The One Thing (Romans 1:8-17)

Laugh at me if you will, but I actually enjoyed the 1991 movie City Slickers starring Billy Crystal as Mitch. Probably the most famous line comes from the rugged old cowboy “Curly,” the tough old cowboy character played by Jack Palance.

Here’s the scene from the movie where Curly espouses his life philosophy to Mitch, Billy Crystal’s character …

Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is? … This. (holds up one finger)

Mitch: Your finger?

Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean “poop.”

Mitch: But what is the “one thing?”

Curly: (smiling) That’s what you have to find out.

So today I’m going to tell you what the one thing is!

But first, Paul shares some warm words of affirmation for those in the church at Rome…

1:8 – First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. 9 God, whom I serve in my spirit in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you 10 in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you.

11 I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong— 12 that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. 13 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.

14 I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. 15 That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome.

It can certainly be said of the Apostle Paul that he was a team player. His passion was “team church” wherever it was found. The Roman church was not the result of his ministry or preaching, as were many others we read about in the New Testament. And Rome, being the center of the world (where all roads lead to), would have held great interest for Paul as to the nature of the local church ministry there. Clearly they were doing well, as Paul mentions the reputation their faith had throughout the Roman world. Travelers would have be in and out of the imperial city with news of the Christian community there being relayed to other churches.

Some of my fondest memories of my 40 years in ministry have been of Christians I have met and worshipped with in various corners of the earth: Puerto Rico, Kazakhstan, Scotland, England, Turkey, France, Uzbekistan, etc.  Sometimes the verbal communication was scant, but the “feeling” of being with true brothers and sisters in the faith was almost palpable. Paul was energized by this fellowship, rejoicing in the expanse of the gospel. And together, working through this #ForOurCity series, we too should be energized by the expanse of the cause of Christ in our city and region.

Paul wanted to see the Romans personally because he knew that by God’s empowerment of his gifts, he could be a blessing to them to enable them to go forward in the work there. Yet note again how he looked as well to the blessing he would receive from being with them.

Paul wanted the readers to understand that it was not a lack of interest in the church at Rome that was the cause for his absence. Rather, it was the extensive press of ministry that God continually put before him that always filled his schedule with obligations. These opportunities involved all sorts of people from all types of backgrounds, and this “all peoples” aspect was the exciting part of the gospel message for which Paul was especially called.

Here comes “the one thing” …

1:16 – For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

This is a favorite question I have asked people in Bible studies and sermons over the decades: What is the one most important thing that you need to be saved?

I ask that, and then receive the answers. What invariably comes back is first something like “faith.”  And I’ll say that yes, we need faith for sure, but there is a better answer. And the next person will say “grace.”  After all, it says in the Bible that we are saved by grace through faith … but I’ll again say there is a better single answer. A few other suggestions will be offered, but seldom does someone give the very, very best answer. And that is “righteousness.”

God is perfect; that is what righteousness is — perfection. God’s justice demands judgment on anything in his presence that is not perfect and pure. So, if we are to be saved and to be with God and not face his judgment, we have to be perfect; we have to have righteousness. And there is the great problem. We do not have it, we cannot earn it, it has to come from somewhere else, only one person has ever had it, and we therefore need to get it from him.

This is therefore the theme of the book of Romans: The righteousness of God, revealed in the gospel and received by faith … and by faith we also live. This is the gospel message, which we may describe as: We are more sinful and flawed than we could imagine, yet more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.

We’re just getting started to unpack that.

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Included, Yes, You Are! (Romans 1:1-7)

When it comes to naming favorite books of the Bible, Romans is always on the short list of God’s people; and it might be that only the Gospel of John would outrank it. Surely some would favor Psalms. Personally, I rank Hebrews as my all-time favorite. But we would be lost without the incredible letter of Paul to the early church in Rome.

Ancient letters customarily began with the name of the writer, the identity of the recipient(s), and a statement of greeting. And so we have in verse 1:1 the writer Paul … and then we skip to verse 7 to see the recipients and greeting … 7 To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.  The intervening material is rich with parenthetical thoughts about Paul and his ministry, as well as the gospel message and those to whom it would reach.

