive. Think of the mother of three young children going through a divorce—terrified about what her future holds, longing for some hope, some kindness, only to be met with demands that are beyond her ability to perform. The peddlers direct her within herself to dig deeper, to try harder, to fix what is broken. But the deeper she goes, the more horrors she uncovers, and they are all beyond her ability to fix.
By the time I meet her, her eyes are full of tears, but her jaw is set tight in firm conviction. For she resolves to hear nothing more from the church, for there is only pain, only more hurt to a life that is saturated with hurt. There is no hope if hope is found within, no confidence if confidence is in her own ability. So, she writes it off altogether, to be alone in her brokenness.
I want to hold her, to protect her, to do something. I want to punch those peddlers in the face and scream for all to hear, “It’s all bulls**t. Everything outside of Christ alone is bulls**t!” Just another lie from the hearts of men designed to make themselves feel better.
Let us not grow weary of our repentance and confession. Let us continually fall empty handed at the foot of the cross. And God willing, let us call it bulls**t when it is.”[ii]
Now, there is a lot there. In my view, such heartfelt statements should make us think, reflect and start and not end conversations.
Obviously, we must be wise about the way we go about exposing or uncovering evil and be challenged by our own motivations for doing so.
While also, at the same time, taking care not to be cowardly in what we refuse to confront.
The apostle Paul, as he so often does, helps us put all of this in perspective:
“you who are spiritual should restore [your brother] gently…” (Galatians 6:1)
Another point to make here is this: we would be wrong to read Paul as saying that we should only care to help (not “help”) our own, to show tough love to our own, within the church…
God does mean for us to confront the world as well, to expose its deeds of darkness.
We might think that the particular context of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians doesn’t really have much to do with us today, but if we think this, we should think again.
The Lutheran commentator Thomas Winger stated in his Ephesians commentary published just 6 years ago that:
“Contemporary socioeconomic entrapment in the sexual entertainment industry and the growing trade in human trafficking bear close resemblance to the ancient conscription of cult prostitutes [in Ephesus]. A vast difference from ancient fertility cults, whose worshippers typically desired a maximum of children, is the modern disdain for children, resulting in infanticide and the abortion of babies in utero. Yet these modern practices may in fact be further evidence of the idolatrous (demonic) nature of the modern cult of sexual immorality” (Winger, Ephesians, 574).
In many cases, we might perhaps prioritize our decisions to act based on our own particular gifts, callings or vocations, and the seriousness of the injustices that we find thrown across our paths…
I think about the non-profit organizations[iii] and the Pennsylvania politicians who recently revealed how “intact unborn babies with hearts still beating [are being] delivered to NIH-funded research labs [at the University of Pittsburgh].”[iv] There, while the infant’s heart is still beating, the organs are being extracted from their body to be used in the “service of science”.[v]
Some might think that unbelievers do not feel the need to hide their activities as they have a different moral standard than Christians, and in some cases, this might be true… and confrontation might be hopeless.
But not all the time. We Americans especially need to take very seriously that our society, “our world,” has in large part been formed by the Biblical message.
So go forward in boldness, noting that “light exposes, light convicts,” and, we pray, “light converts” (Winger 566), so that we, with Paul, might see that:
“…everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light…”
“Everything that is illuminated becomes a light…”
Paul is talking in this passage about the process of being enlightened here in the Biblical sense.
“It implies the catching the [L]ight and reflecting it, so as to become a new source of light….”[vi]
First, we are converted to Christ, justified, given peace with God, saved. Second, we are continually converted in the sense of becoming more like Him.
Again, this means learning hard things. Of, yes, being not only taught but disciplined in a sense.
And, again, we don’t like discipline, do we? Even if it is done well, we still don’t always like it! We don’t like discipline, even if we might like to think about being disciples, which comes from the same root! (discipline, disciple).
And, in some ways, this is understandable. One of the main themes in a sermon I did here a few weeks ago was “Who really cares about me?”
The answer, of course, is Jesus.
And, God’s people, the church, right?
When people love you, they really do help you to live in ways that are good, and to avoid ways that are bad.
Yes, it is true that we today, especially in the church, are very hesitant to do this.
We know when people point out other’s flaws, they very often do not want to help.
We often think about this in terms of one-up-man-ship. One brings another down to exalt one’s self.
Many today will take matters even further: this kind of thing is not only about feeling morally superior, it is putting one’s self in the position of authority, which now, in our world today, seems to be synonymous with power.
One other reason people will also not do these things is because they do not feel qualified to do so. They are hesitant to do these things themselves because they think: “I know I myself am a sinner, so who am I to correct others?”
We are not pure enough light… We are not spiritual enough.
But, whatever truth there might be in this – is the Lord calling you to repent of a certain sin right now? – to think this way is wrong….
We need to realize that God does ask from us “tough love” – because as hard as it may be and as much as we might mess up, we really do need to help one another, to love one another, to live in the Light, in the Truth.
As some of the earliest Christians put it just a few years after Christ’s resurrection and ascension: “Correct one another, not in anger but in peace, as you find in the Gospel.” (Didache 15:3)
So, we asked “Who really cares about me?”
Well, I have a new one for you today, that goes hand-in-hand with the other one:
“Who can I really trust?”
Remember that “an enemy multiplies kisses, but wounds from a friend can be trusted…”
So, who can you trust? Increasingly, to be sure, the answer for many of us seems to be: Hardly anyone, really. Maybe no one. Nationally, Walter Cronkite has left the building.
Or, closer to home, I’ve heard this: “If your mother says she loves you, make sure you verify that with two to three witnesses…”
Who, really, can you trust? Who can you depend on?
Again, in one sense, the answer is:
“Jesus. Just Jesus.”
“God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” There is no evil in who He is and how he acts (Clinton Arnold)
I can promise you that man, human beings, are going to let you down, disappoint you, perhaps intentionally deceive you.
Those immersed in anti-Christian darkness will surely do so.
And, sometimes even more noble men — perhaps as they feel or become convinced they must “fight fire with fire” for example — will as well.[vii]
God, however, does not ever need deception in order to succeed. I recently read the following from a Christian I follow online, a former military man:
“God is the author of truth.
God is truth.
God is sovereign over all things.
God is all knowing.
God is ever-present.
If you believe these truths, then you know the following….
The bad guys, the deceivers, the liars, the cheaters, and the back-biters, don’t stand a chance.
Rest in that as sure as the Sun rises this morning….”[viii]
The Sun (with a “u”) rises this morning, and the Son (with an “o”) will also rise in the East, on that Great Day He comes again to shine!
In the Gospel of John, as Jesus Christ speaks with Nicodemus, He says of Himself:
“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.….”
Christians brothers and sisters, as those who are given the Gospel and the Spirit of God, may this describe none of us!
Rather, as Jesus goes on to say there: “whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”
May we be found in the Light!
The Light of Jesus Christ!
And let us not only be keen to remember the Battle of Light and Darkness out there but the battle of Light and Darkness inside our own souls as well. I recall the lyrics of a popular Christian song I was introduced to in college, back in the 1990s….:
I keep trying to find a life On my own apart from you I am the king of excuses I’ve got one for every selfish thing I do
Tell me what’s going on inside of me I despise my own behavior This only serves to confirm my suspicions That I’m still a man in need of a Savior
I wanna be in the Light As You are in the Light I wanna shine like the stars In the Heavens
Oh, Lord be my light And be my Salvation ‘Cause all I want is to be in the Light All I want is to be in the Light
This beautifully sums up the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 7, as he speaks about his struggles as a Christian.
Paul then immediately follows up with these words:
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?
25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus….
Go in peace, and be the light.
[i] Winger talks much about how all of this is written in the context of the Ephesian Christians understanding that they were not to participate in the religious rites (such as festal meals and even temple prostitution) of the Ephesian religion, but rather the Christian religion (Winger says that the Greek word eucharist here, translated “Thanksgiving,” is the Lord’s Supper here, and stands as a sharp contrast to the dark religion in Ephesus.
[ii] This same preacher also writes, just prior to the part quoted in the sermon: “As a preacher of the Word, I have, on more than one occasion, come to a screeching halt in my routine when I fear that I may be misleading or confusing those seeking the truth. With fear and trembling, I wonder if I have I misrepresented the gifts of God. Have I allowed sin to flourish when it should have been condemned? Have I permitted my own personal objectives override the commands and decrees of our Lord? Have I caused one of the little ones to sin? Wouldn’t it be better to have a great millstone fastened around my neck and be drowned in the depth of the sea?
Perhaps I have tried to sell some bulls**t as the real deal. If so, it is time to confess and reengage with the Word of life and salvation, for this sort of crass peddling can destroy lives.”
[iii] Judicial Watch and the Center for Medical Progress (CMP)
[v] One of the politicians involved, Sean Parnell, stated: ““This is murder. If an infant’s heart is still beating and you are extracting organs from their body, I mean, come on. My God. This shouldn’t happen in the United States of America….” David Daleiden expands: “Pitt’s abortion program, run by Planned Parenthood, was tasked with aborting infants alive to harvest the freshest kidneys for federal money—and targeting Black and Brown mamas and babies the whole time.”
“Pitt’s application specified that it sought to “develop a pipeline to the acquisition, quality control and distribution of human genitourinary [urinary and genital organs and functions] samples obtained throughout development (6-42 weeks gestation).” Past 42 weeks is considered “post-term” or “overdue,” according to NIH.
In 2015, Pitt told the Department of Heath and Human Services (HHS) that it has been “collecting fetal tissue for over 10 years … includ[ing] liver, heart, gonads, legs, brain, genitourinary tissues including kidneys, ureters and bladders.”
Pitt did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment on the recent calls for investigation.”
[vi] Ellicot’s Commentary for English Readers, Biblehub.com
[vii] Even as they talk about how those who tell the truth don’t need to remember how they lied in the past, and other such things…
[viii] As this was from a man we’ll call a patriotic Christian American, he ended this statement with “Now, go to war.”
