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.

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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.

The Good Kind of Driven – 2 Corinthians 5:11-21

What excites you?  What gives you purpose in life, waking you up each day with a desire to go into the world and get after living life in a big way?  In what way are you “driven?”

More often than not, when we hear that someone is said to be “driven,” it is a statement about some negative characteristic. We do indeed see lots of driven people in our world. For many, it is about power and authority. This is especially evident in government. The advanced age of so many in Congress is absolutely startling. In actual fact, out of our 100 United States Senators, nine of them are in their 80s and 22 are in their 70s, with 38 in their 60s!  Good night!  Don’t they ever want to retire and play with their grandchildren (or great, great-grandchildren)?  Well … no, they don’t. They simply can’t let go of the allure of power.

Other people are obsessed by wealth. Someone once said, “Money is not the most wonderful thing in life; love is. So I’m in extra good shape, because I love money!”  Arnold Schwarzenegger quipped, “Money doesn’t make you happy. I now have $50 million but I was just as happy when I had $48 million.”  But you get the picture, you know how people are indeed driven to accumulate both wealth and material assets, always expecting that this abundance will bring true happiness.

At one time in his life, the Apostle Paul was driven to zealously uphold the traditions of the historic Jewish faith and observance of the Law. A threat to this predominance was the growth of a fledgling group of followers of a Jewish teacher named Jesus. These early Christians of the church needed to be shut down and eliminated, and he was a crusader to make that happen.

But change came to Paul’s life and values system in a most dramatic way. We could say that his drive-train did a 180!  He was still driven, but the direction and content were entirely different. No longer was it about the stuff that could be measured by earthly standards and metrics. No longer was it about personal gain or aggrandizement. It was now all about living for God.

This change happened because of a new view about Jesus Christ. Paul now understood that God had given Christ to die for sin as the grand sacrifice for all who would believe and thereby find eternal life. Though he would still be wrongly accused of being crazy and self-serving, Paul knew he had a new mission in life … a new drive.

Being vitally related to God changes our identity viewpoint of both ourselves and those around us. In today’s passage, Paul is saying that the Christian has a new way of looking at people around him. It is not the same way people of the world look at each other. We see others with Kingdom glasses. We see them either as brothers and sisters in Christ, or we see them as enslaved by an alien kingdom – in need of our services as an ambassador of the Kingdom of Light.

So there is no reason for the Christian to be insecure. You are not just an engineer, a nurse, a teacher, a mom or dad… you are an ambassador for the Creator-God – the One who holds it all together, the eternal Father. That sure beats anything your unsaved neighbor is able to say he or she has membership within. You represent the sovereign of the universe as an agent of reconciliation and peace.

How well do you serve in this assignment?  Does it “drive” you at all?  Do you drive down the street and hurt for the disheveled people you see passing on the sidewalks?  Do you see the classmates of your children at school who clearly come from a difficult environment at home, one where faith is the primary ingredient of life that is missing?  Is your heart moved when our missions families come home and tell us about the great work of God with Iranian asylum seekers in Europe or in our multi-ethnic, sister church in the capital city of Kazakhstan?

It is nice and a very worthy thing to succeed in the responsibilities of work and family. But our primary occupation is as an ambassador of Christ to bring lost people to a reconciliation with the God from whom they’re estranged. Nothing beats that for personal identity. That is a “good driven.”

2 Corinthians 5:11-21

11 Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. 12 We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. 13 If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

The Benefits of Adoption, part 2 – Ephesians 1:3-8

Most adoptions happen when a child is very young and at a time when the child has no memory of the event. It is not like the child thinks it through, saying to self, “I need to get myself adopted somehow, so I’m going to act cute and see if I can find someone who will take me into their family and out of this mess that I’m in.”

Yesterday, we gave a first of four summary statements that we could make about this topic of being adopted as a child of God: Adoption leads to an entirely new and better situation for the adoptee.

Today we’ll give the other three …

  1. Adoption occurs by the initiation of the new father and at a time when the child has no memory of the event or contribution to it.

Surely, our adoption into God’s family did not happen because we were really awesome and cute and worked to get it done. No, it happened – in terms of speaking about it in linear time – before we were even born, and actually before creation.

Ephesians 1:3 – Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—

This is one of those very hairy passages, theologically speaking. Books have been written on the very complicated doctrines of election (choosing) and predestination. Complicating this is that it involves God (who is outside of time and sees everything – past, present, future – like we view the present moment) choosing us to be adopted (people limited to understanding this in the only way we can think – linear time).

What I know for sure from this text (and all texts about election and predestination) is that it is all because of God’s grace. He is the one taking the initiative, and anything that looks like us finding Him is because He came to us in some way – conscious to us or not – to enable us to find Him.

Ultimately, there is no way around this passage, and many like it, other than to understand that we owe it all to God. Spiritually speaking, we’re like that baby in the crib who cannot make a choice as to who his parents are going to be.

  1. Adoption is a costly proposition for the one doing the adopting.

According to the adoption.com information website, the costs of adoption are:

  • Most newborn domestic adoptions cost between $20,000 and $40,000 to complete.
  • International adoptions tend to cost about $35,000.
  • Approximately 69% of foster adoptions report total costs of less than $1,000. (But there are other sorts of costs and complications that go with this process. There is an emotional rollercoaster of stress; you’re putting your heart out on the street, hoping not too many cars run over it.)

And we see also, spiritually speaking, that the price of our adoption was very high …

Ephesians 1:5 – In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us.