1:1 – Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— 2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.

Paul begins by calling himself a servant of Christ, a word that pictures being essentially a slave. His view was one of doing what Christ sent him to do, irrespective of his own interests or even any cautious concern or consideration of personal safety in carrying out his mission. That really is commitment, and it is good for us to remember that in God’s will and leading we are safer in the most dangerous place on earth than we are in the seemingly securest location imaginable, though outside of God’s leading.

Paul knew he was set apart for the work of the gospel. His entire background, though convoluted by Jewish and Greek instruction mingled with Roman citizenship in a secular world, all worked together toward the perfect skill set to accomplish his appointed apostolic mission.

And this gospel message was not something of his own construction or imagination (as accused by traditional Jewish hearers). No, it was the fulfillment of a multitude of writings of God’s prophets over vast centuries of time. It all pointed to the Son. And Paul here affirms central teaching about Jesus Christ – that he was fully man as a descendant of David, yet fully also the Son of God as proven by the resurrection.

1:5 – Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake. 6 And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

Paul never ceased to marvel at God’s grace, featuring his divine salvation that was literally out of the blue!  Paul was not looking for it at all. Rather, he was persecuting the church and Christians with great zeal, only to have God break in and marvelously turn around his entire life.

A lot of us who have lived a while in this life would have never imagined we would do or serve in places that we have either worked or given copious amounts of our time. And Paul could have never imagined as a young man that he would be called by God to follow and promote an entirely “new” message and revelation (a mystery from a Jewish perspective). And it was one thing to do this under the Jewish umbrella of Christ as the fulfillment of Messianic promise, but it was quite another thing to grow to understand that this was a message for the whole world … for Gentiles as well as Jews. And now, Paul comes to see that he has been made the primary spokesman for this message and work.

He tells the Romans, a host of Gentile believers in the gospel message of Christ, that they are the gracious recipients of this calling of God. These Gentiles, who were most likely following a pantheon of false gods in the Greek and Roman traditions, had heard the gospel message through some divine circumstance. Like Paul, they would not have been looking for it; and like Paul they were exposed through a work of the Spirit that opened their eyes to life-changing truth.

Paul’s story … the Romans’ story … it is our story as well. As we have come to hear the gospel message and responded to it in faith, we have come to understand that our eyes were opened to it in grace and through providential circumstances sourced in God. It is all of grace. But we are included. And we may also like Paul rightly marvel at this grace … at this inclusion!  And the #ForOurCity initiative reminds that we are in it together with many others of God’s people who meet and serve together all around this region.

Loneliness is Real

One of my best friends from high school youth group named Dan Allen, who graduated the same year as I did, also became a pastor and ministry leader. (This is the big guy with the deep voice who visited at Tri-State Fellowship a few years ago.)  He now directs a discipleship ministry and is on an annual missions trip he takes to India.

Here is an update he shared today. And since I know you all are terribly lonely this week without the daily devotionals (that begin again this coming Monday), I thought I’d share this wonderful article with you….

From Southeast Asia – #3 – All Alone Among 1.35 Billion People

Oh, I’m not talking about me. Sure, as I write this I am sitting alone while outside my window are approximately 25 million Delhitians. But I read about an 87–year–old village widow who at night painstakingly takes a sheet of blank paper, folds it and puts in the window of her crumbling house. At dawn she removes the paper indicating to her neighbors that she made it through the night. The newspaper noted—she might be the loneliest old woman in this second–most–populated country in the world.

I was heartbroken when I read that. Is it too much for neighbors to drop in once in a while? Is there not anyone there who cares for her?

Flip the page from a woman of rags to one of riches, a wealthy movie star, Anne Hathaway says: “the thing that I’m most worried about is just being alone without anybody to care for or someone which will care for me.” I don’t know anything about her, but she must be surrounded by all sorts of friends and colleagues, as well as paparazzi and leeches. People would be lining up to be her friend. Yet, there’s an emptiness, monophobia.