Professor Derrick Bell is widely considered the father of Critical Race Theory, or CRT. You can read a bit more about him in his obituary from the New York Times (Oct. 6, 2011):
Professor Bell, soft-spoken and erudite, was “not confrontational by nature,” he wrote. But he attacked both conservative and liberal beliefs. In 1992, he told The New York Times that black Americans were more subjugated than at any time since slavery. And he wrote that in light of the often violent struggle that resulted from the Supreme Court’s 1954 desegregation decision, Brown v. Board of Education, things might have worked out better if the court had instead ordered that both races be provided with truly equivalent schools.
He was a pioneer of critical race theory — a body of legal scholarship that explored how racism is embedded in laws and legal institutions, even many of those intended to redress past injustices. His 1973 book, “Race, Racism and American Law,” became a staple in law schools and is now in its sixth edition.
Mr. Bell “set the agenda in many ways for scholarship on race in the academy, not just the legal academy,” said Lani Guinier, the first black woman hired to join Harvard Law School’s tenured faculty, in an interview on Wednesday.
At a rally while a student at Harvard Law, Barack Obama compared Professor Bell to the civil rights hero Rosa Parks.
Professor Bell’s core beliefs included what he called “the interest convergence dilemma” — the idea that whites would not support efforts to improve the position of blacks unless it was in their interest. Asked how the status of blacks could be improved, he said he generally supported civil rights litigation, but cautioned that even favorable rulings would probably yield disappointing results and that it was best to be prepared for that.
There has been much criticism lately from the political left about how the attacks on CRT simply do not deal in good faith with the real CRT — the CRT which is highly nuanced, and worthy of everyone’s serious engagement. One of the American new left’s brightest thinkers, Nathan J. Robinson, develops this idea further in a piece that just dropped yesterday, where he states that “the real tragedy is that there isn’t enough CRT in the classroom.”
More specifically, Robinson goes on to say:
The version of CRT being described by Rufo—a neo-Marxist conspiracy to indoctrinate America’s children and destroy the country’s core values—was unrecognizable to someone who had actually engaged in the interesting academic debates over such questions as: do the law’s seemingly neutral principles function in practice to maintain social hierarchies? Is racism the exception or the norm?
But we should be careful not to lean too heavily on the argument that conservatives don’t understand critical race theory or that critical race theory bears “no resemblance” to the caricature. People like Ricketts and Trump haven’t read the literature, of course. But some of the core charges they make against CRT are perfectly true: they say that it accuses the United States of being a racist country, and they say it “rejects the fundamental ideas on which our constitutional republic is based.” Indeed, the core objection that conservatives have to what they call CRT is that it accuses white people, from the Founding Fathers to the present day, of being racist. And of course, that is indeed one of its claims.
There are a number of critiques that one can make about this “academic” CRT, its focus on race as the lens through which everything is interpreted, in particular. I however find Robinson’s question of whether “the law’s seemingly neutral principles function in practice to maintain social hierarchies?” to be very telling. Everyone can imagine tyrannical powers which oppress certain groups through laws that are clearly against that group. Still, what about normal governing authorities who seem genuinely concerned to create laws featuring neutral principles? Even if you don’t like any governing authorities, ask yourself this: Should they not, in part, want to encourage respect not only for their authority but for authority in general? For the “offices” that they and others hold?
We all know that authorities can be tyrannical, corrupt, and also racist in the traditional sense of that word. Nevertheless, would CRT seek to basically undermine authority in general? And if so, why? This is what I want to get to in this short post.
I have maintained, in spite of the fact that its practitioners might uncover important facts and unique insights, that it is at bottom not an academic program in any real scholarly sense but rather a political philosophy. In other words, in a political science class one might expect to learn about the different kinds of political philosophies ideas and programs that have existed throughout time — you would gain knowledge about what they are. CRT is simply one of those political philosophies put into practice. Western academics have tended to distinguish between theory and practice, where one might really learn something about the former whereas the latter involves action and skin in the game. CRT, like all forms of CT, makes theory and practice one, because one cannot really learn about the world without simultaneously being involved in it.
There is something to this, of course. We all know about people who seem to be all talk and little action. We can understand that there might be some doctors who did great in their academic work and maybe even are socially competent to the nth degree but just aren’t really good doctors. Nevertheless, what “academic disciplines” like CRT do is say that the whole idea of learning about the world is fundamentally flawed. The whole idea that there is objective truth that a person can try very hard to be impartial about, and learn about, is wrong.
Here is where we go to Hegel, and deeper still, to something called historicism. With Hegel, all knowledge and truth is fluid, as the world spirit seeks to increasingly know itself in the consciousness of human beings. Nothing is ultimately solid. Even if he did not intend this (I very much doubt that), all of this goes hand-in-hand with undermining the authority found in God’s creation itself.
And where did Hegel get it from? He got it from the early 18th century Italian philosopher, rhetorician, historian, and jurist Giambattista Vico. What follows are some things that I have written about Vico from past blog posts, and I learned about him from the theologian and historian Martin Nonland, in his 2003 doctoral dissertation, Harnack’s historicism: the genesis, development, and institutionalization of historicism and its expression in the thought of Adolf von Harnack.
Some clips, with the first serving as a good introduction as well as summary:
In the past, the idea of some things that don’t change and are permanent was a fixture even for intellectuals, while in today’s environment, influential historical figures like Vico, Hegel, Darwin, and Nietzsche have created a highly “liquid” environment, which one must adjust to if one is to effectively communicate and survive.
According to Noland and those he cites (men like Isaiah Berlin, for example), we see the beginnings of this species of thought called historicism with Vico, who also introduced the notion of “mytho-poetical” truth – and how it could explain what had happened among the heathen (note: not Jewish and Christian) nations (p. 102). Like Descartes, Vico wanted to pursue “science” and “general laws” and so did not outrightly reject the scientific mindset like the historicists of the future would (“German thinkers steeped in pietism and mysticism”), who put their focus not only on organic ideas, like Vico, but individualities as well (p. 116, italics mine).
While Descartes rejected the “application of human ideas, such as ‘laws’ and ‘principles’, to the study of history, Vico argued that human history is, in fact, created precisely through such ideas, which are ‘modifications of the human mind’” (p. 108) – he “asserted the epistemological primacy of the man-made historical world” (Gadamer, in Noland p. 217). In Vico’s mind, methodological error was to be charged towards persons like Descartes, who “apply human ideas, such as ‘laws’ and ‘principles,’ to the study of nature, which was created by God and so is fully known by God alone” (p. 108)!
I trust one can see the appeal of Vico’s thinking in many ways, contra the ideas and methodologies of men like Descartes. Hence I also wrote this:
And here is where the complaints of many of the “Romantics” vs. the men of the Enlightenment start to really resonate with me. About 250 years ago, George Hamann echoed Vico in saying that “…human beings experience a regularity in the world around them, which they then improperly abstract into a concept of ‘natural law’ that excludes from serious discourse, the mystical, and the religious”. Johann Goethe went even further, essentially arguing that “the Renaissance ideal of classical languages, classical literature, and classical arts would be replaced by classical mechanics, which have no place for meaning, ethics, or Bildung [that is, the “tradition of self-cultivation, wherein philosophy and education are linked in a manner that refers to a process of both personal and cultural maturation”– Wikipedia].
We see, however, that while questioning the ambitions of the Enlightenment’s modern scientific and technological mindset, Vico also had in mind to undermine trust in the Christian Scriptures and the view of Providence, history, and moral view of man (traditional “natural law”) which the Bible upheld:
Further, on p. 96 note that Vico, in spite of his belief in a version of Divine providence, contrasted his own view with the “doctrinaires [i.e., the Cartesians], who “judge human actions as they ought to be, not as they actually are (i.e. performed more or less at random)” and who, “satisfied with abstract truth alone” and “unused to following probability” (emphasis mine), do not bother to “find out whether their opinion is held by the generality and whether the things that are truths to them are also such to other people”. While Vico is not dealing with the probability of historical events here, one can see how his idea of human belief and behavior – with the emphasis on generally held opinion and actions “performed more of less at random” – decreases the importance of both particular beliefs in the world and individual human agency(even if it does increase the importance shown to individual “forms” – according to Noland, as the father of “organicism” Vico could say that everything that is ‘made’ is ‘true”” and that “there are no mutations and no aberrations, only manifold potentialities”, p. 103), and with this the importance of character, and with this the importance of loyalty and trust. This seems like it will inevitably lead to even more criticism and dissolution. After all, men are ruled “not be forethought, but by whim or chance” (p. 99). Also note that in spite of his supposedly un-mythical-poetical use of the Bible (he applied the mythical-poetical critique to all the non-Christian/Jewish religions), Vico also did not believe that we were all one in Adam (p. 180).
In the end, with the real “common ground” of life excised, we have nothing left by which to communicate.
on p. 113 Noland says that in Vico one cannot find the historicist principle of criticism (this would be where the historian tries to get behind the text, seeking for a “more credible” story) and yet it seems to me that the roots of this at least are clearly seen in this denial of more classical understandings of the terms “substance” or “essence”, which was certainly encouraged by Vico’s affinity for the Epicurean disciple, the Roman poet, Lucretius [(modern scholarship has evidently demonstrated that Vico’s repudiation of Lucretius, popularizer of Epicurus (whose views about nature and change seem much more compatible with Darwin), was not real but feigned!)]. If there are no stable categories that persons of varying backgrounds can agree on throughout time, can we, or should we, really be confident of anything that we are able to perceive? On what basis? The idea that we can be confident on the basis of a “principle of analogy”, affirming that human beings can know the things they have made (the mind’s awareness of its own productions over time) falls flat for both scientific (see Kant’s critique of this notion in his words vs. Herder) and practical reasons (for example, one simply needs to see all the important questions that historicists disagreed on! Which “self-understanding of the Spirit”???). Thus it is easy to see how the criticism that results in only skepticism without end gets started.