We’ve been talking about a lot of theological / soteriological terms the past couple weeks: Righteousness, Imputation, Justification, Atonement, etc.  And in this passage we see the word “Redemption.”  This means to pay a price to set something free.

We should be ever amazed at the gracious Father who paid the debt for our sin – we couldn’t pay it. It is easy to forget this grace. And that is why we are told to regularly observe a time of communion remembrance to recall this great and costly sacrifice.

  1. Adoption brings about multiple changes in relationships, as there is a new father and a new family, with new privileges and perspectives.

Again, it said in Ephesians 1:3 – Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

But then also see how the Galatians 4 passage continues … 4:6 – Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.

That phrase, Abba, Father, is a term of endearment and familiarity of close family warmth and relationship. To be a child of God! That is amazing!  That means we have access to the King of Kings as our daddy; we’re not prevented by guards around the throne, we can walk right up to him with our needs and desires.

And it is more than just a relationship with a new father, we have an entirely new family with all sorts of brothers and sisters and beyond. And in the church family, many of us have found that these relationships transcend all others.

And still more, there is a great future with an inheritance of eternal life. This entire idea of being an heir as God’s child will have its own focus as our fifth topic in the IDENTITY series. But it is OK to be amazed by this, even today.

And still more, all of this should lead us to a sense of profound gratitude.

We have had church families from TSF literally go halfway around the world to bring home a child in adoption. That is expensive and self-sacrificial, and maybe even a bit risky. But to secure our spiritual adoption, Jesus came from the glories of heaven and took on human form, becoming subject even to death on a cross, paying a price that we might be adopted as God’s children.

Adoption is a very special thing with very special benefits.

The Benefits of Adoption – Galatians 3:23—4:5

Being adopted is not the magic elixir for having a grand and successful life, but it almost always puts an adopted person on a better path than what might otherwise have been.

As we look at what the Scriptures teach about the doctrine of adoption, let us consider two primary passages that are just a couple pages apart in your New Testament – in Ephesians 1 and in Galatians 4. Relative to the concept of being adopted into God’s family as children of God, I think there are four summary statements we can make about this teaching. We’ll look just at the first of these today, covering the second through fourth tomorrow.

  1. Adoption leads to an entirely new and better situation for the adoptee.

Children who are in need of adoption are in that desperate place because something has gone terribly wrong …

… They could be orphans due to some disaster befalling their family.

… They might have special physical needs, requiring medical care beyond the resources of their natural family.

… Their parent or parents may be so impoverished as to be unable to care for them.

… Their parents might be impaired through mental disease, or even imprisoned for a crime.

Whatever it is, it is almost always something very bad. And the child is unable to do anything about it.

And so it was for all of us, spiritually speaking. Sin had created a total mess. We had become children of the Evil One. There was an inherited family curse of death upon us that would lead to eternal separation from God. And just as an infant cannot help himself out of his bad situation, so we were lost without God’s intervention and reaching down to us.

Galatians 3:23 – Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

You may recall about the Galatian church, that though most were Gentiles, Judaizers had come in and discredited Paul’s teaching and the gospel message of grace in Christ. They taught that the Law of the OT must still be followed. So, the Galatians were impressed by the Law, and Paul is writing here to give them a proper understanding of the purpose of the Law. It was not to give life, but to rather give strict guidance morally.

Paul illustratively likens it to what little children might have in a home in the culture of that time. There would be a guardian – often a slave of the household – who would strictly make the child behave. At a later time, this oppressive person was no longer needed and was done away with when the child became an adult. And that is the role that the Law played. But now that a full faith has come in Christ, it is no longer needed.

Galatians 3:26 – So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

So the time had come – with the coming of Christ – that God’s children through faith became fully a realized part of God’s family. The baptism mentioned is of the Holy Spirit, an act which identifies the believer with Christ and the church. So there are no longer special categories (spiritually speaking) for Jews or Gentiles or slave or free or men and women – all are one in Christ. As such, they are also heirs of the promises made to Abraham – promises about faith and life.

Galatians 4:1 – What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. 2 The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. 3 So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. 4 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.

Paul is saying that there are no great advantages to being under the law or to being underage, even though an heir of a household. It was no better at that time than being a slave. The child had to obey the slave, just as the slave guardian had to obey the master. And spiritually speaking, before Christ, a person was enslaved to the natural forces of this sinful world.

BUT at the perfect time, God sent Christ to change all of this – to set things right by paying a price of redemption and making a full adoption possible.

All of this (in Paul’s argument to the Galatians) is to ask them why in the world they would want to go back to something like that?  That would be a bit crazy, but that is what they were doing.

In this passage we see the beautiful concepts of spiritual adoption – an act that was done to change what was a bad situation.

And as we said earlier in this series, it is all too common for people to underestimate or to not really comprehend the gravity of their situation due to sin. And though not seeing themselves as perfect, neither do they see themselves as so bad as to be spiritually lost/dead, and separated from a Holy God. But people who are apart from Christ need to feel lost before they submit to accepting the directions to be found.  Sometimes, in counseling, people don’t “get” the problem they have and the consequences of errant behaviors, and you have to “bring the floor up to them” because they’re going to hit the floor sooner or later. And so it is with explaining the gospel to people who have not yet trusted in Christ alone.

It is good for us remember from whence we’ve come and to recall what our situation might have been prior to salvation – not just for eternity, but for this life as well.