The UK has a supposed answer to loneliness, or at least they are trying to address the problem. In January the Theresa May government appointed a Minister of Loneliness to start looking into how they can help the estimated 9–million people in her country who often or always feel lonely. In fact, government research has found that about 200,000 older people in Britain had not had a conversation with a friend or relative in more than a month. What? Are you serious?

The Facebook post with a picture of an idyllic cabin in the woods read something like “Could you live here for 365 days without any contact with the outside world to receive $365,000?” I commented: “Could my family get the money if I killed myself after two weeks?”

We are not an island. We are created to be in fellowship with others. Loneliness leads to depression, and depression often leads to suicide. Could this be one of the reasons the suicide rate in the US rose 28 percent between 1999 and 2016? Surrounded by people, but no one to talk to.

Listen friend, there is no reason for loneliness in the church. We’re a family and need to look out for each other. So how about the next time you see someone sitting by themselves in church, you join them? Why not get a list of shut–ins from your pastor and visit one at least once–a–month? It’s the least you can do. And this might keep them from using a piece of paper in their window as a signal if they are dead or alive.

Heirs with Eternal Hope – Titus 3:1-8

This story is now about 20 years old, at least. But in the mid to late 90s, one of our church teenagers was a student in a local public high school. There was a period of time at the school where one or two fights seemed to break out practically every day in or near the lunch room. Teachers and administrators would have to get into the middle of what were repeated events that disturbed everyone.

Our church teen got to a point where he had enough of witnessing this, and after the latest confrontation had been calmed, he jumped up on a table and shouted loudly, “Everyone, Stop this! Be nice! Just be nice to each other!”  I’m not sure how it worked out over time, but he made a very strong point.

How should Christian people handle themselves in a world that is often a bit crazy? Paul has some directives that he writes to his disciple on the island of Crete: Titus. This was not a glorious assignment. The people on Crete had something of a reputation for being in the “wackbiscuit” category of behavior.

Titus 3:1 – Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, 2 to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.

That gentleness stuff is not the natural bent of most people, especially contemporary Americans. We are certainly more prone to call people out and aggressively tear them down. Yes, there is a time where truth needs to be affirmed strongly, and it could be argued that such a time as that is now our current experience. But there is a way to do this that is compelling and Spirit-driven.

Paul says that he and others who had come to know Christ were wackbiscuits at one time in their lives …

Titus 3:3 – At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.

But then there was a change in their lives, as the ultimate kindness was shown to them …

Titus 3:4 – But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

This is one of the very best summary statements about the gospel message and the work of Christ. It is not what we’ve done, it is what he has done in mercy toward us. The result is a washing from the stain of sin, an inner renewal through the Holy Spirit, and a future life as heirs of eternal life.

So how should one of God’s heirs act?

Titus 3:8 – This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.

Yes, an heir of the hope of eternal life should not act like the rest of the world. Rather, daily life should be about doing good, and that will take a focus upon other people. This is a conscious act of devotion that is an excellent lifestyle that is profitable for others. This is about as practical as it gets. Just be nice! Share the gospel.

This is our identity – though sinners in Adam, we are justified in Christ and adopted into his family to serve as ambassadors and heirs of God.

This ends our series on IDENTITY. The next week will be off from any devotionals. Then on Monday the 22nd begins a 30-day, 5-week, Monday-to-Saturday set of writings that take you through the book of Romans. I’ll copy them here to this site, though there is a dedicated site for these writings to accompany the upcoming citywide sermon series called “Overcomer.”  You might invite friends to follow that at www.ReadRomans.com.

Our Promised Eternal Inheritance – Hebrews 9:11-28

With Adam and Eve making a total mess of things and bringing the curse of death upon the whole human family, how is it possible that any of that family may have an eternal inheritance of life and the blessings of glory?