In sum, with the traditional notions of “substances” or “essences” discredited, “Essence” now is tied up with identity, and primarily, racial identity.
“I pray… so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith….”
– Ephesians: 3:16-17
At the very end of the book of Ephesians, in the last verse that we read, Paul says:
“Peace to the brothers and sisters,[c] and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love…”
“All who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.”
Should that perhaps stop us for a moment and cause us to reflect?
Grace to those with “undying love”….
The original Greek here could mean incorruptible love, immortal love, or perhaps just genuine or sincere love…[i]
Does that really help though?
What about grace for those who do not have such love?
We might wonder: is there any grace for those whose love is failing?
Perhaps this makes you wonder if Paul is talking about how it is the loving ones who deserve grace.
In other words, it is not really faith that receives God’s grace, but love!
Love gives love and responds to love – perhaps we might say love deserves love? – and so maybe it is this kind of love which “deserves” grace!
The early 5th century bishop Theodoret of Cyrus – not the greatest theologian in my opinion – seems to have concluded just this about the passage. He said:
“Grace is not simply bestowed indiscriminately upon all but on those who love the Lord, [those who] keep his life-giving laws…” (ACCS, 216)[ii]
And love of course, as we are told in the Bible, goes hand-in-hand with the Ten Commandments!
And God knows – and we can clearly see – that there are a lot of commandments or “ethical admonitions” (Arnold) in Eph. 4-6![iii]
Let’s recall some of these examples, many which coincide with the 10 commandments! (in no particular order):
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love… Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
…be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.
Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient….Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2“Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— 3“so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”
“In your anger do not sin”[d]: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold… Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.
…there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. 4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving…
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord…. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her
Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
… each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor
For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God…
Here, one might rightly say: “That looks like undying love to me!”
But does that mean that those who do these things, perhaps, are the only ones one proclaiming God’s word should wish grace upon..?[iv]
Going along with this, commentator Armin Panning asserts that
“[f]aith and love are not essentially different. Love is simply faith in action, and both are produced by the gospel, which alone can win hearts and lives for the Lord Jesus Christ.”
So are love and faith not essentially different?
Well, we understand that in one sense love proceeds from faith much like smoke proceeds from a fire, but are these really exactly the same thing?[v]
I don’t think we should say this because while faith or trust might, at times, be informed and strengthened by the love God has placed in a believer’s heart[vi], this is not always the case.
Sometimes faith is born from God showing us our desperate need as well… which would include an abject love-lessness on our part!
…And so making a distinction here is critical!
As we serious Lutherans know all so well, … the well-known passage of Ephesians 2:8-9 – which I’m sure many of you memorized for your confirmation! — makes things very clear for us.
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10
Paul, of course, then goes on to say, in verse 10… “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do….”
That is the way that we need to be thinking about these things.
When it comes to understanding our justification before God, our salvation in its narrow sense – that is, our being able to stand before God with confidence, and peace, being justified – it is critical that we remember that we are saved not by love, but by grace through faith!
Not by grace through love!
On the other hand, if we say that faith and love are not essentially different, we might very well get the idea that faith and true works of love, that is real good works, are not essentially different.
And if that is the case, if faith simply equals love, then we might get the idea that it is not faith alone but love that saves that makes us able to stand before God…
…and that that, perhaps, makes us worthy of grace….
For grace, by definition, always comes to us as something we do not deserve…
And so what is Paul doing here then in this final verse of Ephesians?
He is saying that he means God to bless with grace the ones who are growing as they are meant to grow, of whom he considers that entire congregation!
To those who, continually recognizing their sin and ongoing need of God’s grace, are putting off the old and putting on the new, and embracing the fight that is theirs as Christians…
They are those who fight not to become Christians but because they are Christians!
They are those who can “approach God with freedom and confidence” as those who have already received their calling…
So does this not raise an interesting question for us this morning?
Why does the Apostle Paul’s mind here go to wishing grace not to the failing Christian – a category that we all fall into from time to time – but to the Christian who exhibits unfailing love?
I believe it is because in this book of Ephesians – in chapter 3 and verses 14-21 particularly – Paul has labored mightily to convey not only the sacrifice of love atoning for our sin in Christ – but what this great and surprising work is meant to accomplish and is accomplishing!
Paul is simply making it clear that he wants the Ephesians to know he expects them to have an undying confidence – nay, certainty! – in the overwhelming love of God for them and His church!
It is because, as he says in our text for today:
“I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
First, a comment about Paul, the “chief of sinners” (and, who, by the way, is in prison when he is writing this) saying “I pray that you…”
The great 19th century Lutheran theologian George Stoeckhardt wisely said, “We, we Christians, are still very weak, also in our prayers. We are not as yet fully conscious of our real need and blessings, wherefore our petitions are always less than our real necessities.” (176)
Nevertheless note that doesn’t stop Paul from praying – that, in part, is of course why he prays!
In chapter 3, verse 12, Paul spoke about how “in Christ Jesus we have ‘boldness and access in confidence ‘ to God our Father” … so now Paul “leads the public prayer of God’s people, the figurative temple…” (Winger, 404)
And, second, note this: in the very first chapter of this letter he writes to the Ephesians Paul got to the very key of what drives him, and I’d say this goes hand in hand with what we just heard from him….[viii]:
“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit[f] of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come….”
How about that, huh?
Now… getting back to our original question about undying love…
Who is it, we think, who is going to appreciate grace the most?
We might be tempted to think that it is those who, mired in individual self-focus and self-sabotage, hit rock-bottom.
…who have an experience of total desolation before coming to the Lord…
Many a sinner who has been ostracized by their own society no doubt finds the acceptance of God’s grace amazing, but they are not necessarily the only ones who deeply understand grace.
By ending his letter with His blessing that grace be shown to those with undying love he is not excluding the weak in faith, and those with little love, he is simply exalting Christ’s work in His church in a powerful and thought-provoking way!
We can all know deeply, like a nail forcefully pounded into our very being that:
Love does not deserve grace, for grace is undeserved.
When we don’t get what we deserve, that is mercy.
And when we get what we don’t deserve, that is grace…
The ones who grasp grace know that it is only those who see themselves as unworthy – in whole or in part – who are ready to be made worthy in God’s sight… and not once, but day-by-day, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute, second-by-second…
By receiving the fruit of what Christ won for us in His cross and resurrection… by being given Jesus Christ’s perfect robe of righteousness…
All of us like Joseph in his father’s eyes….
What we can say is that all those who know they have received undeserved grace are those who desire to more deeply appreciate this grace and to live fully from this undeserved gift….
And Paul, we understand, thinks very highly of this congregation at Ephesus, who he urges to “live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Eph 4:1) and be “imitators of God” (Eph 5:1-2)…
This congregation which exhibits such undying love….[ix]
When Paul would saypassionately things like he did in Galatians 2:20:
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” – Gal. 2:20
He no doubt believed that the Ephesians could wholly identify with him![x]
Again, it is clear that Paul is expecting great things from this congregation.[xi]
So how does the Apostle attempt to strengthen this congregation in his letter?
Does he do it by trying to get them to pump up their own faith?
By focusing on themselves and carefully measuring it day by day?
Taking their spiritual temperature, one might say?
Not at all! You see, Christ is risen and ascended for them! And “No [other] authority figure [on earth or in heaven, in this age or the age to come,] can successfully oppose the risen and ascended Christ…”
And Jesus Christ is now carrying on for us as our Intercessor and Advocate in the heavens![xii]
Even as He also, still as the True Man, abides and works in our hearts!
And Christ has also chosen Paul to pray for them that all God’s gifts might be realized in them!
So, Paul is praying that they would be strengthened by the Holy Spirit in their inner man, or their “new man,” that Christ might dwell in their hearts…
This means that the Holy Spirit is doing precisely what Jesus said He would do, which is testify about Jesus Himself (John 15:26), and as that “word of Christ dwells in [them] richly in all wisdom,” as Colossians 3:16 says, Jesus Christ will dwell in their hearts by faith.
But doesn’t Christ already do this – dwell in their hearts by faith – you might say?[xiii]
Again, the point is that he wants them to be filled to overflowing with all the good gifts God means to give them!
And so, Paul is praying that all of what God is doing in them through His word might continue (see 1 Thes. 2:13)
That they might be “rooted and established in love”![xiv]
Meaning that from the riches of God’s glory, God might grant them to be strengthened with His Sprit’s power for their inner man… for Christ to continually and increasingly dwell in their hearts through faith
So that they might be fully enabled to comprehend, and know the love of Christ – it’s breadth and length and height and depth — that surpasses knowledge
So that they might be filled up with “the complete indwelling of Christ” (Arnold, 211) — all the fullness of God![xv]
Of all this, the great Lutheran commentator R.C.H. Lenski said:
Christ takes possession of us in ever greater degree … Christ will take complete possession of [our heart, the center of our being, the seat of intellect, emotion, and will, especially of the latter] as one uses the whole house in which one dwells… (494)[xvi]
And I especially appreciate what the 19th century commentator MacLaren – a Baptist of all people! – says about all this:
“….the Apostle here [speaks to us of] the idea of intensity and continuity. What he desires, then, is not merely that these Ephesian Christians may have occasional visits of the indwelling Lord, or that at some lofty moments of spiritual enthusiasm they may be conscious that He is with them, but that always, in an unbroken line of deep, calm receptiveness, they may possess, and know that they possess, an indwelling Saviour.”[xvii]
And, this morning, all of this is not only for the Ephesians, but for us to!
We who believe – with Christ dwelling in our hearts and who indeed desires to do so more and more – let us persist and go on!
Let us reflect just a bit more about this good word this morning…
On some practical implications for us both as individuals and a community…
I hope that you will agree with me this morning that this is definitely the kind of thing you we would want to fight for.
A man like Martin Luther certainly thought that this was the case, as this kind of teaching, this kind of doctrine, transformed his heart…
When I think of many of the words of a man like Martin Luther, what Matthew Poole said of that final verse in Ephesians about the love in our hearts comes to mind:
“In sincerity; or, with incorruption, i.e. so as that nothing can draw them off from the love of Christ, and so it implies constancy as well as sincerity….”
In a sermon on our very Epistle reading for today, Ephesians 3:14-21, he said this:
“…we should be prepared in such a manner that even if some of us were to fall away in order to flatter the pope or tyrants and becomes liars and knaves, everyone may so firmly have laid hold of the Gospel that he is able to stand by himself and exclaim: Well, I do not believe the Gospel because a certain man has proclaimed and taught it! Let him go and stay where he will! The doctrine is right. This I know, no matter what, in the providence of God, may happen to me and others because of it.
So far I have had to act in this way for myself personally, and I must continue to do so. Otherwise I would have been terrified and tired out when I saw the pope, bishops, the emperor, kings, and all the world opposed to the doctrine which they ought to sustain. Thoughts such as these would have overwhelmed me. See here, after all, they are people too; surely, they cannot all belong to the devil. How can I find comfort and stand firm except by saying: Even if ten more worlds and all that is great, high, wise, and prudent, and all my dear friends and brethren besides desert me, yet the doctrine is right. It stands; nor will it fall as men fall and waver. I will stand by this Word of God no matter what else may stand or fall.” (What Luther Says, 4500, p. 1397).
God’s love is supercharged, producing unshakeable believers throughout the ages, men like Martin Luther included.
And it is love we should never doubt!
For while His love love may be tough sometimes – very tough – it is also both great and magnificent, and, at the same time, unendingly gentle and tender.
To harken back to Ephesians 2:10 this morning – where we see the love of God exploding in believers’ hearts in love-produced “good works” –
His love is also very purposeful and powerful, “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us…”
Still, I will confess that at times I have doubted in ways big and small…
I have wondered about the wider meaning of Luther’s stand, for example. I have pondered the ongoing relevance of God’s Word for today, and I have had big questions related to the real meaning and purpose of our lives… and, of course, my life.
And so, I can’t think of a better way to end this message than to leave you with an arresting and inspiring picture that really helps me to put things in wider perspective
I read from it from that man, George Stoeckhardt, who I quoted earlier, and I hope that the passage encourages you at least a fraction as much as it encouraged me!
I think he, in short, is beginning to get at the most important aspect of what Paul means when he speaks of God as the One who “fills everything in every way” (see Ephesians 1:23 and context there, also 3:10, 3:19) and correspondingly, what it means for the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ…and “to be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God”
Here it is:
“[God’s Temple…] [God’s] Church extends from the beginning to the end of days. True, compared with the great number of those who remain unbelievers, the Church of all times and of all places is the ‘little flock.’ However, if you could behold in one place all those children of God who are scattered throughout the world, most of whom are not known to us but whom the Lord alone knows to be His, and added to all these also all who have died in the faith and all who will be added to the Church before the end of the end of the world, you would gaze upon a great multitude which no man could number. Just this will be the spectacle which will be presented to our eyes of Judgement Day. Then will our heart be enlarged with amazement, when we see that noble assembly, of which we ourselves are members, as the completed number of the elect together with the choirs of the elect angels, the friends and companions of the saints of earth, standing before the throne of God and of the Lamb. But even now the Christians are to give thought to, and to consider the breadth and extend, the depth and the height, of this structure. It is a part of their spiritual life and growth to become more and more impressed with the marvelous ecumenicity and world-encircling importance and purpose of the Church in order properly to estimate and evaluate this superior entity. Just this is to move them to enlarge the place of their tent and to stretch forth the curtain of their habitation…” (174)
Think of the best times you have been blessed to know with friends and family.
You haven’t seen anything yet!
“Peace to the brothers and sisters,[c] and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love…”
Original Word: ἀφθαρσία, ας, ἡ Part of Speech: Noun, Feminine Transliteration: aphtharsia Phonetic Spelling: (af-thar-see’-ah) Definition: incorruptibility Usage: indestructibility, incorruptibility; hence: immortality.
Cognate: 861aphtharsía – properly, no-corruption (unable to experience deterioration); incorruptibility (not perishable), i.e. lacking the very capacity to decay or constitutionally break down. See 862a (aphthartos).
NAS Exhaustive Concordance
Word Origin from aphthartos Definition incorruptibility NASB Translation immortality (2), imperishable (4), incorruptible (1).
Thayer’s Greek Lexicon
STRONGS NT 861: ἀφθαρσία
ἀφθαρσία, ἀφθαρσίας, ἡ (ἄφθαρτος, cf. ἀκαθαρσία) (Tertullian and subsequent writingsincorruptibilitas, Vulg.incorruptio (andincorruptela)), incorruption, perpetuity: τοῦ κόσμου, Philo de incorr. round. § 11; it is ascribed to τό θεῖον in Plutarch, Aristotle, c. 6; of the body of man exempt from decay after the resurrection, 1 Corinthians 15:42 (ἐν ἀφθαρσία, namely, ὄν), 50, 53f; of a blessed immortality (Wis. 2:23 Wis. 6:19; 4 Macc. 17:12), Romans 2:7; 2 Timothy 1:10. τινα ἀγαπᾶν ἐν ἀφθαρσία to love one with never diminishing love, Ephesians 6:24 (cf. Meyer at the passage The word seems to have the meaning purity, sincerity, incorruptness in Titus 2:7 Rec.st). ]
[ii] Full quote: “Grace is not simply bestowed indiscriminately upon all but on those who love the Lord, and especially upon those who, as well as loving, keep his life-giving laws. Let us keep them also. By keeping them our love for him will be confirmed.” (ACCS, 216)
[iii] In a paper titled the “The Third Use of the Law in Light of Creation and the Fall,” Piotr Malysz points out that the Lutheran Formula of Concord, in its discussion of the controversial topic, does not explicitly say why “God… wills that believers do good works, why he should reward them with temporal blessings, and why the works of the Law should be an indication of salvation.”
His paper, however, gives an answer to these questions, and he begins by starting with the right question: what can best explain the admonitions of the Apostle Paul, which he says are not only “staggering” in their “richness of expression,” but are “quite similar to, not to say identical with…the demands of the law”? “Live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Eph 4:1), be “imitators of God,” and live “a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph 5:1-2)
[iv] One might suggest that Luther himself does this at the end of his explanation of the 10 commandments in the small catechism:
”God threatens to punish all who transgress these commandments. Therefore we should fear His wrath and do nothing against these commandments. But He promises grace and every blessing to all who keep these commandments. Therefore we should also love and trust in Him and willingly do according to His commandments.”
This, however, would be going too far here to conclude this, For example, we can even say that from the perspective of the law, faith in God’s merciful promises – whether we are talking about passively receiving them or actively pursuing them (by pursuing Him and His words to us) – is an act of one’s will commanded in the First Commandment!
Hence what Luther says about the conclusion of the Ten Commandments in his Small Catechism is not primarily meant to “break us” with the law, but is, in fact, describing things as they are….
[v] I believe the great Lutheran theologian George Stoeckhardt, speaking around 150 years ago, does a good job in his analysis of speaking about the importance of love for faith:
“[Stoeckhardt: “At that time when we became believers when we by faith took hold of Christ, then it was that Chirst entered our hearts together with His Spirit. However, we dare not forget that it is important and essential for the life of the Christians that they grow and increase in strength of faith, so that through faith Christ may more and more permeate their innermost being. Every day every Christian is to pray god for this blessing, for if Christ does not continue to live in us, does not grow and increase in control, He will gradually fade again from our hearts.” 170]
Later he says:
“We, we Christians, are still very weak, also in our prayers. We are not as yet fully conscious of our real need and blessings, wherefore our petitions are always less than our real necessities note this was quoted above in the sermon] Cf. Rom. 8:26. God, however, can do and give much more, exceedingly more than we request, and He does that ‘according to the power which worketh in us.’ According to His infinite power, which has awakened us from the sleep of death, given us spiritual life, create faith in us, weak and fragile vessels that we are, he can also assuredly strengthen our faith, preserve it, create all good within us, and fill us with His gifts, virtues, and powers. Wherefore all glory to Him auto n doxa! All this presupposes that God will assuredly do for us and in us what He can do.” (176)
Amen. His word, as Paul, says, is at work in you believers… as I Thes. 2:13 says!
Commenting on being “rooted and grounded in love”:
“Love, the love of the brethren, is the ground and soil in which the Christians are planted and grow, it is, as it were, their territory and home, the ground in which they become ever more deeply rooted, into which they are to strike their roots ever more deeply so that love may become ever more the very habitus and so that all they do is done in love. This is an integral part of the growth of the Christian in spiritual life, that is what the Apostle is asking in prayer for his readers…” (171)”
[vi] Many note all of the past participles – the divine passives! – one witnesses in the book of Ephesians. As George Stoeckhardt notes: “…this ‘rooting and grounding’ in love [in Eph. 3:17] is at the same time the prerequisite for the ability [for believers] to comprehend just what is the breadth, etc. The passive participles indicate just that…” (171)]
[vii] Along with all of those commandments we heard, it is important to note other things Paul says among them:
“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”
“In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.”
“Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
“Live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Eph 4:1),
Be “imitators of God,” and live “a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph 5:1-2)
[viii] Stoeckhardt, quoted above, agrees: the key in this section of Ephesians is knowledge of God, increasingly knowing God.
[ix] Some intriguing quotes from the resources at Bible Hub:
Gill’s: “in sincerity; from the heart, and with all the heart, and without hypocrisy; not in word only, but in deed and in truth; which appears when he is loved, as before observed: and the apostle wishes “grace” to all such sincere and hearty lovers of him; by which may be meant a fresh discovery of the free grace, love, and favour of God in Christ to them; and a fresh supply of grace from the fulness of it in Christ; and a larger measure of the grace of the Spirit to carry on the good work begun in them; as well as a continuation of the Gospel of the grace of God with them, and an increase of spiritual gifts. Grace may be connected with the word translated “sincerity”, and be rendered “grace with incorruption”: or incorruptible grace, as true grace is an incorruptible seed; or “grace with immortality”: and so the apostle wishes not only for grace here, but for eternal happiness and glory hereafter; and then closes the epistle with an Amen, as a confirmation and asseveration of the truth of the doctrines contained in it, and as expressive of his earnest desire that the several petitions in it might be granted, and of his faith and confidence that they would be fulfilled.”