The first sacrifice, yet in the garden, was an innocent animal to provide covering for the guilty pair. As time went by, more specific commands were given as to how substitutionary sacrifices were to be made. These were like credit card payments – temporary. A true and perfect payment needed to follow, and it needed to be of the same stuff as the guilty race, yet perfect. The only way it could be done is the way it was done: by the God-man Jesus Christ who was both the perfect sacrifice and the perfect priest.

The writer to the Hebrews is telling them that Christ was a priest beyond the order and function of any priest ever in Israel – beyond Moses and certainly beyond the current sinner occupying that position in Jerusalem at the time of his letter. Those guys went into an earthly tabernacle – appearing twice before the ark to sprinkle blood. They first had to atone for themselves, since they were sinners, and then a second time as representative of the people. Christ, however, made his appearance, not in some place of human construction, but before God himself. And he appeared once (since he was sinless), and he came not with animal blood, but with his own human blood as our perfect sacrifice for sin.

There is an argument made here from the lesser to the greater. It is saying that, if the old system made the worshipper ceremonially clean on the outside (and it did!), then how much more will the blood of Christ make the worshipper clean all the way through (and it does!). The writer also again reiterates that Christ did this one time – not year after year after year. Indeed, it could be summarized by his final words … IT IS FINISHED!

The middle section of the reading today might give you a bit of trouble (vss. 16-22). Let me illustrate this: I have once been the executor of a last will and testament – of my last surviving parent, my mother. Among the necessary documents for the will to be attested as true and able to be enforced was the actual certificate of death. This may seem very obvious, but, for any will or testament to go into effect, there must be the death of the one who made it. Even if we know we are written into someone’s will, we cannot go out and use those resources and claim them as our own – the person must first die. And so, for us to inherit and lay claim to the benefits of salvation, it was necessary for a death to take place … done of course by Christ, through which we become the beneficiaries – inheriting the amazing benefits of atonement, propitiation, expiation, redemption, reconciliation, etc.

It is all guaranteed. It is finished.

Hebrews 9:11 – But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. 13 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

15 For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

16 In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, 17 because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living. 18 This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood. 19 When Moses had proclaimed every command of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. 20 He said, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.” 21 In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. 22 In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

23 It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. 25 Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. 26 Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

New Hope, New Inheritance – 1 Peter 1:3-5

(This devotional was written on this passage by Chris Wiles a couple of years ago, and we’ll bring it back today for our series on IDENTITY and the final point of what is our inheritance.)

We use the word “hope” far too casually.  Most often, we use “hope” as a synonym for “wishful thinking,” the verbal equivalent of crossing our fingers.  “I hope this recipe turns out ok,” we might say, or “I hope my team can maintain a strong defense in the last quarter.”  While these might be a way of looking forward to future events, we usually grant them no more than a week’s worth of significance—if that.

Columbia professor Andrew Delbanco uses “hope” as his way of defining “culture.”  A culture, Delbanco would say, is a group of people who share the same hope, or at least the same vision for the future.  For Americans, this means that we grow up bombarded with the “gospel” message of the American dream: get ahead; get rich; get what you want.  And, as we pointed out yesterday, we’ve allowed this message to strip away any true hope for the future for the tyrannical demands of Now.

When the early Christian writers used the word “hope,” they did so very carefully and very precisely.  For early Christians, the word “hope” was never rooted in some abstract fantasy, but rather in the certainty of God’s activity in human history.

In Peter’s letter, his first true lesson for the “chosen strangers” living in the hostile city of Rome was one of hope:

1 Peter 1:3 – Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

Do you see the beauty of Peter’s language?  We can see phrases like “great mercy,” “born again,” “living hope.”  This was a hope anchored in the historical reality of the resurrection of Jesus.  For early Christians, hope was certain: the physical resurrection of Jesus promised them that they, too, would one day be changed and would live again.

This was, at least in part, the “inheritance” that Peter speaks of.  In the Old Testament, the word “inheritance” was often used to speak of Israel receiving the Promised Land (Numbers 32:19; Deuteronomy 2:12; Joshua 11:23).  In the New Testament, this sort of language testifies to our share in God’s Kingdom (Galatians 3:18; Ephesians 1:14).