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges: “in sincerity] Lit., (as R.V.,) in uncorruptness. The word is the same as that in Romans 2:7 (A.V., “immortality”); 1 Corinthians 15:42; 1 Corinthians 15:50; 1 Corinthians 15:53-54 (A.V., “incorruption”); 2 Timothy 1:10 (A.V., “immortality”). The cognate adjective occurs Romans 1:23; 1 Corinthians 9:25; 1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Peter 1:4; 1 Peter 1:23 (A.V., in each case, “incorruptible” and so, practically, 1 Peter 3:4); and 1 Timothy 1:17 (A.V., “immortal”). Thus the word tends always towards the spiritual and eternal, as towards that which is in its own nature free from elements of decay. “In spiritual reality” would thus represent a part, but only a part, of the idea of the present phrase. The whole idea is far greater in its scope. The “love of our Lord Jesus Christ” in question here is a love living and moving “in” the sphere and air, so to speak, of that which cannot die, and cannot let die. God Himself is its “environment,” as He lives and works in the regenerate soul. It is a love which comes from, exists by, and leads to, the unseen and eternal. “Thus only,” in Alford’s words, “is the word worthy to stand as the crown and climax of this glorious Epistle.”
(17) That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.—What that indwelling power is he now indicates, so passing to another Person of the Holy Trinity. It is (see Colossians 1:27) “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” The indwelling of Christ (as here the construction of the original plainly shows) is not a consequence of the gift of the Spirit; it is identical with it, for the office of the Holy Spirit is to implant and work out in us the likeness of Christ. So in John 14:16-20, in immediate connection with the promise of the Comforter, we read: “I will not leave you orphaned; I will come to you.” “Ye shall know that . . . ye are in me and I in you.” Hence the life in the Spirit is described as “To me to live is Christ” (Philippians 1:21); “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me” (Galatians 2:20). Faith is simply the condition of that indwelling of Christ (comp. Ephesians 2:8), the opening of the door to Him that He may enter in.
Paul is expecting great things from this congregation.
By ending his letter with His blessing that grace be shown to those with undying love he is not excluding the weak in faith, and those with little love, he is simply exalting Christ’s work in His church in a powerful and thought-provoking way!
Nevertheless, Paul is thinking about the Ephesians, whom he knows. God has given them a strong faith… and he wholly anticipates that they will be preserved in it to the end.
Suffering? They know that none of the problems that they face or sufferings they endure cannot be transfigured gloriously by God’s grace.
They will beat it, for they know the “crucified one,” descended and now ascended at the right hand of God, reminds them always that suffering is a prominent part of life in this fallen world, and that as He wholly shapes our perspectives and attitudes these will also shape our experiences…
What Armin J. Panning says: “No [other] authority figure [on earth or in heaven, in this age or the age to come,] can successfully oppose the risen and ascended Christ”
…was known and believed by them.
God is both good and strong enough to handle all the problems they might face.
“In Matthew 19:13, [Jesus] prayed for little children. In Luke 22:32, He tells us that He prayed for Peter’s faith to remain strong. And in John 17, Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer, He prayed for His followers and “for those who will believe in me through their message” (verse 20). That’s us! Now that Jesus has ascended back into heaven, He still prays for us. His ministry on our behalf continues (Hebrews 7:25).
Jesus is our “Advocate with the Father” (1 John 2:1). An advocate is one who pleads a case for another. Advocates stand in the place of those who cannot speak for themselves. Jesus, as our Advocate, stands in our place before the Father and pleads on our behalf. Jesus’ advocacy is sure to be effectual, because He is the one of whom the Father said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Jesus’ prayers for us are constant, and they are perfect.”
…The tense is the aorist (infinitive), and the idea of the aorist is singleness of act. Accordingly, the Lord is viewed here as not merely “dwelling,” but, in a definite act, “coming to dwell,” “taking up abode.” The question arises, did the Apostle contemplate the Ephesians as all alike devoid of the Indwelling in question, and needing it to begin? It is difficult to grant this, in an Epistle addressed to a large community, and one evidently rich in life and love. Well-nigh every stage of spiritual development must have been represented there. Yet the aorist must have its meaning. And surely the account of it is this, that the Apostle views them each and all as ever needing, at whatever stage of spiritual life, such an access of realization and reception as should be, to what had preceded, a new Arrival and Entrance of Christ in the heart. Local images are always elastic in the spiritual sphere; and there is no contradiction thus in the thought of the permanent presence of One who is yet needed to arrive.
On the other hand there are possible stages of Christian experience in which, practically, the Lord’s “coming in to dwell,” as here, would be a thing wholly new; and many such cases, doubtless, were found at Ephesus. Not only here but throughout the N.T. the saint is viewed as meant to enjoy a prevailing, not an intermittent, intercourse with his Lord in faith and love; on habitual “access,” “confidence,” “peace and joy in believing,” and “fruit-bearing” power. Where such enjoyment does not as yet exist there is still lacking that which is in view here. True, it will be only a crude analysis that will claim to discern and decide peremptorily in such spiritual problems. But this does not alter the facts and principles of the matter in themselves.
in your hearts] A phrase important for the interpretation of the clause. It shews that the Indwelling here is subjective rather than objective; an Indwelling conditioned by the saint’s realization. “Christ” is “in” every genuine disciple (2 Corinthians 13:5), in the sense of the disciple’s covenant and vital union with Him (1 Corinthians 6:15; 1 Corinthians 6:17). But this was certainly the case already with the Ephesian saints. Here then we have to do not so much with fact as with grasp on fact; the reception of the (already vitally present) Lord in habitual realization by the conscience, understanding, imagination, affections, and will. For the “heart” in Scripture is the “seat” of all these: see e.g. Genesis 20:5; Deuteronomy 4:39; Isaiah 6:10; Mark 11:23; Luke 21:14; Acts 11:23; Romans 5:5; 1 Corinthians 2:9; James 1:26; 1 John 3:20. See on Ephesians 1:18.—“Though all of us is a temple for Him, yet the heart is the choir, where He properly sitteth” (Bayne (cent. 17), On the Ephesians).
by faith] That is, trustful acceptance; holy and humble reliance upon Divine promises, such promises as those of John 14:21; John 14:23; Revelation 3:20. Observe that the Indwelling here in view is to be effectuated by means of spiritual action (God-given, as this passage has shewn, but not the less personal) on the saint’s part. And observe that it is not aspiration, but faith, that is the action. Aspiration will certainly be present, as an essential condition; there must be conscious desire. But it is faith, submissive trust in the Promiser, which is alone the effectuating and maintaining act.
Lit., “through the faith”:—i.e., perhaps, “by means of your faith,” faith as exercised by you; but the article must not be pressed in translation, where an abstract principle is the noun.—“The faith” in the sense of the Christian creed is manifestly not in place here, where the context is full of the idea of the actions of grace in the soul.
that ye] Here appears the holy purpose of the experience just described. The Indwelling is to be specially in order to the attitude and the knowledge now to follow.
being rooted and grounded in love] “In love” is highly emphatic by position in the Gr.—Does it mean the love of God for us, or ours for God? Perhaps it is needless to seek a precise answer. “Love, generally” (Alford), is to be the region of this great experience of the soul; a sphere of which the Divine Love and the regenerate spirit’s response are, as it were, the hemispheres. But we may at least suggest, with Ephesians 1:4 in mind (see note there), that the Divine Love is mainly in view. Is it quite intelligible to regard the saint’s love as the soil and basis of his saintship? For observe it is the saints themselves, not this or that in them (“ye being rooted, &c.”), that the Love in question thus sustains and feeds.
The chain of thought will thus be: “I pray that your hearts may so receive Christ as their perpetual Indweller, that you may, in this profound intimacy with Him, see and grasp your acceptance and life in the Eternal Love, manifested through Him.”
“rooted and grounded”:—perfect participles. The second, lit. founded, recurs to the imagery of the Temple and its basis; ch. 2. The first, giving a metaphor much rarer with St Paul (Colossians 2:7 is the only close parallel), suggests the additional idea of derived life and its development. The saints are viewed both as “trees of the Lord, full of sap,” deep in the rich soil of the Love of God (cp. Psalm 1:3; Psalm 92:12-13; Jeremiah 17:8), and as constituent stones of the great Temple which rests ultimately on the same Love.—Colossians 2:7, just quoted, gives the same collocation of ideas, but with differences. The participle there rendered “built up” is present; “being builded upon.” And “in Him” takes the place of “in love.” This latter difference is no discrepancy; “the love of God is in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 8:39).
Such, as to root and basis, is the true saint’s position. It is not created, but realized, when the experience of Ephesians 3:17 takes place in him. And the following clauses dilate on the spiritual use which he is to make of it.