Why does this matter?  Because hope replaces fear.  Look at Peter’s letter.  How does it describe this future inheritance?  It is imperishable, undefiled, unfading.  If you lived in a place like Rome—which Peter had pointed out had become the social equivalent of Babylon (1 Peter 5:13)—you were displaced from all sense of safety and comfort.  Your hostile social setting left you feeling like the ground was constantly moving beneath your feet.  What does Peter say?  He says that believers like you and I “are being guarded through faith for a salvation to be revealed.”  If my hope rests in the American dream—if my hope is in money, success, comfort, a relationship, politics, etc., then I have placed my hope in something that is “perishable,” “defiled,” “fading.”  I live in constant fear of losing that source of satisfaction and security.  I worry that the next political leader will “take my guns away,” or limit my capacity for religious expression.  True, there may be many things that would grieve us—and perhaps rightly.  But if my hope lies in my salvation, in the city of God and not the fading city of man, then that changes everything.  This new hope prompts me to find joy and satisfaction not in my present, but in God’s future—and to find joy in the knowledge that this promise can never be tarnished or stolen.

Written into the Will – Ephesians 3:1-6

When speaking about spiritual and eternal inheritance, it is difficult to get a one-to-one correspondence with the material world. I can’t think of any sort of illustration that captures these biblical truths. Family estates can be very dicey things. Lawyers will tell you to be very specific about heirs and percentages and that sort of thing.

Complicating human estates and inheritance planning is that family difficulties are not uncommon. There are unjust parents or those who squander their wealth with nothing to leave behind. On the other hand, the parent-child relationships in a family are often very uneven. Brokenness may lead to estrangement, partially or fully; and hence some heirs may receive less than others, or even be specifically disinherited.

But this does not happen with God and His heirs. Of course, God is good and faithful; and His resources are unlimited and certain. And God’s heirs are certain to receive immense benefits. Although there are greater or lesser rewards spoken of due to faithfulness and Godly labors, none will be disinherited, and every bit of any inheritance is the result of great grace.

Most of us at TSF are Gentile peoples, and we were not specifically included in the work of God as the Old Testament developed and God’s plan through Israel and the coming Messiah was unfolding. Yes, there is a universal promise in the Abrahamic Covenant, and there are several references of Gentiles also being blessed in the future is some nondescript fashion. But it was not a big, front-burner idea and expectation.

Certainly none were expecting the incredible inclusion of Gentiles into the early church, to the extent that they were outnumbering the earliest Jewish believers in many places. Paul says here in Ephesians 3:1 that he was especially called to this ministry and was in fact in prison largely because of it and the opposition it unleashed. The clarity and details of this new teaching of God’s “administration” (the word for a dispensation – a stewardship) was given to Paul by revelation. And he calls it a “mystery” – by definition: something previously unknown and now revealed.

And this summary of the first five verses leads to the definition of this mystery defined in verse 6 – “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

It is not simply a matter that the Gentiles now are also included as an additional and extra category of grace extended … the Jews in one place and category, and now the Gentiles “over there” somewhere as another. No, they were now a part of one new body. So it is not merely a matter now that the family of Abraham is in line to inherit eternal blessings, but rather that the Gentiles have now been adopted together with the believing Jews into a new family as joint heirs.

Together, there are joint rights of family identification and legal standing to inherit all that God has prepared for His own family to enjoy for eternity. This is amazing truth!  It cannot fail or fade away or be lost. That is surely different than any earthly estate.

Ephesians 3:1 – For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—

2 Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. 4 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. 6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

Guaranteed Inheritance – Ephesians 1:11-14

The concept of “inheritance” has been fought over by people for not just centuries, but for millennia. We need only look to the Scriptures to be reminded of Jacob and Esau and all of the bitterness that their conflict engendered. And there is the story of the prodigal son who squandered his inheritance before coming home to the father and his own very bitter brother.