[xiv] Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible: “that ye being rooted and grounded in love; either in love to God, and one another; for faith and love go together; and love is sometimes weak, and needs establishing; and what serves to root and ground persons in it, are the discoveries of God’s love, views of Christ’s loveliness, the consideration of blessings received, and the communion they have with God, and Christ, and one another, and a larger insight into the doctrines of the Gospel: or rather in the love of God to them; which is the root and foundation of salvation; this is in itself immovable and immutable; but saints have not always the manifestations of it, and sometimes call it in question, and have need to be rooted and grounded in it; which is to have a lively sense of it, and to be persuaded of interest in it, and that nothing shall be able to separate from it…”
[xvi] Larger quote: “The very order of these statements answers the objection that this indwelling is already the sine qua non of our Christianity; for here Paul speaks, not of the first entrance of Christ into our hearts but of the further indwelling that is due to the strengthening we receive through the Spirit by Word and Sacrament. The unio mystica is progressive; Christ takes possession of us in ever greater degree. The aorist denotes full possession… Christ will take complete possession of [our heart, the center of our being, the seat of intellect, emotion, and will, especially of the latter] as one uses the whole house in which one dwells…” (494)
Other arresting quotes here:
Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible: “he dwells in his people, as a king in his palace, to rule and protect them, and as a master in his family to provide for them, and as their life to quicken them; it is in consequence of their union to him, and is expressive of their communion with him, and is perpetual; where he once takes up his residence, he never totally and finally departs: the place where he dwells is not their heads, nor their tongues, but their hearts; and this is where no good thing dwells but himself and his grace; and where sin dwells, and where he is often slighted, opposed, and rebelled against…”
Pulpit commentary: “as warm sunshine is needed to start and advance the life of a plant, so love is needed to start and carry on the life of the soul. Experience of Divine love is a great quickening and propelling power. “One glance of God, a touch of his love, will free and enlarge the heart, so that it can deny all and part with all and make an entire renunciation of all to follow him” (Archbishop Leighton). Ephesians 3:17…”
[xvii] Interestingly, commentating on the being “rooted in love” in verse 17, the very Lutheran commentary Lenski insists that: “’Love’ is to be taken in its broad sense and, unless it is separated from the participles, means our love to the Father, the Spirit, and Christ, for the context has presented only these. Love to the brethren is naturally also involved in this love…” (495)
He speaks of “The power the Father bestows on us [v. 16] is to make us like a solidly rooted tree that is growing massive and strong, like a solidly founded building that is rising high and imposing.”
We are comforted when he nevertheless says “Note the progression: the Holy Spirit (Word and Sacrament) – the faith in our hearts – now love in its full development….”
Alternatively, and surprisingly, the Scottish Baptist MacLaren does not insist that this is only the love of God and neighbor the Christian has (is given) but instead expands on what this love means:
“And the last point is the gifts of this indwelling Christ,-’ye being,’ or as the words might more accurately be translated, ‘Ye having been rooted and grounded in love.’
Where He comes He comes not empty-handed. He brings His own love, and that, consciously received, produces a corresponding and answering love in our hearts to Him. So there is no need to ask the question here whether ‘love’ means Christ’s love to me, or my love to Christ. From the nature of the case both are included-the recognition of His love and the response by mine are the result of His entering into the heart. This love, the recognition of His and the response by mine, is represented in a lovely double metaphor in these words as being at once the soil in which our lives are rooted and grow, and the foundation on which our lives are built and are steadfast….
Where Christ dwells in the heart, love will be the foundation upon which our lives are builded steadfast and sure. The blessed consciousness of His love, and the joyful answer of my heart to it, may become the basis upon which my whole being shall repose, the underlying thought that gives security, serenity, steadfastness to my else fluctuating life. I may so plant myself upon Him, as that in Him I shall be strong, and then my life will not only grow like a tree and have its leaf green and broad, and its fruit the natural outcome of its vitality, but it will rise like some stately building, course by course, pillar by pillar, until at last the shining topstone is set there. He that buildeth on that foundation shall never be confounded.
For, remember that, deepest of all, the words of my text may mean that the Incarnate Personal Love becomes the very soil in which my life is set and blossoms, on which my life is founded.[”]
Subject line of email: We need more “election integrity” leadership. Is it you?
(written to select Republican state politicians in Minnesota ; I had previously contacted our Federal Representatives as well)
It seems to me that election integrity is the issue of our time. Well, this, and the issue that we can no longer trust “mainstream” media news sources to accurately report on the happenings of our Republic!
I take it you are well aware of all of this as well.
And I think I’m not wrong in asserting “Now is the time to stand and fight.”
I agree that right now a lot of more sophisticated folks think that a man like Mike Lindell is a bit crazy. That said, have you heard about what he is doing from August 10-12th? Dr. Douglass Frank, who appeared in the video Lindell put out entitled “Scientific Proof,” says “Since Mr Lindell’s announcement of the release of 34 Tb of PCAPs at the August 10-12 Cyber Symposium in Sioux Falls, SD I’ve been inundated with requests to participate.”
He gives us more details here:
On August 10-12, Mr Lindell is publicly releasing 34 Tb of PCAPs for over 3,000 counties in the US. Cyber experts from around the globe will be converging in Sioux Falls, SD to help translate them into useful information for the general public.
It is going to cause a shockwave across the country.
Essentially, PCAPs are recordings of chunks of internet traffic. Each PCAP contains immutable routing and timestamp information in addition to the content (data, code, and information).
Counties are typically divided up into dozens of precincts. The PCAPs were recorded before, during, and after the November 2020 election by white-hat hackers, and they were delivered to Mr Lindell on January 9th.
You don’t even necessarily need to understand what the information is… the fact that someone was successfully communicating with the election machines during the election is in itself alarming… and illegal. The fact that there were white-hat hackers across the US recording the information is a testament to their patriotism.
Imagine that you have a translated PCAP in your hand which contains a timestamp during the election. The PCAP tells you the internet address of the machine that was being interacted with at that time.
You walk into you county board of elections, paper in hand, and ask them, “Hey! What gives?”
Multiply *that* by dozens of precincts in each of over 3,000 counties.
To accomplish this, we are going to need lots of volunteers… people who are persistent, and who are willing to bring the bad news to their election officials that they were hacked and tracked throughout the election…”
Follow the Data with Dr Frank, [09.07.21 13:35], Telegram
I hope hearing all of this makes you happy, and not sad or concerned. Dr. Frank likes to say that “Politicians don’t start parades but join them” but I wonder if that always needs to be true.
I have looked into his background, and I believe Dr. Frank is a great source of what is happening and developing regarding these issues. You can follow him on Telegram. I’ve included a bit more information in the “footnote” below (see the *).
I hope you that you will not miss this symposium.
If there is a chance that what Mike Lindell has is legitimate and not one of the most well-orchestrated frauds in history, I don’t know how any politician could not consider attending. Any good politician cannot ignore truth like this vis a vis political interests and considerations.
In sum, due to the work of men like Dr. Frank (and others like Seth Keshel — materials available upon request) many of us are more convinced than ever that our great state of Minnesota also had massive amounts of fraud and that it would be irresponsible to not dig further. Why not do our own full forensic audit? I think what Golden Valley’s Center of the American Experimentreleased the other day is simply the tip of the iceberg.
More and more Americans are coming to doubt — I believe justly (see a good articulation of this “counter-narrative” here) — the integrity of the 2020 elections. A full forensic audit, along with election reform requirements (like voter I.D.), would not only be a winning issue. It would be the right thing to do.
Thanks for listening. Hoping and praying you men in leadership will act boldly.
Regards, Nathan Rinne
* “Why the delay?”
People are asking why Mr Lindell doesn’t just release the 34 Tb of PCAPs to the public immediately.
There are lots of good reasons. Here are some.
1) Only people with proper skills and training will know how to interpret the PCAPs. The information is volatile, so we want to make sure the job is done right.
2) There is a lot of collaboration and coordination that will be required, learning together, tabulating results, etc.
3) We are establishing quality controls and cross-checking strategies so that we can be confident that the final results are accurate.
4) We are predistributing samples to symposium registrants to qualify them for participation.
5) There are many logistical and security issues to consider. Lots of planning has been taking place, including identification of a suitable venue and reservation of a thousand hotel rooms.
6) There are several legal and chain of custody issues that are in play.
7) As the data are emerging, we may learn things that require careful treatment.
I have also been anxious to release these data sooner rather than later. But I see the wisdom in doing the release carefully and systematically. An immense amount of legal work and planning has gone into this over several months. I respect the people involved, and every time I ask these sorts of questions of them, their answers make sense and reveal the product of a great deal of careful thought and planning.
I know, it is tough to be patient. I’ve been privy to a few of the details along the way, and I have shared them as I am able. For example, the number of counties has recently increased to over 3,000. Based upon what I’ve already seen, we know that EVERY state has been hacked and tracked.
There are people already working on them, and some of that work has already been featured in the documovies “Absolute Proof,” “Absolute Interference,” and “Absolutely 9-0.”
“…to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ…”
How often do you think about heaven?
“The life to come”…that which now, for the time being, is invisible?
Do you ever think of our current life as not being un-real, so to speak, but not being, in fact, real enough?
Have you thought of this life as that which is finally missing something, that is, the something that is “behind the veil”?
Behind the curtain…
One might think, for example, of how Scripture describes the coming of the Son of Man in judgment, where the sky will be rolled up like a scroll, as the Apocalypse, the Unveiling, the Revealing of the Whole Truth dawns upon us.
Or “[i]n the book of Kings (2 Kings 6), the Bible describes how God provides an army of angels leading horses and chariots of fire to protect the prophet Elisha and his servant and opens the servant’s eyes so that he can see the angelic army surrounding them.”[i]
The veil removed!
Heaven – and the awesome heavenly armies even! – touching earth!
Or think about the story of Jacob’s ladder that occurred at Bethel. While there, he dreamed of a stairway, or ladder that came down and rested on earth, with the top reaching heaven.
…Angels of God ascended and descended upon it and God, from the top, re-iterated the promise that He had made to Abraham to Jacob, and assuring him: “I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
We go on to hear that:
When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”
Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. He called that place Bethel…[ii]
Reflecting on all of this, the Heavenly reality seems fascinating, to be sure — but also a bit terrifying.
The unfamiliar and even wholly unknown often is.
One can perhaps understand why some not familiar with the Gospel of Jesus Christ – or especially those rejecting it – might choose to not think about these things.
To not think about a greater Reality… a spiritual Reality…
Yes, many very smart people say they reject such things, but life being what it is, they must, of course, doubt what they choose to believe.
Thinking that there is indeed something about this life is, as we say, “supernatural”… and that there is much that remains unexplained for them…
And that, while the spiritual aspect of life might seem much more evident in non-Western societies….
That they too, nevertheless, can understand the point a former student of mine once made about the issue of exorcisms in our own very secular context:
“When considering the impact public demonic displays would have, it would be counter-productive [to the devil’s purpose] to keep our minds off of religion…”
The devil is, after all, no dummy.
As Christians, we know and understand that the supernatural and the natural, the heavens and the earth, have not always been separated like they are presently.
In the beginning, of course, we confess that God created the heavens and the earth…
And one of the points of the Garden of Eden seems to have been that Adam and Eve were always deeply aware of the presence of God, and that the place was basically saturated with His Presence.
After Adam and Eve sinned and covered themselves with fig leaves, we even read that:
“…they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool[c] of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden….”
I don’t think that we should assume this was the first time God had walked in the Garden, but simply that this was first time they had been frightened by Him doing so!
And so, until that fateful day when Adam and Eve partook of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil – separating man from God, separating man from man, and separating man from the wider creation — the Garden was the place where heaven and earth touched…. were one… and would perhaps, in time, merge more fully together.
That plan however, was disrupted by Adam and Eve’s sin, and so what did God do?
Well, He didn’t destroy them and start over, like I might have done.
Instead, He gave them the promise of the One who would make all things right again, destroying the work of the serpent and delivering them from the death and chaos, the rupture, that they had brought about!
This is why we hear God say to Satan, who was that serpent:
“…I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring[a] and hers; he will crush[b] your head, and you will strike his heel.”
Now after God gives this Promise, we also see that there are a number of other places in the Old Testament where we see it being re-affirmed and built upon.
For example, in Genesis 12, after the flood and the Tower of Babel incident, we see that God begins the process of choosing, electing, calling… a special people, a holy nation for Himself (see, for example, Exodus 19:5 and 6).
And so, a little later on in the Old Testament, in Deut. 4:37, we read:
“Because the Lord loved your fathers, He elected their descendants after them.”
And Isaiah 41:8-9 says:
“But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend, 9 I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you.”[iii]
Abraham’s descendants were a special people set aside for God’s purposes…
…to be the ones from whom a very specific Called and Chosen Descendant would come.
Referring to Abraham’s “seed,” in Genesis 22:18, God says “and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice….”
At so, again, at the end of the book of Genesis we hear not only about the Offspring of Eve who will crush the serpent’s head… but about the Lion from the Tribe of Judah who will reign as King over all the nations…
…and the book of Deuteronomy also speaks about the Prophet to come whose greatness will exceed even that of Moses…
Another way we see how this Genesis 3:15 promise is re-affirmed and built upon is through the provision of the animal sacrifices, though which the sin that besets us could be atoned for.
These were indications of the grace of God that set Israel apart from the other nations and their all-too-human gods…
And where, by the way, was the key place those animal sacrifices took place?
Why, first the tabernacle, or the “tent of meeting,” and then, post-Solomon, the Temple.
And interestingly, according to one commentator, some of the language used to describe the priestly functions in association with the tabernacle[iv] suggest that they were “reminiscent of humankind’s role in the garden…”
Not only this, but “the lampstand and other parts of the tabernacle make use of garden imagery… demonstrate[ing] that the tabernacle and temple looked back to Eden….”
At the same time, at this time… in this era… during this epoch… the beginnings of a full restoration were definitely not yet!
Cherubim are a special group of angels that are “attendants of God,” and “they bear,” for example, “the throne upon which He descends from His high abode.”[v]
And here, if we pay close attention, we will notice that the presence of cherubim on the curtains of the tabernacle!
This was most likely an “indication that the way to God [was] still barred for sinful humans,” as it was when Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden and cherubim were placed to guard its entrance from that point on…
Separating the place where heaven and earth had touched….
In other words, even as the Temple pointed to the reality that heaven and earth were to be united once more, it did not fully do the job of restoration! (see here the book of Hebrews, chapter 9!)
Indeed, the law given to Moses was quite different from the Gospel revealed in the New Testament!
While the Temple was surely better than the thunder and threats of Mt. Sinai – and surely even a little comforting at this or that time – it was still no picnic… [vi]
For the effects of the Fall into sin were terrible indeed… The same commentator I mentioned earlier explains to us:
“The temple is needed as a symbol of God’s presence because the reality of God’s presence has been withdrawn due to sin. When the reality is fully restored, then the need for the symbol[, the Temple,] passes away (Rev. 21:22).”[vii]
And when did the need for this symbol pass away?
With the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ!
And when we hear in our Epistle reading this morning such expressions as “predestined according to the plan” and “in conformity with the purpose of his will” we should not only think about how God knew and elected each one of us who were baptized into Jesus Christ individually before time began – and He certainly did…
…but also that nothing which occurs comes as a surprise to Him, and that He, as we say, is “in control” as His purposes all unfold according to His plan.
As Ephesians 1:11 puts it, He “works outeverything in conformity with the purpose of his will…”[viii]
Ever since the fall into sin, God has always been about offering reassurance that He is with His people…
That He has not abandoned them….
That He will defeat Satan and the power of death…
And again, we see this most fully in the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, the “mystery concealed for ages past” (Romans 16)….
So as the book of Galatians says, in “the fullness of time” we are introduced to the One who is the True Temple, the True Lamb of God, the True Manna, or Bread of Life…
Also known, as the book of Matthew tells us, as “Emmanuel”.
That is, “God with us”!
We are told in our Epistle reading for this morning that God’s revealed purposes are “to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ…” or perhaps “the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth.”[ix]
The Apostle Paul is primarily concerned about believers, the church, here.
Later on, he is thrilled that in Christ his own race[x], the Jews, and the non-Jews, or Gentiles, are brought together, and so, in Ephesians 2 we read this:
…remember that formerly you who are Gentiles in the flesh and called uncircumcised by the so-called circumcision (that done in the body by human hands)— 12remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.
14For He Himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has torn down the dividing wall of hostility 15by abolishing in His flesh the law of commandments and decrees. He did this to create in Himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace 16and reconciling both of them to God in one body through the cross, by which He extinguished their hostility.
17He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18For through Him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
The temple, largely occupied only by the Jews even in the best of times, exemplified that old law.[xi] At the same time that is not all that the Apostle Paul had in mind!
After all, in Ephesians 1, right after talking about how Christ unites heaven and earth, he goes on to say:
…[God] exerted [the working of His mighty strength] in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms, 21far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.
22And God put everything under His feet and made Him head over everything for the church, 23which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
And when Christ returns, some will gladly bow, and some will do so reluctantly….[xii]
But we who will gladly do so realize that
The lion, or wolf, is going to lie down with the lamb…
The child will play with the snake without danger…
And we will worship with men and angels. The book of Revelation paints an amazing picture of this:
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying:
“Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!”
And He has planned it all from the beginning…. the Lamb slain from the Foundation of the world….
He is God incarnate, God come down to us…
He is in effect, Eternal Life in the flesh, and more specifically Jacob’s Ladder in the flesh…
…and He’s come down for you!
And He lifts us up to Heaven…
I said earlier that the baptized – which I believe is probably most all of you – are the chosen.
While the doctrine of election or predestination, which we heard about a lot this morning, is confusing, you should not fret about this!
But perhaps you are concerned… and raise some very good questions…
“How is it that God has names written in the book of life from ‘the foundation of the world’ (Rev. 17:8), but that he also says in the book of Exodus ‘whoever sins against Me, I will blot him out of My book?’” (Exodus 32:33)
We need to understand that in Jesus Christ, who forgives their sins, God’s called and chosen people are those who want to fight!
These are the “elect” who do not, and will never fail!
The core question though is if the election of any particular individual—whether we are speaking of one’s initial conversion or one’s final moment of perseverance—is ever determined, in whole or in part, by God foreseeing something good in him or her.
It is not.
For your salvation always comes in our Lord Jesus Christ… from outside of you!
…through the Word of Christ that is preached into your heart, that faith grasps as it hears it!
And man’s salvation in the sense of the full unity promised in Christ is indeed coming!
And here, it does us well to remember that our Lord assures us that we possess this in Him even now… Paul says in Ephesians 4:
I… urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
We are told here to maintain, or keep, or treasure that unity that we are given by Christ and His Spirit (through His word).
We are not told to create unity in the church. It is a gift given to us in Christ, and Paul urges us to walk both from thisgift and in this gift!
Everything is, in a sense, already ours.
Think of it as existing in embryonic form. The baby has yet to be born, but the consummation of that pregnancy is fast approaching, as the world groans, waiting for the full redemption… (Romans 8)
The contemporary Lutheran theologian Jack Kilcrease, interestingly, points out that throughout the Bible:
“…the movement of the divine Word toward its final fulfillment could often appear as a failure even as it succeeded….”[xiii]
This goes for us too today!
Our lives are hid in Christ. You are a sinner and saint. You may struggle with particular sins… perhaps a sin that you have spent a lifetime fighting…
Again, that is what Christians do!
Because of the grace of God they know… the love and mercy of God known in Jesus Christ.
It is not some cold “I was baptized…” but recognizing, even recognizing now: “I am baptized!
The grace of God has come to me, comes to me, in Jesus Christ!
I am one of those who the Father, through Jesus Christ, gives forgiveness, life and salvation!
…and I am also one who He calls — even in this day! — to participate in the “administration” of this Mystery, so to speak….
Who are we?
We are a heavenly colony on earth called together through God’s word and sacrament and from that word and sacrament by which we live, we desire to bring others into the peace and joy, the unity, we know in Jesus Christ!
In spite of all that you might see and feel around you…. In spite of the fact that it does not look like Christ reigns around us… God is with us![xiv]
I’ll leave you with one more good word from the Apostle Paul’s book of Ephesians:
“19Therefore you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household, 20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone. 21In Him the whole building is fitted together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22And in Him you too are being built together into a dwelling place for God in His Spirit.” (Ephesians 2)
10 Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. 11 When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. 12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 There above it[a] stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.[b]15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”
18 Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. 19 He called that place Bethel,[c] though the city used to be called Luz.