I’ve seen this is my own extended family system. Adding an adopted child was not welcomed 100% by all related parties, because the future inheritance was presumably then going to be watered down with a smaller fraction going to the earlier and older heirs.

A problem also with an estate inheritance is that it can be very unsure. Though it may appear that an estate is going to be quite large, many unforeseen factors could enter into it evaporating before any heirs may receive benefits. Earthly estates are fully subject to the corruption and disintegration of the material world.

But corrosive insecurities and uncertainties do not exist in the spiritual world. Those who know Christ are repeatedly spoken of in Scripture as heirs of an inheritance that cannot fade away or be dissolved. We could really point to nothing in the Word that is more absolute than the promises of eternal rewards and blessings to be inherited by those who are of God’s family.

One of these passages is in Ephesians 1:11-14.  To understand this passage more clearly, let me give you one pointer as you read through it. Verses 11 and 12 use the pronoun “we,” but then it changes to “you” in verses 13 and 14.  Here’s the way to see this: Paul is talking in the first two of these verses about “we” who are Jews – the first of those in the early church to become followers of Christ. And then in these final two verses the “you” is directed toward the larger number of Gentiles who came along later and found salvation in Jesus…

Ephesians 1:11 – In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

The “predestined” in verse 11 is not the same word as was used of the “chosen” or the “elect” in the beginning of Paul’s letter. This word has more to do with the casting of a lot, looking back to God’s divine will in picking out Abraham and his family among all the families of the earth. It was their lot that God would work through them to accomplish his great plan of redemption.

And then, later, Gentiles trusted in this same message and thereby became included in the plan of God just as were the earliest Jewish disciples. Now becoming a part of this spiritual family, they too were in line to receive the inheritance of eternal life and blessing that came with this faith.

The certainty of this was certified by the “seal” of the Holy Spirit. The concept here includes words like: authentication, certification, identification of ownership, security stamp of acceptance and belonging. There is nothing that can take this away. The Holy Spirit is like a deposit – and not one that can or will be returned. It is rather a first, down-payment of more that will come. Our experience of the indwelling Spirit is a taste of what more is to come ultimately in eternity. So it is like a first piece of heaven that we can know even while here in the material world.

This is a wonderful truth that informs everything about our perspectives on life in the material world. We’ll have disappointments, but there is a certain reward that is yet to come and that is literally out of this world. It cannot be squandered by crazy relatives or assigned to someone else. Our identity as an heir of God, through Christ, is absolutely certain.

Living a Worthy Life – Colossians 1:9-14

This is inevitably going to sound more mean-spirited than I intend it to be. Understand that there is a big part of me that admires people who can find a way to make a thriving business out of something that appears to be very remote and obscure. Even in my own family, I was a total skeptic over a decade ago when one of my sons and his wife-to-be went into a beads jewelry business venture that seemed impossible to me; but it has now become an international company connecting several continents.

Recently at my Rotary Club, the guest speaker spoke of a business he had developed that has grown substantially. It is connected to board games, where there is apparently a burgeoning interest among many people. Some of these games can cost hundreds of dollars. A part of it has to do with the game pieces, many of them being fantastical and mythical creatures of complicated shapes and sizes. These game pieces are hand painted; and being so relatively small, it is difficult to both grasp them and paint them. So this fellow who was speaking told us that his business was making (with the use of 3-D printing operations) a variety of holders that grasp the piece so that it can be painted. Beyond that, he sells horizontal brush holders and paint bottle holders (since they fall over easily). I could not imagine that the games themselves could be an industry, let alone the game pieces, let alone the need for holders for artists to paint the pieces!

I walked out that day just shaking my head at what strikes me as a waste of time from beginning to end. But honestly, I don’t get the beads thing either (though women have been excited about it ever since Wilma Flintstone). But, then again, a majority of people don’t understand how I can be enthralled by a baseball game. And such in the nature of hobbies, I suppose.