20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear 21 so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord[d] will be my God 22 and[e] this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”
[iii] Going along with the passages mentioned, where the conceptually meanings of calling and chosen certainly overlap, we also note that in Romans 11 when Paul mysteriously says that “all Israel will be saved” in the future, he goes on to say of the current Jewish enemies of the Gospel that “as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers.For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable….”
If God, in His mercy, chose not Esau, but the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to bring us the life-giving Seed of Christ, it makes sense that God would desire them to live from this Seed as well, for what is external and determinable to simultaneously be internal and “in the secret” as well (see Rom. 2:29).
These things are no small matter, and we must let the Scriptures form us and not the other way around. When Paul speaks in Ephesians about those chosen and predestined for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ” and also, in Romans 9 speaks about Israel’s own “adoption to sonship” are we to assume two completely different and even unrelated things are being spoken of?
See also, e.g. Deut. 7:6, Deut. 10:15, I Kings 8:53, Col. 3:15, and finally, I Peter 2:9. Johann Gerhard, Theological Commonplaces. 8-11, On Creation and Predestination, 190, 191, also points out that “constant examples of proselytes show that they were not excluded absolutely from the fellowship of the church” and that it is not “as if all other nations had been rejected from the church and from participation in salvation by an absolute decree.” Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, Vol 3, 490, says that the purpose of the doctrine of election is
…to confirm and impress on us the sola gratia….This was the purpose also of the Old Testament type of the election of grace, namely, the election of Israel to be the covenant people. Reading Deut. 9:4ff., one gains the impression that Moses in addressing Israel felt that he could not do enough to cure the people of the delusion that they received the land of Canaan because they were better than the heathen…
Or is the purpose of election in Christ before the foundation of the world to save us, by grace alone, from our sin, death, and the devil – and from this, as Deut. 9:4ff goes on to say, to make the unrighteous righteous in Him that they might, in the power of His Spirit, drive out the unrighteousness which remains? Pieper, citing I Kings 19:10, also says that election is meant to be a guarantee of the survival of the church (Vol. 3, 493), but is this a purpose or a corollary of a greater purpose: namely, the promise that those found in the King of Kings will win in glory, and judge the world at the end of time?
[iv] The conjunction of verbs עבד . . . and שׁמר . . .
[vi] Even in the Old Testament, the place where the grace of God was certainly to be seen was a place of condemnation as well!
The theologian Jack Kilcrease writes (see below footnote as well): “This pattern of fleeing from condemnation to grace also continued in the life of Christ. In the crucifixion, God designated Jesus and the sacraments of the New Testament, which flowed from his side (Jn. 19:34) on the hillock of Golgotha, as the new place of grace. Likewise, he designated the Temple mount and works connected with it as a place of condemnation (Gal. 4:25-6). In his resurrection, Jesus insisted that the women flee his tomb (the place of death and condemnation) and instructed them to tell his disciples to meet him in Galilee. In Galilee, Jesus told the disciples look for him now not in the tomb, but in the word and sacrament ministry of the Church (Mt. 28:8-10, v. 16-20).
Opposing the idea that the Garden of Eden was a Temple itself, he also says that “because the reality of God’s presence was found in Eden, Eden was not a temple. The symbol was not needed.”
This theologian goes on to say:
“I think Block rightly captures the proper interpretation:
In my response to reading Gn 1-3 as temple-building texts, I have hinted at the fundamental hermeneutical problem involved in this approach. The question is, should we read Gn 1-3 in the light of later texts, or should we read later texts in light of these? If we read the accounts of the order given, then the creation account provides essential background to primeval history, which provides background for the patriarchal, exodus, and tabernacle narratives. By themselves and by this reading the accounts of Gn 1-3 offer no clues that a cosmic or Edenic temple might be involved. However, as noted above, the Edenic features of the tabernacle, the Jerusalem temple, and the temple envisioned by Ezekiel are obvious. Apparently their design and function intended to capture something of the original environment in which human beings were placed. However, the fact that Israel’s sanctuaries were Edenic does not make Eden into a sacred shrine. At best this is a nonreciprocating equation. (20-21)
In sum, though the tabernacle and temple looked back to the garden of Eden and the loss of the presence of God that occurred with humanity’s exile from the garden, the garden itself was not a temple. In the grand scheme of things, this is not a major difference of interpretation, but it is still worth maintaing precision in our understanding of these foundational parts of Scripture.”
[ix] Romans 13:9: “9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,”[a] and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[b]
“Brought to a head” also… same word…
Romans 13:9V-PIM/P-3S GRK: λόγῳ τούτῳ ἀνακεφαλαιοῦται ἐν τῷ NAS: commandment, it is summed up in this KJV: commandment, it is briefly comprehended in INT: word this it is summed up in this
Ephesians 1:10V-ANM GRK: τῶν καιρῶν ἀνακεφαλαιώσασθαι τὰ πάντα NAS: of the times, [that is], the summing up of all things KJV: of times he might gather together in one all things INT: the of times to head up the all things
346 anakephalaíomai (from 303/aná, “up,” intensifying 2775/kephalaióō, “bring to a head, recapitulate”) – properly, head-up, summing up all the parts as a comprehensive (organized) whole.
346/anakephalaíomai (“recapitulate”) shows the head as the “organizing center,” causing all the parts to work together in harmony.
[R. Lenski denies that the root of 346 (anakephalaíomai) means “head” (kephalē), and prefers kephalaion (“sum”) which comes to the same basic meaning. Note that Christ (Eph 1:10) and love (Ro 13:9) relate both to the sum and the head (i.e. both realities).]
[xi] Very interestingly, Luther suggests that it is not so much what Christians believe – in this case about God’s law – that the world finds problematic, but rather its willingness to act on its beliefs, which we all know tends to, uncomfortably, reveal divisions and distinctions among persons. To the idea that Eph. 2:14 suggests the wall destroyed by Christ is his law, Luther responds as follows:
“And here Paul speaks about the law of Moses proper, not about the Decalogue, since the latter pertained to all nations. For the nations did not hate the Jews because of the Decalogue, but because they separated themselves from the remaining nations by way of unique worship and ceremonies, and called themselves alone the people of God, all the others they called atheists and unbelievers. The quarrel was about the temple and the ceremonies. Yet finally Christ came and destroyed this obstruction and Jews and Gentiles were made one. But if the Decalogue is referred to, it is well, and it is here removed, and destroyed insofar as it is damnation, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.” (ODE, 123)
[xii] Franzmann, in his commentary on the whole Bible:
Unite = “Put under one head,” i.e., Christ (cf v. 22; 4:15; 5:23). Because Jesus is both God and man, humankind and God are reconciled in Him (2:16;2Co 5:18-20). Because all who are baptized are “in Christ,” they are also reconciled to one another, whether Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or free (Eph 2:14; Gal 3:26-29).
Eph. 1:22-23 – ‘Head over all things for the church…his body.” Head signifies dominion, lordship (not the intellect as with us). Christ’s relationship to His church is more than more power-dominion over it; He is vitally and organically united with His church and functions personally though it. This unique Lorship is expressed by the head-body image (Cf. 5:23; Col 1:18, 24)
“This effective Word of promise pushed the history of Israel inexorably along to its fulfillment in the person of the Messiah, even in the face of human opposition. Nevertheless, the movement of the divine Word toward its final fulfillment could often appear as a failure even as it succeeded. When Moses pronounced the divine Word “Let my people go,” it appeared ineffective to both the Egyptians and Israelites. Indeed, Pharaoh was apparently unmoved by the pronouncement of the divine deed-word and, in turn, increased Israel’s labor (Exod. 5). Nevertheless, it was through Pharaoh’s very obstinacy that God worked his redemption and was finally able to bring a plague so horrific that Egypt expelled Israel. God likewise told Isaiah to speak a word of repentance to Israel that they would ignore, thereby ensuring their suffering in Babylon (Isa. 6:9-13). But Israel’s destruction was be the occasion for their true repentance, something that would prepare them for the grace of restoration and the coming of the Messiah (Isa. 40). Finally, God’s Word of redemption found ultimate fulfillment in the opposition and murder of Jesus by his opponents. By killing God himself, Jesus’ enemies brought about the fulfillment of the very Word of God that they sought to thwart. As Luther’s theology of the cross shows, God works under the form of his opposite.
Likewise, throughout the history of Israel, God’s pattern of attaching his dual words of condemnation and grace to created masks continued. By doing so, the Lord bid his covenant people to flee from the word of condemnation to that of grace. Although Jacob is attacked by God in the night, he demands the name of the shadowy attacker and thereby hearkened back to the promise of blessing that God had made to him at Bethel (Gen. 32:22-32). Moses is also attacked by God on his return to Egypt but flees to the promise of grace found in circumcision of his son (Exod. 4:24-26). God threatened with death those who came near Mt. Sinai, the mountain where he gave his law (Exod. 19:10-13), but promised forgiveness and a share in his personal holiness to those who approached him through the sacramental channels of the Tabernacle/Temple at Mt. Zion.”
This pattern of fleeing from condemnation to grace also continued in the life of Christ. In the crucifixion, God designated Jesus and the sacraments of the New Testament, which flowed from his side (Jn. 19:34) on the hillock of Golgotha, as the new place of grace. Likewise, he designated the Temple mount and works connected with it as a place of condemnation (Gal. 4:25-6). In his resurrection, Jesus insisted that the women flee his tomb (the place of death and condemnation) and instructed them to tell his disciples to meet him in Galilee. In Galilee, Jesus told the disciples look for him now not in the tomb, but in the word and sacrament ministry of the Church (Mt. 28:8-10, v. 16-20). — https://jackkilcrease.com/the-pattern-of-flight-from-condemnation-to-grace/%5D
[xiv] See Hebrews 2:8 for example, where as much is admitted.