None of these things are wrong. It is all very American … very supply and demand. But what do we do with our lives that really counts for eternity? That is a legitimate question for us all, challenging us beyond the necessary duties of survival and varied hobbies of interest. Are we giving substantial time and investment to the stuff that does not burn in the end of it all?

In Paul’s letter to the Colossians he told them that his prayer was for them to live a life that could be characterized as pleasing to God and “worthy.”  Here are some components that Paul wrote about …

  • Knowing and living wisely in light of God’s will for each individual – God does have plans for us as individuals, having gifted each disciple in unique ways to serve the body of Christ and take the gospel to the world.
  • Being fruitful with the energies of life – We all have the same 24/7. Work, family, sleep already take up a lot of that time. We need to be intentional about using our abilities for eternal purposes, beginning at work and with family. Apart from intentional scheduling, the demands of life will fill our schedule for us.
  • Growing ever in the knowledge of God – Learning and living the Scriptures is a continual fine-tuning process that helps us grow toward an accumulation of life investments that qualify as “worthy.”
  • Finding the power to live in a fallen world with endurance and patience – There is much to distract and draw attention away from worthy life investment. Not the least of this is the hostility toward our faith (and time investment) values.
  • Having a continuous attitude of gratitude – The regular remembrance of what has been done for us that has rescued us eternally from our former membership within the kingdom of darkness is a major motivator to be consciously and gratefully active to serve the one who gave everything for our redemption.

I remember growing up with a decorative hanging on the wall in our house that said, “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.”  We have an identity as His ambassadors, His co-workers. Make it worthy.

Colossians 1:9 – For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

The Time is Now – 2 Corinthians 6:1-10

I don’t think I have ever been to a graduation ceremony (and I’ve been to a lot of them – four of my own, and a total of 10 for my boys) where a speaker did not include this line: “Today is not the end; it is the beginning.”

We often think when we have achieved a new status or promotion in life that circumstances will ease and all of life will become easier. It really doesn’t happen that way. Most often, newer and bigger challenges and difficulties find their way to the front door of our lives.

It is likewise an errant thought that life will be so much easier when one knows Christ and is in a saving relationship with God. It is true that the indwelling Spirit and the truths of the Word give us resources not otherwise available to the common man. But in fact, life actually gets more difficult when one becomes an identified alien and stranger in a land hostile to Christ and the gospel.

Some of the Corinthians had fallen prey to believing false accusations about the Apostle Paul, both about the content of his message and the character and experiences of his life. Some of these opponents were surely Judaizers who promoted the works of the Mosaic Law as necessary for salvation in addition to the message about Christ. To combat this, Paul quoted a well-known passage from Isaiah that looked forward to a time when Gentiles would find salvation as well as Israel.

And Paul was saying that this time had now come. He urges them not to receive God’s grace in vain … meaning to take something that was actually empty, since it wasn’t really grace, but was works.

Paul references those of genuine faith as God’s co-workers.  That’s cool!  It really is!  And it means that everything is now going to be easy and the disciple will be well-respected, right?  People will see the reality of God and his power in the life of a servant. The credentials will be glowing and the path easy.

But that’s not how it works out.

The credentials that Paul puts forward, credentials that are fully the opposite of his detractors, involved an upside-down confirmation of his genuine status. Among surprising difficulties were hardships, beatings, imprisonments, endless hard work, sleeplessness, dishonor, fake news, false accusations, sorrows and poverty. Yet with all these losses, Paul said it was accurate to see them as the marks of great gain and rejoicing. It is being like Jesus. It is giving up everything in order to gain everything.

The concept of being identified with Christ is to understand that true rewards are not in this life. The pay for being God’s co-worker is in the eternal realm. Knowing our identity gives us perspective. This is not the end; our identity with Christ is this life is just the beginning. Another graduation is ahead.

2 Corinthians 6:1 – As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. 2 For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” [quote from Isaiah 49:8]

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.

6:3 – We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. 4 Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; 5 in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; 6 in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; 7 in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; 8 through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; 9 known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.